Friday, April 25, 2008

The Ghosts of Web Past, Present, and Future: JavaOne, Web 2.0, and AdTech

We had a troika of conferences at Moscone in SF in the last few weeks, and the differences between the shows was remarkable.

JavaOne - The Ghost of Web Past. The heavy duty software infrastructure show for enterprises, where the old Web 1.0 crowd of enterprise vendors and customers coalesce. The only interesting things about Java nowadays are mobile and Java's slow crawl to support scripting languages. Otherwise there is nothing to see but the latest PR ploy, which this year is: Neil Young on stage! JavaFX! Wow! Java has been completely overrun by the script kiddies and other than GWT has been relegated to back-end service processing and outsourced IT guys cranking out basic CRUD apps.

Web 2.0 - The Ghost of Web Present. Completely bland show with nothing interesting at all announced or even discussed. It's old news that none of the Web 2.0 feature sites are going anywhere other than aggregators like Digg and Mint, whose whole point is to minimize the number of sites you have to go to. IBM and Intel now have Web 2.0 tools, showing that this is a market that has completely matured. What we all got out of Web 2.0 was a very high bar for how easily a webapp should work - note to developers, if your webapp needs a manual or tutorials, you've screwed up!

AdTech - The Ghost of Web Future. It is no secret that he Web is financed by advertising dollars, but the excitement at AdTech is palpable. Banner ads and keywords are not working as well as they used to and those dollars are looking for something new like white label social networks, virtual worlds, and widget syndication. The intersection of technology and creativity at this show was very stimulating (as were the advertising chicks, who were way hotter than the other two venues!).

Since these three shows span the last 10+ years of my career, I guess in summary in goes like this: build basic webapps (JavaOne), build cool webapps (Web 2.0), make money from webapps (AdTech). The past and present were good times, and the future looks very bright.

Friday, April 11, 2008

If Facebook is a Platform, What is SuperWall?

Facebook is indisputably a platform since it provides a set of API's on which developers can deliver applications for a broad set of users. Facebook also offers a set of bundled applications, such as Pictures, Events, and Status, which are clobbering sites like Flickr, Evite, and Twitter, since these are inherently social applications - "Judy was just tagged in the photo Jim's Birthday Party!" gets a lot more attention than someone's Flickr feed.

We can learn from history here: Windows was one of the first platforms to both court developers and bundle applications, and Microsoft progressively added more and more applications, such as anti-virus, browser, email, fax/scan, movie editing, etc., and completely obliterated entire industries.

Companies like Slide and RockYou have a majority of their page impressions from delivering horizontal applications such as SuperWall, FunWall, and Top Friends. Facebook's upcoming profile redesign is going to include a Wall redesign which will likely include the popular features of SuperWall and FunWall, and the new Friend list feature will eventually make their way into Friend views.

So while you can get some short term play out of delivering a horizontal application for a platform, it is a fact of life that sooner rather than later you are going to get steamrollered, just like Norton and Netscape were on Windows. Focusing on the long tail of vertical applications, which on Facebook is apps like Compare People and Texas Hold'em Poker, is a more viable bet for longer term application growth and monetization.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Websites Are So Over

I have posted a few times about how I often can go an entire day without going to a website, and instead spend my day in Google Reader to read content, iGoogle to see headlines and realtime information like stock quotes and weather, and Facebook for social information.

Apparently I am not the only one spending most of my web time on these widget-oriented sites. Alexa 3 year usage graphs for top brands that I picked out at random all show decreasing or flat usage. Brands like FedEx and McDonalds are beginning to realize that their web presence is being increasingly ignored. Banner ad campaigns are increasingly expensive due to CPM price increases as ad placement competition increases. And to top it off, users hate banner ads more and more, so clickthrough rates (CTRs) are going down! Banner ad buyers now pay more for less!

People don't go to brand web sites anymore, banner ads cost more, and people are not clicking on banner ads. These are trends that are not going to reverse themselves. In order to achieve visibility on the web, brands will need to start expanding their web presence onto sites like Facebook and MySpace where users are already spending their time instead of trying to drive them to their own sites. Creating engaging and fun widgets is going to take a lot more creativity and effort than a banner ad campaign. The web is going to get very interesting over the next couple of years!

Alexa 3 Year Usage for Top Brands

Database 2.0

Database requirements for websites have become simpler and simpler. Finding a product of a certain type or the invoices for an account is very straightforward and is in fact hierarchical and does not require dynamic relationships. It is an ironic twist that the hierarchical databases of yesteryear like IMS are more suited to today's applications than relational databases.

The main feature of a relational database is relationships - "joining" data across different tables of data. But no one in their right mind does complicated joins of data on a production web database because it is so slow, even when using features like views. MySQL, which has completely dominated the web database market for years, only recently has accomplished feature parity to commercial databases like Oracle.

When people need to do complicated data queries, they copy the data from the production databases to what used to be called a "data warehouse" but is now in fact just another database and run reports off of that database instead of the production database.

Both Amazon EC2 and Facebook Platfrom, which are attracting legions of next-generation developers have recently added simplified database offerings that are essentially hierarchical databases. These databases will meet the needs of most web applications and widgets respectively and do nothing else. Amazon's database is even called "SimpleDB" - for web apps, simple does the trick.