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Archive for August 2008

You will appreciate this post if you love emacs or Firefox

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Disclaimer:  If you have never used emacs before or don’t know what it is, I am hereby not liable for any pain this posting may cause :)

Thanks to my use of FriendFeed, I learned through Alex Iskold that something called ‘Ubiquity’ was just released from Mozilla Labs, makers of Firefox.  Given that it was 3am, I had just burped my daughter, and I was waiting for her to fall back to sleep, I had some time on my hands.  Downloaded the plugin and installed it, and let me just say that it’s pretty damn cool.  In fact, it makes Firefox look more like an old UNIX program that has been in use for a long long time – emacs.  (Bear with me here, I swear this is going somewhere other than me regaling you of the benefits of CRT terminals…)

For those of you who have not had the pleasure of using emacs, it can best be described as a text editor on steroids, highly customizable, and an environment in which you could ‘live’.  By ‘live’, I mean that you could edit files, browse the web (OK, with a text based browser, but still…), use email, compile software, and do anything else you’d need to do within a UNIX platform (or a command prompt).  There would be no need to use any other programs – you could do everything from within Emacs.  This is the editor that we used in my undergrad compsci classes, so forgive me if I start to get veclempt…

For example, this guy is using emacs to conduct a chat while he is writing LISP code.

As you can tell from the picture – it ain’t pretty, but it’s very functional. :)

So what the heck does this have to do with Ubiquity and Firefox?

Well, the Ubiquity plugin allows you to run a variety of text command from within Firefox.  All you have to do is hit ‘Alt-Space’ and a little box comes up.  I can Twitter from there, send a link as email, email selected text, Google something, get weather info, map an address…the list is endless.  And, you can write your own commands or use other people’s commands to make your Ubiquity plugin more functional.  To me, ‘Alt-Space’ looks like emacs ‘Meta-X’ all over again (emacs folks, are you with me?)

Although the web browser is the most actively used program by internet users (with email clients being a close second, I would imagine), Ubiquity makes the browser (and specifically, Firefox) even more of a sticky application that it already was.  I could even see this as a way to create additional revenue streams, by striking deals with data providers (e.g. weather websites or reviewers like Yelp) to use them as the default landing for relevant Ubiquity commands.

Also, if the Firefox folks really want this to take hold with mainstream (non-blogging, non-iPhone toting) Internet users, I’d suggest adding a permanent ‘Ubiquity’ box in the Firefox navigation by default.  And who knows, maybe that is their plan…


Written by John Gannon

August 29, 2008 at 2:49 pm

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The new new infrastructure

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One thing I find interesting about the Internet space today is that the availability of cheap platforms and rapid software deployment architectures have led to massive duplication in infrastructure.  For every web startup that is using Amazon Cloud Services or Google App Engine, there is probably at least one that is not.

What’s the implication?  A tremendous amount of effort (and venture capital) is being spent on building and rebuilding infrastructure that could probably be built once (or, a few times) and then leveraged across multiple companies.

Examples of companies/products tackling this issue include:

  • Mashery – Web API management platform
  • GNIP – “Middleware” connecting Internet application developers and consumers of Internet application data
  • Feedburner – RSS / blog syndication services
  • Amazon Web Services
  • Google Application Engine
  • 10gen

I think this is a really interesting area because right now we’re looking at a ‘wild wild west’ type of environment in the web platform space today.  Although Amazon is dominant in some areas, they are only providing a couple of pieces of the puzzle.  As there is more demand from users to get a seamless, unified web experience across multiple sites and services, I think there will be a need for these  “middleware” companies and new platforms to thrive.   And I don’t think all the answers will come from the big boys.

I wonder what kind of business models we’ll see.  My gut is that advertising-based models won’t work in the long term as CPMs decline, but on the other hand, many web startups aren’t going to want to or can’t afford to pay anyone (well, other than Amazon for S3/EC2) for stuff they can build on their own.  Would anyone pay per unit consumed for this sort of infrastructure?  And how much would they pay?  I’m very interested to see how this will shake out.

Written by John Gannon

August 25, 2008 at 11:23 pm

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Flock, I hardly knew ye

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This weekend I decided to switch back Firefox after using Flock for the last year or so.  I originally started using Flock because I thought the close tie-ins with various social media (my delicious bookmarks, Facebook account, Flicker account) would be handy and also save me some time in keeping my various pieces of the social web up to date.  However, as of late the performance of the browser became fairly poor, and I’m not sure if it was because of the add-ins I was using or if it was due to the browser itself.

So now, I’m back to plain ol’ Firefox.  Have the delicious plugin installed and a PDF plugin but that’s all.  So far so good.  Runs like lightning and hopefully will continue that way.

Now, Flock wasn’t all bad.  The best parts of the Flock experience was definitely the photo uploader (where I could pull photos off the web and go right to Flickr – excellent for grabbing other people’s pics of my kids) and the delicious integration.  And the fact that Flock is based on Firefox means that most Firefox plugins should work (although much to my chagrin the plugin that I’ve been wanting to try isn’t supported for Flock!)

By the way, I’m on a Mac and use the built in browser (Safari) only minimally – like when Firefox doesn’t work on a site for some reason.  Is there any other compelling reason to use Safari over Firefox?  I can’t think of any but would love to hear if there are good reasons.

Written by John Gannon

August 25, 2008 at 1:55 am

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This is the most excited about a hard drive I’ve been in years

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The Amazon Web Services team just announced that they are now offering persistent raw disk-like storage to EC2 customers. Up until now, permanently storing files in Amazon’s cloud required you to use their S3 service (accessible via HTTP). Now, EC2 customers can access their data through a standard UNIX/Linux filesystem and be sure it will be there throughout the life of that instance.

Why is this important?

IT departments can begin managing (some) Amazon cloud configurations using legacy systems management tools and techniques.

A major hurdle to bringing in any new technology to an IT department is: “How will I manage and support this technology?” For cloud computing, the answer to date has been to roll your own management tools, or, work with one of the emerging vendors in the cloud computing management space. I would argue that those answers are a non-starter for most IT shops because they probably don’t have enough pain to warrant bringing in yet another management tool and the requisite investment in training, etc.  And rolling your own has its own set of issues, especially if your staff doesn’t have the coding and integration skills required.

If I can now manage system and application software in the cloud the way I do in my datacenter, or at least very close to it, the cloud becomes a true option for extending the datacenter beyond the company’s 4 walls.

Written by John Gannon

August 22, 2008 at 10:45 pm

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Welcome to the echo chamber

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Welcome to my new blog!  As you may or may not know, I began blogging when I was admitted to business school and continued throughout my time at Columbia.  I started to slow down around graduation time but had always planned to start another blog where I could focus on professional as well as personal topics.  Well, after recently having two new babies join my family and starting a new job, I figured, what the heck, I have plenty of time to devote to another hobby like blogging :)  My plan is to post several times per week so we will see how that goes.  I encourage you to comment on postings as well.  I found during my first blogging experience that there was really great interaction to be had between blogger and reader.

So, this thing is a bit of an echo chamber right now (no readers as far as I know!) but hopefully that will change soon.

Thanks for reading now and in the future.

Written by John Gannon

August 21, 2008 at 4:16 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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