Amazon Storage Services

I have to give Amazon some credit…they aren’t just sitting back and waiting for the future to come to them…

First there was Alexa for developers, Amazon’s offering of a pay-per-use web services interface to their Alexa search index. Not unique…not revolutionary…but certainly an innovative step in the direction of web evolution. Opening Alexa to developers broke a couple major barriers for Amazon — it was the first web services offering not based on Amazon’s transactional infrastructure and the first major web services offering to be priced using micro-payments ($0.00025 per request).

Amazon has followed up with a new web services play called S3 (Simple Storage Services), which is a web services interface to backend storage services offered by Amazon. At $.15 per GB per month of data storage (no web service fees), this is a next step in the direction of low-cost online storage, and also a step in pushing more power to the desktop. If Amazon is smart, they use this as a first step in a larger plan, perhaps something that will rival my take on Google’s storage and document management direction…

What is the Google Strategy?

Compelling title to the post, huh?

Well, I don’t have all the answers, but let me try to put together one piece of the puzzle… (or should that be one piece of one of the puzzles?)

I mentioned in a previous post that I believe there will be an online shift of focus from the browser to the desktop, and that Google will participate in this shift by releasing a desktop suite of products (both operating system and application) to compete directly with Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office.

If that’s the case, how does Google’s recent purchase of Writely, a web company that has developed a browser-based word processing application (still in beta) play into this Jasminelive vision? If Google is really looking to move onto the desktop, why acquire more browser-based technologies?

Well, I think that’s the brilliant part of their strategy…focusing not just on the browser or the desktop, but on seamless integration of the two…

Last year, Google formed a partnership with OpenOffice.org, the Sun-developed open-source office-application suite. Imagine being able to create and modify all your documents on your “Google Desktop” using OpenOffice, and then have the ability to modify or share those documents from anywhere in the world using a browser and Writely. A two-pronged approach that provides a seamless document management experience.

Assuming Google’s application technology is even half as robust as the Office suite of Livejasmin tools, with a price point likely somewhere between free and 10% that of the Microsoft product, it is sure to get widespread adoption.

So, now that Google has document creation/editing technologies, all they have left to build is document management and storage capabilities, and they are well on their way to challenging Microsoft in this billion-dollar market. Hmmm, speaking of documentation management and storage capabilities, have you heard the rumors surrounding G-Drive and Lighthouse?

More on the Shift to the Desktop

I’ve written a little bit recently about the online experience moving from browser to desktop. In a conversation today, I was asked what I thought the timeline would be for this shift to occur and whether I thought it would occur in a gradual fashion.

First, I don’t think this shift will occur overnight; this is likely a trend over the next five years or so. But, I don’t believe the shift will be a gradual one. I believe there are a number of upcoming disruptive events that will provide a step-function towards this shift in user experience. The first is likely to be the release of Micrsoft Vista in the second half of this year. Vista will provide side-bar technology that will enable desktop application widgets (”gadgets”) that will, in some cases, replace the the need for live sex chat users to open a browser. For example, imagine a weather widget that pulls local weather data from weather.com, and displays all the information you need in real-time on the desktop. Poof…no more need to visit weather.com…

(Of course, this type of scenario will have interesting effects on business models for many sites that rely on AdSense and other advertising revenue…but I’ll touch on that in another post).

The other likely (in my opinion) disruptive event will be the release of a bundled Google suite of products that will compete directly with Microsoft and it’s Windows/Office line of jasmin live products. Google has made some interesting acquisitions over the past couple years, both in terms of businesses and in terms of people. They have partnerships with (and acquired a few) operating system, desktop application and browser-based application companies, and all signs point to the fact that they are working on a coordinated suite of products that will allow users to shed their reliance on Microsoft and migrate to a cheaper (free?) set of tools that will be equally functional and featured.

If and when Google were to release this Windows competitor, it’s reasonable to assume that they would use their new-found duopoly status to capture new revenue streams stemming from the desktop. Again, I imagine widget-type technology would be their direction of choice…

All that said, the shift from browser to desktop will take some time, will involve disruptive technologies, and will likely involve some major disruptive business and revenue models. No surprise why I believe the shift will be dominated by Microsoft and Google…

Engineers: Your Jobs are Safe

Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard a number of people (smart people) mention that with “Web 2.0? technologies, developing robust applications and businesses on the Web is now something that even non-software developers can do. The implication here is that over the next couple years we’re going to start seeing a lot of non-techies taking over Web, and designing and building the next generation of Web businesses.

While on the surface this seems like a reasonable conclusion — after all, things like Ajax and RSS are easy to build jasminlive applications with — I think this is not only short-sighted, but flat-out wrong. This reminds me of ten years ago when Java appeared on the scene, and the initial reaction was that, with this new high-level language and some WYSIWYG tools, anybody could become a professional developer. And to some degree that was true. The late 1990’s saw a number of initially successful businesses started by non-techies with just a dream and some venture capital. Every out-of-work liberal arts major was consulting and doing web-page design. And, for a while, it appeared that real engineers (“overpriced” and “not cutting edge”) were going to go the way of the vacuum tube.

I think what we’ve seen over the past five years is very analogous to what we’re seeing today with “Web 2.0.” Sure, anyone can build a mashup (just like seven years ago anyone could build a web-page), and anyone can generate a working prototype to start building a user base. But, when it comes to building a real business, it takes more than just a prototype that you can throw in front of Venture Capitalists. It takes a scalable, flexible and robust infrastructure that can support millions of users, billions of transactions, and a quality of service you don’t get from just a PC and a DSL line.

And that’s where it takes people with lots of experience and lots of formal knowledge. eBay is a great example of what it takes to support millions of users, billions of transactions, and uptimes in the three 9’s. It’s not just the ability to develop in Ajax, expose RSS, or create a Web Service. It’s about designing highly scalable, well-architected systems; and that’s not something a hobbyist is going to be able to accomplish in Web 2.0, Web 3.0, or anytime soon, regardless of how easy the new development technologies may be.

Web 4.0

Title of the post got your attention, huh?

While I don’t particularly like this arbitrary labeling of web technologies and paradigms in terms of version numbers (Web 1.0, Web 2.0, etc), there an obvious emergence of themes throughout the evolution of the Internet, and I think that the Web will continue to evolve in thematic fashion. So, while I won’t go so far as to predict what Web 3.0 or Web 4.0 will look like from other people’s perspectives (and in fact, I would argue that we’re already into Web 3.0 and 4.0), I do have some opinions on the themes that have most recently begun to emerge.

But, before I jump into what I think the next “version” of the Web will look like, I wanted to clarify how I would portray the historical evolution of the Internet in terms of major themes.

Most people, when referring to Web 1.0, think about the evolution of browsers back in the 1990’s. But in actuality, the Internet was first created in the 1960’s, and to ignore the technical advances of the first 20 years of the Internet would be like ignoring the existence of vacuum tubes – sure you might not have ever used any hardware that relied on them, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t precipitate a revolution in computer technology that shapes our lives today.

The first 20 years of the Internet was about Communication. The U.S. government started ARPANET – the first large-scale packet-switched network – back in 1969, and its purpose was to send military information around the country. Until the late 1980’s, Internet communication was mainly asynchronous (email messaging and non-real-time file sharing). In the late 1980’s, public use of the infrastructure proliferated, and the first social aspects of the Internet emerged. College students were using rudimentary multi-user chat clients (BRC, IRC), online gaming in the form of multi-player role-playing games had emerged, and large groups of people were participating in online discussion boards and newsgroups.

If you had to attribute a version number to it, I’d consider these first 20 years of information sharing and small-scale communication to be Web 1.0.

Then, like all highly adopted technologies, the Internet hit a tipping point, and evolution turned to revolution. While the first 20 years of the Internet were all about communication, the next ten years of the Internet (the 90’s) were all about Presentation. Browsers were created, mark-up languages evolved, portable interpreted languages (Java) were again popularized, and over ten years the Web was transformed from monochrome and text to rich graphical presentation of useless information and epilepsy-inducing animated widgets…

Again if I had to label it, I’d say these next 10 years of technical advancement in the presentation of data could be characterized as Web 2.0.

Then came the late 90’s, and a new theme emerged in the continued evolution of the web – Monetization. For the most part, monetization emerged in two key areas, commerce and advertising. Early online commerce was highly analogous to the offline world with generic storefronts and static inventory, and early advertising was likewise analogous to the offline world with campaigns targeted large segments of the consumer market that couldn’t be adequately tracked for performance or actual lead-generation. Over the next five years, online commerce evolved in terms of scale and personalization, and online advertising evolved in terms of targeting and performance tracking. Commerce and advertising are certainly not the end-all-be-all of monetization on the Web, but over the past five years, they have played a significant role in shaping how we use and perceive the Internet today.

Once again, if you need to assign a label, I’d refer to the first round of monetization on the web as Web 3.0.

Which brings us to today…and tomorrow… Where are the emerging trends? What is “Web 4.0” if you must use that type of terminology?

That I’ll explore in an upcoming post…

The Advantage of Bundling

In a previous post, I touched on the fight over triple-play services (data, voice, video) by the data carriers (telcos, MSOs, satellite). In that post, I mentioned that I believed the crux of the fight was over data, as both voice and video would continue to migrate to full digital/IP transmission over the next several years, reducing triple play to just enhanced data services.

While left unasked in my original post, the question remained, if the carriers want to dominate triple play services, where will they get they get competitive VoIP and digital video offerings?

This question become somewhat more interesting last week when Om Malik posted this tidbit in his blog:

“Google might be looking to work closely with MSOs on its next generation efforts such as video and voice over the Internet. Proof of this direction might be found in this job posting.”

Yahoo! already has a partner in SBC, and it appears Google is now looking to create a similar partnership with (presumably) one of the other big telcos or one of the large MSOs.

Just a guess, but it seems to me just a matter a time before we start seeing co-branded and bundled voice and video services from a number of the big carriers and a number of the big tech players. While consumers will still have a choice in which VoIP or video service they use, the carriers have a huge advantage in converting new users to their own branded services; as an example, look at AOL back in the 90’s when nearly every AOL user used AIM, used AOL mail, and had their home page set to aol.com.

Which brings me to the point of this post…

Companies like Skype (and Vonage) will likely not be bundled with service offerings from any of the major carriers, and as such, may find themselves at a major disadvantage to the competiting bundled services. With VoIP and digital video offerings unlikely to carve out any major technical competitive advantages over the next several years, ability to leverage marketing/bundling partnerships may prove to be the key differentiator.

Update: Just found this article from The Washington Post about Comcast releasing VoIP in the Maryland/Virginia area.