Web 2.0 Applications

Pattern 8: Lightweight Models and Cost Effective Scalability

Okey, this is my last blog post about how to succeed in Web 2.0. I hope you have enjoyed my blogs, and that you have learned something useful. Before we wrap it up I would like to talk about the last pattern; Lightweight Models and Cost Effective Scalability. So, what is lightweight models and cost effective scalability about? Its about doing more with less. During the Web 1.0 it was all about getting big fast, and then the the Dot-com Bubble bursted.

The NASDAQ Composite index peaked at 5,048 in MArch 2000, the high point of the dot-com bubble

After this the new era of the internet started, the Web 2.0. People started thinking differently, they saw that getting big fast didnt work in the long run, they had to think differently. Let us take a closer look at Twitter:

Twitter is a microblogging service where you can both read and send so called Tweets. The Tweets can be up to 140 characters and is shown on the authors profile, or if you are lucky enough to have followers it also shown on their profiles. Evan Williams, one of Twitters founders states; “What we have to do is deliver to people the best and freshest most relevant information possible. We think of Twitter as it’s not a social network, but it’s an information network. It tells people what they care about as it is happening in the world.”

21. March, 2006 Dorsey sent the first Tweet by writing “just setting up my twttr”, since then Twitter have scaled tremendously. Now Twitter has over 100 million users. One of the best practices with pattern 8 is to design your business from the beginning so that its able to scale with demand. Twitter experienced some trouble with the growth, in 2007 they had 98% uptime, or about 6 days downtime. The downtime was often when there was big technology events, like the Macworld Conference & Expo. In may 2008 Twitters engineering team made changes to their architectual structure, so that could deal with the scale of growth.

Twitters Fale Whale that shows when they are experiencing some outage. It comes with the text "Too many tweets! Please wait a moment and try again."

Twitter is built on open-source software, and Twitter states: “As an aggressively open company, Twitter‘s success is dependent on the success of the developers in its ecosystem. Indeed, a majority of Twitter’s use comes through third-party applications that lets users tweet and read tweets wherever they choose.” It exists over 50 000 applications that use Twitters open API. Twitter has a big list over the open source software they are using, among others they are using Ruby and Scala. Wikipedia states: “Scala is a multi-paradigm programming language designed to integrate features of object-oriented programming and functional programming. The name Scala stands for “scalable language“, signifying that it is designed to grow with the demands of its users.”

Until recently Twitter didnt have any advertisment on their site. Many wondered if Twitter ever would start making money. For one month ago TechRadar wrote about that Twitter finally has revealed their advertising plan. Instead of filling up the site with advertisments, Twitter has decided to go with a different solution. TechRadar writes: “The Sponsored Tweets service will be rolled out initially in search results – where you will be prompted to re-tweet an advert – but the ads will eventually make their way to users’ Twitter feeds.” I guess time will show how subtle the solution is.


Pattern 7: Leveraging the Long Tail

Leveraging the Long Tail. Nice title uh? But what does it mean? It means that being online gives you the possibility to sell niche products, without loosing a lot of money. It means that you can, and maybe even should, reach out to the Long Tail, instead of just the head. One of the advantages with being on the web is that you dont have to worry about having enough shelf space and you dont have to worry about being able to pay the rent for your store. With a “normal” store you have to worry about this, and that often makes using the long tail not profitable. We all have seen a lot of niche stores come and go all the time. They just cant get enough customers to be able to justify their budget. This has all changed because of the internets low cost of production and distribution, and because you dont have to think about stuff like shelf space.

Leveragin the Long Tail

Leveraging the Long Tail

You have a lot of examples of online stores that is successful in using the long tail, like Amazon, Netflix and Rhapsody, check out the graphs under:

Example of long tail between Amazon, Netflix and Rhapsody

I am going to talk about interpunk.com. Interpunk is an online punk music store. Louis Posen, the president of the punk and hardcore label Hopeless Records, tells in a blog at Fast Company something interesting about Interpunk vs. Amazon: “Amazon carries every one of our releases, but their sales are modest at best, maybe 3-5 units per week of each title. Go over to interpunk.com, and each title sells 20 units per week, sometimes more. We do presales at interpunk that can reach 600 copies before street date, something we could never achieve on Amazon.” I find this statement very interesting since Amazon is one of the prime examples of companies that use the long tail. Why is it that the punk rockers prefer to use sites like Interpunk instead of the giant Amazon? It hard to say, but both from personal experience and this blog I would say its because of the experience. Hardcore music fans prefer to buy either directly from the artist or at a store that spesializes in music. You feel you get a better releationship with the band, and buying through more spesialized stores than Amazon makes you feel like you are supporting the music environment. I personally always buy from sites like In Flames’ official fanpage or the Norwegian band shirt store Rockshop.

Some of the best practises when you are using the long tail is to stay cheap. You have an advantage with not having as much costs as normal stores, use it! People buy from the internet often because its cheaper, if you are more expensive then they will just go somewhere else. After comparing some prizes with Amazon I noticed that Amazon often is more expensive, that could also be one of the reasons why the buyers prefer Interpunk.

An idea for Interpunk could be to have a rating system, or a system like Amazon has, where you get up suggestions to what you could be interested in from what other fans has bought. At the moment they have a vote for your favorite song system, but it doesnt really help consumers with deciding about wheter they should buy the record or not.

Pattern 6: Perpetual Beta

“There’s no final version. Nothing is static, everything is changing. With every new iteration, small changes make you realize the creature is alive.” This is written by Alex Chitu, a blogger that writes about Google. His words are apposite to this weeks theme, Perpetual Beta. Perpetual Beta is about software or a system that stays in the beta development stage for a longer or indefinite period of time, its unfinished sofware. A lot of devices and software is connected to the internet, and that gives them an opportunity to change at a rapid speed. Unlike packaged software, like Microsoft Office, that can only change when a new package come out, a perpetual beta software can change several times a day if they want to. Instead of having to pay to get new services, the users become co-developers. Tim O’Reilly states:

“Users must be treated as co-developers, in a reflection of open source development practices (even if the software in question is unlikely to be released under an open source license.) The open source dictum, ‘release early and release often‘, in fact has morphed into an even more radical position, ‘the perpetual beta’, in which the product is developed in the open, with new features slipstreamed in on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. It’s no accident that services such as Gmail, Google Maps, Flickr, del.icio.us, and the like may be expected to bear a ‘Beta’ logo for years at a time.”

Google took off the beta label on many of their leading services, like Gmail, Google Docs and Google Talk, last year. It took them five years to remove it from Gmail. Why did it take them so long to take it of, and what is the advantages? According to Juliet Lapidos from Slate the beta label gives the users a signal about that they are still working on the service, adding new features and fixing bugs. I believe this probably makes the users more patient with the service, they are more allowed to do mistakes. If a service isnt beta, or if its a packaged service, you expect it to work properly. The advantages with perpetual beta could be:

  • You get help with finding bugs, and improving the service
  • It can be a helpful marketing ploy in terms of raising the profile of both the company and its product
  • Users access the latest and greatest tools
  • You can instrument you product, what a user do often tells more than what they say

As you can see on the image below, GMail is all the time improving their service. Press this link to see more!

Screen Shot of Gmails list of the beta changes

Screen Shot of Gmails list of the beta changes

To be able to improve your application rapidly, its a good idea to use dynamic tools and languages, like scripting languages such as Perl, Python, PHP, and Ruby. Gmail is known for its pioneering use of the Ajax programming technique.

Gmail is being criticised for a number of issues, for example privacy, technical limitations, outages and twenty-four hour lockdowns. I am going to talk a bit closer about the privacy issues; Gmail automaticly scans your email to be able to add advertisment that fits the content in your mail. It has been a concern that even letting a computer scan through the mails is a problem for the privacy. They even scan email from non-gmail-adresses(that has never agreed on Gmails terms of service or privacy policy) that send an email to a Gmail account. It was also big news last year when someone from China hacked the accounts of some human right activists. Wikipedia states: “The fact that Gmail stores, analyzes and retains user’s email contents makes Gmail an attractive target for such attacks”.

All in all it doesnt seem like the privacy issues and the beta label has frightened the users. Gmail has 176 million users monthly, and they have won a couple of awards. In 2005 they got second in PC World’s “100 Best Products of 2005”. So maybe the Perpetual Beta works?

Pattern 5: Software above the level of a singel device

Smartphones are becoming more and more popular, and because of that the mobile web is getting very important. If your application is only possible to use on a laptop, then you are loosing many valuable users. Right from the beginning of your development you need to think about that the user wants to be able to use your application on his or her phone. You either need to create a scaleable application, that adust to the size of the screen, or you need to make a stand alone application for different devices. Facebook is doing both, you can choose to use the browser on your phone, or the application they have special made for small screens. The difference between those two applications is that the special made one is a lightweight version of Facebook. Its size is made for small screens, it have bigger buttons so its easier to use the touch screen and it have less features so the application doesnt get to heavy.

Spotify is technically not a web application, but I’m going to use them anyway because they use the web platform in a suberb way. You stream music from a collection of 8 million songs, that are constantly growing. You can make playlists, and easily share them with your friends. You can choose between a free account with commercials, or paying 99 NOK (about 18AUD$) a month to get a premium account. With the record sale dropping and piracy growing, this kind of music sharing is, in my opinion, the future for the music industry. But because it is still in the start-up phase, its not available in countries like Australia yet.

Okey, to the point. Why is Spotify a good example of “software above the level of a singel device”? Spotify has created an application for iPhone, Android and Symbian. That is very valuable for the users because you can use Spotify wherever you are. One of the problems with creating an application for mobiles is that they can get too heavy. The mobile internet isnt  too good, and the phones arent powerful enough yet. Another problem is the fact that mobile web is often very expensive, so if you are going to stream from the web everytime you want to listen to some music, it gets expensive. But with Spotify you dont have this problem. If you have a premium account, you can set your playlists to offline. That means that you can listen to music even without internet. You are also always in sync with your computer. You can log in to any computer or device that has Spotify and get access to your own playlists. One more thing that are nice with using Spotify for music playing is that you dont have to fill up your computer or device with music.

One of the issues with having your application available on several devices is walled gardens. Apple has an absolute controll over what and who can publish applications on their phones. Spotify had to convince Apple letting them have an IPhone application, which I cant imagine was easy considering Spotify is competition to Apples beloved ITunes.

What is the benefits for Spotify to use other devices as well as the desktop application? The users can access their music anywhere, which can open to new markeds as well as satisfying the old ones.

Take a look at this demo for the IPhone application!

Pattern 4: Rich User Experiences

When you want to create a Web 2.0 site, there is several things you should think about. I have already talked about Harnessing Collective Intelligence, Data is the next “Intel Inside” and Innovation in Assembly, and this week’s subject is Rich User Experiences. Rich User Experiences is about putting together the best sides of desktop programs and the best sides of online applications, so that you “steal” users from desktop programs to your online application. Google Docs is an great example of this. All the functions a normal user of Microsoft Word and Excel is using is available at Google Docs. The difference is that all you need is an browser, which means that you don’t have to download and install many different  programs, and you can reach your documents no matter where you are in the world (as long as you have an internet connection that is). You can also invite other people to interact with your document, at the same time as you are working on it.

Another good example is bubbl.us. Bubbl.us is a simple way to brainstorm online. You can “create colourful mind maps online, share and work with friends, embed your mind map on you blog or website, email and print your map and save your mind map as an image”. I have used bubbl.us myself in a school project, and it was really a helpful tool. It made our interaction simpler, and it really helped us create a good map over what we had to do and where everything where supposed to be.

Something you need to remember to think about is sharing and collaboration features. At bubbl.us you can add and invite friends, and you can share your sheets as either read-only or full access mode. It’s also very easy to share, you can just copy paste the link for the sheet, or use embed tags to show your sheet on your website.

You should also remember to think about usability, and in my opinion Bubbl.us is very easy to use, anyone with some experience with a computer can use this application. The technologies you use to create the application is very important as well, you have to think about the pros and cons. What is the best way to create this page so that it becomes powerful and fast? Bubbl.us is using Flash, AJAX, Prototype and Script.aculo.us. Whether this is a good choice of technology I have no idea, but as far as I can tell Bubbl.us is working all right.

Some of the features they are working on is real-time collaboration, a sheet outliner so that you can share your sheet with anybody and the ability to put your sheet up on a site-wide search, so that you can share ideas with everyone. This is three features I believe is very clever of Bubbl.us to add, since I believe it will make them even more handy and it will help them compete with other applications.

Pattern 3: Innovation in Assembly

Innovation in Assembly is about using a platform strategy for your web 2.0 application. Okey, what does that mean? It means that in addition to the fact that the Web is about to replace desktop operating systems, web sites are doing the same. What is the benefits with this? Well, platforms gives you a more measurable growth, third party innovation, they build trust and community, you get a better idea of how your services are used and income can easily be attached to a platform. (J. Watson, 8. March 10)

This weeks example is Google Wave. “Google Wave is a product that helps users communicate and collaborate on the web. A “wave” is equal parts conversation and document, where users can almost instantly communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more. Google Wave is also a platform with a rich set of open APIs that allow developers to embed waves in other web services and to build extensions that work inside waves.”

When do you use Google Wave? Some of Googles suggetions are; organizing events, meeting notes, group reports and writing projects, brainstorming and sharing photos. And thats just a few examples. The application is still in the development stage, so its currently only available in a limited prewiew. It is going to be exiting to see how popular it will get when it opens for the public, but I believe its going to be the next big thing. Google Wave is all about communication, and here you can communicate with everyone, no matter what you are communication about.

One of the issues with the platform stategy is the Terms of Service. Services are often provided “as is”,  finding the right level of support as a provider and for the consumer to understand the limitations are often debated. After reading through Google Wave’s Terms of Service its two points that I wish to comment on;

4.4 You acknowledge and agree that if Google disables access to your account, you may be prevented from accessing the Services, your account details or any files or other content which is contained in your account.
14.2 You expressly understand and agree that your use of the services is at your sole risk and that the services are provided “as is” and “as available”.

As I mentioned before, many applications provide the service “as is”, and as you can see, Google Wave does the same. They also state that if they decide to disable your account, you loose everything. This is a problem with many applications, you have no guarantee that the service wont get shut down, or that they decide to for some reason to shut down your account.

There is also one other issue with platforms, and that is the technology gap. Transaction support, security and localization are often not complete solutions. And with a application like Google Wave, where you will be sharing so much information, it could be easy to do for example a identity theft if the security is lacking.

I believe that Google will do what it takes to take care of the technology gaps, wherever it is possible. They have a staff of experienced developers, and its not the first time they are making an application. They know what they are doing. They also have many people that helps them with testing the product, inculding me. And they dont have a date for when it has to be finished, that is something I believe is a crucial factor. They dont have to rush anything, they can take their time to make it right.

Pattern 2: Data is the next “Intel Inside”

Tim O’Reilly states that data is the next “Intel Inside”. Intel Inside refers to Intel’s famous marketing and branding campaign from 1991. Intel is a component supplier, and because of the campaign they are one of the worlds most known computer brands. As Wikipedia puts it so nicely; The Intel Inside advertising campaign sought public brand loyalty and awareness of Intel processors in consumer computers. So what does data is the next “Intel Inside” mean? While desktop applications, like Word and Photoshop, requires well developed functions to succeed, online applications, like eBay and Amazon, gets many users because of huge databases. YouTube’s database of videos, Spotify’s database of music and MapQuest’s map databases are good examples of this.

Let us take a closer look at YouTube. YouTube is, for those who doesn’t know it, the worlds largest online video site. Most of the videos are uploaded by individuals, but media corporations like BBC publishes some of their material as part of the YouTube partnership program, and record labels like Nuclear Blast Records uses YouTube to promote their bands.

Some of the issues with sites like YouTube is; Who owns the data? Is it the uploader or is it YouTube? And what about copyright? What is YouTube doing to control that the users don’t upload material they don’t have the rights to? YouTube states that you own the material you upload, but YouTube and the users of YouTube have the right to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display and perform(§10) until you remove or delete the video. There have been some debate about whether YouTube do enough to make sure that the users follow the law about copyright. YouTube always shows this message when you upload a video to the site: Do not upload any TV shows, music videos, music concerts or commercials without permission unless they consist entirely of content you created yourself. The Copyright Tips page and the Community Guidelines can help you determine whether your video infringes someone else’s copyright. Does it help? At the most part, no. YouTube have thousands of videos that violate the copyright law, and in my opinion that is maybe one of the reasons why YouTube is so successful.

YouTube’s future is looking bright. They continue to improve their service with providing everything from HD quality, streaming free sport games, full-lenght films and TV series. It could be that pages like YouTube is the TV’s future, and that everything will be streamed online in a few years.

Pattern 1: Harnessing Collective Intelligence

Pattern 1: Harnessing Collective Intelligence is about Web 2.0 and how users add data, and therefore value to your web page or application, both implicit and explicit.
The kind of data the user can add can be:

  • Content
  • Comment
  • Chat
  • Upload
  • Share
  • Recommendations
  • Links
  • Aggregate
  • Filter
  • Search
  • Online interaction

Wikipedia, which is a free online encyclopaedia, is a good example of a site that is “harnessing collective intelligence”. Wikipedia relies on the users contribution only, and the users can even contribute to how the page is developed. Everyone can add and change articles, and because of this Wikipedia has had a reputation of not been trustworthy. How can you know that the article you are reading is not vandalised or that someone hasn’t edited the article to make them self look better? There have been episodes of companies editing their respective articles, so how do you know that the information is objective? In my opinion you have to read Wikipedia the same way as you would with every other web pages, in a critical manner. Does the article seem objective or not? Does the information seem trustworthy? In the end of the day all you can do is to trust that Wikipedia’s editors find mistakes quickly and correct them, which I believe they do for the most part. And you can’t really know whether the information in a book is correct either.

What is Wikipedia’s future like? They keep growing and growing, and there are more than 91,000 active contributors  working on more than 15,000,000 articles in more than 270 languages. As Wikipedia’s founder Jimmy Wales said: “It stopped being just a website a long time ago. For many of us, most of us, Wikipedia has become an indispensable part of our daily lives”.  And a quote from a Wikipedia fan: “A shining example of the Internet’s awesome potential.” — Timothy Keesey. This doesn’t sound like an application that will die out any time soon. An idea of what Wikipedia could do to improve is to use video. They have an advantage with being digital instead of paper, why not use it?