Monday Dec 17, 2007

A Day in the Life of Constantin 2.0

The Web 2.0 hype of the last few years asks the question of "Web 2.0: Waste of time or useful?"  But to me it's clear that social websites, blogging and podcasting have changed quite a lot the way I use the web. Here's an exemplary day of my Web 2.0 style life:

Between waking up, getting dressed and driving to work (sometimes I eat breakfast, too), I sync my iPod with my PowerBook so iTunes can fill it with my favourite podcasts. On my 25 minute commute to work, I regularly listen to "Blick über den Tellerrand", "POFACS", "Extremetech.com", "EGM Live" and the "AVForums Podcast" (The current december episode has an interview with Tomlinson Holman of THX fame!). Old school radio hardly plays a role in my car, only when I forgot to bring my iPod, or when the trip is real short. If I have time (as in: long trip, airplane, etc.), I enjoy listening to "Braincast", "Scipod", "Semi-Coherent Computing", "Spektrum Talk", "The Daily Source Code" (although it has a low SNR...) and try out some new ones.

In the office, I sign in to Plazes, XING, Facebook and lately even Twitter, and Dopplr to stay in touch with friends and colleagues. It depends on my current mood whether I type something interesting into the various "What are you doing now?" fields, someone please consolidate all this stuff into a single entry mechanism!

How do these add value to me? The obvious one is that it's now easier to manage contact data with friends and colleagues using XING, LinkedIn or Faceboo. Plazes and Dopplr let you know where people are, facilitating ad-hoc meetings. As work and leisure life styles become more and more global, keeping track of your friends' whereabouts will be more and more useful. If someone robs my house while I'm away, I'll just blame Jörg, or install a wifi camera at home that sends email whenever something moves :). But there's much more to social websites as we'll see blow. Micro-blogging, such as Twitter or to a lesser degree the Facebook status or the Plazes activities are as useless and as indispensable as small-talk is in real life. IM may give us an electronic alternative to 1-to-1 or 1-to-many chatting, but micro-blogging is more like the kind of chat you have with strangers while waiting for the bus or while being at a party, only global and with many more people at once.

During work, I'm currently doing some research on the adoption of blogs and podcasts within the company with Jörg. I also help create the HELDENFunk podcast and sometimes I present on Web 2.0 in general to customers. It's interesting to see the many shades of gray between people that are into blogging, podcasting, social networking etc. and those who are not, multiplied by the permutations of IT-literate people and not, US, German, UK and other nationalities, IT producing companies vs. IT consuming ones, management type positions and individual contributors, friends, relatives etc. Large, if not worlds of varieties in terms of Web 2.0 adoption. But this is only fun, my real work is more centered around IT consulting on CPUs, Systems, Solaris, Grid Computing, Workstations, etc., but I digress.

Between pieces of useful work, I relax my mind by attacking my friends on Facebook with Zombies, Vampires and Werewolves while retaliating their blows with my Slayer. Or I challenge someone to a movie quiz. Or other senseless, but fun stuff. Is this time-wasting 2.0? I'd say this is more like a fun way to say "Hi" to friends over the web or maybe like the quick game of snooker, table-soccer, etc. down the hall. A social, fun way to take a breath in between work.

More work. We're planning to do a new movie, after our "CSI: Munich - Saving the world with ZFS and 12 USB sticks" one was so popular. The thing with user-generated content is that it enables you to reach many, many more people than you would ever be able to present physically in front of. Quite a good thing if you're in any knowledge related business. My typical customer presentation involves 5-15 people about 1-3 times a week with the occasional presentation to an audience of maybe 20-200 about 2-3 times a year. Altogether this is in the order of 1500 people that I can reach with a traditional presentation. Well, our CSI movie has been downloaded more than 50000 times so far. I have to divide this number by 5 or so for the co-authors, but that's still an order of magnitude more people than I could ever present in front of. The HELDENFunk podcasts have accumulated a couple of thousands of downloaded episodes, which again helps me better get my messages through. And my blog has hundreds of hits each day, too. Check out Alec's wonderful video on a very similar matter. And hey, producing podcasts and videos is a lot of fun, too!

On my way back from work, more podcasts are in order. At home, I usually do most of my blog-reading and blog-writing as well as some more Facebook, XING or other Web 2.0 style things.

I hope to write something useful into my blog about once a week. A blog entry consumes about 2-3 hours of work because I try to write longer, more interesting articles with good content. There are of course many other styles of blogging, but I tend to subscribe to the views of this article: "Write articles, not blog postings" that my colleague Roland found somewhere. Blogging saves me quite some time in the end: Some howto-like stuff that I get asked a lot gets converted into a blog entry and then I can point people to it instead of explaining things all over again. For reading blogs and other syndicated content, I find Google's reader to be quite useful. The list of blogs I like to follow is more or less what you see to the right in my blogroll. Many useful and intriguing ideas I have found in blogs that I'd never have found elsewhere...

There's still a lot of stuff in Web 2.0 land that I don't do. I'd like to create my own personal podcast, but I'm still missing some time, concept and courage, but who knows. And I'm not convinced that Second Life is useful - yet. It's a great PR outlet for some companies (including us) and virtual worlds are clearly the way of the future. It's just that Second Life is too much, well, kinday version 0.1-ish. It sort of feels like the early days of Real Networks in the early nineties when audio quality sucked due to not enough bandwidth. SL has some serious scaling problems and the user experience is not ready for the masses (which IMHO is a requirement to make any Web 2.0 service useful). But it's clearly a step into the right direction. Check out projects Dark Star and Wonderland if you want to see how scalable 3D worlds look like and how they can add value to real businesses.

Am I a Web 2.0 addict? I don't think so. I try out a lot, but the the stuff that sticks usually is the stuff that adds real value to my work and personal life. The key thing here is to try out new things often, with an open mind, then try to understand what these services really do, and decide for yourself where the value to you lies. And yes, "fun" is a legitimate value, too :).

Wednesday Aug 08, 2007

A True Web 2.0 Chip

Yesterday was the big day in which we launched the UltraSPARC T2 chip, code-named Niagara 2.

Few people realize how significant this announcement really is. The UltraSPARC T1 chip already changed the game of providing a powerful web infrastructure: By providing 32 threads in parallel, the UltraSPARC T1 chip and the associated T2000 server can provide more than double the performance of today's regular chips, at half the power cost. Even now, 18 months after its introduction, this chip still remains ahead of the pack both in absolute web performance and in price/performance and in performance/watt.

UltraSPARC T2 is not just a better version of the T1 chip, it provides three significant improvements:

  • More parallelism: Instead of 32 concurrent threads, UltraSPARC T2 delivers 64 threads running in parallel. Moore's law gives us twice as many transistors to play with every 18 weeks and the best way to leverage that is to turn them into parallelism. UltraSPARC T1 and T2 are all about maximizing the return on Moore's Law. Check out the specs.
  • More networking: The UltraSPARC T2 features two 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports directly on the chip. Two. Ten GigaBit. On the chip. The NIC is included, there is no bus system between the NIC and the CPU, the CPU is the NIC is the CPU. Total embedded networking. For applications that live in the network, what more can they ask for in a server?
  • Built-in, free and fast encryption. In a world where the web becomes social, private data becomes more and more common, but also more and more important to secure. Making security a default feature of your web service is now available for free and it does not impact performance.

Of course, there are many more other improvements, such as 8 FP units, more memory etc., but the three points above alone make the UltraSPARC T2 the perfect chip for web 2.0 applications.

This guy needs UltraSPARC T2!For instance, check out this analysis of the Facebook platform by Marc Andreesen. If you don't want to read it all, here's a summary: Web 2.0 means explosive growth in server capacity, for any reasonably successful application. In the case of iLike, they are growing their user base at the rate of 300k a day! This kind of growth can be fatal for your company if you don't have the infrastructure to sustain it. Well, UltraSPARC T2 is just the kind of technology that was designed to do just that: Handle many, many, many concurrent users at once as efficiently and securely as possible.

So, all you Web 2.0 startups out there, get in touch with your nearest Sun rep or Sun SE and ask them about UltraSPARC T2, or better yet, get a free 60-day trial of UltraSPARC T1, do your favourite benchmark, double that number and forget about that crypto-card to see what UltraSPARC T2 can do for you real soon now. Then, sit back, relax and keep those 300k a day users coming!

Tuesday Aug 07, 2007

Consolidating Web 2.0 Services, anyone?

I have profiles on both LinkedIn and XING. And lately, I discovered Facebook, so I created a third profile there as well. And then there are half a dozen web forums here and there that I have a profile with as well.

Wouldn't it be nice to create and update a profile in one place, then have it available from whatever the Web 2.0 networking site du jour is? 

Each of these sites has their own messaging system. No, they don't forward me messages, they just send out notifications, since they want me to spend valuable online time with their websites, not anybody else's.

Wouldn't it be nice to have all Web 2.0 site's messaging systems aggregated as simple emails to my personal mailbox of choice?

I also like Plazes.com, and I update my whereabouts and what I do there once in a while. I can also tell Facebook what I'm doing right now. And now, surprise, a colleague tells me that this Twitter (sorry, I don't have a Twitter profile yet...) thing is real cool and I should use it to tell the world what I'm doing right now. That would be the third Web 2.0 service where I can type in what I do and let my friends know.

Wouldn't it be... You get the picture.

I think it would be real nice if Web 2.0 services could sit together at one table, agree on some open standards for Web 2.0 style profiles, messaging, microblogging, geo-tagging etc., and then connect with each other, so one change in one profile is reflected in the other as well, so one message sent to me from one forum reaches my conventional mail box and so one action I post to one microblogging site shows up on Plazes and Facebook as well.

I know I'm asking for a lot: After all, much of the business models of Web 2.0 companies actually rely on collecting all that data from their users and figure out how to monetize it. But on the other hand, as a user of such services, I'd like to have a nice user experience and updating three profiles is not fun if I were to do that seriously.

Therefore, I think one of the following will happen:

  • Web 2.0 companies will consolidate in the sense of being merged into very few, but global uber-companies that own all business profiles, all geo-tagging stuff, etc. This is probably why Google is buying some Web 2.0 company on a weekly basis. Maybe I should by XING stock and wait for them to be acquired by LinkedIn etc. but maybe I'm an investment sissy...
  • Web 2.0 Meta-Companies will emerge that leverage Web 2.0 APIs (or mimick users through traditional HTTP) and offer Meta-Services. I'd love to got to, say, a MetaProfiles.com, set up a real good and thorough profile of my life, then let it automatically export it to LinkedIn, XING and whatnot.com and I'd be a happy person. Let me know if you happen to know such a service.
    The closest thing to such a service is actually Facebook: Since it's not just a social website, but a real application platform, it has the potential to provide meta-services for any other Web 2.0 sites out there. I love being able to pull in data from Plazes, del.icio.us etc. into my Facebook profile and have it all in one place. I love the "My Profiles" app that lets me show off my dozen or so profiles, blogs, etc. in one single list.
  • Since both of the above are quite inevitable, eventually the losers remaining companies will sit down and start agreeing on unified and open standards for Web 2.0 centric data exchange. We've seen this with many other open standards, so why not the same for personal profiles, geodata etc.?

Meanwhile, I'll check out some of the APIs out there. Maybe I can put together a sync script or something similar to help me across the turbulences of Web 2.0 tryouts.

But first, I'll tryout Twitter. Since a couple of friends are using it already, I feel some social pressure 2.0 building up...

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