Wednesday Oct 31, 2007

"1-Click" downloading debuts at Sun


I realize this isn't exactly a ground breaking development, but it's still a first here at Sun -- we've just released our first product to use 1-click download. Basically, this simply means you click the "Download Now" button, and we use JavaScript to start the download automatically -- no further clicks needed! And we did include an enhancement that makes our implementation unique by integrating the Sun Download Manager (SDM) directly into the 1-click experience. If you check "Use Sun Download Manager" before clicking the Download Now button, SDM installs as part of the download process and starts up with your product already loaded into its file list.

Granted our first product is a relatively small file which doesn't take great advantage of SDM's ability to pause, resume, and restart downloads, but once we roll out larger files, this will be a very effective solution.

As I wrote previously, there are still a number of caveats around using this feature, and it will take time to enhance its functionality to support many more products. But it's definitely the direction we're going -- to streamline the download experience and remove as many steps as possible. 

If you'd like to give it a try, start on the page Downloads for Java Web Services Developer Pack 2.0, scroll down the page until you see "Java Web Services 2.0 Tutorial," and click the orange Download Now button.


Monday Oct 22, 2007

First Products Released on Sun's New Download System


I am pleased to announce that last week we released the first few products on our new download system -- an important and exciting milestone! We will continue migrating products to the new system in a phased manner in order to gradually add load and reduce risks associated with such a large product migration. This process will culminate later this year with the release of our top product downloads such as Solaris Operating System and Java software

If you'd like to be among the first to try the new system, here are a couple of products that are live now.

Solaris Operating System for x86 Installation Check Tool 1.2
(Note this product requires a Sun Online Account to download.)

J2SE(TM) Runtime Environment 5.0 Update 2
Click on the "Download JRE" link (not the "Download JDK" link).

These are older product versions, again to reduce risk and start out conservatively. Yet our stats show we've already had quite a few downloads on the new system, and so far it's going well! If you give it a try, please feel free to leave me a comment about your experience. If you hit any questions or issues, please check out our updated FAQ, or try the new download customer support form to reach download customer service.

I'm going to claim the distinction of having done the first live download on the new system until someone proves otherwise -- it went live at 8:00 am PDT on October 17, and I completed my download at 8:02!


Friday Oct 05, 2007

Sun's new Download System -- So what's going on?


I first mentioned we're building a new download system back in March (wow, was it really that long ago already?), and frankly, we had hoped to have it out the door by now. Alas, it's been a very complex project, and when you're dealing with the kinds of download volumes we are, we simply needed more time to ensure the highest quality system.

One of the complexities (and benefits) of the project has been our decision to use much more of a service oriented architecture (SOA). When we built the first system starting way back in 1997, the term SOA wasn't even coined, and we built all the functionality ourselves. Since then, we have worked hard to standardize web services and systems that all of Sun's web properties can share via SOA. We call this set of systems the "Common Web Platform," and it includes ID managementMy Sun Connection Portal, eCommerce, downloads, and more.

Here are some of Sun's common services that our new download system (internally, we call it "CDS" -- Common Download Service) will use and their benefits (similar functions were built-in to the old system, making it even harder to manage):

  • ID Management: By using common Sun Online Accounts, users don't have to create nor remember multiple credentials on different Sun properties and can move between them seamlessly using single sign-on and session transfer. CDS doesn't have to build its own customer registration system nor store the data for millions of downloaders.
  • Portal: When users download many of our most popular products, we'll automatically signal the My Sun Connection Portal about the transaction. Customers can then login there, go to their "My Products" tab, and it'll list their recent downloads. Using this info, the Portal presents really useful content. For instance, if you download the Solaris Operating System, you'll find informative links to articles, blogs, training, support resources, and forum postings. If you've never visited our portal, I think you'll find it very worthwhile -- check it out!
  • Outbound Email: Some products are set up to send instructive emails to customers after they download. By using Sun's common email service, we gain efficiency while better respecting customers' Sun-wide privacy preferences. (Trying to track opt-in/opt-out data separately on our many web sites just doesn't work!)

So what's this have to do with the project schedule? With all the benefits of SOA, we're learning about the added complexity as well and some new pitfalls:

  • Number 1, and probably obvious, but we don't control 100% of our fate anymore. Our team has to work with each service's business and engineering teams. Sometimes their priorities are different than ours, and a delay in any external system we rely on affects our entire schedule. (One of the systems lost a key engineer in the middle of our project, for example, and that hurt.)
  • Environmental complexities: We can't build and test everything in our shared production environment, so we work in development and test environments. But the non-production versions of the different systems aren't necessarily in the same place, and so your testing can come to a dead halt just because someone hadn't opened the right firewall ports for the systems to interconnect. 
  • Debugging can be more difficult, and quite honestly it introduces a whole new world of "finger pointing" (as in, "My service works perfectly, so it's obviously something wrong on your end!")

These complexities are not the only reason the project has taken longer than expected, but they certainly contributed. It's a good learning experience, and when we plan our next SOA integrations, we'll know to add some extra time and be better prepared for this new world of interconnectedness.


Wednesday Jul 18, 2007

Heads Up! Sun Download Links are Changing


We've been working very hard on preparing our new download system for release. We hit a snag with data migration from the old system to the new and lost a number of weeks on our schedule, but we're back on track now and preparing to release the new system within the next couple of months (hopefully!).  

I wanted to post this "heads up" to alert any sites that direct link to downloads on Sun that those links will change. We are taking care of this with an automated, systematic approach for web pages we publish. However, we know there are external sites, not owned by Sun, that link directly to downloads. If you own or manage such a site, this is your notice that your links won't work correctly when we release the new system. (We will put redirects in to handle requests to the old system as gracefully as possible, but clearly the best solution is to change the links to point to the new system.)

What kind of links are we talking about? Primarily, this concerns direct linking to the current SDLC application. All such links start with:

http[s]://javashoplm.sun.com/...

(For example, look at the "Get it" page for Sun Java System Web Server 7.0 Update 1 and you'll see a "Download" link at the bottom that goes to:

http://javashoplm.sun.com/ECom/docs/Welcome.jsp?StoreId=8&PartDetailId=SJWS-7.0U1-OTH-G-F&TransactionId=Try.)

Do you manage or know of a site with any URLs on them that start this way? If yes, we will be happy to work with the site team to let them know how to "translate" these URLs to our new download system. It's not difficult and can be done programmatically if there are a lot of them. 

(By the way, if you're using these links for Java software downloads, unless your customers require a very specific version or it's primarily a developer audience, we recommend linking to java.com instead. Java.com is much more of a consumer oriented download experience, and you can change your links now and remove any dependency on the roll-out of our new system. Java.com will not change as far as external facing downloads are concerned.)

Finally, there is one other class of effected pages that are "intermediary" pages on the way to the download system. All such pages start with:

http://www.sun.com/download/products.xml?id=

(The above example of the "Get it" page for Sun Java System Web Server 7.0 Update 1 is this type of page, located at http://www.sun.com/download/products.xml?id=467713d6 )

So, in summary, the new download system will replace these links and many of these "Get it" pages. If you link to them, you must update your site. To do so, please contact me at once by email at gary dot zellerbach at sun dot com. I will send you instructions on how to make the updates and ensure your are communicated with regularly about the changes and schedule. If you have general questions about what's going on, please leave me a blog comment. Thanks!


Wednesday Apr 25, 2007

Implementing "One-Click Download" at Sun


I wrote previously about the new download system we're developing, so here's an update on another new feature it'll include -- so-called "one-click downloads."

You've probably experienced one-click download, often used for consumer-oriented downloads such as those used on download.com or by Adobe for its ubiquitous Reader. It works something like this: First, you find the product page on the web. It describes the product and invites you to click immediately (a button or link) to download. Once you click, you'll see a message such as, "Your download should start automatically. If not, click this link." and then JavaScript initiates the download.

Our executive leadership has requested this functionality for some time. Why? Because it's strongly believed that the immediacy of the experience will increase "conversion rate" of visitors to downloaders. Furthermore, it's well known (and measurable) that we lose visitors with every additional click and/or page load between the user and the desired task. We want to give people the incentive to download our software, then let them act immediately.

We'll offer this functionality by integrating our new download system with a simple, Sun standard web component that can be embedded on any product page. Perhaps the term "widget" is a bit overused now-a-days, but that's basically what this is -- a new, "pluggable" download widget that can go on any Sun web page. It'll look generally like this:

One-click download widget

Clicking the Download button loads the download page and simultaneously starts the download automatically. If the user selects to use Sun Download Manager (SDM), SDM starts automatically with the file in the queue, ready to download. Future enhancements will add more features and flexibility to expand this capability.

You might wonder why we haven't done this sooner, but the fact is that this model has typically been more applicable to simple "consumer" type products rather than the often-complex enterprise software we deliver. Our complex products typically come along with what we're calling "barriers to download" -- extra steps required before users can start their download. These barriers cause measurable user abandonment at each step, reducing conversion rates and the number of customers getting our products.  But removing them is not so simple -- there are technical hurdles as well as the need to modify some long standing business practices.

Here are the key barriers and suggested remediations:

Barrier Remediation
Registration Required Do not require registration. Build it into the product installer and/or offer incentives and opportunity to sign up after downloading.
Software License Agreement (SLA) acceptance required. If SLA acceptance is built into the product installer, we can remove required acceptance from the download flow.
Multiple files must be downloaded. Use Zip or similar method to bundle the product as a single file.

Our first widget can only handle products that have none of these barriers. Since we're sure this is a good thing for our customers, we hope this capability will be incentive for our product teams to look at how they release their products. (Of course we'll continue to support more complex download scenarios too). We're putting out the word to the product teams and hope they'll take take advantage of one-click download when it's released.

Wednesday Mar 21, 2007

RSS Feed Provides Notice of New Download Releases



Thanks to some excellent engineering work by Harley Milne, we now have an RSS feed available on our New Downloads page. By subscribing to this feed, you'll be notified whenever a new download is released on Sun Download Center. To subscribe, just grab the feed URL from the small orange RSS icon near the top right of the New Downloads section, as shown here:

RSS feed icon

This offers a very easy and convenient way to be notified whenever new software is released, and I hope it's helpful for our customers.

Note that similar feeds are also available now for the list of Top Sun Software Downloads and Top Java Downloads if those topics are of interest. (I'm not sure how often those lists are updated but believe it's done monthly.)

Wednesday Mar 14, 2007

A New Download System for Sun


We are currently devoting a lot of time and resources towards building an all new download application to replace the one powering today's Sun Download Center (SDLC). Why? Because the current SDLC code base started in 1997, and as you can imagine, that is terribly ancient in Internet Years. After careful analysis, it was determined we should not put more time and effort into trying to make an older system meet today's needs. A new system is needed to provide the flexibility, capabilities, and advanced functionality supporting a "Web 2.0" download experience.

As our current system is pushing tremendous volume, obviously it is a very complex system and cannot be replaced overnight. We've been going through the full process of designing a new system, from business to functional requirements, user experience enhancements, and so forth. (We recently saw the first conference room demo of the new system -- very exciting, it works!)  While initial emphasis has to be on a functional replacement for the current system, we want to put in many usability enhancements as quickly as possible.

I wanted to share one of the new designs, to give a flavor of what we're working on. One of the key challenges with current systems is handling "bundles", which are essentially multiple software products put together in logical bundles to facilitate marketing, selling, and buying. The prime example right now is "Sun's Software Portfolio." As you can see, this provides the user the option to select multiple products for download in one transaction. But when you actually get to the download page itself, we needed a solution to present so many products and links! 

Options discussed included a sequential set of pages -- download product 1, then hit continue to the next one -- but this required a lot of page loads and forced users to download in a set order. Another option was to make one BIG download page with all the products and links from top to bottom, but that's really awkward and difficult at best. After some collective brainstorming, we came up with a new design that we're very pleased with, and Greg Reimer provided some great JavaScript code to make it all work. Here's a mock-up to show the concept:

CDS Download Page


When the page first loads, all of the sections are collapsed -- with one glance, you can see all the products selected for download. Clicking the "+" icon expands to the full download page for that product, as illustrated for "Product 3." When you're done, you can close up that download page section, then expand the next one and so on. This solution eliminates the issues seen with the other options and is one of the many user experience improvements we'll be rolling out in the (hopefully) not too distant future.


Friday Feb 09, 2007

Update on Sun Download Manager 2.0 -- Delivering Results


It's been two months since the release of SDM 2.0, so we took a look at some key statistics to see how it's going. We're very pleased with results so far.

One of the key goals of the project was to improve download completion rates. We know using SDM helps, but not enough customers were using earlier versions because they had to be installed in a separate transaction. By integrating SDM directly into the Sun Download Center (SDLC) download page, we figured more people would use it and completion rates would improve. (Better completion rates are great for our customers and benefit Sun as well.) Happily, we're seeing immediate improvements, as illustrated in this chart comparing completion rates in November, 2006 (before SDM 2) and in December, 2006 (after the release).

Completion rate comparison

I also ran some preliminary numbers for January and found that one of our largest (and most critical) downloads, the 5 segments that make up the Solaris 10 OS DVD images, are running at a greater than 80% completion rate. That's pretty remarkable when you consider it's over 3 gigabytes of content. (When we started obsessing on Solaris completion rates years ago, the files were much smaller yet running at completion rates around 20% -- so you can see why I'm excited by the progress.)

As to increasing adoption of SDM, average download volume for earlier versions was 20-30,000 downloads/month. Since release of SDM 2, we've had 1/2 million downloads!

Another key indicator is customer support issues. Honestly, it was a little scary for us releasing this brand new use of Java Web Start (JaWS) technology -- integrating a JaWS application directly with the download links on SDLC in a highly visible and trafficked environment. But we've only received about 30 support incidents from our customers, which is a great ratio considering the number of downloads and installations. (Some of the support inquiries received were covered in our SDM troubleshooting guide already, but we understand not everyone "reads the manual.") 

Finally, a quick Google search didn't find too much chatter about SDM, typically a good thing I guess. "Milek's Blog" had some nice things to say as well as some suggestions for new features -- much appreciated. On the negative side, I found little as well, though there are rare cases where SDM using Java Web Start may not work properly. This is often a case of multiple older Java Runtime Environments on the same system, possibly combined with issues introduced by corporate firewalls and proxies. As we recommend, if possible, uninstall older Java versions and install the latest/greatest. Also, the stand-alone version of SDM is still available and offers a good option when proxy or firewall issues may keep the JaWS version from starting up properly. All in all, considering the volume, these issues are very rare.

So that's a quick summary of results so far. SDM 2.0 is off to a great start and is meeting and exceeding the goals we set for the project. (Now I better get back to work on our current major project -- an all new download system that will replace today's SDLC application. We sincerely hope this project goes at least as well as SDM 2.0!)


Friday Jan 05, 2007

Two Billion Files and Counting...


It was just last April that I reported breaking the "1 billion files delivered" milestone on Sun Download Center (SDLC). Amazingly, I just saw the November '06 stats, and we have doubled that volume in a mere 8 months --> 2,198,074,973 completed file downloads from November 1-30! (As I noted previously, these are not individual "products" but rather individual files, as many products are composed of multiple files.) The bandwidth figures are pretty impressive as well. I probably shouldn't get too detailed here, but suffice it to say it's many terabytes per day.

The biggest volume driver continues to be Java technology, and I doubt that will be tapering off any time. Java is alive and well, and more and more OEMs are including it on their systems as they ship. Because these systems use Java auto-update (as do all recent versions of Java), whenever we put out a new release and enable it for auto-update, hundreds of millions of computers pull files from our back-end systems. (The same infrastructure that supports SDLC also supports java.com and java auto-update via web service integrations.)

Now I can't help wondering what the December numbers are going to look like, since in that month alone we released another auto-update release of Java SE 5, the major first release of Java SE 6, and the latest update to the Solaris 10 Operating System, version "11/06". Three billion files in December perhaps??

The growth rate is fairly astonishing and certainly an excellent indicator of the escalating adoption rate of Sun and Java Software. And if you're wondering, I'd say we are prepared (and expecting) to see volume continue to double every year or so. For starters, our "next big thing" is a completely new download system that we're working on now. The SDLC application has served us extremely well but the foundation code is now about 8 years old, and a lot has changed since then. It's getting way beyond the "duct tape" stage for keeping it together, so we're building a whole new system. This is very exciting, and I'll be writing more about it over the coming months.

Friday Dec 08, 2006

Sun Download Manager 2.0 Goes Live!



SDM 2.0 puts our customers in charge of their download experience with the click of a button.

I am really pleased to announce the release yesterday (December 7, 2006) of Sun Download Manager 2.0 (SDM) in conjunction with major enhancements to the Sun Download Center (SDLC). Together they mark a milestone in the Sun download experience. For the first time, customers can easily download, install, and run SDM without ever leaving the download page for the products they desire. This is accomplished by integrating SDM directly into the SDLC, using Sun's Java Web Start (JaWS) technology. Users simply check the boxes next to the files they want, click the bright orange button to download with SDM (you can't miss it!), and JaWS takes over. It automatically downloads SDM, installs it, and starts it up with the selected files already loaded into SDM and ready to download.

Here's a picture of the enhanced SDLC download page:

SDLC download page


SDM offers many features and benefits. A few highlights include:
  • Pause and resume downloads, plus recover from dropped connections without having to start over.
  • Built-in, patent-pending verification technology ensures the integrity of downloaded files.
  • Saves time and bandwidth for Sun and our customers; conserving bandwidth saves money for all.
  • Greatly increases the download success rate. Greater customer success means higher customer satisfaction, more adoption of Sun's software, and all the corresponding benefits that entails.

Additionally, SDM 2 features a complete redesign, sporting a clean new look and feel that's more in sync with the rest of sun.com. There's even a small, unobtrusive banner ad window, the first application (i.e. not a web page) to leverage Sun's ad server to deliver dynamic, timely promotions and offers to customers' desktops. Of course SDM remains a completely free product with no spyware or malware whatsoever.

Here's the new UI:

Sun Download Manager user interface

It would be great if you would give it a try and let us know what you think by leaving me your comments. Frankly, we're pushing into new territory with this creative use of JaWS, and just our testing alone on a zillion different browser/platform/Java version combinations was an amazing challenge. That's no replacement for the "real world," however, which is why it's so important we get your feedback. While SDM 2 remains available as a "stand alone" application (with installer), the biggest change is the way we've integrated it dynamically into SDLC. The way to test that is to simply pick your product on the SDLC, select the files you want to download, and push the big orange button!

Please note SDM is a 100% Java application and runs on virtually any modern operating system with a Java Runtime Environment v1.4.2 or higher (though the latest version really does work best). If you are running a lower version of JRE, your SDLC web page will look like the "old" version, and you will not be offered the integrated SDM.

This release was a true cross-functional effort -- many thanks to the teams that made it happen: CWP Product Marketing, Download Engineering, Web Operations, and SDLC IT. 

Wednesday Nov 29, 2006

Photos from 2006 Web 2.0 Summit



If you'd like to see the faces that go with all the names I wrote about (plus a bunch more pics of course), an extensive photo set is now available, thanks to James Duncan Davidson/O'Reilly Media. (There are no close-ups of me unfortunately -- an obvious oversight! And yes, I'm just kidding...)

Also, if you'd like to drill down on any of the speakers or topics discussed, some of the key presentations are online now as well.

Tuesday Nov 14, 2006

Summing up the 2006 Web 2.0 Summit



I was fortunate to attend the Web 2.0 Summit (November 7-9, 2006, in San Francisco) again this year and to have this opportunity to sum up my experience and take-aways.

(Actually, it was the "Web 2.0 Conference" but just became the "Summit" to avoid confusion with the all new Web 2.0 "Expo" planned for April! The story we were told is that there were 750 attendees this year with "5000" more turned away due to lack of space, so a new venue was created at Moscone to hold a much larger audience.)

I enjoyed it quite a bit this year but wasn't quite as enthralled as last year. Web 2.0 is now quite a bit more "mainstream," while AJAX and mash-ups were exceptional new concepts last year. Contrast that with this year's general obsession with YouTube being bought by Google, and you get the idea. Just the same, it was still very exciting and informative to see and hear the leaders of the industry.

To me, this year's summit is best represented by a bounty of aphorisms springing forth from the speakers' mouths. While often repetitive, these pithy statements distilled the key messages coming out of the conference I think. I jotted them down when I could and am pleased to share herein.

The conference started with a series of simultaneous workshops, so you had to decide what sounded best and miss the others. I first attended "The Next Internet Infrastructure" featuring a panel discussion with Marc Canter, Broadband Mechanics, Jeff Barr, Amazon Senior Evangelist, Chad Dickerson, Yahoo Developer Network, and Jonathan Hare from Resilient. (By the way, speaker bios are online if you want more info on anyone.)

There was a lot of talk about Identity, and it's still a big issue. Microsoft's Passport failed the first time around due to privacy concerns, and Liberty Alliance hasn't achieved the hoped-for critical mass. Along with Identity goes Reputation, and these were the focus areas discussed. Of note, Yahoo recently opened up APIs for their browser-based authentication, meaning any subscribing site can provide instant login access for Yahoo's 1/2 billion registered customers. Quotes of note:
  • Openness is its own reward.
  • Put your APIs out on the 'net, and then see what people do with them. (You will be surprised!)
  • Integrate first, then do the deal.
    (With open APIs from Yahoo, Google, and Amazon, it changes the model considerably. Start-ups used to have to negotiate or buy software up front. Now you can build something fabulous -- hopefully -- then make the deal to monetize it further when your idea takes off.)

Next was a panel led by Danny Kolke, CEO of Etelos, on "The Revolution of the SMB Application Marketplace." Gist of the discussion was that 50% of small/medium businesses aren't even online today, so there is a huge untapped market opportunity. However, the market must be served by easy to use applications, and remember, the data belongs to the customer (a recurring theme!).

I was interested to hear Don Tapscott's talk on "How the Net Generation Changes Marketing and Management" (and not just because I have a 15 year old son!). Tapscott is an excellent speaker and true thought leader, and his take on the first generation to grow up attached to the 'net was fascinating. This line of research is a work in progress for him and his team, but he has already distilled a valuable list of "norms" for the new generation:

  • Freedom of choice ("Choice is like oxygen")
  • Freedom to customize (and to change your mind)
  • The new scrutinizers -- they read reviews and research online before purchasing
  • Freedom to schedule (think Tivo)
  • Search for integrity (highly tuned "BS" detectors)
  • Relationships and Collaboration. They are willing to share information, and really want a 2-way relationship with their brands.
  • Experience, entertainment, fun, playfulness -- melding of activities and multi-tasking. (If you have a teenager, you've probably seen them learn, study, play, communicate, shop, and entertain at the same time!)
  • Speed and Immediacy

The last workshop I attended was sponsored by Level 3 on Networking Strategy and Evolution. This was sparsely attended, as it coincided with the Launch Pad (where new startups make their debut), so I had good opportunity to interact and learn. I enjoyed especially speaking with Andrew Parker, CTO for CacheLogic, and Ezra Davidson, EVP BD at SyncCast. While their focus is moving large media files around, it's not much different from our focus on moving large binaries, such as the Solaris Operating System. Andrew discussed how the BBC plans to make all their content available on the Internet via P2P immediately after broadcast, starting next Spring. Ezra talked about moving 6 GB media files around, which are even larger than our operating system images. I asked him "the secret," since files over 2 GB in size may not download correctly on older infrastructure. He said their biggest issue was with the servers. So they tuned their web servers and provide their own download manager. Seems simple enough -- if you control the server and the client (and hope nothing goes wrong with the plumbing in the middle), you can succeed in delivering such large files.

Late in the afternoon, the full conference kicked off with a BIG name, Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google. Talk turned quickly to YouTube, as you might imagine. According to Eric:

  • Video became a "fundamental data-type" on the 'net over the last year.
  • Put the needs of the users first. Let them own their data; let them move their data.
  • Would you rather host your application (and livelihood) on your desktop or in a 24-hour data center?
  • Don't bet against the Internet!

He made an interesting comment on how they develop their strategy -- ask questions. They started the year with "29 questions," then sent teams out to look for the answers. Then develop the strategy...

Next up, Joichi Ito gave a quick but deep dive into the World of Warcraft and "socially driven gaming." Take-away here is that the lines are blurring between "virtual" and "reality". Hard to argue -- we see Sun holding news conferences now in Second Life.

Ben Trott was up next to introduce his new social-networking site, Vox. Memorable quote: "Open Data is as important as Open Source." While Vox can suck in blogs from other sites (and competitors), it also has an Export function. So we see a recurring mantra here -- "users own their data."

Jack Ma, CEO of hugely successful Chinese site Alibaba, offered some valued insights into doing business in China. Success is about understanding the Chinese culture -- it's not about technology or (U.S.) brands. He was asked how he deals with the government; he was measured and pragmatic in his response. He's in business to make money, so he cooperates with the government, plain and simple.

Day Two started off with Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. I had heard about Amazon's roll-out of web services but hadn't really grasped their strategy until now, and I was impressed! Bezos explained their web services platform is now a core of their business strategy and the third revenue center behind selling their own goods and making a marketplace for other sellers. It quickly dawned on me how similar this sounded to Sun's grid offerings, though interestingly the word "grid" never left  his mouth. He talked of this new paradigm of "developing for the data center" (echoing Eric Schmidt) and a new era of "computers talking to computers" (i.e. Web 2.0 services).

A bit later, he was asked directly about Sun's services and why Amazon's seems to be taking off more quickly. He mentioned "easy to use," "pay by the drink," and "service the long tail." He alluded to Sun's approach which was more focused on negotiating and signing a contract up-front. (I don't know how true that is - I had heard you can get on Sun's grid with a credit card. But I did get the impression that Amazon's approach is really gaining momentum.)

Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen talked a lot about buying Macromedia in an effort to move away from being a "peripheral player" on the Internet. A big announcement was their decision to open source the Flash ActionScript Virtual Machine in conjunction with the Mozilla Foundation, pushing even further the ubiquity of Flash by allowing the VM to be embedded directly in the browser. But, he was clear their business model is not around everything being open source, pointing out there is a clear line between "open standards vs. open source."

Mary Meeker from MorganStanley presented, "The State of the Internet, Part 3 -- The World's Information is Getting Organized and Monetized." Unfortunately, she was given 10 minutes to cover 40 slides that are jam packed with really useful data. Fortunately, the slides are online.

Mark Benioff, CEO of SalesForce.com, illustrated how far we've come in a year, introducing his concept of  Enterprise Mash-Ups and the evolution of the "killer app" to the "killer platform." He spoke of the "elastic database" and using the salesforce DB and data center as a foundation to build great value-add mash-ups for salesforce customers.

I mentioned Don Tapscott earlier. He came back for a "main stage" appearance to talk about his forthcoming book, "Wikinomics -- How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything." Here we see the "business web" evolving to a "computational platform," quickly approaching a state whereby no company can innovate fast enough by itself. This plays on another recurring theme of the conference, "Harvesting the collective intelligence." Interestingly, I think this somewhat echoes Sun's prescient motto, "The Network is the Computer."

Jim Lanzone, CEO of ask.com, and Steve Berkowitz, Senior VP of Online Services at Microsoft, had some interesting thoughts when given their opportunity to discuss a "common enemy," Google (of course). They talked about a much greater need to tailor and personalize search as we move our web interactions from "products" to "experiences." One zinger was the statement, "Google is the Model-T of search." In other words, like the Ford Model-T, Google is the first search engine that really works for the masses. When you're the first, it's OK to be "vanilla" (like the first Model-T, where your color choices were black, or black). But to stay relevant, customers will soon demand personalization and differentiation, and they see a big opportunity there to "disrupt" Google's model.

I frankly didn't find Ray Ozzie's much-anticipated appearance too interesting (maybe cause it was late in the day, or maybe because he's such a honcho at Microsoft now that he really needs to watch what he says!). He talked about scenario based design and building properties focused on the user -- nothing earthshaking.

That ended Day 2, and off for more eating. A quick aside...
Did I mention the incredible volume of food at this event? Yikes, I know I put on a few pounds, as they insisted on feeding us at every opportunity. There was full breakfast, lunch, and dinner, not to mention copious snacks at the morning and afternoon breaks! Each meal had its corporate sponsor, of course, so my personal thanks to all of them for helping us to totally overdo it in the food department.

Day 3 kicked off with Marten Mickos, CEO of MySQL, and further elaboration on the foundational role of data in Web 2.0:

  • Data happens everywhere
  • Open source your data
  • The data is the platform

He proposed creating the "Skype of data" and a "DNS for SQL servers" whereby everyone's data gets connected into one global DB. Hmm, I suspect there might be some privacy concerns, but perhaps the benefits could outweigh the risks.

Brad Garlinghouse and Ethan Diamond from Yahoo demoed their new email application that integrates chat into the client. They echoed the theme: Applications are dead, but Experiences thrive.

Next up venture capitalists Roger McNamee, Elevation Partners, and Ram Shriram (founding board member of Google) told us all how to get rich (well, not exactly). When asked where the biggest opportunities lie, they spoke of "time management" in particular. Of those 100 emails that arrived in your inbox since you went to lunch, which are the 2 important ones? If you can solve that problem and help people manage their time in the face of the onslaught of information overload, you'll do well. A few further words of advice:

  • What matters is the size of the pie, not the slice. (I guess that's another way of saying 20% of something is better than 100% of nothing.)
  • Figure out if you want "dumb money" vs. "smart  money". (So do you just take $$$ or do you want the intelligence and experience the VCs can offer as well?)

I mentioned "Harnessing Collective Intelligence" earlier, and this was the topic for a panel discussion including Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster. We saw an incredible slide that showed the top 10 web properties by visits and the size of their staffs. I don't remember the exact numbers but they were all in the thousands except for one -- Craigslist, 20 employees! That is the epitome of  harnessing collective intelligence. For example, why hire people to moderate postings and eliminate spam when you can simply empower the users to do it for you?

  • The system learns from the users.
  • Let the users tell you what features they want most. 
  • Spend your money on features rather than marketing and see what works. 
  • "Come out from behind the mirrors" (I found that statement provocative -- it's a direct reference to the one-way mirrors we sit behind when conducting focus groups and usability studies.)
  • Understand the difference between UGC (user generated content) and collective intelligence.

Marissa Mayer from Google had a succinct message, "It's all about speed!" She showed how changes on Google that caused pages to load half a second slower would severely impact usage rates. The good news is that the web provides an "instant feedback loop" on these types of changes, so you can (and they did) change back quickly. She also noted  that "AJAX = Speed."

The day ended with a rare public appearance by David Filo, co-founder of Yahoo. By that time, I'll admit I was getting tired of seeing the parade of 30-something billionaires (OK, so I'm jealous), and I didn't catch any new themes in that discussion.

If you've come this far, you'll have picked up the recurring themes of this year's Web 2.0 Summit. It's all about the users, the users' data, the web's transformation into a platform, and experiences over applications. I'm sure there's more than enough collective intelligence to go around -- we just have to harvest it and focus it back into winning experiences for our customers.

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About

I helped design, build, and manage download systems at Sun for many years. Recently I've focused on web eMarketing systems. Occasionally, I write about other interests, such as holography and jazz guitar. Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/garyzel

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