Sunday Nov 28, 2010

A Retrospective on The Aquarium

Tuesday will be the 5th anniversary of the First Post in TheAquarium and I am using that as an opportunity to do a retrospective.

What is it?

The Aquarium is the official news group blog for GlassFish, modeled after news blogs like Gizmodo, BoingBoing and Autoblog.  It is, foremost, a periodica and it shares many traits with those in the traditional media, including the importance of quality writing, consistency, building and keeping an audience and deadlines.


TheAquarium has been one of the top three Popular Blogs at Blogs.Sun.Com for many years and has been the top blog for the last couple of years. That visibility and reach has been intertwined with the growth of GlassFish although the impact of TheAquarium goes beyond that as it helps keep the community connected and informed.

One way to indirectly track the impact of TheAquarium is through Google Trends:

That uptick at the end of 2005 aligns well the start of the TheAquarium. Causality between the two events is hard to prove, but I'll go ahead and claim that's the case.

As you can see, GlassFish grew very nicely for three years until it peaked with the launch of Sun's GlassFish Portfolio (the "E" flag in the chart). If you look carefully you can also see smaller spikes that correspond to the IBM rumor and the Oracle announcement.  After that the graph shows a decline, and later a stabilization. The next phase for GlassFish and TheAquarium will be the release GlassFish 3.1, the first new major release under Oracle, at the beginning of 2011.

Historical Context

The Aquarium was an evolution of our previous blogging experience, mostly at Java.Net at that time.  We had launched GlassFish at JavaOne 2005 and we were making good progress on the first GlassFish release but that progress was not visible internally or externally.  When Sun announced Red October I used that as a motivation to start The Aquarium.


The target audience for TA has always been external and internal.   Internally, Jonathan and other Sun execs were regular readers.  TA also helped with communication across different teams and geographies at Sun and, like the rest of Blogs.Sun.Com, TheAquarium led to much improved information flow, which led to better alignment, improved agility, and, eventually better products.

The Authors

For many years we were averaging between 2-6 posts each weekday.  We slowed down a bit last summer 2009 but even so we have more than 3200 entries.  To spread the cost of maintaining this publishing rate, TheAquarium was conceived as a group blog from the beginning. 

The original editors were Carla Mott, Rich Sharples and myself, with other editors joining and leaving over the years, in part driven by topic expansion.  Below is a recent list of posts by author; as you can see, we have many authors, but the authoring load has remained concentrated on me, and I've remained "Editor-in-Chief".

rtenhove1   dr1569142   treydrake2   nav3   arvindsrinivasan4   ripcurl6  
atul7   andi8   nazrul8   fkieviet16   qouyang17   bytor19  
Binod P G25   Giuseppe Maxia25   woodjr41   superpat48   arungupta63   carlasblog133  
sharps185   alexismp310   pelegri2272           


TA started focused on GlassFish but we expanded the topics over the years to cover the larger scope of the GlassFish Portfolio and new "friends" like MySQL.  This expansion was always a balancing act: we wanted to gain new readers and to expose new areas to our core readership, but we couldn't expand too fast or we would lose that core readership.  In the post-Oracle era, we have reduced our coverage and concentrated again on the GlassFish Server

The Formula

Like other periodicals, the content at TA needs to be timely and well researched, the entries need to come in a regular basis, and should be easy to read.  We have also followed a specific formula over the years:

  • Length - Posts are short, typically ranging from 2 to 4 paragraphs, although recently we have also included some longer posts.
  • Images - Each post has at least one image that relates to the content.  Sometimes finding a good image can take more time than composing the text.
  • Entertaining - Posts try to be easy to read.  We also regularly add jokes (you judge how good they are), often through the image in the post.
  • Highlighting Content - Most posts refer to content elsewhere so bloggers with smaller audiences can benefit from our larger readership.
  • Validated Content - We validate the content before advertising it, taking advantage that the TA authors are all in the GlassFish engineering team.
  • Correlated Content - We link to multiple sources and stories to give larger context to the news.
  • Tagged Content - Entries are tagged using the Roller machinery to simplify searches.

Writing is Hard

Writing is hard.  Fitting the story into a small budget of words - omit needless words - can produce a satisfying result, but it can take time and often you need to just move on and publish the entry.


As TA and GlassFish gained popularity we wanted to reach out into audiences that might not be very comfortable with news in English.  Since Sun had a strong culture of blogging, it was relatively easy to find volunteers to translate the content, and that is how we ended with 8 translations, although some of them were more active than others.  The activity of some of these translations has decreased significantly after the Oracle acquisition.


Over the years we have tried different variations on Weeklies.

We tried two variants (automated or manual) of a summary of the posts of the previous week. The automated version (e.g. this one) was cheap; we stopped it because the infrastructure bit-rotted.  The manual approach (e.g. this one) was better at capturing what happened in the week but is more resource-intensive.

We have also tried versions of a weekly catch-up post where we collect uncovered but important news in a single post.  This is much cheaper but less useful than individual posts.

Sharing the Load

The biggest challenge with The Aquarium has been finding the resources to continue to do it.

The ideal author needs to be knowledgeable of the technology and of its practical and strategic status, should know the teams involved in the relevant efforts, and should have the authority to write about these topics without having to ask for permission except in exceptional cases.  It also needs to have time to find and validate leads, write the posts, and then interact with the readers.  And should do this every day for years...  while holding other jobs.  This is not easy.  Also, the time an author spends writing posts for TA limits the time (and leads) available to spend in personal blogs - compare pelegri vs TheAquarium.

Finding translators is easier, the main problem there is that BSC authors need to be Sun employees.

Allowing direct community participation in TheAquarium could solve these two problems.

Using The Aquarium

TheAquarium attempts to record all important events.  This information is exposed via HTML, RSS, and ATOM using facilities described in here.  The information is then used in a number of ways:

  • As a daily, to stay abreast of events
  • For searching or browsing
  • To populate several pages, including the GF Wiki, the GF Admin Tool,, our FaceBook page, etc.

The Twitter Years

In the last couple of years we have seen a surge in micro-blogging, mostly twitter.  Although a twitter is much cheaper to create than a post, its value to the reader is lower.  To get the best of these two media we push news as-they-happen to @glassfish and then use TA posts when the story deserves it ... and whenever we have the time.

Still, I believe we have not yet figured out the best way to leverage twitter.

In Summary

I'd describe the experience with TheAquarium as a big success; although the time investment has been very considerable, I'm convinced GlassFish would not have been successful without it. I think the model is applicable to other situations, although it might be possible to adjust the approach to leverage better the community and new tools like twitter to reduce its cost while improve its reach even further.

Happy Birthday, The Aquarium!

Tuesday Jun 03, 2008

TheAquarium TV - Test Run.... GFv3 DEV meeting

Join us if you are interested ... there is a GF v3 DEV meeting right now. At

Sunday May 18, 2008

Ideas for TheAquarium TV - Your Feedback is Wanted!

The experience with uStream.TV during CommunityOne and JavaOne has been very good. Paul Sterk et al. used it during CommunityOne under somewhat challenging circumstances (see Recordings); and the JavaOne keynotes were professionally recorded (Sun GS 1, Sun GS 2, Sun GS 3, Sun GS 4) and look really good. I also did some small tests a couple of weeks before C1 and once this last week and it worked well.

Some years ago I used to host a Sun-internal technology weekly seminar that was quite popular; I had to stop doing it because of other responsibilities but I've been planning to restart it as a global public event as soon as I could find the right technology; uStream seems a good candidate and I want to give it a try. I created a TheAquarium TV channel and I want to start using it in the next few weeks for different events.

Overall, uStream.TV seems to have most wanted features. The setup is very easy for both broadcasters and audience, the quality is quite good and the technology seems to scale well. There are recording / playback capabilities and an online chat with moderation and polling and the host can invite additional hosts.

Below are some of the ideas that we could pursue with TA TV. They are in no particular order; give me your feedback and additional ideas; I'd like to start a few trials soon - I'll announce the trials at TheAquarium and in this blog.

GlassFish Technologies - GlassFish has many important technologies, we probably can do a weekly technical seminar just covering them. The traditional length of these presentations are 1 hour; we could start there and see how it works. Examples of technologes can include:

• Grizzly, OSGi, ....
• Comet, GWT, ...
• Clustering, Failover, ...
• Extensibility, Embeddability, Monitoring, ...

GlassFish Awards Program Series - Presentations based on the GAP Submissions.

MicroTalks or Lighting Talks - This is more a format than a specific topic. We could either have shorter presentations, or take several topics and bundle them into a full hour.

Use Cases and Architectures - Perhaps invite presenters from the Stories program?

Partners - Sun has a new GlassFish Partners Program and we could give them an opportunity to present what they are doing with GlassFish, with some guideance to make the presentations as useful to the audience as possible.

Geo-Focused Talks - One of my goals with this program is to reach outside of my immediate geographic location. That means beyond the San Francisco Bay Area, but also beyond the US, reaching through the globe into all the areas where there is interest for our technologies (see GF GeoMap). Clearly the internet helps but Time-Zones and culture/language may get in the way. A couple of ideas to explore are: having alternate broadcast times (say one for US-Europe, and another for Asia-Pacific), and having events that are hosted by special guests from around the world.

These are just some ideas, please let me know what you think. This is a new medium for me; I'm sure that, with your help, we will learn how to use it as we go through it.

Thursday Aug 30, 2007

Back to Using this Blog


I mostly blog at The Aquarium but that format is only useful for short entries. Every now and then I want / need to write longer pieces, so I'm resurrecting this blog for those cases.

Now I only need to find the time to do the writing!

Thursday May 11, 2006

Commentary on JavaOne 2006 Events Related to GlassFish Community

A final screencast before JavaOne 2006. I've done a Commentary on J1 Events Related to the GlassFish Community. The commentary runs for 10 minutes but hopefully you will find it useful.

Wednesday May 10, 2006

New ScreenCast: GlassFish Implementation

I've uploaded a second screencast, this time a short (6 minute) skim through The GlassFish Implementation. I am almost certainly not going to be able to do localizations of the narrative until after JavaOne, at which point I am more likely going to do updates with all the announcements done at the conference.

Please be patient with my recording. There is a reason why I am an engineer, and not a radio announcer!

Monday May 08, 2006

First ScreenCast from TheAquarium Editors - Java EE 5 Overview

This is my first experiment with Camtasia Studio: I've created a short (8 minutes) Overview of Java EE 5. Check it out and let me know how it goes; I'm still very much learning my way through the product.

My plan has been to highlight these presentations through TheAquarium and to ask different people to provide localizations of the narrative to different languages (I could do spanish -castillian- and catalan). I already have ready another presentation about the GlassFish implementation but the pre-JavaOne craziness is in full-swing, so we will see how things go.

Note: The index works on my IE/PC combo but does not work on FireFox or on IE on my Mac. The presentation works fine so just treat the index as a ToC for now.




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