Monday May 21, 2007

Slynkr: Open Source System for Social News, Bookmarking, and Tagging

Slynkr Project Logo

Hello everybody out there reading blogs.sun.com. I'm doing a (free) social news and bookmarking system (just a hobby, won't be big and professional like Digg and del.icio.us). It's been brewing for quite a while now, but I just recently got Sun's okay to release it as an open source project.

I hope it isn't too presumptuous of me to base that intro on another project's announcement, but I think it illustrates what Slynkr is all about: sharing and building on each others' work. When you submit something to a social news or bookmarking system, you almost always start with a URL for content which someone other than you wrote. So you build on their work by adding some kind of summary or commentary and a few keywords (tags). Then others come along and build on your work by adding their own tags and voting on whether they think the underlying item is any good. The more people contribute, the better the system becomes.

Of course, that's very similar to how open source software works. The more people contribute, the better the code becomes. That's what we're hoping to gain by making Slynkr open source. It's a usable system today (as you can see at slynkr.sunwarp.net or www.sdnshare.com), but it certainly has room for improvement. We'd love to have your help and ideas to make those improvements happen.

I certainly haven't created Slynkr by myself. Many people have chipped in with ideas and support. These people have been especially involved:

  • Lou Ordorica: original idea, look & feel, and other follow-up ideas and support
  • Jeff Shoup: co-developed the Slynkr code
  • Erik Larson: conceptual input
  • Todd Wichers: hosting support for our slynkr.sunwarp.net instance

I'd also like to thank the people behind sites like flickr, del.icio.us, and Digg. Their development and popularization of practices such as tagging and user-controlled voting were obviously major influences for us in the development of Slynkr.

Friday May 18, 2007

Cool Technology Names

The INQUIRER is running a list of the "top 10 greatest ever technology names". Sounds like it should be a fun little read, doesn't it?

Well, I found it disappointing. It was nice to see Sun included (#5), but overall their list seemed pretty weak. With just a couple minutes of thought, I think I have a list that beats theirs (though I won't try to order mine or give it exactly ten entries). Here goes...

  • Eclipse. Of course, I don't like to see anyone taking a slap at my employer. But if you're going to do it, you might as well be clever about it.
  • Apache. Your project starts out as a collection of patches for NCSA's HTTPD code. So you end up naming yourself Apache (as in "a patchy web server"). Not bad.
  • GlassFish. Okay, I'm part of this project and I'm biased. But I really do love the name. After years of criticism for not making the evolution and development of Java sufficiently open and visible, Sun names its open source Java EE project after an animal which is literally defined by its transparency. How cool is that?
  • Niagara. It's officially just the code name, but could there possibly be a more elegant way to describe Sun's chip multithreading processors? If you've ever been to a presentation about Niagara, you may have seen a slide which compares traditional processors and CMT processors using pictures of different waterfalls. A traditional processor is like a very fast waterfall that's only a few feet wide, whereas a CMT processor is like Niagara Falls--slower moving, but extremely wide. If you're just trying to get one or two things done (over the falls), the fast and narrow waterfall is great. But if you need to move a bunch of things at once, you want the Niagara. Like I said: elegant.
  • UNIX. It set a standard for poking fun at a predecessor (as in "one of whatever Multics was many of").
  • GNU. It may not be the catchiest name around, but you have to respect the whole recursive acronym thing. What's GNU? GNU's Not Unix. Right, but what's GNU? GNU's Not Unix. But what's GNU? ... Abbott and Costello would be proud.

Anyhow... Those are some cool names which came to mind for me. What's on your list?

Wednesday May 09, 2007

GlassFish @ JavaOne: By The Numbers

486. Could this simple number be stealing the show at the world's largest developer conference?

Maybe. It's getting some help, though. 100, 3, 5, and 2.5 million are also important numbers. Specifically, I'm talking about:

486 Time (in msec) it took for GlassFish v3 to launch in a keynote demo
100 Max memory footprint (in KB) for the GlassFish v3 kernel
3 As in "GlassFish v3"
5 As in "Java EE 5"
2.5 Million Number of GlassFish downloads to date

But again, I think 486 is the one that really caught people's attention. App Servers just don't start in half a second. And they sure don't fit into 100KB. So what's going on here?

Well, in fairness, only part of GlassFish v3 is starting in that 486ms. But it's the core part. Everything else can (and is) only loaded when it's actually needed. So you only pay (in memory and initialization overhead) for what you use. It's kind of like we put Sparky (our beloved mascot) on a dynamic diet so that he automatically shrinks or grows to exactly the size you need.

That really could be a game-changer, redefining how we look at App Servers and where we use them. In the conference sessions, for example, many have asked about the possibility of running GlassFish v3 on small devices like phones. And in the blogosphere, Adam Bien wonders whether it could become common to embed GlassFish v3 inside rich client applications. They're interesting possibilities (and all indications are that both could work well).

Let's not forget the last couple of numbers in our list. Java EE 5 makes similar reductions for the consumption of developers' time that GlassFish v3 will do for the consumption of machine resources. It makes development of EJBs and other EE components much simpler and faster by using quick and easy annotations to replace what previously required a lot of boilerplate code and configuration. And 2.5 million downloads demonstrates just how much traction existing GlassFish releases have achieved. So while we do have to wait for v3 to reach production readiness, we have strong options in the meantime including GlassFish v1 (available in a production-quality final release for over a year and used in high-volume sites such as Wotif.com) and GlassFish v2 (which adds new features such as clustering and scripting language support and has just reached Beta 2--making it very close to a final production-quality release).

Yes, I'm biased because I work at Sun and specifically on the GlassFish project. But I really do think that GlassFish (and specifically the modular v3 architecture) has really been grabbing some attention here at JavaOne. And if you aren't here to see Jerome's demonstration in person, don't worry--you can get similar information from his recent v3 screencast.

Thursday Apr 26, 2007

Building "SDN Share"

If you read my entry from earlier today, you know that we've launched a new program called SDN Share. It's a place where developers can share technical information with other developers and, in the process, earn some nice rewards (Amazon gift certificates).

Well we've now received our first bit of outside feedback. It came from Alan McClellan, who posted this comment on our SDN Share blog:

This is a cool site. How did you build it? It it home grown or did you use purchased or open source discussion/forum software?

Thanks, Alan. I'd been looking for an excuse to talk about this. :)

We implemented SDN Share by skinning and slightly modifying an existing piece of software called Slynkr. It's a Java implementation of a web-based service which allows anyone to submit items and then lets anyone else tag, vote, and comment on them (collectively forming what's often called a Social News or Social Bookmarking service).

Going back to the original question of whether this is home-grown or open source software... It's both. Okay, that isn't quite true--but I think it's safe to say that it will be soon. We're well into the process of getting Slynkr released as open source software. So you might want to keep an eye out wherever great open source Java software is created.

Sharing "SDN Share"

Developers are changing. Every day, it seems that interacting with the outside world becomes a larger and larger part of the job. We interact via open source projects, mailing lists, forums, blogs, journals, and more.

As developers change, it's only natural that tech companies' developer programs also change. In our case, that means the Sun Developer Network (SDN). It's always been a great program, providing a ton of information to developers. But one place where it could improve is in getting more information from developers.

That's why we're starting a new branch of this program, called SDN Share. In short, it's a place where developers can share technical content with other developers. Have a snippet of code that solves a common problem? Share it. A script which lets you avoid mundane tasks? Share it. An article which takes the mystery out of some new technology? That's right: Share it.

Once a submission has been accepted, anyone can add to it with some sharing of their own. They can comment on it, tag it, and vote on whether they think it's great or needs some work. This makes the best stuff float to the top, the Java stuff clump together with other Java stuff, and the occasional error get pointed out and corrected. You know--standard Web 2.0 and Participation Age stuff. Kudos to the Diggs, del.icio.uses, and Wikipedias of the world (and others) who came before us in popularizing and evolving these ideas.

I almost forgot the best part--the rewards. You receive points when your submission is accepted and when people vote for it. These rewards can be exchanged for cash which is deposited into a communal account shared by all SDN Share members. Then someday when enough cash has accrued, we will fulfill the longstanding dream of buying the world a Coke.

JUST KIDDING. This touchy-feely sharing stuff has to end somewhere, right? The rewards are Amazon gift certificates, and they're yours to hoard or spend in any way you like. The "How it Works" page provides details on how you get rewards points, and the "Redeeming Points" page explains how you can use them.

So what are you waiting for? I know you have little tidbits lying around that make you a better developer. You might as well share them and earn some free stuff, right? Also, keep an eye on the SDN Share Blog for more information on the program.

Wednesday Apr 25, 2007

Help Duke and Sparky!

Wired is running a feature looking for the Lamest Technology Mascots Ever. Despite its "lamest" title, the feature describes itself as "a tour of the good, the bad and the ridiculously lame of technology mascots." So I suppose I shouldn't be too upset to see inclusions which I think are good mascots--such as the Mozilla Lizard, Tux the Penguin, and Duke the ... (Curvy Triangle?).

They also include a poll where readers can vote on which mascots they like and dislike. So if you're a Duke fan (like me), go vote for him. And while you're there, I hope you'll also share your opinion of Sparky (our mascot for Project GlassFish). He wasn't in Wired's original list, but I submitted him (since I really do think he's a great mascot, capturing the spirit of an open source project like GlassFish).

Note that you may need to hit the "Next" link in the polling page a few times to find Duke and Sparky. Or you can go straight to the raw poll at reddit, which shows more of the mascots at once.

Update -- this note has been added to the poll: "Clarification: Click the GREEN ARROW for mascots you think are LAME and should be moved to the TOP of the list. Click the RED ARROW for mascots you think should move DOWN the list and should be rated LESS LAME. Sorry about the confusion!" So I suppose that we all need to vote against Duke and Sparky if we like them. Lovely. Maybe I should change this entry's title to "Help Wired Figure Out How to Word a Poll!"

Tuesday Apr 24, 2007

When Does the Real Privacy Backlash Arrive?

Big Brother is coming. And we're welcoming him. He's hiding in our email, our web searches, the banner ads that annoy us, and our kids' MySpace pages (that frighten us). But most of all, he's hiding in plain sight. You see, Big Brother isn't coming from secret government agencies shrouded behind dark tinted windows. He's coming from colorful buildings filled with bright young programmers who have whimsical company logos on their business cards.

I've written about this before. And now Google's agreement to purchase DoubleClick has gotten more people thinking about the company's privacy impact. Why? Because Google is gaining an even larger window into everyone's online activities. Rich Tehrani estimated that if the acquisition is completed, Google could end up with "access to the behavioral information of over 90% of web users".

Tehrani also provides examples of just how this data can be used, such as quoting a Yahoo executive who brags that his company can now "predict with 75% certainty which of the 300,000 monthly visitors to Yahoo! Autos will purchase a new car within the next three months."

So a handful of web giants are amassing thorough records of our online activities and learning how to turn that data into a full picture of our behavior (and likely future behavior). Scary stuff. Still, it doesn't feel like the general public really cares. Yet.

We haven't yet seen real public outcry and backlash against these privacy threats. Part of that is because the companies involved have good reputations (and deservedly so, in most cases). Part is because most of us assume that only "bad people" with something to hide have reason to worry about privacy. But these are just delaying the backlash, not preventing it.

At some point, a catalyst will grab the attention of the general public. It could be a security breach at one of the web giants, exposing so much information about so many people that we can't ignore it. Or it could be the story of how lost privacy has ruined one individual's life, told in such a way that we can't forget it.

I don't know what that event will be or when it will happen. But I do know it's coming. The giants of the Internet are on a collision course with the privacy of the little guy. And when it happens, it won't just be the privacy watchdogs that are complaining.

Monday Apr 23, 2007

A Look Behind NBC's Heroes

NBC's Heroes is a favorite of mine. I follow the show itself pretty closely, but had never read anything about its background or creators. But today a Wired Article caught my eye and changed that.

It's got some interesting tidbits. For one, the show's creator has never really read or liked comic books. But actor Masi Oka (who plays the "Hiro" character) more than compensates for that. The article describes him as "a geek made good." Why? "Before he pursued acting, he was a CG artist at Industrial Light & Magic, crafting f/x for films like War of the Worlds and Revenge of the Sith."

Oka sounds pretty talented. They should let him do his character's own special effects. Then they could bill him as the first mainstream actor to do his own digital stunts--a new-millennium version of Jackie Chan, you might say.

Friday Apr 20, 2007

Dell Leader Endorses Ubuntu; Ubuntu Leader Endorses NetBeans

The latest Ubuntu release has lived up to its name, with things getting just a bit feisty in the last couple of days. First came the news that Michael Dell is using Ubuntu on his personal laptop. That's an interesting endorsement (as is his use of OpenOffice).

Then yesterday came the news that a complete Java stack was being made available in the Ubuntu Multiverse. Hidden in one of the many articles on the subject was another celebrity endorsement--with Ubuntu leader (and civilian cosmonaut) Mark Shuttleworth calling NetBeans his "preferred Java development environment."

Pretty cool stuff. Of course, being a member of the GlassFish Project, I'm a little jealous that we didn't get an unexpected celebrity endorsement of our own. I certainly don't think it's due to a lack of product quality or innovation. I'd say these articles and discussions just have more of a desktop focus (which Ubuntu, OpenOffice, and NetBeans all fit nicely).

No matter. Our day is coming. Just be sure you're registered.

And in the meantime, be sure to check out Harpreet's notes on GlassFish in Ubuntu. He was Sun's lead on the effort--so he certainly knows his stuff.

Wednesday Mar 21, 2007

Sun Related Trends

Dan Farber has a post talking about some Q&A with Jonathan Schwartz at a recent "Mashup Event" at a Sun campus.

His last paragraph is what caught my attention:

Sun's stock price has been trending upwards, and would seem to correlate with what Schwartz said he found in checking Google Trends for keywords associated with Sun–such as NetBeans, GlassFish and Niagara–are up and to the right. "Word of mouth is a way more efficient than buying ad words," he concluded. Based on the Google Trends chart below, it's unclear just high and to the right the keywords are trending.
Google Trends Graph for Sun-related Terms in 2006

(The chart that Farber references.)

I think his chart is a bit misleading. For one thing, it only covers 2006. We're almost a full quarter into 2007. So I think it's worth looking at that data:

Google Trends Graph for Sun-related Terms in 2007

(Same chart, but covering 2007.)

If you look closely at the 2007 picture, you'll see that the Sun-related terms (NetBeans, GlassFish, and Niagara) do all trend up. That's better, but this chart still suffers from a second problem: combining so many terms with such different search volumes makes it hard to see the trends. In other words, you shouldn't have to look so closely.

So let's look at charts for each of the Sun-related terms individually. (Also note that these charts use Google's "All Years" time period, since I don't want to run into the afore-mentioned issues with just seeing 2006 or 2007 data.)

Google Trends Graph for "NetBeans"

(Google Trends Chart for the "NetBeans" term.)

Google Trends Graph for "GlassFish"

(Google Trends Chart for the "GlassFish" term.)

Google Trends Graph for "Niagara"

(Google Trends Chart for the "Niagara" term.)

That's better. Both Niagara and GlassFish clearly do demonstrate "up and to the right" trend growth in these pictures. The Niagara picture might be seen as showing a stagnant overall trend, but I think that too can be addressed if we dig a little deeper.

The "Niagara" term is too ambiguous. While we at Sun (and hopefully any of you reading) think of it as the code name for our UltraSPARC T1 processors, most of the rest of the world thinks of it as a waterfall (or, as the dictionary tells us: a river, a fort, or a variety of grape). Searches from people seeking those kinds of "Niagara" are going to clutter up the trend chart (from our perspective).

So, let's instead look at some less ambiguous terms related to this Sun product. How about the actual server models which use the Niagara processor--the Sun Fire T1000 and T2000?

Google Trends Graph for "T1000"

(Google Trends Chart for "T1000" term.)

Google Trends Graph for "T2000"

(Google Trends Chart for "T2000" term.)

A bit better, perhaps. I realize that any true skeptics out there will argue that these show stagnant or even declining trends since 2006. But I think there are a few reasons to give this product line the benefit of the doubt. For one thing, it's likely to have people's searches be spread across many different terms (such as "Niagara," "CoolThreads," "UltraSPARC T1," "T1000," and "T2000"). Second, a throughput server such as this might appeal most to people who will already be familiar enough with Sun that their searches for it will take place directly on sun.com sites more often than on general search engines such as Google. And finally, Sun has publicly released sales figures which do demonstrate a lot of traction and momentum for these servers. For a hardware product, revenue probably trumps Google Trends as a momentum indicator.

By digging deeper, we have seen that there definitely is an up trend for two of these offerings (NetBeans and GlassFish). You may or may not feel that we've also established momentum for the Niagara offering. But even if you do discount that one, two out of three isn't bad. I'd say it's pretty supportive of Jonathan's original statement that we're seeing good momentum for Sun-related offerings.

Tuesday Mar 20, 2007

I'm a Mac. I'm a PC. And I'm Linux.

There's no denying the brilliance of Apple's "I'm a Mac ... and I'm a PC" commercials. Ted Haeger does a nice job of explaining how they put the Mac in the best possible light by playing off of our existing perceptions, "framing" the conversation in favorable either-or terms, and by just being funny and clever. Whether you like the product or not, you've got to appreciate its marketing.

Ted goes on to look at attempts to redirect the popularity and momentum of the ads, such as with spoofs inserting a Linux character. As he notes, these probably haven't done a very good job of making Linux look its best.

(Though in all fairness, I think the above was clearly intended just to be funny--not as an attempt to mold Linux's public image.)

Ted's clearly an optimist, though, and has set out to create his own spoofs which do make Linux look good. He describes in great detail how he and others at Novell tried to break the "either-or" framing of Apple's original commercials with a spoof casting Linux as a sexy female (though not too sexy--see his blog for the full reasoning).

The results are interesting, as is Ted's description of the thought process behind them. But I walked away thinking about one detail he didn't address. This was the work of Novell? As in the company which is well on its way to destroying any credibility it may have once had with the Linux community?

I could be wrong, but... Don't they have more immediate concerns than trying to sell Linux to the masses?

Does Google Track Search Result Clicks?

A lot of bloggers are talking about Google's patent application for a method of ranking blog Search results. As Bill Slawski and Alex Chitu have noted, these break down into a set of factors which provide positive and negative scoring influences. I won't repeat them all here, but I did find one of the positive factors particularly interesting: the implied popularity of a blog, as determined from click stream analysis in search results.

In other words, if users consistently click on a result from Blog A more often than one from Blog B when both show up in the results for a given search (such as on blogsearch.google.com), it can be seen as an indication that Blog A is more popular and/or of higher quality than Blog B. Pretty obvious stuff. Right?

Sure. And it's also pretty obvious that the same idea can be applied to non-blog resources (such as general web results returned by www.google.com or image results from images.google.com).

The question is... How would Google actually obtain this data?

Normally, the page which presents a hyperlink isn't notified when it's clicked. There are ways around this (such as using special javascript or pointing the hyperlink to an intermediate "redirector" service), but I don't see any evidence in Google's pages that they're employing these mechanisms in their regular search results (though paid ads are a different matter).

So when you click on a Google search result, Google should never know it.

But wait... There is a good chance that they do know it. If you use Google's toolbar and enable the "PageRank Display" feature, they'll know about this click (and all of your others, for that matter). Of if the final destination happens to use certain of Google's server-side services (such as AdSense or Google Analytics), they'll likewise know about it (and all other access to that site).

So does this imperfect but growing view of users' behavior on non-Google sites provide enough data to plug into their search ranking algorithms? Probably. And it's one more example of how a web giant such as Google is gaining a "moat" of data which guards against smaller competitors.

Friday Mar 16, 2007

Product Quality Heatmaps

Read/WriteWeb has an interesting look at heatmap visualizations. In particular, they focus on Summize, a site specializing in product reviews.

Summize allows users to vote on the quality of products. What's new and interesting is how they present those voting results--with heatmaps. Here is an example:

The colored stripe is a heatmap showing what percentage of users think the iPod Nano is great (the green: 44%), what percentage think it's wretched (the red: 12%), and those in between (the orange, yellow, and yellowish green). One nice thing about this visualization is that it works well even when the heatmap image is small. So, for example, they use a scaled-down version of the stripe next to each item in search results.

The end result is a nice way to see and understand a lot of information packed into a small space--the very definition of a good visualization.

Thursday Mar 15, 2007

Privacy and the Private Sector

Big Brother Is Watching

How would you feel if you saw this headline on a search form? I bet the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button would take on a whole new light, for one thing.

In many ways, it's already happening. Major search engines keep records of every one of your searches. Tracing these records back to you depends on many factors: whether you've received a tracking cookie by logging into other services from that company, whether your ISP has assigned you a static IP address, whether you use a large or small ISP, and more. But the core point is this: by retaining search logs, these companies place your privacy at risk.

Google recently announced that they will be anonymizing search logs after 18-24 months. It's better than their old approach (retaining all information indefinitely). But is it good enough? Your searches in the last 18-24 months probably add up to a pretty interesting picture. It can be scary to think how accurate that picture might be. Even scarier is thinking about where its accuracy would be be an illusion.

Take the case of Thelma Arnold, for example. She is the 62-year-old widow who was identified from "anonymized" search records which AOL deliberately exposed in 2006. She's not a terrorist, a drug dealer, or a sex addict. So she shouldn't have anything to hide. Right?

Maybe.

As the NY Times article reports, "Her search history includes 'hand tremors,' 'nicotine effects on the body,' 'dry mouth' and 'bipolar.'" Yikes. Hope Thelma isn't looking for health insurance... Or life insurance... Or a job with a company wanting to minimize the cost of insuring employees... Or anything else where this picture of her health could be held against her.

The worst part? It isn't a picture of her health at all. It's her friends' health. As the Times article continues: "Ms. Arnold said she routinely researched medical conditions for her friends to assuage their anxieties. Explaining her queries about nicotine, for example, she said: 'I have a friend who needs to quit smoking and I want to help her do it.'"

But aren't Ms. Arnold and the foolish release of AOL's search records a special situation? No company would follow in those footsteps after seeing the grilling AOL took. Right? Maybe. But why do they leave the possibility open by retaining these logs? Could one disgruntled employee expose the logs to harm the company? Could a failing company sell off the logs as a final way to salvage assets? Could one company become so large and involved in so many different fields that the Big Brother scenarios we fear could occur entirely within its own corporate boundaries?

Or could widespread tracking and sharing of online activity data just become a standard part of business? Look no further than our all-important credit reports to see how the monitoring of our personal information can become deeply ingrained into the private sector. Is it really so far-fetched to imagine a similar system built on information culled from our online activities?

George Orwell was brilliant in highlighting the importance of privacy to everyone (not just "bad guys" with something to hide). He was brilliant in foreseeing the clash between technology and privacy. Did his one error come in choosing a villain? Maybe the government isn't the primary threat.

Maybe Big Brother will be born out of Big Business.

Friday Mar 09, 2007

How Much is the "Blog Worth" Meme Worth?

Sun is currently experiencing an outbreak of "How Much is Your Blog Worth" references (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). They aren't the first, though... Rich Burridge got into the act back in November, and Rich Sharples was truly ahead of his time with a mention back in October 2005.

It's a fun (though meaningless) way to look at your blog's popularity. But I wonder... What happens if we ask the tool about its own worth? Will it devour itself in an infinite loop of self-examination?

Guess not...

And given that this guy has over 35,000 pages linking to him (and plasters his page with advertising), maybe this is one case where the number really does have some meaning.

So providing bloggers with a Monopoly-money valuation of themselves turns out to be a $4M idea? Scary thought.

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