Thursday, January 31, 2008

Blockbuster: Too little too late

In 2006, Blockbuster, the world's leading in home rental service for movies and games, unleashed its online rental business Total Access with the hopes of using it's familiar name and branding to steal [away|back] some of the customers making Netflix so successful.

Needless to say, they failed. In their most recently reported earnings, Blockbuster reported a $35 million loss and a plan to shore up their 'core' business and focus on the retail side of rentals. Not only did this business plan fail, but it soiled the company's successful retail business.

But what went wrong? Certainly, the audience is out there, as reported by Netflix's Q4 earnings.
Not only has Netflix seen an increase in in subscriber numbers, but is has seen an increase in revenue and a decrease in churn, or the rate of turnover for subscribers, so surely this wasn't a Webvan-like failure. I think what we are seeing here is the solidifying of the web as a business platform.

Unlike the Web 1.0 bubble, companies can not just hop in and make money. In Web 2.0, the startups that survive bring to the table original ideas, original products and innovative ideas. I think Blockbuster serves as a case-in-point that you can't just take a successful business, plop it on the web and see the same success. Total Access was not new, offered nothing substantially different from Netflix, and was an overall failure due to a lack of planning and knowing the audience. Blockbuster will serve as a what not to do example for established business hoping to find a profit on the web.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Collective analysis of AOL Search Data

Prof. Chen has brought up the issue of privacy as it pertains to contributed content in social web applications. Most social web applications we have discussed involve users who willfully provide content and thus have little expectation of privacy. Other Internet applications and transactions lead users to believe their contributions are to a large degree private and/or meaningless when considered out of context. I believe it is important for users realize their data and transactions when analyzed in aggregate can be much more telling than e.g. a single blog post. As an example of a privacy breach Prof. Chen mentioned the AOL search database that was released in 2006 (inadvertently in hindsight). This data set provides a dramatic example of how much Internet companies can learn about users if they wish to, in this case by looking at an individual user's sequence of search terms.

A secondary point of interest is the power of collective analysis of and commentary on large data collections like this one. I recall a number of socially-interactive web sites sprung up to share this data set and to direct people to the most interesting examples. I've not found the exact site I recall visiting in 2006, but appears to be the best example now (despite being affected by some level of spam). [Be forewarned, there is definitely information of an adult nature in this dataset.] The site allows the public to tag individual searchers and to provide "psychoanalytic" commentary. Other sites are out there (e.g. These sites are not that great, but they at least demonstrate the power of collaborative data analysis, which in this case permitted many individual search users to be rapidly identified, thus raising everyone's awareness of the seriousness of the breach.

What happens if Google changes its slogan to "Only do a little evil"?

Cory Doctorow's short story about what happens if Google took over border control by leveraging all the knowledge it has collected about you, information that often you have provided. Will we have to provide EULAs for everything we create, or will corporations behave ethically in response to the information we publish online?

Overcoming cultural differences

With Web 2.0, we have seen a growth in number of social networking sites.These sites have grown in US and europe,but think about the potential users for such sitesfrom Asia and India.To overcome cultural differences is I feel a major obstacle for thesesites.We need to study user patterns,local preferences in order to encourage people to join in.Orkut for example is more popular in Brazil and India but is not so popular in the US.

Prosper is a website that allows regular people to issue and receive loans from other regular people. Users can create a profile and create a loan listing that includes setting a maximum interest rate, and information about what the loan will be used for. Anyone interested in financing a loan is allowed to bid with the loan recipient having the final say in which bids are accepted. Once the auction closes the money is deposited directly into a bank account with repayment happening the same way.

Web 2.0- Threat to users' privacy and data?

Web 2.0 has given rise to social networking sites. Inherently, Web 2.0 means putting more information about yourself out on the web. Majority of people are sharing information on the communities just to get quick fame. So, users are willing to share information about themselves and their friends.
Web 2.0 sites are mining information about you and your friends, what you are doing and sharing online. It knows what are your favourite things, what you like, and what your friends like. They can break down the information by almost any statistic. That is where business is getting money from-
Information. and Marketing the information.
It seems there are still lot of issues related to privacy of user generated content. Issues that considers responsibilities of users that post their personal information and that considers the obligations the companies that build such sites have to keep users' information safe. Protecting user privacy should be made the top of the to-do list when building any system that relies on user-generated content.

Does the Operating System matter?

Does the operating system matter anymore? While ubiquitous broadband isn't everywhere, if your machine is online all the time, there are currently some options to push more of the processing into the cloud.

The Asus P5E3 Deluxe motherboard comes with Splashtop instant on technology. This is an almost instant boot time Linux environment that provides various programs like Firefox and Skype without booting into a full operating system.  Linux is still used to manage the programs but is mainly in the background, no RPM, no smtp daemons, etc.

We need to secure gnizr

Since I have a little bit of web security background, I thought I would assess the security incorporated in this application. Turns out that it failed even the basic XSS test.

Web 2.0 involves combined efforts from all users of the internet. But this makes it even more necessary that we respect their privacy and ensure security of their accounts.

This is the simplest possible form of XSS.

Blogged with Flock A Social Website that's Heavy. is social website aimed at users who listen to music outside the realm of the mainstream. Originally founded with the goal of simply listing details about various heavy metal artists, the website recently jumped into social web territory and expanded its features. The website now boasts all of the usual social networking features, such as messaging and profiles, but also includes some features especially useful to the site's content. Users of can rate bands and albums which results in certain albums being displayed in lists such as the Top Ten of 2007 list or the Top Metalstorm Album of all time list. The website also maintains a repository of news information about each band.

For those of you interested in Metal of any kind, or anyone interested in a social website aimed at a small niche of 10,000 users, it is well worth a visit. Now it is time for me to visit the forums and find out why Judas Priest's "Painkiller" is not higher than 47 on the all time greatest list...

Social Web Technologies and Open Development

With the recent announcement of MySpace's extended Developer Platform, its easy to see how open development has become one of the great cars pulling the train that is Web 2.0. The push for open development and open standards is so prominent that we are seeing giants like IBM, with its support for Open Office, and Google, with the addition of Star Office, pumping millions into investing in Open.

With the advent of simpler API's and developer platforms, these tools factor heavily into the success of common Web 2.0 companies who would otherwise go unused. What good is Flikr if you can't integrate it into our blog? How must more popular are digg stories that can be dugg directly after reading an article? Tools like these are crucial in fully embracing the social aspect of Web 2.0. Even Microsoft is starting to grasp the concept with Office Live attempting to find its mark on the internet. But even as Microsoft has the technologies down, they still don't embrace the social.

As the web becomes more interactive, I predict we will continue to see easier to use API's coming from both start-ups and big companies alike.

Taking 'Web As Platform" a little too literally...

I think Xcerion is taking O'Reilly's statement "The Web As Platform" a bit too literally. According to an ars technica review of Xcerion's XIOS, this OS in a web browser, while an interesting concept, is hampered by a lack of standard OS features that are not available in a web browser. I have to agree with their conclusion, "not much of a solution, still in search of a problem", I don't see how bringing an entire desktop OS into a browser solves anything useful. Additionally, they're relying on third parties to write applications for the OS and its likely that those developers would be more interested in developing a typical web application than an OS-specific application.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Flock Browser - The Social Web Browser

More relevant than brand new, I thought that I'd give Flock a try, at least for the during of the course.

From the site:
Flock is a free web browser that makes it easy to connect with your friends and express yourself online. Upload photos, blog anything, subscribe to RSS, drag'n'drop photos and videos, and get notified when the people you care about update their spaces on the web.
It incorporates Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, YouTube, Photobucket, Piczo, Blogger, Blogsome, and a long list of other services.

So far so good. It even let me import my feeds in an OPML file from my desktop RSS reader.

Fear and Loathing in Redmond

Microsoft has been hitting the tech headlines this week for decisions they've made concerning Internet Explorer 8, the next version of one of the cornerstone platforms for web development.  But this idea that IE is a platform unto its own is what has been troubling Microsoft.  Throughout the history of Internet Explorer, its often taken liberties with how it renders html.  In the 90's, this aided Microsoft in a lot of ways.  I wouldn't presume to know the politics of a Microsoft boardroom, but as an examination of the times, Microsoft was looking for a strong upper-hand against Netscape to put their browser away.  Microsoft's browser already had a strong following, but making sure that the web was written to work with IE was a clear way of shoring up even more support.  And thats pretty much the way the web was left following, for all intents and purposes, the defeat of Netscape by Microsoft.

...Until the birth of Web 2.0.

Today, the web is ruled by technologies that follow the heading of Web 2.0.  And the problem that Microsoft currently has is that these technologies in a lot of the web 2.0 sites are outputting standards compliant HTML, and browsers like Safari/Konqueror and Firefox are being pushed to render HTML and CSS completely by the specs.  Now, we have a sort of split web platform, where web applications either work and look right in IE, or they look and work right in everything else.  Microsoft, obviously, has been trying to close the gap, and so they've decided to try to write the most standards-compliant browser possible - In IE 8.

The issue that stands now is that Microsoft has to figure out how to support the fact that sites exist that were written to deal with Microsofts "liberties" with how they render HTML, and their goal of writing a good, standards-compliant browser.  Their proposed solution is that they would essentially include separate rendering engines for sites written for different versions of IE.

Its interesting because I see Microsoft, in how they form strategy behind their applications, to be very calculating, very political, and often reigned by fear.  The fear of not being the commanding leader in the web industry led them to obfuscate their rendering engine, to steal the web in essence.  And the standards didn't matter to them until one day, the web platform pushed standards into the spotlight.  The Web 2.0 ushered in a lot of new ideas, but one was that the browser was not going to be the platform, the Web itself was going to be the platform.  Browsers were not going to make the rules, they instead would be become ambassadors for the web.  And once this paradigm started to be embraced, once the Acid2 test became important, once standards compliance became a requirement instead of a floaty term, Microsoft was suddenly full of interest and zeal.  The fear now is being relegated to the status of "That old Web 1.0 browser", and it'll be interesting to see how Microsoft's plan for IE 8 actually plays out.  

Many-eyes and social visualizations

A website that I am really excited about is, a social visualization website out of IBM's Visual Communication Lab. Users can upload datasets or create visualizations using their own or others' datasets. They can then embed the visualizations in their blogs or use the many-eyes site to discuss anything interesting they find in the data. Users can take snapshots and post them with their comments so that others can see the same view of the data that the comment is talking about.

For example, last night's State of the Union address has already been uploaded and someone created a tag cloud of the most commonly used words.

The idea for the site grew out of how people were interacting around sites such as NameVoyager, developed by Martin Wattenberg. Anecdotal evidence seemed to show that users spent more time interacting when they were in a group, either in real life or online. People created challenges to find unique names or names that were once popular and aren't any more.

So have fun playing with visualizations!

Harry Chen Reveals Ulterior Motives For Teaching

Near the end of our first class Harry revealed that the final project where we would "work on extending existing open source projects" would be geared specifically to improving Gnizer and that we "should think about what features in Gnizer we want to improve".

As you can see from his most recent post Harry Chen is still very much involved in the development of Gnizer. Looking at the number of project members listed (2) raises the questions: "Does Harry Chen have Ulterior Motives for teaching Social Web Technologies?" and "Is Harry Chen using his class to lure developers to Gnizer?"

Mashup for Enterprise

Making Mashups Work in the Enterprise was written by John Crupi who is the CTO at JackBe, a provider of user-driven enterprise mashup software. It was published at Tech News World. In the article he promoted application of mashups in enterprise environment. Yes! Now that web 2.0 is more and more popular in the consumer world, why not bring it to enterprise market?

John was really thinking about the application of mashups in the enterprise . He put forward "5 Cs." as the rule to carry out mashup in the enterprise.

Meanwhile he sought to address the concerns such as security, reliability and governance which are critical for businesses. He also talked about how mashup could benenfit enterprises.

Let’s chew over his words - Enterprises can be messy places. We've been collecting information for over three decades, and now it sits in a hodge-podge of locations. However, if Web 2.0 has taught us anything, it's that disparity does mean stalemate. Mashups in the enterprise can help business users address their own ever-changing information needs.

How to tunnel through to internal UMBC web services using SSH and your GL account (to access gnizr!)

This blog post is mostly applicable to Mac users running Leopard (which the Juniper VPN appliance is not compatable with), but it will also work for anyone with an SSH client who doesn't like UMBC's current VPN implementation.

Prof. Chen sent out a link to some unsupported instructions from OIT on how to possibly get it working (if you are lucky) here: but after looking over the instructions, they sound like a messy kludge that could possibly break other software on your computer (you are essentially moving around Apple-provided libraries and Applications, causing possibly unexpected behavior).

Here's the basic series of steps for setting up an SSH tunnel for your web traffic through UMBC's GL servers:

1. Open up a terminal to a shell prompt ( or an XTerm/rxvt work fine).
2. Run the command "ssh -D 8888" where username is your UMBC GL username.
2a. If you see the message: "The authenticity of host ' (' can't be established." enter "yes" to accept the host key.
3. Enter your GL password. You should then be presented with a Linux shell prompt. If for some reason the server does not respond, you can try linux2 or linux3 as alternate servers.
4. Open up your web browser, and find the section for configuring web proxies. Leave all fields blank except the one for SOCKS proxy (select v4 if available). For the proxy IP, enter "" and for the port enter "8888". Apply settings.
5. At this point, all of your outgoing web traffic will be tunneled through the UMBC GL server, which will give you access to any resources inside the campus firewall that restrict outside visitors.
6. Once you are finished browsing internal UMBC sites, disable the proxy in your web settings and exit your SSH connection by typing "exit" in the shell prompt.

Once you are connected and configured, you should be able to go to and it should show that your traffic is beign tunneled through

Feel free to comment if you have any questions or need more specific information. Hope this helps out someone!

Monday, January 28, 2008 Al Gore's Social Web TV network

ReadWriteWeb features an article about and reports that's parent company has filed for a $100 Million IPO. Al Gore is the Chairman of the company. a new kind of news and information network.
Current is the only 24/7 cable and satellite television network and Internet site produced and programmed in collaboration with its audience. Current connects young adults with what is going on in their world, from their perspective, in their own voices.

With the launch of, the first fully integrated web and TV platform users can participate in shaping an ongoing stream of news and information that is compelling, authentic and relevant to them.

I really like the Viewpoints feature -- a facewall of people's videos organized by topics. You can also voice your opinions by submitting votes. It's kind of digg + youtube.