‘Technology’ Articles:

The Return Of The Client

December 10th, 2007 by jeremychone | 1 Comment »
ClientTrend

From an internet technology point of view, 2006 and 2007 could be characterized by the rejuvenation of client technologies for web-based applications.

The main theme of this trend is to enable web applications to borrow as many characteristics from desktop application as possible without losing their inherent web attributes such as seamless deployment and cross platform/devices support.

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P2P for Web 2.0: Brainstorming

January 17th, 2006 by jeremychone | 4 Comments »
P2P For Web: Web 2.0 Limitation Thumbnail As mentioned in the "Web 0.x to Web 2.0" post, outside of IM (instant messaging), voice chat and voice-video chat, and some illegal P2P (peer to peer) file sharing software, most Internet applications are still based on a traditional "Client/Server" model that is analogous to the "Browser/WebServer" model. While today’s Web applications have dramatically improved their user experience and community aspect, this "Client/Server" paradigm brings some unfortunate limitations to technology providers and users.

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To Flock or not to Flock

January 3rd, 2006 by jeremychone | 6 Comments »

A few days ago a UK magazine posted a good article about Flock. As mentioned in the article, Flock is still in developer preview and therefore should be judged less by its bits quality and more by the idea it tries to convey. Flock’s vision of a more collaborative and event-driven Internet is probably undisputable. However, some of Flock’s premises have been subject to a flood of criticisms (e.g., Paul Kedrosky’s post, flocksucks.wordpress.com).

Most of these criticisms seem to be based on the fact that Flock tries to provide an alternative "Web browser" application rather than providing extensions to existing browsers (e.g., a Firefox extension). Lately, the launch of a great Firefox extension Performancing (see Steve Rubel and O.M. Malik quick profile), which offers one of the core Flock’s functionalities by allowing users to blog "in the context" of their browsing experience, has revived the discussion. In a response to these last complaints, Chris from Flock, supported by Bart (Flock’s CEO), issued a good post giving a little more context behind Flock’s vision and direction.

As mentioned by Michael Arrington of TechCrunch, Flock’s Buzz might have come a little bit too early for the Bits, which is always a very dangerous position to be in. Also, Flock’s first audience, the Mozilla tech savvy crowd, was probably not especially receptive to the idea of another browser. I personally am a big fan of Mozilla Firefox, and while I have tested Flock developer preview release, I went back to Firefox since I have all my extensions set up.

However, I deeply believe in Flock’s idea. As Chris mentioned, Flock might or might not be the answer, but the point is that users need much more than a traditional Web browser to make the "Everybody-to-Everybody" Internet vision a reality. This new "Internet Companion" could come from the evolution of an existing Web browser, from a set of extensions, or from another application altogether: the way it gets here is less important than the things it will allow people to do. Obviously, this assumes the goal is to allow the "rest of us" to participate on the Internet.

So, the question is not "to Flock or not to Flock", but rather to believe that the way we will interact with the Internet in couple years will be substantially different from what we do today.

Also, I have had the privilege of meeting the Flock team on many occasions, and it is always refreshing to see a passionate and dedicated team so focused on accomplishing its vision. I would not be surprised if future versions of Flock will surprise us. And I definitely need this new "Internet Companion" for my grandmother and sisters.

Web 0.x to Web 2.0 Simplified

November 29th, 2005 by jeremychone | 7 Comments »
Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 Small From its creation through its development to its reinvigoration phases, the Internet has never ceased to be a rapid and fascinating center of innovation. Today’s “Web 2.0“, which I refer to as the “reinvigoration” phase, is probably as inspiring and promising as the launch of the Internet itself.

This new excitement is probably generated by the presumption of achieving the ultimate Internet goal of enabling true “Everybody to Everybody” participation. However, while this “new wave” brings tremendous user and social values, it still does not seem to address some of the critical Internet roadblocks to pervasive Internet collaboration.

To better understand these limitations, we need to take a quick look at the evolution of the Internet. I see three main phases in the Internet evolution. (Note: The “Web x.x” numbering scheme is completely artificial, and is just used to support a “relative numbering” scheme leading to today’s “Web 2.0″ term).

  • The Creation (“Web 0.x”): In the late mid `90s, the Mosaic project, created by Marc Andreessen, had the ambitious goal of making network collaboration accessible to the broadest audience possible. With the creation of Netscape Corporation, the idea attained tremendous visibility and support from the market, leading to the proliferation of a new client application allowing unfettered access to network information: The Internet browser.
  • The Development (“Web 1.x”): The exponential growth in popularity of this new medium led established and new software companies to realize the great potential of this new market. On May 26, 1995, Microsoft, in a famous Bill Gates memo (“The Internet Tidal Wave“), reoriented itself towards this new model. Although the over-excitement created an inflated market that eventually burst, many content and service companies such as Yahoo!, Amazon, and eBay have remained strong and growing. The popularity of this new paradigm, coupled with the commoditization of the Browser on many devices, have put Internet in almost everybody‘s hands. This phase could be seen as the popularization of Internet access.
  • The Reinvigoration (“Web 2.0″): Lately, infrastructure commoditization and the flamboyant success of new Internet companies, such as Google, have reinvigorated the drive for Internet innovation. I see two new fundamentals from the previous eras:
    • First, the industry is now focusing on popularizing content publishing. New services like Blog (e.g. Six Apart), Wiki (e.g. Wikipedia), Photo Album (e.g. Flickr), Social Network (e.g. Linked In), and many others are based on the principle of enabling every users to become content producers as well as content consumers.
      This “2 Way” web is already having important social ramifications, where knowledge and information are becoming more and more open and accessible.
    • Second, most of the Internet organizations are placing more emphasis on usage (direct or indirect via APIs) than subscribers (eyeballs). This is a great step towards building a stronger Internet in which closed Internet services, such as today’s Instant Messaging networks, will hopefully be pushed out of this ecosystem. It is always a great milestone when an industry understands that backing a larger cake might be more beneficial than trying to take a bigger piece of a smaller cake (see the Inherent Truths and Value of Community).

The following simple graph represents this evolution, where the “Web 1.x” phase is characterized by “content consumer” growth and the “Web 2.0″ phase by “content producer” growth.

Internet Web 0.x to Web 2.0
Web 0.x to Web 2.0 Simplified

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Microsoft makes synchronization simple

November 22nd, 2005 by jeremychone | 3 Comments »
rss + opml + sync = SSE

Ray Ozzie has just introduced a protocol-extension for synchronization called ”SSE” for “Simple Sharing Extension”. He describes SSE as "the RSS of synchronization". This is a great step forward for the Internet for the following reasons:

  • SSE adds an overdue functionality to the Internet: Synchronization.
  • SSE is just an extension to open protocols (RSS & OPML) and not another XML protocol.
  • SSE is designed to be as SIMPLE as its "host" protocols (RSS & OPML).
  • Microsoft seems to be fully committed to promoting and supporting this new protocol (probably thanks to Ray Ozzie). Proof of concept seems to be up and running at Microsoft.
  • The technology is available under an open licensing agreement (Attribution-ShareAlike from Creative Commons and is "patent friendly".
    From Microsoft SSE Specification: "As to software implementations, Microsoft is not aware of any patent claims it owns or controls that would be necessarily infringed by a software implementation that conforms to the specification’s extensions. If Microsoft later becomes aware of any such necessary patent claims, Microsoft also agrees to offer a royalty-free patent license …"

This protocol-extension is a great addition to RSS and OPML. The distributed nature of the Internet architecture requires such a multi-directional synchronization mechanism. Unfortunately, it has been a great challenge to find the right balance between simplicity and completeness for such protocols. Ray Ozzie’s expertise (with Notes & Groove) and dedication create a high level of user confidence in this new proposal.

As Ozzie mentioned, while there are plenty of synchronization protocols available (inside and outside of Microsoft), they have not been utilized as much as they should have been. Their complexity might have been a primary reason. For example, SyncML, while a very successful protocol, has seen some challenges to its objective of growing beyond the PIM space.

So far, the buzz from this proposal has been pretty positive. Dave Winer gave some good background information on his blog on November 21st. Mike Arrington from TechCrunch sees some new business opportunities for product development. Another good explanation of the technology can be found at gabbr.com.

Again, this shows Microsoft’s determination to catch this new Internet wave. It is also enlightening to see how the Internet evolution seems to cause "corporate technologists" to realize that simplicity often overcomes completeness. Microformats vs OWL/RDF, PHP vs .Net/J2EE are other examples of this inevitable Internet simplification phenomenon. It will also be interesting to see how “SSE” will play with other standards such as SyncML, CalDav, and other XML protocols.

Anyway, for now, here are couple of things I would love to see come out of this technology:

  • Synchronize my del.icio.us bookmarks with Mozilla Firefox (2 Way synchronization)
  • Synchronize  Flickr sets with phpGallery albums.
  • Provide access to "distributed NotePad" ("NetPad") which will keep my personal notes in sync across devices, desktops and online services.
  • And obviously, allow me to share my "family calendar" with my wife. However, I will need to buy her one of these new digital paper notebooks.

AJAX: Why Now?

November 15th, 2005 by jeremychone | Comments Off

AJAX Why Now? Recently, users have been bombarded with new types of Web applications often referred to as "AJAX Applications." From an end-user point of view, these Web applications add a new level of interactivity, which was previously the domain of desktop applications.

Some good examples of AJAX applications are GMap, Google Suggest, Interactive Domain Search, and Windows Live.

On the technical side, AJAX is a term describing an approach at developing more interactive Web applications. Although AJAX might look like new technology, AJAX technologies have been around for a while. So, what made AJAX such a sudden phenomenon? And, why now?

The natural first explanations are technical.

  • One could say that browsers were not powerful and flexible enough to support these types of applications. However, most of the AJAX applications run on Microsoft IE (MS-IE) 5, which was released in 1999. Mozilla 1.2, the first robust modern browser, was released in 2002.
  • Another argument is that the PC has become more powerful and therefore, has enabled users to take advantage of these new processor-demanding applications. However, AJAX applications do not consume that much processing, and the end-consumer PC market has not evolved as fast as the popularity of these new applications.

While these technical reasons are valid to some extent, the main factors for this recent trend might be more of a social nature and the result of a good timing of confluent events. I see the following three main “events” as catalysts for this new trend:

  • A name (AJAX): Jesse James Garrett did a great job at naming and describing an approach to building new Web applications. This has allowed the industry to have a common understanding and terminology about these technologies.
  • The perception of feasibility (Firefox): MS-IE 5.0 was too Windows-centric to be the only bet for mainstream Web spplications and Mozilla 1.2, while sufficient, was not recognized as a valid alternative. Consequently, the majority of the Web stayed with the lowest common denominator. Fortunately, the fulgurant Mozilla Firefox popularity growth reestablished developer confidence in MS-IE alternatives and "re-balanced the Web" toward standards and true cross platforms.
  • Proof of concept (GMap): One of the most future-looking internet companies, Google, released a dazzling mapping "AJAX" application to the public (GMap). This was the best validation of the AJAX approach… probably to date.

It was fascinating to witness these three events happening almost in perfect harmony. I guess it was such a needed evolution that everybody naturally did their part of the puzzle.

In any case, this new approach is a much needed update for many current Web applications. It will interesting to see if the innovation will come from the incumbent or newcomers. So far, with the exception of Google, most of the real innovation in this space has come from startups. However, with Yahoo and Microsoft in the race, this might change.

Honestly, AJAX does not solve all Web application limitations. For example, Offline, Desktop Integration will still require some sort of plug-ins…which are very browser dependent…there is no free lunch…except at Google, I guess.