ETech – Final thoughts

I started out the conference finding it difficult to get oriented. The first half of each day was a burst of small 15 minute presentations which were hard to follow from a tending perspective right away. But by the second day I got the hang of it. Another on day one, many of the sessions were presenting things I already heard through other Internet channels. I was surprised by just how much I knew simply by reading the small circle of blogs/RSS feeds I keep up on. But soon enough, there was plenty I’d never heard of before. Lots of learning happening.

Again, as at the Accelerating Change conference I attended last November, actively taking notes during all the sessions was invaluable. Simple things like hyper-linking to things presenters brought up in their talks immediately would be something I could never remember after the fact. I’m looking forward to going back through the notes and thinking about something to the topics presented in more depth. I think I’ll also put together a ETech blog list (from blog links I collected in my posts) and track some of the speakers for a while. I’ll post the list once I get them all collected.

One thing about the conference was that it was real energizing. Mostly from the perspective of getting plugged into what’s happening by the innovators who live at the beginning of the technology adoption life-cycle. It also gave me a clearer perspective and appreciation for some of the innovative things happening around in my own work place. Yes I admit it, I’m probably spoiled.

Finally, all of the real innovative stuff was being done by real small groups of people–even in orgs the size of the BBC. Small is the way to go. But how can big orgs control small groups and make sure they’re heading in the right direction? Usually, they impose bureaucracy to minimize risk. Nothing earth shattering there. But the bureaucracy kills the pace of innovation. What’s the right balance point? Tough, tough problem that I haven’t really heard anyone address with a solid solution yet.

My daily summaries can be found here:

ETech – Third day thoughts

Remix preso was excellent. It should have been the opening keynote. It would have introduced the notion of “remixing” much better than in Rael Dornfest’s opening talk. Notes here.

Yet another BBC talk. Today’s preso was on how the BBC was working on opening _all_ their content to public use under Creative Commons. All you see is big ass media companies in the states blocking any sort of remixing use of media. Those Brits are really forward looking. I used to think the BBC was some big stodgy company–not any longer. Notes here.

I had a flash back moment to 90’s Internet crazyness. Evan Odeo (founder of Blogger, sold to Google) was presenting his new startup. If you hit the website, there’s nothing up yet. But for folks at the session he gave a tour of the site and it’s features. People were snapping away with their digital cameras and phones like there was some big, big, big idea there. People, it’s just podcasting. I like podcasting, but come on, we’re not talking Netscape in 1995. On another note, goes to show that ideas aren’t that original. See my old personal NPR idea. Notes here.

The Bloglines session could easily justify the entire cost of ETech for those looking to start up a new web based company. Maybe not for tech heads but for more business oriented folks like me, it was invaluable information for being able to talk intelligently with software engineers you’re working with to build your website. Another interesting thing about this session was how it contrasted “building web apps” given by 37Signals. SDE versus a designer’s perspective. Imagine what either of these to folks’ apps would look like if they teamed up? Probably increadible. Notes here.

The author or The Long Tail made a an interesting insight (he’s still researching). That’s the notion that the long tail is really made of millions of small tails. What’s a small tail? Take a sub genre of something like Punk in music. It could have it’s very own long tail. There should be a few top selling Punk titles that make a bulk of purchases but many more in the tail that together make up a big amount of purchasing. You can apply this to really any sub or sub-sub genre in Google. Seems to make a lot of sense to me. Notes here.

ETech – Bloglines

Mark Fletcher, on his experience starting up companies
Garage philosophy. Started working on Bloglines on his own while he was still working at other companies. You need:

  • Passion – because it will consume your life
  • Cheap technologies – great time to start an Internet service. Hardware/software is getting cheaper
  • Keep it simple – keep it simple both for users and technology
  • Release early and often – it’s really important to get things out there and incrementally improve. Your users will have better ideas about your service than you will
  • Moonlighting limits risks – Worked nights and weekends; friends/family are the first people you should look for funds because they want to see you succeed; free services == less pressure (it’s not the end of the world if your service is down for a few hours)
  • Hire a lawyer
  • Web services APIs are a good thing
  • Find good help (especially sys admin)
  • Outsource to (you can outsource all kinds of stuff. Have contractors bid for your work)

Architectur 101: Front-end (web, mail servers); Backend (user dbs, other dbs, storage)

Software choices

  • DBJ ( qmail djbdns daemontools
  • ClearSilver (web templating package)
  • Berkeley DBs
  • Linux/Apache
  • C/C++/bash/python
  • Skiplist data structure (a data structure algorithm)
  • Avoid NFS (has a tendency to look up systems without explanation)
  • Avoid table-level locking in MySQL (doesn’t scale)

Hardware choices

  • Two choices: dedicated servers vs. buying/hosting. They went the dedicated server route. Cost less to get going
  • Design for cheap hardware – Google is the shining example of this
  • eBay – you can get hardware on the cheap
  • APC PDUs for remote power cycleing (power strips you can log into and cycle if a machine has crashed on you)
  • HP ProCurve (machines work great)
  • Avoid Seagate Ultra-SCSI drives
  • Good phone for SSH – likes a Treo so you can log into your machines from anywhere

Architecture choices

  • Copying files vs. client/server (they end up copy files around like bloglines RSS feeds)
  • Calculate on the fly vs. cache (subscriber counts at bloglines are delivered by a once a day process)
    Memory vs. Disk

Storage choices

  • Relational DBs vs. Flat Files (all blog articles are stored as flat files–all 3M articles)
  • RAID vs. Redundant (they ensure blog articles are replicated across all machines–why? if a box goes down, you don’t lose available of an article)
  • Linux software RAID 1 – rock solid

Sysadmin choices

  • DNS round robin for web servers – don’t have to worry about setting up a load balancer
  • Hot back-ups for off-line processing – backup every hour
  • Worry about cooling in the co-lo (if you start to have hard drive failures, that’s a good indicator that you might be having cooling problems)

Tidbit from Q&A. The size of the company was under ten at the Ask Jeeves acquisition.

ETech – Six Apart

Personal friends aggregator. Aggregates friend’s posts and displays them in a single feed. Kind of a cool idea. I missed part of the intro so didn’t pick up all the details. Sounds interesting. Unfortunately the demo was hosed because of a network issue.

ETech – Odeo and podcasting

Evan Williams, Co-Founder, Blogger
His talk is about podcasting and his new startup, Odeo. Podcasting is evolving very quickly. One of the keys will be how to find good stuff. Odeo aggregates audio data. Still affliated with Google although whether it’s a Google funded startup was vague.

Basic UI (not yet public but he showed at the conference) is “Learn,” “Sync,” and “Create” buttons. Users will have the ability to tag podcasts. There are podcast detail pages where you can subscribe to individual podcasts. They used a stripped down iPodder to sync podcasts to your iPod. To help with discovery, you can see what other people have subscribed to (community aspect).

Showed the creation pipeline (to generate your own podcasts. They wanted tools for creating podcasts to be as easy as tools are today for creating blogs. You can create content for distribution on Odeo. Odeo Studio is an in-browser recording/publishing system (built using Flash). You can record easily from you browser (demo was cool). They have some utilities included as well (like the ability to integrate introduction music for your podcast). You hit a publish button when you’re done and your podcast is automatically posted to the site. Eventually, they want to make it possible for content providers to be able to charge for their content.

Looks like a fun project.

ETech – Life Hacks Live

Danny O’Brien, Merlin Mann (43Folders fame)

Introduction. Hackers love storing their information in text. You can search easily, you can jam information in easily. ~/bin was where hackers put their stuff (their home directory). What is a life hack? It’s a patch you apply to something to help make things better.

Some of his predictions from last year. What happened with Email search in the last year? Gmail, LookOut, Tiger Spotlight makes it easer to work with mail dynamically. Social filesharing for everyone: Flickr, Novell iFolder, Groove. Easy webscraping: the idea was to convert web pages people thought were important into RSS feeds. This hasn’t really popped up yet. Keyboard macros for Win/Linux. QuickSilver does this on the Mac side.

Things that have caught on at 43Folders. Getting things done–a framework for making progress on the projects that are important to you. Get things you want done into atomic activities that you can more easily track. This is one of the things people come to 43Folders for. “I have these challenges in my life and this is how I choose to form the solutions.” Example, Hipster PDA–old fashion note cards to track things. Talked about really positive feedack about a Linux app Remind. A terminal based app? Yes! Cool to think a modest little calendar app might make people start to learn to use the terminal.

Three mysteries that Danny saw transfer over but why. Why the keyboard (keyboard shortcuts)? Speeds you up. Increases your flow. Mentioned MS research on task switching done by Mary Czerwinski. Why do geeks like big monitors? Allows them to context switch very easily–switch to another window without interrupting your flow.

The dark secret of life hacks: how to be really productive in your life–turn off internet, email, instant messenger. People are being drowned by distractions. We have to find a technical solution to this. Ideas to solve: eliminate navigation; put things into the background; eliminating distractions warnings (“do you really want to keep looking at the web 15 minute warming”).

Danny’s predictions for the next life hacks for 2005: Google Suggest type apps; the rise of passive performers (like OS X Dashboard) apps that don’t interrupt you, you can switch in and out with ease; a unified notification UI (e.g. Growl); wasn’t sure whether desktop search was a solution to context switching (making it easier to search without interrupting what you’re doing too much.

ETech – Remixing the Network Platform

Nikolaj Nyholm, what aspects have opened up wifi to hackers
Wifi started by freeing you up in your space, then public spaces (like coffee shops), then moved it to work, now moving into the sky (in planes) allowing things like IM, Skype. Told a story of babysitting his kid remotely from 40K feet using IM, Skype and remote dektop.

Open spectrum – the 2.4 and 5mHz spectrums are open. Wifi standards–no one needs to ask whether they can build wifi into a chip. Mass commoditization has empowered cheap access points.

Open WRT. Take a Linksys, upload the WRT firmware, use this firmware and software to manage small office settings. Community is one way to handle security. See everyone who is on the network. This was a tough preso to take notes on. The presenter seemed very sharp but was very hard to follow in any coherent manner. The big take away (I think) is Open WRT.