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September 28, 2006

"Company - Sucks" domains and other negative press

I just googled for "dreamhost sucks" and found a huge number of disgruntled dreamhost customers, some still currently using dreamhost, apparently. I loved the google ad in the right column: "Tired of dreamhost's outages...". I even found a couple blogs staunchly defending dreamhost and suggesting that perhaps there should be a law against company-sucks websites. Who would benefit from that?

I just read Scoble's post the recent PR problems with dreamhost. I also frequently perform searches with negative terms appended. Before the blogging era, these kinds of complaints lay buried in newsgroups or bulletin boards. Without cross pollination of blogs, these links remained buried in search results. Now I'm sure that there are plenty of happy dreamhost customers--how else could they stay in business given that a lot of the complaint web sites and blogs have been around for quite a while.

You can expect to find unhappy customer for just about any company, but the kind of negative press you see and just how pissed these people are and what lengths they will go to in order to convey their grief (and the sheer volume) can be quite revealing. It isn't just about the quality of a company's products. How a company handles themselves when a relationship sours can be very revealing. If you watched Seinfeld, you'll remember the phrase, "he's a bad breaker-upper". That's good information to know before you get involved in a relationship with a person or a hosting provider.

It's so easy to forget what life was like before the information age. To just think all we had then were the kind words of a familiar actor doing a paid endorsement. The ability to communicate both synchronously and asynchronously with anyone in the world is simply awesome. Now if the people can only clean up corporate corruption next....

Data Backup in Web 2.0

I've really been thinking a lot about backup these days, mostly home backup. I presently have critical files distributed across several computers and occasionally burn a CD or DVD. Note to self: take CDs/DVDs to dad's house. If the house burns down, the photos and website code/files will be safe, albeit slightly outdated.

It seems inevitable that remotely hosted storage will be commonplace in the future. For consumers, this storage will probably be a subset of what they store locally, but for small companies or teams doing collaborative work, that may not be the case. Sure, I bet the big players in online storage will have a way to handle disk failures without losing data. But what if a company that hosts your data goes out of business or enters a legal dispute with your usage? What if your password was compromised and someone maliciously destroyed your files? If you are a big customer for the online storage company, you may be able to get some attention to have the data recovered, but I doubt end-users will have a loud enough voice.

What you need is a third party to backup your online storage needs. The real plus is that you don't have to commit personal bandwidth to facilitate this backup. It would be done from one remote host to another. You could have different price plans for volume and frequency combinations. With this kind of remotely hosted redundancy, you could free up some of that disk space locally and, more importantly, begin to work in Office 2.0 with the piece of mind knowing that your primary data source (remote storage cloud) is being backed up (and you are in control of the backup service).

With respect to Office 2.0, you could have these remote sources replicate each other on a frequent basis so that should one go done, your office doesn't have to. Given that gmail goes down more often than it should, this type of user-controlled redundancy will be important when you try to run a company with only Office 2.0.

Hosting Nightmare

 

My friend Andy had had a horrible experience with Dreamhost. It seems they have cut him off from hundreds of gigs of data and are refusing to respond to his emails. Regardless of the reason for terminating service, which in this case sounds unjust, a company should at least have the courtesy to respond to inquiries. It reminds me of customer service for AOL or cable companies. Calling sales? They'll pick up on second ring. Calling customer service? Expect to be on hold for an extended period of time.

I hope Andy can at least get his data back.

September 21, 2006

Bridging the gap between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 in the Enterprise

bridging the gapI've been reading and seeing more and more Web 2.0 information (hype?) and thinking about the hurdles it will take to get the enterprise and general public to buy in more. The techno-geeks have long embraced it and now there is a litany of 2.0 suffixes everywhere. This got me to thinking about how major leaps in technology are actually executed and adopted. In general adoption rates for leaps in technology seems pretty low at the enterprise level--unless there is an intermediate step that can be taken that bridges that gap.

Take the typical fossil-fuel driven automobile. Long ago, visionaries predicted that everyone would drive electric cars. What happened? Almost nobody is driving electric cars, and those that do are doing so primarily in experimental or subsidized vehicles. Although I don't underestimate the political strength of the petroleum industry, the gap between the traditional car and the electric car has been too large for the average car consumer or manufacturer. Status quo prevailed for decades. Along comes the hybrid vehicle, which still burns gasoline but uses an electric drivetrain with regenerative braking. It is a transitional vehicle that is bridging the gap to electric vehicles for the masses. More interesting is what you could call, "Hybrid 2.0", or plug in hybrids. This technology was driven by clever consumers, like a youTube for auto making. Now the enterprise is starting to take notice as smaller companies are being created to retrofit existing hybrids with the technology. Check out calcars.org to learn more about plug in hybrids. The group that makes the first transitional vehicle for the masses will have more probability of success than the group that makes electric vehicles for the few.

I would apply this same analogy to Web 2.0, particularly the user generated content side. To really appeal to the enterprise, there needs to be more Web 1.5 - Web 1.9 if people are really serious about getting more buy in from the enterprise market, where many organizations are shy to embrace grass roots content publishing models and other Web 2.0 concepts. I think the key for getting us to Web 2.0 is by adding Web 2.0 features to existing Web 1.0 applications. I attended a demo of ConnectBeam the other day. They offer a social bookmarking tool for the enterprise. During the demo, it was clear this was a very powerful and useful tool, but how do you convince an existing user base to try totally new ways of doing things? One feature they had that was pretty cool was to overlay their technology to existing intranet search results. I think this additive approach has a greater chance of success than purely alternative models (e.g., instead, go here and do it this new/different way).

If we're serious about getting Web 2.0 into the enterprise, we need to build a passable bridge from Web 1.0.

September 19, 2006

Pandora's risks and opportunities

After attending lunch 2.0 at Hitachi Data Systems, I decided to try Pandora for myself. It's actually pretty cool. You get to listen to new music that matches your tastes for free. There are convenient links to iTunes and Amazon to purchase the music or album you heard. The only downside to Pandora is the licensing restrictions. You can't play a song on demand or skip more than about 4 songs an hour. You also can't go back and even hear a clip of music you just heard to make sure that was the song you liked. I guess you could go to iTunes or Amazon to hear a clip, which might be part of why they don't allow that, so they can get you one click closer to purchase.

All this got me to thinking about the new subscription based music buffets like Urge or Yahoo Music Unlimited. Apart from music catalogue, how do these services plan to compete with each other. Assuming that the subscription price will bottom out, if it hasn't already, features will play a large role in controlling market share. If you could pair Pandora with a music buffet you would essentially remove the things that suck about Pandora.

What a kick-ass service: find new music and listen to it again and again on demand and when away from your computer with no buyer's remorse. You could even queue up a Pandora-style playlist of songs you haven't heard in advance to listen to offline in your car or at the gym. You could then apply ratings through your player that would then sync up when you were online to further refine your playlist stations.

In this respect, I would think Pandora would hope to be bought out because if Urge or Yahoo built their own music genome (or even iTunes), I would think that investors might be shy about investing in Pandora.

September 13, 2006

Web 2.0 and the Freemium business model

WatermelonI recently attended a lunch 2.0 event at Hitachi Data Systems. There were some pretty cool companies there showing their wares. The mood was reminiscent of the booming dot com days, filled with buzz and optimism. I was particularly impressed with Pandora, a music streaming service geared towards discovering new music based on your current musical interests. I spent a while talking with Tom Conrad about the features. Although there is no classical music in their collection, they still have an impressive amount of music catalogued. I tried it out last night and was impressed. I do wish you could hear a clip of songs already played. If you were listening casually and remembered a song you liked earlier, it could be hard to figure out which song you liked. I would still recommend it for people who would like to expand their music collection to new/different artists without wasting time listening to radio.

A friend sent a picture to me from the lunch 2.0 event via flickr, and I got to thinking about the business model of flickr. In general, most of these new 2.0 web sites seem to be using the "freemium" business model, a term coined by Jarid Lukin and elaborated on this blog. As a person with kids, I am wary of wasting my time. I think of the time people spend uploading, organizing and tagging photos to flickr. I wondered to myself, "what if flickr goes under?" Sure it is free, and you get what you pay for (though power users do pay), but there is an inherent risk with the "return to mainframe" software movement.

With all this Web 2.0 hype, the looming bubble 2.0 could be lurking in our future. I am curious about the revenues these companies really get from ads. Are they significant? Is anyone making a profit? A lot of these new sites may be hoping to be gobbled up by yahoo, microsoft or google--or perhaps that is the safety net should things go sour. One can only wonder the shock of users of a site like flickr should it suddenly close up shop for lack of profitability.