I’ve been wanting to do it for a while, and I finally managed to devote some time to making it happen: The Pragmatic Contextualist is moving off of WordPress.com and onto WordPress.org over at AloraChistiakoff.com.
I will be leaving this one up for a while, but all content has been moved over to the new location, and eventually this one will come down.
See you over there!
When Amazon launched AWs in 2006, Businessweek labeled it “Jeff Bezos’ Risky Bet.” However, to Amazon, it made sense: the amount of time, energy and resources the ecommerce company was putting into building a world class infrastructure was immense. It only made sense to try to monetize it.
Today at SXSW, in the panel called “Cloud Computing: Defending the Undefinable,” Amazon Web Services CTO Werner Vogels, Microsoft Azure‘s Yousef Khalidi and Google App Engine‘s Kevin Gibbs discussed the past, present and future of cloud computing for a packed room of conference attendees.
Eating Their Own Dogfood
When asked if the internal teams used the company’s cloud computing services, each of the representatives said yes — and, in many cases, their cloud computing model started out of an attempt to meet their organizational needs for computing services. When asked about how AWS prioritizes Amazon.com vs. their other clients, Vogel insists that Amazon.com does not get preferential treatment. In response to a skeptical audience he quickly noted: “Believe me! The other customers are paying us money!”
At Microsoft, Yousef Khalidi states, the internal teams (often very small) were having to go through an expensive and tedious hardware acquisition process to support the small apps they were developing, and an internal cloud computing model was the a result of needing to support the ‘long tail’ of the small apps deployed in the corporate environment.
The Cloud and Security
“Where would you rather have your money: in your mattress or in the bank?” asked Kevin Gibbs of Google, to the ubiquitous question of how secure is the cloud. Obvious economic quips notwithstanding, his point is that finding providers who are experts in this space allows end users the opportunity to keep focused on the things they do best, without having to invest in the expense and difficulty of building out a scalable infrastructure themselves.
Yousef Khalidi of Microsoft addressed this question very pragmatically, though, with the needs of the enterprise in mind: knowing that there are some parts of a business that lend themselves to cloud computing better than others. Things like collaboration tools or some supply chain systems are quick and fairly easy to move into the cloud with huge amounts of pain or concern. On the other hand, core business data, legacy systems, or systems adhering to various regulatory requirements are less likely to be eagerly pushed into the cloud.
Werner Vogels of Amazon points out, however, that cloud computing solutions are often capable of meeting regulatory requirements, and he cited several examples of healthcare organizations that must meet HIPPA guidelines as AWS clients.
How Green Are Cloud Services
Werner Vogels is adamant that, when it comes to most data center operations, most things that spell “efficiency” (and therefore lower costs) are also usually “green.” As a result, though none of the panelists had any specific statistics to share (and cited a lack of standardization in this area as an issue: what stats are truly meaningful?), he maintains that it is fundamentally in the best interest of scalable infrastructure solutions to be as “green” as possible.
And, per Kevin Gibbs’ response, the very nature of cloud computing is more “green” by definition than it is for a software shop to host their own infrastructure, because on-demand use prevents the expenditure of energy when an application is not in use — which obviously does not happen in self-hosted environments.
The Future of Open Standards
When asked about the support of open standards in the space, each of the panelists expressed a desire to ensure maximum portability and interoperability by supporting open standards in this space – at least as much as possible. However, they were also quick to point out that “open standards” is a broad term, and that how they are applied is the real question that has yet to be answered. As standards are increasingly codified, each team recognizes the value in ‘playing nicely with others’ and respecting the evolution of the community.
Is There Profit in the Cloud Business?
According to Vogel, “Absolutely!” He is emphatic: Amazon would not be in the business if they did not think there was great profit potential in it. And while they do not break out their financials to be able to reflect the financial status of this one area of their business, it is clearly a valuable market for them and they believe in the profitability of it.
Microsoft concurs. Khalidi emphasizes that Microsoft has a history of believing that there is tremendous profit potential in solutions based around economies of scale, which is exactly what cloud computing is. Gibbs notes that, while Google only started charging recently and so it is too soon to tell, they are confident that there are profitable margins to be found in this space – though they could need some time to work out the best way to tap into it.
What Are the Trends Among Transitions to the Cloud?
Werner Vogels says that the two dominant trends AWS sees among clients who move into the cloud is taking advantage of the opportunity to implement automation and scalability.
Kevin Gibbs further notes that the very nature of cloud computing will continue to evolve the field of development, since new apps can often find themselves ‘overnight sensations’ that go from no traffic to off-the-charts traffic in no time. As a result, development practices designed around maximum scalability will continue to be increasingly important to the architecture and development of even the most seemingly small applications.
Convincing the Enterprise to ‘Go Cloud’
The concern of many enterprise organizations when it comes to cloud computing is a common concern, and one that both Microsoft and Amazon are constantly discussing with both clients and potential clients. (Since Google’s focus is web apps, this is less of an issue among their customer base.)
Supporting Enterprise concerns in this area is a large part of what Microsoft has been focused on as they’ve been getting their Azure platform on its feet. Part of the plan they anticipate deploying to support the enterprise-specific issues is the idea of a ‘hybrid’ solution that includes “local cloud computing” and “traditional” cloud computing in combination. This would allow Enterprises to move non-sensitive applications out into the cloud, while gaining ‘cloud-like’ benefits behind their own firewall for the systems they need to keep locally.
Vogels adds another point: historical concerns about cloud computing are dwindling a bit as socialization of the idea takes root, and the novelty wears off. Even more importantly, however, is that with the change of the economic tide, financial savings is a much higher priority than it was a year ago. This factor alone is driving the cloud computing debate in some organizations that had previously refused to consider it.
Of course, the other thing Vogel noted is that we are still only “on Day 1″ of the evolution of this space. As a truly “disruptive” solution, things are constantly changing and the eco-system of customers within the marketplace will drive how things evolve more than any other factor.
Today seems to be the opposite of my previous two days. After deliberately taking everyone’s advice on taking a ‘go with the flow’ approach to the SXSW experience, somehow today has proven crazy-ass busy.
10:30 panel: Beyond Aggregation
This was a great panel where we got to hear wonderful speakers, including blogger Louis Gray, discuss some very tactical tips and tricks they use to sift through excessive amounts of online information, make their own content more findable, and how they track down the best content available for their own blogs/sites. There was a LOT of great stuff in this standing-room-only panel, and I’ll write it up in more detail in the next few days, once I’ve had the chance to test drive a few of the things they discussed. Very cool stuff, though, and one of the most practically useful panels I’ve been to so far.
11:00 panel: Start-up Management (technically a “Core Conversation”)
This was actually my back-up, because I had wanted to go to the CMS ‘showdown’ between WordPress, Drupal and Joomla. Unfortunately for me, so did a TON of other people and they were smart enough to get there early enough to get in the door. C’est la vie. However, having said that, Start-up Management was also worthwhile. The founders of Dogster.com (where I have a page for Zeka, and have for 2 years this week) discussed the growth of a startup where the founders go from developers to managers. Some great dialogue, and much of the same advice (on a micro-level) to what Tony (Zappos CEO) said on Saturday during his keynote: protect your culture; hire slow and fire quickly if you realize someone is a bad fit; don’t fall into the trap of ‘just find a warm body’ because you’ll regret it. Also some good advice for small company layoffs, working with partners, and managing a product roadmap.
Some of the interviews I couldn’t get slotted in yesterday are scheduled for today.
This afternoons panels (which I’ll update about later) are scheduled to be “SEO for Startups” and “Tools to Know Your Users” — of course, this is SXSW, so anything could change.
The official announcement will be posted by Google later this morning, but Matt took took the opportunity to share the good news with the PubCon crowd during his remarks. A long-time attendee of PubCon, Matt is a leader in the search engine industry, and is credited with helping change the nature of the relationship between search engine teams and webmasters.
Thanks to the hard work of several different teams at Google, Matt unvieled the value of the OpenSocial-based Friend Connect API to the SEO professionals attending PubCon: the biggest benefit being in helping to foster online community (by making it faster and easier for readers to leave comments on blogs) and by helping to discourage web spam by bots (by requiring validation).
As part of the release, the Web Spam Team developed three proof-of-concept plugins to accompany the release, and which Matt shared with the audience in Austin this morning:
Matt is quick to point out that none of the members of his team responsible for this work had ever built plugins before, and that they really are just proofs of concept.
The code will be placed on http://code.google.com later today available for download. Since they are entirely open source, Matt eagerly encouraged the audience to build on what was there to make them better for their own sites.
The Friend Connect API will work with Yahoo! or OpenID accounts, as well as a Google account.
In the early days of search, the relationship between search teams and individual website managers was highly adversarial. It has been through the on-going interfacing between industry insiders, like Matt, with real world business owners and web practitioners that has helped foster the knowledge share and on-going evolution that is essential to the search engine optimization sector today, particularly when it comes to the eternal battle with webspam.
Photo credit from Matt Cutt’s website, from a previous PubCon event.
Cross-posted on Social Computing Magazine.
Covering everything from the strange funding requests that come to VCs to the weaponization of Twitter, social media business strategist and blogging maven Chris Brogan led a “fireside chat” with venture capitalist, entrepreneur and Alltop founder Guy Kawasaki onstage for an eager audience of SEO/SEM professionals at the opening keynote of PubCon South.
Search vs. Content Marketing
Guy’s work with the American Express Open Small Business Forum – and their future plans to grow the community – are a particular source of pride and interest for him, for several reasons. During the discussion, Chris noted the modern trend towards content-driven advertising value is promising to further undermine historical advertising strategies.
When given advice about how to better search engine optimize any of his websites, Guy’s philosophy is unwavering: focus on valuable content. (He quite amusingly refers to SEO as “witchcraft,” and is first to admit that he doesn’t actually know anything about it.) And though this does pose some interesting questions – not the least of which is, how many sites can exist before good content sources start drying up – for the moment massive content consolidation has not completely changed the landscape yet.
In the early days of the blogosphere, Guy deliberately refused to blog. His take on blogging at the time was that it was too narcissistic to be of interest, and had no value if you were not interested in talking about yourself.
Once he started blogging, he found the first year to be very easy. Content flowed regularly and without tremendous effort, as he used the experiences of his career for material. By the second year, though, it got more difficult. Material was getting more scarce and requiring more effort. By year three, he “hit a wall.”
Rapidly dispelling any notions that he was a highly structured, well-planned writer (for either his personal blog, or the blog he writes on the American Express Open Small Business Forum), he admitted that blogging for him now is an asynchronous, interruption-driven activity. And, if he feels the pressure of a deadline or a need to produce content, he often looks to Alltop for inspiration – newly published studies are often what he needs to jump-start his writing energy.
Chris Brogan added that, for him, a good source of new writing inspiration is photography. He takes pictures all day, and then finds interesting things in them that inspire him to write.
The difference between blogging and microblogging, in Guy’s case, is all the difference. As he says, “I was born to Tweet.” And even though it took a bit of time (about two months or so) before he really started to get the hang of Twitter, once he got into the swing of things, he fell in love with the format.
“One hundred and forty characters is just perfect,” he said. “I wish I had an email client that only accepted 140 characters. Do you know how much better life would be if email were limited to 140 characters?”
But anyone who follows Guy on Twitter knows that the bulk of what he posts are Alltop stories he finds interesting and wants to share. He refers to Twitter as “a weapon,” and uses it accordingly. He describes his “mental model” when it comes to Twitter as “PBS plus QVC.” Provide quality content that people will enjoy, and they will be more willing to forgive shilling your product.
And while he laments that he cannot exercise his fantasy of saying “I quit!” to the blogosphere in general, he describes himself as still being “in the honeymoon phase” with Twitter, and not at all eager to give that up.
The three tools that Guy credits with his Twitter addiction are:
And while the recommendation of TwitterHawk came with a caution about judicious use, it also came with some good examples, including some valuable usages for brick and mortar businesses that are able to leverage the geo-targeting capabilities to find a local market.
Responding to Criticism
As with any high profile figure, Guy has learned not to take criticism personally. His philosophy is that if, out of more than 50,000 followers, he has less than a dozen people per day upset with him, then he can roll with it.
And what does he say when the feedback he gets is that he’s doing too much shameless self-promotion? “UFM.” What does that mean? “Unfollow me.” Noting Twitter’s opt-in nature, Guy dubbed “Twitter spam” as an “oxymoron.”
The New Book
Guy’s new book, “Reality Check” is, in his words, a “Chicago Manual of Style” model that aggregates his prior works – other books, blogs, presentations, etc. – into a reference broken down by topic. His vision is not that someone will “take it to the beach one weekend and read it cover to cover,” but that as need for advice on a specific business issue arises, his book can serve as a quick guide to someone flailing in unfamiliar waters.
He quickly admits that there is not a lot of new material in the book, but that it’s a much more concise reference than lugging around several years worth of blog posts, printed up and stuffed in a three-ring binder.
Being a VC in a Recession
When asked by a member of the audience if recently laid-off professionals who’ve been wanting to start their own business should use their current unemployment to do that, or if they should focus on finding a new job first, both Chris and Guy were in agreement: find a job first.
Chris, who will be on a panel at SXSW this weekend on called “Dad is the New Mom,” was emphatic about having a steady source of income before trying to build something from scratch.
And, while not as emphatic as Chris, Guy agreed: unless you are “a trustfund baby,” a person with other responsibilities (especially a family) is usually better off focusing on re-establishing a source of income capable of meeting daily obligations, and building a new business after hours. He also suggests that is a better sales pitch for getting your project funded once it’s on its feet.
As a VC, Guy’s advice in this area is very direct: build a product, develop a user-base, show value/demand, and THEN go to a VC for funding. Coming to a VC with just an idea is a much harder case to make, and one that the current economic conditions will not support. Guy eagerly champion’s a strong sense of entrepreneurship, but he recommends a healthy dose of pragmatism, particularly in a market where even the VCs are tightening their purse strings.
After all, he noted, his VC firm isn’t called “Garage Technology Ventures” for nothing.
Cross-posted on Social Computing Magazine.