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Thursday 14 January 2010

Technology factors to watch during 2010

Last week I posted a brief review of 2009 here, but didn't go much into predictions for 2010. I won't try to predict anything detailed now either, but here's a few things I think will be interesting to monitor over the year. And no, tablet computing isn't on the list. For fairly obvious reasons, this is focused on areas impacting social games. As a further assist, I've underlined the parts most resembling conclusions or predictions.


Social networks and virtual worlds interoperability

As more and more business transforms to use Internet as a core function, the customers of these businesses are faced with a proliferation of proprietary identification mechanisms that has already gotten out of hand. It is not uncommon today to have to manage 20-30 different userid/password pairs that are in regular use, from banks to e-commerce to social networks. At the same time, identity theft is a growing problem, no doubt in large part because of the minimum-security methods of identification.

Social networks today are a significant contributor to this problem. Each collects and presents information about its users that contribute to the rise of identity theft while having their own authorization mechanisms in a silo of low-trustworthy identification methods. The users, on the other hand, perceive little incentive to manage their passwords in a secure fashion. Account hijacking and impersonation is a major problem area to each vendor. The low trust level of individual account data also leads to a low relative value of owning a large user database.

A technology solution, OpenID is emerging and taking hold in a form of an industry-accepted standard for exchanging identity data between an ID provider and a vendor in need of a verified id for their customer. A few of current backers of the standard in the picture on the right. However, changing the practices of the largest businesses has barely begun and no consumer shift can yet be seen – as is typical for such “undercurrent” trends.

OpenID will allow consumers to use fewer, higher-security ids over the universe of their preferred services, which in turn will allow these services a new level of transparent interoperability in combining data from each other in near-automatic, personalized mash-ups via the APIs each vendor can expose to trusted users with less fear of opening holes for account hijacking.


Browsers vs desktops: what's the target for entertainment software?

Here's a rough sketch of competing technology streams in terms of two primary factors – ease of access versus the rich experience of high-performance software. “Browser wars” are starting again, and with the improved engines behind Safari 4, Firefox 4, IE 8 and Google Chrome, a lot of the kind of functionalitywe're used to thinking belongs to native software or at best browser plugins like Flash, Java or Silverlight will be available straight in the browser. This for sure includes high-performance application code, rich 2D vector and pixel graphics, video streams and access to new information like location-sensing. The plugins will most likely be stronger at 3D graphics and synchronized audio and at advanced input mechanisms like using webcams for gesture-based control. Invariably, especially the new input capabilities will also bring with them new security and privacy concerns which will not be fully resolved within the next 2-3 years.

While 3D as a technology will be available to browser-based applications, this doesn't mean the web will turn to represent everything as a virtual copy of the physical world. Instead, it's best use will be as a tool for accelerating and enhancing other UI and presentation concepts – think iTunes CoverFlow. For social interaction experiences, a 3-degrees-freedom pure 3D representation will remain a confusing solution, and other presentations such as axonometric “camera in the corner” concepts will remain more accessible. Naturally, they can (but don't necessarily need to) be rendered using 3D tech.


Increased computing capabilities will change economies of scale

The history of the “computer revolution” has been about automation changing economies of scale to enable entirely new types of business. Lately we've seen this eg by Google AdWords enabling small businesses to advertise and/or publish ads without marketing departments or involvement of agencies.

The same trend is continuing in the form of computing capacity becoming a utility in Cloud Computing, extreme amounts of storage becoming available in costs which allow terabytes of storage to organizations of almost any size and budget, and most importantly, developing data mining, search and discovery algorithms that enable organizations to utilize data which used to be impossible to analyze as automated business practices. Unfortunately, the same capabilities are available for criminals as well.

Areas in which this is happening as we speak:

  • further types and spread of self-service advertising, better targeting, availability of media
  • automated heuristics-based detection of risky customers, automated moderation
  • computer-vision based user interfaces which require nothing more than a webcam
  • ever increasing size of botnets, and the use of them for game exploits, money laundering, identity theft and surveillance

The escalation of large-scale threats have raised the need for industry-wide groups for exchanging information and best practices between organizations regarding the security relevant information such as new threats, customer risk rating, identification of targeted and organized crime.


Software development, efficiencies, bottlenecks, resources

Commercial software development tools and methods experience a significant shift roughly once every decade. The last such shift was the mainstreaming of RAD/IDE-based, virtual-machine oriented tools and the rise of Web and open source in the 90s, and now those two rising themes are increasingly mainstream while “convergent”, cross-platform applications which depend on the availability of always-on Internet are emerging. As before, it's not driven by technological possibility, but by the richness and availability of high-quality development tools with which more than just the “rocket-scientist” superstars can create new applications.

The skills which are going to be in short supply are those for designing applications which can smoothly interface to the rest of the cloud of applications in this emerging category. Web-accessible APIs, the security design of those APIs, efficient utilization of services from non-associated, even competing companies, and friction-free interfaces for end users of these web-native applications is the challenge.

In this world, the traditional IT outsourcing houses won't be able to serve as a safety valve for resources as they're necessarily still focused on serving the last and current mainstream. In their place, we must consider the availability of open source solutions not just as a method for reducing licensing cost, but as the “extra developer” used to reduce time-to-market. And as with any such relationship, it must be nurtured. In the case of open source, that requires participation and contribution back to the further development of that enabling infrastructure as the cost of outsourcing the majority of the work to the community.

Mobile internet

With the launch of iPhone, the use of Web content and 3rd party applications on mobile devices has multiplied compared to previous smart phone generations. This is due to two factors: the familiarity and productivity of Apple's developer tools for the iPhone, and the straightforward App Store for the end-users. Moreover, the wide base of the applications is primarily because of the former, as proven by the wide availability of unauthorized applications already before the launch of iPhone 2.0 and the App Store. Nokia's failure to create such an applications market despite the functionality available on S60 phones for years before the iPhone launch proves this – it was not the features of the device, but the development tools and application distribution platform were the primary factor.

The launch of Google's Android will further accelerate this development. Current Android-based devices lack the polish of iPhone, and the stability gained from years of experience of Nokia devices, yet the availability of development tools will supercharge this market, and the next couple of years will see accelerated development and polish cycle from all parties. At the moment, it's impossible to call the winner on this race, though.

Monday 4 January 2010

Happy 2010 - it's review time

I was happily snowboarding and skiing (the latter for the first time in two decades) last week, so here comes the year-end review a week late. Last year, I harped on Facebook's closed nature, and over the the year they've tried to open more of the users' data over to the Internet. Still, there are no decent APIs for a user to pull out everything they've posted to Facebook to have their own copy, though. That doesn't seem to stop them from dominating the Internet for the time being, though, so good for them.

I'm trying to think of what would have surprised me over the year, but given I failed to make many accurate predictions myself, things just seemed to happen in pretty natural direction. Oracle's Sun acquisition over in April was a bit of a surprise at the time, but since then, I've grown to appreciate how it might make sense for Oracle. However, what still baffles me is that EC is going along with Monty's campaign of blocking the completion of that acquisition. Look, guys - the entire world does not need to agree on a commercial transaction in order for one to go through! MySQL is not the important thing here overall, Java is.

We managed to complete a few of major transitions for Habbo, most notably replacing the Shockwave client which was getting a bit long in the tooth with an all-new Flash-based Habbo Hotel and integrating Habbo with Facebook and other social networks. I didn't write about either of those launches here at the time, but these are pretty huge things for us because they make approaching Habbo much easier for a new user, and enable us to create all kinds of interesting features that would not have made sense previously.

So, what do I expect from 2010? Well, did the mobile Internet already happen? If not, at least it has a fighting chance this year. I'm having a hard time identifying any people close to me who're not using some Internet services on their phone by now, and some seem to be doing that almost exclusively on a phone. That must mean the rest of the world is close on their heels. As for more predictions, others have taken care of them by now.

One promise I can make is to try to do my part in making the Internet more fun and more social. At least now that even newspapers are beginning to think that asking their readers for money is not just a utopia, we can focus on the apps themselves, not whether they're ad-supportable.

Have a great year MMX!

Wednesday 9 January 2008

Fun stuff

Not that I necessarily entirely agree with the message, but the presentation is fun anyway :)

Wednesday 9 May 2007

Europe's hot Web 2.0 startups - or not

Apparently there's tomorrow a European Web 2.0 startup award thing in Madrid, that's already gained a bit of publicity in terms of "er, who?" type of comments. I'd have to agree -- despite obviously needing to follow the industry from a professional point of view, none of these nominees are anywhere on my radar. And all of them seem to be a lot of me-too action. Yawn.

So, is it that all European Web 2.0 stuff is me-too, or not startup, or just hasn't bothered with the competition? I'd incline to say either of the latter two. There's plenty of cool stuff happening - us, of course (cool Web 2.0 I mean, not as a startup), Jaiku, Star Doll, and Zopa to name a few.

I do find it amusing though that the competition is using Pligg as a submission and voting tool. Pligg, of course, shares its history with Meneame, one of the finalists in the competition.

Tuesday 8 May 2007

What to do with OpenID...

OpenID is one of the technologies I've been coming across repeatedly in the past year or so, that very much feel like the right kind of response to things that are a constant ache in today's internet. In particular, it's a pain in the butt for a consumer to manage six thousand logins to individual services, and as a result, it's almost as much of a pain for a consumer service (like Habbo) to demand logins; no one really wants to create yet another. I'm pretty convinced that we don't really need to have a database full of passwords, and that we'd be better off without it.

What we need is a way to identify that whoever visited us before and wanted us to call her PrettyGirl87 last week is the same person who wants to be known by this name this week - and we need to know that because our other users might care about a thing like that. We also want to be able to reach the users later, so we'd like to know their email address, or some other means of communication.

Neither of these things actually requires us to ask her to come up with and remember Yet Another Password, if some other means of identifying the user existed. OpenID might be an answer, or at least part of one. So I'm one of many considering whether to support OpenID. I'm also thinking whether we should provide OpenID identity for those users who'd actually like to use Habbo to identify themselves (which would be wonderful for completely different kinds of reasons). But both of those questions really are quite clear: yes, we should. The difficult question is, should we do that instead of something else? Because that's the question that faces anything we might want to implement. And I haven't seen an argument convincing enough to put OpenID on the top of the pile yet. The demand probably isn't going to come from users - but what would be the thing to swing the balance?

Friday 23 March 2007

Käsittämätöntä soopaa

Hesarissakin uutisoitiin tänään VTT:n julkaisemasta sosiaalisen median liiketoimintamalli-tutkimuksesta otsikoituna suurinpiirtein "internet-palveluilla ei ole liiketoimintamallia" (sori, en voi linkata, kun ei löydä uutista). Täytyy todeta, että kirjoittajien periaatteessa erilaisesta näkemyksestä se on nimenomaan käsitys joka tuon raportin lukemalla saa.

Sori nyt vaan tutkijat, mutta analyysinne on aivan käsittämätöntä soopaa. Ai liiketoimintamallitko ovat todellanne mielestänne vain "tilauspalvelut", "mainokset" ja "myytävää"? Jäiköhän nyt jotain ehkä havaitsematta, vai ettekö esimerkiksi näe minkäänlaista eroa esim Ebayn, Amazonin ja Habbon liiketoimintamallien välillä? Ja älkää nyt kukaan edes yrittäkö ehdottaa etteikö joku näistä kolmesta olisi "sosiaalista mediaa".

Ja mikä liiketoiminnan suunnittelun kurssi jäi käymättä että tulee mieleen ehdottaa vaihtoehtoiseksi malliksi "maksa käyttäjille palkkaa sisällöstä"? Missä se liiketoiminta tuossa mallissa mahtaisi olla?

Huh, nollatutkimus jos mikä. Rahoittajana olisin melko vihainen. Lopettaakseni kuitenkin positiivisesti, löysin samalla myös TIEKE:n julkaiseman, Kari A. Hintikan kirjoittaman Web 2.0-johdatuksen, joka on merkittävästi parempi johdatus aiheeseen niille jotka johdatusta kaipaavat.

Tuesday 2 January 2007

Three predictions for 2007

In the fine tradition of educated guessing, I thought I'd try to preview what's going to happen, or not, in the Internet world over the next 12 months. Here goes...

Continuing the ten-year tradition of "mobile internet overtakes xxx" punditry that fails to materialize, mobile video and social networking services will not become mainstream in 2007. The mobile 1" experience combined with severely limited input mechanisms just won't replace larger-format mediums. Mobile does have a niche in short-format updates and will gain limited popularity as a snapshot pictures upload vehicle.

Social web technology continues to find popularity in corporate environments, with Wikis replacing traditional document management systems in more and more companies. Consumer-oriented social networking hits peak growth amongst fierce competition in a niche-sites vs mass media battle.

TV companies are forced to accept the fact that Internet video services are able to provide a more relevant experience to their viewers, but few are able to actually deliver a satisfying service. YouTube continues to encroach on their field, despite outcries of copyright violations. By end of the year, DVR's will be marketed by their capability of showing Internet video content on televisions in addition to recording broadcast stuff.

Update: whoa, it seems I was really, really late with my last prediction. Let me qualify that a bit -- I'm not personally going to be satisfied by things like an Apple HTPC able to download stuff from iTunes, Xbox 360 movie downloads from Microsoft, or other such walled-garden solutions. The Sony Bravia thing might be a tiny step closer to what I had in mind, but ultimately I expect someone to provide a box which is not locked to single-vendor content. Something like the Democrazy Player on a TV would fit the bill better. If the Venice Project ends up on a non-PC living room device, that'd be It.

Monday 4 December 2006

Smart uses for RSS

I've thought for quite a while that RSS is one of the most important, and often overlooked technologies around for building interesting services. Overlooked because it has potential for much more than just the currently-widespread blog-type syndication of (new) content.

I think there's an amazing potential in delivering all kinds of information to users via RSS feeds personalized to their individual profile - whether based on recommendations, locale, activities, or like this new service FeedCycle, by serializing access to previously  published stuff in a sequence that makes most sense to the recipient. Think "my pals say Galactica is really cool, but I missed its first season - so I'd like to watch it two episodes a week to catch up". Or, one of those continuing novella-based stories many magazines publish.

Tuesday 28 November 2006

Value chain of content business in the Web 2.0

Since I sabotaged this blog a month ago by transfering it to a new platform that totally destroyed all the permalinks and with that my already rather pathetic Google PageRank, I figured this might be a good time to look at changing my editorial policy a bit. Until now, I've sort of avoided talking about work-related matters, which kind of limits the field since practically everything I might want to write about could be construed to be related. So, I figure - why not comment on things? I'm commenting on these things in a more official capacity in more closed circles anyway.

A couple of weeks ago I was trying to introduce a group of IT directors to Web 2.0, which is a fairly thankless task to do in 45 minutes, given that the buzz seems to have no clear boundaries at all, so basically anything whatsoever could be claimed to lay under that moniker. In fact, one definition of Web 2.0 seems to be "whatever the speaker thinks to be cool today". I hope someone in the audience got something out of that.

Anyway - one of the more relevant points in that presentation to myself was that the value of content in this world of syndication, aggregation, user-created content and mashups might not be in the actual content itself, but in the way services are able to provide relevant views into the ocean of it based on the reader's context and preferences. It seems that I'm not alone thinking this - Bear Sterns Media Research has just published an analysis claiming the value being precisely in the packaging of content. An illustration perhaps explains:

Sweet spot in the content value chain

The presentation is a useful read if you're interested in the subject, but repeats quite a few basic ideas for anyone who already is familiar with concepts such as the Long Tail etc. Essentially, the analyst (Spencer Wang) is making the prediction that the popularity of user-generated content (or other content coming from outside the traditional Big Media supplies) is going to increase, making it a much more significant fraction, if not the majority of total media consumption. This idea should not be too strange to anyone reading blogs in the first place. Furthermore, because this increases the supply sources dramatically, it's going to be increasingly valuable to consumers to find relevant content, which leads to the success of aggregators and packagers. Once again, much along the lines I'm thinking on as well, although not necessarily with the particular companies he chooses to name in that illustration above.