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February 2008 Archives

February 2, 2008

The peanut butter jar is empty

I was rooting for Jerry Yang. Tech founder returns to helm to take over. That's a story I have to get behind.

But it never seemed to me like he was fully in charge. I wonder how many stakeholders Consensus had over there in the top suite.

It is okay to blame terry, he has been paid very well, by any standard in corporate america. including his stock grants, semel has certainly extracted hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation. For that much money it is fair to expect results. while he doesn't strike one as the type of person to grasp the viability of search, he has surrounded himself with advisors who certainly should have been able to make this assessment.

One can also turn some blame on jerry yang, who was instrumental in attracting terry. Jerry should have known that such a technophobe would have problems dealing with the inevitable semi-technical issues that a yahoo ceo would have to grasp on some meaningful level. It was those senior yahoos who were engaged in the ceo search who incorrectly assumed that yahoo was simply "another media company", and their search was predicated on this. Had they understood that this generalization was meaningless, they would have directed their search elsewhere.

But to be fair, the winds of the internet have shifted. no one cares about "integrated networks" like yahoo and aol anymore because they have failed to deliver more utility than the rest of the web. Google is a rest-of-the-web company...its search and advertizing products leverage the entire web instead of trying to fight it. I'm not sure anyone at yahoo saw this coming.

    -- comment to Speculative Fiction, on Terry Semel's decision not to buy Google

Rumors about a msft or some private equity takeout of Yahoo have been bobbing around for years. Sure, Yahoo could do (could have done?) the monetization deal with Google, and become Google's #1 adsense publisher. But on the product side...what would you do?

Take a look at Yahoo's list of products:

Sixyt-one services! 61! How do you wrap a brand around that?

Yahoo used to mean "search", back in 1995. Then they line-extended their name onto everything...even physical stuff, like credit cards and mice and keyboards and a magazine (a real one, on paper!). Now what does Yahoo mean? What is the first word that jumps into people's heads when they think of Yahoo?

I subscribe to Trout-Ries branding. Line extensions == generally harmful. But it's the default silicon valley product manager launch move. You trade short-term interest in a new product for long term damage to the core brand. It takes 5-10 years to build a major brand. And it takes 5-10 years for the full effect of line-extensions to erode a strong brand.

Long after the folks responsible for junk like this have moved on, the effect remains in consumer's collective subconscious memory.

Think about it... Yahoo doesn't mean keyboards. They didn't do plastics or ergonomic research or think of some insight about key travel distance or how audible the click should be or do wireless really well. Apple thinks about that stuff when they do a design. They work closely with the manufacturers to find out the latest materials and new techniques they can incorporate into their products. But Yahoo didn't do that. They just slapped their name on a box.

Anyone who passed this keyboard sitting on a shelf in a store could see that. How many people saw the box vs. bought the thing? They sold some keyboards, but far more people saw the message of the keyboard. A message that Yahoo wasn't only about their directory or search functions. Or even about their website. Yahoo does everything! no... the message was that Yahoo was willing to put their name on anything.

Trout-Ries: If you do everything, then you do nothing...

Mike thinks Yahoo Mail is the first thing that comes to mind for people when they think of Yahoo. I asked my wife, she said Yahoo Groups.

I asked her why she didn't use more Yahoo stuff.

"Well, if you think of the web as a giant marketplace, and you're looking for something, you could go to the "Yahoo company store" and look at what just they have, or you could go through the main door and look at everything."

"What's the main door?"

"I don't know, I guess I just use Google."

Sixty-one services. Not just names on a site-map, they're groups in the org chart.

Google should take a close look at this. They're up to 39 services. 39!

This story is over... now the cycle can start over with Google. I do hope that Google's brand-extending product managers diligently continue their efforts this year. :)

February 7, 2008

Google finally copies Topix 2004

Heh. Google has launched a local news version of Google News. You can put in a zip code and get a geo-spun slice of their stories around a locality. Cool.

But it doesn't seem like Google is going as far as Topix did in finding local references in non-local sources... We had a geoKB with named entities for every town in the US, and would disambiguate the references in the stories. Our geoKB knew the name of every street in the country. As well as every bridge, tunnel, body of water, hospital, school, jail... we even had a database of mayor names in our local KB (got that yet goog? :-) Sometimes helpful to tell the Springfields apart.

I'd routinely see local stories from crazy sources... stuff that I never would have found any other way. My town (san carlos, ca) once was the cover story on a magazine called Government Procurement, because our city hall had put solar cells all over their roof. I never would have seen that story without topix.

This was pretty neat stuff when Topix launched in January, 2004. Now if Google just added 50,000 vetted local blogs to the mix, and a community with 100k posts/day, they'll have something. :-)

February 12, 2008

Amazon is the Google of buying stuff

I went into a little corner non-chain convenience store by my house (the "Devonshire Little Store") for some milk and noticed a big plastic tub of Dubble Bubble at the cash register.

Folks I've worked with know that I have a thing for gum.

I was doing the math at $0.10/piece, but then figured "what the heck" and asked if I could buy the whole bucket. That seemed to piss off the store owner.

He said he would only sell me $5 worth at $0.10/piece. The bucket said "180ct" and was about 1/3 down. I tried to chat him up. "You can't get this at at Costco, can you?" "No, not at Costco." He wouldn't tell me where he got the Dubble Bubble buckets wholesale.

An hour later, I'd chewed through half of my stash and was thinking there had to be a better way to get quantity gum.

Enter Amazon. I'm happy to say that 1,260 pieces of Dubble Bubble (in various-sized plastic buckets) are now on their way to me. I'll have them tomorrow.

Recently I've found that my online purchasing has increased, and consolidated, through Amazon. I did 80% of my christmas shopping through Amazon. I've bought scissors, wall thermometers, toys, video games, a camera, a bunch of DVDs, and of course books...

A couple of things I've had to go outside to get..MREs (ebay), and a coffee machine for the office (amzn didn't have the model we were looking for.) But if amzn has it, I use them to buy it.

Give credit to Bezos ... he's built the best ecommerce fulfillment platform in the business. One-click purchasing, Amazon Prime, reviews, "Where's my stuff?", multiple credit cards and shipping addresses on file in my account... it all just works.

And with their merchants, they offer just about everything.

When I go somewhere else on the web to buy stuff it's invariably a rude shock. Basic gaps in the checkout process. Delayed or missing order confirmation emails. Bozo shipping policies. Stuff that I don't have to worry about with Amazon.

When I want to know something, I go to Google.

But when I want to buy something, I go to Amazon.

February 17, 2008

Quote week

"There's something deep in software development that not everyone gets but the people at Bell Labs did. It's the undercurrent of "the New Jersey Style", "Worse is Better", and "the Unix philosophy" - and it's not just a feature of Bell Labs software either. You see it in the original Ethernet specification where packet collision was considered normal.. and the same sort of idea is deep in the internet protocol. It's deep awareness of design ramification - a willingness to live with a little less to avoid the bigger mess and a willingness to see elegance in the real rather than the vision."
      -- Michael Feathers, Beautiful Code blog

February 19, 2008

Code must be nurtured

Here's a theory of software quality for you: software must be nurtured. The existence of bugs isn't mysterious to any honest programmer. They are the product of neglect. Finding a bug in one's code isn't so much a surprise as a feeling of deja vu. Ohhhh yesssss, I remember thinking I should check that condition. Programmers have complete control over the quality of their code and, when working on code they care about, tend to produce things that work. The secret is to care for the programmers, so that they take good care of the software.
      -- Coderspiel

February 20, 2008

Leak proof

So for now, my advice is this: don't start a new project without at least one architect with several years of solid experience in the language, classes, APIs, and platforms you're building on. If you have a choice of platforms, use the one your team has the most skills with, even if it's not the trendiest or nominally the most productive. And when you're designing abstractions or programming tools, go the extra mile to make them leak proof.
    -- Joel on Software

February 21, 2008

Nobody is really smart enough to program computers

Fully understanding an average program requires an almost limitless capacity to absorb details and an equal capacity to comprehend them all at the same time. The way you focus your intelligence is more important than how much intelligence you have.

At the 1972 Turing Award lecture, Edsger Dijkstra delivered a paper titled "The Humble Programmer." He argued that most of programming is an attempt to compensate for the strictly limited size of our skulls. The people who are best at programming are the people who realize how small their brains are. They are humble. The people who are the worst at programming are the people who refuse to accept the fact that their brains aren't equal to the task.

The purpose of many good programming practices is to reduce the load on your gray cells. You might think that the high road would be to develop better mental abilities so you wouldn't need these programming crutches. You might think that a programmer who uses mental crutches is taking the low road. Empirically, however, it's been shown that humble programmers who compensate for their fallibilities write code that's easier for themselves and others to understand and that has fewer errors.
      -- Jeff Atwood, Coding Horror

February 22, 2008

Lamport's Bakery Algorithm

This paper describes the bakery algorithm for implementing mutual exclusion. I have invented many concurrent algorithms. I feel that I did not invent the bakery algorithm, I discovered it. Like all shared-memory synchronization algorithms, the bakery algorithm requires that one process be able to read a word of memory while another process is writing it. (Each memory location is written by only one process, so concurrent writing never occurs.) Unlike any previous algorithm, and almost all subsequent algorithms, the bakery algorithm works regardless of what value is obtained by a read that overlaps a write. If the write changes the value from 0 to 1, a concurrent read could obtain the value 7456 (assuming that 7456 is a value that could be in the memory location). The algorithm still works. I didn't try to devise an algorithm with this property. I discovered that the bakery algorithm had this property after writing a proof of its correctness and noticing that the proof did not depend on what value is returned by a read that overlaps a write.

I don't know how many people realize how remarkable this algorithm is. Perhaps the person who realized it better than anyone is Anatol Holt, a former colleague at Massachusetts Computer Associates. When I showed him the algorithm and its proof and pointed out its amazing property, he was shocked. He refused to believe it could be true. He could find nothing wrong with my proof, but he was certain there must be a flaw. He left that night determined to find it. I don't know when he finally reconciled himself to the algorithm's correctness.


What is significant about the bakery algorithm is that it implements mutual exclusion without relying on any lower-level mutual exclusion. Assuming that reads and writes of a memory location are atomic actions, as previous mutual exclusion algorithms had done, is tantamount to assuming mutually exclusive access to the location. So a mutual exclusion algorithm that assumes atomics reads and writes is assuming lower-level mutual exclusion. Such an algorithm cannot really be said to solve the mutual exclusion problem. Before the bakery algorithm, people believed that the mutual exclusion problem was unsolvable--that you could implement mutual exclusion only by using lower-level mutual exclusion. Brinch Hansen said exactly this in a 1972 paper. Many people apparently still believe it.


For a couple of years after my discovery of the bakery algorithm, everything I learned about concurrency came from studying it. ... The bakery algorithm marked the beginning of my study of distributed algorithms.
    -- Leslie Lamport

I find this story fascinating. Lamport has invented a bunch of cool algorithms. But here he describes having "discovered" the Bakery algorithm, and then spent years studying the algorithm that he had written afterwards.

How many of us find a solution to a problem, and then spend years studying the solution, learning from it? Actually I think I've learned more from studying bugs in my code than algorithms. If I could just avoid ever coding any bugs...

Lamport has done a bunch of other stuff, including inventing Paxos, the distributed consensus algorithm behind google's distributed lock manager Chubby.

February 27, 2008

The real reason Google's clicks are flat

From SEO Black Hat:

Google reduced the clickable area on Adsense text ads ... Before, a user could click anywhere on the ad and be brought to the destination. After the changes, users have to click on something that looks like a hyperlink.

"The CTR on text ads declined about 60% in the last 2 months with Googles changes, Image ads on the other hand stayed the same."
- January 4th, 2008 Marcus of Plentyoffish.com

4 months later, that little back and forth in the Google Rec Room shaved about $85 Billion (with a B) in market capitalization.

But it wasn't as stupid an idea as it might seem. You see, Adsense works in a Quasi-market place environment. The market will bid up the cost per click once the adjustment for accidental clicks is readjusted. Right now, marketers should be getting a better value per click as a higher percentage of the clicks are "real" or intentional. That will lead to higher bids per click and ultimately should be close to a break even for GOOGs bottom line.

Is the Sky Really Falling?

The problem is that in the interim, GOOG gives almost not Guidance to the stock market. Mutual Fund types are really too thick to grasp exactly what's going on, so they think that this "slowing" in the growth has to do with the potential recession effecting GOOG.

Meanwhile, the real story is that Online Advertising Spending will continue to grow at about 30% per year for at least the next 3 years and GOOG is poised to take a disproportionate amount of that growth even if nothing else they do is even marginally successful.

About February 2008

This page contains all entries posted to Skrentablog in February 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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