Category Archives: internet

On cloud storage

Seems like every day we’re flooded with new consumer-targeted cloud storage companies, promising easy backups and possibly tempting prices. And most of them have a free tier, offering a few GB to give us a taste. Some examples – AVG LiveKive (5GB free), SpiderOak (2GB free), Box.net (5GB free), SugarSync (5GB free), Windows Live SkyDrive (25GB free), Dropbox (2GB free), Memopal (3GB free), and even Comcast (2GB free) if you’re a customer. There are plenty of others, but you get the idea.

If you add those up, you’re at 49GB, which is a pretty reasonable amount of storage.

Seems like what we need is an app that looks something like Jungle Disk to the user, that can present a single view, but aggregate storage from multiple places on the back end. So essentially you’d see a 49GB disk in the Finder or Explorer, but your stuff would be distributed among whatever storage you’ve configured.

Even better, a Super Jungle Disk-like app, which can still present a unified view to the user, but actually store your stuff on multiple back ends, so you effectively have a RAID-1 (e.g. mirrored) storage solution. So maybe your 500MB of photos get stored on both Box.net and Dropbox, but in any case are seamlessly managed by this front-end tool on your desk.

Sort of a cloud-storage Drobo. Now that would be cool.

No, I didn’t see your ad in the paper

The other day, someone came to the door and rang the doorbell. When I answered, he was standing back about 10 feet (which everyone seems to do now – seriously, when did that start?), and he said something like:

“Hi, I’m your neighbor from down the street, and I’m also your new newspaper delivery guy. I know you don’t subscribe, but we’d like to give you the Sunday paper for free. Would you like me to leave it on your driveway, or up here by the door?”

Nice of him to ask, but sheesh, just what I need, another newspaper to have to throw away. The only thing I use them for is to put on the garage floor while I’m working on my motorcycle, and the local community paper that comes once a week (whether you want it or not) serves that need. I certainly don’t need – or want – the huge Denver paper every week.

So I told the guy “thanks, but I’d prefer not to get the paper at all.” Thinking that, you know, after 20 years I will have saved a whole tree by being so selfless.

The guy was utterly shocked. “Not even for the coupons?” he said. He wouldn’t let it go – he really gave me the feeling that I am the only one in the country who doesn’t dig the ads and coupons out of the Sunday paper. Finally he got the message and went to the next house, and thankfully I haven’t run over a paper on my driveway yet.

But it all got me thinking. I mean, sure, I’d like to save a few bucks as much as the next guy. Maybe I’m missing something in all these ads I never see. But why do I apparently need to get a 5-pound paper every week, throw most of it away, and then rifle through the inserts looking for where bananas (or TVs, or couches, or who knows what else) are on sale this week? Is there not a better way? And how many newspapers must we print to get the word out?

Suppose I want a new couch. The one thing I know about couches, other than how to sit on them, is that they go on sale all the time and I would guess no one pays retail for these things. So why can’t I go to a web site, let it size me up for a while to ascertain my location, type in “couches,” and have it show me all the awesome couches that are being advertised in my area right now? Presumably the same ones that are in the newspaper, but for those of us who want to be newspaper-free.

If I google couches 80129, I get nothing even remotely like this. Huh.

And I know what the paper-flyer folks are thinking.  What if I didn’t know I wanted a new couch, but then I saw the insert, and got so excited I had to go get one. If that really does work, and newspaper inserts can plant the seed of an idea and then lead to an immediate transaction, then I suppose the inserts are here to stay. My guess is this works better for bananas than for couches, though. And in any case, there should also be a digital version of this.

Almost as bad as the newspaper is having to think of every store that sells couches, go to their web site, and look to see if they have a local ad online. That’s a lot of work, and it’s probably only going to work for the larger stores that automatically publish their ad flyers on a weekly basis. And, I have to think of that store when I’m making my mental list.

Seems to me this information should be aggregated, and available based on location. Perhaps there’s an opportunity there. Or maybe it already exists, and I’m the only one who doesn’t know about it.

And in the meantime…I say to local businesses, remember that you, too, can be found on the internet. Your web site can be much more dynamic. And when I’m searching for information, when I’m ready to buy, when I actually want to see your advertised products, you’re hiding from me.

And no, I didn’t see your ad in the paper.

Enterprise RSS – the State of the Industry

There has been much talk over the last few days about Enterprise RSS, and whether it’s dead, still being born, or alive and well. Since I’ve got a pretty unique view into this particular industry, I thought I’d write some thoughts and try to give you a more clear picture of what’s really happening.

First, let me get this out of the way – RSS use in the enterprise is definitely alive and well. But it’s not in the obvious places. No one is writing articles talking about how their desktop feed readers are revolutionizing the way they do business. No one is talking about how they’re retiring their Exchange servers because so much content is delivered via RSS instead of email (and in fact, email is alive and well). No one is saying “if I only had Google Reader behind my firewall, I could save millions of dollars.” Few companies even say their users are clamoring for some sort of enterprise RSS application.

So if not all of that, then what?

My team and I, collectively, have detailed conversations with at least 50 different large companies every week, talking about the real problems they do want to solve. Many of these include 10 or more people on their side, ranging from IT folks to business owners with line-of-business responsibility. And these conversations rarely start with any mention of enterprise RSS. These include:

  • Portal enhancement. They want to pull additional content into their portal to make it more useful, or get content out of the portal to distribute in some other way. Or in many cases, they want to add personalized content capabilities to the portal. A while back, an analyst told me “this could be the technology that saves the corporate portal.” Indeed – that scenario is playing out today.
  • Alerting. There are many use cases where folks want to alert certain groups or individuals of a specific event. For example, we have a large bank that uses our system to deliver fraud alerts to teller desktops, replacing a legacy system that worked via fax and paper. Incredible efficiency gains and cost savings.
  • Competitive tracking. Or tracking any other external news for that matter – many companies wish to track media mentions and online conversations about themselves, their competitors, or anything else; once they have this information, then, they need to filter and distribute it appropriately. Increasingly, these systems are being used as a replacement for high-end premium content services. We have a large bank who reduced their premium content subscription expenses by over $1M per year by using our solutions – we’re talking about real savings here.
  • Knowledge capture. In large companies, mountains of information are created every day, in many different systems. If there is some way to collect all of this information, and surface it in appropriate places, the content’s value is multiplied.
  • Social networking. More and more, companies are investigating the idea of implementing social networking within the enterprise. The use cases for this are numerous; we have a large PR firm, for example, who uses this to manage their talent globally. A global advertising firm uses this technology to connect not only the people working on a specific account, but also others in the company who might have relevant experience or interests; it’s amazingly effective.
  • Collaboration. This is sort of a catch-all, I suppose…but it’s a popular use for this technology. For example, one of largest banks in the world is using our system to unify groups of people who are on different communication systems (due to acquisitions and such); their analysis indicates rolling this out will be much faster and cheaper than attempting to unify their email systems in 2009, and provide other benefits such as social connections.

For any of these specific problems, RSS forms the underlying plumbing to transfer content around the organization. And if you can track the user interactions with the content, using enterprise RSS infrastructure, very rich data is collected – and the combination of the content plus this interaction data forms the underlying foundation for a social computing solution. One that can even form relationships based on implicit behavior, rather than explicit actions.

An interesting tidbit – of the content recently added to NewsGator Online, 40% of it is content related to social computing (e.g. Twitter updates, Facebook feeds, etc.). In the enterprise, this percentage can be even higher in active social computing environments. But the point is, RSS (and associated enterprise infrastructure) is increasingly used as the basis for social networking and collaboration.

From a business perspective, momentum for all of this is accelerating dramatically. As Brad mentioned, NewsGator added over 30 paying enterprise customers in Q4 2008 – most of whom were large Fortune 2000 companies (there is some breakdown by industry in this press release). These enterprise installations (plus ongoing maintenance) represent about 75% of NewsGator’s revenue, the rest coming from our enterprise SaaS offerings. Enterprise RSS-related infrastructure, including social computing, is growing quickly in demand.

RSS in the enterprise is not about “reading feeds.” It’s more about enterprise integration, search, feedback, etc. It’s about extending the value of existing systems, and leveraging efficient content distribution and tracking into new applications (e.g. social computing) as well as existing applications (e.g. portal enhancement). It’s not about installing FeedDemon on every desktop to enable folks to read content.

And, thus, it’s hard to see from the outside. But it’s there, forever an enabler, making new things possible. It’s enterprise infrastructure. And it’s in more places than you probably think.

NewsGator Related Content

As you may have read by now, NewsGator has released the Related Content services as part of the media-targeted offerings. This is available either using a widget, or also available via API for data services customers. The widget (or API) will serve up content that is related to the content the user is reading; that content can be from across the web, or restricted to just your own site (or a set of sites you choose). In the latter cases, it can be used to drive additional traffic from existing visitors.

The system can also automatically create topics pages, whereby the user can see a list of articles matching a specific topic of the currently viewed content.

The system uses our online database of over 3 billion articles, which sees over 8 million new articles per day. At the moment, it matches content based on tags/categories, including categories derived from analyzing the content. You can also specify “fallback” tags to use in the case where you have, say, multiple unrelated articles displayed on one page, and still want to have relevant content.

Two blogs you can look at that are using the widget are the NewsGator Widget Blog, and the NewsGator Daily blog.

Give it a try, and let us know what you think!

Update: here is a tutorial on creating a related content widget!

iPhone and Exchange – push and DNS

It seems lot of folks are having problems getting Exchange push email working reliably with the new iPhone 2.0 software. For me, it worked flawlessly when I was outside of the office, but when I was in the office and connected to our corporate LAN via wi-fi, it was unreliable at best. If I instead connected to another wi-fi network (like the guest network from the folks two floors below us), everything worked fine.

There is an Apple KB article talking about this:

When roaming between home and office networks with Wi-Fi enabled, “push” may stop working if your company’s Exchange ActiveSync server has a different IP address for intranet and Internet clients. Make sure the DNS for your network returns a single, externally-routable address to the Exchange ActiveSync server for both intranet and Internet clients. This is required so the device can use the same IP address for communicating with the server when both types of connections are active. A workaround to avoid this issue is to disable Wi-Fi on the iPhone.

Yep, that sounded like the problem. Our internal and external DNS for our corporate mail server is different, just as the article surmised. But it turns out in our case, it was non-trivial to change them to be the same thing.

But it turns out there is a workaround that works for me. If you go into Settings / Wi-Fi, find your wi-fi network, and click the blue button next to it, you’ll see something like the following:

photo.jpg

And here’s the tricky part. Tap on the “DNS” setting, and edit it. In my case, rather than using the internal DHCP-assigned DNS servers, I typed in two external DNS servers. These new servers will override whatever is returned from DHCP, and when asked for the IP of our mail server, they will return the externally-facing IP, since that’s all they know about.

And that was it! The push email is now working 100% reliably. A little too reliably, actually. :-)

Note – I obviously no longer have internal DNS resolution within my corporate LAN, but that’s not a problem for me. Your mileage may vary.

Note 2 – this also assumes your external mail server IP is accessible from your LAN. This may or may not be the case, depending on how your firewalls and the rest of your network are configured.

iPhone template for Delicious Library 2

One of the first Mac apps I bought was Delicious Library. Not that I desperately needed it, but it was just too darn pretty not to buy, especially for a new Mac owner to use to show his friends. And when version 2 came out, I was super excited about being able to publish my library on the web.

Here’s my use case. I travel a lot, and I like to read books on the plane, rather than do my usual work…somehow I feel more relaxed when I arrive to where I’m going. Anyway, so I’ll be in the book store in the airport, and I’ll see an interesting book. But if it’s not a new release, then I often can’t remember whether I’ve read it before; I know I like the author, and I know I’ve read a lot of his work, but not positive about this particular book.

So DL2 and the iPhone to the rescue, right? Pull up my library, do a quick search, and I’d be all set. But herein lies the problem.

The out-of-the-box templates can be seen on Adam Betts’ blog. While pretty, here are the issues with the iPhone templates, at least for my particular use case:

1. There are only 12 books per page. Yikes – that means I have 20-some pages, and I’m not sure which page I need to go to. Or with the other template, all the books are on one page – which is nice, but leads to problem #2.

2. See all those pictures of the book covers? Those are coming to about 90KB each. Each! That means a page of 12 books is over half a meg. That’s a lot on a phone.

3. I don’t need the book descriptions and links to Amazon in there either. Those are pretty big also, although down in the noise compared to the image sizes.

What I really wanted was one page with all my books, or at least 100 or so of them, and have the page be small enough that I could load it over EDGE without having to sit down. I’d like search features too, and I’d like to be able to sort by author’s last name (so Tom Clancy would be before Brad Meltzer), but hey, there are bigger problems to worry about.

While I was browsing around, trying to figure out a way around this problem, I saw Mark Burgess’ site, and he had some sample templates. While his template wasn’t what I wanted, it showed me how to make one. So I worked on it for a bit, basically just modifying the one that ships with DL2, and this is what I ended up with:

DLiphone.jpg

Over 200 books on one page, and it’s coming in at just over 200KB including the images on the page. Now that I can live with!

As to how to install it…it’s not super easy. Here’s what you need to do:

1. Install Mark Burgess’s HTML template, and install it per his instructions (in the readme file).

2. Download my changes, and replace the files in the “iphone” directory in Mark’s template with the contents of this zip file.

No warranty, of course…this is at the “it seems to work for me” stage. :-)

If there is some documentation somewhere about how to make DL2 templates and get them installed without resorting to such hackery, I’d love to know about it, and then I can make this into a real template.

Anyway – hope this is helpful for someone!

NewsGator and APML

Back when we announced that NewsGator’s RSS clients are now free, I also mentioned that we’d be supporting APML across the entire platform. Some of our client applications implement exporting APML at the moment…but we’ve now implemented a persistent APML endpoint in our online platform. What this means is, if you’re using sync with NewsGator Online, there is a well-known URL that represents your APML attention data.

This APML endpoint can be either public or private – it’s your choice. If it’s private, it will require your NewsGator Online credentials to access. If it’s public, anyone can access it.

Here’s how to enable this:

1. From NewsGator Online, sign in and then click on the “Settings” item at the top right.

2. You’ll now see four tabs; click on “Edit Locations”.

These “locations” are actually groups of feeds; you’ll see at least one location for “NewsGator Web Edition”, and you’ll see one location for each client you’re using. Each location forms a subset of your overall list of feeds. You can control which feeds are mapped to each location by using the “Feeds” link next to each location.

3. Next to each location, you’ll see a link for “APML” – click that link.

4. You will then see your individual APML URL for that particular set of feeds. If you wish to make it public (or private), use the checkbox on that page.

At the moment, we’re exposing feed-level attention data; we have more detailed data available, but it’s not being exposed at the moment.

Let us know if this is useful, and any suggestions you have!

On routers, Time Capsule, and Back to My Mac

This last week, I was working on getting Back to My Mac working on my computers. This requires everything in your router (specifically UPnP or NAT-PMP) to be working just so…and it wasn’t. :-) I had a Linksys BEFSR41, which is on Apple’s supported list, but no love. UPnP was enabled, but nothing.

So then I get the crazy idea to just unplug the router’s power, and then plug it back in. I mean, if all else fails, power cycle, right? Well lo and behold, it started working…who would have thunk? So then I’m playing with Back to my Mac, and it’s all looking good. For a while.

Then my router started getting flaky. Like, every few minutes it would stop responding in the admin interface, and connections to the internet would be stopped. The only way to fix it was to either wait a few minutes for it to come back, or power cycle it. Clearly this was not going to be ok.

So I went down to the Apple store (about 5 minutes away), and bought the last 500GB Time Capsule they had in stock. I was thinking about doing this anyway, since I wanted 802.11n in the house, but a dead router was a great excuse to do it sooner rather than later. Got the Time Capsule home, plugged it in, everything worked as expected. Actually, not everything worked right away – I had to power cycle my cable modem to get things talking to each other – but after that everything was great. And Back to My Mac is working fine.

On the storage side of things, I switched my Time Machine backups to use the drive in the Time Capsule; again, everything worked as expected. I’m seeing about 10MB/sec doing backups over a gigabit ethernet network – not stellar, but it’s fast enough for what I’m using it for. And it’s working about 5x faster than Glenn Fleishman is seeing in his Macworld first look, for some reason. I won’t complain about mine. :-)

I’ve seen the future…

…and the future is really blazin’ fast connections.

We used to have 4 T1′s ganged together somehow in our office, giving us around 6 Mb/sec. Shared by 75 people, and responsible for not only internet but also telephone traffic, you can imagine it wasn’t exactly fast.

At home I have a Comcast cable modem, and I get something like 8 Mb/sec, which until today I thought was pretty fast.

But this morning, when I got to the office, our IT folks had completed our office network cutover to a 100 Mb/sec fiber connection to the internet…and oh. my. gosh. I downloaded a 20MB file just for fun, and it was done by the time I could look at my watch to find the second hand and figure out how long it took. Download progress meters aren’t any fun any more, as they go from 0 to 100% with hardly any stops in between…

I was chatting with one of said IT guys about it, as they’ve been using the new connection for a few days before they cut over the whole office…he said it takes something like 15 or 20 minutes to download a DVD from MSDN subscriber downloads, and he said “it’s almost easier than looking through the case to find the physical DVD.” Lol!