Entries from Nov 2006 ↓

My Amazon aStore

Amazon's aStore Logo

Amazon recently came up with a really simple idea for their associates but one that is so obvious I’m surprised they hadn’t thought of it before.  Basically they let their associates specify a list of products and then they generate a mini-store for them. They call these mini-stores an "aStore."  

Amazon even provides a clean url for an associates aStore ( unlike most of the Urls on their website; yeech!) 

My aStore Url is http://astore.amazon.com/mikeschinkels-20.  On the other hand, they don’t let people define their own "Associate ID", mine being "mikeschinkels-20" for whatever reason!  I would much rather have had my aStore Url be: http://astore.amazon.com/mikeschinkel/ but as they say, ya can’t always get what you want… 

So I’ve set up an aStore that I named "Mike Schinkel’s Miscellaneous Readings" which you can see embedded below using an <iframe>. The name is a pun on the name I chose years ago for this blog, of course, but the book selection is anything but random. I only selected those business-related books that made an indelible impression on me; the ones that gave me true epiphanies. 

These are books I think every technology-related entrepreneur must read.  The good news is you can pick most of them up a used cost for most of them for next to nothing. And even if you are not in the technology industry or even an entrepreneur, these books are still great reads as long as you are interested in the wheres and whys of business success.

Update (2008-06-15): I hosted this on my blog when I was using dasBlog but I’m haven’t decided if I will host it again since I’ve updated to WordPress. I never got any revenue from Amazon for it and nobody ever emailed me and said "Thanks for creating the list."  We’ll see…

Wrox’s Professional Web 2.0 Programming

Wrox's Professional Web 2.0 Programming BookI’m excited as I just got my express delivery of Wrox’s Professional Web 2.0 Programming by Eric van der Vlist, Danny Ayers, Erik Bruchez, Joe Fawcett, and Alessandro Vernet.  I’m anxious to read it to learn their take on programming for Web 2.0. I first learned of the book when I noticed in my logs that their website http://web2.0thebook.org/ was linking to my Well Designed Urls are Beautiful blog post from last year. I then noticed they had a link to an excerpt from their book with the excerpt being titled: Future-Proofing Your URIs; clearly a topic that I am interested in. What’s more, cracking the book I find they additionally have an entire chapter on HTTP and URIs; excellent! I look forward to reading this and letting you know my impressions.

Footnotes

  1. I finally learned a clear distinction between URIs ("identifiers") and URLs ("locators"). Whereas a URI uniquely identifies a "resource", a URL not only identifies it but also lets you "de-reference" it (i.e. access it and/or download it.)

What is a RESTafarian?

A RESTifarian is a zealous proponent of the REST software architectural style as defined by Roy T. Fielding in Chapter 5 of his PhD. dissertation at UCIrvine. You can find RESTifarians in the wild on the REST-discuss mailing list. But be careful, RESTifarians can be extremely meticulous when discussing the finer points of REST, as I learned recently while participating on the list. :)

InstallPad - It coulda been a Contenda! (and still might be…)

I came across an interesting piece of software called InstallPad via SDTimes "News on Monday" email newsletter. InstallPad is designed to download and automatically install applications on Windows machines. Relatedly, ever since I first installed FireFox I was very impressed with what a great design they had implemented in their add-on updater. I believer that InstallPad works in a similar fashion.

InstallPad might become really big…

InstallPad was developed by a recent University of Maryland graduate Phil Crosby who evidently interned for both Microsoft and IBM.

Although InstallPad is actually a pretty-simple idea I could see InstallPad become very popular very quickly. It has a viral quality to is that makes me wish I had developed it. As InstallPad can solve a problem for software developers by distributing software updates to their customers, I could see software developers motivated to distribute InstallPad for Phil. All that software developers would need to do is either include InstallPad with their software and/or point their customers to the InstallPad download page. Finding a motivated group of people who can help you succeed is the mark of a true viral strategy.

InstallPad has got all the right attributes. Phil even opened his source code on a subversion server and is asking people to contribute.

And I think he’s got that potential…

…Except!

Except for one problem. For some unknown reason (I haven’t contacted him to ask, I decided to blog it instead), Phil decided to license InstallPad for Personal Use Only! Instead of using an existing open-source license approved by the Open Source Initiative Phil decided to roll his own and disallow business use. Even though he was quite excited to be frontpaged by Digg his choice of license is going to all but neuter any chance of InstallPad becoming significant. 

Phil probably wants to reserve the right to sell InstallPad to companies as he claims he is working to form a startup. But that is exactly the wrong strategy. In order for InstallPad to be really successful it will need to have a significant percentage of the Windows user base in a given market segment, and I’d estimate that "significant" would need to be at least 30% if not more like 60% or 70% (with a caveat, in a moment.)

Why is having a large percentage of user in a segment so important? Phil needs vendors and software developers to see InstallPad as worthy of support. Because InstallPad could solve a problem for software vendors without them requiring to do much work, it could be a win-win. But only if it gains a significant user base first OR if the software vendors can distribute it for free. (that’s the caveat.) But requiring InstallPad to be purchased for commerical use eliminates the second option and creates friction that minimizes growth of the user base. Alternately, if software vendors are free to distribute Installpad, they could start making their updates available in a InstallPad-friendly format, at an InstallPad-friendly URL, and with InstallPad-friendly configuration files. That would drive InstallPad adoption and increase the number of software applications with which InstallPad would work seamlessly.

Now you could counter with "Phil doesn’t have to do anything special as it can work with existing software as-is," but the reality is there are hundreds of little gremlins that will cause InstallPad to fail and/or require an end-user of InstallPad to have to fiddle to get his app to upgrade. And each time a users has to figure out why InstallPad is not working is one more chance for them to decide InstallPad’s is not worth the trouble.

Or you could say "People can just use it to download open-source apps from SourceForge which already has a compatible Url structure." But don’t you think it’s rather ironic to have a product downloading and installing open-source that itself is not open source?  I think users will view it the same and shy away from it.  And it’s not the type of software that is likely to get a lot of contributers if it is not truly open-source.
 

The other issue Phil has to concern himself with is that the idea is not very hard to duplicate, especially since Phil offers the source code for public viewing. How long would it take an unethical person to building his own from scratch after viewing the source?  On the other hand, nobody needs to be unethical; they could just reverse engineer it. From what I saw it wouldn’t take long for a pair of professional programmers to duplicate it.  And as soon as someone creates an alternative and licenses it via an approved open-source license their new software gain a large user base much more rapidly. And Phil will be left with having had the great idea first but ultimately InstallPad will become insignificant.

So InstallPad’s greatest potential hedge against competitoon is an installed user base, and Phil should do everything possible to minimize friction to growing that installed user base.  Which means licensing freely for commercial use.

Show me the money!

But you are probably now thinking "How will Phil make money if he gives away his software for commercial use?"  Several ways:

  1. Consulting - Offer himself and/or his team up to work for corporations that want to use InstallPad but that have needs the software doesn’t currently address. Have his software and website proactively solicit for that business. If he doesn’t like the idea of doing consulting he should think about it like this: he is going to be adding features anyway, why not get someone to pay for it upfront? Most companies will be glad to pay a nice consulting fee if you solve a problem for them, especially if what they pay for gets contributed to an open-source project that they won’t have to maintain moving forward and that hopefully others will be paying to improve too.
  2. Dual-License - Just like MySQL, Phil could offer a dual license that offers "Enterprise" features for a fee. His consulting engagements in larger companies to help implement InstallPad would allow his to see the need for features that the general population does not need but that enterprises will pay handsomely to license. And by handsomely, offering at a price that would save large companies a lot on software licensing fees when compared to the offerings of companies like Altiris yet still make his company highly profitable if he keeps his costs under control. Basically he would become the classic upstart as described by The Innovator’s Dilemma.
  3. Other - Thirdly, there are the opportunities Phil won’t even know exist until after he has the asset of a large user base to leverage. It really is true; build it and they will come.

But three things above will not happen until he generates significant growth in his user base and also significant buzz. And I’m here to tell you based on my experience in dealing with thousands of software vendors over the 12 years I ran Xtras, chances of his software growing a significant user base with the current licensing model are slim to none. So he’s absolutely got to open-source it. IMHO anyway. :-)

So Phil; here’s the strategy I think you should use:

Give InstallPad a real open-source license like BSD (but ideally not GPL as it’s requirement for code contribution can cause other problems) and then focus on getting as many people to use InstallPad as possible. Further, create a set of guidelines and/or best practices that a software vendor would use to make their software optimized for InstallPad. You could even create a little graphic they can use, like the "Optimized for Windows XP" logo.

Then start with some mid-size software vendors and call on them to ask them to support InstallPad. You can find these vendors by asking everyone you know which software products are a pain to get updated. I say mid-size because you won’t get the time of day at a large computer, at least not until you have a sizable user base. And a small company’s user base is too small to really give you any leverage in exchange for your effort.  What you want to do is get companies with, say, 10,000 users or more sending out their software with InstallPad and/or sending out emails to their customers with links to download InstallPad.

You need to make it easy for software vendors to contribute "InstallPad Profiles" for their software (you may not have the concept of a InstallPad software profile yet, but you will.) You could use InstallPad to download these profiles from the vendor’s website at a location they give you and then maintain. You can then incorporate all vendor’s profiles into one configuration file which InstallPad users can download from your website or a mirror every time InstallPad runs.

And add a feature that asks your users to let you know about software they want InstallPad to upgrade but that doesn’t work, for whatever reason (i.e. files not available online, crashes during install, no hands-free install, etc.) You could even suggest they ask their vendors to support InstallPad on your behalf. There’s nothing like having a bunch of users begging for something to motivate a software vendors to do something!

If you do all this and you are diligent about "selling" the InstallPad concept to software vendors, you will soon have more users than you can handle and it will be time to find some angel funding!

Concerns about your use of Urls

Regarding the technical side of InstallPad, there are two things you should be aware of. One is a potential concern about how you are groking version numbers from Urls, and the second is an opportunity given your use of Urls:

Contact me if you’d like to know more about these issues. As an aside, I believe Url design is critically important for an optimized Web 2.0 strategy, hence my reason for launching the Well Designed Urls Initiative.
 

About these Strategies…

One of my specialties as a consultant is software and partner marketing strategies. I learned by studying and doing over the last twelve years founding and running Xtras which I have since moved on from. And I’m sorry to toot my own horn but the best evidence that I’m good was the five year period from 1994 to 1998 when I grew Xtras by over 1700% and was recognized by Inc Magazine on their Inc 500 list of fastest growing private companies in 1999 as #123 on the list. In addition, as I have immersed myself in recent trends, I’ve come to believe that some of these most effective strategies, at least within the foreseeable future, will be to leverage open-source (as if you couldn’t tell), the effects brought on by "Web 2.0," and of course, as always, partnering. Leveraging them, if done correctly, can provide hugh benefits to both customers and the companies that employ them; truly a win-win scenario.

If you are currently unsure how best to leverage open-source, Web 2.0 effects, and partnering strategies for your software and/or website, I can help you devise your marketing strategy on a short-term consulting basis. Alternately, if there is a strong enough fit for my interests, I might even consider helping on a longer term basis is there is equity involved. So if you want to create or improve your strategy, let’s talk.
 

Fixing the Vote, the right way…

Dumbold Voting Machine for The Sims

For many reasons I’ve not previously blogged about politics, nor do I intend to make it a habit. But in this case I want to address a burning issue that I believe should not be partisan-in-nature, and further that I believe the evolving processes in the tech community can uniquely solve. I am of course referring to the crisis in confidence regarding the vote counting process in the United State and open-source solutions development, respectively.

Rather than rehash the issues related to the voting crisis, let me simply reference numerous articles written by others who are much more eloquent:

Clearly if the problem is not fixed and confidence is not restored in our voting process, it could cause the entire foundation of our democracy to fail. This is an incredibly important issue, and no one but a fool would argue that ensure out election process is accountable is essential.

However, given the events of the past decade,I don’t believe the public will soon trust either politicians or corporations to solve this problem. Frankly, I think that it can only be solved by the public. And by that I mean voting machines developed with the community via an open-source process on commodity standardized hardware.

Counting votes reliability and without the potential for fraud is a thorny technical issue but I believe that the tech community has probably tackled and beat far more complex challenges. I believe an open-source voting system could be designed and developed that would make it effectively impossible to tamper with the vote, and I personally think it would be great to be involved in designing the architecture for such systems.

With that, I would like to issue a challenge to the tech and business community. Let’s:

  • Take back our democracy!
  • Pull together a group of qualified people and create an open voting machine,
  • Design and develop voting software that is 100% auditable and verifyable,
  • Design an inexpensive hardware reference platform using off-the-shelf components,
  • License the hardware and software via an open-source license so they can be widely manufactured,
  • Find people to fund a foundation, if possible, to make this thing official (though let’s not make funding a requirement), and
  • Let’s put an end to voting machine tampering and help minimize voter fraud (worldwide.)

If both software and inexpensive hardware were made available to all democratic jurisdictions and municipalities that any local company could install and service and the public is made aware of these machines so as to put pressure on elected officials to adopt them, I see little reason why the machines wouldn’t be widely adopted in relatively short order. That is except to perpetuate the ability to perpetrate election fraud.

Having open voting machines would also teach a lesson to those companies such as Diebold that did not proactively ensure we could be confident in the results of our elections. Plus it would allow jurisdictions (the world over) the ability to guarantee the integrity the vote.

With that in mind I registered the following domain and I will donate it to this initiative assuming I can find other like minded people to make open voting machines a reality:

www.openvotingmachines.org

Note that www.openvotingmachines.org just redirects to this blog post at the moment.

If you find this idea compelling, even if you don’t have the time to participate, please pass it on to your friends, relatives, and/or colleagues that you think might be interested, as applicable. And if you happen to know someone who might be interested in funding a foundation to make this happen, or provide fund for such a foundation, all the better; please forward this post on to them too.

Now I don’t know if this post will gain any traction. Maybe it will and maybe it won’t but I sure hope it does because there are few other things that could be as potentially devastating as loss of confidence in our elections. Post a comment if you want to become actively part of this initiative, and let’s get the ball rolling!

P.S. I didn’t see this post until after I had conceived of mine, but it sounds like this guy had similar thoughts although he has not made any call to action. Maybe those commenting on his post could be some of the first to join this initiative? I unfortunately don’t have the time to drive this initiative as I need to focus on generating revenue or I would pursue these people, but I wanted to put this call-to-action out into cyberspace in hopes that enough people who do have the spare time will be inspired to pursue it (OTOH, if this initiative were funded by someone, maybe I could be active in driving it?)