Thursday, May 29, 2008

Social Networking Big Dog: Facebook or Google?

I just finished Day 1 at Google I/O, and the experience compelled me to write a sequel to my previous "Open Source Big Dog: Red Hat or Sun?" post.

So my second "Big Dog" question is simple:

Who is the social networking big dog?

The answer really boils down to Facebook vs. Google.

I know, I know...I can hear the screams of what about My5, what about HiSpace, what about....just stop...please stop!

Recent events CLEARLY point to the fact that the fight is between the two masters of social kung fu: Facebook and Google.

OK, enough kung foolery...let me get serious and start my explanation.

I was very impressed by the turnout at Google I/O (Google's 2 day developer conference). If anyone doubted Google's commitment to developers, then Google I/O should firmly prove that they understand the value of developers.

Being an old time Java guy who worked at Bluestone Software and JBoss, I couldn't help but feel that Google's conference had the same type of energy and raw excitement that the original JavaOne conferences had back in the early days. The sessions had a decent amount of ad-hoc demos and unscripted moments; they were clearly not pre-approved, hermetically sealed or highly polished...which is a good thing!

The comparison with JavaOne gets even more interesting if you consider how Google and its OpenSocial compatriots (Bebo,, Friendster, hi5, Hyves, imeem, LinkedIn, mixi, MySpace, Ning, Oracle, orkut, Plaxo,, Six Apart, Tianji, Viadeo, and XING) are ganging up on Facebook.

This soooooo feels like Sun and its Java Community Process members ganging up on Microsoft in the late 1990's.

Why is Google rallying the troops against Facebook? Well, if we look at the latest growth stats for the top 10 social networking sites in the US, Facebook continues to put up HUGE numbers with 98% growth from March 2007 to March 2008. They clearly have strong momentum. And my guess is that even Steve Ballmer would be impressed with the number of developers that Mark Zuckerberg and team have been able to attract to the Facebook platform.

Since Google really really needs an open (and crawlable and indexable and searchable and monetizable) Internet, it is not surprising that they have taken a page from Sun's playbook. Google, with its OpenSocial foundation, is preaching the values of openness and "write once run anywhere". And since Facebook is not part of OpenSocial and is not open source, Google is calling out the walled-garden Facebook platform as closed and therefore not as good...much like Microsoft was and continues to be painted by Sun and others as closed (i.e. not part of the Java Community Process...and not relevant in open source).

Unlike Microsoft, however, Facebook appears to be taking bold steps towards shedding its "closed" image: Facebook To Open Source Facebook Platform

If Facebook does indeed open source its platform, it will be sending a strong message to the market that it does not plan on relinquishing its leadership and momentum to Google or anybody else.

And as Bob Bickel wrote in his latest blog post: "For the true power of the Social Web to be delivered, there will need to be more steps toward openness."

Why? Because openness helps accelerate the market and gets vendors focused on delivering value to customers rather than duplicating efforts on base infrastructure. It will also help the smaller Facebook continue to compete against the much bigger Google and friends.

So, who is the social networking big dog?
At this point in time, the power of the superpoke goes to:

They've got the lead and they have strong momentum.
BUT...don't count Google out! After all, the game is really just starting.

And for those interested in who I'd like to see win the battle between these big dogs? Neither. I want them both to continue to compete and succeed, which will further accelerate the market for everyone involved. Moreover, at Ringside Networks, our Social Application Server provides compatibility for both Facebook and OpenSocial, so I see Facebook and Google as important partners in this fascinating and fun corner of the software market.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

7 Key Attributes of Social Web Applications

The Social Web enables website visitors to come together around shared interests and become active contributors rather than just content browsers. By making the connections between people much more visible, social websites are able to enact a network effect of participation and engaging interactions that result in vibrant communities and compelling user generated content.

This all sounds good, but...

what exactly makes an application social?
what are the key attributes of a social web application?

Since social web applications are built to encourage communication between people, they typically emphasize some combination of the following social attributes:

  1. Identity: who are you?

  2. Reputation: what do people think you stand for?

  3. Presence: where are you?

  4. Relationships: who are you connected with? who do you trust?

  5. Groups: how do you organize your connections?

  6. Conversations: what do you discuss with others?

  7. Sharing: what content do you make available for others to interact with?

Social web applications need not exhibit all of these features, but the more attribute areas they cover, the more engaging they are likely to be.

Examples of social web applications include:
  • General: Blogs, Walls/Forums, Picture/Video Sharing and tagging, Favorites/Social Bookmarks, Feeds, Events, Email/Messaging, Notification, Invitation, etc.

  • Commerce-Oriented: User rating and reviews, Referral programs, Wish List, Wedding/Baby Registries, Gift List, etc.

  • Brand Enhancement/Awareness-Oriented: Forums/Walls, Games/Contests, Polls, Goal Tracking/Rewards Programs, Advertising Engine, etc.

So, to better answer the question of "what exactly makes an application social?", I encourage you to ask yourself which attributes are exhibited by each of the examples listed above. And if a particular social web application doesn't cover a particular attribute, how might it be enhanced to do so?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Getting Back In The Ring

Well, it's been three months since I left Red Hat to take a little time off before finding my next challenge. It hasn't really been "time off" per se, since I've been real busy hosting an exchange student from Switzerland, visiting nine colleges with my daughter, also enjoying time off with my wife and son, completely redoing the landscaping around my house, reestablishing old friendships, working out regularly (down 15 pounds), and working with a few open source companies in an advisory capacity on the side.

But, as I stated in my "Purposeful Risk-Taking" post, I wasn't planning on taking too much time off since I wanted to reinvest my experience in another open source endeavor.

So Monday May 19th will mark my first official day at Ringside Networks where I'll be handling Product Management and Marketing; operating at the intersection of our technology, the market, and our customers.

As I've said many times in the past, I look for jobs that enable me to love what I do and who I do it with.

As far as loving what I do, Ringside Networks is focused on the business of the social web and bringing the power of social applications directly to corporate websites and business applications. This is a fast-moving market area and an exciting opportunity. My "Focus on Meaningful Website Traffic" post is just the first of many blogs to come about this emerging market. So, I've clearly got "love what I do" covered.

How about "who I do it with"? Well, I feel privileged to be joining a team of folks that I've worked with in the past at Bluestone/HP and JBoss/Red Hat. While each of us will have our own areas of responsibility, we know what it takes to work as a team and move forward together as a company. We all firmly believe that teamwork, execution, and respect for employees, customers, partners, and community is the way to win in the market.

So, I'm getting back in the ring with Ringside Networks!

If you'd like to have a Ringside seat, I suggest you become a Friend of Ringside and sign up for the Ringside Networks newsletter so we can keep you abreast of all the action as this really cool market area heats up.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

XAware Gets Your Data Working Harder Than You

I had the opportunity to meet with the folks from XAware a while ago and came away very intrigued by their technology, value proposition, and momentum.

For those not familiar with XAware, they are an open source company focused on simplifying the complexities of data integration. According to their website, “XAware’s mission is to be the world’s most popular way of integrating data and applications.”

Basically, XAware provides technology that executes distributed queries across multiple datasources so the integrated views, formatted as XML, can be more easily consumed and manipulated by Web 2.0 dashboards. applications, other integration infrastructure components such as ESBs, or XML query and reporting tools.

What I like about the technology is that it leaves the application data in place, in contrast to tools for extraction, transformation and loading, which perform "data movement" to create a new copy of data. People don't need more copies of data, they need to access their existing data more easily...and that is XAware's focus.

How many of you have heard something like the following request? We need a new Web 2.0 dashboard component that "just" grabs our existing call center data and displays it by region.

For developers, the word "just" can be a four letter word...especially if the data for the above request is spread out across multiple databases, systems, applications, etc. XAware does a great job simplifying the problem and enabling developers to focus on creating applications rather than dealing with data access and integration complexities.

So, the technology and value proposition sound good...but how are they doing from an awareness/momentum standpoint? Well Bill Miller, XAware Executive Chairman and CTO, had an interesting blog a few weeks ago: ">1,000 XAware Downloads per Day"

So, let's add a little more context to this impressive statistic. XAware announced last November that they would flip their technology from closed source to open source, and they announced the general availability of XAware 5 on March 11, 2008. Below is a chart of their monthly download pace over that timeperiod:

So, they have averaged over 15,000 downloads per month since their GA release, and at 13 days into May they are already over 10,000 downloads. Putting this into perspective, successful open source middleware projects like Spring Framework and Hibernate had paces of 10 - 15,000 downloads per month in their earlier years, so XAware's pace is impressive and worth keeping an eye on.

Bottom-line: The technology, value proposition, and momentum all look positive, so stop working so hard for your data and give XAware a try!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

OFF TOPIC: Taking the Wayback Machine to 1978

Well, the day finally arrived for the reunion I mentioned in my "30 Years Later" blog posting in February. While I've not attended my high school or college reunions, this reunion was cool since I've actually managed to stay in touch with a good many of my grade school friends.

I kicked off reunion day with a round of afternoon golf at Rancocas Golf Club with my long-time good buddy Jim McKee (3rd row, 4th from left in photo below). It was a sunny day, 70 degrees....we both hit some good shots...and the bad shots...well...who really cares when it's 70 degrees and sunny?!!

After a quick cleanup, Jim and I hopped into our wayback machine, set the dial for 1978, and prepared ourselves to mingle with the 8th-grade graduating class of St. Peter Celestine School:

Here's my attempt to name all of the people in the above picture:

Top Row: Pete Oswald, Bill Nicoletti, Neil Webber, Greg Saldutti, Bart Heenan, Eric Basting, Tony Maladra
2nd Row from Top: Pappy Strasser, Sandra Davi, Joan Walsh, Teresa Patterson, Peggy Wysocki, Melissa Shannon, Faith Long, Sandy Rodio, Brian Ehrman
Middle Row: Billy Cark, Srikanth Rajan, Bruce Wnek, Jim McKee, Shaun Connolly, Mike Camardo, Mark Marrazzo, Joe Messina, Jeff Wahl, Steve DeLuca, Charlie Spencer, Anthony Spica
2nd Row from Bottom: Lisa Staas, Patty McGrogan, Mary Beth Cunney, Maureen Haney, Amanda Gamel, Carol Durso, Karen Graham, Teresa Driscoll, Irene McClure, Teresa Ianuzzi
Bottom Row: Amy O'Brien, Jackie Verme, Mary Micale, Sister Nancy (Principal), Monseigneur Sharkey, Sister Wanda (Teacher), Ms. Flynn (Teacher), Nora Burdenski, Eileen Moriarty, Mary Jean Bellino

About 25 of the 40 or so kids in the picture attended the reunion along with a handful of others who attended but moved on prior to our graduating year. I was able to recognize almost all of my ex-classmates. Apologies go to Tim, Melissa, and Maureen for my awkward struggle to remember your names. What can I say? I'm sure this won't be the last of such senior moments for me. :-)

It was great catching up on what everyone has been up to over the past few....decades. Ouch, that hurts.

Among the attendees, we had nurses, engineers, teachers, one retired teacher launching her own boutique store in Princeton, IT consultants, a handful of small business owners, homemakers, a CIO, a forensic accountant, an anesthesiologist, etc., etc.

Many had children under the age of 10. My 8th grade best buddy Bill Nicoletti (top row, 2nd from left) has 3 kids (a 3 year old and 1 year old twins) with a 4th child on the way. Yikers! I felt like the old guy in the crowd with my 16 year old daughter and 13 year old son.

Even our physical education teacher, Mrs. Andress, showed up...which was really cool. We reminisced with her about how she used to march us through our warmups, rotating our heads to her commands of "left, center, right, center, left, center...". Many of us also fondly remembered our winter weekend retreat to Andress Farm out near Hazleton, PA. It was wickedly cold with a fresh foot of snow. The giant hill across the street from the farmhouse kept us busy sledding all day long!

Lots of classic photos were shared. We had some fashion plates in our class back well as folks like me who were ideal candidates for the TLC show What Not To Wear. Gotta burn those old photos before they fall into the wrong hands! ;-)

The time flew by and a great time was had by all!

Click here to view the online photo gallery of the St. Peter Celestine 1978 Class Reunion.

While I am sure many folks had a hand in making this reunion happen, I'd like to personally thank Patty McGrogan-Fost, Kevin Brake, and Irene McClure for taking the lead on hunting everyone down, arranging the venue, sending out all of the invites, etc.

Well done and thank you!