Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Collaborative Filtering Hell

I was at getting some stuff and clicked on "Richard's Store" tab which of course led me to their "Recommended For You" page. Suddenly I was lost in collaborative filtering hell. All I could find was stuff that I already had or that I had already considered and rejected. I could not find anything that interested me in the slighest and the further I looked the worse it got. Have you ever been lost in a maze of twisty little web pages with no idea of how to get out? The only cure was to exit completely and come back in through the front door.

I will never visit my personal store again!

Friday, May 13, 2005

Interesting Times

Wow, things are getting hot. So many things happened this week. Microsoft announced the new xBox home media center. Yahoo came out with their Napster/iTunes killing music service. Google is up to something that is not fully revealed yet. Gates dissed the iPod, claiming that the converged cell phone, camera, music player, PDA will be Microsoft powered. Could things get more interesting?

Cringely has a great column that covers the first three and some Apple rumors. I am surprised that Microsoft happened to announce a double pronged attack on the home PC and the pocketable information appliance in the same week.

After writing that all information task could be done by a single Information Appliance, I was going to write about how we really need three different types of information appliance with different form factors. There is the information appliance with a 42" or larger screen that is mostly for passive shared use. Next there is the personal information appliance with a 14" or larger screen for information intensive tasks like editing and composing media and emails, shopping and bookkeeping. Finally, there is the pocketable information appliance is small enough to be taken everywhere, even the bathroom.

Microsoft won the battle for the middle one and has been going after the other two for some time. Will they have more luck this time? We will just have to wait and see.

Thursday, May 12, 2005


While we are on the subject of Software as a Service (SaaS), I almost forgot to mention that last month the Business Intelligence SIG heard a entrancing presentation from Axel Schultze, CEO of BlueRoads Corporation.

BlueRoads is a software service that does Partner Relationship Management (PRM). Basically they provide a set of applications that allows a company to interact with its channel partners. Unlike CRM which a company usually imposes on their salesforce, the BlueRoads model is that they are an intermediary between the business and the channel partner. To make it work, BlueRoads creates applications that provide value to both the channel partner, so that they use it, and to the company, so that they pay BlueRoads.

If BlueRoads can pull it off, they have something wonderful. While there are other companies in the PRM space, none of them have anything like the BlueRoads SaaS business model. They have both viral marketing and the network effect in their favor. BlueRoads is currently concentrating on high tech where channel sales are growing to be a larger proportion of total sales and the whole market is growing., so they are in a growing segment of a growing market.

And all they have to do is pull it off!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Software as a Service

The SDForum has a new SIG called Software as a Service (or SaaS for short) and they had their first meeting tonight. If you did not blink at the height of the boom, you may have seen the shortest lived SDForum SIG, the ASP SIG that had a life of less than a year. Now software as a service is back, and this time it is here to stay.

Tonight's presentation was given by two analysts from IDC, a market research company. I believe that the presentation is their standard presentation that they give when they are touting for business, however it did contain a lot of interesting stuff. As a software developer, a number of things stood out.

Packaged software offers a bad user experience. The software company creates a product which they throw over the wall to the customer. The customer implements it with little or no help and with great difficulty. At the same time the software company has little idea what the customer is doing with the product to help them plan features for the next release. On the other hand, software as a service is implemented by the software company who have a motive for helping the customer make the best use of the software. As the software is run by the software company, it can easily find out how the software is being used to help the customer make the best use of the software and to understand how to enhance it.

Large and medium sized companies tend to use software as a service to enhance existing applications, while smaller companies use it more to replace existing applications. In all sized companies the number of new applications using software as a service is small. In fact the analysts seemed optimistic that software as a service would increase the size of the software market. (On the other hand I have never met an analyst with a pessimistic market projection.)

The most common reason for switching to software as a service is the prospect of having to upgrade an existing software package. I am sure that having to upgrade is a major reason for changing to a new software implementation anyway, however software as a service does not suffer from the upgrade problem in the same was as packaged software does, as the upgrade is done by the software provider.

Monday, May 02, 2005

A Colleague Moves On

It is always sad when someone in your circle moves on, at the same time is always encouraging when someone in your circle moves on to bigger and better things. Alex Chan has done a multitude of things and touched many people since he came to Silicon Valley: co-chaired the Multimodal SIG and done numerous other things for the SDForum, President of the Chinese Software Professionals Association, founder and leader of Silicon Valley HUB, as well as a demanding day job at Cisco Systems. Now he is moving to China to an important research post in Shanghai.

Alex, we are sorry to see you go and happy for your new position. Bon chance!

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Event Driven Mobile Applications

This month the SDForum Software Architecture and Modeling SIG heard about a real application for mobile information technology. The talk was called "Worlds collide: when mobile, real-time requirements meet fragmented legacy systems: Lessons learned in providing real-time patient information to emergency room physicians."

The point of the talk was that with mobile applications (as with most other applications) , the important problems turn out to be different that the problem anticipated by the developers when they start the project. In particular the speakers proposed that an emergency room mobile information system needs to be situationally aware so that it helps the doctor in a high pressure and demanding environment rather then get in the way.

The thing that I took away from the talk is a desire to give the doctor more of an event driven life. When a patient comes to an emergency room, the hospital or medical organization may already have a lot of information about the patient. While there, the doctor may order several tests and the results of these tests is further information about the patient. All of this information can be made available on a portable device.

A problem is that the patient information may not be available immediately and the results of tests dribble back. Thus the doctor is always polling to see whether they have enough information to go back to the patient and make a further assessment or order a treatment. As the doctor is responsible for several patients, the doctor has several queues of events to poll.

When implemented with conventional technology, each patient has a box. Paper with test results arrive and are put in the box. The doctor is constantly looking through boxes to see what new results have arrived since they last looked.

The mobile application uses an iPAQ type PDA with a fingerprint reader for easy authentication. The primary screen shows a list of patients with a simple traffic light scorecard of the types of tests that have been ordered and whether the results are available. The doctor still has to look at the screen and understand what has changed, however they have a single screen with the information about what they can do next.

Mobile applications are going to become increasingly important and this presentation convinced me that they are not just desktop or even laptop applications with a small screen. Mobile applications need to be more situationally aware to overcome the constraints of the UI. At the same time done properly they can remove the need to poll and allow us to lead the event driven life.