Archive for January, 2009

On Wednesday we posted on the Google Code Blog that:

As we mentioned last April, we are in the process of porting Jaiku over to Google App Engine. After the migration is complete, we will release the new open source Jaiku Engine project on Google Code under the Apache License. While Google will no longer actively develop the Jaiku codebase, the service itself will live on thanks to a dedicated and passionate volunteer team of Googlers.

With the open source Jaiku Engine project, organizations, groups and individuals will be able to roll-their-own microblogging services and deploy them on Google App Engine. The new Jaiku Engine will include support for OAuth, and we’re excited about developers using this proven code as a starting point in creating a freely available and federated, open source microblogging platform.

Understandably, some people took this to mean that Jaiku was going away entirely.  This impression was exacerbated somewhat by a blogger reporting early that Jaiku was being closed alongside some other products.

The reality is a bit more nuanced, but it is significantly more interesting in my opinion.  First, the domain and the Jaiku user accounts (and their friend graph and their messages) continue to live on just as they have today.  The biggest difference is that behind the scenes Jaiku is moving away from its original proprietary hosting model and on to App Engine.

Personally I love this for several reasons — it is a tremendous validation of the power of the App Engine platform, and another great learning opportunity for the engineers here to work with a very real service.

But the second, and perhaps even bigger news, is that all of the code used to power Jaiku on App Engine is going to be released under the Apache license.  Combine these two changes — Jaiku on App Engine, and open source Jaiku — and you can start see the opportunity that emerges here.

Soon, anyone, for free and with little effort, will be able to install and modify the Jaiku code, launch it on App Engine, and run their own microblogging platform.  Combine that decentralization with standards such as OAuth and the forthcoming activity stream standards, and what we’re seeing here is the accelerating trend away from microblogging being a destination to microblogging being a pervasive and ubiquitous part of the fabric of the web itself.

Now that’s cool.

Will Google have a team of 20 working on Jaiku?  No, and we’re not going to sugar coat it, which is exactly why we posted such an honest an open
letter about the future of the product.  Are there many of us who passionately care about Jaiku and about the possibilities of microblogging?  Absolutely.  And we want you to participate.

Every once in a while comes along a book that changes everything.

The last author to do it to my generation was William Gibson in 1984. For almost two decades, when we imagined the future, we imagined ourselves tapped into cyberspace via our deck alongside Case, the protagonist in Neuromancer.

Tomorrow will mark the day of a literary event likely to be of comparable impact.

The Daemon will launch on the front shelf of Borders bookstores and Barnes & Nobles everywhere.

If this is the first time you hear about the Daemon — well, for one thing, you haven't been following my status updates :) — and you're likely to hear more from other people. It is a Da Vinci Code meets World of Warcraft kind of deal.

Many of the elements we've come to expect from action-packed Sci-Fi are there: a mysterious, gruesome murder; advanced surveillance tech; smart & lethal weaponry; and evil AI at the root of everything. The key difference to Neuromancer, however, is that it all takes place in the real world. It could happen today.

Like Craigslist's Craig Newmark put it, “Daemon is the real deal—a scary look at what can go wrong as we depend increasingly on computer networks.”

Almost as interesting as the fiction is the backstory behind the book. Initially a self-published work, early advocates, myself included, did our best to get it to people's attention and word started spreading on blogs and microblogs.

When I first picked up the book at the Long Now Foundation, I wondered about the odd name of the author, Leinad Zeraus. It took a little while before I realized the pun: it was Daniel Suarez spelled backwards.

A few days ago, I got an email from Daniel. I'm quoting it here with his permission.

"It was grassroots support from early adopters like you that proved to New York publishing houses that there was an audience for Daemon. Without that critical support, my little self-published book might have quietly disappeared.

Instead, it will be front-of-store in every Barnes & Nobel and Borders in the U.S. and is being translated into ten languages. I’ve also signed a deal with DreamWorks for the film rights."

I'm also delighted to note Daniel will be visiting us at Google to speak about the book in a few weeks.

For more on bots and their social implications, watch Daniel Suarez speak at the Long Now Foundation. For a summary of the talk, read Paul Saffo's notes.

Today Apple announced DRM-free music on iTunes.

It’s curious to note where this leaves Spotify, a company that I believe is positioned to become a serious iTunes competitor at least in certain geographical areas.

What does going drm-free tell us about Apple’s future direction for iTunes? It shows that Apple is pushing hard to break the locks that are keeping it from exploiting the full value of iTunes’ impressive catalog. If this spirit continues, it’s not unthinkable that a little way down the road iTunes will look a lot like Spotify.

Spotify makes an iTunes-like music app that differs from iTunes in that the music is freely accessible for listening, but the user can’t (as of today) download copies of tracks to their hard drive.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has explained his strategy is to simply provide access to music. He sees Spotify as the supplier of social objects for other social networks.

“We think music data is social objects, and we focus on building tools around them. We don’t necessarily want to be a social network ourselves. That’s also a hint on the future,”

he wrote in a thread on Jaiku earlier today.

iTunes’ per-item sales and Spotify’s freemium subscriptions may seem like competing business models.

However, the two are not mutually exclusive. Spotify could start to offer downloads, essentially turning into iTunes.

Similarly, Apple is not going to abandon sales of music tracks in favor of subscriptions to a streaming service. But it could easily add a free, ad-supported streaming mode (and an ad-free subscription mode) to help drive its per-item sales — essentially turning into Spotify.

If iTunes were to offer free access, where would that leave Spotify? Remember, iTunes killed another promising startup Odeo by becoming a podcasting platform…

Spotify’s success against iTunes is determined by how well it can exploit the fact that as both an online distributor and device manufacturer Apple wears two hats. As a result, the iTunes store is not available on non-Apple portable players (save for the Motorola rokr failure).

The interests of Apple the device manufacturer and Apple the online distributor are fundamentally in conflict. It’s in the iPod unit’s interest to keep iTunes proprietary to the iPod; whereas the iTunes music store would increase its sales significantly if it shipped on third-party devices like Nokia phones the way it does on the iPhone today.

In the end this is a business equation to Apple. As long as Apple makes more money selling iPods, iTunes is likely to stay proprietary. But if the iTunes store were to outgrow the iPod business into the company’s de facto cash cow, or the iPod started to lose market share, Apple could ditch the iPod and integrate iTunes with other portables.

It’s in Spotify’s interest, therefore, that the iPod does well but not too well. Apple has to be compelled to keep iTunes proprietary, but worldwide sales of music players has to be made up of a significant percentage of other manufacturers who want iTunes but are left to look for other options.

As long as iTunes remains locked into the iPod, Spotify has a shot at becoming the de facto music distribution platform for the rest of the world. Of course it’ll face tough competition from other proprietary and open initiatives.