Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Scaling on a Shoestring, Lessons from NewsBlur

NewsBlur survives a traffic surge after news of Google Reader’s pending demise gets around.
Image: NewsBlur.

One of the more interesting stories to emerge from the demise of Google Reader is that of NewsBlur, a previously small, but very nice, open source alternative RSS reader.

NewsBlur is a one-man operation that was humming along quite nicely, but when Google announced Reader would shutdown, NewsBlur saw a massive traffic spike — in a few short days NewsBlur more than doubled its user base. How NewsBlur developer Samuel Clay handled the influx of new users should be required reading for anyone working on a small site without loads of funding and armies of developers.

“I was able to handle the 1,500 users who were using the service everyday,” writes Clay, “but when 50,000 users hit an uncachable and resource intensive backend, unless you’ve done your homework and load tested the living crap out of your entire stack, there’s going to be trouble brewing.”

Having tested NewsBlur a few times right after Google announced Reader was closing, I can vouch for the fact that there were times when the site was reduced to a crawl, but it came back to life remarkably quickly for a one-man operation.

In his postmortem, Clay details the moves he had to make to keep NewsBlur functioning under the heavy load — switching to new servers, adding a new mailing service (which then accidentally mailed Clay 250,000 error reports) and other moments of rapid, awkward growth.

It’s also worth noting that Clay credits the ability to scale to his premium subscription model, writing that, “the immediate benefits of revenue have been very clear over the past few days.”

As for the future, Clay says he plans to work on “scaling, scaling, scaling,” launching a visual refresh (which you can preview at and listening to feedback from the service’s host of new users.

If you’re looking for a Google Reader replacement, give NewsBlur a try. There’s a free version you can test out (the number of feeds is limited). A premium account runs $24/year and you can also host NewsBlur on your own server if you prefer.

File Under: Business

ALA’s Annual Survey Takes the Pulse of Web Devs

Attention web designers, developers and all around Webmonkeys: A List Apart once again needs your input for the 2010 edition of their Survey For People Who Make Websites. The survey, which ALA started back in 2007, attempts to track and analyze information about webmonkeys’ (curiously, ALA refers to us as “web professionals,” whatever those are) backgrounds, skills, work, salaries and more.

If you’re a web developer and want to be counted in what is one of the only research projects of its kind, head on over to take the new survey. All the data is collected anonymously and goes toward painting a more complete picture of the industry.

If you’d like to see the results of past surveys, ALA recently published its findings from the 2009 survey, which, though not radically different from 2008, do reflect the changing economic times — the number of respondents reporting a salary decrease jumped dramatically from previous years and, overall, webmonkeys are markedly less confident about the future.

But not everything is doom and gloom. Among those who said that web-related work was their primary focus, nearly 92 percent were confident about their jobs — which we attribute to the new hope fostered by HTML5′s various APIs.

As always the raw, anonymized data from the 2009 survey is available to anyone that would like to play with it.

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File Under: Business, Events, HTML5

Adobe’s Kevin Lynch: Apple’s Playing a Legal Game, Not a Technology Game

Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch. Photo: Adobe

Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch. Photo: Adobe

SAN FRANCISCO — Adobe’s CTO wants to make it clear that the public battle between HTML5 and Flash isn’t about technology, it’s about politics.

“The story is not about HTML5 vs. Flash,” Adobe’s Kevin Lynch says. “It’s about freedom of choice in the industry.”

Lynch says developers should be able to use whatever tools they want to create whatever experiences they want on the web.

“There are some who would like to wall off parts of the web and require you to get their approval to create something,” he says.

Lynch spoke Wednesday morning at the Web 2.0 Expo taking place here at Moscone West. The twice-per-year developer conference focuses on all things web, and though the audience is primarily made up of developers, the talks often turn to current events in the tech world.

Adobe has certainly been in the news quite a bit lately, with its Flash platform and Flash Player being derided by Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who has disallowed Flash on the iPad and the company’s other mobile devices, and has banned apps created in Flash from being sold in the company’s App Store by changing the wording of the developer’s agreement for its latest iPhone OS.

Lynch didn’t refer to Apple by name until prompted by Web 2.0 Expo program chair Brady Forrest, who was interviewing Lynch on stage.

“Are you referring to Apple and the iPhone,” Forrest asked.

Lynch shot back: “Are you reading between the lines?”

“Apple’s playing this strategy where they want to create a walled garden around what people use,” Lynch continued.

Continue Reading “Adobe’s Kevin Lynch: Apple’s Playing a Legal Game, Not a Technology Game” »

File Under: Business, Humor

10 Reasons to Politely Decline a Web Design Gig

When you’re in that first round of meetings with a potential web design or web development client, there are certain statements, revelations or bits of information that serve as huge red flags.

Here’s a list (submitted by a designer friend who shall remain anonymous) of the biggest all-time deal-breakers:

10. He can’t stop telling you about how horrid his last developer was.

9. He wants to make sure you can build his site so it will show up first on Google.

8. He’s already got a list together of 100 words for his meta tags.

7. There isn’t much money for this job but it could really lead to a lot more work down the road.

6. He wants to know if you are flexible about your deposit.

5. He explains that you will be responsible to his organization’s “website committee.”

4. He wants to know if you know how to “do Flash.”

3. He wants his start-up site to be “kinda like eBay.”

2. He could actually build the site himself but he just doesn’t have the time.

1. He’s looking for a new “webmaster.”

Got your own red flags? Post them in the comments.

Photo: Soman, Wikimedia Commons, CC

File Under: Business, Software & Tools

MS Office on the Web: What it Is and What it Isn’t

The world’s most popular office software suite is making its way onto the web, but it’s doing so one baby step at a time.

As expected, Microsoft announced more details around its Office 2010 suite at an event in New Orleans Monday morning. Along with enhancements to the popular documents and productivity tools, the company also showed off how four of the suite’s key apps — Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote — will be deployed on the web as browser-based applications. Microsoft also announced pricing and availability for Office Web Apps. Beta invites will go out in late August and final versions — both paid and free — will be available in early 2010.

Microsoft first unvieled working demos of these web-based apps in October, 2008 at a developer conference in Los Angeles, and Monday’s demos showed only a few new hints of what’s to come.

We won’t get our hands on Office Web Apps for another month, but what we do know is that they will be lightweight, dumbed-down versions of their desktop counterparts. They will remain closely tied to, and largely dependent on, the Windows desktop. This is understandable, since Office for the PC desktop has proven to be Microsft’s most valuable cash cow behind its Windows desktop and server products.

So while its competitors are gaining steam with full-blown productivity applications that run completely in the browser — namely Google Docs and start-up Zoho with its office suite — Microsoft is still firmly entrenched in the “software plus services” camp.

Here’s what we know about Microsoft’s web strategy for Office 2010.

Office Web Apps will be available for free

The four key Office apps — Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote — will be free to anyone with a Windows Live account, but according to Microsoft’s Office 2010 FAQ (a Word document), the free version will be ad-supported. Versions without ads will be available to people who buy Office Professional Plus and Office Standard 2010 licenses. The ad-free versions can also be made accessible privately by companies running SharePoint 2010 server.

If you’re a regular Jane, a grandpa or a poor student who wants to access the free version, you have to log in to Windows Live, upload a Word, Excel or PowerPoint document to your SkyDrive, then choose to edit it in the browser. You make your edits, save your file, then it syncs back up to your SkyDrive. Note this is only convenient if you already have a local copy of Office.

The experience has been dumbed down for the web

The Office Web Apps are not intended to be stand-alone applications for editing and composing documents.

The browser-based tools have the basics, like changing fonts and styles, creating lists and tables, or messing with rows and columns in Excel. But it’s obvious that the bulk of the functionality will be reserved for the desktop apps. Microsoft’s announcement positions Web Office Apps as offering “easy viewing and lightweight editing” — the word “lightweight” is used several times, in fact — clearly suggesting you’re only getting a taste.

The screenshots and official video demos that are available do not show any app-specific functionality for printing documents. There’s also no indication what sorts of tools exist for things like generating charts and graphs from scratch — something Google offers through its Chart API.

At any point in the online version, you can download your document and continue editing it in Word on the desktop. You’re even encouraged to do so — screenshots released Monday show a big button in the user interface inviting you to “Continue in Word” or “Continue in Excel.”

You won’t need to use Internet Explorer

In the FAQ, Microsoft says, “Office Web Apps are designed to work with Internet Explorer, Safari and Firefox.” Chrome isn’t supported because (Microsoft says) it has such minor market share.

If you want to see the apps running in Firefox, check out Robert Scoble’s video interview with a Microsoft representative, who shows how similar the experience is in both IE and Firefox.

You won’t need Silverlight

A few advanced functions of Office Web Apps will require Silverlight, but there’s no plug-in required for the basics like editing and saving. Almost everything is pure standards-compliant Ajax, so the apps won’t be crippled if you don’t have Silverlight.

The Office Web Apps demos I saw last October were powered entirely by JavaScript and CSS (just like competing apps from Google and Zoho).

Your docs will look really nice

If you read Microsoft’s press materials, there’s much talk about “preserving document fidelity” on the web, and it seems the company has paid particular attention to this. The interface even looks and behaves like the much-loved Ribbon introduced in Office 2007. When you open your document in the browser, it won’t break your formatting or ruin the indenting on complicated lists — a big gripe among Google Docs users.

The experience also degrades gracefully for smartphones, even the iPhone’s Mobile Safari.

There will be real-time collaboration

The web version of Excel will have real-time collaboration, meaning two people can edit the same spreadsheet at once and see each other’s edits.

Microsoft says it’s going to include real-time editing in Word and PowerPoint later, but that it chose not to include it in the initial release for technical reasons. Instead, you can enable e-mail and IM notifications that tell you when changes are made.

Both Zoho and Google Docs have embedded chat and real-time editing. Google’s implementation is still a little janky, but Wave, a similar Google app with more advanced real-time collaboration technology — you see edits almost instantly, right down to keystroke — shows even more promise.

Office Live Workspaces is kaput

Microsoft’s current implementation of document editing in the browser, Office Live Workspaces, is being discontinued and rolled into Windows Live. Expect everything to be rebranded and redirected to Office Web Apps when it launches in 2010.

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