Dropbox – The Lightweight, heavyweight.

Tim O’Reilly’s 8th web pattern is about “Lightweight Models & Cost-Effective Scalability”. This week will I will examine what it means to incorporate cost effective scalability into a successful web 2.0 endevour and examine the best practices involved in doing so. I highly recommend the following video, I think its perfect to tie the entire semester together, yes it’s long at 55 mins but it’s Tim O’reilly. He’s essentially the reason this subject exists and not only does he talk about the 8th pattern, he provides an excellent summary of how all the patterns work together.

If the model for Web 1.0 companies was “get big fast”, now it’s “small is the new big” why? For a start consider the up front costs involved in the antiquated thinking associated with web 1.0. A company could invest untold amounts of money, construct a website that they thought was great and hoped would be successful, and then watch it fail very quickly. This outdated thinking was to burst onto the scene, to take the internet by storm and be the new big thing without thinking too much further than that. The burst of Dot.Com bubble in May of 2000 is testament to this type of thinking just not working. 
There has been a paradigm shift, companies now realise that they need a defined strategy of approach, that re-use and leveraging from other sources is important, that they don’t need to do everything themselves. It is now about working the smartest and not necessarily about spending the most amount of money.
Dropbox adheres to these best practices in an examplary fashion. I think much of it has to do with it being a text book example of what a business needs to get right in order to become a true lightweight heavyweight.
Dropbox had humble beggings, essentially developed by Drew Houston as a program he could utilise himself after becomming frustrated with forgetting / losing USB sticks. Dropbox was essentially a one man development team responsible for a piece of software, that did everything right on a small scale. Let’s examine exactly how Dropbox grew to having over 100 million users, being responsible for .29% of the entire bandwidth on the internet by adhering to the best practices for this, the 8th O’reilly pattern.
Scale with demand
Scaling with demand is Dropbox’s forte. From it’s humble beginnings as a single user piece of software, it quickly established right away that it was indeed a force to be reckoned with (on a very small scale at least). As Dropbox gained clientele through strategic marketing it was simply a matter of acquiring more server space and keeping the service exactly the same fundamentally (of course there will always be feature add ons), and leveraging the long tail of the internet to reach more users.
Syndicate business models
Dropbox is has gone to great lengths to ensure that it is integrated into most online storage offerings. There are a plethora of addons and applications available that offer seamless integration with Dropbox. One click to Dropbox from many applications,  smart TV’s, smartphones, and its almost “part of the original package” appearance in the windows 7 operating system ensures it is exposed to a host of mutually beneficial revenue generating opportunities. In 2012 the Dropbox integration with Facebook groups was yet another display of innovation that has become synonymous with the name “Dropbox”
Outsource whenever practical and possible
Dropbox utilises amazon s3 data hosting services adhering to the “rent-a-server” model. This strategic move allows them to concentrate on what they do best, seamless integration with other programs without suffering the expense involved with establishing a physical data bank.
Provide outsource infrastructure, function, and expertise

Dropbox is a popular choice for infrastructure outsourcing, and its easy integration over almost any platform is particularly enticing to business ensuring adoption costs are low. Real time file synchronisation for all business team members, excellent reliability and backup offerings, as well as mobile access to files at all times makes it a perfect fit for many organisations.

Scale your pricing and revenue models

Dropbox caters for almost any type of user. They offer anyone a basic 2GB account, but offer extra storage space to those who refer the service to their friends, or purchase certain products or services. Recently, connecting the latest Samsung Galaxy to Dropbox via their application resulted in 50GB of bonus space. The high end of the market is also catered for offering businesses and large organisations a range of services for greater amounts of data with flexible pricing options.

Market Virally

There is incentive to use Dropbox almost everywhere and again this is in many ways as a result of its seamless integration with the products and services that matter. Offering users free space through third party programs is a win-win situation. Display a small Dropbox advertisement or integrate a plugin and gain the ability to offer your users storage space through you. 

Further Reading;


Leveraging the long tail with eBay

Leveraging the long tail is about exactly that, using the extreme popularity of generic products available on the internet that sell in high volume and levering that strength to expose more specific niche products that do not sell nearly as well with only limited popularity. The beauty of the “long tail” is that there are  a lot of these niche products – in fact they make up the majority of shop fronts on the internet.

Leveraging the long tail

Chris Anderson’s economic model of the Long Tail discusses the now diminished need “to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers”. With now infinite shelf space, low cost of materials and production courtesy of the internet, businesses are realising it’s simply a matter of exposure. So, how best do you leverage off the popularity of the best selling products on the internet? How are businesses able to sell their niche products that suit only very limited clientele and stay afloat? Remain profitable?

Tim O’Reilly outlines the best practices for leveraging the long tail in his seventh web 2.0 pattern, and this week I will examine eBay, the most popular online retailer in Australia an excellent example of these in effect.


Build on the driving forces of the Long Tail

eBay allows its users to list almost anything for sale relatively cheaply and with a minimum of fuss. It caters for almost any item allowing listings limited only by the imagination of its users facilitating an almost innumerable product base. Customers are drawn to eBay by cheap prices, the chance to win at auction or buy outright and possibly, most enticingly,  by the possibility of finding that item that they just cannot find anywhere else. eBay delivers hits to niches by first drawing in clientele with extremely competitive pricing for popular, generic products then offering then facilitates niche sales by custom tailoring searches for maximum exposure.

Use algorithmic data management to match supply and demand

Whenever an item is bought, whether is is via an auction, fixed price or classified sale, eBay displays similar items for the buyers perusal. When a buyer is searching for an item that is possibly generic in nature and arrives at a specific sellers page eBay displays all other items available by that seller. A user could be lead down a very niche path from seller to similar items (and repeat) until the ideal item is found. It is possible for a user to search for an item only once, then 10 sellers and different stores later – eBay delivers the final desired result specifically tailoring the list of item results to the user at every stage.


Use an architecture of participation to match supply and demand

eBay offers a feedback system where sellers can be ranked based on their past performance and quality of their items which allows buyers to always make informed decisions and purchase with confidence. When a search is carried out items are listed in an order of relevance to the search term by default so ideally the user receives the best matching item as the first result. In addition the results may be further sorted by the user selecting a relevant filter such as (lowest price first). If eBay does cannot return the exact item the user searches for it returns similar items in order of relevance.

Leverage customer self-service to cost effectively reach the entire web

eBay affords the user complete control of their accounts. User are able to list an item for sale on eBay in a matter of minutes (or seconds with the right app) through not only the website it self but also through many third party applications and the mobile apps. Users are able to purchase items, pay for items, and record feedback all from their very own account centre with the knowledge that eBay guarantees safety through PayPal where money can be refunded if a seller is fraudulent. The live chat support feature, extensive support articles, customisable user portals, and readily available API for developers contribute to reduced costs of operation.


Leverage the low-cost advantages of being online

The filtering, aggregation and search features offered by eBay for its 112.3 million users in conjunction with the self service model it is based on ensures that it reaches to the very edges of the spectrum of user interests and is coded appropriately to be effectively integrated into external searches. Indeed, it is so good that an item typed into a Google search box can yield a relevant result from eBay. Further, eBays involvement with extensive partner organisations ensures that advertising and marketing costs are kept to a minimum.

Further Reading:

Debating the long tail

Long Tail 101

Rethinking the Long Tail Theory: How to define ‘Hits’ and ‘Niches’

What does niche marketing mean?

Perpetual Beta – Development 2.0

This week I examine Tim O’Reilly’s 6th Web 2.0 pattern: Perpetual Beta and it’s corresponding best practices as harnessed by the social networking giant Facebook.

Software being in a state of perpetual beta means simply that it is is constantly evolving, constantly being shaped and crafted right in front of the eyes of its users. Software must be forever changing to remain a competitive commodity in the current era. Users no longer see software being “under construction” as something they have to wait out; an inconvenience. Rather, it is instant exposure to new developments, ideas and features for which they can provide instant feedback and rest assured that the developers are listening.

Perpetual BETA

Development 2.0 allows users to shape software with developers permanently implementing new concepts that rate highly  and those that rate poorly quickly disappearing from view.  Users must be treated as co-developers  the software release cycle is no longer about versions, it has become versionless – does anyone really know what version of Facebook they are using?  New features are integrated seamlessly and service remains uninterrupted. This is possible due to software moving away from an install once, wait, download update, install again cycle to an always on, always connected, Software as a Service.  O’Reilly states that “so fundamental is the shift from software as artifact to software as service that the software will cease to perform unless it is maintained on a daily basis.”  There is no down time, if you are not using your favorite web app someone else is and it is the opinions of these very users that dictates what is developed and when.


Facebook, like Google, exist among the pioneers of perpetual beta and adopt the best practices in textbook like fashion.

(1) Release early and release often

Facebook are masters in this realm, the introduction of timeline, chat and different layout format are classic examples of releasing early so that user feedback can be obtained and utilised to gauge interest in, and reception of, the new features it plans to introduce. If a feature is popular it is often quickly integrated and tailored around user feedback.

(2) Engage users as co-developers and real-time testers

Another advantage of releasing early and allowing users to trial new features well before a planned integration date is the fact that any bugs, whether they be logical or technical in nature, are likely to be uncovered by early adopters. This also allows Facebook to monitor user behavior and make well informed decisions regarding the way it rolls out the new features and what user demographic receives them first. “Timeline” is a classic feature that was made available to users as an optional update on September 29 2011, and after an overwhelming positive response eventually became a non-negotiable part of Facebook for all users.

(3) Instrument your product

It is absolutely essential to establish a framework for measuring success and implement metrics that provide an accurate snapshot based on this framework. Facebook features are meticulously monitored throughout different stages of implementation. Data gathered from user participation in varying areas is referenced against business objectives to further aid in successful feature implementation.

(4) Incrementally create new products

Facebook is constantly releasing new products and additions and manages strategic decisions through this, moving with technology in response to competition and to flat out user demand . Releasing a stand alone chat application for mobile devices competing with the likes of MSN and simultaneously recognizing the high demand for its chat feature is testament to such strategy.

(5) Make operations a core competency

Facebook realises that the people they employ are paramount to its continued success. They capture this perfectly by stating “We don’t have rules, we have values, focus on impact, move fast, be bold, be open, build social value”. Second to none systems monitoring, built in redundancies, state of the art hardware,  simplified fault tolerance, and razor sharp execution of all is the technology through which it empowers.

(6) Use dynamic tools and languages

Through utilising cutting edge agile development models Facebook is able to offer industry leading technology at all levels  including:

Front end: LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP); Back end: C++, Python, Java, Erlang

In addition to this Facebook offers an impressive array of open source developments.


Further Reading:

Version-Less Development: What is it and Why it’s Important

How Does Facebook Work? The Nuts and Bolts [Technology Explained]

Will product innovation win it for Facebook?

Careers at Facebook

Ubiquitous Computing: Software above the level of a single device.

This week we discuss Tim O’Reilly’s fifth web 2.0 pattern: Software above the level of a single device. 

We are a world that is fast evolving towards being totally digitally connected. With the adoption of IPv6 the number of devices that can connect to the internet simultaniously increases almost innumerably to 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456. O’Reillys fifth pattern discusses best practices for harnessing the technolgical breakthroughs of our time to develop software that connects to the internet seemlessly over multiple devices.


Youtube is web 2.0 that is so popular it is almost synonymous with the word “Internet”. Since it’s inception in Feb 2005 YouTube has been about video content that is for the people, by the people, so it is not at all surprising that its developers are well aware of the importance of software above the level of a single device. The reality is that content wise YouTube can be used as a legitimate resource for almost every facet of our lives – work, play, health, education and relationships. So, it makes sense that YouTube has evolved from offering access in the form of a centralised website to being as adaptable to our new technology as we are, offering apps for almost every platform. Let’s look at how YouTube adheres to to O’Reiley’s best practices.


Design from the start to share data across devices, servers, and networks

From the outset YouTube has strived to offer content accessibility through  providing HTML code along with its videos to enable easy embedding on any web page.

More recently:

One click sharing to almost all social networking platforms including facebook, twitter and google+, which expands on and compliments YouTube’s own ranking and commenting system.

  • YouTube Mobile – launched in 2007 for smartphones utilising RTSP streaming for video, was then relaunched in 2010 using HTML 5 eliminating the need to use the slower adobe flash player and optimising controls for touch screen.
  • June 2007 – Transcoded data to H.264 format in order to achieve compatibility with Apple iPhone, iPod touch and Apple TV
  • 2008 – 2009 – Youtube realises more of its users are accessing from set top boxes and full size screens so releases YouTube For TV and then later YouTubeXL
  • Available as a stand alone app for Apple iOS 5 / iOS 6 since September 2012 when it was dropped as a preloaded app.
  • Tailored applictions  for Playstation 3, Tivo, Xbox live, & Wii

Since day one it is very obvious that YouTube has had its finger on the pulse of its users viewing trends and has attempted to harness the latest technology to make data more available & accessible to users.


Extend Web 2.0 to devices

YouTube offers applictions for almost all of the popular devices including iOS, Android, Xbox Live / 360, Playstation 3, Wii & Tivo and comes pre-packaged in the proprietry software of many smart TV’s, media streaming & cable provider boxes.

Use the power of the network to make the edge smarter

YouTube is able to tailer the viewing experience to your device through smart optimisation of the video bitrate, file format and clientside code to ensure compatibility with multiple devices usually via an app. A good example here is YouTube automatically rendering videos in much lesser resolution for smartphones, dramatically lessening the amount of data that needs to be transferred.

Leverage devices as data and rich media sources

Many smartphones and video cameras have the ability to shoot video and upload directly to YouTube through the relevant application as long as they have access to the internet.

Make one-click peer-production a priority

Almost all devices that have the ability to shoot video and connect to the internet can upload to YouTube in a single click. Often this will occur through utilising third party software and not necessarily an official YouTube app.


Further Reading:

Learn all about YouTube via Wikipedia

Apple drops the YouTube app in iOS 6 

Evolution of YouTube : Beginning of age of personal media

How to share, embed and link YouTube videos

O’Reilly’s 5th Pattern: Software above the level of a single device

Rich User Experience: Pixlr.com

This week I examine Tim O’Reilly’s fourth Web 2.0 pattern: Rich User Experience.  So firstly, what is a “Rich user experience”? I think James Ward explains it better than most in saying it is a “more natural – more connected, more alive, more interactive, and more responsive” user experience.

It was not long ago that in order to enjoy a graphically intensive, immediately responsive experience when connecting with the internet a user would have to install a heavy and often very large desktop application and point it in the direction of the corresponding internet server.  This desktop interface model was utilised so that most of the complex processing involving large amounts of data could be carried out at the client end and not take up precious band width.

Today, with faster, higher bandwidth internet connections, more intelligent and sophisticated programming techniques such as AJAX and HTML5, and global user demand for a truly ubiquitous internet experience we have dispensed with the data laden client side application and moved completely to an online interface.  Rich Internet Applications or (RIA’s) are the web applications designed to give users desktop like functionality through a web browser and are the same applications that make the Rich User Experience possible.

Since the dawn of desktop computer time graphics manipulation has been heavy on resources, so, how about a paint/photoshop style Rich User Experience?


Enter Pixlr.com. 

Pixlr.com can be accessed from your web browser and is compatible with all of the popular varieties. Pixlr offers a fully functional picture editor that looks very much like a cross between Photoshop and Paint at a glance. Cut down varieties of the editor are also available from the main page for simple photo effects. So lets look at how it stacks up against the best practices for a Rich User Experience.

The Pixlr Editor:

pixlr editor

Combine the best of desktop & online experiences 

One of the best features of Pixlr is the fact that it feels like you are using a desktop application, and that is exactly how you want a photo editing suite to feel. It responds instantly and provides all the tools you are used to. There is seamless integration with both online and desktop based images as well as webcam, smartphone, and devices using both iOS and Android operating systems.

Usability and simplicity first

You don’t have to learn to use Pixlr, it is actually intuitive in it’s design and follows established convention for photo editing tools. It is essentially minimalist in design without flashy ‘additions’ that some other sites offer, this is a good thing. The options that are presented on the home page: Open Pixlr Editor (Advanced), Open Pixlr Express (Efficient), and Open Pixlr-o-matic (Playfull), quickly dispense with the need to annoy the user with superfluous information or features. If you aren’t familiar with exactly how Pixlr works it is designed to be intuitive enough to give it away for most users. Almost unbelievably, no registration required! Dive straight in!

Match the technology usage to the requirements

Pixlr.com harnesses technology well, in that it matches it to its user requirements. Through utilising predominately Flash, Javascript, HTML, & JQuery Pixlr delivers a photo editor that responds instantly and is truly ubiquitous in nature (smartphone, online, iOS, Android). Some might say the technology is lackluster or underwhelming, I say the fact that it intuitively delivers on what it promises to it’s target audience every time makes it smart technology usage.

Preserve content addressability

Pixlr delivers again here, providing desktop features within its environment including undo, redo and save. The user is always in control of the data they are manipulating and seamless integration with Facebook and other online libraries ensures pictures can be accessed, saved & restored from anywhere.

Deep, adaptive personalization

The thing I appreciate most about Pixlr is the fact that it is no nonsense and delivers exactly what is promises to its users. Pixlr does not ask for a registration, nor a login like almost every other site does and I found this refreshing. I think Pixlr has an excellent idea of what the average user in their target audience expects, and delivers a catered solution for that expectation. It has effectively pre-personalised the website around its target audience.







Innovation In Assembly: Have you Reddit ?

So, what is innovation in assembly?

Essentially, in theory, it is pretty simple. Design your web 2.0 site application in a way that is easy to be shared then provide users access to relevant parts of your source code so that they can develop programs that interact with it called “middleware”. Doing this the right way however, as many companies have discovered the hard way is not always so easy. In fact many speculate that the downfall of MySpace was the hesitation in releasing any sort of decent API, and I tend to agree with them. Amber wrote a great blog about exactly that this week, here.

Innovation in Assembly is also the third web 2.0 pattern identified by Tim O’Reily. Part of an essential 8 core set that are necessary for success in the world of web 2.0.

Front page of the internet

Front page of the internet

Many of you will be avid users of the site I have chosen this week. Why? Well it is widely touted as the “front page of the internet” just type exactly that into a Google search and see how many times it comes up. So is this considerable acclaim deserved? I think so… why? Because REDDIT does everything right. Lets look at what it offers and how it adheres to Tim O’Reily’s best practices.

(1) Offer APIs to your service

There are many different APIs available for Reddit, for almost every conceivable permutation and combination involving sharing. In fact, Reddit itself IS open source.

“We know reddit’s success has less to do with our technology than it does with you, our community, and now we want to let our community improve our technology.”  Says Reddit.

This is proof that they know it is primarily about making yourself accessible en masse.

(2) Design for remixability

There are innumerable applications available that take advantage of Reddit’s easy to share design. Information is available in all selections, combinations and sizes. The smallest quantity of information available can easily be singled out, identified and accessed.

(3) Apply API best practices

Reddit is entirely open source. They make not only make access to their program (in the form of APIs) easily accessible and customisable but their ENTIRE program easy accessible and customisable and actively encourage it. What more is there to say ?

(4) Use existing standards

Redit is available to pretty much every conceivable existing standard. Again, it is open source, it is entirely at the developers discretion.

(5) Build your business model into you API

Reddit makes most of its money by advertising. Through going open source it opens up every possibility for access. More access means more chance of someone landing on an add, and that = $ for Reddit.

(6) Use Web 2.0 to support your platform

A huge amount of communication and interaction by Reddit users online, and massive amounts of user contribution makes Reddit what it is. Reddit supplies information by users to users who want information. I think its size is due partly to the fact it is so easy to adopt, and also the fact that it rewards users in terms of status for quality.

(7) Be your own platform customer

The Reddit written API is as good as it is because of research and testing Reddit did before it was released. Reddit’s semi wiki nature means that it can stay pretty simple and probably doesn’t have much cause to use it’s own API.

(8) Granular addressability of content

Both Reddit API and custom developed programs, by utilising the open source code ensure Reddit’s Granularity is fine and information findability and remixablility are present.

(9) Use your platform to build customer trust and loyalty

What better way to command customer trust and loyalty than put it completely in their own hands. Reddit works on a ranking system and it is the public who control the rankings. Reddit just provides the space and the excellent idea.

(10) Learn from how your customers remix

Reddit is known by most web 2.0 application/platform owners on the internet and is very widely shared. Reddit’s information and presentation is intentionally made available to be fully customisable at the whim of a developer.

So have you Reddit? Do you think this is a site that has it right?

Data is the next “Intel Inside”. Enter: A mix of Facebook and advanced statistics – Corporate style of course.

I remember the days when people boasted about their computer hardware specifications and mentioned little if anything about software, bar the latest games they ‘acquired’ from their mates. Times have changed…

To be honest, I am only vaguely aware of exactly what CPU I have and what speed it runs at and really have no clue about my motherboard, but I can definitely tell you all about each and every app I have downloaded and the websites I just cannot live without.

There has been a paradigm shift, nowadays hardware and networking is taken for granted – simply looking at the households with access to the internet in Australia alone means people are used to being able to access what they want, when they want and exactly how they want.

3-21-2013 7-55-04 PM

So basic economics tells us that data is cheap as supply far exceeds demand. Yet there are people who have made unfathomable fortunes through harnessing data, harnessing collective intelligence, and presenting it in certain ways. So, when it comes to web 2.0 what are they keys to success with data? Well Tim O’reily goes as far as saying that “SQL is the new HTML”. So it’s about storing and being able to manipulate valuable data quickly, at will, and and ensuring it’s availability at crucial times of need.

I personally believe the next “big thing” will be ‘that perfect application’ in a corporate environment. An application that is as friendly as Facebook on the outside but a statistics professor, accountant, psychologist, and work place productivity expert on the inside. I mean imagine it, businesses being able to interpret employee online behavior contributions and patterns to ensure they had the best possible staff positioned in the best possible roles, to ensure best possible business efficiency and effectiveness.

Anyone remember the movie Gattaca?  In order to get the best positions in the best corporations human beings were genetically profiled as well as evaluated and examined in almost all other aspects. I can’t help but think that as soon as human beings have access to / the rights to examine others in the cut throat environment of the corporate world they will, but we are not there yet.


So where are we right now? What about a Facebook style application that lets work mates communicate freely? I use one at work and I find it incredibly engaging. I like that there are no barriers, you can online chat (in the same way as facebook) with anyone in the company from the CEO to the receptionist. Effortlessly shaere information and organise functions etc. It’s truly does add another dimension to the work place like Facebook adds another dimension to our social lives. The particular web 2.0 app I use at work and recommend to anyone reading this is “Yammer”. Yammer is good, but it’s in its infancy…


The near future?  

In 2012 Apple famously filed a patent to blur their online footprint due to other companies mining information from the internet habits of its users. In short Apple does not want other companies profiting from their user data. 

The value is inside the relevant data set so, it has to be vehemently targeted and in a state of constant evolution. Well what about a Facebook style application that analyses everything that anyone ever contributes against complex algorithms created and tailored specifically for certain workplaces. I do believe this is the way of the future, I believe standard employment contracts will mention that everything is monitored and evaluated and in spite of this you will be expected to contribute. There are already countless articles available on electronic profiling like this one. Imagine having everything you ever posted or uploaded analysed. Imagine your employer building a profile on you to determine whether or not you really should be in your current role? This software will absolutely satisfy all 8 of the best practices mentioned in Lecture 3, effortlessly. It sounds unbelievable doesn’t it… but think about it… is it really that far fetched? The successful application will profile psychologically, intellectually, score intelligence, score financially and who knows… if it’s web cam enabled possibly even monitor eye patterns as we think. For what? For increased profit of course, to find the best of the best. The almighty $.

question mark

So what is the exact application? I am not 100% sure, for now it remains lurking in the back of the mind of its creator. As did the likes of Facebook, and Youtube until less than 10 years ago.  But it’s coming and sooner than you think…

I hope this post provided food for thought and inspired you to really think – how would you feel about the above type of application in your workplace?




Some excellent references:




Dr Jason Watson – Lecture 3 QUT