Blue Screen Of Duds

Where the alter ego of codelust plays

Posts Tagged ‘google apps engine

Why not being number one in non-search areas is a-ok with Google

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A lot of people constantly harp on the fact that Google is not the market leader in any other market segment than search and contextual advertising and hold it up as proof of the fact that Google is a one-trick-pony. While it is desirable for Google to lead the market in everything it gets into, it is not the only factor that Google is looking for when it kicks off a new product.

To understand why Google does things differently, you need to first understand how goes Google work differently as a company.

At its core, Google is one massive computing infrastructure. What the company excels is in building, and maintaining applications on top of this infrastructure, only parts of which are known to us as Big Table, Google File System and Map Reduce. Almost every application (yes, this is speculation, sue me) is built atop this infrastructure, giving Google the ability to have consistency across storage, classification, categorization of any data that comes into its system. Other companies, like Yahoo! and Microsoft, have years and years of legacy sitting on different frameworks and infrastructure, giving Google amazing leverage over them.

For Google, the only real product is user experience and the value the user derives from using Google’s products. This, in turn, helps further refine and better offerings across the plate for Google, creating an endlessly iterative and self-improving product ecosystem. And the products by themselves are a means to bettering the end-product of user experience.

For instance, not many would have much to say about Google’s “web history”, but not many know that the same is used to do drive recommendations in Google Reader, which also uses geographical data (I was recommended feeds related to Trivandrum after being there for a week) which Google collects in conjunction with ISPs (driven by Google Analytics) to further refine these recommendations.

In a similar manner, Google already tracks the clicks that originate from Gmail and I would not be surprised if they are already tracking and indexing the thousands of billions of messages that flow across Google Talk to better know and predict which link you are likely to click more on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (match data from the messages and your web history), compared to Friday or Sunday. And that is very much in line with their mission statement of being more useful to you, in a manner that borders on the eerie quite a few times.

And that is where the greatest challenge lies for companies that aim to compete with Google. Learning systems that improve itself iteratively with time and usage are hardest to beat, because it improves by using you against yourself (something like going against your best time in a racing game than against a pre-programmed computer run) and since Google has been around for such a long time, the amount of data it has about you is something that the competition can’t match unless a vast majority of Google’s users switch overnight to the competing services.

Which brings us back to the non-search problem. Google really does not need to be the number one in other areas (other than the silly acquisitions like Jaiku). It does not cost Google much to create new products (many Google projects like Reader and News were started as 20% time projects) and it does not cost them anything to run those either (they are written with the same framework that is maintained for their core offerings). So, even if all of them were to fail, it would not make a dent on Google, while the fact is that a lot of them don’t.

Now, add Google App Engine to the mix, which opens up the same infrastructure (leveraging the same Google Accounts identity system) to the wider web. With the App Engine, for the tiny cost of supporting the bootstrap process for free, Google now gets even more focussed and specific data regarding usage(in the hierarchy of usage quality, context is king. Apps would have a context that is locked-down taking out the guesswork for Google and the data that is stored in such contexts would also be in a format that Google natively understands).

It would really be stupid to assume that all these processes and data collection is not already being  used to improve the advertising business, which is from where they earn their bread.

p.s: This post has been edited for clarity and a couple of grammatical snafus from its first version.

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Written by shyam

April 22, 2008 at 4:29 pm

Posted in Google

Tagged with , ,

Short Notes: Quantitative Hedge Funds, Google App Engine, DTH, itimes

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I know the Google App Engine just took over the interwebs. We will get to that, but, later. Alpha Magazine has a nice write up (a bit all over the place in terms of direction, but very rich in terms of content) on quantitative hedge funds who marry cutting edge research from various faculties in science and marry them with the normal hedge fund business.

It is quite a long article, but is well worth the time you spend on it, if numbers, markets, arbitrage, learning (artificial and natural), behaviour and systems design are things which make you salivate more than blondes and brunettes. In a somewhat-related topic we have a fascinating entry on search algorithms that also mentions Pareto in the same breath. Most of the math in it flies like a supersonic above my head (confession time, I absolutely suck at math, go figure!), but do stick with him till the point where explains why there is no “best” search algorithm.

On to Google App Engine (finally!). If Google can bless this with the levels of reliability that they are known for, it will have the same effect that Ruby on Rails has had on start ups, by making bootstrapping of products so easy that it becomes absolutely irritating. David Recordon believes that the App Engine will provide apps that use it with a shared sense of a user, which is one of the major problems that face every socially-enabled product these days. Krzysztof Kowalczyk adds to the existing commentary and says it is the first, true internet operating system. But I do wonder about one thing. Everyone is very bullish on EC2 and GAE from the entry barrier point of view, the thing that remains to be seen is the exit barrier and how difficult it would be to leave such a framework, both in terms of cost and effort.

The last word on the GAE launch has to go to Michael Arrington, who can’t ever be expected to sit out a slugfest, especially one that draws traffic to Techcrunch on what is not really its strong ground – technology. He makes a post on the website about how Google has pulled down one of the first apps, HuddleChat, built by one of the Google employees showcasing the technology from a product perspective. He calls it “censorship” and the easily-inflamed community sets itself alight (rather predictably) over it, while the simple reason behind the move has no more logic behind it than avoidance of bad PR karma, which any company would want to avoid during such a major product launch. The move, by itself, does not make or break the world. Get over it (and yourselves, too) guys.

Meanwhile, all is not well in DTH land in India. The two leading players — Dish TV and Tata Sky — are said to be raking in losses to the tune of Rs 1400 crores (combined) in their quest to do a market land grab first and aim for profitability later. The current cost per user is Rs 1600 – Rs 2300 for each new subscription and the newer  MPEG 4 set top boxes that will hit the market soon are expected to increase the costs and losses even more.

Interestingly, Dish TV seems to think the tipping point where the ARPU will start going up, instead of down, is at the 7-8 million subscription mark. Which would mean that with 3 million subscribers, DIsh TV itself has to double its market penetration before margins start working in the opposite direction for them. That could easily see them doubling current losses in the coming years and that alongside other costs could see their current Rs 300 crore loss going up to 700 crores. In short, this won’t be a fun competition to be in, if you wind up being second-best.

In one of the last links for the day, we have David Manners deviating from his usual domain of semiconductors posting a note on how bad T5 at Heathrow is, which should be sent to every person who is fond of doing the customary India-bashing bits under the pretext “this just would not happen it the west.” The price quote from the post is the captain saying: “We’ve landed at Heathrow which is in chaos”.

Lastly, for today’s silly Twitter apps update. Grouptweet is a Twitter application that allows you to send tweets to a group of people. Even better is the blog Twitterholics, which will allow you to track such inane products without having to leave the comfort of your browser tab.

p.s: Oh yes, Indiatimes has launched their social networking website (finally!). Looks like TIL now has two schools of thought: the IIS/.Net based in-house products and the LAMP-stack based outsourced products. Then there is the Java stack that powers the e-commerce offering, the entirely outsourced email offering. Oh well, this is Indiatimes after all.

That said, it is a very clean implementation and if you want to make friends with half of the staff at iWorld Gurgaon, this is the place to be at! Product-wise this looks like something that was put together after cobbling together everything they could find on other products. And for those who are wondering about the email part in it, it looks like a re-implementation of the current whitebox email solution provided by Indiatimes.

I guess the thinking is that there are way too many inactive/spam accounts on the main Indiatimes email framework, this could be a clean/fresh start towards having a better user base that can be sold for more to the advertisers. Let us file this one away in the “social media will buy me lunch (dinner and next day’s breakfast too!) department.” (hat tip: Contentsutra).

Written by shyam

April 9, 2008 at 12:38 pm