The Pebble and the Avalanche

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Current Revolutions in Business and Technology

by Dr. Moshe Yudkowsky,

author of The Pebble and The Avalanche: How Taking Things Apart Creates Revolutions


Mon, 2010-Nov-22, 12:17

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eReaders for the Android Phone

I've just spent a couple of days working in eBook readers for my Android phone. I've tried Moon Reader, Aldiko, FBReader, Wordaholic, WordPlayer, and perhaps one or two more I've already forgotten.

None of them, possibly with the exception of FBReader, seems to automatically import eBooks that are just placed directly onto the Android phone. They want you to fiddle around to import the books; some readers come from companies that quite explicity expect you to purchase books from their online stores.

I'm going to give FBReader another chance since it did manage to read my directory file automatically this time. Maybe I'll have better luck with it. Other readers were more polished, but I don't need the headache.

As for what all this means, the lowest common denominator in this foodfight is the format of the eBook itself, and the winning format is "epub." The web site that offer books for free download seem to be standardized. Other than that, I'm not certain what's happening other than a mad scramble for revenue.

I will say the the free, open-source, user-supported software "Calibre" to manage your eBook library works just as advertised. And when you push it to its limits, like I did, the developer will step in to support you. Give it a whirl.

Fri, 2006-Nov-17, 09:21

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Amazon's Other Business

Amazon, the famous online bookstore, now offers a completely different set of services, ones that are geared not towards book buyers but towards Web developers. Amazon took its expertise in building large-scale reliable services for the World Wide Web and packaged it — amazingly affordably — for other people to use.

Let's say, for example, that I've developed a new online business that requires highly-accessible and reliable storage space. I can build a storage system myself, but that can be expensive and poses a huge barrier to entry. Amazon lowers that barrier — that's one of their stated design goals, to lower barriers to entry — by providing high-speed highly-reliable storage for rent. At a price of $0.10/gigabyte stored per month, and $0.20/gigabyte transferred per month, as an aspiring entrepreneur I can try something out to see if it's feasible without a huge up-front cost.

Or let's say I need a stack of 100 computers to test something, or perhaps I need this stack to run a web service. If I purchase these computers I must not only spend a few hundred dollars or more apiece, but I must also find an air-conditioned office with reliable Internet access, lots of electrical power, and a sercurity guard. Amazon will provide me with a single "virtual" computer, accessible online, for $0.10/hour. That stack of 100 computers would only cost $10/hour to run — testing a service or keeping it online becomes dirt cheap.

Amazon provides these services and more, including what they call "artificial artificial intelligence," a topic for a different day. Amazon has done an amazing job of disaggregating their business to resell some of their expertise, and even better they've done it in a way that has already jump-started dozens of new Web businesses.

Mon, 2006-Jul-24, 07:43

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Democracy TV

The "Democracy TV" project combines several different technologies, ones that are disaggregated components of other projects — RSS, BitTorrent, podcasts, and more — into one slick interface.

In the best tradition of the Internet, not only is it free and open-source, it lets anyone create their own Internet-based TV studio.

Thu, 2006-Jun-29, 08:05

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Technical Article: Software Components

Occasionally, when discussing disaggregation, I'll be asked if there's more to disaggregation than standards. An interesting article discusses software as a component and brings up an important point, the distinction between standards and disaggregation:

One of the things I find interesting about the difference between open source components and the traditional kind of component framework is that, of course, there isn't that notion of a well-defined standard in the open source world. There isn't one way of specifying interfaces and one way of instantiating components. Open source is much more flexible and fluid than that.

Having standards is nice in that they force everything down the same path, so you need to learn only one way of doing things. But, as you say, it can sometimes be complex. What do you think about the value of the rigidity of the standards in the interface specifications that are typically associated with components?

Certainly I cover standards in detail in the book, but it was nice to see a discussion from the perspective of someone who manages huge software projects. Standards are often nice, and they're often based on disaggregation, but they aren't a panacea and sometimes introduce more problems than they solve. After all, the whole point of most standards is that they themselves cannot be disaggregated...