July 8, 2007

Creating a RESTful API Detailed Case Study

Posted in api, Development, Software, Web2.0 at 9:48 pm by mj

Joe Gregorio posted a great example of designing a RESTful API, and the brief ensuing discussion is instructive, too. (Yes, it’s a few weeks old.)

He walks through the steps of extracting the nouns, mapping the verbs, ensuring correctness and reliability, and generating and validating tickets to provide a RESTful API for a moderately complex situation.

It looks like development tools are finally catching up, such that it’s much easier to rely on HTTP verbs and response codes than it was even a year ago. From my limited experience, though, it seems there are still some gaps, and thus obstacles. If you have experience in this area, drop me a line.

December 2, 2006

Page Views are Dead. Long Live Page Views.

Posted in Advertising, Software, Web2.0 at 9:59 pm by mj

Steve Rubel says the page view metric will be dead in four years.

The page view does not offer a suitable way to measure the next generation of web sites. These sites will be built with Ajax, Flash and other interactive technologies that allow the user to conduct affairs all within a single web page – like Gmail or the Google Reader. This eliminates the need to click from one page to another. The widgetization of the web will only accelerate this.

It should be obvious to anybody that page views aren’t the best metric to judge the effectiveness of a web site, for either “normal” or advertising purposes.

Still, I think a lot more is being made out of “AJAXification” than is warranted.

Take a typical Webshots photo page. Now click on the next photo.

Are you telling me that if we decided tomorrow to replace that link with some AJAXy goodness, that it suddenly constitutes “user interaction” and not a “page view”?

Some sites already refresh ads on every user click. Pandora refreshes the whole skin. In their case, it really is a sign of user interaction, since the only options you have are play, pause, skip, thumb, etc. There’s no reason it can’t–or won’t–be extended to other web applications.

Really, page views are becoming a special case of ad impression/resource viewing. And ideally, tomorrow’s pageview metric + tomorrow’s clickthru metric == today’s pageview metric. Essentially the same thing, just the user’s eyeballs might be in a different place and ad placements might have to change.

These kinds of “interactive” technologies, by the way, make it easier to judge the context of an ad view. For example, you can easily tell what the previous ad was (or every ad displayed during a given session on a given page), or where on the page the user’s attention is, etc., which can influence the next ad. No need for difficult-to-scale server-side record keeping.

And I reiterate that I am no advertising expert, and I’m sure different metrics are better at judging effectiveness depending on your particular campaign or product.

August 5, 2006

Shel Israel interviews Martin Green on Communities

Posted in Community, Web2.0 at 12:20 am by mj

Shel Israel recently interviewed CNET’s Martin Green. (Disclaimer: Martin is my boss three-levels removed.)

Some of what he says about Webshots is tipping his hand at the Webshots redesign, currently in beta, and all of it is stuff he’s been saying internally for a long time.

From the interview:

People in a community are there to share. Blog services don’t provide an audience – the blogger does. If I post on my blog about a restaurant I went to, you, my friend Mike, my wife and a few other people will read it – that’s it.
Communities provide a stage and audience as well as the production equipment. Most blog tools only provide the equipment. And a community gives you the ability to be an performer or be part of the audience at different times within a social framework that has some familiarity from day to day.

Martin is a smart, charismatic guy whose acquisition strategy seems to be to find small (employee-wise) companies that he’s passionate about, make the founders wealthy, and scale them up to size at their own natural pace. He’s part of the reason I still work for Webshots–he Gets It(sm), maybe more than I do, and certainly for a lot longer.

I’ve seen a number of his internal presentations and had some good conversations with him, so I was happy when he started blogging. I hope he’ll start sharing some of his cute metaphors and spiffy illustrations.

On the subject of communities, it will be interesting to see how Microformats and cross-site identity bridgers like PeopleAggregator mix this up in the coming years. These and other innovations will essentially provide the same set of services of a good community site–even walled gardens will find them essential for, if nothing else, search engine referrals–but will be more prone to errors and spam, and the information accessible via APIs will likely be broad, but shallow.

Why is that important? Because basic social networking features are becoming a commodity. A 14 year-old high school freshman can, with the aid of his dad’s credit card, create a core “Web 2.0” site, complete with rich profiles, tagging, comments, APIs, and Flash (or AJAX–your choice). The real meat is in the scale–dealing with the publishing and conversing and browsing histories of tens or, soon, hundreds of millions of users. What’s even better: analysing all of that information to provide a personalized, relevant experience for every one of your members, and requiring as little work as possible from them. To do that, you need to plow the depths of those histories, and not just skim the surface looking for stale, decaying remains.

All the major players–and CNET is no different, if a bit smaller and less ambitious–are aggregating these smaller, specific, authentic communities via acquisition. Can community-like aggregators and vertical search engines based around microformats compete with those incentives? If there’s enough money in it, maybe.

May 14, 2006

Finally, a good definition for “Web 2.0”

Posted in Business, Web2.0 at 9:08 pm by mj

In Tim O’Reilly’s UC Berkely Commencement Speech, he finally provided the best definition for what “Web 2.0” stands for:

[T]he users of successful internet applications supply their intelligence. A true Web 2.0 application is one that gets better the more people use it. Google gets smarter every time someone makes a link on the web. Google gets smarter every time someone makes a search. It gets smarter every time someone clicks on an ad. And it immediately acts on that information to improve the experience for everyone else.

It’s for this reason that I argue that the real heart of Web 2.0 is harnessing collective intelligence.

He goes on to include Amazon and Ebay–two companies usually not associated with “Web 2.0” because they don’t have all the right technological buzzwords–in this class of true “Web 2.0” companies, because they get better the more people use them. Well done.

After all this time, we have a believable definition: something we can stand behind, something to motivate our actions beyond today’s buzzwords. A definition like this, if it caught on, might just motivate every employee of every company. Because, if the products you’re working on aren’t harnessing the intelligence of its customers and members, sooner or later you’re going to start asking “Why not?” (Which is much more powerful than, “Hey boss, why aren’t we using AJAX?”)

Another important characteristic of “Web 2.0” companies, says O’Reilly, is the nature of branding:

The users not only provide the content, they provide the marketing. These sites have become hugely popular without spending a nickel on advertising, because they rely on word of mouth.

Why is this more important than your average teenager wearing a Gap-branded tee, or a Nike-branded shoe? Because they’re not saying, “Ooh! Ooh! This company is cool!” or “Look at me! I’m a cool kid now!” It’s more akin to an arcade that always has the latest games that nobody else in town has. Except that arcades are escapist, and aren’t going to help you score higher, perform better, know more, or be a better friend. Nor will you be able to hawk your wares, or demonstrate your strengths, or leverage a business opportunity.

So how do you harness the collective intelligence of your users? Technology (pattern recognition) and marketplaces.

O’Reilly concludes with the “dream big” mantra typical of commencement speeches, but, in this case, it’s well-founded and utterly motivational.