" /> CTDATA: May 2003 Archives

« April 2003 | Main | June 2003 »

May 29, 2003

Happy 100th Birthday, Bob Hope

Dave Aiello wrote, "I'd feel guilty if I didn't post an article on CTDATA.com recognizing the 100th birthday of Bob Hope. When I think of the number of people who have been entertained by Bob Hope over the years, it makes the impact of the Internet seem small to me. This may be an apples to oranges comparison, but that's up to you to decide."

"Dave Winer of Scripting News pointed out this excellent online exhibit of Bob Hope's life and work, developed by The Library of Congress. I'd like to drive a little more traffic to it if I can."

Choosing Open Source or Commercial Software Based on Practical Usage

Dave Aiello wrote, "Dave Winer pointed out an interesting personal journal entry written by Mark Leighton Fisher on Use Perl. He says that he is agnostic in the Open Source versus commercial software debate as long as the reliability of the commercial software is high enough that he doesn't feel that he needs to have access to the source code to fix the problems that he encounters."

"This is a reasonable approach to a choice between software with no up front license cost and software that must be purchased. The big problem with this analysis is that it can only be made on software that is already in use."

"The examples he uses, Perl for an Open Source software product and eXceed for a commercial software product, are about as different in terms of intended uses as you can get. But, software developers and project managers ought to be able to relate to his examples, and come to their own conclusions about software that they are currently using."

"However, I'd argue that this approach doesn't 'scale well', to the CIO level, for many enterprise-level software choices. For instance, the only way you could choose between MySQL and Sybase using this method would be to allow both to be used in applications of similar value to a company. I can't think of any companies where such an approach would be permitted."

"On the other hand, if a company were willing to engage consultants who had experience with the implementation of both databases, the consultants could render an opinion based on the nature of the custom applications to be built in the future. That's unlikely to happen much in the current economy, although it could result in a good final product choice."

TCO of Software is Not Generally Reflected in License Cost

In an opinion piece published today in Computerworld, Alan McCormack suggests that total cost of ownership of software is less dependent on the cost of licenses than most people think. He writes:

{It} appears that the price of software itself -- whether it's free or not -- is so low relative to the TCO that it may have little impact on the outcome of IT investment decisions for many purchasers. In most cases, the price of software proved to be less than 10% of the total cost of ownership. Where costs do become significant for all types of software is in the level of staffing needed. By staffing, I mean the training, maintenance, support, administration and other personnel costs necessary to run the software package efficiently. These costs can add up to as much as 50% to 70% of a software system's TCO over its useful life.

This piece is short, but worth reading for its valuable summary of the costs of software operation. It makes no effort to estimate the value of any piece of software to an enterprise, which seems an even more difficult thing to establish after reading this article.

Too often, people assume that all software provides the same benefits to users. But specific products and features that are essential to some users will obviously increase a particular software package's value relative to those of other packages. Furthermore, a software platform that provides more applications and choices for users also brings with it a certain, often unmeasured, value. A CIO must therefore examine differences in both cost and value to make an effective investment decision for a software package.

McCormack appears to be a skeptic on the merits of Open Source software, but goes on to admit that the
value of any piece of software can only be determined through application-specific analysis. This is a reasonable conclusion, but a frustrating one because it does not deliver the sweeping conclusion that advocates of Open Source or commercial software often seek.

May 28, 2003

Fear Spreading that Challenge-Response Email Filtering May Wreak Havoc

Recently, large internet service providers have been working on challenge-response systems that ask the sender of an email message to answer some sort of question or interact with a web application before email will be delivered to a protected email address. Many journalists expect that a huge number of disparate systems, all performing the same basic task, will be deployed in the near future.

On CNET News.com, Declan McCollough predicts that challenge-response systems will wreak havoc on list servers and other legitimate forms of communication. According to the article:

Challenge-response systems, ironically, share some characteristics with spam: In small quantities, both are only mildly annoying to the recipient. But as quantities increase, they make it more difficult to use e-mail at all. MailFrontier.net is a good example: It prevents its users from signing up to mailing lists unless the list operator manually intervenes to answer the challenge, a process that is exactly backward.

We agree. As soon as we can, CTDATA will notify subscribers to our websites' headline services that we will unsubscribe anyone whose mailbox automatically challenges email from our sites.

Our users opted into receiving these emails, and it makes no sense for challenge-response systems to invalidate all of the decisions that email users previously made on well designed and well behaved Internet communications systems.

May 22, 2003

The Joys of Remote Computer Access Using VNC

Newsforge carried an article by Russell Pavlicek earlier this week that discussed the features of VNC and the benefits of using it for remote computer access. VNC is an Open Source application that was developed at AT&T Laboratories in Cambridge, England that provides stateless access to the user interfaces on remote computers. In that regard, it is similar to products like pcAnywhere and CarbonCopy.

However, the most interesting aspect of VNC is its support for non-Windows operating systems, including Linux, a number of variants of BSD and the MacOS, as well as legacy operating systems like OS/2 and VMS. VNC is a client/server technology, meaning that supported operating systems can be accessed remotely, or used to control machines running any supported operating system.

This article sums up VNC well. It gives an overview of the technology, mentions a number of variations of the original OpenSource project, and explains the techniques that can be used to make it more secure so that it can be used to access computers via the Internet.

Literal Compliance with Federal Employment Laws Costly for Larger Companies

Earlier today, Slashdot pointed out a Baltimore Sun article that says some employers are fighting to keep track of every resume they receive because U.S. federal law can be construed as requiring this approach at companies with 15 or more employees.

This would be a serious concern for companies who use Monster.com to search for employees with technical skills; It's generally assumed that each company that posts a job requirement on a service like Monster receives hundreds or even thousands of resumes from all over the world.

But, a lot of people we know in the Information Technology industries receive SPAM from companies trying to place H1-B visa candidates. If resumes of this sort are received by people at mid-sized businesses or even larger companies, does anyone really think that they have to be passed on to a Human Resources person and kept on file?

Why do newspapers like The Baltimore Sun wait until the depths of a recession before publishing articles like this? Had we known that laws like these existed, we might have wanted to develop database applications to track job candidates.

May 21, 2003

Microdoc Documents the Lifecycle of a Story in the Blogosphere

Yesterday, Doc Searls pointed out that Microdoc News has done some interesting research into the dynamics of a story that is widely reported in the weblog community. Microdoc analyzed 45 different stories that appeared on several weblogs, and found several different evolutionary patterns. These patterns show the ways that weblogs influence each other.

The degree of influence that weblogs have upon each other is definitely the most interesting feature of the community, from the perspective of many analysts. It is obvious and well documented because the weblog community is entirely on-line, and meaningful statistics can be gathered both by automated means and by human observation.

Influence of one "traditional media outlet" over another is harder to measure in this fashion. It is argued by some media analysts that the national news programs on NBC, ABC, and CBS often broadcast stories that are derived from articles that appeared in The New York Times earlier in the day. But, such conclusions appear anecdotal because the Times puts a lot more of their best current content on the Internet than the broadcast networks. Also, broadcast news sites do not generally link to the New York Times or any other media outlet to show an explicit relationship between their story and what appeared in print elsewhere.

Doc's article points to the Microdoc research piece in the context of a continuing thread on mainstream media complaints about the influence of weblogs on results from search engines like Google. In order to appreciate what he is saying, it may be necessary to go back to several previous stories, including the aricle called "Printwash", where he discusses the possible loss of influence by major print publications like The New York Times because they place recent news stories in archives that are not accessible unless a fee is paid.

May 20, 2003

NY Times Documents Consumer and Small Business Role in SPAM

The New York Times reports that many consumers and small businesses with insecure computers on broadband connections unwittingly serve as relays for SPAMmers. It is somewhat surprising that the Times laid so much of the blame for Internet insecurity on so many users in the North America and Europe, when it's so easy to cite poorly-configured servers in some Asian countries known for lax computer security procedures.

Yet, the Times says that a major part of the open relay problem is caused by the insecure configuration of client-level proxy servers such as AnalogX Proxy. According to the aricle:

AnalogX Proxy, a free proxy-server program that has been downloaded by more than a million people, is automatically in the open state when it is first installed. Mark Thompson, the author of AnalogX, said he had rebuffed the requests of many antispam activists to distribute the software with the security features already activated because doing so would make it harder to set up.

"The biggest plug for the proxy is it is really easy to get it running," he explained. Mr. Thompson said he did try to achieve a compromise by revising the program to give people a warning about security problems every time it starts.

Even so, Wirehub, a Dutch Internet service provider, says that 45,000 of the 150,000 open proxy servers it has identified as sending spam appear to be using AnalogX.

The idea that a Dutch ISP has 150,000 open proxy servers ought to scare people to death. Then again, how many open wireless LANs are there in densely populated areas of the Netherlands?

Open wireless LANs, in the hands of the right people, are just as dangerous as open proxy servers. The big difference is that the abuser needs to be physically near the WLAN access point.

May 15, 2003

Google as a Nationwide Phone Directory

Ever notice that you can find a lot of people's phone number simply by going to Google and typing:

first_name last_name, city, st

Replace "first_name", "last_name", "city", and "st" with the name of the person and their home city and state. I don't know how they do it, but I can find many listed residential phone numbers this way, and some business phone numbers as well. Addresses are generally included with links to MapQuest and Yahoo! Maps.

May 13, 2003

Fortune Magazine Points Out Value of Amazon Marketplace

Fortune had published a feature article on Amazon.com in its May 26 edition called Mighty Amazon. In it, Fred Vogelstein discusses the Amazon Marketplace, part of Amazon where third parties can sell new and used goods, side-by-side with Amazon's own offering. Vogelstein suggests that in spite of fear that it would cannibalize Amazon.com's own sales and hurt future chances for profitablity, Amazon Marketplace has been wildly successful:

Selling partners' used and new goods next to Amazon's own has become a cornerstone of its offerings... Amazon earns about the same profit margins selling on commission as it does selling retail. In addition, the company doesn't have to advertise that its prices are lower, because consumers themselves can now compare prices from Amazon and other vendors....

The other benefit of Amazon's so-called marketplace strategy is that the revenue is almost pure profit. Amazon earns a commission instead of a markup for third-party transactions and incurs no inventory or warehousing costs. Almost 20% of Amazon's unit volume is now sold through others. Another dividend that Bezos counted on: Indirectly sold goods slow the need to add warehouse capacity.

The Amazon Marketplace is clearly a win-win for buyers, sellers, and Amazon. CTDATA participates in the Amazon Marketplace as a buyer and a seller. We have made thousands of dollars selling used books in the Amazon Marketplace.

We have also made purchases that ended up saving us 20 to 50 percent on books and DVDs that we would have purchased in the new market previously. As Jeff Bezos suggested to Fortune, the existence of the Amazon Marketplace has resulted in us buying more products from Amazon.com than we otherwise would.

Fun With Blogshares

Dave Aiello wrote, "I noticed that CTDATA was listed on Blogshares.com, a fantasy stock market for weblogs. So, I joined and claimed the site as mine. As a result, my virtual net worth rose from $500.00 all the way to $786.87."

"In case you hadn't noticed, Blogshares assigns a theoretical value to CTDATA.com of just over $1,400. In times like these, it's nice to know that this site has a positive net worth by some public measure."

"Anyone can join Blogshares and get in on the speculation. I'll try to look at it from time to time, and report back on whether it's added some fun to my life."

Commentary Argues Against Likelyhood of Google Removing Weblog Content from Main Search Results

Dave Aiello wrote, "Doc Searls linked to CTDATA earlier today, in his piece called Enough Already. This takes us, and a number of others, to task for concluding that he believed that there was a possibility that Google would remove content on sites that are considered weblogs from its main search results, and segregate that content into a separate collection. If this were to happen, weblog content would be treated similarly to content that is considered news."

"For the record, Doc was pointing to an article in The Register, a British technology web sites, and commenting on the likelyhood of this actually coming to pass."

"I wrote the article on CTDATA that pointed to Doc's comments. The CTDATA article began:"

Last week, Dave Winer, Doc Searls, and some other A-List Bloggers suggested that Google may separate weblogs from other types of web sites when returning search results....

Dave Aiello continued, "I also put a link to Doc's article in that sentence."

"I'm sorry if I got the nuance of what Doc said wrong. I was simply trying to tie the discussion of a possible change in the way Google handles weblog content to a set of stories that appeared on CTDATA a month or so ago about RSS-specific search engines, and how such things would help the weblog community."

"I also discussed what weblog content segregation would mean to a site like CTDATA.com. I think that this sort of impact analysis might be helpful to people who are trying to understand the implications of such a decision, if Google ever decided to do what The Register article suggested."

May 12, 2003

Some Bloggers Suspect that Google Will Segregate Their Sites

Last week, Dave Winer, Doc Searls, and some other A-List Bloggers suggested that Google may separate weblogs from other types of web sites when returning search results. This would mean that, for all intents and purposes, Google would be creating a weblog-specific search engine, similar to the one that we envisioned in the article The Internet Needs a Search Engine Driven Off RSS Feeds.

This original CTDATA.com article generated a tremendous amount of flow from other weblogs. The developers of Feedster and rssSearch also referred to this article as being critically important to their respective decisions to build their search services.

If Google actually removed weblog content from its general search results, we think it would not have as much of an impact on A-List weblogs as it does on smaller weblogs, like CTDATA. A-List weblogs have, by definition, a critical mass of regular readers. These weblogs have also developed a tendency to link to each other; Many of the authors of the technology-related weblogs know each other and support for each other in a "web-of-trust" sense.

On the other hand, sites like CTDATA get a lot of their traffic from search engines like Google, AllTheWeb, Yahoo!, AOL, and MSN. It's clear from reviewing our referer logs that upwards of 25 percent of our daily traffic comes from casual Internet users using these search tools to locate information about recent news topics that interest them. For examples, look for references to the CTDATA web site in the Google search results for lance armstrong separation, Naudet film, and Trenton post office.

Many of these casual Internet users seem to go to search engines, type a phrase, and follow the search results. These users will probably never look at the results under a "Weblogs" tab, if one existed on Google. Yet, we would not be disappointed if users stopped coming to us for information about Lance Armstrong's marriage. There are many sites that are more informative, if you require such information.

On the other hand, CTDATA.com is both a weblog and the main corporate web site for Chatham Township Data Corporation. As such, we want at least some content from this site to appear in search engines' general results. So, if Google and other search sites segregated weblogs from their general search results, we would probably separate the CTDATA weblog from the CTDATA "brochureware" content.

May 9, 2003

Dave Winer Illustrates Problem of Referer Log Spamming

Over on Scripting News, Dave Winer addressed the issue of referer log spamming, a technique that pornographic web sites have started using to advertise themselves. Referer logs are automatically generated reports of where visitors to web sites are coming from. When referer logs are not abused, they are an indication of where links to a given web site can be found.

Many weblogs now publicize their referer logs, mainly because they can. It helps give third parties an idea of the so-called flow that a web site gets. However, referer logs can be abused because the browser being used volunteers the referer data to the web server, and this is something that can be forged. This is how the pornography sites are manipulating the referer log on scripting.com.

Winer says, "A couple of weeks ago we finally figured out why porn sites add themselves to referer pages on high page-rank sites: to improve their placement in search engines. Last night at dinner Andrew Grumet came up with the solution. In robots.txt specifically tell Googlebot and its relatives to not index the Referers page. Then the spammers won't get the page-rank they seek."

For an illustration of the sort of referer log spam Winer is talking about, check out the middle third of the Scripting News referer's page. But, don't go there if you are offended by slang terms for human genitalia.

Porn sites operators may be evil, but they often leverage web technology in the most subtle and sophisticated ways. They really have analyzed popular web services, such as search engine spiders and SMTP, and figured out how to use them to marginally increase traffic to their sites.

May 8, 2003

Hitting the Reset Button

Dave Aiello wrote, "I've been in a funk this week for a number of reasons. The public ones are that the weather has been bad for a few days here in Central NJ, I had jury duty this week for the first time in my life, I'm waiting to hear the result of a presentation for new business I made several weeks ago, and I'm repricing the part of our experimental used book inventory that remains unsold. This is a deadly combination of boringness."

"The other way you can tell I'm not engaged is that I've posted almost nothing on CTDATA. In most cases, slow periods in the business are when I do my most prolific article posting. Not so this week anyway."

"Today I got tired of waiting for the skies to clear and decided to invent my own Spring Classic: A 27.3 mile (44 km) ride from the World Headquarters in East Windsor, NJ to Rocky Hill, NJ, via The Delaware and Raritan Canal Towpath. I rode the towpath from Washington Road in Princeton to Route 518 and back (see the map). Lots of standing water after a day and a night of intermittent rain."

"This was the kind of ride a recreational cyclist needs to do once in a while, if only to demonstrate that you don't need perfect conditions. It was the kind of ride where you find gritty mud on the inside of your clothes when you get home. Too bad I didn't take a picture of myself."

May 5, 2003

Trip to Zurich Provides Insight into Power of Mobile Phone and Broadband Technologies

Dave Aiello wrote, "A number of CTDATA readers probably already know that I was in Zurich, Switzerland since Thursday visiting my close friends (and two of CTDATA's best customers): Peter Frank and Ramona Morel. While I was there, I had the good fortune to meet Peter's father, Dieter Frank, who was also visiting Zurich at the time."

"This Europe trip was uncharacteristically short, but I achieved a series of firsts on this trip worth noting:"

  1. First trip to Europe with a GSM phone, specifically the Treo 180.

    As far as I am concerned, this trip confirmed the fact that having a GSM-compatible phone is the way to go for American power users. What a delight it was to be on-line immediately upon arrival in Zurich for seamless delivery of calls and SMS.

    Yes, it costs money to roam this way, in much the same way that roaming used to cost in the USA. But, the ability to send text messages to the people at home for a relatively low cost made me feel that I was not that far away.

  2. First trip to Europe with broadband access where I stayed.

    OK, I was there to visit Peter and Ramona, and not to work. But, I did spend an hour and a half on-line via the DSL connection in their home on Friday night. As a result, the disconnectedness many that Americans sometimes feel with limited English-language television in many places in Europe really wasn't an issue for me on this trip.

    In addition to posting a story to CTDATA.com, I was able to resolve a billing issue with AT&T for CTDATA's office in New Jersey via email. All of this took place while I was sitting at Ramona's work desk at her home in Zurich.

Dave Aiello continued, "So, what about the bills? I'm looking forward to seeing the bill from T-Mobile USA that summarizes my roaming charges for the weekend. Although I expect that they will be modest, I probably won't get that information until June."

"Because I stayed with friends, I couldn't beat the price of broadband access if I tried. However, I suspect that broadband access at hotels, where available, is comparable in cost to that in North America. So, if you have the opportunity to stay in Europe where broadband is available, you may be glad you did."

May 1, 2003

Feedback from Scott Johnson on CTDATA Permalink Labeling

Dave Aiello wrote, "Scott Johnson offered some constructive criticism of CTDATA over on his weblog:"

I like CTData but whenever I want to link to something I have to remember that on that blog "Add a Comment" means "Here's the Permalink". Still its a good read.

"Isn't it nice to have readers who tell you what doesn't work well for them? I wish I gave such clear feedback to everyone I do business with."

"We started using Add a Comment... as the permalink text in a carry-over from a corporate knowledge management application that we did prior to 9/11 at a multinational financial services firm. The client wanted their site's readers to be encouraged to provide feedback."

"As we know from a number of stories posted recently on CTDATA, while commenting back to weblog may not be totally passe, it also isn't something that will be dramatically improved by including 'Add a Comment....' On the other hand, as long as we permit comments, we want to let people know that they can post them."

"The right solution probably incorporates both a comment and a permalink indicator. We'll kick this around for a few days, and see if we can come up with something that improves the user experience for everyone. In the meantime, if you have any ideas, feel free to mail me at dave_aiello at ctdata.com."