Some of my more careful readers may have noticed that I haven’t exactly been posting up a storm lately, and that’s because I have been having waaaay too much fun offline — touring around PEI with the family, relaxing by the shores of Bay Fortune, which looks like this:
As plenty of others are reporting elsewhere, the New York Times has launched the public version of its MyTimes customizable home page, which has been in beta for almost a year now. I tried it out when it first launched and I confess my reaction was very similar to some of the other responses out there — in other words, the new offering has some not bad features, but nothing that’s going to alter the fabric of the Web or cause the earth to stop rotating.
I think one of the most interesting features is the ability to check out — and add the RSS feeds for — some of the sites that New York Times reporters and columnists like to go to. I confess I haven’t really spent much time on the site since I checked it out initially, but the last time I looked they hadn’t done much apart from letting you add feeds from NYT writers and add tabs specific to each of your favourite authors.
My friend Mike Masnick at Techdirt isn’t very impressed with the site, and I share his lack of enthusiasm. While it’s not a bad offering, I wonder why the Times bothered with MyTimes when there are others offering much the same features. I assume they’re hoping faithful readers will gravitate to the site because of their love for the brand, but I’m not sure that’s true. If I were them, I would have spent a bit more time trying to make it unique.
As Mike Arrington points out at TechCrunch, Zoho has launched offline support for its Zoho Writer application (although it’s read-only for now) using Google Gears — which is more than a little ironic, considering Google still hasn’t offered the same functionality for Google Docs.
But while that irony makes for a funny post, does it really amount to anything from a competitive point of view? I’m not so sure it does. Implementing Gears support for Google Docs would probably take about half an hour of programming time — and in all likelihood requires little more than a piece of script to be turned on.
There’s no question that having offline support is a key feature, and Zoho should be congratulated for offering it. But Is being first enough to give it any kind of compelling advantage over Google Docs? Unlikely.
At last, the folks at Skype have provided us with a half-decent explanation of what happened when the peer-to-peer telephone service went dark for almost two full days last week. Unfortunately for Skype, it’s not a very favourable one. The company does its best to blame the service outage on Microsoft, saying the disruption was triggered by a massive wave of restarts by users whose computers had downloaded routine updates from Microsoft:
“The disruption was triggered by a massive restart of our usersâ€™ computers across the globe within a very short timeframe as they re-booted after receiving a routine set of patches through Windows Update. The high number of restarts affected Skypeâ€™s network resources.”
But the real culprit seems to be the company’s own software, which handles the provisioning of services across millions of individual PCs. Apparently the simultaneous restarts led to a wave of login requests and that — combined with a flaw in Skype’s network-management software — caused the failure:
“This caused a flood of log-in requests, which, combined with the lack of peer-to-peer network resources, prompted a chain reaction that had a critical impact.
Normally Skypeâ€™s peer-to-peer network has an inbuilt ability to self-heal, however, this event revealed a previously unseen software bug within the network resource allocation algorithm which prevented the self-healing function from working quickly.”
The chief technology officer of SightSpeed argues that the event Skype experienced shows the flaws in its P2P network structure. Instead of relying on its own servers, Skype’s network uses some of its users’ individual PCs as “SuperNodes” to handle the traffic flow of data. The loss of any significant number of those SuperNodes, he argues, can cause a substantial disruption.
It should be noted that SightSpeed — which uses a P2P network structure with central servers instead of SuperNodes — is a competitor of Skype’s, and is offering any disgruntled Skype users a special trial of its premium services. And as one commenter on the post notes, SightSpeed’s model is also far from immune to outages, and arguably less robust because it depends on the company’s servers alone to handle traffic.
Nevertheless, the outage has no doubt caused more than one Skype user to wonder about the network that the service is based on. There is a comment <a href="http://gigaom.com/2007/08/16/skype-groans-sipphone-gains/#comment-456134“>on one of Om Malik’s posts that appears to be from someone with knowledge of the Skype SuperNode problem.
An editorial about Google in the Los Angeles Times has caused quite a kerfuffle (or perhaps a brouhaha) in the blogosphere — in part because the editorial said that for some newspapers, the search engine and its Google News aggregator are as bad as Osama bin Laden.
Robert Niles of the Online Journalism Review says the paper “lit its credibility on fire” with that statement, and insulted its readers with a misunderstanding of how Google News operates and what the benefits are for online journalism. Jeff Jarvis says — and I would agree — that the editorial seems to be mocking newspapers that see Google as Osama.
In any case, there does seem to be a tone of righteous indignation to the editorial, at the idea that someone like Google could be so bold as to claim that a feature of theirs — in this case, the ability to add comments to a Google News story — might help to improve journalism. And that is where I think the LA Times misses the boat.
As my friend Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 points out, journalism is no longer (if it ever was) a thing that is crafted and polished and then delivered to newspaper readers for their enlightenment every morning. It is something that develops over time — a continuous process, and media outlets are only part of that process now.
I think smart newspapers know that, and are trying to make their readers, their community, and those affected by news events a part of that process. The not-so-smart ones are making fun of Google and hoping it goes away.