Michael Lant

Software Archictecture, Development, Agile Methods and the Intersection of People Process and Technology

Project Management, Social Media, Software Development, Technology

Hello World

My first ever blog post

Hello World Image

Why is the title of my first post “Hello World“? If you’ve ever done any sort of software development, you would likely already know the answer to that question. For those have have not, the explanation is pretty simple. When initiating a software project, a developer will often create an artifact that displays text in the UI of the application – be it a web page, a desktop application, or even a mobile app. The text most often chosen is “Hello World” as it symbolizes that the software creation has inhaled its first virtual breath in its world of zeros and ones. I have to confess that I have at times felt a touch of Frankensteinian glee as I witnessed my creation come to life. This first post is the same. It is the first breath of life of my first blog.

There is much that is different from this creation than what I have historically done to create software. What is most different, is that I didn’t write a single line of code. All I have done is acquire space on a server in the cloud, install WordPress, sift through the thousands of blog templates, find a few Plugins, configure everything, and then begin making content. Sounds pretty unremarkable doesn’t it. Well, from one perspective it is, but from two other perspectives, it is pretty remarkable.

Remarkable Perspective Number One: I was able to create what appears to be a bespoke web based application with significant functionality, and present it to the world without having to write a single line of code. A decade ago, this would’ve been impossible (or sufficiently impractical to be considered impossible). Anyone under 25 years of age might shrug their shoulders and say “so what?”. From their perspective, it would be a non-event. Having witnessed the progression of technology and the web in particular, this is an example of how much we have advanced with technology, and and how what a decade ago would have been revolutionary, is now commonplace. In 1995, people were just starting to move off of AOL and Compuserve (remember dialup and 14.4KB modems) and onto the web. An article in Newsweek on Feb. 27 of that year even predicted that the Internet would fail. My youngest daughter Cleo turns 15 this summer. She has never known a world without the Internet. Several months ago, she asked me what sort of content was on the Internet when I was growing up. She simply couldn’t believe that I had grown up in a world where the Internet did not exist. Her next question was what kind of computer did I have when I was a kid; you can guess the answer to that question. Her response to all of this was an incredulous “How in the world did you cope?!”

If you look back through history, it is easy to see the major technological advances that defined important eras of eras of civilization: Stone Age, Bronze Age, language, writing, mathematics, the crossbow, gunpowder, the printing press, steam power, automobiles, aviation, atmoic power, space travel, computers, Internet, mobile phones… There are many more, but what is interesting to me is both the increasing pace of innovation, and how with corresponding increasing rapidity, it changes the world around us, and our expectations of our world. Where in the past, major innovation took millennia to occur, it now takes less than a generation or even a few years, and the pace continues to accelerate.

Remarkable Perspective Number Two: Everything I used to create this blog site, with the exception of the web hosting was free. At about $5 per month, the hosting is almost free. Again going back a decade, a static site with the functionality available through WordPress would have easily cost me $40K to have someone build – or build it myself. The ability to create and modify content as I am doing to write this blog post would have escalated the cost substantially – but it is all available for free. This is remarkable in three ways.

  1. The cost of delivery of web based content continues to drop in a Moore’s Law equivalent. Costs for bandwidth and storage space in particular have on a per bit metric become so inexpensive that they are impossible measure. This has resulted in a staggering shift from a world where capacity (bandwidth and storage) represented significant cost components for the provision of service to the world whereas today they are almost free. To be fair, the person in charge of acquiring the endless racks of blade servers and network storage devices will claim (and rightly so) that it is all actually very expensive. The difference now, however, is that on a bit level, it is now too cheap to measure, and the cost continues to decline.
  2. Delivery costs have been driven extraordinarily low, bandwidth has expanded, and the Internet is now ubiquitous. New economic models are now evolving that challenge our notions of commerce – how can a company make money by giving away their core product? The answer is that they do, and they make lots of money while they are at it. Consider Google and Facebook who both give away their core product offerings. Combined, these two companies have a market cap of nearly $500B. In 2008, Google made more profit than all of America’s car companies and Airlines combined. The first lines of code for Facebook were written in January 2004 by college student Mark Zuckerberg. In Sept. 2006, Facebook became open to anyone over the age of 13 with a valid e-mail address. Zuckerberg who remains the CEO is now 25 years old and is worth approximately $1.5B. Other highly successful companies using similar models where the core offering is free include: Yahoo, LinkedIn, Flickr, Twitter, Skype, MySpace, Red Hat Linux, MySQL, WordPress, Adobe (Acrobat Reader and Flash Player), AVG Antivirus – there are many more… This model clearly doesn’t work with tangible goods like cars, clothing and homes, but where the offering is software, the distribution and hosting costs have become so low that new models of business have evolved and continue to evolve. These new models are presenting significant challenges to many established companies.
  3. The low cost of delivery and the new economic models it has spawned have changed the expectations of an entire generation. The new expectation is that digital content should be free. In much the same way that my daughter Cleo can’t imagine a world without the Internet, neither can she imagine an Internet world where most software companies charge for their products or services. Where there is a cost,she expect it to be very small – $0.99 for a song or $2.99 for an app for her iPhone.  Unfortunately this notion of free extends for some people into the world of copyrighted materials such as music. To be certain – artists must be compensated for their work, but the free culture continues to subvert many of the models where there is an attempt to levy a charge for copyrighted content. There is no easy answer to this issue, and it is causing massive upheaval in the music and film industries. A recent article in Reuters stated that the cost of pirated music and films could cost one million jobs in Europe alone by 2015. EMI is now facing bankruptcy, and illegal downloading is a significant part of their troubles. In an ironic twist, EMI themselves are being accused by the bands Pink Floyd and King Crimson for unpaid royalties and of authorizing illegal downloads from other download sites. To date no one has come up with a good solution to any of this. The key point, however, is that expectations of cost for any content that can be delivered electronically have changed dramatically, and new models of doing business such as Freemium are now evolving. The ever declining cost of delivery of digital content and services is reshaping our world, our models of commerce and our culture.

Remarkable depends on the lens through which we view things – perspective is everything. What is remarkable to me, may be unremarkable to my daughter Cleo. What is remarkable to her (life without her iPhone and the Internet) may be unremarkable to me. We are from different generations. I am a creator of technology and content, and she is a consumer of it. We both think of, and use technology differently. Understanding different perspectives helps us create better technology. With all of this as a backdrop, I will in future posts speak primarily about technology, but will also speak about it within the context of its two primary cultures (creator and user). I apologize in advance because at times I may descend into the geeky, arcane bits and bytes that make up digital technology. I will, however, try to make my posts as readable as possible.

So with all of this in mind: “Hello World”

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