Doing More With Less… Reddit

The last of my blog posts on the patterns of web 2.0 will focus on the idea of doing more with less or more concisely using lightweight models & cost-effective scalability in order to build a scalable, cost-effective strategy encompassing business models, development models, and technology to deliver products to market faster and cheaper without sacrificing future growth (Watson, 2011). Web 2.0 has enabled this new trend in online business by offering a number of facets:

  • The decreasing price of hardware, bandwidth, and software
  • Open source, easy to access software
  • Companies have learnt from the dot com bust in the late 90s
  • The success of word of mouth and the viral marketing in todays online world
  • Agile development models (Google Offers Example)
One example of a company who has followed this approach in order to build a successful business for its self is Reddit:

Reddit is a social news website that was launched back in 2005, the main function of the website is to allow users (know as redditors, on the site)  to submit links to content they have found on the web, these can range from virtually anything, users are also able to submit posts that contain their own thoughts and opinions. The rest of the Reddit online community is then able to vote the posts up or down with the most successful links gaining prominence by reaching the front page. Reddit also attempts to organise the topics of the posts by placing them into communities (called subreddits on the site) – Although to date there are over 67,000 communities  to view, which just seems a tad excessive in my opinion.

Reddit wasn’t the first web site to create this social news phenomenon, but it has been successfully in steadily increasing its user base. One of its rivals Digg has recently seen the number of visitors to its site drop, with many users of Digg moving over to the rival Reddit. Why is this? Many believe its due to Digg’s change in online software, which turned many users away – further proving how importnat it is to get online web applications right, even if they are free.

Site Visits To Reddit & its biggest competitor Digg

In the early part of this year, the former co-founder of Reddit – Alexis Ohanian wrote a blog post discussing why he believes Reddit has become so successful. Redit now attracts over 1 million page views a month and is currently listed as a top 100 website. According to Alexis Ohanian the success of Reddit is down to three things:

  1. The Software: Reddit’s commenters operate in a system that quickly promotes the good and hides the bad… making the news stream extremely efficient.
  2. Enpowered Users: News thats curated by the readers, not editors… sounds very web 2.0 right?!
  3. Nurtured community: Listening to its users.
Its no coincidence then that Reddit also seems to compare favourably to Tim O’Reillys web 2.0 pattern definition – lightweight models & cost-effective scalability. Below are some other facets of the pattern that i believe increases Reddit’s success.
  • Scale Pricing & Revenue Models: Reddit has a number of membership models ranging from the free account to a month subscription based appraoch. While the site also sells advertising opportunities like many other web 2.0 ventures.
  • Scales fast: Despite becoming a top 100 website and buying up more storage space, Reddit still only employees 4 engineers to maintain its 48TB of disk memory and 44.4 trillion bytes of data.

How does the future look for Reddit? Reddit’s ability to be agile and be cost effective in scaling has lead it to be successful and while its competitors are laying workers off, Reddit continues to grow and will do for the foreseeable future – although how it will react to the webs ever changing environment will determine if its successful or become just another Digg.

Further Reading:

Reddit Overtakes Digg

Reddit Grows 230%

Wikipedia – Reddit

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The Long Tail

Without a doubt the web has changed the way we shop, and as Australian retailers start to respond and react to the realisation that consumers can get a better choice and often a more competitive price by turning to the web.  One of the driving forces behind this is a theory called “Leveraging the Long Tale”, the term was coined by editor of Wired magazine Chris Anderson in 2004. But what does it mean?

The theory of the Long Tail is that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of “hits” (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail. Chris Anderson (2004)

The "Head" represents the most popular products - the mass market items. The "Tail" sells far fewer units but the total number of niches make it significant.

But why is this so prominent on the world wide web? The reason is with no shelf space to pay for and, no manufacturing costs and hardly any distribution fees, a “miss” sold is just another sale, with the same margins as a “hit”. From a website point of view a “hit” and a “miss” are both just entries in a database called up on demand, both equally worthy of being carried. As a result there are no longer a need to lump products together in order to make money, suddenly popularity no longer has a monopoly on profitability. To emphasize this point, below are some Longtail Facts:

  • The average Barnes & Noble carries 130,000 titles. Yet more than half of Amazon’s book sales come from outside its top 130,000.
  • The average Blockbuster carries fewer than 3,000 DVDs. Yet a fifth of Netflix rentals are outside its top 3,000 titles.
  • Rhapsody streams more songs each month beyond its top 10,000 than it does its top 10,000.
One example of a company “leveraging the long tail” is Audible, who sell digital audiobooks, radio and TV programs, and audio versions of magazines and newspapers. In early 2008 Audible was brought by Amazon.com and  the subsidiary currently enjoys a near-monopoly in the commercial online digital download market for audiobooks. Just like Amazon, Audible offers  85,000 titles by more than 1200 different providers, amounting to over 1,000,000 hours of audio programming. But how does Audible stack up against Anderson’s definition above and O’Reilly’s extended definition of what Web 2.0 is? Below is an evaluation of Audible against some of the best practices in order to “Leverage the Long Tail”:
  • Build on the driving forces of the Long Tail: With Amazon being one of the most prominent long tail retailers on the web, Audible.com follows there lead by offering a broader range of services (in there case audiobooks), these range from popular best-sellers and more specific niche market books, by doing this they open there market base up and attract a greater range of customers.
  • Use algorithmic data management to match supply and demand: Having been brought by Amazon, Audible.com uses the same successful pioneered algorithm to help customers find products of a similar interest and boost add-on sales.
  • Use an architecture of participation to match supply and demand: Audible uses product reviews and popularity rankings in order to provide users with and customers with insight into the “wisdom of crowds”. From my perspective, I rarely buy anything without Googling or reading the customer reviews, so having the website provide them for me certainly helps my purchasing habits.
  • Leverage customer self-service to cost effectively reach the entire web: Audible.com does a great job of this by providing the files but its up to the customer to choose the file format they require and place it onto the device. The customer can also maintain there account and access previously downloaded content from there home page. Audible.com has also created its own app, as a way for its customer to access its service above the level of a single device (another Web 2.0 facet).
  • Leverage the low-cost advantages of being online: Audible.com has been able to take advantage of being online by automating many of the process, the service allows the user to click to download (on demand), allowing them to have the content almost immediately.

Audible Top Sellers, With Reviews

Audible.com clearly found a niche in the market place and thus  been brought by Amazon.com. One of the quotes found on the about page seems to some up the market they have created for themselves: “I love to read, but I don’t have time to sit down and do it. Rather than give up on reading, I have gone the audio route! “. Combining the niche with the ability to leverage the long tail has enabled Audible.com to become the dominate force in Audiobooks.

Further Reading:

Longtail Blog

Wired Magazine [Oct 04] – The Long Tail

Dropbox… A Software Above The Level Of A Single Device

As Web 2.0 becomes more and more ingrained into our every day lives, theres a growing need for our information and documents to be available on any device we use throughout the day. According to Web 2.0 expert Tim O’Reilly the emergence of web 2.0 has enabled users to know longer be limited to a PC platform. O’Reilly goes on to say how web 2.0 has enabled this device flexibility and despite it not being a new phenomenon its more of a realisation of the true potential of the web platform, and how you should design your application from the get-go to integrate services across handheld devices, PCs, and internet services.

Mobile Cloud Computing

As for myself, i could use my MacBook, iPhone, a Windows Desktop or an iPad at any point on any given day. One way i try to keep all my information together is via Dropbox. Dropbox for those of you who are not familiar with it is a Web-based file hosting service – A Cloud Service. The idea is simple – you save files such as documents, photos, or videos to a folder on your computer – Mac or PC – and the files automatically sync to any other computer or mobile device you use – you can also share any folder with a friend. It was started in 2007 and has since grown to 25 Million users, whats even more impressive is the fact that Dropbox reported 4 million users in January of 2010 and 1 million users in April 2009, thats a substantial increase in users – and a clear sign that Web 2.0 and Cloud computing is becoming part of mainstream culture.

Dropbox - Device Flexible

But more importantly Dropbox is a prime example of a “Software Above The Level Of A Single Device” is succeeding in today’s web driven environment. Dropbox is currently offered on 7 different devices (Mac, Windows, Linux, Android, Blackberry, iPhone and iPad), by developing the software to work on an abundant number of devices, not only does it open up the number of possible users but also allows users to access there data anywhere by virtually any means. According to Watson (2011), in order for these pieces of software to be successful on a magnitude of devices they often have a number of key characteristics in common, below is these characteristics and how Dropbox echoes them.

  • Design from the start to share data across devices, servers and networks: Dropbox was designed to work within a web browser or via the official app, as smart-phones have hit the mass market Dropbox grew and has develpoped device specific applications. And there not stoping there – according to a recent press release: “Next up, it will be TVs, cameras and even automobiles”, said Drew Houston, CEO and co-founder of Dropbox. “It’ll be everything with an on switch,” Houston said. “Literally, anyone with an Internet computer or phone can find Dropbox useful. That’s really all walks of life.” (Drew Houston – Dropbox’s Chief Executive, 2011)
  • Extend Web 2.0 to devices: Dropbox not only has a standalone app on all aforementioned platforms, but also has a fully working website for computers and mobile devices, allowing users to get hold of their data from even more devices.
  • Use the power of the server to make the devices smarter: With very little storage space provided on modern phones, Dropbox and its servers have enabled users to carry around their information and data without taking up precious space on there phone. Furthermore from a desktop standpoint, the service has enabled users to get rid of those pesky flash pen drives that often get lost or damaged.
  • Leverage devices as data and rice media sources: One of the features Dropbox pushes the most is how the service can enabled mobile devices to data-capture sources for photos, videos, audio, and text and how easy these are too share with friends and family. This was mentioned during the recent press release: “The company is working on a lot more in the photo space, and today released a new version of its iPhone/iPad app that enables people to mass upload photos to Dropbox. In the future, finding a way to sync and manage photos among a variety of photo services from iPhoto to Picasa seems a natural next step.” (Drew Houston – Dropbox’s Chief Executive, 2011)
  • Work around limitations in input and display: With such a wide variety of offerings on numerous devices, Dropbox has considered the different hardware limitaions of each device and  applied extra effort on interaction design to optimize customers ability to use your service.
  • Enable data location independence: Dropbox’s killer feature as your all aware by now is its ability to allow users to seamlessly keep data synchronized across a magnitude of devices and allows users the opportunity to have accesses to their information 24 hours a day.
Dropbox is an exceptionally example of how “Software Above The Level Of A Single Device”  can work if done correctly. Creating a piece of software that is not device or OS specific will enable uses to make use of the huge array of devices on the market, while also allowing users the ability to manage, share and maintain data from anywhere.

Rich User Experiences

Being a Mac user for a number of years now, i have rather become expectant of applications providing me with a rich user experience that satisfies not only the functional requirements (eg: Word Processing, photo editing or music management), but i also expect a level of aesthetics via the graphical user interfaces.  This attention by the software manufactures to a rich user experience is becoming more and more apparent in a browser based application. Typically a web application is considered to have a path of page based interaces that are often associated with slow click and wait interactions(Watson, 2011), this is changing and its all thanks to the growing emergence of Web 2.0.

According to O’Reilly one of the key patterns of web 2.0 is a rich user experience, the idea is that users like my self want a aestichally pleasing GUI-style application experience so why not bring a web based applications with rich user interfaces and PC-equivalent interactivity. One of the first applications to do this was Google’s Gmail service, this didn’t occur according to O’Reilly until 2004 when Google launched there Gmail webmail service – more on this later.

One of the main reasons towards this shift was the emergence of the next wave of coding platforms such as AJAX, which have allowed for the creation of these rich user applications. But when i first heard the term all i thought of was Ajax of Amsterdam Football Club, so below is a small summary of what the platform is, for those who are not aware.

AJAX (or Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) is a group of related coding methods that can be combined to create client-sided web applications. By using AJAX to create such pages the website can be fast and dynamic, this means that the web pages are updated asynchronously by the exchanging of small amounts of data with the client sided server. This results in the updating of  parts of a web page, without reloading the whole page, while classic web pages are typically required to be reloaded in order for content to change. This ability to change data without having to reload the page is similar to the impression the user gets from using a desktop application and thus allowing for the emergence of GUI-styled web applications, one such application as mentioned earlier is Gmail:

Gmail as most of you are aware is the tech giants free webmail, its allows users to do almost everything that a stand alone application such as Outlook or Mail does but it is based within a web browser. There are a number of features to Google’s Gmail application that make it a great example of providing the user with a rich user experience, below is a summary of what these user face patterns are and how Gmail meets them:

  • Combine the best of desktop & online experiences: the Gmail service not only offers a desktop style interactivity but also a fast performance with no visual page reloads. While doing this it is able to provide a access to any device at any time, anywhere… something the web is exceptional at.
  • Usability and simplicity first: Google strive on making there application simple and easy to use. and they have done the same with the Gmail interface, it meets all of Nielson’s heuristic design approaches for the web as well as providing the user with a common interface that is the same as its desktop alternative.
  • Matching the technology to to the usage requirements: Gmail is able to provide users to ability to access there email from a huge range of opertaing systems, platforms, devices and broswers, by using the correct coding techniques… in there case AJAX.
  • Search over Structure: Just like you would expect with a desktop equivalent a web application of any magnitude should have a search facility to speed up data retrieval…. luckily Google are the pioneers of online searching so as you would expect Gmail features a fully fledged Google Search, that makes finding those old emails a breeze.
  • Adaptive Personalization: Just like a desktop and most desktop software, Gmail provides the user with a vast range of personalization options ranging from; backgrounds, themes, signatures and many more. This gives the user a feeling of ownership, just like a personal computer of desktop app.

As the Gmail example has shown using web-based software no longer means sacrificing the quality of the user experience and as a result  the power of data-rich, collaborative, networked applications are coming closer to their full potential as a result users can expect a more compelling user experience with over featured software becoming a thing of the past. Furthermore web applications provide the option for greater collaboration (another web 2.0 pattern) between peers and a reduce in the need to have a single machine that can perform a task.  Finally web applications that utilise a rich user experience can not only expect a migration of new users but also provide a higher user satisfaction and competitive advantage as many of these services are free and never require updating and outlaying of further funds, even when extra features are added to the service.

Despite this want to move to the web, a growing trend is to actually make these apps seem like a desktop application, for example there are now a large number of site specific browsers that even provide the webiste with an icon in your dock and a direct link to the web application. Personally i havent used this for Gmail but i have a Fluid “Facebook” broswer that allows me to contain my “Facebooking” to one application. This trend can be seen in two ways:

  1. People arnt quite ready to let go of there desktop yet, or
  2. The move is already made and they want to gain access to the service faster.

In my opinion with the emergence of HTML 5 and the continuation of other web based presentation code, dynamic websites are only gonna continue to grow and the transition from a desktop interface model to an online model will inevitable continue. What do you guys think?

Links:

Web 2.0 Patterns

Gmail Interface

AJAX – W3 Schools

Innovation in Assembly…. Google Maps

Google Maps is a web mapping service provided by tech giant Google, it provides many map-based services, including the Google Maps website and many of the our day-to-day websites and applications, over 350,00 infact. Google offers the service, called an API (application programming interface) to developers to use free of charge as long as its not for commercial use. 

Firstly what is an API, according to Wikipedia:  its a particular set of rules and specifications that a software program can follow to access and make use of the services and resources provided by another particular software program that implements that API. Secondly why would Google hand the keys over to there software to complete strangers? To answer that question its important to understand one of the key patterns of Web 2.0 according to O’Reilly, who states that “Innovation is in Assembly”, in laymen’s terms this means when commodity components are abundant, you can create value simply by assembling them in novel or effective ways… Like online maps. This approach to snap on services allowing  companies the ability to beat there competition by  harnessing and integrating services provided by others. Google as you would expect is making money on this service just like there world renowned search engine. They do this in two main ways:

  1. Sell ad space on the service. This is done in two different ways: 1) using Google’s acclaimed AdSense engine that places advertising that is related to the topic the user has searched for whether that is in a search engine or a geographical location. Option 2) was introduced in 2010 and allows companies to pay Google to have their brand logos inserted into the map as part of the icons. 
  2. The second way Google Maps makes money is buying selling the service  to enterprises who pay for the rights to use the Google Maps API behind protected logins and intranets (which is currently against the free terms of service).

But its clear that Google Maps didn’t just succeed just because it was making the Californian based company money, the application successful met some of the best practices in application statergy, as outlined by Watson (2011):

  1. Google offered API’s for its service
  2. Google Maps has exceptional design by remixability (flexibility), this was actually stumbled upon my Google who found that there map service that was being created at the time was being hacked and in-fact made into a mashup. Google changed their business model… and the rest is history i guess.
  3. Google included developer support (tutorials), and allowed for analytics of there map service, this ensured that they followed the API best practices theory for uptake.
  4. Google Maps used/uses already existing standards meaning devlopers could use the tool without learning a new coding language.
  5. Google managed to build its business model (AdSense) into the API.
  6. Google is Google Maps biggest customer – be your own customer

As mentioned at the start of the blog, Google Maps API is used around the world in hundreds of thousands of applications and websites, you would almost use it everyday, and thats what makes API’s and Google’s one in particular so usable is it flexibility.

Further Reading:

Google Maps Mashups

How Google Makes Money

Googles Business Philosophy

O’Reilly – Web 2.0