Thursday, August 16, 2007

iPhone, Safari, Mobile Apps, and mobile carriers.

Apple did it! Hosted mobile applications on the iPhone are powerful and useful. We've long desired a useful browser on a mobile device, but no-one has pulled it off; until now. I've been involved in many efforts to wedge a full-blown browser onto tiny solid-state devices; from AOL's Gamera project to Mozilla's minimo, but in each one of those situations tried to solve the problem by stripping down the browser to get it to fit into some horribly restrictive hardware and operating system environment. We constantly wrestled between that approach, and the "just get the hardware and operating system to look like a PC" approach; tens of millions of dollars were spent chasing the former; the wrong one.

Now I'm sure Safari has been cobbled a bit to get onto the iPhone, but for all intents and purposes it's the same as the desktop version (great CSS, JS, XML support; note, Safari is still hindered by lacking native stylesheet translation though; bizarre). This allows the end user to finally have a true web browsing experience on a small mobile device.

Apple's API for iPhone web development allows for native OS look and feel applications to be run on the iPhone via Safari. This is a great thing for end users and web app developers. It's also a joyous occasion now that the carriers have been circumvented. For years they've crippled mobile application development for selfish control reasons; finally there's an option that pulls it all together, all the while on a major US mobile carrier (ATT).

A special thanks goes out to ATT for looking the other way (purposefully or inadvertently; I don't care which it was :-) ) when it came to holding the archaic line of mobile application control. Apple and ATT broke the mold, and we'll owe it all to them five years from now when pressure has caused the other carriers and handset manufacturers to get on board.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Complexity and web document delivery.

On the drive home from picking up our kids from my parent's house tonight, I recalled an exercise we went through at AOL a year-and-a-half ago or so. We were in the midst of an SEO fire-drill to ensure our dynamically generated web content was as crawlable and indexible as it could be. Someone asked the obviously question: "how many pages/documents do we have?" It took about three weeks to come up with an estimate that could be reasonably explained and believed; give or take roughly 100 million documents, AOL had approximately 500 million pages it could potentially respond to an HTTP request with.

While that number, whatever it actually was, has changed dramatically over the past 1.5 years, its an interesting one. In the world of highly dynamic content, the number of pages that can be served is effectively infinite. That poses some interesting scaling problems (caching "dynamic" content for example) as well as product problems (users don't want to interact with randomly generated content when they're trying to find something from a productivity standpoint (stumpleupon is entertainment for the most part)).

Drawing the line between what should be expected contextual structure (the header at the top of a Google search results page for example) and variable content is an artform.

I'm rambling... I just thought it was interesting to compare/contrast those 100 million document level product/technical challenges with Me.dium's website (relatively small). Designing a tight, compelling, intuitive product is a fascinating challenge no matter what the size.

Smaller is better!

We used the release of the new aluminum body iMac's from Apple as an excuse to finally get rid of our previous generation 24" iMac. We secretly (eventually not so secretly) hated it all along and I'm so glad to be getting the new smaller 20" iMac.

To be clear, we really liked everything about the 24" with the exception of it having a 24" screen. Staring at a 24" screen at close range is like sitting at the front row in a movie theater; you have to crane/rotate your head to see the various parts of the screen that you want to pay attention to.

I should disclose that we have the 24" iMac sitting on a narrow depth desk (24" deep) which means our heads are closer to the screen that most home setups.

I can't wait until our new 20" arrives.

As a side-note, I would have loved to have bought my new machine from the cool Apple Store at 20th Street in Boulder (keep'in it local), but they only sell standard configurations at Apple stores, and I always need to make some kind of hardware configuration change (usually more memory) on the machines I buy; annoying.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Me.dium Map Web Widget is here!

Check-out the Me.dium widget at the top-right-hand corner of my blog! Now you can see the activity and people around my blog. I've been wanting to post this on my blog for a long time; it's finally here!

You can get your own by signing up at