Free & Open Is Its Own Lock-in

A decade ago, one of the very first places I found that offering free websites gave everyone access to the same images directory. You could upload your own images, but then everyone else could use them as well.

Goofy, questionable, but free.

I’ve been hosting with Joyent for more than 3 years, purchased 3 different ‘lifetime’ accounts from them. I’ve played around with a hundred website ideas on those accounts, comfortable knowing I can do whatever I need to explore an idea.

Whatever the app; Rails, PHP, MySQL, Facebook, some other crazy technology sounds cool, I know Joyent’s servers are up for it.

At this point, a year after my last ‘lifetime’ purchase, I consider those accounts ‘free’.
Free, as in: I’ve got a crazy idea and some server space, let’s see if this thing has legs.

I suspect Joyent considers them free as well.
Free, as in: Here’s the pricing on our Accelerators when you figure out your idea has legs.
Not free as in: Sharecropping.

“If you’re developing software for the Windows platform, yes. Or for the Apple platform, or the Oracle platform, or the SAP platform, or, well, any platform that is owned and operated by a company. They own the ground you’re building on, and if they decide they don’t like you, or they can do something better with the ground, you’re toast. ” – Tim Bray, 2003

“Perhaps Google is thinking about acquisitions. How much would it be worth to buy companies without having to transition their technology to their platform?” – Dave Winer

“Try to leave App Engine. Or AWS. When you move can you install Bigtable? S3?” – David Young

From its very first iteration, was running on one of my ‘free’ servers. Late last year, I moved it to another, bigger, ‘free’ server. A couple months ago, ‘free’ didn’t cut it any more. The idea had legs and needed room to run. I opened my wallet and and purchased a 1GiB Accelerator.

While I briefly considered moving the app to a different host, I realized Joyent has me locked-in.

Not locked into their platform, but locked into their attitude. Locked into their community, and locked in because I know I can experiment for ‘free’ and when those experiments work, they sold another Accelerator.

Web 2.Over: Google Buys FeedBurner

Consistent with my hypothesis that Google is a social gesture company, they bought FeedBurner (a company finally reaching its only exit strategy, Thank god).

Four Predictions:

  • Six Apart now pulls auto-FeedBurning from TypePad blogs due to conflict of interest.
  • Google incorporates FeedBurners metrics into Google Analytics and sends the rest of FeedBurner to play with Dodgeball.
  • More than half of FeedBurner’s current customer-base will wonder why the hell they even used the service.
  • The downturn is in full effect


“Google is Buying FeedBurner this is pure Evil!” – Todd Cochrane

“For all of FeedBurner’s success, monetizing the feeds has been a struggle. The inventory they manage always seems to grow so much faster than the advertising they sell….FeedBurner fits like a glove into the Google advertising system, adding feeds to the growing number of places an advertiser can reach audiences through the AdWords system.” – Fred Wilson

The Difference Between Yahoo & Google

From my perspective, sorting out the acquisitions of Yahoo and Google is pretty straight-forward.

Yahoo (list of Yahoo acquisitions) has always been about building a directory. ‘Tags’ are just another way to create a directory. From that perspective, purchasing HotJobs (directory of jobs), Flickr (directory of photos), Upcoming (directory of events), (directory of web pages), even WebJay (directory of music) makes total sense.

Google (list of Google acquisitions) has always been about measuring social gestures. Thinking about the purchase of Urchin & Measure Map (gestures within a site), Dodgeball & Jaiku (gestures within a place), Adscape (gestures within a video game), YouTube (gestures within video) from that perspective also makes total sense.

UPDATE 2 Aug 2007:
In other words, Yahoo is the class roster and Google is the yearbook.

UPDATE 9 Oct 2007:
Word is that Google just acquired Jaiku. Wondering if it will find the same fate as Dodgeball (acquired and forgotten about) or if Google has a plan to integrate the two services.

The Lack of Intention Economy

“Since the clicks will likely look legitimate, it comes down to intent – did the user click the ad just to click it, or did they have a genuine interest in the advertisement? It’s not so easy to tell…”

Mark Cuban dissects click fraud. The quote above is from the comments following Mark’s post. Good stuff. Reminds me of an interesting bit about Google’s AdSense program. If what they owe an ad publisher less than $10, Google sits on the money. Since the long tail is shaped like a spatula, there’s potentially millions of not quite $10s sitting safely a Google bank account somewhere.

Same goes for Netflix. More than a certain number of DVD shipments per month, and a customer starts to be a liability. Putting faith in customers to sit on a disc for a week or so at a time and it’s no problem. Subscriptions continue to roll in, independent of discs returned.

What if all the click fraud (robots clicking ads) and all the helping-a-friend clicking went away and conversion dropped below 1/10 of 1%?

Seems ad creators have a vested interest in not exposing click fraud – if only to say their ads are “working”.