Oracle Announces Roadmap for Plumtree / AquaLogic / WebCenter

UPDATE 2: I’ve incorporated all the great feedback and comments from ex-Plumtreevians, ex-BEA and ex- and current Oracle folks.

UPDATE: A bunch of Plumtreevians are contributing really good comments on this post over on Facebook.

bea_think_oracleI worked at Plumtree Software, Inc. from June 1998 to December, 9th 2002. In four-and-a-half years, the company grew from 25 employees to over 400 and it had thousands of happy customers before it was purchased by BEA Systems in 2005 for $220M. Here at bdg, we’ve been supporting dozens of Plumtree/AquaLogic Interaction (ALI)/WebCenter Interaction (WCI) customers since we opened our doors in December of 2002.

Back around 2005, BEA’s BID (Business Interaction Division) still had a lot of really smart engineers from Plumtree working on a lot of really interesting things, including Pages (think CMS 2.0), Pathways (kind of an enterprise version of del.icio.us) and Ensemble (the portlet engine/gateway, minus the overhead and UI of the portal itself).

They were also working on an enterprise social network, kind of a Facebook for business if you will.

However, there was a lot of wrangling at BEA, primarily between BID/AquaLogic and BEA’s flagship product, WebLogic (the world-class application server). Most of the strife came in the form of WebLogic Portal vs. AquaLogic/Plumtree Portal nonsense. Senior management at BEA, in their infinite wisdom, had taken a “let’s try not to alienate any customers” policy and in the process they confused all their customers and alienated/frustrated quite a few of them as well. They renamed Plumtree to AquaLogic User Interaction (ALUI), put in place a “separate but equal” policy with WebLogic Portal (WLP) and spewed some nonsense about how WLP was for “transactional portal deployments” vs. ALI for .NET and non-transactional portals, but no one, including BEA management, had any idea WTF that meant. To further confuse the issue, the WLP team, which also had a lot of really smart engineers, built products like “Adrenaline” (which was basically a less-functional and more buggy version of Ensemble) rather than do the unthinkable and integrate Ensemble into WLP so that WLP could finally host non-Java/JSR-168 portlets.

I was really pissed about BEA’s spineless portal strategy, their “separate but equal” policy between WLP and BID/ALUI and their waste of precious engineering resources in an arms race between WLP and ALUI rather than just stepping back, growing a spine, and coming up with a portal strategy.

Because I can’t keep my pie hole shut, I started several loud, messy and public fights with BEA management. Why? Because the real loser here is the customer.

And BEA, because management got mired in politics and chose to waste engineers’ time on in-fighting and competition instead of building enterprise Facebook, which Steve Hamrick and I arguably already wrote in our spare time. All they needed to do was product-ize that and they would have owned that market.

In 2008, Oracle inherited this clusterfuck of a portal strategy when they bought BEA for $7B+, giving me new hope that cooler heads would prevail and fix this mess. The first thing they did was fire all the impotent BEA managers who were afraid to make any decisions. It took Oracle a while, but alas, they have finally arrived at a portal strategy that makes sense. I first learned about this strategy when I crashed the WebCenter Customer Advisory Board last Thursday.

First of all, let me say this: under the leadership of Vince Casarez, current (and future) customers are in good hands.

I realized when he said “everyone still calls it Plumtree” that this was going to be a bullshit-free presentation.

He also said something regarding the “portal stew” at Oracle that puts all of my ranting and raving in perspective: “Oracle did not buy BEA for Plumtree or WLP, just like it didn’t buy SUN for SUN’s portal product.” To rephrase that, Oracle bought BEA for WebLogic (the application server, not the portal) and Sun for their hardware (not for Java, NetBeans and all the rest of Sun’s baggage).

So, let’s face it, portals are a relatively insignificant part of Oracle.

However, they’ve finally did what I called for 2008 and what BEA never had the wits to do: pick a single portal strategy/stack and stick to it. SO, if you’re a current Plumtree/ALUI/WCI or a current WLP customer, you have a future with Oracle.

Here’s the plan, as I understand it.

All roads lead to Web Center (not Web Center Interaction, but Web Center)

At the heart of Web Center will be WebLogic’s app server and portal. Plumtree/ALUI as a code base will be supported, but eventually put into maintenance mode and retired. You get nine or twelve years of support and patches (blah blah blah) but if you want new features, you need to switch to the new Web Center, powered by WLP. CORRECTION: WebCenter will not be “powered by WLP.” At its core will be the Oracle-developed, ADF-based WebCenter Portal running on WebLogic Server.

All the “server products” (Collaboration, Studio, Analytics, Publisher) will be replaced by Web Center Services or Web Center Suite

Publisher will be subsumed by WCM/UCM (Web Content Management / Universal Content Management, formerly Stellent). The other products will be more-or-less covered by similar offerings in Suite or Services.

What about Pages, Ensemble and Pathways?

Pages is dead as WCM/UCM does it better. Pathways is getting rolled into the new Web Center somehow, but I’m not sure how yet. Perhaps I can follow up with another blog post on that. Ensemble has been renamed “Pagelet Producer” — more on that below. CORRECTION: Pathways is now called “Activity Graph” and it will be part of the new WebCenter. Think of an enterprise-class version of the Facebook News Feed crossed with Sales Force chatter and you’ll be on the right track.

What about .NET/SQL Server, IIS and everything else that isn’t Java?

This is a really interesting question and the key question that I think drove a lot of BEA’s failure to make any decision about portal strategy from 2005-2008. Plumtree had a lot of .NET customers and some of the biggest remaining Plumtree/ALUI customers are still running on an all-Microsoft stack. In fact, one of them told me recently that they have half a million named user accounts, two million documents and 72 Windows NT Servers to power their portal deployment.

So, let’s start with the bad news: Oracle doesn’t want you to run .NET/Windows and they REALLY don’t want you to run on SQL Server.

(That will change when Oracle acquires Microsoft, but that’s not gonna happen, at least not any time soon.) WebLogic app server and WLP/WCI, to the best of my knowledge, will not run on SQL Server. They will, however, run on Windows, but I would not recommend that approach.

It’s inevitable that large enterprises will have both .NET and Java systems along with a smattering of other platforms.

So, if you’re a .NET-heavy shop, you’ll need to bite the bullet and have at least one server running JRockit or Sun’s JVM, one of Oracle’s DB’s (Oracle proper or MySQL), WLS/WLP/WCI and preferably Oracle Enterprise Linux, Solaris or some other other flavor of Un*x. CORRECTION: WLP will run on SQL Server. Not sure about the new WebCenter Portal, but my guess is that it does not.

Now, for the good news: the new WCI, powered by WLP and in conjunction with the Pagelet Producer (formerly Ensemble) and the WSRP Producer (formerly the .NET Application Accelerator) will run any and all of your existing portlets, regardless of language or platform.

This was arguably the best feature in Plumtree and it will live on at Oracle.

.NET/WRSP and even MOSS (Sharepoint) Web Parts will run in WebCenter through the WSRP Producer. The Pagelet Producer will run portlets written in ANY language through what is essentially a next generation, backwards-compatible CSP (Content Server Protocol, the superset of HTTP that allows you to get/set preferences, etc. in Plumtree portlets). So, in theory, if you’re still writing your portlets in ASP 1.0 using CSP 1.0 and GSServices.dll, they will run in the new Web Center via the Pagelet Producer. Time for us to update the PHP and Ruby/Rails IDKs? Indeed it is. Let me know if you need that sooner rather than later.

How do I upgrade to the new WebCenter?

Well, first off, you have to wait for it to come out later this fall. Then, you have to start planning for what’s less of an upgrade and more of a migration. Oracle, between engineering and PSO, has promised to provide migration for all the portal metadata (users, communities, pages, portlets, security, etc.) from Plumtree/ALUI/WCI to the new Web Center, with WLP at its heart. (Wouldn’t it have made sense for some of those WLP engineers to start building that migration script in 2005 instead of trying to compete with ALUI by building Adrenaline? Absolutely.) All your Java portlets, if you’re using JSR-168 or JSR-286, will run natively in WLP through a wrapper in WebCenter Portal. Everything else will either run in the WRSP Producer (if it’s .NET) or in the Pagelet Producer (if it’s anything else). The only thing I don’t fully understand yet is how to migrate from Publisher to UCM, but I’m due to speak with Oracle’s PSO about that soon. Please contact me directly if you need to do a migration from Publisher to WCM/UCM that’s too big to do by hand.

The only other unanswered question in my mind is how the new WebCenter will handle AWS/PWS services — the integrations that bring LDAP/AD users and profile information/metadata into Plumtree/ALUI/WCI. I wrote a lot of that code for Plumtree anyway, so if Oracle’s not working on a solution for the new Web Center, perhaps I can help you with that somehow as well. CORRECTION: User and group objects are fully externalized in Web Center, so there is no need for AWS/PWS synchronization. (Thanks, Vince, for pointing that out.)

So, that’s my understanding of the new portal strategy at Oracle.

Kudos to Oracle’s management for listening to their customers, making some really hard decisions and picking a path that I think is smart and achievable.

I’m here to help if you have questions or need help with your portal strategy or technical implementation/migration.

Q&A;

(Some other notes about discussions that have spawned from this original post.)

Q: What’s the future of the Microsoft Exchange portlets (Mail, Calendar and Contacts) and the CWS for crawling Exchange public folders. Retired and replaced with something Beehive related? Still supported? For how long? Against what versions of Exchange?

A: We’ve got updated portlets for Mail & Calendar in WebCenter now for Exchange 2003 & 2007. We don’t have a Contacts portlet but it could be added quickly if we see a large demand. Crawling public folders can be done with an adapter we have for SES [Oracle Secure Enterprise Search] already. We’re working but aren’t done with a new version of KD on top of the new infrastructure that will come out post PS3. (Contributed by Vince Casarez.)

Q: If migration scripts are provided to move WCI metadata into WebCenter, I understand that a portlet is a portlet, but what about pages and communities, users and groups, content sources and crawlers, etc.? Do they all have analogous objects in WebCenter or is there some reasonable mapping to some other objects?

A: Pages and Communities follow a model where we extract/export the meta data and data, then run it through a set of scripts that create a WebCenter Space for each Collab project/community and a JSPx page for every page. Users and Groups will come out of the LDAP/AD directory they are already using and the scripts associate the right permissions to each of the migrated objects. I don’t recall what we did about crawlers but since we use SES directly, all the hundred or more connectors we ship for SES are now available for direct usage. The scripts go through a multiphase approach to move content, then portlets, then pages, then communities so that dependencies can be fixed up versus trying to do a manual fix up. (Contributed by Vince Casarez.)

Q: Will any existing WCI-related products that are slated for retirement (e.g. Publisher, Collab, Studio, Analytics, etc.) be re-released with support for Windows Vista, Windows 7, IE 8, IE 9 or Chrome?

A: For Publisher, we are planning a set of migrations to quickly move them to UCM. For Collab & Studio, we have new capabilities in WebCenter Spaces to match these functions. For Analytics, we’ve also rebuilt it on top of the WebCenter stack with over 50 portlets for the different metrics and made sure we provide apis/ access to the data directly. These analytics data also feeds the activity graph in providing recommendations for people on the content and UIs that are relevant to them. These are tied into the personalization engine that we brought over from the WLP side. So there is a rich blending of the best features from WLP with WCI key features. As for Neo [the codename for the next release of WCI], we are certifying the additional platforms. On the IE 8 front, we’ve just released patches for WCI 10gR3 customers to be able to use IE8 without upgrading to Neo. (Contributed by Vince Casarez.)

On Open Letter to the Java Community

java_oracleIn the wake of the Sun acquisition by Oracle, the much-lambasted Oracle vs. Google lawsuit over Google’s alleged JavaME patent infringement, and the rumblings I’ve been hearing at Oracle Open World / JavaOne / Oracle Develop 2010, I have a message to the Java community:

Quit your bitching and moaning and start doing something productive!

Now that I’ve offended all the Java fanboys/girls out there, let me explain:

  1. Why I’m qualified to give you all one big collective kick in the ass, and
  2. Why this collective ass-kicking is coming from a place of love, not hate.

My first experience with Java was in 1994/95, when Stanford started switching its Computer Science curricula from C/C++ to Java. After struggling with memory management, segmentation faults, horrific concurrency problems and the other ways I kept shooting myself in the foot, Java was a breath of fresh air. My first corporate experience with Java was working as a summer intern for JavaSoft (a former subsidiary of Sun) in 1997 porting Patrick Chan’s Java 1.0 sample applications (remember Hangman?) from JDK 1.0 to JDK 1.1.

I went on to join Plumtree. Originally, they were a Microsoft darling. I helped lead the charge to switch them from COM/DCOM, ASP 1.0 and SQL Server to Java and Oracle.

In 2002, I started a Plumtree-focused consulting firm, helping 50+ customers install, maintain and grow their Plumtree deployments. In all but a precious few of those accounts, I wrote all of the code in Java/JSP.

Since about 2008, we’ve been using Ruby on Rails for most of our software. When Rails hit the scene, I had a similar “breath of fresh air” moment similar to when I first encountered Java.

But this letter is not about Ruby or about Rails; it’s about Java. A language I’ve used since it’s very first iteration in 1994/95 and up to the present day. A language wherein I’ve written at least half a million lines of code, most of which still run in production today inside Plumtree/AquaLogic User Interaction/WebCenter Interaction, at major customer sites in the corporate world and in the federal government.

So, fast-forward to today, this is what I’m hearing about Java, in a nutshell:

  1. Oracle’s going to kill/close-source/fuck up Java
  2. Life’s not fair!
  3. Blah blah blah

Twitter _ Jock Murphy_ @oracle I love Java, I do .All of this bitching and moaning starts right at the top with Java grandfather and CEW (Chief Executive Whiner) James Gosling, who is showing incredibly poor leadership, lousy judgment and massive immaturity with his totally irrelevant, outdated and hateful anti-Oracle bitch-fest.

Twitter _ Marcello de Sales_ Solaris 11 to be contI’ve heard people whining about everything around them that’s not running on Java: mobile applications, web sites, conference tools, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Twitter _ Paweł Szymczykowski_ @dendro Awesome thaI even saw someone complain on Twitter that the Black Eyed Peas, who Oracle paid an undoubtedly handsome sum of money to entertain your sorry asses last night, gave a shoutout to Oracle and not “The Java Community.” Seriously? Give it a rest, folks!

There are lots of choices of development stacks and people are free to choose the one that works best for them.

Embrace that freedom; don’t fight it.

And the word Oracle doesn’t mean “database” anymore. It is an umbrella term that could refer to thousands of different products.

Let’s take a look at some of the advantages of Oracle owning Java.

With respect to OpenWorld, the Java Community got:

  1. Your own conference with around 400 sessions
  2. Your own tent
  3. Your own street closure (Mason Street)
  4. Invited to OTN Night, one of the best parties at OpenWorld

More importantly, with Oracle Corporation, the Java community gets:

  1. Cemented into the infrastructure of nearly all of Oracle’s products, meaning that nearly all of their customers — most of the Fortune 1000 — are now Java shops (if they weren’t already)
  2. Stability, stewardship, thousands of really bright engineers and nearly unlimited resources
  3. One of Corporate America’s most powerful legal teams backing you up
  4. A secure and promising future, including a just-announced roadmap for JDK 7 and 8

And, with all that being said, guess what?

Java is still open source.

Do you know what that means?

Let me answer that question with another question: what brilliant phoenix rose from the ashes of the debacle that was the AOL acquisition of Netscape in 1998?

It was Firefox, a free, open source-based browser that literally revolutionized the massively screwed up browser market and gave the dominant browser (IE 5, and later, IE 6) a true run for its money. From wikipedia:

“When AOL (Netscape’s parent) drastically scaled back its involvement with Mozilla Organization, the Mozilla Foundation was launched on July 15, 2003 to ensure Mozilla could survive without Netscape. AOL assisted in the initial creation of the Mozilla Foundation, transferring hardware and intellectual property to the organization and employing a three-person team for the first three months of its existence to help with the transition and donated $2 million to the foundation over two years.”

IBM’s symbiotic relationship with Eclipse is another great example.

So, dear Java community, to ensure your own survival, please, in the name of Duke, stop complaining and start thinking strategically about how you can “pull a Firefox” here. You’re all brilliant engineers, so start putting all the effort you’re wasting in complaining toward something productive.

I love you all and I love all your passion and energy, but I hate your bitching — use that energy to go save the world, Java style!

Sound Business Advice from Jerry Garcia

Grateful_Dead_-_Jerry_Garcia
Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

Today would have been Jerry Garcia’s 68th birthday. Musically, politically, emotionally and spiritually, he has probably had more of an impact on me than any other human being whom I never knew personally.

As I was perusing YouTube today looking for some footage of him that I hadn’t seen already, I found that he was a pretty sage businessman as well. In his 1982 appearance (with Bob Weir) on The Letterman Show (full video embedded below), David asked him why he allows taping of his live shows when it obviously leads to fewer commercial sales of their official recordings. His response?

The shows are never the same. Ever. And when we’re done with it, they can have it.

Jerry was the not the creative force behind the lyrics of most of the music he played. Of their 420 original songs, only maybe 75 or 80% were truly originals; many others were adaptations of traditional bluegrass, folk or blues songs (in much the same fashion as Led Zeppelin, at least as it pertains to the blues). On the remaining originals, poet/lyricist Robert Hunter wrote the words and Jerry composed the music.

However, Jerry really did have an uncanny efficiency with his words, packing in multiple meanings into short, pithy phrases. In his response to Letterman, he’s really saying (at least) all of the following:

    1. No, it’s not impacting our record sales negatively
    2. The experience of seeing The Dead live is dramatically different each time
    3. I don’t own the music once I have released it from my being; rather, by playing it live, I set it free to be enjoyed by whomever is listening
    4. In many ways, this philosophy actually results in more record sales
    5. No price tag can be assigned to the value of the community of fans that has grown organically around our music and our culture

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zFbjus3X18

These lessons are raft with really important business advice, especially since we’re living in the age of social media. In many ways, Facebook, Twitter, et. al. have created communities that are just like the traveling circus of hippies that followed The Dead (and, later, other jam bands like Phish) on their tours, perhaps without as many drugs nor as much free love nor rock’n’roll and certainly a bit more personal hygiene. Okay, so maybe they’re not really that much alike.

But the sense of belonging to something larger than oneself is the same.

How else can account for the explosive growth of Deadheads, the community around Burning Man and social sites like Facebook?

So, in this age of social media and utter disregard for things like “copyright” and End User License Agreements, how can musicians/bands, restaurant owners and other small businesses still manage to make “good bread” (as they called it in the 60s and 70s) in this age of the internet where everyone feels entitled to get nearly everything — music, software, etc. — for free?

The answer lies in Jerry’s response to Letterman.

Give away as much as you can.

Think of the community around your business as a empty field. It needs to be tilled, seeded, watered and fertilized before you can reap the benefits of the harvest. Giving your products away for free is akin to planting your seeds. Engaging with your online community is akin tending to your crops. Selling your products and services is akin to harvesting your fields and selling the goods at the farmer’s market.

But you can’t get to the farmer’s market if you’re not taking good care of your farm.

I’ve heard this argument before. Someone told me once that consultants should take a page out of the professional chef’s playbook (pardon the mixed metaphor). Take for instance, Hawaiian master chef Roy Yamaguchi, the creative force behind Roy’s restaurants. If you buy his cookbook, you will have nearly all of Roy’s recipes, free for you to make at home any time you want. But will you still eat at his restaurant? You betcha!

So what do you think? How does this apply to your business? Can you think of ways that you could give away the goods and still make money? I’d love to hear stories of how you’ve tried this and it has worked for you (or hasn’t), so please leave a comment if you’d like to share.

Was The Facebook Hacker Story Irresponsible Journalism?

This article originally appeared as a guest post on All Facebook.
 
The media scandal du jour relates to how WikiLeaks leaked all this classified information about the war in Afghanistan, but let’s not overlook this extremely irresponsible piece of reporting that MSNC published earlier this week about an alleged Facebook privacy breach.

Why is it irresponsible? Well, before I break it down for you, let’s take a few journalism lessons from Robert Scoble, who explains why Flipboard (an iPad application that turns RSS feeds into a magazine-like layout) is superior to the one-item-after-another streams of information that we’re used to browsing on the Facebook news feed, Twitter, etc. He writes:

“I remember that early eye tracking research showed that pages that had a single headline that was twice as big as any other headline were more likely to be read. Same for pages with photos. If you put two photos of equal size on the page, it would be looked at less often, or less completely, than a page that had a photo that was at least twice as big as any other.
I won a newspaper design contest in college because of this my designs made sure that they included headlines that were twice as big as any other and photos that were twice as big as any other.”

MSNBC used these exact techniques to spin an oh-so-scary story about an alleged Facebook privacy breach.
lies1(2)This first screen shot is what I could see on an average (15″) monitor “above the fold.” (You can click the image to see it in actual size.) Note the massive font used for the headline and the four tiny images. Keep in mind that some internet users don’t know how to scroll (really, I’m not kidding), so by not showing a broken line of text at the bottom of the page, many people won’t know that the rest of the article is even there, let alone how to get to it.

lies3If you endeavor to read past the headline, you’ll notice that they “end” the story with more scary talk from the alleged “hacker” and hide the final three paragraphs behind this completely absurd “Show More Text” link, which serves no purpose other than to obscure the truth, which is in the final (that’s right, the very last) paragraph of the article:

“No private data is available or has been compromised. Similar to a phone book, this is the information available to enable people to find each other, which is the reason people join Facebook. If someone does not want to be found, we also offer a number of controls to enable people not to appear in search on Facebook, in search engines, or share any information with applications.”

So, if I were to email MSNBC and tell them that I was “a researcher” or “a white-hat hacker” and I had discovered a huge scam — “You see, these conspirators from Yellow Pages have been collecting and amassing all this private data and delivering it to everyone’s doorstep!” — they would think I was completely insane. Well, change “Yellow Pages” to “Facebook” and “delivering it to everyone’s doorstep” to “making available for download” and I think you see my point.

msnSo how did MSN get away with posting this completely absurd story? To understand that, we need to look at their demographic. I went to Alexa.com to find out. As I had guessed, their readers lean toward females of the Baby Boomer generation and up. The same people who don’t know how to change their default settings in their default browser (IE6) on their default operating system (Windows XP) to anything other than MSN.com. Big suprise? No: MSNBC is preying on innocent victims by using psychological tricks to create phobias for things that they don’t understand. And there’s nothing scarier than the fear of the unknown.

bowling-for-columbineThe premise that the media is out to scare us all into staying home and buying more security systems/guns/etc. is not news; Michael Moore built a really compelling case against Big Media’s fear tactics in Bowling for Columbine in 2002. However, an interesting question to ask in 2010 is:

if Big Media is prone to Big Lies and Misinformation, can social media serve as an antidote?

In other words, can investigative reporting by “citizen journalists” help suss the truth out of all the lies?

To help answer the question, I turned to the 875+ comments on the article. To do some highly unscientific semantic analysis, I read a small sample to look for keywords were common in a neutral-to-favorable comment (information, private/privacy, security, people/friends, public) vs. what keywords where prevalent in a highly negative response (wrong, attention, fame, fraud, scam, boring, crap). Then I ran all the comment text through a histogram tool.

histogramUnfortunately, the results of my study show that most comments were favorable by a ratio of over 5:1. However, it all goes back to to the demographic. After glancing at the TechCrunch coverage on this, it seems about 60-70% of the commenters call bullshit, which seems to be in line with a younger, male-dominated, tech-savvy demographic.

So what do you think? Can commenting/voting/Tweeting uncover the truth obscured though it is by the news outlets that report it? Or will we all just continue to propagate the monkey excrement that the mass media keep throwing at us?

Leave a comment to tell us what you think!

Free Breakfast Seminar in Alexandria, VA on 4/9

Join association thought leader Jeff DeCagna, Chris Hopkinson of DC-area startup DubMeNow and Chris Bucchere of The Social Collective for a free breakfast seminar entitled “Strategies for Association Success in the Era of Social Business” on Thursday, 4/9 in Alexandria, VA.

Registration is limited, but there are few spots left. Sign up now!

You Are What You Eat

twittersheepI’ve never really understood the phrase, “You are what you eat.” If it were true, I’d probably be an In-N-Out burger (double double animal style) or something far worse for you and/or better tasting.

Recently, I overheard someone on Twitter saying something to the effect of:

“You are the sum of the five people you hang out with the most.”

My immediate reaction was to disagree vehemently. I’m totally not like that! I’m exactly who I want to be! I don’t subject myself to the influence of others like that! Etc.

Not only am I completely wrong about this, but it may be that — in some strange cosmic way — I’m actually the sum of ALL the people around me, good, bad and everything else under the sun.

Today I discovered TwitterSheep. (No, this has nothing to do with sheep, fraternity rituals or anything else of a sexual nature, I assure you.) TwitterSheep simply looks at your followers and constructs a tag cloud based on keywords in their bios. That’s not really remarkable, but what is remarkable is that when I ran my Twitter account through the application, the resulting tag cloud literally read like my own bio. Seriously. It’s a visual representation of terms that — when you sum them all together — equal me. The largest words are what I do and care about most.

Am I right about this? Are you the sum of your followers?

Try TwitterSheep and let me know how it worked for you!

There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Today Robert Scoble wrote a really interesting and thought-provoking article on his blog about the alleged suspension/removal of Joel Comm’s Facebook account. He draws a parallel to the revocation of Robert’s own Facebook account and makes a good case for Facebook being outta line.

Here’s my response to Robert:

In defense of you, Joel and countless others who have been suspended or removed from Facebook, it certainly doesn’t seem like you’re being treated fairly. It’s hard to imagine that someone with 5,000 confirmed Facebook friends and ten times as many followers on Twitter could be considered a spambot. Generally speaking, online communities, wikis, social networks, etc. have a way of policing themselves; content that other people enjoy gets shared and promoted while spam and other “noise” gets blocked or ignored. Facebook and other social sites would all be best-served by this sort of grassroots self-policing, rather than a top-down approach.

However, there’s a subtle point to which some other readers have alluded in the comments. You wrote, “I don’t support companies that ‘erase’ MY data without my permission.” What you may not realize is that based on Facebook’s TOS, what you think are “your data” actually are not “your data,” not by a long shot, not once you’ve posted them on Facebook.

If you think there are safer or better places than Facebook to put “your data” on the internet, you’re also mistaken. Take a peek at Google’s TOS. In particular, read section 11, where you hand over all rights to “your” content to them (except basic copyright, which you automatically have any time you produce an original work and put your name on it). You’re basically giving Google a free license to use your content — even for their own commercial gain!

Everyone knows that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. In return for providing “free” distribution of “your” content, companies like Facebook, Google and the likes are creating massive databases of incredibly valuable “information capital.” This in turn allows them to offer you a “free” service while they sell this information capital — the stuff you gave them, remember? — to advertisers. That pays their bills, which in turn allows them to continue to give you “free” content distribution.

Average people (who upload videos of dogs on skateboards, etc. to Facebook) don’t care about data ownership and are perfectly happy to hand the rights to their content over to Facebook or Google it order to share it more easily with their friends. Average people — however — aren’t one man media outlets, either, but YOU are. So, being an internet/social media mogul, I’m sure you understand that content distribution isn’t free.

The solution? Host your content yourself! People like you and Joel have the resources to pay for your own hosting AND you have loyal audiences that will follow you wherever you go. You can leverage social media to help the viral spread of your content, but the obvious goal of your participation in social media and social networking should be to drive eyeballs/click-throughs back to YOUR site so people can view YOUR content, ensuring that YOUR advertisers get bang for their buck.

It really all boils down to two old sayings: there’s no such thing as a free lunch and you get what you pay for. Want to pay for your own hosting and distribution? Then you can own your own content. Want to get free distribution from Facebook or Google? Then be prepared to give them something in return.

Middleware for the REST of us

bea_think_oracleI’m sitting in my third Oracle Fusion Middleware briefing, this one at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC. Thomas Kurian has been going through all the products in the Oracle stack in excruciating detail.

First let me say this: Thomas Kurian is a really smart guy. He holds an BS in EE from Princeton summa cum laude (that’s Latin for really fucking good). He holds an MBA from the Stanford GSB. He’s been working for Oracle forever and he even knows how to pronounce Fuego (FWAY-go). I’m dutifully impressed.

Unfortunately, all those academic credentials and 10+ years in the industry is barely the minimum requirement for getting your head around the middleware space. Either I don’t have enough (0) letters after my name, or I just don’t get it.

For starters, there are way too many products — the middleware space is filled with “ceremonious complexity” (to quote Neal Ford). App servers, data services layers, service buses, web service producers and consumers — even portals, content management and collaboration has been sucked into this space. Don’t get me wrong: the goals of the stack are admirable — middleware tries to glue together all the heterogeneous, fragmented systems in the enterprise. Everyone knows that most enterprises are a mess of disparate systems and they need this glue to provide unified user experiences that hide the complexity of these systems from the people who have to use them. That makes the world a better place for everybody.

That was also, not coincidentally, one of Plumtree’s founding principles and the concept — integrating enterprise systems to improve the user experience — has guided my career since I got my lowly undergraduate degree in Computer Science from Stanford in 1998.

So, it’s a good concept, however, if you’re considering middleware because you’re trying to clean up the mess that your enterprise has become, you need to ask yourself the following fundamental question:

Does middleware add to or subtract from the overall complexity of your enterprise?

Your enterprise is already insanely complicated. You’ve got Java, .NET, perhaps Sharepoint, maybe an enterprise ERP system like SAP and say, an enterprise open source CRM system like SugarCRM or a hosted service like SalesForce.com. The bleeding edge IT folks and even (god forbid) people outside of IT are installing wikis written in PHP (e.g. MediaWiki) along with collaborative software like Basecamp written in Ruby on Rails. I’m not even going to mention all the green-screen mainframe apps still lurking in the enterprise — wait, I just did. This veritable cornucopia of systems just scratches the surface of what exists at many large — and even some mid-to-small-sized companies — today.

So clearly there’s a widespread problem. But what’s the solution?

At the end of his impressive presentation, I asked Thomas the following question:

“How can middleware from Oracle/BEA help you make sense of the fragmented, heterogeneous enterprise when you have existing collaborative (web 2.0) technologies written in PHP, Ruby on Rails, etc. running rampant throughout IT and beyond?”

(Okay, so I wasn’t exactly that pithy, but it was something close to that.)

His Aladdin-esque answer came in the form of three choices:

    1. “Take control of” and “centralize” your IT systems by replacing everything with Oracle Web Center spaces
    2. Ditto by migrating everything to UCM (Stellant)
    3. Build a services framework and aggregate everything in one of four ways:
        1. Use a Java transaction layer (JSR 227)
        2. Use a portlet spec like JSR 168 or WSRP
        3. Build RESTful web services
        4. Use the WebPart adapter for Sharepoint

      I like to call answers one and two “The SAP Approach.” In other words, we’re SAP, we’re German, wir geben nicht einen Scheiße about your existing enterprise software, you’re now going to do it the SAP way (or the highway).

Will companies buy into that? Some companies may. Many will not. ERP is a well understood space, so this approach has worked for SAP. Enterprise 2.0 is not terribly well understood, so that means even more diversity in the enterprise software milieu.

So the only approach that I believe in is #3: integrate. Choose the right tool for the right problem, e.g. the WebPart adapter if you’re using Sharepoint. Use REST when appropriate, e.g. when you need a lightweight way to send some JSON or XML across the wire between nonstandard or homegrown apps. Use JSR 168/286 for your Java applications. Even use SOAP if the backend application already supports it.

Keep things loosely coupled so that you can plug different components in and out as needed.

This requires a lot of development — the glue — but, I don’t think there’s any way around that. (You should take that with a grain of salt, because my company has been supplying the government and the commercial world with exactly that kind of development expertise since 2002.)

As for the overarching, user facing “experience” or “interaction” product — that’s where I’ve always used Plumtree (or AquaLogic Interaction).

Will I start using Web Center Spaces? At this point, I’m still not sure.

If it can be used as the topmost bit of the architectural stack to absorb and surface all the enterprise 2.0 software that my customers are running, then perhaps. If it’s going to replace all the enterprise software that my customers are running, then no way José.

This conundrum really opens up a new market for enterprise software: I call it “Middleware for the REST of us” or MMM (not M&M, 3M or M3, because they’re already taken): “Mid-Market Middleware” — similar to the way 37signals approaches (with a great deal of hubris and a solid dose of arrogance) the “Fortune Five Million” by marketing their products toward the whole long-tail of small and medium-sized companies. Maybe the world needs a RESTful piece of hardware that just aggregates web services and spits out a nice UI, kind of like the “Plumtree in a Box” idea that Michael Young (former Plumtree Chief Architect, now Chief Architect at RedFin) had back in the last millennium.

Oracle Web Center Spaces might be the right choice for some very large enterprises, but what about the REST of us?

How the New Facebook Utterly Destroyed my Favorite Application (and Why That Makes Me Sad)

I used to love Feedheads. It’s a simple, elegant and beautiful application that does one thing really well: help you share your Google reader shared items.

Unfortunately, the “new” Facebook has rendered the application utterly useless and I can’t think of a good way, as an end-user, to fix it. In fact, as someone who’s built two facebook apps, I can’t even think of a way that the Feedheads developers can fix it. What a calamity.

So here’s the problem: the News Feed (and the Mini Feed) introduced an option that allows end-users to set the story “size.” When a Google shared item story comes through Feedheads now, it defaults to the “one line” size and as a result, it doesn’t say anything other than “Chris posted an item to Feedheads.”

Thank you very much, Facebook. That piece of information is completely useless. People who are reading your feed need to click through into the Feedheads application in order to see what story you posted — and the whole point of Feedheads is to help you share your shared items, not make them harder to find.

(As a result of all this, Facebook also broke one of my applications, called WhyI. It has < 200 users, so very few people care, but . . . the point of the app was to help people ask themselves and their friends questions that have to be answered in five words or fewer. And of course, the questions and answers would show up in the Mini Feed and News Feed. But not anymore! Now it just says: “Chris posted a new mini-update using WhyI.” Again, a totally useless piece of information. Drats.)

As an end-user, I can set the “size” of each feed item. So that means, after I hit Shift-S in Google Reader — which doesn’t take much effort — I have to wait for the story to be published in Facebook and then, if I remember (which at this point is unlikely), I have to go into that little drop down on the right and set the size to “small” instead of the default, which is “one line.” And here’s the best part: I can’t tell Facebook to remember this, so I have to do it every time.

All this just to share a shared item on Google Reader through Feedheads . . . ick.

Here’s the best part. I just noticed that Facebook added their own feature to the new and “improved” news feed. You can import your shared items from Google Reader! And, not surprisingly, the news feed actually shows the stories’ titles. In other words, Facebook took a great application — Feedheads — and replaced the functionality with their own feature; in the process, they rendered Feedheads useless.

This makes me sad. I only have one thing to say:

Wow, Facebook, how very Microsoft of you.