Startups, failure, and AWS

(I’m copying this from a long Facebook comment because I think it is worth a blog post, and I don’t really want to make a habit of giving FB only my valuable thoughts.  Because you know how valuable my thoughts are.)

A friend of mine pointed to this article on the failure of the photo startup Everpix.  He said he thought the failure could have been at least partly addressed by reducing their use of Amazon’s AWS. I’m not sure this is the case. From what I can see, AWS is priced very, very reasonably. For example, when I priced out Linode vs AWS, AWS was a lot cheaper and more flexible. And could replace my current colocated server at a fraction of the cost using Linode.  I’m working on moving my colocated server to AWS..

Further, bandwidth for this photo hosting on the scale they would need isn’t cheap. Using AWS they can get smaller amounts of bandwidth at a very cheap price and scale up to larger amounts quickly and easily.

Finally, AWS lets them avoid the overhead of all the negotiating that they would have to do to replace each of those services.

Instead, I would like to see a desktop version of the software that would let users use their algorithm to find those important pictures faster. And then, they could have a standalone Everpix appliance at home that would take eliminate all the bandwidth and storage costs that Everpix was incurring to run the service.

I would say what killed them was the insistence on running a web-based service without trying to use any network effects (at least, I haven’t seen anyone do anything like “Here’s a list of pictures I took on this day during the last 2-3 years, according to Everpix”).

They were in the web mindset and incurred the web’s costs for hosting and bandwidth without taking advantage of any network effects. It would have worked just as well as a desktop-only application and ended up being cheaper for them.

Robots are job creators

File:Toyota_Robot_at_Toyota_Kaikan.jpgI was catching up on my reading this morning when I saw (via Patrick’s “Jobs worth doing” post) a Gizmodo article about things that computers are doing now, notably sports writing and filling out perscriptions.

These two cases aren’t terribly frightening: filling perscriptions is clearly something that should be automated to reduce the number of potentially fatal errors. And, as the article points out, most sports readers aren’t looking for great prose — they just want the highlights.

Now comes the question: What happens when computers take my job. Some people, (like this commentor) will see this as a good thing:

Tax the robotic factory well enough to give the unemployed decent wages for doing “nothing”. If you work you get paid very well. If you choose to go surfing every day and live off of the state you get a nice check to cover your living expenses.

I’m just as lazy as the next person — probably lazier — so I definitely see the attraction for being paid to surf. But I also think that humans are extremely creative and love to be challenged.

That, and I’m prejudiced: I’ve never been surfing. It could be that surfing poses new challenges every day. It would certainly challenge me if I were to try it.

And this, too, is why I’m not too concerned about a computer taking my job. If it takes my job, I’ll figure out something else to do. It may not pay as well, and I may end up hunting for feral cats to feed my family, but we’ll get by.

The idea of getting robot-run factories to just support people whose job has been “taken” by a computer job doesn’t seem reasonable (or scalable), though. In fact, it would probably serve to stifle creativity.

And it is here that my faith in people’s ability to creatively cope comes into play. When faced with elimination people have risen to meet the challenge. Which is not to say that everything will be fine and no one will suffer. Suffering is a given. Those of us who are suffering will probably use a lot of energy — all of it, sometimes — to deal with the suffering. But those of us on the edge see suffering and it motivates us to come up with new solutions, ways to escape the suffering.

Which is to say, those robots taking your jobs are (indirectly, at least) job creators

More Nostalgia

The great thing about keeping a journal, or a blog, is that you can find out how different you were X years ago.  I just found a post from 10 years ago. So then the question: How different am I? Not too much.  I’m no longer a full time sysadmin, but I still follow most of my discoveries made at the time, or try to. Oh, and the difference between keeping a public blog for 10 years and keeping a private journal for 10 years?  If you were smart enough about it, you didn’t write anything 10 years ago that you’re ashamed to read today. I remember discussing package formats three years after that was written with the former release manager for RedHat.  He was probably helping to create RPMs as I dissed it.

If you’re seeing this …

Then you’re reading my new WordPress (WP) based journal.  As a tool that is focused on helping people publish journals (or , to use the common neologism, “blogs”), it is, in many ways superior to the LiveJournal (LJ) software I was using.  There are some social aspects missing, but that is to be expected, I suppose: LJ was built around a community and WP was built for publishing a single person’s weblog.  WP grew to be more, but its focus has always been on the individual rather than the community. But the main thing that kept OpenWeblog up and running was my dislike of PHP.  As a user of LJ software, I could maintain the website in Perl.  As time went by, however, and my use of PHP increased — I switched from primarily Perl jobs to PHP jobs — I became more pragmatic.  And I discovered something about the primary community I was a part of. The LJ community is made up mostly of people writing.  Which is great, but I am primarily a technologist, not a writer.  I enjoy tweaking the inner workings of the software more than interacting with people about what movies they watched or what their current obsession is. So while the LJ community is visible, the developer community for LJ is harder to find.  There are some developer communities (the best is probably DreamWidth), but, truth be told, I was mostly interested in writing my own journal and didn’t have time or inclination to keep up with the mess of running my own OW server. So, now I’m back to the simple pain: running my own mail server and a few PHP apps.  I know this pain; it is comfortable pain;  I can handle it. And this gives me more time to devote to MediaWiki and Bugmeistering!

End of Life for OpenWeblog

I just sent an email to everyone who has ever signed up on, letting them know that I’m turning off the lights at the end of the month. That gives everyone two weeks to get their stuff relocated. I’ll be moving my own weblog to a WordPress installation. In a sense, this is a sign of my own impeding middle age. As I approach 40, I’m realizing how many things I’ve committed my time to, and how much each of those things is giving me in return. Some, like OpenWeblog, never came anywhere close to their potential. I’m excited by the things that weblogging and the LiveJournal platform make possible, but, unfortunately, that excitement didn’t translate into the work needed to actually making OpenWeblog meet that potential. And the truth is, my new position as Wikimedia’s Bugmeister is helping me fulfill a lot the potential I saw in OpenWeblog, but Bugmeistering takes a real commitment of my time and energy. That time and energy is beginning to provide real dividends that piddling with OpenWeblog is never going to meet. So, goodbye Openweblog. I’ll miss you, but not too much.