It’s Still A Stupid Idea

Let’s call it what it is, “stupid”.  Mass adoption of a stupid idea does not in anyway alter the intellectual value of that idea.  It’s still stupid.

For me when confronted by a populist idea – I remember an anonymous quote I heard years ago; “if 250 million people have a bad idea… it’s still a bad idea.”

Regardless of how many people think a thought, you shouldn’t make it yours because it’s popular.  That’s not what freedom of thought is about.  If the news media says it, if your mother says it, if your brother says it, if your employer says it… no matter who says it. If you are the last one in the world that believes it’s still a stupid idea – then it’s still a stupid idea.

To adopt any idea because it’s what the majority of people want – is horrific. I fear the day that I use this as a key criteria for making any decision.  The more popular a thought is, the more I worry that I am making the wrong decision. It scares me to go in any popular direction.

After all, “because everybody is doing it” is the sort of thinking that leads to drinking cool-aid, joining cults, putting bumper stickers on cars supporting whatever seems popular without even knowing the real agenda; it’s peer pressure for adults, populism, surrendering of ideals and surrendering thoughts.  

As for me, I am proud to go the other way.  I am proud to think on my own two halves of my brain.  I not only question authority, I expect answers.  I want to understand why it is so.  And if an idea wants my support, I want to make sure it’s not stupid.

So I suggest that because everyone else thinks it’s so – it doesn’t mean that it is a good idea.

In today’s age there seem to be daily polls on just about every major topic in the news cycle; and what purpose do they serve? If everyone thinks you should be shot, does it make it a good idea? Of course it’s absurd.  If everyone thinks your house should be burned down and you should be put in prison, does that make it a good idea?  Absurd as well.  If everyone thinks that you should pay 90% in taxes, does that make it a good idea? No, it certainly does not.  

What if everyone is wrong?  It’s happened before.  They are called mobs and they used to hang people, riot in the streets, burn cars in Paris, destroy downtown Seattle and help populists rise to power. Going along with the thoughts of the mob, the more emotional the thoughts – the worse it is… going along for the sake of joining the movement – is flat stupid.

By the way, some of the most foolish and stupid ideas come from the most statistically intelligent people you will ever meet.  You might say that smart people usually have really dumb ideas.  But that’s a topic for another day.

Remember, if everyone is doing it… that’s reason enough to double check that idea and make sure it’s not a stupid one.


Five Nines is Still Not Enough

Originally Published on GigaOm: June 20, 2008 by Danny Kolke

Danny Kolke, Founder and CTO of Etelos, maker of the Etelos Marketplace and the Etelos Platform, is a thought leader in the areas of software as a service and Web-based applications. Danny works with developers and businesses alike building and distributing Web-based software as a service. Known for his honest assessments and sense of humor, Danny is a regular speaker on SaaS, especially its challenges and opportunities.

For the past nine years, I have spent my energy delivering services to users of web-based applications. In that time, I have heard many different marketing messages targeted toward business users, some of which I react to more negatively than others. One of the most deceptive promises I have heard is delivering “five nines,” or 99.999 percent uptime.

In a calendar year of 525,600 minutes, 99.999 percent uptime means that your services would only be interrupted for five minutes and 15.36 seconds. Does this mean that for the other 525,994 minutes and 45 seconds your service is available? I guess it depends on how you define available.

Pick your favorite Web site or Web application. If that service has been interrupted for more than 5 minutes, 15 seconds in the last 12 months, then it doesn’t have true 99.999 percent uptime. In my opinion, when you can’t get to or use a Web application, it’s not up. Regardless of the reason.

We have recently seen, Amazon’s EC2, Google’s Google Apps, Salesforce, Twitter and others struggle with outages of various sizes and causes. Amazon’s recent outage lasted for more than an hour and Twitter seemed to make news for when it was actually available.

Amazon’s outage was enough to kill 99.999 percent as an average uptime for the next 10 years.

A true “five nines” where services are always available (only five minutes and 15 seconds of downtime over 365 days) is an enormous expense to pursue. And with the most well funded sites on the planet failing to deliver “five nines,” is this possible or even worth pursuing?

For those die-hards who look at this and laugh because you “…have machines that have gone years without a reboot…” I have to ask, how do you calculate uptime?

A server in our infrastructure has gone more than three years without a reboot. But, while this server has remained up, it has not always been available. Recently, planned maintenance interrupted access to this machine for one hour. And even though the machine was up, it was not accessible and it might as well have been off.

Thousands of existing accounts experienced no loss of service because their applications were not dependent on the corporate Web site. Technically, a disruption of service occurred, but it did not affect our existing customers, which is not generally part of uptime calculation. In addition, planned outages that disrupt service are usually not considered outages. However, as a business user, “off-hours” planned outages eat away at available working hours in your application. 1 a.m. Monday in Cupertino is 9 a.m. in London. When an application is not available, that’s downtime.

Another area that may not be considered an outage is slow performance. If a user experiences 15-second page loads 21 times, this adds up to 5 minutes and 15 seconds. Enough downtime to make 99.999 percent uptime impossible. Okay, maybe I am being unfair with that one with 15-second calculations, but what about if you went to a Web site that took one minute for a page to load? Six of those and 99.999 percent uptime is toast. Do you call it up or down?

How about this example: My MacBook Pro can take three minutes and 30 seconds to reboot. Two reboots a year and I have consumed more allotted time than 99.999 percent uptime allows. How about an update that takes 5 to 10 minutes to install? On a machine-by-machine basis, maintenance code updates and services need to be performed. This means that either the machines are running old code, or 99.999 percent uptime is simply unrealistic. I suggest that promising “five nines” is a marketing tactic that is virtually impossible to ensure.

I think you can see that depending on how you calculate it, if the goal is to provide service for your users 99.999 percent of the time; it’s virtually impossible and even the biggest (and some may argue the best) infrastructures are struggling with it.

A true “five nines” promise is an enormous expense to pursue. And, with some of the largest sites on the planet failing to deliver, is it even possible or worth pursuing?

Conversation with Danny Kolke of Etelos

Original post here: from June 5, 2007
by Jeff Nolan

A company I have been watching for a few months now is Etelos. Despite having been in business for 7 years, the company has maintained a low profile while bootstrapping their business, all the while eschewing traditional venture capital.

They came on my radar when I found their CRM for Google application. In a nutshell, they take off the shelf Google apps components and combine them with some of their own stuff in a preconfigured Google start page. My first reaction upon reviewing this was “crikey, that’s what mashups should be” (I don’t recall saying “crikey” to myself but it works well now for effect).

This year they have added Netvibes, Windows Live, and most recently, Pageflakes client support but Google remains their most heavily deployed version.

I talked with Danny Kolke, the CEO of Etelos, today and found a kindred spirit… we were finishing each other’s sentences by the end of our conversation.

Danny’s belief system for Etelos is built on the following tenets, which if you have been reading this blog for any period of time you will see that they map to my own beliefs:

  1. The disruption that Etelos is targeting is distribution and consumption. This is not unlike what Salesforce is doing with Appexchange in that it provides a retail experience for software applications that have traditionally been sold through reseller and direct channels.
  2. The SMB market is fractious in that it’s really thousands of micro markets that are being served by small developers with specific domain expertise and no ability to scale their sales operations.
  3. Integration is a big problem that can be served by a service bus approach to application delivery… more on that later.
  4. The consumer experience is fundamentally and irreversibly changing the business software industry.

Etelos is an infrastructure play at the end of the day. Over 850 developers are delivering 200+ applications today and that number is expected to swell north of 300 in the months ahead. Developers can take pre-existing applications written in Java, PHP, or .Net and integrate them with the Etelos backend to take advantage of any service that Etelos is providing, such as mobile device support.

Etelos also has it’s own scripting language called EASE that developers can use to extend their apps, although from what I saw this looks like something that script developers would grok to extend prebuilt applications reliably and with little effort.

The Etelos approach reminded me of what Opsource is doing on top of Mulesource, but beyond the obvious similarities it’s not entirely clear what the distinctions are. Nonetheless, it’s apparent we will see more initiatives like this emerge given that it’s a fairly logical manner to approach a market and represents that plausible “platform play” for those vendors that don’t have the resources to invest massive $$ in pure platform technology to compete with the big vendors.

In reviewing the application catalog on their site there are a handful of vertical markets being targeted, which incidentally map to what Salesforce is doing on Appexchange: retail, insurance, real estate, medical, and independent consultants.

I don’t think this is deliberate but rather a logical conclusion that the addressable market for on demand hosted apps are services markets and digital products. To that end I would add media and advertising, and non-profit and local government to the list, the last two are often ignored by software vendors but represent great opportunities.

The company is based up in Washington state with 31 employees, 10 of which are offshore. I was impressed while talking with Danny, this company is at an inflection point and I expect they will benefit from a strong tailwind as companies begin to realize that start pages, like Google and Netvibes, are a new client interface and for something much more extensible than reading RSS feeds.