Saturday, December 15, 2007

Adobe to Open Source LiveCycle Data Services as BlazeDS

Adobe is announcing today the release of BlazeDS, an open source version of their server side remoting and messaging technologies that were previously only available in the LifeCycle Data Services ES package. Adobe is also publishing the Action Message Format (AMF) protocol specification.

Right now, the technologies included in BlazeDS are targeted at enterprises using Java via the LifeCycle product family. Adobe hopes that by opening the source code with BlazeDS and by publishing the AMF spec, developers will be able to use Adobe's remoting and messaging technologies with non-Java backends, such as PHP and Ruby.

"The combination of BlazeDS with Flex and AIR helps reduce the time it takes for developers to build responsive and highly innovative RIAs that deliver rich, dynamic, branded content and applications across all major browsers and operating systems," said David Mendels, senior vice president, Business Productivity Business Unit at Adobe in a press release. "Contributing these technologies, including the AMF specification, to the open source community opens them up for other non-Java backends, helping to rapidly advance this important RIA feature set."

I spoke with Christophe Coenraets, who is the product evangelist for Adobe's Business Productivity Business Unit, who told me that one of the main reasons to use Adobe's remoting and messaging technology is that it is much faster than traditional XML over HTTP or web services. According to internal Adobe benchmarks, data delivery using AMF is up to 10 times faster than traditional methods. Because XML is written so that it can be understood by humans, translating it back to machine code on the other end slows it down. AMF, on the other hand, uses a binary format, which makes it much faster.

Coenraets said that by open sourcing the BlazeDS technologies, not only will they be available to more Java developers, but also, Adobe hopes, they will be able to be used by developers working with other back end technologies. That, said Coenraets, is something that many of Adobe's enterprise customers have wanted: a larger pool of developers working with these technologies.

In fact, Adobe is already working with leaders in the open source community who have been attempting to bring Flash remoting to other programming languages, such as AMFPHP. "Working with Adobe, we can create a common programming model that enables RIA developers to extend the reach of their applications across different server technologies in a compatible and consistent approach," said Wade Arnold, from AMFPHP, expressing excitement at the opportunity to work directly with Adobe to bring AMF to PHP developers.

For businesses interested in BlazeDS but hesitant to adopt an unsupported technology, Adobe will offer the "Live Cycle Data Services Community Edition" which will package Adobe certified versions of BlazeDS with support from the company. No word yet on pricing.

Adobe is also releasing beta 3 versions of both Flex and AIR today -- two technologies that are designed to play nice with BlazeDS. A public beta of BlazeDS is available now on the Adobe Labs site, and a full release under the LGPL is expected in 2008.

Online Accounting: The Next Killer App For Google Apps

This article was a joint collaboration between chartered accountant Jonathan Bradford and computer scientist Ian Leader. They blog at Jay Eye Sea.

In September Google added a presentation application to its Google Apps suite, thus creating an online office version of the "holy trinity": word processor, spreadsheet and presentation tool. So what's next for Google Apps? What might be the next killer app? We think it will be an accounting system and in this article we will outline why. There are strong benefits to an online accounting service in Google Apps - both to users and to the targeted advertising-driven business of Google. [Ed's note: we are also running a poll at the end of the article]

Online advantages

To date, there have been a number of online accounting systems developed - e.g. Mint and Xero - which showcase some of the obvious benefits of online accounting:

  • Collaboration: More often than not, accounts are prepared collaboratively by a business owner and their accountant - and there may be a bookkeeper involved for all but the smallest companies.
  • Retention of records: Typically businesses are required to retain their records for a fixed period of time by the tax authorities (six years in the UK).
  • Accessibility: Typically the stakeholders are located in different places - currently requiring spreadsheets to be sent back and forth between the various individuals.

Drawbacks to Current Online Accounting Systems

There are a number of drawbacks in the solutions currently available:


The greatest drawback from which accounting systems suffer is their UI. Accounting systems are invariably designed "by accountants for accountants", which makes them overly complex for the small businessperson - who typically doesn't have accountancy training. At the end of the day, it's just debits and credits. Accounting systems need to be "Googlised" - in the same way that Gmail broke the mold from what had come before (compared to mainstream products like Yahoo! Mail and Microsoft Outlook), accounting systems need a simplified interface that makes sense to business people.


Accounting software providers are well known for limiting the functionality in their "starter systems" - forcing users to upgrade to more expensive systems if they want to do much more than they can already do in Excel. Online solutions have exacerbated this problem by charging small amounts on a monthly basis forever.

What are the marginal costs of operating an online accounting system? They do not require significant processing capability, nor do they have significant storage or bandwidth requirements.

Basic online accounting systems should be FREE. There are significant opportunities to generate revenues from other sources other than the core functionality. Small businesses are overcharged for "limited" accounting systems. Offering free business services is familiar territory for Google or start-ups working off a cloud computing platform, such as Amazon Web Services.

Why Would Accounting be Attractive to Google?

Google could bring significant expertise to online accounting, thanks to their ability to deliver simple, effective online applications with high-performance and reliable infrastructure.

But other than providing an attractive service to small businesses, which could be integrated into Google Checkout and Google Docs, what else would make this proposition attractive to Google?

Historical information

Eric Schmidt stated this year that it is "Google's goal to organize your daily life". However he also said that "we cannot even answer the most basic questions because we don't know enough about you. That is the most important aspect of Google's expansion."

Let's revisit the records within an accounting system and consider them from a different perspective: what we have is a detailed multi-year repository of information about a small business. Remember, business owners are required to retain records for a certain period by tax authorities.

The records would include: what it has been bought, when it was bought, from whom it was bought it and how much was paid. This is the information that 'loyalty cards' regularly look to acquire. So it creates significant opportunities to deliver targeted and localized adverts. Undoubtedly Google could generate revenues from an online accounting application that exceed its low incremental cost. Yes, there are privacy issues, some of which Google faced when it launched Gmail. But consider this: the threshold a business owner places on his/her business records are lower than his/her personal information. You regularly share your financial information with your accountant and bank manager - but you wouldn't do the same for your personal data.

A business owner might also benefit from sharing this information to allow Google to present more cost competitive suppliers. Furthermore, it is not unusual for small business expenditure to be greater than an owner's personal expenditure - thereby creating a more attractive opportunity for advertisers.

Other revenue opportunities

There are two exceptions to 'accounting systems should be free': one is payroll, and the other is automated submission of returns (VAT, income tax and national insurance).

Both of these business processes require updating and validating on at least an annual basis, to keep up with changes in national legislation. Almost all small businesses pay an accountant and / or payroll agency to handle these - but an online system could offer this at substantially lower cost. This might not be that far away, given the recent additions by Google of Gtaxes to their DNS records...

Lack of innovation

Sometimes it takes someone to look at things from "left field" to move an application forward. By way of example:

Online scanning. Since the launch of Book Search, Google has developed significant capability in scanning and the TesseratOCR technology. This could easily be used to scan invoices and bank/credit card statements - removing the tedium of its input. Furthermore, it will include additional information which would be valuable to Google. Rather than just record the flight costs, the invoice might include other information such as time, destination etc. These documents could be scanned or faxed - similar to the service provided by File123.

Mechanical Turk

If scanning documents does not appeal, why not use a service such as Mechanical Turk to outsource the manual input of less sensitive information, such as such as invoices. Scanned invoices could be randomly presented to different Mechanical Turk users to be input for a few cents.

Integration capability

Google already has a variety of services available that could be tightly integrated into an accounting system:

  • Google Search; the use of scanning/OCR technology would create a much larger repository of information on which a user and Google could search.
  • Google Docs; invoices, spreadsheets and charts could all be generated using existing applications.
  • Google Base/Checkout; online traders could integrate their online presence on Base and also Checkout to integrate with the accounting system.

Tell us what you think in the comments - is Online Accounting the next business frontier for Google to enter? Or will one of the current crop of online accounting startups get there first?

Top image:

Opera vs. IE: Round One, Fight!

I'm getting this feeling of deja vu... haven't we been through all this before? Today Opera filed an antitrust complaint with the European Union against Microsoft. According to Opera, the makers of an alternative web browser, Microsoft is using its dominant position to unfairly influence the web browser market by bundling Internet Explorer with Windows and by "not following accepted Web standards," which Opera says causes developers to create web pages specifically for IE that break in other browsers -- and thus lowers the incentive for users to switch.

The solution? Opera wants the EU to force Microsoft to stop bundling IE, or to bundle other browsers with the OS (i.e., Opera). They also request that the EU make Microsoft follow "fundamental and open Web standards accepted by the Web-authoring communities."

This is not an unfamiliar argument to Microsoft -- that tiff with the Justice Department was about much the same thing. But, as Larry Dignan points out, Opera might find a more receptive audience in the European Union than Netscape found in the US DoJ. The European Union has already ruled that bundling Windows Media Player with Windows was illegal, so a precedent in Opera's favor appears to exist (note: I am not a lawyer).

"Our complaint is necessary to get Microsoft to amend its practices," said Jason Hoida, Deputy General Counsel for Opera, in a press release."The European Court of First Instance confirmed in September that Microsoft has illegally tied Windows Media Player to Windows. We are simply asking the Commission to apply these same, clear principles to the Internet Explorer tie, a tie that has even more profound effects on consumers and innovation."

Hold on to your hats. This one is just getting started...

Yahoo! Releases Shortcuts Wordpress Plugin

Yahoo! has released a new plugin for Wordpress that adds its "Shortcuts" search popups to blog content. Shortcuts are informational popups that operate similarly to Snap's SnapShots and AdaptiveBlue's SmartLinks. The key difference is that Yahoo!'s implementation is seeded with Yahoo! content.

The Wordpress plugin route may limit the potential user base of Yahoo! Shortcuts, but it provides bloggers with more control over how the popups are implemented in each post. Rather than Shortcuts being added to every post, bloggers using the plugin are given the opportunity to decide which popups, if any, are added on a post by post basis.

The plugin automatically scans the text of a post before publishing and alerts the blogger to how many Shortcuts have been located. Users can then decide which Shortcuts are used before pushing the post live. Shortcuts can also be made into "badges," which place the content of the Shortcut directly into the post (i.e., if you're posting about Google, you can put a stock quote badge directly into the content).

The Shortcuts plugin currently supports maps, financial info, products, autos, news, and web search. Yahoo! has a whole mess of other Shortcuts, such as sports, gas prices, movies, and music, that it can add to the plugin in the future.

The plugin also ties in another Yahoo! service, Flickr, by searching the photo sharing site for Creative Commons-licensed photos relevant to the content of each post and suggesting images that can be included in the post. That's a convenient way for bloggers to easily dress up posts, and for that feature alone the plugin might be worth it, even if you never actually publish a Shortcut.

Mobile MySpace On Sprint: Do Carrier Deals Make Sense?

Fox Interactive announced today that it has a deal with Sprint to offer one-click access to the new MySpace Mobile portal when it launches early next year. Sprint and Fox have had a mobile relationship since before mobile meant much, in fact. This could be a sneeze turned into a press release, but it's also a good opportunity to examine carrier-based mobile content deals vs. open social networking on mobile.

Early press on the deal says Sprint will be first but it does not say that it will be an exclusive deal. It was around this same time last year that MySpace announced a deal with Cingular that would let that carrier's customers use a Java app for MySpace for $3 per month. Helio, a high-profile handset that operates on the Sprint network, has allowed access to MySpace since last year as well. This week Helio launched a mobile YouTube interface that the company says is the first to allow YouTube users access to their accounts and social features.

The primary question this raises, though, is this: why not just open a free, universally accessible mobile MySpace like Facebook offers? Facebook Mobile is excellent and would provide as good a model for MySpace as the Facebook Newsfeed did for the new MySpace friend feed. (See our coverage of MySpace vs. Facebook in general.) Just add some adds and superfluous pageviews and you've got MySpace Mobile. Perhaps MySpace felt it was not capable of monetizing mobile access except through carrier deals. That would be interesting news for the rest of the industry.

Mobile access could be a key step in MySpace regaining growth momentum, but that seems more likely if the company were to open mobile access to all. It's an interesting trade-off and I wish I was a fly on the wall at the meetings where these decisions were being made.

Tracking the Mobile Content World

Thanks to Forrester's Jeremiah Owyang, who called attention to the news first in my world, on Twitter. We're looking to increase our coverage of mobile news and issues here at ReadWriteWeb. If you're interested in this space as well, you can download an OPML file (a bundle of RSS feeds for importing into your feed reader) that contains some of my favorite mobile content sources and mobile news from our blogs ReadWriteWeb and Last100, filtered via FeedRinse: RWWMobileFeeds.opml. Save the file behind that link, import it into your feed reader and you'll be up to date on the fast emerging world of mobile content. You can preview the live contents of this collection below, using Grazr.

Flickr Introduces Traffic Stats for Pro Users

Users with a pro account at Flickr are now able to view a variety of interesting statistics about the viewers of their photos. Heather Champ said in a post on the Flickr blog this morning that the stats are intended to "give you all sorts of insight into how people arrive at your photos."

Viewer numbers are a big deal for many Flickr users and Champ says this is one of their most requested features. In a world increasingly full of user generated content platforms, offering users basic traffic stats like referring URLs ought to be standard practice. Offering these numbers to premium subscribers makes a lot of sense. I expect this will be one more practice that Flickr blazes the trail on, only to be followed by others in a wide variety of markets.

The stats feature needs to be activated by the user. Large screenshots of the process can be found on the blog of consultant Dave Coustan, where I learned about the news myself.

Best Web LittleCo of 2007: Twitter

Earlier this week we announced our Best BigCo of 2007, Facebook. In this post we're announcing our pick for Best LittleCo. We're also asking for your nominations for Most Promising Web Company for 2008. These picks are something we do every year, this being the 4th year. Last year's Best LittleCo was YouTube, with Sharpcast selected as Most Promising. In 2005 37Signals was Best LittleCo and Memeorandum (now Techmeme) and Digg were joint Most Promising. In 2004 Ludicorp, creators of Flickr, was Best LittleCo and Feedburner was named Most Promising.

As you can see, most of our picks have gone on to enjoy more widespread success - YouTube, Ludicorp, Feedburner have all been acquired; while 37Signals, Techmeme, Digg and Sharpcast have all ramped up and enjoyed success. So to 2007, a year in which trends such as Mobile Web, social networking and micro-blogging have increased in popularity. It's been another bumper year of startup activity, so which among the hundreds of startups has impressed the most in 2007?

And the Winner is...

As with the BigCo selection, the Read/WriteWeb authors were unanimous in our decision. The Best LittleCo of 2007 is Twitter, Inc. Already this week there has been a lot of analysis about Twitter, with some people embracing it and others critical. Our own Alex Iskold summed it up well in his post entitled The Evolution of Personal Publishing, when he described Twitter as a kind of mix between social networks and chat. The term for this has come to be know as microblogging. Here is how Alex described it:

"Social network publishing is very terse, blog publishing is verbose. Is there a form of publishing which is on one hand as easy as social networking, but as sequential as regular blogs? Twitter and Tumblr have recently emerged to define this new category of microblogging."

The simple idea of Twitter is to express what you are doing right now, in 140 characters or less. Admittedly Twitter is still very much a niche, geek activity. Earlier this year I witnessed a fellow Web 2.0 Expo attendee twittering on a mobile phone while walking down a busy San Francisco road with a group of us - and she tripped up and fell. Which kind of sums up Twitter for the early adopter, geek crowd: it is addictive, distracting, and not really necessary.

However RWW did highlight some real-world uses this year - e.g. Amazon uses it to promote its products; and Burmese bloggers used a similar product to Twitter, a lightweight messaging service called CBox, to post very short updates from inside the country.

Twitter is undoubtedly new and disruptive. In a year in which you can count on one hand the number of disruptive Web products (iPhone would be another), Twitter stands out as being something that has captured the imagination and become a new hybrid of chat, social networking and blogging.

One of the most important things Twitter has done is open up an API to outside developers (this is an argument that co-founder Biz Stone made to us in September). According to Twitter, the API has seen such incredible growth, that just months after it was released it is already getting 10 times the traffic of the Twitter web site. For examples, check out our Top 10 Twitter Apps from July; and Marshall Kirkpatrick's comprehensive RWW Guide to the World's Most Popular Twitter Clients.

One of Twitter's cheif rivals, Jaiku, was acquired by Google in October. Other similar products that impressed us this year included (but not limited to): Tumblr, Kyte (a video twitter), Soup, Pownce, and the 10 microblogging tools we reviewed in September.

See Also: Evolution of Communication: From Email to Twitter and Beyond

Nominations? Most Promising Web Company for 2008

So there you have it, Twitter is our Best LittleCo this year. Now we turn our attention to what is the most promising Web product or company for 2008 - and we need your help! Let us know in the comments what is most promising for you, and why. We'll announce this very soon!