My Favorite Moments of 2010

Here are some of my favorite personal moments of 2010:

  • Getting blitz by snow two times in February leading to a 5 foot drift in front of the house.
    Holy Snow!
  • AIM launches Facebook Chat integration in February. AIM is the first major IM application to integrate Facebook Chat into AIM
  • We relaunch location services in AIM via AOL Lifestream in March. Instead of the AIM plugin we launched for desktop clients back in 2006, we integrated it with status updates and photos in AOL Lifestream’s iPhone and Android applications.  TechCrunch calls AOL Lifestream the product that Google Buzz should have been.
  • I spoke to a standing room only crowd at SXSW with Josh Babetski and Naveen Selvadurai about geo location and the challenges of dealing with data from a variety of services.
  • Got to travel to Tel Aviv in May to work on the transition of ICQ to DST.  It was sad to say goodbye to the team there but we got to see an awesome Metallica concert.
  • In August we worked really hard to put together a custom experience for Lollapalooza in Chicago.
    Lollapalooza 2010
  • In September I traveled across the country to watch Syracuse get crushed by University of Washington, but my Husky friends were awesome in not rubbing it in too badly.
  • In November we launched Google Talk integration in AIM which is important for users who used AIM in high school and move to college and get a Google Apps account.  Now users can get AIM, Facebook Chat and Google Talk.
  • In December I left AOL after an 11 year plus tenure at the company.  It was a great run that I covered in a previous blog post.

I can’t wait for 2011 and the new adventures.

What is trendy?

I wrote last week about a hedge fund in the UK using Twitter to trade stocks and in theory make money by reading trends in the stream.  I asked the question about using Twitter or other social network data to help with trends, predictions and recommendations.

I spent a while working on trending in 2010 inside AOL Lifestream.  We started with trending and analyzing only data coming in via AIM and Lifestream

Where Have I Heard This Tune Before?

Yesterday reports surfaced that the FCC was ready to approve the Comcast and NBC merger, but there are “conditions for the approval.” The statement reminded me of what happened in 2001 when the AOL and Time Warner merger closed.  Back in January of 2000, the world woke up one morning to see that AOL bought Time Warner with AOL’s inflated stock price.  We all know how the merger turned out, and I hate to say it but the day of the announcement, I thought to myself this is either an ingenious move or this will end in a disaster.

It was interesting living through the year between the announcement and the closing of the merger (to be exact the closing took 362 days).  The exact headline from the FTC website says “FTC Approves AOL/Time Warner Merger with Conditions” and that they did.  The issue was that in the 12 months the merger took to close the world changed.  No longer was AOL the dominant force on the internet and Time Warner was not the only broadband provider.

The two main conditions the FCC imposed are as follows:

  • Comcast must provide broadband to low income houses and expanding the broadband network to rural communities
  • Comcast must provide online video content to a web service if rivals do the same

Its the last one that could be most troubling because one would assume Comcast would want to control their own content.  Now in many ways the FCC has made the decision on how Comcast’s content will be distributed.  I wonder what these conditions on the merger may mean in 12 or 24 months for NBC and Comcast.

No one considered the conditions placed upon AOL and Time Warner to be that big of an issue at the time, and we were both ready to close the deal.  I think the same goes for the NBC and Comcast marriage.  While they may be excited to get over the regulatory rulings to close the deal, they may not be considering what these conditions mean even 1 year from now.  Eventually a bunch of the conditions placed on AOL were removed due to changes in market conditions, but it was too late to change the fate of the merger.

So Long Old Friend

A couple of weeks ago I said goodbye to an old friend.  Leaving the AIM team where I spent 11 years working on so many different parts of a product that has over a billion registered users and millions of active users was bittersweet.  I am definitely going to miss the people I worked with the most, and I am going to miss all the great moments we celebrated together.

In 1999, I started on the AIM Windows team working on the user interface coding up buttons, the user preferences and making sure the client installed properly (though there was one time where my code accidentally deleted a QA Engineers HD, sorry John).  

By 2004, I moved to the core infrastructure team.  While it did not have the most elegant name, the team was responsible for writing the cross platform code that powered every real time messaging experience at AOL, ICQ and even Apple and Google.  I worked really hard with a bunch of great engineers in opening up this cross platform library so every developer who wanted to build on our network could.

When we opened AIM in 2006, it opened a whole new world to me, where I could work with developers and some really awesome partners.  I realized that I really enjoyed working with our partners and that it was important for the future of AIM to embrace our partners.  I also happened to build a very popular plugin called AIM MusicLink which allowed users to share with their communities what music they were listening to at that moment.

In the last 2 years, I have spent almost all my time leveraging my relationships with our partners like Apple (iChat), Google (GTalk), Facebook and Twitter into building a great experience into AIM.  Today we have AOL Lifestream, Facebook Chat in AIM and Google Talk in AIM.  So much credit goes to the design team and developers who delivered the final experiences today but I am proud of my contributions to the project.

Its off to new challenges, and I will share where I am going and what I will be doing in a later blog post.

A SuperNode Oops…

24 hours later and everyone is still talking about the Skype outage from yesterday.  And while everything is almost back to normal we should look at how important Skype has become to consumers and enterprise users. Skype recently announced that they had hit the 25M simultaneous user mark worldwide.

As of a little while ago Skype has about 16.5M users back online.  Enterprises must be squirming right now, and Skype is learning how hard it is to be an essential part of the business world.  While we are not perfect on AIM, making sure that we don’t lose the entire network is really important.  Part of the reason that AIM, and other networks like Microsoft, Yahoo and Google can handle and overcome outages or downtime is due in part to our architectures.  Having a centralized network hosted in multiple datacenters around the world allows us to quickly migrate users if we lose part of the network due to equipment failure.

In Skype’s case their own architecture was their undoing.  Skype has a system that is distributed via a series of nodes.  Machines that are in more friendly environments act as SuperNodes where Skype clients connect.  According to Skype “a handful of Windows clients failed and set off a chain reaction that brought down Skype.”  A full post mortem on the outage still needs to be done, but its clear that if Skype wants to work with enterprises it may need to rethink the backbone that powers the service.

Here is a great link describing the Skype architecture.

Here are some more stats GigaOm compiled this afternoon on Skype:

Here is the video from Skype CEO Tony Bates updating everyone on the outage:

Can Twitter Predict the Future?

Today a hedge fund announced that it was going to start tracking stocks via Twitter.  The hedge fund, The Derwent Absolute Return Fund Ltd. in London, will use an algorithm that will follow updates on the social network and use trending to determine what and when to trade.

It’s an interesting experiment, and I assume the fund has been practicing their algorithm against fake money or their own money for a while now, but it will be interesting to view the returns from the fund.  My thought on trying this is that if we start looking at who is contributing to the twitter ecosystem, can Twitter really predict the stock market, or for that matter any other event?

Yesterday Sysomos released a study done on Twitter demographics and the way users are using the service.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • Users with 100+ friends have increased by three-fold to 21% since 2009.
  • 22.5% of users accounted for about 90% of all activity.
  • 80% users have made fewer than 500 tweets.
  • Justin Bieber is one of top two-word phrases and top name in user’s bios.
  • Significantly more users are disclosing their location, bio and web information in Twitter profiles.

If Justin Bieber is giving out free stock advise, then the hedge fund is sure to score!  I am impressed that users are following more people, but unless these users are creating content (original tweets or retweets), it may not help develop the algorithm.  Of course, you can have the opposite problem where spammers contribute too much content that screws with the trending.

In the experience we had with trending on AOL Lifestream we had to constantly manipulate the algorithm as spammers and general users made trends at times irrelevant.  In a later post, I am going to delve more into trending and the challenges it presents and whose social data may be most relevant in contributing to interesting trends.

War Games Inspires A Generation of Programmers

Watching the movie WarGames, reminded me why I loved “playing” on computers early on in life.  I never thought I would be David Lightman, but I certainly pretended to be on my old Compaq, writing BASIC programs and “hacking” Microsoft Flight Simulator.  It got me thinking how many of today’s programmers, developers and hackers were inspired by the film?

Here are my 3 favorite scenes:

  • When David goes to the university to get help in accessing the game system.  Programmers have come a long way from the stereotype they showed in that scene.
  • When David and Jennifer (Ally Sheedy) show up at Professor Falken’s house and he gives them instructions to leave, he does so in logic. “find path, take path, find gate, open gate, close gate…”
  • The scene where David makes flight reservations on PanAm.  It gaves us all hope that one day we could book our own travel plans online.  Of course a few minutes later the most famous scene of the movie takes place when the computer asks David, “Do you want to play a game?”

No movie about computers and hacking has come close to this one.  Now there are rumors that Leonardo DiCaprio is going to reboot WarGames and redo the movie.  For me the original was so good, why mess with a good thing.