Joho the Blog » [SN09] Werner Vogels, Bradley Horowitz, and Jonathan Zittrain

[SN09] Werner Vogels, Bradley Horowitz, and Jonathan Zittrain

I’m at Supernova. (live stream) I’ve come in a little late on an afternoon session.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Werner Vogels talks about cloud computing. He contrasts it with a 1900 Belgian beer brewery that had to have its own electricity generator, which took a lot of maintenance and didn’t help it make better beer. He warns that any offering that taps into the large social networks may find itself with traffic suddenly spiking by orders of magnitude.

Cloud computing’s advantages: 1. Lower costs by eliminating capital investment and reducing operational costs. 2. Increase agility. 3. Removes the “heavy lifting” and letting you focus on what’s differentiating for you. 4. Makes you agile.

He points to some businesses using cloud computing (too fast for me to record).


Jonathan Zittrain sketches three possible futures, with Amazon as his example. He says he is the session’s “designated fearmonger.”

First, is the Amazon we have, which he likes. It commoditizes Amazon’s scale and power, making it available (via cloud computing, AKA Amazon Web Services) to anyone. Amazon doesn’t tell us how we can use it. “Pound for pound, I’d rather trust my data to the cloud than to my own pocket” because he’s more likely to lose the device in his pocket.

Second, he looks at the Kindle. He has one. He likes it. Yet, “The Kindle is a perfect example of a tethered appliance.” Contrary to Amazon in point 1, the Kindle is closed. “You can’t code for your Kindle…What you see in the Kindle is what Amazon wants to offer you.” E.g., Amazon changed the text-to-speech feature in Kindle 2 because publishers objected. The publishers said it was copyright implicatable event, which JZ thinks it was not. Nevertheless, Amazon changed the feature so publishers could opt out. It is like the iPhone in this. “We define everything that is on the phone,” said Steve Jobs in Jan. 2007. Only in the summer of ‘087 did Jobs allow third party development, although it has to go through the AppStore. We treat this as normal, but it’s not: I have a piece of sw that you want to run, but I can’t just give it to you. (JZ says that Apple refused to allow into the AppStore an app that did nothing but run the Android robotic eye.)

This is not about phones, say JZ. It’s a model that can sweep through our other platforms. Devices increasingly are tied to their vendors. Imagine a clouyd-enabled Internet toaster. Imagine it tells you that you’ve received an update and now has three slots. Then it gets rolled back. Then it’s a juicer. What did you buy? Nothing., You bought a service relationship with breakfast-oriented provider. More and more of your environment is becoming contingent. That’s what the Cloud does to us when it is owned for vendors. E.g., Amazon pulled back copies of 1984 that turned out to be infringing. What happens next time when a federal judge insists that pages be pulled because it’s infringing or inflammatory? Amazon can’t say it wouldn’t do that, because it already has. “As gov’t realizes the opportunities for control and surveillance, we will see a sea-change in how we experience our world.” E.g., An OnStar-like system was used by the FBI to turn on the car’s mic so the FBI could listen in. The company did this and then anonymously sued. The Appellate court held for the company, but on thin grounds.

The third Amazon: Cloud computing concepts applied to people. E.g., Mechanical Turk. But people have used it to astroturf sites, posting positive reviews for money. This raises issues for civic uses. JZ likes the FTC’s guidelines for policing these. He also points to sites like “Human Computing for EDA” that look like games but in fact are doing work for someone; in this case, it’s figuring out how to cram more transistors onto a chip. Suppose it’s kids who are playing. Do we feel good about this? “I have no idea. It’s kind of cool and kind of loogy.” (He gives some other great examples.)


Bradley Horowitz gets just a few minutes at the end. He’s at Google, formerly at Yahoo. He acknowledges these are uncharted waters. Google Data Liberation Front is an attempt to get as much data as possible into the hands of its owners; Google wrestles with these issues.

Kevin Werbach: Can we rely on good management for this? What about design principles and architectures?

BH: I suggested we hire some “clueful” people but was told, correctly, that it’s important to have these people outside of Google to keep Google on its toes.

Werner: Look at a company’s vision to see if it should earn your trust. Publishers objected to our running reviews of books, but we thought it was better for the customer. (JZ adds that it’s the same for Amazon’s selling used books.)

JZ: Cloud computing and utilities are an interesting comparison. We don’t want utilities to be creative. We have an API called a plug, invented by a janitor who got tired of rewiring every time he needed to move an appliance. Werner’s attitude is like that. Amazon Web Services and Mechanical Turk are utilities that anyone can use for any purpose. That’s like the collective hallucination called email that is run by no one in particular.

Q: Customers don’t care about openness but about the innovation that results from innovation?

Q: There are actually lots of different types of plugs. Standards within country-specific areas.

JZ: Yes, but there are APIs you can buy at Radio Shack (i.e., plug converters). But it’s an important reminder that these standards are self-reinforcing. Everyone loses out except Radio Shack. But you get stuck because all the local plugs are one way, etc. BTW, watch for Google’s willingness to let a third party come in and move your data out, with your permission; Google only lets this happen if there’s reciprocity. Finally, I’m ok with a hybrid universe that includes closed and generative devices. I worry that it won’t be hybrid. It’s an unstable equilibrium. People will mind less and less having an appliance controlled by the vendor.

Bradley: I first became aware of the reciprocity principle at Flickr when Zoomer wanted to pull users’ data out. Users can get their own stuff, but not if it’s going into a site that won’t let it out. The intention behind it was right. If you want to put it into a jail, first bounce it to your desktop where you have it. We’re trying to elevate the conversation.

[Great session]

[POSTED WITHOUT HAVING BEEN REREAD because I'm on the next panel.]

2 Responses to “[SN09] Werner Vogels, Bradley Horowitz, and Jonathan Zittrain”

  1. Bradley Horowitz…

    Joho the Blog » [SN09] Werner Vogels, Bradley Horowitz, and Jonathan Zittrain…

  2. [...] Werner Vogels, Bradley Horowitz, and Jonathan Zittrain [...]

Leave a Reply


Web Joho only

Comments (RSS).  RSS icon