Google makes VM Immortal – but how useful?

Google let you migrate machines between data-centres while they still run

While it’s a nice feature, and something that VMWare has been able to do for a while – But I can’t help feeling it’s an anti-pattern in cloud-infrastructures. Yes there are some applications that you can’t easily design as message consuming stateless data-beasts – in general to take advantage of scaling (for capacity or to money), you need to design your applications so that they can survive machine failure, be it from chaos monkey or otherwise.

Is Facebook Open Graph going to enable “proper” social TV

Facebook have given us a rich vocabulary to describe media consumption, have we just social TV better than the humble hash-tag?

A few months ago I blogged about hashtags, and how they were imperfect but mostly worked… One of my meaningless predictions was that “Services like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ will provide ways to embed this metadata in posts”.

Today Facebook unveiled Open Graph at f8. I didn’t really pay that much attention until someone linked to a way to get the new profile quicker, which involved signup up to develop an app using the Open Graph actions.

At which point I realised I was staring at a simplified RDF: you have Objects, and Verbs.

Defining Verbs and ObjectsClicking through to define the objects you can define custom fields: both visible and hidden. The channel people are watching a show on, the episode number, the internal identifier to link back to it on the website. Give Facebook the data to bubble up insights like “5 of your friends are watching the XFactor”, but driven from data and not term-extraction from statuses.

Facebook always had the social network. Now it’s defined ways to create these events that have never been worthy of statuses, but have always been ready for Facebook’s insight.

It will be very interesting to see what the likes of GetGlue, iPlayer, Zeebox make of this. We’ve just been given a sensible way to aggregate realtime viewing activity.

Who’s going to be the first to populate it easily?

On the Beta BBC Homepage

BBC unveiled beta version of its homepage, and the purpose and execution are really clear.

Standard “I used to work for the BBC” disclaimer applies.

Over at you can see the new BBC homepage. The BBC have written a few articles about it.

My first impression is that this the first homepage that has done what the home-page needed to do, be a shop-front for across the BBC. Previous home-pages have always been very silo-structured. News had their bit, ditto Radio, Sport, Weather, etc.

It felt like representation of the org-chart rather than conveying the breadth of the site.

The new one feels both busier, and simpler. Without the excessive and technically unreliable customisation it’s lost that horrible of air of “is it a homepage or a BBC specific My-Yahoo?”.

I love the design, it’s a clean grid structure and I really hope that as the Ten Products are launched, they can all share this sharp-styling which is a great evolution of the GEL design guidelines.

The BBC has perhaps been through a few too many home-pages in previous years, but this one feels like it’s been given a really tight scope and done that – most people will still be browsing to or finding content via Google.

A gripe though, given they’re linking so much to iPlayer things, they really need to make the correct redirect to the TV/iPad “big screen” iPlayer version of a programme and not a link to the front-page. (Oh, and sort out an HTML5 player for News content)

Definition of Slippery Slope

BT are being forced to block access to specific piracy websites, lucky that they have the technology hanging around for the IWF watch-list then?

BT are being forced to block access to a piracy site.

This will no doubt use the BT Cleanfeed infrastructure used for the IWF. You either have something clever that proxies everything, or your redirect the blacklisted IPs to a filtering proxy. The former is expensive, the latter breaks wikipedia anonymous updates.

Anyway, I wrote about this point that the Aussie No Clean Feed were making made a while back. Given politicians and the judiciary a toolkit that can be applied generally, and they will.

This raises some depressing questions:

  • How long until this ruling applies to other ISPs?
  • How long until the IWF watch-list becomes broader to save content owners going after each ISP?
  • How long until refusing to use the IWF list, like some smaller ISPs, becomes illegal?
  • At what point is using VPN services outlawed: I use one when I’m on public WiFi but it would bypass any ISP provisions.

I’m sure none of us are really surprised, but it’s sad to be proven right.

Multicast for File Delivery

Multicast will soon be available in the UK for video distribution, does it have a role in distributing large files, like the recent OS X update Lion.

James Cridland wrote about how broadcast was a potential way to distribute Lion, the new version of OS X. While digital broadcasting is compelling as a mass-distribution media, the logistics don’t stack up to my mind, and while tuners are getting quite cheap, the hassle of trying to get aerial signal to your computer is still there.

Multicast was briefly mentioned in the comments, this provides a much more realistic alternative, and is something that BT, the main ISP Wholesale provider, is implementing. This post covers ISPs that use BT to provide connections to their subscribers, the method most ADSL customers are provided by. Customers with Sky (who are Local-Loop Unbundled) or Virgin (who run a cable network) are on different network topologies.

What is multicast? Basic machine to machine communication is unicast. Broadcast allows one machine to ‘talk’ to all others. Multicast is somewhere between, where other machines can choose to listen to stream on the network, but without the “speaking” machine having to transmit at additional copy. It’s perfect for things like live Radio or TV viewing, where many hundreds of users are viewing/listening to the same thing.

Where are we today?

Most ISPs don’t support multicast, so every download or action on the internet is a separate stream:


Content delivery with with unicast, without any multicasting.


The ISPs that do support multicast have to split it before it goes to BT. The BBC multicast some content out as a trial, and the traffic looks something like this:

The ISPs save on their ‘transit’ bandwidth, but still have to inject a separate copy of the video for each person watching when it goes to BT. Transit costs are unfortunately the cheaper part of an ISP budget, which means that multicast doesn’t help ISPs that much at the moment.

BT are introducing multicast into their network, which means that the “splitting” of the multi-cast to uni-cast occurs much deeper in the BT network, which means the result looks something like:

Much more efficient, only one copy of Radio1 goes from the ISP to BT (and some older BT documentation implies this may even go directly to BT bypassing the ISP).

But how does this apply to a ‘file’ like Lion? 

If you were to treat the 4 gig Lion update as a broadcast you could transmit it as a “carousel”, where it loops around. Run multiple carousels at different positions in the file and a client would join 1 or more streams based on the amount of bandwidth available, and how much of the file was downloaded

For efficiency, you might also want to offer streams at higher bit-rates so that a client could join fewer streams.

This traffic would need to be flagged as lower priority. TV multicast will be the opposite, and have Quality of Service to make sure video plays back smoothly, here though you would want the download to be dropped if other traffic was present. This will leave you with “holes” in the download.

The client could wait for the broadcast to “come around” on one of the streams and join that appropriately, or it could also make direct connections back to the CDN, or use Peer-to-peer networking, to “mop up” the specific bits of the download it had missed.

Would it make everything faster? 

Yes, and no. It would definitely be more efficient, however the limiting factor will still be the copper at the end of the journey, between the exchange and the customer. However, by reducing the demand to both the CDNs, and the ISPs bandwidth, that last mile should be used more fully.

Will it happen?

For things like downloads using CDNs that are embedded deeper in the network would be simpler for the client, and ease the load on ISPs. After the initial download “flurry” the multicast approaches efficiency reduces.

Two things make it more sense for video content like the BBC iPlayer: you have many people downloading content as it is being released, and you have a custom download manager in place.

Multicast will definitely happen for live-content. For other content it probably remains an interesting thought-experiment, unless the economics proved compelling enough. That is less likely since those impacted (the ISPs) are not those able to make the changes (Content Distributors).

The Real Test if Old Spice gets the Internet

Updated: Sure the @oldspice videos have been funny, but this voicemail generator showed just how well they get the internet.

Update: Was done with their encouragement.

Sure the @oldspice videos have been funny, but if this voicemail generator is not part of the campaign, how they handle it will be the real reflection of how well they get the internet. @oldspice played along with this voicemail generator and showed they “got it”

I’ve seen followers on twitter saying things like “@oldspice wins the internet”, and their video responses to people tweeting by the actor in their adverts have been generally funny, and impressive for really engaging with people. The knowledge behind comments addressed to the founders of Digg and Twitter gave them decent internet gravitas.

Enter now the Oldspice Voicemail generator: now I don’t know if it’s something that somebody has genuinely done by someone else, or if it’s just another part of this oh-so-viral campaign (I’m a little too tired to go digging properly, so I wouldn’t be surprised). If it is an external thing, how they handle it will be the real indication if they “get” the “internet”.

Don’t go slapping a take-down notice, as you’ll replace a load of Win with an Epic Legal Fail.

They set the campaign free, I suspect this will be the textbook “how to merge big campaign with social media” example for a few years. Look forward to a many piss-poor imitations.

a new look and a (partial) admission of defeat

While it’s tempting to try and do everything myself, using the work of others makes more sense.

For years I’ve been talking about my new theme. It was going to be lovely, it was going to use things like JQuery and BlueTrip. It was going to show my technical credentials as understanding HTML, Progressive Uplift & all that good stuff. It was going to pull in data-feeds from around the web.

In short, it was going to be a most awesome theme.

It’s just a shame then that I’m not proficient enough to do this. Much like doing the revision timetable instead of revising, I’d think about Version Control, and editors, and local development instances. I was great at the meta-work, less good at phasing development and the design work.

Eventually, I probably could just about knock something together, and it’d work in Safari on the Mac. It might work in some versions of Firefox, and IE. But it would always be a bit hit and miss for compatibility, and I’d always be playing catch-up to new features in WordPress.

So instead I used the new TwentyTen, the new WordPress 3.0 theme. It’s nice, compatible and configurable. And I have more time to write actual posts, instead of spending endless time deciding on the <div> structure.

I still have ideas on clever data feeds though, but they can wait.

I miss being bored

In an age where you’ve always got an unread count, are you ever bored. Are we losing something because of that?

I’m a victim of CPA. I’m on Twitter. I’m Facebook. I’m still on IRC. I think that clicking “read all” in Google Reader is somehow cheating, so I’m left constantly playing Whack-a-mole on that and my iTunes podcast collection.

Anyway, the other thing I miss is genuine boredom. I can’t think when I last really said “I’m bored” and meant it, like you did when growing up. Leaving aside twee comments from teachers like “Bored people are boring”, the thing that I wonder is “Do you need to be bored sometimes”?

I don’t think this for any great spiritual reasons, I’m not going to suggest that we all go off on Vision Quests to find our Spirit Guides. I just think that sometimes, for some people, boredom is a driver to change things. In the words of some great children’s telly of the UK of the eighties: “Why don’t you turn the TV off and do something less boring instead.”

The never ending stream of messages, podcasts, feed items and conversations to tune into mean then you’re never bored. You’re sat there, sipping away at the information passing by, sating your CPA appetite but remaining ultimately unsatisfied. Sure you have close run-ins with boredom, but thanks to the omni-present inbox you can dodge it for another 30 minutes staring at Keyboard Cat on YouTube or debating constructively with like-minded individuals.

I’ll admit counter-point is that you can see lots of cool things online that you “might” want to do, but then you see so many cool things that you might want to do that choosing to actually do one of them becomes another exercise in itself (though you can always ask Twitter followers what to do)…

I think this year I need to try and unwire a little bit, feel a little more bored sometimes.

On the Yahoo/Bing search deal

Firstly a disclaimer: I know a number of Yahoo!/flickr people, including a few who were previously involved in search.

I think the deal was inevitable, and starts to define what Yahoo! actually is. Can it defeat Google, I’m doubting that, but I think that when you’re in the market dominance that Google has you really need to have bigger competitors. In search Microsoft could be an oil tanker, and that once they really get up to speed that bing will start approaching Google as a bigger challenger. I’m not cheer-leading the deal here, just thinking that neither party had much option when they were comprehensively outgunned.

Anyway, much of the negative coverage, in particular this article shared the same character. The tone. It was all “Yahoo! was” “Yahoo! should have” “if I was in charge I would have”.

Yahoo! is where it is. It’s lost market share, advertising revenue and focus. Search is expensive to run, and if you’re in what appears like ongoing decline, then a strategic retreat could make sense.