I'm picking up a couple of themes at ETech this year--neither of which directly tie into the stated theme of advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic. The first theme I'm hearing loud and clear is "user experience, games, and fun."
Yesterday, Jane McGonigal, a social game designer, gave a keynote that advocated quality of life as a primary metric for evaluating everyday technology and for producing products that increase real happiness.
This morning, Mike Kuniavsky, the founder of Adaptive Path and Thing M talked about the power of viewing devices with embedded computers as "enchanted." What's the big deal? Well, if nothing else, it's hard to imagine an enchanted device with a keyboard and screen. Mike wants enchantment or magic to be the abstraction that we aim for in computerized products.
Finally, on the theme of fun and user experience, Raph Koster, a game designer, gave an entertaining talk on how principles of game design, Raph believes his Theory of Fun can (should?) be applied to the design of every day Web applications to make them more fun to use. I heard some grumbling at lunch that this just wasn't realistic, but I found that it sparked some ideas and, after all, that's why I come.
The second major theme I hear is just-in-time resource mobilization. In his keynote, Werner Vogels, Amazon's CTO, recommended a paper by John Hagel and John Seely Brown called From Push to Pull- Emerging Models for Mobilizing Resources. I read it yesterday afternoon and found it to be a startlingly good study of trends in society that include much of what we'd call "Web 2.0." It helped several things come into focus for me. I recommend it.
It would be easy to dismiss this theme as simply being what I'm interested in or by noticing that Amazon Web Services is a sponsor, but I think the idea is real. Yesterday, Werner spoke about Amazon's outsourced data center products (S3, EC2, and SQS) that I've written about before and that were the subject of an IT Conversations interview I did with Doug Kaye and Jeff Barr. Werner's was a general introduction, with some good case studies.
I went to a talk this afternoon by Don MacAskill of SmugMug on their use of AWS, specifically the S3 storage product. SmugMug has multiple terabytes of data and they have save 95% of their disk costs using S3. He showed a real calculation of savings from SmugMug's use of S3 this year that amounted to over half a million dollars on a cash flow basis with additional benefits on an accrual basis. He's one of Amazon's best customers and one of their biggest advocates.
Just as interesting, mobilizing online resources may not always be appropriate. For example, in a discussion with Tim O'Reilly yesterday, William H. Janeway of Warburg Pincus and Peter Bloom of General Atlantic LLC mentioned that the average trade on Wall Street is now completed, on average, in 30ms. That means that latency matters--a lot! So, trading platforms won't be using AWS anytime soon because the latency would eat them up.
Conveniently, Sun is here talking about Sun's Project Blackbox (see photos). As I remarked last year about these black box datacenters, latency is a huge driver for many applications and these mobile data centers can help mitigate that problem by placing compute power close to the problem. This is just-in-time resource mobilization in a completely different dimension.
Brown and Hagel characterize the old model where some form of centralized planning as "push," that is, we tried to make sure we could push the right resources to the right location at the right time and make everything synchronize perfectly. The new model is one they characterize as "pull." Frameworks are set up so that resources can flow to the right place, at the right time, when they're needed. This is a profound shift.