Amazon S3: Backbone to Cheap Multi-GB Web Backup for Mac OS X?

About a year ago, Amazon launched it’s S3 storage service.  This seemed a little strange to me at the time, because Amazon’s core business is as an online retailer… it was unclear to me what type of strategic advantage they would have as a long term of provider of cheap, online storage.

“Let a thousand flowers bloom,” I guess… (one of the most misunderstood quotations used around innovation, by the way.  Check out the source!)

In any case, I received my regular TidBITS digest email today, and it featured web-backup services for the Mac.  What was interesting was that the article featured primarily applications that use Amazon S3 as their backbone!  At $0.15 per GB, and $0.20 per GB/transfer, Amazon is a fairly cheap way to backup & store large libraries, like music & photos.

Several small software shops have built applications to help users do just that…

Here is the original TidBITS article.  The applications covered include:

  • Jungle Disk.   This application is the most polished of the bunch.  It does not handle incremental backups, yet, but it does support scheduled backups.  It will cost $20 when it reaches 1.0, but it’s free right now in beta.  Jungle Disk is available for Mac OS X, Windows & Linux.
  • S3 Backup.  This application, by Maluke, offers different named backups, as well as the ability to exclude files based on pattern matching.  However, it doesn’t offer scheduling or incremental backups, yet.  Still in beta.
  • Bandwagon.  This application is tailored for music lovers who want to backup and maintain a large music library online, to be available to multiple machines or for safe keeping.  Very interesting because it offers menu-bar controls, and support for multiple “storage clouds”, including Amazon S3.

I remember a few years ago looking into online backup solutions, and being totally disillusioned with the low storage volumes and costs offered.  I have about 300GB of content to backup, with daily increments that vary from 10MB all the way up to 2-3GB on days I upload a new set of photos from my camera.

These solutions aren’t there yet, but they are closer.  And the pricing is closer too.

Anyone out there actually try one of these?  Or are you using Amazon S3 for anything else interesting?

Insights on Design: Marissa Mayer & Google Search Results

I picked up this snippet from John Battelle’s Searchblog yesterday:

Marissa Mayer, at Web 2.0 today, shared insights into some lessons Google has learned in trying to serve users. The take-away is that Speed is just about the most important concern of users—more than the ability to get a longer list of results, and more valuable than highly interactive ajax features.

What was most interesting to me, however, was the comments below about how the most effective results from testing were the opposite of what users believed they preferred:

…they didn’t learn that from asking users, just the opposite. The ideal number of results on the first page was an area where self-reported user interests were at odds with their ultimate desires. Though they did want more results, they weren’t willing to pay the price for the trade, the extra time in receiving and reviewing the data. In experiments, each run for about 8 weeks, results pages with 30 (rather than 10) results lowered search traffic (and proportionally ad revenues) by 20 percent.

The reason I wanted to highlight this insight here is that it offers up perhaps one of the greatest challenges across any design practice that tries to focus on the customer experience: what people say they want, and what actually performs best are not necessarily the same. In fact, I would argue that they are different in most cases.

This challenge is not a surprise for professionals in marketing, politics or finance. These fields have long recognized that there is a large difference in what people say they will support vs. what they actually do support. However, it’s a particular challenge in product design because so many people want to “provide the best possible user experience”.

At every company I have worked for, there has always been a large debate about how to do the best product design. Do you reach out, through focus groups and customer visits, and ask your best customers what new improvements they would like to see? Or do you quietly observe, through testing and product metrics, and then use inspired design professionals to produce the great advance in usability?

As a product professional, I truly believe that the answer is to do both. There is no doubt that listening to your customers directly can give you great insight into their experience and their prioritization of problems. This insight is the key to customer empathy, which I believe is the key to customer-centric design in any field.

At the same time, it is extremely important to recognize that the rationalization that many people give when making choices may not be fully informed. They likely do not realize all of the options available to them, or the options that are available technically. They are likely not experts trained in design, finance, marketing, technology, or psychology. Observation, whether direct or indirect, is they key for more informed experts to help produce solutions that the customer may not understand are possible. Customers will ask you for a candle, when what they really want is portable light. They will ask you for a VCR with fast rewind, instead of a DVD player.

So, in this case, to borrow the corporate-speak, you need to embrace the AND. Listen to your customers, empathize with them, know them as they know themselves. But measure and observe, review the data, and leverage the professional expertise of the product team to delight your customer with solutions that they didn’t even realize were possible. Once you have those designs, you have to test and tune them. You’ll know when you are on the right track when you find yourself surprised and delighted by your customer insights and design results.

Google, Apple & EBM (Everyone But Microsoft)

A lot of press today about Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google and alumnus of Sun & Novell, joining the Board of Directors of Apple Computer.

Everyone is a buzz with implications of what happens if these hot hot hot companies join forces against Microsoft. As you can tell from my sarcasm, as usual, I think the press is sensationalizing a fairly mundane corporate event here, just because putting Google & Apple in the title of articles gets readers these days.

Don Dodge potentially gives this idea more credit than it deserves, but provides a really thorough explanation on why we shouldn’t count our merger chickens before they have hatched.

Of course, if you look closely at any two big internet players these days, you can find synergies:

  • has a lot of traffic
  • The Safari browser has 3% marketshare and growing
  • iTunes is the winner in the online distribution of music
  • Google is the winner in market share for natural search
  • Google paid search economics are currently the best available
  • Google Video is a player in the nascent digital video market

However, this announcement has a lot more to do with the fact that Steve & Eric run in the same circles, have a lot of common friends and beliefs, and of course, Google & Apple are both great consumer internet brands. It looks good for Eric & Google to be on the board of Apple, and it looks good for Apple to have Google & Eric on board. Simple.

What is interesting to me, however, is how much better Google is doing handling the mantle of “Leader of the EBM Club” (EBM = Everyone But Microsoft). This has been a dangerous baton to hold, and many formerly strong companies have been destroyed this way. But Google has learned a thing or two about how to proceed here, and it is interesting to watch the next round of the “let’s try to topple Microsoft” game.

It’s different this time, of course. Google & Yahoo both are giving Microsoft fits, so the three-way dynamic is immediately more interesting. Success by new entrants (MySpace, Facebook, YouTube) keep changing the game. The resurrection of Apple continues to astound veterans. And as eBay has shown recently, the other internet powers will weigh in and influence this game. This is a very exciting time to be in the Internet space.

I remember in the late 1990s when Netscape had this mantle, and completely failed to appreciate the responsibility. They largely shunned Apple. Their arrogance got in the way of a deal with AOL (ironic, given the later merger).

There was a time when Netscape had all the market share you could want, but Microsoft clawed their way into a significant minority (25-30%). Then with one deal (the infamous AOL deal to use Internet Explorer), they flipped to majority marketshare and never looked back.

I bring up this story because shunning Apple was not about marketshare, although at the time Macs were still disproportionately strong in Internet market share because they come with networking out of the box, and because Macs were strong in the university & high income demographics (early adopters of the web).

Apple is the Grandpa of Microsoft battles of yesteryear. It is still a thought leader on imagining a world where you DON’T need a DOS/Windows PC. Their audience, though small, are thought leaders – disproportionately represented by the creatives, the journalists, and the executive ranks. They are also cooler than most.

By linking their name with Apple, Google in some ways gains a small, but powerful ally. Like a chapter out of The Lord of the Rings, it makes people think maybe this new champion will succeed against Microsoft where others have failed. The prophecy fulfilled.

The baton is passed.

I’ll post another time about why I think the question of Google vs. Microsoft is likely the wrong one. The Google ethos isn’t about killing Microsoft. In the end, this is much more about future growth opportunities for Microsoft than any type of defeat. But in our market-based economy, growth is power, so it’s worth talking about… another day.

Blogs I Read: Don Dodge

In the spirit of hilighting some of the best blogs that I read and given Google’s product announcement today for “Applications for Your Domain“, I’d like to point you to this humorous press release on Don Dodge’s blog today:

Don Dodge on The Next Big Thing: Google Announces New 24X0 Support Service for Business Users

I find Don’s blog particularly interesting because he:

  • Posts regularly
  • Provides insight from his unique experiences at AltaVista, Napster, and now Microsoft
  • Provides a rare intersection of the “modern” Microsoft point-of-view on Web 2.0 and related technologies and products, with an outsider flavor
  • Seems to genuinely understand the professional Venture Capital viewpoint on key technology trends (based on my experience as an Associate Partner in a multi-billion dollar early stage firm)

A worthy addition to anyone’s RSS feed…