Yay for Kindle

Amazon have just relaunched the Kindle e-reading device in the UK, with a new model, which looks rather spiffy.


Mine is one of the old, white ones – but I still love it. The new one features a new layout which makes the device smaller overall but keeping the same sized screen. The Kindle now supports wifi, which is cool – mine can only use 3G networks.

As John Naughton writes in his Observer column on the subject:

In the end, however, it’s not hardware that matters, but the effectiveness of the overall system in which the device is embedded. That was the great lesson of the Apple iPod: although the hardware was lovely from the outset, it would never have had the impact it had without the link to iTunes software on the PC/Mac and thence to the iTunes store. Other companies had made nice MP3 players, but none had put together a seamless system for getting music from CDs or online retailers on to them. Apple did and the rest is history.

The evolution of the ebook business reveals the same kind of pattern. First up, in 2006, was Sony, with a beautifully crafted device that had one crippling drawback: the difficulty of getting stuff on to it. A year later, Amazon launched the first-generation Kindle, a device inferior to the Sony product in every respect save one: it had wireless connectivity to the Amazon online store, which meant that purchasing and downloading books on to the device was a breeze. After that, it was game over for Sony and, indeed, for all the other companies that had piled into the e-reader market.

There are a number of cool things about the Kindle, some of which are unique to it, some that aren’t. Here are my top three.

1. Instant books

As John points out in his article, the iTunes-like ability to buy books right away is remarkably powerful. It’s like the difference between ordering a CD online or downloading an MP3 – why wait a day for it to be delivered when you can have it now?

2. Social reading

One thing the Kindle allows you to do is to set bookmarks in your e-books, and also to annotate them with notes. In addition to this, you can also highlight passages to make sure you remember them.

A social layer has now been added to this, in that you can now see what other people who have that book on their Kindles have highlighted. It’s a bit like seeing how many other people have saved a web page in Delicious, and is very cool.

3. Syncing

As well as the Kindle e-reader device, Amazon make applications available for other hardware to read books on, including Mac, Windows, Android and iPhone. This enables you to download books to other devices and keep reading even when you don’t have your Kindle on you.

Most obviously useful for phones, the really great thing with the Kindle is the way that when you open a book in one of the apps, it opens on the last page you read on your Kindle. Likewise, when you then open the book on your Kindle, it catches up to where you got up to on the other device.

Bookmarks for April 30th through May 14th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

  • Should the Public Sector pay for Content Management Systems? « Carl’s Notepad – [with open source] "You will still need to consider the integration aspects but open source products are far more likely to integrate (openness is key) then the big supplier products (no motivation to integrate)."
  • Office 2010: the SharePoint factor – "The simple conclusion then is that to make sense of Office 2010 you need SharePoint 2010. The snag is that SharePoint is not something to roll out casually. Although it has a huge number of interesting features, it is also complex and easy to break. "
  • No Overall Control – a Future State of ICT – "To really address the gap between people in ICT and people who work in the Business (people outside of ICT) you actually need to start moving the competencies that IT Professionals have into the Business."
  • The Fate of the Semantic Web – "While many survey participants noted that current and emerging technologies are being leveraged toward positive web evolution in regard to linking data, there was no consensus on the technical mechanisms and human actions that might lead to the next wave of improvements – nor how extensive the changes might be."
  • tecosystems » I Love WordPress But… – "the reasons we self-host our WordPress instances are being eliminated at an accelerating rate"
  • Meatball Wiki – "Meatball is a community of active practitioners striving to teach each other how to organize people using online tools."
  • Amazon Pursues The Feds and the Potential Billions in Cloud Computing Services – ReadWriteCloud – "Amazon is quietly pursuing the multi-billion dollar federal cloud computing market, intensifying an already fast accelerating sales and marketing effort by Google, Microsoft and a host of others."
  • What’s Wrong With CSS – "Most of all, what I've learned from this exercise in site theming is that CSS is kind of painful. I fully support CSS as a (mostly) functional user interface Model-View-Controller. But even if you have extreme HTML hygiene and Austrian levels of discipline, CSS has some serious limitations in practice."
  • WordPress-to-lead for Salesforce CRM – "People can enter a contact form on your site, and the lead goes straight into Salesforce CRM: no more copy pasting lead info, no more missing leads: each and every one of them is in Salesforce.com for you to follow up."
  • A Collection of 50+ Enterprise 2.0 Case Studies and Examples – Nice resource. Some great examples in here.
  • Headshift Projects: Projects by Sector – Nice collection of social software case studies.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Some recent reading

As well as blogs, tweets and reports that are published online, I spend quite a bit of time reading books too. They are often great for the bigger picture stuff which requires a bit of thought and chewing over.

Here’s a list of some of the stuff I’ve been reading recently – I’ve marked them as either DT (dead tree, ie a real paper book) or K (meaning I have it on my Kindle). It’s all in no particular order.

The Kindle has really changed the way I read techy books. I now won’t buy a work related book in paper form unless I have to – they just seem to suit the Kindle really well. I won’t switch to the Kindle for novels just yet, I don’t think, but for some reason the digital form suits non-fiction rather well.

(Disclaimer – where I have linked to Amazon, I have used associate links, meaning I get a few pence if you buy the book via the link. All the money I make from these goes towards the running of Palimpsest, a book group forum I host.)

DavePress bookshop

I’ve always wanted to own a bookshop. Somewhere nice and quiet, with tables to sit down and read, some sort of tea and coffee arrangement and plenty of books to browse and buy.

I’m obviously not ever going to have one – after all, if Borders can’t cope, then how could I? But I can have a virtual arrangement, thanks to Amazon’s astore service.

You can find it here. I’m still stocking the shelves, but you should find some good stuff in there. In fact, they are all books I have read and liked, so you can blame me if they’re crap.

Disclosure – I get a few pence every time you use the bookshop. I’m not going to get rich out of it, though!


My Kindle arrived today.

I can haz Kindle

For those that don’t know, it’s Amazon’s own e-reader, a portable device that can hold around 1,500 books in its memory which can be read by turning pages using the buttons.

Even though I knew the screen was 6 inches, it still seemed smaller than I was expecting. The device is also a lot thinner than I thought it would be:


The screen is really weird, it’s like nothing you’ve looked at before – other than the page of a book. Very odd.

Another interesting thing is the wireless – the Kindle uses the cell network, the cost of which is covered by Amazon and is presumably a part of the cost of the device.

Anyway, I can buy and download books from Amazon.com – not from the UK store yet (which may mean spelling issues…), or add books or documents from my computer. This can be done either by plugging the Kindle into my computer with the supplied USB cable (also my only way of charging it, since the plug supplied is US only too), or by sending a file by email to a special address, which is pretty neat.

You can also use the keyboard to add annotations to documents or books, so this could be really useful for students.

As well as established e-readers like the Sony Reader, the Kindle also has competition from Barnes and Nobles’ new Nook. Crunchgear has a useful comparison chart.

Cloudcamb notes


Here are the notes I mananged to make at CloudCamb, which was organised jolly well by Matt Wood (MZA on twitter).

Simone Brunozzi, Technical Evangelist, Amazon Web Services (simon on twitter)

Cloud computing helps answer the ‘prediction problem’ – knowing what your tech needs will be in the future

Need to expand to take advantage of an opportunity

What about periodical demand?

Results in extra cost and delays

lack of power and flexibility in infrastructure

Cloud computing allows a business to: focus on your skills, limit cap ex, scale quickly, reliable, innovate and save money

Principles of AWS: cloud computing, easy to use, secure, flexible, on demand, pay per use, self service, platform agnostic

Services: include S3 – storage, EC2 – virtual server, Cloudfront – content delivery, Database – SimpleDB

By end 2007 AWS were using more bandwidth than all Amazon retail sites put together. S3 objects (basically, files hosted) 800m in q3 2003, 29bn q3 2008

Cloud computing suits cloud computing. No upfront investment, cost effective, follow your success, shorter time to market

AMAZON S3 – Smugmug.com saved $500k pa using S3 (ie just by moving storage of files). Scalable online storage, cheap & reliable, simple APIs (REST, SOAP)

AMAZON EC2 – Vitual servers on demand, from $0.10 per hour, Linux, Windows, OpenSolaris all available. Elastic IP , Elastic Block store, availability zones, SLA 99.95% Licences for software can be paid for by the hour. Animoto Feb 08 80 ‘instances’ of EC2. Then launched facebook app went up to over 3500 by April. Would have been impossible to scale like that traditionally.

AMAZON CLOUDFRONT – Improve content delivery through caching. Easy setup, no committment, 8 locations in US, 4 in europe, 2 in Asia. Elastic and reliable. Tiered pricing.

AWS offers: fault tolerance, scalability, rapid innovation possible, no barriers of adoption, better pricing model, no upfront investment, faster time to market, choice, partners

Who uses? NY Times, Nasdaq, Washington Post, Linden Labs, amongst others

Future: operational excellent, security, certification for developers, international expansion, management console, load balance, auto-scaling, monitoring

EC2 now available in europe – though no Windows stuff

Amazon yet to not be able to provide service to a customer

Toby WhiteInkling Software (tow21 on twitter)

Toby is talking about ‘Running a startup in the cloud’

All of Inkling’s servers run on EC2. But cost so far has been more than traditional servers, but that is not what matters. S3 is cheap, EC2 less so.

Ease of use – Inkling have few staff, have better things to do than server admin

Amazon makes process very easy, setting up new instances etc. Scriptable, repeatable and testable. Version controlling of AMIs. Forces you to consider these issues, which is a good thing.

Karim Chine – Computational e-Science in the Cloud: towards a federative and collaborative platform

Karim started by showing just how easy it is to use Amazon EC2. ElasticFox is an FF extension that helps manage the service.

There is a lot of science in this particular talk. I’m not sure I can keep up. It’s something about reproduceable computational results. I think. Just read this, if you want to know more.

Seriously, though, some of the stuff I understood about this show that the ability for people involved in scientific projects to collaborate over the internet in this way is superb, and the technology is clearly pretty innovative, not to mention hugely complicated. Given that I am attending a meeting in a building called the Centre for Mathematical Sciences, I would imagine that a lot of other people here would know a lot more about this than me.

Cloudcamb, 17th December 2008

This is why I moved to Cambridge – stuff like CloudCamb happening on your doorstep:

All are invited to attend the first Amazon Web Services user group in Cambridge, on Wednesday 17th December. Learn more about getting started from the experts, or discuss your own use of Amazon Web Services with like minded start ups, businesses, scientists and entrepreneurs.

More details at the CloudCamb site.

Amazon MP3 is go in the UK

Amazon have been selling downloadable MP3s in the States for a while now, and finally you can get them in the UK.

Amazon MP3

For those currently getting their legal digital music from the likes of iTunes, you should find the prices at Amazon much more to your taste!

Amazon also claim their downloads are DRM free, meaning you can use them on whatever software or playing device you like, and you can burn CDs to your heart’s content.


Trust in Web 2.0

Danah Boyd writes a post about a rather worrying occurence: a friend who had their Google account taken away from them:

Earlier this week, an acquaintance of mine found himself trapped in a Kafka-esque nightmare, a nightmare that should make all of us stop and think. He wants to remain anonymous so let’s call him Bob. Bob was an early adopter of all things Google. His account was linked to all sorts of Google services. Gmail was the most important thing to him – he’d been using it for four years and all of his email (a.k.a. “his life”) was there. Bob also managed a large community in Orkut, used Google’s calendaring service, and had accounts on many of of their different properties.

Earlier this week, Bob received a notice that there was a spam problem in his Orkut community. The message was in English and it looked legitimate and so he clicked on it. He didn’t realize that he’d fallen into a phisher’s net until it was too late. His account was hijacked for god-knows-what-purposes until his account was blocked and deleted. He contacted Google’s customer service and their response basically boiled down to “that sucks, we can’t restore anything, sign up for a new account.” Boom! No more email, no more calendar, no more Orkut, no more gChat history, no more Blogger, no more anything connected to his Google account.

Maybe no-one should rely on just one company to do everything for them. I really only rely on Google for my email, but even if just that disappeared, I’d be seriously pissed off. Again, this is one of the anti-web2.0 arguments: relying on these third party services is all well and good, but what happens when something goes wrong? How can we trust these people with our data, our information, our identities?

This week saw some outage on Amazon’s S3 and EC3 services. Many people might think of Amazon as just a supplier of books and CDs, and a whole lot of other stuff. But they also offer services for people who run websites, hosting and that sort of thing. It’s used by an awful lot of Web 2.0 startups, because it means they don’t have to even buy a server to start a company – let Amazon handle the headaches for a monthly fee.

But when this giant back-end, if you’ll excuse the unpleasant image, goes down, what’s left? For those of us that are trying to sell the web 2.0 and social media dream, what’s left is potentially a face covered in egg. We need to have confidence that the ideas and approaches we want people to take up are going to work 99.999999r% of the time. Especially when we are talking government, and public services, where stuff really has to work (though to be fair it often doesn’t).