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Kindle Review

November 20, 2007 37 comments

Got my Kindle today and have been playing with it for a little while. FYI, I’ve owned a Sony Reader since the day it shipped, too. I’ve always loved to read, and as a result, I’m usually reading multiple books at once. I think I’m currently partway through at least 10 of them, so when I travel, it’s hard to know what kind of mood I’ll be in and I have to pack lots. And they’re heavy. A device like the Kindle or Reader is the holy grail for someone like me, plus I’m a gadget geek, so I’m always an early adopter.

I’ve loved my Sony Reader, the device itself, since I bought it. But the Sony Connect software is so unbelievably bad, I can’t really bring myself to use it. Combined with a terrible selection of books, the Reader has been mostly worthless, despite being a fairly great device. Which is really sad. When I heard the Kindle had the ability to just buy books with a click, no software required, I knew I had to at least give it a try.

Here’s a brief rundown of my thoughts so far:

  • It’s not ugly. I’ve been moaning to everyone who would listen that it’s an ugly device for awhile now, but in person, it’s actually small, light, and understated. It’s certainly not an Apple-designed wonder, but it’s hardly ugly, either. And I find I enjoy reading on the white device (Kindle) more than the black one (Reader), probably due to the contrast or maybe just the white gets “out of the way” more easily, letting me slip into the book.
  • The display is gorgeous, just like the Reader. I have zero problems with it. I’m already used to the lag when you change pages from using the Reader, and I found that after just a few days of using the Reader, I was already hitting the Next Page button early enough so the page turned just when I wanted it to.
  • The scroll thing is very cool and fun to use. I got some ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ here at the office as worked it’s magic.
  • The Next/Prev page buttons are much nicer than the ones on my Reader.
  • The EVDO works like magic. Buying books online with a click, no software required, is the killer feature here, and it’s perfect.
  • It comes pre-associated to your Amazon account, so there’s no configuration. Just pick it up, turn it on, and start browsing & buying. *Very* cool.
  • The book selection sucks. There are big gaps, even for well-known bestselling books. Having worked in the book industry before, I put most of this blame in publisher’s laps. They’re just a nightmare to deal with, and paranoid about their content. Apparently they don’t want my money or yours, and even Amazon doesn’t have the weight to make them see reason. Shades of the music, TV, and movie industries, anyone? This must be incredibly frustrating to Jeff and everyone else at Amazon.
  • The web browser worked surprisingly well in the few minutes I used it. But at Amazon.com, I was getting some strange results. Using my Mac’s browser, I searched for a product and quickly found it. But on the Kindle, it failed to turn up the same results, even when I searched for very specific words in the title and description. I was hoping to buy it from my Kindle, but alas, I had to do it the old fashioned way.

More about the book selection… Wanting to have a reference library on my Kindle, I started looking for some of my favorites I refer to often. I searched for Good to Great, my all time favorite business book, first and instead managed to find a weighty tome of eight papal social encyclicals that I could buy for the low low price of $100.80. Built to Last isn’t there either. Pour Your Heart Into It? Nope. Innovator’s Dilemma? Nope. They did have The Wisdom of Crowds and The Culture Code, both of which I bought.

On to a personal favorite category of mine, historical fiction, I knew they’d have James Clavell’s Shogun – but it wasn’t to be. Nor most of Colleen McCullough’s awesome Masters of Rome series, though luckily The October Horse is available (and now on my Kindle). Fine, how about history – Guns, Germs & Steel. Bzzt, no joy. How about the best book ever written on health & nutrition – The China Study? Nope, none of that either. (They did have another excellent book, the Omnivore’s Dilemma). Luckily they did have my favorite fantasy author of all time, George R.R. Martin, and his Song of Ice and Fire books.

There were some strange ones, too. For example, they do have The Daring Book for Girls – but not The Dangerous Book for Boys. And you would be surprised at how many of my search terms turned up weighty, expensive scholarly works rather than the books and novels I was looking for.

Bottom line: I love the device, I love the Kindle Store interface, I just wish the selection was better. I believe it’ll be a permanent resident in my laptop bag, going everywhere I go, but it looks like I’ll still be forced to lug around some dead trees. 😦

UPDATE: Spent quite a bit more time with it last night doing what it’s really supposed to be used for – reading – instead of playing with all the whiz-bang features. I curled up on the couch with Jedi and the Kindle and got lost in The October Horse. And I’ve gotta tell you – it’s a much better device than the Sony Reader in lots of subtle ways:

  • The Next Page buttons are in *much* better places and are much easier to use than the Reader. I tend to curl up on my side to read a lot, switching sides every 15-30 minutes, and the Kindle is easy and natural to hold in such a way that turning to the next page is very easy.
  • I was right about the white color – it makes it easier to sink into reading as well as read the text. The device does almost get out of the way better than the Reader because it’s white.
  • The flicker when you turn pages is still mildly annoying, just like it is on the Reader, and distracts you from completely sinking into the book… at first. Just like the Reader, though, a couple of pages in, your brain has magically figured out the right timing to turn the pages at precisely the right time so the flicker happens as your eyes are traveling from the bottom-right to the top-left of the page. Then the flicker feels no more jarring than turning a page on a dead tree.
  • The cover sucks for reading. Seems like it’s probably great for when I throw it in my laptop bag, but the Sony Reader’s cover is a much better fit, less bulky, etc. I guess the Kindle’s cover needs to be sorta bulky so it can prop the book up for optimal EVDO range, but it still sucks. Take it off to read – it just gets in the way.
  • The text, just like the Reader, is just as easy to read as any book. I have the font on the smallest setting, to minimize page turns, and it’s beautiful and legible. That part of the experience is literally almost indistinguishable from reading a book.

More as I get it… πŸ™‚

Categories: amazon, personal

I get SLAs now. Duh.

October 11, 2007 5 comments

Ok, so I guess I’m a total n00b. In hindsight, SLAs make a lot of sense after all. The whole point isn’t to compensate SmugMug for our loss, it’s to make it unprofitable for the service provider to keep making the same mistakes.

In other words, let’s say Amazon’s margins on S3 are 15%. (I have no data, I’m just picking that number out of the air). If Amazon has a serious problem during a month, they have to cough up 25% to all their customers. In other words, they lose 10% instead of make 15%.

That’s pretty major incentive – and it now totally makes sense why SLAs are so highly valued.

Carry on.

Categories: amazon, business, datacenter

Amazon S3 SLA is here! (Nirvanix dies?)

October 8, 2007 17 comments

Amazon has finally released and put into effect their SLA for S3. I know a lot of my readers will be thrilled about this. πŸ™‚

I’ve gotten a few questions about Nirvanix in the past month or so, especially about the fact that they offer an SLA (and that S3 didn’t). I think this probably puts the final nail in Nirvanix’ coffin because:

  • Why would you trust Nirvanix, a no-name company, with your precious data?
  • Worse, they’re affiliated with MediaMax/Streamload in some way, who have a reputation of poor service. (I’ve even seen reports of data loss at Streamload, though I haven’t bothered to check).
  • Just how much is an SLA worth when there’s nothing behind it to back it up?
  • They’re more expensive than Amazon. Um, duh.

SLAs don’t mean a lot to us, anyway, as I’ve said before because:

  • Everything fails sometimes.
  • The SLA payment is rarely comparable to the pain and suffering your customers had to deal with.

But I know it’s very important to lots of people, so I expect there’s cheering and dancing in the streets. πŸ™‚

UPDATE: I get SLAs now. Sorry for being dumb.

Categories: amazon, datacenter

Speaking at 'The Startup Project' Wednesday

September 11, 2007 2 comments

I should have posted this awhile ago. I suck. I’m sorry.

Anyway, I’m speaking at The Startup Project, an Amazon and Kleiner-Perkins event tomorrow in the Silicon Valley. I’ll be talking a little bit about S3, EC2, and FPS, the three announced Amazon Web Services we’re most excited about.

There’ll be a Q&A, and I’m happy to stick around after and answer questions about AWS or anything else under the sun, too, if you have any.

See ya there! RSVPs are required, I believe.

(On a related note, I blew it this year and spoke at and attended too many events. In 2008, I’ll be going to far fewer conferences and will be very selective of the ones I speak at, so if you think I’d be a good fit with your event, ask earlier rather than later please)

Categories: amazon, smugmug

Amazon Flexible Payment Service (FPS)

August 4, 2007 9 comments

To answer the questions, yes, we’re definitely going to be using FPS in a big way (millions of dollars per year) shortly. We aren’t, though, going to be using the part that all the press are talking about – the so-called ‘PayPal killer’. We don’t talk about un-released features at SmugMug, so I’m afraid I have to leave it at that – but feel free to speculate. πŸ™‚

On a personal note, I’m really excited about FPS because, like many, I hate PayPal. When we were getting SmugMug off the ground, I was interested in using PayPal either as our main payment option, or at least as an alternative. Their developer support was terrible, though, and the ability to do big batches was apparently nonexistent. I even knew people over there, and they’d just shrug with a ‘what can you do?’ look on their faces when I’d ask them if we could use their stuff.

Definitely not Amazon’s approach. πŸ™‚

UPDATE: Apparently I was too abstract in my initial post about how we’d be using it, so here’s a quick clarification. We’re not going to use FPS to enable you to signup for SmugMug service or buy prints & gifts using FPS. We have something else in mind. πŸ™‚

Why not use FPS (or PayPal, for that matter) for signup & purchase, you might ask. Our answer is that we’re not totally comfortable passing customers along to a UI we don’t control and isn’t branded at such a crucial point in our monetization process. The establishment of brand, and even more specifically, trust in that brand, is extremely important to us. These are people’s priceless photos, afterall, and we want to be clear on who’s taking care of them. It’s entirely possible we’re shooting ourselves in the foot with this stance, but that’s our prerogative.

Categories: amazon, smugmug

Amazon S3: New pricing model

I’m getting emails about Amazon’s new S3 pricing model, so I guess the news is out. πŸ™‚

For us, this is great. We’ll save money right off the top (we upload a lot, so $0.10/GB uploaded vs $0.20/GB uploaded is a big deal) first of all, and secondly, they finally have tiered download transfer costs. This is a big one for us, because we buy enough bandwidth that $0.20/GB wasn’t cost-effective enough for us.

I’m going to have to run some numbers (I’m at MIX right now) to see if it’s now good enough for us to start serving more content out of S3 or not, but even if it’s still not perfect for us, it’s a major move in the right direction.

Finally, this illustrates a subtle but important point of using S3. When I buy physical disks at SmugMug, those are sunk costs. They’ll never get cheaper because I’ve already paid for them. At Amazon, though, market forces and changes will cause their pricing model to continue to re-adjust downwards. As disks get cheaper, that $0.15/GB/month fee will drop. And instantly all of your storage magically gets cheaper, no sunk costs to worry about.

That happened today, and I’m sure it’ll happen over and over again as storage & bandwidth both get cheaper and Amazon is able to leverage their scale to get better deals. The more people use S3, the more Amazon can drive prices down.

Since we were already saving a ton of money using S3, this is music to my ears. πŸ™‚

ETech 2007 SmugMug Amazon Slides are Up!

March 30, 2007 16 comments

My slides from ETech 2007 about Amazon’s Web Services, especially S3, are up in PDF form.

Holler if something isn’t clear, but hopefully this’ll give anyone who couldn’t make it some good insight into what works and what doesn’t with S3 here at SmugMug.

Enjoy!

Categories: amazon, business, smugmug, web 2.0

ETech Amazon S3 slides are coming

March 30, 2007 Comments off

I think they’ll be up later today, I’m just trying to put some of my speaking notes into them, too, so you’re not left wondering what each bullet point means.

So subscribe (see the right sidebar) or come back later.

Sorry they’re not up yet! πŸ™‚

UPDATE: They’re up!

Categories: amazon, smugmug

Amazon S3: The "speed of light" problem

March 8, 2007 9 comments

I was interviewed yesterday by Beth Pariseau for an article about Amazon’s S3 at SearchStorage.com. All-in-all I think it’s a good article that covers some of Amazon’s strengths and weaknesses, but would like to clarify some of my quotes in the article.

I’m quoted as having no read speed issues, but having write speed problems. As is common in articles like this, that’s boiling down a long conversation and much is lost in the translation. πŸ™‚ In reality, Amazon has been blazingly fast for us (both reads and writes), relatively speaking, except for the few times they’ve had problems, which I’ve blogged about before. That particular quote, especially about it being less than a 10th of a second, was my attempt to explain the “speed of light” problem, which applies to both read and writes. Even mighty Amazon hasn’t yet figured out how to transfer data at faster-than-light speeds. πŸ™‚

Basically, we’re in California and Amazon isn’t. This means that when we initiate a read or a write to S3, we’re sending bytes to them and they have to cover, at minimum, the physical distance to Amazon’s datacenters (wherever they are) before anything can be done. Assuming that one of their datacenters in on the East Coast, and assuming we have to read or write from that one occasionally, we’re talking 60-80ms of time just to get bits there and back. No-one on Planet Earth can get around this problem, so it bears consideration when you’re planning for S3 usage.

Obviously, our data in our own datacenters suffers from this problem too – only it’s inches, instead of thousands of miles, to our servers, so it’s almost negligible. But we do have clients all over the world, so the problem is still very real. Our friends Down Under, for example, have to wait much longer for their photos to start drawing than our friends at the Googleplex down the street. If we really wanted to solve that problem, we’d have to build or use a CDN (Content Distribution Network). So far, we haven’t wanted to.

Beth mentions how Bob Ippolito at Mochi Media got better performance in Taipei with CacheFly than with Amazon S3. To me, this seems sorta obvious. To my knowledge, S3 doesn’t have a datacenter in Asia at all, and secondly, they’re not a CDN. Let me say that again – they’re not a CDN. Amazon has their issues they need to overcome with S3, but dinging them for lower performance than a CDN is sorta silly. S3 doesn’t provide web search faster than Google either. See my point?

I’m sure Amazon has thought (or is thinking?) about extending S3 to offer CDN services, but I believe the way Amazon builds these things, it’d probably be a separate service that could be layered on top of S3. They’re into offering building blocks which you can mix & match, not complicated services that do too much. (To any would-be Amazon Web Services competitors reading this, the building block approach is the Right Way to do this.)

Beth’s article is right on the money with regards to data transfer costs, though. S3 currently has two sweet spots: small companies who can’t buy large bandwidth, and companies who need a lot of storage but not a lot of transfers. There are, of course, companies which need a lot of transfers but not much storage (CDNs are probably appropriate here), and companies which need a lot of transfers AND a lot of storage. SmugMug potentially falls into this latter category, but you can imagine someone like YouTube falling into it even more than we do. How they solve the different requirements of different companies will be interesting to watch.

Let me reiterate in case it’s not abundantly clear: I love S3. It’s saved us tons of money. I’m a normal, paying customer – not an Amazon shill. It has problems and growing pains, just like every single other online site or service you can name. It may not be right for you – but it’s certainly right for a ton of us.

I address the “speed of light” issue (and some ways of minimizing it) and the whole “sweet spot” pricing issue on my ETech talk (which I’m still working on). If there’s anything specific you’d like to see, be sure to let me know – I’ll be posting the slides here.

Categories: amazon, business, smugmug, web 2.0

Amazon S3: What would you like to know?

February 2, 2007 16 comments

As I mentioned in my article about performance issues with S3, I’m speaking on the subject at ETech this year. I’m planning on spending roughly half the time on the business ramifications and half on technical architecture. And I’ll be posting the slides or a PDF or something here after the presentation.

But I’d love some feedback about what you would like me to talk about so you can get the most out of my presentation and/or the information I put up here.

Leave a comment telling me what you’re most interested in about S3 and our implementation and I’ll re-prioritize based on your feedback.

Thanks!

UPDATE: Slides from ETech 2007 are up.

Categories: amazon, business, smugmug, web 2.0
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