Thursday, November 08, 2007


As an unbridled capitalist, I never thought I would be siding with a union of any kind. I've never been a member of a union and have never desired to be. Don't get me wrong, I think there was a time for unions. But we don't have children working in coal mines anymore. And from my point of view the unions have succumbed to the very greed they claim to rail against.

But as I learn more and more about the Writers Guild of America strike I become more sympathetic to their arguments, but not for the reasons they would like.

The crux of the complaint is probably best explained by this video the writers of "The Office" posted about the strike.

Some people watch that and see people complaining about their boss screwing them out of pay for extra work. What I see is ANOTHER indication that the Hollywood STILL doesn't "get" the Internet and the change it is going to make in the way media is consumed. They still view it as nothing more than a marketing media, when in reality it is a delivery medium.

I see the television changing so much in the next five or so years that the concept of a "television channel" will be completely obsolete. It all started with Tivo. I remember the day I got mine (generation one) and it's not an exaggeration to say that it completely changed the way I watched television. I never had to worry about being home in front of the TV when my favorite show started. I'm not what I would call a "TV Junkie" by any means, but there are a handful of shows I really hate to miss. I now longer had to make a choice, or be worried about missing my favorite show. I just knew that at a certain point in time the show would just be on my Tivo for me to watch whenever I wanted. It seems so simple now, DVRs are pretty much everywhere, but it was a big change at the time.

The next step was the Internet. Well, more specifically it was the widespread available of cheap high-speed access to the Internet. To be honest, I think the only people I know who still use dial-up are my parents! I'm hoping this changes before I arrive for Thanksgiving next week, but I'm not holding my breath.

Anyway, this wide availability of high-speed Internet made high quality video over the Internet a practical reality. It took iTunes to demonstrate that not only was there a market for this type of media consumption, but that people were even willing to pay for it! Now all the major networks offer (or are preparing to offer) their content (meaning whole shows, albeit with commercials) for download. Products like Microsoft Windows Media Center and Slingbox, not the mention the new generation of Tivo, will continue to offer new possibilities for using the Internet as a delivery method of content.

So, it's really discouraging to hear what is behind this strike. Clearly the networks think of "web content" as a sort of second class form of entertainment. Instead of trying to keep their customers rooted in the past they should be embracing these changes and finding new models to do business in. Instead of fighting this new market they need to find a way to embrace it. Consumers want these things. It's in Hollywood's best interest to provide them.

And don't get me started on movies!

Monday, November 05, 2007

A Blast From The Past

I had a bit of an unusual assignment from a client last week. I had to find a copy of Visual Interdev. Yeah, that one.


The client in question has system that exports information from their common data model into a specialized one depending on client and purpose. Basically it dynamically crates an Access database from scratch and then copies data into it. The problem is that it does all this in VBScript. It's a ton of processing, and it all occurs in the pages life cycle. Understandably, this causes issues when the client has either a lot of data to export, or a complex destination schema. They are running into the inevitable problem now; processes are timing out.

The application is a ASP Classic web application written in notepad. For the time it was written, and the tools that were available to the developer, it's a pretty well designed and built application, but it's definitely showing its age.

The client wants to convert this to .NET, which I am 100% behind. The problem comes when a client with a system based on old technology wants to simply "convert" the application from one platform to another. The client in question hasn't indicated that this is their mind set, but I've had several clients in the past who have felt I should just be able to run their ASP Classic application through a conversion wizard and be done with it, so I'm mentally getting my ducks in a row if this turns out to be the case.

Not only does technology change, but architectural techniques and practices evolve. A design which may have made sense even five years ago can easily be rendered obsolete by changing business needs just as much by advances in technology.

The key problem with the current application is that the majority of the heavy lifting takes place in the page life cycle. Doing a "one-to-one" conversion from ASP Classic to .NET will make it run a bit faster, but you still have the underlying problem; the wrong part of the application is doing all the work. Sure, the increased performance may help for a while, but eventually there is going to be more and more data as their client base increases and they are going to have the same problem again. By performing a conversion like this the client is just reinvesting  in the wrong architecture.

In this case, it's clearly time for a ground-up redesign of the application.  Clients can often balk at this as on the surface it can present a larger investment; discovery must be done, a design phase is required and it's likely that nothing from the previous version can be salvaged.

But this situation also presents a lot potential positives that may sway a client as well. For one thing, the promise of a system that will grow with the business, not require the business to grow around it. An opportunity to overhaul the user experience may be a way to increase productivity. Perhaps your client have been clamoring for services that your current architecture can't support. Now is the time to look into including these and perhaps introducing new revenue streams. There are lots of ways to find ROI (besides just "Oh, it will work better") in situations like these, and it's very important to find these to make the redesign attractive to the client.