Column catchup: Open infrastructure and memetic marketing

While I've been writing about other things, two of my weekly Strategic Developer columns have spooled up at For those who rely on this blog for pointers to those columns, here's a rundown.

The rise of open infrastructure

When entrepreneurs pitch their software-as-a-service ideas to me, I always ask how they plan to compete with what I call the galactic clusters -- Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. These giants have set a high bar for Internet-scale operations, and they're relentlessly pushing it higher.

The answer usually comes back: "We're confident we can scale out as needed." Maybe yes, maybe no. A lot depends on architectural choices and operational competence. But either way, if you are merely a planet, you don't want to butt heads with a galaxy.
At the moment, it seems very unlikely that a motley crew of volunteers distributed around the globe will be able to match the economies of scale and the military discipline that make today's giant clusters the awesome powers that they are. But shouldn't we have learned, by now, to expect the unexpected? [Full story at]

This column was partly inspired by a Tim O'Reilly posting. Later, Tim made connections back to my column (and to a recent blog item on S3) here. The ensuing discussion drifts over to open source licensing, but Tim reiterates this key point:

I think that there is an open, cooperative answer to the infrastructure advantages that accrue to the big web players. It will be interesting to see if it actually develops.

Although P2P technologies point the way forward, they carry way too much of the wrong kind of baggage. If a there were to emerge a P2P system dedicated to the robust delivery of services rather than content, that might help us recalibrate our thinking.

Tech believers, meet evolution

Marketers, when they are lucky, create memes that prosper by viral replication. But in the Petri dish of popular consciousness, man-made and organic memes compete on their own terms. They don't actually have their own agendas but, if we want to understand how they produce belief systems in us, it may be helpful to pretend that they do. [Full story at]

My editor, Neil McAllister, hates it when I use words like meme and memetic, and I try not to torment him, but once in a while I indulge myself. To celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of Richard Dawkins' seminal book The Selfish Gene, as well as the publication of Daniel Dennett's remarkable Breaking the Spell, I wrote a little essay exploring how Apple's TV ads can backfire, why we form religious beliefs about technology, and how modern evolutionary thinking bears on the memetics (sorry, Neil!) of marketing.

Back in March, by the way, there was an event in London called The Selfish Gene: Thirty Years On. The speakers were Daniel Dennett, Sir John Krebs, Matt Ridley, Ian McEwan, and Richard Dawkins. Excellent stuff -- in particular, I enjoyed Matt Ridley's dissection of the large fraction of the genome that is literally selfish, replicating without serving any biological purpose.

You can read their remarks or, as I did, listen to them.

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