Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Facebook Bio For Sale

Since October, Facebook has enabled users to download the data they have put on the service.  Today, I took advantage of this capability to make my data available for sale.

The result is a very nicely contained archive that opens in any web browser.  The posts to my wall from August, 2007 until today are intact, as well as everything I have posted:  updates, photos and videos in the resolution in which I posted them.

My friends are named in the archive.  All links within posts are intact.  You can see who a photo has been shared with.  If anyone were ever interested in seeing what comments and links I've consumed and shared, this is a great place to start.

My Facebook account has become increasingly important to me as a point of connection with my family and colleagues.  By extracting my data and making it available through a bitmenu link, I am able to share it on a "need to know" basis.  At the same time, I have restricted access to my Facebook Page to friends only. 

How could this be useful to you? 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Buying Pattern: Friends and Followers

USRowing's activities this week illustrates how one nonprofit organization uses social media to share content using Bitmenu links. The revenue they generate covers their media production costs.

This week's event was a National Selection Regatta. The winners in the featured men's and women's categories will  go the the FISA World Championships in Bled, Slovenia to represent the US in the single sculls event.

USRowing issued a series of press releases, tweets and Facebook posts to keep the press, their friends and followers up to date. All races were streamed live from the race-course, and the four featured races were then made available for sale and download via Bitmenu at 7:30am the day following the racing.

USRowing issued its first press release  two days prior to the event and included a link to where the featured races would be made available for sale once the event had concluded. The fact that all events were streamed live from the race course doesn't seem to reduce demand for their post-event videos at all. With the release available on, the tweets and posts started with simple links to the notice.

As the racing progressed throughout the event, including delays and re-scheduling due to weather, @USRowing issued no less than 62 tweets to their 2,442 followers and 11 Facebook posts to their 12,500 friends. Just ten hours after the completion of racing was announced, USRowing's bitmenu links were posted to their web site and announced on both social media platforms at 7:30am (eastern) this morning.

On the Bitmenu service side, the first USRowing sale and download occurred at 7:34am (eastern) and was followed by a steady stream of purchases throughout the day. The event videos from USRowing are so well announced to the core audience that when someone goes to purchase, we note a very low level of attrition.

Production Push: Redundancy is Repetitive

We've performed a production push this morning, adding a better-flowing website and navigation. Small changes to content tend to have a big impact on interpretation. We hope it's now much easier to understand what we do.

At the same time, our fearless compute-cloud friends at Amazon AWS have been having some major bad-times over the past 48 hours. A production-push announcement wouldn't be complete without acknowledging their current pain. We host the platform on Amazon's EC2, and related services. Starting late Wednesday night we saw the lights flickering but everything seemed to continue operating fine. Then as of 1am PST Thursday morning, and for the past 48 hours, they've been in the house of pain with a major east-coast USA outage.

The key to our dodging the outage is that we're not constantly bouncing EC2 instances with EBS mount/unmount events. To do so is not necessarily a bad design, but may be needed in systems that repeatedly get stuck for unknown reasons. Hey, we're not built on Ruby *cough*.

We run our system on a hand-rolled AWS stack, based on bash shell with it's own failover using haproxy, polling, and cron. As such, we can do progressive production pushes across multiple machines, without customers seeing the event. Now if you are still following me, and you know what that is, then you are an old school bad ass.

In a nutshell, we didn't go out, even though we're in us-east-1, which has been suffering through the outage event. Many thanks to Vincent Jorgensen, who's keen design is proving quite solid. UPDATE: O'Reilly Media's George Reese posted his perspective on the outage one day after.

All that, and today's my birthday.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Bitmenu In the News

Thanks to Ellie Behling of for her coverage of Bitmenu publishers and the Bitmenu story:

Single sales of digital content: one publisher's success story is a New York City based online publication serving print media executives who are transitioning their business to emedia.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Production Push, to Vista with Love

We just pushed to production and I'd like to highlight two notable changes (of many) that folks will see.

Vista users will have a bit friendlier experience when using our downloader. Previously files were automatically downloaded to the "Desktop", but due to Vista's different foldering-system, the "Desktop" was not easily navigable for many users. Windows XP and Windows 7 users don't have this problem. Windows Vista Open Dialog We're out to make all of our user's experience easy, so have changed the system for Vista users. When a file is downloaded, it is now saved to the "Documents" folder, and the file Explorer is automatically opened to the save-to location.

The second change is subtle, but should make every transaction smoother. We're now sending dual-formatted HTML/plaintext email receipts to users. They no longer have the scary-long URL links that we exposed in previous emails. They also provide a way to side-load content into all supported systems. So go ahead, save directly to iTunes, iBooks, or whatever supported destination there is.

Our goal is to produce the most open and reliable delivery system on the market. These new improvements create a smoother user experience when they come into play.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Discovery Patterns: Timing is everything

At Bitmenu, we've noticed some consistent ways that people discover and access digital media.

Time of Day
The right product at the right price is only part of the equation.  People check their email, Facebook and twitter accounts at various times during the day.  Knowing how a given community accesses these feeds makes them excellent vehicles for sharing offers.

When offers are announced regularly, at a given time of day, those publishers enjoy waves of purchases immediately after sharing a link as their promotion propagates across their community.

Regardless if done by email broadcast, Facebook post, or by Tweet, the first spike of downloads can occur within minutes after an announcement. As a campaign's day progresses, buying picks up towards the late afternoon and evening as people get off school or work and take care of personal business.

Global wake-up
For a US-based publisher, the sharing progresses across the globe as the evening arrives.  Pacific countries like New Zealand and Australia have healthy media appetites. Then Asia, Africa and finally Europe wake up and discover what opportunities have arrived in their feeds.

Weekends see no less action.  Not all users check their messages daily, and others put off acting on some items until they have time to consider their choices carefully.  Some publishers find the weekend provides an excellent time to make new offers available.

These traffic patterns are consistent with what is described in this formal study from Buddy Media.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Customer Love

At Bitmenu, our most direct communications with end users happen through our customer services.  We engage each customer purchase issue as an opportunity to learn and grow while supporting our publishers.  After all, publishers have enough to worry about producing content and sharing their Bitmenu links through posts and emails.

Users remind us to recognize that sharing links and files is still very new.  Different machines and browsers behave differently.  Most users have not knowingly downloaded large files.  And, many network connections are not reliable.

We have seen users downloading from race courses over mobile phone networks, from highly secure military and corporate networks, and from iPads while in the stables with their horses.  Immediate gratification means the purchase and delivery happens when the impulse strikes.

Some browsers encounter a network hiccup and report the download is complete (we call this a "false positive").  A quick look at the file's properties verifies the case.  Users can always retry a failed download until they succeed.  After paying, the links don't expire until the content is fulfilled, even months later.  

We are aggressive with refunds.  If a user has any post-download issue (I lost my file, my machine blew up, I bought it at work but want it on my home machine, it was really for my son in college, etc) we don't ask questions.  When we see the file was downloaded and no longer available, we refund and invite them to try their purchase again through the link we share with them in our email response. 

We want satisfaction and we love hearing from customers. The thanks we get, and the repeated additional purchases from users who interact with us, make us realize the value of customer services. Reducing customer support issues through technology is part of the job at Bitmenu.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Direct to iPad Delivery for e-Books

We are proud to announce direct delivery to iPad or iPhone for purchased PDF or ePUB products - with no app required.

Now a customer can buy and take delivery to their Apple device and start reading immediately on that device.  They can still download to their computer and then synch using iTunes, of course, but the new direct download capability enables buyers to respond to the momentary urge to buy and read e-books and presentations while they are on the go.

Bitmenu direct delivery to PCs, Macs, Android and iOS devices opens up non-bookstore distribution for a myriad of publications, such as travel guides on the road, speaker slides at conferences, workbooks in class, and novels at the beach.

Publishers producing standard ePUB and PDF products shorten production timelines, slash publication costs and remove the approval bottlenecks associated with custom apps for content.

Best of all, authors and publishers are in control of the entire process: they can create special offers for events and appearances, watch purchases as they happen and see their account balance growing in real time.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Selling with Simple Links

The shopping-cart buying process is a poor fit for smart phones.

Consider coming to this blog from your phone or tablet. Maybe you heard about a presentation given by Jason at a recent Plug and Play Tech Center event and you wanted to get the slides for $.99.

Or you might have received a tweet about the latest issue of Sidelines magazine (left).

The publishers of these items use Bitmenu to create links to their files.  By including these simple links in this blog post, this page becomes a point of sale.  Nothing was embedded, nor was a code snippet needed.   The publisher gets paid and the buyer gets the product.

You can use your mobile device to pay for and get these items as well.  Upon clicking the link, you go to the payment provider, and, upon successful purchase, download directly to your PC/Mac, Android or even to an iPhone or iPad, to be saved in iBooks.

Creating links with Bitmenu enables sales and delivery for immediate consumption and lasting impact.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Apache ZooKeeper in the Cloud

At Bitmenu, I find myself working with lots of systems tools that were developed with a few implicit design criteria: 1) Data centers with 2) physical machines that have their own 3) local permanent storage.

But Bitmenu is entirely Cloud-based, and thus we need to rethink how we use our tools (or if we should use them at all) in a world where 1) we don't control the IPs of 2) machines which evaporate unexpectedly losing all 3) local impermanent storage.

One such tool is we've been experimenting with is ZooKeeper. It seems that it was designed to best work in a static IP environment, very common in a data center topology. At startup, the configuration file identifies all the members of its quorum, i.e. the other ZooKeeper services. Since Bitmenu's platform runs exclusively in Amazon's Elastic Computing Cloud, we don't have the luxury of getting the same IP address from EC2 instance to EC2 instance. From the outset, a resilient ZooKeeper topography looked almost impossible; because if a member of the quorum changes--a ZooKeeper instance dies or becomes unresponsive, all very real events in the Cloud and usually require just replacing the failing instance--then all the other members must necessarily restart in order to get the address of the new member.

Fortunately, I figured out a little trick to keep all alive instances of ZooKeeper running and get new information about the change of a quorum member without resorting to a restart.

LinkOn Linux, there's a file called /etc/hosts, which is a list of static IP addresses and the names of hosts that they resolve to. They can be FQDN, but they don't have to be. So for example I can have a static entry that looks like: printer1

And in normal Linux configurations, any host lookup will go to this file to resolve its name before using DNS, NIS, or other resolving protocols (the lookup order is controlled by /etc/nsswitch.conf, where usually "files" comes first).

In the zoo.cfg file, the configuration file for ZooKeeper that is parsed on startup, instead of putting in static IPs, I put in host names, like so:


Then I created a script that checks to see if the IP address for any of the three machines of the quorum has changed by polling an S3 file. If true, then it modifies the IP address /etc/hosts entry. I put his script into cron and run it every minute.

When a machine drops out of the quorum, its replacement will update its IP address in S3, which can then be read by the script above, and update the /etc/hosts file accordingly. ZooKeeper therefore doesn't require restart, and keeps polling until it can communicate with all members of its quorum.

Friday, April 1, 2011

What is Social Commerce?

Yesterday, Matthew Mengerink of eBay announced they were working on a social commerce platform targeting developers like Bitmenu. The news came at Plug and Play Tech Center's International Expo, held in Sunnyvale, CA. This immediately drew our attention because of our experience providing a turnkey storefront for digital content publishers on Facebook. Having an allergic reaction to marketing terms like "social commerce", we had to step back and ask what it means.

What exactly is "social commerce"? Wikipedia would like to define social commerce as getting advise from trusted individuals prior to a transaction. It seems that there's a tremendous opportunity to expand that definition though, as so many companies are testing new ways to engage their audience.

We see the foundation of social commerce as "identity." If you don't know who a individual is, how can you call them trusted? There must be a way to identify who parties are before forming a trusted relationship.

Taken another way, if you see an individual's comments from a trusted network, even if you don't know (trust) the individual, you may place enough trust on the network to place more weight on their comments. In the early days, the internet placed a lot of weight on anonymity, but now with services like LinkedIn, and Facebook, we seem to be moving away from that. These services encourage real relationships and implicitly reject anonymous interactions.

We're taking action on this idea with some of our publishers. The book "Racing Yesterday" is being sold by it's author, Andy Baxter on his website.

Initially the book was available only as a link from the site, with a call to action to make the purchase on Amazon. When we added Facebook's social comment plugin to the the website, the uptick and analytics from sales were quite a surprise. Additionally, the uptick in physical sales of his book are on an upward path. As an author, why wouldn't you do this? We think that having real people comment, from the trusted Facebook network, helped make the difference.