Google Reports iPhone Usage 50x Other Handsets; Amazon S3 Goes Down: Low Friction Has a Cost
Posted by Bob Warfield on February 15, 2008
As I write this post there are two articles that caught my eye. For most, the iPhone and Amazon’s Web Services have little to do with one another, but I see a bit of a pattern here that’s interesting.
Slash Lane of Apple Insider reports that Google was shocked that is was seing 50 times more search requests coming from Apple iPhones than any other mobile handset — a revelation so astonishing that the company originally suspected it had made an error culling its own data. It’s an amazing statistic, really. But I can attest to hitting Google quite a lot myself whenever I’m out and about and killing time before the next meeting. In fact, I am very pleased to have my bookmarks out on a web page rather than in my browser so I can easily access all of my favorite sites from whatever device is at hand. The iPhone is quite a credible web browser. I can’t wait for the 3G version and higher speeds.
Following closely on my read of the iPhone piece is Nick Carr’s article about an Amazon S3 outage. Nothing all that earth-shattering or unexpected, just that S3 was out for several hours this morning, beginning at 7:30am EST. The gist of the article is that while the outage was to be expected, Amazon did a poor job keeping users informed of what was going on and providing explanations after the fact. Carr is right, of course, but business is always embarassed when things go wrong and the first (and wrong) human instinct is to be shy about details.
Why do these two go together? I’ll give you a hint: the tales of Facebook applications reaching millions of users in an incredibly short time also goes with the theme I’m thinking of. That theme has to do with friction. Friction is my word for all the factors that slow adoption. The time needed for word of mouth, decisionmaking, purchase, installation, getting through the learning curve, and finally being a first class citizen of whatever community results is governed by the degree of friction.
One of the things the Internet does is reduce friction. In its most extreme, friction actually reverses and becomes a propelling force. We call that viral marketing. Most of the innovations in this second Internet round (post-bubble) have been focused on reducing friction. Social Networks, for example, dramatically reduce the friction of networking. Twitter dramatically reduces the friction of blogging, right down to limiting the article length to 140 characters so you don’t have to labor over the wordsmithing.
While it’s harder, the web is also a powerful means of reducing friction for more physical things. The iPhone and Amazon Web Services are two great examples. In an extremely short time the iPhone has racked up 50x the usage of other competing handsets for the Internet. The traffic to AWS in approximately the same short time now exceeds the combined traffic for all other Amazon properties.
While the web itself helped to spread the word, I think it is no coincidence that these two have a lot to do with the web and offer a lot of value back to the web. It’s what some folks call a virtuous circle. Look for more of these as time goes on.
Now that cost side. These growth rates are not predictable. Nobody would have guessed that either business would get so big so fast. In fact, many guessed just the opposite. Even if you did guess it could happen, it would only be a guess that it could, not that it would. A prudent business would not invest in infrastructure built to the level and assumption that it would happen. That means there will be painful outages from time to time. Hopefully, the infrastructure owners will take those outages as signs that its time to double down and extend their projections of what might happen much further up and to the right. Those that succeed in keeping hold of the Tiger by the Tail will survive and prosper.