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Archive for September, 2009

Entrepreneurship

Recently, courtesy house repairwork gone amok, I had occasion to spend time with Felix Ejeckam, a friend from my grad school days. Felix was recently voted Innovator of the Year by Black Enterprise magazine for his work with Group4Labs. His field, semiconductors and such, is somewhat different from mine. Yet, as long as I’ve known him, Felix has always been fiercely entrepreneurial and anyway, if you move up enough, it’s all hi-tech. I value his insights and, during my stay, I asked him about his thoughts on what qualities separated good entrepreneurs from bad. I was a little surprised to see determination, a topic recently in vogue courtesy the Paul Graham essay, not make the list, so I thought I’d share. Here goes:

  1. Unwavering self confidence in one’s own abilities. I liked how Felix phrased this – would you enter a situation where your life depended on your work? Do you have that much trust in yourself?
  2. Zoom in, zoom out – the best entrepreneurs have the ability to see the forest for the trees. However, they can also quickly become close and personal with a specific problem if necessary. While running small startups, you don’t have the luxury of sticking exclusively to either big picture or small picture.
  3. Neuroses free zone – there’s no question startups are physically demanding. However, mentally, they can be even more grueling. There’s no question it takes a certain level of obsession, recklessness and risktaking several levels beyond the norm to launch a career of this sort. However, self doubt, insecurities and all of that can easily be exacerbated in the day to day grind, sometimes with tragic results. Keeping mentally healthy is important. This is not to say there aren’t crazy chair throwing CEOs out there, just that you probably won’t have that luxury!

Video Clip Lengths

In a NYT article, Rise of Web Video, Beyond 2-Minute Clips, Brian Stelter writes:

Video creators, by and large, thought their audiences were impatient. A three-minute-long comedy skit? Shrink it to 90 seconds. Slow Internet connections made for tedious viewing, and there were few ads to cover high delivery costs. And so it became the first commandment of online video: Keep it short.

I recall coming across this phenomenon in 1997 and 1998 while doing research work into characteristics of web video stored on the web at that point in time. Here’s an interesting graph from the paper I wrote on the subject:

Web Video Lengths (1997)

Web Video Lengths (1997)

The number of videos on the web were relatively small and their sizes could be measured in seconds. 90% were 45 seconds or less. The graph is capped at around 2 minutes for maximum length although I did find outliers that were longer.

What I found interesting, however, in a followup study was that if you took away the bandwidth chokepoints, video lengths ballooned. I was studying the video access patterns of a Video On Demand experiment at the Lulea University in Sweden – the setup here was over a dedicated high speed network, effectively removing slow access as a determinant of behavior. Specifically:

Since 1995, the Centre for Distance-spanning Technology at Luleå University (CDT) has been researching distance education and collaboration on the Internet [17]. Specifically, it has developed a hardware/software infrastructure for giving WWW-based courses and creating a virtual student community. The hardware aspects include the deployment of a high speed network (2-34 Mbps backbone links) to attach the local communities to the actual University campus. The campus is also connected to the national academic backbone by a high speed 34 Mbps link [13] with student apartments being wired together with the rest of campus via 10 or 100 Mbps ethernet.

The following graph shows the distribution of video lengths for the files used in the system:

VoD Video Durations

The mean duration of these files were around 75 minutes or so. This finding hinted that as videos grew in popularity and infrastucture hurdles fell away, video durations would increase. From the original NYT article:

New Web habits, aided by the screen-filling video that faster Internet access allows, are now debunking the rule. As the Internet becomes a jukebox for every imaginable type of video — from baby videos to “Masterpiece Theater” — producers and advertisers are discovering that users will watch for more than two minutes at a time.
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“People are getting more comfortable, for better or for worse, bringing a computer to bed with them,” said Dina Kaplan, the co-founder of Blip.tv.

Ms. Kaplan’s firm distributes dozens of Web series. A year ago all but one of the top 25 shows on her Web servers clocked in at under five minutes. Now, the average video hosted by Blip is 14 minutes long — “surprising even to us,” she said. The longest video uploaded in May was 133 minutes long, equivalent to a feature-length film.

Interested by this, I took a look at the duration of the videos hosted by Delve. This is based on data a couple of weeks old, so this is not representative of the latest trends. However, I found the average video duration to be a little under 6 minutes. However, within this I found definite disparities between publishers. Our top 25 publishers (by video duration) had videos that were a little under 25 minutes on average. This indicates mixed video use by our publishers. While some are still sticking to shorter videos, a significant number are definitely taking full advantage of long form clips – one of the largest videos is around 12 hours in length!

It’ll be interesting to see how these trends hold over the next year or so.

Delve Analytics: A New Foundation

If you’re using Delve Networks read on – we just swept the rug from underneath your feet and I bet you didn’t even know it! If you’re considering using us, well, you’d definitely want to know about this too.

For the past two weeks, Delve has been running a totally new, revamped analytics system – one that allows us to scale well beyond our current levels and provide a foundation for many more features to come. A peek under the hood:

  • Our event collection system is now completely in the cloud, running on Amazon EC2 instances. This gives us the ability to quickly scale up (hopefully always up :=) or down quickly depending on load. Correspondingly, we can now instrument our players to send more granular data to improve our accuracy vis a vis metrics such as playback times
  • Our analytics processing is also now completely in the cloud. We use (EMR) Amazon’s Elastic MapReduce, a service built atop Hadoop, to process our event data and generate reports. We are early adopters of this service and have engaged the Amazon EMR tech team to catch and resolve issues. One of the biggest benefits of using EMR is that we don’t need to maintain a dedicated hadoop cluster. Instead we simply select the number of machines to run for each given job submission – again, this simplifies scaling as our data sets grow.
  • We have now moved away from our dependence on MySQL and instead use S3 as a report storage repository. This allows publishers access to an archive of all past computed reports. While our front end does not offer this feature yet, the basic structure is in place to allow us to do so in the near future.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of the new rehaul is now we have a strong foundation for further enhancements, reports and features, futuristic and otherwise. Several are already in the works and are slated to be released soon. Stay tuned!