free html hit counter December 2003 - John Battelle's Search Blog

(Updated x2) Top Yellow Pages Searches

By - December 31, 2003

Ya gotta love the Yellow Pages – all printy fresh. In a press release issued today (the link is an instant download and I imagine you don’t need the pdf clutter), they offered up their top searches for the year – the year 2002. In any case, it’s interesting to see what the top “references” are – their terminology, best as I can tell, for the equivalent of a person taking action based on a Yellow Pages listing. This data comes from the Yellow Pages Integrated Media Association, which exists mainly to promulgate the idea that the Yellow Pages are a vibrant and long-lived source of leads for local business. Caveats herewith in place, the top ten are:

1. Restaurants
2. Physicians & Surgeons
3. Automobile Parts-New & Used
4. Automobile Repairing & Service
5. Pizza
6. Automobile Dealers-New & Used
7. Beauty Salons
8. Attorneys/lawyers
9. Dentists
10. Hospitals.

The data also includes the actual number of references for each term. The top term (Restaurants) had more than 1.3 billion references. In other words, folks used that category in the Yellow Pages 1.3 billion times in 2002. How on earth did they came up with this number?The study of course has no methodology attached to it. I mean, how *do* you track this? Compared to paid search, which is entirely trackable? Anyone know?! Guess I’ll have to call the YPIMA and ask. Also, I’ve emailed folks at Google and Overture to ask what the equivalents are in paid search, which would be a fun comparison. …

UPDATE: Click on the (more) link below to see the full response from the Yellow Pages Integrated Marketing Assocaition on how they got this data…Thanks to the IMA for this response!

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Wired on How to Save the Internet

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Back in 1997, Wired ran a cover story called “101 Ways to Save Apple.” The cover remains my favorite for a number of reasons, the brilliance of the image, the genius of the singular imperative “Pray.” I’m not sure the story, in which we polled a bunch of folks and created a list – Editors LOVE lists – was that great (actually, point #101 was pretty good: “Don’t worry. You’ll survive . It’s Netscape we should really worry about.”)

This month Wired is revising the 101 Ways meme with 101 Ways to Save the Internet. The story was written by Paul Boutin with input from a few key folks, including several readers of this blog. The voice is almost right, the politics line up, the issues are well chosen, but something about the list feels a bit off. I can’t put my finger on it, but overall, it’s a good rundown of all the issues the Net faces as we head into 2004.

Rename it "Cardster" and Watch the VCs Come Running….

By - December 30, 2003

card_rolodex.gifOK, here’s a new idea: Search for people based on their business cards. I kid you not. CardBrowser is a web-based, paid registration database of…business cards gathered at various high tech conferences (more than 100 a year, they claim).

Now, nowhere on the site can I find exactly *how* they gather those cards, or if the folks represented on those cards are aware they are in a database, but…I’ve called to find out and will report back when I do.

The company behind CardBrowser is marketing the database as a way for companies to find “passive” job seekers – folks who already have good jobs in high tech who might not be actively raising their hands for new jobs. Recruiters can buy a subscription to the site and then contact potential recruits – and, the site boasts,have a pretty good chance of getting a response, as the information on a business card tends to be accurate.

This brings up a rather odd catch 22. Now, if the folks who are in this card database – and the company claims to have more than 17000 names, with some 2000-4000 added each month – *do* know they are being added to this database, then well, they ain’t exactly passive anymore, are they? As an employer, I’d be less than happy to discover some of my key people in this database, and were I the distrustful type, I’d probably get a subscription just to check. If, on the other hand, the folks do *not* know they are in the database, seems to me we’ve got something of a privacy problem on our hands. The company has no privacy policy I could find, and does not address this issue anywhere. Could this be a simple oversight?

Another Oddly Named New One…

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Tara over at ResearchBuzz has found this new entry: Ay-Up. Yup, Ay-Up. As she points out in her post summarizing its features, Ay-Up is unique in that it offers free site search. Worth a looksee. (And yet another new engine that needs the help of a logo specialist…)

At Least It Doesn't Claim To Be The Next Google….

By - December 29, 2003

The latest entry in Odd Little Search Engines That Might…Sootle. Please, let me know if you want me to stop pointing you to this stuff. This engine is in deep Alpha, which might explain its name, logo, and terrible results (30 results for George Bush…) but not the lack of grammatical coherence in its “about” section…Given that the name of the Financial Director is “Peter Fiasco”, I’m beginning to wonder if these new sites aren’t elaborate jokes tossed up late at night by overworked engineers at Yahoo or Google….I mean….Sootle?

UPDATE: Within 12 hours of my posting this, both Peter Fiasco (my apologies, he’s apparently a real guy) and the founder of Sootle, Sid Yadav, emailed me. They were quite kind, pointing out that my criticism of the site would inspire them to greater things with their new creation. Sid points out that my Bush search in fact found 30 *clusters*, and a total of 313 results. His index is only 11 days old, and is only starting to crawl …literally. He calls Sootle “a hobby sort of project” and is working on a new logo and interface. Stay tuned….

Vertical Search: Sidestep The Obvious

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Folks from time to time ask me if the game is up, if Google, Yahoo and a few others have locked up search forever. Bah!, I say. Search lives in every corner of the internet, insinuating itself into every fold of discoverable information. There are simply too many folds – large search companies can’t profitably exploit every one of them. Hence the continued rise, in 2004, of the vertical search category. Examples? Sidestep, a travel search site that seems to be gaining traction of late. Why? The company’s core promise to consumers can be found on its site: “SideStep is a search engine – not an online travel agency. ” In other words, you can trust it, as it’s not trying to sell you anything. It’s focused entirely on its mission of finding the best travel deal, as opposed to selling you whatever inventory its partners might want to clear that day.

So what’s the point? Have I fallen in love with Sidestep? No – it’s still fish with feet – requiring you to download a software application that “watches” you do travel searches, then makes better suggestions. But I just love the idea it represents: search is a real time publishing opportunity. You can make a business of solving a person’s ephemeral but specific information problem, addressing a person’s simple but non-trivial query – “What’s the cheapest hotel room in New York right now?” – and make a decent living at it to boot. Obritz, Expedia, – they all claim to do that – but they’re not publishers, they’re agents. Same with so many other first-generation vertical sites – Autobytel comes to mind. My experience is that they are all in the thrall of their partners and their inventory – they are in no way independent. (Just try asking Autobytel this question: “What’s the cheapest Volvo c70 on the Web right now?” They send you to a dealer. Not exactly what you had in mind, eh?) I just love the idea that finding an honest answer to a reasonable question works as a business on the internet. Somehow, it feels like the essence of what publishing on the web can be – impartial (and complete) answers to honest questions. So I root for the Sidesteps of the world. The idea it represents scales to all sorts of opportunities, yet to be discovered.

And From The I Couldn't Resist Department…

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The FBI recently issued an alert for all police nationwide to be on the watch for folks carrying almanacs, in particular those that might be “annotated in suspicious ways.”
Now, I just can’t imagine they didn’t realize how profoundly stupid this would sound to your average citizen. I mean, did they? The AP story goes on to quote the text of the FBI alert: “The practice of researching potential targets is consistent with known methods of al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations that seek to maximize the likelihood of operational success through careful planning.” So if this is a serious “alert” – and as far as I can tell, it’s not April 1st – one can only imagine the red flag the FBI will wave once they figure out what kind of “research” Google can do. Given the timeline they seem to be on, that will be in 2103 or so.

Australia's Answer to Google? Nah.

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Yet another pretender to the throne, is a new search engine out of Australia. It uses clustering technology – not a new idea – but claims to have made it better. I tried it (quite cursorily) and it was, well, not awful. Scattered reports say the site sometimes fails to return results, but that hasn’t stopped the Mooter CEO from saying they plan to go public on Google’s coattails. At least she’s being honest. According to a local news story on the IPO, Mooter has no profits. And if you hit their site and poke around, they sound darn flaky. From their Mission Statement:

As we move, as we track through the information now presented, as our brains cavort along their apparently random paths, increasingly powerful technologies will anticipate our needs. ….We must keep thinking. About who we really are. About what we really want. We must have a powerful tool for finding our way around the information world: a tool that does not impose value on us, but helps us find our own meaning.
If we do not, the mutated survivors will be the corporations who have managed the most manipulation, not the beauty of the human spirit in all its fierce joy of living and intensity of love for self and other sentients.
We must be mindful of what we plant, our children will bear the fruits.

Dude, pass the bong. It’s sophomore year again.

And if they do go big time, they gotta do something about the logo. It looks like the mascot for a cold medication.

Watch This Space: Comcast

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There’s been a lot of noise over Comcast lately, most of it about the company’s rather restrictive terms of service for their broadband product. (It boils down to this: They make it hard to do anything but take a high bandwidth feed from them. Thus they are approaching the internet, predictably, the way they approach cable – a dumb system with intelligence, such that it is, embedded in the servers, rather than at the nodes). So watch this space: Comcast is continuing to flex its programming muscle. This means that Comcast the ISP will act more and more in the interests of Comcast the owner of entertainment programming. Which net net, isn’t going to be good for the net, at least in the short term.