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It's Not The Name, It's The Verb

By - December 12, 2003


So the debate on re-naming, or re-spinning, or re-thinking what RSS might mean to a broader world is playing out, at Contentious and on Dave Winer’s blog as well as at Salon and here. But as I’ve been thinking about it, I’m increasingly convinced that the phrase we’re looking for we already have – The Web. That word can shapeshift enough to incorporate the changes inherent to a pubsub world, as Dave puts it. Maybe what we’re really looking for is a better verb. Let’s kill surf, as soon as possible. And come up with something better.

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Yet more funky little search companies

By - December 11, 2003

* Brainboost, an Ask Jeeves like Q&A engine (employs “cutting edge AI!”)
* Think Tank 23 (finds “ideas”)
* Nervana. “ You define the context of what you need, and Nervana delivers semantically relevant results from a multitude of sources (such as documents, emails, knowledge communities, intranets, and the Internet). ” (via Gary Price’s Resourceshelf)

There must be hundreds of these small search-related companies already, with scores more on the brink of launch.

Lycos Top Search Terms for 2003…

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And the Top Ten are (with last year’s ranking in parens):

1. KaZaA (2)
2. Britney Spears (4)
3. Dragonball (1)
4. Paris Hilton (-)
5. IRS (7)
6. Kobe Bryant (-)
7. Christmas (9)
8. NFL (6)
9. Pamela Anderson (10)
10. Brooke Burke (34)

Check out the various slices and dices in Lycos’ version of the Database of Intentions

Google+Friendster+Plaxo = Eurekster

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I’ve not fully grokked it yet, but here’s a new concept in search: Eurekster. From the site: “Eurekster uses the six-degrees of separation concept to learn from your extended network of contacts and deliver you prioritised results based on the success and proximity of the searches they have done.” The site is in beta and you need a password to get in, a friend who will remain anonymous gave me his. I signed up to be official, we’ll see if I get the nod.

Meanwhile, I see the folks behind this are RealContacts and SLI Systems. SLI is the tech that was behind Snap!, and survived it (and now powers some portions of the NBC webspace).

I can’t tell is this is simply silly – take the hottest stuff on the web right now and combine it! – or for real. More when I get smarter.

Grokking Groxis' Grokker

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So last night was the launch soiree for version 2.0 of Grokker, a search interface tool built right in my own backyard of Marin. It’s backed by Paul Hawken, and sports some impressive advisors, investors, and board members, including Paul Saffo and John Seely Brown. Grokker “gives the big picture” on large collections of data – it’s a visualization tool, and from what I saw last night, the new version is quite elegant. I saw a demo of Version 1.0 about a year ago and they’ve really made a lot of progress. I am a huge fan of the word “grok” – from its original Heinlein origins through Wolfe and Wired (where I helped the author of Wired Style write the definition) and the Standard (where we launched a series of newsletters and a magazine called “Grok“). It’s neat to see it making another round through the vernacular.

In any case the party was quite subdued by usual product hype standards, with an odd assortment of well-to-do investor types wandering shoeless through an extraordinary Mill Valley home, and Bonnie Raitt also in attendance (Bonnie Raitt?!), sporting a very down-to-earth and pleased-to-be-here manner. Groxis CEO RJ Pittman gave me a demo. Grokker takes datasets created by a keyword or phrase queries on sites like Amazon or “the Web” (it hits six search engines) and runs them through a second filter which displays results as clusters of nested orbs, each with tags derived on the fly from the data. It’s quite a seductive interface, and I can see it working for any number of search needs. And as a trend, I applaud this kind of development – building new applications based on search as a platform, rather like an OS. (Tim Bray among others have noted in the past how search today seems stuck at the level of the DOS C: prompt. Groxis might be seen as an attempt to go GUI.)

But the most interesting thing about Groxis is how it is approaching versioning – this release comes after more than a year out in the open, soliciting feedback (some of it quite negative) from the search community. With Version 2.0, Groxis plans to again listen and learn from how the product is used, rather than try to force it into a particular bucket of revenue (though they do have enterprise and licensing deals). This is due to the angel investors behind the company, Pittman said, who are not demanding a rigid, pre-determined approach to how the product will make money. That was exactly how Google did it in the beginning (and, it seems, how Friendster is doing it now). The Mac version will be ready to beta in a few weeks. When I get it, I’ll post more.

Three Years Ago, Where Were You?

By - December 10, 2003


Last night at the Webby Business Awards dinner (caveat, I was a judge), while having a lively conversation about the future of technology and business online, it struck me that it might be interesting to ask the folks at the table not what they thought was coming, but rather where they were three years ago. Because, as it happens, three years ago this month was pretty much when the worm turned in the internet industry. Late 2000, the money ran out, the businesses started to fall apart, the media coverage got bitter and angry, and a lot of people started losing their jobs. Not surprisingly, most of the folks at my table had entirely different jobs three years ago, as did I (there were folks from Google and Salesforce present, and as you might expect, they were in fine fettle).
Three years ago I was running the Standard, facing the first layoffs in the company’s history, and dealing with a dramatic reversal in our advertising forecasts: a drop of about 75%. So where were you, and what were you doing? And…more importantly, how are you doing now? Are you happier? Interestingly, every single person I asked that question last night said they were. Worms keep turning, and eventually the soil again bears fruit.

It's "Like," The Pioneers Get the Arrows

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I’m scanning my media news this morning and I see an item titled “Cablevision to Offer Tivo-Like Service.” Sigh. It’s so sad to watch a great idea, and a pretty good execution, fade right in front of your eyes, as pale imitators create “Tivo-like” services.

The problem with this, as I’ve ranted before (in a previous 2.0 column that I swear I am about two days from posting here), is that while TiVo puts its intelligence at the edge of the cable network, ostensibly under your control, the cable company boxes have opaque, client-server architectures, owned and controlled by the cable system. In other words, they decide what you can fast forward, record, cut and paste (well, you can’t do that anyway), etc. It’s a terrible, closed system, and because cable companies are monopolies, for the most part, there’s not much to be done about it. It’s Larry Lessig’s worst nightmare (and mine too).

And how might the cable companies handle their newly found control over your PVR? Well, here’s a hint from Tom Rutledge, president of cable operations for Cablevision: “We didn’t think it was a good idea (to add PVRs to the system) and didn’t want to do it,” Rutledge said. In other words, we are with the MPAA and the content industry on this one, and are only doing this because the market is asking for it. Endgame: If you get a cable PVR, expect the keys to be in someone else’s hands. My suggestion: go satellite and buy a TiVo. This year might be your last chance.

The RSS Naming Party: Chunky or Smooth?

By - December 09, 2003


Clearly Searchblog’s most popular post of all time (OK, so we’re only a month old) is this one, in which we attempted to take Scott Rosenberg up on his challenge for a better name for RSS. There is even a contest happening over at another site, and I am sure this meme will evolve for some time to come. So far the conversation has included names as far fetched as “chunkyweb” (the web was plain, RSS makes it chunky), Feedcast (which I rather like), Flow (which prompted some interesting comments about gushing loins), Readster (more of a product name), and a thought that perhaps what we are really looking for is a better name for the Semantic Web. I say, keep on talking. It’s fun to whiteboard ideas this way.

Cnet Gets Some Good News

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An interesting coup for Cnet: MediaPost reports it topped all other search engines, by a rather wide margin, in a recent WebSideStory study which compared vertical shopping engines on a key metric: whether visitors from the engine who clicked through to a commerce site actually convert into buyers. Cnet’s conversion rate of 1.64% was better than AOL, the #2 engine, by 28%.
I’d like to know why this is. I’ve sent a note to folks at Cnet, and I congratulate them – it’s been a rough few years for them as they weathered the tech nuclear winter, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the company – it launched roughly at the same time as Wired, and has really seen it all.

Order Conversion Rates: Searches To Gift/Electronics Sites

Conversion Ratio
CNET 1.64%
AOL 1.28%
Overture 1.25%
iWon 1.15%
LookSmart 1.14%
MSN 1.04%
Yahoo 1.01%
Netscape 0.93%
Lycos 0.92%
Google 0.85%

Update: I must’ve been rushed and didn’t think this through, as I was driving to a Webby business awards tonight I realized of course Cnet has better conversion because it’s a vertical portal that aggregates folks with intent to buy particular technology items. Matt points this out in the comments section as well.