free html hit counter December 2003 - Page 7 of 8 - John Battelle's Search Blog

Blocking Paid Search Ads

By - December 09, 2003

EWeek reports that a new software application is now available that blocks paid search ads on most popular search engines. I wonder if this will take off, or is ephemeral? It depends on how consumers react to the next wave of search engines – how Yahoo and MSN do their next implementations, for example. I don’t think anyone really objects to how Google does ads right now, in fact, I think most feel the ads are even useful. I’d be curious to know if any readers are using this product and if so, if it in fact is useful. For more on Intermute, the company making this software, here’s their site.

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The Search Papers: Bray on Search

By - December 08, 2003

Tim Bray has a series called On Search over at his Ongoing blog, and I find it worthy of a read’n’muse. He starts with this backgrounder on himself and search issues as he sees them, and has a ton of entries on any number of subjects, too numerous to go into here. Highlights: he writes on interface issues (warning, not for the faint of geek), how best to search XML (answer: we don’t know yet, recall he was a co-author of same), and on result rankings, with a quick refresher on why PageRank works, and good advice on paying attention to your own logs. Also worthy: his primer on how search works, and his discussion of the technical search terms precision and recall (with an interesting note on the absence of top companies in the research community – see my post on this here), and lastly (whew), his mini-rant on intelligent search, and why it’s a long way off. An excerpt:
“If we want better search (and we do), we’d better not count on AI voodoo or linguistic juju or semantic mojo. We need to work with good sound statistical techniques, and be clever about generating and using metadata, and we need to get our APIs right. All of these things are hard, and there is good work being done in all of them.”

The Search Papers: Challenges in Web Search Engines (A Google Paper, 2002)

By - December 07, 2003

This paper “presents a high-level discussion of some problems in information retrieval that are unique to web search engines,” according to its abstract in the ACM library. (A reminder as to what this whole “Search Papers” thing is about: read this.) “The goal is to raise awareness and stimulate research in these areas,” it continues. How might such a lofty incitement be backed up? Well, it’s written by two senior employees of Google, Monika R. Henzinger and Craig Silverstein (I’ve met with Craig, he was employee #1 after Larry and Sergey, and a nice guy to boot), as well as Rajeev Motwani, a professor at Stanford (Craig was his graduate student).

The paper is dated September, 2002, so it does not rank as a missive from the early, more geeky phase of Google’s life, but rather a more corporate product – the two Google authors knew they bore the weight of “being Google” when they wrote this paper, and it’s worth keeping that in mind when reading through it.

This is particularly clear in the paper’s scope and focus. It lays out six challenges for search engines – and they read like a laundry list of Google’s headaches. The paper then goes on to offer suggested paths for more research on the topics, which I could imagine might read either as genuine or a tiny bit patronizing, depending on who you are. (The paper does not tackle a range of other issues it says are already the subject of abundant research – natural language queries, image/audio search, improving text-based retrieval, language issues, or interface/clustering, for example.)
(more in the extended entry, click link below)

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Blogging For Dollars

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A recent Blog Search Engine survey written up in Marketing Wonk shows that 13% of bloggers run ads, 9% have been “approached by companies to blog about their products” and 7% blog for money. While Marketing Wonk spun these as low numbers, I disagree, I think they are quite high, given the early nature of the form. In particular, the 13% who run ads sounds way too high – I doubt 13% of websites ran ads in 1995, for example.
A quick review of the methodology, such that it is, shows that it’s a survey of 610 bloggers who have submitted their sites to the Blog Search Engine and “other blog owners contacted through different channels.” Come on, we can do better that this! I think these kind of stats are fascinating, and would even be useful if they were in any way defensible as statistically significant.

A Morning with Brewster

By - December 05, 2003

I spent much of yesterday morning talking with Brewster Kahle, of WAIS, Alexa, and Internet Archive fame. Brewster is a very fun mind, and he’s working on about ten Really Interesting Things at once. First, it’s easy to forget how important the Internet Archive’s work truly is. The public sphere is diminishing as more and more data (in particular log data) becomes owned by corporations, and the archive is one of the few institutions, outside of our often scleortic library system, dedicated to preserving our digital record on a massive scale. (Good quote: “The original purpose of libraries was preservation and access” to society’s information, but they’ve somehow become about “selection and categorization.”) He’s archiving 20 global television channels as well (see the Television Archive for more.) He’s setting up a broadband distributed wireless LAN across San Francisco, and is still cranking out books via the Internet Bookmobile.
Brewster showed me the Archive’s new “recall” search features, which have been worked up by Anna Patterson of Stanford. Now this is some cool stuff. It searches over 11 billion documents – nearly 4 times that of Google (and they’ve indexed about 1/3 of what they have). Check it out, and play with the various knobs and graphs. It points to some interesting new concepts in search.

RSS Pushed One Step Closer to the Limelight

By - December 04, 2003

Funny how am idea gathers momentum. As I was penning my Implications of RSS For Business column for 2.0 (awaiting publication in dead tree form in three weeks), Scott Rosenberg was writing a pean as well, published in Salon this morning. He suggests we need a name for what RSS represents, just as the Web became the mainstream’s understanding of HTML, we need a name for RSS. He reminds us we’ve been here before (remember Push? I was a reluctant contributor to this 1996 article, which began as an email thread in the Wired offices…)

In any case, I agree with Scott, we need a name. All the businesses in this space are still in the pre-market phase. RSS allows us to connect more efficiently, to grok information as we like it, when we like it – but what do we call it? I like to say my reader and blogs/news sources is my personal ecology – is there an idea in there somewhere? In any case, it’s exciting to see the idea start to take popular flight. Watch for the NYT treatment soon.

Zeitgiest in Action: "Miserable Failure"

By - December 03, 2003

Type “miserable failure” into Google. Out pops Google’s top pick: George W. Bush. This comes to me via Farber’s IP list, but many others have crossed my desk over the past year, including one on “weapons of mass destruction” which – if you hit “I’m Feeling Lucky” – still gaves a 404: Not Found-like error thanks to the vagaries of web humor, linking, and PageRank.

UPDATE: This was a case of Googlebombing, see here….

Monier, Yahoo, Gadgets

By - December 02, 2003

Today I bounced around a bit, from a very stimulating two hours with Louis Monier, founder of Alta Vista and current head of R&D/Search at eBay, to attending a CMO roundtable discussion at Yahoo where co-founder David Filo spoke, to a Churchill Club dinner in SF where Walt, Kara, Greg Harper and Larry Page talked about their favorite gadgets.
I asked Louis to react to the ideas in my monoculture post – that the best minds are now silo’d in private corporations. He had a great response: “Airlines are not built by the academy.” In other words, very complex and expensive stuff by definition is done by the private sector. Monier was, in fact, a veritable quote machine, and were it not so late, and were I not so tired, I’d create a whole post on the subject. Perhaps tomorrow. One more: “Google is, I think, the intellectual descendant of Alta Vista….I always said, with search you need a sharp pencil, that’s all.” In other words, don’t give me more than I need, just focus just on solving the search problem. It is true, Alta Vista was briefly THE search engine that mattered – about 1996-97, before it was ruined by Compaq and later CMGI.
The CMO discussion focused on Yahoo’s brand. It featured a panel of senior Yahoo execs talking about what makes the brand special, with an emphasis on how they live the brand from the inside out – how the company and its employees act in a way consistent with what the brand means to the outside world. A bit flat, but there was some neat stuff – I always like to hear Libby Sartain speak (she’s the head of HR there) – she’s infectious and quite inspiring. David told the early founding story, which was good to hear from the founder’s perspective.
The Churchill Club was livelier. There’s nothing like geeks with toys to get a crowd going, and Larry for one outdid himself. He really does love this toys, and seemed quite in his element – relieved, I imagine, to for once be in a public speaking role where he does not have to directly bear the weight of being a founder of Google. Cool stuff included a blue tooth ear plug for cell phones, LED flashlights (no bulbs, quite bright, long battery life), a 4 million pixel webcam that is its own POP server and looks rather like HAL from 2001, and touchless, digital toilets from Japan that require no toilet paper (they wash and dry you at the touch of a button. Really.)

Welcome FeedsterFolk

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So I am offline today (down in the valley meeting Louis Monier and various folks at Yahoo) and I checked into a local Starbucks, and hey, I’m the feed of the day on Feedster! Welcome all of you who might stop by thanks to the pointer. For a tour of what the site’s all about, check out this post on the book and for more on me, see this as well.

Thanks Scott!