free html hit counter February 2004 - Page 10 of 12 - John Battelle's Search Blog

Jeremy, Yahoo, RSS

By - February 06, 2004

Jeremy can’t heat up his lunch at work without someone asking him about RSS. Certainly the meme is spreading. Read his comments if you want good dialog/intro on why RSS matters.

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Call A Librarian…

By - February 05, 2004

Gary points to this article, which I missed this morning…the NYT does a nice piece on why humans in fact can do stuff computers can’t…

“Maybe they could have found the answer faster on Google, but who knows if it would be right?” Ms. Tuckerman (a librarian) said. “It’s not that I don’t like Google, but we’re the information experts.”

WebFountain Gets Serious

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WebFountain, which I posted about here, and which started as Clever, Jon Kleinberg’s project, is getting more buzz, this time from the Merc.

It’s interesting to note IBM’s strategy here. They are not opening it up to the world and creating another Alta Vista/Google moment, though I believe they clearly could. They are keeping this as a behind the scenes, OEM/consulting play. Their bread is not buttered in consumerland. It’s all about the enterprise, and marketing support, or “buzz reports” as the Merc calls them.

Buzz…or buzzkill? Check this passage from the Merc’s rather short piece:

Gruhl says another client, a security company, wanted to be able to predict for banks whether customers depositing large amounts of cash are connected to money launderers. WebFountain gathered publicly available information, as well as a corporate client’s own internal files, about known money launderers. It then searched through Web data — from newspaper wedding announcements to high school reunion Web sites — to draw any association between bank customers and known criminals. If the links show that someone’s wife has a best friend who is a money launderer, then the bank may have reason to refuse the customer’s money.

In contrast to standard search engines that just match patterns, WebFountain takes a subject and analyzes it in 50 different ways, noting how often someone’s name is associated with someone else’s, all in an effort to get a more precise answer to a query.

I’m sure the intelligence community hasn’t been paying attention….

Longer piece on WebFountain via ZDNet here.

Search The Earth

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Over at Joho, David Weinberger gives us a tantalizing glimpse of his full length essay in Esther’s Release 1.0:
The Semantic Earth

Every business in the world is headquartered on earth. Every employee works somewhere. Every customer is at some location at every moment. Every product is delivered to some spot and every service is performed at some coordinates. Every transaction involves at least one place and usually more than one. And yet, until recently, businesses have systematically managed location information only for processes directly concerned with moving people and goods. Why has the literal common ground of business been largely absent from business applications?……

Search, Your Data, and Social Networks

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Boing Boing points to this paper, in draft form, which discusses the implications of all this data we happily upload to private companies on the web. I am pretty sure I know how Scott McNealy feels about all this, but when you think about it in aggregate, all that data we are giving to orkut, Amazon, Plaxo, et al, without any functional controls on how it gets used, it does start to feel a bit creepy.

The paper is clearly biased against corporations that gather personal data, but… under the present administration, paranoia doesn’t feel like an option. The paper focuses on Plaxo, and delivers a pretty through thrashing to that company’s privacy policy. Excerpts:

Social networks are a primary way in which suspicion is generated about individuals. Acquaintances of terrorists, terrorism suspects, terrorism financiers, terrorist supporters and terrorist sympathisers are at risk of being allocated into a grey zone of terrorist associates. A tag of that kind is potentially as harmful to a person as have been negative categorisations made in previous contexts, such as ‘etranger’, ‘subversive’ and ‘unamerican’……

…Several of the sites display the Trust-e ‘meta-brand’. Meta-brands were examined in an earlier article in this series (Clarke 2001), and their value was shown to be very close to zero.

(w/r/t Plaxo)…
The user’s personal data is protected by only the flimsiest of contractual terms, and hence the user is forced to rely on such protections as may be provided by the law. But whether any legal protections at all apply is a wide open question. Plaxo appears to be a U.S. corporation operating in Silicon Valley. Neither the U.S.A. nor California have generic data protection laws, and quite possibly no specific laws that apply to these circumstances…..

…it is feasible to design a privacy-sensitive address-book service or social networking service. Unfortunately, none of the services referred to in this paper have demonstrated sufficient understanding of the issues to suggest that they could mature in that direction.

Nielsen and TiVo Unite on Ratings

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MediaPost reports that TiVo and Neilsen are now working together to create a ratings report for the TiVo environment. This feels rather oxymoronic – TiVo has perfect information on its users, why does it need Nielsen? – but then again, Nielsen has a validating brand and distribution to the major advertisers. I can’t help but wonder if the service wil lbe entirely honest about how destructive TiVo is to the 30 second spot, but we’ll see. Note this quote, from the Nielsen guy: “The first step right now will be program content. We hope to get to commercial avoidance data later.” Yeah…as later as possible.

On the note of TiVo, I’m going down to see their CEO Mike Ramsay next week for the book and my column. What do you want to know about TiVo that I can ask him?

RSS Tools

By - February 04, 2004

Since my column came out a lot of folks asking me which aggregators to use and the like. I’m not an RSS expert and to make matters worse, I use a Mac (hence I suffer PC blindness), but here’s a link to a list of RSS tools, thanks to the RSS Winterfest online conference and Socialtext.

More on Trademarks

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Dana Blankenhorn continues the discussion on Corante w/r/t the trademark issue and paid search. This one is not going away, though I think this will come down to shades of gray, not black and white legal rulings. If a legal precedent is set that is too restrictive, many will cry foul and claim the suffocation of an entire industry (ie, the $6 billion paid search market). If there is no precedent, trademark law is weakened and those who depend on their trademarks will suffer. It will take time for the standards to emerge from case law.

Dana points to an email from BizWeek’s Alex Salkever, in which Alex notes that Google has already given in to Dell and eBay and disallowed others from advertising using those trademarks. But it’s worth noting that there is something of a quid pro quo – Dell and eBay buy massive amounts of keywords related to their trademarks, to cover searches which use the trademarks in the first place. Interesting – with no competition for those keywords, I wonder how the price is set? (thanks for the pointer, Hylton!)

Talking With Gary Price

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Had a nice chat with Gary Price yesterday. Here’s a librarian who’s written the book on the Invisible Web, and who has a mission to educate us about the resources – beyond the open web of Google et al – that are freely available to the public. Price took me on a tour of the databases that are available to anyone with a public library card. Among them, the Arlington library, which has the same Thompson/Gale databases for free as Highbeam has for $20 a month. Others, like the SF library, have huge databases of magazines and other business resources available. All you need is a library card (and access to the web – many resources are available over the net). This it does kind of make you wonder how Keepmedia and Highbeam intend to make money in the long run. Wait a minute…they intend to make money by intermediating libraries, who are notoriously terrible at marketing themselves.
As I’ve pointed out in a few other posts, Price maintains Resourceshelf and writes and lectures prolifically about search and research.