free html hit counter April 2004 - Page 6 of 11 - John Battelle's Search Blog

China Internet Conference At Berkeley

By - April 15, 2004

The Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley, where I have taught for the past few years, is sponsoring a conference April 30 and May 1 on “China’s Digital Future: Advancing The Understanding of China’s Information Revolution.” More information on the conference is in the extended entry below, but I wanted to let this audience know about it, as I helped the school create China Digital News, a blog covering these issues, and will be moderating a panel. Admission is free.

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Google Innovates for Advertisers

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goolocalObscured a bit in the A9 vortex is this announcement that Google is providing a much more granular tool for local advertisers interested in limiting their AdWord buys to specific locales or cities. I find this interesting as it points to Google’s willingness to be responsive not only to users, but to advertisers as well. Of course, offering users more relevant, localized ads can also be considered a service…. MediaPost, CNET, and the NYT report. I’m quoted in the NYT piece, seemingly beating on Google, but it’s not quite in context – I was saying that Google Local (not the local ad product) is still beta, and that Yahoo has been more aggressive in commercial search than Google to date.

Apparently Google’s move to aid local advertisers will really help merchants in Europe, who previously could only target at the country level. Now they can literally target by distance – say within 20 miles of a place of business. This kind of lat/longitude-driven metadata will open up a $12 billion local advertising market (US alone). And it soon will be integrated into the aforementioned Google Local, which was rolled out (as a beta) last month.

Interview with A9's Manber up on B2.0

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b2logo_238x53No need to repost it here, as my interview with Udi is up on Business2.com without subscription walls (thanks 2.0!). Includes an intro which gives an overview of the service and the implications. Good for those of you who don’t want to wade through my last two posts on the subject…and gives a bit of insight into how Udi’s mind works.

UPDATE: The link apparently is now behind reg, so the column is posted in extended entry. (6/21/04)

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Searching Is Getting More Complicated

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searchqueryemgifA few weeks ago I spent the morning with Gary Flake, who heads up Yahoo’s R&D efforts (Yahoo Labs). He’s got some pretty cool stuff in the works over there, though most of it is still in the “I could tell you but then my publisher would kill me” category. One thing he did say which stuck with me had to do with search interface issues – how to solve that intractable problem of figuring out what the user wants, without forcing that user to jump through UI hoops all day. “We just need one more datapoint,” Flake said, referring to the original query as the first datapoint. “Just one more interface element to make search better.” The problem, of course, is depending on a million factors, that second input might be any number of things, from a “Did you mean…?” clustering question to flicking on a personalization tool that filters results through your zip code, Amazon purchase patterns, search history, social network…etc.
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Anyway, this all came up when I saw this eMarketer report today, proving at least the trends are heading – a bit – toward complication. It shows, as has been the case for the past year or so, that searches are getting more complicated – the percentage of searches that have just one word in them is declining, and the percentage of multi-word searches is ever-so-slowly increasing. The graf at the bottom of this post is last year, at the top, this year.

More on A9

By - April 14, 2004

beta-a9-logo.gifThe blogosphere continues to chew away on A9, and I think it will take some time for the new service to fully reveal its more interesting features. Gary, for example, gives it a less-than-rave response here, and summarizes many of its features in the process.

I wrote about the implications of A9 w/r/t business models in my last post, but I wanted to say a short bit about why I’m so interested in its approach.

To me, the core feature that makes A9 interesting is what Udi Manber calls a “history server” – the technologies behind A9’s search history and personalization features. Having your entire search and click history, and if you use the Toolbar, your entire browsing history as well, available on a server side application opens up all sorts of new approaches to solving search, research, and recall problems. Combining that history with what Amazon already knows about you (no, A9 does not do that…yet) creates even more powerful possibilities. Yes, it brings up massive privacy issues, but then, we’ve seen this movie a few times. Those who don’t want to watch can opt out.

(As an aside, I have to say the idea of a complete, lifetime record of a person’s searches and browsing history – which by the way that person can edit – is an extraordinary concept. It’s taking the idea of the database of intentions to the utmost granular level of history – the individual. What, I wonder, happens to a person’s search history when they die? Do they have a right to own it? Does it get passed down as a keepsake to his or her children?)

What gets me thinking is that for those who commit to A9 as a search solution, new and continuous improvements in search are likely to be hacked up, based on the fact that the personalized history can be analyzed and leveraged. For example, Gary and others have noted that the service does not allow you to keyword search within your searches, and display, for example, just those pages you’ve browsed in the past. I’d wager Giants tickets that will be in the feature set by the end of the year.

A minor example of the power of the history server: when you repeat a search, A9 will show you what links have changed and what links you’ve clicked on before. This might seem like a minor deal, but it’s a pretty effortless feature for A9 to serve up. Imagine what else might be done with the history server. If you can imagine it, you can probably do it – again, I’ll wager that Amazon will figure out a way to make the A9 interface API friendly, so that its platform developers can cook up even greater feats.

On the interface side, I am a fan of the collapsable columns for search history, web results, and books (which you can imagine will be all things sold on Amazon and its affiliates before too long). But I do agree that the color scheme is a bit…dull. It lulls me toward sleep. Or maybe that’s just my lack of sleep talking.

Manber is quite insistent that A9 is a very early piece of work, the result of 30 folks banging away for 90 days, but that it’s quite robust, and will evolve very quickly in the next year. From what I’ve heard about him from others in the field, and what I can see so far, I am sure it will worth watching very closely.

NEWS: A9, Amazon's Search Portal, Goes Live: Reverberations Felt in Valley

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beta-a9-logo.gifamazon.gifA9, Amazon’s much discussed skunk works search project goes live today, so I can finally write about it. I saw it last month (caveat: unbeknownst to me until recently, Amazon targeted me as their conduit to break this news – I think they wanted it to move from the blogosphere out, as opposed the WSJ in) and had to keep the damn thing to myself, it was hard, and here’s why: On first blush it’s a very, very good service, and an intriguing move by Amazon. It raises a clear question: How will Google – and more broadly, the entire search-driven world – react?

My gut tells me the public face will be one of partnership: After all, A9 uses Google’ search results and displays at least two paid AdWord listings per result (I’ve requested comment from Google, you can imagine I’m not the only one…). But I have to wonder: What business is Google in, after all? Is it still in the business of just search – as it was back when it was cutting search provisioning deals right and left, with Yahoo (already ended), AOL (arguable imperiled due to Gmail and other trends), Ask, and Amazon? Is it really still in the business of being an OEM to others, a strategy which allowed it to steal those portals’ customers? Or…has it evolved, to a business where it owns a large customer base, one it must now position itself to defend?

It seems to me, Google’s position in Amazon’s A9 implementation is at best a step backwards. If A9 is as good as it seems to be, every customer that uses and/or switches to A9 becomes an A9 search customer, and, more likely than not, a deeper and far more loyal Amazon customer. (The service incorporates a personal search history and many other really neat tweaks, including a wicked good Toolbar.) In essence, Amazon seems to be making a play for Google’s customers. Or it seems that way to me, anyway. Sure, Amazon isn’t in the AdWords business. It’s happy to outsource that to Google and focus on the entire US retail GDP instead…

manberUdi Manber, the head of A9 and one of the leading lights of the search community, is understandably evasive when asked about this subject. Google and Amazon have always been friends and partners (despite the fact that “Work at Google” is the top paid link when you search on his name on Google). But as I point out in the introduction to my Business 2.0 interview, to be posted any moment now, one-time partners can quickly become serious competitors in the Search Find Obtain market. And judging from the look of it, A9 is a very direct statement from Amazon: We are now officially in the search business, so get used to it.

One could argue that A9 is a pure commerce play, not a search portal. After all, that’s what the folks at Amazon insisted when they founded the company and located it in the heart of Google/YahooLand (ie, Palo Alto). But that argument is disingenuous. First off, take a look at the A9 interface. Where’s the commerce? (Answer, it’s there, but it’s hidden, more on that later when I post on the service itself). And second, I’d argue that you can’t really be in the commerce business without having at least a strategy for owning search. The reverse also holds true. It’s two ends toward the middle, and by the way, that middle ground is getting damn crowded – AOL, Yahoo, MSN, eBay, IAC, Amazon, Google…

Of course anyone who’s been in this game for a while will tell you that the internet industry is rife with cat and mouse games of cooperation turned to competition. Netscape’s outsourced its early search traffic to Yahoo, thereby ensuring Yahoo’s success. Yahoo paid the favor forward by outsourcing its search to Google, a practice it ended only last quarter. Microsoft built Overture, and crushed Looksmart. And AOL’s advertising business is on the rise again, due in large part to a deal with Google, which just announced a stunning new email service that pretty much decapitates one of AOL’s core differentiators (oh, Yahoo and MSN as well…).

What makes this particularly noteworthy is that A9 is built quite literally on top of Google. In short, Amazon has taken the best of Google, and made it, to my mind, a lot better. Sound familiar? Yup, it’s what Google did to Yahoo, Yahoo to Netscape…you get the picture.

It all reminds me of a quote in a recent AP story from Google employee #1:

(The ongoing threat of competition) has helped keep Google from becoming complacent, said Craig Silverstein, the company’s director of technology. “If someone should come along and do a better job than us, we know people will switch in a heartbeat.”

Something tells me the hearts are beating a bit faster at Yahoo and Google HQs today. Will Google renew its deal with Amazon? Will Bezos and Schmidt put a good face on it and call this a partnership? I have no idea, but man, things are certainly getting interesting in this neck of the woods. More after I talk with folks and get a second order view of the landscape.

(I’ll also have a much more complete posting on A9, including a tour of its features and a discussion of its strategic implications later tonight.)

PS- for a tour of what’s cool in A9: Click here.

F*cking Spam

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spamSpam. F*cking spam. Last night I got hit with about 150 or so comment spams from “http://www.emmss.com”, some Chinese site I can’t even read. I’m on it, but I don’t have the time to hand-delete all these spams, and my mail is down to boot, meaning my Blacklist ain’t functional. Even if it were, that’s hundreds of clicks. Anyone know a way to batch delete comments in the MT backend?

The Web Time Axis

By - April 13, 2004

daliclockOne of my largest gripes about the web is that it has no memory. But I think this will soon change – at some point in the not too distant future we’ll have live and continuous historical copies of the web that will be searchable – creating, if you will, a time axis for the web, a real-time Wayback Machine (only there’ll be no broken links). In other words, in our lifetimes we’ll see our cultural digital memory – as we understand it through the web and engines like Google – become contiguous, available, always there. And barring a revival of the Luddites or total nuclear war, this chain will most likely be unbroken, forever, into the future. Historians looking back to this era will mark it as a watershed. At some definable point in the early 21st century, the web will gain a memory of itself, one that will never be lost again. Most likely, this will start as a feature of a massively scaled company like Yahoo or Google, much like Gmail or search itself is now. But it’s coming, and the implications are rather expansive.

If the web had a time axis, you could search constrained by webdate. You could ask questions like “show me all results for my query from this time period…” or “Tell me what was the most popular results for XYZ during the 3rd of May in 20XX.” How about “show me every reference to my great grandfather, born in 2050,” asked by a great grandson in 2150? Impossible? Yeah, seems that way, but…so did a free gig of mail and the concept of the entire Internet in RAM. Thanks to the dramatic decrease in the cost of storage, 64-bit computing, abundant memory (jesus, there’s an entendre), and the scalable business model of paid search, I think this day is not far off. The web is just ten years old, for the most part, but think what it might be like when it’s 100 years old. That’s a lot of data to search.

I was reminded of this idea (I had written it down a while back while musing for the book) when Gary sent word that Daypop is archiving its Top 40 back to 2002. It’s fascinating to see what was the buzz, say, two years ago today.

Gmail update: CA Legislation, Timeline, et al

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gmail_logoHard to keep up with all the Gmail news, CNet rounds it up here. Upshot: CA legislator is threatening to introduce legislation outlawing the product, Google announced it was in a 3-6 month test phase and might make changes to the product based on response (opening the door to possible changes to protect or enhance or at least address privacy issues).