free html hit counter May 2004 | Page 3 of 6 | John Battelle's Search Blog

Spam, Spam. Sigh.

By - May 17, 2004

I have to turn off comments for a while, I am afraid.I can’t watch the site every hour of the day, and the comment spammers are winning. I’ve even got trackback spam. MT Blacklist is not working for some reason, and I’ve got to figure it out. Sorry about that. But I suggest that if you have comments, perhaps do what Dave suggests, assuming you’ve got a blog – ping me. The trackbacks will show through (and there is less of that kind of spam), and if enough do, then I’ll enable the same kind of approach as boing boing takes.

UPDATE: Got MT working again. It was choking on the amount of incoming spam. Will keep comments open till…next time.

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Yow.

By - May 14, 2004

bergGary Price noticed that when you search for “behead berg” Google brings up a sponsored link for someone who is selling the video (it didn’t come up for me, but I imagine there is only so much inventory the guy wanted to buy). It feels just like a porn site. It’s a sign of how we are not quite sure how we feel about watching this video that Google has not put this site on its “bad” list, alongside the t-shirt vendors and the environmentalists (the porn sites *are not* on the bad list…nor do I think they should be…).

Search, R.I.P.?

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rip.gifDanny Sullivan today writes something of an obit for the brief, glorious phase of Internet industry development in which search played a starring role. Danny has always warned that Google was on track to become a portal in the classic sense, but I think the recent AdSense news, in which Google essentially proclaimed itself a massively parallel ad agency, and the Google Groups news, where Google is playing catch up with Yahoo, has pushed him over the edge. Yahoo’s comments yesterday during an analyst meeting didn’t help – the company stressed that it was “much more than a search engine” – this after a year in which it focused almost entirely on earning cred in the search field.

Becoming a media player did make great sense for Google. It was a natural move to leverage the large advertising base it has. But its role in placing ads on sites across the web has nothing — absolutely nothing — to do with organizing information. ….

…”More than a search engine.” It’s almost unbelievable to hear those words spoken, especially from Yahoo, which over the past year has been desperately trying to resurrect its image as a search engine. While I’ve yet to hear Google utter those exact words, its actions speak them loudly.

Is this the end of an era? Yes and no. Yes, in that Google is clearly no longer just a search company, and Danny is right to declare this fact. Google is bigger now, and it has to act like a bigger company. Along with Yahoo, it is one of the first truly “new media” companies of our era. Search is its core editorial product, the internet is its distribution network, and advertising its revenue stream. What’s new is that the company breaks some pretty sacred media company norms – distributing advertising across editorial sites that it doesn’t control, for example, or abstracting traditional editorial judgment behind opaque curtains of algorithmic logic. Just wait until Google starts to distribute video ads attached to net-based television programming. Don’t think it will happen? I’ll bet you dinner it will.

But this is not the end of search as we know it, for search will continue to be the engine driving this industry, as the Yahoo folks took pains to point out during their analyst day.

Still, it is the growth potential of search that is receiving the greatest focus at Yahoo these days. The company has a two-pronged strategy for going after the local market that it plans to introduce soon: a primary emphasis on major retailers and other large businesses in a region, and the creation of a locator page for small businesses that do not have any online presence.

“It is a nice acorn to plant for the future,” Meisel (head of Yahoo subsidiary Overture) said.

A significant part of the growth in search is coming from existing Internet users, who are doing more and more searches each day and driving commercial opportunity and demand for innovation. Jeff Weiner, Yahoo’s senior vice president of search, described this as an unprecedented time, given the growing interest of computer users and the influx of talented engineers with advanced degrees focusing their energies and talents on helping people find relevant information as quickly and easily as possible.

“As fast as search is growing, there is an enormous opportunity ahead of us,” Weiner said. “As good as all of us believe search results are, we are only delivering high-quality results about half the time as an industry. We have only scratched the surface. We are going to get much better at that.”

Should either Google or Yahoo take their eye off the ball again, there are plenty of entrepreneurs ready to take advantage of their missteps. Search has taken its place as an enabling application to the most important new medium in the history of media. And that’s a pretty big deal.

Da Vinci: "Hey Googlio, how the hell do I get to Rome?"

By - May 13, 2004

googlioYou come across some funny shit doing research on the web.

Florence, Italy – Historians have found convincing evidence that Leonardo da Vinci developed the first search engine. Recently uncovered Da Vinci diaries describe how he collaborated with his neighbor, Googlio, to enable a renaissance in searching….


In another chapter, da Vinci recounts how he asked Googlio to find him “a babe with a mysterious and captivating smile.” Googlio produced a list of women ranked by their standing in Florentine society. Googlio began working for da Vinci full time. Da Vinci supplemented his income by selling the contents of the genius’ searches.

Googlio’s popular searches were profitable for da Vinci, but did lead to some headaches. Many paint and canvas salespeople kept knocking on da Vinci’s door. Da Vinci started to think that Googlio was too focused on money when his search about the Last Supper resulted in caterers stopping him on the street and offering assistance.

Jeremy on LinkSpam

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Jeremy has an idea for Scott and Dave….I agree with the implied business context – that there is a business to be made in providing services like link spam blocking to serious bloggers. I’d pay a monthly fee for such a service.

Zeitgeist: War Beats Britney

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As ClickZ points out, the Lycos 50 shows that searchers got serious last week, with war-related searches (Nick Berg in particular) beating the usual fluffernutter of Paris, Britney, and Clay by a huge margin – 12 times, Lycos reports.

Terms of Service and the Clickstream: A Survey

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TOSAs I muddle my way through yet another iteration of my outline, and think about the issues raised in my recent ephemeral/eternal post, it seems apparent to me that as a culture we are nowhere near consensus on what rights, if any, a person has with regard to the data we create and/or provide to third party applications like A9, Gmail, Plaxo, and the like. Clearly we are touchy about all of this, as the reaction to Gmail proves. In the process of my research, I started reading the terms of service and privacy policies for various services, and found them inconsistent, often vague, and in general difficult to understand.

Now, I know there is a vocal contingent of folks who believe that we should simply assume we have no privacy online, and assume the quid pro quo for any service that we use is loss of control over the metadata/personal information we create along the way. I certainly understand this line of thinking, but…it strikes me as a cop out. In the end, I’d warrant that business models are going to evolve to the point where services will spring up that offers consumers access to their own clickstreams in new and powerful ways, and I’m going to predict that we will want that access as a right. I’d prefer we not have early lockdown on this issue, if we can at all avoid it.

The nice thing about doing a book is that people help you. I have had and continue to have help from a lot of smart folks, and one of them is Abigail Phillips, a lawyer who has worked with the CDT and the Berkman Center. Abigail is helping me pull together a little research project that will compare the policies of several well known platform players as they relate to what I’m calling “clickstream/stored information” – the data exhaust we all create when we interact with web-based services.

Now, I imagine this kind of work is ongoing at lots of places, and hopefully this lazyweb request will point me toward that work, if indeed it exists, as well as pertinent case law from the real world. In any case, we’ve tried to outline what the major issues are in the form of what we hope are clarifying questions. Below, I submit them to this readership for feedback and input. Once we get a good sample set – and we’re trying to keep it simple, and avoid overly focused, complicated, specific or situational questions – we intend to review the Terms Of Service and Privacy Policies of four major services (we plan to start with an email provider, a major ecommerce player, a search site, and a social networking/contact site), and see what we learn.

If nothing else, we hope that we can report out a clearer sense of how each site “scores” on issues of consumer data protection and usage. That said, here are the questions, laid out in three rough categories of Ownership, Privacy/Usage, and Account Modification/Deletion. If you’re into this kind of thing, please give them a read and post your responses. If not, stay tuned, and we’ll report what we find out.

Thanks in advance!

——-

OWNERSHIP

Who owns the information-trail (clickstream) and/or stored personal information or profiles (stored information) created while using the service?

If the service owns it, does the user have any rights to view and/or edit that clickstream/stored information? Does the user have any rights to republish, aggregate, or profit from that information in other venues apart from the service where it was created?

Can the user transfer his or her clickstream/stored information to another web-based service? If so, can it be done easily, or is it a difficult and time-consuming task?

Does the service make it easy or difficult to access, edit, and/or retrieve copies of the user’s clickstream/stored information?

PRIVACY/USAGE

Who has access to the clickstream/stored information that a user posts or creates on the site?

Is there a place where the service outlines and regularly updates exactly how it uses this information? Is there a reasonable mechanism for the user to request and receive information on such use?

What is the strategic role of such information in the ongoing business/service, both specifically to the service and more generally to the larger business?

Does the site transfer to third parties personal data that the user submits to or creates on the site? If so, is it connected to specific user profiles, or is it delivered in aggregate form?

Under what circumstances (request, subpoena, etc) will the clickstream/stored information be released to law enforcement or government entities?

ACCOUNT MODIFICATION/DELETION

Does the service have the right to delete an account and all related information without notice to the affected user?

When a user deletes information from an account, is it deleted from the service’s servers and any backups the service may have? If not, does the user have recourse to insure permanent deletion?

If the user closes an account, does the service delete all copies of the information that is stored in the account? Do all third parties that have received user information through the service delete that information?

What happens to user information in the event the user dies while the account is still active? If the user owns that information, or has rights to that information, can those rights be transferred those rights to others, such as an estate or family?

What guarantees do users have that their information will be protected if the service is sold to another company?

What is the service’s policy as it relates to altering its terms of service/privacy policies? Will a user be notified prior to such changes, and will the users have a period of time to react prior to those changes taking effect?

Google Is A Yugo

By - May 11, 2004

gruhl OK, I know, I’m supposed to be writing. But when IBM takes a shot like this across Google’s bow, I have to point it out. Ben Elgin, of Businessweek, heads down to WebFountain (yes, that WebFountain) and interviews the two chief geeks. During the course of the interview, Elgin asks if Google and WebFountain are similar. Dan Gruhl, WebFountain’s chief architect, answers:

We crawl continuously. We look to be updating our store [of information] within 20 minutes of when a page [on some other Web site] changes. We’d be happy to answer two or three questions per minute that are very complex and change how business works. That’s a very different target market. It’s kind of like saying: Yeah, strictly speaking a Rolls Royce Phantom and Yugo are both cars. But the fact is, they’re serving very different markets.

Oh my. I sense a certain frustration with all the attention those folks up in Mountain View have been getting lately.