free html hit counter June 2004 | John Battelle's Search Blog

MSFT Drops Paid Inclusion

By - June 30, 2004

ms_masthead_ltrEmerging from book haze because I can finally post on this…it’s been in the works for sometime, but MSFT is, as previously reported, updating and redesigning MSN search. Chief among the changes: The company is abandoning paid inclusion. This is a big deal: Google has (rightly) made hay for years as the white hat in search, committed to editorial purity on the issue of both UI and paid inclusion. MSFT, on the other had, has been the black hat, treating its search results and its search users with near contempt, clutttering up the UI with commercial come ons and littering its organic results with Looksmart directory listings and Inktomi paid inclusion.

Now all that is gone, and MSFT can claim the high ground. The implications are twofold: First, Google has lost some of their unique competitive positioning. And second, Yahoo, which arguably might be called the gray hat, has lost a whipping boy. While I and others (notably Danny Sullivan) have argued that Yahoo’s CAP program is intellectually defensible, it seems to me this move by MSFT will force Yahoo to further clarify its approach to paid inclusion.

Besides dropping paid inclusion, MSFT has redesigned search, refined its Toolbar, and introduced a “Technology Preview Site” where an early beta of its crawler results can be tested.

FT story….

Update: I should have posted the tech preview site, sorry, it’s here

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A Plea As I Rebuild…

By - June 29, 2004

Hello readers -

I’ll break my silence to ask those of you I work or play with, or who have contacted me in the past – please send me an email. When my G4 died last week, so did my email and address book, and while I do have backups, they are not easily reconstructed. So if we’ve corresponded in the past, please shoot me an email at jbat at battellemedia dot com, so we can once again correspond. It might be weeks before I have this thing rebuilt.

Public memo to self: Run mirrored drives from now on.

And memo to loyal Searchblog readers: Thanks for the notes. I will be back. In fact, there will be interesting news soon on Yahoo’s new search interface, and on Microsoft’s new approach to paid search. I promise.

Vacation, not a Moment Too Soon

By - June 23, 2004

My laptop’s fried and so am I, heading to the mountains to work on the book. Happy summer all!

A Call With Bezos

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bezosJust a teaser, as I really should save the best for the book, but I had a very interesting talk with Jeff Bezos yesterday. A significant insight of his, which came up as I was pushing to understand Amazon’s long-term interest in A9, was his use of the term “discovery” as an umbrella term which incorporates search. I think in the end when I use the word “search” I really mean “discovery” as Jeff uses it. What’s discovery? Well, much more in the book, but in the end, it’s search plus what happens when the network finds things for *you* – based on what it knows of you, your actions, and your inferred intent. Inferred intent? How might the network be smart enough to do that? Ay, there’s the rub….

A Talk With Tim Koogle

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koogleAs search veterans go, Tim Koogle has seen a few tours of duty. He joined Yahoo back when the company had six employees and a pretty limited directory – for the most part, it was still “Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web” (though it was no longer on akebono.stanford.edu , at least).

Tim was the original adult supervisor (he left in 2001), and he came in in 1995 to help figure out what to do next. As we spoke he recalled many of the early conversations he, David Filo and Jerry had around how to create value and grow the business.

“We realized that if we do a great job at enabling navigation (of the Web), demand for that will never go away. And the cool thing about server-based solutions was that people come to our servers and use our directory but they leave tracks – we could, every day, see exactly what people found most important through their usage. We used that as a compass to aggregate more deeply those things they found important.”

Leveraging this clickstream in turn led to a deeper directory and, ultimately, the build out of Yahoo’s major destination areas – Finance, Travel, etc. It also led to the realization that the company needed search – what Koogle, using a book analogy, calls the index of the web, with Yahoo’s directory served as the Table of Contents.

Chatting with Tim reminded me how much search has changed in the past five or so years. Back in the mid to late 90s, running search from inside Yahoo didn’t make as much sense as partnering, because search was a very capital intensive process that had basically no business model – paid search simply had not come together yet. It made far more sense to outsource it – as Yahoo did to various players throughout its history, up until recently.

Tim didn’t entirely buy the common wisdom that Yahoo missed the search train in a fit of late 90s portalmania. “It’s easy in hindsight to say we took our eye off the ball,” he told me. “But what had not emerged yet was a way of monetizing it.”

Tim went over his early interactions with Larry and Sergey, and said they struck him, in the early days, as uniquely bright and “a ball to sit with and drill down on the tech.” We forget, but Tim himself was not just a biz guy, he has a PhD in kinematics.

We discussed the bust of 2000-2001, and he argued that it was in the end a good thing for the internet industry (Tim is busy investing and working with a number of new net companies, such as Plaxo and Friendster). A lot of great ideas did not make it through that fire, but they are emerging now, stronger for the burn, he argued. I agree.

Document Compare on Google S1

By - June 22, 2004

IPOWashPost has a good roundup (reg req’d), the Times does as well. Of note: Larry and Sergey’s letter has been moved from its top position, far more risk langauge has been added overall, Merrill Lynch has been dropped (speculation as to why runs from ML’s inabilty to grok the tech required to run the auction to the lack of profit on the deal to ML possibly leaking info). Lastly, The Times has an interesting tidbit at the end about a recent Google bomb:

Separately, there was an indication yesterday that Google’s vaunted corporate culture may be under stress as a result of competition and the stock offering. As of yesterday afternoon, typing the words “out of touch management” into Google caused the search engine to list as its first result a page describing the company’s top management.

A person close to the company said that Google employees had engaged in the practice of “Google bombing.” A Google bomb is an attempt by a group of people to cause a particular Web page to become the first result for a search phrase. The Google spokeswoman declined to comment.

What I find interesting is that this is not the case this morning. I have no idea if results change that quickly on their own (from yesterday afternoon to this morning). Anyone know?

Amazon Switches to A9 On Home Page…Still Google, In the End

By - June 21, 2004

a9-web-search-headerAs Owen points out on the 2.0 blog, Amazon switched to A9 today (I think it was today) on its homepage. Makes sense that they’d eat their own dog food…of course for now, the main ingredient in that food is Google SERPs…

UPDATE: A well placed source tells me that in fact this switch happened in early June and no one really noticed till now.

The Ask Package Deal

By - June 20, 2004

gotodiana.gifCBSMW alerts us to Ask’s package deal – the trend of creating a editorial menagerie around certain well-worn search terms involving celebrities, current events, and the like. Some might say this is simply algorithmic dress up, but at the end of the day this is editorial, folks. The best decisions about what to show a consumer interested in Britney or Shrek will not come from an algorithm, it will ultimately come from editors. Sure, you can do a decent approximation up to a point with computers, but to really fine tune it, you need human decisions. If the format takes off, money will flow into and from this model, and it will become economical to in fact have more humans doing this. It’s web search rebuilding human input, in a way.

FWIW, it is not surprising that the one company who does NOT dabble in this, at least not much, is Google (once could argue the integration of news and Froogle is a step in that direction). Editorial, in general, is not what Google does, but Yahoo has already begun the practice, MSFT probably will increase it soon, and Ask claims to own it. Excite was working on technology like this back in the day, but this is not new, in fact Bill Gross did the same thing with GoTo back in 1998, as the pic at left shows (I got this as part of my research on the book..click for full view.)