free html hit counter September 2004 | Page 8 of 9 | John Battelle's Search Blog

Search, Autism, and the Geek Culture

By - September 06, 2004

curiousThose of us who’ve lived around the Valley for some time know of the correlation between autism, Asperger’s syndrome (called autism’s “milder cousin”) and geek culture. The connection has been the subject of lengthy pieces in both Wired and Time.

One of the principle characteristics of autism is what might be called face blindness, the inability to “read” people’s faces for emotional cues (resulting in what most would call anti-social behavior). This and other Asberger-like traits have often clothed the body of geek culture in our popular culture – the tireless focus, the need to classify and order everything, to control and to name, to identify and to sort, to count and compute.

These observations were percolating in the back of my mind as I read Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” one of the few books which has been universally recommended to me, and honestly, one of the very few non-search related reads I’ve allowed myself as my deadline looms.

The novel chronicles, through the voice of a young autistic boy, the murder of a neighborhood dog and the resulting human fallout. But even as I was enjoying what seemed to be a non-work related escape, the author, in the voice of the autistic boy, describes how his memory works.

My memory is like a film. That is why I am really good at remembering things….when people ask me to remember something I can simply press Rewind and Fast Forward and Pause….
…this is how I recognize someone if I don’t know who they are. I see what they are wearing, or if they have a walking stick, or funny hair, or a certain type of glasses, or they have a particular way of moving their arms, and I do a Search through my memories to see if I have met them before.

He goes on, giving examples of how he uses Search to deal with everyday situations – helping someone who is having an epileptic fit, or understanding the nuance of a idiomatic phrase.

For example, if people say things which don’t make sense, like, “See you later, Alligator,” or “You’ll catch your death in that,” I do a Search and see if I have ever heard someone say this before.

In essence, the boy is describing his mind as something akin to an index of experience through which he searches.

I’m not entirely sure why, but this really hit home with me, after a year or so of interacting with the engineers and mathematicians who drive innovation in search. It’s not that, as a group or even as individuals, the geniuses behind search are autistic. But as a culture, and in particular, as a product, search certainly can be understood to be face blind in the very least – unaware and/or unable to discern the cues we as users give it.

And there is a certain…coldness to search, an aloof, detached, and passionless side to it, where all things which can be indexed, are indexed, and a certain arrogance with regard to those things or people who don’t understand how to retrieve that which is in the index.

I can’t put my finger on it in this passage, nor will I try any more than I have, but, in the end, this is why we read novels, to feel that which otherwise we might not even notice.

  • Content Marquee

All Classification Schemes Have Bias

By - September 05, 2004

deweyAs David Weinberger notes. In particular, the Dewey Decimal System has inherent religious biases. I’ve done some research on Mr. Dewey as part of my book, and he was quite the bigot, it appears.

I wonder, 100 years from now, when folks are writing the history of indexes like Google and Yahoo, what biases will emerge?

IPO Tick Tock

By - September 03, 2004

For the book, I’ve been reporting the Google IPO story for what feels like years, so I expected there to be some tick tocks (journalist jargon for minute by minute accounts of an event) once the thing finally occured. Here’s the first (at least that I’ve seen), from CBSMW via IBD. Nothing that surprising in here, lot of whinging from bankers, early investors, and a few tasty morsels from the folks at Playboy, who claim Google did not try to get them to pull the article. But if you’re a GOOG junkie…

UPDATE: Apparently the link was changed and now does not work, CBSMW has it here.

Judge to Geico: Go Forth, And Sue

By - September 02, 2004

gavelGeico’s trademark infringement suit against Google and Yahoo has cleared a legal hurdle, and will proceed to trial, barring settlement.

Interesting commentary on the basis of the case to be had over at Techdirt:

As long as the ads in question don’t try to trick users into believing that they are Geico, there’s no trademark infringement. It’s no different than trying to get yourself on the same super market shelf as a more popular brand. You want to be in the same place when someone is looking for your competitor. If anything, Geico should be focusing on specific ads that confuse users into believing that the ads are for Geico instead of a competitor. Speaking of which, Google and Overture should have nothing to do with this case. They’re not the ones who created the ads, but are simply the vehicle for delivering them. If Geico has a problem with the ads, they should be suing the advertiser in question.

Cnet’s coverage:

The unpublicized Aug. 25 decision by Judge Leonie Brinkema of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia delivered a blow to the two Internet search giants in their efforts to defend ad sales of trademarks as fair use. It could also ultimately threaten their livelihood: Google and Overture make money by selling ads linked to keyword-triggered search results, and many commercially driven searches are tied to trademarked brands such as Geico or Nike.

Judge Brinkema denied Google and Overture’s motion to dismiss six charges brought by Geico, which alleged that the search companies’ use of its name to trigger search-related advertisements was trademark infringement, unfair competition and dilution of its marks…

Creative Commons Search, Now In Beta

By -

ccDoug Cutting reminds me that his Nutch open source engine is powering a beta version of Creative Commons search. This is a great example of a domain specific search application, in this case, the engine crawls and indexes all CC licensed sites and lets you find stuff by how you might want to use it. As Doug points out, there’s no way the Creative Commons could have built an engine like this had it not been for open source. Cool….

Killer Workshop Lineup & Loads of News at Web 2.0

By -

web2Again with the Web 2.0 plug, forgive me, but this has been an obsession lately.

As you may recall earlier I posted about the Web 2.0 lineup and asked for feedback on potential workshops. Well, I’m very pleased to say you really responded and we’ve got 10 already lined up, and they are truly amazing. They’ll run from the morning of the first day up till the main sessions start. From the Web 2.0 site:

Web 2.0’s workshops are designed to be conversations, not lectures. Each is led by a moderator with expertise in the workshop topic, but no formal presentations will be given. Instead, the workshop will address open questions and explore the latest developments in each of these very Web 2.0 subjects.

The subjects include:

RSS: Syndication Strategies and Business Models
Dick Costolo, CEO, Feedburner

Journalism 2005: A New Era for Newsmakers
Dan Gillmor, Columnist, San Jose Mercury News

Design for Web 2.0 Business
Jeff Veen, Partner, Adaptive Path
Jason Kottke, kottke.org

Consumer IS The King: Going Direct To Consumer For Revenues
Rafat Ali, Editor/Publisher, Paid Content

Emerging Democracy: Building API’s Into Government
Zack Rosen, Co-Founder and Director, CivicSpace Labs

Lightweight Business Models
Marc Canter, CEO, Broadband Mechanics
Jason Fried, 37signals

eBay for Businessfolk
(Moderator TBD)

Dialing on the App Tone: How the Early Web OS is Shaping Up
Stewart Butterfield, President, Ludicorp

Enterprise Social Software
Ross Mayfield, CEO, Social Text

Publishing 2.0
Christopher J. Alden, Co-Founder & CEO, Rojo Networks, Inc.

In addition, we’ve got at least half a dozen new companies and/or major products that will be debuting at the conference, including from Bill Gross, Kim Polese, Chris Alden, Michael Weiss, Joe Kraus and some soon to be announced. I hope to see you there!

Grokking Rojo

By -

RojoYesterday I hung out with Chris Alden, a founder of the original Red Herring who has moved his focus to publishing in a Web 2.0 world (in other words, a fellow traveler). He’s putting the finishing touches on a new publishing platform/feed reader called Rojo (think “mojo”) that he and his team have been working on for quite some time now. It’s moved into invitation-only beta recently, and he gave me a tour. I liked it quite a bit. Think of it as a second-generation RSS aggregator with some subtle social networking, recommendation, and republishing juice.

Chris has asked me to not give away the store, but he plans on introducing the company and its product in full at Web 2.0 in the workshop sessions (more on those in a subsequent post). Chris said he’d try let as many Searchbloggers as he could handle into the beta, so if you’re interested, head to the site and submit your email.

Andy's SEM Conference

By -

Beal’s company is launching a SEM conference in Raleigh, NC later in October. Sounds like a great place to learn the ins and outs of a booming and critical business…

Hell Bent

By -

ballmerSteve Ballmer is on a mission to beat Google. This article summarizes a speech he gave in Massachusetts. His main focus: MSFT is “Hell-bent” to lead in search. “I see a world of incredible possibility and opportunity,” in the online ad biz, he added.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, MSFT is quite focused on search, and while Longhorn seems a far way off, this is a long term game. When they feel challenged, they respond. The decision to clean up their act with regard to paid inclusion, which probably cost them tens of millions in near term revenues, is a good indication of this.

The Political Sisters

By - September 01, 2004

Over at the Yahoo Blog, they posted some zeitgeist (sorry Yahoofolk, but it’s a good word) showing that people want to know about the Bush twins and the Kerry girls. Now…I hear the Bush sisters blew their speech. Like father….anyway, anyone know of a video of it out there anywhere?