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Always Read Markoff Closely

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…as he always has a scoop somewhere in any story he does on Google. This time, it’s at the end, where (after he quotes some guy who runs a blog – really, a “Cambrian explosion“!?) he quotes a source:

“If you drive by the Google buildings in the evening,” said a person who has detailed knowledge of the company’s business, “the lights that are still on are the ones on the floor where they are working on the browser.”

So maybe there’s life yet in the Google browser rumors, despite protestations from very senior folks at Google (sources of mine and others) who claim Google is not interested in fighting that particular battle.

Google Code Jam Winners

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artLast Friday was the second annual Google Code Jam. I find it interesting what tasks (as well as who) the company chooses to reward. Last year they announced it was a geolocation hack, as I recall. But this year, far as I can tell, they didn’t announce the actual hacks, just the winning hackers. Hmmm. A bit more research (and a reading of this Slashdot thread) has me thinking that this year they didn’t look for hacks, but rather had a standardized set of problems that folks coded against. That sounds far less interesting, IMHO.

Friday InfoPorn

By - October 15, 2004

I’m resuming my writing-the-book myopia, so posting will be light over the next weeks. However, when I find fun facts and such from my writing/research, I just have to share it. This graph comes from Mary Meeker’s research report on Search. It shows how PPC on particular terms has rise, and the raw potential of paid search against mutliple-word keyphrases.


Google's IM Client

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header-helloYeah, they’ve got one, got it when the bought Picasa. InsideGoogle has the details. (Good review of Picasa too).

Picasa and Google’s little secret, and it sure as hell shouldn’t be. Picasa is a way of storing and indexing your photos. Hello is about interacting. Hello was created as a way to share those photos Picasa spent so much time indexing, but it does so much more. Do you want an instant messenger from Google? Well, Hello is an instant messenger, complete with buddy lists and bots and smilies and sounds. The difference is that Hello is optimized for sending photos. It can automatically resize a photo so it sends properly. You can jump back and forth from Hello to Picasa to send your photos and share your albums. But most strikingly to most of my readers, it is an instant messenger in a Google product, and its a good bet that as Google integrates Picasa better with the rest of its services, Hello will be its chat client, with full feature support for Gmail and Google Desktop. And if you are worried about security, Google claims it’s more secure than AOL Instant Messenger.

AOL Says: We Play Too

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aol_gl_logoLong rumored, AOL has been spurred to declaration today by the ever increasing noise in the desktop search/personalization/browser space. Cnet has the goods:

America Online on Thursday confirmed that it is testing a new search engine that scans for files on a PC’s hard drive, mirroring a similar product unveiled this week by Google.

AOL’s desktop search was not developed in-house but is powered by a third-party’s technology, according to a source familiar with the plans. While the source would not reveal AOL’s desktop search partner, this person said it was not Google.

The desktop search tool is currently being offered as a feature within a test version of a standalone Web browser that AOL is developing, the source said.

AOL spokeswoman Anne Bentley confirmed that the desktop search tool is being tested alongside the AOL Browser but declined to elaborate further. She said the AOL Browser will launch as early as November.

The site itself got a makeover today as well, though you need to be a member to see it.

Desktop Search: More and more….

By - October 14, 2004

Rael has a great write up:

The Google Desktop is your own private little Google server. It sits in the background, slogging through your files and folders, indexing your incoming and outgoing email messages, listening in on your instant messenger chats, and browsing the Web right along with you. Just about anything you see and summarily forget, the Google Desktop sees and memorizes for you.

And it operates in real time.

Great detail. Also, Danny rounds up a bunch of coverage here.

And many, many folks have emailed me reminding me that LOADS of other folks play both in desktop search, as well as the “Stuff I’ve Seen Before” arena. All true. Copernic, X1, Microsoft, Ask, the list is very long…

Also, check Scripting News for some interesting questions raised, though net net Dave seems to like it…

An open architecture desktop search app is a requirement. I must be able to write a plug-in that teaches it how to index formats it doesn’t understand.

Erik Speckman: “Google desktop search is a disappointment.”

Erik makes a good point. It only indexes Microsoft mail data. I would like it to index my object databases, that’s where all my content is. This could all be solved if they had a driver architecture that allowed us to teach it how to index file formats they don’t understand. Now that we’re on the desktop this becomes possible, as does a richer API. Google’s concern for server bandwidth goes away when the software is running on my desktop.

(thanks, Scott…)

News: Google Drops The Other Shoe – Google Desktop Search Launches

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GDlogoI have not had a chance to play with this, as it is limited to Windows/IE, but that’s OK, Danny has, and his very thorough write up is here. What I’m interested in is what this all means for the big Chess Game That Is Search, and frankly, this is A Very Big Move on the part of Google.

Recall, if you will, about a year ago, when Google launched the Deskbar, which integrated into IE and allowed for search from within that environment. Recall further the rumours of a desktop search tool (back in May, broken by Markoff at the Times.) All of this fed understandable speculation about a Google browser. Well, the other shoe is dropping this morning. It’s not a browser, but it is a significant desktop client application: Google Desktop Search. With this launch, Google is focusing on placing a desktop application on your computer that *makes your browser seem smarter.* The browser (IE only for now) becomes the interface front end to a major Google incursion into the PC hard drive, a space that heretofore has been owned by Microsoft. Google isn’t competing with Microsoft on the browser front – that would be madness. It’s competing with Microsoft on its own terms and its own turf: by integrating the desktop into the web browsing experience. More specifically, but integrating it *into the Google experience* as understood through search.

desktop tabThis is the part that’s important: As far as the user is concerned, Google’s Desktop Search seamlessly integrates your hard drive into “Desktop” becomes another tab, right next to “Web”, “Images”, and the like (your data stays on your hard drive, of course, but to most mere mortals, it might seem like in fact it lives “out there on the web.”)

Yes, this is a Big Deal. For many reasons. Assuming you download the client and use Google Desktop Search:

One, it means Google will have a major beachhead on users’ computers – an index of *everything on your hard drive.* Yes, this raises privacy concerns, but Google has outlined their stance on this in the documentation, and (compared to Gmail) seems ready to handle this issue this time.

Two, it means that index will be viewed *in the native Google interface* – for all intents and purposes, it treats your hard drive as an extension of the web (or, vice versa…it hardly matters which). MS Word, Powerpoint, Excel files? Just results in the Google interface. How’s that for a lightweight OS?***

GDresultsThree, it means that Google can build upon that knowledge of your personal data to make *all* search more relevant for you – this is Google’s first major foray into truly personalized search.

Four, it means that everything is now searchable: your email, your Word documents, your music, your IM sessions, and – pay attention here – your SEARCH HISTORY. That’s right, the Google Desktop Search automatically hoovers out *every site you visit* from the IE logs and adds it to you overall searchable index as cached pages. “Take that, A9, Yahoo, and Ask,” Google is saying. “We’re playing here too…Oh, and by the way….we’re Google.”

And Five, this provides Google a major new platform to build upon – a client application that integrates with the web. Can I imagine upgrades to that app that include spiffy new features like – oh – a lightweight word processor so you can take notes on your searching, or a calendar? Better yet, can I imagine Google opens this platform up to third party developers, to do what they do best? Yes, I sure can.

As I intonated before, Google is playing to its strengths, leveraging its power as the defacto interface for finding things on the web over to the desktop. Once it begins to know more about you (recall that John Doerr hinted at this just last week at Web 2.0, saying “Google will become the Google that knows you”), expect a hell of a lot more innovation from Google on this front. Yup, that means, eventually, lessons learned from millions upon millions of aggregated individuals’ search histories (and desktop usage patterns) will start to inform Google’s overall approach to relevancy. How could it be otherwise?

I reached Google’s director of consumer web products Marissa Mayer at 9 pm last night as she was catching a red eye to New York, where Google is announcing Desktop Search at the Digital Life conference (a consumer-focused event starting today). Marissa is known as a superwoman at Google, she works constantly, and only travels on the red eye so she won’t miss a business day. (Yikes….I remember those days…).

After she caught her breath, I asked her these questions:

– Why did you develop this product? Did this bubble out of the labs like News, or was it more deliberate?
We view this as an important development and it’s just the start of many new innovations. Our users have been asking us for this feature from us for five years. We started working on it about a year ago. Steve Lawrence is the lead researcher. (So no, it was not a Labs project).

– Was this a response to all the other competitive announcements in personal and desktop search?
No. The technical details of this product are stunning. It only uses of 8 megs of RAM to run. It’s a 400 Kbyte file! Our first build was in February, and we had a lot of testing and revision. We targeted launch for October because we are sponsoring Digital Life and this is perfect product for that conference.

– Do you think this will quell all the Google browser rumors?
We were trying to fulfill a user need. In 1995 the browser model worked fine – you could find what you were looking for by browsing a directory like Yahoo. But over time as the web scaled that model didn’t scale. It broke, which is why search (became the metaphor for finding things on the web). We are seeing the same thing happening now on personal computers (which have far more storage than even five years ago). The distinction between the hard drive and the net is becoming blurred. We want this application to be a sort of photographic memory for your screen. (She ducked this question…but then again, she was running to catch a plane…)

– How does the Google Desktop Search do ranking on a person’s hard drive?
The default rank is by date. (When we tested, we learned that) people understood the context of “when they did see this”? The results list the last time you accessed any particular document. However you can also sort by relevance. The desktop relevance scheme lacks Pagerank (of course), but it does incorporate the other 150 factors (Google uses on the web) – factors like are the (keywords) together, in bold, related, things like that.

– How will you incorporate what you learn from this into overall relevance drivers for Google?
As we see the distinction between the hard drive and the net blur, people don’t want to have to choose between the desktop and the web. You can issue your regular search and to the extent there is relevant information on your desktop, we’ll write it to the browser. (Again, she didn’t really answer that one…)

Net net: This is a major initiative for Google (they ain’t rolling this one out quietly through Labs!), and it will be very, very important to the company that this be widely adopted by millions and millions of users (privately, Google employees have told me they were disappointed with the number of their Toolbar downloads over the years). If it is, it will set the stage for a very Web 2.0 battle for the hearts and minds of searching consumers – and that means all consumers – everywhere. In the end, if search becomes the interface for how we navigate our computing space, regardless of where that space is, there is no doubt the power of Microsoft will be diminished. On the other hand, there is no way Microsoft, which bought a desktop search company earlier this year, or Yahoo for that matter, will stand still. This move, I sense, is the true starting gun of a major race to win in search, and at the interface level for all of computing. It should be a fun few years!

PS – Let’s not forget that Google laid down policy on desktop applications a while back. This is worth re-reading in light of this announcement…

***- On the OS/Interface stuff, recall what I wrote back in April, after going to MSFT for the day: On the platform idea (point three), my general thesis is this: Over time, more and more of a typical user’s desktop real estate is devoted to web-enabled apps. I am an extreme example of this trend (and I’d wager the same is true of most of Searchblog’s readers): at any give moment, I’ve got ecto (a blogging tool), NetNewsWire (RSS reader), Firefox and/or Safari (browser), mail, and Office open. All these applications are web-enabled (Office is the lamest of the bunch, but not for long). Even OSX makes web calls – if only for software updates for now. So if you look at my screen, at least 80 percent of it is web applications. Compare that with five years ago, where it was just email and the browser, or ten, where it was just email.

Now, all these applications are migrating to the portals, and the portals are migrating to the model Cole described: software-based platforms replete with tools and applications – mail, calendar, blogging, rss readers, the works. At some point (and this certainly is not a new idea) the very idea of the “desktop” will become pretty old school. We’re building an entirely new architecture on top of our OSes. So…what does that mean for the traditional OS? In essence, it loses the glory role, in the eyes of the consumer. The OS does the hard stuff – files systems, security, connectivity, etc., but the interface, the stuff the user sees, is migrating to the web.

UPDATE: Even though an ad for the Google Desktop appears when you search for the term, so far the site is still not up. Stay tuned.

UPDATE 2: An astute source of mine who works for one of the other Big Portal companies points out that while Google’s announcement is a big deal, companies that allow folks to search across their data on servers and services – ie MyYahoo, Amazon, social networks (or implied ones), etc. – may have a leg up in the long run.

The Browser Wars: Looking at the Wrong Thing

By - October 13, 2004

googatesOK, so now AOL is getting back into the browser wars, says eWeek. And the speculation about Google entering the game is overwhelming. Well, Doerr said at Web 2.0 it ain’t gonna happen, and I don’t think it will. At least, not in the way the traditional narrative might have it. I’ve concluded that the point is not the browser, it’s the platform, and Google already has one to build on. It’s the web (and IE, in fact).

SEW blog points to Google’s strategy: building on top of the browser.

From an Indian web site pointed to by SEW:

Internet search service company Google today said that it was engaged in developing technology that was aimed at bringing about improvements in web browsers.

”There has been much speculation. But our work is focussed on improving the browsing experience,” Google co-Founder and President (Technology) Sergey Brin told reporters here.

The world’s most popular search services outfit touched off a flurry of speculation that it was planning to introduce a web browser after it registered the domain name in April.

”Today’s browsers are doing a pretty good job, but they can be improved. What we are looking to do is to enhance the quality of the browsing experience,” he said.

What does that mean? It means that the browser is a commodity. Note while the journalist said “improving the browser”, what Sergey said in fact was “improving the browsing experience.” This is an important distinction. Google will build something else, something which will presume the browser as a starting point, and make *what is being browsed* more valuable. There are already plenty of folks who are making the browser valuable. Google’s play is in what the browser shows you, not the browser itself. That was the brilliance of Google 1.0, and I’d warrant the same will be true of version 2.