free html hit counter October 2004 - Page 6 of 8 - John Battelle's Search Blog

A Peek at What's Coming from MSFT Search Labs

By - October 13, 2004

Again, I’m late on this but…Via Mamamusings, Elizabeth Lane Lawley’s blog. She was one of the “Search Champs” invited up to MSFT last week to see what’s on there.

Susan Dumais from MSR is our first presenter today, and explicitly released what she’s showing from the NDA. Yay!

She’s showing some really nifty stuff, including a personalized search tool that lets you do a web search, then drag a slider to make the results more customized based on what your local computer knows about you. It’s a split screen result, so you see the original results on the left, and the increasingly personalized results on the right. Very, very cool.

(Thanks, Pete)

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Still Catching Up…

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News and fun items from the past week that I missed:

Cops use Google to ID hit and run victim (AP). Neat anecdote, not very interesting in reality. Any cop who isn’t using Google already should be fired.

Google announces code jam finalists (Google PR). No details, but the big competition is October 15.

Google’s Print DRM is breakable, here’s how (Boing Boing). Slashdot has some tips for those with time on their hands.

Kayak travel search engine launches beta (ClickZ). “Google-like objectivity.” Where have I heard that before? Gary likes it.

PPC information from Fathom Online (MediaPost). Average PPC for finance category: $3.17. For telecom: $1.09.

Yahoo has a good quarter (Bloomberg). Some of that has to do with selling Google stock…otherwise it would have had an inline quarter.

Yahoo streamlines its home page (Yahoo PR). Jerry and I talked about this at Web 2.0, he says UI is a big big deal at yahoo (coverage here at BWeek).

Comments Now Have Permalinks

By - October 12, 2004

Astute readers of this site (are there any other kind) may note that I’ve implemented permalinks for all comments. Thanks to Eric Case for the pointer to doing this, and to Scot Hacker, my extraordinary webmaster, for making it happen.

Google's Web 2 Demo and the UI Plunge

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labs_logo2As many have already noted, last week at Web 2.0 Peter Norvig, Google director of search quality, demonstrated word clustering, “named entities,” and machine translation technology to the audience. The translation software was impressive, but somehow lacked zing – “good enough” translation doesn’t seem like much of a revelation anymore. That in itself is an extraordinary achievement – Norvig showed translations from Arabic and Chinese – both significantly distinct languages compared to English. Google already has translation features built into its engine (from a third party), but this hand-rolled stuff was far more powerful, it seemed to me.

In any case, the demos that really got the audience going (and me, to be honest) was the named entities and the clustering technology. Seeing anything behind the veil of Google’s real research and development is of course a revelation, but seeing something that was so clearly ready for prime time felt rather close to a declaration of where Google is heading, in particular given the recent moves in the personalization and clustering space from Amazon, Ask, Vivisimo, and Yahoo.

“Named entity extraction” is a relatively new project called which Norvig said Google had been working on for about six months. As Norvig explained the concept – essentially identifying semantically important concepts and the meaning wrapped around them – I couldn’t help but think of WebFountain and my wish (near the end of the post) that Google would add a bit of IBM’s semantic peanut butter into its PageRank chocolate.

Norvig also showed an entertaining (and live) demo of clustering, which he claimed was the “largest bayesian database of clusters” extant. Hmmm.

From the eWeek story covering the news:

For example, Norvig said, researchers are looking for ways to break down sentences by looking for a phrase like “such as” and grabbing the names that follow it. The goal is to not only pull out the name but also its clusters, so that a name such as “Java” can be associated both with the computer language and with language in general, Norvig said.

“We want to be able to search and find these [entities] and the relationships between them, rather than you typing in the words specifically,” Norvig said.

This has potentially interesting implications in next-generation ranking methodologies, for one, but combined with clustering, it signals that Google is serious about taking what one might call the UI plunge.

What do I mean by that? Well, of all the major engines, only Google has strictly maintained what might be called the C prompt interface to search: put in yer command, get out yer list of results (Google Local is a departure, but it’s still in beta). Yahoo, Ask, A9 and others have begun to twiddle in pretty significant ways with evolved interfaces which – by employing your search history, your personal data, clustering, and other tricks – deliver more filtered and intentional results (though it is still arguable if they are more relevant). I sense it’s only a matter of time before Google takes this approach as well, and Norvig’s demo certainly points that way. After all, it’s not that often Google decides to give us a glimpse behind the curtain, and coupled with Google Board member John Doerr’s semi-announcement the day before (he told the audience that Google would become “the Google that knows you”) I think the UI plunge might come sooner than we all expect.

If you want to know more about how Google is thinking about clustering, here’s a paper written by a Google team, courtesy of a link from Don Park.

Update: Lazy linking on my part, the clustering paper is about hardwaree (though it is really interesting…)

Jeremy Is Back At It…

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JZHYahoo’s most well known blogger Jeremy Zawodny is back on the Search team at Yahoo, but this time, with a new remit. From his post today:

Well, believe it or not, I’m going back to the Search Team[1] but in a very different role this time. Instead of hacking away on software bits, I’m going to be working to:
• make sure our products kick the necessary amount of ass
• better communicate what we’re thinking about and building
• incorporate outside feedback and ideas into what we’re doing
• recruit more smart people

And other stuff as it comes up, I’m sure.

He also includes a FAQ of sorts, which is a hoot. Excerpts:

Q: Does this mean your blog will be full of “check out this great Yahoo feature” posts? Will you still complain about things Yahoo doesn’t do well?

A: No, my blog will not turn into a corporate marketing tool. And yes, I fully intend to be honest about what I think we’re doing well and what we’re not. I’m still a harsh critic–both of our services and others. Hopefully anyone who has read my ramblings long enough knows this already.

Q: Will you still bash Google?

A: Heh. From time to time, I may. But I know a lot more people who work there now, so I’ve tried to tone it down a bit. They’re not that evil. 😉

Q: Did your blog have anything to do with getting this new job?

A: Yes. A lot.


By - October 11, 2004

b2webBiz 2.0, where I wear a columnist hat, has rendered its entire current issue in a quickly readable web format. I like it, though I’m not sure how I’d work it into my daily reading (I am sure that problem is being worked on…). In any case, it’s compelling to see it all on screen. Course it helps that I recently got a spiffy Apple 21-inch flat screen…Here’s my column, pictures and all.

UPDATE: Oops, you can’t link deep into the magazine, making it impossible to point, as I tried above, to a particular page. You have to navigate through the table of contents. Gotta get that one fixed, guys!

From Pull to Point: How to Save The Economist and The Journal from Irrelevance

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wsjThe night after the conference ended, I decompressed in my hotel room with Jonathan Weber, my editorial partner in the Industry Standard, and Steve Ellis, who runs an innovative music company called Pump Audio. Talk turned to what constituted “quality writing” in a journalistic sense. I’m not without a dog in this particular hunt, as it’s been the central premise of both my previous magazine launches, and is at the center of a new venture I’m noodling now that the conference is over. Steve, who is British, asked Jonathan and I if we thought the Wall Street Journal represented the paragon of American newspaper feature writing. And I thought, Jesus, I haven’t read that paper for months. I pay for the online version of the paper, but given how my reading habits have shifted from pull to point*, the Journal simply has not crossed my radar enough to register.

economistJonathan and I agreed that the Journal pretty much defined the American standard of good page one feature writing, and I copped to being “Journal blind” for the past few quarters. Talk then moved to The Economist. Goodness, it had been ages since I read that magazine as well. I used to subscribe to the paper version (same for the WSJ), and when I did, I signed up for a few email newsletters as well. But for whatever reasons those came intermittently, and they were not very good. Why, I wondered, were these two august bastions of journalism falling off my reading list?

You’ve already guessed, of course. Both require paid subscriptions, and therefore, both do not support deep linking. In other words, both are nearly impossible to find if you get your daily dose of news, analysis and opinion from the blogosphere.

Sure, The Wall Street Journal supports RSS feeds, but I’ve been a subscriber for two years, and they’ve never bothered to tell me that. (I found out when I went searching for them while writing this post). As far as I can tell, the Economist does not support RSS at all. Even if I did read the Journal’s feeds, I wouldn’t refer to them in any posts of mine, as my readers and community can’t read what I read. More and more, I find that if I can’t share something (i.e. can’t point to something), it’s not worth my time. (Please take note, RIAA…)

Simple RSS support is not the real issue here. The real issue is how paid registration is handled. I find, increasingly, that sites which wall themselves off are becoming irrelevant. Not because the writing or analysis is necessarily flawed (though honestly, I don’t trust journalists who eschew the blogosphere), but rather because their business model is. In today’s ecosystem of news, the greatest sin is to cut oneself off from the conversation. Both the Economist and the Journal have done that.

So what is to be done? My suggestion is simple: Take the plunge and allow deep linking. Notice I did not say abandon paid registration, in fact, I support it. Publishers can let the bloggers link to any story they post, but limit further consumption of their site to paid subscribers.

I’d be willing to wager that the benefit of allowing the blogosphere to link to you will more than make up for potential lost subscribers. First off, if you as a publisher do not offer additional paid subscription benefits beyond the articles themselves, you’re not paying attention to your community. And in any case, many folks will pay to subscribe to a site which is continually being linked to. In fact, I’d wager that the landing pages from blog links might be the most lucrative place a publisher can capture new subscribers. It’s a massive opportunity to convert: the reader has come to your site on the recommendation of a trusted source (the blog he or she is reading). It’s pretty certain that if you make that page inviting, and use it as an opportunity to sell the reader on the value of the rest of your site, that that reader will eventually feel like the Journal is worthy of his or her support.

Why? In short, if a reader finds him or herself pointed to the Journal on a regular basis, that reader knows that by subscribing to the Journal, he or she would be more in the know. After all, all of the blogs read and point to the Journal, the reader thinks, so perhaps I should read it too. Before subscribing, the only time a reader might find out something in the Journal is if someone points to it (a far sight from where things stand today, by the way). But if they subscribe, they can get their own RSS feeds, and be first to know something. And, in the end, isn’t that what drives subscription sales?

Net net, I think allowing deep linking will drive subscription sales, rather than attenuate them.

I’d be interested in Searchbloggers’ take on this idea. I think it just might work.

*”Pull to point” – I find that I read more things that have been pointed to by others, rather than only those which I pull down myself.

At Least They Didn't Move to the Valley

By - October 10, 2004

logo News from last week: The heralded one man search engine is getting bigger – both in its index, and its staff. Gigablast increases its index to 650 million pages….and is growing its staff and office space as well. I’m kind of a little sad to see it, in a way, as it was always fun to point to Matt’s work as evidence of what one guy in New Mexico can do. Now it’s a few folks. Still not bad….

Some Caution In Web 2.0

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Jason Fried of Basecamp/37 Signals reminds us to stay lightweight, and don’t believe the hype. I very much hope the conference, which certainly was upbeat, was not considered hype. It’s true, I focused on that which I found interesting, astounding, important, and new…which really does create a bit of novelty exhaustion, as Kottke puts it, over the course of a three-day event.

In any case, I certainly agree with Jason Fried’s advice:

My advice to these new companies with their new products and fresh-faced enthusiasm… Keep it small. Start small and stay small. Borrow from yourself before you borrow from someone else. You can have an impact with just a few people. You can build great products with a small team. You can do it on your own. You can.

But before I drift off to sleep…

By - October 08, 2004

eBayLogoTM This is a very interesting post on the future of eBay, by Brian Dear. He keys off a question I asked Louis Monier on stage Weds…

One of eBay’s main selling points for years has been: trust and safety. You’re gonna be fine if you buy or sell on eBay, even if the other person in the transaction is a total stranger halfway across the world. And that is true. Most of the time, things are fine. Fraud happens occasionally, but the vast majority of the time, even big transactions like computer and car sales go smoothy.

But now think 2005. Why might we need eBay less and less?

Consider craigslist with RSS, or, better yet, a notification service tied to RSS or email. “Notify me when a sofa with the following attributes and in the following price range and in the following general geographical area goes on sale.”

And maybe hours or days or weeks or months later, you get that notification, and your dream sofa is for sale, by someone you don’t know, but who lives nearby.

Why do I think it might be nearby? Consider for a moment how much PC/Internet household penetration there is now. And how much high-bandwidth penetration there is now. There’s a much better chance in 2005 that a whole lot of people who live in your own neighborhood or general vicinity will have stuff you want, and you certainly will have stuff they want, and both of you will have ways to find out about each others’ haves and wants. Does eBay’s trust and safety cushion still offer as much value in such a world?