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Findory Getting More Personal

By - November 19, 2004

findory.jpgGreg has the details on the ongoing improvements underway at Findory. From his post:

A couple weeks ago, Findory launched search history for web, news, and blog search. As I’ve said before, search history is not personalized search.

This week, Findory took our first step toward true personalized web search. In subtle and small ways, we are starting to modify web search results based on your history at Findory.com.

To see the impact, do a web search at Findory, then click on one or two of the search results, then do another search for something fairly similar. In cases where we believe we can help, we’ll modify and highlight some of the search results.

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Grokking Wondir

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wondirSpent some time on the phone today grokking Wondir with its founder, Matthew Koll. Matt has a long and distinguished history in search, starting back in the non-web days (he created a text search engine in the early 90s which he sold to AOL in 1998) and running up into the present.

Wondir is, at its core, a question answering service. Wondir itself is more than two years old, but Koll only recently took the “beta” off the service and turned it into a for-profit enterprise. While there are loads of question answering services on the web, this one is different in some important ways. First off, it feels like a search engine. That’s intentional, Koll told me, as he feels the process of finding answers through chat rooms and usenet like forums is cumbersome and unintuitive. Secondly, Wondir aggregates questions and answers through the architecture of participation, essentially getting its questioners to become answerers, and vice versa. This is non trivial – getting people to answer questions is not as easy as it might seem. But Koll has thought through all of this, and I like where this service is going.

wondir2You don’t have to register to ask a question, but it pays if you do, because then your answer can be sent to you (and you can also tell Wondir areas of your own expertise, and it will notify you of questions that come in that you can answer if you wish to). When you do ask a question (in plain english), Wondir does a number of clever things. First, it parses your question’s text and categorizes it in any number of potential topic clusters. It then alerts registered users who have raised their hands as willing to answer questions in those topics, either through email, RSS (soon), or IM. It also posts the question right there on the service, in a scrolling ticker below the search box. Wondir has any number of categories in a pull down menu, and when you select a category, the questions scrolling across the bottom change as well (the questions in the “mature content” area are a hoot).

Now, that alone is not enough to get this service to scale, and Koll knows it. So he’s done a few more neat tricks. First, he’s cut vertical content site deals, distributing Wondir out into the web in areas where the expertise and the community lives, complete with the question ticker. For example, there’s a Wondir question/answer service at ichef.com, ratemyteachers.com, and icerocket (that new engine backed by Mark Cuban). Those more tightly integrated affiliates create scale and databases of questions and answers, databases that are then folded back into Wondir’s overall engine, meaning that the more questions that are asked and answered, the better the overall engine gets. Neat, huh?

It gets better, at least theoretically. Koll has also cut a deal with Six Apart for a Typepad implementation, which will allow bloggers to share ecosystems of question answering. So, for example, Danny, Gary, Andy, and I might have a Search-related Wondir implementation. Eventually, we’d be able to share revenue in that model as well.

Revenue? So what is the business model? Well, it’s paid search, of course. That’s the beauty of it. A site like Wondir, or its affiliates, is very intent driven, and very specific, making AdSense a natural fit. That might answer the major question I have about the service – why, beyond good kharma and self promotion, would anyone want to get in the habit of answering questions for free? (Although, I’m not so sure that being helpful isn’t in our human nature to begin with, and it’s cool to have a service like Wondir to test that theory. )

Of course, Google Answers has been around for a long time, but as Koll points out, you have to pay for those answers, and the business has a limited architecture of participation. Koll claims it’s doing only hundreds of questions a day, and Wondir, while still pretty much in stealth mode, is doing thousands.

Koll told me he wants to get the word out on Wondir, and hopes we’ll all bang on it and help him make it better. I for one plan on using it for a while, and I certainly hope the service hits a tipping point. The implications are pretty darn cool.

Bonus link: Chris Sherman did a nice write up of Wondir back in 2002.

Google Takes Another Step Toward Becoming Development Environment

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Just got this note from Google PR on the beta introduction of the Google Deskbar API.

Today, Google announced the availability of the Google Deskbar API
(application programming interface). This technology makes it possible for
software developers to build their own features, or plug-ins, for the
popular Google Deskbar.

For instance, a developer could use Google Deskbar APIs to create a movie
search command that enables users to search their favorite movie site by
entering a movie name into the Deskbar search field and typing a special
command such as “Ctrl’M.” Other examples include:

- Locate and play a music play list on your hard drive
- Solve algebraic equations
- Send instant messages from the Deskbar (example: type “AIM
- [screen name] [message text]“)

Results will be displayed within the Google Deskbar mini-browser which
appears to the bottom right of the user’s computer. New features developed
with the Google Deskbar API will be displayed as an option in the Deskbar
main menu.

The Google Deskbar API is in the experimental, beta phase. We invite
developers to use the service and encourage them to send us their input and
feedback. Plug-ins can be written in any .NET language, such as C# or Visual
Basic.NET. More information about the Google Deskbar API can be found here:
http://deskbar.google.com/help/api/index.html.

Move Over Big G…Here Comes….

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Empower. This is getting old, but I did predict it….

First line of the release:

“Move over, Google … a new player is giving you a run for your high-speed money.”

The claims continue: “The service, built on a platform that produces results almost four times faster than Yahoo.com, 11 times faster than Overture.com, and edges out Google.com on momentum, prides itself on both speed and variation of results.”

If “variation” = “terrible” then they’ve succeeded….the engine looks to be entirely driven by pay-for-play.

Orkut Media?

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orkutI got an odd email from orkut yesterday, as did many others. It reads:

Dear John,

Today all of us here at orkut are pleased to announce the
launch of orkut media, a weekly collection of writings and
photos by our very own orkut members.

When you land at http://media.orkut.com, you’ll venture into
the realm of love and politics and beyond. Here’s a quick
lay of this new land: the “Porch” offers a variety of
columns ranging from the hot and humorous to the thoughtful
and thought-provoking, along with galleries of riveting
photos from around the world. The “Lounge” and “Studio” will
contain archives of all the collected orkut media material
(on the off-chance that you miss a week), along with tidbits
about contributing writers and photographers.

orkut media can be viewed by anyone surfing the Web. And
it’s open for you, the orkut member, to submit your own
work. Got something to say? A perspective that you think
needs to be heard? Go ahead and send us a column, write us
a letter, or forward a photo.

As always, you can make your thoughts known in a community
forum and start a discussion. So tell us what you think, in
whatever way suits you. We just hope you enjoy your
experience at http://media.orkut.com.

Stay beautiful,
the orkut team

OK, I’ll do my best to “stay beautiful” (migod, please), but what is this all about? I have not been on orkut since the service’s launch period, save occasionally trying to log in so as to insure that yes, in fact, orkut is still not working properly. And now this – a media product? Media? The equivalent of a weekly magazine online? The very idea of media under the umbrella of Google (even if it’s sort of leaning in under the umbrella, not quite out of the rain) is interesting. For now, it’s not much to look at. We’ll see if that changes.

One thing hasn’t: When I tried to read the Orkut Media FAQ, I got the error message at left.googleservererror
Good to see some things are still consistent in this crazy world of search.

Interesting to see that the editor of orkut media is Gavin Tachibana, a “content manager” at Google who graduated from UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, where I teach (though I’m on leave this year). Cool. Looks like Google is hiring media types – an interesting move.

Google Guidance? Some Notes on the 10-Q

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GOOG10qIn its unusual S-1, Google famously said it would not offer traditional guidance to Wall Street. But this week the company offered a bit of it anyway, stating in their quarterly filing (filed on Monday) that revenue growth will not continue on the pace it has.

Trends in Our Business
Our business has grown rapidly since inception, and we expect that our business will continue to grow. This growth has been characterized by substantially increased revenues. However, although our revenue growth rate increased in the third quarter of 2004 compared to the second quarter of 2004, our revenue growth rate has generally declined, and we expect it will continue to do so as a result of increasing competition and the inevitable decline in growth rates as our revenues increase to higher levels. Consequently, we believe that our revenue growth rate from the second quarter to the third quarter of 2004 may not be sustainable into the fourth quarter of this year and in future periods. In addition, the main focus of our advertising programs is to provide relevant and useful advertising to our users, reflecting our commitment to constantly improve their overall web experience, and therefore steps we take to improve the relevance of the ads displayed on our web sites, such as removing ads that generate low click-through rates, could negatively affect our near-term advertising revenues.

Those revenue policies changes are worth watching.

All of this certainly not a surprise (save the guidance, which feels rather like the way MSFT used to always warn, then over perform). The company had under a billion in revenue in all of 2003, and in the first three quarters of 2004 it’s already more than doubled that. As Microsoft has discovered, it’s hard to grow torridly on a large base.

The document, which I’m only getting around to reading today, also has some clues on the size and capital spend of the company (one wonders the meaning of the word “significant” in the temporary employee count…):

Our full-time employee headcount has grown from 1,628 at December 31, 2003 to 2,668 at September 30, 2004. In addition, we have employed a significant number of temporary employees in the past and expect to continue to do so in the foreseeable future. Our capital expenditures have grown from $120.3 million in the nine months ended September 30, 2003 to $259.9 million in the nine months ended September 30, 2004. We expect to spend over $300 million on capital equipment, including information technology infrastructure, to manage our operations during 2004. Management of this growth will continue to require the devotion of significant employee and other resources and we may not be able to manage this growth effectively.

The company also notes its ongoing trademark litigation woes:

Legal Matters

Certain companies have filed trademark infringement and related claims against the Company over the display of ads in response to user queries that include trademarked terms. The outcomes of these lawsuits have differed from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. A court in France has held the Company liable for allowing advertisers to select certain trademarked terms as keywords. The Company has appealed this decision. The Company is also subject to two lawsuits in Germany on similar matters where the courts held that the Company is not liable for the actions of the Company’s advertisers prior to notification of trademark rights. One of the plaintiffs has appealed the court’s ruling. The Company is litigating similar issues in other cases in the U.S., France, Germany and Italy. Management believes that any adverse results in these lawsuits may result in, or even compel, a change in this practice, which could result in a loss of revenues on a prospective basis. However, the magnitude of any unfavorable outcome cannot be reasonably estimated at this time.

Currently, there is no material litigation pending against the Company other than as described above.

Interesting that the Brian Reid matter is not considered material. That may mean it is close to settlement.

Cnet story.

MSFT: Thank You, May I Have Another…

By - November 18, 2004

Microsoft and Overture have extended their contract, giving those who are waiting for Microsoft to roll out its Adwords competitor a clearer sense of when that service might roll out. The new contract is extended to June, 2006 – a one year extension.

Tivo, Don't Forsake Us…

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tivohotTwo items on Tivo, one a bit disturbing, the other merely entertaining zeitgiesty stuff. First, as many have noted all over the web, Tivo is adopting a new fast forward ad unit that shows banners as you skip commercials. I think this is pretty bad idea, honestly, but let’s see how it feels when implemented. And second, Gary points me to the Tivo Hot 100, the top shows as recorded by Tivo users via the “Season Pass” feature. Not many surprises here, but it’s still interesting to look at.