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PubSub InfoP*rn

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PubsubPubsub shows the most linked to sites, and the gainers and losers. I’m proud to see Boing Boing way up there!

TiVo It

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I am the proud owner of two Tivos. But this news has me upset: the NYT notes that Tivo is sending bigfoot letters to media organizations telling them how to use the trademarked term “Tivo” in a sentence. In particular, they don’t like folks using “Tivo” as a verb. (I wonder who Google would start with if they made up their mind to do the same? I know their trademark lawyers don’t like the dilution of the trademarked term, but it’s a lost cause!)

This smacks of desperation. Clearly their biggest issue is the use of “Tivo-like” which must just kill them – if I were running the company, that’s the one that would stick in my craw. But policing society’s use of Tivo as a verb? Crazy.

Attempts to muzzle society’s use of your trademark in what essentially is idiomatic conversation is doomed to failure. You can’t do it. And the process of trying will only make for bad will. I say, celebrate the fact that you’re a verb – it’s an honor! If you can’t, you’re in for a long cold winter. I, for one, would love to be bigfooted for saying I Tivo’d something last night. In fact, I *did* Tivo something last night. Yup, I Tivo’d a few things, in fact, including Desperate Housewives. But my attempt at Tivoing doesn’t always work – I missed the last few episodes due to a bad connection to my cable box. Which makes me sad. I think I need a kleenex.

IBM Searching for Profit

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Ibm LogoI don’t cover enterprise search much, in the book I have a place where I basically say: sorry, I have to punt, but this stuff is important – in particular to the future. It’s not a solved problem right now (less so even than web search, it seems) but IBM is working on it, according to this Cnet story. Some mention of Web Fountain here, my spin on that here.

Google Sued Over Scholar

By - December 10, 2004


The American Chemical Society yesterday filed a complaint against Google, claiming the new Google Scholar infringes on its own product, called SciFinder Scholar.

You kind of have to love a place that has a “molecule of the week” on its website (that’s Nafion on the left, in case you’re wondering…), and SciFinder is certainly in the same business, to a point…but is “Scholar” protected? Maybe. But I sense something else is going on. Reading the story, the “aha” was not hard to find:

ACS’s Chemical Abstracts Service estimates that about 1,000 colleges and universities have bought the service, which provides access to all of CAS’s databases, including information on journal and patent references, substance information, regulated chemicals, chemical reactions, and chemical supplier information.

Aha! Google Scholar is free. SciFinder is paid. If Google Scholar wins out, SciFinder loses. They can’t sue Google for making information free, but they can sue for trademark. Good luck, ACS. I think you’re going to need it.

Thanks, Ross.

Update: Gary has the complaint over on Resourceshelf…

More On Google, Yahoo, Media, Technology

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YahooLogo Sm

My post below has garnered some very thoughtful responses, some of which took the route of email or phone calls. It’s clear that I need to clarify and revise my ramblings on this subject, and I’m grateful that my thinking-out-loud is worthy of such consideration. Maybe by the time the book is finished, I will have gotten this right, but in the spirit of iteration, here’s another hack at it…and this still feels not quite right, like I need a good joints after midnight talk with a few more folks before the dead obvious stuff hits me between the eyes…

First, some of you challenge my distinction of Yahoo as more media-driven and mercantile, and Google as more “pure” and technology driven. And many point out that in the end, even making a distinction between “media businesses” and “technology businesses” is a distinction without a difference – both are in the business of creating value for customers. Such a distinction is vulnerable to a charge of easy thinking, and I agree. Let me clarify. In the end, I believe both companies are in the same business, and if I were forced to name that business in one word, I’d argue that business is media. Yes, Google started its life as an algorithm in a PhD program, and Yahoo started as an edited guide to the web, but they are clearly converging into the same business: they mediate information and services for consumers, and derive value from those services using the traditional revenue streams of the media business: advertising and subscriptions (if you don’t think Google is in the subs business, think again).

My point was that understanding both companies’ DNA and culture is important in understanding where they might go with relation to content businesses like music, movies, and television in the future, and on that count, Yahoo has a deeper and longer history of understanding the world of making media – most of its senior executives are from the content business, and its DNA was as an edited guide – a content play. While there is no question that Yahoo has and employs world class technology and Google has media experience, I believe the distinction of “media vs. tech” is important when thinking about how each company might approach Hollywood so as to make paid content easily available to all of us at a value proposition that works for all players – content owner, consumer and distributor.

As to the point that Yahoo is more commercial in nature, some of my Yahoo friends may see that as a dig – but in fact, I meant it as a something of a compliment. I think because of its media DNA, the company is clearly more comfortable with extracting fair value for media services rendered, and because of that, I believe has been free to innovate in its approach to search: as one of Yahoo’s executives recently put it to me, “We are entirely focused on completing tasks.” In other words, if the task at hand is buying an Usher CD, or checking a flight, or finding a local restaurant, Yahoo has repeatedly innovated in building a suite of search results that help a consumer complete that task and get Yahoo paid in the process. That, to me, makes for good online media. (I know that if a shortcut feature on Yahoo is not getting clicked on, for example, it’s dropped – “We don’t point people to things they don’t want,” is how one executive put it. I should also point out that the shortcut features do not always point to only Yahoo sites, they also point outside, depending on the search.)

Now Google does the same in many instances (flight checking, local restaurants), but it’s always been my impression that the company has been uncomfortable with the idea of tying commerce to its media products – its DNA resists monetizing the value created in any other way than AdWords (and even resisted that, at first). An example is News – there is no business model there yet; and Froogle – again, no business model other than AdWords. In a way, this reticence gates innovation in the search results space. If the consumer truly wants to shop, or browse high quality news results, and you provide a great service to do so, there’s no shame in making a buck while doing it, even if that buck is made in other ways than advertising (ie, cutting deals with music or news publishers, or selling your consumers up to a premium service if you can).

I also did not intend to imply that I believe Google is a pure technology company (and some Googlers did take offense at that) – regardless of the reticence the company has shown from time to time on the matter, it is a major media player. And the cards it holds, combined with the moves it has made recently, certainly point toward it being an even larger force in media in the future. Sure, it derives its value as a media company from its extraordinary technology assets, but my point is this: technology+AdWords is not enough. It’s also about making great media products, and to make great media products, it helps to see yourself as in that business in the first place.

A very interesting case will be Google Print. As that program expands, and it’s rumored that it will, dramatically, a number of questions arise. How will Google monetize out-of-copyright books? If it indeed does bring tens of thousands of out-of-print books onto the web and into its index, will it allow others to access and index that new treasure trove, or will it act more like a traditional media company, which would “own” that resource for itself? How will it choose what it brings into the index – those that might sell? Those that somehow are the most “in demand” by some measurable standard? With regard to books that are in print, will it limit itself to being soley an organizational tool supported by AdWords, or will it start to take a vig for books that are sold via the Google Print service (in fact, maybe it does already and I’m simply unaware of it – any publishers out there, let me know!)? And will the print model scale to television and movies or music?

As to search, pure, organic search, I have one additional observation. Pure organic search made Google what it is, and remains the True North of the company. At Yahoo, pure organic search is viewed as one (extremely important) option among a range of search-related services that the company provides. When you enter a search term, pure organic results are always there, but so are other services that the company has developed in response to the implied intent of your declarative term. That’s why I brought up the conundrum inherent in content-based searches – can you really write an “objective” algorithm for the One Great Index when it comes to paid content like movies and music? (Even in the case of finance content, Google’s solution feels temporary – it currently points to Yahoo Finance). Maybe you can, but it seems like a very difficult task without the moderating forces of great media products backed by robust commerce models (ie services that help consumers find what they are looking for in a far more specialized way – think AOL’s Pinpoint and Yahoo Local Search).

For me, these are all interesting questions, because they help untangle the intentions and possible future paths of two innovative, valuable, and extremely important companies.

Let me know what you think, as always…and happy weekend!

(Hat tip to all of you who contacted me but prefer to remain anonymous, and to Gary for Pinpoint!)

Pell On Google Suggest: Po = Poetry?

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Dave Pell checks out Google Suggest and does the one letter test, and the results are fun. He wonders, however:

I find it hard to believe that more people who type in the letters P-O are ultimately looking for poetry than porn.

That’s safesearch for ya!

And Then Google Announces "Google Suggest…."

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Just as I riff on “Also Try” as a key differentiator for Yahoo, Google announces that they are testing a search suggestion tool. It’s not incorporated into the main index, yet, but here are details from a note I got from PR:

“In our ongoing effort to create innovative technologies that enable users to

search more of the world’s information, Google today released an

experimental search service on Google Labs called Google Suggest. This new

web search service suggests queries as a user types what he or she is

looking for into the search box. By offering more refined searches up front,

Google Suggest can make searching more convenient and efficient, because it

eliminates the need to type the entire text of a query. In addition, the

service can connect users with new query suggestions that are useful,

intriguing, and fun.

Google Suggest is similar to Google’s “Did you mean?” feature, which offers

users alternative spellings for a query. But, Google Suggest works as the

user types in a query in real-time. For example, if a user types “bass,”

Google Suggest might offer a list of refinements that include “bass fishing”

or “bass guitar.” Similarly, if a user types in only part of a word such as

“progr,” Google Suggest will offer query refinements such as “programming,”

“programming languages,” “progesterone,” or “progressive.”

Suggested queries are displayed in a drop-down menu below the search field

and users can scroll through and select queries using their keyboard arrow

keys. Google Suggest draws from a wide range of information, including the

aggregate popularity of searches, to predict the queries and URLs

users most likely want to see. An example of this popularity information can

be found in the Google Zeitgeist. Google Suggest does not base its

suggestions on the searches of an individual user or searches conducted from

a particular computer or browser.

Google Suggest is available via Google Labs at This is an experiment, and as always, we

welcome user feedback. Questions and or suggestions can be sent to

Friday Sketching: Tangential Ramblings on the Roles of Google and Yahoo in Search, Media and Beyond

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For some time I’ve been trying to articulate, in a succinct fashion, what separates Yahoo and Google in terms of their approach to search, media, and ultimately culture. It came up today as I was writing, and damned if I got stuck. So in the spirit of other Friday sketches, I’m going to write out loud here on Searchblog, and depend on your forbearance and insights to get through the draught.

So let’s consider a search for the one-word term “usher,” and further, let’s presume the person typing that search in really does want to know about the (currently) popular singer Usher.


Now on Google, usher brings you a pretty predictable set of results. Because Usher, the singer, is quite popular at the moment and therefore much in the news, Google incorporates some of its Google News results into its SERPs, you can see from the link or picture that there are two in this particular example. On the right are tons of AdWords related to Usher – clearly there are plenty of vendors who stand to make a buck or two off the man, and they’ve found Google a good way to monetize the term. The majority of the page, however, is given over to listing the top ten Google results for “usher.”

Now the first three results, starting with “UsherWorld” – are clearly relevant to the keyword entered, again assuming that we are looking for information about the singer. The rest of the first page of results mixes in the Fall of The House of Usher and the Usher syndrome, which clearly shows some kind of diversification algorithm at work behind Google’s curtains – if the engine picked purely on popularity and links, the first few hundred, if not thousand, results would most likely be about the singer.

But in terms of exploiting our intention behind the search term “usher”, that’s as far as Google goes. All in all, very little overt editorial guidance. You’re directed to Usher’s website, and that’s that.


In contrast, let’s take a look at how Yahoo handles the same search. usher on Yahoo Search also gives UsherWorld as the first organic result, but the similarities end there. The first thing you see below the search box is Yahoo’s “also try:” feature – asking if you, the searcher, might be looking for a more refined version of the usher search – perhaps you’re looking for lyrics to a particular song (“usher lyrics” or “usher my boo lyrics”), or for pictures of usher (“usher pictures”), or for more information on the star’s relationship to Alicia Keys (“usher alicia keys”). This feature is driven by Yahoo’s editorial decision to watch what its users are searching for and connect the patterns it sees. Behind the curtain, Yahoo makes lists of related searches, then surfaces the most relevant ones. According to conversations I’ve had with members of Yahoo’s search team, the “also try” feature is a huge hit with Yahoo users.

Below “also try” are two blue-backgrounded sponsor results, right at the top (there are also plenty of paid links to the right, as there are with Google). This reflects Yahoo’s more aggressive approach to commercialization throughout its site. In all my discussions with Yahoo executives, I’ve noticed a distinct lack of shame when it comes to commerce: integrating commerce directly into the search process is seen more as a benefit than a detriment (this may have gone too far with the practice of paid inclusion, but a sophisticated discussion of that topic can be left to another day). The premise held is that search advertising is in fact relevant and even helpful to a searcher (a premise that, to be fair, is also echoed at Google, but in an almost apologetic fashion*.)

So a distinction between Yahoo and Google can be seen in the listing of those two sponsored results right up at the top of Yahoo’s page. This occurs in more searches on Yahoo than it does on Google, but it does happen at Google: look at this search for digital cameras or AmericanblindsgoogleAmerican Blinds, for example. In court transcripts in the American Blind case, Google’s lawyers assert that the practice of putting paid search results at the top, which many claim is confusing to users, has ceased at Google, but it clearly persists, if in more limited fashion.

Continuing on with Yahoo’s results, we next see what I believe is the most vital distinction between how Yahoo and Google handle the intent of their users: the search shortcut. The shortcut (what Jeff Weiner, head of search at Yahoo calls “iY” – short for “inside Yahoo”) is an attempt by the company to bring all of Yahoo’s most pertinent information about Usher into one place at one time, so as to quickly allow the searcher to declare and execute their intent. In four or so lines, the iY result offers the Usher artist page on Launch (Yahoo’s music service), photos and videos of the artist (also on Launch), and the ability to buy the artist’s CDs (on Yahoo Shopping). Yahoo News results are incorporated as well. The entire shortcut is flagged by a small red “Y!” so the searcher is tipped off that this particular result comes from Yahoo’s own content, rather than the web. (Whether anyone really notices that – or cares – is debatable).

Lastly come the organic results. It’s interesting to note that with Yahoo there is far less diversity in the first ten results – the House of Usher is nowhere to be found.


With iY, Yahoo makes no pretense of objectivity – it is clearly steering searchers toward its own services, which it believes can satisfy the intent of the search. In effect, Yahoo is saying “You’re looking for stuff on Usher? We got stuff on Usher, and it’s good stuff. Try ours, we think it’ll be worth your time.”

Apparent in that statement lies all you need to know about the difference between Google and Yahoo. Yahoo is a natural media company – the company is willing to have overt editorial and commercial agendas, and to let humans intervene in search results so as to create media which supports those agendas. Google, on the other hand, is repelled by the idea of becoming a content- or editorially-driven company. While both companies can ostensibly lay claim to the mission of “organizing the world’s information and making it accessible” (though only Google actually claims that line as its mission), they approach the task with vastly different stances. Google sees the problem as one that can be solved mainly through technology – clever algorithms and sheer computational horsepower will prevail. Humans enter the search picture only when algorithms fail – as was the case with the “I Love Jews” snafu mentioned earlier.

But Yahoo has always viewed the problem as one where human beings, with all their biases and brilliance, are integral to the solution. It’s humans, backed by technology, who drive the “also try” results at the top of the page (the process has been automated, but it is classic architecture of participation stuff: “here’s what other human beings find useful related to your search”). It’s humans, backed by technology, who push Yahoo’s internal content and commerce sites to the fore in the iY results. DNA has much to do with it: Yahoo started as an entirely subjective collection of links (Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web), and the first few years at Yahoo were dominated by its human edited directory. Humans first, technology second.

Google, on the other hand, started as an extremely clever algorithm which solved an intractable and recursive mathematical problem. Technology first, humans second. Over the past four years, Google has evolved on this front – if you asked anyone there in 2002 whether it was a media or technology company, the answer was always “technology.” Ask now, and it depends on who you ask. But the furthest even the most media-savvy person within Google will go is to say “we’re a media-driven technology company.” At Yahoo, everyone there understand they are in the media business, from Terry Semel down.

As both companies move forward with new features and services, I expect this distinction will surface in any number of interesting and important ways. Both approaches have their merit, both have and will continue to succeed. But I expect some tension over the next few years, in particular with regard to content. With the recent announcement regarding Google Print and rumblings from around the web about further forays into content, Google is clearly in the process of declaring its position relative to the content industry, and from what I can tell it is this: We will become your distribution sugar daddy. We’ll be Switzerland – allow us to index your content, and when people find it through us, we’ll enable you to sell it. This approach became more apparent with the discussion and disclosure of a recent patent in Larry Page’s name that creates a system by which media is discovered and then paid for.

In such a system, one can imagine that Google has cut deals with any number of content owners and somehow incorporated that content into its index. When you search for something, let’s say “usher,” the actual content that Usher has created will come up in the results, and thanks to the distribution deals Google has cut, you can buy that content right there on the spot. Everyone gets paid!

But putting yourself into the position of media middle man is a perilous gambit – in particular if your corporate DNA eschews the almighty dollar as an arbiter of which content might rise to the top of the heap for a particular search. Playing middle man means that in the context of someone looking for a movie, Google will determine the most relevant result for terms like “slapstick comedy” or “romantic musical” or “jackie chan film.” For music, it means Google will determine what comes first for “usher,” but it also means it will have to determine what should come first when someone is looking for “hip hop.” Who gets to be first in such a system? Who gets the traffic, the business, the profits? How do you determine, of all the possibilities, who wins and who loses?

In the physical world, the answer is clear: whoever pays the most gets the positioning, whether it’s on the supermarket shelf or the bin-end of a record store. Should Yahoo also become a super distributor of media content, it’s clear to me that that’s the route they will take – they’ll figure out some way to index and distribute media content that is moderated by traditional market forces.

But Google, more likely than not, will attempt to come up with a clever technological solution that attempts to determine the most “objective”answer for any given term, be it “romantic comedy” or “hip hop.” Perhaps the ranking will be based on some mix of PageRank, download statistics, and Lord knows what else, but one thing will be certain: Google will never tell anyone how they came to the results they serve up. Which creates something of a Catch-22 when it comes to monetization. Will Hollywood really be willing to trust Google to distribute and sell their content absent the commercial world’s true ranking methodology: cold, hard cash?

I for one can’t wait to find out.


*But let us not forget that famous line in Page and Brin’s famous and oft-cited academic paper describing Google for the first time:

“For example, in our prototype search engine one of the top results for cellular phone is “The Effect of Cellular Phone Use Upon Driver Attention”, a study which explains in great detail the distractions and risk associated with conversing on a cell phone while driving. This search result came up first because of its high importance as judged by the PageRank algorithm, an approximation of citation importance on the web [Page, 98]. It is clear that a search engine which was taking money for showing cellular phone ads would have difficulty justifying the page that our system returned to its paying advertisers. For this type of reason and historical experience with other media [Bagdikian 83], we expect that advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers.”