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Tired of Stanford's Search Shadow, Berkeley Organizes…

By - August 15, 2005

I’m a Berkeley guy, so this was interesting. Cnet has the scoop:

U.C. Berkeley, birthplace of early search highflier Inktomi and the school where Google CEO Eric Schmidt got his computer science doctoral degree, is bringing together roughly 20 faculty members from various departments to cross-pollinate work on search technology, said Robert Wilensky, the center’s director. The principal areas of focus: privacy, fraud, multimedia search and personalization….

…”If you have 20 researchers interested in search, then getting them together where they are cross-fertilizing ideas, you make something bigger than its parts. You can create a nuclear reaction,” said (Robert Wilensky, the center’s director).

According to the story UCB is in talks with Google and others about joining the center in some way. I find it really hard to believe that any company would pay more than lip service to this at present, innovations in search are simply too important to a company to share. That’s just how it is. These kind of ideas are always well intended, but 20 researchers? Between them, Google and Yahoo have thousands of folks focused on this problem worldwide….that’s not to mention Microsoft and scores of others.

However, there is certainly a need for a focused, interdisciplinary approach, and many universities have significant academic work already brewing in this idea. It remains to be seen if the big search companies will support it in any other way than they always have – by buying the companies and hiring the people who come out of it….

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Web 2.0 Infomercial: Early Reg Discount Expires Monday Night

By - August 14, 2005

Web2-1A while back I reminded you all that if you signed up early for Web 2.0 this year, you’d get a significant discount. We make the early registration for the event invitation only, to give alumni and friends (at least, the ones we had correct emails for) a chance to get a seat first, before we open it up to the public. I’m pleased to say that we have had very strong early registrations, nearly as many now – in mid August – as we had just a week before the event last year.

That means that the conference will probably sell out (sponsorships are nearly sold out, for example). So if you want to come, and grab that earlybird discount, sign up now. If you have not gotten an invitation, consider this post your invite, and head here. You need to fill out a form requesting one, but just say you came via Searchblog, and you’ll get a code to use for registration. When it comes, register asap, as hotel rooms (should you need one) are filling up fast too, and after Monday, the doors swing open for everyone….

BTW, the conference is really coming together. Terry Semel just confirmed, I’ll be interviewing him. So has Shawn Fanning, Yusuf Mehdi (MSN), Jonathan Miller (AOL), Bram Cohen, Pierre Omidyar, Omid Kordestani (SVP and “business founder” at Google), Joshua Schachter ( and many many more. And we have at least 16 killer workshops – on tagging, the future of video, of search (of course), VC 2.0, etc etc etc. The workshops are part of the overall deal now, no separate registration, and they are really going to rock. It all starts Weds morning the 5th of October.

OK, end of commercial. If you’re not planning on going, then you’re not reading this anyway. If you are, the best deal is to act now, as they say on TV.

Second Book Excerpt: Google Goes Public

By - August 12, 2005

Thesearch Bookcover-2Given that it’s nearly a year since the blessed event, I thought it’d be fun to post a portion of my chapter covering the IPO. This is just a taste, the first 1000 or so words. As always, if I got stuff wrong, let me know….

Success and failure are equally disastrous.

—Tennessee Williams

Sergey Brin is jet-lagged; he has the vaguely disoriented look of

a young man still finding his bearings after a very long,

strange trip. I watch him enter a crowded restaurant and look

around for familiar faces—save for me, the persistent author, there

are few. He is in Davos, Switzerland, attending the World Economic

Forum (WEF), the annual conference of political and business lead-

ers. The room is full of captains of industry and members of the

media from around the world, and all of them stop to regard Brin,

who is, quite literally, the man of the moment (he is slated to give a

short dinner presentation that night).

Brin forges ahead around the tables, acknowledging a greeting

here and there, his hands pressed together at his chest like a yogi’s,

his eyes more alert as he warms to the task at hand. He sits down at

a table near the back, shakes hands all around, then informs his dinner

companions that he really did just step off his plane. He was

here to stand in for Larry Page, who was supposed to be at the dinner,

but Page was feeling under the weather after the ten-hour flight.

It is January 2005, and Brin is at Davos for the fourth time, but

this is his first as a billionaire helmsman of a newly public company.

At last year’s soiree, Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft, acknowledged

quite publicly that “Google kicked our butt” in search, but promised

that Microsoft would respond with an even better offering. One year

later, Microsoft had indeed introduced an early version of its new

search software.

Goog 020105-1

Back at the dinner, Brin is accepting congratulations

and plaudits for Google’s unusual initial public offering.

The stock’s stellar performance since the IPO

(it had more than doubled in less than four months)

had nearly everyone asking Brin what might be next for Google.

Brin accepts the plaudits, but is clearly uncomfortable lingering

on the story of the IPO itself. “We have more time to focus on the company

now,” he later tells one well-wisher. Clearly, Brin is glad the IPO is

behind him.

The journey from dorm rooms and Burger King takeout to private jets and

a starring role at the World Economic Forum has been dizzyingly brief;

certainly Brin can be forgiven a resultant touch of jet lag. And as

years go, 2004 ranked as a critical turning point for Google, the

company, as well as Brin and Page, the men. For 2004 was the year Google

began to grow up, not necessarily because it wanted to, but in the end,

because it had to.

Rumors of an IPO

On October 25, 2003, the top story on read:

“Google Sparks Hope of New DotCom Boom.” Given that the

Google News computers choose stories based on popularity and

prominence of source, it’s fair to say that the speculation about

when and if Google would file papers to become a public company

had reached fever pitch. Later that same month, the New York Times

reported that Microsoft was eyeing an acquisition of Google, a story

that Bill Gates later disputed. In any case, it was clear that by the

end of 2003, Google was crowned Silicon Valley’s latest golden child.

Expectations were high—reports claimed Google’s IPO would value

the company at $16 billion, roughly the same size as

As 2004 dawned, Google had become the talk not only of Silicon Valley,

but of Wall Street as well. Whispered financials for the

secretive company pegged 2003 revenue at nearly $1 billion, with

profits estimated at more than $300 million.

By this time, both Yahoo and Microsoft had realized the threat

Google posed to their businesses. Each of those companies had

valuable public shares and massive piles of cash, and they scrambled

to redeploy them against Google. Simply put, if Google was going

to compete, it could not afford to stay private. Valley watchers, press

pundits, and Wall Street writhed in ecstatic speculation: Would

Google’s IPO augur the second coming of the Internet bubble?

Could it usher in a new, more profitable era of tech growth? Who

would get rich? Who would fall behind? Who would follow in

Google’s footsteps? Might the company stumble?

In its early years, the company had downplayed talk of an

IPO—after all, the markets were in the tank, and no one seemed to

have an appetite for any kind of Internet stock, no matter how robust

the company might be. But 2004 marked a transition of sorts—it seemed

to be springtime again in the Valley—and the spotlight was squarely on

Google. With its venture backers, its thousands of option-holding

employees, and its massive profits, clearly the company was heading

toward one of the largest public offerings in the history of

technology. Right?

In fact, the answer was a qualified no. In an interview with the

San Francisco Chronicle in the fall of 2001, Eric Schmidt laid down

what would become the triumvirate’s standard answer to the IPO

question. “The IPO question we’ve debated internally, but frankly,

we’re profitable,” Schmidt said. “We’re generating cash. We don’t

ever need to go public.”

This line was repeated, over and over, for the next three years,

to the point where Google’s evasive responses were becoming

something of an industry joke. At a conference in early 2004,

Brin even went so far as to joke that an IPO was not in the offing

because “filling in all those accounting forms is too difficult.”

Turns out Google’s leaders were wrong about not needing to go

public. Because the company had given stock options to more than

one thousand of its employees, an obscure SEC regulation would

force Google to begin reporting as if it were a public company, as

early as April 2004. The stage, therefore, was already set.

Despite the realities of SEC regulations, that Google would be-

come a public company was never really in doubt. Once a company

takes money from venture capitalists, the event is nearly a fait

accompli—only an acquisition or bankruptcy can easily divert the

path. “The day I was hired I understood the company would go

public because it had venture investors. The only question was tim-

ing,” Eric Schmidt told me after the IPO, giving the lie to three

years of transparently disingenuous corporate line-toeing.

But despite their company’s obvious course, Brin and Page

struggled with the idea of becoming public. Google had prospered

in private, and its founders worried that the company would be

forced into a mind-set of short-term thinking, a trait common to

many listed companies.

Throughout 2003, Google toyed with scenarios that would allow

the company to stay private. It hired consultants to model complex

financial mechanisms—such as repurchasing options and the deploy-

ment of a shadow equity plan that might protect the company from

avoiding its seemingly predetermined fate. But the math never satisfied

Page, Brin, or their board—any way you cut it, the maximum payout

for Google’s investors was the public markets, plain and simple.

From “The Search – How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture,” Portfolio, 2005. Buy it here!

Why Am I So On About Dr. Lee?

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I have no idea. I find him fascinating. Now Dan Farber has given me some justification. He found a letter from Dr. Lee to friends and family in China explaining his move from MSFT to Google and had it translated. It says a lot about what Google means to engineers. From Dan’s post:

Lee writes, “Microsoft is an outstanding company, and there are many things we can learn from it. But Google is a company that makes feel a shock. The reason Google gives me a shock is the passion for creating a new generation of technology. I found treasures in Google everywhere. The technology and products are way beyond just the search.”

At the end of the letter, Lee gives his formula for why Google is his choice:

youth + freedom + transparency + new model + the general public’s benefit + belief in trust = The Miracle of Google


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Cnet: Google Pauses Library Project.

All I can say is – let’s work this out, folks. This ain’t Napster. I know the book industry has issues with this, and they are significant, but man, they are completely shooting themselves in the foot if they don’t figure out how to leverage Google and search in general to sell down the long tail. Sheesh.

More On Yahoo, Google, Index, Size

By - August 11, 2005

I had a long chat today with folks from Yahoo about the ongoing “size matters” tempest, and it was once again enlightening. I’m planning a longer post on all this, but the upshot of our conversation was that Yahoo stands by its number, that it agrees with many that size alone does not matter, that any claims that any one company can accurately estimate another’s index are simply not defensible, and that, in the end, the proof will be in the results.

Yahoo also acknowledged that it was certainly aware of the PR angle when it made its announcement, and that given Google’s home page claim regarding index size, it was hardly a new tactic to tout that number.

I think there’s more to this story than meets the eye, in terms of a major, multi-billion dollar tussle for the hearts, minds, and pocket books of millions of web users. Sure, the math is hard, and the science even harder, but at the end of the day, I think size matters, a lot. Maybe not so much to the ultimate results one gets – that may well be a case of “it’s not the size of the wand, it’s how you wave it” – but in terms of bragging rights and marketing mojo. Perhaps the ultimate end game of this all will be a deeper cultural awareness of what constitutes good search, but then again, no one ever got rich overestimating the public’s taste for nuance.

BTW, several sources contacted me to remind me of a fact we all know to be true – that Google’s claimed size on its home page – of roughly 8 billion documents – is pretty out of date. Since they put that up, nearly a year ago (scroll to bottom), I’m pretty sure the discoverable web has grown by, oh, at least a few billion pages, and I’m also pretty sure Google knows about those pages. Recall that Google increased its index by roughly a factor of two back then, as a response, one would presume, to Microsoft’s claim to have trumped Google’s number, which had been reported at about 4 billion. I mean, heck, this new post will create a page, and I bet Google (and Yahoo and everyone else) will have found it within a week, if not a day. Blogs alone are adding millions of pages every week.

Would I be surprised if Google announced shortly that its index was magically up to, oh, 22 billion or so? No, I would not. I think if and when that day comes, the timbre of this debate will change. Clearly, such a change would not have occurred overnight.

Heck, if engines are going to do it anyway, I’d love to see the static numbers on home pages (Yahoo sometimes touts its Image Search index size on that service’s home page, by the way), replaced with a counter that is updated constantly. Kind of like that national debt billboard, but for the overall size of the web as discovered by each engine. Why not, at least it’d be more accurate….

Murdoch: Late to the Search Party, But He's Bringing Lots of Booze

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MurdochFrom this DJ story:

“Make no mistake, our commitment to this space and this business will constitute a major part of the company’s growth, profits and asset building over the next several years,” Murdoch told investors and analysts during a conference call to discuss fiscal fourth-quarter results. “We believe through our superior collection of News Corporation assets, and through further strategic and targeted acquisitions, we can very quickly become a major player in this industry.”

News Corp., which in July agreed to pay $580 million for Web concern Intermix Media Inc. as part of a new Internet strategy, could spend a total of about $1 billion on acquisitions, Murdoch said. “Now, something may come along to change that, but it wouldn’t change it…by more than another billion. This is not something we’re putting tens of billions into or need to.”

Murdoch said News Corp. plans to create an Internet portal and is in advanced discussions to acquire a controlling stake in a search engine, which he declined to name.

Rumors are circulating it’s Looksmart, the

stock is up on them. has also been rumored, but had a bad quarterly report today and is stock is not up….

Earlier coverage.

In This Battle, Size Does Matter: Google Responds to Yahoo Index Claims

By - August 10, 2005

Goog SizeAs I posted earlier, Yahoo’s claim of indexing more than 20 billion items ruffled more than a few feathers across the web, and nowhere more distinctly than at Google. I spent an hour or so on the phone with a group of Google folks, and they shared a lot of information about how they measure index size, how they deal with issues of duplicate URLs and documents, and why they are baffled by Yahoo’s claim.

I am still reporting this story, so a longer post is forthcoming, but an update at the end of the day is worth penning.

First of all, I agreed to review some of the Google information on background, agreeing not to disclose it save with permission. (I agreed to this only if I could tell you all that I did in fact agree to it). I am still digesting what Google had to say, and the information they sent me, but it did leave a distinct set of questions percolating in my mind, questions that I plan to speak to Yahoo about (Yahoo has agreed to talk as well, we just haven’t had time yet).

In any case, the lead really is this: I asked Google to go on the record with their concerns about Yahoo’s index and whether they believed the news was in fact accurate, and Google agreed. The quote, which I can only attribute at this point to a “Google spokesperson,” is as follows:

“Our scientists are not seeing the increase claimed in the Yahoo! index. The data we have doesn’t support the 19.2 (billion page) claim and we’re confused by that.”

Now, the size of an index is only one part of the equation of what makes a good search engine – relevance, speed, UI, and other factors are also critical, but when it comes to comprehensiveness (size), Google has been king pretty much since day one, save a couple of short lapses with FAST in 2002 and another in 03, as I recall, with Yahoo (briefly). The company has always trumpeted its size on its home page, and Yahoo’s announcement had to come as a slap in the face. Down to the presumptive specificity of the pronouncement on their home page since 2000 – “searching 8,168,684,336 web pages” – Google set the tone for all future “size matter” battles.

I plan a longer post on this, as I said, but there are some tantalizing examples (I will add some in the next post) that one might expect would yield significantly different results between Yahoo and Google, given Yahoo’s massive new size, but don’t. The math, in essence, seems not to be adding up. At least, that is what the Google scientists are saying. But then again, I am not a mathematician, and there are always at least two sides to the story. So stay tuned and we’ll see how this one plays out…

(I must say, this calls for a benchmark/standard for measurement that might makes all of this moot…)

A Mea Culpa

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SearchblogKind readers have contacted me of late asking if I’m perhaps a bit overworked, as the analysis and timeliness of this site has suffered in recent months. Is it the new company or preparations for Web 2.0? The fact that the book is pretty much finished? Summer doldrums? Or perhaps a case of blog burnout?

Truth is, it’s most of that, plus a bit more (save the burnout part – I have never not wanted to work on this site). First off, let me apologize for the shorter posts, and the paucity of analysis of late. While I didn’t plan on it, Searchblog turned from a way to communicate with a few hundred folks about a book I was authoring to a nearly full time job. Trouble was, I already have a few other full time (or nearly so) jobs, including Web 2.0 and the new company I am now starting. It’s real work to write a good site, even when you have the support of an entire community. It needs at least a few hours a day, if not more. Just responding to the PR requests, along with doing original reporting, can take up to half a day.

When you can’t give your site that kind of time, it’s immediately evident. Many authors I’ve spoken with – in particular those who author sites in their “free time” and have a day job – are feeling pushed to the limits, and are searching for a way to do what they love full time. This is why I’m starting FM – to provide what I hope will be an infrastructure and support system that will allow our authors to make a real living doing what they do best.

Unfortunately, to start FM and get Web 2.0 pulled together, and not sacrifice family (I’ve done that before, and don’t plan to again), something has to give. Of late, it’s been this site.

I plan to refocus my efforts and try to do more here (maybe instead of trying to cover all the news, I will just drill down on one or two items a day, for example), but I may fail more than I succeed, as the book tour is coming up, and Web 2.0 will dominate after that. Once the book tour is complete, Web 2 is over, and the initial start up phase of FM has passed, I’ll have more time to focus on doing what I love here. In the meanwhile, please accept my apologies. I view the conversation here as central to my work life, and when it suffers, I feel it as much as (I hope) you do.

If you have any input or ideas for me, please keep sending them my way. Thanks.