free html hit counter October 2005 - John Battelle's Search Blog

Web 2 Brin Interview Up

By - October 31, 2005

Sergey stopped by Web 2.0 earlier this month and I interviewed him for about thirty minutes. You can find it on IT Conversations. From the summary:

Sergey Brin talks about his own journey Stanford University graduate to Google co-founder. Attributing much of Google’s success to luck, he says that he just followed his interests. While being at the heart of Silicon Valley was obviously fortuitous, it was not one of Brin’s motives in choosing Stanford as a graduate school.

When asked about Yahoo CEO Terry Semel’s comment that Google is number four in the list of internet portals, Sergey wittily responds that it means that Google is an underdog. He further elaborates on this topic by saying that he would like to think more as Google as a technology leader rather than a content rich portal. Google also does not want to follow Microsoft’s “embrace and extend” philosophy to kill off smaller innovative companies.

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Google to Hire For OpenOffice

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From Cnet:

Google believes it can help OpenOffice–perhaps working to pare down the software’s memory requirements or its mammoth 80MB download size, said Chris DiBona, manager for open-source programs at the search company….”We want to hire a couple of folks to help make OpenOffice better,” DiBona said.

This is a step further than the Sun/Google alliance announced a few weeks back. Once it’s good enough, will it then get tossed onto the Google Grid, alongside, say, Earth and Talk? Why not? Even though that idea was pooh-poohed by Sergey at Web 2, I’m not convinced. Once productivity apps are as good as Office and served in some kind of neat client/server execution, well, I for one would be tempted to switch. I hate, hate, HATE working with Word and PPT on the Mac. So many clearly obvious and never addressed bugs. (Excel, so far, has been OK).

Perry, in a comment to the Google Base post, makes the astute observation that to date, Google has never really been seen as the destination or the application, more like the switchboard. A successful implementation of OO could change that….

But Wait, There's More!

By - October 30, 2005

It’s a double feature, both the NYT AND the WSJ (free link) on Google’s ad ambitions, nearly at the same time! This one covers (for the most part) the impact of the print test, and includes a simply too good to not repeat quote from “Andrew Swinand, an executive vice president at Starcom USA, a media-buying unit of Publicis Groupe”: “Google’s project, he says, so far seems like “the equivalent of selling media like manure, and everyone gets a shovelful.”

I Knew It Was All About the Martians

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Via Philipp, this post from A Small Victory:

One day, maybe not too far off into the future, it will come to be known that the masters behind Google are actually aliens who have been using the search engine and all of its shadowy programs to learn about the Earth and its inhabitants. And then we’re screwed.

Sunday Reading

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This piece in the NYT was clearly written with Google’s open approval, and that means one thing: Google is using the Times to talk with the folks on Madison Ave – and Wall St. And I have no doubt those folks are reading – closely. Though the issues of data privacy and Google’s opaqueness are addressed, it still reads as something of a valentine. But with numbers like Google has, it’s hard to see how it wouldn’t be.

There are tidbits in here that mark new comments from Google (at least to a major media outlet) on a number of topics, from Google Base to Google’s AdWords optimization techniques to privacy. There’s also a bunch of history. From the piece:

This year, Google will sell $6.1 billion in ads, nearly double what it sold last year, according to Anthony Noto, an analyst at Goldman Sachs. That is more advertising than is sold by any newspaper chain, magazine publisher or television network. By next year, Mr. Noto said, he expects Google to have advertising revenue of $9.5 billion. That would place it fourth among American media companies in total ad sales after Viacom, the News Corporation and the Walt Disney Company, but ahead of giants including NBC Universal and Time Warner…..

…Google is also preparing to disrupt the advertising business itself, by replacing creative salesmanship with cold number-crunching. Its premise so far is that advertising is most effective when seen only by people who are interested in what’s for sale, based on what they are searching for or reading about on the Web. …HIDDEN behind its simple white pages, Google has already created what it says is one of the most sophisticated artificial intelligence systems ever built. In a fraction of a second, it can evaluate millions of variables about its users and advertisers, correlate them with its potential database of billions of ads and deliver the message to which each user is most likely to respond….

….”If we can figure out a way to improve the quality of ads on television with ads that have real value for end-users, we should do it,” (Schmidt) said. While he is watching television, for example, “Why do I see women’s clothing ads?” he said. “Why don’t I see just men’s clothing ads?”…

…Mr. Brin said that preliminary versions of Google Base leaked onto the Internet and that the company’s partners should not fear it. “Google Base is as much about classified as it is about zoology,” he said….

…GOOGLE introduced its current system for determining which ad to show on which page late last year. It is a wonder of technology that rivals its search engine in complexity. For every page that Google shows, more than 100 computers evaluate more than a million variables to choose the advertisements in its database to display – and they do it in milliseconds. The computers look at the amount bid and the budget of the advertiser, but they also consider the user – such as his or her location, which they try to infer by analyzing the user’s Internet connections – as well as the time of day and myriad other factors Google has tracked and analyzed from its experience with advertisements.

“If someone is coming from a particular location, a certain ad may be more popular there,” explained Jeff Huber, Google’s vice president for engineering. “The system can use all the signals available, and the system itself learns the correlations between them.”….

…Google recently rewrote its privacy policy to make it easier to understand what data it collects, but it did not scale back its data retention. Nor did it, as Mr. Weinstein and others have demanded, give users the right to see the data collected about them and their computers….Mr. Brin said he was not sure what other information about users might prove useful, but he said Google would not use the data inappropriately….

….”Google is very opaque and bizarre to deal with,” said Joshua Stylman, a managing partner at Reprise Media, a search advertising agency, but he added that Google had become somewhat more responsive in recent months.

Mr. Schmidt addresses those complaints by saying that advertisers are missing the point of Google’s new model. It shouldn’t matter what Google does with their ads, he argues, so long as the received value, which advertisers can measure, is higher than the price they pay….

All in all, worth a close read, I’d wager.

Dyson on Google, AI, Print, Biology, and 12th Century Cathedrals

By - October 28, 2005

Sistine Chapel

Thank God it’s Friday, because this is some real joints-after-midnight material. BB has the first post on it, and the full essay is here. Sit back, twirl your favorite beverage in your favorite glass, and read this one.

From BB’s post:

“Historian among futurists” George Dyson recently visited the headquarters of Google, and wrote:

Despite the whimsical furniture and other toys, I felt I was entering a 14th-century cathedral — not in the 14th century but in the 12th century, while it was being built. Everyone was busy carving one stone here and another stone there, with some invisible architect getting everything to fit. The mood was playful, yet there was a palpable reverence in the air. “We are not scanning all those books to be read by people,” explained one of my hosts after my talk. “We are scanning them to be read by an AI.”

From the essay’s introduction by John Brockman:

Whether we’re talking about John Cage’s idea of “the mind we all share” or H.G. Well’s “World Brain”, Google has its act together and are at the precipice of astonishing changes in human communication…and ultimately, in our sense of who or what we are. And like nearly all science-driven, technological developments, governments can only play catch-up as no one is going to get to vote for Google’s changes, and the current laws, written in a pre-digital age, don’t address the new situation.

From the essay itself:

Google is building a new, content-addressable layer overlying the von Neumann matrix underneath. The details are mysterious but the principle is simple: it’s a map. And, as Dutch (and other) merchants learned in the sixteenth century, great wealth can be amassed by Keepers of the Map.

We call this a “search engine” — a content-addressable layer that makes it easier for us to find things, share ideas, and retrace our steps. That’s a big leap forward, but it isn’t a universe-shifting revolution equivalent to von Neumann’s breaking the distinction between numbers that mean things and numbers that do things in 1945.

However, once the digital universe is thoroughly mapped, and initialized by us searching for meaningful things and following meaningful paths, it will inevitably be colonized by codes that will start doing things with the results. Once a system of template-based-addressing is in place, the door is opened to code that can interact directly with other code, free at last from a rigid bureaucracy requiring that every bit be assigned an exact address. You can (and a few people already are) write instructions that say “Do THIS with THAT” — without having to specify exactly Where or When. This revolution will start with simple, basic coded objects, on the level of nucleotides heading out on their own and bringing amino acids back to a collective nest. It is 1945 all over again.

And it is back to Turing, who in his 1948 report on intelligent machinery to the National Physical Laboratory advised that “intellectual activity consists mainly of various kinds of search.”

… Google is Turing’s cathedral, awaiting its soul. We hope. In the words of an unusually perceptive friend: “When I was there, just before the IPO, I thought the coziness to be almost overwhelming. Happy Golden Retrievers running in slow motion through water sprinklers on the lawn. People waving and smiling, toys everywhere. I immediately suspected that unimaginable evil was happening somewhere in the dark corners. If the devil would come to earth, what place would be better to hide?”

Wow. I have to say, my musings on AI, immortality, and why search matters so much, which felt a bit out there last year when I was pondering alone in front of a keyboard, have certainly found a far more eloquent friend.

Quite Possibly, the Best Review Ever

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Thesearch Bookcover-7

At MediaPost, Gord Hotchkiss, a search consultant, wrote the kind of review every author wants to get. What might that be, you ask? A rave? Well, sure. A review that understands the core intent of your work? Most certainly. But what really got me was the comparison to a high school sweetheart turned pinup girl:

Reading it was a unique experience for me. It was addictive, like literary crack. I devoured it in huge gulps. I can’t recall the last time I read a book in such a short time. Look, They’re Writing About Us!…”The Search” is unlike any previous volume written on search. There have been several “how-to” books that have explored the mechanics of search, both from a user’s and marketer’s perspective. But Battelle for the first time explores search as a business and social phenomenon. Not only that, he muses that it might be THE social phenomenon, with world-shattering implications. For anyone who has grown up in search, it’s like seeing your high school sweetheart become a world-famous centerfold. “See, I told you she was hot. No one believed me!”

Yahoo Adds Tool to Social Search

By - October 27, 2005

From Yahoo’s Search Blog:

Save to My Web is a simple, sociable button you can add to any and every page of your blog or website. Users click to save your content and add it directly to their stored pages on My Web 2.0. From there, the page is easy to retrieve, and easy to share with others. …

For bloggers and publishers, it’s a great way to distribute content to a larger community of connected users and make your pages instantly searchable on Yahoo! Just copy and paste this code into your blog templates anywhere and everywhere you want the button to appear on your pages.

Note this: “it’s a great way to… make your pages instantly searchable on Yahoo!” I think this is a neat tool, but I don’t plan to put it on my site. Why? Well, it’s too…focused on one place. I dunno, but I want something else. Something non-denominational. Clearly Yahoo is a major player, and that alone creates weather but….it feels like playing favorites. I guess that’s just me. What do you all think?