free html hit counter June 2009 - John Battelle's Search Blog

Juxtaposition Fun

By - June 30, 2009

Seen in my feedreader just now.

I dunno, it just struck me, Google can’t do a helluva lot to help you, Newspaper Industry. juxtagoognews.png

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It May Be Free, But It's Sure As Hell Underwritten

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wired ads free.pngThere’s quite a wonderful authorial kerfuffle happening between Chris Anderson, whose recent book “Free” has been the target both of plagiarism charges (from Wikipedia, of all places, oh the wonderful irony, one might think Chris actually planted the whole damn thing…) and Malcolm Gladwell, who never met a clever anecdote he couldn’t convert into a well turned (and dammingly entertaining) book of his own.  

I won’t go into the whole thing, because, honestly, I just don’t have the, er, free time.

However, I do find it noteworthy that Chris’s much-linked to riposte to Malcolm’s initial evisceration comes on, where, shock of all shocks, advertising is prominently featured. Free, of course, doesn’t come without a business model.

And a NYT Profile of Aardvark..

By - June 29, 2009

..which I’ve been talking about for some time…from the piece:

Having humans, not software, supply the advice is important. Max Ventilla, who formerly was at Google and is now Aardvark’s chief executive, said, “Often the most useful answers don’t answer the original question. Example: ‘You don’t want to go to the Caribbean now — it’s the rainy season — you want to go to Hawaii.’ ” ONCE you try Aardvark’s service, you can’t look at Yahoo Answers, the current leader in questions-and-answers, without feeling pity for its now-manifest limitations.

Profile of Google Lobbyist…

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…in the NYT today.

Google has begun this public-relations offensive because it is in the midst of a treacherous rite of passage for powerful technology companies — regulators are intensely scrutinizing its every move, as they once did with AT&T, I.B.M., Intel and Microsoft. Some analysts say that government opposition, here or in Europe, could pose the biggest threat to Google’s continued success.

When Value Is Created, Let It Be Curated At Scale

By - June 25, 2009

Facebook’s opening up even more, as CNet reports. Facebook has posted an update to its “Publisher” settings – basically, the instrumentation to your status updates – that makes it possible to broadcast the value you create in the social web through composition – of a status update, a blog post, or any other action that you might wish to declare. You can instrument it to be seen only by your network, or your network’s network, or everyone – and it’s that everyone part that makes Facebook a lot more like Twitter in terms of the ability for developers to create interesting executions based on that firehose. Think about what Microsoft did with ExecTweets, but with Facebook scale. Of course, that’s just the tip o’ the iceberg. Exciting stuff.

Google v. Facebook? What We Learn from Twitter.

By - June 22, 2009

Last week I wrote a post in which I opined a bit about Facebook search. In it I wrote:

Facebook is way more than its newsfeed, and its search play is key to proving that value, and extending it….No doubt building Facebook search today is akin to building Google ten years ago – bigger, most likely, in terms of data, algorithmic, and platform challenges.

If only I had waited a few days, I could have pointed to Fred’s piece in Wired, out this week. He profiles the ongoing feud between the King of Search, Google, and the upstart, Facebook. In his piece, he writes:

For the last decade or so, the Web has been defined by Google’s algorithms—rigorous and efficient equations that parse practically every byte of online activity to build a dispassionate atlas of the online world. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg envisions a more personalized, humanized Web, where our network of friends, colleagues, peers, and family is our primary source of information, just as it is offline. In Zuckerberg’s vision, users will query this “social graph” to find a doctor, the best camera, or someone to hire—rather than tapping the cold mathematics of a Google search. It is a complete rethinking of how we navigate the online world, one that places Facebook right at the center. In other words, right where Google is now.

I agree that of all the contenders out there right now (including Twitter), Facebook has the most data, position, and potential to upset Google’s dominance of the web. But I disagree with one premise of the piece, which is that Facebook’s proprietary approach to the data it stores presents a blind spot to Google that gives Facebook a competitive edge. Fred writes:

Together, this data comprises a mammoth amount of activity, almost a second Internet. By Facebook’s estimates, every month users share 4 billion pieces of information—news stories, status updates, birthday wishes, and so on. They also upload 850 million photos and 8 million videos. But anyone wanting to access that stuff must go through Facebook; the social network treats it all as proprietary data, largely shielding it from Google’s crawlers. Except for the mostly cursory information that users choose to make public, what happens on Facebook’s servers stays on Facebook’s servers. That represents a massive and fast-growing blind spot for Google, whose long-stated goal is to “organize the world’s information.”

I think it’s a major strategic mistake to not offer this information to Google (and anyone else that wants to crawl it.) In fact, I’d argue that the right thing to do is to make just about everything possible available to Google to crawl, then sit back and watch while Google struggles with whether or not to “organize it and make it universally available.” A regular damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario, that….

For an example of what I mean, look no further than Twitter. That service makes every single tweet available as a crawlable resource. And Google certainly is crawling Twitter pages, but the key thing to watch is whether the service is surfacing “superfresh” results when the query merits it. So far, the answer is a definitive NO.


Well, perhaps I’m being cynical, but I think it’s because Google doesn’t want to push massive value and traffic to Twitter without a business deal in place where it gets to monetize those real time results.

Is that “organizing the world’s information and making it universally available?” Well, no. At least, not yet.

By making all its information available to Google’s crawlers (and fixing its terrible URL structure in the process), Facebook could shine an awfully bright light on this interesting conflict in interest.

Thoughts on Online Marketing

By - June 21, 2009

Many folks have asked me when CM Summit videos would be posted, several are up now. They include the opener, above, in which I give a short overview of the state of online marketing from my perspective – start at about 6 mins in if you want to miss the throat clearing of setting up the show and thanking folks I’ve worked with. Perhaps the key thoughts: People Don’t Join Ad Networks, and Publishers Are Communities of Mind.

A Wish List for Facebook Search

By - June 17, 2009

It’s taken a while, but I finally have time to rewrite the post I wrote this morning about Facebook search. For some reason my blog editor ate the post, something that has never happened to me and really threw me off.

In any case, this morning I noticed a post on Mashable about Facebook’s new “superfresh” search plans – in essence, a plan to make the Facebook newsfeed searchable, and most impressively, to filter that through your social graph. In short, this is a Twitter search competitor with a Facebook twist, and while I think it’s a fine move, it’s nowhere near where Facebook needs to be in terms of search, and it seems a bit myopic: Facebook is way more than its newsfeed, and its search play is key to proving that value, and extending it.

First, a minor rant. Facebook search circa 2009 is akin to Alta Vista search circa 1994, or Ebay search circa 2004: very dumb and entirely lacking in structured, intelligently parsed data. In fact, it’s worse that those two examples. It’s clear that there are almost no intelligent signals in the way Facebook does its internal search, and I can’t imagine anyone is happy with it. A few examples:

battelle search fbbook.png

Here’s a search for “john battelle status” as of today. There are no results. How on earth can that be? Not even a referral to my status updates? The engine clearly doesn’t understand the concept of “status” which on Facebook, seems a crime.

Here’s another one:

fbook graffiti.png

This is a search for “graffiti application”. It does not find the popular application, Grafitti, which has more than 10 million installs and over 2 million active users. Whaaaa?

I could go on and on, but that’s not the point. The point is, Facebook search could get a lot better. And I am *sure* the company is deep in planning on how to take its search to a new level – no small feat, given the size and scope of its service. No doubt building Facebook search today is akin to building Google ten years ago – bigger, most likely, in terms of data, algorithmic, and platform challenges.

So given the company is working on it, let’s give them some input. What do we want it to be? Here are a few ideas I have, I’d love to hear yours:

– Leverage the social graph in search. When people search for other people (most likely the highest percentage use case on Facebook), show me that person’s friends. Linked In does a very good job of search features like this, and is only getting better at it.

– Rethink how results are presented. Currently, it’s all about pages on Facebook. Why? Why not think about search results in a similar manner to how we all understand search – multiple results, easily scanned, with short descriptors of what the link will bring us? There’s a lot of room to innovate on top of this interface, but it’s table stakes at least.

– Make search social. Show me what others are searching for, trending searches on the service, popular “found” items. Search is a signal, use it!

– Make search results linkable. When I do a search on Google, I can link to it. Here’s a link to a Google search for “graffiti application,” for example. And yes, the first result is the right one…

– Give me image search. I want to see pictures related to the results – Facebook is a highly visual service, so surface that!

– Integrate Facebook Connect. How cool would that be, to see results from websites that have integrated Facebook?

These are off the top of my head (for the second time – I had others that I cannot recall…), but you get the picture. What do you want to see in Facebook search?


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hunch-logo.png I have not yet grokked Hunch, the decision engine from flickr co-founder Caterina Fake and co., but from the coverage, the launch is a hit. Here’s Caterina’s post announcing it…