free html hit counter July 2009 - Page 2 of 2 - John Battelle's Search Blog

Good Move, RIM: Warns Users of Spyware

By - July 22, 2009

RIM.gifJust saw this story in my feedreader, and thought it worth a mention:   

An update downloaded by BlackBerry users of a Middle Eastern wireless provider contained spyware that secretly read and stored text messages and e-mails, Research In Motion confirmed. Etisalat, a cellular service company based in the United Arab Emirates, released a firmware upgrade to BlackBerry subscribers on July 8 telling them its installation would improve the device’s performance and was required for continued service.

BlackBerry maker, Waterloo, Ont.-based Research In Motion, said in a statement that it “did not develop this software application and RIM was not involved in any way in the testing, promotion or distribution of this software application.” Etisalat originally issued a press release that referred to the software as an official BlackBerry upgrade…..RIM has since issued its own utility allowing users to uninstall the application.

I think any time a major tech brand takes the high road when it comes to potential government spying, the entire Internet gets better. While no one will confirm this, I am sure, it’s likely that the update was included at the behest of a government agency of some kind. Kudos to RIM for doing the right thing, it reminds me of what Google did back in 2006, exposing the DOJ demands on search data.

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OMG! It's A New Yahoo Homepage

By - July 21, 2009

new yahoo.pngYahoo has redesigned its homepage, on the same day it announced improved profits (thanks in large part to the painful cost cutting of the past few quarters). Quite directly, Yahoo says “This new launch represents the most significant change to our homepage since the company’s inception.”

That’s quite a statement. I’ve spent some time on the page, and I’m not sure it lives up to that billing. The big deal, in short, is Yahoo’s promotion of other sites that are not in Yahoo’s immediate family – Facebook, Myspace, and eBay made the permanent list of integrated suggestions – you can get your updates on a customized Yahoo page (no Twitter, sorry) – and the first splash I got suggested – quite randomly – This Old House and a few others.

yahoo celeb.pngThe parts of the home page that are not customized are overwhelmingly LCD (lowest common denominator) – very celebrity focused, for example. What to do? That’s what binds us all, I guess.

I do think this is MyYahoo reborn and updated for the way the web works, but it can’t be so random in its suggestions (kinda like Twitter is in its suggested users). In short, it has to go all the way – it has to become the ultimate aggregator for the “rest of the web” if it’s going to work – and that means that the mass of Web users have to understand what that means. Given that most folks have no idea what an RSS reader is, and even more folks have no idea what TweetDeck is – this is going to be a challenge.However, Yahoo has a lot of data on what users are doing, and can tune those suggestions over time to create a good experience, should it chose to lean in there. But I like the direction. It strikes me as the right way to go.  

SIGIR This Week

By - July 20, 2009


I don’t write that much about core geeky search stuff here lately, but I still get a bit excited when I am reminded that once again, ACM’s SIGIR is happening. It’s always fun to take a look at the agenda and see who is speaking and presenting papers. And taking a look at the papers tells us something about what’s up in search, who’s adding value to the academic search community, and on what topics.

Microsoft has a stamp on this show, with, according to Microsoft, nearly 30% of all papers presented at the event.

Can 20 folks Make Bing? Nah.

By - July 15, 2009

Since vacation last week I’ve been on the road constantly, and unable to find much time to write. But this NYT Op Ed, by Robert Cringely, caught my eye, as it addresses something I’ve been watching closely for some time – the competition between Microsoft and Google. Clearly the two giants are circling each other’s core revenue streams – Google announced a vapor competitor to Windows last week, and Bing is Microsoft’s answer to Google search. (Disclosure: Both companies have sponsored this site in the past, and Bing is sponsoring it now (see BingTweets), and both companies work with FM, my business). google-windows_1439540c.jpg (image credit)

So it makes sense that there’d be a fair amount of speculation on what it all means. But Cringely’s take, validated as it was in the pages of the Times, struck me as worthy of thinking through. In it he argues:

This is all heady stuff and good for lots of press, but in the end none of this is likely to make a real difference for either company or, indeed, for consumers. It’s just noise — a form of mutually assured destruction intended to keep each company in check.

I don’t agree, to a point. I think it’s true that outside of core search and advertising platforms, Google tends to throw a lot of pasta at the wall, in the hopes that some of it will stick. But Google is dead serious about cloud computing, and I very much doubt they’ll abandon Chrome OS. And I’ve spent a fair amount of time with the team behind Bing, and I think Microsoft is equally serious about this effort.

Cringely continues:

What Google’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, has to fear more than anything else is that he’ll awake one day to learn that the Google search engine suddenly doesn’t work on any Windows computers: something happened overnight and what worked yesterday doesn’t work today. It would have to be an act of deliberate sabotage on Microsoft’s part and blatantly illegal, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.

The idea that Microsoft would do such a thing strikes me as patently ludicrous. Microsoft has learned its lesson with the DOJ, and it’s not going to run down that alley again. I am certain there are many other things about the company that keep Eric Schmidt up at night, but this is not one of them.

Cringely continues with what struck me as a very misinformed statement:

The engineering teams for any of these products are, at most, 20 to 30 people….Bing hasn’t a hope of toppling Google as the premier search engine and Microsoft knows it.

Wow! Did Microsoft really make Bing with a team of 20-30 folks?! And Microsoft is just doing Bing to keep Google on its toes?! I had to ask. Here’s Microsoft’s official response: “This is inaccurate. The Search and Advertising platform engineering team is in the thousands…(and) We are in the business to succeed long term.”

Now, success doesn’t have to be toppling Google, I think Microsoft would settle for gaining five to ten points of share this year, and continuing to show share gain over the next few years. The company posted some examples of early success earlier this week, and while Bing has its detractors, it’s clear the new engine has had a pretty successful initial launch. It remains to be seen if that momentum can continue, and if the concept of search as an application can scale.  

Twitter Grows Again

By - July 13, 2009

The growth is back, impressive but slower than before, but it’s probably quite a relief over at Twitter HQ to see no continuation of the trend from last month.

Update: As of this morning, the Compete chart does not show the growth for June yet, so here is a screen shot:

twitter june growth 09.png

Vark Goes Twitter

By - July 07, 2009

aardvark_twitter.pngI’m on vacation this week, ostensibly, building a treehouse and taking time off. Hence the light posting schedule. But I’ve also been tracking Aardvark, the lightweight question answering service that uses your social graph, IM, and email accounts as a channel to intelligently route complicated questions to those who might best answer them, and as readers know, I’m intrigued.

So when Max Ventilla, Aardvark’s CEO, told me he was finally integrating Twitter, I knew it’d be big news.

As explained on the Vark blog, using the service on Twitter is simple:

Now you can ask Aardvark a question via Twitter: Just include ‘@vark’ and a question mark (‘?’) in your tweet Aardvark will find the perfect person to answer, and Direct Message you their response in a few minutes (Set up Aardvark to recognize your Twitter handle here:…..Aardvark is all about providing the questioner with a magical experience of getting any question answered in about five minutes, and providing the answerer with a gratifying experience of helping someone out in a moment of need. We think asking questions via Twitter is a natural way to bring this experience to more people.

I feel the same way. I’ve used Vark on Twitter in private beta and it worked great. Now that the service is public, I have a feeling it’s going to become one of the most useful applications on Twitter. Next step, Groups, and then watch out….

The Year's Half Over. So How Are My Predictions Tracking?

By - July 01, 2009

nostraD-tm-3-tm-tm-tm.jpgI like to do this exercise from time to time – asking how my predictions for the year are holding up given six months have passed since I posted them.  

Well, let’s see, shall we?

1. We’ll see an end to the recession, taken literally, by Q4 09.

I think most folks agree this will happen. I’m not saying it has, just that the consensus is we’re on the way there.

2. The online media space will be hit hard by the economic downturn in the first half, but by year’s end, will have chalked up moderate gains over last year in terms of gross spend.

Jury’s out, hard to call this one, but my own experience indicates this has a good chance of happening.

3. Google will see search share decline significantly for the first time ever. It will also struggle to find an answer to the question of how it diversifies its revenue in 2009.

Ok, so is this significant?! Well, yes – it’s the first share slip Google’s had, and it happened this year, but it’s tiny. Hey, it’s a start. As for the answer to how it diversifies revenue? Well, the jury is out, but it’s still all AdWords, all the time, so far. YouTube is struggling with a model, Google admits. Meanwhile, Facebook seems to have found one (in self service)…

4. Despite #3 above, Google stock will soar in by Q3-4 of 2009, mainly because demand will pick up, and when demand picks up, it’s like rain on a field of newly sown wheat.

This is already starting to happen – GOOG has moved from below 300 in March to well over 400 now. But we’ll see if it continues. Several analysts are predicting a return to 600 or 650, in fact.

5. Tied to #3 above, Microsoft will gain at least five points of search share in 2009, perhaps as much as 10.

I know, I’m crazy, right? But the company did release Bing just last month, already won two or so points of share, and has a 100mm marketing war chest, and its major distribution deals have yet to hit Comscore. Wait and see….

6. Yahoo and AOL will merge.

This one I may be wrong on, because first, AOL has to spin out. Or maybe it almost does but then combines with Yahoo this year….

7. … in the second half of the year, Microsoft will buy its search monetization from the combined company.

Well…again, this takes longer to develop that this year, I’m guessing. I probably have egg on my face here.

8. Apple will see a significant reversal of recent fortunes.

Wow, I am so wrong on this so far. Even with Job’s health issues, which are not what I meant when I wrote this. There is always the second half of the year.

9. Major brands will continue to struggle with the best way to interact with “social media.”

True so far, but wow, what a great, great opportunity for folks who run companies in this space. Cough.

10. Agencies will increasingly see their role as that of publishers. Publishers will increasingly see their role as that of agencies.

I think this one has become obvious. I’ll hope to prove it when I do my annual round up at the end of the year.

11. Twitter will continue its meteoric rise.

Remember, I said this back in January. Twitter was at 5.9mm uniques according to Compete. It’s now broken 20mm there, and we all know it’s way bigger than that. It took a pause last month, and we’re all waiting to see what June’s numbers look like….

12. Facebook will do something entirely shocking and unpredictable….As I think about it, it might be as simple as making Facebook Connect truly open, and changing its policies to make it drop dead easy to get data out of the service. Also, Facebook will build a Twitter competitor, but it will never leave beta and will ultimately be abandoned as not worth the time. Instead, Facebook will “friend” Twitter and the two companies will become strong partners.

Wow. They did it. At least the first part of it. We’ll see about the second part.

13. Lucky #13 is reserved for my eternal mobile prediction: 2009 will see the year mobility becomes presumptive in every aspect of the web.

I think finally, this one will be true.

14. Lastly, I promise, I will have sold my book and will be hard at work on it.

Well, we’ll see….

Thanks for keeping me honest!

Bing Starts to Get Real (Time)

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gore bing twitter.pngI’ve been complaining that nearly no search engines surface real time data (for now, that’s Twitter, but Facebook is coming soon enough, and there will be tons more). In fact, I complained to Microsoft about this well before the launch of Bing, and then complained some more when Twitter results were not surfaced in initial beta versions of the service. Man, I’m grumpy lately, eh?

Well, that’s changing. Sort of. From a Bing blog post today:

There has been much discussion of real-time search and the premium on immediacy of data that has been created primarily by Twitter. We’ve been watching this phenomenon with great interest, and listening carefully to what consumers really want in this space. Today we’re unveiling an initial foray into integrating more real time data into our search results, starting with some of the more prominent and prolific Twitterers from a variety of spheres. This includes Tweets from folks from our own search technology and business sphere like Danny Sullivan or Kara Swisher as well as those from spheres of more general consumer appeal like Al Gore or Ryan Seacrest. Starting later today, when you search for these folks names in association with Twitter, you’ll see their latest Tweets come up in real time on Bing’s search results.

Oh boy! I wonder if maybe…I’m one of those folks? Sigh. No such luck. Although, to be honest, I can’t seem to make it work for anyone, including Danny and Kara. Maybe it’s not working yet in my area.

In any case, what DOES come up is my and everyone else I tested’s Twitter account, at least when I add “Twitter” to the query. That’s a major step forward from where Bing was even at launch. That said, there is NO reason to make folks put the word “Twitter” into the query. None. That is a failed use case. Commit, or don’t commit, but don’t ask users to specify Twitter to know what someone might be saying in real time. Better to indicate that the query has real time results, and offer them if a searcher wants them. Or figure out some other clever UI solution. Real time is here to stay, may as well design to it, and not ask users to do it for you.

After all, with the whole Websquared thing, we’ll soon be leaving real time trails all over the globe, and we may well want them surfaced by our favorite search engine, no?

But good on ya, Microsoft, for dipping your toe into the water. Google, your ball.

UPDATE: It works now. I’m one of the chosen ones! Oh joy!