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Bing Gets Visual

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Bing_c_CMYK.PNG

Bing is announcing new visual search features today. The post outlining it all is not yet up, but here are details and links from an email sent to me earlier:

Link to the blog post, not yet up, but soon they promise.

Link to the announcement on TC50 stage.

Text from the email, edited for clarity:

On Monday, Microsoft will launch a new beta feature in Bing, it’s new decision engine, called Visual Search that is a new, easy way to search by clicking instead of typing. Visual Search helps you search information visually, and helps you refine a query when a picture makes it easier to sift through all the online information. Look for that movie you wanted to see, find the best new purse, or figure out which digital camera is right for you using an engaging visual experience without having to sort through page after page of links. People can try the beta of Visual Search by going to Bing.com/visualsearch.

· Visual Search categories that will be available on Monday are outlined below. This list will continue to grow and expand.

· Structured Content and images for Visual Search are provided by a number of sources, including MSN.

· The seamless transitions between selections are achieved through the integration of Silverlight technology

Visual Search Galleries:


Entertainment

100 heroes and villains, Billboard’s past albums, Billboard’s past songs, Film legends, Greatest movies, Movies in theaters

Popular books, Popular celebrities, Popular DVDs, Popular TV shows, Pulitzer winning fiction, Top albums, Top songs

Famous People

FBI’s most wanted, Popular celebrities, US politicians, US presidents, US vice presidents, World leaders

Reference

Dog breeds, Periodic table, Travel destinations, US politicians, US presidents, US states, US vice presidents, World leaders, Yoga poses

Shopping

Cell phones, Digital cameras, Handbags, HDTVs, New cars, Popular books, Popular DVDs, Portable GPS, Pulitzer winning fiction, Top albums, Top iPhone apps

Sports

MLB players, MLB teams, NASCAR drivers, NBA players, NBA teams, NFL players, NFL teams, NHL players, NHL teams, UFC fighters


dog breeds bing.png

Update: I played with the Dog Breeds visual search, and found it pretty cool. It’s not as deep as I would like – the promise is that you don’t have to go out onto the web, and I found myself back into the “back and forth” button mode too soon, but the visual search is really cool to start with.

Web 2 Preview: DigitalGlobe: The World Is The Index

By - September 11, 2009

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I had an extraordinary day yesterday, in terms of who I got to talk with. Not only did I meet with several of FM’s partners – two Fortune 500 marketers, a major platform partner, and a major blogger – I also got to watch the launch of Ad Stamp and the complete schedule for the Web 2 Summit. But a highlight of the day had to be my chance to steal 30 or so minutes with the founder of DigitalGlobe, Dr. Walter Scott.  

Now why was I talking to Dr. Scott? Well, he’s presenting at the Web 2 Summit this year, and I get to work with him on how Digital Globe fits into our theme of WebSquared.

In Dr. Scott’s case, this task pretty much a layup.

Now, Web 2 is known for in depth interviews with titans of business like GE CEO Jeff Immelt, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, or former HP CEO and pending Senatorial candidate Carly Fiorina – all of them are coming this year. And it’s known for having the stalwarts of the Internet industry represented as well – leaders from Google, Twitter, Yahoo, AOL, Newscorp, and Microsoft will also be there.

But Web 2 is also known, I hope, for the High Order Bit – the short, mind blowing presentation of a new idea or new data that makes you step back and just say Wow.

To me, that’s what happened when I really grokked DigitalGlobe, a company with a billion dollar market cap that successfully went public in the midst of the worst recession since 1931.

What the company does is pretty simple, actually. It sends super expensive satellites into space, and takes high resolution, geographic-data tagged pictures of every square foot of the earth. It then makes these images available to anyone willing to pay* (and sometimes to those who can’t but really need the data, as it did with the recent LA fires).

Those images are, of course, digital. And they comprise, to echo my writing about search, nothing less than a database of surface reality, albeit from the point of view of outer space. This reality is objective, factual, and indifferent to politics. It can inform a mind bending number of new use cases. If you think about this database from the point of view of an Internet entrepreneur, well, It could become, to wax into a bit of hyperbole, fuel for a whole new ecosystem of value.

Allow me the use of a metaphor, one with which you are all quite familiar.

So think of search. What is search? Well, search is a database of everything that is worth knowing about on the web. It’s made by a crawler that pings web real estate and creates an index/database of what it finds. It’s served up as an application through a user interface that takes your queries and matches them to the best results in that database.

Simple, but that simplicity largely fueled Web 2 as we know it.

Now consider a new dataset for search, the dataset owned by DigitalGlobe. The “crawlers” are DigitalGlobe’s satellites. The “real estate” being pinged is every square foot of the earth. As with the web, some parts of the world are worth pinging more often than other parts. (“We don’t hit Greenland very often,” Dr. Scott told me. But during the Olympics, the company took a picture of Beijing *once every 8 seconds.* Imagine if this technology was around during Tiananmen). The data that satellite crawler captures is stored in a vast index/database. And that index is served up as a product through a UI, though in DigitalGlobe’s case, the UI is not yet scaled to a mass consumer use like Google.

Wait, check that, it is, in a way. DigitalGlobe provides the imagery you see in Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth. And while that information is really cool, and provides the foundation for a huge number of interesting applications (and controversy), things get really interesting when you bring two key pillars of search into the equation: Freshness and comprehensiveness.

Freshness is what is sounds like – how often does the crawler check back to the source and see what might have changed? And Comprehensiveness is equally self-describing – but in the case of satellite imagery, it’s not so much how *much* of the earth you have in your database (that would be the whole darn thing), but rather, how high the resolution of that data can be.

DGlobe city.jpeg

The data fueling Google and Microsoft’s web applications is good, but it’s not very fresh, and it’s resolution is limited. But that doesn’t mean DigitalGlobe doesn’t have far fresher data and way better resolution. It does. It just doesn’t sell it to Google. (And as I think about the company, I can’t help but think Google or Microsoft must be sharpening their pencils, sketching out scenarios for how they might acquire DigitalGlobe. But I get ahead of myself).

Imagine a time when DigitalGlobe’s crawlers scale across every square inch of the (interesting bits of the) earth at second-by-second freshness – the way Google’s crawlers do for the Web. And imagine a time when the data from this crawl becomes available to all of us, in near real time. Is it possible? Of course it is. You need more satellites, more CPUs, more storage, and some pretty amazing UI and use cases.

Far as I can tell, we have those components already made, just like Google’s infrastructure was not so much about its component parts as it was about how they were put to work in the service of a culture changing service.

Is your mind blown yet? Mine is, but then again, that happens a bit more frequently than your average bear, I’ll admit.

Back here on earth, I asked Dr. Scott two questions that bear repeating. First, who are DigitalGlobe’s largest customers (and how did they use the data)? Far and away, he said, the company’s largest customer is the US Government. Why? Well, they buy high resolution data of, say, a particular Afghan village, datestamp yesterday. Then they give that data to soldiers on the ground, who go into that village and ask folks questions like “What were those heavy loads being moved around in the town square by these five men at around noon yesterday?”

Why, might you ask, why doesn’t the US use its super secret spy satellites to give ground troops this data? Well, because the information on those spy satellites is classified. It’s super secret. But DigitalGlobe’s information is commercial, and unclassified. In essence, the US Government uses DigitalGlobe for the same reason it uses FedEx to move military supplies around the world: it’s just faster, better, cheaper, and easier.

OK, so there’s the answer for why the US Government is such a big customer (and it’s not just military, of course. There’s NASA, there’s NIH, there’s Agriculture, you get the picture, no pun intended). What was my second question?

Well, my second question was informed by the concept of search and my rhapsody around the implications of the world as a database. Might DigitalGlobe consider offering a fresh, high-resolution database of its imagery to developers world wide – replete with business rules for commercialization? Imagine the use cases – for the images are not simply images, they are laden with latent meta-data – interpretive data on everything from how crops are growing to how traffic is moving to how governments are treating their citizens…..might DigitalGlobe consider doing such a thing?

“That would be cool,” was Dr. Scott’s only answer (he is an officer of a public company, after all.)

It sure would be. That would be so WebSquared.

###

*From the company’s own product descriptions:

DigitalGlobe’s CitySphereTM product features 60 cm or better orthorectified color imagery for 300 pre-selected cities worldwide. These GIS ready cities are available as off the shelf products and ready for immediate delivery.

With over 37 million km2 of 3 inch to 2 foot resolution color imagery of select American and international markets, DigitalGlobe’s Orthorectified Aerial Imagery is part of our complete offering of the most current high resolution aerial and satellite imagery and the largest library of earth imagery available anywhere. In addition to the largest library of aerial imagery anywhere, we maintain a complete, highly accurate USA basemap at 1 meter resolution or better, with major cities at 6 in to 2 ft resolution.

Why I Love FM's Ad Stamp

By - September 10, 2009

Today my company Federated Media announced a new ad format for a group of our publishing partners. We call this beta program “Ad Stamp”, and those of you who’ve been watching the space closely, and reading my thoughts on marketing here, won’t be too surprised by what you see.

BingAdStampgif.gif

However, with Ad Stamp there is more than meets the eye, and I wanted to think out loud a bit about why I believe this format works, and how it might reflect some of the trends I’ve been watching and commenting upon in this space for years.

First and foremost, what is most striking about Ad Stamp is how much space is dedicated to the marketer’s message (see image at left – the temporary and one time pushdown at the top is pushed back up in this mock up). Ad Stamp coordinates three large units across roughly 50% of the total space available on a site – an “ad edit ratio” not unlike most premium magazines. An initial visceral response might be “That’s too much!”, but I don’t think that’s how audiences are going to react.

Why? Because in the main, I think the rise of ad networks and the relegation of marketing impressions to increasingly competing “third rails” on the sides and tops of sites has created a “Nascar effect” where more than five – if not 15 – messages blink numbly and disparately at their subjects. This is not a quality environment for readers or brand marketers, and it’s a premium publisher’s job to create a quality environment for both. (For a longer treatise on this see my post “The Rise of Independent Media Brands Online“).

It’s our belief that delivering 100% of the real estate reserved for marketers to *one marketer at a time* could be part of a strong solution to this concern. Ad Stamp, while still an early test program (and one we hope to roll out to all our sites) does just that. The authors of sites involved in our initial test – sites like Serious Eats, Mashable, Apartment Therapy, Business Insider, Dooce, and Boing Boing – all responded positively to early mockups of Ad Stamp, and all for the same simple reason: It makes the site look better.

Looking good is just one part of the thinking behind Ad Stamp. Other premium publishers are doing similar, larger executions (see the OPA news for more), but FM takes a decidedly social twist, as you might expect. To that end, an equally, if not more significant part of Ad Stamp is a new unit we call “the Conversationalist.”

The Conversationalist unit (an early execution is shown below) takes some of the best work FM has done over the years (content-driven, conversational ad units), and brings it full circle into the realm of high quality brand marketing. The thesis is this: When a reader comes to the page, he or she initially sees the uncluttered, focused brand message via the coordinated pushdown and tower on the side. (Both of these units are now quite standard across the premium publishing web, but are not often coordinated from a creative and messaging standpoint.) Given that FM sites are A/ a branded environment; B/ a conversational media environment; and C/ that brands are conversations; the next step is pretty logical for an enlightened marketer: Provide the reader with a space where he or she can converse with the brand.

OpenForumConversationlist.jpg

That’s where the Conversationalist comes in. Developed in part through work FM did with American Express, Microsoft, and many others, the unit can pull in and curate nearly any conversation deemed relevant by the marketer. Nearly every brand on the web now has Twitter, Facebook, and blog presences, for example. Some have an extremely sophisticated approach to social media (witness American Express Open’s Open Forum or Asus and Intel’s WePC, for example). In short, brands are becoming social media publishers, and they have a lot to say, and they are increasingly ready to begin a dialog with their customers. The Conversationalist is where they can do just that.

Consider the scenario of a movie campaign, for example, or a mobile phone launch. Both types of campaigns are driven by awareness – the marketer wants to announce the presence of something new and timely. Ad Stamp provides a large canvas for just that. But both campaigns also create a ton of conversation across the Web. The Conversationalist provides a place to curate and add to that dialog – via Twitter and Facebook feeds, blog search, and more.

We’ve noticed that ads which offer up a chance to join a dialog or engage with contextually relevant content perform one to four times better than ads without these features. It’s my belief that combining a clean, clutter free environment with the opportunity to converse is a strong alternative to the Nascar-network blight that seems to be creeping into high quality conversational sites.  

For now, Ad Stamp is limited to about 20 sites in the FM family, in two distinct categories – tech/biz (around 11 million uniques) and Home (about 10 million). Should this new format prove successful, we’ll roll it across all of FM, and it’s my hope the rest of the industry will adopt similar formats. We’re all in this together.

In summary, Ad Stamp is a response to what I wrote in a previous post about all of this more than a year ago:

Brands are, in essence, defined by the conversations your consumers have about your products or services (and yes, I am indebted to Cluetrain and Ogilvy and any number of other great thinkers, even Hopkins, who might justifiably be the bridge between direct response and brand advertising).

Brand advertising in traditional media has been about getting in between the ears of a target consumer in some way and “building brand equity” through media executions. In essence, brand advertising has been, up till now, an attempt to influence the conversation that potential consumers will have after experiencing the advertising.

With conversational media and marketing, that concept is time shifting. Now brand advertising can *join* and even *initiate and convene* those brand conversations. And that requires a different skill set, one media folks are just starting to explore. To date, we’ve just begun to figure out how to execute marketing in this new form of media in ways that work for all parties concerned – the content producer, the marketer, and the consumer. But that doesn’t mean we won’t. It just means we have very interesting work ahead of us.

I am thrilled that by working with the amazing folks at FM and our extremely thoughtful publisher and marketing partners, we’re taking what has been a lot of theory on this site (OK, call it bloviating if you wish) and turning it into very real advances that are becoming reality in the field. I feel very, very fortunate. And as always, let me know what you think, as your input over the years is what has always led my thinking.

Google News: A Payment System and A New Search Bar

By - September 09, 2009

From Neiman:

Google is developing a micropayment platform that will be “available to both Google and non-Google properties within the next year,” according to a document the company submitted to the Newspaper Association of America. The system, an extension of Google Checkout, would be a new and unexpected option for the news industry as it considers how to charge for content online.

The revelation comes in an eight-page response to the NAA’s request for paid-content proposals, which it extended to several major technology companies and startups.

And from Google:

new-old-search-next.pngFor us, search has always been our focus. And, starting today, you’ll notice on our homepage and on our search results pages, our search box is growing in size. Although this is a very simple idea and an even simpler change, we’re excited about it — because it symbolizes our focus on search and because it makes our clean, minimalist homepage even easier and more fun to use.

Well, if I were Facebook or eBay/Paypal, I’d be concerned about any payment system from Google, no matter how early stage. And the larger search bar, well, just seems to make sense. Search queries are getting longer, for one, and we’re all getting older, for another – the text is now bigger as well. (OK, maybe it’s just me getting older…)

Welcome to Publishing Waterloo, NYT and WSJ

By - September 08, 2009

new-west-magazine.gifI live in the Bay area, a place that has been, in the past 20 or so years, woefully underserved by what those in the quality news business call, well, quality news. I also am a graduate of a fine Bay area quality new journalism program, and I taught there as well. And before I started my career in technology journalism and entrepreneurial pursuits, my first ever idea was to create a “quality” newspaper for the Bay area. (That’s the late great New West magazine at left, started by legendary editor Clay Felker. If he couldn’t make it happen, not sure anyone can.)

So imagine my merriment when I read this piece in the NYT entitled The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times Plan San Francisco Editions.

Oh joy! Finally, a place for quality local news! Right?

Not so fast.

The lede of the piece:

Both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times are planning to introduce San Francisco Bay Area editions, hoping to win new readers and advertisers there by offering more local news, in what could be the first glimpse at a new strategy by national newspapers to capitalize on the contraction of regional papers.

Now, I’m pleased as punch that the two majors want to give me and my neighbors a quality alternative to the failed local papers, but unless the pay attention to some pretty specific realities about this place, I don’t imagine it’s going to pan out for them in terms of ROI for effort expended. So here are a few thoughts, should either or both decide to focus on our odd little patch of Northern California paradise.

First off, no one in Concord cares a whit about news in San Francisco, unless the Bay Bridge is broken. This is a principle of hyperlocalism, and it’s very, very distinct here in the Bay area. For decades editors have been trying to crack the code of what makes the Bay area hang together as a region, and they’ve all failed. Marin folks simply don’t care about what’s up in Palo Alto, and those who live in Noe Valley barely care about those who live five miles across town in the burgeoning SOMA neighborhood. If you want to have a local edition of a national newspaper here, you’re going to have to figure out a way to cover stories all these folks care about. I’m not sure it’s possible….unless….

…unless you focus on the local Bay area stories that we all care about: the ones that have national scope, and cover them with the same rigor and depth that you would any major national story. Now you’d be cooking with gas.

Those stories are, in no particular order:

- Technology and the Internet. No national paper comes close to owning this story (the way The Industry Standard did in the late 90s, or a handful of blog sites do now). There is a serious opening here for determined, high quality journalism. The WSJ already has All Things D, and the Times has a strong passel of reporters already here on the ground.

- Biotech/Health. I break it out because it’s a massive story, and totally undercovered. The impact of genetic research and massive drug companies’ agendas on policy, for example. The Bay area is one of several key centers of R&D and business in this area.

- The sustainability story. Again, the Bay area leads here, it’s not just for hippies or rich liberals anymore.

- Real estate. Everyone cares about the value of their home, and this area is a major story in that regard – some of the highest foreclosure rates as well as the highest home prices within miles of each other. And commercial real estate is huge here as well.

- Asia. Making this very large story approachable to a local audience is key. The Bay area is deeply connected to Asian culture and business but I’ve not seen great reporting that makes that connection meaningful on a regular basis.

- Food and wine. Sorry, New York, but all the good stuff gets made here. (OK, that was hyperbole but no one can argue with Napa, Sonoma, and other amazing terroirs, and the restaurant culture alone is a major story).

- Sports. We all love our teams – The Giants, the 49ers, the colleges (Cal, Stanford in the main), and the Sharks. This is one thing our local paper does reasonably well.

If the WSJ and/or the NYT can create a “local” edition that *owns* these stories and tells them in a way that makes them meaningful to Bay area residents in a way that transcends traditional local blandishments, I can see a pretty strong audience developing for the product.

But then I look at the other side of the equation: The business proposition. Let’s say the two papers create a strong local edition along the lines of what I’ve outlined above. Folks like me would be thrilled (I’d probably reconsider my decision some years ago to stop subscribing to both papers, though I’d want them online). Would that be enough? Probably not. You need regional advertising to truly make money in the news biz. So will strong local editions mean national papers sell more local advertising? To me, that’s a very open question.

The advertisers that once filled the pages of the local papers here – car dealerships, department stores, Frye’s electronics, Shaneco jewlers and the like, seem to have found new channels of communication for their customers. Most of those channels are online. I wonder, what will these national/regional plays do online? How will they go to market online? It’s an interesting question, and one that will have to be resolved before these editions truly find their footing.

Search Frustration: It's Still Hit Or Miss On Complex Decisions

By - September 04, 2009

My second post (of two) is up over at the BingTweets site, part of an FM partnership with Microsoft. In it I describe my frustration with search as it relates to helping me make a complicated decision: How to possibly buy a classic car. From it:

So first, how would I like to decide about my quest to buy a classic car? Well, ideally, I’d have a search application that could automate and process the tedious back and forth required to truly understand what the market looks like. After all, if I’m looking for classic Camaro or Porsche convertibles from the mid to late 1960s, there are only so many of them for sale, and they can be categorized by any number of important variables – price, model, region, color, features, etc. And while a number of sites do a fair job with a portion of the market, I don’t trust any of them to give me a general overview of what’s really out there. That’s where an intelligent search agent can really help.

But the next step is the harder one. I am not “smart” about how to buy a classic car. I don’t know enough to buy one with confidence. I don’t know what to ask about. I don’t know if it’s good or bad that an engine, electrical system, or transmission is original or rebuilt. I don’t know how one model does versus another in resale value, or insurance cost or…well, you get the picture. There’s a lot to consider, and I don’t know how to value everything. The world of classic cars is complex, like most major decisions. In short, there’s no easy way to decide in this case (unless, of course, I could just buy the most expensive one. That usually guarantees you’ve gotten what the market thinks you paid for it. Not an option for most of us).

So what do I need? I need help from a human being – someone I trust who has command of the classic car domain *and* has my best interests at heart. But given that I don’t have a spare Uncle who happens to be a classic car nut, what am I to do?

Yahoo's New Search Plans: Out Bing Bing

By - September 02, 2009

Yesterday I got a chance to debrief with two leaders of Yahoo’s search team (yes, I know how that sounds given the Bing deal, but bear with me here). Late last week Yahoo announced its intentions with regard to continuing its innovation in search, and I had noted the irony of such an announcement.

I think most of the industry has written off Yahoo as a search player, and for some good reason. It’s true the company has abandoned two key pieces of the search puzzle – indexing and search monetization. But it’s also true, as I noted in my coverage of the deal, that Yahoo is retaining its right to control the user interface to search, and it’s clear that’s what the company is now focusing on.

What I find fascinating about this is how clearly it positions Yahoo to compete, directly, with its partner Microsoft and Bing. More on this later today.