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Web 2: Help Me Interview Qi Lu

By - October 02, 2009

web 2 09.png_@user_60805.jpg In the personality-driven world that is our industry, Qi Lu stands out for his relative lack of public profile. Widely respected as a technological leader while heading up search at Yahoo, Qi burst onto the industry scene when he defected to Microsoft last year and took the role of President of the Online Service division. In short, Qi is the man in charge of Microsoft’s online strategy.

Our interview later this month will mark Qi’s debut on the Web 2 stage. From all accounts, Qi is a very different character from his boss Steve Ballmer (who was a highlight of Web 2 two years ago). I’m looking forward to our interaction. Clearly we have a lot to discuss – the shifting sands of alliances (Facebook, Yahoo, Myspace, etc.), the rise (and fall?) of Bing, the Yahoo search deal, the future of MSN with regard to content, the role of ad exchanges and platforms (the Aquantive deal), and much more.

But I digress. What do *you* want to hear from Qi this year?

Others we’ll be interviewing (and I’ve asked for your help):

Carol Bartz

Evan Williams

Brian Roberts

Jeff Immelt

To come: Aneesh Chopra, Sheryl Sandberg, Jon Miller, Austan Goolsbee, Paul Otellini, Shantanu Narayen, Tim Armstrong, Tim Berners Lee, and more. Again, an amazing lineup.

If you want to come, I can still get you a Searchblog discount (for about another week). Just ping me here.

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Why Are Conversations (With the Right Person) So Much Better Than Search?

By - September 30, 2009

hal.jpegThanks to the BingTweets program, I’ve been asked to opine on search and decision engines. I’m kind of proud of my third and final post, which riffs on the first two and goes a bit, well, meta. I’d love to know what you guys think of it. I’ll repost the first half here, and link back to the whole post on the original site that commissioned the work.  

Over the past two posts I’ve outlined my hopes and frustrations around search and decision making, using my desire to acquire a classic car as an example of both the opportunity and the limitations of web search as it stands today. As an astute commentator noted on my last post – “normally a 30 minute conversation is a whole lot better for any kind of complex question.”

Which leads me to my last post in this series. What is it about a conversation? Why can we, in 30 minutes or less, boil down what otherwise might be a multi-day quest into an answer that addresses nearly all our concerns? And what might that process teach us about what the Web lacks today and might bring us tomorrow?

Well the answer is at once simple and maddenly complex. Our ability to communicate using language is the result of millions of years of physical and cultural evolution, capped off by 15-25 years of personal childhood and early adult experience. But it comes so naturally, we forget how extraordinary this simple act really is.

I once asked Larry Page, co-founder of Google, what his dream search engine looked like. His answer: The computer from Star Trek – a omnipresent, all knowing machine with which you could converse. We’re a long way from that – and when we do get there, we’re bound to arrive a with a fair amount of trepidation – after all, every major summer blockbuster seems to burst with the narrative of machines that out think humans (Matrix, Terminator, Battlestar Galactica, 2001, I Robot…you get the picture).

But I have hope. Given this is my last post in the series, allow me to wax a bit philosophical. While we in the search and Internet industry focus almost exclusively on leveraging technology to get to better answers, perhaps we might take another approach. Perhaps instead of scaling machines to the point of where they can have a “human” conversation with us (a la Turing), perhaps instead (or, as well), we might leverage machines to help connect us to just the right human with whom we might have that conversation?

Continued…

Watch the Aardvark

By - March 11, 2009

Avark

Just off the phone with the folks behind Aardvark, a (relatively) new service that will most likely be the talk of SXSW this week. I’ll have a longer riff on the company shortly, but suffice to say, I find it fascinating. The service rides between your social network(s), search, and the web, cleverly leveraging each to provide a platform for asking and answering the kinds of questions for which traditional search usually fails: the kinds of questions you ask a friend (or a friend of a friend, the real sweet spot here).

Many things make this company worth watching, its backers, its model, and its approach. Particularly noteworthy to Searchblog readers: a large group of the founders are from Google.

More soon.

The Conversation Is Shifting

By - March 07, 2009

Search, and Google in particular, was the first true language of the Web. But I’ve often called it a toddler’s language – intentional, but not fully voiced. This past few weeks folks are noticing an important trend – the share of traffic referred to their sites is shifting. Facebook (and for some, like this site, Twitter) is becoming a primary source of traffic.

Why? Well, two big reasons. One, Facebook has metastasized to a size that rivals Google. And two, Facebook Connect has come into its own. People are sharing what they are reading, where they are going, and what they are doing, and the amplification of all that social intention is spreading across the web.

This is all part of the shift from static to real time search. Social is the fundamental element of that shift. What are YOU doing? What is on YOUR mind? Who do YOU want to SHARE it with?

Social search has been predicted (and funded) for years. It’s finally happening. The conversation is evolving, from short bursts of declared intent inside a query bar, to ongoing, ambient declaration of social actions. Both will continue, but it’s increasingly clear why Google’s obsessed with Facebook (and Facebook with Twitter). And they are not alone.

Snaptell

By - February 28, 2009

One more piece falling into place in my five year old example of how search is changing via mobile. Snaptell. Found via the IPG Lab in LA earlier this week, though the company has been around for a few years. TC covers it back in November here.

A Biosphere of Minds

By - December 29, 2008

From the wonderful Kevin Kelly:



While we have not yet made anything as complex as a human mind, we are trying to. The question is, what would be more complex than a human mind? What would we make if we could? What would such a thing do? In the story of technological evolution – or even biological evolution – what comes after minds?

The usual response to “what comes after a human mind” is better, faster, bigger minds. The same thing only more. That is probably true – we might be able to make or evolve bigger faster minds — but as pictured they are still minds.

A more recent response, one that I have been championing, is that what comes after minds may be a biosphere of minds, an ecological network of many minds and many types of minds – sort of like rainforest of minds – that would have its own meta-level behavior and consequences. Just as a biological rainforest processes nutrients, energy, and diversity, this system of intelligences would process problems, memories, anticipations, data and knowledge. This rainforest of minds would contain all the human minds connected to it, as well as various artificial intelligences, as well as billions of semi-smart things linked up into a sprawling ecosystem of intelligences. Vegetable intelligences, insect intelligences, primate intelligences and human intelligences and maybe superhuman intelligences, all interacting in one seething network. As in any ecosystem, different agents have different capabilities and different roles. Some would cooperate, some would compete. The whole complex would be a dynamic beast, constantly in flux.

Make you think of anything?

I Want Shoes That Look Like THIS – I Plan to Link to New Search Tools Again

By - December 06, 2008

Shoe Search

I’ve decided to start linking to new stuff in search that gets sent to me again, but be forewarned – I won’t be able to give it a full grokking. That said, a lot of new stuff has landed in my inbox, and it always bums me out to have to say “sorry guys I don’t have time.” So from now on, if something catches my eye, I’m going to link to it and give a (very) brief overview. If anyone out there wants to send me stuff, go right ahead, and know that whatever you mail to me I may borrow from to describe whatever it is you’ve built.

First up is Modista. It comes from Berkeley (GO BEARS) so perhaps that’s what tipped it for me. From the email:

We are two computer science Ph.D. students at UC Berkeley, and we’d like to tell you about our project.

Modista applies visual search to online shopping, but it’s very different from Like.com. We use the technology to enable product discovery, so users can browse huge inventories quickly and effectively. It fundamentally changes the user experience: rather than navigating text-based menus and scrolling through lists of results, you can simply rely on your visual intuition.

As we all know, our ability to sort massive amounts of information using our visual cortex far outstrips our ability to sort using textual analysis. I really like this tool, but the real test is whether my wife will!

Why Google Must Worry About Twitter

By - December 04, 2008

Because, at the end of the day, Twitter shows the shift to the realtime web (Microsoft calls it “Live Search” and T’Rati called it the live web). And if Google doesn’t own it, someone else will. More when, well, the holidays come, and I can write. Meantime, read the piece I referenced in the last post or the last tweet.

From Static to Realtime Search

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What Are You Doing-1

My post on the subject, while arguably arguable (yes, I know, I know, but it’s better to just say it than let it stick in your craw) is up on the Looksmart Thought Leadership site (part of an FM program I am participating in). From it (this is just a portion):

I think Search is about to undergo an important evolution. It remains to be seen if this is punctuated equilibrium or a slow, constant process (it sort of feels like both), but the end result strikes me as extremely important: Very soon, we will be able to ask Search a very basic and extraordinarily important question that I can best summarize as this: What are people saying about (my query) right now?

When it first hit critical mass, it seemed Google answered this question. For the first time, you could ask a question in your native tongue, and get an answer. It felt immediate, but save for the speed with which the search results were rendered, it was not. Instead, it was archival – Google was the ultimate interface for stuff that had already been said – a while ago. When you queried Google, you got the popular wisdom – but only after it was uttered, edited into HTML format, published on the web, and then crawled and stored by Google’s technology. True, that has sped up – Google indexes a lot of sites more than once a day now – but as it nears the event horizon, this approach to search won’t scale.

In short, Google represents a remarkable achievement: the ability to query the static web. But it remains to be seen if it can shift into a new phase: querying the realtime web.

It’s inarguable that the web is shifting into a new time axis. Blogging was the first real indication of this, but blogging, while much faster than the traditional HTML-driven web, is, in the end, still the HTML-driven web. To its credit, Technorati saw blogging as the vanguard of a shift to real time, and tried to become the first search engine for “the live web”. It failed to gain critical mass, but I think the main reason was that the web was not yet “alive”.

That is changing, rapidly. Yes, I’m thinking about Twitter, of course, which is quickly gaining critical mass as a conversation hub answering the question “what are you doing?” But I’m also thinking about ambient data more broadly, in particular as described by John Markoff’s article (posted here). All of us are creating fountains of ambient data, from our phones, our web surfing, our offline purchasing, our interactions with tollbooths, you name it. Combine that ambient data (the imprint we leave on the digital world from our actions) with declarative data (what we proactively say we are doing right now) and you’ve got a major, delicious, wonderful, massive search problem, er, opportunity.

And with that search challenge comes an equally exciting monetization opportunity.

Google SearchWiki

By - November 21, 2008

So here we go – Google is jumping into the social media search world. “SearchWiki” is Google’s answer to the question “Why can’t I make search work the way I want it to work, and share/learn from others doing the same thing?”

But one wonders if Google searchers have that question to begin with. As I’ve argued elsewhere, Google search had become a bit like the morning newspaper of yore – social glue that all of us could depend on because the results were pretty consistent. I don’t believe that search shouldn’t change – I’m a major proponent of change, particularly in the interface. But as Mike points out, many folks may not want this kind of change.

From Google’s announcement:

Have you ever wanted to mark up Google search results? Maybe you’re an avid hiker and the trail map site you always go to is in the 4th or 5th position and you want to move it to the top. Or perhaps it’s not there at all and you’d like to add it. Or maybe you’d like to add some notes about what you found on that site and why you thought it was useful. Starting today you can do all this and tailor Google search results to best meet your needs.,,,Today we’re launching SearchWiki, a way for you to customize search by re-ranking, deleting, adding, and commenting on search results.

..The changes you make only affect your own searches. But SearchWiki also is a great way to share your insights with other searchers. You can see how the community has collectively edited the search results by clicking on the “See all notes for this SearchWiki” link.

Clearly Google will learn a ton about search behavior through this new set of features, and presumably that will improve core search results. But what I find interesting in all this is what is says about what Google knows, and therefore decided to do. Google knows folks come to the site for repeat navigation – to find places they have already visited. And they know that they go there for discovery – to find things they’ve never visited but hope to find. A move like this seems to point Google toward bringing the two together, and potentially, re-portalizing the web.

What do I mean by that? Well, it’s clear that Google is the starting point for a very large percentage of folks on the web. But while many of us start there, we don’t spend much time there – we use Google as a way to jump from place to place. If, however, we can customize Google to become a one stop shop with all our favorite places, as well as comments and social connections, we may well change our behaviors and spend more time at that start place. While Google has never announced numbers, it’s commonly assumed that its iGoogle start page is getting less than stellar traction. But iGoogle + SearchWiki? That just might do it.

I’d like to post more thoughts on this development but the SearchWiki code has not propagated to my account, so I can’t really test drive it. I’m sure when it does, more thoughts will come up….