Taking the Day Off, Headed to MSFT

Going to MSFT today (well, early on the 20th) to meet with David Cole, who runs .net and MSN, and Yusuf Mehdi, who runs search and most of MSN for David. Should be darn interesting. Scoble, you around? If so, email me jbat at batellemedia.com. Anyone care to suggest questions…

Going to MSFT today (well, early on the 20th) to meet with David Cole, who runs .net and MSN, and Yusuf Mehdi, who runs search and most of MSN for David. Should be darn interesting. Scoble, you around? If so, email me jbat at batellemedia.com.

Anyone care to suggest questions for these two gentlemen? Post away on comments or email me….thanks!

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Grokking Furl: Storage, Search, and the PersonalWeb

Today I finally got to talk with Mike Giles, the fellow behind Furl. He's based near Amherst, Mass, but used to work out in California, most recently at Vitria, a businessprocessenterpriseapplicationsoftware (ie, BigBoringButImportant) company. He started there when it had 20 employees, rode it out as it went to 1200…

furlToday I finally got to talk with Mike Giles, the fellow behind Furl. He’s based near Amherst, Mass, but used to work out in California, most recently at Vitria, a businessprocessenterpriseapplicationsoftware (ie, BigBoringButImportant) company. He started there when it had 20 employees, rode it out as it went to 1200 and went public, then bailed (it’s now at about 300 or so). Before Vitria he founded a startup, then, closed it. In other words, he’s one of us – he’s been through the roller coaster, and he’s wiser for it.

Something tells me he’s pretty happy in his current gig. He’s the only full time employee, but works with a small cadre of contractors and friends. He’s got between 5-10K users since announcing the beta in January.

Mike started Furl about a year ago to solve a problem he – and a lot of us – had with bookmarks. Namely, bookmarking is a lame, half-assed, unsearchable, flat, linkrotten approach to recalling that which you’ve seen and care to recall on the web. Now, a lot of folks have made stabs at solving this particular problem, but Mike’s got a lot of very cool features built into his beta, and more on the way.

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Bill Joy Moves In

Bill Joy is comfortably into his new role of not having a role, to judge from our meeting last Friday morning. We met at the Depot, a Mill Valley cafe which pretty much defines Marin casual. Bill is in the middle of what he termed a "three year move" -…

joyBill Joy is comfortably into his new role of not having a role, to judge from our meeting last Friday morning. We met at the Depot, a Mill Valley cafe which pretty much defines Marin casual. Bill is in the middle of what he termed a “three year move” – moving out of his Sun offices, which contained more than 20 years of research, notes, and assorted papers – moving as well from his Russian Hill home in San Francisco, and into new digs in Mill Valley as well as his ranch in Aspen. In essence, transition has been Joy’s job for the past few years, and he seems content in it.

Our talked ranged over a pretty open space, and touched on his talks with Google (he confirmed them, but they are not ongoing), his sense of where Sun is going (tough road ahead but he wishes them well), his continuing thinking along the lines of his now legendary Wired article (still figuring if he has a book in him on the topic, and if so, when), and his thoughts on better search solutions (we touched on the work of David Gerlernter more than once). In fact, I have an interview scheduled with David Gerlernter this Thursday morning, stay tuned for that.

As to what he might be doing next, he seemed happily indeterminate. A fine place to be, it seems to me.

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IBM v Google, The Chart

For readers of my earlier (and overly long) post on Webfountain, this chart makes a first attempt at outlining some key distinctions between IBM and Google's approach….

For readers of my earlier (and overly long) post on Webfountain, this chart makes a first attempt at outlining some key distinctions between IBM and Google’s approach.

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WebFountain, the Long Version

(nb: long post, subject to revision…) To quote Dylan, it’s been buckets of rain for the past few months around here. On my way down to IBM’s Almaden research campus a week ago this past Friday, I crossed the San Rafael bridge and tacked South into yet another storm. The…

(nb: long post, subject to revision…)
To quote Dylan, it’s been buckets of rain for the past few months around here. On my way down to IBM’s Almaden research campus a week ago this past Friday, I crossed the San Rafael bridge and tacked South into yet another storm. The guy on the radio joked that we should all stay calm if a bearded fellow shows up leading animals two by two onto an oversized boat. But not ten minutes later, as I passed Berkeley, the rain relented. I have no doubt it will be back, but on that fine morning, the sun took a walk around the Bay area hills, peeking between retreating thunderheads and lending an air of Spring to the drive.

So I was in just about the right mood to accept the rather surreal juxtaposition of Almaden with its surroundings. The center is sculpted into what must be at least a thousand acres of pristine Bay area hillside; to get there, you must navigate three miles of uninhabited parkland. It’s an escape from the strip-mall infested Valley, land of soulless architecture where community is defined by employee ID badges, up a two-lane road winding to an unmanned and entirely unimposing gate. For all its context, it may as well be Norman Juster’s Phantom Tollbooth (fittingly, at that). Nearby, Hollywood set-piece cows chew Hollywood set-piece cuds.

The gate opens and you drive a quarter mile to a four-story slate-gray building, which looks rather like a Nakamichi preamp, only with windows (and landscaping). Inside are 600 or so pure and applied researchers who are …well, mostly thinking about about NP-hard problems. And this center is just one of eight that IBM supports around the globe, in Haifa, Switzerland, Japan, China, and India, to name just five. It’s quite impressive, and reminds you that while the media can get carried away with one company at one moment in time, some firms have been hiring PhDs and putting their brains to good use for longer than most of us have been around.

I met with a couple of these scary smart guys, Daniel Gruhl (at left) and Andrew Tomkins, the lead architecht and chief scientist, respectively, of IBM’s WebFountain project. I’ve heard a lot about WebFountain, and what I gathered sounded promising – it’s been called an “analytics engine” by none other than the IEEE, which honored it in a recent issue of IEEE Spectrum. I wanted to see what it was all about up close.

(more from link below)

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Research Asst.

I'm in need of a research assistant for my book. Lots of reporting, organizing, mind melding, and probably some dull work too. I'm interviewing grad students from UCB, where I work, but I thought I'd hang it out here as well, given what an interesting group this readership has…

I’m in need of a research assistant for my book. Lots of reporting, organizing, mind melding, and probably some dull work too. I’m interviewing grad students from UCB, where I work, but I thought I’d hang it out here as well, given what an interesting group this readership has proven to be. Some of you might know someone who’d be perfect, or, some of you lurkers out there might be perfect yourself. Ideally the right person is based in the Bay Area, practically, it’s someone who is looking for experience, rather than a huge paycheck. Send recommendations my way at jbat at battellemedia.com. Thanks!

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WebFountain, Technorati Visits

Spent the day talking to two very interesting companies, one huge with massive scale, the other tiny, with massive scale. I'll post a report on both soon, watch this space….

Spent the day talking to two very interesting companies, one huge with massive scale, the other tiny, with massive scale. I’ll post a report on both soon, watch this space.

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Mike Ramsay: TiVo As Web Platform

Well I was not expecting this one: I head into a conversation with the CEO of TiVo, fully expecting him to look at me cross-eyed when I suggest that TiVo might be understood to be a search-driven application. Instead, he wholeheartedly agrees. In fact, Ramsay was adamant about the role…

Well I was not expecting this one: I head into a conversation with the CEO of TiVo, fully expecting him to look at me cross-eyed when I suggest that TiVo might be understood to be a search-driven application. Instead, he wholeheartedly agrees. In fact, Ramsay was adamant about the role search plays, and how much innovation can come from understanding video through the lens of the internet.

As usual I must save stuff for my book (and column), but here’s one of the coolest things he mentioned: the idea of folks building video content websites that TiVo could search and download – using exactly the same search interface TiVo already has. Ramsay pointed out that with television search, you often don’t know what you want till you see it (“I feel like a foreign film tonight – hey…there’s an old Seinfeld episode on!”), but on the net, you often you know what you want, but not where it is (“I’m looking for a 1965 Ford Mustang in perfect condition”). What would happen if the two merged?

Ramsay gave an example of a typical TiVo wishlist (an ongoing set of instructions you give your TiVo) that includes, say, anything from Martin Scorcese. As it stands today, TiVo offers up all the films he’s directed which happen to be showing in the next few days, and possibly documentaries featuring the director. But that’s it. What if there were a great Scorcese interview available on a fan website, and that website was built to work with a hypothetical TiVo search API? TiVo would present that piece of content as an option as well, and you could simply “record” it, just like you do any other show. TiVo would then send a request over the net to the site, and download the content for viewing (TiVo might employ “drizzle” like technology to download the massive files overnight). Imagine the possibilities, both for non-commercial content as well as for advertising. It makes my head spin. I am sure the cable companies (and networks) simply loathe the idea – it takes distribution completely out of their hands. One can imagine any number of scenarios: a “hit” show that lives solely on a website, for one. Advertising-only websites providing paid search-like content for which TiVo becomes a market maker. Crippled Comcast PVRs which refuse to cross-pollinate with the net (I am sure Mike would love this, as it would provide a major differentiator for TiVo, were they to implement this kind of feature).

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A Talk With Weiner

Met with Jeff yesterday, and we didn't have nearly enough time, so we're going to meet again next week. But the time we did get was quite interesting. This against the backdrop, of course, of Yahoo's stated intent to shift from Google results to its own native technology. Jeff was…

Met with Jeff yesterday, and we didn’t have nearly enough time, so we’re going to meet again next week. But the time we did get was quite interesting. This against the backdrop, of course, of Yahoo’s stated intent to shift from Google results to its own native technology. Jeff was coy on when the switch would occur, but extremely enthusiastic about the end result (Yahoo CEO Semel has announced the switch will occur by the end of the first quarter, and that’s not too far away).

I think Yahoo search will be new from the ground up. It’s not just Inktomi in place of Google, it will be an entirely new product. Jeff wouldn’t give me details on what to expect, but he is a man clearly sitting on his hands – he’s proud of the work his team has done. “People don’t realize how scarce search engineering talent is,” he told me. “And we’ve got critical mass.”

On more general topics, we had a robust discussion around the issue of paid inclusion. This issue is almost always painted in black and white – Paid Inclusion Bad, “Pure” Search Good. But Weiner defended the practice against the metric of user value – when sites pay to insure their content is indexed, they also insure it will be available as potentially relevant results to the user. If Yahoo fails to give the user relevant, quality results, and instead spams the user with commercial fare, Yahoo will lose that user. In other words, it’s not in Yahoo’s best interest to value the advertiser over the user’s needs. In fact, it’s in the advertiser’s interest for Yahoo to value the user over the advertiser. This, of course, is Publishing 101.

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