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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Ramsay, Weiner, Kapor

Today I'll not be posting much till later, as I have book-related interviews with Jeff Weiner (SVP/Search at Yahoo), Mike Ramsay (CEO TiVo) and Mitch Kapor (Open Source Applications Foundation, Lotus, Nutch board, et al). What do you want to know from these folks?…

Today I’ll not be posting much till later, as I have book-related interviews with Jeff Weiner (SVP/Search at Yahoo), Mike Ramsay (CEO TiVo) and Mitch Kapor (Open Source Applications Foundation, Lotus, Nutch board, et al).

What do you want to know from these folks?

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Talking With Gary Price

Had a nice chat with Gary Price yesterday. Here's a librarian who's written the book on the Invisible Web, and who has a mission to educate us about the resources – beyond the open web of Google et al – that are freely available to the public. Price took me…

Had a nice chat with Gary Price yesterday. Here’s a librarian who’s written the book on the Invisible Web, and who has a mission to educate us about the resources – beyond the open web of Google et al – that are freely available to the public. Price took me on a tour of the databases that are available to anyone with a public library card. Among them, the Arlington library, which has the same Thompson/Gale databases for free as Highbeam has for $20 a month. Others, like the SF library, have huge databases of magazines and other business resources available. All you need is a library card (and access to the web – many resources are available over the net). This it does kind of make you wonder how Keepmedia and Highbeam intend to make money in the long run. Wait a minute…they intend to make money by intermediating libraries, who are notoriously terrible at marketing themselves.
As I’ve pointed out in a few other posts, Price maintains Resourceshelf and writes and lectures prolifically about search and research.

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Being Jon Kleinberg

Had a good talk today with Jon Kleinberg, professor at Cornell who some credit with work that inspired PageRank, though he's far too modest to accept that mantle. He says he's proud that in academic citations, his work on hubs and authorities is cited alongside PageRank as seminal to the…

Had a good talk today with Jon Kleinberg, professor at Cornell who some credit with work that inspired PageRank, though he’s far too modest to accept that mantle. He says he’s proud that in academic citations, his work on hubs and authorities is cited alongside PageRank as seminal to the current state of web search. While talking to Kleinberg was great for the historical perspective of my book (he was at IBM Almaden in the 96/97 timeframe, near Stanford, working on very similar stuff) it was also very interesting to hear his views on where search might be going.

He agrees with the consensus view that search is in its early days. The really hard problems – natural language queries, for example, have yet to be solved. “It’s kind of interesting to see how far search has gotten without actually understanding what’s in the document,” he noted. In other words, search has gotten pretty sophisticated using keyword matching, and link/pattern analysis. But search technology still has no idea what a document actually *means* – in the human sense.

Kleinberg outlined one of his core frustrations with search engines, one I am sure all readers have experienced: the inverse search. In this scenario, you know there is a core term or phrase that, if typed into Google, would yield exactly the set of pages you’re looking for. But you don’t know the term, and your attempts to divine it continually bring up frustrating and non-relevant results. Say, for example, you want to know more about that regulation that you’ve heard about, the one that says you have the right to fly – with no additional charge – on a different airline if the one you are on cancels your flight. You want to find out the specifics of that regulation, but how?

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A Chat With Halsey

Yesterday I spent the morning with Halsey Minor, founder of CNet, then 12Entreprenuering, creator of Snap, icon of the boom and bust, and now CEO of Grand Central. Halsey was his old enthusiastic self (not to say he ever wasn't, but it's not been easy these past few years, after…

Yesterday I spent the morning with Halsey Minor, founder of CNet, then 12Entreprenuering, creator of Snap, icon of the boom and bust, and now CEO of Grand Central. Halsey was his old enthusiastic self (not to say he ever wasn’t, but it’s not been easy these past few years, after all, and he did move away for a spell).

Halsey is convinced he’s got a winner with Grand Central. After a couple hours of whiteboarding, it’s hard not to at least see his point. The company is in a really interesting space, essentially providing the glue that allows for innovative companies to create really cool tools through web services. While web services as an industry has been on a three-year slow smolder, I think it may finally catch fire this year.

Should it ignite, I am not as convinced as Halsey that Grand Central will be the winner. He points out that there’s really no one in the space doing what he is doing, but then again, Jonathan Abrams probably said that when no one had heard of Friendster. If Grand Central proves the space, IBM, MSFT, and others will move quickly to own it. Halsey has a defense on this point too, but in the end, it’s all about execution, so we’ll see.

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The Corporation

Kottke posts on the Sundance audience-award-winning film The Corporation, which asks why a corporation has the same rights as a human being in our culture. I believe this question is important, and will continue to gain relevance. I've long wondered how it is that many corporations act like such selfish,…

Kottke posts on the Sundance audience-award-winning film The Corporation, which asks why a corporation has the same rights as a human being in our culture. I believe this question is important, and will continue to gain relevance. I’ve long wondered how it is that many corporations act like such selfish, amoral assholes, while the people in them are often so wonderful. This film explores that question. From Kottke’s site, quoting material explaining the film:

Considering the odd legal fiction that deems a corporation a “person” in the eyes of the law, the feature documentary employees a checklist, based on actual diagnostic criteria of the World Health Organization and DSM IV, the standard tool of psychiatrists and psychologists. What emerges is a disturbing diagnosis.
Self-interested, amoral, callous and deceitful, a corporation’s operational principles make it anti-social. It breaches social and legal standards to get its way even while it mimics the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism. It suffers no guilt. Diagnosis: the institutional embodiment of laissez-faire capitalism fully meets the diagnostic criteria of a psychopath.

This may seem too pat for some readers, but I think these are core issues folks at Google are struggling with as they determine whether or not to go public. “Don’t be evil” and “amoral pyschopath” are not exactly compatible MOs.

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A Worthy Read

Not directly tied to search, but I was fortunate enough to get an early copy of Stephen Johnson's new book Mind Wide Open: Your Brain And The Neuroscience Of Everyday Life, which is now out. As Cory points out, it's from a guy who many of us revere for elegantly…

Not directly tied to search, but I was fortunate enough to get an early copy of Stephen Johnson’s new book Mind Wide Open: Your Brain And The Neuroscience Of Everyday Life, which is now out. As Cory points out, it’s from a guy who many of us revere for elegantly relating Big Ideas. The book does a superb job of relating new thinking about…thinking, and in particular emotions such as love, fear, and joy. A very worthy read, and an inspiration for folks like me struggling to write a book related to Big Ideas.

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