"Demo of the year" of 2006 released by Microsoft

If you go to Google and search for “demo of the year” you’ll find my 2006 post about Microsoft’s Photosynth. It was that good. The demo is still among my favorite I’ve ever seen (and I’ve sat through thousands of demos).

A few minutes ago Microsoft released Photosynth for all of us to use.

What does Photosynth do? You take a bunch of photos of something, like the outside of your house. Shoot a bunch from different locations. It’s best to have between 20 and 300 photos, the Photosynth team tells me. Then it creates a 3D mesh of all the photos that you can “walk” through. There are several demo Photosynths on the site.

I am uploading some of my family room right now, will let you know how that works later tonight. Just wanted to let you know you can play with it too.

UPDATE: My images are now uploaded so you can see a Photosynth of my family room (can you find baby Milan?) and O’Reilly has a nice writeup on the release.

UPDATE2: There’s even more on TechMeme.

Behind NBC's Olympics Website

Eric Schmidt, one of the developers on NBCOlympics.com, the official Olympics Web site for the USA, just dropped by Fast Company’s offices in New York City for a chat. We used to work together at Microsoft. I turned on my cell phone and videoed Schmidt and we talked about the site and he gave me lots of insights. Yesterday in the afternoon the site was seeing 4,000 new video plays started every second. They are still counting up all the views from yesterday, but it looks like somewhere around seven million unique visitors hit the site yesterday alone. In just a few days they’ve uploaded around 200 hours of video and are expecting to have more than 2,000 hours on the site. Four years ago there was just a few dozen hours of video up on the site. Thousands of machines are needed to encode and serve the video and the site. Interesting conversation, hope you enjoy a little look behind one of the people who worked behind the scenes for months on this site.

The power of a good demo

People have been talking about Microsoft’s “Mojave Experiment” all day. What did they do? They demoed a “future operating system” to end users, got their feedback, usually positive, and then told them it was actually Windows Vista.

This is the first marketing in some time that made me think Microsoft’s marketing department had a clue about how to deal with its perception problem. Amazing to me that it took so long.

But when I see other Microsoft advertising, why isn’t it aspirational? Why doesn’t it just SHOW something cool you can do with Vista? Or with any of its other products?

Oh, by the way, I’m using Windows Vista to type this to you. My wife and I have been having this argument about Windows. I’ve been having her use a Lenovo X300 laptop that’s really sexy. But she keeps asking for her Mac back. Why? She says it feels better and is nicer to use (when we left Podtech she had to return her Mac). My son isn’t helping, either. He makes fun of us for using non-Mac machines. He even was arguing with HP’s head of marketing last week about how much better Apple’s machines are.

What I’d love to see is a head-to-head competition. Take both home for a week. Which one do you return?

Anyway, all this reminds me of is the power of a good demo. Actually, this is what I have loved about Apple’s stores whenever I go in: they are usually demoing what their machines can do. Walk in and they show you how to do all sorts of stuff from podcasting to digital photography. At the San Francisco store you can sit there and take tons of classes for free and they are usually pretty good and aimed at non-passionate users who are trying to do something specific with their machines.

Question: have you seen a Microsoft advertisment lately where Microsoft talks about what their machines can do? Have you seen an advertisment that shows you their WorldWide Telescope, for instance (that is still my favorite demo of 2008)? Or Microsoft’s Deep Zoom? Or Microsoft’s Surface? Or Microsoft Photosynth (my favorite demo of 2006)?

These are all wonderful technologies that demo very well, but if Microsoft is able to find so many people who’ve just heard that Vista is crappy, but who haven’t actually seen it for themselves (that’s what the Mojave Project was really all about), imagine how many people who think that Microsoft isn’t an innovative company who haven’t seen any of Microsoft’s very real innovations?

Personally, whoever buys and makes Microsoft’s advertising should be, well, let’s just say “Starbucked” since they laid off about 900 people today. It’s amazingly bad and it doesn’t have to be.

Hopefully that’s what they are really learning by doing these little “gotcha” experiments.

Getting things done over at FastCompanyTV

If you haven’t checked into FastCompanyTV lately, we’ve been posting up a storm of innovative people.

David Allen, best-selling author of Getting Things Done, tells us how to get more done.
Buzz Bruggeman, CEO of ActiveWords, shows me how to use Mind Mapping software and tons of other tools to become more productive.
Philip J. Kuekes, computer architect on the quantum science research team at HP Labs shows me how they are finding new ways to make processors and memory a lot smaller and power efficient. Does he make you feel like you are a few brain cells down on him? I always get inspired and wish I studied more math and science in school when I meet guys like Philip.
Senator Tom Coburn tells me why he likes bloggers, among other things. This was part of our whirl-wind tour of Washington DC.
Microsoft Senior Vice President, Chris Capossela, tells me how they are going to keep all office workers from going to Zoho or Google Docs and Spreadsheets. Seriously, he laid out what Microsoft Office team is trying to do to bring collaborative features into the most-used of Office suites.
FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein talks to me about a variety of issues, including child protection, which is what he’s most passionate about.
Congressman Tim Ryan talks to me about Twittering from the House of Representatives. Among other things. Heck, did you catch that a Democrat is now proposing that we build nuclear power plants and get people to buy electronic cars? We wouldn’t have had THAT conversation a decade ago.

Whew, and there’s more smart people to listen to over on FastCompanyTV too.

A new search engine appears: will you use it?

Tonight a new search engine showed up. Techcrunch has the details. So do tons of other blogs. Search engine guru Danny Sullivan has a great post about the new engine, Cuil, (pronounced “cool”). I wasn’t pre-briefed or anything. Like I said last week I’m trying to get out of the PR game and try to get back to what made me like blogging: sharing information with other users.

So, has anyone figured out a good way to quickly test search engines? I haven’t. Everyone has their own search terms that they use to judge whether or not an engine is interesting.

I remember when I was trying to convince my dad to move from Alta Vista to Google he had a bunch of very specific scientific searches he’d do. He used to love showing me that Alta Vista had more and better results. I kept at it. After about two years he switched to Google too.

Today isn’t like back in the Alta Vista days. Back then there was porn and spam that was showing up in my result sets. Google doesn’t have those problems and usually works for almost anything I search for. When it doesn’t work, I try some of the other engines, or just refactor my search and it almost always works. I can’t remember the last time I was totally stymied by Google.

But, what’s great about the blogosphere is that everyone gets to participate. Look at TechCrunch’s early searches and the comments that are coming in. I, too, think that Cuil is going to face an uphill battle based on my early searches.

On the other hand, let’s give Cuil the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say it actually was a better search engine. I still doubt many people would switch. Why?



Well, my Firefox browser has Google built into it. Most people have no idea how to switch it. Most people, on our tests, really don’t understand much of anything except that that little box probably now goes to Google. The Google.

It’s so pervasive of an expectation at this point that many people type URLs into that box. Or, type the word “Yahoo” into that box so they can get to their email and other Yahoo services.

Is Cuil going to be able to get into this game?

No way, no how.

On mobile phones it’s worse. My iPhone has Google built in. No way that Cuil is going to be able to rip out Google and replace that with its own engine.

So, why is Cuil here?

I think it’s a play for Microsoft money. Microsoft needs to get back into the search game, so will continue buying companies to try to get back into the search game. Yahoo, if run by management that’s rational, will probably start doing the same thing.

Look at Powerset. They cashed out early to Microsoft. Cuil probably will do the same thing if it brings enough to the table.

Just for fun, though, and to get back to being a user, let’s try one search:

Barack Obama’s technology policy

I put that into all the search engines without any quotes, just to see which one does the best job. Here’s the result set:

Cuil (gave an error, couldn’t find any results)
Google. (best of the three)
Yahoo. (close to Google, but not quite there)
Microsoft. (by far the worst of the big three, didn’t bring the technology policy up as the first result).

Anyway, I did a bunch of other searches on Cuil and they are trying to be different, that’s for sure, but I didn’t see enough of a need to try it out further.

How about you?

Stunning: Yosemite Extreme Gigapixel Panoramic Imaging Project

First, Microsoft deserves a kudo for its Pro Photo Summit. John Harrington wrote up the highlights and linked to many of the coolest things.

But the coolest thing I saw on Wednesday?

Was something I saw at lunch: the Yosemite Extreme Gigapixel Panoramic Imaging Project. They mapped out Yosemite with 20 high-resolution panoramic cameras. To give you an idea how cool these images are, here’s an earlier version they did. The 20 new images should be up on the xRez site this week, they told me.

I liked it so much that I did three videos. If you only have time for one, watch this 17-minute video, which is the second one below.

The first video was one I filmed during lunch with Greg Downing and Eric Hanson, co founders of xRez Studios, which did the xRez Yosemite Gigapixel Project. They are the two geeks who built the systems to stitch together these huge images (gigapixels). Digital Producer has an indepth article on the technology they are using.

The second video and third video I filmed after the summit’s first day ended and things were a little quieter. This time Bill Crow of Microsoft’s Live Labs joined us. You can read his blog here, which is on HD Photography. These two videos not only give you a good tour around the Yosemite project, which contains some of the highest-resolution images of Yosemite ever seen (so much detail is in them that you can zoom into climbers on the top of Half Dome), but also Bill explains the technology that lets you view and zoom these images over the Internet. It’s called “Seadragon” and it’s quite remarkable. I wish these videos were a little sharper, but you’ll get the idea of just how cool this technology is.

Yes, that’s Thomas Hawk sitting next to Bill Crow.

Oh, and all of this stuff is demoed on Microsoft’s new Surface table-top computer, which is quite remarkable too. This is the first time I’ve really gotten a good hands-on look at the Surface and I see a TON of stuff that I liked a lot. I could play with one of those for hours.

Think Microsoft isn’t innovative? You can’t say that anymore, sorry.

Oh, and one more example of what Microsoft is doing in photography that just is magical: Microsoft’s Deep Photo. Dan Fay got first video of this new project and it’s wow. You’ll hear me in the front row saying “wow” when researcher Michael Cohen uses this technology to remove haze from an image of New York City.

Will Microsoft Search use Mahalo techniques to change the game?

On Thursday I interviewed a few executives at Microsoft. A few of those videos will have to wait in line (we have two weeks of inventory that needs to get done first) but because of the Yahoo/Google deal I think this one needed to be out ASAP so Rocky Barbanica did a ultra fast edit (using two cameras causes a lot more work than stuff done on my cell phone).

Here Brad Goldberg, general manager of Microsoft’s Search Business Group (aka the folks who do Windows Live Search) talked with me very candidly about the challenge the Windows Live search team faces from Google. This is the most candid conversation I’ve seen a Microsoft executive give about search. It’ll be interesting to see what Danny Sullivan, Kara Swisher, Jason Calacanis will say about this.

Already there’s quite a conversation (including links to my earlier Mahalo interviews) over here on FriendFeed.

Here’s an outline of what we talked about.

00:00: How are you going to compete with Google and do something different? Discussion of cash back plans and opportunity to make search better. “Enter in a search query for ‘Paris’ and there’s no way for a search engine to really know what you want.”
03:00 Discussion of the quality of search and how it compares to Google. Where are you and how are you improving? Brad says that the three search engines are pretty close to parity in relevance/quality. He said their research shows that the #1 thing people care about is relevance (how relevant a search result is to what they were searching for). Says search is going to be more task-specific and that search can play a much bigger role there, especially in commerce, which is what their first hit against Google was with cash back.
06:42 What about the other fundamentals? Speed, language compatibility, design? Brad says that Microsoft will need to take a lot of risks to get ahead here.
08:46 What about mobile? Brad says mapping, local, things like movie times, will play a big role in search, but that he thinks that they’ll mostly focus on the desktop experience.
11:00 What are you going to do to change the game over the next year? Brad answers “it’ll be a set of things.” Great relevance, focus on commerce/cash back/rewarding people for search behavior, and other things.
14:00 Ask how Microsoft is going to convince late adopters to use Microsoft Search. I tell a story about how it took me years to get my dad to use Google. Brad says that Google is the only brand that has equity in search. Says that most people don’t even know there’s a choice.
17:15 What about the weirder things? People search? Brad brings up Messenger and says they could do a lot more to bring people into search.
19:00 Discussion of Facebook’s walled garden and how they could enable Microsoft to search inside their service where Google is kept out.
19:59 What about media, like videos? Very few of the search results have any media like photos or videos. Brad answers back that they are doing some video preview technology that condenses the video and gives you a taste so you can make sure that the video you’re seeing in search is the right one. Talks about UI work that’s needed here.
22:30 Discussion of weather maps and stock quote charts built into search. Further discussion into how people use search and more opportunities to improve quality.
24:37 Have you looked at what Mahalo is doing? A discussion of what makes Mahalo better than Google or Yahoo on many searches. That leads Brad to talk about the difference between portals and search and what he thinks the right approach will be.
28:00 How about real-time Web like Twitter, FriendFeed? (I remember when it took more than a month for Yahoo to index my site, now Google takes hours, if not faster, and FriendFeed indexes new items within seconds). Brad has an interesting answer where he says that search will verticalize.
Ends at 31:56.

If you think this interview is good, please Digg it, Sphinn it, link to it on your blog, and Twitter it. Thanks!