Tag Archives: Search

Mike and Loic are wrong about Twitter search

Bob Warfield has it all right: Loic Le Meur’s call for authority-based Twitter searches is all wrong.

What is Loic’s idea? To let you do Twitter searches with results ranked according to number of followers.

You’d think I’d be all over that idea, right? After all I have a lot more followers than Loic or Arrington has.

But you’d be wrong. Ranking by # of followers is a stupid idea. Dave Winer agrees. Mike Arrington, on the other hand, plays the wrong side of the field by backing Loic’s dumb idea.

Here’s why it’s a stupid idea: everyone is gaming the number of followers. And, even if everyone weren’t, popularity on Twitter isn’t a good way to measure whether a Tweet is any good or not.

It would increase noise, not decrease it. After all, if such a system were in effect you’d see my Tweets at the top of the page, even for things that I don’t have any business being at the top of the page for.

For instance, let’s say we were talking about something in China. How about something affecting supply chain management. Who should be at the top of such a result? @liamcasey because he runs a sizeable supply chain management company in China. But, no, he won’t be at top if Loic gets his way. I would be. That’s really lame.

So, what’s a better idea? Study the metadata that really matters.

Here’s some on Twitter:

1. Number of retweets of that tweet.
2. Number of favorites of that tweet.
3. Number of inbound links to that tweet.
4. Number of clicks on an item in Twitter search.

On friendfeed there’s even more to study:

1. Number of likes of that tweet.
2. Number of comments on that tweet.
3. Amount of resharing of that tweet.
4. Clicks on each tweet.
5. Velocity of commenting and liking behavior.

On both services you should see a bias of tweets made by people you’re actually following. Who you are following is a LOT more important than who is following you. Why? Those are active choices YOU made, which should tell the system something about you and who brings you the most value. The numbers of people following you is almost totally irrelevant.

I really hope that the Twitter team doesn’t listen to the popular users on this issue.

Oh, and friendfeed, why is your search so bad?

I can’t pull much value out of the search engine. Why can’t I say “show me all tweets that include the word ‘obama’ and that have two or more likes and three or more comments?” If we had the ability to actually pull value out of friendfeed’s database this whole argument would be moot.

To Loic and Mike: since when did “authority” have anything to do with “popularity?”

Cuil: Why I'm trying to get off of the PR bandwagon…

Sarah Lacy, tech journalist for Business Week, has a post that demonstrates well why I am really trying to get off of the PR bandwagon.

See, on Sunday night a ton of blog posts all went up. Most of which were pretty congratulatory and hopeful that there was a “Google competitor.” Tech journalists desperately want there to be a competitor to Google. Why? Monopolies are boring to cover. The best tool a story teller has is when there’s conflict. I like to tell people this world is just like high school. Think back to high school.

In your high school, did anyone talk about the geeky kid who stayed after school to build a science fair project? In my school, which had lots of geeky kids, no, not usually. But if there was a fight in the quad would everyone talk about the fight for days afterward? Yes.

Journalists thrive off of conflict. That’s why we want a competitor to Google so badly and why we play up every startup that comes along that even attempts to compete with Google.

The problem is that competiting head on with Google is not something that a startup can do.

Let’s say someone really comes out with a breakthrough idea in search (which would be a feat all on its own, since Microsoft and Yahoo are spending tons of engineering time trying to find something breakthrough too). If they got all the hype that Cuil did (NPR and CNN played it up, not just tech bloggers) and people really liked it, they would spread it around like wild fire.

Do you have any clue about the infrastructure that Google has in place to handle the kind of scale that it sees? Try half a million servers. Half a million!!!

Think about that. How much money does that take to build out? Hint: a lot more than $30 million that was invested in Cuil.

So, Cuil set itself up for a bad PR result in the end. Either it wouldn’t meet the expections (which is what happened after people started testing it) or it would fall over and fail whale like Twitter has been for the past few months (because it wasn’t built to handle the scale).

Notice that other search companies don’t build up their PR like that. Mahalo never says it’s going to be a Google Killer, just that it’s going to do some number of searches better. In fact, Mahalo uses Google on its own pages.

Why PR works and why I want off

Note that Lacy said she wasn’t pre-briefed on Cuil (Techcrunch says that the company briefed every tech blogger and kept them from trying the service before release). That’s not true: I wasn’t briefed, either. But now, go back and look at the TechMeme rankings. Were either my post (which was harsh, but fair, but published several hours after the original wave of PR-briefed bloggers and journalists) or Lacy’s on there? No.

See, if you want to earn links and attention in this world you’ve got to be first, or at least among the first articles to go out. I’ve seen this time and time again. I call it the Techmeme game.

But it affects Digg and Reddit and FriendFeed, too. The stories that got discussed the most on those were usually among the first crowd.

I guess what I’m really saying is that I’m going back to what makes me passionate. I don’t get passionate when reading a press release, or listening ot some executive on a conference call (I was dragged onto one of those the other day and I stopped it mid-stream, saying, “can I come and see you face-to-face?”)

I also find that I’m getting back to reading my Google Reader feeds, looking for other people who are truly passionate about technology or business and who are looking for innovative approaches to either.

There’s a TON of interesting blogs there that never will get to Digg or Techmeme. Same thing over on FriendFeed. Lots of interesting stuff being discussed on the Internet that never will get the “Cuil” treatment, but is worth your checking out.

For instance, I’m just over the top about Evernote. How did I miss that for so long? Funny that a PR team brought me that, too. So, sometimes this game DOES work out, but note that I didn’t try to be first to get Evernote, I just kept seeing it getting praise from the bloggers I read.

Anyway, help us all get off the PR bandwagon. What are you passionate about? If you could go anywhere in the world and meet with any geek, executive, or company, who would it be?

What are you finding is bringing real value to your life? Hey, even go outside the tech industry. Is there something we should all be checking out and giving as much attention to as we’re giving to Cuil?

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?

Distribution.

Huh?

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?

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!

Why Microsoft will buy Facebook and keep it closed

Cartoon about something important happening on Web

It no longer is about Data Portability or Social Graph Portability, if you will.

I’m hearing these rumors too that John Furrier (my ex-boss) is reporting. That Microsoft will buy Yahoo’s search and then buy Facebook for $15 to $20 billion. Add that to all the news that Microsoft is buying Yahoo’s search and that gets very interesting.

That just changed the whole argument of Facebook vs. Google to one of Microsoft vs. the Web.

Think about this just a second.

Let’s say Microsoft gets Yahoo’s search. That doesn’t look that brilliant. After all, we know Google is gaining share there and taking Yahoo’s best advertisers (and let’s just forget Microsoft’s efforts, which have been an utter failure so far).

But these two moves would change everything and totally explain why Facebook is working overtime to keep Google from importing anything. First, let’s look at what is at stake here:

Loic Le Meur did a little test with me a couple of weeks ago. He listed his Le Web conference on both Facebook and Upcoming.org. Here’s the Facebook listing. Here’s the Upcoming.org one.

The Facebook one can’t be seen if you don’t have a Facebook account. It’s NOT open to the public Web. Google’s spiders CAN NOT REACH IT.

He put both listings up at exactly the same time and did no invites, nothing. Just let people find these listings on their own.

The Facebook one is NOT available to the Web. It has 467 people who’ve accepted it. The Upcoming.org one IS available to Google and the Web. It has 101 people on it.

This is a fight for the Web. We all just crawled inside a box that locks Google out.

Don’t believe me?

Go to Google and do a search for “Le Web 08.”

Do you see a Facebook entry there? Nope. Google is locked out of the Web that soon will be owned by Microsoft. We will never get an open Web back if these two deals happen.

This has created HUGE value for Microsoft and has handed Steve Ballmer an Internet strategy which brings Microsoft from last place to first in less than a week.

Boom!

Now Microsoft/Yahoo search will have access to HUGE SWATHS of Internet info that Google will NOT have access to.

Data and social graph portability is dead on arrival.

Microsoft just bought itself a search strategy that sure looks like a winner to me.

If all this is true there is no way in hell that Facebook will open up now.

It’s Facebook and Microsoft vs. the open public Web.

Can the open public Web fight back? Yes. It’s called FriendFeed. Notice that FriendFeed replaces almost all of Facebook’s killer features with open ones that are open to Google’s search.

So, now, do you see why I’m so interested in FriendFeed? It’s our only hope to compete with Microsoft’s new “buy enough and keep it closed” search strategy.

Don’t think this matters? It sure does. Relevancy on Yahoo search will go through the roof when it has access to Facebook data and Google doesn’t. People will see that Yahoo has people search (something I’ve asked Google for for years) and Google doesn’t. That’ll turn the tide in advertising, and all that.

Brilliant move, if this all comes true.

I’ve SMS’d Mark Zuckerberg and asked him if he’s selling. I doubt he’ll answer. I hope he holds out for more than $20 billion. He just might get it.

UPDATE: Someone on Twitter (Soulhuntre) says that it doesn’t matter as long as HTTP keeps working. That’s just the point. Facebook BLOCKS HTTP if you aren’t logged into its system and it can remove you at a moment’s notice. @irinaslutsky (former employee of mine) was removed last week from Facebook. This is a scary company and if it gets in the hands of Microsoft will create a scary monopoly.

UPDATE2: thanks to XKCD for the cartoon. I love those cartoons.