Archive for the ‘search’ category

Interact08: Marissa Mayer, Live!

29, September, 2008

Google’s Out-in-Front Woman, speaking at Interact08. High points via liveblog:

1. 20 percent time. At one point, 50 percent of Google’s newer products came from the “20 percent time”–the 20 percent of time all Google staffers are allotted to work on personal stuff with no relationship to their current “real” work. Drives constant innovation.

2. Beyond the wiki: Internal 2.0 at Google HQ: Every Monday, people file their “snippets”–5 bullets of what they’re working on. All are submitted, published, searchable–transparent organization to share knowledge easily.

3. Behind the curtain. Shows a diagram that illustrates how a query moves from end user, through the massive Google backend, and back to the user. How? Via 400-1,000 machines! All in .2 seconds! Um, cool, in a hyperspeed 1999 way.

4. Castle-building vs. iterating. Instead of building the One Great Thing for years [as Apple famously does], Google launches products  “early and often,” driven by response to users.

5. How do you iterate? Use data to drive decisions. “Data is apolitical.”

6. So: Split A/B testing [n.b. a case of spontaneous generation; Amazon came up with the same technique at the same time]. Different users see different products or results, and the outcomes of these interactions drive future iterations. Great example about how subtle differences in vertical spacing had effects on search behavior. Also, via same technique: users liked blue, not yellow, boxes for search ads. Also, Google launched with 10 results per page. When they put more results on page to see if that’s the right number, searches dropped 20 percent. Why? Slower delivery of results, as tiny as those differences are, discourage people. And: Adwords succeeded because of immediate posting of ads.

7. Future of Search? One Saturday, Mayer kept track of all her searches that didn’t produce results. She showed a whole presentation screen to show all the failures. Among them: What is the largest city in Russia after Moscow and St. Petersburg? “J.C. Penney” near an obscure town in South Dakota, many dozen others.

So how will search improve over the coming years?

New Modes

Ubiquitous mobile–in car, wearable devices, eyeglass displays, watch that keeps track as you speak and produces results. You can embed search into everyday life.

New inputs–why can’t you talk to a search engine, or type in natural language? Why can’t you use an image or tune as your search query?

New Media

Google search results currently return 10 urls. Maybe it can produce 10 “answers”? Or: Now we return some video for proper queries ["how to do the charleston dance" query produces a video that shows you how]. “How to tie a bow tie” is better–the search currently returns diagrams and demos. Media needs to respond more to the nature of the query.

Personalization

The coming engines will understand more about the user–based on geography, past searches, personal preferences, who your friends are, other contextual information, etc.

Takeaway impressions: Google’s process of persistent iteration explains why they remain market leaders. The use of “20 percent” time drives the company forward. Mayer is brilliant.

Damn. I hate it when Google looks indestructible.

Free Social Web Presentation: A $495 value!

24, September, 2008

I’m about to go do a presentation on social media. The topic this time: How to use various search-and-discover tools to monitor what’s being said in the socialwebosphere about you, your company, your partners or competitors, your spouse, your enemies, etc.

The audience is a group of people who do PR, marketing and communications for non-profit groups in the healthcare field. The people in attendance paid $495 to hear my presentation–though, to be fair, a lunch, dinner and a bunch of other, far more interesting speakers are part of the deal too.

But I thought I’d share the useful stuff right here in my blog, where everything is free. And–this is a guarantee–worth every penny.

The presentation lists a bunch of tools you can use to monitor what’s being said out in the social web. I know there are many others, but the ones I’m listing are both user-friendly for late adopters and likely, at least as a group, to produce a good scan of what’s being said in blogs, on Twitter, on discussion forums and hyperlocal news sites.

If any readers of this blog know good tools to supplement or replace the ones I’ve listed here, please leave a comment below. I’ll update the list and republish the full list in a later post.

Anyway, it’s about 12:30 p.m. and I’m on at 1 p.m. Better run.

Here’s the handout I’ll give out.

Learning to Listen In

The following tools help you monitor the many conversations happening all around the Internet. Some comments may involve your business, institution or key people. You may not want or need to respond. But knowing what people are saying is vital.

Listening is also an easy way to familiarize yourself with the baffling world of social media. Later on you may want to use these same techniques in marketing, branding, communication and customer service efforts. Talk like a marketer, though, and they’ll hate you.


Hints:

Most of these tools let you save your searches. Some send results to your e-mail, your iGoogle page or any RSS reader [Yahoo360, Netvibes, Bloglines, etc.]


Be sure to “listen” not only for your institution or firm’s full name, but for its nickname, short name, common misspellings, etc. Don’t forget about the names of key people.

The following tools are listed in approximate order of value. Start with Google Alerts, and see which others turn up content you’d otherwise miss.

  • Google Alerts The most basic way to monitor what’s being published on important topics and events. If nothing else, set Google Alerts for keywords and have results delivered to your e-mail box. http://www.google.com/alerts
  • Filtrbox Can dig deeper and help analyze content that turns up. Monthly fee for high-level use. For some, it may be worth it. http://www.filtrbox.com/
  • BlogPulse A Nielsen service, it monitors blog content http://www.blogpulse.com/
  • Omgili or Twing Both of these monitor the “deep web”—message boards where most search engines don’t prowl http://www.omgili.com or http://www.twing.com
  • Twitter Search To listen in on what’s being said on this annoying, oddly compelling platform http://search.twitter.com/. For alerts: http://tweetbeep.com/
  • Topix Aggregates local news better than most. A good way to see what your local press is reporting without having to visit their sites http://www.topix.com/

Coinage: Rohit Bhargava and “Egocommunication”

11, August, 2008

Web 2.0racle Rohit Bhargava, author of the Influential Marketing blog and SVP at Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence, has visited upon us a brilliant coinage: egocommunication.

Here’s how he describes it:

Egommunication is a form of communication where you can share a message or piece of content with someone based on their own consistent habit of checking mentions of themselves and their content online … in other words, relying on their ego as a channel for your message to get through. It is a tacit form of communication. In effect, you take advantage of the fact that just about everyone in social media is self-googling on a frequent basis.

So I can communicate with anyone who is socially aware enough to Google their name often [or, more likely, have a Google Alert set in their own name] simply by mentioning them.

This is the phenomenon I wrote about not long ago in an entry describing how Dave Garr, founder of a site called Usertesting.com, discovered a negative comment I’d made about his site on Twitter. I had no name to describe the phenomenon I was then writing about [or doing]. I did a shout-out to Garr in the post and, sure enough, he saw it and sent a greeting back in a comment.

Fascinating stuff.

So: Hi again, Dave! Hi again, Rohit!

Rohit was moderator of a panel I was on at the recent Digital Media Conference, hosted by Ned Sherman of Potomac TechWire.  [Hi Ned! Look forward to working together again!]

And Rohit will also speak at a coming conference–a huge one called InterAct08, at which an array of digital high-flyers [Google's Marissa Mayer, 2.0 bodhisattva Ted Leonsis, among others] will appear in D.C. The CEO of InterAct08 is Stephen Mealy, whose InterAct08 blog describes the event in greater detail.

[Hi Stephen! Thanks for the note. I'll be in touch soon.]


Bookmark and Share

Parlor Game: Web Search & the Election

3, July, 2008

One of the fun parlor games of Election ’08 is to look at Internet data and figure out what they mean.

The answer may be “nothing,” of course.

But let’s play along and look at the latest Hitwise data on popular search terms.

HitWise, a company that tracks Internet traffic, tabulated the search words that sent people to John McCain or Barack Obama’s websites. [Here's a press release about the findings on the candidates' top Internet search terms. For more detail, visit the Hitwise blog.]

Let’s look at the arguably vital issue of healthcare.

“Health care” didn’t make Obama’s top 5 search terms in the first quarter of 2008. In the second quarter, health care took the number 4 slot. Q1′s top term was “gay marriage,” Q2′s “abortion.

Meantime, “health care” took the tops spots for John McCain in both Q1 and Q2.

So: Does this mean people already think they know Obama’s healthcare plan and don’t need to search about it on the Internet? Or don’t they have much interest in the issue?

As for McCain, do the searches mean his plan is little-known and people want information on it? Or do those interested in McCain care more about healthcare than Obama’s voters?

You never know.

Q2 Obama top 5 terms, in order: Abortion, Education, Environment/Global Warming, Health Care, Immigration.

Q2 McCain top 5 search terms: Health Care, Environment/Global Warming, Oil Prices, Immigration, Education

Make of this what you will. But it’s worth noting that the economy does not make the top five for either candidate.

One final observation. The search term “Rumors” accounted for 5 percent of searches in Q1. In Q2, that number doubled. “Religion” dropped from 12 percent to 7 percent between Q1 and Q2.

Retreat to the parlor and discuss, please.

Viewzi’s Visual Search: I’ll Know It When I See It

22, June, 2008

Let me be unambiguous: It’s Google’s world, we just live in it. There is no “search war,” no “game-changers” in the world of search. When the End of Days finally arrives, some bony finger will type “eschatology” in the search box, hit “I’m Feeling Lucky,” and the world will end. Google’s victory will be complete.

Happily, none of this is preventing people from doing some wily, aspirational things with search. The most compelling (if maddeningly flawed) example I’ve seen is called Viewzi, which has just opened itself to the public after a buzzy closed beta.

Short version: It’s a visual search tool that offers 15 [!] different ways to view search results. It’s a dazzler, a hum-dinger, a Halloween bagful of eye candy. If you’re a flash developer, a dataviz geek or a distractable noodler, you’ll find it irresistible. Viewzi makes Google’s results look like Braille.

Put a query in the search box, and a ribbon of blurry choices spreads across the screen: Basic Photo View, VideoX3 View, 4 Sources View, and more. [Note: Since this is an application built in flash, I can't provide specific URLs to any of these features. If you click on the images below they'll take you to a new search box. You'll need to conduct a search yourself to see the features I'm discussing.]

Viewzi Mix

Below is the 4 Sources view, which presents screen shots of results harvested from Google, Yahoo, Live and Ask. I can’t understate the goofy pleasure I get rearranging and digging among these results. Bonus: You can see immediately which results the engines share, value differently, bury, etc. SEOers will dig it.

Viewzi 4 Sources View

But the most powerful–and potentially disruptive–feature is something called 3-D Photo Cloud view. It has a creepy, responsive intelligence that I find affecting in ways I can’t explain. It somehow creates the unsettling impression of knowledge accumulating in real time, of neural pathways proliferating as you watch, of an infobeing gathering power as it grows. [I have not been drinking anything stronger than coffee while writing this, I swear. This thing is freaky.]

Yakov Sverdlov, Viewzi 3-D


The Viewzi project has the feel of an open-source playground, a platform where search geeks and datavizualists can create new ways of organizing information visually. This may turn out to be the real value of Viewzi–a kind of Challenge X for visual search that inspires some serious bug-eyed innovation. [Or not: There's already evidence of creativity being stretched thin over commercial ambitions: There are Celebrity Photo, Weather, Recipe, Shopping and TechCrunch (?) views. Can a FaceBookNewsFeedView (sm) be far away?]

Meantime, I tried Viewzi for some “real” searches I’d recently done on health, a recent political poll, an old friend from college, some tax stuff, a vintage car. Here’s what I realized: Most searchers are harshly pragmatic, unforgiving of excessive keystrokes and distractions. Google is perfect for the drive-by infosnag.

Viewzi offers some simple search views for mundane topics, the most servicable of which is the Web Screenshot View, which allows you to scroll through images of results pages. It’s slower and more annoying than Google, but it allows you to preview a source before you click into it.

So That\'s a Matador?

Google rules the everyday search. But if you have the need or leisure to dig into a topic and explore it from a bunch of different sides, Viewzi has plenty to offer. Block out two hours on Outlook and close your door. You’ll be awhile.

But if anything funny crawls out of that 3-D  Photo Cloud and attaches itself to your forehead like a tick, don’t blame me. I warned you.

iMedix: Social Search that Creeps Me Out

12, May, 2008

Oh, geez. Deb21 wants to chat again.

Here I am, trying to look up some information about tinnitus–a k a ringing in the ears, a condition which has recently afflicted a member of my family–and Deb21 [I've changed her handle to protect the innocent ] wants to chat. A little photo box pops up on my screen, with the icky solicitation “I’m online! Chat with me now!” There’s even an audible little ping whenever she implores me to spend some time with her.

iMedix social search

Welcome to iMedix, a “social search” site in the personal health space.

In concept, social search is powerful: Combine the algorithmically valid but brain-dead health search results of a typical search engine with the “wisdom of the crowds”–the aggregated opinions of real humans who can validate the information they found worthwhile when dealing with the same issue. Add to that the ability to connect with those people, and (goes the theory) you’ve got something good.

Like any 2.0 community, iMedix faces the challenge of creating critical mass: A community with nobody home is in a death spiral from Day One. But building critical mass from scratch is no small task in mid-2008: Early adopters are oversubscribed to social networks and the mainstream hasn’t figured out what all the fuss is about. Every business based on network power needs people. A lot of them. Fast.

Which brings us back to Deb21. iMedix seems to be trying a bit too hard to get people to join the party, dispatching its youthful crowd to flag folks into the front door.

First it was Ann, a comely 29-year-old community manager interested in fitness and lifestyle. I acquiesced to her friend request but haven’t heard from her since.

I accepted friendship with a fellow calling himself neurosurgeon_55, figuring it’s never a bad idea to know a brain surgeon. But then I discovered he’s a 17-year-old guy in India, whose personal statement reads, in part:

Then we will ve a lots of chat (humourous)but valuable beniffitng both of us in the long run so what r u thinking of? Hmmmmmmmm..lets go ahead and chat.Yo man!!

An unsettling number of people who have set up profiles in iMedix are attractive and young and look, at least to these middle-aged eyes, like the happy-go-lucky group with cool haircuts and great teeth you see in ads for premium liquors.

Here is the problem: People with health problems have, well. . .health problems. They want to see that people like them, people who have something valuable to share, are in a community.

You will certainly find these people at iMedix: There’s a 53-year-old woman whose college age daughter has bipolar and is an abusive relationship. Good lord, the woman needs help. Call me too fast to judgment, but I don’t think neurosurgeon_55 is the guy to offer her support and guidance.

To be fair: iMedix is in beta. It appears they’ve seeded the site with the folks they have around–their young staff and (it appears) their social network contacts.

Building a 2.0 health community is hard. Not many people have gotten it right, and the very concept is fraught with danger. But social networks are based on the company they keep. And no matter who that company is, in the health space I’m not sure they should jump onto your screen saying “I’m online! Chat with me now!”

As for the search part of the social search: The information on tinnitus was really pretty good, better than what Brother Google served up on page one. Link number one was a direct hit.

Along the way I found the profile of someone named Niroo. She is 24 and says she has hearing loss and is interested in tinnitus. She lives in Iran. I sent her an e-mail. Haven’t heard from her yet. [#]

Punchline, added 5/19/2008

Seven days after writing the entry above, I received the following message in my iMedix mailbox.

Dearest One,
My name is Miss Ashandy,i am a single girl never marrie i saw your profile today at (www.imedix.com)Ashandy100@yahoo.com) and became intrested in you,i will also like to know you the more,and i want you to send an email to my email address so i can give you my picture
for (i believe we can move from here.
I am waiting for your mail to my email address above.Miss Ashandy (Remeber the distance or colour does not matter but love matters alot in life
Yours Lover
Miss Ashandy Rolland

Which Way to Voxford?

21, April, 2008

My good friend John Kelly, a tenured lumberjack journalist [my new term for those who chop down trees to publish words], has a hilarious piece in The Guardian. It’s about how people find his blog.

Kelly, a former colleague of mine at The Washington Post, has been whiling away the months as a visiting scholar at Oxford, studying citizen journalism or some such rot. His blog, Voxford, is full of sharp observations from the psychic border shared by the US and the UK. To read it during lunch is to risk spattering your screen with bits of tuna fish from laughing out loud.

Anyhow, his Guardian story is about the strange search queries that bring people to his blog. Since he’s so close to Fleet Street, his blog is full of references to the sort of goofy smut you find in the British tabs. Some of the searches that have brought people to Oxford include:

Penis grab off

How to grab a woman’s breast without getting caught

Why does my groin, face, beard and head itch?

Picture of tourist diarrheaing

I’m afraid my own U.S. based blog can’t compete with that. I do well with “scariest video on the web” and “hillary widget,” but that’s the best I have.

Of course, now that I’ve used the same words in my blog–I refer to penis, breast, groin, and diarrheaing, among others–I may get some of that traffic too.

Which I think answers the question raised by the only other marginally exotic search that led people to my blog: “web blogging is it really as good as eve…”?

Twing: Searching the Deep Web

17, April, 2008

The term “Deep Web” is shorthand for “stuff Google doesn’t bother spidering,” thus keeping it essentially invisible to the majority of web users, who use Brother Google as their sole guide to the web. A new search service named Twing shines a light into one vast, overlooked and easily derided shaft of the Deep Web: discussion forums.

Yes, we’re talking about those retro-web gathering spots, many designed during the early years of the Clinton Administration–back when blogs, social bookmarking and YouFaceMyTubeSpaceBook rumpus rooms were barely gleams in a delusional VC’s eye. Forums have the visual elegance of parking tickets. You often feel like you need a red-tipped cane to navigate them. Some even have little spinning logos.

And so I was startled to discover how many of these forums are going strong.

On Twing’s list of active forums I came across the following, all active as of this week and (per Twing’s calculations) growing:

Of course there are huge numbers of forums devoted to cars, guns, pets and games. And celebrities.

But let me remind you how ugly, dysfunctional and user-indifferent this forum software is. Here’s what the Long Hair Care forum looks like:

A good question is: Under what conditions might you want to use Twing as a search engine?

The answer, per Scott Germaise, Twing’s Director of Product Management [I'm paraphrasing from his e-mail response to my questions]: Whenever you’re looking not for information about the thing, but for conversations about the thing. I did a bunch of searches and can report that for many topics [one I tried: Bolshevism], Google returns basic high-value content pages. Twing delivers odd little snatches of conversation–people are still discussing Bolshevism!–that occur in active forums.

Google often surfaced active forums among search results. Twing delivered those only, and more of them.

Messing around with Twing reminded me of the early days of Yahoo, when I could spend hours muttering to myself, “who are these freaking people?” as the world’s remarkable obscurities slid across the screen. It also illustrated how. . .burnished and predictable and gamed the web has become. A lot of the loopiest, most strangely human content has sunk from view.

I have no idea whether there is a business here, or whether I will use Twing for any real-life searches that GooHoo can’t handle.

But Twing has shown me this: That whole creating communities-of-shared-interests thing? That whole power-of-collective wisdom thing? That whole long tail thing? You know, that whole web 2.0 thing?

It’s been under our noses all along. We just forgot where to look

SEO good. User experience bad.

10, April, 2008

I have been accused of giving my former employer, The Washington Post, a big juicy kiss a couple days back. I looked at how well the Pulitzer Prize winners integrated digital journalism into their prize-winning work. The Post came out on top. Hey, I tried to be objective.

Anyhow, today’s topic gives me the opportunity not just to cast a weary eyebrow at washingtonpost.com, but to throw sand in its face and kick it in the nuts. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

The topic is how mainstream news sites–the Post is just one egregious example among many–sacrifice user experience as a matter of daily practice in order to trick Google into ranking its contents higher on its search results.

Delivering poor user experience in the name of building traffic is, we all know, built into the very DNA of web publishing. But one particular practice of mainstream web journalism is so deeply annoying, so persistent, so widespread, so pernicious and so baffling to outsiders that it’s worth pointing out.

I refer to the Inexplicable and Distracting Hyperlink.

Let’s look at the news story that’s currently in the lead position on the washingtonpost.com home page.

Bush to Cut Army Tours to 12 Months

President Supports Suspending Pullout Of Forces in Iraq

Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 10, 2008; Page A01

President Bush plans to announce today that he will cut Army combat tours in Iraq from 15 months to 12 months, returning rotations to where they were before last year’s troop buildup in an effort to alleviate the tremendous stress on the military, administration officials said.

Note how the Post has kindly offered that hyperlink to “President Bush.” Who exactly is being served by this hyperlink? Let’s see. . .that would have to be someone reading Washington Post coverage of national affairs yet is wondering who this Bush feller is, anyway.

Same with Iraq. The audience for that hyperlink is probably that guy who’s been taking ice core samples in Antarctica since 1990 and is wondering what all the fuss is about.

But the Post doesn’t stop there. It offers handy hyperlinks to the following terms that demand explanation for the discriminating consumer of public affairs news: Capitol Hill. Afghanistan. Marines. White House. And my favorite of the day, U.S. military.

To be fair, the article also offers links of some potential value when it blue-fonts the names of prominent figures in the story.

But the stuff you might really want more background about? No links. If you want to know about the details of that Democrat proposal on a torture ban, troop relief-and-refresh and withdrawl timetable, for instance, sorry. You’ll need to visit with Brother Google.

You don’t have to be a search-engine optimization wizard to know what’s going on here. Google and other search engines read the language of hyperlinks as markers for story content. So if somebody is searching the term President Bush (and therefore likely to be looking for biographical information, not what he said yesterday about troop withdrawl) this story will bounce up higher on Google results.

But frankly, that’s SEO chump change.

The really big payoff is revealed if you click on one of those hyperlinks. Go ahead, click on the President Bush link above. You’ll be taken to what’s known in the trade as a “link farm” (or “index page”)–links to dozens of stories (and video, audio and blog entries) more or less related, in at least some tangential way, to President Bush. Torch relay to go on despite protests, IOC says (CNN). Bloomberg’s Zacharia Discusses NATO summit in Bucharest. And so on.

So why do these auto-generated pages exist? We return to the demands of Brother Google. If Google’s silent patient spiders see pages loaded with links about Bush–or Capitol Hill, or the Marines, etc.–they infer that the site is very content-rich about the topic. Up go the pages in search results. Even if the links are nonsensical, worthless or utterly baffling. (Say It Ain’t So, Colin (Balkinization)). Next time some Googler searches for President Bush, wham! Washingtonpost.com is right on top.

Except when it’s not.

Go ahead, Google President Bush. Of the mainstream media sites, the well-tended New York Times link farm (led by Campaign 2004 content!) rides highest. As does (twice!) the New York Sun. And the Bush index page of the Tribune Co.’s The Swamp political blog. I got tired of clicking through results to find a washingtonpost.com story. But I passed the bushisantichrist and bushorchimp sites along the way.

SEO is a darker and far more complex art than this, and let me state plainly that I am a rube. There are complex traffic-steering and -aggregating services (post.com uses Inform and Aggregate Knowledge, at least) that play into this. There are many things going on behind the scenes that I am clueless about. And the thing Google spiders reward the most is links to the content from other credible sites, which is at least an attempt to validate content value.

But my point is this: A reader of online news is constantly distracted by all this blue-spatter spiderbait. It degrades the user experience. It offers no user value. It adds an unsavory layer of trickery to serious-minded content. Like the worst of all journalism, it places the institution’s commercial interests above those of the reader.

The question for serious journalistic enterprises: How can you maximize traffic to great content while keeping the reader’s needs at the forefront?

And isn’t that the same question we’ve been asking as long as this profession has existed?

Ask.com: Great TV Commercials. Bad Video Search

23, August, 2007

If you haven’t had the pleasure of viewing Ask.com’s television commercials, visit this Ask.com corporate video site and take a look. The twerp-Broadway-style Chicks with Swords and the domestic faux-tear-jerker Daddy are my favorites. Their self-deprecating attitude, plus their over-the-top humor, make them very effective brain-Velcro.

Do they “work,” which is to say, draw people from the death grip of Google to the reinvented, now-owned-by-Scary-Barry-Diller Ask.com search site? Beats me.

The more interesting point is that the company is using an old-style mass medium (broadcast TV) to draw people to its Web service, which in turn directs people to a whole variety of media, including, increasingly, video.

Which makes it curious that the Ask.com service’s much-publicized 3-D search makes it so hard to find videos. 

For instance, if you have a hard time playing those commercials from the site listed above–which presents them only in QuickTime format–let’s try the ol’ Ask.com search engine to see if we can find Flash versions.

Type “Ask.com commercials” in the elegantly simple search box, look for the “video” icon. . . and it’s not there. The options facing you on that elegantly simple interface are “Web,” “Images,” “City,” “News” and “Blogs.” To find “Video” you have to click on the little “More” arrow above the search box and then click on “Video” on the little drop-down. 

This is the strange thing: Put the same search in Google and on the first page of results you’ll find a link to a YouTube version of one of the ads. Click on it and the video appears right within the search results page.

Ask.com staff: Jakob Nielsen on line 1!


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.