Thursday, August 30, 2007

All search begins and ends with people AND algorithms

OK. This is genuinely beginning to drive me nuts. This whole "people vs. algorithms" thing. This whole "social vs. search" thing. News flash, blogosphere -- it has always taken both people and algorithms. It has always taken both social and search. Google is much more like Facebook than it is different.

What does Google do? They:
a) analyze links on the web. Who put those links there? People. What are those links equivalent to? Recommendations.
b) analyze user behavior (clicks) within Google, which is a lot of clicks. Who does the clicking? People. What are those clicks equivalent to? Recommendations.

Here is the singular brilliance of Google: Unlike all the great data-driven marketing companies that had come before them, they figured out how to bootstrap this giant people-driven recommendation system using someone else's data. Free data. Public data. It was all just Out There on the Web, and they went and examined it, and said, "Hey! All these people are implicitly making recommendations with their hyperlinking habits! We could USE that!"

Previously, you had to have inside information to assess what people thought, what they wanted, what they recommended. You had to work hard and spend money to collect that information. On a small scale, like Zagat. On a big scale, like Nielsen. On a giant scale, like FICO. Do you think Proctor and Gamble wasn't driven by the preferences and recommendations of people in 1950? Of course they were. But they weren't sharing. Google grabbed the brass ring of the web, leveraged it up into their own highly trafficked search engine (and its highly proprietary set of consumer data) and now, they sit at the center of a set of human recommendations -- clicks, blog posts, hyperlinks, ad buys, domain name purchases, etc. -- the breadth and richness of which boggles the mind, and turns Facebook green with envy, their considerable bravado notwithstanding.

Two years ago, I wrote a post about the different ways that users express their preferences. Then Nivi said it better than I did. Nothing has changed here -- and search and social are still much more similar than different, and Google remains the greatest and most profitable people-driven recommendations company on the planet.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Mahalo, Techmeme, Facebook, Google, Scoble

Which of these is not like the other?

Trick question, actually. All of these are very much like each other -- they are social relevance mechanisms. They just use different data to assess social relevance. As I discussed in a post about social search relevance in 2005 (which inspired Nivi to write his awesome Trillion Dollar Matrix post) all relevance calculations rely upon people, because we're the only thing that matters when it comes to assessing relevance. And in whatever form we assess relevance, contrary to Robert's assertion, we're susceptible to "SEO".

Here are the relevance mechanisms:

Mahalo - perceived prestige and accuracy of sites -- gathered by many social mechanisms
Techmeme - blog link graph and textual correlation
Facebook - 'social graph' of friends' interests, links, activity
Google - web graph of hyperlinks, and increasingly textual correlation -- links made by people!
Scoble - "ear to the ground" in Silicon valley -- via phone, email, twitter, the center of a social graph all his own

And here are the SEO mechanisms:

Mahalo - Persuade an editor that your site is important - PR or payola
Techmeme - Persuade three bloggers that your site is important - again, PR
Facebook - Persuade a cluster of friends to use your site and drive newsfeed items - marketing
Google - Persuade (or fake) a bunch of hyperlinks from important sites to yours - SEO
Scoble - Persuade him that what you're doing matters - PR

So I must respectfully disagree with Robert's assertion that these mechanisms are SEO resistant -- they are just as susceptible to persuasion as Google is, and possibly even moreso, since the scale of effort required to game Google is fairly monumental.

Now, to Robert's second claim:

"Oh, and the only way you’ll watch these videos is if someone tells you to watch them. No Google."

Here are screenshots I took a few minutes ago for some Google searches:

Mahalo, Techmeme, Facebook, Google, Scoble: Nails it.


Mahalo, Techmeme, Facebook, Google: Nails it.


Mahalo, Techmeme, Facebook: Nails it.


Mahalo, Techmeme: Nails it.


Note that these Google searches are from 12:10pm on Sunday -- 20 minutes after Scoble wrote that post. Ye Gods. Anyone looking for information about social search mechanisms is going to find that post, and those videos, just fine using Google. Google is scarily good right now -- they are indexing phenomenally fast, and extremely well, across most of the high-value portions of the web. We see crawl logs at Zvents that demonstrate that their crawling capacity, accuracy, and cycle time blow away everyone else in the industry. I will be as delighted as the next guy to see Google's dominance reduced -- it's part of our mission at Zvents, in fact -- but I can't see that they are fundamentally disadvantaged vs. these other social relevance mechanisms. Quite the opposite, in fact -- are Mahalo's editors reading this in bloglines yet? Are they working on Sunday? The Googlebot is.

Scoble is more fun to party with
than the Googlebot, though. :-)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Yelp launches local events. 230 of them, anyway

Earlier today, Josh Lowensohn at Webware posted an article on Yelp's new events feature. Josh compares the nascent service to Yahoo's, and correctly notes that Yelp's integration is better. He then writes,
For instance, say you want to catch the Beastie Boys show at the Greek Theater tomorrow night in Berkeley. Upcoming can tell you about the venue, but first it'll have to spit you out to Yahoo Local. Yelp on the other hand has their review ratings integrated, so you can quickly tell if the venue is hot or not (sometimes literally) without making you feel like you're being jettisoned to a different Web service.
I'm not surprised that Yelp is adding local events. We believe that events are the pivot point of local search and local commerce, and anyone with serious local aspirations needs to do them well. And while I applaud Yelp's social model for restaurant reviews, their new event service is pretty raw. How many events do they list in San Francisco? 230.

Zvents has 43,000 events in San Francisco. Granted, that's one of our better metros -- in Boston we have a mere 47,000 events, in Detroit we have a bare 13,000 events, and in Chicago, a snip at 7,900 events. Sigh. Gotta work on Chicago.

It's also worth noting that 'search' is a fairly important part of local search. If you click on that link to Zvents' open search for San Francisco between now and noon Saturday, you'll see that the Beastie Boys show in Berkeley that Josh mentions comes up first. Why? Because one of the several flavors of secret sauce that our dynamite search team has baked in the Zvents relevance algorithms is popularity, including both click and search query factors. So if you didn't know that the Beastie Boys were playing this weekend in Berkeley (I know, it happens to even the most-informed of us) Zvents will help you discover it -- and many other events besides. And if events aren't your cup of tea? How about a quarter-million restaurants, or over a million movie showtimes?

Social sites like Yelp -- and like Eventful, Attendio, and Going -- have an important role to play in finding, communicating and coordinating local things to do with your friends. Social networks and good old fashioned email are critical, too. But at the heart of local discovery lies local search, and I'm proud to say that Zvents is doing local event search better than anyone else -- both for our own site at, and for over 70 local newspaper partners, ranging from the biggest local city site in America to local community papers.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Hedge funds hate taxes, but love big government

A couple months ago, those titans of hypercapitalism, those steely-eyed creators of economic value, were spending all their time arguing that paying income tax like everyone else Just Wasn't Fair.

Now that their Ponzi scheme built on pretending that sub-prime mortgages were safe investments is collapsing, what does Wall Street do?

Sit around and wait for the Fed to intervene. Wow, that's great risk-taking and value-creating behavior, guys.

This kind of hypocrisy makes me sick. Creative capitalism -- the Silicon Valley way -- is as different from this nonsense as night and day.

Update: A NYT article today entitled, "Investors Say That Fed Must Do More to for Markets" contains this great quote from that captain of capitalism, Richard Berner, chief United States economist at Morgan Stanley: “If the money markets are still in disarray a few days from now, I would think the Fed is going to have to take additional steps.”

"Markets in disarray"? I thought markets were perfect?! I thought that markets were efficient?! Can it be true that markets need regulation and intervention? Nah. Couldn't possibly be true.

Funny how when the big bonuses are replaced by the big abyss, all the Wall Street capitalists get religion. Maybe they should pay their taxes, so there's a government to protect them when they need and beg for it.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Ethan's two iPhone annoyances, and two from everyone

In the spirit of collective product feedback, and inspired by Rich's post, I'll throw out two things that drive me nuts about the iPhone, and two things that drive *everyone* nuts about the iPhone:

1) When you're on a call, you can't look up a number out of the 'recent' list. You can look up contacts; you can use the keypad; but there's no way to get to 'recent'. There are a couple key use cases for this -- I'll give two examples.

a) Often when an emergency occurs, a new unfamiliar number enters your life. My dad went in to the hospital, and a series of calls went around the family with his room extension. When I called my brother, I couldn't jump over to 'recent' to give him the number. I had to hang up and call him back.


b) When you're planning around a new destination, you are again using an unfamiliar number. Restaurant, hotel, whatever it might be; if you are coordinating with another person, you often need to tell them a number that you just called, which is only in your 'recent' tab.

And no, you cannot even go out to the main screen and delve in to it -- the magic 'phone' function that gets you there defaults to your ongoing call, not the the standard phone menu which includes 'recent'. Dumb.

2) Path dependency on contact UI. Normally, when you go to a contact, you can edit it:

However, if you go to a contact via 'recent', you can't edit it:

Here's the case for this one: Someone calls me via a new phone number, and tells me that this is his new cell. From 'recent,' I select "add to existing contact" and add his new number in. I now want to delete his old cell number -- but I've got no edit button!! I have to go the whole way out to the main screen and dig down again to remove his old cell. Dumb.

Universal iPhone gripes

3) You are being mocked because we all want some key punctuation characters on the main keyboard. Please. Maybe even numbers, too. Typing addresses into Google Maps is just a PITA. Some people have been driven to outright rudeness.

4) Everyone would like cut and paste. Please. Just add it.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Facebook: The 'viral marketplace'

Perry Evans has a fantastic post on Facebook:

Adsense is a brilliant machine, designed to optimize and extract the “transactional lead value” out of every consumer search.

FB app distribution should become a brilliant machine, designed to optimize and extract the “viral network value” out of every social connection they facilitate.

Transactional revenue model - meet your match - it’s the viral network marketplace model. If FB evolves to create the “must be in” marketplace for viral distribution of consumer applications, it will become a really, really important company.

I think that Perry has this exactly right. I'd just add two words to his key point:

"If Facebook evolves to create the “must be in” marketplace for viral distribution of consumer applications and content, it will become a really, really important company."

Why are these two words really important? Check this out:

* "Google is the “must be in” marketplace for search distribution of consumer applications and content."
* "Windows is the “must be in” marketplace for PC-based distribution of consumer applications and content."
* "IBM was the “must be in” marketplace for mainframe distribution of enterprise applications and content."

Yeah, there's gold in them thar hills.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

I just said "thank you" to a computer

I just got off the phone with the customer support number at UPS, which I had called in order to modify delivery arrangements for a package.

I talked to no one but a computer, a pleasant and articulate young woman who neglected to tell me her name. After about 90 seconds of her asking the right questions, telling me what I needed to know, and listening politely when I gave her more information, I said, "thank you" and hung up. The only bobble in the entire call was the ending sequence -- when she asked if there was anything else she could help me with, she didn't pause and listen for me to say "yes" or "no,thank you", but immediately launched in to a list of options.


I keep saying "she" because it was much more a "she" experience than an "it" experience. That's a first for me talking to a VRU, and I wanted to properly timestamp it. These computer thingies... they're going to be big.