How search should change

I do object to Google’s position in the world of web search. Acknowledging and respecting their brilliance is one thing, accepting poor search results hijacked by advertising is another.

Google came to world of the techies and excelled in very quick clutter free quality searches. Adding advertising supposedly created a virtuous circle. I dispute this. The overall quality fo they search led them to dominate the search space. This is turn now obliges anyone selling on the web to use Google Adwords – still over 95% of Google’s revenues. This is where the circle ends. There is no benefit to the search of having advertising on the search page especially if the higher ranked results are there predominantly because they paid the most to be there.

Google’s search results are increasingly irrelevant except to find only the most obvious sites. Increasingly a user needs to tweak the search terms or sift through to page 2 or 3 or beyond. I sometimes find myself going straight to page 10 in the vain hope of finding something relevant away from the clutter.

My suggestion is simple in its philosophy and no doubt tricky in terms of execution. Use people to recommend search results. In other words, if a user finds a particular site that corresponds to the search results entered then this is useful information and of much higher quality than some algorithm based on keywords in websites and links between websites (Google’s current methodology).

What I would like to see is people power bringing the ownership of the search back to the people – high quality search based on peoples judgment of the quality of the results.

This idea is not entirely new although   the emphasis is different. Digg and other such sites do store peoples recommendations and you can use Digg to search. This however is an after-thought  – the main emphasis being on online bookmarking or in the case of Stumble Upon discovery of new sites based on your overall subject preferences.

Let’s get back to quality search and no advertising.

OK – the move to Mac wasn’t perfect but still pretty seamless – here are some tips!

Firstly iPhoto – don’t use it except for de-duping the photos. I had 19k of photos of which only 4k were unique – the others werre spread across various files on my PC and were copies. I used Duplicate Annihilitor, an iPhoto plugin to do the job. Watch out though – when you move your photos from your PC to your Mac  (assuming your computers are on a network this is drag and drop – I use my wi-fi network  – plugin and play easy) make sure that, before you show import into iPhoto that you have gone into Advanced Options under iPhoto preferences and unticked the box that asks whether you want iPhoto to import into its file system – say no. Then anihilate away. Why shouldn’t you use iPhoto for the long-term? To print photos you need to use exclusively Apples photo print service. I use Photobox and don’t want to be locked in to Apple’s service. The only feature that I will miss is the face recognition in iphoto that is really good indeed. You can search by person without filing the photos. Picassa is brining out this feature shortly (I hope).

Safari is rubbish – limited cool plugins, lots of sites that aren’t configured for Safari and don’t work well and limited in functionality compaed to IE and Firefox. I use Firefox because it does have a huge collection of 3rd party plugins (my favourite is StumbleUpon – browse the web serendipitously according to your preferences!).

The move to Mac was easy – a few tips

 A dear friend of mine just repaid an old debt by buying me a Macbook. I unwrapped the sleek packaging, took out the Macbook and switched it on. Within 2 minutes (slow on the first boot as I had to run through the basic configuration wizard) I was connected via my Wifi and could see all my PCs on the home network. I set-up my email (1 minute) and retrieved my emails. I then connected my iPhone and synchronised my contacts and calender. Installing Office for Mac took about 20 minutes. I was then up and running.

There are no gotchas if you have an iPhone – if not then it is indeed quite tricky I believe to import all those contacts and calender items from your PC. 

What surprised me most was the ease with which I was able to connect to the home network and pull files as I needed them from my PCs. I had anticipated many hours of laborius transfer by memory stick!

My other great surprise was that I can share calender events with Outlook users although not via a Blackberry. 

I am using all the standard Mac applications for the moment – there is an advantage in that Apple have put together a nice suite of applications that do in some instances integrate quite nicely. This is something that one loses going for best breed i.e. separate vendors for each application. For instance, in iMovie I can use photos from iPhoto in my movies and vice versa. 

iPhoto is a pleasure to use and the face recognition takes a lot of the pain out of finding photos of a particular person. One issue I have though is that I can’t use Photobox – Apple has tied iPhoto into their own service – my feeling is that this is short-sighted.

Has anyone had experience of moving to mac – I would love to hear what your experiences have been!

Bringing the open source model to data

The battleground today is for users’ data. Google uses this to great effect and has now made a grab for users’ browsing data with Google Chrome.

The various rumours about social networking sites sharing data have proved unfounded. The data is core to their business model and not for sharing!

How about a product that is open source and captures  data on the community for the community. A product that is entirely open and transparent about what data is captured and how it is used? What if this product allowed users to determine how they shared their data? What if this product charged commercial vendors for use of this data with the money going back to the community? Watch this space!

The Innovators Dilemma – again!

Reading through a piece about Microsoft’s SaaS initiatives I couldn’t help thinking of the great book from the mid 90s written by Christensen called The Innovators Dilemma, When New Technologies Cause Great Firms To Fail.

The only way for Microsoft to counter the threat of a new technology like software a a service (“SaaS”) is to create a separate division with transparent licensing over the Office suite and a lot of autonomy to go make it work! I would prefer a model where Microsoft supports partners to provide MS under a SaaS model with MS providing these partners with integration for users across products and services and a certification program rather like Salesforce with its App Exchange. A business with Google Email would ask its MS partner to easily integrate this with the Corporate Wiki, MS Calender and Push Email product. This would hurt Google more than MS by ruining Google’s “suite of good enough products” strategy but more on this later. Best of breed will beat best of suite.

Unstructued data – how to benefit or what has “plunge and squish” got to do with it all anyway?

Back in 1992 David Gelernter wrote a wonderful book entitled “Mirrors Worlds”. Gelernter’s work influenced the Sun team and the creation of JavaSpaces (technology that I based my first start-up on).

In this book Gelernter talks about “plunge and squish”. Imagine you have a huge vat of data that from a distance appears homogeneous but upon close inspection is a massively heterogeneous, some structured, some unstructured. You wish to know what data in this vat has a strong relationship to something or other, a particular thought, question or subject that you have in mind for instance. How do you find this related data? Gelernter imagined a system that allowed you to plunge your “something” into the vat of data and see the related data attracted or squished towards your “something” allowing you then to extract that related data to find the answer to your question. This is all very theoretical but still important in that to find a solution to a problem it helps to imagine what your solution looks or feels like. Gelernter didn’t stop there but went on to create Scopeware which was the equivalent of Google Desktop however launched well before Google’s product. Scopeware then disappeared from view (purchased by some group and the technology integrated into their product set) being faced with the competition from Google’s and Microsoft’s products in this area.

Scopeware was a first step in the road-map to solving the problem of data mining in that data was pre-searched during computer downtime and the user then used keyword searches to search across all document types desired. This is a first generation solution with the pre-search facility clearly helping in speeding up the searches. A second generation solution to this problem has not yet, as far as I am aware, been launched but I believe it is now worth investigating. BTW if anyone feels that second gen solutions are here already then do let me know.

One area that I am interested in and have been brainstorming with a friend of mine is in the area of knowledge management. How sensible is it to spend time researching a topic when someone maybe only two-steps down the office has done this research and has done so from within a similar context to your own? It is only sensible if the person is not able to be found by you simply and rapidly. If an enterprise system could quickly and efficiently find the person within the enterprise with the some or all of the knowledge that you are seeking to find this would potentially be of significant value. The identification of the person is the key to finding the information. Sometimes simple answers to simple questions are the most tricky to solve.

I’m not crying for the labels

An article yesterday in The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,2184032,00.html by John Harris suggests that we will somehow suffer from the demise of the labels stating that “Witness the Jam in 1978, commanded by a young Paul Weller, on their third album and floundering. The man from Polydor paid them a visit in the studio and curtly told them their new songs were “shit”. They regrouped, wrote some better ones, and released the superlative album All Mod Cons, which kickstarted their spell as Britain’s pre-eminent guitar group, and with it Weller’s three-decade career.”

In the new digital arena, live music becomes a more valuable revenue source as does radio (internet or not). Bands make less moeny from recording songs and more from other activitties that I would argue get them off their arses and back where they should be – playing live. Let’s get back to the man from Polydor. In the new business model, the man from Polydor would still be interested in finding new bands and helping them as those bands would still be making money. Just because the value chain changes and there is no room for labels doesn’t mean that bands don’t make money. Maybe they make less than they did! Maybe there is less dosh to spread around the groupies! Maybe they have to play more live concerts! No tears!

Old world journalists still hold their opinions in high esteem

How highly do you hold your opinion? Well, most of the old-world journalists that are now proud of themselves for adopting the technologies of the Web to promulgate their opinions obviously do. So much so that 87% of journalists with their material published on-line do not allow comments to be made. In other words they don’t like a good discussion. Is this Moses and his tablets – God certainly didn’t want much discussion about the Commandments.

Get with it please and let us all have a say and perhaps your views will develop even further than you thought possible.

It’s done! Google plug-in is off my browser! For how long?

Yes, at last, after 8 years I have left the world of Google. The plug-in is going from my browser and I have installed snap in its place. It has good features, is slick, returns quality results, allows you to junk results and gives you a preview of pages before visiting them. What’s more it is founded byt he guy that invented pay-per-click. Loving IT.

Let’s see how long Google does stay off my desktop and how long before snap gets polluted as Google searches have with advertising.

Do VCs fund software?

It is now possible and desirable to build small pieces of valuable software and distribute them widely over the Web. How the software works with other related software is crucailly important determinant of success. Traditional marketing, channel management and enterprise software development processes are irrelevant in the early-stage.

How do VCs fund this type of business. The answer is that they don’t. VCs stick to either the more traditional enterprise software businesses (for which there has been a great exit market in recent years) or only invest after the software has gained traction with users.

Advice to entrepreneurs – pare down your software such that it provides a minimum value to users then launch it to early-adopters. Work hard to interact with early-adopters, learn from their feedback and carry on developing incrementally until the user base is singing its praises. Once at this stage think about how to fund the business. Up until that point you need to fund it yourself – importantly though, doing so is no longer an expensive task unless you are trying to do too much.