April 25th & 26th
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Abstract Submission Deadline: January 19th
What does it mean that digital technologies are increasingly a part of...
Roger Cohen, The Quest to Belong
Next year’s Thanksgiving grace.
Battelle has an interesting theory about Apple’s purchase of Topsy. It’s not, he says, about Twitter at all: it’s about making search the central metaphor of a new iOS UX.
In Apple Won’t Build a (Web) Search Engine and Of Course Apple Is Going to Do Search, I argued that Apple must get into the “app search” game. Just as web search became the coin of the web realm, app search will be next. It won’t look like web search, I argued, but at its core, it’s quite similar.
That was three years ago, right after Apple bought Siri, launched iAds, and was relentlessly touting the growth of its app ecosystem. I was certain Apple was going to figure out a way to create value above the level of a particular app, using all that tasty data it had within its restrictive walled garden to build the next generation iOS interface.
But so far, Apple has failed to innovate inside its own ecosystem (unless you count minimalist icons and bright base colors as innovation). Three years later, we’re still stuck in a user interface of app-filled screens, most of which we never use, each disconnected from the other save for the fact they happen to reside on your phone, possibly right next to each other, but otherwise unaware of the value they might reap should they magically start sharing links and data with each other. (You know, the way the web works.)
This has to change.
Google knows it, which is why I find Google Now so fascinating. Apple knows it too – the days of home screens littered with app icons are numbered. What will replace it?
My guess is some kind of intelligent, search-driven interface that “understands” you, based on the intent you signal through your use of all kinds of apps – including browser apps, of course, as well as true search apps like Siri (or Google Now). This new kind of interface responds to your voice as well as your location, your history, and anything else you might willingly (or unwittingly) feed it. It will strive to always put the very thing you need at your fingertips – something that simply isn’t possible without understanding your interactions as the equivalent of …. well, a personal interest graph.
And to do that, Apple needs a powerful engine, the kind of engine that, say, has been hard at work understanding a massive corpus of interest data for, say, six or so years. Something like Topsy.
I go along with some of John’s complaints. As I have added a few dozen apps that I use regularly to my iPhone, the UX has become an impediment. Yes, iOS 7 is an improvement, but its the same old restaurant with better tablecloths.
I’d like to see a better UX, and search offers some great angles. And it’s a good idea to buy new talent, considering how bad Spotlight was for so long (and it’s still not wonderful). In particular, creating elements in the OS where apps could register and allow a search to index their data stores, so that I could search against the data and not just apps. Including, of course, Twitter data, and all sorts of other things that could be relevant.
So, maybe we should call this app-centric search, not app search.
Danny Sullivan gets to the heart of Facebook’s Graph Search: it depends on how connected you are, and who you are connected to.
When I’ve watched Facebook show me demos of Facebook Graph Search, and do some of the example searches I’ve itemized above, it’s impressive. But it’s also impressive because it’s a person from Facebook who makes heavy use on Facebook to connect to things and who is in turn tapping into the knowledge of many other Facebookers who are similarly hyper-connected. They are not, in a word, normal.
Consider me. Not only have I not liked my electrician, my plumber, my dentist, my doctor or my tax person on Facebook but I don’t even know if they have Facebook pages. I have nothing to offer to my Facebook friends in this regard.
Similarly, despite the huge number of books I read through my Kindle, I never go to like those books on Facebook, so books I love are more or less invisible on Facebook.
Facebook itself understands this challenge, but it’s hoping the promise of what search can provide will help encourage people to build the connections they may lack now.
“There are now new reasons to make these connections. We’re hoping the existence of that will encourage it,” said Tom Stocky, director of product management at Facebook, who has worked closely on the Facebook search product. “But absolutely, early on, that [your degree of connectedness] will make the experience you have with this vary.”
There is a problem here. People are generally *not* motivated to do things now that could prove useful in the future only if everyone else does it too. Generally, people are motivated by immediate needs, like figuring out where to have lunch, today.
I like the weaker argument, that Facebook’s new search will make the Facebook experience slightly better — like allowing you to find all the pictures you’ve liked — instead of it becoming the social era replacement for Google search.
Danny Hillis, The Opinions Of Search Engines (via Edge.org)
Hillis makes the case that adding by semantic knowledge into search Google and others are inherently and inescapably advancing a worldview, like the editor of a magazine.
I saw a new option pop up in Gmail today, and I have opted into a field trial of a new Gmail search. Now Google will show relavant files in Google Drive and Google Calendar along with emails when searching in Gmail. Also, emails and Google Drive files will show up in Google Searches.
Very clever hack by Steven Winton of NixonMcInnes to get around dropped search functionality in Twitter search, using Google Spreadsheets.
Danny Sullivan, Why Apple Is Going “Containment” Not “Thermonuclear” Against Google In iOS 6 (via searchengineland)
- John Battelle, Search, Plus Your World, As Long As It’s Our World
Once again, Google steps in a pile of doodoo with its maladroit efforts in trying to absorb the social web. Unwilling to simply index things and offer them up as search results, Google wants to ‘socialize’ search. What this means is that search is just another battlefield for Google to fight the war for the future against Facebook, Twitter, etc.
On one hand, you have to admit that Google faces a new world, one that is increasingly social, and the search company has to get in there. But this is not the way to do it.
I continue to be amazed that Google doesn’t look at its email and calendar apps as a good place to build social, instead of dicking around with search.
Very clever hack by Steven Winton of NixonMcInnes to get around dropped search functionality in Twitter search, using Google Spreadsheets.
David Einhorn via
In the five years since I first spoke about Microsoft, the most common question I’m asked is what about Ballmer? My initial reaction was to say Ballmer does not care what Wall Street thinks, and maybe that’s a good thing. Wall Street has lots of bad ideas, and people can get rich by ignoring them. It’s more important that he does a good job running the company.
But having now owned Microsoft for half a decade, and having watched the company carefully, I can say that the problem with Ballmer isn’t his attitude toward Wall Street. While the financial results have been good compared to other companies, I believe this reflects an incredibly strong market position that Ballmer inherited rather than his skill as a manager.
Ballmer’s problem is that he is stuck in the past, and is at best a caretaker in an industry demanding constant innovation. He’s allowed competitors to beat Microsoft in huge areas including search, mobile communication software, tablet computing, and social networking. But even worse, his response to these failures has been to pour tremendous resources into efforts to either buy or develop his way out of these holes.
The best example of this behavior was his 2008 attempt to throw several years of Microsoft profits into premium priced purchases deteriorating Yahoo! business. Here Microsoft was only saved by Yahoo!’s then management, which proved by to be even crazier by rebuffing the offer. But the risk that on any given day we could wake up with the announcement of another bad and very expensive acquisition has an ongoing dampening impact on Microsoft’s PE ratio.
For another example, let’s consider this quote from a 2006 interview with Fortune.
Q: “Do you have an iPad?”
A: “No I do not. Nor do my children. I’ve got my kids brainwashed. You don’t use Google and you don’t use an iPod.“
Or this quote from a 2007 interview in USA Today:
“People get passionate when Apple comes out with something new. The iPhone of course, the iPad, the iPod. Is that something you’d like people to feel about Microsoft?”
Ballmer says, “It’s sort of a funny question. Would I trade 96% of the market for 4% of the market?” And he laughs to himself. “I want to have products that appeal to everybody. There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share, no chance. It’s a $500 subsidized item. They make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look, the 1.3B that get sold, I prefer to have software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them. I’d rather have that than the 2-3%, which is what Apple might get.”
Every year Microsoft invests $9B in shareholder money and R&D. Much of it is wasted on product that will never see the daylight, or worse, is spent on products like the Kin, which was pulled from the market after just 48 days.
But a good chunk of that goes to developing future generations of Windows and Office. Perhaps if Ballmer eased up on brainwashing and let his kids play with the most popular devices, he would see the opportunity in making available a version of Office for the iPad and the Android devices.
The search business is another sinkhole. On pace to generate $2.5B or more in operating losses this fiscal year, the sixth year of operating losses. Even for Microsoft, these losses at 25% per share, matter, especially when the losses are growing over time. (I’m going to use Bill Ackman’s 2.5 minutes.)
Microsoft’s dogged determination to be successful in this field by investing as much money as necessary for as long as necessary is a result of having the high margins of Windows and Office to subsidize the losses. At the very least it’s time for Microsoft to consider strategic alternatives for its search business.
One possibility would be to strengthen the existing strategic relationship it has with Facebook, where my cousin Sheryl has worked as the COO since 2008. Since search is a scale business, and scale comes from traffic, currently Microsoft spends heavily to drive users to Bing. Facebook could help Bing achieve scale and reduce Microsoft’s need to pay for traffic.
Likewise, paid search at scale is one of the most proven high margin businesses on the internet. Microsoft could help Facebook with one of the biggest challenges, namely monetizing its traffic without reducing the user’s experience. It’s obvious that Microsoft needs traffic and Facebook needs search. As the cost to create a new search engine of its own is prohibitive, the revenues paid search through Bing would be capitalized in a much higher multiple on Facebook’s income statement than on Microsoft’s.
With the JV, or perhaps even an outright sale, Microsoft can contribute Bing in exchange for a sizeable minority interest in Facebook. This would be a win-win for both companies and their customers.
But for my final thoughts on Microsoft’s future, I’d like to revisit one last Ballmer interview from Business Week in 2005. In it he says
Great companies and the way they work start with great leaders. You have to say, do you have great leaders? All companies of any size have to continue to push to make sure they get the right leaders, the right team, the right people to be fast-acting and fast-moving in the marketplace. We’ve got great leaders, and we continue to add and attract and promote great new leaders. And he later added, we’ve bought on fantastic new talent, people like Ray Ozzie, Gary Flake, and Li Gong.
Well Ray Ozzie, Gary Flake and Li Gong have all left Microsoft, along with Robbie Bach, and J Allard, who were largely responsible for the success of X-Box. Four other division presidents have left Microsoft since 2008 as well as former CFO Chris Liddell. Good grief!
Perhaps the question is not do you have great leaders, but rather do you have a great leader?
Ballmer starting to look like Newt Gingrinch: all of his staff is ditching him. Why does the board let him stay on? Is Gates protecting him?
Mathew Ingram doesn’t go far enough when he says Twitter’s lack of archival access is a ‘big flaw’, while praising new search capabilities.
The biggest difference when you search on the new Twitter is that you get “Top Tweets” that are sorted by relevance, along with a drop-down menu that lets you see all tweets or only tweets that contain links. And how is the relevance of these top tweets determined? According to a discussion that Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land had with a Twitter engineer, the answer is that the service judges relevance “using a combination of signals, your follower graph, who you follow [and] who’s following you” as well as the content itself and what Twitter calls the “resonance” of that content.
It’s not clear what “resonance” consists of either — Twitter hasn’t said much about this particular metric since it first introduced the idea last year. But judging by comments from the company, it is a proprietary measurement similar to Google’s PageRank, except it looks at activity within the tweet-stream, and presumably signals of authority such as retweets and so on (Twitter has said that it has internal ways of ranking users, but apparently has no plans to offer this as an outward-facing service). There’s more about the engineering behind the new search in a separate Twitter blog post.
There’s no question that the new features are an improvement on the previous Twitter search, which the company added when it acquired Summize in 2008. It has showed Top Tweets — i.e. those that have been retweeted a lot — but otherwise had no real ranking, and a fairly limited ability to filter search results. For a service that handles over 140 million tweets a day about important subjects like revolutions in Egypt and the death of Osama bin Laden, Twitter’s search has been largely useless. Instead, most people probably use Google, which added “real time” results (consisting largely of Twitter) in 2009.
While the ability to see relevant and/or “resonant” tweets is great, it is really just a small step forward in terms of what Twitter needs to offer for truly comprehensive search. One issue that came up in former Engadget editor Joshua Topolsky’s interview with Twitter CEO Dick Costolo at the All Things Digital conference, for example — where the new features were announced — was the lack of a search function that can pull up any tweets older than about a week.
It’s one thing to embrace the idea that the Twitter “stream” is just a river of content that flows by and searching into the past is philosophically irrelevant, but for a major consumer-focused information network to not have archival search is a fairly gaping hole, I would argue. It’s true that older tweets can be searched via Topsy, and Twitter has also done a deal with Gnip to offer access (for a fee) to past tweets, but for Twitter not to offer a full-fledged search for users — even of their own tweetstream — is a big flaw.
It’s actually laughable that Twitter has had such bad search, even after buying Summize. Why didn’t they license a real search capability from Google or someone elese if they couldn’t build it themselves? (A similar argument could be made for Tumblr, by the way.)
And not providing archival access is equally bad, or perhaps worse. Considering how vital Twitter has become it is offensive that the company — which has enough money and technical talent to tackle the problem — persists in operating like our tweets have no value once they drop out of immediate sight.
I really wonder about these guys, really.