Scobleizer Weblog

Daily link Sunday, October 02, 2005

Rick Segal: Geeks and the Technology Feedback Filter.

"there is a tendency for geeks to compare products via the technology filter which sometimes can get in the way of finding simple solutions to problems."

Yeah, he's right. I should have reviewed Writeboard with a clean slate.

11:35:09 PM    Mudpit 

Brian Benzinger of Solution Watch did a good review of 37signals Writeboard. I wrote about it earlier this evening after playing with it for a few minutes. I predicted that lots of other blogs would write about Writeboard, and I was right. Or is that write? Heheh. Memeorandum is already bulging with lots of reviews of Writeboard.

What continues to impress me about this company is their customer service, and turnaround. I've seen a few features added just tonight.

Adam Bosworth, of Google, recently did a presentation at's conference where he talked about this new kind of development model, which he named "Intelligent Reaction."

These guys have it down. Kudos.

11:18:55 PM    Mudpit 

I just finished reading John Battelle's The Search. First, a disclosure. He sent me the book and even signed it. So, I'm a bit biased to say something nice about it.

I did enjoy it. Even ignored West Wing, which was on TV. It's a great book if you want to know what happened in the search industry (and particularly to Google). I say "happened" because it does a really great job of taking us through where the industry was earlier this year. It left me wanting, though. I wish John would have told us a bit about where he thinks search is going.

But, that's actually an artifact of the book industry. It usually takes several months for a book to be edited and printed once it's finished. The book I'm writing with Shel Israel, for instance, was done a month ago but won't be on store shelves until January.

John's last chapter is "the Perfect Search." I don't believe there is such a thing. Why? Well, that would mean that search engines know about stuff that was just typed into blogs right now. And, the spiders simply don't work that fast.

So, let's write our own search chapter addon for John's book. Here's Chapter 13 - Search in Context.


Search sucks. Huh? What do you mean by that?

Well, we know that most people who search will only enter one word into Google, MSN, or Yahoo.

So, let's say you are going to New York in two weeks and need a hotel. Most people will just search on "hotel."

Now, I can hear the geeks saying "that's not true." But, recently I got to spend some time in Google's reception area. There they have projectors that let you watch a large number of searches as they are being done. And, most searches on the hour I spent in the lobby were, indeed, one or two words.

So, follow along as we think about search. Let's just stick with Google since that's the search leader.

Now, go to "hotel" and you'll see what I call an intermediary at the top ( You'll also see Hilton, Marriott, Best Western, among others.

But that's not what you wanted. Remember, you were going to New York. So, you realize your search isn't specific enough. So, you enter "new york hotel."

Now we're getting somewhere. Lots of hotels. But, the first one is a hotel in Las Vegas. That's what we call "noise." Google can't decide between hotels IN New York or hotels NAMED New York.

Ahh, now you are understanding the problem. Today's search engines don't understand the CONTEXT of your search.

But, it gets worse than that. Look at the new york hotel search page again. You'll see hotels like Hilton, the Intercontinental, the Hyatt, and others. Great, huh? Google rocks! But, wait, what if you want to see only hotels that have free wifi?

Well, now you search on new york hotel with free wifi. Yeah, there are a bunch of hotels there, but a lot of noise too.

Oh, damn, wait a second, I also want a hotel with a good view. So I search on new york hotel with free wifi and good view. Oh, now I'm getting a lot of noise. Oh, and don't even try finding a hotel with free wifi, good view, and great food.

Now, there are two problems happening here. First, the search isn't figuring out the context very well. When I look for a hotel I am looking for things like whether or not the hotel is rated by AAA, whether or not it has free wifi, whether or not it has a nice view, whether or not it is near things I need to visit, whether or not it has big bathtubs (the Marriott, in some of its suites, for instance, has big jet tubs that are awesome).

In that context I want to see only hotels. No intermediaries. No reviews (well, except maybe to figure out whether the hotel has a good view or good food). Then, once I find a few hotels I'd like to compare them for price and availability. God forbid if you want to do that using a search engine. You almost always have to copy and paste search results and start keeping a spreadsheet.

At the pricing point, I want two things. 1) I want to see not just the hotel's own site, but I want to see all the intermediaries since they often will offer better pricing. 2) I want to see reviews for both the hotels themselves and the intermediaries. Is a better place to buy a hotel night? Or Expedia? Quick, do a Google search and figure that one out.

So, what COULD search engines do? Well, first, give me some choices at the top of the page. Why couldn't search engines ask you these questions:

1) "are you looking for hotels in New York or named New York?"
2) Are you looking for hotels with free Wifi?
3) Are you looking for hotels with great views?
4) Are you looking for hotels nearby major tourist destinations?
5) Are you looking for hotels with above average ammenities like super large bathtubs, well stocked minibars, etc.?

We could go on.

Click "yes" next to each answer. Then the search engine could bring back results that are clustered. Maybe New York Hilton will be the top result. Well, underneath that could be several other choices like "make reservation"; "find the best price"; "read reviews"; "see map of attractions within walking distance"; "call hotel with Skype"; etc.

Now, will this make search more useful, or more confusing? Well, that's the $64 billion question, isn't it?

So, how do we get there? Well, today search engines can track which links you are clicking on, where those links come from, the content on the page, along with about 100 other variables. Engines are changing from something that needed to be tweaked by programmers to neural networks that are actually learning from your interactions with the engines themselves.

For instance, when you searched on just "hotel" and you didn't click any links because the results were all lame, you told the engine something. Now, let's say 100,000 people all do the same thing? Well, the engine really knows that it isn't doing its job. But, can the engine watch what you do next? Can it see you added a word onto your search query? Why couldn't it sense that you found that result set more useful?

Oh, you asked your friend where she stayed last week in New York? And she IM'd you the URL? Well, search engines can't see that. At least not today. But, if you're at a wifi spot that's controlled by search engines the engine could see that URL and add it to the index. It could even watch as you poke around the page.

What else are the geniuses behind search engines trying to learn about our behavior so that they could build better engines?

That's what I was hoping to learn in Batelle's book. I guess I'll need to wait for "Search 3.0." Or something like that.

What do you see as the biggest challenges in search? It certainly isn't over. I have dozens of queries where I think all the engines suck. Can't wait to see how the geeks figure out how to give us better searches, that's for sure!

Oh, and is there any good way you've come up with to compare search engines? It's getting harder to tell the three apart (although MSN was the only engine that didn't put a Las Vegas hotel in the first five results for new york hotel.

Compare for yourself: new york hotel on Google; new york hotel on Yahoo; new york hotel on MSN.

10:55:37 PM    Mudpit 

I missed Neowin's birthday. Five years old yesterday. Congrats!

Neowin is a community of folks who are very passionate about Microsoft's products. It's one of my favorite communities to watch.

5:35:45 PM    Mudpit 

Dave Chase says we need more ombudsmen at Microsoft. Oh, I agree. But, there are two ways to go about this. One way is just find any Microsoft employee and say "find me someone on XYZ team who can help me." See, internally there's an alias named "I Dunno." I can email that alias and say "I dunno who to contact about this weird problem a customer is having with a team I never have heard about" and usually I'll have an answer from someone within a few hours, if not a few minutes.

But, there's another way to find a team at Microsoft. Put the product name into your favorite search engine and add the word "blog." For instance Dave was asking how he could find someone on the Exchange team. So, search MSN (or Google or Yahoo) for "Exchange Blog." I just did that. And found the Exchange Team blog (You had me at EHLO...).

That trick works for a lot of other teams too.

Oh, and it might take a while for me to answer your email. I'm snowed under and way behind.

Another good place is Channel 9's Coffeehouse. Lots of people hang out there who can connect you up.

5:32:07 PM    Mudpit 

Michael Greth, you're a cool guy too. Thanks for the picture of me working the booth. Michael's a German MVP who has a Sharepoint blog. That's what's fun about working the MVP Summit, you get to meet cool geeks from around the world.

Yes, I wear a lot of buttons on my laniard at work. The top one says "Suck my Feed." That always gets an interesting conversation going. Particularly if the reader doesn't understand what RSS is or now a news aggregator works. The other one is an Apress button that says "no, I won't fix your computer." Finally, there's a Gnomedex button that says, simply, RSS.

Somewhere a psychologist is writing up a profile based on those three buttons. Scary.

5:20:56 PM    Mudpit asks "Is Memeorandum a good thing?"

The point is that we're all linking to the wrong stuff. OK, Uncle! What should we link to? Where oh where is the Long Tail hiding out?

Oh, by the way, 37 Signals' Writeboard is already out, and, yes, I think we'll all talk about it over the next 24 hours since it just opened up. I created one. Looks interesting, but I wish I could link off of my Whiteboard. That wasn't obvious -- David Heinemeier Hansson added how to create a link to the formatting guide (thanks!!). It looks like dumbed down an easier Wiki, to tell you the truth.

5:09:05 PM    Mudpit 

It's always an honor when Chris Anderson links since he's the long tail expert and runs Wired Magazine's editorial.

By the way, if you aren't a coder, you won't understand Chris' headline: "!=" is read "is not."

1:35:13 PM    Mudpit 

I appreciate a blogger who makes me open up to learn the meaning of a word. I had no idea what mendicant meant. Thanks Microsoft blog!

1:30:55 PM    Mudpit 

Rick Segal: Scoble makes Dilbert.

Very funny!

Hmmm, maybe I should make better videos instead of telling Bill and Steve how to run Microsoft. Naaahhhh. ;-)

1:27:07 PM    Mudpit 

What's the 2005 way to announce to the world that you're pregnant? How about how Josh and Elise Janicek did it? Oh, Steve Jobs is gonna love this one!

Update: and here's a modern Wedding Proposal (done via search engine).

1:06:08 PM    Mudpit 

Mark VandeWettering says he thinks it was all a stunt.

Um, Mark, I really do have a company I want to acquire. I have a decently-well-thought-out rationale (and discussed it with one of our CTOs). And, I don't know of any company trying to acquire the company I'm thinking of, although I do expect to see other bids for this company. Web 2.0 is hot. Or did you miss eBay buying Skype? Yahoo buying Flickr? And all the investments in this space lately?

But, I did do it to try to get the planets to align. If that's a stunt, I plead guilty. Of course Bill and Steve aren't going to just hand me a check tomorrow and say "go to town." That's not how the world works. There are tons of people internally to convince (and externally too -- even if Bill and Steve handed me a check tomorrow doesn't mean the other company will want to sell and/or join Microsoft).

12:54:38 PM    Mudpit 

One neat thing about posting in public is it gets people to talk. Look at Jason Fried's "who does Scoble want Microsoft to buy?" post. In the comments bubble up a ton of companies that are doing interesting work.

Also in there is a sentiment I see other places: "please don't sell to Microsoft."

That's something we've gotta fix. After all, money isn't the only thing an entrepreneur should consider, right? Here's some things I'd consider:

1) Is the company committed to keeping my customers happy?

2) Will the new company be a fun place to work? Do I like and respect the people who I'll be working for (keep in mind, some of them might actually become your employees too -- at Fawcette when we acquired Steve Broback's company, Steve became my boss). When you're doing due diligence, you have to look at the culture of each company and see if they'd mesh well. One question I'd ask if I were being acquired? "Do you use any of our products yourselves?" If they don't, that'd be a warning sign, if they do, I'd follow up with some questions to see how well they really know our products.

3) Will the new company bring some of its own advantages to play (for instance, maybe the new company has a lot more experience running data centers around the world than yours does).

I'm sure there's a ton of other questions to consider. Any good advice out there for entrepreneurs who are considering selling their companies?

Oh, and on the 37 Signals' forum someone said that 37 Signals' products could be cloned easily. That might be true, but totally misses what makes them special. It's a combination of speed, quality, and community that makes 37 Signals special. If I were buying them I'd make sure I didn't mess with that formula at all.

Disclaimer: the company I'm thinking of isn't 37 Signals. Although they are certainly on my list of "companies I love."

12:27:57 PM    Mudpit 

Jenni Richter wrote me and says that she also likes Memeorandum, but she wonders why I haven't written about some of the other Web 2.0 services, such as Rollyo, Blogniscient, or Tail Rank.

Hmm, well, Tail Rank is an invite-only thing so far, so hasn't gotten on my radar screen. I didn't know about Rollyo, looks very interesting (it's a search engine that you can use to search your own custom-made set of sites).

I had tried Blogniscient, but I liked Memeorandum better. She prompted me to try it again, and, I agree that it brings back a nice list of tech news, for instance, but I still like Memeorandum's clustering better (I like seeing multiple sources on one story).

The one service I keep going back to other than Memeorandum is Digg. For me, Digg and Memeorandum show me the popular stuff. I still need to read lots of feeds to find the long tail stuff (and it's getting harder in my life to read my feeds on a regular basis).

11:42:09 AM    Mudpit 

I haven't linked to Gaping Void for a while. I still love those little cartoons drawn on the back of business cards by Hugh Macleod. They aren't all winners. He uses adult language, so be warned if you don't appreciate that kind of thing.

Here's a post of his, where he makes a good point about a company that's handing out movie tickets in expectation of a blog entry, and has a clean card to boot so everyone can feel comfortable visiting. If you're a company and you want to get bloggers to hype up something, never expect hype in return for a freebie. I've gotten free stuff and every company that's sent me free stuff has said "you decide what to write, or even to write at all."

Oh, and bloggers, you MUST disclose when you are getting free stuff that you're writing about. That way we can figure out whether you're being bought off or not.

I'll always disclose when I get a freebie or when I have a conflict of interest (hint, even a $7 movie ticket is a conflict). It's why I make sure everyone understands I'm a Microsoft employee.

1:34:47 AM    Mudpit 

Steve Rubel says to watch for "Writeboard" from 37Signals and Yahoo Blog Search, both of which are expected to be launched this week.

1:20:35 AM    Mudpit 

Geoff Jones is wondering if Morfik is the company I want to buy. No, that's not what I was thinking of, but, it is interesting indeed. Morfik, as Geoff notes, lets developers create Web applications that run on the desktop after being unplugged from the Web. Morfik will be one of the things launched this week at the Web 2.0 conference

1:13:38 AM    Mudpit 

Heh, I give Angus Logan and some other MVPs a ride to a pool hall in Kirkland and that causes him to call me a celebrity.

No, I'm not a celebrity. That award goes to Anando Chatterjee who got Steve Ballmer to post for a picture and then showed up in Ballmer's keynote.

Oh, and I'm not the real Scoble celebrity. That'd be Maryam.

1:09:09 AM    Mudpit 

Kam Vedbrat explains his view on OS customization and theming. Very candid. His team did the UI for Windows Vista. I bet this one gets Slashdotted.

12:34:55 AM    Mudpit 

Daniel Larson notes that the big news about Office 12's PDF support isn't necessarily the news itself: it's how the news was broken. They released the news to MVPs who then broke it, got picked up by PC World. Microsoft employees later blogged it (which is where I first saw the news).

I love that news is being broken through the grass roots. Memeorandum has the news already, by the way.

Warner Crocker, MVP on the Tablet PC team, for instance, has links to more blogs about this, including Chris Pratley's blog (he's PM on the Word and OneNote teams) who says OneNote 12 will support PDF creation.

12:24:00 AM    Mudpit 

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© Copyright 2005
Robert Scoble
My cell phone: 425-205-1921
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Last updated:
11/27/2005; 1:45:38 PM.

Robert Scoble works at Microsoft (title: technical evangelist). Everything here, though, is his personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. No warranties or other guarantees will be offered as to the quality of the opinions or anything else offered here.

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