Good luck with the Google-killing, Jimbo

Update:

Mike Arrington posted what he says is an exclusive screenshot of a Wikia search page, but Jimmy Wales has said that Mike’s post is all wrong and that the screenshot has nothing to do with what he’s working on. In a comment on Rex Dixon’s blog, Mike says that his source is pretty good and he thinks what he saw was an early version of Wiki Search. Meanwhile, Rich Skrenta has said that Jimbo is also interested in reviving the Open Directory Project in some way — another attempt at people-powered search that has fallen on hard times (hat tip to Techdirt for the link).

Original post:

I’ll say this much: Jimmy “Jimbo” Wales, founder of Wikipedia, has no shortage of hubris. Instead of saying he plans to launch a “social” search engine using Wikipedia-style co-operation strategies, he comes right out and tells the Times that he’s gunning for Google. Why not reach for the top, right? So Google has a few thousand PhDs and about $40-billion in cash. Big deal.

Like many people, my first impression of Jimbo’s new idea was that it has a really dumb name: Wikiasari, a Hawaiian-Japanese hybrid that is likely to irritate people from many different cultures. And my second impression was that Jimmy has a bit of a mountain to climb with his “social search” proposal. As Pete Cashmore at Mashable notes, this kind of thing has been tried before, and more or less, well… failed.

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In a comment on Niall Kennedy’s post about Wikiasari, Greg Linden of Findory — which finds relevant blog posts and news articles based on things you have read before — points to a piece that Chris Sherman wrote at SearchEngineWatch awhile back about social search and how it doesn’t really work all that well, especially as the Web continues to grow.

No matter how many people get involved with bookmarking, tagging, voting or otherwise highlighting web content, the scale and scope of the web means that most content will be unheralded by social search efforts. The web is simply growing too quickly for humans to keep up with it.

That doesn’t mean that social search efforts aren’t useful—in most cases, they are. It simply means that people-mediated search will never be as comprehensive as algorithmic search.

Mashable also makes a good point, which is that a social search engine could easily wind up being just as distorted by ulterior motives as a service like Digg is, since there would be even more incentive to get to the front page of search results. Wikipedia is already criticized for the way its internal group of editors control entries from behind the scenes. What if their actions meant the difference between hundreds of dollars and millions of dollars in advertising?

Jimbo also takes a whack at Google’s search results in the Times piece, by saying that if you search for something like “Tampa hotels” all you get “is crap.” But I searched for Tampa hotels and got half a dozen totally relevant listings for hotel directories, local Tampa search sites and so on. How is that not relevant? And how would people-powered search provide anything better for me if I wanted to find a good hotel? Jimmy’s got a bit of work to do.

Sometimes the truth just slips out

(cross-posted from my media blog)

In a recent blog post, Anil Dash of SixApart wrote about the fallout from a comment that Seagate CEO Bill Watkins made to Fortune magazine, in which he said that his company’s products help people “buy more crap and watch porn.” The comment — which was made during an informal dinner with bloggers and reporters in San Francisco — apparently got Watkins into some hot water within the company, and so he sent out a memo to employees saying:

Unfortunately, and unwisely, I also used pornography as an example to illustrate a point. Fortune Magazine chose to focus narrowly on this example in their headline.

They are in the news business and eager to get their reader’s attention and I should have known better. Even though I believe Fortune’s headline writers took my comments out of context, I want you to know that I am sorry if this has in any way offended anyone.

As the original Fortune piece noted, Watkins is well known for being a colourful personality who likes to speak his mind. Some of those writing about the incident, incuding commenters on the followup post on Fortune’s The Browser blog, are afraid that the magazine’s choice to feature the quote prominently (including in the headline) might dissuade Mr. Watkins and other CEOs from being candid.

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That may be — but it’s unlikely. What’s more likely is that the Seagate CEO feels completely comfortable with what he said, but issued the memo as a face-saving measure. After all, his comment wasn’t as bad as the one Ratner Jewellery CEO made in 1991, when he said (among other things) that a decanter set his company sold was cheap because it was “total crap.” The company’s share price fell by almost a billion dollars and he was soon the ex-CEO.

As Anil notes in his post, the Seagate incident was the result of a series of otherwise reasonable decisions: Watkins jokes around with bloggers at dinner, Fortune spots a salacious and funny quote, and an editor highlights it (editor Jim Ledbetter discusses his decision in the comments on the followup item). The Seagate CEO then says he is sorry, and life goes on.

Update:

John Furrier of Podtech has posted a comment to say that he was at the dinner with Watkins, and that he described in a post here that he thought Fortune blew the Seagate CEO’s remarks out of proportion.

Warning: Deep link at your own risk

When it comes to the Web, it goes without saying that being able to link to things is kind of important — in fact, it’s a little like saying the ability to make the wheels turn is kind of important when it comes to driving. No linking equals no Web. So it’s not surprising that so much attention has been focused on a ruling out of Texas that seems to declare linking illegal, unless the person who owns the content that is being linked to agrees.

The case in question involves a site called Supercrosslive, which was sued for linking to audio streams from another motocross site called SFX Motor Sports. The latter claimed that by “deep linking” directly to the podcasts, Supercrosslive was depriving it of the revenue from ads that visitors would have seen (and presumably thought about clicking on) if they had made their way through the website to the podcasts themselves.

As the CNET story makes clear, there have been a number of rulings that look at the issue of linking to illegal material, including a piece of software for decrypting DVDs, but there haven’t been many cases which suggest that linking to legal material could be forbidden by a third party. In fact, there have been several U.S. rulings that found linking — even “deep linking” — is totally legal, including this one.

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On the surface, it’s easy to see the point that SFX is trying to make. It litters its website with ads, hoping that the people who want the audio clips will pass by them and generate some income, and then Supercrosslive links directly to the podcasts and allows people to bypass all the ads. For you legal beagles, there’s more discussion of the issues at this blog, written by one of Google’s senior counsel.

The important point, however, as Techdirt notes, is that there are any number of ways for the site to prevent someone from linking directly to or streaming the audio — they could require a password, they could only allow downloading, they could filter out direct links from Supercrosslive’s IP address, and so on. If you don’t want people to link to things, then there are any number of ways to achieve that goal.

Unfortunately, the Texas case (unless it is overturned) could set a dangerous precedent.

NBC should make Andy Samberg CEO

Like a lot of TV networks, NBC was cruising along happily ignoring the Internet as much as possible, until the “Lazy Sunday” video clip from Saturday Night Live hit YouTube almost exactly a year ago and caused what I like to refer to as a “holy crap” moment in the executive suites of the broadcaster. More than five million people watched the clip in the space of about two weeks. So what did NBC do? Told the site to take it down. In other words, the stupid pills kicked in.

To someone’s credit, however, NBC rethought this move and started taking Internet distribution seriously, setting up a unit called NBBC (the National Broadband Broadcasting Co.) to seed the Web with NBC content. And that leads us directly to the latest viral video hit from SNL, the musical satire called “My Dick in a Box”, featuring Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg.

As the New York Times describes, NBC chose to put an uncensored version of the video on their site, and it is all over YouTube as well. I think it’s hilarious, and plenty of other people seem to think so too. The other skits with Justin Timberlake, including one where he plays a giant Cup o’ Soup street-corner vendor, are also worth watching, as is the segment with Jimmy Fallon called “The Barry Gibb Show.” All are available on the NBC site and elsewhere.

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Like many people my age (don’t ask), I remember Saturday Night Live from way back — John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, etc. — and slightly less way back (Dana Carvey, Mike Myers), and I have periodically enjoyed newer versions of the show including such “stars” as Adam Sandler, Chris Farley and Ben Stiller. But like Ashkan Karbasfrooshan at WatchMojo, I have probably paid more attention to the show in the past year or so than I have in a decade, and that is almost single-handedly the result of Andy Samberg (and Chris Parnell, who got booted from the show in a recent purge).

Samberg, as the NYT story describes, came to SNL from a comedy troupe called Lonely Island, and brought with him several writers and producer types. Whether they have helped to boost NBC’s smarts when it comes to the Internet as well as making hilarious videos (the Natalie Portman one is also a keeper) is difficult to say, but I would argue that he has helped that network more than just about any senior executive you could name. He deserves a raise.

Google: Anti-trust case waiting to happen?

Depending on whom you talk to about Google’s share of the Web-search market, you are likely to get estimates of anywhere from 30 per cent to the upper 40-per-cent range. Rich Skrenta of Topix, however, says that the true number is closer to about 70 per cent, and that anyone who is currently running a Web business and is familiar with the search business already knows that.

In regular releases from the major traffic-measurement firms such as comScore and Nielsen NetRatings — including this one — Google is given a market share of 44 per cent and 49 per cent respectively. But Skrenta says that “Everybody involved in the search industry and everyone who actually runs a website knows these numbers are completely wrong.”

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He describes how he “picked a basket of medium-to-large websites and looked at the inbound search traffic percentages using Hitwise,” and that Google came out with an average of 70-per-cent market share. Don Dodge notes that this could be a result of looking at search referrals versus raw searches, but I think that’s a bit of a red herring. The fact is that Google owns about 70 per cent of search that drives people to websites. And that is money.

Google has already been sued by someone who claimed that their business was being adversely affected by the company’s policies, and that this was illegal because Google had what amounts to monopoly power. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Microsoft was accused of pretty much the same thing in a federal anti-trust case that was launched in 1998 and dragged on for years.

Is Google a potential anti-trust target? Nick Carr has said he thinks so, and Mike Masnick at Techdirt has also said it’s in the realm of possibility. I don’t think that kind of claim has a hope of succeeding (and didn’t think that it made much sense in the Microsoft case either), but stats like Rich Skrenta is throwing around are likely to raise some red flags with the policy wonks in Washington.