Tag Archive for 'search'

One word explains the Google superbowl ad: Bing

Google, a company that used to pride itself on the fact it never had to advertise, put an ad in the mother-of-all advertising slots: during the Superbowl, the most expensive time you can advertise in television. And this was posted on the official Google blog by the CEO Eric Schmidt, a man that doesn’t all that often post to the company blog.

Why did it break tradition, with this cute emotional-brand-building ad? Because Google now has for the first time a real competitor, in the rising Bing – Microsoft’s rebranded search engine boosted by the $100 million Powerset acquisition. Bing’s search technology may still lag far behind, but it’s certainly ringing a bell on the marketing side and growing quite healthily as a result. And as well all know, the reason we search is less because we think it’s better technology, but more so because of the importance we place on the brand that we feel comfort in.

Google’s ad was cute. But capitalism is all about self-interest, and for the few million Google had to spend on this seemingly non-informative ad, what management are thinking is quite clear to me. That being, Google’s trying to revamp the emotional attachment we have with the world’s most loved brand. But more tellingly, from the very top, Google’s scared as hell and is now protecting what they know matters the most in the search engine wars: the emotional connection to a brand.

Why Twitter will make advertising an endagered species

twitter-logo-small Twitter has transformed the way we communicate in the world. That’s a big deal, because as human beings, the ability to communicate is how we broke free from the rest of the animal kingdom. Our entire society is based on this fact, and so it should come as no surprise that so are some of our biggest industries. Advertising, the billion-dollar industry that funds the web and media, is literally about communicating to the public.

More fundamentally, that’s how the market economy operates. There are three elements to a market: conversations, relationships, and transactions. In the industrial age, we forgot about this and came to associate markets as purely transactional: we see a price attached to a mass produced item, and that is meant to convey everything we need to know. But as Doc Searls shares the story with his African friend, the conversation at the market is how selling used to be done, underpinned by a relationship.

My firm PricewaterhouseCoopers is one of the biggest firms in the world. In Australia, we are almost twice the size of our nearest competitor and manage to charge more than our competitors as well without consequence. I’ve often wondered how this could be, but it was only until I broke down the fundamental components of the market that I realised. Price matters – but only when you don’t know anything else. When someone gets to know someone at the firm, they have conversations – and build a relationship. Those relationships are what makes PwC the behemoth it is. It’s not that price is irrelevant, but now with additional information to inform an economic buyer, it’s no longer the sole determinant.

Demand and Supply, sitting in a tree
Twitter co-founder Isaac “Biz” Stone recently defended the company’s stance on advertising as a revenue model. He rightly says the banner ad model is dead – no kidding. But his brilliance comes through when he says that they are exploring ways in “facilitating connections between businesses and individuals in meaningful and relevant ways”. Those words so simply explain more than just Twitter’s opportunity, but the entire future of advertising.

My half-cousin Alex Lambousis has created his own fashion label. Primarily a Jeans business, he controls the entire design process as he owns an industrial laundry, and so can compete on the global scale with high-end jean product. Like any startup, he’s trying to crack new markets.

Think about Alex’s issue. He’s a wholesaler, who relies on retail outlets to sell his product – not exactly the best of customers. He’s reliant on celebrities wearing his clothes, and negotiating special rack space in high end fashion outlets, to get exposure of his world-class product. But it’s a hard market to crack – he’s had success, but is not where he wants to be. What’s a man to do?

Have a look at this search query I just did on Twitter’s community. Twitter allows you – in real time – to search for what people are talking about right now. My first attempt, without trying to be creative with the search string, yielded the following results:
new jeans - Twitter Search

A new customer just appeared on the market half a minute ago. A few of the others can be identified as market opportunities. Imagine if Alex simply responded to them, giving them a discount on his range or just pointing them to a blog post where he can show case his in-depth knowledge. Before the Internet, for a wholesaler like Alex to make money, he relied on advertising in fashion magazines. Now he can interact directly with his customers, and even if he can’t make a sale – he can at least invest in a relationship for future sales.

He’s having a conversation and building relationships. Price is no longer the only source of information for the customer. Those curves on the demand and supply curve have now been personified. That’s better than some poster stuck on a billboard – that’s a return to how our world used to work before factory’s pumped our standard-issue Model T’s.

I might not have solved Twitter’s revenue challenge in this post, but I sure as hell am excited about the future opportunities afforded by tools like Twitter for the economy.

Semanticising Twitter for a revenue model

Twitter It was interesting to read the 11 business models for Twitter. Here’s one that I rarely see ever get mentioned: semantic conversations.

The assumptions.
Before I jump into it, some context as to why I think this is a solid approach.

advertising sucks in the traditional sense. Showing ad’s blindly, is like throwing pamphlets over the Amazon hoping that your target market catches some of them. Or another example: if you’re looking for some relief, do you walk down the main street of your city with your pants down yelling out "I want sexy time"? Sure, some people will approach you – but it certainly is not the most efficient way.

search advertising is the window into the future of advertising. The reason why Google does so well is because when a user searches they are flagging their intent. No more blind guessing – now it’s just a matter of accurately matching that intent to something. To extend the analogy using sex, this is like going to a single swingers party – you know everyone there is hungry, so to speak.

Word of mouth marketing beats any other form. Imagine you’re at a nightclub with your best friend. A model stops in front of the two of you – looks at your friend – and asks what cologne he’s wearing. He replies, she smiles – and then walks off giving him a wink.
You tell your little brother the next day about the incident who’s just run out of cologne. Next thing you know, he’s at the department store calling you and asking what’s that cologne’s name. Unlikely story? Have a think about the last time you bought something – we tend to rely on people we trust to guide our decisions.

Affiliate marketing is one of the most successful ways of making money on the web. My friends at Tjoos.com, help people find coupons – and they make a stupid amount of money because of affiliate deals. Affiliate marketing is rooted in a traditional concept for selling – there are suppliers like a manufacturer, and there are the retailers who onsell the supply like we see with clothing shops. With affiliate marketing, you act as a store pushing a product – and you get a cut of the final transaction if successful.

On Twitter people talk and share The use cases of Twitter are a different topic in itself, but let’s think of one of the most common: people share links with other people. As a case in point, monitor this search query I just constructed. Within minutes, you will see hundreds of new results returned. That’s a lot of links been shared.

Semantic conversations explained
Let’s say I just suggested that people read the book "Growth Fetish". People that follow me know me well enough to look into it as a legit thing. Perhaps some even trust my judgement to blindly buy the book (like I do with some people I know).

Now imagine, if instead of just saying the name of the book or pointing to the authors website – I had an easy way to embed Amazon affiliates. When people read I liked a book or a product, and they see a link – two things happen: they likely will follow the link to see what the fuss is about, and after reading up they will potentially make a purchase depending on how impressed or how much they trust me. Because the link tracks that I was the person recommending it, it connects the sale of that product by that person to me. And they don’t need to make the purchase right there – it can happen up to 45 days later and I still get recognised for it (as is the case with most affiliate programs).

Twitter affiliated

Implementation
It’s going to take a bit of thinking on how to implement this easily. For example, it needs to be drop dead easy for people to find the correct link and embed it. Twitter should tweak its system so that it recognises true hyperlinks that have words aliased, rather than just raw addresses. A way of guessing what the person is promoting and matching it to a Amazon code would be ideal (ie, “findbook:growth fetish” will have Twitter make a suggestion to link it to).

It would have to be a revenue share program, meaning Twitter and the user get a cut. That’s a good thing, because everyone’s interests are aligned. But it also means it needs to be thought out as it’s an art to get the right progressive scale between motivating and killing.

Good luck Twitter: I’m counting on you and Facebook to work out a monetisation model, as you will drive the next wave of growth which builds the industry (like Google did post the dotcom years).

Thoughts on privacy – possibly just a txt file away

The other week, a good friend of mine through my school and university days, dropped me a note. He asked me that now that he is transitioning from being a professional student to legal guru (he’s the type I’d expect would become a judge of the courts), that I pull down the website that hosts our experiment in digital media from university days. According to him, its become "a bit of an issue because I have two journal articles out, and its been brought to my attention that a search brings up writing of a very mixed tone/quality!".

In what seemed like a different lifetime for me, I ran a university Journalist’s Society and we experimented with media as a concept. One of our successful experiments, was a cheeky weekly digital newsletter, that held the student politicians in our community accountable. Often our commentary was hard-hitting, and for $4 web hosting bills a month and about 10 hours work each, we become a new power on campus influencing actions. It was fun, petty, and a big learning experience for everyone involved, including the poor bastards we massacred with accountability.

control panel

Privacy in the electronic age: is there an off button?

However this touches on all of us as we progress through life, what we thought was funny in a previous time, may now be awkward that we are all grown up. In this digitally enabled world, privacy has come to the forefront as an issue – and we are now suddenly seeing scary consequences of having all of our information available to anyone at anytime.

I’ve read countless articles about this, as I am sure you have. One story I remember is a guy who contributed to a marijuana discussion board in 2000, now struggles with jobs as that drug-taking past of his is the number one search engine result. The digital world, can really suck sometimes.

Why do we care?

This is unique and awkward, because it’s not someone defaming us. It’s not someone taking our speech out of context, and menacingly putting it a way that distorts our words. This is 100% us, stating what we think, with full understanding what the consequences of our actions were. We have no one but ourselves to blame.

nice arse

Time changes, even if the picture doesn’t: Partner seeing pictures of you – can be ok. Ex seeing pictures of you – likely not ok.

In the context of privacy, is it our right to determine who can see what about us, when we want them to? Is privacy about putting certain information in the "no one else but me" box or is it more dynamic then that – meaning, it varies according to the person consuming the information?

When I was younger, I would meet attractive girls quite a bit older than me, and as soon as I told them my age, they suddenly felt embarrassed. They either left thinking how could they let themselves be attracted to a younger man, treating me like I was suddenly inferior, or they showed a very visible reaction of distress! Actually, quite memorably when I was 20 I told a girl that I was on a date with that I was 22 – and she responded "thank God, because there is nothing more unattractive I find, than a guy that is younger than me". It turned out, fortunately, she had just turned 22. My theory about age just got a massive dose of validation.

Now me sharing this story is that certain information about ourselves can have adverse affects on us (in this case, my sex life!). I normally could not care less about my age, but with girls I would meet when I went out, I did care because it affected their perception of me. Despite nothing changing, the single bit of information about my age would totally change the interaction I had with a girl. Likewise, when we are interacting with people in our lives, the sudden knowledge of a bit of information could adversely affect their perception.

Bathroom close the hatch please

Some doors are best kept shut. Kinky for some; stinky for others

A friend of mine recently admitted to his girlfriend of six months that he’s used drugs before, which had her breakdown crying. This bit of information doesn’t change him in any way; but it shapes her perception about him, and the clash with her perception with the truth, creates an emotional reaction. Contrast this to these two party girls I met in Spain in my nine-months away, who found out I had never tried drugs before at the age of 21. I disappointed them, and in fact, one of them (initially) lost respect for me. These girls and my friends girlfriend, have two different value systems. And that piece of information, generates a completely differing perception – taking drugs can be seen as a "bad person" thing, or a "open minded" person, depending on who you talk to.

As humans, we care about what other people think. It influences our standing in society, our self-confidence, our ability to build rapport with other people. But the issue is, how can you control your image in an environment that is uncontrollable? What I tell one group of people for the sake of building rapport with them, I should also have the ability of ensuring that conversation is not repeated to others, who may not appreciate the information. If I have a fetish for women in red heels which I share with my friends, I should be able to prevent that information from being shared with my boss who loves wearing red heels and might feel a bit awkward the next time I look at her feet.

Any solutions?

Not really. We’re screwed.

Well, not quite. To bring it back to the e-mail exchange I had with my friend, I told him that the historian and technologist in me, couldn’t pull down a website for that reason. After all, there is nothing we should be ashamed about. And whilst he insisted, I made a proposal to him: what about if I could promise that no search engine would include those pages in their index, without having to pull the website down?

He responded with appreciation, as that was what the issue was. Not that he was ashamed of his prior writing, but that he didn’t want academics of today reading his leading edge thinking about the law, to come across his inflammatory criticism of some petty student politicians. He wanted to control his professional image, not erase history. So my solution of adding a robots.txt file was enough to get his desired sense of privacy, without fighting a battle with the uncontrollable.

Who knew, that privacy can be achieved with a text file that has two lines:

User-agent: *

Disallow: /

Those two lines are enough to control the search engines, from a beast that ruins our reputation, to a mechanism of enforcing our right to privacy. Open standards across the Internet, enabling us to determine how information is used, is what DataPortability can help us do achieve so we can control our world. The issue of privacy is not dead – we just need some creative applications, once we work out what exactly it is we think we are losing.

Advertising on the Internet needs innovation

On the weekend, I caught up with Cameron Reilly of the Podcast network , and he was telling me about his views on monetising podcasts. It got me thinking again about those things I like to think about: how content can be monetised. Despite the growth in online advertising which is tipped to be $80 billion, I think we still have a lot more innovation to go with revenue models, especially ones that help content creators.

Advertising is a revenue stream that has traditionally enabled content-creators to monetise their products, in the absence of people paying a fee or subscription. With the Internet, content has undergone a radical changing of what it is – digital, abundant, easily copied – whilst the Internet has offered new opportunities for how advertising is done. However, the Internet has identified the fundamental weaknesses of advertising , as consumers can now control their content consumption, which allows them to ignore embedded advertising altogether. Content on the other hand, still remains in demand, but means of monetising it are slipping into a free economy which is not sustainable. I make that point to illustrate not that professional content creation is a sunset industry – but rather there’s a big market opportunity as this massive industry needs better options.

time mag

"Hey man, there’s this new thing called the Internet. Sounds pretty cool"

One of the biggest innovations in advertising (and enabled by the Internet) is of contextual search advertising. This has been popularised by Google, which now makes 98% of its $17 billion revenue from these units. This advertising dominates online advertising (40% of total) because of its pull nature, whereby key-words stated by a consumer in effect state their intention of what they are interested or would like to purchase. Whilst this is a highly efficient form of advertising, it also has its weaknesses – for example, it is not as effective outside of the search engine environment. Google makes 35% of its revenue from the adSense network , where these contextual ads are placed on peoples personal websites. Evidence from high traffic bloggers suggests they barely make enough money through this type of advertising. Another point to consider is that aspects of the Google network include significant partnership agreements like the one with AOL which accounts for 10% of Googles revenue (this is a 2005 figure which has likely changed, but Google does state in their 2007 report "Our agreements with a few of the largest Google Network members account for a significant portion of revenues derived from our AdSense program. If our relationship with one or more large Google Network members were terminated or renegotiated on terms less favorable to us, our business could be adversely affected.". AOL most recently reported for Q1 2008 half a billion dollars largely from search advertising ).

Other attempts at creating more efficient advertising which have existed for over a decade, have come in the form of profiling or behavioural tracking. However, these forms of advertising has also highlighted the growing awareness of consumer privacy being eroded, and is under heavy scrutiny by activist groups and government. Facebook is a company that is best posed to deliver new forms of advertising because of the rich profiling data it has, but it itself has faced massive backlash .

My view is that the majority of online advertising for successful individual publishers at least, has largely come from traditional approaches to advertising – a masthead blog with a sales team that uses display advertising. How effective this display advertising is is debateable with widespread banner blindness and consumer control over their content, but it would appear that this is more a case of advertisers seeing this as the least bad on the overall scale of opportunities. The fact it replicates the mass media approach of number of unique consumers viewing the content, and not the types of users, means this isn’t anything new other than being done in a digital environment.

Digital content is in need of a better monetisation system.
Targeted advertising is the most efficient form, yet consumer privacy is a growing force preventing this. What we need, is not a new advertising technology, but a new way of thinking about advertising – in a way that can help the content economy rather than riding on it without giving benefit. Contextual advertising sounds great in theory as it calculates key-word frequency of words on a website, to match it to a key word ad – but it’s proving in practice these ads are not very relevant. Yet trying to think of a smarter way to advertise, may be the wrong question – perhaps half the problem itself is advertising as a concept?

perspective

Are we running down a tunnel, only to find there is nothing there?

Content which comes in the form of news (historical and breaking), analysis, and entertainment can be monetised via a persons attention or through a transaction (ie, subscription, fee, etc). Both this approaches have different barriers.

– Attention: The key driver is increased dollars per unique person, over a period of time. The barriers to this approach is the challenge of identifying the individual in a way that gives advertising that is highly relevant and will result in a conversion. In other words, privacy privacy privacy.

– Alternative payment: Requiring consumers to pay for content is a barrier due to the paid wall. What is more problematic for digital content, is that the ability to replicate it freely makes it not just easy to do for the masses but has created a culture of if it’s not free, it’s not worth purchasing unless its really necessary. There needs to be a strong value proposition for a consumer to purchase content, and in the absense of a brand and marketing, the restriction of what value the content offers is a barrier for consumer demand as they don’t know what they are missing out on.

So as you see above, content creators are in a difficult position. Charging people reduces their opportunity unless they are really established, but even then, due to the digital environment they don’t have any control over subsequent distribution (with rampant piracy). Yet advertising is fraught with being irrelevant and hence not effective (so advertisers go to other forms) and any attempts to make it more relevant, gets held back by the concerns of privacy advocates (and rightly so). Whilst the Internet parades itself as an advertising growth machine, it’s growing in new areas but not the old areas that have traditionally been the medium for advertisers.

This advertising growth is largely being driven through utility computing products that aim to make information retrieval more efficient (ie, search). However, the growth for the content creators, is not happening. As Cam was telling me, in a market like Australia – small content organisations like TPN and Bronwen Clune ‘s Norgs , don’t have access to the big end of town for a sales team. And he didn’t have to tell me, those Google ads for the smaller guys, are not enough to pay the bills. That small to middle end is not being really catered for.

But before you jump on the phone and create some mid-tier advertising network that caters for a niche, think about the real problem: content creators need a better solution to monetise their content. But advertisers also need a better way of selling, other than some slick-talking sales person who can sell ads on pageviews (a broken model with weak alternatives ) They need advertising that is suited for their product, but the market now includes other products media outlets never had to compete with like marketplaces now happening online and utility computing products. Whilst the technology community obsesses about search , let’s also remember we have yet to see a new way to monetise content that is superior to the old world. Contextual advertising of text is the latest new thing area, but that technique is nearly a decade old. As I prove above, outside of the search environment, it is showing to not be that effective.

Where is the innovation going to come from? Not through technology but with a new paradigm shift like how content creators operate . New ways of thinking about the way we ‘sell’ like what the VRM Project is challenging. But perhaps more fundamentally, is an understanding that the holy grail of targeted advertising has got a speed hump called privacy – and that may actually be a sign of not going faster towards better targeting, but changing the vehicle all together.

Search, email and wikis are the catalysts for innovation

A colleague added me to their network of trust on spock, one of the new people search engines, and so I had a play around. Spock and its competitors have come about on the premise that a large amount of search engine traffic is purely due to people: about 7% of all searches are for a person’s name, estimates search engine Ask.com. One percent of the search market is estimated to be worth a billion dollars, so this is a significant market opportunity.

Now take a step back into my mind this year. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about e-mail this past year: first as I explained to people why wikis and blogs are a better way to collaborate than via e-mail; and more recently, as I prepare a whitepaper for January 2008 proposing we replace using e-mail for our corporate communications with RSS. E-mail is the default tool at my firm and its opened up doors to do things we couldn’t do before, but it’s also why we have e-mail overload, as e-mail wasn’t designed to do this.

Can you now see something I am noticing? Established general technologies like search and e-mail – now being replaced by more specific functions. Some would say you are defining a previously unrecognised niche. That is afterall, what is means to be an entrepreneur.

Traditional Search and traditional e-mail are powerful tools. People over-use them to do all sorts of things that they couldn’t do before. As these general tools were adopted, people could experiment and push boundary’s in ways the inventors of the technologies never thought before. And bam – that’s why we have a love hate relationship with e-mail; and why search has become the default industry underlying the web economy. They are doing something we now need; but because they weren’t invented to deal with that specific need, it is more like a blunt tool being used when all is needed is a glass pick.

Innovation is coming
I’ve been told repeatedly that technology should not drive strategy. I agree to some extent. However, I’ve also proved the management at my firm wrong on that point by results. When I proposed a firm wiki, and it was approved, it was taken as a risk. All I needed was that gateway to get in behind the door, and just let it do its magic. I have witnessed first hand when you give people a wiki – or probably better said a mashup enabler – you will see them take to it because they can now do things they never imagined. A general tool like the wiki in its freedom to manipulate the structure, has allowed staff members to create new ways of satisfying their painpoints. Technology should not drive strategy – I agree. But one thing I am convinced of, is that you need to just drop a technology onto a userbase, and let them experiment. Give them the potential to do something – things you never thought they needed – and watch them take to it like honey to a bee. Technology can help drive innovation through (accidental) imagination, which in turn can drive strategy

How does this link with innovation? MacManus has lamented on the lack of innovation on the web. I’m thinking something else. As these general technology tools have been adopted by people, new niches are being discovered. As I responded to MacManus’s article: the guy that invented the wheel was brilliant; but the guy that attached another three was a genius.

Think innovation on the web is dead? I think it’s just starting.

Ouch – widgets bypassing Google’s wall

Feedjit
On the right of my blog as I write this, I have a widget – it’s a simple piece of javacript, from the company Feedjit, that allows me to embed a short piece of code to indicate to my readers how other people find my blog. Since the launch of the widget, it seems like it has become very popular with 60 million widgets claimed by the company’s website.

I made a discovery today almost by accident: I accessed my blog on another computer. Or rather, I accessed my blog via Google’s cache – who have replicated my content for their search results, widgets and all. Now when you look at the Feedjit widget (image below left), the data is very different: it no longer shows visitors to my blog, but visitors to Google servers.

If you follow through to the detailed statistics you will even see what the most popular sites are that day, as well as the locations of the visitors. As this is data from the Google cache server, you are effectively getting an analysis of visitors – who they are, what keywords they are searching for, and what they found. So because my blog is part of Google cache, I can effectively hack and sneak in the backdoor of Google’s data.

(Having a quick look, it seems this URL is the main Google cache address; however data will only get logged when someone looks at the cache.)

Feedjit google cacheDoes it matter?
While this is a fun thing to look at and then move on, I think it raises some serious issues – multiple ones at that.

On widgets: With the prolifiration of widgets on the web, has this become potentially the next biggest security risk on the web?

On privacy: It’s not that hard to identify the people making those searches. Search engines handing over data to the government has been a hot issue, with Google resisiting a much hyped story as the company tried to prove it protected its users. With the growing cross-pollination of the web, exemplified with widgets, are we prepared for what it means to have open data (which is becoming inevitable)?

On metrics: Google has a complete download of my blog in its cache, but what I didn’t realise, is that it is a copy of the full blog (with scripts like my web stats). When I look at my statistics, I see an awful lot of activity from computer bots for example. Is this because every time Google, Yahoo or MSN analyse content that has been ripped off my site, I can actually see what they are doing behind their closed walls?

Those are questions with simple but also complicated answers. Either way, if its that easy to hack even Google, then God help us.

Don’t get the Semantic Web? You will after this

Prior to 2006, I had sort of heard of the Semantic Web. To be honest, I didn’t know much – it was just another buzzword. I’ve been hearing about Microformats for years, and cool but useless initiatives like XFN. However to me it was simply just another web thing being thrown around.

Then in August 2006, I came across Adrian Holovaty’s article where he argues journalism needs to move from a story-centric world to a data-centric world. And that’s when it dawned on me: the Semantic web is some serious business.

I have since done a lot of reading, listening, and thinking. I don’t profess to be a Semantic Web expert – but I know more than the average person as I have (painfully) put myself through videos and audios of academic types who confuse the crap out of me. I’ve also read through a myriad of academic papers from the W3C, which are like the times when you read a novel and keep re-reading the same page and still can’t remember what you just read.

Hell – I still don’t get things. But I get the vision, so that’s what I am going to share with you now. Hopefully, my understanding will benefit the clueless and the skeptical alike, because it’s a powerful vision which is entirely possible

1) The current web is great for humans; useless for machines
When you search for ambiguous terms, at best, search engines can algorithmically predict some sort of answer that partially answers your query. Sometimes not. But the complexity of language, is not something engineers can engineer to deal with. After all, without ambiguity of natural languages, the existence of poetry is impossible.

Fine.

What did you think when you read that? As in: “I’ve had it – fine!” which is like another way of saying ok or agreeing with something. Perhaps you thought about that parking ticket I just got – illegal parking gets you fined. Maybe you thought I am applauding myself by saying that was one fine piece of wordcraftship I just wrote, or said in another context, like a fine wine.

Language is ambiguous, and depending on the context with other words, we can determine what the meaning of the word is. Search start-up company Powerset, which is hoping to kill Google and rule the world, is employing exactly this technique to improve search: intelligent processing of words depending on context. So by me putting in “it’s a fine”, it understands the context that it’s a parking ticket, because you wouldn’t say “it’s a” in front of ‘fine’ when you use it to agree with something (the ‘ok’ meaning above).

But let’s use another example: “Hilton Paris” in Google – the worlds most ‘advanced’ search engine. Obviously, as a human reading that sentence, you understand because of the context of those words I would like to find information about the Hilton in Paris. Well maybe.

Let’s see what Google comes up with: Of the ten search results (as of when I wrote this blog posting), one was a news item on the celebrity; six were on the celebrity describing her in some shape or form, and three results were on the actual Hotel. Google, at 30/70 – is a little unsure.

Why is Paris Hilton, that blonde haired thingy of a celebrity, coming up in the search results?

Technologies like Powerset apparently produce a better result because it understands the order of the words and context of the search query. But the problem with these searches, isn’t the interpretation of what the searcher wants – but also the ability to understand the actual search results. Powerset can only interpret so much of the gazilions of words out there. There is the whole problem of the source data, no just the query. Don’t get what I mean? Keep reading. But for now, learn this lesson

Computers have no idea about the data they are reading. In fact, Google pumping out those search results is based on people linking. Google is a machine, and reads 1s and 0s – machine language. It doesn’t get human language

2) The Semantic web is about making what human’s read, machine readable
Tim Berner’s Lee, the guy that invented the World Wide Web and the visionary behind the Semantic Web, prefers to call it the ‘data web’. The current web is a web of documents – by adding this extra data to content – machines will be able to understand it. Metadata, is data about data.

A practical outcome of having a semantic web, is that Google would know that when it pulls up a web page regardless of the context of the words – it will understand what the content is. Think of every word on the web, being linked to a master dictionary.

The benefit of the semantic web is not for humans – at least immediately. The Semantic Web is actually pretty boring with what it does – what is exciting, is what it will enable. Keep reading.

3) The Semantic web is for machines to interpret, not people
A lot of the skeptics of the semantic web, usually don’t see the value of it. Who cares about adding all this extra meta data? I mean heck – Google still was able to get the website I needed – the Hilton in Paris. Sure, the other 60% of the results on that page were irrelevant, but I’m happy.

I once came across a Google employee and he asked “what’s the point of a semantic web; don’t we already enough metadata?” To some extent, he’s right – there are some websites out there that have metadata. But the point of the semantic web is so that machines once they read the information, can start thinking like how a human would and connecting it to other information. There needs to be across the board metadata.

For example, my friend Michael was recently looking to buy a car. A painful process, because there are so many variables. So many different models, different makes, different dealers, different packages. We have websites, with cars for sale neatly categorised into profile pages saying what model it is, what colour it is, and how much. (Which may I add, are hosted on multiple car sites with different types of profiles). A human painfully reads through these profiles, and computes as fast as a human can. But a machine can’t read these profiles.

Instead of wasting his (and my) weekends driving around Sydney to find his car, a machine could find it for him. So, Mike would enter his profile in – what he requires in a car, what his credit limit is, what his prior history with cars are – everything that would affect his judgement of a car. And then, the computer can query every online website with cars to match the criteria. Because the computer can interpret these websites across the board, it can evaluate and it can go back to Michael and say “this is the car for you, at this dealer – click yes to buy”.

The semantic web is about giving computers the information to be able to interpret data, so that it can do what they do really well – compute.

4) A worldwide database
What essentially Berner’s Lee envisions, is turning the entire world wide web into a database that can be queried. Currently, the web looks like Microsoft Word – one swab of text. However, if that swab of text was neatly categorised in an Excel spreadsheet, you could manipulate that data and do what you please – create reports, reorder them, filter, and do whatever until your heart is content.

At university, I was forced to do an Information Systems subject which was essentially about the theory of databases. Damn painful. I learned only two things from that course. The first thing was that my lecturer, tutor, and classmates spoke less intelligible English than a caterpillar. But the second thing was that I learned what information is and how it differs from data. I am now going to share with you that lesson, and save you three months of your life.

You see, data is meaningless. For example, 23 degrees is data. On its own, it’s useless. Another piece of data in Sydney. Again, Рuseless. I mean, you can think all sorts of things when you think of Sydney, but it doesn’t have any meaning.

Now put together 23 degrees and Sydney, and you have just created information. Information is about creating relationships between data. By creating a relationship, an association, between these two different pieces of data – you can determine it’s going to be a warm day in Sydney. And that is what information is: Relationship building; connecting the dots; linking the islands of data together to generate something meaningful.

The semantic web is about allowing computers to be able to query the sum of human knowledge like one big database to generate information

Concluding thoughts
You are probably now starting to freak out and think “Terminator” images with computers suddenly erupting form under your computer desk, and smashing you against the wall as a battle between humans and computers begins. But I don’t see it like that.

I think about the thousands of hours humans spend trying to compute things. I think of the cancer research, whereby all this experimentation occurring in labs, is trying to connect new pieces of data with old data to create new information. I think about computers being about to query the entire taxation legislation to make sure I don’t pay any tax, because it knows how it all fits together (having studied tax, I can assure you – it takes a lifetime to only understand a portion of tax law). In short, I understand the vision of the Semantic web as a way of linking things together, to enable computers to compute – so that I can sit on my hammock drinking my beer, as I can delegate the duties of my life to the machines.

All the semantic web is trying to do, is making sure everything is structured in a consistent manner, with a consistent dictionary behind the content, so that a machine can draw connections. As Berner’s Lee said on one of the videos I saw: “it’s all about creating links”.

The process to a Semantic Web is boring. But once we have those links, we can then start talking about those hammocks. And that’s when the power of the internet – the global network – will really take off.

Facebook is doing what Google did: enabling

The hype surrounding the Facebook platform has created a frenzy of hype – on it being a closed wall, on privacy and the right to users having control of their data, and of course the monetisation opportunities of the applications themselves (which on the whole, appear futile but that will change).

We’ve heard of applications becoming targeted, with one (rumoured) for $3 million – and it has proved applications are an excellent way to acquire users and generate leads to your off-Facebook website & products. We’ve also seen applications desperately trying to monetise their products, by putting Google Ads on the homepage of the application, which are probably just as effective as giving a steak to a vegetarian. The other day however was the first instance where I have seen a monetisation strategy by an application that genuinely looked possible.

It’s this application called Compare Friends, where you essentially compare two friends on a question (who’s nicer, who has better hair, who would you rather sleep with…). The aggregate of responses from your friends who have compared you, can indicate how a person sits in a social network. For example, I am most dateable in my network, and one of the people with prettiest eyes (oh shucks guys!).

The other day, I was given an option to access the premium service – which essentially analyses your friends’ responses.

compare sub

It occurred to me that monetisation strategies for the Facebook platform are possible beyond whacking Google Adsense on the application homepage. Valuable data can be collected by an application, such as what your friends think of you, and that can be turned into a useful service. Like above, they offer to tell you who is most likely to give you a good reference – that could be a useful thing. In the applications current iteration, I have no plans to pay 10 bucks for that data – but it does make you wonder that with time, more sophisticated services can be offered.

Facebook as the bastion of consumer insight

On a similar theme, I did an experiment a few months ago whereby I purchased a facebook poll, asking a certain demographic a serious question. The poll itself revealed some valuable data, as it gave me some more insight into the type of users of Facebook (following up from my original posting). However what it also revealed was the power of tapping into the crowd for a response so quickly.
clustered yes
Seeing the data come in by the minute as up to 200 people took the poll, as a marketer you could quickly gauge how people think about something in a statistically valid sample, in literally hours. You should read this posting discussing what I learned from the poll if you are interested.

It’s difficult to predict the trends I am seeing, and what will become of Facebook because a lot could happen. However one thing is certain, is that right now, it is a highly effective vehicle for individuals to gain insight about themselves – and generating this information is something I think people will pay for if it proves useful. Furthermore, it is an excellent way for organisations to organise quick and effective market research to test a hypothesis.

The power of Facebook, for external entities, is that it gives access to controlled populations whereby valuable data can be gained. As the WSJ notes, the platform has now started to see some clever applications that realise this. Expect a lot more to come.

Facebook is doing what Google did for the industry

When Google listed, a commentator said this could launch a new golden age that would bring optimism not seen since the bubble days to this badly shaken industry. I reflected on that point he made to see if his prophesy would come true one day. In case you hadn’t noticed, he was spot on!

When Google came, it did two big things for the industry

1) AdSense. Companies now had a revenue model – put some Google ads on your website in minutes. It was a cheap, effective advertising network that created an ecosystem. As of 30 June 2007, Google makes about 36% of their revenue from members in the Google network – meaning, non-Google websites. That’s about $2.7 billion. Although we can’t quantify how much their partners received – which could be anything from 20% to 70% (the $2.7 billion of course is Google’s share) – it would be safe to say Google helped the web ecosystem generate an extra $1 billion. That’s a lot of money!

2) Acquisitions. Google’s cash meant that buyouts where an option, rather than IPO, as is what most start-ups aimed for in the bubble days. In fact, I would argue the whole web2.0 strategy for startups is to get acquired by Google. This has encouraged innovation, as all parties from entrepreneurs to VC’s can make money from simply building features rather than actual businesses that have a positive cashflow. This innovation has a cumulative effect, as somewhere along the line, someone discovers an easy way to make money in ways others hadn’t thought possible.

Google’s starting to get stale now – but here comes Facebook to further add to the ecosystem. Their acquisition of a ‘web-operating system‘ built by a guy considered to be the next Bill Gates shows that Facebook’s growth is beyond a one hit wonder. The potential for the company to shake the industry is huge – for example, in advertising alone, they could roll out an advertising network that takes it a step further than contextual advertising as they actually have a full profile of 40 million people. This would make it the most efficient advertising system in the world. They could become the default login and identity system for people – no longer will you need to create an account for that pesky new site asking you to create an account. And as we are seeing currently, they enable a platform the helps other businesses generate business.

I’ve often heard people say that history will repeat itself – usually pointing to how 12 months ago Myspace was all the rage: Facebook is a fad, they will be replaced one day. I don’t think so – Facebook is evolving, and more importantly is that it is improving the entire web ecosystem. Facebook, like Google, is a company that strengthens the web economy. I am probably going to hate them one day, just like how my once loved Google is starting to annoy me now. But thank God it exists – because it’s enabling another generation of commerce that sees the sophistication of the web.

John Hagel – What do you think is the single most important question after everything is connected?

I recently was pointed to a presentation of John Hagel who is a renowned strategy consultant and author on the impact the Internet has on business. He recently joined Deloitte and Touche, where he will head a new Silicon Valley research institute. At the conference (Supernova 2007), John outlined critical research questions regarding the future of digital business that remain unresolved, which revolved around the following:

What happens after everything is connected? What are the most important questions?

I had to watch the video a few times because its not possible to capture everything he says in one hit. So I started writing notes each time, which I have reproduced below to help guide your thoughts and give a summary as you are watching the presentation (which I highly recommend).

I also have discovered (after writing these notes – damn it!) that he has written his speech (slightly different however) and posted it on his blog. I’ll try and reference my future postings on these themes here, by pinging or adding links to this posting.
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