Posts from February 2006

In Search of a Better Algorithm

Try searching on “allen iverson email” in Google. The third result is a link to this blog.

Why?  Because I once posted the fact that I love the way Allen Iverson plays basketball, because the word “email” is high up on the front page of this blog, and because there are a ton of inbound and outbound links to this blog.  But is AVC one of the best results when you are searching for Allen Iverson’s email address?  Not likely.  But there are close to a couple dozen comments on that Allen Iverson post that suggest some people think it is.

And the same thing happens to lots of other bloggers.  Try searching on Google or Yahoo! for “oprah backlash james frey”.  You will be directed to Brad Feld’s blog for similar reasons.

Why am I telling you all this?  Because as great an experience as searching the Internet is on Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, or Ask, Internet search is still a very primitive technology.  Rarely is the first result of a search the best result for my needs, regardless of what engine I use.

I’ve been thinking a lot about search lately.  I do a lot of searching on the Internet even though I have literally hundreds of sites bookmarked and have at least fifty to a hundred sties that I visit on a regular basis and know the URL by heart.

I tend to use Yahoo! for most of my searches as I have made it the default search in Firefox.  After that I use Google.  I rarely use Microsoft or Ask.

But last week, as a result of the relaunch of Ask.com, I did some searching on Ask and I got very different results on my standard test searches; fred wilson, vc, union square ventures, wilco, flaming lips, digital camera, and a few others. Ask does not appear to be using link ranking nearly as much as Google and Yahoo!

When you search on “fred wilson” or “vc” on Yahoo! or Google, this blog is the first result on both for those search terms.  I have always thought that was because those keywords appear high up on the front page of my blog (vc is in the title) and because of the large number of inbound and outbound links that this blog has accumulated in the 2 ½ years that I have been blogging.

But when you search on “fred Wilson” or “vc” on Ask.com, you get a whole bunch of other results. It’s basically what those search terms returned on Google or Yahoo! back in 2003 before I started blogging.  So that means to me that Ask.com doesn’t seem to care much about link rank.

I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Because when you are searching for Fred Wilson, there is as good a chance you want the artist, chess master, or rock n roll band, as you want this blog. When you search on “vc” on Google or Yahoo!, your first link is this blog.  Is that the best result for vc?  I doubt it.

Text search works well enough to be useful, but it doesn’t work well.

And before we get close to perfecting text search, we are off to new horizons with audio search, video search, etc.  Will Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Ask and others continue to invest in improving text search or move their efforts to searching other forms of media?  I suppose the answer is both but clearly there is an impression among many that text search has “been done” and that impression is wrong.

I believe there is opportunity in improving text search, but few investors want to take on Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and others by backing another search company for good reasons.

But the immaturity of search was one of the many reasons I loved our investment in delicious so much.  I thought, and still do to some degree now that Yahoo! owns delicious, that searching user generated tags instead of (or more likely in addition to) some computer generated index would generate a better result.  Of course, tagging must become a much more popular behavior before we can have a tag database that can deliver high quality results for all search terms.

There is also the promise of shared searching which Yahoo! is promoting with MyWeb (why don’t they just merge delicious and MyWeb and let us choose either interface?).  David Hayden is chasing a similar vision of shared search with Jeteye.

And there are next generation tagging services coming like Plum that may offer some new ideas in this area of shared search and discovery.

I frankly think that an orthogonal attack on search via something that is seen as very different is the more intelligent way to approach this problem.  First, it’s more likely to obtain investment.  Second, most users aren’t going to start searching with a different engine unless they see the benefits first.  So you have to hook them on something where the initial value proposition is something else (tagging, social networking, looking at videos, etc).

And then there is Alexa to consider.  Amazon has supposedly opened up the Alexa search service so that others can use it.  I know of at least one company that has taken them up on that offer, although they found that the demand to use Alexa was larger than Amazon could initially support.  I haven’t checked back with that company to see how they are doing with Alexa.

What if we had an “open source” search engine that everyone working in and around the area of search could plug into?  The companies working in tagging, shared searching, audio and video search could offer their results/indexes to the open source search engine so that their meta data could be considered in preparing the best results?  Could this work? And what would the business models be for the companies supplying the meta data?  And would consumers adopt such an engine?

I am not sure, but I am sure that we are in the first or second inning of the search ballgame, and nowhere near the seventh inning stretch.  So for all those entrepreneurs who are way smarter about this stuff than I am, let me encourage you to be thinking about search as much as I am these days.  It’s still a huge opportunity.

What’s A Favicon?

It seems I learn something new about blogging every week, possibly every day.

Until last week, I had never heard the term "favicon".

I have noticed that many blogs have icons that appear in their feeds and in the URL field of the browser.

So I decided that I wanted my blog to have that feature too.  I thought there was something I needed to do to my feed setup.  So I asked the always helpful people at FeedBurner.  They said, it’s your "favicon". You need to set it up in Typepad.

Favicon, hmm.  So I sent an email to the always helpful people at TypePad and I was pointed to this page.

So it turns out that a favicon is a file type, specifically favicon.ico, that contains the icon that is displayed in the feed or the URL.

There is a great web service called Favicon From Pics that will take an image file that you upload and create the favicon.ico file you need.

Then you upload it to your blog server and that’s pretty much all there is to it.

I hope some of you find this useful. I am looking forward to seeing lots of little head shots all over the Internet!

The Reason I Prefer Browsing To Reading Feeds

I’ve said a number of times that although I use several feed readers, I don’t really use any of them on a regular basis. I use them primarily as a place to bookmark/store/database the blogs I like.  Most of the blogs I read on a regular basis are listed on the right sidebar in my blogroll.

But mostly I like to follow links around the blog world. The links I like to follow can be in blog posts, delicious tags, digg, delicious popular, memorandum, reddit, tailrank, or any other aggregator that I may decide to use at that point in time.

I also find lots of blog posts by following the links in the comments and track backs of my blog and technorati/google/icerocket tracking of links to my blog.

I found a new blog today from a comment to my blog called Chartreuse (BETA) that I like.  It’s now on my blogroll.

Here’s a paragraph from a post on Chartreuse that I like because it explains why I read blogs the way I do and why I avoid feed readers for the most part:

I read a lot of blogs. Really. Most of them suck, (like this one.) What I really like to do is discover new blogs. Discover new voices. That’s where the coolness is in blogs. Finding someone with something new to say. It’s hard to do because people don’t add new people to blogrolls or they fill it with people everyone already know. That sucks.The A list is not really an A list to cool people. It’s an ignore list. People will link to them anyway. And you know an A-lister sucks when he doesn’t include links to anybody else. No blogroll is an arrogance. Do you really think we think you don’t read anyone else? Be like us regular folks and give a little love to those you read. And change it once a month.

I agree with most of this, except that my blogroll is a list of the blogs I read most.  If someone has stayed on there for the past 2 1/2 years (like Seth Godin), then it means I still read them as much as I did back then. I think they should stay on.

Web Services and Devices

We’ve been thinking a lot about the relationship between web services and devices lately and I posted some of those thoughts on the Union Square Ventures weblog earlier today.

Here’s the link if you are interested.

MP3 of the Week

It took something special to knock me out of my Arctic Monkeys obsession last week. The thing that did it is a new record by one of my all-time favorite bands, The Flaming Lips.

The Lips’ new record, At War With the Mystics, started leaking on the Internet last week and of course I got my hands on it as soon as I heard the news.

Before anyone starts accusing me of theft, let me say this. I would gladly send The Lips or their record company $20 via PayPal for the privledge of listening to this record. I would have done it the minute I found the record on the net and I’d do it right now.  When this record is finally "released" in early April, I will purchase it on Amazon.

But how silly is that?  What does "release" mean in this day and age of bits?  It’s been released.  I want to pay now, not a month from now.  If the record is done, its done. Put the entire thing out. It’s going to get out anyway.

OK, on to the record. It’s fantastic. It took a few listens, as do all Flaming Lips records. But I am nearing ten listens and loving it.

Like all Flaming Lips records, its hard to pick out one song to feature because the albums are really a complete work, but I’ll do it anyway.

My favorite songs are The Sound of Failure and It Overtakes Me but both are 7 minutes long, too long for an MP3 of the Week.

So here is My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion (i love the names of Lips songs). It’s not short either, coming in at 4:51, but it’s the best I can do.

Listen to My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion

I hope you like it.

Happy Birthday FeedBurner

Birthday_feed_1
FeedBurner is two years old today, "birth" being defined as the initial launch of the service.

The FeedBurner blog, Burning Questions, has the news.

I am proud to say that I burnt my first feed on March 18, 2004, about three weeks after that initial launch.

And I can also say that they have never let me down in that time period.

Happy Birthday FeedBurner!

PersonalDNA – A Cool New Web Service

Have you ever taken a "Myers-Briggs" personality study?  It’s enlightening for sure, but takes a long time to complete and isn’t very interactive.  I’d love to have the ability to look at someone’s personality profile before hiring them, but I have never had the desire to force someone to take a test as a condition of being considered for a job.  And these tests don’t have the ability to be "360’d" by having a bunch of peers complete them on you as well.

Well enter the web, specifically web 2.0, and PersonalDNA.

PersonalDNA is a web service that does a sophisticated and rigorous personality profile in about 15-20 minutes (I know because I just took one).  It makes use of lots of cool ajaxy things like sliders and buckets.

At the end you get a result which you can publish.  Here is mine.  And I have added it to the top right of my blog, right under my mantra.

But what’s even cooler is that you can ask others to complete profiles on you via the "psyche you/psych me" feature. 

According to the website:

You can invite people to assess you. They’ll be given reports that will
represent their versions of your personality. If they share those
reports with you, you can collect everyone else’s version of your
personality and compare personalDNA strips and personality maps
side-by-side with yours. You’ll also get a match percentage to see how
well they know you.

I haven’t yet done this, but I am going to invite my co-workers and my family to do it and I’ll see how that impacts the personality profile. It should be interesting.

Imagine if every linked in page had a personalDNA report on it, if every resume had one, if every blog had one?  This could be very interesting if it goes viral.

The J Curve

Jcurve
I have posted about the j-curve before.  This is the curve of value creation over time that is typical in the venture and private equity businesses.

Nick at Carried Interest has a good post on the j-curve today and I scraped this cool chart from his blog (he scraped it from Calpers).  Give it a read if you are interested in the private equity and venture business.

Nick is a private equity guy in Australia and writes a damn good blog.

Bob Lefsetz – Please Get A Blog!

A friend of mine in the music business turned me on to Bob Lefsetz’ email newsletter.

It’s a great read if you care about the goings on in the music business.

Here are some gems from the recent newsletters:

On Amazon’s new music service:

If rental were such a good deal, if the public found it so appealing,
why is Blockbuster on the verge of disaster?  Why are people BUYING so

many DVDs when they can rent them so cheaply?  America has an ownership

culture.  Sure, in the future there might be a migration to service, but
not TODAY! 
Not until a much younger set comes of age.

Let’s see how you sell this.  For fifteen bucks a month you can have
access to ALL the music.  Well, not the Beatles or Led Zeppelin.  And
not every track on every album…  And, if you don’t keep paying, you
lose IT ALL!  Shit, sounds more like radio than conventional music
purchasing.

And what are the odds that independent company Amazon can create a
system that actually works, when its Seattle counterpart Microsoft has
been unable to do this?  I mean maybe if Google moved into the sphere I
might be impressed.  Then again, Google Video is a disaster, and rather
than deliver a quality product without glitches, Google just labels all
its efforts "beta", so you’ll forgive them.  That’s what we need, a BETA
music service to compete with Apple’s seamless solution.

Amazon IS correct in deciding to deliver files along with CDs.

But the fucked up labels can’t agree on a price.  Even though you can
buy a CD and rip it FOR FREE!  Paying NOTHING extra for the files.

Oh yeah, copy protection will foil that.  And destroy your business,
just ask kicked upstairs Andy Lack.  And then there’s the ridiculous
position of the RIAA that ripping is illegal.  What’s next, is the RIAA
gonna post a cop in every kid’s basement?  THIS is a strategy that’s
gonna win.  Actually, after seven years, hasn’t the RIAA realized a
legal solution IS NOT the answer?

I don’t agree with everything that Bob says about Amazon (read my post – Rooting For Amazon – for my thoughts) but you have to admit that he’s got an opinion and he lets you know what it is.

Here’s Bob’s take on the recent DMCA actions against YouTube videos:

Have you been following this youtube thing?  With NBC requesting the
site pull all its videos?  How fucking stupid can you BE!

"Lazy Sunday".  That’s what seems to be breaking SNL wide open after
years of dormancy.  It’s just like a band.  You’re living in obscurity,
and then the Net catches hold of you and you BLOW UP!  Can you say
ARCTIC MONKEYS?  If you’ve got something good, you can’t keep it down on
the Net.  It’s human nature, people want to tell EVERYBODY!

So busy enforcing their copyrights, major entertainment companies are
shooting themselves in the foot.  This is the kind of hype, the kind of
marketing, that can’t be bought.

Take KT Tunstall.  Fucking idiots at Virgin want you to PAY for her
video on iTunes!  What schmendrick wants to pay for a video he probably
hasn’t seen to BEGIN WITH!  But, saunter over to youtube, and you can
see KT doing her act, performing "I Want You Back" on a French TV show.
THIS is the kind of publicity you desire.  If you’re BUILDING an act.

And now there’s this Aerosmith thing.
Funny how it never occurred to me.  But it’s perfect.  Instead of JANIE

having a gun, CHENEY’S got a gun!

Hate to tell you, but "Janie’s Got A Gun" is verging on twenty years
old.  There are kids who’ve NEVER heard it.  Oh, Aerosmith is a
perennial, but even MTV no longer plays their videos.  Their albums
don’t sell, they’ve become a NOSTALGIA ACT!  And now, some enterprising
Web denizen has BROUGHT THEM BACK FROM THE DEAD!  Giving "Janie’s Got A
Gun" MORE airplay than it’s gotten in YEARS!  And, hear the parody and
you want to hear the original.  And, ultimately you believe in the act.

Hell, I got e-mail from a friend’s niece, barely in double digits,
asking what the underlying song to THIS parody was.
Of course, it’s the Backstreet Boys’ "I Want It That
Way".  She was TOO YOUNG FOR THE BACKSTREET BOYS!

All of this is anathema to rights-holders.  They must protect their
rights at all costs.  To their detriment.  This is promotion in the
twenty first century.  This is FREE MARKETING!

I totally agree with Bob on this post (and click on the Cheney’s Got A Gun link – it’s pretty funny).

So if Bob Lefsetz is so savvy about music and online marketing, why is he publishing via a 1990’s technology, the email newsletter?  Why doesn’t he have a blog?  It would be so much easier just to link to his posts than to cut and paste the whole thing.

Please get a blog Bob!