The Fast Follies: A Math Error… Maybe

May 29, 2008

I’ve been in Canada with lousy email access. I received two emails earlier today that I wished I had read when I was waiting for a late flight.

One came from a colleague in Oslo, Norway. The second arrived from Copenhagen, Denmark. Both writers wanted to know if I had seen this article,  My Norwegian ;anguage skills are non-existent, but with Google Translate, it seems that Fast Search & Transfer has blipped the radar of Norwegian authorities. I have worked for the police in a number of countries, and I enjoy the camaraderie, the intellectual challenge, and the thrill of the hunt. I received from a US colleague the well-composed article by Liz Gunnison at titled “Microsoft Stuck With a Norwegian Herring?” (I really like that headline, but my “fast follies” is okay too.) The key line for me in her essay is:

Økokrim last week concurred that the nature of the irregularities and the amount by which Fast Search apparently inflated its accounts were serious matters warranting prosecution. But the agency said it was too busy to open a criminal investigation. Rather than let the matter rest, the market supervisor turned it over to the Oslo police for investigation. Aftenposten, a Norwegian newspaper, characterized Kredittilsynet’s decision to involve the police as an unprecedented step in that country.

Fast Search & Transfer is not likely to engender much enthusiasm among the investigative team given the job of figuring out how a company losing money since 2006 could suck in $1.2 billion from Microsoft. The Redmond giant has about 80,000 employees and many of these are certified wizards. I must be missing something. Paying $1.2 billion for a company with several years of losses is pretty interesting.

Take a quick look at the restated financials. These are tough to locate, but I found a link to them here. These are public documents, but I have a hunch that the files will become even more difficult to locate as this drama unfolds. I did some looking for Fast Search’s management presentations. These have been removed from the Fast Search Web site. Even the vaunted Fast Search search system was unable to direct me to these documents. The Fast Search site map is more useful than its own site search system. You can access the site map here.

There are some technical descriptions of Fast Search’s technology available via Google. Just navigate to Google’s advanced search page, enter the phrase “Fast Search & Transfer” and specify the file type as Powerpoint (PPT). Reading these decks with knowledge of the restated financials left me thinking I was caught in Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, a TV series where reality isn’t what the protagonists think. Three years of losses and a $1.2 billion sale. It’s almost too far out for TV.

The Web site also include videos of Fast Search management explaining how their system is the one for other vendors to beat. You can learn much from them here. What I did was to note the folks who raved about Fast Search. I don’t want to drink too much of these analysts’ KoolAid or get caught in a “search wave” and get crushed by a reality ignored by researchers. You can also listen to darned amazing podcasts here. i was able to grab a few snatches in between phone calls about the aforementioned police investigation. I think the one I listened too was science fiction. You can still get a flavor of the “old” Fast Search by reading the entries on the Fast Forward Web log, a chronicle of Fast Search’s user meetings. Access this information here.

If you have some difficulty navigating the site, you’re not alone. The redesign makes it difficult to locate information. Nevertheless, you can do some data archeology using the Google cache, the Wayback Machine, and other search engines; for example, Exalead., operated by Fast Search for Yahoo, is not too useful for finding information about Fast. I tracked down the Norwegian news stories via I’m not sure why there was no pick up of this story when I looked at‘s index of 5,000 news sources. I may not have sharp enough search skills to locate this information.

In the morning, I will print out the restated financials and post short essay about these date. Maybe there’s another mistake in the math. I find it amazing that so many smart people at two high-tech companies make errors in addition and substraction. Ah, these youngsters.

If you have any information and insights into this interesting development, let me know.  Watch for my run down of the restated financials on May 30th.

Stephen Arnold, May 29, 2008


One Response to “The Fast Follies: A Math Error… Maybe”

  1. Fast Cash, Faster Crash : Beyond Search on September 15th, 2011 3:47 pm
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