Yahoo Redefines Search as an Interface

February 28, 2010

Yoiks! The UK media giant Telegraph ran the story “Yahoo and the Future of Search” with a remarkable subtitle: “Yahoo’s search deal with Microsoft could usher in a new purple patch for the former web giant.”

Look at this paragraph in the interview with the former Googler  Yoelle Maarek, now senior director of Yahoo Research.”

The [Microsoft] deal, she explains, should be seen as liberating Yahoo! to focus on front-end search innovations, rather than spending time and money on ensuring the back-end technology is working well. If anything, says Maarek, the Microsoft deal has freed the company up to start fighting the search war in the most important area – the bit the consumer can see. Yahoo’s search teams are planning to launch several new initiatives in this area over the coming months, to try and steal share from search Goliath Google, and also, somewhat confusingly, from Bing, the search platform of Microsoft, its new partner.

Now I am an addled goose often besieged by azure chip consultants and swamped with poobahisms. But this passage startled me.

First, as a former Googler, I expected something logical. Search as interface is okay, but it is part of the story. In fact, that story is Microsoft’s pitch for the UX or user experience. The idea is that users can have eye candy, facets, and suggestions so no query is needed. Fine, but to define search as an interface is like defining GM as a Corvette wheel assembly. Important but not the “real” GM.

Second, I quite like the notion of relying on Microsoft’s plumbing so Yahoo can do the UX thing. The hitch in the git along is that the plumbing is not quite up to Google standards. Ms. Maarek may not know how different but I am of the opinion that she will find out pretty darned quick.

Third, Yahoo has to make stuff work. I will not mention Panama. I will not point out the problems with email search. I will not point out the interesting behavior of Yahoo’s help system. Nope. I will just suggest you navigate to and run a query for a Canon 200 camcorder. Check out the results. Make your own decision about where Yahoo is relative to Amazon and Bing. Even Google’s quirky Products service is more useful in my opinion.

What I find remarkable is that a marketing pitch is presented as laser like insight:

Over the coming months, Maarek says Yahoo! is focusing on three core search areas. Firstly the company is investing in lots of research and “data crunching” to understand how its search engine can better anticipate a person’s “intent” when they enter a search term – for instance, how it can discern whether a person is looking for business news, the record label or the fruit if they enter the search term ‘apple’. Secondly there are new tools being built upon and promoted to make searching via Yahoo! easier and help the company “establish a dialogue” with its users, according to Maarek. ‘Search Pad’ is one of these initiatives. It is a note-taking application which automatically assists a user in saving the addresses of the websites they are visiting on a virtual pad. It helps users collect, edit, organize, save, print and email their notes for immediate or future use. However, unless a user is logged into a Yahoo! account, it will not save or send a user the URLs after the browser window is shut down. Thirdly, Yahoo! is trying to build upon is ‘web of things’ concept – the idea that the web should be seen as an entity built up of ‘objects’ rather than documents. This should be reflected in the way search results are presented. For instance, if a user searched for Lady Gaga, then instead of receiving a list of blue links, the search results will be presented like a mini newspaper – with a variety of types of result including, images, ticket offers, videos (presented as videos and not just links) and news articles.

Does this sound like marketing speak to you? It does to me.

My view:

  1. Yahoo is yesterday in my opinion and rolling up other companies’ technology is a tricky financial wicket in my experience
  2. The technical infrastructure has not been rationalized so cost control for Yahoo will remain a problem. You can only sell off so much and fire so many people before deterioration accelerates even if revenue ticks up a notch.
  3. AOL is moving in a new direction, not talking about a new direction. I think the odds against AOL are significant but, hey, AOL is giving the content farm game a whirl
  4. Time is running out for Yahoo. Top line revenue growth is needed now.

What happens if the Microsoft Yahoo tie up does not yield big bucks and significantly greater market share? Microsoft moves on and Yahoo twists in the wind.

Stephen E Arnold, February 28, 2010

Centric Enterprise Search

February 28, 2010

Centric Software has a new enterprise search system.

According to the firm’s whitepaper, Centric 8, the search product is called Centric 8. With this product I can “discover the undiscoverable.” The system can be “rapidly deployed.” Information is automatically classified. The system features a search profile which displays text, attributes, and dimensions. In addition to search, Centric 8 permits discovery and investigation.

I tripped on the phrase “discover the undiscoverable” which strikes me an assertion similar to “perfect circle”.

The news release “Centric Software Posts Impressive Growth in Fiscal 2010” asserts:

Centric posted over 40% annual increase in sales in fiscal 2010 over last year’s record performance… New Centric Enterprise Search – provides dynamic classification of search results, and extends search and discovery to information outside of the Centric 8 suite so users can easily find data housed in other systems, bring that information into Centric 8, and make better, more informed decisions.

Here’s what Centric says about itself:

Centric Software is a leading provider of product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions for makers of hard-lines, soft-lines, or both in the fashion and consumer goods industries. Centric 8 delivers easy-to-use functionality to manage critical, inseparable business processes – product development, sourcing, and line planning and profitability management – all through a modularized system that implements and delivers value rapidly. With Centric 8, companies cut costs and inefficiency, speed new products to market, drive margin improvement, and improve global collaboration and compliance. Global enterprises including INTERSPORT France, The Coleman Companies, Klim USA, BassPro Shops, Bravo Sports, and United Stationers use Centric solutions to achieve revenue growth, reduce costs, and deliver trend-right products to their customers.

Wikipedia provided this information:

Founded as Coryphaeus Software in 1989 by former NASA electronics engineer, Steve Lakowske,[3] it originally provided real-time simulation software. In 1998, Chris Groves joined as CEO and changed the company name to Centric Software.[4] In late 2004, Centric acquired Framework Technologies for its project collaboration, product innovation and portfolio management solutions.[5] Two years later the company acquired Product Sight Corporation of Bellevue, WA,[6] a developer of product data and enterprise search technology.

The information in my Overflight file pegged the company as a vendor of software and services for the fashion industry. I noted that I needed to avoid confusing this fashion-centric company with the cow-centric company called Centric Software Inc.

I will reopen the Overflight file but the two Centrics underscore the need for a unique name today.

Stephen E Arnold, February 28, 2010

Mainframe Madness in US Government

February 28, 2010

Fascinating article “US Secret Service Shackled by Ancient Mainframes.” The search engine optimization company known as IBM has been crowing about the value of mainframes. In fact, a recent sale was to a bank in Africa. Yep, that’s a niche.

Despite IBM’s efforts to convince me that I need a mainframe in my office, I have had enough experience with these beasties to say, “No thanks.” IBM is deep into search engine optimization, and I know that SEO wizards understand computers.

The most interesting point in the write up was the use of the phrase “shackled by ancient mainframes.” Mainframes are not ancient; they are – er, ahem – geriatric.

The second interesting comment in the write up was in my opinion:

… a Secret Service memo (dated Oct. 16, 2009) obtained by ABC News revealed that 42 mission-oriented applications ran on a 1980s IBM mainframe with a 68 percent performance reliability rating. In addition, networks, data systems, applications, and IT security did “not meet” current operational requirements, while the IT systems lacked appropriate bandwidth to run multiple applications to “effectively support” USSS offices and operational missions around the world.

IBM Federal Systems has a big operation in between Germantown and Rockville. Why can’t the IBM folks get these Secret Service systems working? I think I know. The real wizards at IBM are in SEO or selling consulting services.

As a result, the mainframe units may be starved for talent.

Stephen E Arnold, February 27, 2010

No one paid me to write this. With IBM revamping the GSA systems, I will report my writing for free to someone at IBM Federal Systems. I wonder if an SEO expert is on duty now.

UK Readers Digest Cut Loose?

February 28, 2010

Short honk: Yep, the old turnaround at the Readers Digest is humming along. You can read about the amputation of the UK arm in “Talks Under Way for Sale of UK Reader’s Digest” and get the details. Will this move reverse the slide for this venerable curator of the recycled content from other publications? The goose consults the leaves floating in his mine run off pond and says, “Nope.”

Stephen E Arnold, February 28, 2010

No one paid me to write this. Is this type of article under the jurisdiction of the GPO? I will report nevertheless.

The Google Algorithm Revealed Again

February 27, 2010

Most of the Sergey-and-Larry-eat-pizza books about Google talk about PageRank. I take a look at most of the descriptions, but the PageRank algorithm requires digging through Google technical papers and Google patent documents for factoids. PageRank is now 11 and it has morphed and, like a snowball, picked up some useful functionality over the last decade. You can get a recent summary in the article “How Google’s Algorithm Works (or at Least Some Hints.”

Stephen E Arnold, February 26, 2010

No one paid me to write this article. Since I mentioned “pizza”, this statement of non payment goes to the top brass at the Department of Agriculture, whose logo may appear on US, factory-produced pizzas in the local grocery.

From the Future Back to the Past

February 27, 2010

Nope. Not a new motion picture. The Register reported in “Microsoft: Oracle Will Take Us Back to 1970s Hell” that

Microsoft’s server and tools chief Bob Muglia has chided Oracle for peddling a return to “1960s computing,” accusing its rival of going against industry trends and backing a dying and expensive operating-system architecture.

Interesting. I see the Microsoft Fast ESP engine in a similar light.

Stephen E Arnold, February 27, 2010

No one paid me to write this. Because old computers are mentioned, I suppose I can report this non paid article to the FAA, an outfit familiar with older computers.

Is IBM Annoyed with EMC? Seems So

February 27, 2010

A happy quack to the reader who sent me a link to the article “NetApp Slammed over Tiering Is Dead Comments, EMC Savaged by IBM and Pillar, Named in Disclosure Scandal.”

IBM is hopping from search engine optimization to analysis of competitors. Here’s the passage in the write up from that was fascinating:

IBM’s Tony Pearson finds little to like in EMC’s enhanced Atmos. Storagebod also takes issue with the company on several issues.

What issues” A quick look at Mr. Pearson’s comments was enlightening. First, I noted this passage:

Tony Pearson is a Master Inventor and Senior IT Storage Consultant for the IBM System Storage product line at the IBM Executive Briefing Center in Tucson Arizona…

Okay, poobah.

Next I noted this statement by Mr. Pearson:

Is EMC positioning ATMOS as “Storage for Terrorists”? I can certainly appreciate the value of being able to protect 6PB of data with only 9PB of storage capacity, instead of keeping two copies of 6PB each, the trade-off means that you will be accessing the majority of your data across your intranet, which could impact performance. But, if you are in an illicit or illegal business that could have a third of your facilities “seized by the government”, then perhaps you shouldn’t house your data centers there in the first place. Having two copies of 6PB each, in two “friendly nations”, might make more sense.

The word choice is definitely interesting. The “T” word which will light up some filters in my opinion.

What’s with the contentiousness? EMC is in storage, has the fine Documentum system that IBM once supported, and some eDiscovery tools. IBM has everything, including consulting services and search engine optimization.

My hunch? IBM is feeling the pressure of companies like EMC in some key clients.

Remind me not to sell anything to an IBM client. EMC can withstand the alleged criticism. The addled goose has difficulty spelling words like maroon and its variants.

Stephen E Arnold, February 27, 2010

No one paid me to write this. I will report non payment to the IBM Federal Systems folks who are reinventing the GSA’s computer infrastructure. IBM will pass the statement of non payment along I assume.

German Google Books Activity

February 26, 2010

A reader sent me an email filled with useful information. A happy quack to that person. Here’s the key information from that message.

I know you like watching these efforts.

Munich Digitization Center of the Bavarian State Library does the scanning. The product: The German Digital Library (Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek, or DDB). The Fraunhofer Institute in Sankt Augustin, near Bonn, is responsible for the DDB’s computer technology and may be based on Theseus.  The goal is to integrate the DDB with Europeana. See information here.

Another article on the Fraunhofer Institute linked from Silobreaker looks at developments in 3-D scanning of museum pieces and the possible building of an online repository of culture and archaeology. See the China Post’s “Digital Depot May Archive World Culture in 3-D.”

Great idea for Germany, but with the European Union’s financial challenges falling on Germany’s broad shoulders, I am not certain the flow of money needed to deliver a Google-scale project will be available if Greece, Italy, Spain, and Belgium go south.

Stephen E Arnold, February 26, 2010

No one paid me to copy and paste a reader’s email. Because I used the word “mail”, I will report sending a message without official payment to the US Postal Service.

SQL at 40: Ready for Retirement?

February 26, 2010

Darned interesting write up in the Kellogg (formerly the Web log of the CEO of Mark Logic Corporation). The title caught my attention: “The Database Tea Party: The NoSQL Movement.” If you are struggling with your favorite 50-year old database technology, you will want to read Mr. Kellogg’s article. This comment sums up Kellogg’s position:

If you’re struggling with an RDBMS on a given application problem you shouldn’t say:  we need an open source, NoSQL type thing.  You should say:  we need to look at relational database alternatives.  Those alternatives include a open source database projects (e.g., MongoDB, CouchDB) and key-value stores (e.g., Hadoop), but they also include commercial software offerings such as specialized DBMSs like Streambase (for real-time streams), Aster (for analytics on big data), and MarkLogic (for semi-structured data).  Don’t throw out the commercial-software-benefits baby with the RDBMS bathwater.

I have written about the challenges SQL poses. I want to point out that even firms with non-RDBMS solutions * can use * SQL for certain tasks. I heard one Googler several years ago mention that MySQL was a useful tool. That may have changed now, but I have a couple of RDBMS files that work just fine. The “fine” is the key word because I am not pushing beyond the capabilities of the 40-year old invention of Dr. Codd.

You don’t see too many 40-year-olds athletes in the Olympics or professional sports. Why not take the same pragmatic approach to data management?

Stephen E Arnold, February 25, 2010

The addled goose has been paid by Mark Logic Corporation to give talks at the firm’s user meetings. I was not paid to write this news item, however. Next time I am in San Francisco I will try to get a taco out of this company’s engineering department.

iTunes Landmark

February 26, 2010

This just in: iTunes sold it’s 10 BILLIONth song on Feb. 25, 2010!

Can you imagine that… open for business April 28, 2004, iTunes has already sold its first 10,000,000,000! And all of them were bought online with never a 33 rpm, 45 rpm, long play, VCR, cassette, CD or DVD being shipped… just a click of the mouse!

The world’s largest music, TV and movie retailer doesn’t have a store front, is open 24/365 and has a 12 million song inventory (plus 55,000 TV episodes and 8,500 movies) without the need for a warehouse to store them in. Who would have ever thought… ? Well, that’s today. How long do you think it will take for the next 10 billion to happen?

For your information, the 10 billionth song purchased was “Guess Things Happen That Way” by Johnny Cash. The lucky buyer, ironically, is from Woodstock (Georgia, in this case), representing even today, the soul that drives many of the purchases. For his lucky timing, iTunes has given him a $10,000 gift card. Wow! Is he going to have a great song library.

Jerry Constantino, February 26, 2010

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