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What SEO, Google, and Marketing Hath Wrought

Myths and Misreporting About Malaysia Airlines Flight 17” is an interesting article. I found the examples of misinformation, disinformation, and reformation thought provoking. The write up spotlights a few examples of fake or distorted information about an airline’s doomed flight.

As i considered the article and its appearance in a number of news alerting services, I shifted from the cleverness of the content to a larger and more interesting issue. From the revelations about software that can alter inputs to an online survey (see this link) to fake out “real” news, determining what’s sort of accurate from what’s totally bogus is becoming more and more difficult. I have professional researchers, librarians, and paralegals at my disposal. Most people do not. No longer surprising to me is the email from one of the editors working to fact check my for fee columns. The questions range from “Did IBM Watson invent a recipe with tamarind in its sauce?” to “Do you have a source for the purchase price of Vivisimo?” Now I include online links for the facts and let the editors look up my source without the intermediating email. Even then, there is a sense of wonderment when an editor expresses surmise that what he or she believed is, in fact, either partially true, bogus, or unexpected. Example: “Why do French search vendors feel compelled to throw themselves at the US market despite the historically low success rates?” The answer is anchored in [a] French tax regulations, [b] French culture, particularly when a scruffy entrepreneur from the wrong side of the educational tracks tries to connect with a French money source from the right side of the educational tracks, [c] the lousy financial environment for certain high technology endeavors, and [d] selling to the big US markets looks like a slam dunk, at least for a while.

ww1 fixed copy

The reason for the disconnect between factoids and information manipulation boils down to a handful of factors. Let me highlight several:

First, the need for traffic to Web sites (desktop, mobile, app instances, etc.) is climbing up the hierarchy of business / personal needs. You want traffic today? The choices are limited. Pay Google $25,000 or more a month. Pay an SEO (search engine optimization “expert” whatever you can negotiate. Create content, do traditional marketing, and trust that the traffic follows the “if you build it they will come” pipedream. Most folks just whack at getting traffic and use increasingly SEOized headlines as a low cost way of attracting attention. Think headlines from the National Enquirer in the 1980s.

Second, Google has to pump lots of money into plumbing, infrastructure, moon shots, operational costs  (three months at the Stanford Psych unit, anyone?) At the same time, mobile is getting hot. Two problems plague the sunny world of the GOOG. [a] Revenue from mobile ads is less than from traditional ads. Therefore, Google has to find a way to keep that 2006 style revenue flowing. Because there is a systemic shift, the GOOG needs money. One way to get it is to think about Adwords as a machine that needs tweaking. How does one sell Adwords to those who do not buy enough today? You ponder the question, but it involves traffic to a Web site. [b] Google gets bigger so the “think cheap” days of yore are easier to talk about than deliver. A 15 year old company is getting more and more expensive to run. The upcoming battles with Amazon and Samsung will not be cheap. The housing developments, the Loon balloons, and the jet fleet, smart people, and other oddments of the company—money pits. If the British government can fiddle traffic, is it possible that others have this capability too?

Third, marketing, an easy whipping boy or girl as the case may be. After spending lots and lots on Web sites and apps, some outfits’ CFOs are asking, “What do we get for this spending?” In order to “prove” their worth and stop the whipping, marketers have kicked into overdrive. Baloney, specious, half baked, crazy, and recycled content is generated by the terabyte drive. The old fashioned ideas about verification, accuracy, and provenance are kicked to the side of the road.

Net net: running a query on a search engine, accepting the veracity of a long form article, or just finding out what happened at an event is very difficult. The fixes are not palatable to some people. Others are content to believe that their Internet or Internet search engine dispenses wisdom like the oracle at Delphi. Who knew the “oracles” relied on confusing entrances, various substances, and stage tricks to get their story across.

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We now consult digital Delphis. How is that working out when you search for information to address a business problem, find a person who can use finger manipulation to relax a horse’s muscle, or determine if a company is what its Web site says it is?

Stephen E Arnold, July 24, 2014

Interviews

Elasticsearch: A Platform for Third Party Revenue

Making money from search and content processing is difficult. One company has made a breakthrough. You can learn how Mark Brandon, one of the founders of QBox, is using the darling of the open source search world to craft a robust findability business.

I interviewed Mr. Brandon, a graduate of the University of Texas as Austin, shortly after my return from a short trip to Europe. Compared with the state of European search businesses, Elasticsearch and QBox are on to what diamond miners call a “pipe.”

In the interview, which is part of the Search Wizards Speak series, Mr. Brandon said:

We offer solutions that work and deliver the benefits of open source technology in a cost-effective way. Customers are looking for search solutions that actually work.

Simple enough, but I have ample evidence that dozens and dozens of search and content  processing vendors are unable to generate sufficient revenue to stay in business. Many well known firms would go belly up without continual infusions of cash from addled folks with little knowledge of search’s history and a severe case of spreadsheet fever.

Qbox’s approach pivots on Elasticsearch. Mr. Brandon said:

When our previous search product proved to be too cumbersome, we looked for an alternative to our initial system. We tested Elasticsearch and built a cluster of Elasticsearch servers. We could tell immediately that the Elasticsearch system was fast, stable, and customizable. But we love the technology because of its built-in distributed nature, and we felt like there was room for a hosted provider, just as Cloudant is for CouchDB, Mongolab and MongoHQ are for MongoDB, Redis Labs is for Redis, and so on. Qbox is a strong advocate for Elasticsearch because we can tailor the system to customer requirements, confident the system makes information more findable for users.

When I asked where Mr. Brandon’s vision for functional findablity came from, he told me about an experience he had at Oracle. Oracle owns numerous search systems, ranging from the late 1980s Artificial Linguistics’ system to somewhat newer systems like the late 1990s Endeca system, and the newer technologies from Triple Hop. Combine these with the SES technology and the hybrid InQuira formed from two faltering NLP systems, and Oracle has some hefty investments.

Here’s Mr. Brandon’s moment of insight:

During my first week at Oracle, I asked one of my colleagues if they could share with me the names of the middleware buyer contacts at my 50 or so named accounts. One colleague said, “certainly”, and moments later an Excel spreadsheet popped into my inbox. I was stunned. I asked him if he was aware that “Excel is a Microsoft technology and we are Oracle.” He said, “Yes, of course.” I responded, “Why don’t you just share it with me in the CRM System?” (the CRM was, of course, Siebel, an Oracle product). He chortled and said, “Nobody uses the CRM here.” My head exploded. I gathered my wits to reply back, “Let me get this straight. We make the CRM software and we sell it to others. Are you telling me we don’t use it in-house?” He shot back, “It’s slow and unusable, so nobody uses it.” As it turned out, with around 10 million corporate clients and about 50 million individual names, if I had to filter for “just middleware buyers”, “just at my accounts”, “in the Northeast”, I could literally go get a cup of coffee and come back before the query was finished. If I added a fourth facet, forget it. The CRM system would crash. If it is that bad at the one of the world’s biggest software companies, how bad is it throughout the enterprise?

You can read the full interview at http://bit.ly/1mADZ29. Information about QBox is at www.qbox.com.

Stephen E Arnold, July 2, 2014

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