Google Search Data Utilized for Financial Analysis

October 6, 2017

Here is a short honk to point out an interesting new use for search data. A financial analyst is relying on it to make a key prediction, CNBC reports in, “Analyst Predicts Great Amazon Sales Results Because of What He Sees in Google Search Data.” Reporter Tae Kim writes:

Piper Jaffray’s Michael Olson reaffirmed his overweight rating for Amazon, citing the company’s web search analysis which pointed to robust June quarter sales growth for the e-commerce giant. …

Olson said the firm’s web analysis revealed search interest for Amazon-related words grew 24 percent year over year in the June quarter versus 23 percent growth in the March quarter. He cited how Piper’s search analysis had a 95 percent correlation with Amazon’s retail sales unit growth in the previous 37 quarters.

Such interest may be spurred by Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods, and by the company’s strong growth in this year’s second quarter. The innovative analyst’s company, Piper Jaffray, has been in business since 1895. It is nice to see a venerable firm embrace a fresh idea, but will Olson’s prediction prove correct?

Cynthia Murrell, October 6, 2017

Combine Humans with AI for Chatbot Success (for Now)

September 25, 2017

For once, humans are taking work from bots. The Register reports, “Dismayed by Woeful AI Chatbots, Boffins Hired Real People—And Went Back to Square One.” Today’s AI-empowered devices can seem pretty smart—as long as one sticks to the script. Until we have chatbots that can hold their own with humans in conversation, though, Chorus may give users the best of both worlds. The app taps into a human workforce through Amazon Mechanical Turk, and was developed by researchers from Carnegie Mellon, the University of Michigan, and Ariel University. A PDF of their paper can be found here. Writer Thomas Claburn reports:

It was hoped by businesses the world over that conversational software could replace face-to-face reps and people in call centers, as the machines should be far cheaper and easier to run. The problem is simply that natural language processing in software is not very good at the moment.


‘Due to the lack of fully automated methods for handling the complexity of natural language and user intent, these services are largely limited to answering a small set of common queries involving topics like weather forecasts, driving directions, finding restaurants, and similar requests,’ the paper explains. … [Researchers] devised a system that connects Google Hangouts, through a third-party framework called Hangoutsbot, with the Chorus web server, which routes queries to on-demand workers participating in Amazon Mechanical Turk.

The team acknowledges they are not the first to combine a chatbot with real people, citing the crowd-sourced app for blind iPhone users, VizWiz. Of course, employing humans brings its own set of problems. For example, they do not come equipped with an auto-timeout, and they sometimes let their emotions get the better of them. It can also be difficult to find enough workers to answer all queries quickly. Researchers see Chorus as an interim solution that, they hope, will also suggest ways to improve automated chat going forward.

Cynthia Murrell, September 25, 2017

Amazon Factoids: Match Game for Google, IBM, and MSFT?

September 18, 2017

I am not sure if the data in this Amazon write up are accurate. Navigate to “Prime Day 2017 – Powered by AWS” and make your own decision. I noted these “factoids” about Amazon’s cloud Olympic winning dead lift:

Block Storage – Use of Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) grew by 40% year-over-year, with aggregate data transfer jumping to 52 petabytes (a 50% increase) for the day and total I/O requests rising to 835 million (a 30% increase). The team told me that they loved the elasticity of EBS, and that they were able to ramp down on capacity after Prime Day concluded instead of being stuck with it.

NoSQL Database – Amazon DynamoDB requests from Alexa, the sites, and the Amazon fulfillment centers totaled 3.34 trillion, peaking at 12.9 million per second. According to the team, the extreme scale, consistent performance, and high availability of DynamoDB let them meet needs of Prime Day without breaking a sweat.

Stack Creation – Nearly 31,000 AWS CloudFormation stacks were created for Prime Day in order to bring additional AWS resources on line.

API Usage – AWS CloudTrail processed over 50 billion events and tracked more than 419 billion calls to various AWS APIs, all in support of Prime Day.

Configuration TrackingAWS Config generated over 14 million Configuration items for AWS resources.

Is Amazon reminding customers or competitors that it does more than sell books and buy grocery stores? Is Amazon doing PR?

Stephen E Arnold, September 18, 2017

Product Search: Hard Numbers or Flights of Fancy?

September 16, 2017

I read “Amazon Shakes Up Search, Again.” I was not aware of Amazon’s shaking up search because there are numerous ways to define the term. The write up narrows “search” to people in three countries who buy products or look for product information online. Ah, good, I think.

My hunch is that the “shake up” is related to the data that suggests Amazon has three times as many product searches than Google. The assertion did not “shake” me up because Google’s product search is not particularly useful. I thought that Froogle had a shot at becoming a daughter-of-Amazon, but the GOOG lost interest. Sure, I can search for a product using Google, but the results are often not what I want. Your mileage may vary.

But back to the write up. I noted some factoids which may be useful to those who are giving talks about product search, those who work for a consulting firm and must appear super smart, or folks like me who collect data, no matter how wild or crazy.

Here we go with the “shake up” from 3,100 consumers in the US, Germany, and the UK:

  • 72 percent use Amazon to research a product before buying the product
  • 51 percent use Amazon as a way to get “alternative ideas”
  • 26 percent use Amazon to get information and price when they plan on visiting a real store
  • 84 percent of “searchers” in the US use Google
  • 71 percent of “searchers” in the US use Amazon
  • 36 percent use Facebook in the US use Amazon
  • 24 percent use Pinterest in the US use Amazon
  • 31 percent use eBay in the US use Amazon
  • 80 percent in the UK use Google
  • 73 percent use Amazon in the UK
  • 9 percent use Bing in France
  • 6 percent us Bing in the UK
  • 6 percent use Bing in Germany
  • 20 percent of searchers use Bing
  • Amazon stocks or “carries” 353 million products. Put aside the idea that percentages usually work on a scale of zero to 100, please:
    • 59 percent are “health and beauty”
    • 57 percent are “music, movies, or games”
    • 55 percent are “books”
    • 52 percent fashion or clothing
    • 46 percent are home appliances
    • 40 percent are furniture and home furnishings
    • 39 percent are toys
    • 34 percent are sports equipment and clothing
    • 26 percent are garden equipment and furniture (?)
    • 26 percent are food and grocery
    • 9 percent are beer, wine and spirits.

So if there are 353 million products and the percentage data are correct, the total percentage of products is 443 percent. I did not the duplicate furniture entry but counted the percentage anyway. Also, there was no value for garden equipment and furniture so I used “26 percent”. Close enough for millennials steeped in new math.

My math teacher (Verna Blackburn) in my freshman year of high school in 1958 had an dunce cap. I think I can suggest one research report author who might have been invited to wear the 24 inch tall cap. The 443 percent would shake up deal Miss Blackburn. She also threw chalk at students when they made errors when solving on the blackboards which were on three walls of her classroom. The fourth wall looked out over asphalt to the smokestacks of the former RG Letourneau mortar factory. Getting math wrong at that outfit could indeed shake up some things.

Stephen E Arnold, September 16, 2017

Another Captain Obvious or Fanciful Thinking: Silicon Valley and the US Government in Conflict?

September 13, 2017

I read “There’s Blood In The Water In Silicon Valley.” The main idea is that Sillycon Valley is too big for its Air birds. The US government, riding its white horse and wearing its shining armor, will ride to the rescue of the citizens, nay, the country.

The write up tells me in “real news” tones:

The new corporate leviathans that used to be seen as bright new avatars of American innovation are increasingly portrayed as sinister new centers of unaccountable power, a transformation likely to have major consequences for the industry and for American politics.

There you go. “Leviathans.” “Sinister.” “Unaccountable.” “Power.”

Objective, dispassionate, the real world exposed.

The bad guys are Amazon, Facebook, Google, and any other Sillycon Valley outfits doing what companies do.

From my vantage point in the high-tech center of the mid South, I am not sure I see these outfits as doing anything different from what other big outfits do; for example:

  • Big pharma and its pricing tactics
  • GM and its auto engineering methods
  • Too-big-to-fail banks doing their fancy dancing.

Need I go on.

The business set up in the US is not going to be changed quickly or significantly in my opinion. There are some reasons I hold this view, no matter what “real journalism” outfits asserts. Here are some of my factoids:

  1. The US government bureaucracy does not move quickly. Certain changes in bureaucratic behavior are slowed because of the revolving door between US government and industry, government workers interest in advancing their careers via lateral arabesques and the quest for grabbing the brass ring of the SES (senior executive service)
  2. Lobbyists and influencers have an old-fashioned tin-can-and-string communication method between those who pay the lobbyists and those who make the laws and, to some extent, influence how they are interpreted in US government entities
  3. Political considerations command the attention of those within and outside the US government. There are jobs at stake, and having Amazon shut down one of its nerve centers to move to more favorable climes is a bit of a concern in many circles.

And there are other factors ranging from those who own stock in the evil Sillycon Valley companies to the desire to get one’s kid a job at an outfit like Facebook or Google.

My thought is that outfits like Equifax may warrant more attention than the Sillycon Valley bros. But “real news” outfits set the agenda, right? Maybe. Sillycon Valley is one facet of the “business as usual” methods employed through many standard industrial code sectors.

Here’s a thought? Why not suggest that outfits like Equifax are regulated by a government agency. The Amazons, Facebooks, and Googles have lots of oversight compared to the controls placed on the US credit bureaus.

Why not ride on over to Equifax and sparkle in the sun?

Stephen E Arnold, September 13, 2017

Amazon to Develop Pet Translating App

September 12, 2017

Anyone who has participated in a one-way conversation with their beloved pet can appropriate Amazon’s latest ambitions in creating an app to translate dog and cat sounds into human language. Not being the first to have this idea, Amazon should note that there has been no significant advance in this particular science and, perhaps, they are over-reaching even their own capacities.

The Guardian recently shared of Amazon’s dreams of a pet-translating app and came to the conclusion that at best it would provide the same service as adult supervision.

Kaminski says a translation device might make things easier for people who lack intuition or young children who misinterpret signals ‘sometimes quite significantly.’ One study, for instance, found that when young children were shown a picture of a dog with menacingly bared teeth, they concluded that the dog was “happy” and “smiling” and that they would like to hug it. An interpretation device might be able to warn of danger.

While there is no doubt that the pet industry is exploding in dollars and interest, Amazon’s app aspirations are a bit of a stretch. It is understandable how such a gimmicky app would set Amazon apart from other translation apps and sites, even if it has the same accuracy.

Catherine Lamsfuss, September 12, 2017

Google and Walmart: More Than a Super Saver Special?

August 23, 2017

I read “Walmart and Google Partner on Voice-Based Shopping.” The main point of the write up is that talking to a device is the way people will buy nylon shirts, dog food, and giant bottles of fizzy drinks. The write up points out the smart Google features and the allure of having a person (a Googley electric vehicle putting the packages in front of a house. (Package poacher alert.)

I noted this passage:

Google Express is also today ditching its membership fees, and now promises free delivery across its retailers in one to three days, as long as customer orders are above each store’s minimums… Google believes its fees were limiting adoption and were particularly cumbersome when it came to enabling voice shopping.

Google may not be as much believing as reacting to data which may suggest that the approach was as tasty as off brand cat food to a persnickety feline. Google. Data. Remember?

The notion of the Google bubble providing a boost to Walmart’s mobilization against Amazon is threaded through the write up.

From my vantage point in Harrod’s Creek, I thought about three issues:

  1. Amazon is a far greater threat to Google than just product search. Amazon is winning in this particular category if the data I have collected are accurate. A three to one gap seems to loom for the GOOG. I think of the dropped ball with Froogle, and the rest is Amazon’s history.
  2. Google is thinking less like the bold imitator it was when it needed to generate revenue and the Yahoo, Overture, GoTo approach was so darned juicy and semi-available. Now the teaming is a response to a genuine business threat. Yep, Amazon again. Google is reacting in a way that reminds me of a small business that finds itself watching a larger outfit changing the rules of the game and threatening the small business as collateral damage. “We have to do something big, significant” echoes in my mind.
  3. Neither Google nor Walmart are particularly fast moving. The companies share other similarities: Neither has figured out Act 2 in their corporate dramas. Neither believes that what happened to Endeca or Sears can be allowed to happen to them. Neither has been able to spin gold from acquisitions. Are there other parallels? This is a question worth considering.

Net net: The tie up is less about a leapfrog of Amazon and more about what big companies sensing future distress do to come up with a “significant action.”

Stephen E Arnold, August 23, 2017

Google Home Still Knows More

August 21, 2017

Amazon has infiltrated our lives as our main shopping destination.  Amazon is also trying to become our best friend, information source, and digital assistant via Alexa.  Alexa provides a wealth of services, such as scheduling appointments, filling shopping orders, playing music, answering questions, and more.  While Amazon Alexa has a steady stream of users, Ad Week says, “Google Home Is 6 Times More Likely To Answer Your Questions Than Amazon Alexa.”

The company 360i developed software that would determine which digital assistant was more accurate: Google Home or Amazon Alexa.  Apparently Google Home is six times more likely to answer a question than Amazon Alexa.  360i arrived at this conclusion by using their software to ask both devices 3,000 questions.  Alexa won when it came to questions related to retail information, but Google Home won over all with its search algorithms.

It’s relatively surprising, considering that RBC Capital Markets projects Alexa will drive $10 billion of revenue to Amazon by 2020—not to mention the artificial intelligence-based system currently owns 70 percent of the voice market.

Amazon might be the world’s largest market place, so Alexa would, of course, be the world’s best shopping assistant.  The Internet is much larger than shopping and Google scours the entire Web.  What does Amazon use to power Alexa’s searches?

Whitney Grace, August 21, 2017

Google and Microsoft AI Missteps

August 14, 2017

I read an interesting article called “Former Microsoft Exec Reveals Why Amazon’s Alexa Voice Assistant Beat Cortana.” The passage I noted as thought provoking was this one:

Qi Lu, formerly a Microsoft wizard and now a guru at Baidu allegedly said in this passage from the Verge’s article:

Lu believes Microsoft and Google “made the same mistake” of focusing on the phone and PC for voice assistants, instead of a dedicated device. “The phone, in my view, is going to be, for the foreseeable future, a finger-first, mobile-first device,” explains Lu. “You need an AI-first device to solidify an emerging base of ecosystems.”

Apparently Lu repeated what I think is a key point:

“The phone, in my view, is going to be, for the foreseeable future, a finger-first, mobile-first device,” explains Lu. “You need an AI-first device to solidify an emerging base of ecosystems.”

Several questions occurred to me:

  1. Do Google and Microsoft share a similar context for evaluating high value technologies? Perhaps these two companies are more alike in how they see the world than Amazon?
  2. Are Google and Microsoft reactive; that is, the companies act in a reflexive manner with regard to figuring out how to apply a magnetic technology?
  3. Is Amazon’s competitive advantage an ability to think about an interesting technology in terms of the technology’s ability to augment an existing revenue stream and open new revenue streams?

I don’t have the answer to these questions. If Lu is correct, Amazon has done an end run around Google and Microsoft in terms of talking to gizmos. Can Amazon sustain its technological momentum? With Microsoft floundering with Windows 10 and hardware reliability, it is possible that its applied research is mired in the Microsoft management morass. Google, on the other hand, has its hands full with Amazon taking more product search traffic at a time when Google has to figure out how to solve emotional, political, and ideological issues. Need I say “damore”?

Stephen E Arnold, August 14, 2017

Lest Chinese Conglomerates Forget

August 4, 2017

Alphabet, the parent company of Google last week was fined $2.7 billion for abusing its position in search engine results. This should provide Chinese companies with global ambitions a precursor on what lies ahead for them.

In an editorial published by China Daily and titled Google’s Fine a Reminder, the author says:

Fining of Google should remind Chinese enterprises intent on going global that they should abide by local laws and regulations to avoid possible economic losses resulting from any malpractices and wrongdoings.

China is a closed ecosystem where Google, Facebook, Apple, or Amazon have absolute no dominance unlike in rest of the economies. Here, homegrown companies rule the roost. However, with burgeoning profits fuelled by domestic consumption, the Chinese companies are looking to expand to other markets.

With a reputation of lofting rules, Google getting fined by EU regulators should tell Chinese companies if they break the law of the land, expect being penalized, heavily.

Vishal Ingole, August 4, 2017

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