March 2, 2014
I was traveling when the Wall Street Journal story “Watson Head’s Departure Raises Questions About IBM Moonshot” appeared. (This story may be behind the WSJ paywall, gentle reader.)
Nevertheless, I wanted to post my view of this interesting staff change. The main point of the story is that Manoj Saxena, once “head” of the Watson project, allegedly abandoned IBM Watson for greener pastures.
According to the write up, IBM said:
Creating an ecosystem of applications based on Watson is a linchpin of IBM’s strategy to turn it into a multi-billion business. Last fall, IBM announced it would open up the Watson technology to software developers in a bid to turn it into a platform much like Apple did with its App Store.
The article pointed out that 20 weeks ago, Manoj Saxena allegedly said:
“In my mind, this is the key to growing Watson to $10 billion,” said Saxena on the October conference call. “It is a tall order, but I think we can do it.”
Perhaps it is easier to assist IBM from outside the company? Perhaps someone in Manoj Saxena’s circle of acquaintances pointed out that it took Autonomy 15 years to generate about $850 million in revenue. IBM wants to beat this goal by a factor of 10 in five years?
Search and content processing are markets ripe with opportunities. From the user’s point of view, systems have become obsessed with graphics. But the precision and recall of the niftiest of today’s systems are not much better than technology available 20 years ago. In fact, some of the 20 year old systems are still in use and being sold today. Even Google is getting on towards 15 year old systems and methods for its Google Search Appliance.
My view is that if Palantir, IBM Watson, and Hewlett Packard are able to hit their revenue goals for their next generation technology—the market with money in hand is going to have to change significantly. Add in the pressure from outfits like Elasticsearch and once promising technologies like those from Coveo, Digital Reasoning, and Lexmark (ISYS Search). There are quite a few companies chasing after available deals. Even Kentucky teens are nosing into the chase. See, for example, http://bit.ly/1gM0j86. Even IBM’s non Watson units like i2 Group are likely to be competing for projects as well.
In a big company, one can get paid to research. When it comes time to sell, suddenly the job shifts from the “ideal” to the “really hard.” This Watson drama is one worth watching. In the case of Manoj Saxena, the better perspective is one from outside IBM.
Stephen E Arnold, March 3, 2014
February 28, 2014
I don’t have a dog in this fight or a commute to make. I bailed on San Francisco after spending the night in a traffic jam. I did not leave my heart in San Francisco. The earthquake in 1989 validated the wisdom of a retreat to rural Kentucky. Not perfect, but free from some of San Francisco’s idiosyncrasies.
A few days ago, my son and I spoke about his recent business trip to the city by the Bay. I asked him if he saw bus protestors. He told me, “Nope. Lots of talk about Google’s ferries and buses, though.” After our chat, I saw a news item about some folks making their way to Atherton to protest something.
Too bad he missed the action. I was hoping he would have an eye witness account of a bus action or maybe a snap of the protestors milling around the sylvan Atherton.
I did get a chuckle out of “Google Donates $6.8 Million to Fund Free Transit Rides for San Francisco Youth.” I assume the story is chock full of facts. The question I had was, “What’s a youth?” The answer is people aged five to 17. Well, that will help with the private transportation issue, won’t it?
Here’s the quote I noted:
For months, activists have been calling on tech companies to make a larger contribution to the communities that help them attract and retain top workers. Google’s move today signals that pressure from the community has gotten the company’s attention. “San Francisco residents are rightly frustrated that we don’t pay more to use city bus stops,” Google said in a statement to The Verge. “So we’ll continue to work with the city on these fees, and in the meantime will fund MUNI passes for low income students for the next two years.”
Ah, two years.
What tickled my funny bone is the link my mind forged between Roman emperors sponsoring games and providing food to citizens. The issue may be the type of disparity that exists between those who have lots of money and those who don’t have sufficient funds.
What worked for Roman emperors may work in San Francisco. Google assumes that this funding is a step forward. I will watch for the announcement of the Google Games. Will math and physics majors compete in bold physical contests? Will participants come with other skills to showcase. Maybe showcase skills in finding relevant information to a user’s query in Google’s “free” Web search system? Why not refurb the Cow Palace and get the show on the road. Free rides for youth between five and 17 too. Can someone snag a ride on the Google barge to Stockton?
Stephen E Arnold, February 28, 2014
February 27, 2014
I came across “Why Is Atom Closed Source?” The thread had a very interesting statement from mojombo. I quote:
Atom won’t be closed source, but it won’t be open source either. It will be somewhere inbetween, making it easy for us to charge for Atom while still making the source available under a restrictive license so you can see how everything works. We haven’t finalized exactly how this will work yet. We will have full details ready for the official launch.
Several years ago I gave a talk and used this diagram to illustrate the spectrum of open source search software:
Some of my information explaining the diagram turned up in an azure chip consulting firm report. Well, that’s how the semi straight consulting firms work.
The point of the diagram is that open source software is on a path to be commercial software. The open source cheerleaders deny this trend. I, on the other hand, submit that the Atom quote makes it pretty darned clear that being a little pregnant is not much different from having a commercial baby. Open source is increasingly a marketing ploy with lipstick.
Stephen E Arnold, February 27, 2013
February 27, 2014
I try not to think about Watson, the IBM super smart, game winning, billion dollar baby. I don’t bring it up in conversations, and I try not to think about how home brew code and open source search technology can outgun any other information access system on the planet. Please, spare me. Every search vendor with whom I come in contact pitches the same old mantra: Better, Faster, Smarter, Better Value.
I read “IBM Is Challenging Developers to Insert Watson into Mobile Apps.” Wow, quite a write up. The main point in my view is that mobile developers stand to make a pile of money when they integrate Watson into their mobile applications. I suppose IBM is indifferent to the core problem of mobile apps; to wit: Apps have recreated the wild and crazy world of the early days of computing. There is no easy way to locate an app. There is no way of knowing if the app is goodware or badware. There is no easy way to figure out how much user information is sucked from the app or what happens to that information if it is gobbled. How easy is it to find an app? Well, go looking for a ringtone. Let me know how that turns out for you.
IBM’s role in mobile computing is easy to sum up: IBM is not a factor in my mobile world. To change that, IBM is issuing a “developer challenge.” The article asserts:
Over the next three months, IBM will host its Watson Mobile Developer Challenge to find the best ideas for mobile apps that can take advantage of Watson’s cognitive computing capabilities. Three winners will join the IBM Ecosystem program and receive assistance from Big Blue to turn their ideas into commercial applications. But IBM stands to gain just as much from this as the winners do.
I anticipate that developers will make money in 2014 is several somewhat old fashioned ways:
- Developers sell their services to anyone without the expertise to build a mobile application. Companies with in house development teams will hired contractors because in many organizations, staff are unable to do or complete work due to incessant meetings, reorganization, or Dilbert-type issues
- Individual developers will code up a solution and hope to hit a home run. For the WhatsApp team, the method worked well. For most independent developers, the app is a way to either sell contract programming or get hired by a large firm in desperate need of developers because incessant meetings, reorganization, or Dilbert-type issues trigger a Parkinson’s Law response
- College students code an app in order to pass a course. Some professors may jump at the chance to turn a class loose on a coding challenge like Watson’s. Others may leave it in the hands of the student to find something to fill time between classes and hanging out with pals.
- Small development shops create apps that solve a problem and generate revenue from the established base of mobile customers for Android and Apple devices. Platforms with less traction like Windows Phone gizmos are likely to be attractive to a small percentage of small development shops if the app leads to more project work.
- A growing number of developers create an app in order to bilk money from users. I am not too enthused about this group, but it is possible that IBM’s challenge could attract some individuals who see a Watson app as a low friction way into a corporate environment.
- Some developers (maybe some are former IBM staff or contractors?) may code a Watson app because of loyalty, a way to establish contacts at IBM, or as a way to obtain first hand knowledge of what working with the Watson outfit requires.
I think that a challenge is likely to be somewhat disappointing for IBM. One of the three “winners” may get a brass ring, but the big question is, “Why doesn’t IBM’s existing developer program work for Watson?” The answer to this question, in my view, is quite important.
The fact that even the write up says:
So, yeah, IBM is smart to get on this movement early because Google, a whole lot of startups, and potentially other cloud providers such as Microsoft and Amazon Web Services also realize that the future is in advanced computing capabilities delivered as services. And although Watson got a lot of attention by winning Jeopardy! in 2011, it’s going to need a lot more — in the form of developers — to win at this game.
Game, yes, Jeopardy for developers. IBM may inadvertently be signaling that Watson is struggling. The goal is $10 billion for Watson. But what is the goal of a Watson developers? Maybe write a money maker for Android or iOS? Get hired at Apple or Google? Get venture funding and create a WhatsApp and sell out to a big company for lots of money?
Plug in your perception of the payoff. Does it include coding for Watson? My hunch is that IBM will have to do more than run a 12 week challenge to achieve traction for Watson as the killer mobile app enabler. Disagree? I don’t really care, but you can post your push back using the comments section of the blog. Just don’t spam me like one journalist who keeps telling me his write ups are “interesting.” I assure you, gentle reader, that only I determine what’s interesting to me.
A Watson challenge is definitely not interesting.
Stephen E. Arnold, February 27, 2014
February 27, 2014
The announcement on NJTC TechWire titled Connotate Promotes Tom Williams to Chief Operating Officer explains that the changes in staff were made to improve customer service and operations strategy. Tom Williams was promoted from his position as VP of Operations and Professional Services at Connotate. Keith Cooper, CEO of Connotate, is quoted in the longer version of the article,
“As our client base continues to grow and the Big Data industry matures, there was an immediate need for an experienced leader to guide customer partnerships and operations… We’re excited to announce the well-deserved promotion of Tom Williams to COO. Creating a succinct synergy between our technology and customers is our number one goal, and Tom brings the level of experience and depth of knowledge to make that happen.”
The staff changes at Connotate are touted in the announcement as creating “synergy between technology and customers.” Williams is quoted in the article as well, explaining how Connotate’s strategy works. By working with clients on data extraction and providing the data back in a method that makes transformations unnecessary, the client’s systems are quickly able to take the data in. Connotate is especially known for their work in background checks, consumer electronics and executive profiles, with such big name clients as the Associated Press, McGraw-Hill and Thomson Reuters.
Chelsea Kerwin, February 27, 2014
February 26, 2014
I read “How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations.” Public relations may need to do some PR and damage control. The allegedly accurate information provided one more factoid to support our contention that locating and verifying “news” is a tough job.
I will be addressing some of the methods a researcher can use to unwrap the ballistic padding that online services use to keep some information away from the grubby fingers of researchers. Consumers who gobble pay-top-play content are what most online services want. And, if you had not noticed, putting video content front and center is the new trend for those who are looking for facts, data, and high-value analyses.
As Kim Kardashian allegedly said, “I’m an entrepreneur. Ambitious is my middle name.”
The blog post “The Future of the News Business: A Monumental Twitter Stream All in One Place” was more interesting to me. The write up presses some familiar controls on the baloney making machine; for example:
- Consolidation is much better than individual services. I wonder if “consolidation” is a euphemism for monopoly, a concept with which some executives are more familiar. An older-school thinker used the word “convergence” but that buzzword makes an appearance in the source article.
- The time horizon is not three years (a long time in today’s uncertain world). The time horizon is 20 years in the future. I wonder how far in the future Viktor Yanukovych’s chief of staff planned yesterday. I think the plans are on hold for a while.
- The old way of news was monopolistic. The new way is to generate money from many streams; for example, advertising (good), Bitcoin (possibly problematic), and slicing and dicing (a possible copyright quagmire).
- The beacons range from Buzzfeed (listicles) to SearchEngineLand (the logic straining search engine optimization service described as “a place for all the search news, all the time.”)
The opportunity, if I follow the argument, is to tackle the job of creating a monumental Twitter Stream all in one place” with vision, scrappiness, experimentation, adaptability, focus, deferred gratification, and an entrepreneurial mindset.
I appreciate the elegant quote from Tommy Lasorda about how difficult creating a news-oriented “monumental Twitter stream” will be. My hunch is that a fusion of PR methods, content marketing, and “bits are bits” thinking will triumph.
February 21, 2014
Last week, two of the senior ArnoldIT professionals delivered a one hour lecture to a select group of executives. The topic was related to our work in locating high-value information using open source content sources.
Shortly after our presentation I read “Google Was Willing to Beat Facebook’s $19B Offer for WhatsApp.” Quite a windfall for WhatsApp.
The thought that struck me was the way the deal illuminated a comment made by an investment banker attending out lecture last week. The former consultant told me:
We focus on innovation. We are looking in high tech sectors.
The statement is a bit of misdirection. The investment firm wants to find companies, inject cash, and then do a deal like the WhatsApp anomaly. The user of the word “innovation” is an audible pause. Like the person who uses “so” or “um” in conversation, the individual talking about innovation is not interested in innovation.
From my perspective, brokering a big deal is not innovation. The company WhatsApp may be described as an innovator. The question is, “Did Facebook buy innovation?”
If WhatsApp was an innovation, why did Google step away from the deal?
The current economic environment is looking for blockbusters, home runs, and slam dunk content winners.
Innovation is related to cash. Without funding, most start ups struggle. Without cash, start ups are the raw material for the near-monopolies that the US tech landscape is husbanding.
In my series of search vendor profiles, a surprising trend is evident. In the search and content processing sector, innovation has stalled. Instead of breakthroughs, there are optimizing and bundling plays. Instead of light bulbs, I see recycled plastic.
Paying $19 billion is an indication that a blend of desperation and arrogance is filling the coffee shops in some locales.
Stephen E Arnold, February 21, 2014
February 20, 2014
I read “Facebook” in the WhatsApp Blog. I find the idea that Google and Facebook engaged in a multi billion dollar bidding war amusing. Tucked into the blog post was this quote to note:
Here’s what will change for you, our users: nothing. WhatsApp will remain autonomous and operate independently. You can continue to enjoy the service for a nominal fee. You can continue to use WhatsApp no matter where in the world you are, or what smartphone you’re using. And you can still count on absolutely no ads interrupting your communication. There would have been no partnership between our two companies if we had to compromise on the core principles that will always define our company, our vision and our product.
My hunch is that the assurance is important for personal mental health and for customers who have some first hand experience with change.
I thought of this quote as I pondered the the categorical “nothing”:
To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often. – Winston Churchill
Lucretius and Winnie: Obviously incorrect. WhatsApp has it nailed down permanently and eternally. Update your thinking, gentle WhatsApp user. I won’t ask you to edit the “nothing” to read “nothing for a short time.”
Stephen E Arnold, February 20, 2014
February 19, 2014
I read a long report and then a handful of spin off reports about HP and Autonomy, mid February 2014 version. The Financial Times’s story is a for fee job. You can get a feel for the information in “HP Executives Knew of Autonomy’s Hardware Sales Losses: Report.” There are clever discussions of this allegedly “new information” in a number of blogs. What is interesting is an allegedly accurate chunk of information in “HP Explores Settlement of Autonomy Shareholder Lawsuit.” My head is spinning. HP buys something. Changes the person on watch when the deal was worked out. HP gets a new boss and makes changes to its board of directors. HP then accuses everyone except itself for buying Autonomy for a lot of money. HP then whips up the regulators, agitates accounting firms, and pokes Michael Lynch with a cattle prod.
As this activity was in the microwave, it appears that HP knew how the hardware/software deals were handled. If the reports are accurate, Dell hardware was more desirable than HP’s hardware.
But there is a more interesting twist. I refer you, gentle reader, to “A Fervent Defense of Frequentist Statistics.” Autonomy’s “black box” consists of Bayesian methods and what I call MCMC or Monte Carlo and Markov Chain techniques. The idea is that once some judgment calls are made, the Integrated Data Operating Layer or IDOL can chug away without human involvement. When properly resourced and trained, the Autonomy system works for certain types of content processing and information retrieval applications. You can read more about IDOL in our for-fee analysis of IDOL. This document reviews several important patents germane to the Autonomy system. You can purchase a copy of this analysis at https://gumroad.com/l/autonomy.
In a Fervent Defense, an old battle line is reactivated. The “frequentists” are not exactly thrilled with the rise of Bayesian methods. Autonomy emerged from Cambridge University when some of the Bayesian methods were revealed as crucial to World War II activities. Freqeuntists point out that there are some myths about Bayesian methods. The write up is not for MBAs, failed Web masters, and unemployed middle school teachers. For example, the myths allegedly dispelled in the article are:
- “Bayesian methods are optimal.
- Bayesian methods are optimal except for computational considerations.
- We can deal with computational constraints simply by making approximations to Bayes.
- The prior isn’t a big deal because Bayesians can always share likelihood ratios.
- Frequentist methods need to assume their model is correct, or that the data are i.i.d.
- Frequentist methods can only deal with simple models, and make arbitrary cutoffs in model complexity (aka: “I’m Bayesian because I want to do Solomonoff induction”).
- Frequentist methods hide their assumptions while Bayesian methods make assumptions explicit.
- Frequentist methods are fragile, Bayesian methods are robust.
- Frequentist methods are responsible for bad science
- Frequentist methods are unprincipled/hacky.
- Frequentist methods have no promising approach to computationally bounded inference.”
The key point is that HP is going to learn, already has learned, or learned and just forgotten that Bayesian methods are not a suitable for every single information processing application. In fact, using Bayesian when a frequentist method is more appropriate can produce unsatisfactory results for a discriminating data scientist. The use of frequentist methods when Bayesian is more appropriate can yield equally dissatisfying outputs.
The point is that if one buys a system built on one method and then applies it inappropriately, the knowledgeable user is going to be angry. It is possible that some disappointed users will take legal action, demand a license refund, or just hit the conference circuit and explain why such and such a system was a failure.
Will HP put the three ring circus of buying Autonomy to rest and then find itself mired in the jaws of a Bayesian versus frequentist dispute? My hunch is, “Yep.”
Could HP have convinced itself that Autonomy was a universal fix it kit for information processing problems? If the answer is, “Yes,” then HP is going to have to come to grips with licensees who are going to point out that the solution did not cure the problem.
In short, HP faces more excitement. The company will not be “idle” any time soon. HP may not be amused, but I am. Search is indeed a bit more difficult than some would have customers believe.
Stephen E Arnold, February 19, 2014
February 17, 2014
I did a series of reports about open source search. Some of these were published under mysterious circumstances by that leader of the azure chip consultants, IDC. You can see the $3,500 per report offers on the IDC site. Hey, I am not getting the money, but that’s what some of today’s go go executives do. The list of titles appears below my signature.
Elasticsearch, a system that is based on Lucene, evolved after the still-in-use Compass system. What seems to have happened in the last six months is one of those singularities that Googlers seek.
In January 2014, GigaOM, a “real news” outfit reported that Elasticsearch had moved from free and open source to a commercial model. You can find that report in “6 million Downloads Later, Elasticsearch Launches a Commercial Product.” The write up equates lots of downloads with commercial success. Well, I am not sure that I accept that. I do know that Elasticsearch landed an additional $24 million in series B funding if Silicon Angle’s information is correct. Elasticsearch, armed with more money than the now aging and repositioning Lucid Works (originally Lucid Imagination) has. (An interview with one of the founders of Lucid Imagination, the precursor of Lucid Works is at http://bit.ly/1gvddt5. Mr. Krellenstein left Lucid Imagination abruptly shortly after this interview appeared.)
I noted that in February 2014, InfoWorld, owned by the publisher of the $3,500 report about Elasticsearch, called the company “ultra hip.” I don’t see many search companies—proprietary or open source—called “hip.” “Ultra Hip Elasticsearch Hits Commercial Release.” The write up asserts (although I wonder who provided the content):
Elasticsearch was originally spun off from the Compass project, an open source Java search engine framework, back in 2004, in an effort to create a highly scalable search solution. Built on top of the well-known and popular Lucene library from the Apache Software Foundation, Elasticsearch adds such features as multitenancy, sharding, faceted search, and a JSON-based REST API. This feature set puts it in competition with the Solr project as a complete search solution built on top of Lucene.
The statement does not hit what I thought are the main points of the Elasticsearch initiative. let me fill in the blanks. Perhaps an azure chip consultant can use these to whip up another $3,500 report?