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Short Honk: Google and Expedient Abandonment

February 1, 2015

It happens to husbands and wives. It happens to do good project. To see how Google deals with abandonment, navigate to “Never Trust a Corporation to Do a Library Job.” There are two operative words in this title: Trust and Library.

The article documents projects with academic merit that Google has kicked to the curb. The shift from do good to make money began in late 2006 and has accelerated since the miracle year when Google was at the peak of the finding hill and heading for a thrill ride.

Read the article. I want to highlight a couple of statements in the article that amused me:

  1. “In the last five years, starting around 2010, the shifting priorities of Google’s management left these archival projects [Groups, Books, News Archive] in limbo, or abandoned entirely.”
  2. “Even Google Search, their flagship product, stopped focusing on the history of the web. In 2011, Google removed the Timeline view letting users filter search results by date, while a series of major changes to their search ranking algorithm increasingly favored freshness over older pages from established sources.”
  3. “The Internet Archive is not Google.”

So what?

For the young at heart, research in Google is not comprehensive. The information may not be findable even it it is in the index unless one knows some old school query methods. And Google faces a future in which mobile devices threaten the growth and profitability of what was the spawn of Backrub.

No big deal. Just interesting that “experts” are surprised at Google’s morphing for money. I anticipate more antics. Apple, after all, earned more in 12 weeks than Google did in 12 months. And the Xooglers at Facebook seem to be on to some advertising methods that on the surface at least look promising. Google is doing the balloon thing. Oh, abandonment is present as well.

Stephen E Arnold, February 1, 2015

Autonomy: Leading the Push Beyond Enterprise Search

January 30, 2015

In “CyberOSINT: Next Generation Information Access,” I describe Autonomy’s math-first approach to content processing. The reason is that after the veil of secrecy was lifted with regard to the signal processing`methods used for British intelligence tasks, Cambridge University became one of the hot beds for the use of Bayesian, LaPlacian, and Markov methods. These numerical recipes proved to be both important and controversial. Instead of relying on manual methods, humans selected training sets, tuned the thresholds, and then turned the smart software loose. Math is not required to understand what Autonomy packaged for commercial use: Signal processing separated noise in a channel and allowed software to process the important bits. Thank you, Claude Shannon and the good Reverend Bayes.

What did Autonomy receive for this breakthrough? Not much but the company did generate more than $600 million in revenues about 10 years after opening for business. As far as I know, no other content processing vendor has reached this revenue target. Endeca, for the sake of comparison, flat lined at about $130 million in the year that Oracle bought the Guided Navigation outfit for about $1.0 billion.

For one thing the British company BAE (British Aerospace Engineering) licensed the Autonomy system and began to refine its automated collection, analysis, and report systems. So what? The UK became by the late 1990s the de facto leader in automated content activities. Was BAE the only smart outfit in the late 1990s? Nope, there were other outfits who realized the value of the Autonomy approach. Examples range from US government entities to little known outfits like the Wynyard Group.

In the CyberOSINT volume, you can get more detail about why Autonomy was important in the late 1990s, including the name of the university8 professor who encouraged Mike Lynch to make contributions that have had a profound impact on intelligence activities. For color, let me mention an anecdote that is not in the 176 page volume. Please, keep in mind that Autonomy was, like i2 (another Cambridge University spawned outfit) a client prior to my retirement.) IBM owns i2 and i2 is profiled in CyberOSINT in Chapter 5, “CyberOSINT Vendors.” I would point out that more than two thirds of the monograph contains information that is either not widely available or not available via a routine Bing, Google, or Yandex query. For example, Autonomy does not make publicly available a list of its patent documents. These contain specific information about how to think about cyber OSINT and moving beyond keyword search.

Some Color: A Conversation with a Faux Expert

In 2003 I had a conversation with a fellow who was an “expert” in content management, a discipline that is essentially a step child of database technology. I want to mention this person by name, but I will avoid the inevitable letter from his attorney rattling a saber over my head. This person publishes reports, engages in litigation with his partners, kowtows to various faux trade groups, and tries to keep secret his history as a webmaster with some Stone Age skills.

Not surprisingly this canny individual had little good to say about Autonomy. The information I provided about the Lynch technology, its applications, and its importance in next generation search were dismissed with a comment I will not forget, “Autonomy is a pile of crap.”

Okay, that’s an informed opinion for a clueless person pumping baloney about the value of content management as a separate technical field. Yikes.

In terms of enterprise search, Autonomy’s competitors criticized Lynch’s approach. Instead of a keyword search utility that was supposed to “unlock” content, Autonomy delivered a framework. The framework operated in an automated manner and could deliver keyword search, point and click access like the Endeca system, and more sophisticated operations associated with today’s most robust cyber OSINT solutions. Enterprise search remains stuck in the STAIRS III and RECON era. Autonomy was the embodiment of the leap from putting the burden of finding on humans to shifting the load to smart software.


A diagram from Autonomy’s patents filed in 2001. What’s interesting is that this patent cites an invention by Dr. Liz Liddy with whom the ArnoldIT team worked in the late 1990s. A number of content experts understood the value of automated methods, but Autonomy was the company able to commercialize and build a business on technology that was not widely known 15 years ago. Some universities did not teach Bayesian and related methods because these were tainted by humans who used judgments to set certain thresholds. See US 6,668,256. There are more than 100 Autonomy patent documents. How many of the experts at IDC, Forrester, Gartner, et al have actually located the documents, downloaded them, and reviewed the systems, methods, and claims? I would suggest a tiny percentage of the “experts.” Patent documents are not what English majors are expected to read.”

That’s important and little appreciated by the mid tier outfits’ experts working for IDC (yo, Dave Schubmehl, are you ramping up to recycle the NGIA angle yet?) Forrester (one of whose search experts told me at a MarkLogic event that new hires for search were told to read the information on my Web site like that was a good thing for me), Gartner Group (the conference and content marketing outfit), Ovum (the UK counterpart to Gartner), and dozens of other outfits who understand search in terms of selling received wisdom, not insight or hands on facts.

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Google: Is the One Trick Pony Limping?

January 30, 2015

You should work through the Googley report about the GOOG’s financial results. I would suggest purging your mind of thoughts about Apple’s revenue and Google’s involvement with the Apple Board of Directors. I would also suggest sponging the data about Amazon’s cloud and prime gains, not to mention the world’s smartest man’s delivering a profit.

Properly prepared, now we can consider “Google Inc. Announces Fourth Quarter and Fiscal Year 2014 Results.” There are two attachments, which you may want to peruse as well. For me the key point in the write up was this passage:

Other Revenues – Other revenues were $1.95 billion, or 11% of total revenues, in the fourth quarter of 2014.  This represents a 19% increase over fourth quarter 2013 other revenues of $1.65 billion.

The way I interpret this sentence is that after a decade of real effort, Google has been able to generate a couple of billion dollars in revenue from non-ad, non-search, and non-network related activities. In the early days, Google earned zero money from anything. Then the company stumbled upon in a moment of inspiration the methods of GoTo, Overture, and Yahoo. After a legal flap, Google emerged with a business model; that is, pay to play for traffic and traffic.

Several thoughts:

  1. Google is a money machine. The company has to find a way to generate more of the stuff in order to maintain its reputation as Googzilla. In my view, Loon balloons and related initiatives are the supporting cast. Another Broadway hit or three are needed.
  2. The financials do not touch upon the management and interpersonal storms buffeting the company. One Google professional was the focal point of a TV news program involving yachts, alcohol, a person without a degree from Cal Tech or INSEAD, and interestingly enough a banned substance. There was the dust up about Glass, inter company extracurricular activities involving a high profile Googler, and the departure of a nano-tech whiz to Amazon’s digital jungle. Then there were management changes. So much in just 12 months.
  3. Finally, there was the company’s business decisions that roiled the Google Earth world, the procedural shifts for APIs, and rise of irrelevancy in search results. The grand and glorious visio0n of “the world’s information” dimmed as book scanning seemed to fizzle. Somewhere I have a list of orphaned services. I will start a new list for fiscal 2015-2016 and use a bigger note card.

I find Google fascinating. I began work on The Google Legacy in 2003, Google Version 2.0 in 2005 when the company was approaching its miracle year, and Google: The Digital Gutenberg in 2008. [Alas, the unstable finances of the publisher of these still useful analyses put these volumes out of print. Publishers are also fascinating, almost like Oedipus.] After these three monographs, I was able to state with some conviction that Google had to find a way to monetize mobile at the same profit level as old school desktop search or find new revenue streams. It was obvious that the Google Search Appliance was not going to be a big winner.

Google remains an important company. Many MBAs live and die by Google’s apparent dominance of all things nifty. For me these financial results suggest that Google may need an overhaul in its senior management. The vision thing is just not ringing my bells.

I no longer can do a query on Google to answer this question, “What’s next for Google?” I think I know after 15 years of watching. More ads, more thrashing, and more Loon balloons. I sort of miss getting those nifty tsotchkes at conferences. My LED illuminated Google pin has gone dim. My Google mousepad has worn out. My Google T Shirt has faded.

Mobile online access has arrived, and it is more of a threat than desktop searchers realize.

Stephen E Arnold, January 30, 2015

Yahoo Acronym Mania: MaVeNS

January 28, 2015

Short honk: I read “Marissa Mayer Pretends “MaVeNS” Isn’t A Silly Acronym, Says It Represents Yahoo’s Future.” The odd ball acronym is getting less coverage than Yahoo’s Alibaba tax play. I am not sure if MaVeNS will be sticky. According to the write up the acronym is supposed to denote for me mobile, video, native advertising, and social.

My question is, “What happened to search?” I thought Yahoo was going to create a better search system. I would have accepted the bone of the “S” representing search. Oh, well. Xooglers are a breed apart. But the US government does a much better job with acronyms and code names than Yahoo I believe. Oh, Yahoo does a better job with tax surfing than some other companies.

Stephen E Arnold, January 28, 2015

IBM: No Way We Are Firing Lots of People

January 27, 2015

I watched as IBM’s stock rose after the story about a 100 000 person reduction in force. IBM replied to the assertion with its own response, according to “IBM Denies Mass Job Cuts.” According to the write up:

In a statement, the company said: “IBM does not comment on rumors, even ridiculous or baseless ones. “If anyone had checked information readily available from our public earnings statements, or had simply asked us, they would know that IBM has already announced the company has just taken a $600m (£398m) charge for workforce rebalancing. This equates to several thousand people, a small fraction of what’s been reported.”

IBM has enjoyed a stock boost greater than that generated by Watson marketing. I find this interesting. Watson, what’s your output?

Stephen E Arnold, January 27, 2015

Online Brand: Will Facebook or Google Become the Internet

January 26, 2015

I read a very interesting item on a UK information service. The article is “People Actually Confuse Facebook and the Internet in Some Places.” Here’s the point I highlighted with orange this fine morning:

Ex-Googler, Facebook COO and mouthpiece Sheryl Sandberg claimed this week that some users (sorry, people) actually think that Mark Zuckerberg’s free-content ad network is the Internet.

I filed an item about Eric Schmidt’s widely publicized prognostication just a day or two before. Here’s a representative article: “Eric Schmidt’s Quite Right The Internet Will Disappear; All Technologies Do As They Mature.”

Google wants the disappearing Internet to be into Google. If Facebook acts out the suggestion that Facebook becomes the Internet, Google will not be happy.

The battle, therefore, is less about disappearing technology than a return to the good old days when a telephone meant Bell. Just cross out Bell, and slot in a nifty company like Facebook or Google.

Is this disappearance or a de facto, ubiquitous monopoly?

Stephen E Arnold, January 26, 2015

Can Watson Help ex IBM Wizards Find a New Future?

January 26, 2015

I read “IBM Is about to Get Hit with a Massive Reorg and Layoffs.” Armed with mainframes and Watson, I assume that these technological wonders are guiding IBM management on its business decisions. According to the write up, which I assume is as accurate as Watson’s Jeopardy answers:

IBM is expected to go through a massive reorg next month that will reportedly see 26% of its 430,000-strong work force let go, or 111,800 people. If that figure holds true, that would make it far and away the largest corporate layoff event in history, breaking the record previously held by IBM, when it cut 60,000 in 1993.

With fantastical projections for revenue from Lucene and home brew code, I thought that IBM would be stuggling to find places to park its new found billions. Guess my faith in IBM was misplaced. Talking about billions and actually getting companies to give you billions are two different things I suppose.

I am looking forward to learning if this layoff thing is real or another Sillycon Valley hiccup.

Stephen E Arnold, January 26, 2015

Sinequa Gets a CEO

January 25, 2015

Short honk: One of the French information access companies is following in the footsteps of Lucid Works (Really?) and Attivio. New blood is, according to the MBA hypothesis, will make a company young again. Fabrice de Salaberry is the CEO of  Sinequa. As the Parisians say “DG” (short hand for directeur général) and delightfully active and purposeful. Details are here. Like Antidot and Exalead, French information access companies have lower profiles in North America than in Europe. Quantitative easing in the European Community may provide a much needed economic lift to some information and content processing companies.

Stephen E Arnold, January 25, 2015

IBM: Why Did Watson Fail to Generate Billions?

January 22, 2015

I read a number of IBM earnings-related articles. None of the ones I examined addressed the question in my mind:

Why didn’t Watson, the smart search system, generate billions in new revenue?

A mainstream statement about IBM’s financial results appears in “IBM’s Mixed Earnings Results Show Troubled Year.”

Investors are watching for moves to put Big Blue back on an upward track. And Schroeter said that “strategic imperatives” like cloud computing, analytics, mobile uses, social media and security offerings will make IBM “the go-to platform for the enterprise.”

No Watson.

IBM has been doing financial engineering, not closing deals that generate revenue from content processing, text analytics, and next generation information access systems.

Why not? No answers jumped out at me.

My view is that IBM is better at Watson public relations than closing deals with customers and prospects with significant information access problems.

The reality is that IBM faces many challenges in content processing ranging from open source alternatives to new vendors with more compelling solutions.

I have tallied Watson’s proposed home runs in health care, recipes, and financial services. So far, from my vantage point in a hollow in rural Kentucky, IBM is struggling to get singles.

IBM’s Watson disappearance is one more indication of the difficulties that companies planning for huge multi billion cash intakes from content processing may face some challenges.

The companies with unrealistic expectations are likely to wish they could win a TV game show and touch up glitches in post production.

Is this what investors and stakeholders paid money to witness?

Stephen E Arnold, January 22, 2015

IT Concerns in 2015: Digital Transformation Leads the List

January 22, 2015

The article titled Boardroom Priorities in 2015: Can IT Deliver on ZDNet discusses a recent survey of 200 CXOs on boardroom concerns for 2015 from Constellation Research. Digital transformation was at the top of many lists, and the article posits that there is a fear among many companies that a “Digital Darwinism” will take down corporations that have not invested in digital strategies. The article states,

“Constellation notes that digital personas represent the brand, but also expand on the brick and mortar experience…[it] spans the entire customer experience…The companies that have invested early in their digital presence have a lead, but it’s unclear what happens to everyone else. Not all of these investments will work and execution is likely to get spotty. Tech vendors are promising magic bullets, but if every company is on the same bandwagon it’s going to be tough for anyone to pull away.”

The article suggests weariness in all areas of investment is wise, especially big data. Other priorities the survey listed include consistent customer experience, preparedness for inorganic growth, mass automation and the reduction of costs for regulatory and security compliance. There is a missing point in this article, which is money. Companies still have to deliver sustainable revenue and continue making new sales.

Chelsea Kerwin, January 22, 2014

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