The Future of Virtual Search Lies in Surprising Hands

October 12, 2017

The world of text-based search has its days numbered. At least, that’s what some experts are saying when they discuss virtual search engines. But should we be throwing today’s strongest text-based search giants on the scrap heap? It’s not that easy, according to Search Engine Watch in a new article called, “Pinterest, Google, or Bing: Who Has The Best Virtual Search Engine?”

Historically, we know that video, images, and articles have been cataloged in a text-based system for search. This keyword-based system that Google has perfected over the last few decades is, however, more limiting than much anticipated. These static keyword searches are ignoring a vast swath of search potential that some surprising sources are tapping into the virtual search market.

According to Search Engine Watch:

Already, specific ecommerce visual search technologies abound: Amazon, Walmart, and ASOS are all in on the act. These companies’ apps turn a user’s smartphone camera into a visual discovery tool, searching for similar items based on whatever is in frame. This is just one use case, however, and the potential for visual search is much greater than just direct ecommerce transactions.

 

After a lot of trial and error, this technology is coming of age. We are on the cusp of accurate, real-time visual search, which will open a raft of new opportunities for marketers.

So, who is going to lead the charge in this virtual search frontier? Google, right? They own search today and will probably own it tomorrow, right? Not so fast. According to the piece, Google Lens is still in BETA testing and not as robust as the competition. If they follow their historical trajectory, they will be a leader here. But it’s too early to tell.

Instead, the virtual search market is currently led by some surprising players. Pinterest and Bing both have platforms that provide different levels of accuracy in accumulating things like your search history and things you take pictures of to help search. All these companies are still pretty new at virtual search, but we like the odds of Bing and Pinterest to stake a serious claim for the future.

Patrick Roland, October 12, 2017

Elsevier Makes a Brave Play to Steal Wikipedias Users

October 9, 2017

Is Wikipedia about to be unseated in the world of academic publishing? Elsevier thinks they can give the crowdsourced, yet flawed, info hub a serious run for its money. Money, being the key word, according to a recent TechDirt article, “Elsevier Launching Rival to Wikipedia by Extracting Scientific Definitions Automatically from Author’s Texts.”

According to the piece:

Elsevier is hoping to keep researchers on its platform with the launch of a free layer of content called ScienceDirect Topics, offering an initial 80,000 pages of material relating to the life sciences, biomedical sciences and neuroscience. Each offers a quick definition of a key term or topic, details of related terms and relevant excerpts from Elsevier books.

Seems like it makes sense, right? Elsevier has all this academic information at their fingertips, so why send users elsewhere on the web for other information. This extraction system, frankly, sounds pretty amazing. However, TechDirt has a beef with it.

It’s typical of Elsevier’s unbridled ambition that instead of supporting a digital commons like Wikipedia, it wants to compete with it by creating its own redundant versions of the same information, which are proprietary. Even worse, it is drawing that information from books written by academics who have given Elsevier a license.

It’s a valid argument, whether or not Elsevier is taking advantage of its academic sources by edging into Wikipedia’s territory. However, we have a hunch their lawyers will make sure everything is on the up and up. A bigger question is whether Elsevier will make this a free site or have a paywall. They are in business to make money, so we’d guess paywall. And if that’s the case, they’d better have a spectacular setup to draw customers from Wikipedia.

Patrick Roland, October 9, 2017

Why the Future of Computing Lies in Natural Language Processing

September 26, 2017

In a blog post, EasyAsk declares, “Cognitive Computing, Natural Language & AI: Game Changers.”  We must keep in mind that the “cognitive eCommerce” company does have a natural language search engine to sell, so they are a little biased. Still, writer and CEO Craig Bassin make some good points. He begins by citing research firm Gartner’s assessment that natural-language query “will dramatically change human-computer interaction.” After throwing in a couple amusing videos, Bassin examines the role of natural language in two areas of business, business intelligence (BI) and customer relationship management (CRM). He writes:

That shift [to natural language and cognitive computing] enables two things. First, it enables users to ask a computer questions the same way they’d ask an associate, or co-worker. Second, it enables the computer to actually answer the question. That’s the game changer. The difference is a robust Natural Language Linguistic Engine. Let’s go back to the examples above for a reexamination of our questions. For BI, what if there was an app that looked beyond the dashboards into the data to answer ah-hoc questions? Instead of waiting days for a report to be generated, you could have it on the fly – right at your fingertips. For CRM, what if that road warrior could ask and answer questions about the current status across prospects in a specific region to deduce where his/her time would be best spent? Gartner and Forrester see the shift happening. In Gartner’s Magic Quadrant Report for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms [PDF], strategic planning assumptions incorporate the use of natural language. It may sound like a pipe dream now, but this is the future.

Naturally, readers can find natural-language goodness in EasyAsk’s platform which, to be fair, has been building their cognitive computing tech for years now. Businesses looking for a more sophisticated search solution would do well to check them out—along with their competition.  Based in Burlington, Mass., EasyAsk also maintains their European office in Berkshire, UK. The company was founded in 2000 and was acquired by Progress Software in 2005.

Cynthia Murrell, September 26, 2017

AI Will Build Better Chatbots

September 21, 2017

For better or worse, chatbots have well and truly supplanted the traditional customer service role. Sure, one can still reach a human at many companies with persistence, but it is the rare (and appreciated!) business that assigns a real person to handle point-of-contact. Geektime ponders, “What is the Future of Chatbot Development and Artificial Intelligence?” Writer Damian Wolf surveys chatbots as they now exist, and asserts it is AI that will bridge the gap between these simple systems and ones that can realistically replicate human responses. He writes:

The future of AI bots looks promising and exciting at the same time. The limitation in regards to accessing big data can be eradicated by using AI techniques. The ultimate aim for the futuristic chatbot is to be able to interact with users as a human would. Computationally, it is a hard problem. With AI evolving every day, the chances of success are already high. The Facebook AI chatbot is already showing promises as it was able to come up with negotiation skills by creating new sentences. E-Commerce will also benefit hugely with a revolution in AI chatbots. The key here is the data  collection and utilization. Once done correctly, the data can be used to strengthen the performance of highly-efficient algorithm, which in turn, will separate the bad chatbots from the good ones. … Automation is upon us, and chatbots are leading the way. With a fully-functional chatbot, e-commerce, or even a healthcare provider can process hundreds of interactions every single minute. This will not only save them money but also enable them to understand their audience better.

In order for this vision to be realized, Wolf insists, companies must invest in machine learning infrastructure. The article is punctuated with informative links like those in the quotation above; one I’m happy to see is this guide for non-technical journalists who wish to write accurately about AI developments (also good for anyone unfamiliar with the field). See the article for more useful links, and for more on chatbots as they currently exist.

Cynthia Murrell, September 21, 2017

Do You See How Search Will Change?

September 5, 2017

Vocal-activated search is a convenient, hands-free way to quickly retrieve information.  A number of people who use some form of vocal search, either using a smart speaker or a digital assistant.  Scott Monty reports that the voice-activated speaker market has increased by 130% in the article, “Is The Future Of AI-Powered Search Oral Or Visual?”  Amazon controls 70% of the smart speaker market, while Google has 23%.

Voice activated search has its perks, but it does not always prove to be the most useful.  The problem with voice-activated search is that it does not allow a lot of options:

But here’s the current challenge with voice-activated systems: there’s no menu. There’s no dropdown of options. There’s no visual cue to help you give you a sense of what you can ask the system. Oh sure, you can ask what your query options are, but the voice will simply read back to you what your options are.

Monty points out that humans have been a visually-driven culture for thousands of years, ever since written language was invented.  Amazon and Google are already working on projects that combine visual aspects with voice-driven capabilities.  Amazon has the Echo Snow that has the same functionality as the regular Echos, except it has a screen.  Google is developing the Google Lens; think Google Glasses except not as obtrusive.  It can use visual search to augment reality.  The main differences between the two companies still leave a big gap between them: Amazon sells stuff, Google finds information.

But here’s the current challenge with voice-activated systems: there’s no menu. There’s no dropdown of options. There’s no visual cue to help you give you a sense of what you can ask the system. Oh sure, you can ask what your query options are, but the voice will simply read back to you what your options are.

Google still remains on top, but Amazon could develop an ecommerce version of the Google Lens.  Or would it be easier if the two somehow collaborated on a project to conquer shopping and search?

Whitney Grace, September 5, 2017

PayPal and eBay Used to Smuggle Funds, According to FBI

September 4, 2017

Online is an exciting place. Now, eBay and PayPal appear to have unwittingly hosted the transfer of terrorist funding, we learn from an article at The Next Web titled, “FBI Says ISIS Smuggled Funds to US Using eBay and PayPal.” Citing reporting by The Wall Street Journal, writer Rachel Kaser reveals:

An FBI affidavit alleges that the Islamic State used everyone’s favorite digital auction house to transfer cash to one of its US-based agents. The agent was disguising himself as a printer salesman — he’d pretend to sell a printer, only to receive payment from IS via eBay and PayPal. Supposedly, it was all part of a network operated by the late Siful Sujan, who was at one point a director of ISIS’s computer operations. The FBI document claims he’s just one of a network of agents stretching from the UK to Bangladesh. It doesn’t say whether they all used eBay to fund their schemes. The suspect in this case apparently used the money he received from the printer sales to buy a laptop, a cellphone, and a VPN.

An eBay spokesperson emphasized their company’s “zero tolerance” for criminal activity on their platform. The company is cooperating with authorities, and the alleged transferor of terrorist funds is awaiting trial.

Cynthia Murrell, September 4, 2017

 

 

Marketers Need to Have a Bot Strategy in Place

July 13, 2017

The future of eCommerce will depend largely on bots and how they are deployed across various channels. The marketers, however, need to be in place and be ready to tap into its full potential.

Martech Today in an article titled An Introduction to Conversational Commerce and Bots says:

Bots are sweeping the digital landscape, giving consumers even more ways to interact with their favorite brands. It’s high time for marketers to think about how to incorporate bots into their digital strategies.

With the advent of natural language processing and machine learning, it is becoming increasingly easy to deploy bots, chatbots and digital assistants across various devices and platforms. As more users embrace the technology, the majority of purchases will be influenced by these bots. Thus, marketers need to be ready with a strategy to capitalize it.

Domino’s is already reaping the benefits of bots that it has deployed across various channels. Big names are already competing for placing their digital assistants in everybody’s pockets and homes. The problem is like search engines and a plethora of cloud service providers; these bots will know too many personal details of users. Privacy concerns thus still need to be addressed.

Vishal Ingole, July 13, 2017

 

Amazon Alexa Enables Shopping Without Computer, Phone, or TV

July 4, 2017

Mail order catalogs, home shopping networks, and online shopping allowed consumers to buy products from the comfort of their own home.  Each of them had their heyday, but now they need to share the glory or roll into a grave, because Amazon Alexa is making one stop shopping a vocal action.  Tom’s Guide explains how this is possible in, “What Is Alexa Voice Shopping, And How Do You Use It?”

Ordering with Amazon Alexa is really simple.  All you do is summon Alexa, ask the digital assistant to order an item, and then you wait for the delivery.  The only stipulation is that you need to be an Amazon customer, preferably Amazon Prime.  Here is an example scenario:

Let’s just say you’ve been parched all day, and you’re drinking bottle after bottle of Fiji water. Suddenly, you realize you’re all out and you need some more. Rather than drive to the store in the scorching summer heat, you decide to order a case through Amazon and have it delivered to your house.  So, you say, “Alexa, order Fiji Natural Artesian Water.” Alexa will hear that and will respond by telling you that it’s found an option on Amazon for a certain price. Then, Alexa will ask you if it’s OK to order. If you’re happy with the product Alexa found, you can say “yes,” and your order will be placed.  Now, sit back, relax and wait for your water to arrive.

There are some drawbacks, such as you cannot order different multiple items in the same order, but you can order multiples of the same item.  Also if you are concerned about children buying all the toys from their favorite franchise, do not worry because you can set up a confirmation code option so the order will only be processed once the code is provided.

It is more than likely that Amazon will misinterpret orders, so relying on language services like Bitext might help sharpen Alexa’s selling skills.

Whitney Grace, July 4, 2017

 

Qwant Makes a Bold Prediction

June 29, 2017

Is there any platform that can rival Google at Internet search? Qwant believes it can, we learn from the article, “Qwant, a French Search Engine, Thinks it Can Take on Google—Here’s Why” at Search Engine Journal. Writer Matt Southern points to a Motherboard article to support his assertion, and relates:

Like search engine DuckDuckGo, Qwant’s competitive advantage is privacy. It protects users’ privacy by not tracking what they’re doing or searching for online. Qwant doesn’t use cookies, collect browsing data, or do any kind of data profiling.

 

So, other than privacy, what does Qwant do that sets itself apart from Google? Or even DuckDuckGo for that matter? For one, it currently has over 31 different search categories. In addition to the standard news, images, and video categories, Qwant offers categories such as: social media, music, jobs, cars, health, and more.

 

The company also has a unique philosophy that artificial intelligence and digital assistants can be educated without having to collect data on users. That’s a completely different philosophy than what is shared by Google, which collects every bit of information it can about users to fuel things like Google Home and Google Allo.

Naturally, Qwant needs to earn money, and it currently does so through click-throughs;  the company also has plans to work with TripAdvisor and eBay down the line. Currently, users can make Qwant their default search engine within Firefox, and they hope to expand that to other browsers. Qwant backs up its privacy commitment by providing its source code to third-party data protection agencies.  Launched in 2013, the company is based in Paris.

Cynthia Murrell, June 29, 2017

News or Speculation: Google and a Big Euro Fine?

June 7, 2017

I read “Google in Trouble? Company May Face $9 billion EU Fine over Its Shopping Service.” The headline surprised me. I had forgotten that Google failed with Froogle and never got its talons in the back of Amazon. But there you go. Google and shopping.

The write up grabs the weasel word “may” and goes to town. I learned from the write up:

In April 2015, the EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager accused the company of cheating consumers and competitors by distorting internet search results to favor its own shopping service. The latest development comes after a seven-year investigation into Google following complaints raised by both US and European rivals.

The magic $9 billion comes from a news report from the always on the beam real news outfit Thomson Reuters. Here’s the passage I highlighted in True Blue:

If found guilty of breaching EU antitrust rules, fines for companies can reach up to 10% of their global turnover. And, in case of Google, the fine could be about $9bn (£6.99bn) of its 2016 turnover, a Reuters report said. In addition to the fine, the Commission could also tell Google to stop its anti-competitive practices.

Bad Google.

Now about that shopping service. The service is number one with a bullet when I searched Google for “Google Shopping.” In case you have never looked at this service, you can navigate to the site by clicking on the image below:

image

What’s available to me in rural Kentucky? I ran a query for PCI eSATA RAID cards and here are the results:

image

That first result is not a card; it is a rack mounted one mu uninterruptable power supply. Not exactly a PCI card.

The other results were not too useful. None of the items was a PCI RAID card. (I know these exist because there is one in my server named Fred.)

image

From a practical point of view, Google Shopping does not seem to meet my needs. With the alleged $9 billion fine hanging over the GOOG, I wonder if any of the lawyers involved in this have checked out the service.

Google Shopping is, in my opinion, not going to lure me from sites which deliver on point results for the type of stuff I buy. Maybe Google makes oodles from one mu rack mounted UPS devices, but offering that product just drives me to Pricewatch.com.

Your mileage may vary. It certainly does for the folks in Europe it seems. What about Amazon? Guess that service is less of an offender. Surprising.

Stephen E Arnold, June 7, 2017

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