The Appification of Search: Dr. Frankenstein Is Back in the Innovation Basement

February 7, 2018

When I need information, I want to define my area of interest. I want to select a database which is likely to contain relevant information. I want to receive results and short summaries. I want to work through the content which conforms to my query. Time consuming and difficult work. But that’s how I roll down the information highway.

I noted a write up from Google called “The Keyword.” The story or marketing piece tells me that when I look for an airline flight, I will be able to book that flight from the search results.

Sounds like a great idea.

As I stated in the opening paragraph, I want to work through results. In the case of looking for a flight, I want to check different departure and return dates, available airports, number of stops, layover times, etc.

Once I locate a particular flight, I check the cost of that flight using different online services.

The reason? I have been flying around for more than a half century, and I have learned how an uninformed decision can set up an overnight in February in the Minneapolis St Paul airport. Believe me that’s not a great place to sleep as the snow falls and the meeting in Fargo becomes essentially impossible.

The write up states:

We’re evolving the way our hotel search works on smartphones to help users explore options and make decisions on their smallest screens. The new hotel search experience includes better price filtering, easier-to-find amenity information and the ability to book right from Google.

Some of the folks looking for flights will find convenience and a small screen ideal for their needs.

Not for me.

I do not trust one stop shops. I do not trust aggregators. I do not trust information assembled when ad dollars may be fluttering like those Minnesota snow flakes. I have learned that Southwest flights and some European carriers data require a visit to the airline’s Web site. Some human travel agents still consolidate tickets for wild and crazy “groups.”

But my principal concern is that online trust is no longer an operating assumption for me. Unless I slog through the data, I lack the information necessary for an informed decision.

Appification of search is one more shift from locating information, processing it, and making an informed decision.

Thank you, Mother Google. But no. I don’t want search results to be an app. I want search results to be one component of data collection and a precursor to analysis. Also, I like a big screen.

Stephen E Arnold, February 7, 2018

Searching Video and Audio Files is Now Easier Than Ever

February 7, 2018

While text-based search has been honed to near perfection in recent years, video and audio search still lags. However, a few companies are really beginning to chip away at this problem. One that recently caught our attention was VidDistill, a company that distills YouTube videos into an indexed list.

According to their website:

vidDistill first gets the video and captions from YouTube based off of the URL the user enters. The caption text is annotated with the time in the video the text corresponds to. If manually provided captions are available, vidDistill uses those captions. If manually provided captions are not available, vidDistill tries to fall back on automatically generated captions. If no captioning of any sort is available, then vidDistill will not work.


Once vidDistill has the punctuated text, it uses a text summarization algorithm to identify the most important sentences of the entire transcript of the video. The text summarization algorithm compresses the text as much as the user specifies.

It was interesting and did what they claimed, however, we wish you could search for words and have it brought up in the index so users could skip directly to specific parts of a video. This technology has been done in audio, quite well. A service called Happy Scribe, which is aimed at journalists transcribing audio notes, takes an audio file and (for a small fee) transcribes it to text, which can then be searched. It’s pretty elegant and fairly accurate, depending on the audio quality. We could see VidDistill using this mentality to great success.

Patrick Roland, February 7, 2018

German Scientists Find Freedom Of Search

February 6, 2018

A storm had been brewing in Germany over the ability for scientists to gain access to expensive academic journals. The deal had more to do with search and rights than it did science, so the publisher stood up and did something shocking. They did…the right thing. We learned more in a recent Nature story, “Germany vs Elsevier: universities win temporary journal access after refusing to pay fees.”

According to the story:

The Dutch publishing giant Elsevier has granted uninterrupted access to its paywalled journals for researchers at around 200 German universities and research institutes that had refused to renew their individual subscriptions at the end of 2017.


The institutions had formed a consortium to negotiate a nationwide licence with the publisher. They sought a collective deal that would give most scientists in Germany full online access to about 2,500 journals at about half the price that individual libraries have paid in the past. But talks broke down and, by the end of 2017, no deal had been agreed. Elsevier now says that it will allow the country’s scientists to access its paywalled journals without a contract until a national agreement is hammered out.

This is a victory for, not just the scientists, but for freedom of information. We applaud Elsevier for putting aside profit (temporarily) in favor of human. We wish more companies and governments would take their example to heart.

Patrick Roland, February 6, 2018

Whois: A Frustrating Search Experience

February 3, 2018

It’s a complicated moment to be starting any business, especially if you have a domain finding WHOIS site. These tools for tracking down owners of web sites might be under fire, but that hasn’t stopped Zeit from trying. We discovered this startup at its website, under the title: “Domains Search for Web: Instant, Serverless, And Global.”

According to the site:

“We also knew we wanted the user’s search to feel instant and effortless. As the user types, we want to start dispatching queries to get the data from our services as soon as possible, and similarly render them as soon as they become available to the user. With this in mind, we would have to embrace asynchrony at every level of the stack.”

We love Zeit’s user-friendly approach. We just worry how long a business like this can stay afloat. This stems from the recent news that WHOIS sites are under threat of going dark. The General Data Protection Regulation could drastically change or shutter this niche online industry. We are certain that where regulation closes a door, innovators open a window, but we’d be sweating a little if we started a WHOIS site today.

Patrick Roland, February 3, 2018

Google Has Its Own Browser History

February 2, 2018

Have you ever wanted to look at your past Google searches, but did not want to go through your browser history?  Google has a new feature that will allow users to see their recent searches.  Search Engine Land reports that “Google Home Page Search Box Now Shows You Recent Searches By Default” and it is a super option.  Super annoying, that is.  Whenever you use Google search, a default dropdown appears before you even enter text into the search box.

Even former Google search executive Matt Cutts said this “new feature” is super annoying.   He tried to opt out of it, but could not find the opt-out option.  Search Engine Land sent Google an email to see what the scoop was.  They discovered that even Google found the automatic browser history box annoying.  Here is Google’s official response:

Google has confirmed with Search Engine Land that this is not the behavior they want and it was likely a bug. “We launched the ability to see past searches by clicking the search box earlier this year. However, past searches should not be appearing immediately on page load, so we are working to fix this issue,” a Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land.

All right, Google!  You admitted a mistake and provided a solution.  Now can you do something about the fake news stories that are plaguing Google News?

Whitney Grace, February 2, 2018

Sinequa Continues Its Repositioning Effort

January 30, 2018

Cognitive search is a pretty murky pool in terms of public understanding. Recently, Laurent Fanichet attempted to bridge that gap and also stake a claim for his company, Sinequa, as a leader in the field. However, we have questions. His editorial was featured in the French magazine, Journal Du Net called “Cognitive Search: A Valuable Tool to Fight Terrorism.”

According to the story (translated into English):

“Access to the right information at the right time is the promise of cognitive search. This artificial intelligence (AI) treats the “mega-data” of big data, to extract, practically in real time, relevant and contextualized information, from a multitude of sources and complex data. Cognitive search intelligent data processing combines with machine learning…”

It is exciting that France is attempting to use AI to solve its terror threats. While the plans laid out by Fanichet sound wonderful, it will still take quite a bit of work to surpass the other global leaders in the field. Namely, IBM’s Watson, which recently declared it was actually surpassing human beings in reading comprehension. Power like that seems like it would be a huge advantage to counter terror organizations wading through files and reports on suspects. We hope startups see this as a challenge to improve their power and that we all win in the end.

Sinequa continues to associate itself with the hot trends in content processing. Its roots in search and retrieval are now a secondary or tertiary part of the company’s 2018 marketing it appears.

Patrick Roland, January 30, 2018

Big Data, Search, and Artificial Intelligence: Quite a Mash Up

January 29, 2018

I read a consultant-technology mash up marketing essay. The write up is “Big Data and Search: The Time for Artificial Intelligence Is Now.” The write up is mostly jargon. I wonder if the engineer driving the word processing train pushed the wrong button.

Image result for train wreck

Here are the “keywords” I noted in the write up:

Artificial intelligence
Big Data
Business action and business use cases
Cognitive (presumably not the IBM which maybe doesn’t work as advertised)
Consumer services
Customer / citizen facing (some government speak too)
Digital assistants
False or biased results (yes, fake news)
Machine learning
Natural language processing
Real time results
SQL databases

Read more

Google Takes On Russia In Epic Fight

January 26, 2018

It is foolish to challenge Russia to a fight.  Napoleon lost his throne because he tried to invade Russia during winter.  Hitler pissed off Stalin during World War II, so Russia switched sides, then the Nazis invaded in winter.  It is a really bad idea to invade Russia, especially in winter.  Google is duking it out with Russia, but this war is digital so maybe Alphabet stands a chance.  The Washington Report discusses the wired Cold war in, “Google Is Getting Pulled Into A Fight With Russia Over RT And Sputnik.”  The real battle is with two Russian news outlets RT and Sputnik, but they are owned by the government.

The reason for battle is due to Russians apparent and supposed influence on US politics-most notably, the 2016 presidential election.  Russia is accused of spreading fake news through RT and Sputnik.  News outlets like Google News picks these up and are pushed to US readers.  Russia is threatening to retaliate if Google pushes RT and Sputniks’ ratings lower in search rankings.  Google decided to curb fake news stories that could be weaponized information against the US.  Russia’s RT and Sputnik are amongst those that distribute fake news.

When asked why Russian-backed sites enjoy favorable placement on Google’s platforms, Schmidt said, ‘We are working on detecting this kind of scenario … de-ranking those kinds of sites. It’s basically RT and Sputnik are the two.’ He added that the company does not want to ban the outlets. And according to Google, the company does not re-rank individual websites.

Russia is, of course, is not happy.  They claim that Google is being discriminatory and are demanding that Eric Schmidt explain himself.  Google just wants to curb fake news and also make sure their platform is not used for nefarious purposes.  Good luck, Google.  Russia is hard to defeat, but how do they stand on the digital front?

Whitney Grace, January 26, 2018

SEO Relevance Killer: Semantic Search

January 22, 2018

I am not sure if this Forbes’ write up is “real” journalism or just a pay-to-play story. Either way, it makes clear that the trajectory of search has been to destroy the once useful methods for determining precision and recall as part of an effort to explain or define relevance.

The write up which made me reach for my bottle of Tum’s is “Why And How Semantic Search Transformed SEO For The Better.”

Here’s a passage I highlighted in bilious yellow:

instead of finding exact matches for keywords, Google looks at the language used by a searcher and analyzes the searcher’s intent. It then uses that intent to find the most relevant search results for that user’s intent. It’s a subtle distinction, but one that demanded a new approach to SEO; rather than focusing on specific, exact-match keywords, you had to start creating content that addressed a user’s needs, using more semantic phrases and synonyms for your primary targets.

So what’s this mean in actual practice.

Navigate to Google and run this query with zero quotes and no additional words or phrases: 4iq Madrid.

Now look at the results:


The information is about the firm’s US office. The company was founded in Madrid and has some R&D facilities in the high-tech section of that city across from what used to be a hunting preserve for a former government leader. No address is Las Rozas, no LinkedIn listings of staff in Madrid, zip.

The world of search as described in the Forbes’ flag waving prose is great for expanding a user’s query. The purpose is not relevance, providing answers, or delivering on point results.

The purpose is to make it possible to broaden a query so more and usually less relevant ads can be displayed.

If you want relevance in search, you have to work very hard.

For example, to get the Spanish information related to 4iq, you set up a proxy in Spain. Google no longer makes it easy to query its index for content in a language different from the one Google decides you speak based on where you are in the world the moment you run your query. Then you enter the query and peruse the Spanish Google index results.

Yeah, that’s something the average eighth grader will do when writing an essay about Madrid. I know lots of adults who cannot perform this workaround.

The Forbes’ essay states:

The SEO community is better off focusing on semantic search optimization, rather than keyword-specific optimization. It’s forcing content producers to produce better, more user-serving content, and relieving some of the pressure of keyword research (which at times is downright annoying).

Why even bother providing results even marginally related to the user’s query. Do what the NFL Sirius Radio Network does. Run ads all the time. Football is a bit of distraction to the real business of pay-to-play information.

Ads, ads, ads.

Stephen E Arnold, January 22, 2018

Google Busts Fake News

January 22, 2018

Ever since fake news stories swamped the 2016 election and other events in 2017, the powers that be have pressured Google and other news sources to stop all the fake headlines.  Soyacincau shares how Google plans to make take down the fall information in the article, “This Is How Google’s Clamping Down On Fake News.”  Google has partnered with the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) to ensure that its search results and news stories are accurate.

What exactly is the IFCN?

The IFCN is a nonpartisan organization run by The Poynter Institute that advocates accuracy in online articles, and they hold an annual fact-checking conference, alongside funding fellowships and training for would-be fake news busters. Google has plans to work with them in a handful of ways to help fix the fake news epidemic, one being to offer free fact-checking tools, expanding their code of principles into new regions and generally increasing the number of verified fact-checkers worldwide.

Google is really taking the lead in quashing fake news. They will host workshops, coaching, and financial assistance for new fact-checking organizations.  They also plan to translate IFCN’s code of principles into ten languages, provide training sessions, and access to an engineering time bank.  Google partnered with Snopes and Politifact in the past, but the fake news keeps coming.  Hopefully, this will have an impact.

Whitney Grace, January 22, 2018

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