Yahoo Loses a Wizard: Raghavan Jumps to the GOOG

March 5, 2012

Flash back to 2007. My Google Version 2.0 was in press but BearStearns learned about the study and asked me to create a short version of Ramanathan Guha’s Programmable Search Engine (PSE) chapter in my monograph, Google Version 2.0.

The BearStearns’ document was “Google’s Semantic Web: The Radical change Coming to Search and the Profound Implications to Yahoo! & Microsoft”, published May 16, 2007, by the BearStearns’ equity research unit. Maybe a former BearStearns’ wizard will have a copy of this document. I am not permitted to make mine available, but a single quote seems appropriate. One key point in the Guha semantic write up was:

“For Yahoo!, we believ3e it does not have the balance sheet, technical expertise, or patent availability to copy Google’s moves and is left with three choices: 1) Ignore Google, 2) Partner with a larger tech focused firms, or 3) outsource search to Google.” (Page 1)

As we now know in 2012, Yahoo ignored Google, blew off Microsoft, and began a drift to the margins of the epicenter of online revenue. Forget semantics, Yahoo management between 2007 and the most recent upheaval sort of watched the world go by.

You are affected by the semantic wizards work when you use Google to some degree, but it is a “plumbing” solution. Users don’t see Google semantics and the labors of Drs. Guha, Halevy, and others. Now BearStearns is history, risen the the place in heaven where bridge players and Type A MBAs go when a big US financial ship goes under.

In the New York office in 2007, I participated in a call from a person (Prabhakar Raghavan, whom I knew only from his conference presentations at the late but not lamented Boston Search Engine Meeting.)

When I learned that Dr. Raghavan would be on the “push back” call about the BearStearns’ Guha report and the PSE I flashed back to an April in the late 1980s. There was a downright memorable presentation by a well credential PhD from Verity. The speaker upon whom my lousy memory flashed was Dr. Prabhakar Raghavan. His talk from the late 1980s tickled my hippocampus. At that Search Engine Meeting, he enthusiastically explained how Verity, then an increasingly financially challenged search vendor with out-of-date technology–wanted to charge customers by “cell” of data traversed when performing query processing. The notion of taxi meter approach to enterprise search was unusual and somewhat interesting. Even in the late 1980s, the amount of digital data people wanted to search within an enterprise was growing each month. But variable or taxi meter pricing was going to be a tough sell. I interpreted the idea with this metaphor: an out of balance wheel on a 1985 Crown Victoria taxi. I thought it was more prudent to covert to a limo service with corporate accounts, fixed rates, and a predictable revenue stream.

Now back to 2007 in the Big Apple sitting about the Polycom listening to the ghostly voices in Silicon Valley:

On that Yahoo 2007 call with BearStearns and Dr.Raghavan about my report on the PSE and its possible impact on Google’s position in Web search, I wrote down this note to myself:

Raghavan… “We have semantic technology at Yahoo. Just watch what we do with it.”

This quote was one I tucked away. Frankly there was nothing to watch. But despite his apparent authority, it was far short of his fascinating statement about charging by the cell when a Verity licensee ran a query.

Now Dr. Raghavan has moved to Google. I learned this in the “Exclusive: Yahoo Labs Head Raghavan Departing to Google” write up by Kara Swisher. She reported:

Prabhakar Raghavan, the well-respected head of Yahoo’s Labs unit and also recently its head of strategy, is leaving the company to take a job at Google. The departure comes ahead of possibly deep cuts in his division, which is in charge of long-term research at the Silicon Valley Internet giant, said sources.

Will Dr. Raghavan contribute to semantic activities at Google or will he provide pricing inputs? Yahoo and semantics never buried the needle on my excitement meter. To be fair, semantic technology is a work in progress in my opinion.

The pricing approach, articulated when he was affiliated with Verity, did pique my interest. Worth watching what projects on which he will labor at the GOOG. I hope it is pricing. Dr. Raghavan’s ideas may be exactly what Googzilla needs.

Stephen E Arnold, March 5, 2012

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