Archive for January, 2009

Powerful white pages when it doesn’t brown out

January 29, 2009

TechCrunch has a great article on Pipl.com, comparing them to spock.com and wink.com. They explain that Pipl does better (‘scarily’ better) than some of these competitors by crawling the ‘deep web’. This means that Pipl spiders enter commonly used terms in search pages and interact with other dynamic pages in a more intelligent way. This means that they find pages that most spiders cannot access from static crawl directories and sitemaps and in this way extract more information. This is not as sophisticated as it sounds. Many crawlers use this approach to generate new seed pages to crawl from. I think the ‘deep web’ is more marketing than technology. Nonetheless, it does well.

I did a test search for my dad, Michael Allenson in the UK. It’s very useful that you can specify a country and that Pipl will only use sources for that country. The site found two traces of my father from scirus.com (a scientific information search engine, which I helped build a l-o-n-g time ago. At that time it ran on FAST, just like the Yellow and White Directories that Truvo runs) — two patents that he authored in 2000.

Most searches for Allenson on search engines, including people searches, return information about Gary Allenson, a baseball player. By being able to exclude US information, Pipl did better than most from the start.

A useful feature is that Pipl returns a number of image results inline with text links (a bit like Cuil.com). This meant that when I searched for my friend Nuno Macedo, although it quickly found his LinkedIn profile I was able to select this from the results even more quickly by clicking on his picture.

Sesam, a Norwegian search engine has for some time allowed users to search for a term, then show related images, web results, businesses and people that it’s extracted from the search results. This means that if you search for Steve Ballmer, both Bill Gates and John Markus Lervik (CEO of FAST, which was taken over by Microsoft) will come up as associated people, you’ll see some pictures of Steve (including one with his tongue out).

When I last visited pipl.com I got the following front page message:”

Sorry, we’re very popular…

Due to an unusually large amount of traffic we had to disable the search access for a short while. Please be patient while we upgrade our capacity or bookmark our site and visit us later.

Thank you for visiting Pipl.

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Re-tweeting as a rank for twitter

January 12, 2009

Twitter allows you to re-tweet microblog posts you like to your followers. If sufficient people re-tweet, positive lock-in kicks in and the tweet takes on a life of its own. This can mean that checking re-tweets becomes a powerful mechanism to rank ideas flowing through the twittersphere. I really enjoyed Re-Twit’d which shows the top re-tweets.

The nearest competitor I can think of is the wonderful Twitscoop which shows a continually evolving tag cloud of the twitgeist — “what’s hot on twitter right now”. I also like the key tags appearing in Google’s universal search results.

I’m going to playing with Re-Twit’d in the next few days. It’s great to see more and more apps that are not owned by twitter, but use the API to make more sense of what’s going on in the twittersphere. I like the eco-system that is being build up around basic app.

Zcapes — contextual miniblogs

January 12, 2009

Zcapes is a new Dutch start-up. I love the idea that context is a new long tail and the use of different plug-and-play meta-data and functional services and bots to define it. Meta-data covers

  • the obvious — you, who, what, where and when
  • the emerging — physiological inputs like heartrate, accelerometers
  • or combinations like the geolocation of your social graph,
  • deductions: if you’re moving on a train line, you are on a train; if you’re at a friend’s house with many friends, you are at a party

Zcapes helps segment information into appropriate contexts so that you can find the useful and usable information quickly when you’re in the context. You could think of this as the first stage of implicit search. Since who you are, what you’re interested in and who your friends are are part of your context, a first step in segmentation is individual personalisation. The only way to get that to scale is to enable people to publish information services that are useful to them, and allow others in similar contexts to find it more easily. Zcape promises to allow people to interact and transact in specific contexts, aggregate the relevant content for them. SPRXMobile, the company behind Zcapes, believes that this will make advertising something between push and pull. This is a rather familiar refrain, but one you can imagine working if the contexts are sufficiently granular and there is sufficient content. It has failed pretty spectacularly pretty regularly mostly because contexts don’t work or content is lacking (e.g. Facebook advertising), but it is unobtrusive and successful in a few situations (e.g. Adwords on Gmail).

One nice thing that drops out of this context platform is that many of the common business ideas can be recast as zcapes, e.g. geotagging iPhone or Flickr photos or playing certain music for different segments of your regular run, and yet it also gives some ways to add more social aspects to this, e.g. seeing who plays what music for location, seeing what twinsumers based on context buy in the store you’re in now. I think a key question there will be sufficient context granularity and functionality that users will want to build contextual microblogs in zcapes rather than a geo-aware twitter with photos (like twinkle).

Some of the services and bots SPRXMobile have pre-announced include the pretty ubiquitous weather for your location, flickr pix, microblogging with twitter and facebook and RSVP for invitees. It look like the launch use case will be: meeting up with a few mates downtown night, who’s in and (via implicit context search) where shall we go and what shall we do?

Indeed some of the example zcapes include a regular Friday movie night at work. Later on the roadmap are things like what is currently on TV.

All-in-all it looks like a promising mobile context platform. I for one will be trying it out when it releases

Bebo = SPAM

January 10, 2009

i just got a connect request for Bebo from an old friend. I connected and added two or three other friends who were already on Bebo. Half an hour later a flood of emails started coming back from the bounces from the 20% of my Gmail address book that was out-of-office. Ow. Bebo just spammed my entire Gmail address book.

I sent them this complaint
“Bebo just mailed everyone in my Gmail address book. Please re-email and let all my friends, acquaintances and people I’ve only spoken to once in my life know that the mail was sent by mistake and was a clear abuse of your privacy policy. Given the flood of emails I’ve been getting, I reckon you’ve been doing this with a good number of other users too. Maybe it’s worth making a Press Release – or at a minimum an apology on your blog – explaining exactly what went on?

Cheers
Robin”

If YOU got a friend request from me, you know I do want to connect with YOU. it’s just the other guys that I was trying to avoid… The upside of all of this is that now everyone I know or vaguely remember from one time or another is now on Bebo. The downside is that no-one will ever trust the platform.

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How to make sure viral is not cancerous

January 3, 2009

Kevin Marks has some interesting ideas on how to make sure viral apps really do reproduce. He extends the biology metaphor by breaking out different patterns of reproduction. Some patterns require very little nurture but a lot of distribution called an ‘r-strategy’ (which I call spam). Others go further along the scale to nuture passionate users — called a ‘K-strategy’. Kevin adds a few other examples.

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Extreme vegetables

January 3, 2009

Parsnips are a good old-fashioned vegetable which are becoming more and more popular, mostly spurred onwards by the Jamie Olivers and Nigel Slaters of this world. In Leiden, where I live, they are known as one of the vegetables left in a pan by the Spanish after the fled the country a few hundred years ago. This dish (“Hutspot”) is the most famous in the city, eaten around the 3rd October every year to commemorate the breaking of the Spanish siege of Leiden. These days the parsnips are often substituted by potatoes, which is a pity.

I like roasting parsnips and serving them with a roasted piece of meat. Their starch caramelises and the parsnips become soft and incredibly sweet inside. Their skins thicken and crisp up with the dripping fat from the meat. They are also great to make a thick warming soup for the cold winter months.

I asked for some parsnips at our local supermarket. “Par-what?” was the answer, “I’ll have to ask my colleague about that”.

“Yes, sir, some of the extreme vegetables are often in the Surinaam section”. Sure enough, there they were, sitting in the ‘extreme vegegables’ section. I’m happy to report that the local greengrocers knew just what they were, and had plenty sitting between butternut squash and pumpkins.

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