Googe Tracking Search Clickthroughs?

I just did a search on “Joi Ito” and got this as the first link. In fact, all the links on the page had a redirection component in the result links. Normally, Google gives the link to the website directly. Looks like they may now be starting to track clickthroughs. I repeated the search on a few other keywords, and I didn’t find it again, so I guess it is one of those Google experiments.

Have you also noticed this? What could be Google’s gameplan behind this? My quick take: to perhaps track relevance of the results, by seeing which link people click on (ie, am I clicking on the first, second, third or none of the links). Or maybe, this is a step forward in personalisation – tracking the searches I do, and then personalising these. Whatever it is, some change seems to be afoot!

People as Nodes

Wired has an interesting article taking the idea of Gladwell’s Connectors further by actually identifying people as nodes in specific categories. From the introduction:

In 1974, a Harvard sociologist made a seemingly unremarkable discovery. It is, in fact, who you know. His study asked several hundred white-collar workers how they’d landed their jobs. More than half credited a “personal connection.” Duh. But then it got interesting: The researcher, Mark Granovetter, dug deeper and discovered that four-fifths of these backdoor hires barely knew their benefactors. As it turns out, close friends are great for road trips, intimate dinners, and the occasional interest-free loan, but they suck for job leads and blind dates – they know the same people you do. In other words, it’s not so much who you know, but who you vaguely know. Granovetter called the phenomenon “the strength of weak ties.” He had discovered the human node.

In a computer network, a node performs the crucial task of data routing, playing digital matchmaker to packets of information. In a social network, a node is the person whose PDA runneth over with people they met once on an airplane. Nodes host countless dinner parties, leave movie theaters to answer cell phones, and actually enjoy attending conferences. It seems like they know everybody, because they very nearly do – and most important, their connections are from all walks of life, creating a panoply of weak ties. Mensches with an intellectual bent, nodes perform invaluable feats of synthesis, bringing together thinkers, scholars, captains of industry, and the odd professional rugby player, all for the sake of adding new spices to their melting pots. Great books, products, partnerships, and technological innovations form in their chaotic wake, and one could make an argument that they run the world, if only by accident. But chief among the node’s attributes is a tendency to stay behind the scenes.

Clay Shirky is the Tech node, Joi Ito is the Japan node. In fact, many bloggers can be thought of as e-nodes – Dave Winer and Robert Scoble are two of the very best.

Web Services Browser and Tree-like Data

A related theme at the Intel IDF was “mobilised software initiative” or occassioanlly-connected computing. This is more true in countries like India where bandwidth is still quite expensive, as also for people who on the move (though as WiFi hotspots become more widespread, this will be less of an issue for the road warriors).

Adam Bosworth thinks further on how a web services browser could make a difference in these situations:

[The web services browser] would traverse a cached data model. One can think of the data model as a simple tree. It would have a starting point, a trunk if you will, called google news. It would have a set of branches for each type of article which I’d mark as Business, Sci/Tech, and so on. Each branch could use a web service to fetch articles of that type. Each would return a set of articles, each of which would contain a one-line summary, a picture (if appr), the story, the byline, and a URL to the raw HTML. On my Blackberry I’d subscribe to the URL for google news. I’d immediately see my choices (e.g. the articles I could delve into) and as I scrolled the wheel over each, below, a short one-liner for each article. Scroll below to the one-liners for each article and click on one and, hey preto, details and story. Perhaps the article is abbreviated and I have to traverse through the URL to the HTML for the raw story. OK, then I can decide from the precis. Now my user experience will be much better. Today, I tend to turn on my Blackberry as the plane lands and then catch up on my mail on the rental bus. Tomorrow, I’d wait for the plane to take off and then catch up on the latest news. In essence, instead of going to a URL, I’m subscribing to one, but with navigation and presentation capabilities designed for me.

All I need is a way for each URL to specify a tree whose branches are words that make sense to me (like business, sci/tech, world or MSFT,ORCL,BEAS) and then tell me which web service will return relevant information and how to display both a summary and a detail view. (More on this in a later entry). When GPRS returns or I sit down with my Laptop in the airport/hotel/Starbucks, then I’ll catch up. But the key point is that I can access things I care about even when I’m not connected. The model has to know which branches I want it to be pre-emptive about fetching. Remember, I don’t want sports or entertainment cluttering up my machine. It should even know my priorities since I can lose connectiity at any time. And if the list of entries is too big I want what google news does today, namely to just give me a few and make me get the rest. But I’d like to control how many. So each branch should have prefetch meta-data. It should also have how stale the data can be before it should throw it out. I don’t want stories more than 2 days old, for example. So I should be able to mark each branch in terms of how old the data is before I throw it out.

Wireless World

Wireless and Mobility were the key messages at the Intel Developer’s Forum that I attended a couple days ago. Emerging markets like India are already seeing the benefits from cellphones. CNN has more on this new wirefree world:

Experts say the 21st century will usher in a second Information Age in which these technologies, and their benefits, will be accessible anytime, anywhere. Linking it all together? An absence of wires.

Soon, pundits predict, many more consumer electronics — from computers to stereos to coffee makers — could electronically connect with one another, as well as with thermostats, watches and other digital devices.

“Everyone is going to be able to tap into this pervasive wireless world,” said Wade Roush, senior editor of Technology Review, pointing to rapidly improving technology and falling prices. “[Wireless technologies] are going to change the way we communicate with each other.”

Those connected with the wireless world say these technologies are in their infancy. Even though sales of Wi-Fi units have doubled annually in recent years, Wi-Fi Alliance Chairman Dennis Eaton says the technologies may just be beginning a significant growth spurt.

“Think of the Internet, back in 1995-1996,” said Norm Rose, head of Travel Technology Consulting. “Wireless and mobile technology is the next boom. When it takes off, it will be even more disruptive than the Internet.

The Always-On world is coming, even to the world’s emerging markets.

Reforms make it a Happy Indian Diwali

Indian Express has a special column by Vijay Kelkar, Advisor to Finance Minister, and Ajay Shah, Consultant, Dept of Economic Affairs, which traces the source of the optimism to the reforms that have been done in the past decade, and says that there is still a lot of work to be done.

Today we are at a point where we too can play this game, in terms of rapid growth in exports of both goods and services. Our entry is well timed, in being able to exploit the incipient massive growth in global services trade, based on computers and communications. Through this outlook for exports growth, we seem to be within sight of a big leap in development strategy.

When we look at all these changes, it appears clear this is not something superficial. It is not just the monsoon playing out right this year. It is crucial to ask: what caused these changes? In every element, the answer that comes back is: the reforms did it.

the answer to the Indian macroeconomic whodunit seems to be clear: the reforms did it. For many years, the reforms process was criticised as pain and no gain. The results are now manifestly visible.

These experiences have shown us India can execute far-reaching reforms, not just tinker at the margins of old institutional mechanisms and old ways of doing things.

We have tasted the fruits of these labours. We must now come together and put our shoulders behind similar far-reaching reforms in other areas.

There is plenty that remains to be done. We need to go through with a transformation of our income tax system, replacing the culture of exemptions by a simple, impersonal, fair tax system. We need to take control of our fiscal problems through improved tax collection and better focus on expenditures.

In the 1970s, India grew at 3.5 per cent per year, which meant that GDP doubled every 20 years. In the 1980s, we accelerated to 5.2 per cent per year. In the 1990s, we went up to six per cent.

What will we achieve in the coming decade? If we stay focused on executing fundamental change, eight per cent is certainly within reach. This will give us a doubling of GDP every 8.6 years!

I know Ajay Shah – he was a year senior to me from IIT-Mumbai, and then did a Ph. D from UCLA, before returing back to India. He is one of those rare people who shifted from industry to the government to bring about change from the inside, rather than just talking or writing about it. India needs more people like Ajay – in their hands, the government can be a very positive instrument of change.

Five Sinking Technologies

[via Chandrashekar] Computerworld discusses five technologies that are evaporating:

– Windows 9x: “Can 92 million users be wrong? Yes. Declining support, reliability problems, security issues and incompatibility with new applications should drive the remaining installed base to Windows 2000 or XP.” This is perhaps the best opportunity for Linux on the desktop.

– Client/Server Computing: “The original client/server schemewhere the application’s visual presentation and business logic reside on the desktop, and data resides on a serveris an idea whose time has passed. It’s being replaced by Web browser clients, n-tier systems and Web services.” While I agree on the software transition, I think client-server computing can be extended to the hardware architecture in SMEs – thin clients and thick servers.

– IBM SNA/Proprietary Networks: switch to TCP/IP

– Tape Backup: “Tape is cheap, but disk technology is closing the cost gap. For day-to-day backups, disk-to-disk systems that use inexpensive ATA technology make sense.”

– Visual Basic 6: “As Microsoft gradually withdraws support from Visual Basic 6 and programmers abandon it for Visual Basic .Net, those old VB 6 applications will get harder and harder to maintain.”

Open Source Innovation

[via Atanu] Wired writes on the larger impact of open source, which “is doing for mass innovation what the assembly line did for mass production. Get ready for the era when collaboration replaces the corporation.”

Open source software transcends Linux. Altogether, more than 65,000 collaborative software projects click along at Sourceforge.net, a clearinghouse for the open source community. The success of Linux alone has stunned the business world.

But software is just the beginning. Open source has spread to other disciplines, from the hard sciences to the liberal arts. Biologists have embraced open source methods in genomics and informatics, building massive databases to genetically sequence E. coli, yeast, and other workhorses of lab research. NASA has adopted open source principles as part of its Mars mission, calling on volunteer “clickworkers” to identify millions of craters and help draw a map of the Red Planet. There is open source publishing: With Bruce Perens, who helped define open source software in the ’90s, Prentice Hall is publishing a series of computer books open to any use, modification, or redistribution, with readers’ improvements considered for succeeding editions. There are library efforts like Project Gutenberg, which has already digitized more than 6,000 books, with hundreds of volunteers typing in, page by page, classics from Shakespeare to Stendhal; at the same time, a related project, Distributed Proofreading, deploys legions of copy editors to make sure the Gutenberg texts are correct. There are open source projects in law and religion. There’s even an open source cookbook.

While the assembly line accelerated the pace of production, it also embedded workers more deeply into the corporate manufacturing machine. Indeed, that was the big innovation of the 20th-century factory: The machines, rather than the workers, drove production. With open source, the people are back in charge. Through distributed collaboration, a multitude of workers can tackle a problem, all at once. The speed is even greater – but so is the freedom. It’s a cottage industry on Internet time.

Just as the assembly line served the manufacturing economy, open source serves a knowledge-based economy. Facilitating intellectual collaboration is open source’s great advantage, but it also makes the method a threat. It’s a direct challenge to old-school R&D: a closed system, where innovations are quickly patented and tightly guarded. And it’s an explicit reaction to the intellectual property industry, that machine of proprietary creation and idea appropriation that grew up during the past century and out of control in the past 30 years – now often impeding the same efforts it was designed to protect.

The article talks about the ideals of open source: share the goal, share the work, and share the result.

Evan Williams Interview

News.com has an interview with the co-founder of Pyra Labs (which created Blogger.com), and which has acquired by Google. Some excerpts:

Over the last four years, since we started Blogger, there’s been a tremendous amount of development on the publishing side. There’s not been as much progress on the reading and finding-stuff side. That’s Google’s forte. That’s where we see we can add value to the Web log world–helping people find good stuff–hopefully with Google’s technology…One sort of high-level way to look at that is that blogging is a way to collect stuff and comment on it as you’re navigating the Web; search is a way to find stuff.

Photos are a very big thing. Using digital cameras will become a core way people publish in general–you can now actually post to Blogger through your camera phone. And with various devices coming out with more and more wireless access, we think mobility will be a big part of the blogging–making notes or recordings from wherever you are…There’s a lot of stuff going on in terms of trying to better define the networks. A key element of Web blogs is the community element. Most blogs are not self-contained; they are highly dependent on linking to each other. That’s been a fairly manual progress. There’s a lot of effort going on to map who’s linking to each other and to define the circles of influence.

Event-Driven Personal Services

Fast Company has an interview with Jonathan Sapir of InfoPower, which “has spent the last year stepping slightly away from its traditional software development work in order to design and implement a Web services system in which business people can create their own applications as new needs arise.” Says Jonathan:

Let’s walk away from the concept of making the programmer more productive. We need to allow people to do what they need to do. Let’s give users an environment that gives them the bulk of what they need. I’m going to build objects. If I don’t have a piece that I need, I need to go out and see if someone else has it.

Social software is now a critical component of what’s going on. Often, the guy who knows the most is the most introverted guy. Every company should have a Wikipedia. We looked at all the categories of software that exist.

We want to focus on the individual. People will create services that matter to them. In the future, there won’t be such a thing as an application. Applications are artificial barriers. You just need services that you can synchronize. People don’t really care about what goes on behind the scenes. They want to build things. Users don’t want to know about the structure of the data. One of the problems with computers is that you are focused. You lose peripheral vision. Our 3-D Modeler could help you see what else is around.

This isn’t going to kill the programmer. We’re always going to need special services. You’ll have a master builder on staff. The really good programmers will be fine. It’s the middle guy, the data manager, that will be squeezed. No one wants to develop customer applications any more. But they have to.

We need to break it down into little chunks.

From the SnapXT FAQ of InfoPower: “SnapXT is a new breed of software product called a Personal Service Builder. A PSB is a software tool that allows both business users and developers create and deploy Web-based applications (called services) without programming and without any concern for the underlying technology. These services can then be snapped together with other services to achieve specific business objectives.”

TECH TALK: SMEs and Technology: Systems Software Architecture: Identity Management

Identify Management is an often-ignored software component. For most users, it manifests as a directory services application in the form of a global address book, where a common address book on the server can be made available on each users email client, via the LDAP protocol. But identity management is much more. Esther Dyson, writing in Release 1.0 (June 2002) provides the context and components of identity management:

Virtually every application in the future will make use of identity information, but there are some specific areas that will lead in its development and use. Of course, what can be managed is not the ineffable identity of a person, but all the relationships with and data about that individual the profile. Identity-based functions include authentication, authorization, security and access. Those functions support applications such as billing and payment, direct marketing and CRM, provisioning, roaming (basically, remote provisioning), presence management, workflow, and knowledge management (especially as managers start to realize that most knowledge is in peoples heads, not in databases).

The essence of identity management is defining people and things as classes or groups, to which you can apply policies or draw conclusions. Identity management crosses contexts and reduces complexity by finding the common elements across individuals so that they can be handled on the basis of policies rather than one by one yet treated as individuals if they happen to call a help desk, check in at a hotel, ask for a particular set of data or make a phone call from a cell phone in a foreign country using a third-party wireless carrier. They want responses in their own language, tailored to their own history and preferences.

Identity management, broadly defined, includes a data store (the directory or meta-directory), and a variety of processes that populate it, update it, and rely on its information to derive roles and control (access to) other system resources everything from plain old access through a firewall to discrete permission (“authorization”) to use a specific application function on a specific set of data at a specific time of day. Many of these components can be either bound together or, increasingly, teased apart. Role information and access rules can be kept in the directory, or they can be separated out into an authorization or control layer.

At its simplest, identify management ensures a single sign-on to all applications the same user name and password will work across all the applications, and provide access rights based on the users profile. This is very important because it is impractical to expect users to keep remembering different login names and passwords for the various applications that they need to access. Not using an identify management layer will either result in lax security or in lesser use of the applications, both of which are undesirable.

So far, little attention has been paid to identify management in the context of SMEs. In part, this has been because most SMEs are consuming very few business applications. As the usage increases, it will become increasingly important to have identity management which has a directory to manage authorisation and authentication of users. This will necessarily mean that even the applications used will need to interface with this identity management layer rather than having their own independent login-password database.

Tomorrow: Systems Software Architecture (continued)

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