Better Mobile Search?

News.com writes about Microsoft’s wild card search ideas:

How can you find information about Condoleezza Rice on the Internet? Type in “2*#7423”.

That is if you have a copy of a prototype program from Microsoft Research currently named The Wild Thing. The application, for cell phones and handhelds, essentially lets consumers conduct queries with abbreviations and truncated spellings of words, said its developer Bo Thiesson.

The query TR SF turns up Thai restaurants in San Francisco, complete with search results grouped under a header for local Thai restaurants. It also turns up Tower Records and The Stinking Rose, a local restaurant, but punching in those four letters took less time on a handheld keyboard that the full formal query on a cell phone keypad.

China’s Online Ad Boom

Business Week writes:

Online ad spending has been growing by more than 75% annually for the past three years. It’s expected to reach $812 million this year and top $1 billion in 2007, according to Shanghai-based IResearch. While Net advertising today represents just 2.3% of the total ad market in China, the balance is changing fast. “New Media’s advertising revenues are starting to catch up” and will surpass traditional media’s within 10 years, says Cui Baoguo, director of the Center for Media Management Studies at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. “There is huge space for growth.”

China’s youth has already changed, which makes the Net a good way to reach them. P&G created a site to launch a new youth-oriented Crest sub-brand called “Whitening Expression,” which comes in unusual flavors such as “Icy Mountain Spring” and “Morning Lotus Fragrance.” P&G is asking young people to post videos of themselves dancing with a tube of Crest in hand, and visitors to the site will vote on the best act. The winners — 250 of them — will get free tickets to pop concerts in July. “Our online objective is to increase our interaction with consumers,” says Arun Kumar, strategic planning director at Starcom Worldwide, P&G’s media planning and buying agency. “The Internet allows you to do things that other media can’t do.”

Offline Web

David Berlind writes:

If you ask me, the biggie is being able to work with the Web even when we’re not plugged into it or the applications on it that we need. The Web unplugged. We could lose connectivity (like in an airplane). Our application service providers can, have, and will unexpectedly go down. The list of reasons that the Web needs to continue working for us, even when we’re not connected to it is long enough that it’s a key factor to Google’s success.

Google PC Speculation

News.com writes:

On Wednesday, Allen Delattre, global managing director of the electronics and high-tech industry practice at Accenture, said during a brief conversation that “it is only a matter of time” before Google comes out with a home device.

Why? For one thing, such a home device, especially if it doesn’t come with Microsoft software or other applications, will be cheap to manufacture and buy. Google could also cut support cost by developing online support tools. Most support calls aren’t hardware-related anyway, so automating customer service or handling it through the Web should be possible.

More important, the company is increasingly rolling out services that could be promoted by a home device. The device would essentially let consumers hook into the Internet and would be populated with applications developed by Google, such as Gmail and the calendar applications. Naturally, there would be easy links to services such as Google’s video store.

Social Networking Sites

Knowledge@Wharton discusses whether they are just fads or much more.

MySpace, with 70 million visitors, has become the digital equivalent of hanging out at the mall for today’s teens, who load the site with photos, news about music groups and detailed profiles of their likes and dislikes. Other social network sites include Facebook, geared to college students, LinkedIn, aimed at professionals, and Xanga, a blog-based community site. In all, an estimated 300 sites, including smaller ones such as StudyBreakers for high schoolers and Photobucket, a site for posting images, make up the social network universe.

Wharton marketing professor David Bell says the long-term success of these sites will depend on their ability to retain the interest of their members. “There is a fad or a fashion component to all these networks. Some will come and go,” says Bell. The classic example, he suggests, is Friendster, which burst onto the Internet in 2003 and soon had 20 million visitors. Late last year, it slipped below a million after MySpace and other sites with better music and video capability lured Friendster users away. “A lot of the [success] is serendipitous. These things can have exponential growth. Then, if another community shows up that has better functionality in some way, there can be a mass migration.”

TECH TALK: Fooled by Randomness: The Book

I saw Nassim Talebs Fooled by Randomness at a Strand Book Shop exhibition recently and picked it up. I remembered Nassim Taleb from his writing on Black Swans, which I had referenced in a Tech Talk almost two years ago. I read the book en route in the car from Surat to Mumbai. I have to agree with the statement by Fortune (on the book cover) that this is one of the smartest books of all time.

The sub-title of the book is The Hidden Role of Chance in the Markets and in Life. Here is an excerpt from the book description:

This book is about luck — or more precisely how we perceive and deal with luck in business and life.

Set against the backdrop of the most conspicuous forum in which luck is mistaken for skill — the world of trading — Fooled by Randomness is a captivating insight into one of the least understood factors in all our lives. Writing in an entertaining and narrative style, the author succeeds in tackling and explaining three major intellectual issues: the problem of induction, the survivorship biases, and our genetic unfitness to the modern world.

The book is populated with an array of characters, some of whom have grasped, in their own way, the significance of chance: Yogi Berra, the baseball legend; Karl Popper, the philosopher of knowledge; Solon, the Ancient World’s wisest man; the modern financier George Soros; and the Greek voyager Ulysses. In addition we meet the fictional Nero, who seems to understand the role of randomness in his trading life, but who also falls victim to his own superstitious foolishness.

But the most recognizable character of all remains unnamed — the lucky fool in the right place at the right time. The embodiment of the “Survival of the Least Fit.” Such individuals attract devoted followers who believe in their guru’s insights and methods. But no one can replicate what is obtained through chance. A monkey banging on a keyboard may eventually produce the Iliad, but would you sign him to write the sequel?

Are we capable of distinguishing the fortunate charlatan from the genuine visionary?

Must we always try to uncover non-existent messages in random events?
It may be impossible to guard ourselves against the vagaries of the Goddess Fortuna, but after reading Fooled by Randomness we can be a little better prepared.

This is what Amazons review states: Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a professional trader and mathematics professor, examines what randomness means in business and in life and why human beings are so prone to mistake dumb luck for consummate skill. This eccentric and highly personal exploration of the nature of randomness meanders from the court of Croesus and trading rooms in New York and London to Russian roulette, Monte Carlo engines, and the philosophy of Karl Popper. Part of what makes this book so good is Taleb’s ability to make seemingly arcane mathematical concepts (at least to this reviewer) entirely relevant in evaluating and understanding everything from the stock market to the success of those millionaires cited in the aforementioned bestsellers. Here’s an articulate, wise, and humorous meditation on the nature of success and failure that anyone who wants a little more of the former would do well to consider.

Tomorrow: The Person