Future for Search Startups

Bill Burnham writes:

A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of moderating a panel at TIECon on the Search Industry. Peter Norvig, Googles Director of Research, made one comment in particular that stood out in my mind at the time. In response to a question about the prospects for the myriad of search start-ups looking for funding Peter basically said, and I am paraphrasing somewhat, that search start-ups, in the vein of Google, Yahoo Ask, etc. are dead. Not because search isnt a great place to be or because they cant create innovative technologies, but because the investment required to build and operate an Internet-scale, high performance crawling, indexing, and query serving farm were now so great that only the largest Internet companies had a chance of competing.

One can imagine a world in the not to distant future in which an application designer can easily leverage the billions of dollars being spent by Google, Yahoo et. al., by having programmatic access to what is essentially a custom crawl list and a highly filtered index. In this way search engines, in some respects, may become an infrastructure layer not too dissimilar from the telecommunications networks and internet standards that they themselves are built upon.

Tim O’Reilly adds:

In my talks on Web 2.0, I always end with the point that “a platform beats an application every time.” We’re entering the platform phase of Web 2.0, in which first generation applications are going to turn into platforms, followed by a stage in which the leaders use that platform strength to outperform their application rivals, eventually closing them out of the market. And that platform is not enforced by control over proprietary APIs, as it was in the Windows era, but by the operational infrastructure, and perhaps even more importantly, by the massive databases (with network effects creating increasing returns for the database leaders) that are at the heart of Web 2.0 platforms.

Gladwell on Neural Networks

The New Yorker has an article by Malcolm Gladwell on “the formula” to figure out which films become hits:

The way the neural network thinks is not that different from the way a Hollywood executive thinks: if you pitch a movie to a studio, the executive uses an ad-hoc algorithmperfected through years of trial and errorto put a value on all the components in the story. Neural networks, though, can handle problems that have a great many variables, and they never play favoriteswhich means (at least in theory) that as long as you can give the neural network the same range of information that a human decision-maker has, it ought to come out ahead. Thats what the University of Arizona computer scientist Hsinchun Chen demonstrated ten years ago, when he built a neural network to predict winners at the dog track. Chen used the ten variables that greyhound experts told him they used in making their betslike fastest time and winning percentage and results for the past seven racesand trained his system with the results of two hundred races. Then he went to the greyhound track in Tucson and challenged three dog-racing handicappers to a contest. Everyone picked winners in a hundred races, at a modest two dollars a bet. The experts lost $71.40, $61.20, and $70.20, respectively. Chen won $124.80. It wasnt close, and one of the main reasons was the special interest the neural network showed in something called race grade: greyhounds are moved up and down through a number of divisions, according to their ability, and dogs have a big edge when theyve just been bumped down a level and a big handicap when theyve just been bumped up. The experts know race grade exists, but they dont weight it sufficiently, Chen said. They are all looking at win percentage, place percentage, or thinking about the dogs times.

Motorola and the Internet of Things

John Jordan writes:

Getting Motorola, which had lost prestige and shed thousands of jobs, to accept risk-taking has been a core aspect of Zanders mission. As a result of the companys focus, patent holdings, and coherent product footprint and market positioning, its hard to see a head-on competitor. Cisco has more wireline clout and a bigger set-top box presence after acquiring Scientific Atlanta but no WiMax or cellular business, much less consumer design expertise of the sort embodied in the RAZR. Tag manufacturers including Texas Instruments, middleware companies such as BEA, or identity managers like Sun or maybe Microsoft may well play important roles as components in the cloud from sensors through computing to people, but its hard to see any of these companies taking a leadership position. Many, many piece-parts will be required for anything resembling the science fiction vision to come to fruition, but given that personal communications and computing platforms, a variety of broadband networks, and sensors in many shapes and sizes will be involved, in the near term Motorola appears to have rebounded and assumed a leadership position in a market it is helping to invent.

FT on Danah Boyd

Financial Times calls Danah Boyd “the high priestess of Internet friendship.”

Through her observations, Boyd has become one of the chief thinkers of the MySpace age. Her work tells us about the people who inhabit this new world, what they do there, and why. Boyd says online social networks have become a vital space for young people to express themselves and build their personal identities. While adults worry about the culture and dangers their children are exposed to on the internet, she says that what parents think children do online and what they are actually doing is very different. She defends a technology that has repercussions far beyond teenagers and could change the way all of us order our world, interact with each other, get information and do business.

Goal-Free Living

Tom Peters has an interview with Steve Shapiro about his book published earlier in the year:

Goal-Free Living is the antidote to our achievement-oriented society. Basically since birth, we’ve been taught that we should be setting and achieving goals, and working hard toward goals. And for some people, that works. Some people enjoy a goal-oriented life. But for many people, all that does is create stress and dissatisfaction.

I’ve done a number of surveys on the relationship between people’s goals and their happiness. What I’ve found is that most people keep sacrificing “today” for “tomorrow.” They’ll set a goal, plan it out, work hard, achieve the goal, and then say, “Okay, that was great; what’s next?” They’re constantly striving to achieve these goals in the belief that life’s going to get better.

Goal-Free Living, quite simply, is having a powerful future that is a context for how you live your life today. That is, you get satisfaction today instead of achieving it in the future.

TECH TALK: Good Books: The Go Point

Decision-making is something we do all the time. Some are made almost sub-consciously, while others are made after great thought. I came across a couple of books recently which delve into the process of how we make decisions. The first is Michael Useems The Go Point.

Here is how the book is described [via Amazon.com]:

The Go Pointthe moment of truth when you have to say yes or no when its time to get off the fence.

Michael Useemthrough dramatic storytellingshows how to master the art and science of being decisive. He places you smack in the middle of people facing their go point, where actionsor lack of themdetermined the fates of individuals, companies, and countries.

  • Why on earth did Robert E. Lee send General George Pickett on an almost suicidal charge against the Union lines at Gettysburg?
  • How does the leader of a firefighting crew make life-or-death decisions, directing his peoplewith little information about weather patterns to guide himto go up or down the mountain? One direction means safety, the other danger.
  • Youve just assumed responsibility for a scandal-wracked corporation, a company teetering on the brink of disaster. What you decide over the course of the next several days will have consequences for thousands of employees and investors. How do you fulfill your responsibilities?

    Michael Useem makes you feel as if you are there, right in the center of the action. He was there: tramping up and down the mountain where firefighters made their momentous decisions; walking the battlefield at Gettysburg to see for himself just what General Pickett faced before making his ill-fated charge; going into a trading pit where million-dollar buy-and-sell decisions are made that affect fortunes of both the firm and the person making the call.

    Youll discover why some decisions were flawless, perfectly on target, and others utterly disastrous. Most of all, youll learn how to make the right calls yourself, whether youre changing your career, hiring an assistant, launching a product, or deciding on a potential acquisition or merger.

    Smartly written and offering unusual insights into the minds of decision makers such as General Lee, The Go Point will provide the guidance for you to move with confidence when its your turn to get off the fence.

  • 800-CEO-Read writes:

    [Useem] is the author of some of the best books ever written on leading, particularly Leadership Moment from the late 90s, a book which uses examples of people leading while confronted with real world situations. Yes, his credentials are impressive, and his view on leadership above par, but what also sets him apart from the pack of business book authors is his storytelling ability. Michael Useem is a damn fine writer.

    The Go Point continues his look at leadership, but focuses on that crucial decision-making point where we have to go and move forward.
    I found the story about the Colorado forest fire to be intense and riveting. To understand what the firefighters went through and to understand the decisions that were made, Useem walked the landscape with one of the survivors. He tells the tale and then points out the decisions and the errors that were made with too little information. He describes the tremendous stress of battling a raging forest fire and how that affects decision-making.

    Tomorrow: The Go Point (continued)

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