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48 posts from January 2007

Google vs. Search Wikia: The Next Bout?

Arm_wrestlingBambi Francisco is right.  Relevance always has, still does and will forever rule.  Nothing new there, but what will be new some time in the future is the use of wikis as the backbone of search rather than Google and their ever-changing algorithms.

You're using the wikipedia today to solve some of your search needs?  You're not alone.  But what's going to change is where the wikipedia goes from a community-driven encyclopedia to something much more flexible and powerful for other types of searches. Or at least that's my hope for the Search Wikia project that's still apparently only in the design stages.

I realize the print encyclopedia is only useful for certain types of research; you have to look elsewhere for the answers to certain questions.  That's not going to change on the print side.  That's also the case today for the wikipedia; Google and other resources offer better solutions.  The difference is that the wikipedia can evolve but the printed encyclopedia can't. As the number of wikipedia entries grows, it starts to offer the types of answers that can't be found in a print encyclopedia.  Plus, I think it's a safe bet that the Search Wikia project won't just be using the wikipedia content as is.  If they're smart, they'll be able to tailor the results based on the request and not just dump a bunch of article links at you.

Here's a really simple example...  Let's say you want to know how old George Washington was when he died.  Do a Google search and you get these results.  The answer isn't there, but it's just a click or two away.  Why doesn't Google open the results page with the actual answer to my question?!  Why?  Because that's not how Google's search tool is built and therefore how our expectations have been set. (I'm sure would get the job done, but who uses ask?!)

The Search Wikia folks should be able to use all that content in the wikipedia and just give you back what you need.  Sure, they'll provide additional links in the event your answer isn't right there at the top of the page, but hopefully they'll build a system that draws effectively, with a high degree of relevance, from the wikipedia itself.

So Google is the clear leader today, by far.  They've got the brand, and to be honest, because of how our expectations have been set, they generally deliver the goods.  But I'm starting to appreciate just how much better the search experience could be with Search Wikia and I can't wait to try it out.

Microsoft's Wikipedia Debacle

WikipediaEveryone is apparently up in arms about Microsoft's Wikipedia scandal.  I don't get it.  Sure, I can see where paid posts can create problems, but isn't that just part of the risk of having such an open, community-driven resource?  Everyone is free to contribute, edit, etc., so why should paid posts be eliminated?  Isn't the community also there to help police itself?

If you're really going to diligently try to eliminate this sort of activity, where do you draw the line?  It's apparently taboo to hire someone to write or edit an entry so that it's more in line with your company's point of view.  So Microsoft can't pay me a flat fee to do the job.  Does that mean that a Microsoft employee is also forbidden from doing it?  If so, does that then mean all Microsoft employees are forbidden to touch any Wikipedia entry that has anything to do with Microsoft?  Gee, when does the book-burning rally start?...

P.S. -- Let it be noted that (for perhaps the first time on this blog) I'm not piling onto Microsoft regarding an issue they're taking a lot of heat from everyone else on...


WikileaksI just read this article...  Why do I feel like this Wikileaks idea is a train wreck just waiting to happen?  I think it's a wonderful idea in the sense that maybe, just maybe it will hinder oppression somewhere in the world.  But I also wonder how much misinformation is going to appear, get edited, disappear, etc.

That's the nature of wikis, right?  Sometimes errors are posted and, as the article says, they "will rely on the global community to police the material."  That sounds good in theory, but how many angry employees are going to start posting all sorts of half-truths about their boss or the company they work for?  How long will many of those posts sit unedited, all because someone thought they could really spread the rumors under a cloak of secrecy?  How long will it take for the first company to track an employee's browser history or use some other means to pinpoint the post to them?

Google eBooks

Google_2Here's an interesting story on a not-so-secret ebook initiative that may or may not be happening at Google.  (Are there enough disclaimers in that statement?...)

Does it make sense for Google to consider creating an ebook distribution platform?  Absolutely, assuming they work out the rights, revenue split, etc., issues with all the IP owners.  But what's missing in all of this?  How about a truly useful device?  After all, Amazon and others have been selling ebooks for years and it hasn't moved the needle.  I don't think Google will make a big difference just because they offer a service...unless they add one or more new, compelling features (more in a moment).

The article mentions how you'd be able to read your ebooks on a portable device, such as a Blackberry.  I don't know about you, but I can't imagine reading too many books on my Blackberry.  On the other hand, I do see a way for Google to make a difference by approaching this from a more granular level.

What if you could buy pieces of books, just those chapters or elements that you really feel you need?  They mention a travel guide in the article. OK, you've made your flight and hotel reservations for your upcoming vacation and now you just want a lot of information on dining options in the area.  Would you be  likely to purchase just the restaurant section of a travel guide and use it on a portable device?  Yes, I could see using that on my Blackberry, but I wouldn't need the whole travel guide on it.

This is just one content example but I'm sure there are plenty of others.  It will be interesting to see if Google will invest the resources necessary to create a service that could change the playing field.

DRM Is Not the Answer

Lock_1Is there such a thing as the "perfect DRM system"?  I don't think so, and I'm not sure one will ever be developed.  By "perfect" I mean it's got to be totally transparent and allow the consumer to use the content on however many devices as they want. Up to now, the best DRM solutions have only been a nuisance and the worst have made your system vulnerable to hackers (see Sony).

The music industry is still trying to figure out how to protect its valuable IP and also get back onto a growth pattern.  It's great to hear some smart people weighing in on the subject in this cnet article.  Chris Anderson says that some form of piracy should simply be accepted.  Terry McBride talks about leveraging an affiliate program where community members would have an incentive to recommend track purchases.

As I see it, the fundamental economics have changed dramatically in the music business.  When I was growing up I had to pay full price for an album that contained two or three songs I really cared about.  Now you can buy just those two songs for 99 cents each on iTunes; what would have been a $12 transaction (more or less) is now less than two bucks.

But just how successful is iTunes?  For Apple, it's huge.  For the music industry, I can't imagine the news is very good.  Do the math.  Apple's own press release says 2 billion songs have been sold on iTunes.  This article says Apple has sold approximately 70 million iPods since the first model arrived back in October of 2001.  That means the typical iPod owner has only bought 20-30 songs from the entire time they've owned the device.  Back in the 1970's and '80's, when the record labels were all getting fat and happy, I was probably buying the equivalent of 20-30 songs every couple of weeks, and now that's all they can get from the average iPod owner in the device's life!  Yikes.

The "problem" here is that the labels used to have the upper hand.  They controlled everything.  You had to buy the whole lousy album just to get the one good track.  Now things have tilted back in favor of the consumer, some would argue too much in favor of the consumer.  With this new economic model though, labels have to adjust their financial expectations.  If a typical CD generated $X in the good old days, that same CD now only generates a fraction of $X.  I can't imagine anything taking us back to those good old days, fortunately; thanks to a more efficient distribution model, there are too many legal ways to get just the music you want, without having to pay for those tracks you don't care about.

So what does DRM have to do with this rant?  Since total revenue equals number of tracks sold times price charged per track, and price charged per track is held constant (and below 99 cents!), the only way to drive up revenue is to somehow get people to buy more tracks.  My gut tells me as long as DRM is part of the equation, the total number of tracks sold will always be artificially and unnecessarily low.  The labels need to figure out how to draw in new customers and get all their customers to explore new artists, new genres, new albums, etc.  They can accomplish this by:

  • encouraging exploration with even lower prices (yes, closer to zero than 99 cents),
  • offering more "all you can download" options with monthly subscription fees,
  • developing a solid affiliate program that not only encourages membership but also is so effective that it makes piracy seem silly,
  • thinking beyond the track itself (as the cnet article refers to, by adding value with videos, lyrics, etc.),
  • leverages innovative recommendation systems like Pandora's, and, most importantly,
  • abandons any/all types of least until it can be as transparent and consumer-friendly as it needs to be.