Flash pages to be searchable

From Technology Review

The Web would be useless without search engines. But as good as Google and Yahoo are at finding online information, much on it remains hidden, or difficult to rank in search results. On Tuesday, however, Adobe took a major step toward opening up tens of millions of pages to Google and Yahoo. The company has provided the search engines with a specialized version of its Flash animation player that reveals information about text and links in Flash files. It’s a move that could be a boon to advertisers, in particular, who have traditionally had to choose between building a site that’s aesthetically pleasing and one that can be ranked in a Web search.

The new software is required only to index Flash files, not to play them, says Justin Everett-Church, senior product manager for Adobe Flash Player. Web surfers don’t need to download a new Flash player, and content providers don’t have to change the way they write applications. “For end users, they’re going to see a lot more results and a lot better results,” says Everett-Church. “The perfect result may have been out there but trapped in a SWF [Shockwave Flash file]. But now they can find it.”

Q: Where has Obama spent $3.5 million so far this year? A: Google ads

From ClickZ

Barack Obama’s campaign spent at least $3.47 million on online advertising related purchases between January and April. The biggest recipient of the Democratic Presidential hopeful’s online ad dollars was Google.

The search giant scored over 82 percent of money spent on online media buys for the Illinois Senator’s campaign this year through April, according to information compiled from Federal Election Commission filings. More than $2.8 million was paid to Google, as listed by Obama for America in its itemized FEC reports.

After spending about $640,000 in January on online advertising, the campaign pumped its online ad budget up to over $1.9 million in February. Expenditures tapered to about $888,000 the following Month. Filings show spending of only around $234,000 in April. However, previous monthly reports suggest more April online ad payments will be reported in the future; Google didn’t even appear in April spending data supplied by the campaign…

How to find John Kelly

John Kelly has been studying the search engine queries that bring people to his (excellent) blog

The majority of keyword searches involve some variation on “John Kelly blog”, but they’re not the ones that remind us how the fetishes, pathologies and strange obsessions of humankind are catalogued every day on the world wide web.

For example, after writing about my family’s trip to Prague – a trip that I feel moved to point out was 100% prostitute-free – someone from the United Arab Emirates found my blog by Googling “hooker sex apartments near wenceslas square”. I just love that construction: “hooker sex apartments”. It sounds like something an estate agent would put on a brochure: “The property is located in a desirable area, close to schools, shopping and hooker sex apartments.”

If you blog about the British tabloid press, as I sometimes do, you will have occasion to use the words “penis” and “breast”. And that will guarantee more than a few searches along the lines of “penis grab off” (some kind of martial arts move, evidently) and “how to grab a woman’s breast without getting in trouble”…

Turkey flights

This morning’s Observer column

It’s the metaphors and similes that get me. It’s a shotgun marriage, declared one commentator, ‘with Google holding the gun’. Putting Microsoft and Yahoo together, said another, was like trying to produce an eagle from an alliance of two turkeys. This is unfair. Microsoft isn’t a turkey, but a profitable, boring mastodon that entertains fantasies about being able to fly. Yahoo, for its part, is an ageing hippy who invented hang- gliding but aspired to fly 747s and then discovered that he wasn’t very good at it. The mastodon hopes that by employing the hippy it will learn to hang-glide. The hippy’s feelings about the whole deal are plain for all to see…Update: The NYT (and lots of other sources) claim that the Yahoo board has decided to reject the Microsoft bid, on the grounds that it undervalues the company. Ho! If this is true then what’s likely to happen is that (a) some big Yahoo shareholders will revolt and (b) Microsoft will wage a proxy war with the aim of eplacing the Yahoo board at the next AGM. This one will run and, er, ruin. There are also ways you can get to buy ar-15’s from Palmetto State Armory where you can make sure you are safe and also get the right equipment.

Google’s loss is the Digger’s Gain

I always thought the MySpace/Google deal was a work of genius — for Rupert Murdoch. It’s beginning to look as though I was right.

The stock market may be fretting over Google’s disappointing earnings, but somewhere Rupert Murdoch is smiling.

One of the weaknesses that Google’s management highlighted in its conference call was advertising on social networks. The company said its traffic acquisition cost, the money it pays to sites on which it places ads, rose in the fourth quarter because of required minimum payments it must make to certain sites.

“We have found that social networking inventory is not monetizing as well as we would like,” said George Reyes, Google’s chief financial officer, implying that the sites on which the minimum payments are due were social networks. By far, the largest social network on which Google sells ads is MySpace, which is owned by Mr. Murdoch’s News Corp. In 2006, Google agreed to a three-year deal to sell ads on MySpace, committing to pay a minimum of $900 million.

People involved in that deal said that Google never assumed that it would earn its $900 million back from that deal, but it appears to be losing even more than it had expected.

Social Search

From Technology Review

Now a company called Delver, which presented at Demo earlier this week, is working on a search engine that uses social-network data to return personalized results from the larger Web.

Liad Agmon, CEO of Delver, says that the site connects information about a user’s social network with Web search results, “so you are searching the Web through the prism of your social graph.” He explains that a person begins a search at Delver by typing in her name. Delver then crawls social-networking websites for widely available data about the user–such as a public LinkedIn profile–and builds a network of associated institutions and individuals based on that information. When the user enters a search query, results related to, produced by, or tagged by members of her social network are given priority. Lower down are results from people implicitly connected to the user, such as those relating to friends of friends, or people who attended the same college as the user. Finally, there may be some general results from the Web at the bottom. The consequence, says Agmon, is that each user gets a different set of results from a given query, and a set quite different from those delivered by Google…

Xerox Enters Search Market

From TechCrunch

Xerox announced its entry into the search market this week with FactSpotter, document search software that is claimed to go beyond conventional keyword search.

FactSpotter is text mining software that combines a linguistic engine that allows users to make queries in everyday language. FactSpotter looks for the keywords contained in a query along with the context those words have.

According to Xerox, FactSpotter is capable of combing through almost any document regardless of the language, location, format or type; take advantage of the way humans think, speak and ask questions; and discriminate the results highlighting just a handful of relevant answers instead of returning thousands of unrelated responses…

Sounds interesting. But…

FactSpotter will not be coming to a browser near anyone, anytime shortly. Xerox plans to launch FactSpotter next year as part of the paid Xerox Litigation Service platform and has no plans for a wider or public release.

Snap search

From Technology Review

Searching for information on your cell phone by typing keywords can be cumbersome. But now researchers at Microsoft have developed a software prototype called Lincoln that they hope will make Web searches easier. According to Larry Zitnick, a Microsoft researcher who works on the project, phones equipped with the software could, for example, access online movie reviews by snapping pictures of movie posters or DVD covers and get product information from pictures of advertisements in magazines or on buses.

“The main thing we want to do is connect real-world objects with the Web using pictures,” says Zitnick. “[Lincoln] is a way of finding information on the Web using images instead of keywords.”

The software works by matching pictures taken on phones with pretagged pictures in a database. It provides the best results when the pictures are of two-dimensional objects, such as magazine ads or DVD covers, Zitnick says. (See the accompanying chart to find out how compatible certain pictures are with Lincoln.) Currently, the database contains pictures of DVD covers that link to movie reviews uploaded by Microsoft researchers. However, anyone can contribute his or her pictures and links to the database, and Zitnick hopes that people will fill it with pictures and links to anything from information about graffiti art to scavenger-hunt clues. Right now, Lincoln can only be downloaded for free using Internet Explorer 6 and 7, and it can only run on smart phones equipped with Windows Mobile 5.0 and PocketPCs.

Human-assisted search

From Technology Review

The Web has grown orders of magnitude bigger since the founding of Google, and neither the company nor its competitors have come up with new automatic search algorithms as seemingly magical or game changing as PageRank. Now some entrepreneurs believe it’s time to replace the algorithmic search engine with humans.

ChaCha, a free advertising-supported service launched last year by former MIT AI Lab research scientist Scott Jones and software entrepreneur Brad Bostic, doesn’t exactly give up on the concept of computerized search. Web wanderers in search of answers are free to settle for the algorithmic results served up by ChaCha’s own search engine. But the site’s real calling card is its collection of 29,000 human guides, who earn $5 to $10 per hour working with users in live chat sessions to locate the Web’s best answers to their queries.

Web services that tap the brainpower of real humans are all the rage. Many now-familiar sites such as Digg and Wikipedia depend on the “wisdom of the crowd”–users who contribute, edit, and collectively rank information items. But newer ventures depend on individuals. Yahoo Answers, where anyone may submit a question and anyone else may respond, has proved immensely popular, attracting more than 60 million users (despite the varying quality of the site’s answers). More recently, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, a marketplace where individuals can earn small amounts for completing “simple tasks that people do better than computers,” in Amazon’s words, has provoked much discussion among followers of the user-centered Web 2.0 movement…

The User Is Not Broken

My colleague Gill Needham, with whom I am working on an exciting new course called Beyond Google, sent me this, described by its (librarian) author as “a meme masquerading as a manifesto”. Excerpt

All technologies evolve and die.

Every technology you learned about in library school will be dead someday.

You fear loss of control, but that has already happened. Ride the wave.

You are not a format. You are a service.

The OPAC is not the sun. The OPAC is at best a distant planet, every year moving farther from the orbit of its solar system.

The user is the sun.

The user is the magic element that transforms librarianship from a gatekeeping trade to a services profession.

The user is not broken…