Oct 27, 2006

Social search with Google Custom

Speak search and Google comes to mind. There is a very good reason why that is so. They try to make all Web users search more and more using their engine, and they roll out newer and newer ways of doing that. The newest in line - Custom Search Engine for everyone.

Using Custom Search, built upon Google Co-op, anyone can make a personal search engine of their own, defining the sites they want to be searched. They can either limit the search to a few sites, or the entire Web, emphasising the defined sites. If your passion is astronomy or computer hardware, you can define the few sites you visit religiously and the searcher would get results from these few sites.

Strategically speaking, this move from Google is nothing short of brilliant. When everybody you know is digging or bookmarking on del.icio.us, Google could have probably beaten all of them to the game by bringing in social search in its own ingenious way. Let us examine how Google has done this.

Suppose you are very passionate about astronomy, and has been so for some time. Definitely, you would be an authority on the best sites on the subject and visit them regularly. When Google gets you to sign up for Custom Search on astronomy for your site, you would be defining them with your favourite astronomy sites, and more often than not, these would be sites with premium quality content.

You have essentially built an engine that searches the best sites on astronomy, and the definition of best is coming from you, a human being, who can recognise quality content much, much better than a computer program. Google has thus succeeded in coaxing you to sharing your judgement and reviewing skills, which combined with Google's automated technology brings up the best results on astronomy. Somebody who has used your Custom Search would find it giving more relevant results than the generic Google search, which even by Google's standards has not contained spam sites to a large extent. The site with the Custom Search thus gets more visitors searching on it and it is ideally a win-win situation for all concerned - Google, the Custom Search site and the users who search through it.

Google has always faced strong criticism because of the lack of human element in its search technology. The famous Googlebot and PageRank are, after all, only computer programs. Many people say that is an inherent weakness as they can be tricked by malicious webmasters who try to stay one step ahead of it. Yahoo!, on the other hand, had a better technique of human editors reviewing the pages in their directory, thereby providing quality content. But this model was simply not efficient enough to keep up with the tremendous pace that the Web is growing at. Any attempt to do it would be overwhelming, if not impossible.

Google might have jumped one more step ahead of Yahoo! by subtly bringing in the human element it has been so far lacking in their technology. With more and more Custom Search Engines springing around the Web, the quality of search results should also improve dramatically.

Get your own Google Custom Search

P.S: You can try a sample one at the bottom of this page.

Oct 18, 2006

Innovation for innovation's sake

Innovation. The concept has been driving management principles for years together now that it has almost become a cliche. Entire industries have spawned in the last few years, with self-proclaimed creativity consultants and experts helping out corporations lacking the edge to beat the competition in the race for the most innovative product out there.

Many people equate innovation with business success and use them synonymously. It is almost as if innovation or the lack thereof alone can make or break a company. This innovation fever comes with its many cousins - lateral thinking, thinking out of the box and creativity. Of course, these should be, by no means, discouraged for only this vitality can churn out the next iPod or Post-it notes. But when a company gears itself for innovation and creativity alone and forgets how it affects the bottom line, you can know for sure it is headed for trouble. Innovation, for the sake of innovation, is simply not worth it.

The very concept of innovation, successful innovation that can affect your company's future, may not be what it seems. In a very insightful article on the topic, Carleen Hawn dissects the history of Apple and its corporate culture which teems with innovation and creativity. Hawn recalls how Apple almost single-handedly created the personal computer market, only to be taken over by IBM and its clones, powered by software from the then lesser-known Microsoft. What happened after that is history. Apple's decision of not to open up and license its operating system could have also considerably contributed to its low market share in the global personal computing market. As she puts its, technological innovation is what drives Apple, not business-driven. And that is the problem.

To take the exact opposite of Apple, we need to look no further than Microsoft. Technological innovation has not been the company's strongpoint. But when it comes to business-models, Microsoft is second to none. Gates and co saw an opportunity to bundle their very first operating system (which wasn't designed by them, as a matter of fact) with IBM's PCs, thus getting access to a very large customer base, with virtually no investment in distribution. What is more, Microsoft got paid by IBM for every PC that shipped with MS-DOS. The growth from a startup started by a college dropout to the software colossus that it is now is not a freak incident, it was business strategy and execution at its best.

So the next time you hear another preacher touting innovation as the only thing that can keep you going, just remember this old but very relevant quote:

"Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two, and only two, basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business." - Peter F. Drucker

Oct 7, 2006

The jargon of technology

Research from Nielsen/NetRatings, Britons using cutting edge technology are not as savvy when it comes to jargons, reports BBC.com. For example, 40% of online Brits receive news feeds, but are not familiar with the official term Really Simple Syndication (RSS).

Some more examples:
  • Only 57% of online Brits knew that acronym for instant messaging was IM.
  • 75% did not know VOD stands for Video-on-Demand.
  • 35% have heard about podcasting but didn't know what it meant.

That is all very well, but does any of these statistics matter? If people are already using technology but just don't call it by its popular name, does it mean they are any less technologically inclined? In a world where technology is obsolete the second after it is invented and only the ubergeeks can keep up, doing that would be next to impossible.

A rose by any other name...

I am pretty certain the findings would be applicable throughout most of the world, not many people who actually use technology would be aware of the different names it is known by. That is because there is no need to. That is because being able to use the technology for betterment of our lives is infinitely more important than keeping track in the acronym jungle. If you now how to use newsfeeds and read them daily, why bother with the "official name" of RSS anyway?

Link: BBC