Social networks and search


Two years ago I did a four-city speaking tour of New Zealand under the auspices of SmartNet. Before my lunch presentation in Wellington, I sat out on one of the tables, and was astounded to find that the person I was chatting to was an executive of Eurekster, which was at the time a hot new player in applying social networks to search. I’ve never come across much public mention of this, as they present themselves as a US company, but much of Eurekster’s development has been done in New Zealand. The news today is that Microsoft, in endeavoring to integrate social network functionality into its own search offering, will either buy or partner with Eurekster, according to BusinessWeek.

While there are a number of approaches to what is being called “social search”, the heart of it is drawing on the experiences and search results of people with similar interests. Rather than using pure algorithms to rank relevance, it makes a lot of sense to use as inputs what people have found to be useful. This can be done in bounded groups, so for example racing car enthusiasts could form a social group where all the members can draw on the search processes or interesting results others are finding. A search for “fiat” would give very different results than it would in a generic research, or even for a car buyer’s interest group. However I think that forming specific search groups is only a preliminary step down this path. Everyone has many interests and roles, and it is not easy to find and join relevant search groups for each of these areas. In the long-term, collaborative search must automatically draw on people’s most relevant peers and their search results. This relates to how reputation networks will develop, where you have an implicit trust rating for each person’s input into the system. This may be through personally knowing that person, or it may be by how they – or the information they uncover – are viewed by your peers. There is no question that social search will over time give far better results than pure algorithmic search. But what Eurekster, Microsoft, and Yahoo! are doing now in this field are very early steps.

The symbiosis of mainstream media and blogs


I read through an article on blogging in the Financial Times this morning to help me as I develop some frameworks on the changing content creation landscape. The article was clearly negative on blogging being the transformative media it is touted to be, though brought out some interesting points. The writer makes the point that blogs are not self-sufficient – they depend largely on the mainstream media for their fodder.

“The present round of chiselling may feel exciting and radically new – but blogging in the US is not reflective of the kind of deep social and political change that lay behind the alternative press in the 1960s. Instead, its dependency on old media for its material brings to mind Swift’s fleas sucking upon other fleas “ad infinitum”: somewhere there has to be a host for feeding to begin. That blogs will one day rule the media world is a triumph of optimism over parasitism.”

Cute metaphor. Yet symbiosis is far more apt than parasitism. Mainstream media in its online form largely gets attention through blogs. Blogs add immense value to the original articles, by identiyfing what’s important, pointing out flaws, adding other perspectives, making visible to all the conversations that stem from media pieces. Blogs depend on mainstream media, with its resources and editorial capabilities, for sure. Yet media is increasingly dependent on blogging for the direction of attention and layer of value-add created.

Keynote on the Future of Global Business at the Harvard Club in New York


This April 27 I’m doing a lunch address at the Harvard Club in New York City on The Future of Global Business, organized by Claxton Speakers International – description below. Details and registration here. If you’re in the area, please come along and say hi, or feel free to pass on word if people you know may be interested in coming along.

The Future of Global Business

Business is now truly global. Communications technologies and deregulation are creating a world in which there are no boundaries for competition. Manufacturing has already gone to low-cost locations. Now almost-free communication allows legal work, financial analysis, and other professsional work – as well as customer service – to be done anywhere on the planet. Innovations are copied in the blink of an eye. Blogging, podcasting, and internet TV change the rules for media and advertising. The entire planet has become a intensely interconnected hive of business activity.

Yet despite the challenges, there are massive opportunities in this new global world of business. How should individuals, companies, and indeed entire countries, position themselves for success? The answer is in connecting. You must have at least one world-class capability, and then tap into global networks for both suppliers and clients. Those organizations that can create effective collaborative networks will dominate. Those that attempt to stand alone will fall. Today it is still about who you know, but also about how you can create value with your personal networks. In his compelling and energizing keynote, Dawson brings clarity to the unfolding world of global business, and provides specific, actionable strategies for individuals and companies to succeed in the challenging times ahead.

Newspaper headlines and search optimization


An interesting article in the New York Times on how newspapers are finding the art of writing headlines is changing. Back when you were solely trying to draw attention from readers of a broadsheet, being clever was the name of the game. But now that online content is starting to become a significant revenue stream for newspapers, and much of their traffic comes through search engines such as Google News or other new aggregators, creating headlines is becoming a very different art. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the art and science of making your website friendly to search engines. As it turns out, headlines are a critical part of this. Google and other search engines very heavily overweight words that are in page and story titles. Words used in titles need to be relevant to the article, so search engines can classify them. It’s been very interesting to me as this blog has gained traction to see how people are finding the blog, and what gets good search engine rankings. For example posts on this blog come up #1 on Google for a wide range of search terms, including “monetizing eyeballs“, “client sophistication“, “blogging serialization“, and many others. These are all words that are in the titles of the respective blog posts. Understanding how this works strongly influences what I – or any blogger or editor – choose to use as headlines.

Part of what the newspapers are doing is setting up dual pages, one with the traditional newspaper headline, the other with the search-engine friendly version, intended for different human or automated readers. The thing is that you are not just targetting search engines, but also news aggregration sites such as Memeorandum and Daypop News. Michael Parekh makes some interesting points on this regarding optimization for multiple platforms. Tagging and other approaches will help on this front, but for now content creators need to work out their priorities in how they optimize their sites and content to be found on the web.

Massively multi-player sex games


Click on the image for a trial of Red Light Center, the most popular multiplayer 3D virtual sex game

This is going to be big. Naughty America: The Game is a massively-multiplayer game, due out in the next few months, in which players assume the role of characters who meet, date, and have sex. Up until now the big multiplayer role-playing games such as Everquest and World of Warcraft have been set in fantasy worlds. Now it will be in sexual fantasy worlds, where characters can invite others back to their apartment, designed to their own taste with home decorator tools. Or they can flirt or have sex in a whole variety of realms including the beach, back alleys, a cruise ship, or theme rooms such as make-your-own-porn. And just so it isn’t too tame, you can switch to sex mode, where you can turn on personal webcams, or of course set up in-the-flesh dates. A good overview article discusses some of the ins-and-outs of the market, including how Naughty America intends to deal with distribution, fears of sexual predators, and bringing people into a new experience. However, interestingly, Second Life, the biggest free-form online world, is said to be one-third based on sexual interactions. I think that the only potential limitation here is the quality of the graphics. But if it’s not good enough now, it will be soon. Having recently delved into World of Warcraft and been staggered at how far the multiplayer online games have come in the last years, I don’t doubt that a significant portion of many people’s lives will be spent in virtual worlds, as and when the graphic and interaction quality is up to it. And sex will be part of that virtual interaction.

Online video heats up


YouTube, recently the belle of the ball at the Digital Hollywood conference, has just raised $8 million from Sequoia Capital in a Series B round. YouTube is currently the leader of the pack in providing online video hosting, but it still doesn’t have an evident business model. Apparently it will start putting advertising into its site – which it currently doesn’t do – by mid-year, but the costs of hosting video means this revenue stream has to be significant. Far more likely it will look to cut deals with major entertainment companies to be an outlet for video content, in turn tied in with related revenue streams. However YouTube is far from alone in the space, with Jumpcut launched yesterday, and yet to be released service Motionbox declared the best video service by TechCrunch, even before its launch. Both of these services allow video editing, with Jumpcut in particular having some nifty video mashup and remix features, while YouTube is just an upload site. Bubble, bubble, toil, and maybe trouble on the other end of this boomlet, but it has a very good run to go first.

Choosing a feed reader


For those of you out there who have not yet set yourself up with an RSS feed reader, the better to tap the best of the Internet, TechCrunch provides a brief but useful review and comparison of the major online feed readers. There are certainly other ways of tapping RSS feeds, including PC-based software applications and Outlook-integrated applications, however most people still use online feed readers, as they are easy to set up and use. Bloglines, Newsgator, and Rojo are still probably the most used by the major bloggers, but there is a continual array of new players in this space. Since each provides default feed suggestions, this helps to support their revenue models.

Internet video becomes true new media


We all know that television will migrate to distribution over the Internet. Broadcast and cable will certainly co-exist with the Internet as distribution channels for moving image content for the foreseeable future, however broadband access and the availability of capital for new media ventures mean that the Internet is already becoming a viable alternative for television viewers. Some traditional free-to-air television channels will at some point simultaneously broadcast their programs over the Internet. However what is more interesting is how video programs over the Internet take advantage of the channel and the media consumption patterns of the likely audience. Case in point is, which targets young males with a showcase of funny, sexy, and crude short videos, set in an extremely advertising-intensive frame. It looks different from just about anything else out there, with few words, and plenty of user-driven interaction, movement, sound, and color. The site is openly modelled on video games. An a very interesting recent article in the New York Times that discusses some of the dynamics of advertising to this demographic, says that the site had 5.5 million visitors in February, while the company estimates it will take in $20 million in revenue this year. Advertisers like not just the audience, but the depth of exposure they get from the in-your-face advertisements. Around half of the videos are amateur productions submitted by the audience, though selected by the site editors. is now ramping up its own video production capabilities. Of course, this is just one facet of the Internet video world, with other players like Youtube, Videobomb, OurMedia, and others providing a whole new domain of user generated and filtered content. is showing the way in actually doing something new which has not done before, rather than simply distributing traditional content in new ways or taking text and image models into video. There will be a lot more exciting and new in this space in the very near future.

Representing ourselves and creating avatars


A teenage girl’s video clip on YouTube about her breakup with her boyfriend has been viewed over 155,000 times in the last five days, primarily because she was playing with features on Logitech web cameras that allow her to change her appearance. The features available on the cameras include adding glasses to a person’s face, changing their eyes, or an entire range of complete characters, such as an alien, gingerbread man, or bulldog. The software tracks movements in the person’s face to keep the modifications aligned with their image. While the features are fairly basic, they still look good, are included with a $100 web camera, and the quality will quickly improve.

An avatar (from the Sanskrit, originally meaning a manifestation of a deity on earth) is a person’s representation in a virtual environment. Any multi-player game involves avatars that players use to play their roles. The Logitech features are an important step to blurring the boundaries between video calling, and taking on a completely different visual representation online. This starts to answer the question of how we will deal with video calls when we don’t always look our best. We are on the verge of being able to look perfectly coiffed and groomed in a video call, irrespective of how we look in real life. Just as we can get a “voice lift” to surgically make us sound younger, we can modulate our digital voices too. Starting from around now, we cannot know if the image we are seeing, even in a live video call, is actually showing a person, or a digitally manipulated image of them. So how do YOU want to look and sound?

The state of news media


A great report just out by the Project for Excellence in Journalism on The State of the News Media 2006, focusing on the US news industry. It provides detailed analysis across all news media, including newspapers, online, TV, radio, alternative and more. The new major emerging trends they picked out this year are:

* The new paradox of journalism is more outlets covering fewer stories.

* The species of newspaper that may be most threatened is the big-city metro paper that came to dominate in the latter part of the 20th century.

* At many media companies, though not all, the decades-long battle at the top between idealists and accountants is now over.

* That said, traditional media do appear to be moving toward technological innovation – finally.

* The new challenge to the old media, the aggregators, are also playing with limited time.

* The central economic question in journalism continues to be how long it will take online journalism to become a major economic engine, and if will ever be as big as print or television.

Underlying these trends is the game being played between traditional media and new media organizations, with a large convergent space in the middle, and possibly the beginnings of hardball tactics as we have seen in the music industry over the last years.