September 28, 2005

Innovations in Search, Day 1

Day one of the Innovations in Search conference is over. This is the first that I've attended, so I had no idea what to expect beyond the program.

As with most conferences there was a mix of good and not-as-good presentations. Here are some items that were highlights for me.

The keynote was given by Clare Hart, president and CEO of Factiva. Factiva seems to have some very smart ideas and a good design process for an intuitive user experience. Their tools that I've seen and played with are beautiful and functional. My favorite quote from Clare: "So much of the future of search is about presentation." I think that value is well-represented in the Factiva search tools.

Alan Feuer, of Blossom Software, gave a presentation entitled "How Transparency Helps Search." He brandished a magic wand throughout the talk as a reminder that while geeks may understand why a search tool does something, to the average user it's magic. He said that search before the Web used to involve experts, and it was always a conversation. Web search tools, unfortunately, tend to discourage the conversation. He argued that a big part of the problem is that search tools don't explain why a particular result was returned, and that tools often make significant modifications to the user's query (query expansion, stemming, spell correcting, etc.) without telling the user about it. One example he gave of progress in transparency is the dynamic excerpts (usually with hit highlighting) that many search tools return. However, they don't show link text that may have contributed to a results ranking (I think he was referring to things uch as the "miserable failure" Google bombing exploit). Overall, I appreciated Alan's presentation mostly for what it was not, a sales pitch, and what it was, a serious attempt to discuss the most important search problems and potential solutions.

The last presentation of the day was given by Mark Clements of Nexidia. He demonstrated an audio search tool that Nexidia has developed, taking a phrase typed into the search box (in this case [capital punishment]) and finding the points in a number of recorded phone conversations where someone said that phrase. Very cool.

It seemed like every presentation contained a screenshot of an intentionally vague, one-word query in the Google Web search interface. Each vendor then triumphantly demonstrated why their product could help the user better than Google. I was surprised that Google had no representation here for their enterprise products.

It was very difficult to gauge the mix here. It was clear that there were a number of vendors in attendance, but beyond them, I don't know how many were potential customers, developers, integrators, etc.


September 25, 2005


Science continues to make progress, despite the opposition.


September 22, 2005

Google Professionals

Google launched their Google Enterprise Professional Program today.


September 21, 2005

Innovations in Search

I'll be at the Innovations in Search conference next week in the Big Apple, and I'm really looking forward to it. It's all about the technology; not about how to market your company via search engines.

Jon Udell on SOA

Building SOA your way


September 19, 2005

the curious incident of the dog in the night-time

I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon on a flight from DC to San Francisco (It's a quick read -- I was finished somewhere over the Rockies), and would recommend it to just about anyone. I see that others have made the comparison to The Catcher in the Rye already. In this case, the boy telling the story is an autistic 15 year-old. The story is emotionally compelling, but it's told by a kid whose emotional range is extremely limited, and for whom reading the emotions of others is difficult. As I read, I felt sorry for the poor kid, but with some question as to whether or not I should. The story certainly gave me an appreciation for the family, friends, and professionals who work with autistic kids. Haddon is brilliant for telling this story in this way, and for telling it so well.

Notes on the Search Experience

PDF version of Daniel Rose's slides on User Experience Issues in Web Search. His conclusion is that "the web search user experience does not reflect what we know about user behavior." I wish I'd heard the talk, so I understood exactly what he meant by that...

(via Greg Linden)


September 14, 2005

Charities are for Suckers


Ted Rall's proposal is extreme, but worth reading:

Granted, in terms of popularity of likelihood of success, trying to make a case against giving money to charities compares to lobbying against puppies. The impulse to donate, after all, is rooted in our best human traits. As we watched New Orleanians die of thirst, disease and anarchic violence in the face of Bush Administration disinterest and local government incompetence, millions of us did the only thing we thought we could to do to help: cut a check or click a PayPal button. Tragically, that generosity feeds into the mindset of the sinister ideologues who argue that government shouldn't help people--the very mindset that caused the levee break that turned Katrina into a holocaust and led to official unresponsiveness. And it is already setting the stage for the next avoidable disaster.

To-Do How-To

43 Folders' Building a Smarter To-Do List series is a must-read -- at least for slobs like me. I've kept to-do lists for years now, but after reading this, I can see that many of my to-do items are actually projects in disguise.