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Monday, January 31, 2005
Blogfodder Dump
Cleaning out the blogfodder folder. I really, truly wanted to put together more significant posts about many of these items, but there just aren't enough hours in the day...

Jon Udell on desktop search. "Google's PageRank showed us that relevance is a collective judgment. Services such as del.icio.us, Flickr, and Furl are likewise showing us that metadata tagging wants to be a group effort. One of the ironies of desktop search may prove to be that, by the time it went mainstream, the personal hard drive was about to become an endangered species." Not yet convinced...reference my various search posts.

Along similar lines, some thoughts from Collision Detection on desktop search, referencing Steven Johnson's NY Times Book Review piece.

One of many posts in the last couple of days, noting that A9.com got an (apparently) unpaid plug via television's the O.C.

Despite the apparent search preferences of Pretty White Kids With Problems, Google is one of the world's most influential brands.

As noted by Fred Wilson, the search gap appears to be narrowing. Again, reference my many -- and probably boring -- search posts.

Tivo releases an SDK, but many feel it's too little too late. Really interesting, as I've been close to two other "are we a product or a platform" decision processes, where fear of losing control of the product ended up killing it.

Scoble on editing. (Also in an older series of posts somewhere around here, which tells you something about how long this topic been in blogfodder purgatory.) Agree with the idea that the immediacy of blogs has its own value, not convinced that everything about every process needs to be public. Sometimes the world just wants the finished product.

And finally a little something on the schizoid nature of the hive mind: the blogosphere is both enthusiastically for and violently against centralized tools, due to their incredible potential and/or instability and limitations.
What's in a name? Plenty, it seems.
Infoworld is reporting that MS has agreed to change the name of the upcoming EU version of Windows. Apparently EU officials noticed the same naming issue that I did, and feel that the upcoming Windows offering should have a name carries a little less of a "this version sucks but your legislators demanded it" air.
Sunday, January 30, 2005
alienabductions.com down
Just so you all know:
  • Any email you've sent to me in the last week or so at an alienabductions.com address probably didn't get to me, and the addresses will likely continue not working for the next few days, at least. Note that this applies even if you didn't get an explicit bounce.
  • Yes, the alienabductions.com Web server is down, too.
alienabductions.com -- along with a number of other friends' domains -- is hosted on a friend's server, and he appears to have gone on vacation or something without mentioning it to anyone. Or sharing the root password.

So if you need to get in touch with me, just use my work contact info until futher notice...
Thursday, January 27, 2005
One of These Things is Not Like the Others
I subscribe to a few Moreover ad-supported RSS feeds. They were preloaded in FeedDemon when I installed it, and I've held on to the subscriptions mostly to get a better idea of their approach to ad-supported feeds. It's worth noting, however, that I consider all the Moreover feeds to be utterly useless except for this reasearch: the feeds are headline only. Summary feeds are irritating enough, and at least those give me some idea of the post content. I've never, ever seen a headline in a Moreover feed that was compelling enough to get me to click through to the actual article.

But I digress. Here's the game for today: I've picked five consecutive headlines that appeared each day in the Moreover/ZDNet feed on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. I'll list them below, and you guess which headlines I believe are not like the others...

Wednesday, 26 January
Bloggers tackle the Super Bowl
ADV:Long Lasting Chest Congestion Relief
Apple patches OS X
Red Hat testing developer tool
RFID is now mainstream

Tuesday, 25 January
Sun to release Solaris code today
Firefox lead programmer now a Googlista
Workplace gets an update
Windows HTML flaw persists
ADV:IRS Tax Debt Relief Fast

Can you guess? Can you? I'll give you one more hint, just in case:

No one is interested in topics that are "relevant to everyone."

I have to imagine that whether it was a machine or a person queueing those ads up for inclusion in the ZDNet feed, the logic went something like this:

On Tuesday it was noted that 2004 just ended and tax time will be rolling around all too soon. It was further noted that people who are interested in technology pay taxes, and therefore they might be interested in IRS Tax Debt Relief Fast. After all, that's a universal issue, and relevant to everyone...

On Wednesday, it was noted that it's winter -- a particularly cold and nasty one a lot of places. It was further noted that people who are interested in technology get sick, and therefore they might be interested in Long Lasting Chest Congestion Relief. After all, that's a universal issue, and relevant to everyone...

Now I know that this may sound odd, but I don't read the articles on ZDNet for tax advice, nor for health care advice. I will concede that both taxes and illness are issues that are relevant to me in a general way, but they are in no way related to the topics that I expect to be addressed in this feed. Nor, for that matter, are they related to the topics that actually are addressed in the feed's non-advertising content.

No question about it, I have to finish my post on the logic of list segmentation. These people were handed a gift-wrapped basket full of targeted audience and they still managed to fuck it up. Incredible.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
So, like I was saying...
Lo, how the mighty have become...well, no longer the flavor of the month. As I was saying a few months ago, it used to suck to be a search engine. Then, yesterday, Scientific American published an article exploring the search for better Web searches.

As usual, read the article in full, don't accept my interpretation of it -- but note this casual statement as you read through:
"During the six years in which Google rose to dominance, it offered two critical advantages over competitors. One, it could handle extremely large-scale Web crawling tasks. Two, its indexing and weighting methods produced superior ranking results. Recently, however, search engine builders have developed several new, similarly capable schemes, some of which are even better in certain ways." (Empasis mine.)
Note also the laundry list of people and companies who are both (a) developing really cool search technology and (b) aren't Google.

Let us close this post with a quote from me:

But let us not forget that what Google did to Yahoo, Yahoo did to Alta Vista before them. That fundamental suck factor of search engines -- the stuff that you're searching is accessible to everybody and their mother -- is still out there, and the cost of entry is still pretty low. All it takes is a startup with a platinum card to buy the hardware and a few really smart people who can deal with eating ramen three times a day for a couple of years.

That's not to say that it's inevitable, but it is easily possible. Unlike, say, Microsoft, it costs Google's users nothing to switch to using someone else...they just point their browser to a new URL and Google's ranking in the real world drops just a little bit.

Forever and ever, amen.
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Thesis, Antithesis: Amazon Makes Intelligent Use of Email
Shortly after trashing eBay for their sad little email personalization efforts in a recent post, I received an email from Amazon. The start of that email is reproduced below:
Dear Amazon.com Customer,

We've noticed that customers who have purchased "Svefn-G-Englar" by Sigur Rós also purchased the work of M83. For this reason, you might like to know that M83's "Before the Dawn Heals Us" will be released on January 25, 2005. You can pre-order your copy at a savings of 18% by following the link below.

Now that is what I consider to be an effectively personalized email. Where eBay just sent me whatever crap they were sending to everyone else, "personalizing" it with my account name, Amazon is contacting me based on my prior purchase history.

Both eBay and Amazon have similar kinds of information about me, but Amazon actually made good use of that information (I bought a Sigur Rós album), combining it with information of their own (new M83 release coming out) to create a compelling offer (discount for pre-ordering the album).

I could see the tone of this email putting some people off, but I actually like it: they simply note that there's a correlation between purchases of Sigur Rós albums an M83 albums...people who buy one also tend to buy the other. Since there's a new M83 album coming out, people who have bought Sigur Rós might want to pre-order that M83 album at a discount. Simple. No hard sell.

This benefits me, either letting me know about an album that I might like or getting me a discount on a album I was going to buy anyway; this benefits Amazon, since records by French techno-ambient bands don't tend sell all that well at the best of times. Amazon is likely to get some extra sales of this album because they analyzed the data that they have on their many, many customers, found some significant correlations, and put together a simple communication strategy...and that -- I hope and trust -- will turn into extra sales for Amazon.

Amazon, 1. eBay, 0.
Monday, January 17, 2005
Moleskine Madness
I've been a notebook geek for most of my life. Whether it's spiral bound sketchbooks, crappy little dimestore reporter's notebooks, or the familiar marbled grade school composition books, no PDA has yet been able to supplant plain old paper notebooks as my tool of choice for orgainizing my thoughts.

Over the last couple of years, my wife has bought me a series of Moleskine notebooks, with the current one called into service to record important Gwendolyn-related information like the titles for each day since her birth. While I think that the Moleskines are great, I'm even more pleased to learn that using them makes me part of an elite, ultra-hip group...there's a freakishly obsessive Moleskine subculture out there, and they're very vocal in the blogosphere right now:
Unfortunately, there seem to be limits to my ultra-hipterism. You see, I'm way too cheap to actually use a Moleskine for my workaday thoughts. My notebook of choice is currently Ampad's Computation Book: quad ruled, numbered pages for easy cross-referencing, big enough (12" x 9") for my sprawling, diagram-laden approach to written notes, and cheap as hell -- especially when you get them in lots of five or ten.

So maybe that makes me even cooler?

Yeah, I already know the answer to that question...but I can dream, can't I?
Personalizing, My Ass
No, not this sort of thing -- note the position of the comma in the title, please.

Advertisers love the word "personalization," particularly in the context of online advertising where everything is handled by machines -- often tied to a database of information about the individual being targeted -- and the costs of personalization are therefore relatively low. Unfortunately, these advertisers also frequently have sad little ideas of what constitutes personalization.

Let's take eBay as our victim for this discussion. I've purchased items from eBay quite a few times over the last few years: at the very least they have a reasonable amount of data on the sorts of things that I bid on and buy, and they probably have a lot more information than that.

What does eBay do with that information? Well, in the last month they've sent me several emails promoting offers that are of absolutely no interest to me. Apparently I was supposed to respond positively to those emails because they were "personalized" with the account name that I use for eBay:

Dear eBay2002, these emails begin, as though I'll see that and get a warm and fuzzy feeling that someone at eBay is actually sitting down and writing an email to me -- person to person -- because that eBay employee thinks that I'd be interested in buying jewelery for someone as a holiday gift.

It's mind boggling. What benefit does this "personalization" offer me? I already know that eBay knows my account ID and email address, and I don't care. The fact that they can pull this information from a database and slap it into a bulk email doesn't impress me in the slightest: the content of the email that they're sending to me is still totally generic, reflecting nothing about my interests or history with eBay.

I've purchased computer equipment and peripherals, work by and about cartoonists like Charles Addams and Edward Gorey, New York City transit memorabilia, and a host of other items...if they're going to send me email promoting things that they've got for sale, why is eBay not sending me emails about stuff that I might have some possibility of actually buying?

The answer is probably twofold. First, eBay can already say that they're sending "personalized" email, and it would be a lot more complicated to start targeting and sending truly personalized emails. Since their practices are already buzzword-compliant, there's little incentive to invest time and money in making them work better. The second issue is a horribly common mindset when it comes to email: advertisers and marketers often don't think about sending email "messages" to their clients or subscribers, but rather in terms of sending email "blasts" out to a faceless, undifferentiated list, on a schedule determined by the marketing department.

Because it's about as cheap and easy to send out 10,000 or 100,000 email messages as it is to send 100 or 1,000 messages, it's easy to just "send them all and see what sticks;" without a significant financial disincentive, marketers default to mailing more rather than mailing intelligently. "List segmentation" sounds like something complicated and difficult, but it really just amounts to thinking about the people you're trying to communicate with. Showing some interest in and respect for those people. Remembering that there's an individual attached to that email address.
Thursday, January 13, 2005
Vacuum Cleaner Meets Octopus
Since Gwen's birth I've been assigning titles to each day -- it helps me differentiate between them, in place of the eight hours of uninterrupted sleep that used to mark the boundary between one day and the next.

Among these fine days we've had Holy Crap!, Grandma-o-rama, and Big Girl Shirt Day. Mona gets full credit for yesterday's title, though:

Vacuum Cleaner Meets Octopus

And then -- since I know you're all waiting for another one -- a picture of Gwen. I'll get back to posting on normal topics soon, I promise.

Thursday, January 06, 2005
Gwendolyn Claire McNamara
My daughter was born on this past Tuesday -- January 4, 2005 Monday -- January 3, 2005. I'll get back to posting in a week or so, but we've got some family bonding to do right now. Beautiful, isn't she?

Update: It has been pointed out to me that four days averaging less then four hours of sleep a night have taken a toll on my precision with dates...our daughter was actually born on Monday. That's about a million wonderful years ago, already, anyway.

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