Thursday, May 20, 2010

Geeking with Greg administrivia

This blog passed some fun milestones recently. It just had its six year anniversary, logging over 1500 posts in its lifetime.

When I started this blog in 2004, I wanted to bring personalization to information. Just as personalization and recommendations help people discover what they want in a massive product catalog, I thought personalization and recommendations could help tame the information streams that flood over us. Over the next five years, I wrote on this blog as I worked on personalized news, personalized search, and personalized advertising.

Regular readers may have noticed that posts on this blog have slowed down a fair bit over the last year. In large part, this is because I am no longer working on personalized search or personalized advertising, nor does my work still benefit from tracking what is going on in the information retrieval research community.

I try hard to keep this blog on topic. My plan is to have posts here continue to focus on personalized information, perhaps a bit on research papers, but mostly tracking the increasingly aggressive moves of the internet giants toward personalized search and advertising. But, that means posts will continue to be fairly infrequent.

If for some reason you can't get enough of geeking with me, if you really must have more, you might consider tracking what I am reading more broadly by following me in Google Reader. I use the shared items there as a link blog and comment broadly there on many topics.

Also, on this sixth anniversary, I welcome feedback on what you might enjoy seeing more of on this blog, especially from long-time readers. Do you mostly like the reviews of research papers (which, many have told me, are a great time-saver)? Comments on events in the industry (which might be snark, but perhaps useful snark)? Do you find the posts to be too long or too infrequent? Do you care if this blog stays on the topic of personalized information? If there is anything you want more of, please let me know in the comments!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Yahoo as an internet information filter

Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz is talking up personalization again, this time in an amusingly titled Esquire article:
When you talk about the Internet growing to 225 million sites, you've got to ask: Who's parsing all that? How do you make sense of all that stuff?

I mean, who has time to wander all over the Internet?

Tomorrow's Yahoo! is going to be really tailored. I'm not talking about organization — organizing means that you already know what you want and somebody's just putting it in shape for you. I'm talking about both smart science and people culling through masses of information on the fly and figuring out what people want to know.

We will be delivering your interests to you. For instance, if you're a sports fan but have no interest in tennis, we won't show you tennis. We would know that you do things in a certain sequence, so we'd say, "Here's your portfolio. Here's some news you might like. Oh, you went to this movie last week, here's some other movies you might want to check out."

I call it the Internet of One. I want it to be mine, and I don't want to work too hard to get what I need. In a way, I want it to be HAL. I want it to learn about me, to be me, and cull through the massive amount of information that's out there to find exactly what I want.
Please see also my June 2009 post, "Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz on personalization", for more on Yahoo's vision of recommending information.

[Esquire article found Nick Carr]

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Google tries to save the news

James Fallows at The Atlantic has a new article out, "How to Save the News", on what Googlers think about the future of the news industry.

Some key excerpts:
"If you were starting from scratch, you could never possibly justify [the current] business model," [Google Chief Economist] Hal Varian said ... "Grow trees -- then grind them up, and truck big rolls of paper down from Canada? Then run them through enormously expensive machinery, hand-deliver them overnight to thousands of doorsteps, and leave more on newsstands, where the surplus is out of date immediately and must be thrown away? Who would say that made sense?" The old-tech wastefulness of the process is obvious, but Varian added a less familiar point. Burdened as they are with these "legacy" print costs, newspapers typically spend about 15 percent of their revenue on what, to the Internet world, are their only valuable assets: the people who report, analyze, and edit the news.

"Nothing that I see suggests the 'death of newspapers,'" [Google CEO] Eric Schmidt told me. The problem was the high cost and plummeting popularity of their print versions. "Today you have a subscription to a print newspaper," he said. "In the future model, you'll have subscriptions to information sources that will have advertisements embedded in them, like a newspaper. You'll just leave out the print part. I am quite sure that this will happen ... As print circulation falls, the growth of the online audience is dramatic ... Newspapers don't have a demand problem; they have a business-model problem." Many of his company’s efforts are attempts to solve this, so that newspaper companies can survive, as printed circulation withers away.

The three pillars of the new online business model, as I heard them invariably described, are distribution, engagement, and monetization. That is: getting news to more people, and more people to news-oriented sites; making the presentation of news more interesting, varied, and involving; and converting these larger and more strongly committed audiences into revenue, through both subscription fees and ads.

The best monetizing schemes are of course ones that people like -- ads they enjoy seeing, products for which they willingly pay. Online display ads should be better on these counts too, [Google VP Neal] Mohan said. "here are things we can do online that we simply can't do in print," he said. An ad is "intrusive" mainly if it is not related to what you care about at that time ... "The online world will be a lot more attuned to who you are and what you care about" ... Advertising has been around forever, Mohan said, "but until now it has always been a one-way conversation."
The entire article is well worth reading. It gives a great feel for how Googlers are thinking about the future of news (and is mostly in line with my own thoughts).

Please see also my Oct 2009 post, "Google CEO on personalized news".