Jason, C.K., and a group of A-list investors have launched the alpha of Mahalo, their “human-powered search engine.” It’s a sleek, Web 2.0 take on Yahoo 1.0. That is, it’s a modern reinterpretation of the classic Web directory. Jason says his goal is to get the top 10,000 search terms into the index by the end of the year, and I’m sure he’ll get it done. Beyond that, I think he may have a real challenge. Other sites using the “human-powered” model have found it difficult to scale; exceptions like Wikipedia and Craigslist have made it on altruism and crowdsourcing, concepts that may be difficult to apply to a commercial endeavor like Mahalo. Still, Jason has a knack for proving the naysayers wrong, and there’s definitely something appealing about the idea of using a team of live “guides” instead of a box of algorithms to get the job done. So, aloha, Mahalo! Look forward to seeing you go to 10,000 and beyond!
Archive for May, 2007
A few years ago, I really wanted a Vadem Clio. With its swiveling display and sloping keyboard, it was one of the coolest looking machines in its class. Unfortunately for Vadem, that class—underpowered, overpriced mini-PCs running on Windows CE —never managed to find a market, since they were too bulky and expensive to replace PDAs, and too scrawny to replace traditional laptops. Now it looks like Palm is going to try to revive that market, with the new $500 Foleo. And I have to say, if anyone can make me want to buy one of these weird hybrids, it’s Jeff Hawkins. But, in the end, I’ll probably end up taking a pass on this one. These days, $500 can buy a decent, albeit low-end, laptop, and the Foleo, despite its bundled Bluetooth and WiFi, just doesn’t seem much more powerful than the Clio was in its day. And it’s not nearly as cool.
Photojojo—a great site filled with tips not about photography but about neat things to do with photos—has a link to a service that can turn any photo into ASCII art. I don’t think this is new, but it’s cool nevertheless. However, I was struck by something in the post about the “old-skool” days of ASCII graphics:
It was a simpler time. A time when computers didn’t have fancy graphics and candy-colored buttons, and if they wanted to show you a cranky green ogre, they didn’t use CG. They used our friends “|”, “”, “/”, and “.”
All true, of course. But to kick it really old skool, you’ve gotta do ASCII art the way I first learned it, back in I.S. 180: By hand on a manual typewriter. Doing ASCII art this way was incredibly tedious, since you basically had to type in rows of characters based on an instruction sheet. Make a mistake and you were toast (well, there was always Ko-Rec-Type). But the end results were great, and made it worth all the tedium. Sure, just a few years later, the technology to do this instantly and effortlessly would be available to just about anyone. But back in the day, the idea of typing a sheet of random characters and having it turn into a picture of Charlie Brown or a Thanksgiving turkey was amazingly cool. That, and it let the typing teacher kick back and not have to teach us anything new for a few lessons each term.
Domain squatting, or “domaining,” as it’s known among its adherents, has always been something of an embarassment to many mainstream Internet businesses. Like the cousin who made his fortune in a business nobody dares discuss, domainers wield enormous power in the Internet economy—Google alone has made an awful lot of money out of Adsense-fueled “parked” domains—but nobody really likes to admit it. Business 2.0 has changed that, though, with what must be the first magazine cover story profiling a domainer. The subject, Kevin Ham, boasts a domain portfolio worth an estimated $300 million, and has, among other things, cornered the market on religious domains (he owns both god.com and satan.com), and struck a deal with Cameroon to use its .cm ccTLD for a new twist on typosquatting (go to perton.cm, and you’ll see what I mean). However, Ham is now branching out from the usual domainer revenue model of parking and flipping to creating actual content. As Ham says, “It’s time to build out the virtual real estate.” His timing is perfect. As Google, no longer a scrappy startup willing to latch onto any revenue source it can find, begins to crack down on “made for AdSense” sites, making money from parking could get a lot harder. However, domainers have survived earlier crackdowns on trademark infringement and typosquatting, and the smarter ones will find a way to stay in business. After all, while it may be too late to make a fortune by starting your own search engine or blogging network, domaining is still a business where you can get started with as little as a dollar and a dream. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to cut a deal with Antarctica for the aq TLD. It’s gotta be good for something.
About a month ago, NPR’s Terry Gross interviewed Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales on Fresh Air, and this morning I finally got to listen to it (thank you, NPR for providing podcasts!). Gross asks some great questions, and Wales gives his usual spin, even glossing over the Seigenthaler controversy. What’s most telling, though, is Wales’ response to a question by Gross about whether Wikipedia can be considred a reliable source of information. His response: “Most of Wikipedia is kind of OK.”
Those are his exact words. And I think they deserve to stand on their own, with no further commentary, as a testament to Wales’ commitment to quality, reliability, and, of course, wikiality.
Listen to it here.
Despite my love for all things online, I still enjoy reading dead-tree versions of some magazines, especially those about photography. Though I’m sure it won’t be like this forever, the gamut and bit-depth of photos on paper are still well ahead of what you’ll get on most displays, especially consumer-quality LCDs. And there really is something satisfying about holding those pages in your hand and studying (or just enjoying) the big, blown up pictures. Among the many photo mags I subscribe to, my current favorite is undoubtedly JPG. Not only does the magazine feature great photos from both famous and unknown photographers, but it’s also the most successful example to date of an online community successfully expanding its brand—and its community—offline. It’s no wonder Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni recently commented that JPG “took the mold of an industry model and completely smashed it, proving that technology is not the enemy to print as all the prophets of doom and gloom preach.” So, it’s very disappointing to hear that JPG founders Derek Powazek and Heather Champ are leaving JPG. While it’s not unusual for disputes among founding partners of a startup to end with one of them being ousted, it seems pretty clear that Powazek and Champ were the heart and soul of JPG, the ones who invented the whole “magazine publishing 2.0” concept. As a subscriber and member of the community, I certainly hope JPG continues to embrace that concept without them. And I also hope that Powazek and Champ emerge from whatever non-compete they may have signed and meet JPG head-on with their next venture.
Actually, I don’t mind the iGoogle service; what I can’t stand is its name. While I can understand the business rationale behind Google’s unfortunate decision to rename Froogle “Google Product Search,” the iGoogle branding is just baffling. As pointed out in PC World’s now-legendary “10 Things We Hate About Apple” story, thanks to the success of the original iMac, “dozens of Apple and third-party product names begins with ‘i.’ Their manufacturers are all jumping on the bandwagon, hoping that a single letter will sway us to buy their stuff. Meanwhile, you can’t even start sentences with the products’ names.” When you’ve got products with names like the iDog—or worse, the iYiYi—it’s time for any self-respecting company to banish the initial from their lineup. “Google Personalized Home Page” may have been a mouthful, but iGoogle is just pointless.
I have to say that, like everyone, I’m thrilled that Harry McCracken is back at PC World, and that IDG has taken such a strong stand for editorial independence. It’s great news for writers, editors, readers, and, as McCracken points out in his blog, advertisers as well, since editorial independence is vital to retaining the readers advertisers so covet.
And now that he’s back, I’ve finally taken the time to read the article that led to the whole imbroglio, and I’m shocked. The “10 Things We Hate About Apple” piece is yet another of those lists I’m so fond of, and it’s completely innocuous. It takes gentle jabs at Apple over well-known issues from the company’s secrecy to the lack of any decent Mac games. McCracken was right to take a stand on this; if a CEO would threaten him over something like this, who knows how he’d respond to a serious investigative piece or overwhelmingly negative review of an advertiser. Bully for McCracken, and keep those lists coming!
Oh, and here are a couple of shameless plugs for somewhat similar lists I’ve been proud to work on: At Engadget, we did a list of Apple’s best and worst products to celebrate the company’s 30th anniversary. My contributions included making sure that two products I own made the list: The PowerBook 100 on the good side, and the Lisa on the bad, mainly due to its bungled marketing (I really do still love the Lisa). And at Download Squad, I had a ball with a piece on 10 Things We Love About Microsoft, which included our paean to Ballmer: “He’s nutty, oddly passionate, sweaty, and bald. That’s not the profile of your run-of-the-mill CEO, nor the type that Hollywood would cast. That’s why we love him. (That, and we love it when he goes ballistic.)”
Photo sharing site Zooomr is trying to raise cash in a somewhat unusual way: CEO Thomas Hawk and founder Kristopher Tate have posted notices on their respective blogs asking for potential investors to contact them. And, according to Tate, the site’s “initial investor heard we were cash positive and has decided to pull their money out of our accounts.” That might sound ominous, especially given the fact that Zooomr has had problems getting its latest version out the door. Still, I think Zooomr has a shot. Photo sites are hot right now, and Hawk is both a darn good photographer and a geek star, so his presence gives the service some cred (though he’d give it even more if he’d go full-time and start using his real name). More than that, though, I’d like to believe the myth of the kid in the garage starting a business and making good is still alive. I’d really like to see Tate succeed, and I’d be happy to invest if they’d take my pitiful pocket change.
A few weeks ago, a friend commented that she was surprised to see that the Most Searched list on NYTimes.com included words like “sex” and “drugs” mixed in with more news-oriented search terms like “bush” and “obama.” In fact, “sex” was, and is, the top search term (and drilling down to Related Searches gets really nasty). We agreed that this sounded suspicious—could that many people really be coming to NYTimes to get their thrills? I opined that most of these searches likely weren’t coming from actual NYTimes readers, but were being funneled by search engines. Turns out I was right. The Times has apparently been engaging in a now-banned practice of “including search results in search results.” I’m not quite sure how NYTimes did this; I assume they either built SEO-specific pages based on thousands of queries, or included query links in their site map. Either way, now that the cat is out of the bag, it looks like the site is going to have to come clean. From having the top spot on the sex SERP a few weeks ago, NYTimes has now dropped completely off the radar. This means the term is likely to disappear from the Most Searched list pretty soon as well. And I suspect that NYTimes will be a better site for it.