Archive for January, 2007

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Which Search Engine Has the Most Human Intervention?

January 30, 2007

The premise of Bessed is that the best search results are generated from a real person doing critical thinking about what a searcher would most want to see for a given search. In general, where appropriate, we feel a searcher would like a number of different types of sites put together in one quick yet complete package. Therefore, where appropriate, we try to offer in our top links these type of sites: an overview site, a link or two of recent news on the topic/keyword, recent blog posts, seminal historical events, videos of interest, photographs. Our thought is that if you are researching a topic, you could use our first 10 or so links and get a pretty complete picture.

In discovering sites, we obviously use the major search engines in addition to suggestions from site visitors. In doing so, I’m always interested to see which search engine I feel spends the most time manipulating results with the help of human editors.

While Google is the most accurate for the most searches, in my experience Ask does the best job of providing the greatest variety of sites that might satisfy a searcher’s desires. I have to believe that Ask uses a good number of humans in massaging search results, at least for more common searches. It’s amazing how good Ask’s results can sometimes be—and then even more amazing how devoid of links Ask can be at other times. The fact that their results for common searches are usually so good, while their results for more obscure searches can be so bad, is evidence to me that it’s not a purely robot-based operation like Google. (Google may do a bit of human intervention, but I think they’re much more focused on their algorithms.)

For example, Ask is the best at getting news headlines into their search results. Do a search on sports teams or politicians in the news, and Ask has jumped on it much quicker than Google. You might track it down via Google News, but one of Google’s weaknesses as an engine is that it takes longer to get newsworthy items into its main index and it often doesn’t give them much weight—unless, of course, they’ve been linked to a lot. But even with bloggers linking like crazy, a news item that would be of interest to a searcher often ends up nowhere in Google, while Ask will often pick it up. This again makes me believe that there is an editorial team at Ask doing some thinking about this stuff.

I could be wrong. It might just be that Ask gives a certain number of news sites high ratings in its algorithm and if they have a story that pertains to search term, it shows up. But Ask has shown me enough variety in search results and other idiosyncracies— for example, a search for Bill Gates brings up a 1994 Playboy interview in which Gates discusses the impending “information highway”—that it seems clear someone smarter than a computer is thinking about this stuff. Or maybe they’ve perfected artificial intelligence, and if they can get their robot working a little faster they might just be able to challenge Google.

I think Ask.com is the second-best search engine out there now, and wouldn’t be surprised if they challenge for the #2 spot in searches conducted over the next 5 years or so.

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.

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Book Review: You Can’t Spell America Without Eric

January 30, 2007

There’s an old song you may know by Lovin’ Spoonful called “Summer in the City.” It starts like this: “Hot town/summer in the city/Back of my neck/getting dirty and gritty” and soon follows with “All around/people looking half dead/Walking on the sidewalk/hotter than a match head.” This song popped into my head while looking at the pictures from photographer Eric Payson’s trek across America titled You Can’t Spell America Without Eric. While it’s not an absolute, many of Payson’s subjects appear worn down, a bit sweaty, neither happy or unhappy—maybe the way most of us look when caught unaware, and maybe the way America looks day to day.

While the book’s title suggests a road trip, and a number of the photographs are actually taken looking through the front windshield of a car, this is mostly a book about people, which is always the most interesting photography subject. And, in reality, these people could be from anywhere in the U.S., which may be the point. From a bald, hairy guy smoking a cigarette in a swimming pool, to a vendor throwing peanuts, to little girls playing in some sort of public area (a museum?), the photographs evoke feelings more than a sense of place. The American flags that spring up throughout only heighten the feeling of this being Everywhere U.S.A.

Payson’s photos have a throwback quality, as if they could have been taken 30 years ago, although it’s hard to put your finger on what it is about them that evokes that thought. Is it the fact that they often have a slight haze, whether via smoke or rain or too bright sun? Or is it that he often chose people or locales that make it difficult to pinpoint a time? (For example, people look basically the same in swimsuits today as they have for the last 40 years.) Or is it the manner in which he brings out certain colors? I don’t know, but it’s definitely there.

One of the most jarring photographs in the book for me was a photograph of Sarah Hughes, the figure skating champion from the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, riding in a car during a parade. (An interesting subject, famous yet obscure; I had to really think hard and do a little research to remember who she could be.) Many a photographer capturing images of America would make this type of shot—a smiling, waving, patriotic sweetheart—the norm. In You Can’t Spell America Without Eric, it stands out as the exception. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is in the eye of the beholder, and it will go a long way in determining your appreciation of this book.

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.

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GoodStorm’s MeCommerce

January 29, 2007

In thinking about the business model for Bessed, I’ve been considering alternative revenue sources in addition to advertising. One of the things I’ve been thinking about is teaming with retailers and doing the affiliate-type situation in which ads are placed and you’re only paid if a click-through results in a direct sale. I’m not a fan of doing this, but the strict ad model is somewhat difficult, so I’ve been thinking that if a partnership presented itself that would result in a decent enough cut of sales, it could be worthwhile.

I read today on TechCrunch about GoodStorm’s new service which is actually not relevant to us, but the post did lead to a mention of their earlier announced service MeCommerce.

To some extent MeCommerce is just like those Amazon ads you see left and right on content sites, but the promise is that you would get paid a greater percentage of the sale—half of the profit on each item, although I don’t know exactly what the profit itself is in order to figure that. Regardless, I’m assuming it would be a better % than Amazon.

In addition, MeCommerce is supposed to let visitors buy an item without leaving your site, which is neat.

So I signed up today to test it out and see if it might be worth exploring.

I couldn’t get anything to work. It told me that I could zero in on keywords that would then produce products suited to those keywords, but when I put in the keywords, it told me there were no results. Even for the keywords that they themselves suggested as possibilities, I got no results. I was using Firefox—is it maybe an IE product only?

All I know is, it didn’t inspire confidence. I would want the revenue share, but also greater reliability. Maybe someone from GoodStorm will see this and give me a heads-up on what I was doing wrong. For now, though, it doesn’t seem to be an option.

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.

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Book Review: A Perfect Mess

January 23, 2007

Remember those old commercials for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups? The ones where you’d see a person on one side of a wall walking with a jar of peanut butter while the guy coming around the corner had a chocolate bar? They’d collide and one would say angrily, “You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!”, then the other: “You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!” They’d quickly realize, however, that this messy interaction was a happy accident that had spawned a wonderful new candy sensation.

Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman, the authors of the new book A Perfect Mess, would probably approve of that commercial, because their book’s thesis is that a little mess can be a good thing, that too much orderliness can stifle inventiveness, waste time—even go against the laws of nature.

If you have a messy desk, the authors refute the claims of orderliness experts who say you’re losing hours every day hunting for things. In fact, they say that for most messy people, looks can be deceiving—there’s usually a method to the madness, even if that method is vague even to the person who’s learned to thrive within it. For example, your desk is a mess, but you might keep a small clear space immediately around you, with the most important things staying in your closer sphere and the less important being pushed to the far corners. What you need most stays close at hand, what you need only occasionally is further away, and you know that, at least subconsciously.

And, like the Reese’s Cup example above, that messy desk might bring together two disparate projects or papers that spark an idea of how they could be combined in a new, creative way. Or if you’re really messy, as in the case of Alexander Fleming, who came back from vacation one day to find that mold had invaded a petri dish left on his desk, it might lead to you discovering penicillin. Now that’d be cool. And it would never happen if everything was always lined up in color-coded file folders, now would it?

Of course neatniks might say that this book just throws around a few messy examples that prove the rule of order. Even a messy, disgusting squirrel finds a nut amid the clutter sometimes. And that’s a point you could argue, except A Perfect Mess doesn’t just look at messy people—it looks at how messiness, as in a lack of order, is often a stronger model for success.

There are countless examples of this. Look at war. From the guerilla-style American revolutionaries picking off the well-ordered redcoats to the decentralized cells of Al-Qaeda to the random insurgency that has often stonewalled the highly-trained and highly organized U.S. troops in Iraq, it’s clear that messiness has its advantages.

Look at business, especially today. More and more often we hear about businesses using open-source products and encouraging user participation in creating everything from Web sites to a company’s R&D. It’s messy, unpredictable, and requires giving up some control, but it’s also a way to generate new ideas that a business might never come up with in the traditional manner. (The authors also use Microsoft as an example of a messy company, getting their hands into everything, putting out products on the fly and refining them through successive iterations. This method may provoke criticism, but it’s hard to argue that it’s been unsuccessful.)

Even nature desires a certain messiness, and the book provides a number of examples. The one I found most interesting describes a species of turtle whose offspring’s sex is determined by the outside temperature. If the temperature didn’t fluctuate, all would be the same sex, effectively killing off the species.

These guys have dozens of other fun, messy stories you’ll enjoy, and overall the book is a winner. Know where it falters, though? When it attempts to categorize types of messiness, define the methods people use in dealing with mess, etc. Come on, guys, it’s a book about mess. Don’t mess it up by trying to neaten it.

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.

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Making It Relevant

January 22, 2007

Seth Godin, who I link to often enough that I’m entering stalker territory, has a post that’s simple yet worth remembering, titled Who Wants a Prize Like That? The basic message is that in promoting your work it makes sense to market in a way that is relevant to your target audience—in his example, the Thriller Readers Newsletter has a sweepstakes to win 150 “thriller” books signed by their authors if you sign up for their newsletter. Not cash, not an iPod, but a prize that that particular audience would crave.

There’s nothing colossal about that point, but it’s still worth noting.

Of course some businesses lend themselves to this point better than others. If you sell snowboards, it’s not hard to figure out what some relevant marketing angles might be. You think about what snowboarders might be interested in and follow the trail, so to speak.

But use that same logic for auto insurance—if you sell auto insurance, go where the drivers go? Hmmm… driving isn’t exactly a niche activity. Everyone needs auto insurance, but no one likes it and it’s not like marketing to auto enthusiasts would really be targeting your audience. Car enthusiasts like driving, not buying insurance in case of an accident. They want sleek design, not an insurance statement.

So what could companies that serve a general interest (or necessity) do to stand out, to be relevant? That’s a tougher question. Maybe they target their most profitable potential customers first? For instance, would Allstate or Progressive be wise to target Mommy drivers who are less likely to drive recklessly by offering free car seats to new Moms if they choose their particular insurance? That’s one way to go about it. Find out who are generally your most profitable or most loyal customers and target them first, with advertising or giveaways relevant to them. Do this in a few niches and your big general-interest business can be relevant in your most important customer markets.

By the way I have no idea if mommies are really safer drivers than anyone else, just guessing.

What can your company do to market relevantly to your potential customers? (By the way I have no idea if “relevantly” is a word.)

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.

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My Beta Test of Joost

January 17, 2007

After adding a results list for Joost today at Bessed, Ludovic from Joost was nice enough to let us know that more openings were available for beta testers, so I snagged one and gave it a whirl.

If you don’t know, Joost is the new TV-on-the-Internet product/service from the inventors of Skype and Kazaa. Until recently it was being referred to as The Venice Project.

My worry after reading some early comments about Joost was that it would cause my computer to go crazy from using too many system resources. My computer’s probably two or so years old and it’s not souped-up or anything, but Joost ran just fine. There were a couple of times the audio hiccupped, but nothing major. The computer didn’t crash, I didn’t have to cry.

That worry out of the way, Joost works sort of like regular TV is some ways. Turn it on (aka, double-click on its icon) and you get a channel that’s already running, so that feels familiar. You can then access a bunch of diferent channels with various content on them, from old TV shows to music videos to whatever else. I won’t go into what the current content is, because I don’t think that’s the point. The content is curently limited, and it obviously would need to be significantly beefed up, but the point of a beta is to see if the thing works, and it does.

As you move from channel to channel, you get a new “show” and you can skip through to other “shows” on that same channel. (I put “show” in quotes because some of these are fairly short pieces, not necessarily what you think of as neat little half-hour shows in the traditional sense.) The only trouble I had, or maybe I didn’t understand, was how to go directly to a show that I saw listed. It seemed I had to fast forward/skip to get to new content on a channel, instead of picking from a menu like you might on the menu of a DVD. When debuting the iPhone, Steve Jobs talked about seeing voice mails as a list and clicking on the one you wanted to listen to, even if it was out of order; I’d want the same idea out of Joost. Probably a short-term issue.

Joost also has some community features, so you can communicate with others while you’re watching. That’s not a big selling point for me, but I know younger people with more time on their hands might like it.

In short, my first impression of Joost is positive.

Looking at it brought up many questions. Do people want to watch TV on their computers? Is Joost online just the first step toward Joost on a regular home TV? And, if so, how does this threaten traditional TV or cable TV?

Personally I never think to myself that I wish I could watch TV on my computer (although people that often travel with laptops might think this sometimes). However, I do like the fact that some shows are now available online if I miss the show when it’s first aired. What if everything that aired in the last week on any channel was available for me to watch full-screen on my computer at any time I wanted, without paying but having a few ads thrown in, as Joost has? That would be cool, and that would make me watch on my computer.

Of course if there was a piece of equipment that combined the ability to watch broadcast TV with the ability to watch online channels that would be even better. Or, maybe even better, if all TV content was actually served via Joost-like channels on a regular-sized TV screen, giving me the opportunity to pick and choose what I wanted to watch any time of day, starting from the beginning of a show or content clip, that would be the ultimate. Any time I sat down and thought I wanted to watch something, I’d have not just hundreds of channels but also multiple choices within each channel. As a man who gets nervous at the video store over deciding what to choose, that might be a little much for me, but overall I’d rather have too many good choices than no good choices at all.

If/when this ultimate TV/Internet box is established, what does that mean for today’s broadcast and cable stations? Even worse, what does it mean for Tivo? Who needs Tivo if everything you might want to watch is constantly at your fingertips?

What the Joost beta showed me is that the technology is just about there. The missing piece of course is content. I won’t care about Joost if I can only watch curling matches and silent movies. But of course I don’t care about ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, Fox, Bravo or anyone else if they don’t have anything I want to watch.

If Joost can get good content, especially if it can get good content not available elsewhere, and if the delivery of that content (i.e., the ability to pick shows randomly and/or social networking features) is appealing to many people, it puts more pressure on broadcast and cable to start delivering shows in a similar fashion. And, if broadcast or cable networks do go that route, they’re likely to partner with the most established TV-on-the-Internet company out there, which my beta test tells me is Joost. Which could mean that Joost is another home run for the inventors who already have Skype and Kazaa under their belts.

It will be interesting to watch it unfold.

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.

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Book Review: Know-How by Ram Charan

January 17, 2007

When a sports team is going bad, you’ll often hear the manager talk about going “back to the fundamentals.” In baseball, for example, that means see the ball, hit the ball, see the ball, catch the ball.  In football it might mean reminding a receiver that you can’t run with the ball until you’ve actually caught it. It’s not as if the players don’t know the fundamentals, it’s more that they get distracted, or try to do too much at once, or lose focus when the pressure is on.

So it is in business.  I can just imagine a manager at some level of a company being taken aside by his boss who says, “Things haven’t been going well lately. We need to get back to the fundamentals. Read this.”  And the manager receives a copy of Ram Charan’s latest book, Know-How.

Know-How is a book that does a nice job of boiling down success as a business leader into eight skills, things you must “know how” to do to be effective.  None of the skills Charan highlights is going to give you an “a-ha!” moment, but they give you an “oh yeah” moment, as in, “Oh, yeah, I knew I should have been doing that all along, but got so caught up with X and Y that I forgot Z.” In this way, it’s a good book to keep around to gauge how your leadership is progressing against these bedrock benchmarks.

Here’s what I mean by the fundamentals.  In a (long) sentence, Know-How teaches that in order to succeed, a leader must position a business or department correctly, must set priorities well in order to reach correct goals that are attainable, must manage people well in order to keep them motivated and “with the program”, and must be alert to outside factors that present both risks and opportunities.

I probably didn’t teach you anything you didn’t know there. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy, and that doesn’t mean you’re doing it. And if Charan left it at that, it would obviously be a short book. But, of course, he doesn’t.

While Charan can’t tell you exactly how these fundamentals apply in your unique situation,  he does offer a wealth of stories that illustrate how real-life leaders have successfully used them (along with a few stories of those who did not). Among the leaders Charan discusses in more detail: Blockbuster’s John Antioco, Steve Jobs of Apple, Verizon’s Ivan Seidenberg, GE’s Jeff Immelt, and others, including many anonymous leaders who did or did not make the necessary adjustments. (Charan also uses Home Depot’s newly ex-CEO Bob Nardelli as an example of an adept leader. Whether he would take that back considering more recent developments is unknown.)

As the last paragraph suggests, most of Charan’s examples center around larger organizations with multiple layers of management and large teams. He uses a few smaller company examples, but much of the book is devoted to big companies.  That doesn’t make the advice any less valid, and it makes sense in that smaller companies with a good product/service can often thrive in the short term even with poor or inexperienced leaders, while bigger, more diversified companies usually face more sophisticated challenges.

But, whether your business is big or small, whether you manage one person or 100, the fundamentals are still fundamental.  Having Know-How on your shelf to remind you to see the ball, catch the ball, run with the ball can help you stay focused on the key skills that will drive your business and your career.

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.