Archive for July, 2007

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Bessed, Mahalo and Human-Powered Search

July 18, 2007

I’ve been asked about it several times, but have been tardy in writing about Mahalo, the new human-powered search engine that Jason Calacanis is spearheading. I did get a chance to talk about it a bit with the New York Times‘ Randall Stross, who wrote this piece on Bessed, Mahalo and other search competitors a few weeks back.

I’m grateful to Stross for including Bessed in his piece, as my initial fear about Mahalo was that people would think that Calacanis had thought this up all on his own, and had thought of it first, when in fact Bessed was launched in October of 2006, long before Mahalo. I was afraid people would think that we were the copycats.

To his credit, Stross did his homework. He realized that Bessed had launched this concept of a “human-powered search engine” before Calacanis came out beating his chest and talking up the VC money he has backing him up.

I’m not upset about Mahalo launching almost a carbon copy of what Bessed is doing—or, as a friend e-mailed to me, “Dude, they stole your idea!” (Although it was a litte disheartening to see them tout themselves as the “first human-powered search engine.”) That’s the nature of competition. Frankly, I’m jealous of the money Calacanis has behind Mahalo. It will be interesting to see what it gets them.

However, there are some differences between Mahalo’s game plan and that of Bessed, and I think those differences are what will ultimately doom Mahalo, or at the very least force it to change course from it’s currently-stated plan. I’m also afraid Mahalo might kill the idea that human-powered search can work, because its current offering doesn’t offer a ton of value. And if that happens, it could hurt Bessed over the long run. So, while I would not be unhappy to see Mahalo fail, how it fails matters to me 🙂

First, here’s what is good about Mahalo. (Generally it’s the same as what I think is good about Bessed.) Mahalo is having human editors find results, which is eliminating spam from its results. The site looks attractive. It’s allowing visitors to suggest new sites to add. And I think it offers good results for the topics it’s covering.

But Mahalo makes one big mistake. It is attempting to create results for only the most searched-for terms. The problem is, most people are perfectly happy with Google results for the more common searches. They aren’t looking for an alternative. Where Google and other engines often fall flat and and are susceptible to spam is in the “long tail” of searches—searches for specific people, products, facts, etc. These are the searches in which searchers come away dissatisfed and are open to an alternative that can solve their problem and save them time.

I don’t know if any human-powered effort can adequately cover the millions of potential searches that take place each day, but by simply ignoring them Mahalo has no compelling reason to exist. It does not solve a searcher’s problem, so beyond what Calacanis can drum up traffic-wise based on his own personal celebrity, it will fall flat.

Our goal with Bessed is to fill the holes in the long tail, sifting out the junk on those specific searches that so often are maddening—when you find one site selling the same thing on four different domains or you are lured to a site on false pretenses because the site has pasted your keyword (and a hundred others) on a page that is completely irrelevant. Those searches drive you crazy, and Google’s algorithm, which puts so much stock in the links between sites, has a hard time sifting the junk because there are so few links between sites in the long tail, thus making it hard to give any of the pages credibility over others. This is where the humans can and should be; this is where we can make a difference.

This doesn’t mean Bessed will ignore the “short tail,” but it means we know that we can create more value in attacking searches that robots have not yet mastered. If I had Calacanis’ money, this is where I would be spending it. Maybe he’d like to give it to us?

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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Life After Death

July 17, 2007

My mom, Geraldine Jusko, died on June 21, 2007.

My father, Ronald Jusko, died in October of 1979.

I was only 9 when my dad died, and, like most 9-year-olds, I didn’t know what to think. I felt sad, and a little scared, but mostly I wondered what you do when someone dies, how you’re supposed to act. I thought maybe I should cry all the time, because if I didn’t it meant I didn’t love him enough. He & my mom had been divorced, so he didn’t live with us when he died, which made it even more difficult for his death to have the full impact on me that it might’ve had. But I definitely remember having the idea that I would never see him again.

Like a kid does, I bounced back from his death fairly quickly. My home life didn’t change considerably; his death hadn’t changed the fact that my mom and my brother and sisters and I lived in the same house and would keep doing essentially the same things. After the initial shock, I was pretty much back to normal. (Other than the unhealthy fear of death that spends too much time near the front of my brain even today, and the lingering knowledge that the heart attack that killed him occurred when he was only 8 years older than I am now.)

That was roughly 28 years ago, and of course my 37-year-old self is a lot different than that 9-year-old. I’m married and have two kids of my own now. But it’s weird to see that my mom’s death has brought on some of the same feelings I had as a 9-year-old. Except the ability to bounce back is still eluding me.

My mom had battled leukemia on and off for over 10 years, and had some very bad times. But she’d always come back. Maybe not better than ever, but her body was amazingly strong, especially for a woman that had never worked very hard at keeping it that way. When she ended up in the hospital after a bad reaction from her latest round of chemotherapy, I braced myself for a long slog, but generally thought this was just another thing to get through. I felt that my siblings and I could just be there for her and we’d will her back to health eventually.

After two months in the hospital, I thought that I’d been right. She made a recovery after several very tense times, and it looked like she might be on the road back. She celebrated her birthday in the hospital, just 11 days before she died, and on that day she ate a little birthday cake the hospital had made her, and my kids sang Happy Birthday to her.

And then it all fell apart, so swiftly I’m still trying to save her in my head. What if they’d….? We should’ve…

I’m still having trouble believing that I will never see her again. How can she be so fresh in my memory and yet so completely gone from my life? How long will it be before I stop thinking of little things in my life and my kids’ lives that I want to share with her, as I would store them up previously in my mind for our phone conversations or when we’d next see each other in person?

In the same way that my life didn’t substantially change in a material way after my father’s death, my life doesn’t really change now. I didn’t need my mother to take care of me any more; I didn’t live with her anymore. I still live in the same house I did before, with the same family that I love, and the same career. The day my mother died, I checked my e-mail before I went to bed. That sounds wrong to me somehow, but it’s the truth.

Except a lot has changed. I now have no parents. The biggest constant in my life, my mother, is gone. It’s a hard feeling to describe, but I feel untethered, as if this world has become a little more unreal and that I could just float out of it. Many things seem pointless in the light of knowing that my mother will never see or experience them again (and that at some point I won’t, either).

And yet I’m supposed to just go on living. Get back to work. Get my daughter back to bed when she wakes up crying. Pay the phone bill. The basement wall needs waterproofing. The cat just crapped on the couch again.

Life doesn’t stop. That’s probably a good thing. But right now it feels pretty bad.

I’m trying to let the good things get a toehold again. My kids had a successful 4th of July lemonade stand, thanks to neighbors and friends. My son and I went for a bike ride today and he made me give him Olympic-type scores for his performance as he coasted down a tiny hill. Yesterday I asked him what he dreamed about and he said, “I didn’t have any dreams. Just the black screen.” There’s plenty to smile about.

Time heals all wounds, etc. But right now meaning is hard to come by. I’ll keep going through the motions, and hopefully somewhere along the line I’ll start to feel fully connected again.

Things won’t ever be the same. But there are still worthwhile things.

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.