MSN Search Preview

Microsoft announced a new, cleaner UI that clearly identifies paid advertisers and provides drop down access to predefined content sets such as News, Stock Quotes, Movies, and Shopping. This is part of a $100 million investment that Microsoft has made in this space which clearly underlines the importance Microsoft is placing on getting this experience right.

Sharkbait

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Just got back from a night out with some friends that took us to a pig roast in Bucks County, PA. The event was the first in a series of Summer parties put together by the “Guerrilla Grill” group and this one was to promote Dish Catering. Along with fine food was a setup of a beach in this farm field where they brought in sand, beach chairs, and towels and a movie setup where we could watch the film “Jaws” – the boys in the photo were relatives of some locals that were up visiting from Tennnessee and took the time to get into costume.

Spotlight

Apple announced the next version of their OS, codenamed “Tiger” which has an improved local search feature called “Spotlight” with the marketing tagline of, “Find anything, anywhere. Fast” Although it is limited to an index of local files and does not extend searches to the internet, it promises an improved index of local files and their metadata that builds dynamically in the background so that it is constantly updated. Spotlight is being released with a documented API so one can assume that Apple will leverage its developer community. It’s only a matter of time before someone publishes extensions to open web search engines.

The Google Supercomputer

One node in the discussion of the internet as a new platform is the meme of Google specifically as this platform. The notion gained legs with announcements of Orkut, the social software site affiliated with Google and later touched a nerve with the announcement of Gmail, Google’s online email service. This discussion was kicked off in April 2004 by Rich Skrenta, CEO of Topix.net in a well cited post, The Secret Source of Google’s Power in a post whose comments section is now outgrown the original post

. . . expanded by Jason Kottke in his post, GooOS, the Google Operating System

. . . referenced by Jon Udell in his Strategic Developer column,

. . . and summed up by Tim O’Reilly

Gmail is fascinating to me as a watershed event in the evolution of the internet. In a brilliant Copernican stroke, gmail turns everything on its head, rejecting the personal computer as the center of the computing universe, instead recognizing that applications revolve around the network as the planets revolve around the Sun. But Google and gmail go even further, showing that once internet apps truly get to scale, they’ll make the network itself disappear into the universal virtual computer, the internet as operating system.

Jon Udell later extends his musings in a later column,

The gigabyte slice of the Google file system available to Gmail beta testers will, in many cases, surpass the testers’ own corporate disk quotas for email.

Put that way, one can begin to see a world where the Google index is the broader file systems that points to “things out there” where our email, web pages, and social networks are all inputs into that file system. Jon goes on to explain this world where Google owned the operating system and what such a unified file system that continually indexes everything on your local PC could do:

Bayesian categorization: My SpamBayes-enhanced e-mail program learns continuously about what I do and don’t find interesting, and helps me organize messages accordingly. A systemwide agent that’s always building categorized views of all your content would be a great way to burn idle CPU cycles.

Context reassembly: When writing a report, you’re likely to refer to a spreadsheet, visit some Web pages, and engage in an IM chat. Using its indexed and searchable event stream, the system would restore this context when you later read or edited the document. Think browser history on steroids.

Screen pops: When you receive an e-mail, IM, or phone call, the history of your interaction with that person would pop up on your screen. The message itself could be used to automatically refine the query.

I guess I’m ok with this, so long as it’s not trying to sell me ads based on its findings!

Fuhghet-about-it

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The quote below is from a note sent to my father who, after living over 25 years in Japan, is amazed at the overt confidence of the advertising he sees on video tapes I send him from America. If you think corporate American advertising is overt, you should see New Jersey! The difference between the East Coast and West Coast is dramatic but at least you know what you’re dealing with here. “Have a nice day!” on the East Coast may be rare but at least they mean it. On the West Coast it could be code for, “Get lost!” On the flip side, people here are always trying to dig at you just to let you know they’re paying attention. Wear the wrong shirt to work and you’ll hear about it for weeks. I still haven’t worked up the nerve to bring out the Oxford given to me by Izumi with the embroidered Mickey Mouse silhouette since the last time – good grief!

Yes, American culture is certainly more confident, even more so in NJ where I have learned the expression “bustin’ your chops” which means what someone just said to you may have been a total dig, really inexcusable, and perhaps even offensive but they said it anyway as a sign of affection and endearment.

I just finished watching the third season of The Sopranos and the tension between truth, dare, and humor keeps that show humming along a dramatic thin line where you never know when someone’s going to take it too far and all hell breaks loose. Takes issues like I’ve discussed above to the Nth level and then shines a spotlight on them to see what melts. Great television.

Google Search Appliance 2.0

First launched in 2002, the Google Search Appliance is a rack-mounted unit designed to crawl and index intranet pages for enterprise search. Combined with OS-level integration points such as the Google Deskbar, the appliance is the bridge between an index of your PC hard drive and the internet. While Google has not yet announced an integration into the PC level index space, several third party vendors have announced the ability to add adaptive crawl technologies integrated with Microsoft Windows and Office. Most notable is Lookout which even looks like a Google knock-off.

The GB-1001 is a rack-mounted two-unit (2U) appliance that can be licensed to search up to 1.5 million documents at a rate of 300 queries per minute.

Our entry level license indexes up to 150,000 documents and costs $32,000 for a two-year license with hardware, software and technical support all included. Pricing scales upwards based on the number of documents.

A list of published customers.

URL is the new command line

Flash forward to where we in this debate today. John Gruber points out in his post The Location Field Is the New Command Line, that web-based applications are leapfrogging hardware-specific applications, despite their inferiority.

What they’ve got going for them in the ease-of-use department is that they don’t need to be installed, and they free you from worrying about where and how your data is stored. Exhibit A: web-based email apps. In terms of features, especially comfort features such as a polished UI, drag-and-drop, and a rich set of keyboard shortcuts, web-based email clients just can’t compare to desktop email clients.

But.

With web-based email, you can get your email from any browser on any computer on the Internet. “Installation” consists of typing a URL into the browser’s location field. The location field is the new command line.
from Daring Fireball

He concludes that Microsoft missed the boat by targeting Netscape. It’s not the company that was a threat, not even the browser, it was the applications that were enabled by the URL concept that is a threat to the Windows monopoly.

The Web as a Platform

Today I’m starting a new weblog that will focus on a discussion that has been gaining momentum over the past two years. As web services gain favor and companies, customers, vendors, and providers begin to communicate via these standardized APIs, we all realize new economies of scale as well as lowered barriers to entry.

My initial “aha” moment was during a trip to Redmond where a Program Manager walked us through a demonstration of the .NET version of Visual Basic and showed how in 30 minutes with something like 5 lines of code he was able to build a simple web application.

The scenario was a CTO talking with his IT guy on a plane ride. The CTO asks the IT guy what all the bug-a-boo over web services is about. Jacking into the net via the seat back phone, he strings together three separate applications that pipe their results to each other to bring back a result that confirms the obvious.

1. Input your flight number >
2. Flight number acts as an input to geo-tracking service like Flight Tracker >
3. GPS coordinates of flight act as an input service that translates GPS to Zip Code >
4. Zip Code acts as input into weather tracking service for radar image of weather conditions.
5. Look out your window and confirm weather conditions

No jokes about Bob Dylan and not needing a weatherman for such an exercise, this was just an example to get the juices flowing. If you think about various web applications as something that can be negotiated with the http equivalents of “grep” and “|” then you’ll begin to appreciate the transformative (and one could say, disruptive) power of this model. Add RSS feeds to automate the connections and it’s like adding oil to the machine – everything starts to run even more smoothly.

So, to kick off this discussion/weblog I’m pointing to Tim O’Reilly’s original posting that sums it up very nicely:

Bit by bit, we’ll watch the transformation of the Web services wilderness. The first stage, the pioneer stage, is marked by screen scraping and “unauthorized” special purpose interfaces to database-backed Web sites. In the second stage, the Web sites themselves will offer more efficient, XML-based APIs. (This is starting to happen now.) In the third stage, the hodgepodge of individual services will be integrated into a true operating system layer, in which a single vendor (or a few competing vendors) will provide a comprehensive set of APIs that turns the Internet into a huge collection of program-callable components, and integrates those components into applications that are used every day by non-technical people.

From Inventing the Future, April 9, 2002

4th Fridays in Pennington

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Starting yesterday evening, the Pennington Borough Business Council has started organizing something their calling, “4th Fridays.” On the fourth Friday of every month, the stores downtown get together with events and free food & drink to entice people to hang out downtown.

Yesterday was the first 4th Friday and two colleagues from work, Greg Merkle and Chris Caine came to play with at the Bread & Breakfast coffee shop. Chris (with the headband) plays with Bob Jones (blond hair, closest to camera) in a band called, “Two Worlds Apart,” and Greg (up on stool) plays on his own. One of Greg’s techniques is an amazing mix of strumming, plucking, and percussion work on the fretboard that creates a multi-layered mix of sounds that are hard to belive they come from one man. For a sample, you can check out the video.

Should the FBI be renamed the FIB?

More on my theory that key indicators to the Al-Qaeda threat were lost in the shuffle due to a lack of trained Farsi translators posted by boingboing.net Quoting an interview in Government Executive magazine with Sibel Edmonds, a translator hired by the FBI,

Edmonds said she was hired to retranslate material that was collected prior to Sept. 11 to determine if anything was missed in the translations that related to the plot. In her review, Edmonds said the documents clearly showed that the Sept. 11 hijackers were in the country and plotting to use airplanes as missiles. The documents also included information relating to their financial activities. Edmonds said she could not comment in detail because she has been under a Justice Department gag order since October 2002.

It gets even more disturbing. Instead of investigating its shortcomings and learn from its mistakes, the FBI has been actively discouraging full disclosure to the point of coverup. In an interview with 60 Minutes’ Ed Bradley, Ms. Edmonds mentions cases where her investigations were actively hindered.

This story is gaining legs and is starting to bubble up into the popular media in a way that could explode in Senior Bush Administration officials. Should the FBI be nicknamed FIB?