Tuesday, July 03, 2007

I stumbled across a great post about the importance of using both cold searching and warm, cuddly, user-generated content.

I totally agree. I love Yahoo! for keeping up its editorially-built directory. I think the Next Big Thing might be a Wiki Directory, with fewer bars to entry than Zeal or ODP - where anyone can submit a site and the problems of spam are solved, somehow.

My favorite quote from the post:
Recently I had a request where the person needed a list of vendors in a particular niche IT area. There was NOTHING available through the traditional sources I'd go to - OneSource, Hoover's, the market research firms or even MarketResearch.com. So what was left?

That's right - directory listings. I found two great directories through Yahoo! and through DMOZ (remember DMOZ? Wow, that seems old), which provided me 85% of the companies I needed to know about, and provided leads to the next 10%.

I've asked the hypothetical question before: could I have just conducted a search for this and found it? No way - my search NEVER would have turned up even 50% of the companies I found using these relatively authoritative directories.

Friday, June 01, 2007

A new web directory?

The web is all abuzz about Mahalo which is actually quite exciting. It got me to crawl out of the post drought that has overtaken me since getting a non-Web job (I've since come back to the sweet, sweet glory of the web. Oh how I've missed you, Internet.)

Mahalo isn't really a search engine, and I wish it wasn't being called that. It's not a directory, exactly, either. It's supposedly the top 10,000 queries made into coherent result sets by human hands. I'm basically intrigued by the idea, which is exactly what I was involved with at LookSmart for years.

Mahalo presents the results in a neat, organized page. Here's the thing, though: there's too much that's already been sold out on the page. Check out this set for Nike. Under Information, I see Answers.com but not Wikipedia, which provides Answers with most of its meaningful content.

I see a batch of comparison shopping sites, which I know are quite generous with sharing the love with those who link to them. These sites can be really annoying to a searcher who knows where he wants to go. One user was so annoyed that he started a site that runs a custom search which strips out all of the huge price comparison sites from Google results. I spent a lot of time trying to shove a never-ending flood of those sites into the LS directory - they can take over very quickly if you have a zealous sales force who think more sites = gooder salesperson. This assumption is not always true in the search campaign optimization game, as anyone who has mocked an ad reading "Buy ANTIDISESTABLISHMENTARIANISM on eBay" can attest.

Another page shows all of the food searches. Visually, though, there's no differentiation between a category and a results set. That means that when you get all the way to the Dairy category, you see two CHEESE categories that look identical. A little plus sign next to the category with subcategories would be much appreciated here. Once you get to the Dairy category, the presentation of meaning is much clearer, to the point of redundancy. I don't really understand the point of "Everything in Dairy" and "Cheese" as separate groupings at this point, although I suppose eventually they might have a long list of subcategories like they have under food. The category facets under Cheddar feel forced to me. If you're only organizing 9 sites, are three categories needed? And why functional categorization (news & tips, blogs & forums) instead of further subject categories? They've already got disambiguation problems with a cheddar recipe in the Blogs category. Too many mutually non-exclusive categories spoil the taxonomy, I tell you this for free.

Anyway, this is an Alpha release, and therefore these nitpicks are probably not entirely fair. I think that the niche that Mahalo should fill is as a less-corrupt and more open ODP. I've always felt that directories are more useful than people give them credit for, although they are not exactly search engines. They are more search engine symbiotes. A well-built directory can teach a search engine what an apple site looks like as compared to an Apple, Inc. site. The attrition and churn of the Web can take them over very quickly, though, and some of the psychology of directory building (hey, let's add every wikipedia page to every category regardless of the quality of the wikipedia page! Look! A web directory!) can harm the quality and make the directory no better than a slightly informed web search.

But, if they get a chance to continue their experiment, I have some comments about their top level. Why Entertainment and then Music and Television on the same level? What's up with the orphan geographic locations? How come you don't have Austria or California categories? Surely those are top searches? How come when I search for History I end up on the Mozilla page? So many questions.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I have a joke I like to tell

It's not a very funny joke, but that's okay. Sometimes, if the party is running late and everyone is on their sixth mojito, they will actually laugh at this joke. It's about my idea for a dot-com. A web 1.0 dot-com idea. Sometimes I bring it up randomly. The idea is eHammer. It's an underpants gnome type of idea, and it goes like this:

Step one: Set up website called eHammer: For all your hammer needs
Step two: Mail everyone who asks a free hammer
Step three: ???
Step four: Profit

I was telling my tiresome little story to a person yesterday who is now my new VP of Business Development and Corporate Partnerships. She said, "Step three is to charge everyone for nails."

And I said, hey! We've got a winner!

PS: Hi! Remember me?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

They are shutting down Zeal.

Man. I was a damn lucky dotcommer to not have seen any of my work get totally destroyed like this. Well, up until now. This is the first time they're just going to pull the plug on something I worked on. It was a really great site for a while, if I do say so myself. It could have continued to be good with minimal maintenance. I would have loved to have seen a meta-editor account for some of the more dedicated community members, so that they could have worked in the commercial categories and reclassified paid listings.

I'm really sorry about some of those Expert Zealot questions. You're right, they were pretty hard. Like Oregon DMV trick questions hard.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


Semtech2006 007
Originally uploaded by ontologista.
I didn't get any good pictures. This poster made me grin a bit, though.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I've been to a few librariancentric conferences in my time. Every one was a total hen party. Internet Librarian was the closest to gender parity, but there was still a line out the door in the women's room.

This place is a complete sausage-fest. There are maybe two dozen women out of 200 attendees. What's up with that? Seems like ontology and semantics are such a natural extension of librarianship that there should be more of my sisters here. I guess the expression of cataloging concepts using logical notation is scaring us off? I don't know.

On the plus side, I don't have to wait for the bathroom.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Chris has been writing a bit about tagsology. I love the idea of a paid (or unpaid, depending) ontologist taking care of business on the back end, trying to keep relationships going between concepts. I've been mulling over a couple of problems I can see with formalizing folksonomy in this way.

1. Other than things people are deeply interested in, what is the motivation to tag? I'm here at Semantic Technology and a presenter described a tagging program she instituted at her company. Their content is perfect for tagging, the system was relatively easy to use, yet no one added any tags in six months. Her conclusion is that tagging is not something people do at work, unless it's part of their formal duties. Social search as a whole seems to be focused around passions and hobbies, rather than a large domain of things that need to be retrieved. It'll be really easy to find tags for all 10? of the Doctors from Dr. Who and nothing on the Fed chairmen before Greenspan.

2. People love to be unique. Everyone who has ever dealt with a client knows this. The first thing a client will tell you is why they are a unique flower within their industry, that they do nothing like anyone else, and by the way, have you read their mission statement? People are the same. They don't really want to tag things in such a way that they match each others' tags. Some users will tag cat pictures with the word "puppy" or "Danger!" or, in my case, "Bean" because that's her name. Important or popular documents in a folksonomy get multiple tags, but people need to find them to tag them, and with without the right entry tags, they'll never get found.