February 25, 2006

Web 2.0 2.0

Posted in Fun, Software at 9:16 am by mj

The best thing I’ve read so far this year: Bob DuCharme on Web 2.0 2.0.

Web 2.0 2.0 technologies like HWAJAX (Hand Waving + Asynchronous JavaScript + XML) are transforming the value exchange paradigm as we know it. While Web 2.0 (or, as the French call it, “web deux point eaux”) was about two-way communication between providers and consumers, Web 2.0 2.0 is about three-way communication, between providers, consumers, and self-styled pundits like myself, all centered around “value” as a “meme.”

HWAJAX – now that’s my kind of technology.

February 19, 2006

Search Engines Don’t Lie, Part I

Posted in Search, Software, Usability at 1:10 am by mj

Scoble’s been on a bit of a tear lately with his thesis that search engines lie. The implication being that Google, in particular, is intentionally inflating its numbers. What I found most disturbing was his perhaps light-hearted musing:

Why aren’t there any truth in advertising laws for search engines?

Well, just you wait. We’ve seen worse laws.

I’d flagged this for a thoughtful, well-researched post later (which, for me, means “sometime before December…2012”), but then he did it again in his latest “brrreeeport” report.

I’ll attack this from two angles, in two separate posts.

First up, a little analogy.

When I use Mapquest to get directions from Fremont to Seattle, it gives me back an estimate: 12 hours 59 minutes.

But what if it only takes me 11 hours? Or what if it takes me 14? Does it matter to me so much what the actual estimate is? Since they’re giving me a time down to the minute for such a long trip, it must mean something.

Of course, I know (and you know) from previous experience that even some of the streets may be incorrect once I get there. It’s an inherent limitation of the technology. It’s not easily fixable. Investing millions of dollars into being 1% more accurate wouldn’t be worth it. No “truth in advertising” laws need apply. No insinuations that Mapquest is “lying.”

Afterall, it’s easily inferrable that Yahoo is lying because their route only takes me 12 hours 44 minutes. Obviously they’re trying to make me believe they have superior road maps, or superior routing algorithms, when, in fact, it’s all a sham. Down with Yahoo! Down with The Man(tm)!

I understand the usability concerns for smaller result sets, and it seems to most noticeably affect newer memes. But knowing precisely how many matching pages there are for a given query is one of those “$1M for 0.001% better” problems that would never get prioritized over more pressing concerns…such as, you know, relevancy, and expediency, and scalability. Hmm.

So in the morning, when I’ve gotten some sleep, I’ll post a more serious explanation of this phenomenon. Not that I’m an authority. Just, you know, it isn’t rocket science.

February 18, 2006

Bets on when Pitino Leaves

Posted in Louisville, Sports at 11:07 pm by mj

So University of Louisville Men’s basketball team has lost again. To yet another struggling, unranked team.

They’ve won two games on the road all season.

In just this season alone, they’ve gone from #4 to somewhere around #104 (OK, #72 in the RPI). (Last year, they went to the Final Four.)

Pitino, of course, is known for skidattling out of town when things aren’t quite going his way.

I had mixed feelings when Pitino went to Louisville. On the one hand, he really does have a great record. He made the U of Kentucky teams fun to watch. He requires discipline of his players, which is something Denny Crum just lost all control over in his final decade.

On the other hand, I had a feeling that he wouldn’t stick around when things got tough.

Well, now things are tough. Let’s see if he’s a coach of character and turns things around in subsequent seasons, or if he conveniently finds “personal reasons” for leaving in a season or two.

And, really, I’m not complaining at all about Louisville’s sucky season. Pitino certainly is capable of turning it around.

Not that that will console Taquan Dean, who returned for his senior year. I’m sure he’s regretting that right about now.

Friday Night Dates in 2006

Posted in Life, Sex at 7:30 pm by mj

Apropos of nothing, this funny little sequence occured to me.

Understand that, in the Bay Area, East Bay cable subscribers tend to get the East Coast feed of the Sci-Fi channel, while Peninsula subscribers get the West Coast Feed. As a result, Battlestar Galactica comes on at 7 & 10 on the East side, but 10 & 1 on the Peninsula.

So imagine you’re a single guy living in, say, Palo Alto, with a girlfriend who lives in, say, Fremont.

You get off work early on Friday, and head out to Fremont to pick up your girlfriend. Before you go out, you catch BSG.

So you go out to eat, and head back to your place, just in time to see… BSG.

When that’s through, you turn off the TV and do whatever it is that young couples do at 11:00 on a Friday night. (Play cards?)

At 1, you switch on the TV again, and have a little rest while watching BSG.

Almost makes me wish I were still single.

Well, that, and the knowledge of what girls will do these days if you have a camera and a Webshots account… but that’s a subject for a different post.

February 11, 2006

Better to Finish Last, Than Not At All

Posted in Excellence, Life at 5:46 pm by mj

Dave Winer points to DFL, which highlights the last-place finishers in Olympic events. Apparently it was mildly popular during the Athens games. My only wish is he could conduct interviews with the last-place finishers, and provide some sense of what kind of chance they had in the first place.

This appeals to me in the same way that my former pseudo-hobby of collecting memorabilia for sports stars who never were–or who were, then weren’t–appeals to me. There’s a story behind every star who didn’t excel. No matter how promsing you are, you still have to close the deal with a lot of hard work. Some take to drugs. Others let the fame get to them. Still others get injured, or have family problems. Some even find that the game changes beneath their feet. And still others–well, they end up simply outclassed.

Usually, of course, even the ones who never fulfilled their promise are still better than 99% of the detractors who wish they’d had the same chance.

February 5, 2006

Sender Pays (for Bulk E-mail)

Posted in Software, Spam at 1:38 pm by mj

Over at Rough Type, Nicholas Carr posted a short dicussion on net neutrality in response to the recent moves by AOL and Yahoo to stop whitelisting businesses who send tons of e-mail. What’s more interesting than Carr’s original post, though, is the comment by Daniel Dreymann, co-founder of Goodmail, the service under discussion.

Dreymann’s point is that “sender pays” has won out in all other communications mediums, and that this is really no different. Carr retorts that net neutrality means that every service provider ought to not care what data is flowing through its network, and that this applies just as well to ISPs processing e-mail as it does to ISPs providing net access.

Frankly, I agree with Dreymann, but I am worried about the slippery slope to which Carr alludes.

It’s true that AOL and Yahoo are not requiring every business to pay them to reach their customers. Rather, they’re developing an economic model around “whitelisting” companies whose e-mails might otherwise get flagged as spam. And let’s face it: from a business perspective, whitelisting is an economic burden, unless you can collect money from those who ask to be whitelisted.

But once you start this kind of service, two problems develop.

First, businesses who send questionable e-mails no longer have an incentive to play nice. If the price of admittance to this Goodmail service is low enough, it will make more sense to do that and guarantee delivery, than it would be to either stop sending e-mails, or require double opt-ins, or provide plaintext versions of your e-mail, or…

Second, the ISP loses their incentive to improve the accuracy of their spam filters. In the past, ISPs had a definitive incentive for accuracy. For every legitimate organization that their system classified as spam, it would generate complaints, and the ensuing process cost them money. But now, their incentive is just the opposite: The more organizations their system classifies as spam, the more potential customers they create. Which isn’t to say they will intentionally decrease the tolerance on their filters, but that will likely be the effect, over time.

I’m willing to support AOL and Yahoo (and Goodmail) in their attempts. As long as Goodmail or like services aren’t legislated, the market will eventually decide to what extent it will tolerate “sender pays” for bulk e-mail. This should prove more successful than “bonded sender” and other schemes to implement “sender pays” for 100% of e-mail. But, eventually, the economics of spamming and spam prevention will probably shift so that it produces an inbox that is no better off than it is today.

February 4, 2006

Good Interview Questions

Posted in Interviewing, Recruiting at 7:28 am by mj

I admit it, I suck at interviewing.

My interviews usually fall into a pattern:

  1. read candidate’s resume
  2. based on experience level of candidate, make up a couple of coding/design questions
  3. meet candidate
  4. completely ignore pre-made coding/design questions
  5. ask candidate to use the whiteboard to explain the workings of one or two of her previous projects, including architectural diagram, class hierarchies/design patterns, and data model
  6. shout “oh shit!” when I realize I’m already over my allotted time

Read the rest of this entry »

February 1, 2006

Who wants to be “#1”, anyway?

Posted in Community, Search, Software at 9:01 pm by mj

Jeremy on why Yahoo says it isn’t trying to be #1. Excellent follow-up from an admittedly interested party.

When the story originally broke, my response was to shrug it off. Yahoo’s acquisitions and newer experiments demonstrate that it’s headed in a different direction than Google, a direction in which Search-As-A-Textbook is less important than search as a platform, or, to put it another way, search as an anchor for community.

Google, on the other hand, appears to be stranded on its own island shouting “We’re #1” and hanging AdSense banners on all the palm trees. A profitable business, to be sure, and one which nobody thought possible five years ago. But just because something wasn’t possible five years ago, doesn’t mean it’s wise to linger on it for an extended period.

Anyway, as long as Google gets to define the rules of the game and the meaning of success, nobody’s going to beat them. So what is a success-minded company to do? Stop following Google.

Which, I believe, is exactly Jeremy’s point. And he should know.

Update (9:09p): I was a little harsh on Google. Part of the reason I think they’re stuck as far as search innovation goes is because they’re so far behind Yahoo (and even Microsoft) in the community space. That’s why they’ve been pushing like crazy on Toolbar, Reader, Mail, and so on. As the BusinessWeek article by Marissa Ann Mayer (warning: ads may overlap text in Firefox) shows, Google does fundamentally understand how to harness creativity and foster innovation. They’re just against a wall in the search arena at this point.

As always, just my opinion.