Archive for September, 2007

At least I like Parchesi

September 27, 2007

New widget on the Amazon home page, and #32 in why tag clouds are scary:


Well, that’s depressing. Note to self: two-year-old is no longer allowed to search for DVDs.


People Search Engines and the tail

September 24, 2007

Web Worker Daily has a review of some People Search Engines, where (as usual) “People Search Engines” consist of the new hotness only – engines that have just appeared, get all of their data from web crawling, and (in many cases) meet the MDRP (minimum daily requirement of pastel) plus other buzzwords necessary for Techcrunch to love on ’em.

In this review, the author searches for three folks with medium-to-very-large levels of net presence, and judges that while none of them are all that useful, Wink is the “best.” I think Wink’s a solid product as well, but this is a self-fulfilling prophecy: it turns out that if you search for three people who have LinkedIn profiles and Twitter accounts, an engine that’s expert at finding people who have LinkedIn profiles and Twitter accounts (i.e. social profiles with real names) will do great. (The author’s impressed with the remnant links on the page – those are Google results, coming from one of Google’s embeddable search products.)

When it comes to people without any sort of self-defined net presence, these engines fall flat. Search Wink for all Ruthfields, for example, and you get a bunch of LinkedIn profiles (and someone who’s using our name for some reason… I can’t access her acct on Bebo so I don’t know for sure). People in the family who didn’t go through the trouble of creating a LinkedIn profile? They don’t exist.

When the engines do access web-crawled data that isn’t self-defined – like Pipl, or of course Google – you can get a broader swath of data, but the seemingly random nature of that information brings you back to the motivation – why are you searching for a person in the first place?

If you’re stalking gathering information, then you want as much as you can find and want to pick-and-choose the most interesting data (and might be willing to pay $10+ for more information). If you’re looking for someone from your past, same deal. In either case, more information is better, and so (assuming reasonably accurate matching) Google or the ilk do fine.

But if you’re looking to connect – which, fortunately for us at WhitePages, we know is far and away the most common case – then what you need is comprehensive data, not just the things crawlers happen to find online in whatever subset they like best, and you need contact information that doesn’t require you to join a third-party service. (You also need accurate data, but that’s for another post.)

So it’s not surprising that these engines aren’t that impressive (yet?), when online data is their most common source. Try them against the members of your family or outer circle who don’t have Facebook profiles and they’re even less impressive.

(BTW, thanks to the folks who said nice things about WhitePages in the comments. I don’t believe they all work here…)

Vroom!!vroom!!The most desirable posts!

September 23, 2007

My Amazon post was recently featured on the WordPress home page:


The reflexive reaction is, of course, to write more about Amazon, but I was thinking about doing that anyway. It also reminds me to write the post I’ve been bouncing around in my head about net.fame for a while.

But in lieu of having done either of those things, thank you, WordPress overlords!

Amazon’s New Feature and the Old Guard

September 21, 2007

Amazon enables customer video reviews – congrats to my old team for a potentially very interesting new feature. I’ve yet to run into it in the wild but look forward to doing so.

I’ve pointed to the discussion board post for Amazon Reviewers (did you know they had a discussion board?), where the reaction from the existing reviewers is as expected: this is going to be terrible,  there’s no way I’ll ever do that, there’s no way this will ever work, and why did you do this instead of my feature.

This reaction happens each time the Amazon Community team announces a new, non-core-to-writing-text-reviews feature to the reviewers (and sometimes those features too…). Here’s the thread for tags, for example, and while the thread for customer images is gone, the content was the same.

This is a perfectly understandable reaction which points to some other lessons in community building:

1) Almost to a person, the reviewers are reviewers. They aren’t image creators or taggers or discussion board thread members or videologists, they’re reviewers. They also aren’t participating in the “ Community”, despite the attempt to think of them as such. They like writing critical commentary on products, and Amazon gives them a way to do it. Additionally, they like talking to each other about reviewing, and about Amazon, and about anything – their community is the reviewers, not Amazon. Expecting them to be excited over new features that software teams think of in the same “family” is likely to be disappointing.

2) Reviews came first, as did reviewers. They’re the Old Guard of the community. All this other stuff, that’s not reviews. Why is Amazon chasing shiny objects, they reason, before improving the things they care about?

This leaves community management in a tough spot. You have an active, consistent, honest sub-community of a larger “goal” that you believe matters to the future of the business – and they’re your only continually vocal community. (Amazon taggers don’t hang out together.) Do you please your largest and only visible customer group, noting that you’re missing innovations in the market (that might succeed or fail at Amazon), or do you ignore them and deal with the pain and the e-mails to the CEO?

This was a fun thing to worry about for two years, and I sometimes miss it.

(Note to self, made public so I do it: write about the surprising use of some Amazon community features.)

Whozat? – an early look. Ow, that hurt my eyes.

September 14, 2007

A few weeks ago, Whozat? burst on the scene as YAPSE (yet another people search engine), with a press release that said

Whozat?, The People Search Engine, was recognized by the prestigious TechCrunch20 competition among the 100 hottest new start-ups on the planet. In a blind study of the relevance of search results for ordinary people, Whozat? beat every other search engine by a large margin.

(Other parts of the press release change “on the planet” to “on Earth” (thx for the clarification) and “in the world.”)

I’m always interested in YAPSEs, so I figured I’d apply for the beta and wait. The signup page is a bit, umm, colorful (see the face in the ?), but why not:


The best part – which you can’t see in the screenshot and is no longer there – was the <BLINK> tag around the “Recognized…” line. I’m very sad it’s gone – who sees the BLINK tag anymore?

Today my beta account became active, and here’s what I got (after logging in from a Windows dialog)


OK, still talking about TechCrunch20 which has become TechCrunch40, and there’s no way to log out. But fine, I search – type in a first and last name, wait 15 seconds, and get


I’m sort of at a loss here. Three background colors,  weird phrases in tags, dropdowns (the ones on the top right) without content, colored backgrounds used to strange effect (two are actionable, one is not), strange use of images when text will do, keywords to vote on which are clearly meaningless – and, if you look at the text results, a remarkable number of spam/stolen content sites below the fold.

When I search for my father, I do get this:


For the record, George W is not my father.

There are some clever bits – the “select the one you are looking for” actually seem like names. Well, that’s one. But then you have dropdown content like


and you know that there’s just a whole bunch they haven’t thought through yet.

Anyway, these guys may be presenting at TechCrunch60, so I may be stealing their thunder. Hey – good luck. I’m going to look more when it isn’t a Friday afternoon…