Thursday, June 30, 2005

In praise of MS and Yahoo

Longtime readers of this blog (which, as you all know, consists of pretty much no one) know that I have an affinity for Google and Apple above Yahoo and Microsoft. It isn't just the obvious stuff, like the fact that I have great taste and an arrogant intellectual elitism. It's just that A&G get me as a user at a really deep, emotional level, and Y&M don't. I don't know how to explain it any better than that. No kidding, I really don't. That's why I'd never make it as a writer.

Today, though, Y&M did some stuff that tickled my fancy in a way that I didn't expect, and I wanted to signal my surprise that they did something right.

Yahoo first. Yahoo announced MyWeb 2.0, a "social search engine." (More coverage over at John Battelle's place.) Now personally, I love this idea. I love it, in large part, because I had it a couple of months ago. I don't have any excuse for not doing it myself, actually. Well, I have several excuses, none of them particularly good. But they're doing a good job of propping up my fragile sense of self right now.

Here's the idea- you go around tagging webpages, just like you do with You combine these tags with a social networking setup, and what you end up with is a personalized, bottom-up version of, which is pretty cool. I like it. I like Yahoo showing up with something really cool and innovative, and, dare I say, genius. So, that being said, let's try to tear them down a bit.

I think the obvious concern has to be whether the social search engine can overcome that great deterent: human laziness. There are just not enough natural-born librarians in the world. The really good natural-born librarians are well paid for it, and the ones who aren't natural-born librarians (but really wish they were) are kind of scary and don't have many friends, which is antithecal to the concept of a social network.

The problem with social networks that require some work by the individual users is that many more people are consumers than producers- see, for instance, Gnutella. I would solve this problem by offering people an incentive to build out an index- give them a cut of the text ad revenue that gets generated whenever someone does a search on their engine, or an ad is generated off of a link that is incorporated into results because of an entry in their index. This has the downside of increasing the likelihood of click fraud (not to mention having to share the profits- oh my!), so I don't know if it's worth doing if the network can grow on its own, without the incentives. But it might be something for Yahoo to keep in mind, should MyWeb 2.0 stall.

Personally, I think they have a great shot, and this could be a hugely useful thing. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see Google buy in the next few weeks and make a similar move into social search. This will really be fun to watch.

As for Microsoft, they didn't actually do anything of note today. They had some little thing with an extension to RSS that was generally considered to suck, but at least they're making an effort. Instead, my props to MS is based on a blog entry by our old friend Scobles. This is going to be a bit of a thing in the tech blogosphere over the next couple of days- in fact, it's already started. I generally read Scobleizer to check out what the most delusional (and therefore interesting) employee at Microsoft is currently thinking. This particular post is Scobles' plea to BillG to kick out another note about collaborative and social software on the Internet, along the lines of the famous 'Tidal Wave' memo.

Scobles' post is primarily about an "Internet Content Sharing Suite," a unified set of applications with a common interface for blogs, podcasts, photo sharing, wikis, etc. I think Scobles was foolish to present the approach this way, since it's just guaranteed to set off alarm bells in people's minds about MS taking over the Internet or whatever, and I think you see that in some of the early reactions he's getting. But once you get past that, it's clear that Scobles gets what's going to happen in this space over the next year or so, and that really makes me believe that there are at least a few other people at Microsoft who get it, too. I could be wrong about this, it might just be Scobles screaming in the dark over there (this really compelling blog makes me wonder), but if I'm not, I think the world of collaborative software is about to get much more...evil, for lack of a better word.


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