There is one major player left in the search game now and it’s not Microsoft or Google; it’s Facebook, which just raised $16 billion in its IPO.
First, a little history. Yahoo! used to have skin in the game, but it decided Microsoft should power its search engine, instead. While you would think losing a player would have made things boring in the search space, it’s actually anything but. The spectre of Facebook encroaching on their turf had every major player so scared that Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft all tried to buy the social networking giant at one time or another. When they realized that Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t going to capitulate, they moved on to Plan B and scrambled to come up with a better answer to the question that keeps Larry and Sergei up at night: how do we make search more relevant?
In the beginning, this was Yahoo!’s game to lose. Yahoo! acquired Delicious in 2005 in the hopes that Yahoo! could leverage the wisdom of the crowd to tailor their search results. Yahoo! had the capability to define the social search space, but it dropped the ball. Not taking advantage of that acquisition was a significant lost opportunity. Then, in January of this year, Google launched “Search, Plus Your World”. To say it was badly received would be an understatement. Combine the privacy concerns with the terrible search results Google was suddenly putting out, and people switching search providers was suddenly a real concern for Google. Which brings us to this “future of search” moment.
According to Hitwise, Bing now powers 30.01% of U.S. searches. I’m one of the people who switched. I use Bing on all of my mobile devices now because I found the quality of its mobile search results not only more concise but significantly better than Google’s. I’ve become fatigued with seeing 100,000,000 potential search results returned knowing that after the first page, those results are useless. I especially despise it in a mobile environment. I just want the right answer and I want it now. Thus, I switched to Bing. And I haven’t looked back. Clearly I’m not the only one who decided to make the switch.
These stats are not only amazing, but also very timely for Microsoft. Microsoft just announced its plans for social search and after using it, I’m intrigued enough to switch to Bing as my desktop search provider. The best description of it is a combination between Yahoo! Answers and your regular search engine. Immediately upon using it, you’ll see a grey sidebar that shows Facebook friends that may have some input on what you’re searching for. It even goes one step further and allows you to post directly to Facebook, asking those friends specifically about the topic of your search. This makes search social (and potentially viral) and integrates it in a non-intrusive way. I get advice from people I value about the topics I care about. By all indications, Microsft has a winner in this product. But a winner for whom?
Don’t get me wrong, Microsoft (itself an investor in Facebook) certainly gets a lot of credit for putting together an awesome product in Bing. However, the big winner here is definitely Facebook. What’s funny is that this horse race started out as a way to stop Facebook from entering the search arena and it’s Facebook who will end up being the biggest winner in Microsoft’s search successes. Why? Because with this move Facebook becomes even more indispensable to our online lives.
I already can’t read the news, interact with my friends, watch videos online, or do basically anything online with running into Facebook Connect. Now Facebook is integrated directly into my Internet searches in a way that actually makes sense. If this integration takes off, the amount of data Facebook will collect about each of us and our search patterns is astounding. Add to that the fact that we’ll probably only be sharing the searches that truly matter to us and Facebook gets some of the most valuable data out there. Want proof of that? Just look at how much money Google makes off of that same data with AdWords. Facebook is making a bold move into search and challenging Google directly through its investor Microsoft. Meanwhile everyone is looking the other way and applauding Microsoft for being the comeback kid. Brilliant.
So let’s tally this all up. Yahoo!, Google and Microsoft all tried (and failed) to acquire Facebook. Yahoo! ended up not only dropping the social search ball, but being forced to get out of the game altogether. Google screwed the pooch and took five steps backwards in search relevancy due to a horrible Google+ integration. And now Microsoft hands the keys to the search kingdom to Facebook; the very same player all of them were trying to defend against in the first place.
I, for one, am both intrigued and scared; no one company should be as indispensable as Facebook is now. I am going on record as saying Facebook is the Future King of Search.
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Robyn Gee on Wednesday, Jun. 29th
The Thiel Foundation, set up by PayPal president Peter Thiel, recently awarded the Twenty Under Twenty Awards to young science and technology visionaries. Each fellowship winner received $100,000 to divert from their college trajectories and turn their ideas into realities.
John Marbach was one of those winners. His project, Ingenic, aims to improve Internet searches by sifting out the useless bits, and only giving the user the “reliable” results. “I wanted to attack the consumption end of the web, and find reliable content online… Reliable in the sense that you get good quality, something you actually want to see,” said Marbach.
He gave the example of a Spanish teacher looking for resources online. Marbach said, “There’s a lot of research online that could enrich the learning experience – news articles, YouTube videos to teach pronunciation, and Flickr galleries of the culture. But the search process is very disjointed. A teacher could go onto Ingenic for a frictionless user experience,” he said.
How would the curation process work? Marbach is in the process of figuring that out, but the idea is basically human curation. “We want to incentivize people to curate a collection of content. Some person would do all the searching and add all the links to the Ingenic platform, then they could share it and other people could follow it. There’s definitely community behind it. Any start-up needs to have a social component,” he added.
Making the decision to forego college was not hard for Marbach. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Even if I went to college, I would still start this company afterward,” he said. “I feel like I have all the pieces lined up to make it a success. If I’m going to drop out of school and start a company now’s the time.”
The Thiel Foundation allows the winners to begin their fellowship any time during the year of 2011. Marbach will take advantage of that, and gain a semester’s worth of college experience at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, where he will take computer science classes. He will officially begin the fellowship in December 2011, but hopes to release a prototype of Ingenic this summer.
Check out stories on a few other winners here and here.
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Marcellus Campos and Denise Tejada on Tuesday, May. 3rd
There was a buzz last month after the American Civil Liberties Union pressed to find out if Michigan police are using a device to download cell phone data during routine traffic stops, violating 4th Amendment rights against unlawful search and siezure. It sparked another round of tech privacy conversations, including an interview on NPR with Brian Cooley, editor-at-large at CNET who described the device police in Michigan are using for data dumps — called the Cellebrite UFED.
Demand for these devices may have reason to grow in California. While the spotlight is on Michigan, police officers here have been cleared to do the same kind of controversial cell phone searches, thanks to a little known California Supreme Court case ruling, People v. Diaz.
Here’s the background.
In 2007, Gregory Diaz was pulled over and arrested by police after the passenger in his car sold ecstasy to an undercover police officer. His cell phone was later searched by police without a warrant and using that data, Diaz was charged with selling a controlled substance. Diaz pleaded not guilty and challenged the use of his cell phone data as evidence. But the court ruled against him, and that the warrantless search was valid.
Whether Diaz was part of the drug deal or not, the case raises larger privacy questions. The upshot? Anything that is found on or around you can be used as evidence against you. Now, warrant or not, California police have the right to hook up your cell phone to a device and poof! there is all your content.
According to Michael Risher of the Northern California ACLU, it’s possible that even a minor incident with the police could make you a victim of a privacy violation.
“The police now have free reign to search, go into, examine all the data on cell phones or other personal computing devices of anyone they arrest for any reason, no matter how minor,” Risher says. “This can include very personal information. Emails with family, friends, associates… Medical, financial information… everything is now fair game for the police.”
In Oakland, the police have had the technology for a while to look at someone’s cell phone data to build cases, but Holly Joshi of the Oakland Police Department says it’s not used for petty crimes such as jaywalking and speeding. She says the California ruling hasn’t sparked a change in their approach — it mainly saves the department time.
“It not a new technique. Officers have been doing this, but they have been writing warrants in order to do it. So it definitely takes one less administrative step to continue our investigation, which is important in some investigations when time is very important, you need to get the information quickly.”
But getting information quickly can be a slippery slope says Riser of the ACLU. As technology gets cheaper and easier to use, the more problematic it becomes in police departments such as Oakland.
“So sure, right now they are only using it – apparently — in cases where they think it is warranted. That certainly doesn’t mean that five years down the road if the Diaz opinion is allowed to be the controlling law, that you won’t see a much broader use of this.”
Broader use is likely to affect some populations more than others, say Riser.
“Of course, the people who are going to be affected by this type of unlimited authority to search are the same people who are affected by police misconduct, by racial profiling. It’s not the wealthy person in the fancy SUV who can’t provide the driver’s license b/c she left it at home. It’s the people who police already think are up to no good. It’s the same people who face discrimination, harassment because of their ethnicity, their age.”
ACLU’s answer to this is to add cell phone privacy to their Know Your Rights trainings and spreading the word now. Telling people to put password protections on their phones. It’s one more deterrent for police, forcing them to have a strong reason to search your data. (Note: Oakland PD, and probably many other departments, do have a tool to crack passwords, so it’s not a huge deterrent.)
As more states incorporate technology in their police forces, courts across the country can’t agree on where to draw the line on data privacy, and whether cell phone data is fair game or not before people are charged with a crime.
Ultimately, it may be up to the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether this is a huge infringement on privacy rights or the next generation of law enforcement.
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