Posts tagged ‘forecasting’


The “next Google” has to save the web

09.11.2010

Spotted on Tumblr yesterday, via Dave Sparks: ‘Why Facebook Browsing Annihilates Web Browsing’, on the Fast Company blogs. The intro pretty much summarizes the whole piece:

Recent research suggests that Facebook is overtaking search engines in terms of “time spent” on the web. Want to see where the trendline is heading? Take a look at young female Facebook users, who spend as much as 5 hours on the site per day—and almost no time on the wider web. You’d better get your brand’s Facebook page in order.

   As Lucire is largely made up of female users, the above is borne out on some days, where we receive a handful more referrers from Facebook than from Google.
   The other component to this may be Google itself. Now, this isn’t a dig (as I am wont to do this year). But here at work, we’re noticing that in order to find something, we might employ two search engines and not rely just on Google.
   As I pointed out, there are things that Google just cannot find, even when freshly linked from, say, this blog.
   It all seemed to start from the days of the supplemental index, where Google hid some pages that it had crawled from the main index. This seems fair enough: the majority of searches must be connected with the Zeitgeist (a word Google itself uses when describing a month’s search-term trends), and would be about a current event. Older pages, which contain historical information, only serve to get in the way.
   But what of the researchers? I’ve posited once before that the web is, at its core, a research medium, and (the old) Google contributed to some degree to that notion. If you’re hunting for something, especially if you’re a student, the web is your first port of call. However, if certain pages are now hidden from view, then a search engine might not be your best bet any more. You might Tweet your request, use your social network to see if a peer or a “friend” has the answer, or, Heaven forbid, you might go offline to find a credible source.
   Mark Kirby, who wrote the Fast Company entry, notes:

What’s most important about this behavior, from a brand marketing perspective at least, is that when many of these women needed to look something up—information on a venue, or a band, or a consumer brand—they were more likely to look first for information on the site where they were already spending all their time: Facebook.

   The idea that young women are spending time on Facebook, and spending less time on any other site on the web, isn’t that big a surprise. Many of us have set up presences there: the latest, when I clicked through on Lucire ads today, was L’Oréal USA. It is a site that some trust, despite its callous attitude to privacy and the law. (Again, this was a prediction I made, not referring to Facebook, some years ago: that people would start flocking to trusted brands on the internet again. It just so happens some people trust Facebook’s brand, even if I don’t.)
   We’re also creatures who like our busy lives to be as crap-free as possible. Remember email? Once upon a time, there was no spam. Everyone who we were connected to via email, we wanted to be connected with. Often, these were people with that same, idealistic outlook we ourselves had. People with like minds. Not always friends, but certainly people with some connection to us. They might be what we term a ‘friend’ today, in Facebook or MySpace parlance.
   Cities that have experienced decay might be another parallel: remember how there was less crime? Remember when you could walk down Street X more safely, before the crims took over that neighbourhood? (I hear variants of this frequently from my British and South African friends now.)
   And now look at the web. Fake, automated blogs (such as those promoted in the image at left) are set up just to trick people into visiting so their owners can make a few bob from Google Adsense. (Don’t believe me? Head into Google Blog Search and have a poke around: the phonies are taking over the index. This was the sort of disease that plagued Vox before Six Apart shut it down.) No wonder publishers are doing Ipad apps and the like, where they can be assured of some quality control, and no wonder we are spending time on Facebook, hopefully to lead spam-free lives. And no wonder Technorati, which once was a powerhouse when it came to cataloguing blogs, is so very 2000s now.
   As with so many things, Google’s web search probably needs to return to its roots. PageRank is useful, but then, so is a good old-fashioned analysis about how honestly a site has done its meta tags and provided its content. Or perhaps the boffins at Mountain View can develop a method, beyond PageRank, to determine a site’s legitimacy. (I’m sure they’re already working on it; they’re doing their bit to get rid of splogs, even if many legit ones get caught up in that. Ironically, fewer splogs would probably exist if Google did not have its Adsense programme, which provides advertising income to low-traffic publishers.) It’s still a bit better than my current search engine favourite, Duck Duck Go, when it comes to interpreting the terms that are fed in (it groups them better, though it still makes mistakes), but the web, as we knew it, may be heading the same way as email. It’s there, but it’s just not the best hang-out in town.
   That might be the task of “the next Google”—the new venture that’s going to come in and define the 2010s just as Google defined the 2000s. The one engine that’s more capable of weeding out the splogs, able to spot the human-authored spaces. The new site that will save us from ourselves and the crap that now goes on to the internet. The need seems to be there.

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Norman Macrae, RIP

17.06.2010

I learned the sad news that Norman Macrae, CBE, 旭日章, passed away on June 11, just shy of his 87th birthday.
   Norman was one of the great visionaries and forecasters of the 20th century, and served as deputy chief editor of The Economist till his retirement in 1988.
   Among his forecasts was the fall of the Berlin Wall, the advent of the internet, the move toward teleworking, and the pressing concerns of sustainability and the global income gap.
   His work included a series of “retrospectives” written from a future date, which continued Norman’s trade-mark analysis on current and emerging trends in the global economy. With his son, and my friend, Chris, Norman authored The 2024 Report, whose predictions of broadband internet and its implications, made in 1984, only began coming true over the last decade. At the time, critics said Macrae and son were too optimistic—although history has proved them right.
   I sent my condolences to Chris earlier today. The world has lost one of its foremost business editors, a great socioeconomic expert, and visionary.
   Without Chris I would not have joined the Medinge Group, and it was through him that I realized so many of the Economist forecasts that I had read over the years were the work of his father.
   I understand The Economist will publish an obit this week.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, media, politics, publishing, technology, UK | No Comments »