“Got kitesurfing on the mind, mixed with some search & classification tech, and a dab of political ranting”

Archive for the ‘search & categorization’ Category

Google Health…the start of a dangerous precedent

Posted by direwolff on May 19, 2008

Just caught VentureBeat’s post on the release of Google Health which naturally lead me to go check it out. I was greeted by a login screen, and so my “Spidey senses” started tingling. First off I welcome the idea of a vertically focused search service for health issues. As an advisor to Healia, which was recently acquired by Meredith Corporation, I learned to appreciate the value and the challenges in a vertically focused search service for health matters. What was nice about Healia is that I didn’t have to identify myself to gain a tremendous amount of value. Should I want to get more involved, the ability to join health communities was there and enabled me to self-identify with a health matter and pursue several types of activities. However, the ability to pursue certain activities anonymously was always there.

Google Health, by asking me to sign-in (since I’m a user of other Google services) or register if I’m new to Google services and they don’t find a cookie, is now able to track my use of the service (which presumably includes my searches) and associate these to my registered e-mail address. Imagine I search for something that has nothing to do with any medical condition I have, but perhaps is something my mother is suffering from, does this mean that that information gets correlated to me? Not sure, but it’s not a stretch to think that some of Google’s behavioral and contextual analysis technology would make this association. How long will it be before the insurance industry catches up to this and begins to require that I provide them access to this information if I want to get medical or life insurance? Again, not sure, but it’s not a stretch to see this possibility.

In reading the Google Health Privacy Policy there was a reference to Google’s standard Privacy Policy. Specifically interesting is the section below on Information Sharing:

Information sharing

Google only shares personal information with other companies or individuals outside of Google in the following limited circumstances:

We have your consent. We require opt-in consent for the sharing of any sensitive personal information.

We provide such information to our subsidiaries, affiliated companies or other trusted businesses or persons for the purpose of processing personal information on our behalf. We require that these parties agree to process such information based on our instructions and in compliance with this Policy and any other appropriate confidentiality and security measures.

We have a good faith belief that access, use, preservation or disclosure of such information is reasonably necessary to (a) satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or enforceable governmental request, (b) enforce applicable Terms of Service, including investigation of potential violations thereof, (c) detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues, or (d) protect against imminent harm to the rights, property or safety of Google, its users or the public as required or permitted by law.

If Google becomes involved in a merger, acquisition, or any form of sale of some or all of its assets, we will provide notice before personal information is transferred and becomes subject to a different privacy policy.

We may share with third parties certain pieces of aggregated, non-personal information, such as the number of users who searched for a particular term, for example, or how many users clicked on a particular advertisement. Such information does not identify you individually.

Please contact us at the address below for any additional questions about the management or use of personal data.

What this basically communicates to me, is that there are situations in which Google will share my information that may be at odds with my desire to have this information shared. While it’s entirely understandable why legally they need to lay out these terms, enforcing them comes at their discretion whether or not they are right in doing so. The only person who suffers in those situations is me, or us should this apply to many people. While my general surfing habits are one thing, when we get into medical situations I believe this could create a challenging situation for all of us to be in.

Yes, it’s great that they are providing us a place to aggregate and manage our medical information, and yes it’s nice to be able to correlate this to helpful information and possible helpful diagnosis on our ailments. It’s even nice to get information on how medications may interact adversely, or even be able to re-order medications easily and find local suppliers. But at the risk of sounding like a luddite, the trade-off of the greater dangers of centralizing this information for government use or for institutional use, specifically those of the insurance industry, is totally not worth it and a slippery road we go down if people begin to adopt the use of this service.


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PodTech:LunchMeet: Tracking Memes with Tailrank

Posted by direwolff on July 10, 2007

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Just found this interview with Kevin Burton and Jonathan Moore off of Kevin’s blog and thought I’d repost it here as it provides a great description of how Spinn3r came to be, and how Tailrank works. As some of you may know, I’ve been a very big fan of Kevin’s and what he’s been up to here and have also lent a hand where possible to get some deals nailed down for him. He and Jonathan are doing a great job scaling the platform and providing real value that will become more and more apparent as they approach the 10M blog URL index they’re shooting for.

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Congrats to the Healia team!!!

Posted by direwolff on June 18, 2007

A well deserved exit for Tom Eng and his group at Healia that has really worked their hearts out developing what I believe to be the highest quality healthcare search engine.

Meredith Acquires Health Vertical Search Engine Healia

Furthers goal to reach more American women via digital platforms

DES MOINES, IA/BELLEVUE, WA (June 18, 2007) – Meredith Corporation (NYSE:MDP), one of America’s leading media and marketing companies, today announced the acquisition of Healia (, a consumer health search engine specializing in finding high quality and personalized health information online. Terms were not disclosed and the transaction will not have a material financial effect on Meredith.  (More…)

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You Gotta Love Jason Calacanis

Posted by direwolff on June 16, 2007

While I don’t always agree with Jason’s politics or his at times overbearing stage presence, I have a soft spot for him in that he seems to understand some subtleties of Web traffic and he exploits these diligently and directly. In his most recent post about Mahalo, he announces the launch of Mahalo Greenhouse where he is now paying people $10 to $15 per search result page created. In contrast with my previous comments about the service, what I like about this latest development is threefold.

First, the SEO value of these pages is significant and $10 to $15 feels like relatively cheap labor to me but more importantly is that he’s paying a one time fee for this content that will likely have a greater lifetime value. Note by contrast that pays its guides a percentage of the revenue generated from their pages, which is an on-going fee.

Second, by opening up and allowing people to submit search result pages, he’s tapping into that Wikipedia juju. That’s a beautiful thing, since he’s also allowing them to donate that money to the Wikimedia Foundation. Now he gains some wonderful PR and shows that he’s trying to do the right thing here. One might argue that the right thing would have been to follow the model here too and pay a percentage of the ad revenue he will generate on an on-going basis to the foundation, but hey, baby steps, what he’s proposing is a step in the right direction.

Third, something we learned at Tribe, which many others surely know, is that “content is king”. In other words, for an advertising driven site to be successful it has to have a lot of content to increase the chances that results leading to its site will be frequently displayed by the major search engines. This is a sublety that is often not deeply understood by watchers of these sites, but that you quickly realize when seeing the daily logs of exactly how much traffic is coming from the search engines and what impact additional content can have on this. At one point, while at Tribe I had wanted to start a “love the content provider” campaign so that all areas that enabled people to submit content into service, be it recommendations, blog posts, discussion tribes, etc., would be reviewed to make sure they were as effective and simple as possible. Also, to explore and find ways to enable people to more frequently add content to the site. Suffice it to say, part of Mahalo’s ability to start generating real traffic, and hence revenues from this, will hinge on how fast it can create as much content as possible. While they could hire people, opening it up in Wikipedia sort of way means that now you can use people more effectively to review submissions for acceptance than to create the original content.

It will be interesting to keep up with Mahalo and see if these raw ideas that hit right at the heart of online success workout as cleanly as they appear. For me, the simplicity of the model, less so its ingenuity, make this a fascinating case study.

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Was Squidoo a CGM attempt at what Mahalo is doing?

Posted by direwolff on June 5, 2007

CGM = Consumer Generated Media

So first there was (previously known as The Mining Company) with a model of creating a site with “guides” managing areas of interest and building up resource pages on the topics they were interested in and responsible for. These people were trained by the company, on how to create valuable real-estate on the site, and were paid a percentage of the CPM/CPC revenue generated by their pages. Then, much later, came Squidoo. This service encouraged ordinary users interested in a topic to build a resource page and they would be paid a percentage of any affiliate revenue generated from offers appearing contextually on their page. This in effect took a lower cost approach to user generated content. While from a Google perspective, there’s probably some interesting search engine optimized (SEO) traffic coming here, the quality of the content pales in comparison to’s. Not having looked at all of the Squidoo content versus all of the it might be a bit speculative to make this last comment, but it’s been my impression in random reviews of both sites that is more useful to me than Squidoo.

But now, along comes Mahalo with what seems to be some innovative positioning in saying that it’s going after the search engine biz, when in effect, it doesn’t cater to the “Long Tail” of searches at all (only focused on top 20,000 queries and are up to the top 5,000 so far). Next, it proposes to create a results/topic page for each of the 20,000 queries. For any query not covered by the Mahalo pages, regular Google results will be returned. At this stage, the service appears to be more analogous to a site with 20,000 pages that offers search results using the Google site search capability. But given that Mahalo is going after the top 20,000 queries that should also mean that they will eventually begin to place highly within the organic search engine results given the SEO opportunity here. Hmm…

Mahalo appears to be taking a more similar approach to in terms of training and paying people to create the pages (versus allowing people to naturally do this on their own). The differentiator is how they’re choosing the content for building their site pages.  Like, the quality of the pages should also be superior to Squidoo’s.

One can call this search, but I think that’s a stretch given that there are several more appropriate metaphors for what Mahalo is doing. I’d even liken it more to Richard Rosenblatt’s DemandMedia, that went from the domainer business to one where they would build up the domains with relevant content to create a more permanent informative destination page, monetized through text-based advertising though they will surely be well positioned in the future for the lead generation business. The Demand Media offering is described as follows:

Demand Media consists of nearly 60 Web sites in niche verticals such as golf, outdoors and gardening, reaching 28 million unique visitors per month; a domain registry service that’s second in size to and reaches 60 million unique visitors per month across its sites; and the “” initiative launched in May. Under Channelme.TV, Demand Media provides Web users with the ability to buy a personalized URL, such as their name, and add a .tv to it. Individuals then can populate their sites with videos from about 15 Web partners, such as YouTube, Brightcove and MySpace, creating a “personalized TV channel.”

Here’s a great breakout of Demand Media’s properties (note that WeHow is even compared to Squidoo).

Anyway, given that I know a few of Mahalo’s investors, and know of the faith they have in Jason Calcanis, I’m sure there’s more to this play and likely some innovation on the cost side of creating this content which provides another advantage to the other models. That, and Jason is scrappy entrepreneur which you gotta like if you’re an investor in start-ups. So with that said, it will be interesting to keep up with his start-up to see how it evolves over the next couple of years.

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Tumri, a throwback to my days at Impulse! Buy Network

Posted by direwolff on May 22, 2007

After reading the following VentureBeat post about Tumri back on May 7th, I wrote the following comments:

Talk about a case of “Back to the Future”, back in 1997 a company called Impulse! Buy Network was built on this very premise. It was sold to Inktomi in April of ‘99 for $115M, which at the time provided Softbank Ventures (Mobius) w/the best ROI of their portfolio for that year. It was before the term widgets was in vogue and these ads were called “barkers”. Yahoo!, AOL, ComputerShopper, Disney’s GO Network, AT&T Worldnet, and a host of other major portals were affiliates and displayed these product driven ads targeted to whatever section on their web site they were placed (ie. sports products targeted to sports content on the portal). Yes, contextual ad targeting before Google had released AdSense.

This was a merchandising network, with such merchants as J.Crew, K-mart, and over 200 others feeding product offers into the network. These product offers could also be paired up w/such selling methods as “falling price offer”, “auction”, “limited time offer”, and so on.

Anyway, Inktomi ended up combining Impulse! w/their C2B acquisition (a competitor to MySimon and Junglee at the time) of an early comparison shopping engine. This made tons of sense because if you consider, having products in a comparison shopping engine or as product offers on widgets, these are simply applications of a product database. Hmmm…I wonder if a similar fate awaits these latest entrants?

Funny to see these apps coming back strong. I should also note that at that time Accel passed on investing in the company, so I’m guessing this time around they didn’t want to miss it again ;)

Well, in catching the following press release that Tumri had teamed up with online performance based direct marketing agency NETexponent to offer their widgets, I started seeing the second leg of what Impulse! ended up moving towards over time.  Because some of the portals at the time wanted to control which merchants would be allowed to appear on their site, and they liked the Impulse! platform and administrative features for giving merchants more control for handling this themselves, Impulse! began to license a branded closed version of its open network functionality where merchant would be permissioned by the portal and only appear across those other web properties that the portal company wanted (as opposed to across the entire Impulse! Buy Network).  Disney’s GO! Network was the first licensee of this model.  It would not be such a leap to see Tumri enter into relationships with networks of sites like the New York Times Co. or Yahoo! or Viacom, that want to offer the Tumri capability as an added product to offer their advertisers.  After all, this is basically the combination of advertising and affiliate models.

In looking over Tumri’s list of advisors, I see three ex-Inktomi folks but none of them were from the Impulse! acquisition, which leads me to believe that they may be missing out on some of the valuable lessons gleaned from the first iteration of this merchandising business model.  People like Mark Goldstein, DC Cullinane, Richard Ling or Scott Cahill, would have been invaluable resources for them to have included among this group.

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Two wonderful mentions of Healia within a week

Posted by direwolff on May 8, 2007

How cool is that? Healia continues as the little healthcare search engine that could. While I’ve recently discussed how they are a good example of role-based search, it appears that I’m not the only one who sees this as they received a major endorsement in winning the Outstanding Achievement Award for Health Search Web Site from the Interactive Media Awards. CEO and founder Tom Eng has worked tirelessly to get Healia to the next level and it’s so great to see his efforts rewarded this way. I’m still surprised that Microsoft acquired Medstory when Healia was right in their back yard in Seattle with a superior service and user experience.

Healia was also mentioned in Read/Write Web blog post titled, Top 17 Search Innovations Outside of Google. Healia appears under innovation #14, “Results refinement and Filters”. Healia could have actually qualified for mentions in several of the other categories as well, but just the fact that they were considered in one of these speaks loads to what Tom and his team have accomplished to date.

Under full disclosure, I’m on the company’s advisory board, and have had the unique opportunity to see as they’ve improved their service over the past year. Very exciting. They’re also beginning to win contracts over other search service providers, so we know they’re heading in the right direction. It’s a challenging space, but the Healia team has shown the perserverance necessary to succeed. I’m looking forward to continuing to watch them get discovered by more and more people.

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Role-Based Search Environment

Posted by direwolff on April 19, 2007

Well, it looks like there’s now a name for the context issues raised in one of my old posts. It’s called “role-based search environment” and Lou Paglia blogs about his upcoming discussion topic at the Search Engine Meeting 2007 Conference titled, “Beyond Search: Visualizing Emerging Intelligence”. Wish I could attend this conference, more specifically this presentation, as the common thread of the various early stage companies that I’m currently involved in working with or on their advisory boards, is this very theme. Several of them touch on aspects of what Lou will be speaking about:

“This presentation discusses the current state of search, the advantages to text mining in extracting meaning from unstructured data as well as the future of search such as a move towards a role-based search environment, which will likely be one of the biggest technology trends to affect the enterprise. The concept of “role-based” search is about systems intelligent enough to understand the totality of what you do: your industry, your job and the daily tasks you undertake, and then help you accomplish those specific things more effectively. Effective role-based search applications will use technologies that uncover trending, comparison, discovery and determination of sentiment, which will then feed into applications that present the information using visualization and analytics. The session will also address business searching and how search networks will realign themselves to help all types of professionals find better information, faster.

My beef with so many of the methods being applied to enhancing search (ie. personalized search, social search, etc.) is that they frequently miss the critical contextual aspect, “who am I (or what’s my role) when I search for…”. In a project I’m involved with this is an important aspect being explored, as we consider letting the user tell us their professional function as a means of bringing some perspective to bear on the results of their information discovery exercise beyond other relevance metrics. Healia, a healthcare search engine does exactly this where in addition to providing the user with results from their search on say “diabetes”, the user can further specify that they are “female”, “teen”, and of “Hispanic Heritage”, and the results will sort appropriately different than say a “male”, “senior” of “Asian Heritage”. These criteria matter.

Glad to see that this important component of context is being addressed in more public ways now.

While this conference looks a bit vendor-centric in terms of the presenters, the topics being addressed seem very interesting.

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My 15 seconds of fame at the SF New Tech Meetup

Posted by direwolff on April 11, 2007

As I mentioned in my “SF New Tech Meetup – 4/07” post, Adriana Gascoigne interviewed me for Well, just got the link on YouTube and I’m the second presenter interviewed in the following video:

I really gotta sharpen up my elevator pitch as this just made the Readware technology just seem too undifferentiated. Oh well, there has to be a first time out there so as to improve for the second, third and fourth I guess :)

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SF NewTech Meetup – 4/07

Posted by direwolff on April 7, 2007

Last Wednesday I presented the Readware technology at SF New Tech Meetup. It was a bit surreal as it was nothing like I expected. First off, Myles Weissleder, whom I recently met and was gracious enough to invite me to present had mentioned that it would be an intimate affair (of course a week earlier he sent me a BBC article that covered the event and was surely going to bring more attention to it…it did). Second, I’ve only had to be rescued by a boat during a kitesurfing session at Crissy Field 3 times in the 6 years I’ve been riding there, this Wednesday was the third (good ol’ Murphy’s Law standing by hen you need it). Third, 5 minutes for a presentation requires a dedicated focus on a short message or purely on a demo, trying show any sort of Powerpoint is a mistake and that short of a time…I made a mistake :)With that said, I was off to the races. After me and 3 other kitesurfing buddies got fished out of the SF Bay by the Coast Guard and dropped on shore at 6:15pm, I managed to get dressed and over to the event with 15 minutes to spare. A bit frazzled mind you, but no matter I was there. As I walked in the room, it began to have distinctive less than intimate feel to it as there were a lot more people there than I thought would be attending. Not that I have a problem presenting to larger groups, it’s just nice to be mentally prepared for it. I basically zoned out of the scene while preparing so as to get overwhelmed. Of course this zoning was not to last as I was approached by the Valley A-Lister, Adriana Gascoigne of the video blog, who was interviewing all of the presenters and I was next up. “Interview?!!…what interview?! Yikes!”. Well, if things weren’t getting too weird for me yet, it was more as a result of not being intoxicated or medicated, ’cause everything else was definitely lining up to feel like altered states. Fortunately, Lil’ Pinot showed up like a warm blanket thrown over my shoulders to ease my nervousness. It felt good to have her there supporting me, ’cause boy did I need it that night.

Exposing Readware is something I truly enjoy and feel passionate about, but at the same time, as we ease our way into finding the right business model and direction, I like to do this in intimate gatherings where I can somewhat steer the conversation. This was definitely more of a “let the chips land where they may” type of situation. The unfortunate part is that in trying to spend more time defining what Readware is, I only had the opportunity to expose people to the classification side of the technology and not to the discovery side, which often creates a bigger “aha!” moment. Oh well, considering it was my first outing in such a public forum, the interaction with the audience was engaging, the questions were smart, and those who approached me at the end seemed to have a genuine understanding for the technology’s applicability, which was comforting.

All-in-all, it was an enjoyable experience from which I learned as much as I hope the audience did. The other three companies presenting were, Merchant Cirle, and The SF New Tech Meetup provides a really cool format for people with ideas to present them, and I’d highly recommend it to any one even if your idea is half baked as there’s also a 60 second format at the end where any one can make any requests, talk about their start-up, recruit, asked to be recruited, or make an announcement. People used this time very creatively which was fun to see.

Rafe Needleman blogged about the event on Webware.

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