Mahalo: Human Powered Search?

May 30th, 2007

Jason Calacanis, who’s blog I’ve been reading for a while now, has been developing a new project, but has been pretty quiet about it. Today he revealed Mahalo – a “human-powered search engine”. This is a well funded company (they have gone through two rounds of funding already), Calacanis has said that they can survive for four years with no revenue.

I took it out for a quick test spin, and the results do seem OK. I would think if you are searching for a popular topic and want some general overviews of things, it would be a good place to start. Is it going to replace Google for my everyday searching? No way. The main reason is they don’t have enough topics covered yet. They currently have about 4,000 topics covered, and they plan to have 10,000 by the end of the year, and 25,000 by the end of 2008. Even when they do get more topics, there are just too many searches I do for very specific topics for it to replace a regular search engine.

I don’t understand why they call themselves “human-powered search”. This is a directory plain and simple. Mahalo is doing what Yahoo! Directory and dmoz have done in the past. I think, however Mahalo seems to be adding some nice features on top of the basic list of links that most directories offer. The categorized links are a nice idea. They also include videos and pictures on the page. But it’s still a directory.

People also have been comparing this to Wikipedia, but I don’t really think they are similar. Wikipedia is a content-based destination site, Mahalo just contains pointers to content. Wikipedia pages get a lot of links right now because people often link to the content pages. Mahalo isn’t going to get the same type of links that Wikipedia gets. Mahalo won’t be challenging Wikipedia for search engine rankings any time soon.

Right now when a topic isn’t covered, Mahaolo provides search results from Google. This is better than a “sorry, we didn’t find anything”, but I think this could be more useful. I would personally love to see any not found result automatically redirect to Google. This way I would be much more willing to search using Mahalo, knowing that if it didn’t know anything about the topic, I would see my regular Google search results. I always have 100 results displayed on Google, and I like to see the result right up on top of the page. Right now as it is, when Mahalo doesn’t find anything the Google results are buried below teh fold so I have to scroll down, and then I only see ten results. Maybe this could be an option for power users. I could also see a nice Greasemonkey script being written to do this.

The only other complaint I have is that there aren’t very informative descriptions for each link. Right now you just get a site name and title for each link. I would prefer to see a one or two sentence description along with the link. This would give me a better idea of what to expect before I click on the link.

I’m sure as time goes on more functionality will be added to the site. Knowing Jason Calacanis, there should be some neat social elements to the site. There is a submit link function right now, which is pretty standard for a directory. there is also a message board feature for each topic, which seems like it will be very similar to Wikipedia’s discussion pages.


Any Problem in Computer Science Can be Solved with Another Layer of Indirection

May 26th, 2007

Any problem in computer science can be solved with another layer of indirection.

This is a saying that I’ve heard a lot in my career as a software developer. But, I’ve come to realize that it can also be a source of a lot of problems. Just because you can add a layer of indirection, doesn’t mean you should. Lately I’ve been saying “any code can be complicated with another layer of indirection.”

Over-engineering can be a big problem in software development. Sure – you can add a layer to abstract away the database; you can use dependency injection to make sure all your components are pluggable; you can make an interface for a class, just in case there will be a second implementation at some point. But, you have to stop and weigh the consequences of these decisions. Every decision you make is a trade off. You gain something, but you also lose something. In the case of over-engineering you lose simplicity. The code becomes more complex and harder to read, so it becomes harder to understand, maintain and debug. Do you really need that extra layer in your software?

I did a quick Google search and found that there was more to the original quote. David Wheeler actually said:

Any problem in computer science can be solved with another layer of indirection. But that usually will create another problem.

That second sentence is something I have never heard quoted before, but from now on whenever I hear someone say the first part, I will point out the second part of the quote as well.


Why You Can’t Compete Against Passion

May 23rd, 2007

At New Iron Group, we’ve recently been putting together a web site and thinking about long term marketing and things like that. One thing we keep coming back to is that we are passionate about software development. We really like writing software, in particular, software that solves real world problems.

Why is this important? When you’re doing something passionately, your going to produce great results. If your competitor isn’t passionate about it, you will always win in the end.

It doesn’t matter what field you are in. Whether you are produce a better widget or you trying to send a man to the moon, passion will get you there. Here are a couple of good quotes on the subject:

Quentin Tarantino about being a passionate filmaker

Here’s the thing: they can write a mean letter, they can write a mean memo, but these guys don’t have any real fight in them. If you’re an artist, as opposed to a careerist, and your movie is more important to you than a career in this town, they can never beat you. You have a loaded gun, and you know you’ve got what it takes to put it in their faces and blow their heads off. It’s about never taking the gun out. It’s about never touching the gun, never raising it, never pulling the trigger, never blowing their heads off. It’s about not going there — but knowing you can. So, if you have to flash it, it means something.

Bob Lefsetz on trying to compete agaisnt passion in the music industry

I’m positively stunned at the blowback from business regulars about that chap giving his music away for free. Oldsters can’t understand the economics!

I’ll clue you in, THERE ARE NONE!

This is your worst nightmare. People who can follow their dream on sweat equity. Who with their computer and the money from their day job or mommy and daddy can compete with you. It’s like the North Vietnamese, all our military might couldn’t defeat individuals who would fight to the death. Same deal in Iraq.

It’s an eye-opener. That your model is IRRELEVANT!

YOU need to pay the mortgage. YOU need to go on vacation to the Caribbean. But the new musicians? They’re willing to sleep on the floor and eat ramen. Hell, they’re in their twenties, they’re not on the corporate track, they’ve got different ambitions!


Follow Up On Vocus Email

May 23rd, 2007

Yesterday I talked about how PR Company Vocus botched their own PR. Here is some more about the backlash and how they are handling it.

It turns out I got this email because I am a customer of PRWeb (I have done press releases through them before), and Vocus bought PRWeb last year. When Vocus sent out this email, they used PRWeb’s customer list. Most PRWeb’s customers had no idea that they had been purchased by Vocus, so this email was completely out of the blue.

Things would have been much different if they had started this email saying “Dear PRWeb user, as you may know PRWeb was purchased by Vocus and here is something we though you might find interesting as a PRWeb user”. If they did this I wouldn’t have thought “Who is Vocus and why are they sending me an email?”

The next thing Vocus should do is take this opportunity to start a conversation with bloggers. They should post comments on blogs that mentioned this email. They should send emails to bloggers. They should start saying “Hey, we screwed up, we’re sorry. Help us do better in the future”. They need to realize that there is a conversation going on about them whether they want it or not. They can’t control the conversation, but they should at least participate in it.

Also, as part of that conversation, they should start a blog themselves. Connecting with bloggers is much easier when you have a blog yourself. There is no better way to get a blogger to talk about then by sending them some link love :)

As I was writing this I just saw this posting that is a statement from Bill Wagner, CMO at Vocus. He apologizes and explains how the email ended up in so many mailboxes of unsuspecting bloggers. That’s a good start. But unfortunately, it had to be issued on Jiyan Wei’s personal blog (and even though the blog has an “author” page, I can’t find the name of the employee. Update: After reading my post he added his name to his author page. Isn’t this conversation thing great :) ). He also sent a similar note to Susan Getgood, one of the bloggers quoted in the whitepaper that was being promoted in the email. Again, it’s good that they are reaching out to bloggers.

Hopefully Vocus will be able to use this as a learning experience, and start to have a more effective conversation . I recommend they read the Hughtrain Manifesto.


How Not To Do PR

May 22nd, 2007

This is the start of an email I received from Tami Queen at Vocus.

Countless accounts of “PR Flaks” who have spammed bloggers, mis-targeted pitches or just plain gotten blogger relations wrong fill the Internet. Don’t risk finding your next pitch blasted on your favorite blog!

As a Public Relations professional, it is your job to find every opportunity to get your organization covered and be an expert on the inner-workings of the media. However, the explosion of the blogosphere has left many confused and wondering: How do bloggers operate? What type of approach will get my news covered? How can I integrate blogs into my overall PR strategy?

The new media landscape calls for additional tactics and approaches to the PR practitioner’s toolbox. Download the FREE Vocus white paper “ Five Golden Rules for Blogger Relations” to get insights on how today’s PR professionals can successfully incorporate blogger relations into their PR strategy and build effective relationships straight from four of the top blogging experts in the industry!

It’s just so ironic. They send out a mass email about how to connect to bloggers? Really? What were they thinking? And the fact that they said “Don’t risk finding your next pitch blasted on your favorite blog!” made it just to tempting not to blast them on my blog.

Sending mass emails is NOT the way to connect to people. I’m trying to see the possibilities here:

1) They really don’t get it. That makes it so sad because they claim to be experts in this area.
2) This was their way of getting some blogger attention. I can just see the meeting now “Let’s send out a really stupid email that will get the bloggers yelling at us. There is no such thing as bad publicity, you know!”

Either way, I don’t appreciate getting this type of email.

Update: Here are some other blog entries about this same email:
Dear Blogger: Here’s how not to spam bloggers – by spamming bloggers
Check Out This Spam From a PR Flak
VOCUS Demonstrates How to Screw Up Blogger Relations
Don’t Assume We Know You
What Happens When You Spam Bloggers (Hint: It’s a Small World)


Desktop Tower Defense

May 4th, 2007

If you don’t have several hours to kill, do NOT play Desktop Tower Defense. It is highly addictive. Here is a Tower Desktop Defense Blog for tips, videos, news, etc.

Toivo Lainevool’s Random Thoughts is proudly powered by WordPress | Privacy Policy