Are Google's glory days behind it? – Colly Myers

Colly’s prognosis was sound. In December 2008, Google announced its intention to make “social search” a significant factor in its search results – the end of the hegemony of the algorithm.
“It’s a well known aspect of man and machine systems. Complex systems with no control fall over. Every example of it you can think of falls apart. With databases, data that isn’t pruned becomes overgrown. Entropy sets in when complexity gets out of control.

“A lot of the search engines’ index is junk, and although they have a lot of clever people, they can’t prune it manually. And they have a lot of powerful technology too, but they just can’t stop it.

“We’re looking at the prospect of the end of the growth of search.”

Answers service AQA is two years old this summer, and finds itself in the happy position of not only being profitable, but something of a social phenomenon in its home country.

A book based on the service, The End Of The Question Mark is due to be published in October, drawing the questions Britons ask, and the answers AQA gives them. Not bad for a company that still has only nine full time employees.

What AQA allows you to do is text in a question and receive an answer for a quid. This might strike US readers as expensive: it’s nearly two dollars (or four days of the San Francisco Chronicle) for a few lines of text at today’s exchange rate. But Britons love texting, and arguing, and AQA’s combination of canny marketing and the quirky charm of AQA’s answers have proved to be a hit.

But where AQA particularly interests us is how its success poses a challenge to a lot of the Californian-inspired orthodoxy about search engines, and Silicon Valley’s latest hype of fetishising “amateur” content.

These are strange times indeed when an AOL web executive must defend his decision to pay former volunteers real money for their labours. Actually pay them – so they can help feed their families? The horror of it!

Founder Colly Myers had plenty to say on this, in typically no-nonsense style, when we caught up with him recently.
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Whatever happened to… the smartphone?

At one time, the future of mobiles looked simple. The smartphone was a new kind of gadget that was subsuming the pager, the camera, the PDA, the Walkman, and almost every other iece of technology you could carry – and offering it in volume at an irresistible price. Often free. Over time, every phone would become a smartphone.

Expectations were sky high.

A few years ago an American business consultant and author published a very silly book called ‘Smart Mobs‘ – which even predicted that phone-toting nerds would be at the vanguard of social upheaval.

But something funny happened on the way to this digital nirvana. Perhaps the signs were there from the start: ‘Smart Mobs‘ couldn’t find a UK publisher. A website of the same name continues, however, apparently staffed by volunteers, and making its ghostly way across the web like a latter day Marie Celeste. Alas the site still has a category called “How To Recognize The Future When It Lands On You.

And earlier this year the best known smartphone blogger hung up his pen.

So what went wrong?

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The cost of an "Always On lifestyle"

About a year ago, a man I’d never met before showed me pictures of a dramatic episode in his life. These showed him driving his wife to the hospital, where she was about to give birth. There were dozens and dozens of these pictures, and in each one his wife was looking progressively more grumpy.

As you’d be, too, if your waters had broken, and your husband had only one hand on the steering wheel.

He was as proud of this act of obsessive recording as I, a total stranger, was embarrassed.

The man then enthused at length about “emerging technology”. Shortly afterwards, I was not surprised to hear that he’d decided to start a new life in California.

The fellow was Christian Lindholm, and the irony of this review is that while he was at Nokia, Christian helped make a hostile technology usable for ordinary people. Mobile phones are indisputably the one technology success story over the last decade, and Lindholm’s team developed the Navi-key user interface, which I believe has never been surpassed in terms of grace and simplicity.

Now’s he’s at Yahoo!, Christian is helping make technology hostile again – something he’d already begun to do with at Nokia, with his work on the Series 60 user interface for Symbian smartphones.

I’ve been testing Yahoo!’s Go! software for mobile phones for six weeks now, and it’s the most presumptuous and irritating piece of software I’ve ever used. I value some of Yahoo!’s services, and I’m more forgiving of my phone’s idiosyncrasies than most people. But Yahoo! Go is a poster child for what happens when scientists or technologists lose sight of the needs of ordinary people. Judged purely on some narrow technical parameters, it’s amazing. Judged by how well it fits into a corporate Yahoo! marketing strategy, it fills all the tick boxes. Someone’s even created a Yahoo! theme and bundled it in the package.

The problem is much deeper than that, and as a result, everything that made Navi-key a success has been forgotten, or thrown away, in Y!Go.

I don’t mean to pick on Christian personally, he’s a super fellow. The Y!Go project was underway before he joined Yahoo! as its VP of Global Mobile Products in September. It’s much more about what misinforms corporate technology decisions.

There’s something about people who, once they get smitten by the idea of a “Hive Mind”, often lose their own (usually it’s temporary, but sometimes it’s not). When the basic philosophical assumptions are misguided, then the plumbing is wrong, and that takes a lot of fixing.

read more at The Register

Mobile data too complex, too flakey – poll

But still we do it. Actually, we don’t – even with 3.5G networks it’s almost always quicker to ask a stranger than it is to look something up on a mobile phone. And more fun.

Punters are giving flaky mobile data services the cold shoulder, a survey has revealed. 64 per cent of those surveyed gave up after one or two attempts with the services, while only two per cent said they’d seek help from the carrier. Asked what would encourage them to use more mobile data, 53 per cent said lower pricing, 43 per cent cited greater ease of use, and 32 per cent better help and advice.

The survey was conducted by NOP and commissioned by mobile infrastructure software supplier Olista, and polled 1,000 adults in September.

An earlier Olista-commissioned poll found that 77 per cent of phone users have never tried any data service, and of those who had, only 12 per cent were happy with the mobile data experience.

That’s grim reading for the carriers, who need to invest more in ease of use and reliability, Olista CEO Oren Glanz told us. Olista sells network diagnostic tools to the carriers.

“We’ve mapped hundreds of thousands of different problems with mobile data services,” he said. “Some have different problems the second time they attempt to use a service.” Amongst the most common problems were content not being accessible on specific handsets, and the failure of different service elements to interoperate.

Glanz also said carriers should use more predictable pricing models.

“When prices have been reduced it’s not apparent that usage has increased. There’s price confusion – a lot of the time you’re not sure how you’ll be charged. It’s not like making a phone call.”

Mobile data services are often an impulse decision and need to work first time, he said.

MIT invents computer that runs away

MIT has taken the unfriendly computer interface to its natural conclusion: and created a computer that runs away from you.

We’ve all had experiences with user interface elements that run away from us: toolbars in Windows, or the drive icons on the Mac OS X desktop, for example. But “Clocky” goes all the way – it’s an alarm clock that has wheels. If you hit the snooze button, “Clocky” rolls away and hides. To make life doubly difficult, it will try and hide in a new place every day. And if you live in a 1970s sitcom, it poses a third challenge. Since it’s covered in thick brown nylon shagpile carpet, Clocky might never be found. For now, it’s simply described as an “academic” exercise, but a fully-blown fugitive PC can’t be too far away.

Clocky: inspired by kittens
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