Wolfram Alpha Search. It’s no Google.

Reporting:  Joe Hunkins

Early hype suggesting that new search engine Wolfram Alpha could be a possible “Google Killer” quickly shifted to a focus on Wolfram’s new approach to search, which they call “computational”.     Although Technology-Report had early access to the program it is now open to all here:  http://www.wolframalpha.com

Although I’ve only spent a short time looking for inspiration at Wolfram Alpha, I’d have to say I could not find any answers where I felt Wolfram would beat out a Google search combined with some quick scans of the listed resources.     Wolfram’s promise was to deliver “the answer” to complicated questions but it seems to work well only for the kinds of information it appears they have already sliced and diced into packages, and I’m not clear it even beats out a Wikipedia entry when searching for data like states or countries where a packaged approach to the information is best.

A quick comparison of Wolfram’s answer to “New York” vs Google’s vs Wikipedia’s

In a case like this I’d argue Wikipedia is the clear winner, giving the user extensive information and links to more.   Google second with good lists, and Wolfram a distant third with very limited information given the wealth of data online.

For students creating notes (or papers to hand in!) Wolfram may provide some great tools with its unique organization schema, but for most internet researchers and browsers I think Google has nothing to worry about here at all.

New CEO Bartz on Yahoo “Look for this company’s brand to kick ass again.”

Only in Silicon Valley could a CEO get away talking about their brand “kicking ass”, but Yahoo’s in Silicon Valley and Carol Bartz is their new tough talking CEO, who today wrote in Yahoo’s official blog “Yahoo Anecdotal” that Yahoo is “Getting our house in order“.  Among other thing Bartz says she is :

….rolling out a new management structure that I believe will make Yahoo! a lot faster on its feet. For us working at Yahoo!, it means everything gets simpler. We’ll be able to make speedier decisions, the notorious silos are gone, and we have a renewed focus on the customer. For you using Yahoo! every day, it will better enable us to deliver products that make you say, “Wow.”

When former Yahoo CEO and co-founder Jerry Yang (Yahoo was co-founded with David Filo) left the company a few months ago Carol Bartz stepped in aggressively, presumably tasked by Yahoo’s board to either turn the company around or prepare for a sale of Yahoo Search, or perhaps even the entire company, to Microsoft.

Given that turning Yahoo around is considered by most to be extremely challenging and long term,  I think we should assume Bartz is working the Microsoft sales angle even though much of the tough talk is more along today’s lines of restoring the second most recognizable internet brand to at least a shadow of Yahoo’s former glory.     Note though that even assuming a sale to MIcrosoft is in the goal, it’s probably in Yahoo shareholder’s best interests for Bartz to talk and work towards shoring up the brand, hoping to encourage Microsoft to offer more of a premium over the current share price than they might if they knew a deal was inevitable.

We can get some insight into what Carl Icahn – one of Yahoo’s largest shareholders and board members –  is looking for in this deal thanks to this excellent report on his stock holdings and pricing.   With an average share price is in the neighborhood of $20-25,  I would argue that Icahn wants Microsoft to come in somewhere north of that for him to agree to a sale.     Microsoft offered $31 officially last year before the stock meltdown and most fell they would have paid about $34, but clearly that deal is long off the table. However given Microsoft’s lackluster online performance and the chance for a crack at Google’s dominance, look for Microsoft to make an offer soon.  Look for Yahoo to probably take it.

DISCLOSURE:   Technology Reporter Joe Hunkins is long on YHOO

Simcraft Racing Simulator

John will have more later on this topic as he had a chance to test one of the world’s top racing simulators on display at CES by Simcraft but I wanted to get these pictures online .  We had a nice talk with Simcraft’s CEO about his plans for moving forward with this remarkable driving simulation tool.    Rather than the arcade market with its liability challenges he explained that one of  Simcraft’s major projects right now is a contract with the Department of Defense to use the simulators to train drivers for high speed runs when they must avoid IEDs in Iraq and other combat environments.

At $44,000 this is not accessible to most but with a remarkable cage suspension system that gives the driver 3 degrees of motion this really is likely to be the sim of choice for high end drivers who can pony up the cash.

Autoblog has more on this device – easily one of CES’ most impressive demos.

Top Technology Stories of 2008

Update:  Don’t miss our upcoming CES 2011 live coverage here at Technology Report

Techmeme is a favorite of many in technology for pulling together technology stories and the conversations that often swirl around them.  Unlike a simple “ranking” system, TechMeme surfaces the top stories and then links out to blogs and sites that are discussing those “hot topics”.     Thus a quick review of TechMeme can give you a very fast orientation to the stories that are making their rounds in the blogs.    That does not always correspond to stories that actually *matter* to real folks, but it’s a great start.

TechMeme’s new story editor Megan has a list here of the top 10 for 2008.   Number one was the Microsoft – Yahoo aquisition saga, number two was Apple quitting MacWorld, and number three was Google Chrome.


Disclosure: Long on YHOO

Jimmy Wales on Charlie Rose

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, discusses his Wikia search projectand the internet. He’s the chairman of Wikia, Inc. He thinks it’ll be 2-3 years before they have a robust product.

“Democratic, participatory” search project.
“Google, Yahoo, Ask” have similar, proprietary and closed search. He wants to break up the idea that a few companies should be so dominant.

Making search ubiquitous. He thinks Google may not have problems with WIKIA because they can keep matching up ads, advertisers, and buyers as they have been.

Wales thinks Facebook made the right decision to turn down Yahoo’s billion+ offer for Facebook, calling it an “interesting gamble”. “He’s a pretty sharp guy” (Zuckerman), and Wales thinks that unlike Myspace, Facebook is doing right by the customers. Notes increase of spam and advertising intensity of Myspace.

Wikia major initiatives: Search, Reference Works for humor, opinion, sports. 66 languages plus a “Klingon language” project. “Roll this revolution” into many other areas. What makes the internet great is that it’s a “global platform for people to share knowledge”. Keeping it “open” appears to be a key guiding principle for Wales, and his admirable efforts at Wikipedia support his sincerity in that mission.

Wales suggests that Firefox is the best browser, primarily due to features that he sees as the result of the open source development model that created Firefox.    He says that monopolistic activity by Microsoft has slowed innovation, but feels that Google is a friend of Open Source.     Wales recounted telling Bill Gates at Davos that Microsoft search is so bad people are switching away from it as the Vista default, and suggests that he’ll have fun trying to build a better search than Google with Wikia.

Bebos, billions, and why Yahoo is starting to piss me off.

Yahoo may buy Bebo, the British “Myspace”, for a billion dollars. That is a LOT of money – about 3% of Yahoo’s market cap. Presumably this, like Yahoo’s unsuccessful Facebook aquisition attempt, is Yahoo’s approach to recapturing the market dominance it enjoyed back in the day. Dominance through the aquisition of a social network rather than developing their own.

They should know better than to trust their existing criteria for decisions about aquisitions. Yahoo is the company that aquired Overture’s pay per click technology years ago, and then managed to cede dominance in that area to Google. Ever heard of Google? Yahoo probably could have *owned* Google, but it seems higher management didn’t think search had the monetization potential of … broadcast.com which was purchased for billions.

Isn’t it time for top management at Yahoo to let innovation, not aquisitions, rule the day? This approach has worked very well for Google, who’s main mistakes now appear to be in aquiring things like YouTube which in my opinion is unlikely to recover YouTube’s 1.6 billion price tag and will certainly pester Google with big money lawsuits for decades. Yahoo’s still got a LOT of great technical people, especially in the developer and new business divisions. More importantly, the world is producing hundreds of thousands of new, brilliant innovators every year, most of whom are chomping at the bit to bring new and exciting innovation to the hungry online world. Why not devote the billions to this rather than purchasing companies with marginal revenues and long term prospects that are more hope and prayer than reality?

With the latest flurry of high priced aquistions it almost seems like, to the big players, the billion dollar deal is the new million dollar deal. I remain skeptical that deals of this size pay off in the long run – certainly very, very few of the early pre-bubble ones did not pay off for companies. I’d suggest that the smaller deals (e.g. Flickr) do have potential, but that Yahoo’s top management is looking for a killer deal that simply does exist while the innovation approach (ie much, MUCH more support to the core values and teams at Yahoo) is starting them in the face. Traffic? Yahoo’s got plenty of it. Modest changes can send millions of Yahoo users to any new idea, so why not do this *a lot more* and test *a lot more ideas*.

Edison suggested that there is always a better way, and it’s time for Yahoo to ….. find it.

More Bebo-logy from Techmeme:

Yahoo may net Bebo owners $1bn

 

 

Bebo/YHOO: My Rumor’s Bigger Than Yours

Yahoo May Be Bidding For Social Network Bebo: Report

Yahoo: When You Can’t Buy Facebook, You Buy Bebo

Bebo is not for sale


Google and Privacy

Here is a nice post from Google about their new policy to anonymize search info from users. Like many I have been critical in the past of Google and others for storing this information with little regard to who owns it or saying what they’ll be doing with it.     Yahoo and MSN do not (yet) have similar policies so I think Google can rightly claim a higher road since they have also been the one who has fought Government attempts to nab search data.   (I have mixed feelings about that since, unlike folks like Battelle, I fear commercial abuses  more than I fear the Government will use my data in illegal and harmful ways.

Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt “…out of the conversation comes innovation”

Time has an insightful visit with Dr. Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO and a pleasant fellow as well based on my brief chat with him last year. I like his point that it’s a great strategy to ask lot of questions, get a conversation going, and from that conversation harvest innovation. You can really see the power of this when talking to the remarkable folks who work at Google. I’m always impressed by how open they are to criticism and new ideas, and how clearly they see that it’s best to keep the conversation going and the pathways open because the future….could find us all almost anywhere.

Mashup Camp part DEUX

I’m very excited about the upcoming Mashup Camp 2 down in Silicon Valley July 12 and 13, and it’s NOT just because Yahoo is expected to have free martinis with blinking fake ice cubes at their party.

Mashup 1 was one of the most interesting and intense conferences I’ve ever done with about 300 wildly enthusiastic mashers showing off, watching, trading tips, and more.    Mashup 2 promises to be wildly interesting as well.  Mashup University will precede the two camp days and hopefully be a close up look at great stuff coming in from many API providers.   As always I’m looking for the travel holy grail, and I think we are getting closer as Bonosearch skeleton is now in place,ready for some travel related mashup inclusions and our travel focused search using Kinosearch.

Of course as Caterina Fake observed some time ago you Who’s talking to the users, writing the code, tweaking and retweaking the UI?  [hey, easy for Caterina to say – her (superb) company – Flickr –  already got bought up by Yahoo for tens of millions and she made the cover of Newsweek AND she gets to hang out with the amazing tech developers team at Yahoo.

But of course one can get so wrapped up in conferences that it’s hard to get work done.    I’ve done that this past year, so before Mashup Camp I’m getting off my butt and …  painting our house!    How’s that for techno convergence?