I'm here with Don Dodge, he works here at Microsoft now, but he used to be director of Engineering at AltaVista. He was also VP of product development at Napster and VP of product development at Groove. He's a new Microsoftie. Welcome!
Anyway, we were talking about search. He knows a bit about it.
I was telling him that the next big thing in search is contextual search. More on that in a minute.
Don tells me that back in the 90s Natural Language Processing was all the rage. They were hoping customers would put in more words to get better results. In reality, though, that didn't happen. He said that 85% of all searches are one word.
At AltaVista, he says, they had a thing called Clustering. They'd look at searches around a single word and predict more results. Problem is that took processing time which slowed down the results. Turns out that speed of page mattered -- although Don later learned it only matters if response times go higher than a second or two.
Talking with Don you get a sense of the mistakes that AltaVista made too. They were owned by companies that didn't understand (or care for) search. They thought the big business was going to be in portals, not in building fast, small, services that did one thing well.
He says the secret to Google's success was two things: its architecture (small PCs that can easily be expanded machine by machine -- Altavista ran on big centralized mainframes that couldn't be scaled out easily) and its linking algorithm.
Anyway, I've been reading his blog and he has some really interesting posts for entrepreneurs and Venture Capitalists since he's been through five startups.
Heh, I have a bunch of geeks watching Mad Money while they are on breaks. A bunch of people were here checking out my Slingbox and someone called Jim Cramer and asked "what do you think about Microsoft?" If you've never seen Jim's show on CNBC before, think what Steve Ballmer might be like if he had a TV show about picking stocks. Here's a Forbes writeup about the show.
Jim Cramer said "buy Microsoft" and put his famous bull video up on the screen.
I swear that guy is Steve Ballmer's brother. He even threw a chair earlier in the show.
I love watching this guy. He ended up going into a commercial yelling at the camera "I say you stay with Microsoft and you stay with Cramer."
I learned a lot about the Media Center after Charlie Owen, who works on the Windows Media Center team, and Thomas Hawk, a blogger who writes a lot about digital media debate each other. Thomas writes back here. Charlie answers back here.
This is great stuff. Did a few Media Centers not get sold? Probably. I can just hear lots of old-school PR guys saying "nnnnooooo." But they totally miss the point. Conversations like this build trust and they also let us get our dirty laundry out here for everyone to see. Now we can talk about what is most important to do. And what we are doing. And when we can talk (and it isn't far away) we'll be able to reenter this conversation.
Such a conversation also lets Charlie fix some misunderstandings and get new information in the hands of everyone.
By the way, I'm watching Jim Cramer's Mad Money on my Slingbox. It's the absolute opposite of HDTV. Blurry video. Or am I just tired? But do I care that the video isn't all that sharp? Nope. I'm still here in Microsoft's Visitor Center with a bunch of geeks. Things are slowly getting quieter but we're still here.
I love my Slingbox. I can watch my TV at home even from Microsoft's Visitor Center. Where's my family room? It's wherever my Tablet PC is. I get to watch Mad Money no matter where in the world I am. Boooyaahhh!
Dru Nelson has open sourced BlogBot, which is an RSS aggregator that plugs into Outlook.