Photos: Google’s logo doodles through the ages

Looking for the business lessons in Google doodles (the freedom to play with its logo on its home page) is a little like trying to learn from Apple’s miracle marketing. There is a uniqueness and freshness that is contagious in Google’s changing logo. Along with the personalization on the day of your birthday (if you are logged in, that is), Google is paving a new path, but one that few traditional brands can reproduce because of the “brick & mortar” component. The beta mentality that underscores Google’s SOP (I refer to it as the Beta Myndset) is deliciously refreshing. They have, in so doing, turned the old school marketing lessons upside down. At the same time, most brands would probably be foolish to follow this example, merely for practical reasons.

Ontologies and the Semantic Web – The future of Knowledgement Management?

If you are like me, you will have said, “what on earth is an ontology?” Some form of scientific anthology? Well, I first came across the word “ontology” here, a post in which Professor Michael Wesch from Kansas University said/wrote that “Ontology is overrated.” While the term remains somewhat esoteric, I am ever more conscious that the ontology concept will catch on, albeit limited to the domain of knowledge acquisition and storage. So, what is an ONTOLOGY? In a geeky paradise, ontology is the new portal. Ontology is the metier of the 21st century librarian.

As defined in the Wolfram Alpha search engine, ontology in an organizational sense, “is a rigorous and exhaustive organization of some knowledge domain that is usually hierarchical and contains all the relevant entities and their relations.”

Carole Palmer & Allen Renear, Illinois University

A recent report by University of Illinois professors & researchers, Allen Renear and Carole Palmer, published in Science (14 August 2009), an article entitled, “Strategic Reading, Ontologies, and the Future of Scientific Publishing,” in which they describe and measure the effects of the web on medical research. Broadly speaking, the article highlights the gargantuan rise in the number of articles published, the increased number of articles being read (by fellow researchers, etc.) and the average amount of time spent on reading each article (decreasing). On the one hand, there are the obvious benefits of providing, instantaneously, potentially life-changing medical information anywhere around the world. However, the presence of so many articles poses an ever greater challenge for researchers needing to claim authorship (i.e. original ownership) of an idea or a discovery. (See Illinois News writeup).

Strategic Reading, Ontology Study, Science Magazine
As the chart above (from Strategic Magazine) indicates, the volume of abstracts and papers published (on cell cycle research) has skyrocketed.

As information proliferation will continue (in the short term it will undoubtedly continue to accelerate), the need to rationalize, filter and digest information will become critical not only in the domain of science, but in many more areas including arts and business. As Renear says, “efficient strategic reading becomes increasingly critical in scientific work…” and I say that the same will be true in many other areas, too.

Here is the BEAUTIFUL concept behind the ontologies being crafted in wiki fashion around the sciences (and later to all areas of documentable expertises): they have inverted the way research is done. You search for the real information you are looking for and then follow up by reading the supporting article(s) as opposed to reading the article to find the information for which you are looking. Of course, that means less reading per article, but it also saves an immense amount of time on background information (and, often-times, noise). The next step would be integrate into these ontologies semantic web concepts, to make them ever more effective and efficient.

Some examples of ontologies out there:

The Gene Ontology is apparently the most famous of ontologies, and among the ones I found while trolling ontologies on google, is certainly the one that speaks volumes to me.

The Open Biomedical Ontologies, a collection of freely available well-structured controlled vocabularies. When you read the introductory paragraph on this site, you get the feeling of not wanted here, very quickly. Try this for size: “The OBO Foundry is a collaborative experiment involving developers of science-based ontologies who are establishing a set of principles for ontology development with the goal of creating a suite of orthogonal interoperable reference ontologies in the biomedical domain.”

And, a third example that is a little easier to get one’s head around, an Animal Behaviour Ontology, one set in motion by Darwin undoubtedly…!

Anyway, as the world progresses through the 21st century, I expect many other areas — less technical than science — may benefit from the knowledge accumulation and classification methods inherent in these sort of wiki-library ontologies. The discussion on ontology takes on a whole other layer when we take into consideration the ongoing “battle” for the digitalisation (numerisation) of the world’s books — truly a new métier for the 21st century librarian. And, the way the Google Books system works is very similar in look & feel to the various ontologies: find the researched term, then open (or pay for?) the whole text…

Will ontologies play a significant part in knowledge management systems? Can ontologies move into the mainstream? What do you think?

Announcing a Haredim Kosher Search Engine: Koogle

Koogle Kosher Search Engine Screen Capture

THE SEARCH MARKET GOES KOSHER

This post is being published today, Wednesday, a day other than Saturday, on purpose. It is about yet another new search engine… In the wake of Wolfram Alpha and Bing, announcing Koogle (www.koogle.co.il), a cross between Google and Kugel (the name of a Jewish noodle pudding), designed for the Jewish (read Haredim) community. Ok, Koogle is not going to be bringing you revolutionary and sophisticated responses for the everyday Joe. In fact, Koogle doesn’t come up on either Bing or Wolfram Alpha. Evidently, the owners of Koogle.co.il were not able to grab the koogle.com URL either. Koogle is not for everyone and it is not for every day use on the Internet. In true Kosher form, Koogle crashes on Saturday (starting at sundown on Friday and ending 25 hours later). To read “About Koogle,” apparently you need to read Hebrew.

A JEWISH FILTER

In their mission statement, Koogle administrators said the site’s goal is to “filter the appropriate information from different websites that are relevant to our target audience in a way that does not contradict the values of our traditional Jewish audience.”

From the USA Today article on 18 June 2009: “Koogle is not a filter for surfers who want to access secular websites. Rather, it is a compilation of Israeli resources deemed inoffensive by the administrators. It includes news, business directories and links to realtors, kosher restaurants, hotels as well as mohels, or ritual circumcisers, and rehab centers.”

And, again from the same news source: “In keeping with the norms of the haredi community, no photos of women — no matter how modestly attired — are permitted on Koogle. Nor are there ads for TVs, DVD players or other “unkosher” products.”

Well, it may not rank up there with Wolfram or Bing in terms of traffic, but it certainly is the winner for being the most specific.

UPDATE ON 14 APRIL 2011: The site Koogle is no longer functional

The Month of New Search Engines?

In the years to come, will this month be declared the month that forever changed the face of Internet search engines? There have been at least two significant launches that I have read about. Based on sophisticated algorhythms, these two new search engines promise more “intelligent” search results.

First, there is Wolfram Alpha, which I wrote about before (here) and has gone live. For fun, try this: “What is the population of California, USA?” The answer is decidedly more easy to read than your usual Google answer, spewing out lines of text. Wolfram Alpha is definitely not perfect, but if it catches on and is able to “learn” over time as well as dig deep into the collective “intelligence” (as it promises), you can clearly see why this type of approach is of interest.

Now, Microsoft has gone badda bling, badda BING — or at least, coming soon. Pre-launced by CEO Balmer last night, apparently, bing will have a similar type of “logical” and easy-to-read outputs as Wolfram Alpha. Per the LA Times, “Rather than introducing a revolutionary approach to presenting information, Bing appears to stitch together its own versions of the Web’s most popular planning and decision tools — think Expedia for travel, Yelp for restaurants, Amazon for shopping.”

Bing Coming Soon Screen Capture
Watch this space, eh!

Entrepreneurship – Economist Special Report on Why and How…

Mind of an Entrepreneur

The Economist ran a special report (March 14, 2009) on Entrepreneurialism and there were several interesting and important points that I felt like writing about. The 16-page report discusses the state of entrepreneurship around the world. In some regards, the report contains an apologia for European entrepreneurship, at least as it pertains to the non-Anglo-Saxon countries. Denmark is cited as a standout example in many regards, and most of the Scandinavian countries, as well as Britain, have a good record in the promotion of and opportunity for start-ups. The United States generally retains its leader status for entrepreneurship and one of the articles, “The United States of Entrepreneurs” describes a number of reasons why the US has managed to continue its run of entrepreneurial successes.

The one reason that really caught my fancy was the power of the story. The notion is that, all throughout high school and university, American-educated children hear stories of inventors and entrepreneurs such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Steve Jobs, etc. How on earth one can substantiate the positive benefit, I have no idea. However, the underlying concept is that icons and role models have no uncertain power and stories, etched into the young, moldable minds, have a habit of being converted into dreamed up business plans.

The article describes the usual suspects of freedom to hire and fire and access to venture capital. [If the notion of investing in a start up is considered a venture in the US, it is called capital risk in numerous European countries].

Another surprising point, as far as I was concerned, is the link with Academia. According to the Economist article, another advantage in the US “is a tradition of close relations between universities and industry. America’s universities are economic engines rather than ivory towers, with proliferating science parks, technology offices, business incubators and venture funds…” That the content and instruction in the “MBA” schools, borne out of the US, provides best-in-class business-training is probably unassailable. But, I would not have known about the comparative strength of the link between academia and business, as I am unaware of the strength of the link in other systems.

The final point I would like to highlight is the U.S. “immigration policy that, historically, has been fairly open.” A professor of Duke University, Vivek Wadhwa, is quoted as saying that “52% of Silicon Valley start-ups were founded by immigrants…” What is not said, but which I firmly believe, is that the reputation of America – all that is incarnated in the American Dream – attracts the entrepreneurially spirited immigrants. Immigrants who, at least in theory, have the choice of which country to which they will attempt to emigrate, will not select the USA if they are fearful of failure, if they are looking for protection and care for [a large number of] children. The reputation of you can “make it rich” in the US is inevitably accompanied by the knowledge of the lack of a safety net. In short, I maintain that the US has a habit of receiving applications from immigrants wishing to create and produce.

The final piece that is fascinating to observe is the propensity for start-ups in the US, not only to survive longer, but more emphatically to scale quicker. Witness the number of companies in the top 100 (based on market cap) that did not exist twenty years ago (Google, Ebay, Yahoo, Amazon…, but the list is not just limited to internet stories). The chart below is particularly telling, measuring the net number of people hired by surviving, new companies. (Source OECD)

Net Employment Gains

If you want to have some fun, look at this complete list of the world’s countries ranked according to the ease of doing business (source: the World Bank Doing Business database). There is no single column on mafia or corruption levels, per se, but the different categories are broad and quite fun to explore: getting construction permits, trading across border, enforcing contracts… Topping the listing is Singapore, followed by New Zealand and USA (with no changes in the top 8 from 2008). Among European countries, Italy comes in at an appalling 61st, while France is 31st (2 ahead of Azerbaijan) and Greece is 96th. Russia (120) and Ukraine (145) are at the “deep” end of the table. Below is the top 20, ranked according to ease of doing business (2009).

Ease of Doing Business Top 20 Countries

A parting remark: The word entrepreneur is a distinctly French word, n’est-ce pas? But, somehow may have been lost in the [bureaucratic paper] shuffle, if not translation.

Google Image Labeler – A quick game for the competitive

A useful game?
Have you heard of Google Image Labeler (GIL)? The Google explanation says that the service is still “new”, although according to the Wikipedia entry on GIL, the service was put into beta mode in August 2006.

Google Image Labeler Game Screen Shot

Google Image Labeler is designed to make the labeling of all the images found on the web a group effort via a fun little game. The originality of the game is that it uses teamwork. It is also done in 90 second bursts. You work with an unknown other internaut who has signed up and you try to figure out together words that could or should be associated with the image simultaneously put up on the screens of both users. You also have the option of passing (but you need your partner to give up as well in order to move along to the next image). Certain words have already been found and validated and these are considered out of bounds. At the end of the 1’30 game, you and your partner are given a score based on the matched words. If you are, at that point, really competitive, you can keep on going and rack up more points for GIL fame.

I think this is a great way to give photos context and to improve search accuracy. Of course, this means more user participation. Google will need to get the word out more that this game exists. Aside from the competitive notion and the feelgood factor of helping the internet get contextually better linking, you as the player don’t learn anything from GIL, so it’s a shortlived game, at least for me.

Google Health – Innovation or Invasion?

Google launched a year ago (March 2008) a new service, Google Health. According to its corporate mission, Google seeks ways to consolidate information and make that information available anytime, anywhere. This time, Google is innovating in an area as sensitive as it gets, your health data. Will Google Health be considered an innovation or an invasion?

Google Health Screen Capture

Google states upfront that the data will remain entirely confidential unless and as you see fit to share it (with specified family, friends and medical support staff…).
Google writes, “[w]e believe that your health information belongs to you, and you should decide how much you share and whom you share it with. We will never sell your data. We store your information securely and privately. Check out our privacy policy <http://www.google.com/intl/en-US/health/privacy.html> to learn more.”

Essentially, the idea is to track all your medical information and history in one single spot. Digitizing your medical records would seem to be a necessary prerequisite to making this service useful. That means scanning in all the handwritten notes and immunization cards, etc. that you have been carefully filing away and moving with you from home to home over the years. Google Health does enable you to import your medical records, but that supposes that all your medical service providers have your records on digital file. For now, Google has evidently done some of the legwork by partnering with a host of hospitals, doctors and pharmacies, etc. But, I sincerely doubt that they have us all covered under that partnership, especially when the majority of my files are ex-United States. Presumably at one point, you can imagine that there will be a technology that allows us to upload all our xrays too?

As a source of information, using the intelligence of microprocessors, random access memory and contextual search engines, I can definitely imagine the benefits of Google Health down the road. Google writes, “Every time you add new health data to your profile, Google Health will check for potential interactions between your drugs, allergies, and conditions.” And, for those of you who travel a lot, the ability to have all your health data at your fingertips can be a true boon. For now, I am signing up just to see what it all means even if it will be difficult to assemble all my data spread out in multiple countries. There certainly is the potential for this type of service to radically change the way we manage our own health. For that, trusting in Google’s privacy record, I am deeply in favour. I will be interested to find out what the medical members of the blog community say about this? Please give me your thoughts.

— UPDATED April 28th, 2009

“Technology is making health care more portable, precise and personal”

This weekend, I was fortunate enough to pick up the April 18, 2009 Economist, in which there was a timely special, Medicine Goes Digital,” on the topic of digitising health records. As the article (16 pages) states, “the health-sector has been surprisingly reluctant to embrace information technology…” as doctors still tend to work with pen and paper in most of the world. “The convergence of biology and engineering is turning health care into an information industry. That will be disruptive, says Vijay Vaitheeswaran (the Economist’s health care correspondent interviewed here), but also hugely beneficial to patients.” The article strongly points to the gains that can be made from a patient’s standpoint by being the master of his or her own medical information. A study by the RAND think tank forecasts that, if over a 15 year period, 90% of US hospitals adopted Health Information Technologies, there would be potential annual savings of $77B from efficiencies; and the savings could double if health and safety benefits were also factored in. That would equate to a 6% reduction in the 2.6 trillion dollar health care bill for the US this year. So, we need to encourage the doctors to go digital (which will help clear up mistakes from the forever illegible hieroglyphics that doctors learn in medical school) as well as acclimate patients to storing the information on secure sites on the ‘net. Let’s get the ball rolling!

Wolfram Alpha Search Engine to be launched May 2009

Wolfram Alpha Search Engine Screen Capture

To read the author’s pre-released blog post (written March 5, 2009), Wolfram Alpha, the new search engine due out in May 2009, is a kind of combination of the Theory of Everything meets Enstein’s Google.  The author, Stephen Wolfram, is the father of two other ambitious projects, Mathematica and A New Kind of Science and has a flair for the big ideas.  Wolfram clearly has a high regard for himself, plastering his name over each of the inventions or concepts and stating in his book, NKS, “I have come to view [my discovery] as one of the more important single discoveries in the whole history of theoretical science.”  If you are mathematically inclined, you can download his NKS book for free here.  On the other hand, from what I have read, Mathematica is clearly highly regarded — some say the reference — in its domain.  If nothing else, for the layman, you might enjoy some of the images that you can find on his Mathematica Graphics Gallery (a sample below).

So, what is interesting about Wolfram Alpha?  It may yet be the next Google, or it may fizzle out much like NKS.   If it were truly the next Google, I personally would not have hesitated to name it Wolfram.com rather than WolframAlpha.com…  Almost seems like he is hedging his bets.  All the same, the very concept of Wolfram Alpha is fascinating, so I can only applaud the size of the ambition.  Based on the purposefully sketchy information available, it would seem that WolframAlpha goes a step [or two] beyond semantic tagging, to use the vast array of information and intelligence available on the Internet to create the optimal solution for a particular query.  In his own words, the idea is that “one would be able to ask a computer any factual question, and have it compute the answer.”  Rather than focus on the search criteria, the Wolfram Alpha engine uses complex algorithms, heuristics, linguistic discovery and curation to compute and/or perfect the answer, seeking to improve on the existing information.  My description of what Wolfram is attempting to do:  Take a 3rd dimension view of all the 2D information, outstretched on a worldwide web, and theoretically makes it organic and artificially intelligent.

Anyway, watch this [virtual] space as they say.

Google to buy Twitter?

Twitter logo with Bird

The rumour mill has it that Google is back at the negotiating table to buy Twitter. The twipping point has tipped the scales in Twitter’s favour. According to this IT PRO article (April 3) or the TechCrunch article (April 2), the deal is close. If the price is over $500 million (per the rumoured price offered by Facebook a few months ago), let’s say $700 million for rounding purposes, that would put the price at a nice round $100 per current (monthly) Twitterer (based on the Feb data that Twitter had 7 million monthly users). I remember back to the days when Dennis Leibowitz, the 1980s standout DLJ Institutional Investor (II) winning research analyst for cable and then cellular companies, would price companies on a per pop basis, before moving to a cash flow evaluation and then to a more standard EPS model. Here we must be having plenty of discussions around dollars per eye balls, per members, per twits… and all those on discounted future numbers. Having already sold Blogger to Google, the founders of Twitter are aware of what it takes to make a sale, so the Google Gates (not the Microsoft ones) are surely well open.

If the deal does get signed, I would have to believe many companies are finally going to wake up to the idea of getting involved with Twittering… Perhaps, it will be a boon for the other microblogs too. I still think there needs to be a lot of intermarrying/interconnecting between the various social media sites to take to the next level. As TechCrunch alludes to, Twitter will surely be at the heart of new functionalities and communities: search.twitter.com or www.brand.twitter.com (not yet done), etc. This affair will certainly be interesting to follow.