Quora Surfing

First, there was Wikipedia Surfing. Now there’s Quora Surfing.

Wikipedia Surfing is where you start with one topic, see an interesting link, click on it, see another interesting link, click on that, and after a few hours, you’re on a completely different topic and full of interesting trivia. Quora Surfing is pretty much the same thing.

Some have questioned whether or not Quora will replace Wikipedia (on Quora, no less). I agree with the common sentiment: No. The two tools are distinctly different. But the wealth of fascinating information and ease of navigation are shared traits. It’s easy to get lost in either one as you follow the rabbits of information.

Quora’s buzz is largely due to the people on it. You could ask a question about Adobe Photoshop and get an answer from one of the designers of Adobe Photoshop. You could ask a question about venture capital and hear from one of Silicon Valley’s prominent venture capitalists themselves. This star-studded cast has given birth to a plethora of insights you can’t get elsewhere, though it’s decidedly biased towards the high-tech industries at the moment.

Fortunately, there are outliers. One particularly fascinating set of answers comes from Mark Hughes, a screenwriter. I’ve spent hours on his answers alone. Although I’m not a movie buff and don’t follow Hollywood closely, reading his answers has filled my brain with all sorts of interesting tidbits. Such as:

Okay, perhaps that wasn’t of interest to you. Hughes also has a number of articles of interest for aspiring screenwriters. Each is a mini novel, a meaty fruitcake of information. Each is also a time sink that will lead to new drains in which your hours will drown. And if you don’t like those topics, there are a gazillion more. That, in a nutshell, is Quora Surfing.

Wikipedia Surfing

Has Wikipedia sucked hours out of your life, as it has mine?

There’s a dangerous new phenomenon out there. Wikipedia surfing. You start with one topic, see an interesting link, click on it, see another interesting link, click on that, and after a few hours, you’re on a completely different topic and full of interesting trivia.

Or, if you’re like me, you’ll open up multiple tabs, one for each new interesting link. And after a few hours, you’re on ten completely different topics and full of even more interesting trivia.

There’s even the Six Degrees of Wikipedia game, where you start with one topic, then find the shortest path to another topic. All you have to do is throw in some badges and you’ve turned a dangerous new phenomenon into a dangerous, yet fun new phenomenon. And that’s “dangerous” in terms of “OMG where did all those hours go?”, not the threat of harm or death, though if you don’t get up to pee and eat every once in a while, that may happen.

Why is it about Wikipedia this enables behavior? This fragmented attention, where curiosity follows a web of tangents just for the sake of curiosity?

I believe it’s because Wikipedia is hypertext at its best. It’s even the realization of Tim Berners-Lee’s origin vision of the World Wide Web – a solution to presenting and sharing massive amounts of inter-related information. Turns out, hyperlinks aren’t only a fantastic way of leading a reader to related information, but also a great enabler of tangential information surfing.

It’s arguably even a step better than the Web, because every Wikipedia page is a topic of potentially interesting information. I sure can’t say the same about every page in the Web.

There’s already the phenomenon of web surfing: viewing websites and following interesting links. Wikipedia just offers more educational value.

So perhaps Wikipedia surfing isn’t all that bad. At least I’m filling my head with interesting trivia. And perhaps one day, I’ll get a badge for finding out that in 2005, a gigantic 20-foot pink stuffed rabbit was erected on a 5,000-foot hill in the northern Piedmont region of Italy.

The Mike Lee Project

Just for yucks, I decided to create a new website. It’s an idea I had years ago – The Mike Lee Project.

Back in 2005, a filmmaker named Grace Lee created an entertaining documentary called The Grace Lee Project. It chronicled all the Grace Lee’s she knew, showing how utterly common her name is.

I too have a common name. Really. Back in college, I knew of at least 23 Mike & Michael Lee’s. At a previous Big Five firm at which I worked, there were around 17. My last company had 5. We’d get each other’s emails and packages all the time. I once received a lunch invite from a cute coworker. When I replied, “Sure!” she wrote back, “Oops, wrong Mike Lee. Sorry.” Awww. *sniff*

So when I wrote to Grace about her project, she joked that I should do a Mike Lee Project too. Well, I’m no filmmaker. But as a web developer, I figured, why not put up a website? The Mike Lee Project is currently a wiki built off of free MediaWiki software. Any other Mike & Michael Lee can add themselves to the list.

In seeding the wiki with starter content, I found a heck of a lot of Mike & Michael Lee’s. There’s a Michael Lee who’s been the drummer for Robert Plant & Jimmy Page, a Michael Lee character in the show The Wire (great show, BTW), and all sorts of politicians, journalists, actors, programmers, designers, and professors. They’re white, black, Chinese, Korean, and who knows what else.

BTW, in case you’re wondering why I didn’t call it The Michael Lee Project, it’s just because I’ve created a personal brand around “Mike Lee”. And also because michaelleeproject.com is a bit longer to type. But in any case, I nabbed that domain name too. Heh.

P.S. I also just added a survey so other Mike & Michael Lee’s can indicate whether they’re Chinese, Korean, English, Irish, or something else. I don’t expect a lot of responses, but hey, why not?

Google Knol and Search Engine Woes

Will Google’s Knol start taking over Google’s search results? Who knols?

Ha! Sorry, I was dying to make that joke. Moving on now…

Just a week after it’s launch, Google’s Knol is beginning to stir up some controversy. First, Wil Reynolds of Seer Interactive noticed that a Knol article was already ranking high on Google for the search phrase “how to backpack“. As of this post, the article is ranking #1 on Google. (Incidentally, the author, Ryan Moulton, is a Google employee.)

“Really?” exclaimed Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land. “I mean, how many links could this page have gotten already?” Then Aaron Wall of SEO Book tried a test: he created a Knol that replicated content he’s published elsewhere—an article on SEO basics. Just compare the two (original and duplicate) and you’ll see they’re a word-for-word copy.

Say you tried to search for that exact article (using an exact sentence from it). What would you expect would happen? You’d probably get the original article—since it’s older and thus more likely the original—and perhaps the Knol article somewhere below it if Google has started ranking its Knol articles, right? That’s what Wall expected too. What happened instead was the Knol article ranked higher than the original. Of this, Wall says (emphasis his):

Some may call this the Query Deserves Freshness algorithm, but one might equally decide to call it the copyright work deserves to be stolen algorithm. Google knows the content is duplicate (as proven by the notification they put on their page), and yet they prefer to rank their own house content over the originally published source.

Whoa boy, time to copy some of my old content and slap it into Knol! But… aw rats, the “create a Knol” function seems to be down right now. Perhaps there are too many other people trying to do the same thing?

Quite a few others feel similarly to Wall. Dare Obasanjo of 25hoursaday.com also tried his own test similar to Sullivan’s, and concluded that (emphasis his):

Google is clearly favoring Knol content over content from older, more highly linked sites on the Web. I won’t bother with the question of whether Google is doing this on purpose or whether this is some innocent mistake. The important question is “What are they going to do about it now that we’ve found out?

This observation kind of runs counter to what Google told Sullivan earlier:

Google assured me that the authority of Google’s domain wouldn’t give Knol any additional trust. Knol pages will be scored based on the links and PageRank pointing to individual pages.

Huh, really? Doesn’t quite seem that way, does it?

Mahalo.com’s Jason Calacanis isn’t very happy either. He blasted Google in his latest email:

Now, Google says they will do no evil and since I’ve worked with their team across three companies I tend to believe them. However, with the launch of Google Knol I feel like they are not being totally up front with us–their partners. It feels like they’ve stabbed us in the back to be honest. I’m not the only one who feels this way–even if I’m the only one stupid enough to say it.

If Google is going to be in the content business and compete for the top ranking in the operating system they control why not be honest about it? Why not have David Eun say, “listen, we’re experimenting with content and we want you to be involved in it. Put your content in Knol!”

Frankly, it’s insulting to say you’re not in the content business and then launch Knol and compete with content companies for their authors, users, and placement in the rankings that you control.

For the record, dishonesty falls under evil in my book.

Tell us how you really feel, Calacanis. Heh.

Business-wise, this is pretty smart. They’re adding more instances where users could interact with their properties. More instances means more pageviews, more ad space to sell, and more control. And in their eyes, if Knol’s content really is of higher quality than, say, Wikipedia’s content, then it deserves to rank higher.

Also, just to compare—Yahoo’s search engine already does this. A search for Dark Knight yields a search results module from Yahoo! Movies at the top, above the official movie site from Warner Bros. and IMDb. No one’s cried foul on Yahoo for this.

But then again, Yahoo! Movies has editorial content from Yahoo, whereas Knol has user generated content (that is rated and possibly written collaboratively). Plus—to Calacanis’ point—Yahoo makes no mistake that it’s a media company, whereas Google has always stated that it’s not

Controversy indeed. I wonder what’s going to come of all this. Whatever it’ll be, I agree with Internet Entrepreneur Joe Duck: “I expect knol to be a huge topic at the upcoming search conference – SES San Jose.” It sure will be.

Google Knol and SEO

I’m going to try an experiment. Google launched a new service called knol this past Wednesday. It’s been billed as the Wikipedia/Squidoo/HubPages alternative, though perhaps more akin to the latter two because of it’s monetization offerings to entry authors, via a Google AdSense revenue-sharing model.

Seeing this made me wonder: could knol be used for search engine optimization purposes?

I know, I know. It’s not the most altruistic thought. But I’ll bet others are thinking the same thing too. So with that in mind, I whipped up an entry on “Michael Lee“. To be fair and still offer hopefully useful community content (though, erm, I guess that’s debatable), I linked to a bunch of other Michael/Mike Lee’s as well.

That’s not too smart, SEO-wise, since I just gave link love to my “competitors” (and by competitors, I mean others who rank high for the name Mike Lee on a search engine). But then I also filled out my knol profile, which seemed to create another entry for “Mike Lee“. Both entries seem to have equal weight in a knol search, even though I thought one was just a profile page. Hmmm.

So will this give me any link love?

My guess is: probably not. I really doubt anyone’s going to be searching knol for the name “Mike Lee”. And since Google isn’t surfacing any of this content onto their search results (yet), I doubt many people are going to see it.

But will it help my search engine ranking to have a link from the google.com domain? Perhaps? I’m not sure. I’ll revisit this little experiment to see if it’s had any impact in a week or so. Stay tuned!

CrunchBase API for Competitive Intelligence

Who doesn’t love free stuff? I sure do. And when they can be used to make your business offerings even better, I call that Awesome with a capital A.

I was just reading Dharmesh Shah’s Embarassingly Gushing Praise for TechCrunch And The New CrunchBase API on OnStartups.com and it got me thinking.

What Shah is so excited about is CrunchBase’s new & free API. CrunchBase is a “free directory of technology companies, people, and investors that anyone can edit”, much like a wiki. It’s not technically a wiki yet (I believe that’s in the plans though), but pulls in a ton of data (from sources like LinkedIn and Google Maps) in addition to offering manual input from editors and the community. In short, it’s a fairly robust database of business information for the high-tech & internet industries.

To put it another way, it’s a valuable resource for competitive intelligence. Which means if one of these online competitive analysis services were to jump on the API and start including this data, they’d have quite an attractive offering. Or aat the very least, they’ll make things easier for business researchers.

Plus, CrunchBase’s API is free. So why the hell not?

The Web Is One Big Party

A VC A few months ago, Fred Wilson of All Software Should Be Social. In it, he paraphrased something Clay Shirky said:

Clay Shirky once said that social nets are like parties. When they are small, they are really great, when they get big and crowded, they cease to be useful. Again I can’t find that post, or I’d link to it.

Clay’s right. But a huge social net that’s made up of millions of smaller social nets is likely to be even more useful than anything that we currently have.

This got me thinking, which, I know, is a dangerous thing.

Say the web is one big party. Like Clay says, a party with too many people is no fun. But this party is being held in an enormous warehouse with lots of nooks and crannies. So naturally, groups of people break off into their own niches.

Some people stay with their friends (MySpace, Facebook, Friendster.com, Second Life). Others stick with family (Famster), coworkers (LinkedIn), or even church group (MyChurch). People like to feel like they belong somewhere, and people with similar interests tend to cluster together. Thus you have cliques (Wikipedia, Flickr, Digg, Yelp, YouTube, Last.fm, Kaboodle, Dogster, Fanpop, Gather, FanNation, LibraryThing, Rupture, and on and on and on).

But people don’t stay within a particular group all the time though. They travel between several cliques, sometimes adopting different persona with each one. That’s okay though, because they still have their own identity; it’s just their outward behavior and language that changes (OpenID, PeopleAggregator).

Sometimes people want to share their life story and crave an audience (Twitter, Blogger, Xanga, LiveJournal). That can be difficult because this is one loud party; but you’re bound to find a few single people at the bar if you look hard enough.

Other times, people need a little alone-time and privacy, away from everyone at the party. This can be both easy and hard. It’s easy when you want to just leave the party (log off). It’s hard when you’ve been at the party for a while, had lots of conversations, then are trying to hide. If someone wants to find you, they will (Google, Technorati, Wink). At this party, everything you’ve said can last forever.

It’s also easy just to sit back and people-watch at this party (Google Reader, FeedBurner, My Yahoo!, Netvibes, Bloglines). There’s a lot to see and your eyes may glaze over after a few hours. But you’ll also see some really wacky and fun sights.

Then what happens when bullies start to get abusive? It’s tough to police this party; it’s so big that almost anything goes. Fortunately, some kind souls are trying to help (EFF, Creative Commons). Much luck to them. There are lots of predators at this party. I hope they don’t ruin it for the rest of us.

And there you have it. The web as one big party. It’s a fantastic one that’s growing everyday. This warehouse is infinite, save for our imaginations. So come in and have some fun. Just don’t drink too much; the hang-over is killer.

Want To Buy Some Web 2.0?

web2.0forsale.com and VentureBoard Now this is what I’d call a sign of trouble.

Have a Web 2.0 online business but can’t get your business model working? Maybe you can’t get any customers. Maybe your product really sucks. Maybe you quit your job to start this thing and are realizing you made a horrible, horrible mistake.

Never fear! Just sell your business online!

There are now two companies through which you can sell your online wares: VentureBoard and Web 2.0 For Sale. You can sell anything remotely Web 2.0ish, from domain names to mash-ups to your website. As I write this, Dodgy.com is on sale for $12,500.00 at Web 2.0 For Sale. Wow.

The hubbub started when Kiko.com, an DHTML calendar offering, sold themselves on eBay for $250,000. They weren’t the first to use eBay, but they generated the most press. Jux2, a metasearch engine, was the first – at least, according to TechCrunch.

I remember watching the Kiko.com auction on eBay. A friend told me about it and we mused: “Maybe we should build some kind of DHTML app and sell it on eBay too…”

Well, that idea could still work. And now we have more sales channels too!

What VentureBoard and Web 2.0 For Sale are doing is really smart. There’s certainly a demand for this kind of service right now. Why not capitalize on it?

For entrepreneurial web developers, this may start a new trend – quickly build a Web 2.0ish online app (be it a social network, mash-up, wiki, pick your favorite buzz word) and sell it. Even if you sell one for $5,000, that ain’t half bad. Do that once a month and you’re golden.

Only, who the heck is buying? These services don’t post any sales statistics. It’s easy to find this out on eBay, but not on VentureBoard and Web 2.0 For Sale. Hmmm.

The entrepreneur in me is saying: “Maybe we should build some kind of DHTML app and sell it on eBay, or VentureBoard, or Web 2.0 For Sale too…” If there’s a low-cost way in doing this, why not?

The trouble is in building a real business model. I’d just be building a site for the sake of selling it. Quite a post-Internet-bubble sentiment, eh? First, there was: Build a site and the venture capital will come. Now, there’s: Build a site and the sales will come. Nice.

The real business model here is in VentureBoard and Web 2.0 For Sale. At least, as long as there are actual buyers for these Web 2.0ish social networks/mash-ups/wikis/etc…

And hey, I have a few ideas. Anyone want to help me build a few DHTML apps? They probably suck as businesses, but maybe someone will buy them!