31 Mar

Google Wants to Be a Platform

Considering the lame redesign and new "features" (they removed the tabs, are testing a personalization scheme that no normal human being will bother activating, and a did couple other insignificant changes — if it was anybody else nobody would even notice), it looks like Google might want to compete as a platform (for online search) with a couple star applications (ad matching) and leave the innovative but relatively niche stuff to other players. After all, Microsoft is still struggling to make real money beyond Windows/Office. And Google has its huge user base for itself (which matters more than having an API, though improving the later wouldn’t hurt).
Sure, the company will launch more betas and lab stuff and whatnot, but those are just showcases to get ISVs and partners thinking, plus they need to look ubiquitous and able to do anything to pump up that IPO. Notice how most of this stuff takes forever to go out of beta, and I’m not referring to just the explicit label, but to the actual quality and usefulness of said sites. Google might for instance spin off Froogle or co-build it with someone who actually understands ecommerce. Taking the partnership with Amazon.com a step further would be an effective strategy against eBay and Yahoo. Hmm, yeah, I like that Google/Amazon story. Likewise, Google Local didn’t launch with any visible advantage versus its competition, to the contrary Yahoo’s effort seems more effective, though who might fix it is less clear to me.
I can’t explain how else Google doesn’t yet support RSS for instance (or Atom for that matter). It’s obvious that the core product stopped improving a while ago, at least the small incremental stuff they’re throwing our way shouldn’t fool anyone (email alerts, give me a break). Since the people at Google are far from stupid, something must be brewing and we didn’t comprehend it yet, because the company is in the middle of a transition it has probably not fully articulated internally itself.
I don’t expect every product launch to work (Microsoft for one has dozens of discontinued products, Bob was far from the sole failure), but for Google it seems expansions come with diminishing returns. Ebay and Amazon successfully grew their breadth (though eBay had to overhaul its Auto site before it got traction, and the jury is still out on some product categories at Amazon), Yahoo is strong in varied markets from movies to finance, likewise Google will need to be more than a generic web search one-trick pony to compete. And it will have to learn to partner for more than just distribution.
04/05/04 update: Rich Skrenta (founder of the ODP and Topix): the secret source of Google’s power.
04/06/04 update: Jason Kottke: GooOS, the Google Operating System.
04/07/04: Battelle, Sullivan. You read it here first!
04/17/04 update: Tim O’Reilly, Jeremy Zawodny (both in the context of Gmail).

31 Mar

Google News Turned Into Map

Here’s an interesting Flash app that maps news to rectangles of various sizes, a la Smartmoney. It’s not very legible even at 1600*1200, but that’s a limitation of the treemap format anyway. It’s fun to see the local obsessions in each country, but syndication of news agency articles hugely distorts the whole picture (which is a byproduct of how Google News is built, Newsmap only makes it more obvious). Google News have also been mapped to… a world map.
11/11/04 update: 10 by 10.

26 Mar

MapQuest System Architecture

Directions Mag:

"All MapQuest Advantage Enterprise and API customers can use custom SQL WHERE clauses to limit database queries. Use database connectivity to:

  • Find and/or display locations within a specified radius.
  • Find and/or display locations within a specified rectangle.
  • Find and/or display locations within a specified polygon.
  • Find and/or display locations around a path, such as a route (suggested driving directions).
  • Search with a simple database record MapQuest API, new in version 3.0. You can even access non-MapQuest-specific database fields.
  • Integrate location data sets with other corporate databases. For instance, an application could filter bookstore proximity search results based on book availability determined through dynamic database searches."

Looks like a quite thorough API. We also learn that MapQuest.com "receives more than 26 million visitors every month and serves up over 10 million maps and directions each day."

26 Mar

Yahoo to Acquire Kelkoo: dot com stupidity or simple consolidation?

Yahoo and Kelkoo:

"today announced they have signed a definitive agreement under which Yahoo! will acquire Kelkoo. Under the terms of the agreement, Yahoo! will acquire up to 100 percent of the share capital of Kelkoo for an aggregate cash purchase price of approximately EUR 475 million, subject to certain adjustments."

I can’t believe Yahoo is going to waste more than half a billion dollars for this piece of junk. And I was starting to think Yahoo was finding its way again. Kelkoo is so bad it makes even Froogle shine in comparison, not to speak of its retarted approach to Internet shopping (with site silos based on individual countries — hello this is the EU, and with the weak dollar you might throw in the US as well). Google will probably tweak its algorithm to downplay Kelkoo’s currently well positioned millions of pages, and then what’s left?
I wouldn’t be surprised if the acquisition ended up being cheaper of even cancelled altogether, once Yahoo gets to the operational level and realizes what it is they’re purchasing. But if the deal goes through, this is one of the biggest successful exits in the dismal French internet world (which, to be totally fair, is at last moving in the right direction as far as DSL and VOIP are concerned, thanks in good part to Proxad). Smells like dot com stupidity all over again.
Or maybe Yahoo just wants to ditch Kelkoo altogether to have a clearer road ahead in European ecommerce. Yeah, that’s probably that, they can’t seriously think there’s anything to do with those sites and I doubt there’s much know-how Yahoo doesn’t already have. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, this is just consolidation at work rather than something supposed to bear fruit. The noise about keeping the brand run as a subsidiary with no impact on headcount is probably lip service to prevent a French strike. In the end, it’s easier to close a subsidiary altogether.

23 Mar

Microsoft Reveals Business Solutions Road Map

CIO Today:

"The following are expected to be rolled out in the coming quarters:

  • Microsoft CRM Pocket PC
  • Great Plains 8.0
  • Microsoft Business Portal 2.5
  • Microsoft Business Solutions-Navision 4.0
  • Solomon 6.0
  • Microsoft Business Solutions-Axapta
  • Analytics-FRx 6.7
  • "

Wow, that’s quite a roadmap. I never even heard of some of these products. I left Microsoft almost 5 years ago, and this is a whole area the company was not competing in at all at the time. It’s going to take another 5 years, but this eventually will be a significant money maker, once the product range has been consolidated, expanded, and improved to take full advantage of the desktop and server components (typically, Excel and Outlook on the frontend, and the whole Biztalk/Sharepoint/Whatever Server on the back-end). Back in 1999 Microsoft was already coming to grips with the fact that to survive, the Office cash cow needed to serve "enterprise" needs, not just adhoc personal and departmental needs. And I bet end users are going to be better off with a Microsoft client than with something provided by, say, SAP.
08/27/05 update: they’re really struggling in this space, meanwhile I’ve come to think sticking to enterprise requirements has become a hurdle to making real progress with products such as Office.

23 Mar

AOL Introduces Indentity Theft Alerts

Here’s a press release I missed last week:

"As part of the new AOL Bill Pay service, members can set up AOL Alerts & Reminders to keep track of activity on registered credit cards and bank accounts and alert them to large transactions or unauthorized activity on those accounts."

AOL Bill Pay is "more than just a bill payment service; it is a powerful life management tool that interacts with AOL emails, alerts and calendar" and was created with Yodlee.