SiliconFilter

Does “Search Plus Your World” Actually Improve Your Search Results? Nope

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There's been a lot of talk in the last 24 hours about how Google may be favoring its own social network Google+ with yesterday's "Search plus Your World" update. Getting lost in this heated discussion is the simple question of whether this update is actually improving the search experience on Google. Google, in its announcement yesterday, said that it is "transforming Google into a search engine that understands not only content, but also people and relationships." After testing the update, though, it feels like Google doesn't quite understand the "people and relationships" part well enough yet to make it such an important part of its flagship product.

To test the update, I decided that instead of just doing artificial searches for the sake of it, I would just go back to my search history and retry a day's worth of searches from last week and compare the personalized and regular results side-by-side.

Too Much Clutter, Too Many Irrelevant Results

Here is my general impression: for the majority of my searches, the personalization didn't really matter, as my online friends never said anything relevant about those queries. Switching between those results and the non-personalized ones yielded virtually the same links.

When the personalization kicked in, though, the search results were now too cluttered with often irrelevant status updates and other digital flotsam. Indeed, as I went through my list, I often found myself wishing that my Google+ friends had nothing to say about that topic.

The Google+ posts that appear in the results are often not really relevant to the search query. They also often include comments (and all those little avatars that go with them), which generally add very little to your search experience.

The Google+ follow suggestions in the sidebar often include people you already follow and this feature just feels like Google is trying to push Google+ a little bit too hard.

Every Google Search is Now an Ego Search

When I search on Google, I want to see new information, not what I did last weekend. The new algorithm puts too much of emphasis on content you created yourself – and especially posts on Google+, of course. When I search on Google, I'm not usually looking for my own stuff and I don't need to see my own photos, blog post or status updates clutter up my search results. Maybe Google could move this into the sidebar, but that wouldn't help its clutter problem either, of course.

Coffee  Google Search  personal

Be Careful Who You Friend

Unless you are very careful about who you friend on Google+, the relevance of Google's new "personal results" can also quickly go down the drain. When we friend people online, we don't do so to improve our search results.

Here is what it comes down to: The fact that we are somebody's "friend" online doesn't necessarily mean that we have common tastes. While there is a high chance that we have something in common that made us connect online in the first place, chances are that this only represents a very small part of our interests and we may only share very little else in common with these people. Until Google – and all the other search engines for that matter, too – are able to understand more of the nuances of our online relationships, social search efforts like personal search will inevitably remain limited and frustrating.

If you want to opt out of the new "personal results," just look for the opt-out toggle here.

 


11:00 am


Kevin Rose’s Oink: Stop Rating Places – Rate the Stuff Inside Them Instead

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Oink, the first product to come out of Digg-founder Kevin Rose‘s Milk project, launched on iOS earlier this week. At this point, the thought of seeing yet another location-based app that lets you rate things may induce some involuntary yawning in you. After testing it for a while now, though, I have to say that while I was highly skeptical of trying yet another app in this space, Oink actually puts enough of a twist on the genre to be interesting and to become a potential challenger to similar services like Foursquare (or even Yelp) in the long run.

The big difference between Oink and Foursquare or Yelp is that Oink doesn’t focus on places so much as on the things inside them. Instead of rating a local restaurant, for example, you would rate the pizza you had there. While it uses your location to make it easier for you to tag your discoveries, it doesn’t bother you with pointless check-ins.

Oink ios discoverThe app features the usual fixings you would expect from this kind of service: an activity stream, the ability to discover popular things around you, access to your profile and, of course, the ability to add your own ratings, photos and comments. While the app is extremely well designed, though, the real game-changer here isn’t so much the app itself, but the idea that users care more about finding interesting things or the best coffee around than the best restaurant or store

Rate Anything

In many ways, adding this granularity to these kinds of apps is really the next evolutionary step. After all, that cool coffee shop where all the hipsters hang out with their Macbook Airs may make a mean espresso, but may not actually make that great iced coffee you really want right now. While it clearly looks forward, though, Oink is also a throwback to the old days of Web 2.0, as its tagging system lets users tag virtually anything with any tag without imposing any clear structure.

Oink also goes beyond location by allowing you to rate and tag virtually anything. There is plenty of talk about books and games on the system right now, for example.

As users rate more items related to tags they are using, they will gain “cred.” This ramification element may attract some of the more competitive folks out there, but there are no Foursquare-like discounts to be had yet (which in return means you don’t have to worry about retaining your mayorship either, of course).

Verdict

Overall, then, Oink puts enough of a twist on this genre to be interesting – something that can’t be said about most of the new entrants in this oversaturated market for ratings+photo sharing apps. As any new service, it suffers from the fact that there isn’t much of a community on it yet – especially if you don’t live in San Francisco – but I’ve got a feeling that it will quickly attract a very dedicated following.



5:30 pm


Instapaper 4.0 Brings Redesigned Interface, Wikipedia Support and Search to its iPhone and iPad Apps

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Instapaper,  the popular distraction-free offline reading app for iOS, was probably among the first few apps I installed on both my iPhone and iPad and it has never left their respective homescreens since. Today, its developer Marco Arment launched version 4 of the app. It’s available in iTunes now and brings numerous new features that both new and existing users will appreciate. Among these are a redesigned interface , the ability to multi-select articles to archive, delete or move them in bulk, the ability to look up words in Wikipedia and support for footnotes from most websites.

The new design, which is most noticeable on the iPad, moves away from the list view and towards a more grid-like display of your saved articles. According to Instapaper’s developer, this makes for a more touch-friendly interface. The navigation options on the iPad are also now always in the left sidebar.

On the iPhone, the changes are a bit more subtle, but regular users will appreciate that the top status bar is now off by default, giving you more space for your articles (there is an option to turn it back on, though). With the status bar gone, though, you can obviously not check the time while you’re reading. To do so, you have to click on the Actions button in the lower toolbar, which will let the status bar slide back in for a moment.

More Social

Instapaper now also lets you connect your Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr accounts to pull in all the articles your friends have shared on these services. Until now, Instapaper only showed articles your friends liked on these services when they were also Instapaper users. It’s worth noting, though, that these links aren’t downloaded in the text-only view by default, but that you actually have to open up the actual website in the app first and tap the “Read Later” button before they are saved. This will likely make publishers happy, as they can still count ad impressions, though it may confuse the app’s users a bit at first.

Paid Search

One interesting new feature is also the ability to search through the articles you have already downloaded. This is a paid feature, however, available through in-app purchasing and Paypal. This new features costs $2.99 per 3 months.

But There’s More…

Other minor updates include better support for displaying the names of authors and publications, support for Wikipedia definitions, footnotes (though, arguably, only a few websites really use them), and an app directory that showcases Instapaper-compatible apps.

There are, of course, a number of smaller tweaks as well. You can find a full list here.



3:35 pm


Wajam Wants to Make Your Social Search More Social

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Social search is, without doubt, one of the hottest topics in the search engine business today. Google and Microsoft have made it the central focus of their latest search engine features and numerous small players are also trying to get a foothold in this nascent business. Among these smaller players is Wajam, a Canadian startup that lets you easily add social search results to virtually all of the majorsearch engines and shopping sites you use today, including Google, Bing, Amazon, Tripadvisor, Wikipedia, and Yelp.

The idea behind social search has always been intriguing, as there is, after all, a good chance that the links your friends share online are more relevant to you than other links. To make this really work, though, a social search engine needs to be able to easily tap into all your social networks, not just either Twitter or Facebook. That’s where Wajam shines. It lets you connect to all your favorite social networks and then indexes all the links (and the content of the pages these links point to) that your friends have shared. Then, when you search, it transparently pins these results at the top of your regular search results on your favorite search engine.

Among the nifty features here are the ability to also add your Google+ account and search through it – something that Google still doesn’t let its users do. You can also filter results so you just see photos or just the links a specific person has shared. Earlier this month, Wajam also added a location feature, which lets you easily see who of your friends live in a given city and what places your friends have liked there.

Earlier this week, I talked to the company’s founder and CEO Martin-Luc Archambault. According to Archambault, his team mostly consists of engineers, as the company runs its own servers and has to not just pull in a very large amount of data (my friends, for example, have shared more than 3.5 million links) but also rank it. The ranking, indeed, could still use some tweaking, but in general, the search results are relevant, though the best ones are often under the fold (by default, Wajam only shows one result).

Overall, though, Wajam has turned out to be quite a useful addition to my search arsenal, especially because it pulls in data from such a wide variety of sources.

wajam_wikipedia

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4:12 pm


iOS 5 Beta: So Widely Available Already, Users Leave Negative iTunes Reviews When Apps Crash

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The first developer-only beta version of iOS 5 has only been out for about a week, but it’s already clear that no other pre-release version of iOS has ever seen a wider release beyond the developer community than this one. It’s hard to pinpoint why this is the case, but there are clearly enough users who either paid $99 per year to become part of Apple’s developer program or who paid a rogue activation service a few dollars to get access to the beta that way. As iOS developer Malcom Barclay notes, this wide release has some interesting consequences for developers: some users are now leaving negative iTunes reviews for apps that don’t work on iOS 5 yet.

Ios 5 crashed please fix

Will Apple Crack Down on Fake Developer Accounts and Activation Resellers?

Few companies keep their betas under tighter wraps than Apple and the $99 developer fee has generally kept regular users from just installing a beta out of curiosity. Now, however, the rogue beta activation market continues to grow and even a $99 fee isn’t much of a deterrent anymore for those who really want to get the latest and greatest from Apple a few weeks early. Sadly, it seems some of these users don’t understand the meaning of the word ‘beta’ anymore.

It will be interesting to see if Apple will try to crack down on rogue installs when it’s ready to test the next major version of iOS. There’s little the company can do about those who want to pay $99, but we may see higher fees for developers who want to activate additional UDIDs (currently, every developer account comes with 100 additional activations for beta tests – a loophole that resellers then exploit).

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10:51 pm


Is Groupon Asking Merchants to Write Fake Yelp Reviews? (Updated)

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In a post on his blog Venture Level today, entrepreneur Romil Patel describes his experiences with running Groupon and LivingSocial deals. Overall, his experience with Groupon was not exactly positive, but what struck me while reading his account was that the Groupon representative he worked with asked him to create positive Yelp reviews for his own business.

Here is the relevant part from the post:

Later on, after the terms were accepted by me, my rep emails me and asks me to create Yelp reviews for my QSR [quick service restaurant], by having either my employees write how good my QSR is or having my “best” customers write them. I’m not too sure, but I’m confident this has to be against Yelp’s terms of service since this would be considered creating fake and biased reviews. Needless to say- I thought this was an ethics issue, and I didn’t do it.

Indeed, self-reviews are obviously against Yelp’s terms of service and rather unethical. It is striking that a Groupon representative would ask merchants to do this in the first place. Groupon often features excerpts from positive Yelp reviews when it advertises deals and this behavior immediately renders all of these reviews suspect.

It is hard to say if this is something other Groupon representatives do as well, or if this representative just went rogue. As Patel himself notes, maybe the Groupon representative he dealt with was just not up to par (he had numerous other issues with him as well).

I have asked Groupon for a statement and will update this post once I hear back.

Update (4/22 12:40pm PT): A Groupon spokesperson responded with the following statement:

We never ask merchants to falsify online reviews with those from their best customers or employees. We do use sites like Yelp and Citysearch to provide credible third-party reviews of the merchants we feature; if a merchant doesn’t have any, it’s difficult for us to run them because our customers expect that third-party approval. We will note this to the merchant and encourage them to ask *all* customers to post Yelp reviews, positive or negative. We’re much more likely to run a deal when we know our subscribers can make an educated purchase.



9:32 pm


News.meh

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News.me, an iPad-only news aggregator that was developed by Bit.ly developers Betaworks (in collaboration with the New York Times) made its debut in Apple’s app store today (iTunes link). The app presents you with a list of stories your friends on Twitter and select influencers chosen by the News.me editorial staff are reading. With the help of the data collected by Bit.ly, the feed is filtered according to how many times an article has been shared and clicked on. To use the app beyond the one-week trial period, users will have to pay $0.99 per week or $34.99 for a one-year subscription.

Among media pundits, News.me’s business model of redistributing the money it makes from subscriptions to the news outlets it has partnered with has been the main focus of attention. The majority of users couldn’t care less about this, though, and the app will have to justify its existence by offering an experience that users will actually want to pay for. As it stands right now, I don’t think I’ll pay for the service – especially given that Zite and Flipboard currently offer a superior experience for free.

newsmeh_large

Less About News.me – More About News.what-others-are-reading

In theory, the idea behind News.me is quite interesting. It allows you to see what others on Twitter are reading and highlights the best of these stories by using a PageRank-like algorithm based on Bit.ly’s massive trove of data. Because of this, though, News.me feels like it’s less about giving you a great personalized reading experience as it is about giving you a semi-voyeuristic view into the stories that stream through other users’ Twitter streams.

Sadly, you can only follow those Twitter users who are also subscribed to the service – making it substantially less useful than an app like Zite and Flipboard where no such restrictions exist. You also can’t vote content up or down – meaning that the personalization doesn’t extent much beyond looking at the “best” stuff that’s streaming through a given users’ Twitter channels. While apps like Zite or the Google Reader-based My6Sense iPhone app, News.me doesn’t learn anything from my reading behavior.

The reason News.me just isn’t that useful to me, even though the design is nice and I like the business model, is that when I’m browsing news, I want to browse by categories and topics. I don’t want to have to wade through a semi-random list of stories – many of which show up in multiple streams and hence make this service even less interesting.

Verdict

As it stands now, I don’t see a good reason for paying for News.me. The experience isn’t up to par with what other services offer for free and I’m not sold on the concept behind it. Want a personalized news experience on the iPad? Download Zite and Flipboard instead. Or, on the web, try Trove, which looks at stories shared by your Facebook friends.



1:06 pm


Reactions to Amazon's Cloud Drive Music Locker Launch

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Amazon just launched its online music locker last night and the topic is already dominating the discussion in the tech world this morning. Did Amazon get a jump on Apple and Google here in launching a service that these two tech giants don’t/can’t yet offer? Or is it really just a copycat product that quite a few other startups are already offering. What about the legalities of the service? Here are some of the most interesting reactions to the launch:

Hands on Reviews

Mashable’s Ben Parr: “Amazon has thrown down the gauntlet and set a high bar for cloud-based music streaming. Apple and Google, which are expected to launch their own cloud players sometime this year, will have to match Amazon on usability and price if they’re going to compete.”

GigaOm’s Kevin C. Tofel is generally positive about the service, likes the design and expects to continue to use the new MP3 streaming service, simply because of the convenience factor” (it’s worth noting that he was already a heavy Amazon MP3 customer).

Reactions

MediaMemo’s Peter Kafka is skeptical that this represents a big shift for music fans: Amazon’s Cloud Drive/Cloud Player combo sounds cool, because it has the word ‘Cloud’ in it. It’s quite useful, too. But if you’re a music lover looking for a paradigm shift in the way you consume tunes, this won’t be it.”

ReadWriteWeb’s Sarah Perez, too, is not blown away by the service and argues that it’s not as innovative as some make it out to be: “To be impressed with Amazon’s offering, you have to ignore the numerous startups already serving this space.”

TechCrunch’s MG Siegler wonders if this move will force Apple’s and Google’s hands and make them launch their music locker services sooner: “Amazon has won the race of the big three to deliver a fully cloud-supported music option. Current whispers have Google launching something very similar at their I/O conference in May. And Apple is working on a similar concept as well — but it may not launch until this fall. At least that was the original plan, Amazon’s move may alter things, obviously.

Legal Issues?

The music industry is obviously not too happy about this move. In the Guardian, Amazon’s director of music Craig Pape argues that Amazon doesn’t “need a licence to store music. The functionality is the same as an external hard drive.”

A Sony spokesman, on the other hand, tells the Financial Times that his company is “disappointed that the locker service that Amazon is proposing is unlicensed by Sony Music.



11:05 am