SiliconFilter

Linked Pages: Bing Now Lets You Curate and Highlight Links that Are About You

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Google may have Google+, but Bing has a close relationship to an ever bigger and more important social network: Facebook. While Google now highlights your Google+ profile when people search for you, Bing has been showing Facebook profiles in its search results for quite a while now. With its new “linked pages” tool, however, Bing is now taking this concept a bit further. Bing now also lets you choose which of your social networking profiles and websites will be featured in a special box at the top of its search results pages when people search for your name. According to Bing, appropriate sites would also include your city, school or employer, for example. This feature is only available in the U.S. so far.

Given that Google has been widely criticized for putting too much emphasis on links to its own social network, it is worth noting that Bing uses your Facebook profile as its main result and then highlights the other pages you curate underneath that. Your Google+ profile, of course, can be one of these links, too.

bing_appear_001

Link to Me

Thanks to its close relationship with Facebook, it’s no surprise that Bing uses the social network as the basis for this tool. You use it to log in to Bing to customize your links, for example, and you can also post newly linked sites to your Facebook profile as well. To prevent you from spamming your friends with new links, only the first link of the day will be posted in your Facebook timeline.

The Bing team has decided to go one step further, though, and also allows others to make suggestions for sites you could be connected to. This linking isn’t automatic, though, and Bing will always ask you for permission first.

You can, of course, always remove a link as well.

linked_pages

Getting Started

Here is how all of this works in practice:

You first log in to Bing’s Linked Pages tool (using your Facebook credentials). Then, Bing will display all the pages it found about you and then lets you choose which of those links are really about you (and not about somebody you share a name with).

Similarly, you can search for your friends (assuming you are also their friend on Facebook) and then suggest sites that are linked to them.

Video

You can see the feature in action below (narrated by an oddly infomercial-sounding Stefan Weitz):

<a data-cke-saved-href="http://video.msn.com/?vid=649129a0-2e8a-40c8-87cc-4c3b003a7dbf&mkt=en-us&src=SLPl:embed::uuids" href="http://video.msn.com/?vid=649129a0-2e8a-40c8-87cc-4c3b003a7dbf&mkt=en-us&src=SLPl:embed::uuids" target="_new" title="Make a Good Search Impression with Bing’s Linked Pages">Video: Make a Good Search Impression with Bing’s Linked Pages</a>



10:15 am


The Evolution of Foursquare: An Interview With Dennis Crowley

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Foursquare checked into our lives in 2009 and has rapidly grown its user base to 15-million, tripling in just over a year. And now the US-based service reports that just over half of its users reside overseas, largely in emerging market countries.

The social network is a piece of innovation that has won the hearts and minds of the fickle early-adopter crowd. It’s an online tool that plays in the rather hot and bubbly SoLoMo space. It’s a mobile-social network designed to give users information and recommendations about their immediate surroundings, allowing them to check in at venues.


This post first appeared on Memeburn and was written by Michelle Atagana. Memeburn is an award-winning site based in South Africa that tracks emerging technologies primarily in emerging markets, including the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. SiliconFilter occasionally features relevant posts from MemeBurn.


To say there is hype in this sector of the online world is an understatement, with start-ups proliferating in this space. SoLoMo is such a buzzword at the moment that it even prompted the respected Forrester Research CEO, George Colony, to say that these services will be “swept away” in a new “post-social era”. Late last year, Colony shocked everyone at a Le Web conference by outrightly dismissing Foursquare as “nonsense”.

Foursquare’s competitors are formidable. Look no further than Facebook, which sports its own check-in services in Facebook Places.

But Foursquare founder and CEO, Dennis Crowley, isn’t perturbed. This is a service that has “carved out a space”, and is showing no sign of slowing down.

Memeburn caught up with Crowley to talk about the company’s future, plans for emerging markets, and the beauty and future promise of Microsoft’s Windows Phone.

An early adopters’s game

Memeburn: You seem to have quite a following with early adopters, whereas when we look at Facebook, it has a much broader audience. Is that an intentional target market?

Dennis Crowley: It’s not intentional. I think it’s just how this stuff grows. Facebook started off with college campuses, Twitter was the early adopter tech crowd. A lot of people thought Foursquare would become half a million users and not go beyond that. There was a million and two million and five million and 10 million… I think it’s just a way that these things grow. If you think about it, Facebook is eight years old, Twitter’s five years old, whereas Foursquare is two years old, so we have a long way to go to get to those numbers. I feel pretty satisfied with the way we’ve been growing so far.

MB: Is there a strategy to grow beyond the early adopters?

DC: Yes, you know we have a lot of partnerships. We have a partnership with Orange, we do a lot of stuff with the New York Times and stuff for TV shows back in the States. One of the reasons we have a development guy in Europe now is to take advantage of all the opportunities there because it’s those things that will bring Foursquare to the masses.

MB: Looking at Foursquare fundamentally… what would motivate a user to check in on a regular basis?

DC: …it’s being able to see what our friends have been doing. A lot of people are using Foursquare just for its recommendation engine… [they would ask] like hey what should I do when I’m in this neighbourhood? You’ve got recommendations, you’ve got specials… you’ve got all those tips on the services as well, so people are motivated in different ways.

MB: Do you find that the novelty of wearing badges wears off after a while?

DC: Yes, badges are the thing that keeps people interested long enough to understand everything else that’s going on within the app, and you know they were designed that way and they’re very effective that way, so we’ll keep making changes because we want all users to be excited about badges. But I’m not surprised at all that people only use the badges for two months, but then they’re already hooked on the recommendation.

MB: You mentioned recently that you’re cutting down on badges — what does that mean exactly?

DC: So every single event should possibly have a badge, but that doesn’t make them special any more, so we like to think of badges as a thing you earn for interesting achievements, and not badges just for showing up. So when I say we’re cutting down, it’s more like we don’t do event badges but you do get the coffee badge for going to a lot of different coffee shops.

MB: Have you ever thought about expanding the game beyond just checking into places?

DC: Yes we thought about including a way to check-in to books, TV and music. But there are a whole lot of other start-ups doing that and I’d rather we just focus on location because it gives us a really good, strong focus. I think it’s very easy to get distracted by checking into everything… which is not what we want to do.

Emerging markets and beyond

MB: So what’s your emerging market plan? Not just for South America, but China and Indonesia?

DC: We’ve been thinking about our international plans a lot. About 50% of our users are outside the US and you know we have to be strategic about it because we’re still a relatively small company, we’re about a hundred people.

I know it seems big but for what we’re trying to do it’s small. We have one guy in Europe now, and we’ll see how that goes. We might expand to the Asia Pacific region, and expand to Latin America. We’re considering those things but we’re not ready to move onto that yet. We’re going to see how we do with one person in Europe almost in the same way that we did in San Francisco, and it turned into a twenty-person office. We’ll see what happens when we get one guy here and go to another couple of countries and see how that turns out.

MB: What’s your Africa traffic like?

DC: It’s not a huge growth area for us. Right now we’re seeing big growth in Indonesia, in Japan, and parts of Europe. We’ve seen a lot of activity in South Africa but we haven’t seen a lot of change across the entire continent, it’s something we’re keeping an eye on.

Mobile, social and the evolving platform

MB: We know that social-local-mobile is the big buzz. Do you think location-based services are the trend for the future or will it eventually pass?

DC: … location-based services are huge. It’s going to be part of everything we do, it’s going to be part of every social service, every recommendation service, services I can take advantage of, about where you’ve been, places you would like to go, all that stuff is valuable, it’s being entered into everything else.

People like Google Maps right? They use Google Maps all the time. If I can take Google Maps and put dots on where all your friends are all the time — I think that would be much more exciting.

MB: Do you foresee a time where Foursquare will be an HTML 5 app only?

DC: It could happen in the future, we have been doing experiments. HTML 5 apps are great but apps in appstores are still key… you’re starting to see more apps that use HTML 5 within the app, you’ll see something like that with Foursquare. A lot of the time you might not even see it, some of the app is HTML 5 and some of it is native control, the user doesn’t know the difference.

MB: As a company are you still betting on native apps?

DC: For now, yeah. Apps are the distribution platform, but whatever is in the app is up for grabs… the native Android controls and iPhone UX doesn’t really matter.

MB: What are your thoughts on the Windows phone?

DC: Yes we have an app for the Windows Phone. We worked with the folks from Microsoft to help build it. We’re starting to see more of that pick-up. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the new Nokia deal with Windows running on a Nokia platform. We hear from our users that the app works pretty well.

MB: And your views on the interface and the way Microsoft has rolled out the new phone?

DC: I think the phone is beautiful, it pushes the interface in really interesting ways. It’s fun to see people build Foursquare apps for that platform because they will be imagining what the UX looks like in a way that is different from what we imagined.

MB: I must say that I find the Blackberry app quite buggy. Is that something that you’d fix?

DC: BlackBerry can be a difficult platform to develop for because there are different handsets, environments, different screen sizes. But I think it’s [the Blackberry App] relatively stable. We have bugs from time-to-time on other devices as well such as Android and iPhone.

MB: And the future for Foursquare?

DC: Just to do a lot more of what we’re doing. One of the things we’re trying to do is get ideas out there for all the different types of products out there. Now we have to go back and make them a lot tighter and cleaner. I think we’ve carved out our space, this is what we want to do as a company and the rest is just to make sure that the rest of the world knows it.

MB: And your business model? Are you happy with revenues?

DC: Yes — we’re still at that phase now where we’re trying to grow as quickly as possible. It’s not about monetising immediately or becoming profitable, it’s building a huge audience and building an amazing product and then all the other stuff will work itself out. We do think a lot about the [business side], like having amazing partnerships with American Express. We’ve got more than 600 000 merchants that use Foursquare platforms.

MB: There seem to be two major routes to go — either a freemium model service or an advertising route. Do you have any preference or is it a case of both?

DC: Yes I think there’s a case for advertising that benefits the user. Peter Kafka from the Wall Street journal wrote a great piece which was: “Thank you Foursquare for this advertisement“, which was a living social deal about places he goes to all the time, and he’s like “this is great, this is exactly what targeted ads are supposed to be”.

I’m getting a deal, it’s targeted because it knows that I like these places, I’ve been there before, and you know that’s the direction we’re going’, it’s suddenly pushing you in the direction of things you like to do.

Image: Matthew Buckland



9:19 am


Google Reader: It’s Still Alive and Getting a Facelift, But Will Lose its Social Features

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Google Reader, the company’s popular feed reader, long looked like the forgotten stepchild of Google+ and other more recent products at Google. As the company continued to update the look and feel of many of its products in the last few months, Reader looked like it would be left behind. Today, however, Google announced that Reader will soon get a facelift as well. At the same time, though, it looks as if Reader will also lose some features, as Google is moving all of its social efforts to Google+.

Among those features that will soon be retired are “friending, following and shared link blog inside of Reader.” According to Alan Green, a software engineer on the Google Reader team who wrote today’s announcement, Google thinks “he end result is better than what’s available today, and you can sign up for Google+ right now to start prepping Reader-specific circles.” Google Reader will, however, get support for Google+ sharing and Google notes that “many of Reader’s social features will soon be available via Google+.”

Alive, But on Life Support?

It’s worth noting that for a long time now, the development of Google Reader looked like it had come to a halt. There haven’t really been any major updates to Reader in more than a year and according to some of the people I have talked to at Google, most of the original team has been disbanded and was working on other products. Google+ itself offers a feed reader-like feature with Sparks, though this currently remains one of the least developed parts of the service.

It’s not clear if today’s announcement heralds the beginning of renewed development of Google Reader, or if the new design is simply meant to bring the product’s look up to date but won’t extend beyond that.



5:20 pm


Social Search: Deeper Facebook Integration Pushes Microsoft Past Google

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Microsoft today announced a deeper integration of Facebook’s ‘like’ data with its Bing search engine. This data now powers a number of new features that don’t just make Bing’s social search competitive but actually better and more useful than Google’s current efforts in the social search arena.

While Google is able to pull in data from Twitter and a number of other services (including its own recently launched +1 and public Facebook fan pages), Microsoft is the only major search engine with access to Facebook’s firehose. Thanks to this, Bing now shows you whenever a friend has ‘liked’ a site that appears on your search results page and pushes these results to the top of the page, too.

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Collective IQ

In addition to these highly personalized results, Bing now also takes aggregate ‘like’ data into account while ranking search results. Thanks to this, Bing will now surface recipes on cooking sites that were ‘liked’ by a certain number of other Facebook users or which books on Amazon are currently popular.

Besides these major additions, Bing also launched a number of other features, including the ability to build a “travel wish list” that also shows you which of your friends live or have lived in a given city and the ability to receive notifications of flight deals when you ‘like’ a Bing flight search result.

Like vs. +1 and the Twitter Firehose

With the millions of ‘like’ buttons on the Web today, there can be little doubt that having access to this data firehose allows Bing to present more relevant data to mainstream users than Google currently can with its Twitter integration (there are, after all, far more users on Facebook than on Twitter). Google simply doesn’t have access to this data, which is likely one of the reasons why it started its +1 initiative. With +1, though, Google is far behind Facebook. Indeed, +1 is still just a labs product and the company will only launch +1 buttons for third-party sites in the next few weeks.



2:44 pm


Improving Social Search by Getting Opinions About Opinions

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When it comes to social search and social recommendations, there is a lot of hype around the concept, but given that a user’s social graph is – almost by default – limited, there are major gaps in both accuracy and coverage when it comes to putting this concept into reality. While Google +1 and Bing’s implementation of Facebook ‘like’ data are trying to find ways around this, Microsoft researcher Mohammad Raza argues (PDF) that we need a smarter recommendation system that is based on the idea that “your friends know you and can best predict your taste” and that social search can be greatly improved upon with the help of prediction extraction.

Note: you can download Raza’s paper here.

Flaws in Today’s Social Search Schemes

To understand why this matters, let’s look at how most of today’s social search and recommendation systems work. As Raza points out, the two main ideas behind social search today are that “your friends are like you” and “people we agree on certain things also agree on others.” In reality, though, individuals and communities are far more complex than this. Users may agree with friends on some things (pizza), but disagree on others (politics). While Razza doesn’t go into this, it’s also worth noting that the idea of “friendship” on social networks has become so diluted that many of you “friends” today have little to none in common with you.

Then, there’s the problem of coverage. Users generally only talk about and rate items when they have a strong positive or negative opinion about something. “Part of the difficulty,” writes Raza, “is to motivate people to give more feedback on more mundane items, or items that may be important to different people under different circumstances.”

How to Fix This?

Raza argues that we can past these problems by getting users’ opinions about others’ opinions. Even if your friends don’t agree with you about everything, they are, says Raza, “actually the people who know you best” (his emphasis). The idea the, is to “elicit predictions about the target user’s opinion of a certain item from the user’s friends who have experienced the item, and aggregate these predictions to construct an estimation of the target user’s opinion of the item before he has experienced it.”

Raza proposes to use a Facebook app that allows users to rate items they have experiences (movies, news, events, food, YouTube videos etc.). The unique twist here is that this app will also ask users to predict how one or more of their friends would rate this item.

Once a user then actually experiences this item (say a YouTube video) and rates it, this score will be used to train the algorithm and the software can learn which of your friends know you best and take their ratings into account when presenting you search results or other recommendations. Of course, the algorithm will also learn if your friends are good at predicting anybody’s reaction in general or if they are just good at predicting your reaction in certain areas.

Raza also proposes to push this system even further by allowing users to give reasons why they think a friend would like an item and elaborate on their opinions. Say your friend thinks you will like the movie “Inception” because it has Leonardo DiCaprio in it or because large parts of it play in Paris. The algorithm will then know that these are things you like (assuming your friend has been classified as trustworthy) and can tweak its recommendations accordingly.

For now, of course, there are no public implementations of this idea, but it does sound intriguing. In my experience, I find myself drawn more to purely algorithmic recommendation systems like my6sense and Zite than social apps like Flipboard and News.me because they have come to know my tastes better than my wide-flung group of friends on Facebook and Twitter. Chances are, though, if these social recommendation algorithms knew which friends to trust and who knows me best, this hybrid system that pulls in a far wider range of signals could present me with better recommendations than either system alone ever could.



9:27 am


Y Combinator's Hacker News Reaches 1 Million Pageviews Per Day

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It’s not quite Reddit, which now sees 1 billion pageviews per month, but Y Combinator‘s Hacker News just announced that it now serves up 1 million pages per day. Hacker News, which is a social news site that specializes in news stories related to technology startups, was founded by Y Combinator founder Paul Graham in February 2007 and has quickly become one of the go-to sites for anybody who is interested in the world of tech startups.

In total, Hacker News now sees about 90,000 unique visitors per day. Its users register about 25,000 votes on any given weekday. Hacker News’ growth has been slow but steady over the last few years. In December 2008, the site had about 20,000 unique users.

Today, Hacker News functions as a virtual water cooler for young startups to exchange news stories, tips and tricks and their own experiences. For publishers, it has also become a major source of traffic. A story that ranks high on Hacker News can easily drive more than 10,000 pageviews.

Hacker news screenshot

Digg, which is at its core a very similar site, suffers greatly from users and publishers who try to game the system in order to rise up in the ranks of active users or drive pageviews to their sites. Compared to Digg, Hacker News is an incredibly civil site. Comment threads can often be contentious but generally stay polite – maybe because the site isn’t driven so much by the votes and submissions of a small group of users who think that getting lots of upvotes is a worthwhile goal in and of itself.

The challenge for Hacker News will be to keep the quality of the comments and submissions at a high level as it grows. As the community grows and continues to drive traffic, chances are that it’ll become a bigger target for marketers and spammers. Hopefully, reaching 1 million pageviews per day won’t be the tipping point for this.



12:49 pm


Google Puts Renewed Focus on Real-Time Search with New Social Search Test

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Somehow I completely missed the fact that those blue “shared by” links on Google’s search results page that I started seeing a few days were new. Given the pace of the search giant’s development cycle, I have to admit that I’m sometimes actually rather confused about what’s new and what’s been around for a while on Google…

But these “shared by” links are clearly new – and more and more people are now seeing them, too, so this seems to be more than just one Google’s many bucket tests and could be here to stay. These links tend to appear underneath links to news items in the OneBox news results section when you search for recent events. Another new feature is a live count of recent updates that now appears underneath the “Recent Updates” box when you search for keywords that are currently popular or trending on Twitter and Facebook.

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All of this points to a new emphasis of real-time search results in Google. Over on Search Engine Land, Danny Sullivan speculates that Google could soon restrict these searches to just your friends, which is entirely possible and would make sense in light of Bing’s recent addition of more social features, but I actually find the new focus on real time more interesting. All of these new links, after all, point to Google’s real-time search feature, which was mostly hidden from sight until now. Instead of just pointing to a somewhat cryptically names “Updates” section in the sidebar, this new test actually explains that these updates come from “Twitter, MySpace, Facebook and more.”



11:06 pm