Archive for July, 2007

An open conversation about Wikia

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

An interesting open conversation about Wikia caught my attention today. Last week, Wikia, the collaborative search engine project of Jimmy Wales, had posted additional information on its forum pages including a mission statement. Michael Zimmer reacted to the core principles with a great post, pointing to the fundamental privacy issued that are involved in the strategic choices of providing a search engine. Wikia stated privacy protection as nr 4 of its core principles, but what does that actually mean? Will Wikia not collect identifiable information or will it also make the “faustian bargain” of giving great search in exchange for creating a “database of intentions”. He got fast and open (and short…) anwers to his principal questions.

From that, we can conclude that Wikia sees personalization as connected more to the advertsing than search itself. (Wikia made a deal with LookSmart) It wants to make personalization and data retention something that users can opt-out of. I would vote for opt-in, so privacy protection would be a default setting. I actually don’t understand why Wika would want to give too much weight to the interests of its advertisers. It seems that it needs users, developers and editors in the first place. Advertisers will follow if they have a search platform that gets used and queries allow for targeting already. Better think about making a good search engine first, tham try to make some money out of it later on. If the organic search results suck, the only thing that is left are the advertisers…

I hope the conversation will continue. The information and discussion on the Wikia community pages is a great start and hopefully the Wikia platform will some day be a great new option for finding information on the Web.

My SDP presentation

Friday, July 27th, 2007

Here are the slides for my presentation at the Oii Summer Doctoral Programme 2007, at the Berkman center for Internet & Society. There are some good search engine law references in the end. I got more out of it then I hoped for; some great comments, both from students and faculty.

Adam suggested to think about the different perspectives in terms of practical (business) models, like William Fisher’s Noank media, which he had presented earlier yesterday.

Alla pointed to the continuing necessity of having enough focus and restricting myself in my work. She asked also the simple but relevant question: “How do you measure freedom of expression?”

One of the more critical remarks came from Fred. He missed a sense of the development of the technology and the protocols involved and the complexity of having any succes with regulations succes on that front. I generally agree with him. Regulating search engines through the technology is very hard to imagine. There is so much innovation going on.

Further more the question was raised whether the way I framed my research would be still relevant in a few years. I think I focused on a particular question for web search, the implications of freedom of expression for search engine law and regulatory involvement with web search engines, that will still be relevant in 2015. Of course web search will evolve. The way i defined search engines now is very open because of that. As James Grimmelmann notes in his article, “The structure of search engine law”, search engines include not only Google, Yahoo and Ask. Ebay is for a big part a search engine, as are p2p networks. Recommendation systems are another example. All these different search engines are going to evolve. How would that affect my research? Finally my answer would be that the work i chose to do, has to be done anyway, and the more people study this fundamental question for web search and the future of the web the better.

Urs Gasser, Berkman faculty, who was there to give feed-back on my presentation pointed to a big theoretical issue. In the presentation I framed the question about freedom of expression for web search, as a problem of conflicting ‘freedom of expression’ interests; of online speakers (to be included an ranked well), of the user (to freely search on the web) and of the search engine (to freely deploy their great technology). The question is how to solve this apparent conlict. Urs Gasser encouraged me to think about criteria, principles and different viewpoints to solve this conflict (and similar conflicts). If it is just a matter of balancing, the answer remains a little arbitrary. If I can come up with a convincing framework of criteria, that would be a really great contribution, because this is an old and fairly open issue.

Presentation SDP 2007

Internet users critisize Google’s “data greed”

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

The German Working Group on Data Retention, an association of civil rights campaigners, data protection activists and Internet users, sent an open letter to Google today about its data collection policies. The letter argues that Google’s data collection does not comply with Germany and EU data protection.

“Furthermore we know that intelligence agencies – even in democratic societies – use (or more accurately abuse) the data you collect in order to spy on human rights or environmental NGOs, on legitimate protest groups and local activists. The only way to prevent abuse is to refrain from collecting personally identifiable data in the first place.”

Can featuring links can be misleading?

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

Google Blogoscoped has a post about a placement of a promotional result that was not identified as such. Google has to be really careful with this. I actually think it’s not a clever move at all. This particular result takes the best part of the page.

One Full Summer Doctoral Week in Boston

Saturday, July 21st, 2007

I am starting to enjoy myself better every day here in Cambridge, Ma. Yesterday was the last day of the first week of the Summer Doctoral Programme and a good one it was. We started off with a session about copyright – leads Brian Fitzgerald and Wendy Seltzer – focusing primarily on intermediary liability in the context of copyright infringement. I was looking forward to this session because of my dissertation I plan to deal with liability of search engine intermediaries as well. We talked about the Viacom- Youtube lawsuit and about different recent Perfect 10 cases in the United States. I was impressed by the way Brian Fitzgerald made the material and important issuesjoris-ifo-mit.jpg understandable for the group; there are a lot of people without a legal background. My conclusion with regard to balancing copyright enforcement with freedom of speech was: It is better to have 10 infringing pieces on the Web than 1 non-infringing piece taken down.

The next session was about democratic participation and new media, lead by Henry Jenkins and Carrie Lambert-Beatty. Jenkins is the author of ‘Convergence Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide‘. They showed some great videos and talked about the boundaries of policial participation and the possible empowerment by new media.

In the afternoon we went to visit MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is quite close to Harvard but has a totally different atmosphere on the campus. We first visited the Media Lab, than the One Laptop Per Child project and after that Chintan Vaishnav, one of the PhD’s in our group, gave a wonderful tour around the campus, full of little witty anecdotes.

The Media Lab was amazing. If you want your child to study somethingolpc technical you have to take it there. If I would have seen that when I was 13 or 14, I would have dreamt of going to study at M.I.T. for the rest of my high school period. The child in me was further rewarded at the One Laptop Per Child center, where we were allowed to play a little with them. I had read about these laptops and their functionalities in a Dutch newspaper a couple of weeks ago. That had made me think I would love to have one myself. I wish the OLPC all the best with further implementing this project.

We finished the day with a dinner at a wonderful chinese place. The chinese in our company, Mena Ning Wang and Sampsung Xiaoxiang Shi , ordered a range of great and tasty dishes. I alomost exploded after that. After dinner we walked around on Harvard Square, where a strange kind of commercial hysteria had taken a hold on the Cambridge population. There was a line of at least 2000 people waiting to buy a copy of the new Harry Potter book. At least they were waiting for a book. The iPhone hysteria was even harder to understand.

For more info on the various sessions and activities, visit our bloggers Ismael and Daithi. or our SDP aggregator.

Ask goes Privacy

Friday, July 20th, 2007

See here for a good read. Ask will allow users to decide whether or not search logs are stored.

Update: The privacy aspect of search engine databases is really gaining momentum.

Theseus gets 150 Million State Aid

Friday, July 20th, 2007

The German branch of the originally franco-german Quaero project gets further funding. The idea is to build something European on the search engine technology level. Theseus is a project in which many companies, such as Bertelsmann work together. I would not be suprised if a significant amount of this money will dissolve into unneeded overhead.

Google called to testify on DoubleClick takeover

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

Google will have to testify on their takeover of Doubleclick, as reported by the New York Times. “A subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee is planning to call a hearing to explore the antitrust and privacy issues raised not only by the Google deal but also by recent consolidation in the online advertising market, according to a person familiar with the planned hearing.”

So both antitrust and privacy issues related to the deal will be subject of scrutiny.

Australia’s consumer organization sues Google

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

Australia’s consumer organization has sued Google over deception regarding intransparancy of the difference between sponsored and organic results.

Search engine quality

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

Here’s an interview with Google’s vp of engineering about search engine quality.

Some picks:

we have a wonderful team of people whose sole purpose is to evaluate search results, that’s what they do. They use hundreds and thousands of different data points and they measure things all the time, and they also evaluate those experiments and those new ideas.

PageRank is still an important parameter, but it’s just one parameter. And, there are all kinds of parameters, [...] all the obvious traditional information retrieval parameters. There are many others that we invented and there is the combination of all of them, which is really where the hard work is being done…

We don’t change things with specific queries. We don’t improve one query at a time. That does not scale.

Q: Are there other examples you can provide or anecdotes of situations that led to algorithm tweaks or improvements? [Palo Alto example in the New York Times] Udi Manber: There are many such examples, but I’m, I am hesitant to go into specific ones, because, that’s our big advantage.

I think, personalization is very important, but I think over-personalization is probably not good. The key is to find the right balance. If we discover that you’re interested in sports, and then you search for medical information, we shouldn’t give you only sports medicine results.”

If you search for “I have a dream”, if you did that five years ago, you were probably looking for the text of the speech. You wouldn’t think necessarily that you could actually see that speech. So, you wouldn’t search for the video of the speech because you wouldn’t think that you can do that. And, if we show it to you, it’s not necessarily what you said you are looking for it, but there is a good chance that you want to do that. That’s a nice discovery, and will cause people to search more videos, because now they realize that they can find more videos.

Q: Do you picture at anytime having any kind of editorial oversight in the form of Google employees looking over results an editorial perspective? Udi Manber: We have no plans of doing that in the foreseeable future.

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