Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Microsoft takes Kumo for testdrive

In previous blog entries I've written about Microsoft loosing the online battle to Google and why they desperately need to team up with Yahoo. Google offers a whole suite of online applications, but at the core is of course Google's searchengine and this is where Microsoft wants to take the battle to in launching their new searchengine 'Kumo'

Earlier this week Microsoft announced that the company had started testing the new service, which is supposed to be much more intelligent that Google's. It is supposed to understand syntax and the relation between queries. Last monday CNet reported :

"Word that Microsoft was close to launching the new search tool began with a Twitter posting by Powerset co-founder Barney Pell, who now serves as a "search strategist and evangelist" for Microsoft. In the posting, reported by enthusiast site LiveSide, Pell did not mention the Kumo name, but said that the site was getting an updated user interface and new brand.

"Barney was referring to our internal testing environments," the Microsoft representative said, adding that the company had nothing to announce today. "We are not in a position to confirm what will come to the market or when." Microsoft acquired Pell's Powerset in July. "

According to yesterday's news at CNet, Kumo is a rebranded version of Microsoft Live Search. However, to stand more than a snowflake's chance in hell, Kumo needs to be a whole lot more than a mere revampt of the Live Search, which is the 3rd largest searchengine and currently has a marketshare of 8,5%, trailing Google (60%) and Yahoo (21%) by miles.

In yesterday's article at CNet they also laid hands on an internal Microsoft email calling out for testers. Here's a wee bit from the article:

In spite of the progress made by search engines, 40 percent of queries go unanswered; half of queries are about searchers returning to previous tasks; and 46 percent of search sessions are longer than 20 minutes. These and many other learnings suggest that customers often don't find what they need from search today.

We believe we can provide a better and more useful search experience that helps you not just search but accomplish tasks. During the test, features will vary by country, but you'll see results organized in a way that saves you more time. An explorer pane on the left side of results pages will give you access to tools that help you with your tasks. Other features like single session history and hover preview help accomplish more in search sessions.

Also from the same CNet article, a first screenshot of Kumo

For now, Kumo is the projects codename, but the blogoshere doubts it will be the final brandname. Officially, Kumo is Japanese for 'Cloud' and 'Spider' but sounds a little too much like that crazy dog, Cujo, from a Stephen King novel (according to ZDnet)

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Microsoft losing online battle

Microsoft is loosing the online battle. First and foremost, they're losing it to Google but (maybe a wee bit of a surprise), Apple is regaining authority on the web as well. A recent stat analysis by Net Applications showed that the Internet Explorer marketshare has dropped to an all time low of just (cough) 67,55% amongs the surfing crowd.

Most notable online competitor of course is the Mozilla Firefox, with a 21,53% market share. Take heed, Firefox is not the adversary from the old days, Netscape (which is down to a mere 0.57%), but a Google funded open source community thingy, which is rapidly reaching its end of life status. Chances are it will eventually be replaced with Google Chrome, which is up from nowt to 1.12%. As said in the introduction, Apple is slowly gaining weight again, with its popular iPhone and iPods, more and more people start the like the Apple way of life. In the last year, the Safari webbrowser increased it's market share from 5,82 to 8,29%.

Mind you, we're talking percentages here of web broswer users, so every percent counts for tens of millions of users. The image below is a summary of the first and last line of the Net Application results, showing the statistics for January 2008 (topline) and January 2009 (bottom line).

The upside of losing millions of customers

What we're looking at is a bunch of statistics, numbers and percentages. However, when you translate it, Microsoft has lost millions of customers on the online market in the past year. However, this loss may hold a bright spot for Microsoft in the European Union.

Microsoft and the European Union have been clashing heads over Microsoft's market dominance for years on end now. The EU has been investigating to see if the company has taken advantage of its position by offering the Internet Explorer as an integral feature of its Windows OS and deliberately straying away from internet standards making other browsers to work incorrectly.

Microsoft has noted that it's marketshare is going down and isn't as oblivious as it was before, hence there can be no talk of unfair competition.

Dominance or Survival?

Well, we've taken out a few million IE users, so what? Microsoft still is the preferred supplier to the vast majority of websurfers. What's the big deal?

The big deal is that we're seeing the first signs of Microsoft loosing the online battle, the war of the web. And they're loosing it to Google. I've written a few blogposts on this before (see referal list below) as I wrote that Microsoft desperately needs the cooperation with Yahoo to strengthen its online position.

More blogposts on Google, Microsoft & Yahoo:

Beware of Snakes dressed as Spiders

A lot of people I know are welcoming the downfall of Microsoft and Internet Explorer. Throughout the web we're familiar with the anti Microsoft campaigns, the Bill Gates parodies and we all cheer the efforts of the European Union to crack Microsoft's market position, but in the mean time, Google crawls its way to the top. Just earlier today I wrote how Google teamed up with Nasa to get Mars into Google Earth and in November I blogged the Google Flu tracker, which they'd developed in close cooperation with the government.

Whereas Microsoft seems to get the full load from Governments, they're actually helping Google to take over the position...

and worse.

More blogposts on Google's rising dominance:

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ballmer-Bartz Tango

The buzz has been on the street today, but it took Yahoo a little while to confirm it has appointed Carol Bartz as its new CEO.

Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO), a leading global brand and one of the world's most trafficked Internet destinations, announced today that Carol Bartz, a veteran technology executive who was most recently Executive Chairman of Autodesk (NASDAQ: ADSK), has been named Chief Executive Officer and a member of the Board of Directors, effective immediately.

Prior to becoming Executive Chairman of Autodesk in 2006, Bartz, 60, led Autodesk as CEO for 14 years, transforming the company into a leader in computer-aided design software. During her tenure as CEO, revenues increased from less than $300 million to more than $1.5 billion, and the company's share price increased nearly ten-fold.

[image Autodesk]

It takes two to tango and Carol Bartz will be Ballmer's counterpart in the dance called the MicroHoo soap. Last week Ballmer said it was time to strike a deal with Yahoo whilst both companies were in a management transition phase. 60 year old Bartz brings in a wealth of boardroom experience, but one can question if that's what Yahoo needs right now.

Bartz is a capable manager. She led Autodesk for 14 years between 1992 and 2006, keeping it from the PC software graveyard by focusing on CAD software for architects and builders. Autodesk, however, is an old-school software company. It is not exactly a great training ground for running an online advertising business attached to the most popular destinations on the Web. And as far as applications go, they are all Web apps and Yahoo gives them away for free.

I think Techcrunch has a point in questioning the suitability of this appointment, yet in the quote above I see no valid argumentation to support that question mark. Questioning the appointment would be the current lookout for both Yahoo and Microsoft.

I can understand Yahoo wanting a steady hand at the helm, a firm CEO with enough experience to take on Microsoft, but that would be a shortsighted deal. One way or the other Microsoft and Yahoo need to look beyond eachother and face Google in the coming net-war. With Microsoft bringing in the boardroom weight, Yahoo's chances would have been better with a visionary innovator, a charismatic passionate CEO, a young dog ready to take on Google where it hurts. If Bartz is strong enough to keep Ballmer at bay, Google will be the third dog walking away with the bone. They've already upped the ante in appointing former Yahoo genius Schachter yesterday and look primed and ready to face the MicroHoo challenge.

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Google ups the Ante in MicroHoo soap

Google just upped the ante in the MicroHoo soap. Just two days ago I commented on Microsoft's Steve Ballmer saying "Now is the time to strike a deal with Yahoo." In my blogpost I wrote that the teaming up of Microsoft and Yahoo would be their only chance to stand a snowballs chance in hell against the rise of Google.

First one to act on Ballmer's remarks is not leaderless Yahoo, but the upperdog, Google as it appoints former Del.icio.us founder Joshua Schacter.

Joshua Schachter, the creator of one of the most important consumer web applications in recent time, has joined Google, according to venture capitalist Josh Koppleman. Schachter's social bookmarking service Delicious was acquired by Yahoo! three years ago last month. Schachter was required to spend 2 years at the company after the acquisition but has now been a free man for six months. Schachter was working on some sort of secret project and worked with Upcoming.org co-founder Andy Baio, also rich and free years after a Yahoo! acquisition of his site, on one of the coolest Greasemonkey scripts we've ever seen.

Apparently all that innovative energy will now go into Google. Schachter was vocally frustrated in his final days at Yahoo! with what a drag it was to try to innovate inside that company - we hope he finds a more supportive environment at Google. We assume he doesn't need to work, so he must have gotten himself a pretty sweet gig there. We are excited to see what Schachter and his new friends at Google come up with together.

We've asked Schachter for details about his new job and will update this post with anything we learn. (Updated: Schachter stopped by here but didn't have anything to say other than telling us to spell his name right.) TechCrunch smartly noticed that Schacter's LinkedIn profile now says that he's a "member of the technical staff at Google." Congrats on the new Job, Josh!

(Source: Read-Write-Web Jobwire)

As the article reports, Schachter has the inside info on Yahoo where he got frustrated. Microsoft might be looking to get a frim foothold on the search market by acquiring, or teaming with Yahoo, but Google is changing the ballpark instantly. Adding a social heartbeat like Del.icio.us to searches might lead to interesting ventures.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Ballmer: It's time to strike a deal with Yahoo


If there has to be made a deal between Microsoft and Yahoo, now is the time according to Steve Ballmer. The Microsoft CEO who recently visited and commented on this blog sat down for a talk with the Financial Times yesterday to put the pressure back on the MicroHoo soap which started nearly a year ago.

Both companies are in a management transition phase these days. Microsoft hired Qi Lu, a former top gun at Yahoo to reposition their online business, whereas Yahoo is on the lookout for a new CEO after Jerry Yang stepped down. Ballmer said:

"If a search deal is to be made, it's probably to be made in the interim period for new leaders in both places."

The MicroHoo soap started last year with Microsoft placing a full take over bid. After that was dropped, a Search deal was worked out, but once more it failed. Now Steve Ballmer is putting the pressure back on. After the last deal fell through, Jerry Yang's position at Yahoo was severely compromised as Wall Street analysts have estimated that a deal could add more than $12bn to Yahoo's value. In hiring Qi Lu, Microsoft made a tactical move to pave the way for a new deal.

I've never regarded Microsoft to be tactical, but they're getting smarter. Ballmer's timing this week is impeccable as well. Yahoo is said to be closing in on a replacement for Jerry Yang, but closing in on them while Yahoo is without a strong leader and the current credit crunch sentiments is once again a smart move.

They have to get smarter, because Microsoft is no longer the leader of the pack. They've been moved into the underdog position against Google and Microsoft needs to make the online transition in order to survive. The internet is the frontier as more and more activity is done webbased. Everything is moving from home computing to cloud computing. In the near future, hardly any application will be run from a pc, nor will any file be stored on a pc. It will be webservers that run the show. In this outlook, Microsoft is losing a business case in Operating Systems. It needs to step up their online activity. Microsoft and Yahoo will both loose the online war to Google if they remain independent.

You know what. Probably a year ago I would have written a very negative story on Microsoft. We still have a tendency to hate that money making machine to a certain extend, and we've all been cheering time and again as the European Committee fined Microsoft for gaining undisered monopoly positions on the market. That sentiment is slowly changing. Very slowly. More and more Google is crawling into that dominant position, although this dragon doesn't have a head to slay as Microsoft once had in the days of Bill Gates.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Plaxo looking for the People Layer

A few weeks ago I made a few remarks about the new fanpages on plaxo (currently in beta) on twitter, which got picked up by John McCrea, head of Marketing at Plaxo. About the same time I blogged Yahoo's oneConnect in which I wondered what the differences were with services like Plaxo.
In my book, Plaxo didn't have the best of starts, as it carried the smell of Napster. Way back in 2004 David Coursey wrote a (2nd) article on Plaxo, titled "Plaxo Reconsidered" at eWeek.com.

The big issue was that one of Plaxos co-founders, now departed, was also a co-founder of Napster. That company, of course, was basically about enabling people to steal other peoples intellectual property. My own opinion is that some Napster people should have ended up in jail. After the Napster meltdown, Plaxo was positioned as the "next big thing" for this ex-Napster exec. That publicity helped Plaxo raise $20 million in venture money and gave the new company more credibility than it would otherwise have had.

I don't want to get into the Napster story here, and just concentrate on Plaxo. I think the Napster background serves well in positioning the founders as being early experts in networking and understanding the power of virals. What I wonder though is, what were the initial thoughts on Plaxo? What was it that the founders envisioned. What was Plaxo supposed to do, or grow into? And what's still standing of that original conception?

Although I was not there at the time (as I joined in 2006), the original concept was to help people stay connected by leveraging the power of a networked address book. But not just another online address book, one that synced with the various tools you used, like Microsoft Outlook or the Mac address book. The vision is still pretty much the same, but the challenges of staying connected have expanded in a world of many different social apps. That’s what gave rise to Pulse, the first social web aggregator, which brings your address book to life, with feeds from your connections from all over the Web. What’s interesting to note is that the original “grand vision” observed that the Internet was missing a “people layer.” Now, as web itself is going social, and the Social Web is going open, that grand vision is looking smarter with each passing month, as we help a new “Open Stack” of OpenID, OAuth, XRDS-Simple, Portable Contacts, and OpenSocial come together to enable exactly that.

Another quote from the Coursey article:

Given that I consider Napster money and influence to be tainted, I was immediately concerned about Plaxo, especially when I couldnt imagine how they could turn the company into a huge moneymaker without doing something shady.

There were other things Plaxo did, such as keeping track of how many information requests Id received and using the number in e-mails to try to convince me to sign-up. That seemed a bit like stalking and, along with a few comments and rumors Id heard about the company, only intensified my concern.

His initial hesitation against Plaxo is one I share, but this wasn't untill sometime early 2007, when I started receiving tons of invites untill finally almost everyone in my company was using Plaxo, so I signed up also. I reckon many people have felt that initial hesitation. Did it affect the way you did business in any way, did it temper your expectations for the platform? When most invites at that time were generated by my professional network, I assumed Plaxo would take on the competition with LinkedIn for instance, being a profiling site plus extra features to lifelog. When looking at the current profiling options, it looks like it's somewhere in between LinkedIn and Facebook. Was Plaxo aimed at professionals to take on the competition with LinkedIn?

Plaxo has always had a broader vision than simply “business networking.” We are keenly focused on providing a better way to stay connected with the people you know and care about, rather than being a service that is for “networking” or connecting with people you don’t know.

The latest addition to Plaxo are the fanpages in which you can sign up as fan of a tv series. Right now this feature is only available to US residents. Are there any plans to go beyond GEO blocking and make this feature available worldwide?

The geographic restrictions are not Plaxo-specific, but rather come from the content sources. You’ll note that everyone in the space is dealing with the same issue.
[to work around geoblocking read this blogpost on hotspot shield]
Considering this latest addition, is Plaxo moving away from say LinkedIn and moving closer to Facebook, from business oriented to more social oriented?

We aren’t moving toward or away from either company. We are continuing to move further down the path that we started upon back in 2002.

From the Coursey article again:

Plaxos current mission is to reach 10 million users and $10 million in annual revenue as quickly as possible. Right now they are at more than 3 million users and essentially zero revenue. The Plaxo execs asked that I not pre-announce their forthcoming products, but they discussed them in enough detail that I have great confidence that Plaxo wont abuse its customers. A key part of their plan is finding other services that Plaxo customers would be willing to pay for. There is no plan to discontinue the free service, only to add revenue-producing products to the offering.

Well, I figure you've more than doubled the 10m users now, but where are we with revenues? This previous quote, as well as the first one about the 20m VC gets me thinking about the Business Case behind Plaxo. I've discussed this with colleagues of mine. Maybe it's because we're Dutch, but we just can't see where the money is to be made. Signing up is free, there are hardly any adds and datatraffic streaming all the lifestreams must be huge. Where's the return on investment for Plaxo?

The return on investment for the investors in Plaxo came earlier this year when the company was acquired by Comcast. Our current business model is a combination of Premium services and advertising.

What can you tell about new features for Plaxo? What are must haves for you?

As you may have noticed, Plaxo shows up in the majority of news announcements around opening up the Social Web. Plaxo is today one of the largest and most prominent OpenID Relying Parties (sites that accept OpenID). With Yahoo, Microsoft, Google, and MySpace really heating up the OpenID space working on a great end-to-end OpenID user experience is an area of critical focus. And that’s really all about getting not just the sign-on piece right, but leveraging the whole Open Stack to make onboarding to a new site as frictionless, secure, and useful as possible.

I'd like to think I've got a pretty big digital footprint and participate in dozens of social networks and platforms. Initially I thought that Plaxo had a number of advantages. One was that it gave you more flexibility in managing groups than LinkedIn and you that with the new Pulse you could plug into tons of services. However, when I look at my own usage of Plaxo, I just plug in and let it stream, and it's what I see happening with dozens of colleagues. We sign up, use it for contacts, but that's it. In a way, Plaxo is converging channels into one stream, just like most sociall apps right now. This is, I believe the design flaw in the current web 2.0 landscape.In the past year I've thought a great deal about web 2.0 and how we deal with it, how we use it. We spread our names all over the web, signing up everywhere and leaving parts of ourselves all over. The major issues we have to deal with -in my opinion - are privacy and identity management which need to be elevated from a classical corporate solution to be web 2.0 ready. At plaxo, you've got millions of users putting private information into your databases. How do you deal with this? Where do you see Privacy going in this changing information age?

As you can imagine, privacy, security, and trust are critical to the success of our service. We have one of the strongest privacy policy’s in the industry. And we are focused on giving users fine-grained control of what they share with whom. Hence, not every relationship is forced under the term “friend”. When you give people a choice of family, friend, business, it unlocks a lot of sharing that would not be possible otherwise.

As LinkedIn now is gearing up with adding more collaborative tools, it will be pretty interesting to see what the competition will bring us, users and if the world is big enough for multiple players in the market. To be honest, I have spent more time and energy on my LinkedIn profile than I did with my Plaxo account, and although lately I'm starting to favor Plaxo a bit more, I think it's just not good enough yet to relocate my digital self. Both Plaxo and LinkedIn, as well as Facebook and oneConnect still have too many design flaws in common where it comes to Identity Management for me. At this time, they're players in the same yard to me, with each addition the scales might be tilting slightly, but I don't predict a big landslide here in the near future.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Connect - Again?

It's been around for a while, but somehow it hasn't reached critical mass yet in Europe. It was not untill yesterday that I noticed Yahoo had a nice new app out on the web: oneConnect. It was launched as early as februar this year.

Yahoo has upped the ante in its campaign to rule the mobile Web.

On Tuesday, the company announced at the GSMA Mobile World Congress here OneConnect, a new tool that allows mobile phone users to aggregate their social-networking updates and messaging in one spot on their phones. The service integrates directly with a phone user's address book and allows people to share status updates and messages from a variety of messaging and social-networking platforms. This means it can provide status updates from Facebook or MySpace.com as well as provide access to e-mail and archived instant-messaging chats. [Read full article here at CNet]



Okay, here we go again. Time for yet another tribal migration, another MeToo social networking app where we can leave our personal data up for grabs. Right now every new web 2.0 app is about converging streams, plugging things into something else, creating more of the same data stream, to pretty much the same people. Why is this different than say Facebook, or Plaxo?

Let's have a look at some of the features.

There is a distinct difference. oneConnect does connect. It doesn't require building a new profile like Facebook, LinkedIn and Facebook. It simply leverages my existing social networks in their current states which saves me going through the hassle of importing contacts and extensive profiling once more.

oneConnect services the usual stuff, converging contacts and lifestreams from multiple sources, but also adds some new features into the mix.

This is what I consider oneConnect's biggest advantage over the existing competition, it allows you to post across different platforms. Better yet, it let's you select which platform you want to push your content to. And although we often use these platforms for specific purposes, often we'd like to update our status to all of our networks, or just to announce a new blogpost without starting up Pownce, Twitter and Jaiku.

Another new one (to my knowledge) in the social space is the integration with Instant Messaging applications making oneConnect one of the most versatile communication platforms out there at the moment.

Now does this all make oneConnect the next killer app for the web? Not yet. It isn't stable yet, it's buggy and has performance issues. It doesn't support enough feeds or services yet and you're pretty limited in the amount of contacts you can add.

Aside from the number of feeds and sources to leverage, there are a few other things that are still lacking to get the next revolution going. We still need some innovation to make the next level of social networking. Yes, oneConnect has some nice extra features over other lifestream aggregators and social portals but it isn't enough to herald a new massive tribal migration on the web just yet.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Google Chrome: Less is More but also more is less

Less is more

Back in the old days of the internet you had search engines with gigantic amounts of search categories and click by click by click you narrowed your search. These old dogs -like Yahoo, Alta Vista and Lycos- are still around, somewhere in the dark corners of the net but driven away by a search engine everyone ridiculed at first: Google.

Opposing the enourmous yellow pages of the web, there suddenly was a company that brought to you an empty screen with a single textbox to search. No way this would work. Well, Google is one of the Titans now, hungry enough to take on the world. It's picking on Microsoft now. Their first shot was Google Docs and stuff, taking on the Microsoft Office suite and now there's Chrome.

Chrome is Google's new webbrowser, released for download just yesterday and it bears the same marks as the Search Engine that shook the world: It's minimalistic. Whereas the Microsoft family tries to offer you dozens of features you'll never use (but put a pricetag on them anyway), this Chrome webbrowser is lean and mean.

"Google Chrome is a browser that combines a minimal design with sophisticated technology to make the web faster, safer, and easier."

Mmm... safer, I don't know. Heard they already found its first leak, but faster is always welcome.

More is less

Right now, Microsoft's Internet Explorer holds about 70% of the browser market, 20% is up for Firefox and the last 10% divided over the others, such as Opera and Safari, but no doubt this new browser will take a big chunk out of IE's marketshare and could well mean the end of Firefox. The development of Firefox is mainly open source, Google Chrome will be open source as well, which means you -as a consumer become a prosumer and build the product you want yourself. It makes the product better, and gets you addicted to it in the same run. The other part of the Firefox development is Google funded, so that's a well soon to dry up I guess:

Mitchell Baker, chairperson of the Mozilla Foundation admits it herself on her blog:

Another important element is the financial resources Mozilla enjoys. We’ve just renewed our agreement with Google for an additional three years. This agreement now ends in November of 2011 rather than November of 2008, so we have stability
in income. We’re also learning more all the time about how to use Mozilla’s financial resources to help contributors through infrastructure, new programs, and new types of support from employees.

Okay, so that propably means Firefox is going to pull the plug in 2011, after Google has had time to establish itself and suck out every usefull Firefox option.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I, You and Wii trends 2007

It's december now and a spectacular year of booming business is coming to an end. Here and there the first anthologies are starting to appear. You may have guessed; it's been a good year for Apple. No big surprises here, aside from the smash hit "Guitar Hero"

From: The Year of I, You, and Wii
  1. YouTube
  2. Wikipedia
  3. Facebook
  4. iTunes
  5. iPod
  6. iPhone
  7. Nintendo Wii
  8. Xbox
  9. Sony PlayStation 3
  10. Guitar Hero
Another list with no real surprises is the Celebrity Downslide list, also by Yahoo
  1. Britney Spears
  2. Paris Hilton
  3. Anna Nicole Smith
  4. Vanessa Anne Hudgens
  5. Nicole Richie
  6. Amy Winehouse
  7. Rosie O'Donnell
  8. Tara Conner
  9. Michael Vick
  10. Owen Wilson

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