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Posts Tagged ‘Networking’

Google: “We’re Not Doing a Good Job with Structured Data”

Written by Sarah Perez / February 2, 2009 7:32 AM / 9 Comments


During a talk at the New England Database Day conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Google’s Alon Halevy admitted that the search giant has “not been doing a good job” presenting the structured data found on the web to its users. By “structured data,” Halevy was referring to the databases of the “deep web” – those internet resources that sit behind forms and site-specific search boxes, unable to be indexed through passive means.

Google’s Deep Web Search

Halevy, who heads the “Deep Web” search initiative at Google, described the “Shallow Web” as containing about 5 million web pages while the “Deep Web” is estimated to be 500 times the size. This hidden web is currently being indexed in part by Google’s automated systems that submit queries to various databases, retrieving the content found for indexing. In addition to that aspect of the Deep Web – dubbed “vertical searching” – Halevy also referenced two other types of Deep Web Search: semantic search and product search.

Google wants to also be able to retrieve the data found in structured tables on the web, said Halevy, citing a table on a page listing the U.S. presidents as an example. There are 14 billion such tables on the web, and, after filtering, about 154 million of them are interesting enough to be worth indexing.

Can Google Dig into the Deep Web?

The question that remains is whether or not Google’s current search engine technology is going to be adept at doing all the different types of Deep Web indexing or if they will need to come up with something new. As of now, Google uses the Big Table database and MapReduce framework for everything search related, notes Alex Esterkin, Chief Architect at Infobright, Inc., a company delivering open source data warehousing solutions. During the talk, Halevy listed a number of analytical database application challenges that Google is currently dealing with: schema auto-complete, synonym discovery, creating entity lists, association between instances and aspects, and data level synonyms discovery. These challenges are addressed by Infobright’s technology, said Esterkin, but “Google will have to solve these problems the hard way.”

Also mentioned during the speech was how Google plans to organize “aspects” of search queries. The company wants to be able to separate exploratory queries (e.g., “Vietnam travel”) from ones where a user is in search of a particular fact (“Vietnam population”). The former query should deliver information about visa requirements, weather and tour packages, etc. In a way, this is like what the search service offered by Kosmix is doing. But Google wants to go further, said Halevy. “Kosmix will give you an ‘aspect,’ but it’s attached to an information source. In our case, all the aspects might be just Web search results, but we’d organize them differently.”

Yahoo Working on Similar Structured Data Retrieval

The challenges facing Google today are also being addressed by their nearest competitor in search, Yahoo. In December, Yahoo announced that they were taking their SearchMonkey technology in-house to automate the extraction of structured information from large classes of web sites. The results of that in-house extraction technique will allow Yahoo to augment their Yahoo Search results with key information returned alongside the URLs.

In this aspect of web search, it’s clear that no single company has yet to dominate. However, even if a non-Google company surges ahead, it may not be enough to get people to switch engines. Today, “Google” has become synonymous with web search, just like “Kleenex” is a tissue, “Band-Aid” is an adhesive bandage, and “Xerox” is a way to make photocopies. Once that psychological mark has been made into our collective psyches and the habit formed, people tend to stick with what they know, regardless of who does it better. That’s something that’s a bit troublesome – if better search technology for indexing the Deep Web comes into existence outside of Google, the world may not end up using it until such point Google either duplicates or acquires the invention.

Still, it’s far too soon to write Google off yet. They clearly have a lead when it comes to search and that came from hard work, incredibly smart people, and innovative technical achievements. No doubt they can figure out this Deep Web thing, too. (We hope).

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Yahoo to Enable Custom Semantic Search Engines

Written by Marshall Kirkpatrick / February 11, 2009 9:14 AM / 2 Comments


Yahoo is bringing together two of its most interesting projects today, Yahoo BOSS (Build Your Own Search Service) and SearchMonkey, its semantic indexing and search result enhancement service. There were a number of different parts of the announcement – but the core of the story is simple.

Developers will now be able to build their own search engines using the Yahoo! index and search processing infrastructure via BOSS and include the semantic markup added to pages in both results parsing and the display of those results. There’s considerable potential here for some really dazzling results.

We wrote about the genesis of Search Monkey here this Spring, it’s an incredibly ambitious project. The end result of it is rich search results, where additional dynamic data from marked up fields can also be displayed on the search results page itself. So searching for a movie will show not just web pages associated with that movie, but additional details from those pages, like movie ratings, stars, etc. There’s all kinds of possibilities for all kinds of data.

Is anyone using Yahoo! BOSS yet? Anyone who will be able to leverage Search Monkey for a better experience right away? Yahoo is encouraging developers to tag their projects bossmashup in Delicious. As you can see for yourself, there are a number of interesting proofs of concept there but not a whole lot of products. Of the products that are there, very few seem terribly compelling to us so far.

We must admit that the most compelling BOSS implementation so far is over at the site of our competitors TechCrunch. Their new blog network search implementation of BOSS is beautiful – you can see easily, for example, that TechCrunch network blogs have used the word ReadWriteWeb 7 times in the last 6 months. (In case you were wondering.)

Speaking of TechCrunch, that site’s Mark Hendrickson covered the Yahoo BOSS/Search Monkey announcement today as well, and having worked closely on the implementation there he’s got an interesting perspective on it. He points out that the new pricing model, free up to 10,000 queries a day, will likely only impact a handful of big sites – not BOSS add-ons like TechCrunch search or smaller projects.

The other interesting part of the announcement is that BOSS developers will now be allowed to use 3rd party ads on their pages leveraging BOSS – not just Yahoo adds. That’s hopeful.

Can Yahoo do it? Can these two projects brought together lead to awesome search mashups all over the web? We’ve had very high hopes in the past. Now the proof will be in the pudding.

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2009 Predictions and Recommendations for Web 2.0 and Social Networks

Christopher Rollyson

Volatility, Uncertainly and Opportunity—Move Crisply while Competitors Are in Disarray

Now that the Year in Review 2008 has summarized key trends, we are in excellent position for 2009 prognostications, so welcome to Part II. As all experienced executives know, risk and reward are inseparable twins, and periods of disruption elevate both, so you will have much more opportunity to produce uncommon value than normal.

This is a high-stakes year in which we can expect surprises. Web 2.0 and social networks can help because they increase flexibility and adaptiveness. Alas, those who succeed will have to challenge conventional thinking considerably, which is not a trivial exercise in normal times. The volatility that many businesses face will make it more difficult because many of their clients and/or employees will be distracted. It will also make it easier because some of them will perceive that extensive change is afoot, and Web 2.0 will blend in with the cacaphony. Disruption produces unusual changes in markets, and the people that perceive the new patterns and react appropriately emerge as new leaders.

2009 Predictions

These are too diverse to be ranked in any particular order. Please share your reactions and contribute those that I have missed.

  1. The global financial crisis will continue to add significant uncertainty in the global economy in 2009 and probably beyond. I have no scientific basis for this, but there are excellent experts of every flavor on the subject, so take your pick. I believe that we are off the map, and anyone who says that he’s sure of a certain outcome should be considered with a healthy skepticism.
    • All I can say is my friends, clients and sources in investment and commercial banking tell me it’s not over yet, and uncertainty is the only certainty until further notice. This has not yet been fully leeched.
    • Western governments, led the the U.S., are probably prolonging the pain because governments usually get bailouts wrong. However, voters don’t have the stomachs for hardship, so we are probably trading short-term “feel good” efforts for a prolonged adjustment period.
  2. Widespread social media success stories in 2009 in the most easily measurable areas such as talent management, business development, R&D and marketing.
    • 2008 saw a significant increase in enterprise executives’ experimentation with LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and enterprise (internal) social networks. These will begin to bear fruit in 2009, after which a “mad rush of adoption” will ensue.
    • People who delay adoption will pay dearly in terms of consulting fees, delayed staff training and retarded results.
  3. Internal social networks will largely disappoint. Similar to intranets, they will produce value, but few enterprises are viable long-term without seamlessly engaging the burgeoning external world of experts.
    In general, the larger and more disparate an organization’s audience
    is, the more value it can create, but culture must encourage emergent, cross-boundary connections, which is where many organizations fall down.

 

  • If you’re a CIO who’s banking heavily on your behind-the-firewall implementation, just be aware that you need to engage externally as well.
  • Do it fast because education takes longer than you think.
  • There are always more smart people outside than inside any organization.
  • Significant consolidation among white label social network vendors, so use your usual customary caution when signing up partners.
    • Due diligence and skill portability will help you to mitigate risks. Any vendor worth their salt will use standardized SOA-friendly architecture and feature sets. As I wrote last year, Web 2.0 is not your father’s software, so focus on people and process more than technology.
    • If your vendor hopeful imposes process on your people, run.
  • No extensive M&A among big branded sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter although there will probably be some. The concept of the social ecosystem holds that nodes on pervasive networks can add value individually. LinkedIn and Facebook have completely different social contexts. “Traditional” executives tend to view disruptions as “the new thing” that they want to put into a bucket (”let them all buy each other, so I only have to learn one!”). Wrong. This is the new human nervous system, and online social venues, like their offline counterparts, want specificity because they add more value that way. People hack together the networks to which they belong based on their goals and interests.
    • LinkedIn is very focused on the executive environment, and they will not buy Facebook or Twitter. They might buy a smaller company. They are focused on building an executive collaboration platform, and a large acquisition would threaten their focus. LinkedIn is in the initial part of its value curve, they have significant cash, and they’re profitable. Their VCs can smell big money down the road, so they won’t sell this year.
    • Twitter already turned down Facebook, and my conversations with them lead me to believe that they love their company; and its value is largely undiscovered as of yet. They will hold out as long as they can.
    • Facebook has staying power past 2009. They don’t need to buy anyone of import; they are gaining global market share at a fast clip. They already enable customers to build a large part of the Facebook experience, and they have significant room to innovate. Yes, there is a backlash in some quarters against their size. I don’t know Mark Zuckerberg personally, and I don’t have a feeling for his personal goals.
    • I was sad to see that Dow Jones sold out to NewsCorp and, as a long-time Wall Street Journal subscriber, I am even more dismayed now. This will prove a quintessential example of value destruction. The Financial Times currently fields a much better offering. The WSJ is beginning to look like MySpace! As for MySpace itself, I don’t have a firm bead on it but surmise that it has a higher probability of major M&A than the aforementioned: its growth has stalled, Facebook continues to gain, and Facebook uses more Web 2.0 processes, so I believe it will surpass MySpace in terms of global audience.
    • In being completely dominant, Google is the Wal-Mart of Web 2.0, and I don’t have much visibility into their plans, but I think they could make significant waves in 2009. They are very focused on applying search innovation to video, which is still in the initial stages of adoption, so YouTube is not going anywhere.
    • I am less familiar with Digg, Xing, Bebo, Cyworld. Of course, Orkut is part of the Googleverse.
  • Significant social media use by the Obama Administration. It has the knowledge, experience and support base to pursue fairly radical change. Moreover, the degree of change will be in synch with the economy: if there is a significant worsening, expect the government to engage people to do uncommon things.
    • Change.gov is the first phase in which supporters or any interested person is invited to contribute thoughts, stories and documents to the transition team. It aims to keep people engaged and to serve the government on a volunteer basis
    • The old way of doing things was to hand out form letters that you would mail to your representative. Using Web 2.0, people can organize almost instantly, and results are visible in real-time. Since people are increasingly online somewhere, the Administration will invite them from within their favorite venue (MySpace, Facebook…).
    • Obama has learned that volunteering provides people with a sense of meaning and importance. Many volunteers become evangelists.
  • Increasing citizen activism against companies and agencies, a disquieting prospect but one that I would not omit from your scenario planning (ask yourself, “How could people come together and magnify some of our blemishes?” more here). To whit:
    • In 2007, an electronic petition opposing pay-per-use road tolls in the UK reached 1.8 million signatories, stalling a major government initiative. Although this did not primarily employ social media, it is indicative of the phenomenon.
    • In Q4 2008, numerous citizen groups organized Facebook groups (25,000 signatures in a very short time) to oppose television and radio taxes, alarming the Swiss government. Citizens are organizing to stop paying obligatory taxes—and to abolish the agency that administers the tax system. Another citizen initiative recently launched on the Internet collected 60,000 signatures to oppose biometric passports. German links. French links.
    • In the most audacious case, Ahmed Maher is using Facebook to try to topple the government of Egypt. According to Wired’s Cairo Activists Use Facebook to Rattle Regime, activists have organized several large demonstrations and have a Facebook group of 70,000 that’s growing fast.
  • Executive employment will continue to feel pressure, and job searches will get increasingly difficult for many, especially those with “traditional” jobs that depend on Industrial Economy organization.
    • In tandem with this, there will be more opportunities for people who can “free-agent” themselves in some form.
    • In 2009, an increasing portion of executives will have success at using social networks to diminish their business development costs, and their lead will subsequently accelerate the leeching of enterprises’ best and brightest, many of whom could have more flexibility and better pay as independents. This is already manifest as displaced executives choose never to go back.
    • The enterprise will continue to unbundle. I have covered this extensively on the Transourcing website.
  • Enterprise clients will start asking for “strategy” to synchronize social media initiatives. Web 2.0 is following the classic adoption pattern: thus far, most enterprises have been using a skunk works approach to their social media initiatives, or they’ve been paying their agencies to learn while delivering services.
    • In the next phase, beginning in 2009, CMOs, CTOs and CIOs will sponsor enterprise level initiatives, which will kick off executive learning and begin enterprise development of social media native skills. After 1-2 years of this, social media will be spearheaded by VPs and directors.
    • Professional services firms (PwC, KPMG, Deloitte..) will begin scrambling to pull together advisory practices after several of their clients ask for strategy help. These firms’ high costs do not permit them to build significantly ahead of demand.
    • Marketing and ad agencies (Leo Burnett, Digitas…) will also be asked for strategy help, but they will be hampered by their desires to maintain the outsourced model; social media is not marketing, even though it will displace certain types of marketing.
    • Strategy houses (McKinsey, BCG, Booz Allen…) will also be confronted by clients asking for social media strategy; their issue will be that it is difficult to quantify, and the implementation piece is not in their comfort zone, reducing revenue per client.
    • Boutiques will emerge to develop seamless strategy and implementation for social networks. This is needed because Web 2.0 and social networks programs involve strategy, but implementation involves little technology when compared to Web 1.0. As I’ll discuss in an imminent article, it will involve much more interpersonal mentoring and program development.
  • Corporate spending on Enterprise 2.0 will be very conservative, and pureplay and white label vendors (and consultants) will need to have strong business cases.
    • CIOs have better things to spend money on, and they are usually reacting to business unit executives who are still getting their arms around the value of Web 2.0, social networks and social media.
    • Enterprise software vendors will release significant Web 2.0 bolt-on improvements to their platforms in 2009. IBM is arguably out in front with Lotus Connections, with Microsoft Sharepoint fielding a solid solution. SAP and Oracle will field more robust solutions this year.
  • The financial crunch will accelerate social network adoption among those focused on substance rather than flash; this is akin to the dotbomb from 2001-2004, no one wanted to do the Web as an end in itself anymore; it flushed out the fluffy offers (and well as some really good ones).
    • Social media can save money.. how much did it cost the Obama campaign in time and money to raise $500 million? Extremely little.
    • People like to get involved and contribute, when you can frame the activity as important and you provide the tools to facilitate meaningful action. Engagement raises profits and can decrease costs. Engaged customers, for example, tend to leave less often than apathetic customers.
    • Social media is usually about engaging volunteer contributors; if you get it right, you will get a lot of help for little cash outlay.
    • Social media presents many new possibilities for revenue, but to see them, look outside existing product silos. Focus on customer experience by engaging customers, not with your organization, but with each other. Customer-customer communication is excellent for learning about experience.
  • Microblogging will completely mainstream even though Twitter is still quite emergent and few solid business cases exist.
    • Twitter (also Plurk, Jaiku, Pownce {just bought by Six Apart and closed}, Kwippy, Tumblr) are unique for two reasons: they incorporate mobility seamlessly, and they chunk communications small; this leads to a great diversity of “usage context”
    • Note that Dell sold $1 million on Twitter in 2008, using it as a channel for existing business.
    • In many businesses, customers will begin expecting your organization to be on Twitter; this year it will rapidly cease to be a novelty.

    2009 Recommendations

    Web 2.0 will affect business and culture far more than Web 1.0 (the internet), which was about real-time information access and transactions via a standards-based network and interface. Web 2.0 enables real-time knowledge and relationships, so it will profoundly affect most organizations’ stakeholders (clients, customers, regulators, employees, directors, investors, the public…). It will change how all types of buying decisions are made.

    As an individual and/or an organization leader, you have the opportunity to adopt more quickly than your peers and increase your relevance to stakeholders as their Web 2.0 expectations of you increase. 2009 will be a year of significant adoption, and I have kept this list short, general and actionable. I have assumed that your organization has been experimenting with various aspects of Web 2.0, that some people have moderate experience. Please feel free to contact me if you would like more specific or advanced information or suggestions. Recommendations are ranked in importance, the most critical at the top.

    1. What: Audit your organization’s Web 2.0 ecosystem, and conduct your readiness assessment. Why: Do this to act with purpose, mature your efforts past experimentation and increase your returns on investment.
      • The ecosystem audit will tell you what stakeholders are doing, and in what venues. Moreover, a good one will tell you trends, not just numbers. In times of rapid adoption, knowing trends is critical, so you can predict the future. Here’s more about audits.
      • The readiness assessment will help you to understand how your value proposition and resources align with creating and maintaining online relationships. The audit has told you what stakeholders are doing, now you need to assess what you can do to engage them on an ongoing basis. Here’s more about readiness assessments.
    2. What: Select a top executive to lead your organization’s adoption of Web 2.0 and social networks. Why: Web 2.0 is changing how people interact, and your organizational competence will be affected considerably, so applying it to your career and business is very important.
      • This CxO should be someone with a track record for innovation and a commitment to leading discontinuous change. Should be philosophically in synch with the idea of emergent organization and cross-boundary collaboration.
      • S/He will coordinate your creation of strategy and programs (part-time). This includes formalizing your Web 2.0 policy, legal and security due diligence.
    3. What: Use an iterative portfolio approach to pursue social media initiatives in several areas of your business, and chunk investments small.
      Why: Both iteration and portfolio approaches help you to manage risk and increase returns.
    • Use the results of the audit and the readiness assessment to help you to select the stakeholders you want to engage.
    • Engage a critical mass of stakeholders about things that inspire or irritate them and that you can help them with.
    • All else equal, pilots should include several types of Web 2.0 venues and modes like blogs, big branded networks (Facebook, MySpace), microblogs (Twitter), video and audio.
    • As a general rule, extensive opportunity exists where you can use social media to cross boundaries, which usually impose high costs and prevent collaboration. One of the most interesting in 2009 will be encouraging alumni, employees and recruits to connect and collaborate according to their specific business interests. This can significantly reduce your organization’s business development, sales and talent acquisition costs. For more insight to this, see Alumni 2.0.
    • Don’t overlook pilots with multiple returns, like profile management programs, which can reduce your talent acquisition and business development costs. Here’s more on profile management.

     

  • What: Create a Web 2.0 community with numerous roles to enable employees flexibility.
    Why: You want to keep investments small and let the most motivated employees step forward.

    • Roles should include volunteers for pilots, mentors (resident bloggers, video producers and others), community builders (rapidly codify the knowledge you are gathering from pilots), some part-time more formal roles. Perhaps a full-time person to coordinate would make sense. Roles can be progressive and intermittent. Think of this as open source.
    • To stimulate involvement, the program must be meaningful, and it must be structured to minimize conflicts with other responsibilities.
  • What: Avoid the proclivity to treat Web 2.0 as a technology initiative. Why: Web 1.0 (the Internet) involved more of IT than does Web 2.0, and many people are conditioned to think that IT drives innovation; they fall in the tech trap, select tools first and impose process. This is old school and unnecessary because the tools are far more flexible than the last generation software with which many are still familiar.
    • People create the value when they get involved, and technology often gets in the way by making investments in tools that impose process on people and turn them off. Web 2.0 tools impose far less process on people.
    • More important than what brand you invest in is your focus on social network processes and how they add value to existing business processes. If you adopt smartly, you will be able to transfer assets and processes elsewhere while minimizing disruption. More likely is that some brands will disappear (Pownce closed its doors 15 December). When you focus your organization on mastering process and you distribute learning, you will be more flexible with the tools.
    • Focus on process and people, and incent people to gather and share knowledge and help each other. This will increase your flexibility with tools.
  • What: Manage consulting, marketing and technology partners with a portfolio strategy. Why: Maximize flexibility and minimize risk.
    • From the technology point of view, there are three main vendor flavors: enterprise bolt-on (i.e. Lotus Connections), pureplay white label vendors (SmallWorldLabs) and open (Facebook, LinkedIn). As a group, pureplays have the most diversity in terms of business models, and the most uncertainty. Enterprise bolt-ons’ biggest risk is that they lag significantly behind. More comparisons here.
    • Fight the urge to go with one. If you’re serious about getting business value, you need to be in the open cross-boundary networks. If you have a Lotus or Microsoft relationship, compare Connections and Sharepoint with some pureplays to address private social network needs. An excellent way to start could be with Yammer.
    • Be careful when working with consulting- and marketing-oriented partners who are accustomed to an outsourced model. Web 2.0 is not marketing; it is communicating to form relationships and collaborate online. It does have extensive marketing applications; make sure partners have demonstrated processes for mentoring because Web 2.0 will be a core capability for knowledge-based organizations, and you need to build your resident knowledge.
  • Parting Shots

    I hope you find these thoughts useful, and I encourage you to add your insights and reactions as comments. If you have additional questions about how to use Web 2.0, please feel free to contact me. I wish all the best to you in 2009.

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    Evolving Trends

    Google Warming Up to the Wikipedia 3.0 vision?

    In Uncategorized on December 14, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    [source: slashdot.org]

    Google’s “Knol” Reinvents Wikipedia

    Posted by CmdrTaco on Friday December 14, @08:31AM
    from the only-a-matter-of-time dept.

     

    teslatug writes “Google appears to be reinventing Wikipedia with their new product that they call knol (not yet publicly available). In an attempt to gather human knowledge, Google will accept articles from users who will be credited with the article by name. If they want, they can allow ads to appear alongside the content and they will be getting a share of the profits if that’s the case. Other users will be allowed to rate, edit or comment on the articles. The content does not have to be exclusive to Google but no mention is made on any license for it. Is this a better model for free information gathering?”

    This article Wikipedia 3.0: The End of Google?  which gives you an idea why Google would want its own Wikipedia was on the Google Finance page for at least 3 months when anyone looked up the Google stock symbol, so Google employees, investors and executive must have seen it. 

    Is it a coincidence that Google is building its own Wikipedia now?

    The only problem is a flaw in Google’s thinking. People who author those articles on Wikipedia actually have brains. People with brains tend to have principles. Getting paid pennies to build the Google empire is rarely one of those principles.

    Related

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    Tech Biz  :  IT   

    Murdoch Calls Google, Yahoo Copyright Thieves — Is He Right?

    By David Kravets EmailApril 03, 2009 | 5:00:18 PMCategories: Intellectual Property  

    Murdoch_2 Rupert Murdoch, the owner of News Corp. and The Wall Street Journal, says Google and Yahoo are giant copyright scofflaws that steal the news.

    “The question is, should we be allowing Google to steal all our copyright … not steal, but take,” Murdoch says. “Not just them, but Yahoo.”

    But whether search-engine news aggregation is theft or a protected fair use under copyright law is unclear, even as Google and Yahoo profit tremendously from linking to news. So maybe Murdoch is right.

    Murdoch made his comments late Thursday during an address at the Cable Show, an industry event held in Washington. He seemingly was blaming the web, and search engines, for the news media’s ills.

    “People reading news for free on the web, that’s got to change,” he said.

    Real estate magnate Sam Zell made similar comments in 2007 when he took over the Tribune Company and ran it into bankruptcy.

    We suspect Zell and Murdoch are just blowing smoke. If they were not, perhaps they could demand Google and Yahoo remove their news content. The search engines would kindly oblige.

    Better yet, if Murdoch and Zell are so set on monetizing their web content, they should sue the search engines and claim copyright violations in a bid to get the engines to pay for the content.

    The outcome of such a lawsuit is far from clear.

    It’s unsettled whether search engines have a valid fair use claim under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The news headlines are copied verbatim, as are some of the snippets that go along.

    Fred von Lohmann of the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out that “There’s not a rock-solid ruling on the question.”

    Should the search engines pay up for the content? Tell us what you think.

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    BusinessWeek logo

    Networking technology gives companies a new set of tools for recruiting and customer service—but privacy questions remain

    By Rachael King

    Encover Chief Executive Officer Chip Overstreet was on the hunt for a new vice-president for sales. He had homed in on a promising candidate and dispensed with the glowing but unsurprising remarks from references. Now it was time to dig for any dirt. So he logged on to LinkedIn, an online business network. “I did 11 back-door checks on this guy and found people he had worked with at five of his last six companies,” says Overstreet, whose firm sells and manages service contracts for manufacturers. “It was incredibly powerful.”

    So powerful, in fact, that more than a dozen sites like LinkedIn have cropped up in recent years. They’re responding to a growing impulse among Web users to build ties, communities, and networks online, fueling the popularity of sites like News Corp.’s (NWS) MySpace (see BusinessWeek.com, 12/12/05 “The MySpace Generation”). As of April, the 10 biggest social-networking sites, including MySpace, reached a combined unique audience of 68.8 million users, drawing in 45% of active Web users, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

    Of course, corporations and smaller businesses haven’t embraced online business networks with nearly the same abandon as teens and college students who have flocked to social sites. Yet companies are steadily overcoming reservations and using the sites and related technology to craft potentially powerful business tools.

    PASSIVE SEARCH.

    Recruiters at Microsoft (MSFT) and Starbucks (SBUX), for instance, troll online networks such as LinkedIn for potential job candidates. Goldman Sachs (GS) and Deloitte run their own online alumni networks for hiring back former workers and strengthening bonds with alumni-cum-possible clients. Boston Consulting Group and law firm Duane Morris deploy enterprise software that tracks employee communications to uncover useful connections in other companies. And companies such as Intuit (INTU) and MINI USA have created customer networks to build brand loyalty.

    Early adopters notwithstanding, many companies are leery of online networks. Executives don’t have time to field the possible influx of requests from acquaintances on business networks. Employees may be dismayed to learn their workplace uses e-mail monitoring software to help sales associates’ target pitches. Companies considering building online communities for advertising, branding, or marketing will need to cede some degree of control over content.

    None of those concerns are holding back Carmen Hudson, manager of enterprise staffing at Starbucks, who says she swears by LinkedIn. “It’s one of the best things for finding mid-level executives,” she says.

    The Holy Grail in recruiting is finding so-called passive candidates, people who are happy and productive working for other companies. LinkedIn, with its 6.7 million members, is a virtual Rolodex of these types. Hudson says she has hired three or four people this year as a result of connections through LinkedIn. “We’ve started asking our hiring managers to sign up on LinkedIn and help introduce us to their contacts,” she says. “People have concerns about privacy, but once we explain how we use it and how careful we would be with their contacts, they’re usually willing to do it.”

    BOOMERANGS.

    Headhunters and human-resources departments are taking note. “LinkedIn is a tremendous tool for recruiters,” says Bill Vick, the author of LinkedIn for Recruiting.

    Social Networks: Execs Use Them Too

    (page 2 of 2)

    So are sites such as Ryze, Spoke, OpenBc, and Ecademy (see BusinessWeek.com, 2/20/04, “The Perils and Promise of Online Schmoozing”).

    Many companies are turning to social networks and related technology to stay in touch with former employees. Consulting firm Deloitte strives to maintain ties with ex-workers and has had a formal alumni-relations program for years. It bolstered those efforts earlier this year, tapping business networking services provider SelectMinds to launch an online alumni network.

    Ex-Deloitte employees can go to the site to browse 900 postings for jobs at a range of companies. They can also peruse open positions at Deloitte. The online network is an extension of an offline program that includes networking receptions and seminars.

    Deloitte makes no bones about its aim to use the network to lure back some former employees, or so-called boomerangs. “Last year, 20% of our experienced hires were boomerangs,” says Karen Palvisak, a national leader of alumni relations for Deloitte.

    MARKETING NETWORKS.

    Boomerangs cost less to train than new hires and they tend to hit the ground running. As the labor market tightens, alumni become an increasingly attractive source of talent. Last year, 13% of employees who had previously been laid off were rehired by their former employers, according to a survey of more than 14,000 displaced employees at 4,900 organizations by Right Management Consultants.

    Not only do business-oriented networks help executives find employees, they’re increasingly useful in other areas, such as sales and marketing. When Campbell’s Soup (CPB) asked independent location booker Marilyn Jenett to select a castle in Europe for a promotion, she put a note on business networking site Ryze, offering a finder’s fee to anyone who could suggest the right place.

    Jenett got seven responses, including one pointing her to Eastnor Castle. “It was the one castle that could suit us for everything which the others could not,” she says, adding that she was so pleased with the location that she booked it again for another event. Jenett says Ryze also helped her develop another small business, a personal mentoring program called Feel Free to Prosper.

    Social networks also help forge community with, and among, would-be customers. In August, a group of MINI Cooper owners joined the company for its two-week cross-country car rally. Participants took part in company-sponsored events, such as the official wrap party overlooking the Hudson River and the Manhattan skyline in New Jersey.

    FREE HELP.

    But they also planned their own side events along the way with the help of the community forums on the MINI Owner’s Lounge site, sponsored by MINI USA. Each month, about 1,500 to 2,000 new owners become active in the community. “Our very best salespeople are MINI owners, and they like to talk about their cars,” says Martha Crowley, director of consulting for Beam Interactive, which provides various Internet marketing services for MINI USA.

    A handful of companies has found creative ways to harness social networks to provide customer service or conduct market research. Intuit tapped LiveWorld to start customer-service forums for its Quicken personal-finance software about a year ago. About 70% of all questions on the Quicken forum are answered by other customers, rather than Intuit employees.

    “The most pleasant surprise in the Quicken community has been the desire of the members to help others,” says Scott Wilder, group manager of Intuit online communities. In November, Intuit plans to enhance member profiles and will add blogging and podcasting tools.

    THE SECRET SNOOPER.

    Social networking technology also can also help businesses search employee relationships for possible clients and other key contacts. Ed Schechter, chief marketing officer at Duane Morris, a law firm with 1,200 employees, estimates that about 75% to 80% of all employees’ relationships with possible clients are never entered into a customer relationship management system.

    Duane Morris saw this firsthand recently, after it began testing software from Contact Networks, which helps businesses study employee communications and other data to pinpoint relationships between staff and potential clients. Within a matter of days, the software uncovered a key connection that the existing CRM software had failed to capture. “It showed a senior relationship that existed in our firm with them,” says Schechter. Duane Morris subsequently won the business, thanks in part to the Contact Networks discovery, Schechter says.

    As helpful as they may be, networking tools like these can also reinforce executives’ worst fears surrounding social networking technology in the workplace. Many employees will find themselves uncomfortable with bosses mining their e-mail and calendaring applications for potential ties.

    SLOWER GROWTH.

    Boston Consulting Group has gotten around potential problems by ratcheting up privacy settings. While the system still tracks individual e-mail communication, it doesn’t automatically reveal the name of the contact. Instead it points employees to colleagues who may have a desired connection.

    The group has been using the software since 2002, and now has about 200,000 contacts in the database. Analysts use those names to make contacts at other companies, primarily for trying to find out about certain industries. “We’ve done surveys where users say that over 50% of the time they find a useful contact,” says Simon Trussler, director of knowledge management at Boston Consulting Group.

    Other businesses don’t find the issues quite so surmountable. Business networking sites have been much slower to gain members than social networks catering to a younger audience. LinkedIn was founded in May, 2003, two months before MySpace, but as of August, it had fewer than one-tenth the number of registered users. MySpace boasts more than 100 million member profiles. Other business networking sites—such as Ryze, OpenBC and Ecademy—all fell below the Nielsen/NetRatings reporting cutoff in July of 355,000 unique monthly visitors.

    “ALWAYS AT WORK.”

    Some companies shun social networking sites and tools because, by encouraging user participation, they inevitably force executives to cede control over content. Not only do businesses shy away from creating their own sites, they also put constraints on employee use of non-work-related sites.

    Last year, the Automobile Club of Southern California fired 27 employees for work-related messages they posted on MySpace after a colleague complained about harassment. Companies can mitigate risk by clearly communicating expectations for employee conduct online, says Scott Allen, co-author of The Virtual Handshake, a book about online business networking.

    However clearly the expectations are spelled out, some employees will feel their privacy has been violated, especially if they’re maintaining profiles on non-work-related sites on their own time and equipment. “A number of companies are using public social networks to spy on employees,” says Danah Boyd, a social media researcher and graduate student fellow at USC Annenberg Center for Communication.

    This is particularly a problem when it comes to social networks such as MySpace, where younger workers may spend quite a bit of personal time. “You have to act like you’re always at work, and it doesn’t necessarily make people happy nor does it necessarily make good workers,” Boyd says.

    FINDING BALANCE.

    Executives’ use of networks can backfire too. “I left LinkedIn because I found I was connected to people I didn’t really know,” says Richard Guha, a partner at The New England Consulting Group who estimates he was connected to 300 people. Guha later rejoined LinkedIn and is now linked to about 43 people, a number he considers much more manageable.

    Encover’s Overstreet is another executive who has found a way to make the most of networks. He says LinkedIn gives him a better picture of a job candidate and lessens the likelihood a potential employee can hide past work experiences. The extra reference checks showed Overstreet that his vice-president for sales candidate was not only a great salesman, but that he also had outstanding character. When eight of the back-door references volunteered information that the candidate had high integrity, Overstreet knew he had found himself a new vice-president. Sometimes, online references pay off.

    Business Exchange related topics:
    Social Networking
    LinkedIn
    MySpace
    Business Networking Online
    Social Marketing
    Social Media Branding

    King is a writer for BusinessWeek.com in San Francisco.

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    Enterprise 2.0 To Become a $4.6 Billion Industry By 2013

    Written by Sarah Perez / April 20, 2008 9:01 PM / 25 Comments


    A new report released today by Forrester Research is predicting that enterprise spending on Web 2.0 technologies is going to increase dramatically over the next five years. This increase will include more spending on social networking tools, mashups, and RSS, with the end result being a global enterprise market of $4.6 billion by the year 2013.

    This change is not without its challenges. Although there is money to be made in the industry by vendors, Web 2.0 tools by their very nature are defined by commoditization; as is much of the new social media industry, a topic we touched on briefly here, when discussing how content has become a commodity.

    For vendors specifically, there are 3 main challenges to becoming successful in this new industry, including:

    1. I.T. shops being wary of what they perceive as “consumer-grade” technology
    2. Ad-supported web tools generally have “free” as the starting point
    3. Web 2.0 tools will have to now compete in a space currently dominated by legacy enterprise software investments

    What is Enterprise Web 2.0?

    Most technologists segment the Web 2.0 market between “consumer” Web 2.0 technologies and “business” Web 2.0 technologies. So what does Enterprise 2.0 include then?

    Well, what it doesn’t include is consumer services like Blogger, Facebook, Netvibes, and Twitter, says Forrester. These types of services are aimed at consumers and are often supported by ads, so they do not qualify as Enterprise 2.0 tools.

    Instead, collaboration and productivity tools based on the concepts of web 2.0, but designed for the enterprise worker will count as being Enterprise 2.0. In addition, for-pay services, like those from BEA Systems, IBM, Microsoft, Awareness, NewsGator Technologies, and Six Apart will factor in.

    Enterprise marketing tools have also expanded to include Web 2.0 technologies. For example, money spent on the creation and syndication of a Facebook app or a web site/social network widget could be considered Enterprise 2.0. However, pure ad spending dollars, including those spent on consumer Web 2.0 sites, will not count as Enterprise 2.0.

    Getting Past the I.T. Gatekeeper

    One of the main challenges of getting Web 2.0 into the enterprise will be getting past the gatekeepers of traditional I.T. Businesses have been showing interest in these new technologies, but, ironically, the interest comes from departments outside of I.T. Instead, it’s the marketing department, R&D, and corporate communications pushing for the adoption of more Web 2.0-like tools.

    Unfortunately, as often is the case, the business owners themselves don’t have the knowledge or expertise to make technology purchasing decisions for their company. They rely on I.T. to do so – a department that currently spends 70% of their budget maintaining past investments.

    Despite the absolute mission-critical nature of I.T. in today’s business, the department is often provided with slim budgets, which tends to only allow for maintaining current infrastructure, not experimenting with new, unproven technologies.

    To make matters worse, I.T. tends to view Web 2.0 tools as being insecure at best, or, at worst, a security threat to the business. They also don’t trust what they perceive to be “consumer-grade” technologies, which they don’t believe have the power to scale to the size that an enterprise demands.

    In addition, I.T. departments currently work with a host of legacy applications. The new tools, in order to compete with these, will have to be able to integrate with existing technology, at least for the time being, in order to be fully effective.

    Finally, given the tight budgets, there is still a chance that even if a particular tool does meet all the requirements to get in the door at a particular company, I.T. or other company personnel utilizing the service may try to exploit the free version of the service if the price point for the “enterprise” version gets to be too high. They may also choose to look for a free, open source alternative.

    Enterprise 2.0 Adoption

    How Web 2.0 Will Reach $4.6 Billion

    All that being said, the Web 2.0 market, as  small as it is now, is, in fact, growing. In 2008, firms with 1000 employees or more will spend $764 million on Web 2.0 tools and technologies. Over the next five years, that expenditure will grow at a compound annual rate of 43%.

    The top spending category will be social networking tools. In 2008, for example, companies will spend $258 million on tools like those from Awareness, Communispace, and Jive Software. After social networking, the next-largest category is RSS, followed by blogs and wikis, and then mashups.

    The vendors expected to do the best in this new marketplace will be those that bundle their offerings, offering the complete package of tools to the businesses they serve.

    However, newer, “pure” Web 2.0 companies hoping to capitalize on this trend will still have to fight with traditional I.T. software for a foothold, specifically fighting with the likes of Microsoft and IBM. Many I.T. shops will choose to stick with their existing software from these large, well-known vendors, especially now that both are integrating Web 2.0 into their offerings.

    Microsoft’s SharePoint, for example, now includes wikis, blogs, and RSS technologies in their collaboration suite. IBM offers social networking and mashup tools via their Lotus Connections and Lotus Mashups products and SAP Business Suite includes social networking and widgets.

    What this means is that much of the Web 2.0 tool kit will simply “fade into the fabric of enterprise collaboration suites,” says Forrester. By 2013, few buyers will seek out and purchase Web 2.0 tools specifically. Web 2.0 will become a feature, not a product.

    Enterprise 2.0 Spending

    Other Trends

    Other trends will also have an impact on this new marketplace, including the following:

    External Spending Will Beat Internal Spending: External Web 2.0 expenditure will surpass internal expenditure in 2009, and, by 2013, will dwarf internal spending by a billion dollars. Internally, companies will spend money on internal social networking, blogs, wikis, and RSS; externally, the spending patterns will be very similar. Social networking tools that provide customer interaction, allowing customers the ability to create profiles, join discussion boards, and read company blogs, for example, will receive more investment and development over the next five years.

    Europe & Asia Pacific Markets Grow: Europe and Asia Pacific will become more substantial markets in 2009. Fewer European companies have embraced Web 2.0 tools, leaving much room for growth. Asia Pacific will also grow in 2009.

    Web 2.0 Graduates from “Kids’ Stuff”:  Right now, it’s people between the ages of 12 and 17 that are the more avid consumers of social computing technology, with one-third of them acting as content creators. Meanwhile, only 7% of those 51-61 do the same. However, this is another trend that is going to change over the next few years. By 2011, Forrester believes that users of Web 2.0 tools will mirror users of the web at large.

    Retirement of Baby Boomers: As with many things, it takes the passing of the older generation from executive status into retirement before a true shift can occur. Over the next three years, millions of baby boomers will retire and the younger workers brought in to fill the void will not only want, but will expect similar tools in the office as those they use at home in their personal lives.

    What It All Means

    For vendors wanting to play in the Enterprise 2.0 space, there are a few key takeaways to be learned from this research. For one, they can help ensure their success in this niche by selling across deployment types. That is, plan to grow beyond just selling to either the internal or external market.

    Another option is to segment the enterprise marketplace by industry and then by company size. Some industries are more customer-focused than others when it comes to the external market, so developing customized solutions for a particular industry could be a key to success. For internal tools, focusing efforts on deploying enterprise grade tools that include things like integration or security will help sell products to larger customers. Other  levels of service can be designed specifically for the SMBs, featuring simple, self-provisioning products to help cut down on costs.

    Finally, vendors looking to grow should consider making a name for themselves in the Europe or Asia Pacific markets, where the opportunity comes from the expected increased investment rates for Web 2.0/Enterprise 2.0 in those geographic regions.

    However, the most valuable aspect of this change for vendors is the knowledge they obtain about how to run a successful SaaS business – something that will help propel them into the next decade and beyond and, ultimately, will provide more value than any single Web 2.0 offering alone ever will.

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