Taking On Google

Skrenta posted the first part on how to take Google on. It it a very interesting read and I would urge anyone who is interested in getting into search to read this article. There is a lot there even if you are not interested in taking on Google.

Some excepts with comments:

A conventional attack against Google’s search product will fail. They are unassailable in their core domain. If you merely duplicate Google’s search engine, you will have nothing. A copy of their product with your brand has no pull against the original product with their brand.

It would be really hard to disagree with this, taking Google on directly would be a little like the Charge of the Light Brigade, perhaps poetic and/or glorious, but certainly futile and definitely murderous. The Google brand is very well established and very strong.

You need to position your product to sub-segment the market and carve out a new niche. Or better, define an entirely new category. See Ries on how to launch a new brand into a market owned by a competitor. If it can be done in Ketchup or Shampoo, it can be done in search.

Agreed here too, you need to focus on a very specific area. Once you have established your brand in that area, then you can move into other areas. Remember that Google was once just a search engine, now it is an ad network, an email services, etc…

Forget interface innovation. The editorial value of search is in the index, not the interface. That’s why google’s minimalist interface is so appealing. Interface features only get in the way.

Forget about asking users to do anything besides typing two words into a box.

Users do not click on clusters, or tags, or categories, or directory tabs, or pulldowns. Ever. Extra work from users is going the wrong way. You want to figure out how the user can do even less work.

Your results need to be in a single column. UI successes like Google and blogging have shown that we don’t want multiple columns. Distractions from the middle with junk on the sides corrupt your thinking and drive users away.

The average consumer just wants results fast, admittedly there are user who will want to have lots of tools available to them to do a deep a search as possible, but the mass market wants to enter two terms and get results, that’s it. Is more is to be done, then it needs to be done out of sight of the user and independent of the user, so somewhere in the 2 seconds it takes to run and return the search results. By all means gather information on which results the user views so you can personalize future searches.

Additional user interface widgets just don’t get used, period.

Your core team will be 2-3 people, not 20. You cannot build something new and different with a big team. Big teams are only capable of duplicating existing technology. The sum of 20 sets of vision is mud.

Agreed there, Wayne Ratliff used to say that if you can’t fit your development team in a Beetle to go out for a pizza, then it is too big.

Search is more about systems software than algorithms or relevance tricks. That’s why Google has all those OS programmers. You need a strong platform to win, you can’t just cobble it together as you go like other big web apps.

Based on past figures, I would estimate that Google has between 450,000 and 500,000 machine now, of which 20%-25% are dead. That still leaves a lot of machines. With those kinds of numbers, it makes perfect sense to have a specific Linux distribution for internal use (Goonux anyone?) I would imagine that this is a bare bones distribution containing only what is needed from Linux, overlaid with whatever tools you need to manage the machine.

Do not fear Google’s vast CapEx. You should wish maintenance of that monster on your worst enemies. Resource constraints are healthy for innovation. You’re building something new and different anyway.

Having that many machines is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand you can bring a LOT of hardware to bear on any problem you wish to solve, on the other hand that is a LOT of hardware to pay for, manage, maintain, dispose of, etc…

Google is a company that is getting bigger and, as such, inertia will set in. Last decade Microsoft looked impregnable, and the decabe before that it was IBM. Giants don’t last forever.

See also Greg Linden’s post on the subject.

Macintouch Review of Apple TV

Macintouch finally has a full review of AppleTV.

The review does a very good job and collects together a lot of information that has been floating around on the web about AppleTV.

If you have one, it is a good source of reference material, and if you don’t have one, and are perhaps considering getting one, it will give you a very good feel for what it can and cannot do.

VisualHub

I did some quick tests of VisualHub this weekend and then brought a copy this morning. For what it does, it is very good value, only $32.23.

VisualHub will convert just about any video format to just about any video format, notably to H.264 which means it iTunes, iPod and Apple TV. And you can also export to the PSP, DVDs, AVI, MP4, WMV, MPEG and Flash. Quite the selection in fact.

It also supports Xgrid, which is Mac OS X’s API for distributed computing, but I was not able to get that to work for some reason. I think the issue is with Xgrid though and I need to beat up on it work with it some more to figure out why the controller on my main Mac does not see the agent on my MacBook Pro.

Office Space

It appears that Google is looking for more space in this area (this area being Boston.)

Apple TV Reviews

I just read two Apple TV reviews.

Paul Thurrott has a negative review with an image gallery. The review concludes:

And if you are thinking about an Apple TV, consider this: You can do virtually everything the Apple TV does with the iPod you probably already own, a $39 dock, and a $19 set of cables, albeit at standard definition resolutions. Is the Apple TV really worth the $300? At this point, the answer, for most people, is no.

I think Paul injects a healthy dose of scepticism realism into the arena of reviews, but I think he misses an important point which is the level of integration that Apple TV affords. iTunes is successful because of the level of integration there is between it, iPods and the iTunes music store. I just plain works, which is what most people want.

And Macintouch has a review by Robert Mohns which is slightly more positive.

They did run into a problem that I ran into with the MacBreak Video show from TWiT:

Speaking of HD, Apple TV doesn’t appear to handle true HD content. Although it can output at HD quality, the highest input resolution it accepts appears to be 1000×540 pixels. (We tried creating a 1280×720 video within permitted bit rates, but iTunes refused to transfer it to our Apple TV.) That’s better than the SD quality video available from the iTunes Store, but still not up to the widely broadcast 720p standard.

Adobe Apollo

There has been some amount written about Adobe Apollo, which is described by Adobe as follows:

Apollo is the code name for a cross-operating system runtime being developed by Adobe that allows developers to leverage their existing web development skills (Flash, Flex, HTML, JavaScript, Ajax) to build and deploy rich Internet applications (RIAs) to the desktop.

Maybe I am a little bit jadded here, but this sounds like a lot of the cross-platform GUI development tools and runtimes that used to be around in the late 80’s and early 90’s until the web swept them away, though some remain such as Supercard. Sure the technologies and the languages are different, but the principle is the same.

I will be curious to see how well this takes off. There is even some competition already.

I have to say that I am a little skeptical, I remember how fast cross-platform GUI development tools and runtimes were swept away by the browser, and these days people are really conditioned to use the browser for everything.

More Apple TV Thoughts

More Apple TV thoughts and then I will shut up about it since it appears that there is wall-to-wall coverage of the device on blogs to the point where nothing new can be said for now.

As I predicted, people have been cracking open their units and replacing the hard drive with something a little beefier. I suspect that Apple will come out with an update sometime in the future and enable the USB port so that we can plug in an external hard drive. I expect that this was not done in version 1 due to the added difficulty of managing storage across two or more drives (and creating the UI for that!)

I failed to mention this in my original post, but I have a regular Sony Trinitron TV, and Apple TV works fine with that using the 480i resolution setting (see Rogue Amoeba for more information). The aspect ration is a little off, but the TV allows me to set the picture aspect to 16:9 which corrects that. The menus are a little fuzzy, but the picture is just fine. The only irritation is that the TV forgets the setting when I switch it off. I am going to replace it anyway with something else soon anyway.

Movies are listed as one long list, this will not scale. At least with TV shows, you can collect all the shows in a single line item, but that still won’t scale if you have lots of shows. Also there does not seem to be a way to turn off the sales links at the top of each category.

It turns out that you have relatively good control of playback and play position with the remote, but you do need to read the documentation for that, page 30 has all the information.