Interesting Innovation - The Anti-Search.

I just came across an interesting site today, a kind of an anti-search engine, the LibraryThing Unsuggester.

If you have been to (and who hasn't?) you will see that they have a suggestion system that basically tells you that other people who bought this book, also bought these other ones - helping you find other books that you might be interested in.

Well, the Unsuggestor reverses this and allows you to type in a book you like, then tells you books you probably *won't* like. It's kind of fun to play with.

It analyzes the twelve million books LibraryThing members have recorded as owned or read, and comes back with books least likely to share a library with the book you suggest.

For example, if I type in one of my all time favorite books, "Friday" By Roberta A. Heinlein, the Unsuggestor comes back with a list of books I probably won't like, in this case, mostly Christian-related ones. Although I don't consider Friday to be directly anti-Christian, I can see how Heinlein's portrayal of future society would be at odds with traditional Christian views. Interesting.

The problem, of course, is that I have a degree in Religious Studies (combined with Anthropology) and although I'm not a Christian, I certainly am not anti-Christian. As a matter of fact, I have a large number of Christian history books in my own library (along with Buddhist, Islamic and even Wiccan books). I admit that I'm unusual in this regard, but still it shows that it's not nearly a flawless system (to be fair, it doesn't claim to be).

This highlights both a flaw and an interesting innovation, IMO. The flaw, of course, is that just because other people like (or don't like) a book, doesn't mean that their recommendations (or anti-recommendations) are going to be accurate.

But it's good information to have, since if you are starting from nowhere, and really have no clue, then you are better of taking advice from others than by choosing something blindly. I could see the possibility that a more complex system would actually combine the suggestions and un-suggestions together and apply them to searches for books for consumers.

From a research standpoint, it's even more interesting. There is a difference between learning about a subject and real research. If you are learning about a subject, then you want to have the most agreed-upon information, because at that stage you don't know enough to decide what's good information and what's bullshit.

But once you know a subject well, reading more and more of the same stuff won't help you at all. You need to move outside of what's recommended or agreed upon. You can't take your knowledge to the next level by reading what got you to your current level, almost by definition.

I'm finding this in the SEO field. If I read one more article about how title tags or links are important, I'm gonna throw up. Where is the NEW information and insights?

I think a research tool that not only shows you the recommended results, but ALSO high quality, related, but non-recommended results would be a huge benefit to research and innovation.

Let's say you did a search for a material to be used to make a widget. Let's say you have a generation 3 search engine, that uses personal and aggregate information as well as generation 1 (content analysis) and generation 2 (link/reference analysis) to provide results.

The generation 1 system chooses sites that are on-topic, the generation 2 system chooses ones that others feel are important, and then you add the generation 3 on top - which uses social information like what sites people who like this topic are likely to visit, bookmark or recommend to others.

For most searches, that would be pretty good. You'd probably find a list of the most recommended materials for that widget pretty quickly. Most searches are about learning and buying.

But for innovation and research, you want to leave the beaten path. What if you are looking for new ideas for materials? That's not going to come from the old "tried and true" collection of resources.

What I'd like to see is a research tool that showed me sites that were high quality but NOT well referenced or even known to "other people". It seems to me that the Unsuggestor tool may be a step in that direction.

Who knows? Maybe the cure to cancer or the Next Big Thing is buried in the bowels of the Googleplex somewhere in the Supplemental Results database, languishing due to the fact that it's too innovative or off the beaten path to get enough links to be considered "important".

Perhaps it's only linked to by people I have irreversible and fundamental differences of opinion with. Just because you don't agree with someone doesn't mean they don't have knowledge of information that you don't. As a matter of fact, it's much more likely they do.

Something to think about. For now, I think I'm going to read "Designing with Web Standards" by Jeffrey Zeldman, which apparently I'm going to hate because I like Robert Jordans "Wheel of Time" series.

We'll see...


Are You In Japan, Korea or China?

I'll be in Japan from May 5-11 then in Korea from May 11-17, then in China for the China Search Marketing Tour from May 17-29. The purpose of the trip is to do some networking, and learn first hand about e-marketing in each of these countries.

If you are in any of these places when I'm there, I'd love to buy you some of your favorite beverage and chat for a bit. I've got a couple of meetings with some government officials in each place, but the rest of the time is flexible (sightseeing, networking, shopping, looking for suppliers/partners, etc).

I'm also looking for SEO/SEM's that can help me in each of these countries. The work would be occasional at first, then hopefully much more frequent.

Or, we could just chat! I like meeting new people :)


Robots.txt and Sitemaps

Last week at the NYC SES Conference it was announced that all 4 major search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN and Ask) now not only support the sitemap protocol, but also support the new auto-discovery feature for the robots.txt file!

In order to use the auto-discovery feature, you simply add the following line to your robots.txt file:

Sitemap: http://sitemap_location
Example Robots.txt file:

User-agent: *

I have updated my free Robots.txt Generator so that it will generate this properly for you.


Back from China

I'm back from China. No, I didn't go on the China Search Marketing Tour without you, and you didn't miss it yet (though if you don't sign up ASAP, you will!). I went on a family vacation. I took my kids, wife, inlaws and an "uncle" I've never met to Beijing, Shanghai, and finally to a small village near Kai-Ping where my wifes family comes from.

Even though they are Chinese, it was the first time any of them had ever been so far north - Uncle (as I called him) had never even seen snow before, so the sub-zero weather of Beijing in March was definately a new experience for him. The trip to the Great Wall was in almost -40 degree weather!

I'll spare you the day by day (I'm planning on inflicted that on you for the CSMT), but there were a couple of highlights:

Never go to Beijing before April - it's cold and no fun. May is MUCH better.

Damn, it's cold!

My wifes village is very interesting, and about as rural as you can get in China while still having electricity...

Looks pretty - Don't drink the water...

Stir Fried Water Beetles and other "interesting" foods are often eaten in villages.

Bugs... Yummy. Taste like unsalted pumpkin seeds.

I have many stories about this trip - some of which I might even tell one day. :)


Out of Town + Inbox Blues

Hi all,

Sorry I haven't updated this blog for a while, but I went to China for 3 weeks, then had to speak at a conference in Vancouver, then came home to several virtual fires that needed to be put out, not to mention almost 3000 emails in my inbox!

Admittedly, some of those have been there for a long time - I found one I red-flagged (I use Outlook) as critical in oh...2005. Ouch.

I'm very proud of myself - This past week I've managed to cut the number of emails in my inbox from almost 3000 to 11, through a combination of ruthless "do I really need to do this" cuts, sorting into sub folders, a couple of custom junk mail filters, and a bunch of numbingly hard work.

One trick to deal with this volume is to sort by sender, rather than date. Often, you can deal with a dozen issues and emails simply with one email. This also makes it FAR easier to drag entire groups into folders (or to delete them!).

I also went through all the flagged emails and actually *used* the flags properly - Setting everything to red really isn't helpful, and rather defeats the purpose of flagging in the first place, since you will often find yourself red-flagging things that are not critical, but that you just don't want to forget about. This can build up into a monster (as I well know!).

It's hard to imagine the feeling of relief that actually cleaning out your inbox (if you are a habitual inbox filler like me) for the first time in 2 years!

I was so happy I went and actually cleaned my office, too! Someone stop my before I start alphabetizing my socks or something....