27 December 2012

Google, Panupol Sujjayakorn & Search

Why was Alexander the great, so great? Ermm...because he had the best possible teacher & advisor in Aristotle. Replace "Alexander" in your query with "Akbar" and a certain Birbal pops up. Repeat with "Chandragupta Maurya" and Chanakya pops up.

So the common denominator, behind the successes of these great rulers, were trusted advisors. These advisors managed, processed & contextualized fractured pieces of information and knowledge together  - sometimes giving these rulers the information & advice they were actively seeking. Or sometimes providing information proactively when they felt the context was relevant.

Today, the closest most of us have to these trusted advisors are search engines.

At last count, Google has indexed more than 120 Billion URLs & has PageRank. Competing search engines have their own levels of index and secret sauce to generate results. Whilst one can pretty much find information on anything through a few refinements to a search query,  or sometimes by just recognising a phrase, search experiences are still constrained by a couple of hairy challenges:
  1. Limitations of Boolean 
  2. Limitations of Context
As a result, one may get THE right answer to a search query, but the search engine has little clue on what the human behind the query is looking for.

The closest analogy to this experience is the amazing story of the former World Scrabble Champion - Panupol Sujjayakorn. Here was a guy with very little knowledge of English, who memorised words acceptable in Scrabble without knowing their meaning, and went on to win the World Scrabble Championship!

The good news is all of this is changing - through the introduction of Structured Experiences, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence & Context into Search.

An understanding humans need answers, not links when they search, has given birth to structured search experiences - the likes of Siri for starters. If sales are proof such experiences are valued, look at what Siri did to the sales of iPhone 4S.

Another evolution underway is the introduction of Neural Networks & Artificial Intelligence. Google, is experimenting with videos featuring cats and is learning how it can teach networks to adapt themselves & learn what is important, rather than look at the previous visitor paths & clicks to serve presumed results to similar types of searches.

Talking of context, a billion+ smart phones are in use today and they just about provide the missing clues for search engines to improve relevance in real time. Google Now , for example, is an indication of experiences to come - whereby search engine evolve from the role of trusted advisors, to becoming more like a personal assistant.

Whilst these advances in Technology, Intelligence & Relevance are great for improvements in online search experiences, on another frontier, the race to digitally annotate and help discovery of the physical world has begun. Google again currently leads this field via offerings such as Field Trip & Project Glass.

Both Field trip & Project Glass are interesting projects, the adoption of which shall provide answers to some key questions in days to come:
  1. Are we humans ready for our physical worlds to also be digitally annotated? 
  2. Will we demand it? If so, will it give rise to a new wave of SEO like services?
  3. Should such services just show us more of what we like, what our connections like or introduce us to new stuff?

09 December 2012

Salvation Army adds Mobile to Handbells & Red Kettles.

For over a hundred years, around the world, the sight of a dapper volunteer, a ringing bell and bucket means one thing - the start of the Salvation Army christmas collection drive.

Over this weekend, in Seoul, I was pleasantly surprised to see the addition of a Mobile option to the Kettle. Yes, it's in high-tech Korea, and the technology for money transfer via mobile is ready. But to see Salvation Army deploy this option is refreshing.

But beyond refreshing, it's smart for a few reasons, including:
  1. That channel choices, drive brand choices is a known adage. The addition of a mobile option gives the Salvation Army an edge over  competing choices
  2. Mobile can also help bring in new donators.
  3. As one does not see an immediate pinch, when donating via credit cards, the possibility of the donation amounts being higher than typical loose change increase.
I hear the Salvation Army is targeting to collect 5 Million Won this Christmas. I'd be curious to know how much of this comes in via the mobile.