Google wants to get to know you

Robert Scoble points out an interesting patent Google has filed for, described by Loren Baker over at Search Engine Journal, which describes a method for “personalization of placed content ordering in search results.” As Loren explains it, this would involve Google providing personalized search results — even for those who hadn’t expressly agreed to a customized search (as some users have by signing up for Google’s personalized search). The company describes how a number of factors could be used to generate a profile of a particular user, including the location of the computer they’re using, other sites they’ve visited recently, their age or marital status, and even the way they move the mouse or type on the keyboard.

Yahoo goes for Flash

Amid all the buzz about Web 2.0 services run by AJAX, such as Google Maps and Microsoft’s new Windows Live , it’s interesting to see that Yahoo has gone with Flash for its new and improved Yahoo Maps site. But is it better than Google Maps? There seems to be some debate on that, with some saying they like it better and others complaining that it’s slower to refresh and harder to use. I thought Yahoo’s version looked a little better in terms of the user interface than Google’s, and it was also quicker to update the map when I zoomed in on key spots, such as the Rouge River marsh near Pickering, Ontario, which I run and bicyle past every morning. Dragging the map around seemed slower on Yahoo than on Google, but Yahoo had some cool features, such as a draggable zoom window.

Although he gets into the useability a bit in his discussion of Yahoo’s maps, Robert Scoble of Microsoft spends most of his time talking about how both Yahoo Maps and Microsoft’s Virtual Earth are “doomed.” Why? Not because of the interface, he says, but because of how Google markets both its services and its open API — which allows others to create “mash-ups” and add-ons that enhance the value of the company’s map service. I think this is a good point. It’s not so much what you do, but how you do it, and what happens to it after you release it into the wild, so to speak. Google seems to get that better than others — so far at least.

Microsoft Live goes live

Is it just me, or does it feel like 1995 all over again? Not just because tech is back, but because Microsoft supremo Bill G. is talking about how Microsoft has gotten religion when it comes to the Web and interactivity, and wants to deliver a host of services over the Net — such as Windows Live Messenger (the new name for MSN Messenger), Live Favourites, Windows Live Mail (the successor to Hotmail), Office Live and a bunch of other things that all contain the word “live” (Of course, I’m probably not the only one to draw the obvious conclusion, which is that if everything is now “live” then by definition Microsoft’s previous products were “dead”).

In any case, Microsoft seems to have decided that since everyone is releasing things in beta now, it might as well do the same. Several of the ideas at ideas.live.com are invitation-only, while others such as the live.com webpage are buggy. This is odd, since start.com — which is virtually identical to live.com and has been around for months — works great even in Firefox and has features that live.com doesn’t. Live.com doesn’t support Firefox, has layout issues in my browser (Avant, which is basically just a front-end to IE), and crashed my Internet Explorer when I tried to load the page. So far, live.com doesn’t do anything that netvibes.com doesn’t do better, and does some things worse. Colour me unimpressed. I am not alone.

P.S. More than one person has noted how ironic it is that the Windows Live demo — one of the most highly-anticipated demos in years — crashed right at the moment Blake Irving was saying: “It’s easy. It’s live, and it has ‘me’ at the center of the universe.” Dave Winer called it “the worst public demo ever.”

Update: InformationWeek, in a blog posting on Windows Live, calls it “a big ol’ bucket of vaporware” while Russell Beattie says Microsoft is really working on “Monopoly 4.0” and Phil Wainewright says the software giant has simply cobbled together whatever they could find to give the impression that they haven’t missed the Web-services boat.

Column: Let Google scan…

Here’s a column I just posted at globeandmail.com about Google resuming its Library scanning project:

Google, the search-engine giant that has become so ubiquitous its name hardly even sounds stupid any more, has started scanning and indexing library books again under its contentious Google Print Library project, despite the fact that the company is being sued by several groups of authors and publishers. Under the project, Google has plans to scan millions of books from the collections of several university libraries, including Harvard, Stanford and the University of Michigan. The groups that have sued — including the Authors Guild, which represents several thousand U.S. writers, and the Association of American Publishers — argue that by doing so, Google is infringing on their copyright and therefore it must stop.

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