It may be a Red Sox Nation, but is it a Yankee Universe?

The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, have a long history that dates back to the earliest days of major league baseball.  The division rivals have taken part in some of baseball’s most memorable moments, from the infamous Babe Ruth trade for a $100,000 and a bag of balls, to Aaron Boone’s extra inning home run in 2003, the Yankees and Red Sox rivalry is as much a part of baseball as the seventh inning stretch and Cracker Jack. Despite the large disparity in overall World Series championships, the recent series victory by the Boston Red Sox created a new type of fan following known as the “Red Sox Nation“.   In the wake of the unofficial proclamation of a Red Sox Nation, the Yankees adopted their own fan following known as the Yankees Universe.  Spock looked into both followings to see if New York and Boston are actually more popular than any other team, and who has a larger fan base.

In terms of news and overall web presence, both the Yankees and Red Sox have a significantly higher web presence than any other team.  A search for New York Yankees returned 17 million results and over 53,000 news stories over the past month, while the Boston Red Sox returned 15.5 million results and over 41,000 news stories.  With the lone exception of the Chicago Cubs, all other teams including large market areas such as Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, returned at the most, half as many web results and news stories for their teams.  Television appearances favor the Red Sox and Yankees as well, where both teams have averaged anywhere from 3 to 5 times more appearances on networks such as ESPN and FOX over the past several years.  Within the blogisphere, once again the Yankees and Red Sox were dominant, with over 93,000 Red Sox and 80,000 Yankee blog posts over the past month.  The next closest teams were the Dodgers with 57,000 and Cubs with 53,000.

In terms of overall stadium attendance, Boston has led the league in percentage attendance over the past five years, while New York with a substantially larger stadium, has led the league in total attendance during that same span.  Merchandise sales also favor the Yankees and Red Sox, where according to SportsScanINFO, both teams accounted for 53% of merchandise sales for the 2005/2006 season.  Thus, while fans from other teams may complain about their team not receiving enough attention, the fact that the Yankees and Red Sox seem to dominate most fan and media related figures should shed some light

In addition to looking at the Yankees and Red Sox in comparison to the rest of the league, Spock also looked further into who has a more substantial fan following.  Among searches for the term Boston Red Sox vs New York Yankees over the past year, Google Trends showed a slight advantage for the Red Sox, generating a 1.04 with the Yankees generating 1.00.  However, within those searches the Yankees showed a significantly stronger international search volume.  On Spock, the Red Sox also had a larger tag association with 8% more people having Red Sox related tags.   Among the social networking sites, the Yankees had a larger Facebook fan following with 41,340 members in their largest group, compared to the Red Sox with 34,785 members.  However on Myspace the Red Sox Nation had 70,893 members compared to 43,939 members for Yankees fans.  In terms of merchandise sales, the Yankees have traditionally sold a significantly higher percentage of  licensed gear, however after the 2004 season the Red Sox experienced a larger percentage gain, going from 12% of all licensed sales to 21%.

Given their recent string of success, their slightly higher Internet search volume, a similar if not slightly greater number of blogs and fan groups, and a higher percentage growth for merchandise sales, the Red Sox Nation is arguably the larger fan base (for now).  However, if I were a die hard Boston fan, I would not expect this to last for very long for a number of reasons.  Boston’s recent string of success and first championship in 86 years made them media darlings at the time and created a large buzz around the team, while the Yankees have experienced a number of playoff failures since 2003.  This would likely explain the growth in merchandise and United State search querys.  With the Chicago Cubs experiencing a championship drought of 100 years and set to make a possible world series run, it’s likely that a number of bandwagon Red Sox fans will switch allegiance to the Cubs.  This could in effect make a huge difference for merchandise sales, attendance, and internet search activity.

While the season is far from over, for now the Red Sox are in first place with the fans.

Cuil Looks to Challenge for Search

After a significant amount of fanfare and hype, the search engine Cuil.com launched on Monday.  Unfortunately for Cuil, it had a bit of a rough day. Among other problems, their servers crashed and even when results did come back, users were less than impressed with the quality of results.  The Wall Street Journal and Time magazine both slammed the service the following day.

All this sounds very familiar to me. When we launched Spock last year, our servers also crashed and we got dinged in the press.  However less than a year later, our user base is rapidly growing as we close in on 5 million visits per month.  Not bad for a search engine less than a year old.  As a person invested in the latest developments in search, I wrote a few key observations from the Cuil launch that should be noted by entrepreneurs, the press, and especially consumers.

Lesson for Cuil or any other start-up:  Launch early, but skip the heavy PR.  There was no need for Cuil to go heavy on the PR at launch. Why not do a soft launch and slap the word “beta” all over the place. Iterate on the product as you get feedback from users and only make a PR push to the masses once you are certain your product will stand up to expectations and traffic loads.  One thing that Google did really well in the early days (probably not by choice, since they did not have $33 million at launch like Cuil) was let their traffic build up organically.  Only after Larry Page and Sergey Brin knew they had the best product and could handle a world of traffic, did they make more of an effort to get PR around the company and brand.

Lesson for the Press: It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.  It’s pretty surprising that the press is already writing off Cuil after one day.  They should know that the end game is what is important, not the start.  Cuil could very well over the next few years develop a better ranking technology and start giving users that “wow” experience people gravitate towards. The press should know better than to write-off a technology after one day, especially if there are smart entrepreneurs going after a big market.

Lesson for Consumers: Sure, Cuil disappointed you on day one.  But how many times has Microsoft done that with version one of a product or even Facebook after they came out with News Feed. It happens to everyone, no matter how well prepared, every company or product will experience some misteps when they launch- especially technology products.  I’d give Cuil a chance.  See how their technology and search develops in the next six months, you might be surprised.  At Spock, after our launch, we were lucky enough to have about 5,000 fans of Spock give me advice and input on how to improve the experience.  Their feedback, feature testing, and support was essential for us during that period.  While we haven’t perfected people search yet, we now feel that we have a much better idea about what our users want and need.

Here are some things I think Cuil could do in the next year to win share in the search market.

  1. Develop a business model – They might have a great technology, but if you don’t have any users, what good is it?  After a bad day of PR, it will be diffiuclt for them to get certain users back to the site.  Having a solid business model will allow them to get distribution deals done with other networks and search engines.  Eventually, this will result in a solid user base that’s greater than any amount of good PR.  This was how Google got into Yahoo in the early days and how it helped it capture more and more market share.  Plus, search engine technology is expensive.  It’s takes a lot of money to launch a search engine and even more to keep it running. The faster you get a sustainable business model in place, the better your chances of success in the long run.
  2. Don’t forget your core – Cuil is a search engine and I think as long as they stick to search and building great technology, they will have a good outcome. Too many times, entrepreneurs (especially first time ones) get engrossed in a new fad and change their business model or mission overnight to keep up with the trends.  I saw this firsthand when dozens of companies became “facebook application” companies only to return to their original concepts a few months later.
  3. User Experience First – If you don’t make your users happy, nothing else matters. I went to Cuil and typed “spock.com” and much to my dismay, we were not the first set of results.  I’ll eventually check back to see if they’ve fixed the problem, and if they do, great.  If not, I’m far less inclinded to recommend or even use their product again.  At the end of the day, Cuil has to first and foremost give users what they want and give it to them at a greater value then Google. Cuil, certainly has a tough challenge ahead, but VCs gave them $33 million to do just that.

What will happen with Microsoft and Yahoo?

It seems like the Yahoo and Microsoft saga will never end!  So, what’s the end game?  Let’s look at the possible outcomes.  Since some of our engineers at Spock.com and myself are former Microsoft employees and many people on our search team are former Yahoo folks, I think we have a pretty good idea of what might happen if some scenarios play out.  Plus, being in the heart of silicon valley, we hear from all the experts.

Option 1 – No deal happens at all

Yang and company win the proxy fight against Carl Ichan and decide to stick it out alone.  They don’t sell their search business or the entire company to Microsoft.

If you looked at the latest hitwise data, Google accounted for 69.17 percent of all U.S. searches in the four weeks ending June 28, 2008.  Yahoo! Search, MSN Search and Ask.com each received 19.62, 5.46 and 4.17 percent respectively.  Yahoo! Search, MSN Search and Ask.com each received 19.62, 5.46 and 4.17 percent respectively.  Google reached an all-time high – up 8 percent year-over-year. In short, they are not only dominating search, they are gaining market share.

In the U.K. market, Google search properties (Google.co.uk and Google.com) accounted for 87 percent of all UK searches in June 2008 representing a 10 percent increase compared to June 2007.

In the Australia market, Google search accounted for 88 percent of all AU searches in June 2008 representing a 12 percent increase compared to June 2007.

If no deal happens, I see Google capturing more market share over the next few years.  The reason – they just have a much better product. There is no possible debate on this one. The Google search engine is just a much better search engine then any other general search engine out there.  They crawl the web better and faster then anyone else, they mine data and organize information better then anyone, and they display information in a better manner then any other search engine.   On top of that, they have the best ad network out here.  Their ad networks is much easier to use (as both a publisher and advertiser) then Yahoo’s or Microsoft’s.   It’s that combination of great search and a powerful ad network that makes them so hard to beat. It’s very similar to what Microsoft has with Windows and Office. The combination is a killer app.

Microsoft has the desire to win search and they have the money. They don’t have the right team or platform.  If they did, Microsoft would not want to buy Yahoo.

Yahoo, from the opinion of many in the valley (including their employees), no longer has the desire or capital to win search.  Just look at their recent deal with Google.  The smart Yahoo engineers are leaving the company for a good reason. They do not see a commitment by management to win search.   If Yahoo wants to be a pure content site, that’s fine, they do a good job with content. But don’t expect several hundred PhD’s to stick around.  Plus, Yahoo sees all that money going out the door to have thousands of servers crawling the web, having thousands of highly paid search engineers, and a very poorly managed search Ad Network.  Let’s face it, if I were a shareholder, I would want them to dump search or commit to it 100%.  Stop playing the middle game.

In order to have any shot at Google in the near term, you need the combination of Microsoft desire and assets along with the Yahoo team and as platform.  Otherwise, it’s smooth sailing for Google.   In this scenario, in the long-term, I see:

Microsoft acquiring a lot of vertical search companies and technology plays to compete in search.  Their strategy will be to not compete with Google head on, but rather go after specific verticals like travel, people, pictures, maps, etc.   If they can embed these vertical searches into existing product lines and online properties, they could slowly inch up on market share.

Yahoo on the other hand will have a very hard time competing with Google.  They eventually might give up on search and outsource their search advertising and technology to Google (probably won’t pass muster with the DOJ), so they will come up with a creative loophole like the current deal, where they could use the Google ad network and maybe parts of Google technology.  Either way, I don’t see Yahoo winning on search by themselves.  Given the recent public spats with Yahoo and Microsoft, I really do not see Yang reaching out to Ballmer for help.

Option 2 – Yahoo sells their search business to Microsft

This is the best possible outcome for the industry.  Yahoo remains as a separate company and Yang gets to keep running it, Ballmer gets the team and platform he needs, and Google gets some healthy competition.

Yahoo selling their search technology, team, and search ad network to Microsoft makes sense for a lot of reasons.

1. Steve Ballmer would now have a team that is capable of winning search.  He would also get an ad network that has some scale.  Especially if Yahoo allows Microsoft to power their search technology and ads, Ballmer would really have a fighting chance.  He can go out to the market even harder to convince advertisers to use his network over Googles.   At the end of the day, advertisers don’t want to be at the mercy of the Google Ad Network.  More choice is a good thing.

2. Yahoo can concentrate on content and socail media. Let’s face it, Yahoo is a great property and an Internet icon.  They do content really, really well.  Much better then anyone else. So why not focus on what you do best.  I would much rather go to Yahoo for news and gossip then Google or MSN.   Plus, without the multi-billion dollar overhead of search, Yahoo can go out and maybe acquire social media sites like MySpace, Facebook, or something smaller like Digg.  These properties fit with what Yahoo does really well – Deliver quality content, have millions of signed up users, and generate a lot of page views.  Search is the exact opposite – no sign-ups, no page views, and no content.    Yahoo could corner the market for high end display advertising if it jut focused on quality content and high quality social media.

3.  Google would have to keep innovating.  This is a good thing.  I have seen too many times a good product go bad once the company stopped focusing on it.  Remember how good IE was when it was going after Netscape, and how bad it became once it had no competition.  The same could happen to Google if it becomes relaxed.  I would enjoy nothing more as a consumer to have two really good search engines and ad networks to rely upon for my daily needs.

Option 3 – Yahoo sells itself wholesale to Microsft

Here a interesting bit of gossip in the valley. Google would really, really like it if Microsoft bought Yahoo. Naturally, they won’t say that to the press of DOJ.  To the outside, they will work like crazy to delay the deal as long as possible under the guise of anti-trust. Why? So that while Microsoft and Yahoo are stuck in limbo trying to merge and fight the DOJ, Google would have more time to capture even more market share.  And even when they do merge, trying to merge two completely different cultures and a ton of different online properties would be a nightmare.  When was the last time you saw a merger of this scale work?  I have not ever.  Google knows that a complete acquition would give them several years of no competition while Yahoo and Microsoft “try” to integrate with each other and set up a strategy on how to compete.

In short, a compete sale would basically be the end of Yahoo, cause Steve Ballmer a lot of sleepless nights as he tries to integrate them together and give Google clear sailing.

Now you can see why Ballmer is not as excited about exploring a complete purchase of Yahoo. The more time he has had to think about it, the more he realizes that it might be in his best interest to just buy the search business. Plus, given the proxy battle going on now, and how Ballmer wants to kick out Yang from Yahoo, I don’t think that Ballmer and Yang will be playing golf with each other anytime soon.

Forbes Magazine asks Jay Bhatti his opinion on Microsoft

Forbes Magazine asked Jay Bhatti what he thought would happen in silicon valley after Microsoft decided to drop its bid of Yahoo.  The complete article can be found here.  PDF Version

Microsoft-Yahoo!: Ten Takeaways
Wendy Tanaka05.05.08, 6:00 AM ET

BURLINGAME, CALIF. –

Microsoft‘s three-month quest for Yahoo! came to a close Saturday as the software giant withdrew its multibillion-dollar bid for the Internet portal, confounding industry observers. They had placed bets on two other scenarios: a friendly merger between the tech titans at a higher price than the $31 per share Microsoft had originally offered, or a hostile takeover from Microsoft. Here’s what happened–and what’s next.

Why did the deal fall apart?

Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT – news – people ) and Yahoo! (nasdaq: YHOO – news – people ) could not agree on an acquisition price. Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer and Senior Vice President Kevin Johnson met Yahoo! co-founders Jerry Yang and David Filo in Seattle on Saturday to negotiate. Ballmer raised Microsoft’s offer to $33 a share but Yang, Yahoo!’s chief executive, wanted $37. After the meeting, Ballmer sent a letter to Yang stating Microsoft’s withdrawal and adding that “a deal is not to be.”

Did Microsoft do the right thing by walking away?

Probably. Microsoft offered a hefty premium to Yahoo!’s price. The software titan’s original $31 a share offer on Jan. 31 was a 62% premium to the Internet portal’s stock price on that date. Microsoft said its last offer of $33 would have added another $5 billion in value to the deal. The deal was originally valued at $45 billion, but in the ensuing months, it fell to $42 billion as Microsoft’s stock price dipped.

Did Yahoo! do the right thing by not accepting Microsoft’s higher offer?

Probably not. Yahoo! doesn’t have an alternative deal that would return as much to shareholders.

How will Wall Street and shareholders react?

Yahoo!’s shares likely will take a beating. Analysts expect the stock to fall back to $19, the price it was trading at when Microsoft launched its bid. By contrast, Microsoft’s shares likely will rebound above $30.

Yahoo! has already been hit with shareholder lawsuits and should expect more. Microsoft’s shareholders aren’t expected to sue, but they’re anxious to know how the company plans to boost its stock.

What’s Microsoft’s next step?

It will pursue other acquisitions. In a meeting with employees last Friday, Ballmer indicated that he’ll turn his attention to other companies. “If the Yahoo! deal doesn’t happen, we know that there’s a different set of things that we’ll wind up investing in,” he said. “Yahoo! is not a strategy; it’s part of a strategy.” And Microsoft is no stranger to acquisitions: it has bought hundreds of companies in its 33 years.

What other companies is Microsoft interested in acquiring?

Speculation is swirling about Microsoft might be interested in acquiring AOL from Time Warner (nyse: TWX – news people ) or MySpace from News Corp. (nyse: NWS – news – people ). Trip Chowdry, managing director at Global Equities Research, wouldn’t name names, but says Microsoft will seek out up-and-coming companies that have innovative technologies and also generate revenues from either licenses, transactions, subscriptions or advertising. “Microsoft will acquire a portfolio of companies beyond Web 2.0 plays,” Chowdry says. “Microsoft doesn’t want to fight yesterday’s story; it wants to capture the future.”

What’s Yahoo!’s next step?

The company is now under enormous pressure to find an alternative deal, or deals, that can rev up its stock. It’s considering a search-advertising outsourcing partnership with Google (nasdaq: GOOG – news – people ) to generate more revenue. The two companies launched a trial partnership a few weeks ago that is said to be going well. Look for an announcement on this pact.

Yahoo! also might still be considering a merger with AOL. Yahoo! also had discussions with News Corp. to acquire its social networking behemoth MySpace. But later, News Corp. switched sides and considered joining Microsoft’s bid for Yahoo!, so a deal with News Corp. seems unlikely now.

Will Microsoft come back at Yahoo! later?

If Yahoo!’s stock tumbles, industry observers say the acquisition door could open again, perhaps later this year. Microsoft will “watch what happens to Yahoo! and wait for Yahoo! to falter,” says Edward Deibert, a director at law firm Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin. “If Yahoo! is unable to deliver, Microsoft could take another stab at a [lower] price.”

What will happen to Ballmer and Yang?

It’s unclear whether Ballmer will be seen as a strategic genius or the guy who couldn’t get the deal done. Chowdry says Ballmer only went after Yahoo! and put a sky-high price on the company to make sure no other company acquired it. And while Ballmer has done lots of deals, he’s never done a deal as big as Yahoo! It would have been at least seven times larger than Microsoft’s biggest deal to date–the $6 billion buyout of digital marketing firm aQuantive last year.

Yang could be ousted if he doesn’t find a way to bump up Yahoo!’s stock in a hurry. Industry watchers are scratching their heads about why he wanted so much more than what Microsoft offered.

What is Silicon Valley’s reaction to the news?

“I think people are pretty shocked and surprised” that a deal didn’t happen, says Keith Rabois, vice president of strategy and business development at Slide, a Web application developer. “The Internet trendsetters all think of Yahoo! as past its prime” and expected it to accept a good offer.

Jay Bhatti, co-founder of search engine Spock.com, says start-ups in the Valley are generally relieved that the deal didn’t happen because two major acquirers are still intact. The deal would have consumed both Microsoft and Yahoo! for a year while they integrated their operations and would have left the Valley with just one major acquirer where once there were two. Now, “Ballmer and Microsoft will want to do more small acquisitions,” Bhatti says. “They might spend $10 billion buying 20 small start-ups. I think the Valley’s pretty happy about that.”

Rabois notes that Microsoft’s image in the Valley has improved as well. “Microsoft had a bad reputation among Internet elitists mostly because of the browser wars” in 2000 when Microsoft put Netscape out of business, he says. Now, Microsoft is considered a good business partner. Slide, for instance, has an advertising partnership with Microsoft. The software titan’s most high-profile partnership is with Facebook, in which it owns a small equity stake.

Jay Bhatti interview with Robert Scoble & PodTech

Jay Bhatti was interviewed by Robert Scoble.

The interview can be watched in its entirity over here.  Talking Personal Search With Jay Bhatti

Jay Bhatti in Portfolio Magazine

Portfolio Yahoo Gets Vertical Search. Where’s Microsoft, Google?
by Blaise Zerega | July 10, 2008 | PDF of Article

Today, Jay Bhatti was mentioned in Portfolio magazine.

Yahoo Gets Vertical Search. Where’s Microsoft, Google?
Blaise Zerega still hasn’t found what he’s looking for. Yahoo’s announcement to offer BOSS (Build Your Own Search Service– what happened to the Y?), is a better late than never attempt to do something different to compete with Google. Fair enough. But what’s particularly interesting is that the announcement is proof that many people – this editor included, think there’s a huge market opportunity for vertical search. It’s been overlooked as the Google juggernaut has tried to be all things to all people (quite successfully and quite profitably, I might add.)

Consider the people search engine Spock.com — if you haven’t tried it, do. Query your name in Spock and then do it with Google and Yahoo. Compare the results and you’ll see what co-founder Jay Bhatti has been up to since quitting Microsoft. Hey, Microsoft, why didn’t LiveSearch spot this niche?

Or for a slightly different take, think search + ecommerce. Consider Kayak.com, for travel. Or any number of wine search engines: wineaccess.com, wine-searcher.com, or winezap.com.

And while I’m at it, there’s a raft of other search engines out there, all chasing Google in some fashion. I like Clusty, Me.dium, and iSeek.

Among these startups, Kimbal Musk’s Me.dium is using Yahoo’s BOSS (see NYT article.) Whether BOSS gains traction, and whether Yahoo can marshal an army of Davids in its battle with the Goliath Google are questions that, given Yahoo’s uncertain future, we may never see answered.

What we will see, however, is an evolution of the search market to include these narrow plays. After all, on the web, it’s only by going niche that you build a broad audience.

Top Vertical Search Engines

Many reporters and venture capitalists ask me to name my top vertical search engines.  I decided to compile a listing of what I think will be the search engines that take market share away from Google, Yahoo and Microsoft over the next 3 years.

Travel

Kayak– If your like me, you hate searching dozens of site for the best travel deals. With gas prices at an all time high, you need to save every penny. Whenever I plan a travel trip, I first go to kayak.com to find the best deals.  It’s UI is clean and easy to understand, it gives me the right level of filtering tools, and most importantly, it’s comprehensive.  It searches over 200 travel sites to give me the best deals on airfare, hotel, cars, and vacations.   Only a few years old, Kayak is the clear leader in this vertical. In fact, it bought out its main rival sidestep.com for $200 million a few weeks ago.

Farecast.com– With a UI very similar to Kayak, Farecast was bought by Microsoft a few months ago. Lets see how it develops over the next few months and if Microsoft will be able to eat away at the travel search market.  Sometimes, I think that Microsoft should have never let Expedia go.  They should have kept it in-house and placed its bets on making that the comprehensive travel search engine.

Events

Zvents – When I met Zvents CEO Ethan Stock a few years back, I never thought I would end up using his service almost every weekend in boring Redwood City, CA.  But I must admit, finding something to do in a small town is hard and sometimes a search engine can help.  That’s where sites like Zvents come in.  I play with all the local event sites, and Zvents by far has the best listings and the easiest to use UI.

Eventful – I have not used this site as much as Zvents, but a lot of people swaer by it.  Eventful relies on the community to come and fill out local events. While this may help you find a unique happening once in a while, I personally prefer a comprehesive and automated approach like Zvents.

Products

Amazon –  Not many people realize this, but Amazon is slowly becoming a search engine! A Search Engine for any product you want to buy.  Today, when I shop on Amazon, half the products I get delivered are not even sold by Amazon, but by one of their trusted merchants.  Hmmm…sounds like they are nicely going from just a commerce site to a complete search engine for products. Not a bad direction.   They already have the brand, they understand the unique UI needed for product search, and users trust them

theFind.com– Siva Kumr, CEO of the thefind.com thinks that a pure focus on crawling commerce related products across the web and a great UI can make a big difference in product search.  I tend to agree.  His search engine  is one that could give Amazon some heartburn in a few years.

Shopping.com– Owned by eBay, this is a big ad network as well as a money machine when it comes to the volume of transactions that happen on the site.  My only concern is that eBay tends to be slow in innovating their properties and care too much about near term results (something all public companies have to do at some time or another).   If they can keep pace with companies like thefind.com and Amazon, I see a lot of competition in this space. Which is good for consumers.

People

Spock– Yup.  Not surprising that I would pick spock.com as the best people search engine. Especially since I am the co-founder of the company. But I REALLY REALLY do believe that we have the best people search engine out there.  Spock is only people search site that really tries to index the web and create a real search engine.  Compare results on Spock and any other site and let me know if you think someone else is better.  I would love some competition in this space.

Music

Seeqpod– A few of my engineers love to use this music search engine while coding away at Spock. It helps them not only find music they are looking for, but it also has a discovery feature that lets you discover music that you may like. A pretty nifty feature if you ask me. Sometimes, it is hard to search or know what you are searching for, and a discovery UI is pretty helpful.  However, don’t get too cozy with Seeqpod just yet.  They are being sued by Warner Music for you guessed it (copyright).  We’ll have to wait and see how this pans out.

Grooveshark– Similar to Seeqpod, they index web pages that contain user uploads music files and is catching up quickly to some established players in this space.  Will have to wait and see what happens here as well and the legal loopholes that may need to navigate.

Video

Truveo– It’s surprising to me how many people think that YouTube is the be all and end all of video. Ya, they have 90%market share, but so what! Netscape and Yahoo had that type of share at one point, and now look at what happened.  In the world of the Internet, nothing is certain.   That is why I think video search  is an attractive market to be in.  If Google is placing their money on YouTube, then should not one of the other big boys place their bets on a company like Truveo?  They do a really good job of indexing videos across the web.  I was surprised at how well they indexed video’s of me on the web.

Blinkx– It’s like watching 50 TV channels at once.  A really unique UI and interesting take on video display.  They are now even offering local video search – not bad.  This site is definitely worth a peak.

eWeek thinks Jay Bhatti is right about Vertical Search

This week, eweek talked about how Microsoft could win in search with a vertical strategy. They specifically mentioned Spock as a site that could take search market share away from Google.  Below is a copy of the article.

How Microsoft Might Surround and Contain Google (from eweek)

Perhaps the best strategy that Microsoft might avail itself when it comes to competing with Google is not to get people to use the Microsoft search engine more, but rather getting more people to use the Google search engine less.

The strength of the Google Empire comes from the ad revenue that Google generates every time somebody uses their search engine. At this moment in time, the vast majority of the population thinks of using the Google search engine as a natural reflex. But over the course of the last year, we’ve seen the rise of any number of vertical search engine tools. They include people search services from Spock.com. Human-assisted search services from Mahalo.com. Any number of product and travel search services, including some from Microsoft. And the Powerset contextual search engine service that Microsoft acquired last week. And of course, Microsoft continues to flirt with the idea of acquiring Yahoo’s search services.

Microsoft could try to pull all these services together to create a universal search engine that would rival Google. But that would take a lot of time and might not even work. A more judicious approach would be to make it easier for users to access multiple search services as part of a strategy of weaning people off of Google. Early indications are that this is pretty much what Microsoft might be up to with Windows 7. The simple fact is that the Google search engine is not the best tool for all queries. In fact, as a blunt instrument the Google search engine can be as much counterproductive as it is helpful.

If Microsoft can create a user interface experience within Windows 7 that essentially makes it more natural for users to invoke multiple search services that are optimized for different tasks, then suddenly Google is not as dominating as it is today on the Web.

The first signs of this surround and contain approach to competing with Google might come in the form of a wave of alliances with vertical search companies. We have not seen evidence of those alliances yet, but given the strength of Google in the market you could assume that providers of alternative search services are anxious to partner with Microsoft.

In the meantime, Microsoft would do well to make sure that the search technologies it does acquire don’t simply fade away under Windows Live Search because right now, the name of the game is not necessarily how to build a better search engine but rather expose an increasing array of alternatives.

Protecting Your Online Privacy

Reporters and the media ask me this question all the time. By building a people search engine over the past 2 years, I learned quite a lot about how people information is handled on the web and how you can protect your Online Identity and Personal Privacy.

Your personal information is online and getting more accessible every day. So how can you manage your online reputation and privacy in this cyber world where walls don’t exist?

Here are five ways in which Internet users can ensure that their online identity is correctly positioned and that their personal information is protected:

1. Take Responsibility for Your Online Actions
Most people believe that what they post on a blog or upload will stay hidden behind a wall and never be seen anywhere else on the web – This is false. Always make sure to read the terms of service on websites and social networks and assess their privacy control options. With over 500,000 people joining a social network every day, the number of people who post content about themselves on the web is increasing rapidly and so is the need for them to understand how the web works. If you post a picture of yourself on a public website, it’s as if you posted that picture on a billboard in Time Square. It becomes public content for anyone to see and copy. You really don’t want that recruiter to see your online party photos. So be careful of what you post and do online.

2. Track Your Online Profile
Search for your name – If you find something you do not like, then you can reach out to search engines like Spock, Google, Yahoo and MSN to remove that content from their index. But bear in mind that even if these search engines remove the content in question, it is most likely that that information was crawled by other services that might not have the same respect for personal privacy. Go to the source of the content itself and either remove it yourself (your public social network pages, blog posts) or ask the website administrators to assist you.

3. What Do You Do When Your Personal Information is Out There
Background checking is a billion dollar industry. There are dozens of companies out there that buy your personal data from phone companies, banks, even from your local county records office and sell it online to anyone willing to pay for the data. Once I did a search for myself on Google and to my surprise my former home address was indexed – This had been taken from a third party site. Not cool! At Spock we have a clear policy for people search to only display data that exists on the public web – We never show personally identifiable information (address, phone number, email, and so on) even if it is on public sites. These are steps I would recommend if you find yourself in the same predicament:

Contact your bank, phone service provider, and your county records office – Be very clear to them that you do not want your private information sold to a third-party.

Contact the site where you found your information and ask them to remove it immediately. Most of these companies do not want to deal with legal action and thus are fairly responsive in removing such data.

Make it very clear to these sites that you do not want them to display your private information ever again.

4. Be Wary of Uncertified Websites
Too many people trust unknown websites and give them personal information for a “Free iPhone” and similar freebies. If you see an offer like this online from an uncertified site, then don’t fill out the form – Unless you want to get a lot of spam, phone calls, and random letters in the mail from cyber salesmen.

5. Even Passwords Need to be Protected
An area that many people tend to overlook is the passwords they use on websites. When choosing a password, these are my recommendations:

Don’t use a password that contains any combination of your birthday, social security number, or phone number. There are too many websites out there with poor security protocols which can easily be hacked.

Never use the same password twice. A common trick of hackers is to fool people into giving them their password – Ever get one of those phishing emails asking you to reset your password for Paypal? The best way to protect yourself against identity theft is to use different passwords for different services.
Change your passwords every six months.

How to Search for Who Knows What

Michael Ziward of EWeek takes an indepth look at the technology behind search:

One of the biggest problems that most companies seem to have today is that they really don’t know what they already know, and who inside their company actually knows it. And worse yet, they are not really sure who knows what subject areas best outside their company, so the network of consultants that orbits the company tends to evolve from personal relationships rather than best-in-class experts.

Click Here to read more

Jay Bhatti Radio Interview

The David Lawrence Show

Wednesday, July 2, 2008  Audio |  PDF |  Link

Jay Bhatti, head of Spock.com, joins us live to talk about his social network, and the social network phenomenon in general, and how people are changing the way the communicate, at least for the moment, to take advantage of the integration that these networks offer our lives.

Spock Releases Largest Real Estate Agent Directory

Buying a house or piece of real estate is often times one of the most important decisions a person will ever make. Given a variety of factors involved in picking the right place, choosing the right Realtor is the first step in starting out the process right. A good Realtor can help you gain access to new locations, negotiate a better price, and offer sound financial advice on owning property.

Despite a struggling economy where Realtor’s are willing to concede more and compete for your commission, finding the right agent can still be difficult. Pat Rioux of ListForLess.com told the Wall Street Journal, “To find good agents, you can’t pick up Consumer Reports and find their names.”

Spock, the world’s premier people search, has helped take away some of the mystery in finding a good Realtor. By indexing over 1.4 million Realtors, Spock has created the most extensive Real Estate directory on the Web. Along with the ability to search on Spock for any Real Estate Agent via name, e-mail, or tag, Spock’s new Real Estate Directory enables you to easily search via city and town.

With the ability to negotiate a lower commission and get more out of a Realtor, use Spock’s Real Estate Directory to find your perfect agent.