August 2008

Will the 2008 US Open be one to Remember?

by Jay Bhatti on August 25, 2008

The US Open kicks off today in New York.  The tournament, which is traditionally the second most popular and important grand slam event, has several intriguing storylines.  In analyzing the top 5 seeds, as well as one other popular player, Spock.com looked at some of the people search figures surrounding the tournament to see which players would generate the most interest should they reach the finals.

For the men the top five seeds and a “wild card” are:

For the women the top five seeds and a “wild card” are:

With television ratings down for sports in general, finals match ups are critical in attracting fan interest.  Last year’s finals ratings, despite featuring both number one seeds, declined 17%  for the men and 18.8% for women from 2006.  With the men’s side having a larger discrepancy than the women between the top three seeds and the rest of the field (in terms of talent and popularity), the men could see an even steeper decline in ratings, should the top seed not advance to this years final.

Overall the women’s side featured several surprising search figures.  On Google, the search volume index indicated that Ana Ivanovic was by far the most searched individual, posting an index score of 38.  The next closest was Serena Williams with an index score of 22 (surprisingly, her sister Venus Williams posted an index score of 12).  Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Dementieva were the least searched individuals posting index scores of 1 and .6.

On Spock.com, there was a similar search discrepancy to Google, where 33% of the women’s tennis searches were for Ivanovic, 27% were for Serena Williams, 26% were for Venus Williams, and 10% for Jankovic. Among news stories and blogs, Ivanovic was the most blogged about individual with 11,241 postings over the past month, however Serena has been featured in the most news stories over the past month with over 14,500 articles.  Once again last years US Open finalist Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Dementieva were the least discussed individuals.

With the absence Maria Sharapova (who is out with a shoulder injury) and a bracket that would pit the two most popular individuals (Ana Ivanovic and Serena Williams) in the semi finals at the very latest, the women’s final may once again fail to capture signifcant fan and media interest.  However, with a reasonable fan following, should Jelena Jankovic and either Ivanovic or one of the Williams sisters make the final, the women’s side will not be forgotten.  With Ivanovic, Jankovic, Serena and Venus WIlliams, having active modeling and sponsorship deals, they are likely to attract interest from non traditional tennis audiences.  Still, the lack of a compelling rivalry, and the fact that the Williams sisters can not meet in the finals (they’re in the same bracket), means that without Ivanovic the women’s side may once again fail to provide a compelling match up.

Within the men’s bracket,  Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer led every single search category by a wide margin.  A Google search volume index for the past three months, showed Federer posting an average of 1.1 and Nadal an average of 1.01.  Novak Djokovic and Andy Roddick were the next highest individuals with an average search index score of .26 and .23.  Fifth seeded Nikolay Davydenko was the least searched individual, posting an index score of .01.

On Spock.com, Roger Federer remained the most popularly searched male tennis player, with 38% of tennis related searches.  Nadal was the next closest individual with 32%, and Roddick third with 17% of tennis searches.

In terms of news and blog activity over the past month, both Nadal and Federer were about even, with a combined 180,000 new stories and blog posts.  Djokovic, was the next most discussed individual with around 22,000 news stories and 17,00 blog posts over the past month.

With most tennis fans hoping to see a Wimbledon rematch, a Federer vs Nadal finals would be ideal for fans and ratings.  While Novak Djokovic or a surprise appearance by Andy Roddick would stir some interest,  there would likely be another ratings slip should only one or neither Nadal and Federer make the finals.  Unfortuantely, it looks as though this may be the case.  For Nadal, who won the gold medal in Beijing and has been playing incredible of late, historically the US Open has been one of his worst events where he’s never made it past the quarter finals.  For Federer, who has won the past 4 US Open’s, he’s coming off an unusually poor year and has not performed well as of late.

By the end of tournament, perhaps a dark horse candidate will emerge and sweep the tennis community by storm. Unlike other tennis tournaments, the US Open is one that can create exposure to a person like no other.

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Spock Co-Founder Finds Vertical Search Engines ‘Fascinating’

Posted by Michael Singer, Aug 11, 2008 07:02 PM

“Nowhere am I so desperately needed as among a shipload of illogical humans.” –Spock in “I, Mudd.” The same can be said of the search engine market these days, which is why Jay Bhatti, co-founder of Spock, loves his company’s business model.  – PDF Version – complete interview located here:

Spock — the Web site search engine and not Star Trek‘s famous Vulcan — claims it has more than 14 million site users and 5 million monthly visitors. As a former Microsoft employee, Bhatti told InformationWeek that knowing the target audience is paramount to growing the business, which is why Spock focuses on people and not on everything (read: Google).

“When you look at the statistics, 30% of all searches are for people,” Bhatti said. “It’s a huge category, to be sure, but one where we know the traffic will be.”

Launched a little more than a year ago, Spock isn’t reeling in the page views, about 150,000 to 200,000 searches per day, Bhatti said. But the partnerships are making up for organic traffic. The company is actively pursuing contracts that allow it to be the “Search Powered By” choice for content players.

“Very similar to how Google started, we feel that search is ultimately about people, which is where our strength lies,” Bhatti said.

For example, someone reading about famed General Electric CEO Jack Welch in the The Wall Street Journal could use an external search engine to find more information, but Spock (and certainly the WSJ) would rather readers keep within the paper’s Web sphere of influence.

In addition to site search partnerships, Spock allows individuals to pad their own profiles with keywords. The company said it has indexed upwards of 300 million unique people with more than 10 billion data elements. My Spock search result looks a bit like my LinkedIn profile, except that I populated Spock with my own list of common keywords. I still end up on the third or fourth page no matter which search engine I use (sigh).

A recently added feature to Spock is a blue band of suggested Titles, Organizations, and Locations. The list is handpicked based on a group of Spock’s editors, which Bhatti said are used with all of the search engines.

“One thing we found is people may have a hard time figuring out what to type in a search bar. So we’re helping them by suggesting a location or organization and get them started,” Bhatti said. “It’s just a random sampling that changes every once in a while. It’s not done by popularity but it’s a way for our algorithm to stay relevant given the challenges of people searches with pictures.”

To avoid spoofing someone’s identity, Bhatti said Spock relies on known and trusted reference materials before populating the search with a photo.

Another challenge for people searches is the category someone might have. For example, a search for Boxer may end up with boxing champ Mohammed Ali as the top hit or California Sen. Barbara Boxer. Bhatti said Spock’s 30 employees (mostly scientists) are in the process of asking Web searchers to hone in their queries. “Did you mean boxer the sport or person?” may be a preliminary result in the near future, Bhatti said.

On the horizon, Spock is expected to augment its people searches to social networks in the upcoming months. Spock currently has partnerships with MySpace, Friendster, Microsoft’s LiveSpaces, and Bebo, but not the ever-elusive Facebook. This may change as the social network begins to open up its profiles to other sites.

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Will Google search favor Google content?

by Jay Bhatti on August 8, 2008

Ben Arnoldy of the Christian Science Monitor asks Jay Bhatti about a unique problem Google may encounter

Click Here to read more

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The Olympic Games will commence this week in what looks to be one of the most anticipated and controversial games in recent memory.  While part of the media coverage will undoubtedly be focused on issues such as human rights and pollution, there should be an abundance of media coverage focused on the amazing stories of several athletes.  With NBC hosting round the clock coverage via television and through the Internet, the Beijing Olympics will grant people unprecedented access to some of the more high profile athletes.  Spock.com, the world’s premier people search, looked into the people search figures surrounding early media favorites, gymnast Shawn Johnson, swimmer Michael Phelps, swimmerDara Torres, distance runner Lopez Lomong, and softball pitcher Cat Osterman, to see which athlete people are following the most.

On Spock.com, our people search figures saw that among the four sports, 74% of people were looking forward to swimming the most, with people displaying almost 162,000 swimming related tags.  Surprisingly, softball was the next highest figure with 17%, followed closely by gymnastics and track and field.  Among individuals, over the past 6 months, Michael Phelps was the most searched athlete in the group.  Within the past month leading up to the games, Dara Torres was by far the most searched individual on Spock.com.  Torres, saw her search volume query nearly quadruple.  Cat Osterman also had a sizable 15% search increase within that period as well.

Google reported similar findings, where within the past six months Michael Phelps has had the highest search volume, posting a score of 1.  Torres and Shawn Johnson had the next highest total with scores of .6.  Osterman and Lomong experienced the least search volume with .15 and .22.  Over the past the month, Torres once again experienced the biggest gain in search volume, posting an average search score of 1.25 with a high of 6.25.  During the same period Phelps maintained an average of 1 with a high of 2, while Shawn Johnson had an average of .62 and a high of 1.75.

Within the news and among blogs, Michael Phelps remained the most popular individual.  In a comparison of the five individuals over the past month, 49% of the news stories (nearly 6,000) and 42% of the blog entries (nearly 11,000) were about Phelps.  Once again Torres was the next closest individual with  23% of the news stories and 29% of the blogs.  Cat Osterman was the least talked about individual in the group, while Lopez Lomong had the third highest news story volume and fourth highest blog total.

Overall, it appears that swimming is by far the most anticipated and talked about sport for the Olympics. In a quest for a record eight gold medals, Michael Phelps appears to be the talking point for most of the discussion and fanfare.  However, should he falter in his record pursuit, it appears that many people may switch their attention to five time Olympian Dara Torres.  In a sport other than swimming expect to see Shawn Johnson receive additional attention for gymnastics now that Morgan and Paul Hamm have pulled out due to injury.

Do you have questions or comments about Spock? Please fill out the information below with your name, e-mail, and search result and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

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Jay Bhatti interviewed by Christian Science Monitor

by Jay Bhatti on August 7, 2008

Jay Bhatti was interviewed about Google Knol and he gives his opinion on how Google should think about its own content.  PDF Version

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Roger Federer, considered by many to be the Tiger Woods of tennis, became the number one ranked player on February 2, 2004.  During his historic 237 consecutive weeks as the top ranked player, Federer has set a number of records and by the time he retires is likely to be considered the greatest tennis player of all time.  However, after an early exit at the Cincinnati Masters and a streak of strong performances by Rafael Nadal, the likeable, if not boring Federer will end his reign as the top player when the new rankings are released on August 18th.   With few legitimate challengers for the top spot over the past four and half years, Federer has established himself as the most popular figure in men’s tennis.   In the wake of Nadal’s ascension to the number 1 ranking, Spock looked into the people search figures for Federer and Nadal.

In analyzing the Google Search Volume Index, Federer has been the more popular figure over the past year, posting a score of 1, as opposed to Nadal’s .65.  However within the index numbers, Nadal saw his search query volume rise to a high of 7.5, and an average of .95 over the past thirty days compared to Federer’s high of 5.3 and average of 1.  Among blogs, Nadal saw a similar increase in traffic, where over the past month he saw a 4% growth in the number the blogs about him.  While much of this increase is attributed to Nadal’s victory at Wimbledon, Federer’s blog activity saw only a mild increase following the match.

Alexa rankings showed a similar increase in overall search activity, where Nadal’s homepage saw a considerable increase in traffic over the past month.  Federer’s homepage also saw increased traffic  following Wimbledon, however the percentage of daily reach had Nadal close within .002% (up from .004%).

Despite the decreased search traffic, Federer still remains the more visible figure on the Web.  He has over two million more web results than Nadal, and on Spock has 30% more fan related tags.   In looking at Google Adwords, Roger Federer associated words generated on average over $0.45 more per ad than those associated with Nadal.  Google also estimates a higher click through rate for Federer ads. However, Federer’s advantage in this category is likely to slip as Nadal should take on better sponsorship deals and become closer to Federer in terms of being a household name (assuming he stays number one or is in close contention).  Nadal may not necessarily be a new comer in the sport of tennis, but his victory at Wimbledon destroyed the notion that he could only win on clay courts and essentially elevated him to a more elite level.

For Federer, his future still remains very bright.  Baring any unforeseen accident, Federer won’t remain the second ranked player for very long, and at only 27 years of age, remains very much at the top of his game.  With major sponsorship deals from Rolex, Gillete, and Nike, he’ll remain a household name for years.  However, you can’t discount the fact that Nadal has gained some considerable momentum as a popular player.  As a younger and and more emotional player, it will be interesting to see how long Nadal can hang on to the number one ranking and if their rivalry will continue.

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