Yahoo’s Opportunities

I’m writing this as both a consumer of online services as well as the hypothetical “what I’d do if I were the CEO” scenario.  It’s nothing more than armchair quarterbacking.  Also, I started this post before news of Yahoo’s acquisition of Summly broke, and rumors of Zynga and DailyMotion began.

There was little doubt in my mind that Marissa Mayer was a great choice to lead Yahoo.  I can only imagine the morale and culture after the least few years.  And, even though I’m a remote worker myself (not for Yahoo), I agree with her decision to pull in all the remotes.  Yahoo needs to come together if it wants to survive.

It’s a sad fall for a site which was the first real start page for the Internet, the first free email on a grand scale, the first real customizable portal.  The gold standard with the six second load time, and the your-site-is-invisible-until-it’s-in-the-Yahoo-directory site.  And YUI and Douglas Crockford and JSON.  Delicious and Flickr made sense, and there is still so much to like.

We’ll know if Yahoo has it’s shit together in the next few months.  Google reader closing is a prime opportunity, even some industry pundits are saying that despite declining usage closing Reader is a bad ideaFeedly picked up 500K new users in 48 hours and Digg is adding its own RSS reader.  No migrant user is truly committed yet—people are shopping around for a replacement they like.  There is plenty of opportunity, but services have only until May 31.  A My Yahoo user could always add RSS to your My Yahoo page, but I stopped using online portals several years ago like everyone else as I began to use a tablet and touch apps more and more.

Yahoo needs a good mobile strategy.  I wouldn’t be looking to build a legion of delusional fanbois, but anyone who isn’t productive on a tablet is on shaky ground these days.  Yahoo has the content and services, it just needs to get them back in people’s hands.  There are a few Yahoo mobile apps, but so much room for more.

Yahoo has done its share of spring cleaning in the past, but there’s one service Yahoo dispensed with which they might regret.  I’m sure Ms. Mayer is just a little sick that Delicious was unloaded.  Delicious is just the kind of analytics-generating service data-centric people love.  Despite its offerings, there is a lot of room for acquisition to expand Yahoo.  Sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor or Kayak could go a long way if integrated well and could be used to enhance Bing’s results, giving users a reason to choose Yahoo over Bing itself.  Remember, while Ms. Mayer was still at Google, Google acquired Zagat, ostensibly for similar reasons.

So, tl;dr version, Yahoo needs a solid mobile strategy.  Not a bunch of apps, one good app with access to everything Yahoo.  Yahoo also needs to give people a reason to go there for search, and adding content from review sites it may acquire is a good way to start.  And take the opportunity to grab some of the users Google has turned into nomads by being a really good site again.

Cuil – Gateway to Spam

So there’s a new player in the search engine space, founded by some really smart people from Google.  Named Cuil, pronounced “cool”, it differs from Goole’s algorithm:

As Cuil’s founders describe it, the search engine goes beyond today’s search techniques of link analysis and traffic ranking to analyze the context of each page and the concepts behind each query. It then organizes similar search results into groups and sorts them by category. Cuil displays results and offers organizing features, such as tabs to clarify subjects, images to identify topics, and search-refining suggestions.


Or, put simply:

Cuil is making a big push that it ranks pages by content, rather than popularity. The idea here is to poke at how Google is commonly viewed to just reward pages that have the most PageRank value.


Ranking by content?  Uh oh!  Remember “back in the day”, when content was the main factor in ranking websites?  What did we end up with?  That’s right, lots of spammy search results.  SE rankings were determined by the number of times search terms were repeated in the page content, and it was easy to repeat your way to the top results.  Content ranking was pretty much the death of Lycos and Alta Vista–the signal to noise ratio was way too low.

Just to test this brave new world of content ranking, I ran a test myself.  Wifey owns The Bloomery Florist in Butler, PA, so I did searches on Google and Cuil for “florist butler pa”.


The top of Google’s results list the local results, with listings and maps of florists actually in Butler, PA.  The first five search results include three listings for The Bloomery, and two other shops in town.  Not bad, considering there are only four florists in town and one doesn’t have a website.  If you’re looking to send flowers to Butler, Google is going to point you in the right direction.

It isn’t until the eighth result when spammy fake-florist sites start to show up.  You’ve seen them on Dateline and other places, the ones who pretend to be a florist in a local community, charge you a high service fee, and then send the order via FTD or Teleflora to a real local florist.  They’re a complete ripoff, but like P.T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute”.  Florist Detective has more information about fake local florists at


The main way the fake florists work their way into the search results is with keyword repetition, usually in some gibberish at the bottom of the page.  And, Cuil got suckered.  All but one of the results on Cuil’s first page are fake florists, pretending to be in Butler.  Part of the spammy text from the first result is below (you have to scroll way down on the page to find this text):

Everybody in Butler needs Butler, PA Pennsylvania Flower Delivery from the best Butler flower shop.
Our Butler floral shop and our Butler flowers are first in quality.
Send Butler, PA Pennsylvania florist greetings to any city or state with a Butler local florist.
We offer Butler florist shop delivery everywhere. Order Butler flower bouquets with a Butler local florist.
Whenever you want a Butler centerpiece call our Butler flower shop.
Butler florist shops will bring your Butler sympathy arrangements wherever you need them.
Try our Butler, PA gift baskets for holiday giving or any time including any specified gift items.
Butler Thanksgiving flowers, and Butler Christmas flowers sent near or far.

See the result at  Wesley Berry is actually located in Michigan, not Butler, PA.  When you place an order with them, you’re talking to someone at a call center (or will be handled by no one if you place online), and you’re charged a high service fee.  The call center has no idea what’s in the local coolers, or what’s available.  Not exactly what you’re looking for if you want to send flowers to Butler, PA.

Danny Sullivan also ran some tests himself, and you can see the results at  His conclusion was also that relevancy alone isn’t enough to overcome Google’s algorithm.

Long story short, let the searcher beware with Cuil for the time being.  I think there’s some promise here, but they need a better algorithm than just keyword repetition.  There are some really smart people behind Cuil, and a good deal of money, too, so it’s one to watch.  For now, use Google to find your local florists, and double check with Florist Detective if you’re unsure.

<update 2008-08-02>

This isn’t something made up, but an actual consumer warning.  Cuil is leading consumers into an unsatisfactory experience.  Wesley Berry has an Unsatisfactory rating at the BBB, and has a long list of complaints at Complaints Board.

Yahoo! Local mapspamming

Wow, the number of ways to manipulate search results just keep growing.  A technique coined “mapspamming” has begun to pollute Yahoo! Local’s results, as has “comment bombing”.

In a known case, a company pretending to be a local florist engages in fals advertising–they buy a local phone number with a fake business address, and gets themselves listed in Yahoo! Local.  Part of the ranking algo for Yahoo! Local includes proximity to the geographic center, these reults appear near the top.  Next, several fake Yahoo! user accounts are used to rate the scammers highly, and denigrate the competing local florists.

Calls to the phone number are forwarded to a national call center, where the pretend florist takes the order and transmits it to a real florist, keeping a hefty percentage of the order and any service charges.  Although the consumer thinks they’re dealing with a florist local to that town, they’re actually getting ripped off.

For the full story, see

More Reasons We Don’t Want Open Search to Beat Google

Following on the heels of my question Do We Really Want Open Search to Beat Google, one has to wonder how much of a problem vandalism and general inaccuracies really are in Wikipedia.

One example I mentioned was politicians and their staff and their detractors editing and re-editing the articles.  Microsoft didn’t do any better when it paid a blogger to maintain the Open Office XML page.  A Wikipedia editor discusses these examples at

Recently, the same editor published an article about The Right Way To Fix Inaccurate Wikipedia Articles.  A politician did not correct inaccuracies because he feared a PR backlash:

The exact text as it appeared in Wikipedia was:

“A graduate of the University of Michigan, LaTourette studied law at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law and had the dubious distinction there of disrupting a school assembly honoring Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales. LaTourette was roughly removed by the Secret Service.”

The really damaging aspect of that allegation is how it bears a tangential resemblance to the truth. There actually had been a student disturbance when Prince Charles visited that law school. LaTourette was enrolled at the time but had nothing to do with the incident.

A Wikipedia Scanner has also been developed to track who has been editing entries:

Every once and a while Wikipedia seems to get some odd editing’s and phony entries. They get caught fast but are extremely annoying for people who rely on the tool for research.

More story at