Thursday, July 17, 2008

Why build a robot when you can empower people?

Me.dium's Search Alpha

Me.dium's Social Search allows non Me.dium toolbar users to access the wisdom of the Me.dium community via a search box.

A half a million unique users are currently surfing the web with the Me.dium sidebar and vetting a half billion web pages per month. They scour the internet by searching, selecting links, chatting with friends and reading web pages together. The Me.dium servers then process the user actions into behaviors, which are used to rank the results in real-time.

What's different about Me.dium's Search is the results; every web page you see after clicking “I Feel Social,” has been vetted by actual Me.dium users. Me.dium's approach generates a very different result set than Google's publisher driven model. For example a recent search for "Hillary Clinton" on produced as the number 1 result, while that same query on Me.dium produced YouTube - Barack Obama Hillary Clinton - Umbrella as the number 1 result. The Hillary Clinton result was in the top 10 for Me.dium but it was not number 1.

Side note: if you run the same query today, the results would be different on Me.dium but most likely the same on Google. This is another important difference, the crowds constantly evaluate what's interesting and Me.dium continually updates it's ranking based on the activity of the crowds. I ran the following search "G8" on July 9 2008 at Me.dium and at Google.

Me.dium has flipped the search model upside down and empowered the users of the information to decide what is important rather than the publishers. The dynamic nature of the internet is not the only area where the Me.dium Search excels. The pages being vetted include everything from from technical documentation to sports scores, from movie reviews to YouTube videos and from gossip to the best cures for most health problem.

The Business

Web search is all about ads these days, but the business actually starts with web crawlers. Leveraging another companies crawler limits your ability to do something different, you are bound by the metadata they collect. Crawl the internet yourself and it requires a large infrastructure. Each of the top search engines maintain their own snapshot of the internet. Me.dium is doing something different, we have our 2 million and growing editors, who have downloaded the sidebar, adding metadata to our own indexes daily.

Medium also has a partnership with Yahoo. Yahoo is trying to disrupt the search industry. I always loved the old Snapple add campaign from the 80's, "We are number 2, yay". Being number 2 means you can take risks. This is exactly what Yahoo is doing, first with modifications to the results page, SearchMonkey and now with the introduction of BOSS (Build Your Own Search Service). BOSS has its technical challenges, but its real power comes from a license change. The ranking algorithm has always been part of the crown jewels of any search engine, and the licensing of search results always comes with a big disclaimer, "You may not modify our results". Yahoo is changing the rules with it's release of BOSS, and in the process trying to disrupt Google's search/ad domination. Anyone with a license key, provided by Yahoo, can now leverage Yahoo's infrastructure.

The idea is simple enough, empower multiple startups by providing them with infrastructure in exchange for ad revenue. The hope, one or more of the companies stick and fractures the search /ad business in Yahoo's favor.

Why Is This Significant?

The search engine business seems simple enough from the outside, a user enters a few key words and the system finds some matching results. If you look under the covers you quickly realize this is not the case. Web Search is comprised of 5 key dimensions, ranking, comprehensiveness, freshness, presentation and speed. Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and Ask all maintain large data centers and staff to continually refine their search offerings. The majority of startups cannot raise the amount of capital necessary to compete but BOSS provides the opportunity to change the landscape. The only thing missing is the announcement of a new Venture Fund.

Me.dium was excited by the opportunity and the challenge. The key question we had to answer was how to blend our social search results with Yahoo's traditional web search. The end result, which is still in alpha launches today, give it a try and let me know what you think?

1 comment:

Chris said...

Hey Robert, Thanks for posting this piece about our new search engine. I am part of the community team at Me.dium and if you have any questions, want to give feedback, or want to try out our social sidebar please send me an email,, or friend me (worldsnow)on me.dium sidebar. Thanks for the great blog!