Tag Archives: Google

In the footsteps of Napoleon

A while back I made a sweep through some old CDs we had at home to rip them, and rediscovered some old favorites. One of these was Al Stewart’s Roads to Moscow, an epic ballad telling the story of Operation Barbarossa in the eyes of a Russian soldier. Al Stewart tells the story in such a beautiful and captivating way, that I could feel the tragedy for both fighting sides, had my own personal existence not depended on the final outcome. I found myself skipping straight to Wikipedia for more reading, chilling stories of Hubris on both sides, endless ‘almost’ moments, the tragic betrayel by Stalin of his own war heroes, and the inevitable comparison with Napoleon’s accounts:

The Germans were nearing exhaustion, they also began to recall Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. General Günther Blumentritt noted in his diary: “They remembered what happened to Napoleon’s Army. Most of them began to re-read Caulaincourt’s grim account of 1812. That had a weighty influence at this critical time in 1941. I can still see Von Kluge trudging through the mud from his sleeping quarters to his office and standing before the map with Caulaincourt’s book in his hand”

Only later did I consider searching, rather than going straight to Wikipedia. Surprisingly, there were quite a few quality articles in the top 10, so I tried to figure what inhibited my strong search habits. Two reasons came up –

  1. Wikipedia’s mass of editors and strict adherence to NPOV, ensures me I’m not wasting my time on someone’s subjective view
  2. Habit – I knew what coverage and scope to expect in Wikipedia

No wonder, then, that Google got concerned about this habit of visiting adsense-less, top search result pages, tried to tackle it with Google Knol, but failed. But then, revisiting my reason #1 above shows very clearly why the individualist knol concept will always fail against Wikipedia as an objective information source, no matter how much weight Google puts behind it. Someone’s hubris at Google followed in the footsteps of another Napoleon, too.

Gmailizing blogs

When I first started using gmail, I was shocked: “What? no folders??…” I couldn’t figure out those funny labels, and searching my emails instead seemed a strange idea. Nowadays, when I have to locate an old email, I pray that it’s on gmail and not in my Outlook (even with Vista’s improved search).

The dilemma between search and browse paradigms runs through many software user interfaces, and was especially emphasized with Google’s focus on search in their products. In some areas, such as finding web sites, the search paradigm has undisputably won and the once-king Yahoo! Directory barely has a stub article in Wikipedia. In others, such as news, search is a rarely used service, and a portal-like browse interface rules.

But in reality these are complementary paradigms, rather than competing. Browsing is excellent when the data fits a clear and sufficiently granular taxonomy, shared by the author and reader, and unstructured searching fits into all the other cases (and in some cases, like web search, that’s all there is). Oh, and one more difference: search is A LOT easier. Just stuff all the text into strong index machines, and give the user the ubiquitous search box.

With gmail I wouldn’t think twice before moving an email to the archive, I have no doubt I’ll find it when needed, and all the hassle of managing folders is gone. A blog is no different. You have an author communicating a heap of knowledge to readers, and instead of sorting it for future reference in tags and categories (the complete opposite of “…a clear and sufficiently granular taxonomy…“) they should be gmailized – stuff them in an index and search.

Ah, you say, just embed a blog search box. Sure, but I have dozens of blogs I want to search in. So use some blogs search aggregator, you suggest. But I don’t want to get results from all the blogs out there, just from those I care about. Well, then, guess you’ll need to build yourself a custom search… or just use Delver. Knowing that in a few years every major search engine will integrate social features, I can carelessly blog about anything my social circle could find useful (say, how to plug an mp3 player to the audio system of an Israeli leasing-level Ford Focus), without bothering about categorizing with the perfect keywords (hint: there aren’t any). In fact, I think I’ll skip categories altogether in this blog, and just use tags for a nifty tag cloud 🙂

(crossposted on the Delver Blog)