A Tale of Two Search Engines: Wolfram's Alpha & Google Public Data Search

Image representing Wolfram Alpha as depicted i...
Image via CrunchBase

There is talk in the tech world of upstaging and skullduggery (I just really wanted to use that latter term in a post) between the mysterious Wolfram / Alpha search engine and the very recently release (read: yesterday) of Google’s new Public Data Search and Charts. All of the hoopla concerns the mining of structured data (data that is susceptible to treatment by semantic overlay). Wolfram / Alpha is a computational knowledge engine to be launched at some point in May. The engine will seek to “compute” actual answers to query questions with factual results rather than a list of sites containing search terms without regard to their relationship. The language interface will be sensitive to how questions are framed. The results will be based on fields of knowledge, data and algorithms. The engine will compute the answer, rather than relay canned answers to specifically programmed questions. If you would like to read more detail on how it will work (I definitely recommend the read – it is fascinating), check out this guest post at TechCrunch.

Yesterday, during the first public demo of the engine by Wolfram, Google announced on it’s blog the newly available ability to find and compare public data. The example cited by Google in the blog is the unemployment rate in Santa Clara County as compared to the national average. Format the search as suggested by Google in the blog and you will get factual results. Click on the results and you will see an interactive chart that lets you add or remove data. Google posits that there are tons of “interesting public data” to be mined on the Web in this fashion. “No duh” on that count!

Why now, Google? Could Google be worried about competitors like Wolfram / Alpha and the improved research experience they promise? I am thinking that they should be. So does Wolfram / Alpha: they apparently fired back at Google with some screen shots showing just how superior the Alpha experience is. Check the article about the cross-fire here.

TechCrunch’s article belies a “show me the money” attitude that tends to favor the vastly more limited offering from Google because it is a “bird in the hand” and the Wolfram / Alpha, despite public demos and screenshots, is still just “vaporware” at this point. I respectfully disagree. I am far more excited about what Wolfram has promised than by what Google has produced.

All sparring aside, the real winners here are us ‘Net-users who regularly look on-line for research needs. As the brilliant Web architects come up with better, faster and more accurate means of mining and distilling the vast amounts of on-line info, we will reap the benefits in the fruits of our own Web labors.

Edited to fix the massive typos and grammar errors from my %$#@#$& iPhone keyboard.

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A Tale of Two Search Engines: Wolfram’s Alpha & Google Public Data Search

Image representing Wolfram Alpha as depicted i...
Image via CrunchBase

There is talk in the tech world of upstaging and skullduggery (I just really wanted to use that latter term in a post) between the mysterious Wolfram / Alpha search engine and the very recently release (read: yesterday) of Google’s new Public Data Search and Charts. All of the hoopla concerns the mining of structured data (data that is susceptible to treatment by semantic overlay). Wolfram / Alpha is a computational knowledge engine to be launched at some point in May. The engine will seek to “compute” actual answers to query questions with factual results rather than a list of sites containing search terms without regard to their relationship. The language interface will be sensitive to how questions are framed. The results will be based on fields of knowledge, data and algorithms. The engine will compute the answer, rather than relay canned answers to specifically programmed questions. If you would like to read more detail on how it will work (I definitely recommend the read – it is fascinating), check out this guest post at TechCrunch.

Yesterday, during the first public demo of the engine by Wolfram, Google announced on it’s blog the newly available ability to find and compare public data. The example cited by Google in the blog is the unemployment rate in Santa Clara County as compared to the national average. Format the search as suggested by Google in the blog and you will get factual results. Click on the results and you will see an interactive chart that lets you add or remove data. Google posits that there are tons of “interesting public data” to be mined on the Web in this fashion. “No duh” on that count!

Why now, Google? Could Google be worried about competitors like Wolfram / Alpha and the improved research experience they promise? I am thinking that they should be. So does Wolfram / Alpha: they apparently fired back at Google with some screen shots showing just how superior the Alpha experience is. Check the article about the cross-fire here.

TechCrunch’s article belies a “show me the money” attitude that tends to favor the vastly more limited offering from Google because it is a “bird in the hand” and the Wolfram / Alpha, despite public demos and screenshots, is still just “vaporware” at this point. I respectfully disagree. I am far more excited about what Wolfram has promised than by what Google has produced.

All sparring aside, the real winners here are us ‘Net-users who regularly look on-line for research needs. As the brilliant Web architects come up with better, faster and more accurate means of mining and distilling the vast amounts of on-line info, we will reap the benefits in the fruits of our own Web labors.

Edited to fix the massive typos and grammar errors from my %$#@#$& iPhone keyboard.

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Crossing My Fingers Here …

FIDANI chocolate factory visit 01 - golden ticket
Image by suanie via Flickr

I really couldn’t resist now, could I? I just put my hat in the ring to be a citizen reviewer of the Palm Pre. It’s called the Real Reviewer program and you can access the survey / application on Palm’s site. The lucky Golden Ticket holders will get to play with a “current model” Palm phone with six months of service. In return, you have to wax eloquently about your hands-on experience to anyone and everyone you know about just how shiny the Pre (oops, did I say Pre? – I meant “current model” Palm phone) actually is.

I think I might be up for this challenging assignment. 😉

If you too are interested, head on over and fill out the survey here.

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FeedDemon & Google Reader – Together At Last!

Newsgator Feeddemon
Image by labnol via Flickr

It truly is a happy day for me when my two RSS readers decide to join forces and play nice. My first love, Newsgator’s FeedDemon, is a fabulous application, with desktop, online and mobile access, synched across platforms. Everything about FD is easy as Pi.

More recently, I joined the masses and started using Google Reader as well to keep track of a different set of feeds. There is much to love about this reader of mass appeal, including sharing stories and Greasemonkey scripts via Firefox that let me send stories straight to Twitter.

On Wednesday, FD announced that it now supports synching with G Reader and G Reader Shared Items!

The newest beta version of FD offers the synch option within the tools menu or when downloading fresh. If you want the G Reader synch, simply select that option, enter your credentials and decide whether you want to delete existing subscriptions in G Reader. When all is said and done, you will see a new folder for G Reader shared items in FD and all your FD subscriptions when you open G Reader!

Hat tip to Shooting At Bubbles. Check out the screenshots here

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A Welcome Improvement to the Mobile Phone Interface: Voice Control


Image by sbisson via Flickr

It is a telephone, after all. Even with its many applications, features, hardware extensions and bells and whistles, ultimately the mobile phone is just that. A phone. And phones are meant to be spoken to.

So sometimes, when I try to use my shiny iPhone to do tasks while, errr, moving, I find myself a tad frustrated. It is just not safe to be pressing those damnable “keys” while trying to operate heavy equipment.

Some states, in fact, have clamped down on the multi-tasking drivers who believe they can somehow keep an eye on the road and an eye and both hands on the phone. But there are other, more law-enforcement-friendly options out there.

Approximately 2 years ago, Microsoft purchased Tellme, a ubiquitous voice activated directory assistance and voice search system provider. Today, Microsoft / TellMe has an announcement for consumers: a “one-button” approach to call initiation, voice-dictated text messages and voice-activated searching with Microsoft Live Search on your mobile device. Taken from the release:

The new service puts many of the most popular phone functions behind a single button.  Windows phone users just press the side button of their phone to:

  • Send a text by saying “text” to open a text box, then speak the text message and send to call anyone in their contact list
  • Initiate a call simply by saying “call” and then the name of anyone in their contact list
  • Search the Web with Microsoft Live Search by speaking your request, such as “weather in San Francisco, California”, “Pizza in Kansas City” or “mother’s day gift ideas”

It has been integrated into Windows Mobile 6.5, available later in 2009.

iPhone users have not been without options in this regard. I use a free app, VLingo, which allows me to voice dial, voice search using Yahoo search or update my Twitter or Facebook status using my voice. It only fails me on challenging names or long, more complicated searches. VLingo measurably improves my vehicular use of the iPhone.

Hat tip to Search Engine Land

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The Sky Is The Limit – Up Close & Personal With SkyGrid

Last Tuesday, I mentioned SkyGrid, the super-fast, relevance- and source-weighted financial news service that is slowly being opened to the public. I was given a private beta invite and have been playing with the service over the weekend. I might as well get right to the point: SkyGrid rocks!  I firmly believe that SkyGrid is the future of news delivery on the Web.

If you want some background on the service straight from SkyGrid, Robert Scoble interviewed Kevin Pomplun, SkyGrid’s 26-year-old CEO and you can check it out here. You will be treated to a 45-minute discussion and demo offering a taste of how SkyGrid works, what SkyGrid can do, and where Skygrid is going. Or you can get Techcrunch’s short take here. In the Studio, I offer my own, personal impressions of the service from the perspective of a “some-what-tech-savvy, business-and-legal-oriented, but-definitely-not uber-geek” user. In other words, the view from the average.

One might think that a financial news site offering up-to-the-minute weighted and guaged business news by sector, industry, company size and other variables might be a bit daunting to interact with. Not so! The screens are streamlined and intuitive, with easy-to-read text, graphics, and prompts. Simple to understand and to use out of the box. And the news is ever-so fast!

When I sign in, I am greeted with the Front Page, which looks like this:

skygrid-front-page

There is a search box at the top into which you can enter a company name and/or ticker symbol. It supplies predictive text answers, which narrow as you type. If you select a company, you get all the news about that company from SkyGrid’s sources, which  can be further filtered by size of story, time, or “sentiment” – positive treatment (green), negative treatment (red) or neutral treatment (gray).

The screen you are looking at does not show the actual stories, per se, but instead lists “clusters” of stories relating to the displayed headlined topic. The number to the left of the headlined topic shows how many different related stories are clustered within. If you click on a headlined topic, a window and tab open showing all of the stories in that cluster. If you click on a particular story heading, you are taken to the actual news story in a separate browser tab.  And if you leave open the cluster tab in SkyGrid, it will be updated automatically as news breaks. News from the 100 top news outlets, rated by traffic, show in orange and news from elsewhere on the Web, such as blogs, regional news outlets, SEC filings and even reputable sources on Twitter, show in blue.  All stories are from publicly available sources.

skygrid-item-time-and-news-filters

You can actively filter your news in other ways as well. In the left side column are various buttons for portfolios, likes and shared items (yes, you can “like” news stories and share them via Twitter, FriendFeed and email), news sources, and time range.

As you select stocks in the search box or as you click on the portfolios or sectors along the left side of the screen, the news stories in the main box change to reflect your selection. The company name is shown in the number box at the bottom colored either red, green or gray based on the tenor of the story.  Essentially, with a glance at the news window, you can see if a stock or portfolio is trending up or down by color of company name and if the news is coming from a major or lesser source by the color of the story title. This simple graphic prompt speeds up the absorption of information by an exponential factor.

You can create your own custom portfolios, such as stocks you are personally invested in or companies that you are interested in following. You can select sectors by clicking on the categories provided, which break down further into subcategories.  This is a great feature for lawyers or any business person looking to keep track of industry sectors or specific companies for transactional, litigation, and buxiness development purposes.

How does SkyGrid do it? According to Pomplun, 99.9% of the collection and treatment is done by algorithm, with a little bit of human input from a managing editor on the Front Page. Even the sentiment filtering is done by algorithm and looks at syntax and linguistics, analyzing 30 (or more) different characteristics in the stories crawled. Sounds strangely semantic to me.

SkyGrid is still a fairly small company, with less than 30 employees, but it is looking to grow in both size and features. Although commenters are comparing SkyGrid to Google News, Twitter and Friendfeed – most likely due to its real-time aspect – SkyGrid’s true competitor seems to be  the paid service Bloomberg Terminal. Pomplun is careful to explain that the SkyGrid service is looking to be a complimentary participant in the Web ecosystem, working in partnership with other news providers, rather than in competition. Pomplun is quick to point out that Bloomberg offers hundreds of different apps, while SkyGrid is zoning in on a narrower bandwith: the mining of trusted news sources for relevant content and filtering the content so that it is easy for users to quickly ascertain positive or negative trends. While this might delay the “real-time” aspect by seconds, the true value-add is SkyGrid’s algorithmic editorial overlay and the assurance that a source is reliable. And Scoble reports that SkyGrid still beats his other “real-time” sources in the speed department, by as much as 20 minutes on top news stories.

When is SkyGrid going mobile? That thought crossed my mind, since so much of the Web’s “cutting edge” is honed-in on the mobile front. Pomplun stated in his interview that SkyGrid is sensitive to this interest and is looking at what it can provide. But there is a slight problem for iPhone users: the website is flash-based and there is that infamous limitation in the current iteration of the iPhone regarding flash. At this point, we can only hope that SkyGrid and Apple can figure out a way to make this amazing service iPhone-friendly.

skygrid-feedbackWhat will SkyGrid cost? My favorite number: free. SkyGrid has been a paid service up to now, costing $6,000 per user per year. Going forward, SkyGrid will make its money from advertising dollars and will partner with companies that SkyGrid  feels will be of value to its members.

I know you are now asking: “When can I get in on the action?” SkyGrid is slowly opening up to new members by passing limited invitations out through existing members or directly from SkyGrid itself. Pomplun advises that the decision to open SkyGrid up to the broader audience will depend entirely on current user feedback. In other words, SkyGrid wants to collect all suggestions for improvements from its current members and review all possible service angles so that it can respond and ensure that current members are fully satisified with the product. How customer-service-oriented is that? There is a button on the right-hand side inviting feedback and a box offering tips from SkyGrid on how to better use the service. And I have to add that my personal dealings with the SkyGrid team during the process of requesting an invitation and getting connected were very positive and gave me ample assurance that SkyGrid’s development is in great hands.

You can apply for an invitation here. I highly recommend applying for an invite – anyone interested in business or financial news or simply fascinated with the future of semantic content delivery on the Web will find SkyGrid at the top of the game.

The iPhone: Black's (and White) and Read All Over

iphone-black2Hat tip to Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites, there’s a new legal app in town for the iPhone. Black’s Law Dictionary, that venerable tome that decorates many a new associate’s desk, is now available in portable format on the iPhone. The 8th Edition of the Dictionary, edited by famed legal grammarian Bryan A. Garner, is the version featured on the app. Garner himself is quite taken with the concept:

The idea that you can have a very full, elaborate, complex and richly textured book like Black’s available at your fingertips is fantastic…. I myself am stubbornly in favor of print sources, but I like to watch my daughters use their iPhones. And I know that there’s another generation of people who really prefer the electronic medium at their fingertips.

What is the plus feature of the iPhone version. Well besides the more than 43,000 definitions from all walks of jurisprudence, the definitions include hyperlinks to related references and even an audio track to assist in the pronunciation of difficult terms. Wonder how that voice sounds?

The app is not exactly cheap at $49.99, but it is more than functional and could prove quite helpful on the fly. Better than carrying the big black book around. Hit the jump to LawSites for a video featuring the app’s developers, if you are interested in more information. Or check out the news release on West’s own blog here.

Hooray for more legal information and law-related apps for my favorite smartphone!

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The iPhone: Black’s (and White) and Read All Over

iphone-black2Hat tip to Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites, there’s a new legal app in town for the iPhone. Black’s Law Dictionary, that venerable tome that decorates many a new associate’s desk, is now available in portable format on the iPhone. The 8th Edition of the Dictionary, edited by famed legal grammarian Bryan A. Garner, is the version featured on the app. Garner himself is quite taken with the concept:

The idea that you can have a very full, elaborate, complex and richly textured book like Black’s available at your fingertips is fantastic…. I myself am stubbornly in favor of print sources, but I like to watch my daughters use their iPhones. And I know that there’s another generation of people who really prefer the electronic medium at their fingertips.

What is the plus feature of the iPhone version. Well besides the more than 43,000 definitions from all walks of jurisprudence, the definitions include hyperlinks to related references and even an audio track to assist in the pronunciation of difficult terms. Wonder how that voice sounds?

The app is not exactly cheap at $49.99, but it is more than functional and could prove quite helpful on the fly. Better than carrying the big black book around. Hit the jump to LawSites for a video featuring the app’s developers, if you are interested in more information. Or check out the news release on West’s own blog here.

Hooray for more legal information and law-related apps for my favorite smartphone!

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Mapping Environmental Risk

Truth be told, mapping the environmental risks near one’s home is a little bit scary and sometimes ignorance is bliss. But I have to give props where props are due and the EPA is due for their fantastic mapping interface. Just enter the zip code of the area you are interested in and quickly receive a screen full of information (arguably too much information) about the reporting sites and cancer risks in your area. The code entry box is found to the left of the USEPA’s page here and looks like this:

epa-zip-box

Enter your Zip Code and pull up a map of sites in your area reporting to the USEPA that looks like this:

epa-reporting

The page displays other salient information as well, such as cancer risks, UV Index, Radon and Ozone, Superfund sites, cleanups and water quality information. These added tabs and boxes look like this:

epa-more-info

Beautifully done and scary all at the same time.

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Update on the Professors vs. West Publishing

penn-crim-procedureRemember the news last week about the two law professors, David Rudovsky and Leonard Sosnov, outraged at the quality of a pocket part to their treatise on Pennsylvania law and West’s false implication that the professors were the authors of it? According to The Legal Intelligencer and Shannon P. Duffy, the professors may have lost their first sortie, but ultimately may win the war. The Senior U.S. District Court judge issued his ruling on Thursday, April 23 denying the professors’ request for an injunction forcing West to affirmatively advise purchasers that the professors had not written the pocket part and offering a refund to any disatisfied customers. Fortunately, for West, the judge denied the request. Unfortunately for West, the judge’s reason was that the harm had already been done.

The judge intimated that the professors likely had viable claims under the Lanham Act and defamation laws. And the judge himself opined that the pocket part was not up to standard and that the professors were entitled to some form of remedy. Ouch! But since the harm had already been done, an injunction was of little point.

West’s one-line comment: “We’re pleased with today’s result.” Really? I wouldn’t be.