Social Searching–Should Google Buy Facebook?…12.29.08

29 12 2008

Here is an interesting and thought-provoking post from TechCrunch entitled The Future Of Social Search (Or Why Google Should Buy Facebook) [] by Erick Schonfeld:

“If you could search your friends’ thoughts, interests, and activities, would that be a better search experience? In many cases, it would be. Searching for restaurants, books, or movies, would turn up recommendations from people you actually know. If you are researching a trip to Florence, Italy, you might discover ten friends who have been there already, and could ask for advice on what to do. These scenarios have been the dream of social search for a few years, with both startups and search engines taking a stab at it. But so far it’s been a failed dream.

Yahoo’s experiment with social search, Yahoo 360, isbeing shut down. It was a rudimentary social search in that relevant bookmarks from friends showed up as search results. And search has never been Facebook’s strong suit. It handed search over to Microsoft, but the search experience on the site is poor. It is difficult to search much deeper than your friends’ names. You need to go to an advanced profile search page to filter through their interests, activities, or other profile categories, for instance. And forget about searching your news feed.

Yet social search done right could become very valuable for Facebook. And it would be even more valuable for Google. (They already know how to make money from search). It is also an opportunity for Microsoft Live Search, but they are not really inspiring much confidence so far. So let’s set aside for a moment the unlikelihood of any Google-Facebook deal or partnership (given Microsoft’s investment in Facebook), and let’s imagine how the two could help each other.

Even if Facebook/Microsoft figures out social search, it is more useful on Google, which is where most of us do our searching. To get a glimpse at what this might look like, you can trySidestripe, which is both an add-on widget for Google search and a Facebook app. Sidestripe is like Glue for search (Glue is a browser add-on that shows you whether anyone in your social networks has expressed interest in the book, movie, restaurant, product, or other things mentioned on whatever page you happen to be browsing). Similarly, sidestripe indexes all your friends on Facebook and parts of their profiles (where they work, their interests, etc). When you do a search on Google, a box with Sidestripe results appears after the third natural result, giving you a sense of whether any of your friends might be experts on the topic. For instance, when I do a search for “Google” it turns up Facebook friends who work at Google or are somehow affiliated with Google, and looks like this:

A search for “biking” turns up friends who are interested in biking. You can also add your own knowledge to any search result, and it will appear as a subsequent result (although it does not let you add links, which I consider a major bug). Or if you still can’t find what you are looking for from either Google or Sidestripe, you can ask all of your friends a question from inside the Sidestripe box on Google about the topic you are trying to learn about and that question shows up in all of your friends’ feeds. Any answers then become indexed and searchable.

Sidestripe is barely out of alpha and still frustrating to use because more often than not the Sidestripe box remains empty. When there are results, they are interesting. It is hit or miss. As more people use Sidestripe, this should improve. But I think a big part of the problem is that it does not fully index my social graph, and certainly does not return results from my News feed.

Yet making Facebook’s News feed searchable (on Google) would go a long way towards realizing the dream of social search. The Facebook feed already aggregates what my friends are doing not just on Facebook but all across the Web (Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Digg, etc.). It’s like Friendfeed in this respect, but with many more users.

The trick to making all of this seemingly random data useful in search is to come up with a social algorithm that can rank it all accordingly. For instance, when I search for Florence, Italy, friends who have lived in Florence, Italy should show up, but so should friends who have recently taken pictures there or Tweeted about Florence, and maybe in that order. This kind of ranking is a hard problem to solve, and it is what Google is good at.

Imagine instead of Sidestripe, the option to add Facebook Connect to Google search, which would then turn on social search in results (these should only appear when there actually are social results to show). They could keep the Q&A capability in there as well. It would add an entirely new dimension to search.

Of course, Google has its own Friend Connect program, and wants to monetize it withFriendsense. But just as search is not Facebook’s strong suit, social networking isn’t Google’s. All my contacts are on Facebook. They are the ones I want to search. And everything I’ve described above is a big opportunity for Microsoft, if they can pull it off.

But the best results, IMHO, would come form a combination of Facebook and Google.”


“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins”…12.25.08

25 12 2008


And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”


Social Networks and Academia…12.24.08

24 12 2008

Here is an excerpt from In The Library With a Lead Pipe [] entitled “Social Networking With A Brain…” but read the whole post for an anlysis of each site:

Social networking may have started out as a way for students to keep track of their friends, but it has expanded in just about every direction. These days, you can find at least one related social networking site on just about any general topic, including musicphotographytelevisionbooks,shopping, and bookmarking. But it isn’t all fun games. Job sites like Monster and LinkedIn began the evolution from social networking to professional networking, and academia has joined the fray as a number of networking sites specifically for academics have popped up in recent years. Now we can add ‘research’ to the list above.

The impetus for this blog post was an email that has been making the rounds, originating from Dr. Richard Price of Oxford University, that reads as follows:

I recently finished my Ph.D on the philosophy of perception from Oxford. With a team of people from Stanford and Cambridge, I’ve just launched a website,, which does two things:

– It shows academics around the world structured in a ‘tree’ format, displayed according to their departmental and institutional affiliations.
– It enables academics to see news on the latest research in their area – the latest people, papers and talks.

We are hoping that will eventually list every academic in the world — Faculty Members, Post-Docs, Graduate Students, and Independent Researchers. Academics can add their departments, and themselves, to the tree by clicking on the boxes.

The message concludes with the names of a few notables who have joined (or been added) to the site, and a request to assist Dr. Price and friends in their efforts by further circulating the announcement.

Call me a sucker, but I got that message and immediately joined up, forwarded it to my colleagues, and started envisioning the possibilities. What intrigues me is’s combination of a professional networking site with a digital repository. Could this take the place of our nascent institutional repository or save my fellow librarians from having to put together an institutional bibliography each year?


A screen shot of's homepage.

A screen shot of’s homepage.


The networking-repository hybrid model was new to me, though I learned later that is not the first to do this. Nor is it the only virtual platform where researchers can create a profile and search for others with similar research interests. A lot of people in academia already use Facebook and LinkedIn to connect with their colleagues and friends, but and its competitors are different because they were specifically created to serve the needs of academics, in terms of research, professional networking, listing citations, and file sharing. Try some of those activities on Facebook, and you’ll soon agree that it falls far short of an academic’s networking needs.

Here’s an overview of the major academic networking sites and their features (if you know of others I overlooked, please comment below). All allow you to create a profile and search for other academics by research interest, so I’ve omitted those features in the table.

In addition to the characteristics above, these are the qualities that make each site unique.

  • Networking for academics in all fields. Offers unique visual format with organization by institution. Features Facebook Connect.
  • BibApp: Must be hosted on your server for campus-specific organization of faculty experts and research. Functions more like a catalog of faculty than a networking site, but could be used either way.
  • Epernicus: Networking targeted for scientists. Features “BenchQs,” which is like Yahoo! Answers for science.
  • Graduate Junction: Networking for graduate students that professes to be less intimidating than professional sites. Offers a conference diary & job listings.
  • Labmeeting: Networking for scientists in the biomedical and related sciences. Offers features to assist in organizing and sharing information in lab settings. Also includes strong privacy protection.
  • Pronetos: Networking for academics in all fields. Organization by discipline, and offers discussion forums for each discipline…”

Kindle Searches Way Up…12.24.08

24 12 2008

The amazing pent-up desire for Kindle expressed in number of searches []: 

“We already know that the Kindle, Amazon’s electronic book, is sold out for Christmas, but people are still looking for them. Searches on Google for the term ‘Kindle’ picked up in October to nearly triple the level during the summer. It’s settled down a bit, but search volume is still at about double the previous rate.

Not finding any available Kindles, searches for ‘Sony Reader’ are picking up as well, although the clear preference is still the elusive Kindle by nearly two to one. If you really want one, just do yourself a favor and wait for the next version to come out early next year.

Despite the surge in demand and sold-out inventory, I’d be surprised if Amazon has sold more than one million Kindles to date. Maybe 500,000. That would not be a stretch, given that 240,000 had been manufactured through August. It’s a complete guess, though (the 500,000)…”

Christmas Eve Contemplation: “Wise Men Still Seek Him”…12.24.08

24 12 2008

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’…

There are wise men and then there are wise men, if you know what I mean. You can find a lot of smart people teaching in colleges and universities, but they may not qualify as wise people. .The Wise Men of today’s text were smart enough to follow God’s directions

Matthew calls them MAGI. Despite the beauty of the popular Christmas song, they most certainly were not Kings. The word MAGI is usually translated as ‘astrologers or Oriental scientists.’ Their profession was a combination of modern-day astronomy and astrology.

‘From the east’ points to origins in Mesopotamia or Persia. The Magi were a powerful and influential priestly caste among the Medes and the Persians. These priest-sages were extremely well-educated for their day and were known to specialize in medicine, religion, astronomy, etc. The Persian Magi were well known for their higher religious and intellectual achievements.

They knew of the story of the coming Savior no doubt from the presence of Jewish people like Daniel in their country centuries before. Their honor in history is that they were intellectually honest enough to look for God’s revealing of himself and then acting upon that knowledge.

Dr. Paul Meier writes: ‘There is nothing the least bit improbable about a group of sages being attracted by some event in the heavens and then trying to investigate it more closely. The ancient historians of Greece & Rome were fond of describing astronomical phenomena and the effects they had on the lives of people.

In that region of clear air and in that time of poor artificial lighting, the nights were long and the heavens were quite impressive.’ The stars told them that a new king was born to the Jews and they mounted an expedition to find him.


Wayne Dobratz


The Gospel of St. John 3:16-17:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.


Merry Christmas! Holiday Vacation Begins…12.24.08

24 12 2008

Combining vacation and holiday time, I will not be back on the job until Jan. 2, 2009. Posts during this time will be less frequent. Merry Christmas!

EU Library Site Relaunches…12.23.08

23 12 2008

The follwoing is an excerpt of  an AFP release today entitled “New European online library re-opens after crashing” today

The European Union’s new Europeana digital library reopened on Tuesday after crashing within hours of its launch last month due to surging interest.

European Commission spokesman Martin Selmayr said the website was working after its server capacity had been quadrupled and it had been stress-tested to deal with user interest.

However, a message on the site said that ‘the user experience may not be optimal in this test phase’ and as a result ‘the number of users will be limited in peak times.’

The online collection of Europe’s cultural heritage was launched on November 21 to great fanfare but was swamped by an unexpected 10 million user hits per hour, swiftly bringing the system to a crashing halt.

‘At the moment things are going very smoothly. The commission will monitor (the situation) along with the Europeana team,’ Selmayr said.

‘We expect that in the course of February we will be able to add new material to Europeana to make it even more interesting than it already is today.’

Inspired by ancient Alexandria’s attempt to collect the world’s knowledge, the Europeana project allows users to access films, paintings, photographs, sound recordings, maps, manuscripts, newspapers, and documents as well as books kept in European libraries…”