Always New Mistakes

June 18, 2008

Next generation search engines

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Alex Barrera @ 2:31 pm

I was reading Scoble’s post about Windows Live Search and I realized what the future of search is going to look like (or so I think). I realized that the users don’t know how to express in a written way what they are looking for. Most of the times, you type a couple of keywords that should, theoretically, yield some results from which you can identify the one you are looking for. Human powered search engines like Mahalo have the same problems. They rely in human beings building pages with the most relevant information about a topic, but if you are looking for something not that common you’ll run into problems. Last but not least, semantic search engines like Powerset are closer to the goal, but there is still a big hurdle in the user’s way. How do you phrase, as a user, the information you are looking for? You need to type a phrase, but it’s not that obvious what that phrase should be, making it hard and slow to search things.

Now, the big problem again is writing down what are you looking for in a way the search engine understands it. How about another approach? How about a search engine that reads your mind so that it knows what you are really looking for? Most readers must have had a good laugh with the former statement but I have to say that mind reading devices are a big reality with their own field of expertise called Brain – Machine Interfaces (BMI). Several gaming companies are already using these devices to allow their players to control virtual avatars with their minds.

And how do these devices work? Generally speaking, it’s a helmet that reads neuron impulses in several areas of your brain. In the gaming example, they read the brain areas dedicated to movement, mapping neuron firing patterns to an specific movement in the game. This technology is still giving its first steps in the commercial arena, but I’m pretty sure  we’ll see more and more devices working with it.

Now, is it a big stretch to say that we can use similar devices to read our search intentions? It is indeed, it’s something that is still out of reach. Not because of technology but because of a lack of Neuroscientific data that can be use to pinpoint which brain areas we use when searching online. But it’s just a matter of time (I’m talking about 5 to 10 years here).

Big problems with this type of search, you not only need a web index, but a neuron firing pattern index and an engine to understand them and translate that into a web search query. Another big issue is brain privacy. Your neuron firing patterns would need to be transmitted through the Internet and stored somewhere. That’s a source of major privacy concerns that should be address before using a search engine like this.

Nevertheless, and with all the problems than might arise with an idea like this, I truly think we’ll someday see something like this and I have to say it will be awesome. I don’t know if any company is currently investing in developing a mind controlled search engine, but it would be a great project for a big company like Google, IBM or Microsoft.

Do you like the nextgen search engine? What problems do you see with it? Would you use something like that?

June 16, 2008

Sick of brands

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , , , — Alex Barrera @ 12:29 pm

Some days ago I was looking for a place to have lunch and I ended up eating at a wok restaurant. While I was eating I realized I’m getting sick of branded restaurants, shops, etc. Small restaurants are disappearing, giving place to branded chains that popup all over the place, alas Starbucks. It’s not that I have something against a particular brand, it’s more I’m sick of having my choices reduced to a minimum.

The same applies to many other industries. In the fashion industry I’m seeing the same. Big branded chains with shops all over the place. The good thing is that some of them do understand the problem. The biggest fashion retailer of the world is Inditex, a Spanish company, who’s flag ship brand is Zara

. You have them all over the world. The bad thing about Zara is that they’ve crushed most of their competitors. The good thing, to an extend, is that not two single shops have the same type of clothes. They geo-analyze their shops and pump different types of clothes according to the local neighborhood market. Of course, this is just to a certain extent and not all clothes are different.

The solution? As Zara is doing, keep the brand, create different shops. And I’m not talking about creating different brands under the same company (Inditex has Zara, Massimo Dutti, Oysho, etc.), but about different shops within the same brand. Of course, this is VERY expensive, but it would at least give us more choices. You wouldn’t talk about Zara anymore, but about the Zara in main street, Zara in Union Square, etc.

What do you think? Is the global brand also getting on your nerves? What would you suggest?

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June 12, 2008

Knowing your audience

Filed under: entrepreneur — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Alex Barrera @ 5:53 pm

Yesterday I went, as usual, to the monthly local entrepreneur meeting in Madrid called Iniciador. Rodolfo Carpintier, Spanish business angel and CEO of the only Spanish tech incubator named Digital Asset Deployment (DAD). His keynote was brilliant, some old school tips and some real pearls of wisdom.

First tip: Are you sure you need the money? I’ve personally heard this advice many times during my latest trip to Silicon Valley and I have to say I share it 100%. Sometime entrepreneurs think that it’s all about rising VC, but not all ideas need VC. Most of them don’t. Mine neither, or so I think (yet).

Second tip: Know who your audience is. This is an old one, but still worth remembering. Don’t go and pitch a VC when what you really need is seed capital. Vice versa, don’t go to ask for seed capital if what you need is $5M to start running. This is also true for entrepreneurs looking for developers, directors, etc. I had one guy come to me yesterday asking me if I wanted to be his marketing director. I respectfully decline and the incident got me thinking. Don’t go to an entrepreneur meeting looking for that profile, it’s a waste of time. Most of the people going to those meetings are looking for the same and already have their own ideas, startups, etc.

Third tip: Have a risk plan in place before going shopping. For me this was one of the best tips. It’s most often forgotten in most business plans. You need to show that even if you fail, if all hell breaks loose, you’ll still be able to return some money to investors.

There are many more tips, but I just wanted to highlight some. And excellent book for these type of tips is The Art of Start from Guy Kawasaki (still haven’t finished it yet, but I’m enjoying it very much).

Care to share some more tips?

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