Bing vs Google, the quiet semantic war

On Wednesday night I had dinner at a burger joint with four old friends; two work in the intelligence community today on top-secret programs, and two others are technologists in the private sector who have done IC work for years. The five of us share a particular interest besides good burgers: semantic technology.

Oh, we talked about mobile phones (iPhones were whipped out as was my Windows Phone, and apps debated) and cloud storage (they were stunned that Microsoft gives 25 gigabytes of free cloud storage with free Skydrive accounts, compared to the puny 2 gig they’d been using on DropBox).

But we kept returning to semantic web discussions, semantic approaches, semantic software. One of these guys goes back to the DAML days of DARPA fame, the guys on the government side are using semantic software operationally, and we all are firm believers in Our Glorious Semantic Future.

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Gunning the Microsoft Semantic Engine

New Bing Maps Beta with embedded data layers from Twitter and other social feeds, click to enlarge screenshot

There’s a lot of information on the Internet already. Every day, more is added – a lot more. And while there are a concomitant number of new analytic or sense-making tools on the web, they butt up against the fact that the data – the all-important data – is held in multiple places, formats, and platforms.

How are we going to deal with all this? One approach is almost mechanical: ensuring that datasets can be accessed commonly, as in our new Microsoft Dallas platform associated with the Windows Azure cloud platform.  In the government realm, the anticipated reliance on “government-as-a-platform” (a meme popularized by Tim O’Reilly) holds promise in allowing somewhat aggregated datasets, openly accessible.

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The promise of mobile augmented reality

Robotvision appMy intention with this blog is always to write medium-length “think-pieces,” about technology, government, or preferably both. I’m working on several (the Jefferson Gov 2.0 piece, the Evil Twin 2.0 piece, and one on “whither the multilingual web”), but they do truly require thought and some free time, so they percolate a bit.

In the meantime, readers like the latest cool demo videos, so for Friday fun here’s another one (watch below or on youTube), which was featured on TechCrunch last night (“Bing comes to the iPhone via Robotvision”), with an augmented reality app for the iPhone which uses Bing Maps and Bing’s real-time data (website here). The company describes itself this way:

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Bad News for the Pithy

Just my luck. Right when I start to push out the pithy quotes, Reader’s Digest announces that it is filing for bankruptcy. I remember the days when everyone would recite the newest pearls from their “Quotable Quotes” column.

My little gems, such as they are, came in two recent interviews, both on the subject of semantic computing and the semantic web. The subject matter in each is somewhat similar – I wasn’t asked so much about future work that Microsoft is doing, but for assessments of different approaches in semantic computing past and present, and where the field is heading.

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Microsoft and Google Look at the World Differently

I didn’t think I would have to write this same kind of observation twice within a year. But today, on D-Day, I notice yet again a striking difference between Google and Microsoft.  And in this case, one can almost read the evidence as a snub from Google to the United States, to the nations who united in sacrifice during World War II, and to President Obama on a day of his personal leadership in commemorating international war and peace.

I made a similar observation on Columbus Day, when Microsoft chose to honor Christopher Columbus and his explorations’ significance to American history and the world, while Google chose to honor – wait for it – Paddington Bear’s “birthday.” (See my post from then here.)

Today is of course D-Day, the 65th anniversary of a day in which over 2,000 American soldiers lost their lives, leading the way in the greatest military operation in the history of the world, as the initial landing to liberate Europe and the beginning of the end of the Nazi empire.

Google and Microsoft are two great American companies, which operate globally. Each has a public face to the world through signature online properties – their search engines. In Google’s case, that page at Google.com is their ne plus ultra public face, since they are at core a mighty search engine.

Take a look at the two pages today. Microsoft’s Bing search-engine uses its home page to commemorate D-Day, with a dramatic photograph of Normandy Beach today, and mouse-over popups providing historical highlights and links to more information on the battle’s signficance to World War II and to world history.

Bing D-Day

Google uses its home page to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the invention of the computer game Tetris.

Google Tetris

The mouse-over popup on the cutesy Google logo reads, “Celebrating 25 years of the Tetris effect – courtesy of Tetris LLC.”  (I suppose one could read that as, predictably, a coporate ad, right there on Google’s home page.)

Just as I noted on Columbus Day, this doesn’t appear to be a localization issue, or an issue of appealing to a global audience – both Microsoft and Google know my location, and in fact each is serving up a page targeted for me in the United States.

Don’t get me wrong: Tetris was an amusing and absorbing game. As a young guy I spent hours dropping the bars and shapes to fit into the rising pile below.

But at certain moments in life, you put aside childish things. Unless you’re trying to make some other kind of statement.

Note: I am a Microsoft employee. But this is not a Microsoft corporate blog, it’s my personal blog – and I’ve been known to tweak Microsoft here frequently as well.  This is my personal observation space.

I have to admit I am puzzled – and personally appalled – by the decision-making over at the Googleplex, and the statement they choose to send to the world.

President Obama is leading our delegation himself at Normandy Beach today, for the international event with other world leaders remembering a moment of global importance.  Self-evidently Eric Schmidt and the Google gang weren’t on board with that, and by their way of thinking saw something more significant to mark. 

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Cuil’s Hockey-Stick Decline

The new Cuil search engine, which was the beneficiary of a lot of buzz just two weeks ago, is not yet showing evidence of viral growth, according to new stats from Hitwise tracking service. Quite the contrary.

In fact, in the last few days Cuil has only ranked 34th among all search engines surveyed. 

Admittedly, it’s very early, too early to dismiss them (StartupMeme.com says “Cuil made a fool of itself“).  

Cuil has a cushion of VC funding to pursue the long slog. 

But they’ll never get better press and more media attention than they did over the last 10 days, and despite that I’d venture to say that Cuil’s carving its way into the wrong end of a “long tail.” 

Hey, folks at Cuil: you’re holding the hockey stick the wrong way!

 


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One of My Dream Web Toys – Now Live

Oh, am I happy.  Here’s where I’ll be, every day, for at least some little period of time: xRank on Politicians.

Every pollster and political consultant will like this – and okay, just plain political junkies anywhere, in this heightened political campaign year.  Politicians themselves will also want to check out their up/down arrow (Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine was hot “with a bullet” for a while because of the Obama VP rumors, but he’s falling now; John Edwards love-child stories are hot-hot-hot! right now).  Check it out yourself

xRank has been live for a while with celebrities’ names – but who cared about that?  Politicians – ah, good stuff.  Maybe we’ll give geeks their Andy Warhol moment and add technologists soon :-)

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Birth of Cool (Cuil) – History Repeating Itself?

Fact: Cuil reaped the whirlwind of the media buzz it craved today.  As CNET put it, “Google challenger Cuil launched last night in a blaze of glory. And it went down in a ball of flames. Immediately after launch, the criticism started to pile on: results were incomplete, weird, and missing.”

Analysis:  For several months I’ve had running an RSS feed along the right-hand side of the ol’ blogspace here, entitled “Who’s Talking about ‘the next Google.’”  Ha ha - the RSS feed pulls from a Google News query.

Well, if you judge by the echo chamber hungry for positive tech news amid a down market, you might think “the next Google” has emerged: the birth of Cuil.  (Extra credit if you’re a Miles Davis jazz fan, by the way.)  I may retire the crown, or at least the RSS feed.  Here’s some of the global attention:

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