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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So Long, Long Tail?

I’ve been known to disagree with Harvard eggheads before :-) 

 

Chris Anderson's Long TailAnd now, perhaps, another opportunity. A new Harvard Business Review article (“Should You Invest in the Long Tail?” by HBS Professor Anita Elberse) throws water on Chris Anderson’s paradigm, arguing that “hit products” are still more valuable than the conglomerated also-rans in the tail; her research is mostly in retail products. Chris has responded on his blog, sparking many comments and debate, and today the Wall Street Journal covered the back-and-forth debate.

I’m interested in the debate mostly because of the interest in the Long Tail way of thinking in some circles of the intelligence community.  I’ve written about the approach and its relevance to some intelligence issues (see “Tradecraft in the Long Tail” and “IARPA and the Virtual Long Tail“).

I’m just not certain that even a total debunking of the retail-oriented paradigm would undercut its value as applied to intelligence analysis. 

For intelligence analysts, obscure “facts” and patterns hidden snugly within the low-scale noise are all important – whether or not they gain numerative bulk in any accumulative way.  The paradoxical “unknown unknowns” are what’s being sought by dogged collection and analysis, and I’m not sure that’s analogous to Elberse’s acknowledged findings. 

Your thoughts welcome, here or by email back to me.

 
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Tradecraft in the Long Tail

Fact: Chris Anderson, WIRED editor in chief and author of the Internet-era classic book “The Long Tail,” also runs a couple of Ning social networks focusing on what the intelligence community would call IMINT, or imagery intelligence – specifically DIY Drones, “a site for all things about amateur Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs): How-to’s, videos, discussion and more,” and PictEarth, “a Social Network used to collect, link and geotag RC, UAV/UAS or Kite derived Earth imagery for use in 3D Globe Programs including Google Earth, Virtual Earth, World Wind and ArcGIS Explorer.”

Analysis:  With these sites, Chris Anderson is promoting what he calls “Crowdsourced Aerial Imagery.”  In the mission statement for DIY Drones, he writes that “Reasons to make your own UAV range from a fun technical challenge, student contests, aerial photography and mapping (what we call “GeoCrawling”), and scientific sensing. We are primarily interested in civilian, not military, UAV uses here.” (Emphasis is in the original.)

Let’s presume that individual DoD or intelligence-agency personnel have an interest in such issues, and maybe even in spending their personal time by keeping current and following the crowd’s interest in such topics, by participating in these new social networks.  One can then assume that others from foreign intelligence might have some interest in tracking those very IC personnel, by observing their activities within social networks (and not just Ning ones).  No spectacular logic needed for that.

The CIA has had some challenges in understanding their field presence within the Long Tail. 

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IARPA and the Virtual Long Tail

FACT: This week, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, an arm of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), launched its new unclassified website.  What’s there is initially fairly minimal, but they’ll be adding to the public information posted there regularly.

ANALYSIS:  I spent the week in Orlando, as a Keynote speaker at the IARPA “Incisive Analysis Conference.”  I’ll be writing a little more about the conference in the near future, as I saw some great demo’s and spoke to the principal investigators on many excellent and far-sighted advanced research projects sponsored by IARPA.  It was great to be there and to see so many old friends from the intelligence community, the national labs (PNNL, Sandia, Oak Ridge, Livermore), DoD, and innovative commercial R&D outfits.  Also, as the first IARPA conference since the organization’s launch, it was an opportunity to hear new director Lisa Porter communicate her vision and principles, which she did well and I’ll discuss those soon as well.  (She also kidded me about my efforts to make her a cultural phenomenon, but I blamed it on WIRED magazine.)

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