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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Simon Moves On

Jim Simon at the Library of Alexandria, Egypt

One indulgent use of a personal blog is to drop a nod in the direction of a salutary individual, and I’d like to do so for my departing boss, Jim Simon.

Jim has been the founding Director of the Microsoft Institute since 2004, when Bill Gates and Craig Mundie personally decided to establish a small outfit to use the benefits of Microsoft’s advanced research and development activities against intractable problems for the global public sector. They had been talking with Jim for several years, back when he was a senior executive at the Central Intelligence Agency and after, to understand how to improve government’s adoption of modern technologies.

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Elbowing for Obama influence between new CTO, new cyber czar

Today’s Friday – usually a big news day in Washington, whether by design (bury bad news late in a deep weekend news hole) or by human error (bureaucrats tried all week to get something done and slipped it in at the deadline).  There should be Obama cabinet announcements today, and meanwhile tech luminaries across the country are sitting by their phones, drumming their fingers and hoping for a call offering them the position of the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer. Norm Lorentz, who was OMB’s first-ever CTO, told C-SPAN this week that “If I were asked, I would serve in a heartbeat.”

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Gartner sees Hype Cycle for Social Software

Fact: Gartner now says that “Web 2.0 software” is falling from its “Peak of Inflated Expectations” and is on its way to a “Trough of Disillusionment.”  However, Gartner finds that wiki software has traversed that path already and is now well on its way up again to mature enterprise acceptance as a valuable productivity tool.

Analysis: Gartner’s just released their 2008 “Hype Cycle” report on Social Software – you know, stuff like public virtual worlds and Web 2.0 tools.

(I don’t know the legality of republishing the actual chart itself, so I’m not including it; I use the Microsoft enteprise license to access Gartner research.  I do note that a Web 2.0 enthusiast from the Netherlands has already posted the new Hype Cycle chart another new and related Hype Cycle chart, on “emerging technologies,” as a Flickr image here. There’s great overlap between the two reports.)

I’ve written before about the usefulness of Gartner analyses; I have to admit that Hype Cycles are my favorites. There’s something about internally debating their judgment calls as your eye travels the path, from pre-adoption “Technology Triggers,” through the bubble-esque “Peak of Inflated Expectations,” and right down into the depths of the “Trough of Disillusionment.” 

If you’re an enterprise IT guy, in a CIO or CTO role or investigating/recommending/approving new technology investments, you really wind up focusing most time on the slow ascending climb to the right of the chart, what Gartner calls the “Slope of Enlightenment.”  Just as in the old days when corporate “data-processing” chiefs lived by the mantra “No one ever got fired for buying IBM,” today’s CIO’s rely on technology that has essentially graduated to Gartner’s “Plateau of Productivity.”

Several other initial observations on the chart:the two Hype Cycle charts:

  • Newest disruptive technology trigger charted: “Erasable Paper Printing Systems,” something being researched by numerous large companies like HP and Microsoft as well as already in startup mode, but pegged by Gartner as still 10 years or more from mainstream adoption
  • Microsoft’s Surface has achieved brand dominance, as Gartner puts “Surface Computers” on the rise in visibility
  • Other key investments of Microsoft Research are validated with positive momentum ascribed to “Mobile Robots,” “Augmented Reality,” and “Green IT,” though only the last one is within 5 years of mature adoption
  • “Cloud Computing” is still on the rise, not having peaked in hype yet, though many would find that hard to believe – with its Time Magazine cover last year, it’s practically reached the point of being satired on The Daily Show
  • “Public Virtual Worlds” are right alongside “Web 2.0” in still heading down toward their disappointment trough
  • Furthest to the right – meaning most mature and enterprise-worthy – is the seemingly venerable “Basic Web Services.”

I really like these reports for a number of reasons – among other things, it looking at them together makes clear the social aspect of a number of more mature technologies (Tablet PC, Electronic Paper) which I favor, and which too often are recognized only for their technical aspects, not the socially enabling and disruptive benefits within and across organizations. 

The Gartner report also allows the blogosphere and twitterverse to step back from the moment-to-moment faddishness of the social software sector, and reflect upon the larger context of the individual technologies.  One measure of health: not a single technology earned the dubious distinction of “Obsolete Before Plateau,” a mark of shame which Gartner regularly applies to technologies that are getting hype but show no longterm promise.

Taken together, the social software space appears robust and very, very interesting.  Get a hold of the full report, it’s worth it.

Note: post updated 8/12/2008 to add references to a second Hype Cycle report on “Emerging Technologies”


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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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Mutual Interest: Microsoft and Startups

Short post to make up for the long one on robotics earlier today – just to point out the good SF Chronicle story today on Dan’l Lewin, Microsoft’s lead guy in the Valley itself – he “oversees Microsoft’s global relationships with venture capitalists, startups and Microsoft technology partners as well as industry and community organizations in Silicon Valley.”  I was a user of his group’s great online presence, the Microsoft Startup Zone, before I ever met Dan’l.

A telling quote in the story, from founder/CEO of mobile startup Loopt: “”Were it not for Dan’l – if we just knew Microsoft by reputation – I don’t think we’d be working with them nearly as closely as we are.”

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Required Reading on Innovation and Patents

FACT:  If you’re a fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s tremendous books (“The Tipping Point” and “Blink“), then you probably read the New Yorker magazine just to get his articles.  He has a new piece this week, “In the Air: Who Says Big Ideas are Rare?” in which he describes the phenomenally appealing work of the legendary Nathan Myhrvold and his current gig running “Intellectual Ventures,” often mistaken for a VC firm.  Gladwell recounts the facts that Myhrvold “graduated from high school at fourteen. He started Microsoft’s research division, leaving, in 1999, with hundreds of millions.”  It is what he’s done since then that grabs the mind, particularly if you’re interested in invention and innovation:

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