Yahoo 2.0 Trumps Google 2.0 …. again.

As Jeremy has noted, microformats are slowly but profoundly moving the web to the open, data rich, info cornucopia we’ve all been dreaming about. Yahoo is clearly the leader as “Web 2.0 Stylist” and one wonders if Google is going to be left wondering what hit them as developers and users move increasingly towards the simple but data rich environments Yahoo’s been creating for some time.

I’m beginning to wonder if Yahoo’s challenge in increasing market share, and thus stock price, is counterintuitive. Yahoo has effectively matched Google in search quality and has created a LOT of excellent applications and rich APIs while Google has simply stuck to a few great basics like gmail and search.

Perhaps the choice is simply overwhelming people who are thus choosing to stick with Google’s search interface (still simpler than Yahoo’s). Malcolm Gladwell has noted that when presented with too many purchase options people actually may choose fewer items than if presented with a smaller number of options. Could Yahoo’s problem be that they simply are doing too GOOD of a job ushering in Web 2.0 ?

Update:  When Jeremy over at Yahoo took me to task on this post I realized I’d not expressed myself clearly and it looked like I was talking about a search comparison.  (I’m leaving the post intact since he references it with a lot of comments.)  I was not talking about  Yahoo vs Google in search as much as Yahoo vs Google in the many other 2.0 projects like Flickr, APIs, and social networking features where I think Yahoo is beating out Google but not getting enough credit for seeing the future of the internet more clearly than most.

Airline flight update frustrations..

I praised Kayak's flight selection service a few posts back, but I'm finding they are listing flights that are not available even after what appear to be many hours of non-availability. However, this does appear to be an American Airlines data problem more than a Kayak one so I'm still bullish on Kayak, but it sure is frustrating to see this note which appears at

Check below for errors:

  • The flight you selected is no longer available. Please select another flight or modify your request


A detailed study of the many services really is needed. Maybe I'll put that on the list.

UPDATE:  Using which sent me into booking system I did get an excellent rate MFR to BWI of $384 which appeared cheaper thanat's rate when I searched there independently of Kayak.  The 384 was over $100 cheaper than Orbitz, Farechase, or TravelNOW.

Dr. Schneider! Just say NO to alarmism. Alarmism misdirects resources.

Later …. Wait, I think I'm being too hard on Schneider who later qualified the quote below to apply only to soundbite decisions when getting interviewed… ]

He apparently did not mean it to be as broad and sweeping as it sounds below]. However, I do think the quote reflects the current behavior of many scientists who are choosing to accept alarmism because it suits their needs.

My initial post:

A great intellectual frustration for me is trying to understand why super bright, well informed people who all subscribe to the idea of rational, scientific inquiry often disagree – sometimes violently – about the interpretation of well studied phenomena. I now think the answer can be found by noting how our pesky human intellectual inadequacies combine with our "tribal" tendency to agree with our friends and challenge our enemies, especially when we are under personal attack. This in turn focuses attention on a "too narrow" spectrum of information and people, which in turn leads to faulty analysis or suspect statements – even by very competent intellects.

Stephen Schnieder is an internationally respected Stanford climatologist and biologist and a key author of the IPCC report which is the key Global Warming reference work. He's also one of the harshest critics of Bjorn Lomborg and his book "The Skeptical Environmentalist". Back in 1996 Schnieder got to the heart of the challenge of mixing science and politics in the statement below and his answer to critics who often accuse him of alarmism based on the following statement he made in an interview:

"On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we'd like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public's imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This 'double ethical bind' we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both. [bolding added]

Yikes Dr. Schneider – please JUST SAY NO to effectiveness if it is going to compromise your honesty – that should not be an ethical bind for a scientists who should be held to a higher standard of honesty.

I sure don't like his idea that "offering up scary scenarios" somehow serves the long term best interests of the public. It sure looks like Schneider would support Al Gore's alarmism as an important part of getting the public to act on an issue many hold very dear (reduction of greenhouse gases in the hopes of stopping global warming), but I think a more functional view is that the role of science should be to offer the unvarnished truth, and to *challenge* alarmists and political or economic vested interests when they report facts selectively or inaccurately. Only with accurate analyses can we allocated resources most effectively to the myriad problems of earth.

The irony of it all is that global warming alarmists cite potential human death catastrophes from global warming, yet simply ignore the *fact* that there are many human catastrophes going on *right now* in many parts of the globe. Before you ask me to focus my attention and hundreds of billions of dollars of tax money on the (slight) possibility that global warming will rise sea levels 20 feet, I ask you to focus your precious attention, and a few dozen billion, on the easy to solve problems of the world like clean water, intestinal disease, and malaria. Deal?

Lomborg is too scientific for his own good?

After reading "The Skeptical Environmentalist" I was astonished at how effectively Lomborg challenged many of the ideas about the environment I'd been holding dear for so long. I was especially impressed by the case he makes for allocating resources based on analysis of the lives saved and a cost benefit approach rather than the often irrational, politically motivated spending that saves only a few but costs a lot.

This led me to a fascinating email exchange with the editor of Scientific American, which had blasted Lomborg in a very long critique of the book. The SA critique was written by four internationally recognized experts, but in my view they'd done little more than attack Lomborg personally and suggest – speciously – that his objective was to disparage a scientific approach to problem solving.

What consistently impresses me the most about Lomborg is his willingness to take on his critics point by point, addressing their concerns with citations and what only appear to be legitimate personal criticisms. (Such as noting that climatologist Schneider used to warn about potentially catastrophic global cooling but now warns of potentially catastrophic global warming).

I suggest that Lomborg is thinking very clearly and applying science appropriately, but has challenged his critics effectively and aggresssively enough that they've responded in an emotional fashion rather than a scientific one.

The enthusiasm many scientists seem to show for Al Gore's excellent but misguided propaganda film "An Inconvenient Truth" reflects poorly on the state of scientific thinking. I think it reveals the limitations we primates, even those primates high on the scientific food chain, have with mathematical constructs and allocation of risks, costs, and benefits.

Later: Wadard does NOT agree with me or Lomborg – the debate continues over at Global Warming Watch:

Here's a clear thinking piece by Lomborg

Kayak vs Sidestep = $200 Savings!

After gushing over Kayak's great flight search I realized I had not used Sidestep in some time and should give it a try.   In my opinion Sidestep used to really suck, requiring download of software to your browser and in my limited experience did not deliver good rates. 

Now, like Orbitz and Kayak, Sidestep allows easy browser based searching.  However for the 2-3 legged cross country flight I'm currently researching (MFR to BWI), Kayak blows away Sidestep and Orbitz with an American Airlines flight that is a whopping $200 less.  

This could be a quirk due to my rural Oregon location but I'm impressed nonetheless.  I also REALLY like Kayak's intuitive interface and the ease of selecting your previous searches very quickly.    Rates from the big systems are updated three times per day and availability can change even more frequently, so it's a good idea to search using the same criteria several times before you "give up" on a good rate.  Persistence pays in the bookings game and Kayak makes it easier to stay on task. 

Eventually I'll try to do a better more  balanced comparison where I'll pick a bunch of routes and run them on the different consolidation systems to see who wins, but first I'll do a few more of these quickie comparisons such as Kayak vs Yahoo's fairly new offering "FareChase". shines as airline ticket tool

My initial experiments with Kayak over a year ago left me unimpressed, but has evolved into one of the best tools for finding cheap flights.  There are several notable features that make it a great way to search for flights when you have some flexibility and want a good price:

* You can select a date range of up to 3 days before and after your departure and return.  Without this feature Orbitz was probably better than Kayak for discount flight seekers, but now that Kayak's got it you are able to get a good fare picture for a range of dates.  

You must sign up for this but all that requires is a 10 second email signup.  A huge hat tip to Kayak's team for recognizing that even requiring a name and address is a barrier to sign ups.  Get all that mundane detail from people later or not at all.

* Also great is Kayak's ability to select different arrival airports with immediate fare updates allows you to fine tune your driving to flying ratios.   Especially helpful when traveling to areas where several major airports may be in close proximity to many final destinations.   BWI, IAD, and PHL for example or SFO, SMF, and OAK in California. 

Gates Foundation trumped by IKEA’s tax avoidance “Charity” as number ONE?

Apparently  IKEA, more as tax avoidance than altruism, is technically the world's largest charitable foundation, though clearly Gates foundation, at 29 billion, is the world'd largest "real" charitable endeavor. Gates reported yesterday that he's leaving Microsoft over the next 2 years to devote full time to Gates Foundation activities.

One of my greatest disappointments is to hear far too many technology people absurdly suggest that Gates' motivations are other than the obvious – spearheading one of the greatest philanthropic efforts of all time that primarily serve the two most significant challenges of humanity – health and education.  

Bill Gates to become full time philanthropist and leave Microsoft management over next 2 years

Bill Gates' passion has become his outstanding philanthropic work, mostly relating to global health initiatives, and today he said he'd leave his day to day management of MS over the next two years.

Although the future of Microsoft may be in question thanks to the rapidly changing online, open source and competitor environments, this is a great day for international development efforts.  

In addition to saving over a *million* people from tragic deaths due to disease, the Gates Foundation has brought an entrepreneurial, innovative approach to the development of global health solutions.   I'm thrilled that Gates – still a young whippersnapper – will devote his substantial intellectual and monetary resources to the world's greatest challenges.  Bravo Bill!

Fortune Magazine: Is Slashdot the Future?

Back in February David Kirkpatrick, Fortune Magazine's senior editor, raved about Slashdot and SourceForge as the future of media.   He focuses on the power of content and communities generated by users and notes how effectively and powerfully Slashdot manages content and community with minimal staff. 

Kirkpatrick ponders the implications of open source "revolution" noting that open source is:

… Creating something of tremendous widespread utility for the ego value …

How powerful will ego be in shaping the media landscape of the future?   I've been noting at events like Mashup Camp as well as chats with people from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Amazon, etc, etc that large numbers of extremely bright people are motivated to a very large extent by pride and virtuosity rather than a narrow focus on money.    It's not just coincidence that corporate giants Yahoo and Google began in academia as non-commercial projects.   Both were inspired more by the interests of their creators than by a quest for dollars, yet rose to become two of the most successful companies in the history of commerce.
Of course profits and selfishness will play significant roles in the future of almost all companies, but perhaps the ability of the internet to leverage time, skills, and social connections so effectively is also generating more ego-based economic activity than ever before.

Online vs Offline Advertising – an epidemic of irrationality.

Matt McAlister is unimpressed with online advertising.

OK, but take a look at OFFLINE dude! I replied to him over at his blog:

I think you may be overestimating the abysmal stats behind conventional advertising. Online, the 1% of people clicking into an advertiser's site at a cost of perhaps .15-.25 is very good. For example if you advertise a website prominently in a print publication you should expect perhaps 1/10th to 1/100th that level of performance (1 in 1000 to 1 in 10,000 readers) clicking to the site. I've tested this result using unique URLs and large print ads and the results were…underwhelming. I've seen no study to contradict my own results though I've noted many ad buyers tend to evaluate ad effectiveness in very questionable ways, such as when a $20,000 print campaign results in a few thousand leads and the conclusion is that it was a huge success.

Context ads have redefined the relationship between content and advertising in a positive way for both advertisers and publishers, and until a LOT more money flows from absurdly overpriced offline media to online, and thus starts to close the ROI gap, I think it is unreasonable to expect online ad models to change much, although do see them moving away from PPC and towards pay per action models which make performance measures somewhat more straightforward and PPC fraud almost impossible.
I think many online folks simply have no idea about the incredibly poor performance of offline advertising. My working hypothesis is that most advertising buys have negative ROI but that media companies and sales reps have done a very good job of convincing ad buyers that their advertising is working.

This article suggets that Google's failure to get high bids for print ads was an anomoly.  On the contrary I think this is a glimpse of the future of advertising, which will continue to move online until relative ROIs balance out.

Google selling print failed because print advertising is *dramatically* inferior to online and Google customers know this. Even online campaigns generally have negative ROI, but I suggest that most large, image driven print campaigns have negative ROI unless flimsy methodologies are used to measure ROI.

Few clients measure print effects well if at all, allowing advertising reps and companies to BS their way to keeping TV and print in play which is the main funding source for large media companies.

Based on my observations and experiments with print and online advertising in the travel sector It's an epidemic of irrationality, where few bother to measure ad effectiveness and those few who do measure it, and find print generally fails to deliver positive ROI, simply turn to subjective justifications for continuing failed campaigns.