This past week has been full of interesting events on the Web: here’s a quick roundup.
- The search technology battleground saw Microsoft add some new weaponry to its arsenal with the acquisition of semantic search engine pioneer Powerset. In light of the end of the Microsoft-Yahoo saga, this is actually a smart move. Yahoo would have brought to the Seattle troops a chunky slice of market access and a user base, but a search technology that, years after the integration of Overture, spent a long time chasing Google’s (“Panama”, anyone?) and is now admittedly doomed not to catch up.
Powerset, on the contrary, is a different animal. The chances that Powerset’s approach will revolutionize search are small (and the big G is obviously not standing still), but the upside can be huge.
Is the price (rumored to be about $100m) too small for Powerset to be the next big thing? I don’t think so. Not if, as GigaOM reports, a Powerset search “requires 100 times more processing than simple keyword searching and indexing”, according to Search Architect and Engineering Director Chad Walters. This means you need to sink a huge amount of money into data centers (or, I guess, rent a ton of capacity from Amazon Web Services, which ultimately can’t cost you less if you play for real). Get a bunch of VCs to fund your second round, and you will always have a Damocles’ sword pointed at your neck. Get Microsoft to open its wallet, be clear on what you’re going to deliver and when, and you actually have a chance of making it.
Out of hesitantly nationalistic pride, let me add that Lorenzo Thione, one of the Powerset founders and the company’s computational linguistics guru, is a native of Milan and studied at the Politecnico di Milano before transferring to the University of Texas at Austin.
- Internet-hostile judges picked on both eBay and Google. A lower court in Paris upheld LVMH‘s arguments against eBay and fined eBay to the tune of €40m not just for not policing counterfeits to the satisfaction of the luxury goods house, but also for allowing resale of perfectly authentic items – a French example of favoring restrictive sales practices, and a perfect display of those anti-competitive attitudes that make Anglo-Saxons look at us on the Continent as if we were a bunch of bozos. What LVMH seems to be trying to do is as if Mercedes told you: once you’ve driven your Mercedes for a while, you can’t sell it. You can’t return it to the dealer, you can’t trade it in for a new car, you can’t list it on your local bulletin board, and most of all you can’t put it for sale on the Internet, the evil Internet. You have to keep driving the car until it disintegrates, I guess. eBay has released a statement vowing to fight for freedom to trade on the Internet, and is appealing the decision. Myself, I am reluctantly quitting my favorite perfume ever, a 1925 vintage fragrance: Shalimar by Guerlain. Please join me in boycotting LVMH fragrances with the Christian Dior, Givenchy, Kenzo and Guerlain brands until the court’s ruling is reversed.
In Google news, the spectacular cluelessness of the ruling obtained by Viacom from the federal court for the Southern District of New York, ordering Google to hand over log data about every YouTube video ever watched by every user, has already been vastly commented upon, not least by the EFF. In fact, some suggest Google should hand over the data in paper form – it should be about as much paper as the entire Library of Congress book collection, therefore more than enough for the Viacom legal department to have fun with for several lifetimes.
- Finally, some fun news. Most Western stock markets are down between 15 and 20 per cent since the start of the year, with China and India doing worse. Real estate is a mess, the banking sector is still looking shaky, and the word “stagflation” is hitting the headlines again. You’d think that the price of a charity lunch with Warren Buffett at the Smith and Wollensky steakhouse in New York would not reach the highs of previous years? Well, wrong. On the contrary, it has shot up even more than oil and steel. After fetching $620,000 in 2006 and $650,000 in 2007, all benefiting San Francisco charity Glide Foundation, the annual eBay auction offering lunch for up to 8 people with Mr. Buffett ended at $2.1 million. The winner, Mr. Zhao Danyang, is a Hong Kong-based investment fund manager. Mr. Buffett is reportedly quite surprised.
In Italy, on a much smaller scale, an eBay auction for a San Siro stadium seat next to Inter chairman Massimo Moratti for the forthcoming 2008-09 season Inter-Milan derby ended at Eur 5,050. Proceeds will benefit the Robert F. Kennedy Foundation of Europe and support the publishing and distribution of “Speak Truth to Power”, an educational project about human rights. The winner, a young Kuwaiti fan of the Italian club, has suffered though his favorite club’s years and years as an underdog, and must now be quite happy that Inter has grabbed back its opportunity to shine!