February 7, 2007

Searching vs. browsing

Filed under: search, web 2, web 2.0 — Rakesh Agrawal @ 8:32 am

I picked up a copy of The Wall Street Journal on Saturday and did something I hadn’t done in many years – look at the stock tables. I’d been on vacation for a week without my laptop and I wanted to know how IFN was doing.

The WSJ, like most papers, organizes their stock tables by exchange. I was pretty sure that IFN is traded on the NYSE. No luck. I looked through NASDAQ, AMEX, and a bunch of other tables. I gave up after 2 or 3 minutes.

The experience reminded me of the conflict between search and browse experiences. Think of “NYSE”, “Nasdaq”, and “AMEX” as tags or categories. I could browse through the categories, but why?

It requires me to think the same way as the person who assigned the tag or category. On most financial Web sites, I can just type in “IFN” and get the right answer without thinking about the appropriate classification.

I’ve written before about how local search forces people to think like computers. It’s easy to assign a ZIP code using rules that the post office has created. Unlike tagging, it’s also consistent. (Rich Skrenta has an excellent post on problems with tagging.) But it isn’t the best way for humans to find a place.

Classification systems force information seekers to think like the person who designed the system. In many cases, those designs are arbitrary and inconsistent. A former Yellow Pages salesman told me that if a potential advertiser didn’t agree with a category, he’d just create a new one to win the sale.

If I want to find the “Irish pub south of Grand Central” I should be able to do that without knowing how Irish pubs are categorized (are they nightlife? bars? restaurants? entertainment?) or what the ZIP code for the area is.

In the case of IFN, I’ve got money riding on it, and I still wasn’t 100% certain which tag would get me my answer.

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February 6, 2007

More stuff to read

Filed under: random — Rakesh Agrawal @ 2:57 pm

While I’m traveling, I don’t have much time to write. But I’m still doing a lot of reading.

I have a selection of the “best of” from my readings, chosen specifically for readers of this blog. You can find it in the right rail.

It’s also available as a feed.

Watching American football in Dublin

Filed under: travel — Rakesh Agrawal @ 5:23 am

I arrived in Dublin on Super Bowl Sunday ahead of meetings with my team at AOL Dublin. Wanting to see how the Irish watch the Super Bowl, I set out to find a pub showing the game.

I asked the concierge at my hotel in Central Dublin about a pub a colleague had recommended. “Yes, but no volume.” The nearest pub that would have the sound on was 2 miles away. Not wanting to trudge that far at 2300 hours, I settled for no volume.

I arrived at Fitzsimon’s and quickly found a screen with the Big Game. And no one watching. Sure enough, no volume. It was amusing to watch the Super Bowl with “My Humps” blaring throughout the bar.

The Irish have sharply less interest in American football than Americans have in World Cup. The one guy who was standing and periodically glancing at the screen turned out to be a bouncer, not a football fan. I resorted to trash talking friends across the pond via SMS.

At half time, I bumped into my colleague who had been watching the game in another room at Fitzsimon’s – with two Americans who work for Yahoo!

We decided to leave to find another bar that might have the game on (with volume). Normally I wouldn’t set foot in a TGI Friday’s while traveling. But wouldn’t an American sports bar have America’s biggest sporting event? It was closed.

As for the other big event on Super Bowl Sunday – no audience means no advertisers.  Instead of the showcase of the best of Madison Avenue, I saw the same four ads for , Carlsberg, Foster’s, Heineken and Hugo Boss repeated over and over.

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