Rakesh Agrawal disambiguation

Google can do a lot of things well. But one thing it can’t do is tell me from Rakesh Agrawal.

The first page of results for “Rakesh Agrawal” returns four distinct Rakesh Agrawals. This caused some confusion when I was quoted in The New York Times about my Apple Store experience:

“I was at the Apple Store in Union Square today trying to buy a MacBook Air,” Mr. Agrawal said. “The place was packed, as always. I finally got tired of waiting and used one of their MacBook Airs to order mine from Amazon and then walked out of the store.”

At least one Apple fanboy pointed out that I am head of Search Labs at Microsoft. (Why someone who works for Microsoft would be telling the NY Times he bought a Mac is another question.)

I’m not. So, to do what Google can’t, here’s a primer on the four Rakesh Agrawals, in the order we come up in Google search.

Rakesh Agrawal, professor of chemical engineering at Purdue. He teaches, has more than 100 patents and publishes a lot. “Process and Apparatus for the Separation of Air” sounds like it could be really interesting. He has a lot of research assistants under him.

I have never met him.

Rakesh Agrawal, technical fellow at Microsoft in Silicon Valley. He works extensively on search technologies. He worked at IBM’s Almaden research center before Microsoft. He has more than 55 patents and 150 publications.

This Rakesh caused me a lot of grief when I also worked at Microsoft. Before I came on board, I saw emails about provisioning my phone. More than a week after I started, I still had no phone. I called up the support desk and they said that someone had looked in the corporate directory, called up Rakesh and asked if his phone was OK. Then they closed out the ticket. Rakesh also caused trouble with my travel (some of his flights were billed to my credit card) and health insurance (his medical claims processed against my account.) I don’t think I came out ahead once.

I haven’ t met him, but did talk to him once while trying to straighten out travel problems. When I tried to dispute a charge from Alaska Airlines, they responded that the ticket had been used and the passenger showed ID.

Rakesh Agrawal, professional know-it-all and talking head. I am a consultant who advises companies on social, mobile and local strategies. I live in San Francisco.

I also write a lot about startups and technology. Facebook, Google, Groupon and Yelp are among the more notable companies I write about. I appear regularly on VentureBeat, CNBC and Bloomberg TV. I’m also regularly quoted in mainstream media publications.

I have a patent on social news feeds and search and a few others that are pending. I also worked on search and love DVRs, so I have some overlap with Rakesh of Microsoft and Rakesh of SnapStream. I went to high school with Google CEO Larry Page. I’m the least educated, with only a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University.

I usually go by Rocky Agrawal,  a practice that started in the 8th grade with a middle school math teacher who couldn’t pronounce my name. (Thanks, Mr. Potter!) Lately, I’ve started to transition my online personae to “Rakesh Agrawal,” because I want to rank for my own name. But on TV and radio I usually go by Rocky because it’s easier than having the anchors and reporters tripping over both names.

I’m rakeshlobster on Twitter and “Rakesh Agrawal” on Quora. I own rakeshagrawal.com. I have a Facebook account, but I rarely post anything for public consumption so I won’t post it here.

Rakesh Agrawal, founder of SnapStream DVR software. Ever wonder how The Daily Show can pull up all sorts of clips of politician doublespeak? This Rakesh helps them skewer politicians with their own words. Their DVR software lets producers search through the audio in television broadcasts quickly to find the right clips.

Rakesh lives in the Houston area. He caused me a little grief when I checked in at the Four Seasons in Austin for SXSW. They welcomed me back and told me they’d already put the crib in my room. (I’d never been there before and don’t have a baby.)

He has a Tesla Model S, which he loves.

I’ve met this Rakesh. He’s a great guy. We connected over Twitter and he bought me dinner. Rakesh is “RakeshAgrawal” on Twitter. He is also “Rakesh Agrawal” on Quora , which doesn’t require uniqueness of names.

He’s the best looking of the four of us. But he’s the only one that doesn’t have a patent. Slacker.

The two of us are most frequently confused for each other because we are active on social media, are roughly the same age and have a lot of overlap in interests. (DVRs, television, electric cars)

Although it sounds like a unique name in the United States, Rakesh Agrawal is a very common name. And given that India has more than 1 billion people, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more Rakesh Agrawals than John Smiths in the world.

As the world becomes more interconnected and geographic barriers fall, it will be more important to be able to disambiguate among people. Rakesh of SnapStream had to explain to his friends that he wasn’t the guy quoted in the New York Times. He has also had to distinguish himself from Rakesh of Microsoft.

“I often get emails from Chinese grad students asking me to read their papers on data warehousing,” Rakesh Agrawal said. “I was even invited to speak at a data warehousing conference once.”

When you do a search like “Rakesh Agrawal,” search engines should show you clusters of documents that are grouped based on the underlying person and ask “Which Rakesh Agrawal did you mean?”

There are a couple of ways this could be done. One is to use the data in each document. Pages that talk about Groupon and Facebook could be put into one virtual pile; pages that talk about chemical stuff into another.

Another way to attack the problem is using social cues. People who are connected to a community about video and television are more likely to share things about SnapStream’s Rakesh. This is one reason why social is so critical to Google’s success. Google’s Search plus Your World offers a start to this: when I’m logged in, my Google+ profile is at the top of the results and other results appear higher on the page.

Ideally, the search engine would be able to generate a page similar to this post, with brief summaries of each person. Maybe Rakesh Agrawal of Microsoft will crack that problem. If he does, this Rakesh Agrawal will write about it.

In the meantime, maybe this page will rank for “Rakesh Agrawal”.


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