Tag Archives: Google

Nick Black – Common Enterprise: Building a Business on Free Data [reboot10 notes]

Mr. ZIP promoted the use of ZIP codes for the USPS during the 1960s and 1970s.

Image via Wikipedia

Nick Black, Common Enterprise: Building a Business on Free Data, is involved with OpenStreet made and his company Cloudmade, that is trying to figure out if it’s possible to build business on top of it.

He starts with a point – nothing is free. Most free data has a cost, there are costs associated. Even though I write article for Wikipedia for free, I probably value this time more then the money I could get for it. There also some architectural costs, bandwidth, hardware etc.

Example: OpenStreet map server network card broke, even though it costs only 20 pounds, it costs about 5 hours of someone’s time.

Different free models:

Most projects distribution are free.

it’s also possible to get free at point of collection or creation, like Wikipedia.

There is also lots of data, collection is paid by tax payers, and then it’s given into Public domain, like US ZIP codes.


  • Free to reuse
  • Free to re-mix
  • Free to re-sell
  • Free to alter and transform

Example: taking oranges, and making orange juice at a convenient time for me, creates a great value for me and this way massively increases the amount I can make in the process.

Example: Choosing Zimbra vs. Exchange. Zimbra – 3.5 pound/month, Exchange 4.0 pound/month. Even though Zimbra is free, there is a lot of added value, and licensing at the end of the day represents only 0.5 pound/month in costs.

When the data is free, delivery becomes everything. P2P (Bit-torrent etc.) are examples of how the value changes. It’s not anymore about the money for the CD, but is it worth to me to click and download and listen to it.

Free data as valuable as an alternative hedge against proprietary data. It serves as a way to prevent vendor-lock in because I have commons alternative so I can either help myself or go to some other provider.

Examples of companies that got bit by that are Yahoo and Google maps that have problems in relation to their map providers.

When you are building a business that is available as a data in the commons, it gives you a great advantages.

But, there’s a more interesting answer to this question:

Data alone is not that useful, it needs to be augmented to add value.

Data itself is not really useful, but when it’s combined with software and communities, it gets really powerful. In addition, you want to create a circle that feeds itself and gets better and better with time.

Some comments on distributing free data

Once I distribute something I can’t stop it being redistributed. And we don’t want to stop you, since it’s a fundamental part of data redistribution. You have to make sure that data redistribution is an integral part of your business.

Creative-Commons is your friend. Links are currency on the Internet. Using linking back as an Attribution requirement and this at the end of the day drives back traffic, SEO, etc.

Can I pay people to collect free data?

The reason this is significant, it takes a long time to build communities.

Coase’s Penguin (Yochai Benkler)

Commons-based Peer production:

  • Non-monetary motivation (people have fun, and instead of obsessing over why, lets give them more ways to have fun doing this stuff)
  • Discrete multisize peices (it should be low cost integration, it’s got to be easy to do)
  • Low cost integration

Communities give you so much more.


Aggregate and Organize (Geo-Commons)

Create a Market place (A Flickr market place; Weogeo – ebay for data)

Suppose all maps are free:

  • Value can be created by end product
  • Customize
  • Personalize

.. at the end of the day it’s all about the communities: they greatly enhance the value of data. Need needs to be loved.

If you want to use the community, you have to respect the community. Remember the CDDB? Bits of freedom was taken from the community, until it broke apart. No matter how big you get, the community that built it can turn back and destroy it if you don’t treat them kindly back.

Free data is fine, but communities make it way better.

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Introduction to Findability, Cyril Doussin [WSG meetup 28/05/08]

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Image from Flickr

Here are my notes from tonight’s Web Standards Group London Meetup, the topic was Findability.

It’s a big subject, so he’s going to focus mostly on theoretical aspect. The topic of findability has been very well research by Peter Morville (semanticstudios.com) – Ambient Findability book

“Finding” and what it means.


  • Discover or perceive by chance o unexpectedly
  • Discover after a delibarate search
  • Succeed in obtaining
  • What is exposed to us (on purposes on inadvertently)
  • After search

We’re searching for: physical items. We’re also searching for digital information, mostly knowledge about: oneself, concepts (mining of something), more detailed information (e.g., products), entities in the same society (people, organizations, businesses).

Besides knowledge we’re trying to find opinions also. To validate feelings or judgments, in order to feel more conformable about data; we also search to establish trust relationships; complementary judgments (finding different POV on things).

Definition of information is a complex subject, but authors definition is:

  • Data: a string of identified but unevaluated symbols
  • Information: evaluated, validated or useful data
  • Knowledge: information in the context of understanding

Information is very closely tied to communication.

Examples are memes,  pieces of information that are transmitted from one mind to another. Either verbally or physical action. One example of this is “Rick Rolling”. If you are able to achieve this, you have “viral marketing”.

Multi-agent systems, systems composed of interacting intelligent agents. It’s a domain of AI. There are two types of agents:

  • Reactive agents (e.g., colonies of ants; they base their communication on very simple signals and they don’t really have a clue about the larger task)
  • Cognitive agents (e.g., closer to human beings; they are able to memorize things, they have beliefs and they have pretty complex ways of communication with each other)

Interesting base to study collective environment.

Findability referees to the quality of things we find.

Item level:

Evaluate to what degree a particular object is easy to discover or ..

System level:

How well a psychical or digital environment supports navigation and retrieval

Wayfinding: a complex events of what people to get from one place to go:

5 step process:

  • Knowing where you are
  • Knowing your destination
  • Following the best route
  • Being able to recognize your destination
  • Finding your way back

How do we make something findable?

Make sure that the item is easy to discover or locate

Have a well organized system which supports easy navigation and retrieval

“In your face” discovery principle; expose the item in places known to be frequented by the target audience. This is a case for advertising and commercial display. Advertisers have to understand how people navigate and use the world in which they live. Contextual example are airport related adds around airports since these are the people who usually drive around.

Hand-guided navigation:

  • Sorting/ordering
  • Sign-posting

Example: restaurant menus are sorted by the dish types and when you eat it in the process.

Describe and browse:

  • Similar to asking for directors
  • Similar to asking random questions
  • Get list of entry-points to pages

It’s also possible to mix things up. First example is from Google, direct links to custom web sites and inline search. Search assist for Yahoo proposes stuff to users other interesting things around this term.


  • Describe intent
  • Casual discussions
  • Advice
  • Past-experience

Essentially they are heavily based upon communication between peers..

Web is essentially a giant referral system. Anyone can add signs to entry-doors on your site. But this leads to need for relevancy system; someone seeing the signs don’t really know if that is the best way to go. One solution for this is PageRank, in order to put ranking on links; peer based example is Digg.

Relevance has two ways to measure effectivens the best as possible:

  • Precisions: how well a system retrieves only relevant documents
  • Recall: how well a system retrieves all relevant documents

Precisions = (number relevant and retrieved) / Total number retrieve

Recall = (number relevant and retrieved) / total number of relevant

When we talk about relevance, we need to identify the type of search that is being performed by the user:

  • Sample search: a small subset of documents are sufficient (most of the time; we often don’t look at the second page of results) (precision method)
  • Existence search: search for a specific document (precision method)
  • Exhaustive search: full set of documents needed (recall method)

Content Organization:

  • Taxonomy: organization through labeling
  • Ontology: taxonomy + inference rules (RDF, Dublin core)
  • Folksonomy: adding a social dimension

It’s increasingly important as the volume of information grows and information is shared. Very good base for search engines.

Measuring Findability on the Web:

  • Count the number of steps (less steps, better)
  • Many ways to get your data (search engines are predominate; peer-based lists and directories are also important)


  • Aim to strike a balance between sources
  • Know the path your audience will follow (do user testing)
  • Understand the type of search
  • Make advertising relevant (which is highly subjective, and a hard thing to do)
  • Make your content rich and relevant
  • Make your content structured

Black / Dark Google for Earth Hour

Having a nice white Google homepage in your browser is somehow reassuring as you know that you just have to start typing in order to lookup the data in the the metaverse.

This all changed when your favorite search engine turned their lights off in order to promote Earth Hour, their initiative to remind us to conserve energy and enable power-sawing modes on our computers and other electronic gadget.

If you are wondering why your Google didn’t turn dark for that one Earth Hour, it is because it’s probably because it is not between 8pm and 9pm maybe your local Google just doesn’t want to play. Here is a quick screen shot how I noticed it on Google UK.

Black Google Earth day

Usability reflections: How Google failed to keep their BlackBerry experience simple

Getting a CrackBerry was my latest step in showing total devotion to my employers big ideas about changing they way people blog. Since we use Google Apps for part of our intranet solution I thought it would be nice to integrate this gadget with their servers. Sadly this made my already bad initial experience with the whole BlackBerry platform just worse. Even though they made a number of steps to confuse their users, I’m just going to concentrate on just their web page on Mobile offerings for Google Apps.

Snapshot of the Google Apps mobile description page with non-linked URL’s highlighted

The basic idea of the page is to communicate that their suite offers a wide variety of mobile options of accessing the content. Yet It does this as it was designed as each section was its own page in some mobile providers glossy section.

No hyperlinks

They make hyperlinks to their mobile addresses part of normal text, making it really hard to notice and read. It also makes it impossible for someone to open the page up in their mobile browser and actually click on the links.

Lots of diffrent hyperlinks

The links they want to promote (in between links for non-blackberry users) are:

Even though m.google.com tries to keep it simpe the blackberry address in the middle destroys the message from Google to go to m.google.com with some sort of appendix for the addresses.

Failure to actually include crucial information

One such example is at the bottom where they promote their docs service, yet fail to include address for mobile access. My understanding after playing around a while is that I have to (or at least am able to) download an extra app to have great experience, yet they do not tell me that.

It also seems that their idea of mobile is BlackBerry and then everything else. While I appreciate their thought that they support everything with BlackBerry badge, a developer in me has its doubts. There are also some other very powerful smart-phones and it would be nice to address that issue a bit more clearly. They also do not make clear if they target at everything mobile or just the smart-phones.

Not speaking users language

The last section casually mentions “or other phones supporting WebKit browser”. My iPhone has Safari inside, that you very much as other mobile phones had a “Browser”, “Mobile Internet Explorer” and such. It is a bit a stretch to expect users to know what rendering engine their mobile device uses.
The same section goes on to mention “xls” format which is probably known to users but naming it Excel spreadsheet (with .xls ending) would make it more clear for the wide variety of users who actually don’t see the endings of their files in Windows.

Not providing simple mobile accessible URL and total failure of consistency

While Google actually offers mobile search at http://m.google.com, the page there actually doesn’t tell you anything about their mobile offerings. In order to get that you have to Google around to find http://mobile.google.com which promotes a downloader for “all” Google products in one go. Which is a nice idea for the fact that the installer actually doesn’t offer GTalk client.
But all of this is besides the point as this information is not on the page which actually forces users to go back at browsing the inter-webs to stumble on this information somewhere.

What could they do to improve the page?

  • Provide a clear, nice URL on top with all the links or even better – make their installer at that page actually able to install all of their offerings.
  • Separate the BlackBerry page from other mobile offerings. It seems sensible to have different pitches for Blackberry, iPhone and other mobile users.
  • Make the URL’s stand out and normal hyperlinks so it is not that hard to notice them.
  • Make some line breaks so the text on the page is actually readable.


The page itself feels like it was written in some marketing department, without any actual purpose to be helpful for any existing users that located it through search in hopes that it will tell them how to actually mobile stuff. This is also the message of this blog post:

People will find your marketing materials while searching for help on the topic. Design it in a way that it will at least point them into right direction for real help, if not actually help them in using it.