Problem-Solving Products

Here is a very clear statement about understanding your product:

“Don’t start a business if you can’t explain what pain it solves, for whom, and why your product will eliminate this pain, and how the customer will pay to solve this pain. The other day I went to a presentation of six high tech startups and not one of them had a clear idea for what pain they were proposing to solve.”
— Joel Spolsky, Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality

I also like the advice from What color is your parachute?, that companies hire a person to solve a problem and they don’t want to get new problems. They buy products exactly the same way.

What problem does your product solve?

What problems does your product create?

Recommendation System Spam is Not New

John Battelle comments on gaming a recommendation system as a possible explanation for the embarrassing “similar items” result at

We all know about Google Bombing. But Recommendation System Bombing? That’s a new one to me!

Not new at all. We saw this at Infoseek in roughly 1998. As I remember, a vendor came to us with a system and we showed them how easy it was to spam. I’m sure that Firefly knew about it before then. Any kind of adaptive system (ranking, recommendation) is vulnerable. That is probably why personalization keeps reappearing on WWW engines, the login makes it much harder to spam.

Think like a spammer — if the system reacts to you, you can probably hack it.

Two Predictions for Enterprise Search

David Heinemeier Hansson and John Battelle have predictions pointing in opposite directions for enterprise search.

David’s prediction covers all enterprise software:

Enterprise will follow legacy to become a common insult among software creators and users.

John’s prediction is specific to search:

Enterprise search will show us a few new approaches to consumer search, and vice versa. In fact, we may get to the point where the two are often indistinguishable.

I disagree with both of them. Enterprise search and WWW search are more different than they seem. Yes, there is a bit of cross-fertilization, but each one has critical problems that just don’t exist for the other. WWW search engines must fight spam, sell ads, and deal with insane scale. For enterprise search, access to repositories, security, and ease of admin are essential.

Will WWW search and enterprise search be indistinguishable? Yes, for end users. Each one already has a box, a button, and a result list. Underneath, they are quite different, like two antibiotics designed for different kinds of bacteria. They may look the same, but you’d better pick the one designed for your problem.

Hello, World

I’m finally entering the public blogosphere after running an internal corporate blog for a couple of years. I work on search and spidering, mostly on the Ultraseek search engine. I’ve been on the web for over ten years and on the Internet for over twenty (my first ARPA e-mail address was before domains!).

Why “most casual observer”? My freshman physics professor at Rice was fond of the phrase “intuitively obvious to the most casual observer.” My friends and I thought that one of those would be a really handy thing to have available in the laboratory, because you could just ask them, get the obvious answer, and skip the experiments.

I don’t expect my observations to eliminate all your experiments, but I hope they will
save you some time. As Frank Westheimer at Harvard said, “a few months in the laboratory saves a few hours in the library.”