Ted Leung on the air: Open Source, Java, Python, and ...
I spent Tuesday night, Wednesday and most of Thursday at MSN's Search Champs V4. The event is a forum for Microsoft to get feedback on various search related initiatives before they come to market. I did not apply to participate in the event, and I was surprised when Brady Forrest called to invite me, especially since I'm not a Windows user.
I debated with myself over whether or not to attend. I imagined all the flak that I was going to take from open source people for going to a Microsoft sponsored event. I pondered the prospect of actually helping Microsoft improve their products, which could be a double edged sword. And I disliked the requirement of an NDA. So why did I decide to go?
It basically came down to this: if we want the world to be a better place, then people have to start to talk to each other, listen to each other and learn to trust each other. The folks at Microsoft extended a very generous invitation to me (and the other Search Champs). I've been impressed with the degree of openness that I've seen in the post blogging Microsoft, and with the people at Microsoft that I know personally. So I took this opportunity to try and take a step toward the world that I want to live in. Part of the problem with the old Microsoft era was the monopoly situation. In search and many ares of web / internet innovation, Microsoft is the trailer (they are #3 in search). So fostering competition for Google seems like the thing to do unless I want to live under a different company's monopoly, especially in light of Yahoo essentially dropping out of the search race.
As far as the technical content of what I saw, there's a lot that was under NDA, and I think that the public stuff has already been outed by some of the other search champs. I've given up trying to win the first to report on X race. Other people are more motivated to break the news and get the traffic and accompanying ad revenue (still no ads here).
There are two things that I did want to comment on.
Due to the recent DOJ subpoena of search engine logs, there was a discussion on this at the event. For more details and background, read Joshua Porter and some of the blogs that he links. The Microsoft folks were very credible when it came to the issue of whether they had done anything bad for users/consumers as far as releasing information that would allow people to be identified. Despite that fact, after last weeks media blitz, it appears to most of the world that Google is the company that will go to bat for users when it comes to privacy. The Microsoft folks talked about privacy policies and better ways of display privacy policies and so forth. But I didn't think they overcame the perception that they are kind of late on this issue. Even though I believe that Microsoft did the right thing in the recent case, after the conversation, I didn't feel supremely confident that they would go to the mat for users privacy. And that's the perception that they need in the market. For the record, though, I don't feel any better about Google or Yahoo on this score either.
Gary Flake, a Microsoft Technical fellow, gave a talk (ppt) predicting an Internet singularity. All the major points and many of the minor points have been well discussed in the various corners of the blogosphere that I hang out in, but the talk is worthwhile because it ties a whole lot of things together, and because it represents MSN's official vision for the Internet. He also announced a new unit at Microsoft, Live Labs, to be co-founded by MSN and Microsoft Research (MSR). While drawing from those two organizations, there are approximately 130 open positions for Live Labs. The Live Labs idea, mixing research and fast moving product teams seems very similar to Google. Google has a much smaller research group, but many people who would normally be in research groups are intermixed with product groups. It's interesting to me that Microsoft felt it necessary to have a new entity in order to accomplish the same kind of skill/role mix. Also, the Live Labs Manifesto emphasizes collaboration with the outside world, although I'm a little concerned that this will be weighted towards academic collaboration. I was particularly interested to note that Eric Horvitz who has done a lot of work related to the attention problem, is part of the Live Labs staff. Microsoft needs to kick it up a notch, and Live Labs is clearly one effort at making that happen.
I heard (and gave) some pretty blunt feedback on things that we were shown, and I have to say that the Microsoft folks really listened. It's not easy to hear someone say something negative about your work, but I heard many hallway conversations between the champs that said the same thing -- people really felt that they were being listened to. Of course, we'll all have to see if the feedback affects the products, but there was a real earnestness on the part of the Microsoft folks to hear what we had to say. I liked it.
I wasn't really sure what to expect as far as the other champs were concerned. I recognized a few names, but most of the other champs were folks that I was unfamiliar with. Because of that, I had no idea whether or not the majority of people were going to be hardcore Microsoft fans or something like that. But looked to me like there was a very broad distribution of people across the spectrum of positions, and I didn't really hear any sucking up to the people at Microsoft. It looked to me that Microsoft achieved their objective of getting tough feedback on the stuff that they wanted to show us. I definitely met some cool people - both champs and Microsoft employees.
As with most trips, I put up a few photos on Flickr.
Posted by M Lauer at Fri Jan 27 03:58:50 2006
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