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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Wolfram Alpha, it's Knowledge Engine Not Search Engine

New technology term to add to the lexicon: "Knowledge Engine"

Very distinctly different from a search engine in that you are not intended to "Find" anything at all, then leave to go look at one of the results you found. The intent here is to learn something and gain knowledge by providing queries to the Wolfram "Knowledge Engine" then continuing to learn by refining the direction and scope of those queries until you come up with knowledge. Sometimes you learn things you didn't realize you wanted to know, but still find useful and relevant.

As I watched the demo video I found myself shaking my head in disbelief while I kept mouthing the word "Wow!" I'd be surprised if you don't have the same reaction, because it really is that fascinating and unbelievable. It is of limited use right now due to the factual data stored by Wolfram to compute the knowledge, but is nonetheless incredible.

Often the term "Google Killer" comes up when a new service or tool arises, but it usually turns out to not be a true competitor for a myriad of reasons. I've heard the term "Google Killer" applied to such odd warriors as Twitter or Facebook and now it's being applied by many here. That's foolish in this case as well - especially with the new features released by Google last week.

I've long been interested in the "Open" strategy and have been looking of late at the utility of adding external services to both my own and to client sites. So of course I stumbled into the Wolfram "Developer" section and started ruminating on how I might leverage the power of a knowledge engine and where it would be most useful on my own sites and those of others.

I'm an advocate of using specialists do what they do best and if that means AddThis for social media sharing, or Google Custom Search embedded on every page, I don't pretend that I can do better than those who specialize in those tasks. They are always going to offer evolving functionality and steady improvement that I won't have to bother with.

So it appears that Wolfram Alpha now offers an extensive API, widgets and other interface options with enterprise level partners. Since I've always been a fan of learning and knowledge, there are dozens of places I'd love to integrate Wolfram into my own sites. It seems that others might find that utility of value as well.

I don't see this as a Google Killer or even a competitor except for those who are using Google to gain knowledge, rather than discovery, as intended. When I want to learn something that Wolfram does well, I'll go there, when I want to find a web site, review, video or news, I'll go to a search engine. Maybe the next great innovation will be someone who comes up with a tool that solves the navigational search of those who type web addresses into the search box at Google. :)

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Friday, May 08, 2009

SEM or SEO? No Both for Most Search Teams

At the MediaPost Search Insider Summit, I got the opportunity to join a panel on social media and search with Darrin Shamo of Zappos and panel moderator Bob Heyman of MediaSmith (and co-author of the book Digital Engagement). I'm not going to discuss that panel here and will leave that to another post. But an interesting thing came up during my presentation...

The event is pretty heavily weighted toward SEM and I asked what turned out, to those in attendance, to be a bit of a dopey question. I asked "How many here are interested purely in SEM?" then when only a couple of hands were raised, I was encouraged to think it may be more of an SEO crowd, so I asked "How many are interested purely in SEO?" and saw only another sprinkling of raised hands.

So, based on one of my previous experiences at a major company where the team was half SEM and half SEO, and my current position, which is entirely SEO team with no SEM - I assumed a similar situation would be true of most in-house teams at substantially sized companies.

My assumption was apparently skewed. It seems that most do double-duty on in-house teams. When I asked "What's the balance here?" a few people said, (a few with emotion) "Both!"

That surprised me, based on what I knew before asking that question. But now I know that, at least among the crowd attending Search Insider Summit, that the oft joined SEM/SEO label applies to most. Well I suppose that was a gaff then, but...

Later in the day, I overheard a conversation on a shuttle bus which makes me wonder if SEO is being best served by in-house SEM/SEO's. After two strangers from the conference exchanged greetings & pleasantries, the inevitable "What do you do?" came up from one.

The answer, "SEM and I've been tasked with learning SEO for our team." (emphasis mine) Then the response from an ill-informed questioner was short-sighted and probably simplistic thinking from those who THINK they understand SEO - "So you're learning about meta tags and H1's?"

I'd like to argue that the two disciplines should be divided and I'd wager that many SEM's who love what they do will agree. The skill-set is completely different. Both SEM's and SEO's deal with keywords, and target search engine results pages, but that is where the similarity ends.

Having recently worked day-to-day with an SEM team in-house and being separated only by a cubicle wall for 18 months. I recall the SEO team only dealing with the SEM team during our bi-weekly online marketing group meetings.

So if someone who loves SEM is "tasked with learning SEO," (like that overheard conversation I mentioned above) they are not likely to understand or fully invest themselves in truly learning an important aspect of the Search Marketing business. They'll learn a couple of things and not all aspects of the work. They'll continue to do a great job of SEM and start doing a poor job of SEO.

I'll also argue that if that role is reversed and an SEO is "tasked with learning SEM for the team" then they will learn a few things, but not all of the elements of good SEM and not do a complete and thorough job of SEM but will continue to do a good job of SEO.

I recall a couple of job interviews about 5 years ago where in both cases, I was talking with an SEM manager who had convinced their boss that they needed a full-time SEO on staff to handle things they weren't able to continue doing as the company grew. Rather than evenly split SEM and SEO tasks among two staffers, they were dividing the two. That's the smart way to go.

I didn't take either of those jobs, and I'm quite happy about that now. I also walked away from a job that would have required me to significantly sharpen my SEM skills so that I could handle both. I didn't doubt that I could do it, but love SEO and very likely wouldn't have done as well with the SEM piece.

So I'd like to ask the question of those SEM/SEO dual purpose people - are you doing both because you love both or are you doing both because you were "tasked to learn" one of those pieces because your company won't increase the budget enough for a new head on the payroll? Would you rather focus on one or continue doing both?

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