I have wanted to write a piece on the human powered search engine and info portal Mahalo.com for a while now. However, whenever I try to put the pixels down I have frankly been struggling, the crux of the matter is as it stands Mahalo is just unusable for me.Mahalo.com is in essence a directory for the web, launched in 2007. Mahalo differs from other search engines by being hand crafted, powered by a team of human editors. The site also contains a great Q&A as well as a daily video show hosted by Leah D’Emilio.I am a huge fan of the concept of human powered search, I really like the idea that a search is hand crafted, bespoke to find quality information.After doing some research on my own browsing habits I would estimate about two thirds of my searching is answered by ‘Top Results’, by that I mean the top three with the rest being of increasing irrelevance. The human model is powerful as its already sorted the signal to noise ratio to an acceptable level. Instead of a top three I have a top ten, this provides me with data I just wouldn’t normally find.So why is Mahalo unusable?The biggest problem for me by far is its just trying to do too much. Google lead the way with simplicity, but I believe that’s more luck than judgement. People rave about Google’s simple ethos because its search results were perceived to be the most accurate.However, looking at the Mahalo homepage I instantly get confused. I have no idea what the site is, the messages are so mixed its like a night out with Vince Noir. The search results may be brilliant, but I don’t even know that’s the main product.Living outside of the US I find the consistent barrage of Mahalo News such a distraction, the content is pretty irrelevant to me, its just noise. The live blog feature is also wrong, but it’s a good first step and I would use this in my proposed site respin.So, what would I do?First things first, Mahalo needs to regain focus, for me the two core strengths are its search and Mahalo Answers which I consider to be the best Q&A site available. However, I would also add to this mix a tight aggregation of real time data. I have written and shouted enough about how Google is missing the boat with the Real Time Web, you all to know it’s a big deal for me. Mahalo could really capitalise here by applying the human model to RTW data.Imagine the brilliant Trending Topics section on Twitter with a direct feed into related questions and answers as well as live blogs or streaming video? Even better, imagine this coming from a hand picked selection of trusted sources, the signal to noise ratio that plagues hash tag searches simply wouldn’t apply.Because Mahalo is continuously manned the editors can spot trends and react quickly and appropriately, turning the site into my window of what’s happening and where right now.I would also clean up the homepage, make it simple but not clinical, focusing on these core strengths. Everything else would be a click down, its still important but the message is clear.I really, really want Mahalo to work; I am a huge Jason Calacanis fan and I love the principle of hand-crafted data. Algorithms can always be beaten and manipulated.If they can just get it right (and I truly believe the answer is RTW data) Mahalo could really shake up the stale search market, and we all need that.What do you think?
Tim Bray from Sun kicked it all off this morning, his hat isn't quite as cool at Ryans, but its a hat, hats are the new Vans apparently.
Tim had an Interesting pitch which he tells us he changed it at the last minute from a detailed technology pitch to how companies in the techspace can survive the current crunch. I have to be honest, after a day of being depressed about my stocks this was about as appealing as root canal work, but he pulled it off. Some people (including me) will hate this, but Tim tells us the waterfall method is dead, we need to be agile. Projects that take months of requirements cost infinitely more. Well I agree with that, if your some l33t start up, the rest of the world need requirements, nothing like finding out your agile approach missed something 20 iterations ago to really screw up your day.Honestly, the cloud, and what ever it is beginning to get a little boring. If I hear another pitch that infrastructure is like "1900s electrics and why would anyone want to generate it" again, I will scream, bring back the lolcatz. However Tim was a little critical of both Amazon and Google, infact he drew the exact same conclusion I have that lock ins are bad. You need to get into the cloud but you need to be careful. Poor old Werner spent the session moaning on twitter that he couldn't respond, would have been interested in his replies.The thing I loved about this session was the upbeat approach to a downbeat subject, downtimes are also a great chance to reposition your business, according to TimThink about regulatory technologyThink about basic needsThink about servicing the legacyThink about telecomsBuild something for yourselfFear VCs (really, well if you work for Sun...)Really interesting , but pulling telecoms into the same pitch as fearing VCs, I dont know, perhaps I am over critical here but it was a slide filler.Tim then went on to talk about how to ride the crunch personally:No technology religionDesigner vs developer, dont just be oneDont be an X developer (for any value of X)Build skillsContribute to an OS projectPublishNetworkLove it, its the philosophy I live by, I hate some of the narrow mindness of the tech world and Tim kicked ass in this part.Adam Gross - SalesforceAdam discussed cloud computing from a developer perspective. Discussed the subscription model and how it deliveries value quickly. Adam tells us that the key to be a great SaaS company you need to be totally scalable from day one and extensible, yer, we know. The pitch was a little disappointing and was really just a sales chat. I love the product, but I loved it before I heard the 10th pitch. Adam also wears nice jumpers.I then went on to a uni session lead by the very friendly and consummate professional Robin Daniel. Robin spoke about running your business in the cloud, interesting chat about Disney and Mickey Mouse tracking services. Ron gave a solid overview about the force.com platform.Chris Messina from Vidoop then gave a great talk about how oAuth and portable data can revolutionise your web app. Very interesting, very relevant and quote of the conference in my mind:"Passwords are not confetti"For those that dont know oAuth basically replaces the need for third parties to ask for user credentials, thats the deal, I have to be honest I kinda got a little lost how this differentiates from Open ID (and Facebook connect), apart from the fact that oAuth can run on the desktop, I think. This was quite a technical session, which I quite enjoyed,Work/life balance or Blood, sweat and tears: Which is the startup way?This was great, it was a double header from Jason Calacanis (Mahalo.com) and Tom Nixon (Nixon McInnes) talking about some of the philosophies behind running a business.I love tech, if your reading this you know I do, but this was a great break after days of detailed byte level conversation. I will be honest, I loved this, ok, I am a conservative voting spirit of free enterprise and I believe in two core business principles, if you want to succeed you need to work damn hard and you need to believe in what your doing. Gary Vanachuck calls this business DNA, I agree (but in a more British and less Randy Matcho Man Savage way). I guess what I am trying to say is this, if you want to live on the beach drinking tequila you better have an awesome business idea, not everything web 2.0 is about wine, shoes or friends. This session gave both sides of the argument, that's why it was interesting. As a people manager I can take a lot away from this, there is a fine line somewhere and finding it it key.Jeff Bar, the Amazon AWS head honcho then went on to talk about the important bits of cloud computing, he went head to head with a chap from Mindspring.[viddler id=cac4dc80&w=247&h=181]This was frigging awesome, not awesome in terms of the content, even though it was a very interesting devils advocate to cloud computing. It was awesome for the fact I send a couple of twitters out complaining about S3 then was invited to talk to Jeff Bar and Werner about my complaints, the CTO of Amazon is involved, he reads twitters, thats pretty cool.The Future of Entrepreneurship - Julie Meyer, Ariadne CapitalInteresting discussion how companies can demonstrate how there is market demand for tech products. Very interesting discussions regarding B2B and B2C, quite thought provoking. Discussed the speed of innovation (although she came from a VC perpective) the thing I quite liked is not to stress too much about the technology, but make sure it works. Its interesting this is a similar concept as Edwin from AOL spoke about yesterday, I wonder if its credit crunch inspired.Julie had an interesting quote from WorldPay, apparently the most important thing Nick Qgden did was never miss the payroll......It was ok, death by powerpoint, she was interesting though.How can you survive outside of Silicon Valley[viddler id=399c3f64&w=247&h=181]Again a double header with Michael Galpert from Aviary and Andy McLoughlin from Huddle, great overview of the development and VC scene outside of Silicon Valley. This was quite an inspiring session, and Andy made me proud to be British and involved in the tech world!Facebook connect overview - Dave MorinI liked this, having spent time today looking at things such as Open Social and oAuth I was a little "credential managemented" out, but this is pretty cool. The thing I really like about FaceBook Connect is the ability to:1. find out who you are2. grabs all your info3. gives you an option to publish what it was on your facebook accountI can see this as a real value add for so many people in so many different spaces, forget the credential bit for a moment, basically being able to tell people you care about what it is you just did, is very powerful.Next session was an Adobe AIR app Dragons den £5K prize, I didnt get chosen (not bitter). I wont go into detail as the whole thing was a little amateur hour, but fun.Mark Zuckerberg, FaceBook CEOThis session was hyped to the max, and that can only lead to one thing, a little disappointment (I support Spurs, I know all about this). I dont know what I was expecting, Facebook CEO to announce he was opening up his platform, that he was hiring Ben Hur and his crack squad of LOLCATZ who knows. It was interesting, but not amazing, I didn't spot Jesus or Gandhi in the audience. He looks half my age which is oddly inspiring, must work harder. Zuc all but confirmed there is going to be a facebook payment system. So we need to keep on top of that :)After Zuc there was the most awesome talk from Kathy Sierra, I cant even write about it, it was that good (I am also tired, been writing this post for over two hours!).Then live Diggnation and Facebook party but that a whole different posting...