Saturday, May 7

NY Times: The Stanford Facebook App Class

The NY Times today reports has an article, The Class That Built Apps, and Fortunes. The Stanford FB app class is CS377W: Creating Engaging Facebook Apps. The class was taught by BJ Fogg, David McClure, and Dan Greenberg.

One take away from the class is an important reminder from BJ Fogg,
What smart people do, what engineers tend to do, is overthink and from the beginning we said to do simple things. But, the inclination is to do something fancier, more complicated. What happened over time was that the students teams discovered that over time is that the complicated things never worked, that simple things took off.
It was a hugely popular class, with hundreds of people interested in it. From the NYT article,
Working in teams of three, the 75 students created apps that collectively had 16 million users in just 10 weeks.
A key component of the class is the social aspect of the applications being built. The class is part of the Stanford Persuasive Tech Lab. From the lab's description,
Our lab specializes in persuasion via technology, so this is naturally our focus when studying Facebook. We want to understand the how motivation and influence operate on Facebook.
It was a big experiment in virality. As student Johnny Win describes it,
The hardest part of any project is to find the initial traction that will get you users and engagement and build from there. Rather than building a road to the moon, build the first step.
The students learned important lessons. You need people to use a product you build. It's great to capture attention, but it's more important to do something meaningful. There are enough punch the monkey, hot or not, and similar apps to waste your time on. Create apps that people solve a problem that matters. For example, an application like ReCaptcha that helps to digitize books and fight spam.

The efforts of the Stanford persuasive tech lab have taken on important projects: Health, Peace Dot, and others. I hope that the students were also taught the principles that motivate these projects as part of the app course in addition to how to create popular apps.

From Search to Knowledge at Google

Techcrunch reports that Search as high-level product group in Google no longer exists. As part of Google's re-org under new CEO Larry Page, the search group has been renamed the "Knowledge Group". Search Engine Land is reporting on the promotion of Alan Eustace from the SVP of Engineering and Research to Google’s Senior Vice President, Knowledge. My understanding is that this represents an expanded view of the products in search. Beyond helping people find information, the group's goals include,
... enhancing people’s understanding and facilitating the creation of knowledge.
Although all the details are not public, it sounds as if Udi Manber leads the engineering team on information products that are not core search. The details are speculation on my part, but his responsibilities may include products like Knol, Freebase, and Aardvark. It might also include some of Google's data management tools: Google Refine, Fusion Tables, and Public Data Explorer.

Does this mean that search is no longer a "core" product at Google? I don't think so. Instead, it indicates an astute awareness that search needs to be tied to other projects that manage information - social QA, Wikipedia-like knowledge bases, structured data, and other information tools.

In the academic world, we should also consider information retrieval in the context of tools and communities that create and share information: digital libraries, NLP, information (and relation) extraction, and the semantic web. These are all inter-connected components of the information processing and knowledge management ecosystem. As Google's re-org to create a "Knowledge" team indicates, these communities need to communicate and coordinate effectively towards a broader vision of helping people find, create, analyze, and share information.


Wednesday, May 4

Watch me on Fox's MasterChef USA Season 2

Fox announced that I am one of the 100 contestants chosen for the new season of MasterChef!