Esther Dyson of Edventure Holdings and David Vise of BreakingViews.com and author of “The Google Story” took their seats on the stage as the first keynote for MediaPost’s Search Insider Summit here in sunny Florida. The schedule says Esther will be interviewed about the semantic web, but we get much more than that from this impromptu interview that includes some mystic channeling.
Q and A style presentations are, as you might imagine, a bit challenging to blog. So I’ve not captured everything exactly but my notes should give a good indication of the exchange. Keep in mind, some of the content below is verbatim and some is my characterization.
Esther: It was a smart decision if you continue to make smart decisions. Be transparent. Let the members of the community share in the ad revenue.
David: I’m Bill Gates, doing good things with the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and left Microsoft in the hands of Steve Ballmer. I’m out of touch and what’s up with Microsoft and Yahoo?
Esther: The problem is, you left Ballmer with a tough situation. Microsoft is run more by the sales operation than technology. Buying Yahoo isn’t going to fix anything.
David: Should Berkowitz (Steve) be in charge and should I get rid of Ballmer?
Esther: Microsoft has changed, become more humble. Not sweet, but the attitude has changed.
David: We’re not getting any play with search. When people think of advertising they’re all over Google and Yahoo. Should we continue pursuing that?
Esther: No. Do something else.
David: Search isn’t getting better despite claims.
Esther: Search needs to be more. It just points you to information. It should take the next step and perform a function, do stuff for you, not just present information. The quality of information needs to be better as well.
David: How far are we from a semantic web, something that’s connected as you’ve described.
Esther: Travel sites are beginning to do some of these things. Mashups are as well. But for now, they’re not particularly useful.
David: Google doesn’t have the market in Russia and China that it has in the U.S., why invest in Yandex?
Esther: Yandex is the Google of Russia. Microsoft’s opportunity is not with search, it’s with training, thin computing platform, open source, micro enterprise.
David: What is the reason Google doesn’t have market share in China and Russia?
Esther: Yandex was first. It’s more like Yahoo than Google. Our biggest challenge is not to screw up and continue to find ways to deliver more value to users. We recently bought a social networking company.
Russia is very different than China because it owns most of the media outlets, so they don’t have to censor them. China is very heavy on censorship. Bill, don’t buy Yandex or Baidu. Focus on education to generate goodwill and a new generation of customers.
David: Why invest in Powerset?
Esther: Powerset is a natural language search engine. Powerset is a longshot.
The ideal search experience would start with a query and the search engine would not only find the right information, it would use your preferences to make decisions and carry out a task.
David: If so many things are happening online, why the interest with space?
Esther: A lot of what’s going on online, is the “remainder of the proof left for the reader”. Space travel hasn’t been proven yet.
David: Can you make money on space?
Esther: Yes. Vomit Comet – Stephen Hawking went up weightless a few weeks ago.
David: Google and DoubleClick: Why do we keep losing these deals to Google? What sorts of issues does this deal pose?
Esther: It presents the opportunity to buy everything in one place. DoubleClick is worth more to Google than to Microsoft because Google knows what to do with it. Google is more of an advertising company than a search company.
David: Is Semel going to survive at Yahoo and should we hire him?
Esther: No, you shouldn’t hire him. Whatever Terry did for Yahoo he can’t do for Microsoft. You should work on developing markets in the rest of the world.
David: Is search overrated?Esther: They need to redefine search from search and fetch to act and transact. Understand user intention and history. Figure out in advance what the political consequences are.
David: What’s next?
Esther: What’s happening now that’s interesting is the connecton of what’s happening online to the real world. Example, cell phones that know where you are. Being notified by real world devices to you, wherever you are.
David: What’s Google’s biggest risk?
Esther: People becoming tired and complacent. You should know that Bill.
David: What’s going to happen in China? Where’s that marketplace going and how do I tap into it? As a search engine marketer.
Esther: First, make sure your kids are studying Chinese in school. You’re not going to be able to do anything in China without speaking Chinese.