Category Archives: Search

Introducing Tweepz

logoDuring the last couple of weeks, I’ve been spending some evening-hours on a new project called Tweepz. It actually started when I noticed that it is rather difficult to find people on twitter which might be interesting to follow. Twitter’s own usersearch only allows to search by name and another similar initiative twitdir has been down for quite a while already. Thanks to my job @ exalead I have the opportunity to develop upon a pretty powerful search engine, so I started crawling twitter.

The first version is now ready (although there might be some bugs here and there), it’s available on

Besides performing a regular search, you can also use a couple of operators in order to restrict the search to a specific field (bio:, name: and loc:). Next to these operators, you can perform fuzzy queries using spellslike: and soundslike: or by using a wildcard *. Think I’ll add an advanced search window later this week, that should make it a bit easier to perform advanced queries.

Currently around 400.000 twitter profiles have been indexed so there’re still a lot to collect by the crawler. If you are twittering, you can speed up the indexation of your own profile by following @tweepz.

Hope you’ll find it a handy tool, suggestions or feature requests are of course welcome!

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Searching through video’s with speech-to-text

Speech recognition is one of those technologies which has been around for quite a while, but has not yet found it’s way to large-scale utilization in the industry. Yes, we’ve probably all talked to a computer of the airline reservation center once in our live, but I wouldn’t call that real speech recognition. You will have to choose between a couple of words, and if you say something different, they will redirect you to one of the choices anyway. This is what we call a small vocabulary speech recognition application. It is useful (I guess) but not what I think the best use case of speech technology.

The main problem researchers are facing is that each person’s style of speech is very different. And, especially if more people are in the same conversation, the speech recognition technology should be able to deal with all those different styles and vocabularies. I don’t expect it to take many more years before technology will be able to deal with those complications but there is some good news already!  Continue reading

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New exalead website and product offering

Yesterday Exalead released a new website, great compliment to my colleague’s who worked on this project. I think the new site is a huge improvement compared to the old one and it provides a perfect overview of Exalead’s (new) product offering.

I really recommend to have a look at Exalead Cloudview which, in my humble opinion, defines how the future of enterprise search will look like. And, while you’re at it, give Exalead’s Desktop search a try. The new desktop version can be accessed using your webbrowser and provides you with the same handy refinement options as can be used on

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Leaving ilse

After 4,5 years at ilse media I have decided to leave the company and start with a new challenge. To be honest, it took me quite some time to make this decision. I’ve always loved working at ilse and I will definitively miss the atmosphere and my collegues around there. Nevertheless, I feel it’s time for a change. A short while ago, I read a blogpost by Charlene Li about the best career advice she ever got. She describes the various phases you go through while you’re on a job. Basically, her advice is to switch jobs every 18 months, be it within your current company or to another:

At a career management course for HBS alumni, I learned that a person typically gets sick of a job after 18 months. This is a natural cycle, as you go through the excitement of learning a new job, become expert at it, and then gradually, it gets routine. So the advice I got was to plan for job obsolescence every 18 months. This didn’t mean that I had to leave the company and go to a new place – it had more to do with redefining my current job first to incorporate new challenges.

I reflected this on my own situation and came to the conclusion that I indeed arrived in the phase were a lot of things become a routine. For my job, it’s crucial to stay creative and come up with new innovations so routine is often a bad thing.

So… what’s my next challenge? Together with two new collegues, we’re going to start the dutch/benelux office of Exalead. Exalead is one of the major players in the enterprise search market. I know exalead pretty well since they are providing search technology to ilse since 2006. I’m a big fan of their technology and I’m very happy to become part of the company!

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Yahoo opens up

Yahoo’s new CTO, Ari Balogh, presented the new kind of Yahoo! at the Web2.0 expo in San Francisco. And I must say, I like it! In a nutshell, Yahoo is going to:

1) Open up their platform, enabling developers to build their own applications for various Yahoo! products like mail, my yahoo, search and even Yahoo’s frontpage on

2) Unlock the social data that lives within Yahoo’s databases (like mail contacts, messenger contacts).

I think Yahoo gets it. They could have also kept all the data for themselves in an attempt to build a new social app. Instead, they completely open up which enables the developer community to build some brilliant applications on top of Yahoo’s platform and data. And, eventually, chances are good that Yahoo’s platform ends up as the place to be.

More on these developments on Yahoo’s blog and in the video below:

Why Yahoo should stay away from Google

Yahoo is exploring several options for the company’s future, mainly in order to maximize the stock value now that Microsoft wants to acquire them. A merge with AOL/Time Warner is mentioned as one of the alternatives. However, a couple of days ago Yahoo announced that they will start a test of Google’s AdSense for Search Service. I hope this is just a way to demonstrate to the shareholders that they can make more money per user if they have a better ad-network, and not a serious consideration to join Google’s. I’m afraid that the latter is the case however. I mean, they already know that Google’s ad network has a better coverage and relevancy, so why do this test if you’re not seriously considering to outsource the search engine advertising to Google?

So why do I say I’m afraid that Yahoo will join Google’s Ad platform? Simple. That step would give Google a near-total monopoly over the search market. That’s not good for publishers and for the advertisers. It might even be dangerous since Google’s Adwords will then be the only place to go for search engine advertising. Given the fact that the pricing of Adwords is based on an auction-model, I think Google is the only party who will benefit. But, apart from the danger for the online advertising industry, this step would make Yahoo extremely dependent on Google.

Microsoft’s response to the Yahoo/Google deal is a quite logical one:

“Any definitive agreement between Yahoo! and Google would consolidate over 90% of the search advertising market in Google’s hands. This would make the market far less competitive, in sharp contrast to our own proposal to acquire Yahoo! We will assess closely all of our options. Our proposal remains the only alternative put forward that offers Yahoo! shareholders full and fair value for their shares, gives every shareholder a vote on the future of the company, and enhances choice for content creators, advertisers, and consumers.”

It’s clearly bothering Microsoft that they are still such a tiny player in the web search business. Despite the huge investments they made in search technology in the last few years, their US marketshare has decreased from 16.3% in 2005 to 11.2% by August 2007. That’s not very promising. In my opinion they seriously screwed up by renaming all of their online services to ‘something’ Live. Their branding strategy is a mess, and now they want to add Yahoo! to their portfolio as well. I think the Yahoo management understands that a merge with Microsoft would kill the company culture, but, it might be difficult to explain that to the shareholders who will receive $$$ when MS acquires Yahoo.

It’s a tough one, but I would definitely stay away from both Google and Microsoft. A merge with AOL or News Corp. might be an interesting alternative. To be continued (I guess)…

Google Universal Search a step too far

Google has made a radical change to their search results last week. They announced a new way to present search results from the web, images, books, local and news verticals on one page: the universal search. My first thought: yeah, makes sense to do that. Second thought: does sound very similar to what other search engines have already done. And, after testing the universal search: but what if I just want webpages?

Let’s start with my first thought. The enormous amount of search verticals that Google currently offers (listed here) indeed requires a new method to return the most relevant results from different verticals. Average Google-searchers will not be aware of the verticals and need to be assisted in their search. Integrating the vertical-results on the web search sounds like a good plan.

It often surprises me how extensively new Google features are covered in the press and blogosphere. This universal search for example, is very similar to Yahoo’s Alpha, Ask’s X and Microsoft’s Imagine-Live. Even the dutch search engine (where I work for) already merges news, local and image results with the webresults. It’s interesting to see that it’s only big news when Google launches a new feature:

Thirth, when I perform a search I usually know where the answer can most likely be found. When I’m looking for an image, I will directly go to an image search engine. Answers for technical questions can most likely be found in a forum or discussion group, so I would perform a search for webpages. For these specific queries, I don’t want Google to merge video’s and local results through the webresults. Unfortunately, there is no option to turn this off. Google has actually replaced the websearch with universal search (they only forgot to rename the tab from ‘web’ to ‘universe’). The average user will probably only benefit from this, but advanced users like to be in control. So Google, please give me back my websearch!

Googleabout – use google without advertisements

I’m not sure if Google appreciates this, but their turns out to be a way to use google without advertisements.
How? Very simple, just start your search at and you will see a nice and clean google.

Now, let’s see what happens when the blogosphere starts encouraging everybody to use this url. I think Google will disable this feature very soon…

New google layout, not an improvement

Just noticed that Google has a new layout for the webresults, they moved the links to the search verticals (images, news etc.) and added a ‘more’ link which directs you to all other verticals of Google. Furthermore, the related searches seem to have a new location (click for larger image):

New google layout
Personally, I don’t like both changes. The links to the various verticals used to be right on top of the searchbox. Right where you need them. I don’t really see the advantage of the new location. The related searches are moved to a location which I usually ignore (advertisements). I would suggest to display these just before the first result.

Ask to launch adsense competitor

AskAs a part of Ask Sponsored Listings (ASL), Ask will launch a new contextual advertising platform in the week of May 21st. This was confirmed by Paul Vallez, Director of Product Management. This looks like a serious attempt to compete with Google Adsense.

I think Ask perfectly understands the weak point of the adsense platform: transparancy. Many adsense publishers (like myself) will agree that Google is providing minimal information. Publishers have no insight in the revenue share, the performance of individual ads and the type of advertisers. Advertisers have to deal with pretty poor statistics regarding contextual advertising. Ask may have a strong selling point by providing better and transparent tools.

The ‘problem’ remains that publishers will not exchange adsense for ASL when that will decrease their revenue. Transparancy or not, it’s the $$ that count. It will be a challenge for Ask to achieve the same coverage and CPC as Google currently has. I certainly hope they will.