Saturday, November 22, 2008

Google unveils SearchWiki

On Thursday, Google unveiled their newest attempt to deliver the most relevant search results. SearchWiki allows a logged-in user to move results up and down, delete results they don't like, and even leave comments attached to results.

The screenshot below shows a search for "google searchwiki". I've highlighted the Promote, Remove, and Comment icons that appear next to each result. Note that the news result (ranked first) doesn't have any icons- Google always wants that result to be at the top.

I decided to leave a comment on the YouTube video, and as I entered the comment, Google warned me it would be visible to everyone. I also chose to promote the result. Now I can see my comment as well as 16 people who clicked to promote the result and 3 who wanted it removed:

This ability to give personal input to search results is only available to logged-in users. If you are not logged in (you don't see a "Sign out" link in the upper-right corner of the results page), you won't be able to vote.

It's not clear how Google will use personal votes to promote or degrade results, but you have to believe it will be a factor when ranking results in the future, a Human PageRank if you will. It's certainly something other search engines have been thinking about.

Friday, November 21, 2008


My pick of the week's top 5 items of interest:
  1. Some researchers at the Univ of Washington have built an impressive web browser that allows you to see how a web page changes over time (make sure you watch the video). The Zoetrope paper was recently presented at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology.

  2. A new study reveals the economics of email spam. Researchers sent out 350 million e-mail messages (mostly selling fake pharmaceuticals) in one month which resulted in 28 sales. That's a response rate of less than 0.00001%, but it still generated over $100 a day in revenue.

  3. Turbo Pascal turned 25 this week! I still have fond memories of programming my first stack implementation using Turbo Pascal in my dorm room. Anders Hejlsberg, the original author of Turbo Pascal and author of the C# language, shares his memories of Turbo Pascal version 1.0.

  4. Who would have thought making cars less noisy would prove to be dangerous? I discovered this problem a few years ago when I was nearly ran over in our church parking lot by a silent Prius.

  5. Just for fun: Coloralo, a search engine that uses the Yahoo BOSS API to grab images and displays only those that appear to be coloring pages for kids. Superman is well represented.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Search Engine Development offered this spring

I'll be offering a special class entitled Search Engine Development (COMP 475) this spring semester. This is the second time I've taught this class, but it will likely not be offered again for another couple of years. The pre-requisites are COMP 245 (Data Structures) and 250 (Internet Development I).

We'll be using Java to build a web crawler, indexer, and rank results. At the end of the semester, we'll have a fully-functional web search engine.

Here are some of the topics we'll be covering:
  • Web characterization
  • History of web search
  • Information retrieval (IR)
  • Web crawling
  • Deep web
  • Content indexing
  • Query processing
  • Search results ranking (e.g., PageRank and HITS)
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Adversarial IR
  • Personalization of search results

Below are some slides I shared last Fri morning in our Computing Seminar on adversarial information retrieval on the Web, one of the topics we'll cover in class.

Friday, November 14, 2008


My pick of the week's top five items of interest:
  1. Google Flu Trends is a new tool from Google that can predict flu outbreaks by examining flu-like search terms that people google when they become sick. The Google data can be days ahead of reports released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  2. Researchers at the Graphics Lab at the University of Southern California have developed a display box using spinning mirrors that creates a beautifully defined 3D image. Make sure you watch the video.

  3. Didn't I see this urine-drinking system thing in a Kevin Costner film?

  4. "When can I destroy humanity?" Another nightmarish robot, this one named Jules.

  5. RIP Elwin "Preacher" Roe, Harding alum (1935-38) and pitcher for the World Series Champions, the Brooklyn Dodgers (1951), who passed away last week at the age of 92.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

We forgive you

Occasionally I get a little irritated by Harding students when they show signs of laziness or immaturity, like when they give me lame excuses for missing class or not turning in homework on time. But the other day I was walking through the Harding Student Center and saw this:

It reads "WE FORGIVE YOU," and it's addressed to the thiefs who stole thousands of dollars of electronic equipment from two different dorm rooms a few weeks ago.

Now I want you to compare this with a sign that I put up around campus years ago when I was an undergraduate student at Harding and had my backpack and belongings (worth about $150) stolen:
To the Cretan who stole my stuff: Keep the backpack and books, but give me back my notes. It's the least you could do.

And that's the toned-down version which didn't include some rather derogatory remarks I was itching to say. I must admit I'm embarrassed by the immaturity I showed, and I'm humbled by the words of these guys who know what Jesus meant when he said to forgive your enemies.

Friday, November 07, 2008


My pick of the week's top 5 items of interest:
  1. The Web 2.0 Summit 2008 concludes today. Winners: web apps that save the world. Losers: Yahoo's Jerry Wang.

  2. Firefox for your cell phone?

  3. Have you heard of the Year 2038 Problem?

  4. Flash or Java for game development?

  5. Whether you're happy about Obama being elected or not, we've just experienced something monumental in American history. And it is refreshing to know that race is significantly less of an issue today.

    Someone with a lot of time on his hands also compared the web presence of McCain and Obama in Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.; Obama won hands-down.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Taxing the poor

Congratulations, Arkansas, on becoming the 43rd state to adopt a tax on the poor, ignorant, and others who are looking to loose a few extra dollars when filling up at the pump. In the guise of funding scholarships and education, the Arkansas State Lottery Initiative has passed the vote, thanks in part to the efforts of Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.

Although increasing the personal income tax a fraction of a percent would have funded scholarships and education by the same amount, I'm glad to see we are instead teaching our fellow Arkansans that wealth comes from luck, not hard work. And the ever important message: winning millions will make your life wonderful.

I can't wait to stand in line behind the mathematically impaired at the gas station or view the beautiful Lotto signs that will soon scatter across the landscape! Thanks, Bill!

(So when are we going to start funding the Lt. Gov.'s office with casino revenues?)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election 2008

In case you were wondering, a recent poll of 1,900 on-campus students at Harding found that 77% of them are going to vote for McCain and only 17% for Obama (6% were undecided). The students who most favored Obama tended to major in communications, Bible, or liberal arts. I don't have the numbers for faculty/staff, but my guess is 60/40 for McCain.

President Burks cancelled chapel today, the 3rd time during his 20+ year tenure, so students would have extra time to vote today.