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Monthly Archives: October 2018

With TodayTix Presents, TodayTix is starting to produce its own live shows

October 12, 2018 No Comments

Mobile ticketing app TodayTix is getting into the show production business with the launch of a new program called TodayTix Presents.

While TodayTix is sometimes described as the mobile version of the TKTS booth where you can pick up last-minute tickets to Broadway shows, CEO Brian Fenty said that he sees the service’s real competitors as “anything you can do with your night, outside of work — that’s Netflix and ‘Orange is the New Black,’ that’s post-season baseball, that’s a pitcher of margarita.”

At the same time, Fenty said after driving a total of $ 250 million in sales and to 4.6 million customers, the company has built a rich trove of data about people’s cultural interests. So with that in mind, it made sense for TodayTix to follow Netflix’s footsteps with “the same ethos that they had, to develop and to nurture programming and content that’s intimately connected to what users and what customers want to see.”

This doesn’t mean TodayTix is going to be producing spectacular Broadway productions. Instead, Fenty pointed to the TodayTix Live concert in Brooklyn last month as the first of these shows.

That concert, which celebrated TodayTix’s five-year anniversary and was hosted by Darren Criss, featured (mostly) Broadway stars like Matthew Morrison and Ariana Debose, who (mostly) performed pop standards.

Fenty said future TodayTix Live events won’t follow the exact same format, but the idea is to continue featuring popular artists in intimate settings — he compared it to “MTV Unplugged.” In fact, he suggested that with 300 attendees, last month’s concert was about as big as these shows will get.

And because these are small, one-off events, Fenty said they’re noc competitive with the big shows that TodayTix works with.

“[Our partners] are doing longform, high-budget, highly developed shows that take years to develop and are fully baked,” he said. “Really what TodayTix Presents is supposed to be is a work-in-progress, an intimate way to see an artist.”

TodayTix already has plans for another New York City event in November, and then two in December. Fenty said “the cadence should roughly be a few events per quarter to start,” and that there will be shows across the service’s 13 markets.

Startups – TechCrunch

Get To Know Your Customer Better with Detailed Demographics

October 12, 2018 No Comments

Google has added greater ability to see who is searching for your products. Learn about some of the benefits of adding these new lists.

PPC Hero

Instagram tests tapping instead of scrolling through posts, first in Explore

October 12, 2018 No Comments

The effortless way you fast forward through Stories could be coming to more of Instagram . A screenshot from user Suprateek Bose shows Instagram “Introducing a new way to move through posts — Tap through posts, just like you tap through stories.”

Now Instagram confirms to TechCrunch that it’s testing tap to advance within Explore, and a spokesperson provided this statement: “We’re always testing ways to improve the experience on Instagram and bring you closer to the people and things you love.” As for whether this could come to the main feed, an Instagram spokesperson tells me that not something it’s actively thinking about right now.

Instagram already uses an auto-advance feature in its Videos You Might Like section of Explore, jumping down to the next video when the last one finishes. It previously offered themed video collections around Halloween and top creators too. But for photos where it’s not clear when you’re done viewing, a quick tap is the closest thing to Instagram propelling you through posts automatically.

Tap to advance, pioneered by Snapchat, eliminates the need for big thumbstrokes on your touch screen that can get tiring after awhile. It also means users always see media full-screen rather than having to fiddle with scrolling the perfect amount to see an entire post. Together, these create a more relaxing browsing experience that can devour hours of a user’s time. Instagram doesn’t show ads in Explore, but tap-to-advance could save your thumb stamina for more feed and Stories viewing where it does earn money. While Snapchat remains the teen favorite, Instagram could cater to seniors with arthritis with this new method of navigation (no, seriously, swiping can be tough on the joints for some people).

The fact that tap-to-advance is now testing but Instagram still hasn’t actually rolled out the Your Activity screentime digital well-being dashboard it says was launching two months ago begs the question of whether it really wants us to be more purposeful with our social media usage.

Social – TechCrunch

Microsoft Calls a Truce in the Linux Patent Wars

October 12, 2018 No Comments

The software giant, whose former CEO once called Linux a “cancer,” will let others use 60,000 patents for Linux-related open source projects.
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Quality Scores for Queries: Structured Data, Synthetic Queries and Augmentation Queries

October 11, 2018 No Comments

Augmentation Queries

In general, the subject matter of this specification relates to identifying or generating augmentation queries, storing the augmentation queries, and identifying stored augmentation queries for use in augmenting user searches. An augmentation query can be a query that performs well in locating desirable documents identified in the search results. The performance of an augmentation query can be determined by user interactions. For example, if many users that enter the same query often select one or more of the search results relevant to the query, that query may be designated an augmentation query.

In addition to actual queries submitted by users, augmentation queries can also include synthetic queries that are machine generated. For example, an augmentation query can be identified by mining a corpus of documents and identifying search terms for which popular documents are relevant. These popular documents can, for example, include documents that are often selected when presented as search results. Yet another way of identifying an augmentation query is mining structured data, e.g., business telephone listings, and identifying queries that include terms of the structured data, e.g., business names.

These augmentation queries can be stored in an augmentation query data store. When a user submits a search query to a search engine, the terms of the submitted query can be evaluated and matched to terms of the stored augmentation queries to select one or more similar augmentation queries. The selected augmentation queries, in turn, can be used by the search engine to augment the search operation, thereby obtaining better search results. For example, search results obtained by a similar augmentation query can be presented to the user along with the search results obtained by the user query.

This past March, Google was granted a patent that involves giving quality scores to queries (the quote above is from that patent). The patent refers to high scoring queries as augmentation queries. Interesting to see that searcher selection is one way that might be used to determine the quality of queries. So, when someone searches. Google may compare the SERPs they receive from the original query to augmented query results based upon previous searches using the same query terms or synthetic queries. This evaluation against augmentation queries is based upon which search results have received more clicks in the past. Google may decide to add results from an augmentation query to the results for the query searched for to improve the overall search results.

How does Google find augmentation queries? One place to look for those is in query logs and click logs. As the patent tells us:

To obtain augmentation queries, the augmentation query subsystem can examine performance data indicative of user interactions to identify queries that perform well in locating desirable search results. For example, augmentation queries can be identified by mining query logs and click logs. Using the query logs, for example, the augmentation query subsystem can identify common user queries. The click logs can be used to identify which user queries perform best, as indicated by the number of clicks associated with each query. The augmentation query subsystem stores the augmentation queries mined from the query logs and/or the click logs in the augmentation query store.

This doesn’t mean that Google is using clicks to directly determine rankings But it is deciding which augmentation queries might be worth using to provide SERPs that people may be satisfied with.

There are other things that Google may look at to decide which augmentation queries to use in a set of search results. The patent points out some other factors that may be helpful:

In some implementations, a synonym score, an edit distance score, and/or a transformation cost score can be applied to each candidate augmentation query. Similarity scores can also be determined based on the similarity of search results of the candidate augmentation queries to the search query. In other implementations, the synonym scores, edit distance scores, and other types of similarity scores can be applied on a term by term basis for terms in search queries that are being compared. These scores can then be used to compute an overall similarity score between two queries. For example, the scores can be averaged; the scores can be added; or the scores can be weighted according to the word structure (nouns weighted more than adjectives, for example) and averaged. The candidate augmentation queries can then be ranked based upon relative similarity scores.

I’ve seen white papers from Google before mentioning synthetic queries, which are queries performed by the search engine instead of human searchers. It makes sense for Google to be exploring query spaces in a manner like this, to see what results are like, and using information such as structured data as a source of those synthetic queries. I’ve written about synthetic queries before at least a couple of times, and in the post Does Google Search Google? How Google May Create and Use Synthetic Queries.

Implicit Signals of Query Quality

It is an interesting patent in that it talks about things such as long clicks and short clicks, and ranking web pages on the basis of such things. The patent refers to such things as “implicit Signals of query quality.” More about that in the patent here:

In some implementations, implicit signals of query quality are used to determine if a query can be used as an augmentation query. An implicit signal is a signal based on user actions in response to the query. Example implicit signals can include click-through rates (CTR) related to different user queries, long click metrics, and/or click-through reversions, as recorded within the click logs. A click-through for a query can occur, for example, when a user of a user device, selects or “clicks” on a search result returned by a search engine. The CTR is obtained by dividing the number of users that clicked on a search result by the number of times the query was submitted. For example, if a query is input 100 times, and 80 persons click on a search result, then the CTR for that query is 80%.

A long click occurs when a user, after clicking on a search result, dwells on the landing page (i.e., the document to which the search result links) of the search result or clicks on additional links that are present on the landing page. A long click can be interpreted as a signal that the query identified information that the user deemed to be interesting, as the user either spent a certain amount of time on the landing page or found additional items of interest on the landing page.

A click-through reversion (also known as a “short click”) occurs when a user, after clicking on a search result and being provided the referenced document, quickly returns to the search results page from the referenced document. A click-through reversion can be interpreted as a signal that the query did not identify information that the user deemed to be interesting, as the user quickly returned to the search results page.

These example implicit signals can be aggregated for each query, such as by collecting statistics for multiple instances of use of the query in search operations, and can further be used to compute an overall performance score. For example, a query having a high CTR, many long clicks, and few click-through reversions would likely have a high-performance score; conversely, a query having a low CTR, few long clicks, and many click-through reversions would likely have a low-performance score.

The reasons for the process behind the patent are explained in the description section of the patent where we are told:

Often users provide queries that cause a search engine to return results that are not of interest to the users or do not fully satisfy the users’ need for information. Search engines may provide such results for a number of reasons, such as the query including terms having term weights that do not reflect the users’ interest (e.g., in the case when a word in a query that is deemed most important by the users is attributed less weight by the search engine than other words in the query); the queries being a poor expression of the information needed; or the queries including misspelled words or unconventional terminology.

A quality signal for a query term can be defined in this way:

the quality signal being indicative of the performance of the first query in identifying information of interest to users for one or more instances of a first search operation in a search engine; determining whether the quality signal indicates that the first query exceeds a performance threshold; and storing the first query in an augmentation query data store if the quality signal indicates that the first query exceeds the performance threshold.

The patent can be found at:

Query augmentation
Inventors: Anand Shukla, Mark Pearson, Krishna Bharat and Stefan Buettcher
Assignee: Google LLC
US Patent: 9,916,366
Granted: March 13, 2018
Filed: July 28, 2015


Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer program products, for generating or using augmentation queries. In one aspect, a first query stored in a query log is identified and a quality signal related to the performance of the first query is compared to a performance threshold. The first query is stored in an augmentation query data store if the quality signal indicates that the first query exceeds a performance threshold.

References Cited about Augmentation Queries

These were a number of references cited by the applicants of the patent, which looked interesting, so I looked them up to see if I could find them to read them and share them here.

  1. Boyan, J. et al., A Machine Learning Architecture for Optimizing Web Search Engines,” School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, May 10, 1996, pp. 1-8. cited by applicant.
  2. Brin, S. et al., “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine“, Computer Science Department, 1998. cited by applicant.
  3. Sahami, M. et al., T. D. 2006. A web-based kernel function for measuring the similarity of short text snippets. In Proceedings of the 15th International Conference on World Wide Web (Edinburgh, Scotland, May 23-26, 2006). WWW ’06. ACM Press, New York, NY, pp. 377-386. cited by applicant.
  4. Ricardo A. Baeza-Yates et al., The Intention Behind Web Queries. SPIRE, 2006, pp. 98-109, 2006. cited by applicant.
  5. Smith et al. Leveraging the structure of the Semantic Web to enhance information retrieval for proteomics” vol. 23, Oct. 7, 2007, 7 pages. cited by applicant.
  6. Robertson, S.E. Documentation Note on Term Selection for Query Expansion J. of Documentation, 46(4): Dec. 1990, pp. 359-364. cited by applicant.
  7. Talel Abdessalem, Bogdan Cautis, and Nora Derouiche. 2010. ObjectRunner: lightweight, targeted extraction and querying of structured web data. Proc. VLDB Endow. 3, 1-2 (Sep. 2010). cited by applicant .
  8. Jane Yung-jen Hsu and Wen-tau Yih. 1997. Template-based information mining from HTML documents. In Proceedings of the fourteenth national conference on artificial intelligence and ninth conference on Innovative application of artificial intelligence (AAAI’97/IAAI’97). AAAI Press, pp. 256-262. cited by applicant .
  9. Ganesh, Agarwal, Govind Kabra, and Kevin Chen-Chuan Chang. 2010. Towards rich query interpretation: walking back and forth for mining query templates. In Proceedings of the 19th international conference on World wide web (WWW ’10). ACM, New York, NY USA, 1-10. DOI=10. 1145/1772690. 1772692 cited by applicant.

This is a Second Look at Augmentation Queries

This is a continuation patent, which means that it was granted before, with the same description, and it now has new claims. When that happens, it can be worth looking at the old claims and the new claims to see how they have changed. I like that the new version seems to focus more strongly upon structured data. It tells us that it might use structured data in sites that appear for queries as synthetic queries, and if those meet the performance threshold, they may be added to the search results that appear for the original queries. The claims do seem to focus a little more on structured data as synthetic queries, but it doesn’t really change the claims that much. They haven’t changed enough to publish them side by side and compare them.

What Google Has Said about Structured Data and Rankings

Google spokespeople had been telling us that Structured Data doesn’t impact rankings directly, but what they have been saying does seem to have changed somewhat recently. In the Search Engine Roundtable post, Google: Structured Data Doesn’t Give You A Ranking Boost But Can Help Rankings we are told that just having structured data on a site doesn’t automatically boost the rankings of a page, but if the structured data for a page is used as a synthetic query, and it meets the performance threshold as an augmentation query, it might be shown in rankings, thus helping in rankings (as this patent tells us.)

Note that this isn’t new, and the continuation patent’s claims don’t appear to have changed that much so that structured data is still being used as synthetic queries, and is checked to see if they work as augmented queries. This does seem to be a really good reason to make sure you are using the appropriate structured data for your pages.

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Get To Know Your Customer Better with Detailed Demographics

October 11, 2018 No Comments

Google has added greater ability to see who is searching for your products. Learn about some of the benefits of adding these new lists.

PPC Hero

New Relic acquires Belgium’s CoScale to expand its monitoring of Kubernetes containers and microservices

October 11, 2018 No Comments

New Relic, a provider of analytics and monitoring around a company’s internal and external facing apps and services to help optimise their performance, is making an acquisition today as it continues to expand a newer area of its business, containers and microservices. The company has announced that it has purchased CoScale, a provider of monitoring for containers and microservices, with a specific focus on Kubernetes.

Terms of the deal — which will include the team and technology — are not being disclosed, as it will not have a material impact on New Relic’s earnings. The larger company is traded on the NYSE (ticker: NEWR) and has been a strong upswing in the last two years, and its current market cap its around $ 4.6 billion.

Originally founded in Belgium, CoScale had raised $ 6.4 million and was last valued at $ 7.9 million, according to PitchBook. Investors included Microsoft (via its ScaleUp accelerator), PMV and the Qbic Fund, two Belgian investors.

We are thrilled to bring CoScale’s knowledge and deeply technical team into the New Relic fold,” noted Ramon Guiu, senior director of product management at New Relic. “The CoScale team members joining New Relic will focus on incorporating CoScale’s capabilities and experience into continuing innovations for the New Relic platform.”

The deal underscores how New Relic has had to shift in the last couple of years: when the company was founded years ago, application monitoring was a relatively easy task, with the web and a specified number of services the limit of what needed attention. But services, apps and functions have become increasingly complex and now tap data stored across a range of locations and devices, and processing everything generates a lot of computing demand.

New Relic first added container and microservices monitoring to its stack in 2016. That’s a somewhat late arrival to the area, New Relic CEO Lew Cirne believes that it’s just at the right time, dovetailing New Relic’s changes with wider shifts in the market.

‘We think those changes have actually been an opportunity for us to further differentiate and further strengthen our thesis that the New Relic  way is really the most logical way to address this,” he told my colleague Ron Miller last month. As Ron wrote, Cirne’s take is that New Relic has always been centered on the code, as opposed to the infrastructure where it’s delivered, and that has helped it make adjustments as the delivery mechanisms have changed.

New Relic already provides monitoring for Kubernetes, Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE), Amazon Elastic Container Service for Kubernetes (EKS), Microsoft Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS), and RedHat Openshift, and the idea is that CoScale will help it ramp up across that range, while also adding Docker and OpenShift to the mix, as well as offering new services down the line to serve the DevOps community.

“The visions of New Relic and CoScale are remarkably well aligned, so our team is excited that we get to join New Relic and continue on our journey of helping companies innovate faster by providing them visibility into the performance of their modern architectures,” said CoScale CEO Stijn Polfliet, in a statement. “[Co-founder] Fred [Ryckbosch] and I feel like this is such an exciting space and time to be in this market, and we’re thrilled to be teaming up with the amazing team at New Relic, the leader in monitoring modern applications and infrastructure.”

Enterprise – TechCrunch

Google data breach + Berners-Lee’s Solid — is the power shifting?

October 11, 2018 No Comments

I don’t usually go for drastic headlines, but it does seem like some tides have been turning of late.

We’ve all followed the stories of data breaches, new regulations, fake news, hacks, ever-rising privacy concerns. Not to mention this week’s discovery that webmaster Google had a breach exposing private data from as many as 500,000 people. As a result of which, they’ll be shutting down Google+ for consumers.

Facebook and Google faced scandals of no small sort within months of each other. GDPR passed, and subsequent regulations are hedging their way into the US market.

But perhaps most interesting of all, on September 29 Tim Berners-Lee surfaced to announce the next “one small step” for the web. I may not speak for the masses, but when Berners-Lee pipes up about something I tend to lend my ear. Besides being best known as the person who invented the World Wide Web (how about adding that to your LinkedIn), he’s been quite on-point in following its evolution.

Curious footnote: the WWW started as a memo

As he tells the story himself from a TED stage, “I wrote a memo suggesting the global hypertext system. Nobody really did anything with it. But 18 months later — this is how innovation happens — 18 months later, my boss said I could do it on the side, as a sort of a play project…So I basically roughed out what HTML should look like: hypertext protocol, HTTP; the idea of URLs, these names for things which started with HTTP. I wrote the code and put it out there.”

And now look at us. Running whole businesses on that one widely explosive memo.

Anyway. Almost 20 years after the original invention, Tim Berners-Lee appeared on the TED stage to thank people for all their work contributing to the web so far and to ask support to push the web into the next phase.

From documents to data

Reflecting on the collaborative effort that had been the web thus far, in 2009 Berners-Lee said, “I asked everybody, more or less,”Could you put your documents on this web thing?” And you did. Thanks. It’s been a blast, hasn’t it?” He likened that first evolution to the next: from documents to data. In that talk in 2009 he asked people, governments, universities, the UN, anyone with large, unused, non-private data sets to open them up on the web.

Through data, we saw the magic of Hans Rosling showing us global development over time. We’ve seen data used to help in hurricane relief, to save a primeval forest, and of course to create entirely new industries, products, customer experiences, and interactions.

From one-way data to read-write data

Happily, we’ve seen open data in troves. But most of it has been one-way, for instance government data that can be viewed but not interacted with.

Which brings us back to: hey Berners-Lee, what have you been up to the last eight years?

Besides teaching computer science at both Oxford and MIT (again, casual), he’s apparently been working on a little side project called Solid, “an open-source project to restore the power and agency of individuals on the web.”

Built using the existing web, Solid is a platform that offers two primary benefits: data empowerment and data interactivity. It gives users the power to decide where data is stored and who can access which parts of it. It lets users link, share, and collaborate on data with whomever they want.

Next: power with digital giants to power with consumers?

All of this of course brings us back to the original question: have we reached the tipping point?

Some proponent the concept of “walled gardens,” where internet, media, advertising, search, and data power are concentrated in the hands of primarily four digital giants: Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook.

Those four companies continue creeping into our lives and homes in never before dreamed ways. But trust is waning. Earlier this year, Edelman found a “37-point aggregate drop in trust across all institutions” — a steeper decline than in any other market.

In the words on Berners-Lee, “For all the good we’ve achieved, the web has evolved into an engine of inequity and division; swayed by powerful forces who use it for their own agendas. Today, I believe we’ve reached a critical tipping point, and that powerful change for the better is possible — and necessary.”

What does internet in the hands of consumers look like?

Well, who’s to say? Right now it still looks rather swayed by those powerful forces who use it for their own agendas.

A platform like Solid, though, would usurp that. It’s at odds with the current value exchange. Instead of demanding users hand over personal data to digital giants in order to essentially use the web, Solid seeks to take one small step toward restoring the balance of the web as it was actually intended to be. We would each have control over data.

Just as we all “put our documents on this web thing” and “it was a blast,” a platform like Solid seeks data empowerment and data interactivity. Two things many of us struggle to imagine.

But then again, as Berners-Lee ended his post, “The future is still so much bigger than the past.”

Ps in case I haven’t already made this clear, it’s a pretty worthwhile read.

This post also appeared on ClickZ.

Search Engine Watch

BoxLock secures your booty against porch pirates

October 11, 2018 No Comments

This clever – if expensive – product is called the BoxLock and it is a keyless padlock that lets your package delivery person scan and drop off your packages into a locked box. The system essentially watches for a shipping event and then waits for the right barcode before opening. Once the delivery person scans the package, the lock opens, the delivery person sticks the package in a box or shed (not included) and locks it back up. You then go and grab your package at your leisure.

The lock costs $ 129.

The company appeared on everyone’s favorite show, Shark Tank, where they demonstrated the system with a fake door and fake UPS dude.

The internal battery lasts 30 days on one charge and it connects to your phone and house via Wi-Fi. While the system does require a box – it’s called BoxLock, after all, not LockBox – it’s a clever solution to those pesky porch pirates who endlessly steal my YorkieLoversBox deliveries.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

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October 11, 2018 No Comments

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