Microsoft Search Champs v4

My partner at Ideacodes, Max Kiesler, and I are back from attending Search Champs which took place this week, January 24 – 26 at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond. Search Champs is an event hosted by the MSN Search team to invite “groups of academics, bloggers, siteowners, and technologists to talk about search… We usually select this group based on who we are reading and we think would provide us great insight. We spend a couple of days with the group showing them our future plans, getting their input and making connections.” This year’s group included 57 attendees, with various backgrounds and perspectives, but with a common interest in making the internet more democratic, usable, and read/writable.

When I was first invited by Brady Forrest (by way of Alex Barnett), I was certainly interested and honored on a professional level, but I also had to pause and consider it personally. It’s no secret that over the years, I’ve always aligned more with open source than Microsoft in terms of software; Apple rather than Microsoft for OS and hardware. More broadly, I have a healthy dose of skepticism when it comes to corporate dominance. I think fellow Search Champ attendee, Ted Leung describes it best in his post:

I debated with myself over whether or not to attend. I imagined all the flak that I was going to take from open source people for going to a Microsoft sponsored event. I pondered the prospect of actually helping Microsoft improve their products, which could be a double edged sword… So why did I decide to go?… It basically came down to this: if we want the world to be a better place, then people have to start to talk to each other, listen to each other and learn to trust each other… So I took this opportunity to try and take a step toward the world that I want to live in. Part of the problem with the old Microsoft era was the monopoly situation. In search and many ares of web / internet innovation, Microsoft is the trailer (they are #3 in search). So fostering competition for Google seems like the thing to do unless I want to live under a different company’s monopoly, especially in light of Yahoo essentially dropping out of the search race.

For me, the decision to go was based on similar motivations. I would also add a few others. From a designer’s perspective, having the opportunity to provide feedback and possibly impact the development of products effecting the largest population of computer users (those on Windows) was too important to bypass. After five months of covering and reviewing the more than 400 web applications in eHub, I was curious to see Microsoft’s execution of its competing products given their vast resources. I also wanted to see how such a large corporation could begin to make the switch to becoming more user-centric, agile, rapid, and innovative – qualities that are critical in the web 2.0 space.

Overall, I was impressed with Search Champs, both by the openness of Microsoft and MSN employees and their desire to create dialogue with many hybrid industries, including bloggers, academics, publishers and technologists, as well as by the attendees, who were accomplished, forthright and opinionated (a good mix). It was also great to finally meet many web friends for the first time in person as well as many readers of eHub. See below for a list of attendees.

While much of what I saw in the sessions is under NDA, there were several non-NDA discussions. Other Search Champ attendees have blogged about these highlights and products in detail, including:

Microsoft Search Champs V4 report by Gina Trapani at Lifehacker

New Services Shown at SearchChamps by Mike Arrington at TechCrunch

Potential Game-Changer: TV Recommendations on by Joshua Porter at Bokardo

Microsoft Search Champs: Non-NDA Stuff by Richard MacManus at Read/WriteWeb

Update 1/29: Live Labs: Microsoft’s Think Tank and Incubator for the Web 2.0 Era by Dion Hinchcliffe, including a podcast of Gary Flake’s presentation
Microsoft Announces Live Labs by Microsoft’s Alex Barnett.

Update 1/30: Who we invite to Search Champs by Brady Forrest.

MSN Search Champs at Matt Paine’s site (photos of attendees).

Also see Joshua Porter’s post, Microsoft Didn’t Give User Data to DOJ in Privacy Case (podcast) which covers the discussion that took place during a special session at Search Champs, where MS executives addressed the recent controversy concerning the Department of Justice’s subpoena from major search engines. The podcast (7.21 MB mp3) took place later that evening in a more informal discussion between Joshua Porter, Thomas Vander Wal, Chris Pirillo, Dion Hinchcliffe, Fred Oliviera, Alex Barnett, and Brady Forrest.

garyflake-msOne of the most compelling presentations, titled “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Imminent Internet Singularity,” was given by Gary Flake, a Microsoft Technical Fellow. Flake loosely defines internet singularity as “the idea that a deeper and tighter coupling between the online and offline worlds will accelerate science, business, society, and self-actualization.” In his discussion, he covered familiar memes and elements of web 2.0 that have been circulating in the blogosphere, but he presents a solid and compelling conceptual framework for creating and nurturing a “virtuous cycle of innovation” that’s worth pondering. I was particularly interested to hear his interpretation of many of areas of personal interest, including the notion of power laws, the social shift from consumers to producers, democratization and macro-ization, and the impact of network effects.

Flake both discussed his conceptual observations and as well as making the announcement of Live Labs, a new partnership between MSN and Microsoft Research (MSR) that will provide R&D for applied research into web products and services, starting with new research grants and fellowships. The concept of Live Labs speaks to Microsoft’s awareness that it has to change and evolve in order to be agile and relevant in this next generation of web. I look forward to seeing this shift and hope that the feedback we provided at Search Champs has a genuine impact on the philosophy and the products at MS.

For more information, download Gary Flake’s full powerpoint presentation (196 kb) and the Live Labs Manifesto (word doc, 80kb).

Search Champs v4 attendees list:
* friend or met in person

Andy Oram
O’Reilly Media

Annalee Newitz
Wired Magazine

Bert Bates
Wickedly Smart

Brady Forrest *
MSN Search

Brandon Leblanc
Longhorn Blogs

Buzz Bruggeman *

Cathal Gurrin
Centre for Digital Video Processing

Charles Bailey Jr.
University of Houston Libraries

Charles Blair
University Chicago

Chris Pirillo

Chris Smoak *

Cindy Cunningham
Corbis Corporation

Craig Van Dyck
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Dan Lester

Darren Barefoot
Northern voice

Dave Mcclure

Dion Hinchcliffe *
Sphere of Influence

Donovan West *

Dori Smith

Emad Fanous

Emily Chang
Ideacodes + eHub

Fred Cavazza

Fred Oliverica *

Gary Marchionini
Univ. of N.Carolina-Chapel Hill

Gina Trappani
Gawker Media

Herbert Van de Sompel
Los Alamos National Laboratory

Jake Ludington

Jenny Levine
Metropolitan Library System

Jerome Charron

Joe Janes
Information School, U of W

John Musser *
Programmable Web

Joshua Porter *
Bokardo User Interface Engineering

Kathy Gill

Kathy Sierra *
Wickedly Smart

Liz Lawley

Mary Ellen Bates
Bates Information Services Inc.


Mary Hodder *

Matt Paines *

Max Kiesler *

Merlin Mann

Michael Arrington *

Michael Casey
Gwinnett County Public Library

Nancy White *
Full Circle Associates

Nathan Weinberg *

Paul Mouton

Thomson Gale

Rael Dornfest
O’Reilly Media, Inc.

Raymond Chen
Microsoft Corporation

Remi Van Beekum *
traffic 4U

Richard Mcmanus *

Rick Hallihan

Robert Ashby
Expedia Inc.

Robert Scoble
Microsoft Corporation

Robert W. McLaws |

Scuyler Erle
MetaCarta, Inc.

Shelly Farnham
Farnham Research

Stef Magdalinski *


Ted Leung
Sauria Associates, LLC

Tom VanDerWal
InfoCloud Solutions, Inc.

Tristan Louis *

Walt Crawford