SMX West occurred last week, kicking off a bunch of conferences and meetups for yours truly (I’m headed to SXSW Interactive on Thursday followed by SES NY right after I get back, and then there’s the Saturday night Blogger Social event only a week later). As all conferences I’ve attended, it was a great one, and by far the best part was the smallness of the conference overall which really helped the networking efforts. As for the sessions I liveblogged, there were eleven in total (see the Search Engine Roundtable’s SMX West coverage for details). Here are some of the bigger takeaways for me:
- We all know that the search landscape is changing. Louis Monier’s Wednesday keynote summarized the future in the world of search, as we’re looking at the following elements:
- Human powered search: you get high quality content but since it’s human driven, the coverage isn’t as vast as we’d like.
- Personalization: presenting results based on past activity. Monier suggests that it could be flawed, however, as in describing a “diamond:” what if a baseball enthusiast chooses to buy his wife a nice piece of jewelry?
- Vertical search: focusing on a specialized area and building search upon this small slice. The biggest challenge is maintaining thousands of bookmarks to vertical search engines.
- Natural language processing: search engines should begin to understand documents stored online. The big language barrier still exists, for example, when you refer to Java (“not coffee, not the island, but the programming language!”)
- Semantic search: webmasters may not spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to describe what things mean since there’s no motivation for them to do so.
- Artificial intelligence: he’s a bit skeptical of the immediate jump from the Flintstones to the Jetsons
- Social search is here to stay. Embrace it and take advantage of it. The evolution of social sites will be interesting to watch as speaker Chris Sherman suggests the following precepts that will govern the social search landscape in the future:
- A combination of algorithmic and people mediated search (he mentions Ask.com’s Edison algorithm that utilizes a tag library based on user clicks)
- Trust networks: only consuming content from individuals who you trust
- Increased personalization
- In the near future (and now), social search works best for non-text content (photos, music, videos, widgets, etc.) due to the search engines’ inability to parse through this kind of data as efficiently as text.
- My favorite session by far (sorry, Rebecca) was the Generation Google session. In this session, 3 teen-aged entrepreneurs and one “normal teen” discussed their web behavior and that of their friends. One of the speakers was a kid I’ve admired from afar for over a year, Andrew Sutherland. Additional panel speakers were affiliate marketer Harrison Gevirtz of CPA Share, Chloe Spencer of the Neopets Cheat site, and Rand Fishkin’s little brother, Evan. First of all, I’m in general agreement with Rebecca and Michael that it would have been interesting to learn a little more about the kids’ histories: how did they get to where they were? What was their inspiration? How did they motivate themselves to continue (while still focusing on school and other “full time” activities)? The session, however, was more about understanding the behaviors of these savvy kids plus the actions of their peers. In reality, it was quite eye-opening (and funny). Some of my favorite quotes (as liveblogged) were quite memorable and include (with emphasis being mine):
I think these are all potential branches for search to take, though the first item about human powered search (or, more appropriately called “human powered research”) was interesting to me. I, like Loren Baker, feel that Mahalo is one of those sites that had its skeptics in the beginning but is growing to become a valuable research tool. I wouldn’t quite put it in the same category as “search,” but you can certainly find answers when you need them (and relatively quickly, in fact).
Q: Where ads are published, what would you trust more? One in a magazine or one that is online?
Evan: I’ll admit, I shoot the monkey on the advertisements.
Harrison [the 15-year-old affiliate marketer]: Thank you.
Danny: All your friends are using Google and some people are getting concerned that Google is getting too big. Is Google loved or hated between your friends?
Andrew: I think Google is like using a public bathroom. [Everyone laughs.] Maybe that’s a bad example. Let’s say that it’s a public water fountain. Nobody cares what’s happening there, I guess. Nobody thinks that there’s a corporate thing behind it. It’s just a tool, like Firefox, in your arsenal of the computer.
Danny: Do you search for yourself?
Totally unanimously yes.
Danny: Are your friends searching for themselves?
Harrison: No, not really. I don’t think they have a web presence.
Danny: Is it impressive to them?
Harrison: Not my friends, but my mom tells people to search for me.
Evan: You can’t search for me. Rand comes up.
Everyone cracks up and Danny expresses his sadness for Evan. Rebecca Kelley from the audience says “Does Google ask ‘Did you mean Rand Fishkin?’”
Danny: Does it ever suggest your father [Stephan Spencer] when you search for your name?
Chloe: I don’t think so.
Danny searches for Evan Fishkin and says it doesn’t say Rand, but “your mom comes up as #6.”
All in all, the dialogue was funny, and from a newbie speaker point of view who would have been terrified at her first speaking gig, the questions made the kids feel quite comfortable. Besides my initial request for more information about these kids, I wouldn’t have requested for this session to have been handled any other way.
If you want to read the entire Generation Google transcript (written to the best of my ability), go for it. Some of those answers may surprise you.
The Shout Outs
Aha, you thought I’d forget about the shout outs with all that conference summary. (Now why would I do that?) This time I will start by thanking the whole Third Door Media crew, especially Sean, Karen DeWeese, Michelle Robbins, Chris Elwell, and uh, do Chris Sherman and Danny Sullivan count? You guys arranged a superb conference and the food accommodations for a Kosher gal like me were excellent. Thank you for taking care of that.
I met a few new faces this time around, including Twitter buds Adam Audette and Guliz Sicotte. It was also nice to meet Gab Goldenberg, the super quiet Brian LaFrance, Duncan Morris and Will Chrichtlow (thank you for fixing your Facebook privacy prefs, Will), Stephen Peron (who seriously looks like Kyle from the 4400), John Carcutt, Darrell Long, Jay Young, Miguel Salcido, Hamlet Batista, Keri Morgret (thanks for helping us liveblog), Jeremiah Andrick and Nathan Buggia, Jordan Kasteler, Megan Slick, Scott Fish, and the famous Gabe Rivera from Techmeme. I will forever remember when you kicked my ass in Guitar Hero 3 (and this was his first time ever playing, whereas I own it).
And of course, I love this industry because conferences unite all of us from different parts of the world. Shout-outs to old friends and familiar faces (in no particular order): Neil Patel, Brent Csutoras, David and Irma Wallace, Jeff Quipp, Michael “Ponstar” Buonomo, Michael Dorausch, Andy Beal, Chris Boggs, Chris Winfield, my BFF the Lisa Barone (and her partners in crime, Robert Esparza and his sister Susan, Michael, and of course, Bruce Clay himself), the Mozzers (Jane–I put you first again!, Rebecca, Rand, Gillian, Jeff, Scott, Nick, and Sarah), Eric Lander, Tim Mayer, Todd Malicoat, Tony Adam, Matt Cutts, Susan Moskwa, Matt McGee, Gary Price and Patrick Crisp, Ken Jurina, Vanessa Fox (clothed), David Mihm, Rob Kerry, Rae Hoffman, Michael Gray, Jeremy Schoemaker, Jennifer Slegg, Greg and Barbara Boser, Dax Herrera, Cesar Serna, Ross Dunn, Jon Kelly, Keith Cramer, Daron Babin, Dave Roth, Kristen Wareham, Todd Friesen, Loren Baker, Sujan Patel, Marc Levin, Melissa Rische, Dave McClure, Abhilash Patel, Mike McDonald and Tiffany Doughty, Li Evans, Jim Hedger, Joe Whyte, Mikkel deMib Svendsen, and Marek whose name I cannot possibly spell.
And of course, thanks to Barry for the flight and hotel. You rock.
Here are some pictures of the event:
As mentioned earlier, I’m off to SXSW and will hopefully be trying something new: taking the sessions to my blog. My unofficial and tentative SXSW schedule is here (I won’t be able to make everything as some sessions overlap and it’s still over the Sabbath — so I won’t be blogging then) but these are topics I’m quite passionate about and I believe that the blogged sessions will be valuable to you as well. Let me know if you have any specific requests and I’ll try my best to comply. And if you’ll be there, leave a comment and let me know so that we can schedule a meetup! With 6,400 conference attendees, this is one conference I think I won’t see a lot of people at, but we can certainly try!