wikipedia is becoming the source for answers

From John Battelle’s Searchblog: Wikipedia and Search

A nice piece penned by Max Kalehoff.

A ranking of all Web sites based on the total volume of traffic received directly from search engines placed Wikipedia at 146 in June 2004. But in September 2004 it jumped in the ranking to 93; 71 in December 2004; and in March 2005, it was the 33rd most popular site in terms of visits received from search engines.

That means Wikipedia is impacting not only the trivial results of our Internet searches, but increasingly what content we consume and the types of answers we find to larger questions. This is a profound statement for anyone competing in the marketplace for attention to content and ideas.

Interesting. Wikis took off like weeds at work last year. The thing that’s been most valuable about the team wiki is that’s been a quick place to host a page that you need to share and possibly collaborate on. We *didn’t* get a a beautifully tended garden like wikipedia. I think it helps that wikipedia its modelled on an encyclopedia — the structure is simple and clear and there are clear ground rules for what an entry should look like.

anybody need an agent?

The LA Times ran A Glut in the Market for Homes last week, an article about how much interest in being a real estate agent has surged.

More than 22,000 applicants took the state’s real estate exam in April, nearly three times as many as in April 2003, according to the Department of Real Estate. To handle the surge, the department has rented six test centers around the state to supplement the five it already has.
The last time so many people wanted to sell real estate in California was in 1990. In what might be an ominous sign for the current boom, that year marked a peak in the housing market.
There are 437,000 agents in California, enough to form the state’s eighth-largest city. With only 680,000 home sales a year, competition for listings can be savage.

I guess all those day traders had to find something to do. So, each agent gets an average of less that 1.5 sales a year. If the average house price was $500,000, and they kept all of their 3% (which they don’t), that’s $20k a year. Wow. You’d think the numbers alone would be enough to discourage them. Guess all we need to do sell more houses for more money :)

(not) the formula for business success

There are a number of really great books about business strategy and the challenges of managment for high tech company (e.g. Crossing the Chasm, Innovator’s Dilemma, etc). What makes them great is that they provide a theory of business — they provide an analytical framework for understanding where your business is and a set of principles for guiding your future actions.

The problem with them is that people misunderstand the role of theory in business: they treat these theories like they are a set of rules — a formula for success — often at the encouragement of the authors of those books.

There is no substitute for first hand knowledge of your market and a detailed understanding of your business; no business strategy can truely be successful unless it has been informed and shaped by those factors. Theory should play a supporting role in the formation of strategy, not a determining one.

In fact, the misuse of theory is quite rampant. Beyond the books, there are folk theories about everything — why is Microsoft/Oracle/etc so successful, what makes open source so popular, etc. And it seems many people think that if they could simply repeat the formula, their business will be a success too (e.g. Sun seems to have a terminal case of Microsoft Envy).

The thing is, it wasn’t the formula that made Microsoft so successful, it was seeing that the time was right and that company was in the right position to play out a strategy like they did.

This really became clear to me when I was reading this summary of von Clausewitz, a 19th century military theorist. He was working in the time of the scientific revolution; there was a wide spread belief that it would soon be possible to reduce many fields to a set of governing rules. One school of military thought believed war would soon be reduced to a set of rules for maneuvering troops to achieve advantage.

Clausewitz opposed this school of thought arguing that theory existed not to proscribe behavior but merely to inform the thought of the general in battle. Great strategy came from great generals who had coup d’ oeil — the ability to read the state of battle in progress and intuitively see the opportunities it offered. Theory didn’t exist to be applied dogmatically, but simply to help develop the general’s coup d’oeil.

Do you think you could learn to be a chess grandmaster by rote learning of a collection of class openings and end games? Of course not — the number of possible chess games is far too large for that to be feasible as a chess playing technique. When they psychologists study chess grandmasters, to see what allows them to play such a computationally intractable game so well, one thing that stands out is their ability to very quickly read a board and understand it as a set of strategic groupings.

Why should business be different?