Claria Goes Into Search

Claria, formerly Gator and allegedly the brief focus of Microsoft interest, has announced it is working on a new search engine technology which “goes far beyond analyzing links to pages and hypertext matching, and instead evaluates how consumers actually interact with search results when they are seeking information on the Web”.

I don’t claim to really understand what they’re doing here, but the press release seems to suggest that Claria would both collect extensive user data but also offer that aggregated data to users so they can better judge search results: Claria’s press release is here:

“Even in this early stage of technology, this represents a clear ‘step function’ improvement in search methodology and relevancy,” said Jeff McFadden, president and CEO of Claria Corporation. “Over time and with more users, these types of personalization technologies will allow consumers a richer, more customized online experience. For example, a college student and a business executive who are both searching for ‘hotels in China’ would appreciate vastly different results. Ultimately, this is the power that personalization can provide – with technology automatically customizing information for the consumer.”

Could be interesting, could be creepy. Certainly personalized search is the next hilltop to scale, and this makes some sense for Claria, who need to get out of the hole they’re in.

ZeroDegrees Responds

Further to my ZeroDegrees debacle, in which I succeeded in spamming 2,000 people in my contact book with barely a click, here’s a response from ZeroDegrees‘ Jas Dhillon, CEO and president of the company, and Mark Jeffrey, VP of Product, to my questions. I’ve edited a little for length.

How is it that even experienced users can be duped into sending invitations to their whole address book? Why is there no confirmation option, or chance to select who they include?

We don’t force you to invite any of your contacts if you don’t want to. If you want to selectively invite your contacts you can click on the “Not Now” button, login to the web application and selective invite your contacts to join ZeroDegrees and become part of your “friends network.” We do provide a customization button where you can accomplish exactly what you requested. The customization button is on the lower left hand corner of the “build my network” box. After clicking the button, you can manually select contacts from your list that you do not want to send a ZeroDegrees invite to. It is that simple.

How does one remove one’s contacts from ZeroDegrees’ servers if one decides not to continue the service?

Just drop an email to customer care requesting that your name and contacts be removed from the ZeroDegrees server. This is done within 48 hours of receiving the request.

How does ZeroDegrees plan to make money from the service?

Stay tuned.

Sorry, but I don’t really think these answers are sufficient. The process to manually select contacts should be the default: It should be very, very hard for users to send emails to everyone in their address book, and it should be very, very easy for them to (a) know this is happening and (b) be able to stop it at any point. None of this is true in ZeroDegrees’ case. It does not sound “simple” to me, and I suspect it wouldn’t to the casual user.

Secondly, removing one’s contacts from ZeroDegrees’ servers should not involve sending an email to customer care or having any direct contact with the company. By definition someone wanting to remove their contacts from ZeroDegrees is probably wanting to minimise any contact. There should be a checkbox or some other prominent menu option that makes it easy for users to do this. This option should be part of the uninstall process, too, since it’s likely many folk uninstalling the program are those who want to unsubscribe from the service.

Lastly, not giving any clue about how the company intends to make money from the service is only going to add to suspicion about what ZeroDegrees plans to do with all the sensitive data it is collecting. The company should be upfront about this. None of these issues is new: We’ve been here before with Plaxo which has endured a battering from users concerned about privacy. Plaxo, at least, has responded to those concerns, and is stronger for it. The chances of ZeroDegrees avoiding that scrutiny, if it gains any traction at all, are slim.