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Microsoft has hired Yahoo's head of research and chief scientist Gary Flake to work on its MSN portal and desktop search. Flake joined Yahoo! when it acquired Overture in 2003. He wasn't there long, joining the previous year from NEC research, and most of Overture's key patents were filed before his arrival.

However, as Overture's 'chief science officer, he oversaw the growth of the company's pioneering text classified ad business that was responsible for Overture's, and later Yahoo!'s phenomenal growth.

Overture sued Google for patent violation in 2002, and Yahoo! inherited the litigation. Google settled in Yahoo!'s favor for north of $200 million last year, plus Class A voting stock, and agreed to license Yahoo's technology.

MSN itself will retain Overture as its text ad partner until June next year, although it has made no secret of its intentions to roll its own service.

Flake is the author of The Computational Beauty of Nature [MIT Press], subtitled Computer Explorations of Fractals, Chaos, Complex Systems, and Adaptation, and he can wax lyrical about the "the profoundly fractal nature of the Web".

So don't send us jokes about him being aptly named, please.

In stark contrast to some of his peers, Flake recently reminded us that "data is not information; information is not knowledge; knowledge is not wisdom." Asked by Gary Price if the internet would replace librarians, he replied,

"Search engines can give you more data than you'll ever need, and a lot of valuable information as well, but they aren't even in the running when it comes to knowledge and wisdom."

Amen to that. ®

Bootnote: According to Microsoft search program manager Oshoma Momoh, Flake is the first "Distinguished Engineer" to be recruited from outside the company, which makes you wonder why Chuck Thacker, Dave Cutler, Gordon Bell or Jim Gray - all most distinguished engineers - did not to deserve a similar title. Maybe the soubriquet isn't awarded to DEC veterans. Or maybe they don't need the title inflation.

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