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Thursday, November 29, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Brier Dudley

Yahoo prepares to open data center in Quincy

Seattle Times staff columnist

Excerpts from the blog

Can you buy tire chains in Sunnyvale?

Yahoo executives may need them next week, when they're trekking to Quincy for the grand opening of the company's new data center.

It's the first one Yahoo has built from the ground up and one of several taking advantage of the area's cheap hydro power and fast Internet connections.

Co-founder David Filo and operations Vice President Kevin Timmons will cut the ribbon Monday at a ceremony with local officials.

I wonder if they'll use the facility to power a data-storage service, a mandatory part of every Internet giant's online suite nowadays.

Valet, at your service

I used to write about Microsoft employees who got so excited about the tools they were developing that they quit to build companies around them.

That's what happened with Mikhail Seregine at Amazon.com, where he helped develop Web services the company provides to software developers and startups.

One project he worked on from inception to launch was Mechanical Turk, a service that helps companies hire people willing to do various jobs that can be done online.

Seregine left to start ClayValet, a company that claims to simplify online shopping by "having someone else shop for them." The 2002 Stanford computer-science graduate started building the service in January, received funding from undisclosed angel investors and launched on Friday, just in time for the holiday shopping frenzy.

ClayValet asks visitors to describe what they are looking for, then its "shoppers" analyze customer reviews, prices and other information, and send clients a report within 24 hours.

The site provides up to five free reports per week and its performance charts say 90 percent of the queries are answered in less than 13 hours.

I asked a little while ago for ClayValet to find me a Nintendo Wii for under $300 and haven't heard back yet. I'll post an update when I get a response.

ClayValet has four employees at its offices on Capitol Hill. They're supplemented with services provided by Mechanical Turk, and the company also uses Amazon's hosted storage and processing services.

Seregine also followed Amazon's quirky naming practice. When I asked spokeswoman Darcy Camden about the name, she said it's "a name that encourages questions. It is also a literary reference to the Golem, a servant sculpted from clay who follows written instructions."

I guess that makes about as much sense as "Mechanical Turk."

Update: It was fast, for me at least. The report came back in just about an hour. Unsurprisingly, it couldn't find a reasonably priced Wii. It recommended that I buy the system from PriceGrabber.com for $364.89, including shipping, and provided some CNET reviews and a summary of customer opinions.

It's kind of fun and might be useful for complicated product searches that don't work well with automated comparison-shopping services.

I wonder how broadly ClayValet will go beyond Amazon, which seems to appear frequently in its results. If it mostly points people to Amazon, they may opt to just search the site themselves. I also wonder if it will ever direct users to sites that don't have a lower price yet don't offer referral commissions.

I'm curious to watch the experiment and see whether consumers are willing to wait a bit longer for really detailed, human-processed results to their queries.

Sport of Paul Allen

Howard Hughes plus Mark Cuban equals Paul Allen? That's one take in a great profile of the Microsoft co-founder-turned-Seattle-real-estate mogul that's running in the latest edition of Sports Illustrated.

It retells the lucky billionaire story familiar to many around here — local sports, space and rock fan met fellow geek Bill Gates at Lakeside, went to Washington State University, co-founded Microsoft, left early after a cancer-induced change of priorities, then had mixed luck with startups and sports franchises.

But the magazine does a great job exploring the character of the only person to solely own teams in two of America's top three pro sports leagues. It also offers a fun courtside perspective of Allen, the sports nut and junk-food enthusiast.

One morsel, from a Blazers game:

"He was flanked by his new buddy Kevin and his old college roommate Bert. Even as they conversed, the fan didn't divert his strikingly blue eyes from the action on the court. ... When a courtside waitress approached during a timeout, he requested a burger and a Coke. Let the Brahmins in the corporate suites order salmon cakes and bottled water. The fan chomped on his junk food and absentmindedly fiddled with the straw in his soda. He wasn't above swiping some fries off Bert's cardboard tray when Bert wasn't looking."

This material has been edited for print publication.

Brier Dudley's blog appears Thursdays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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