Monday, March 31, 2003
Google Alert is the Best Thing Ever
It's better than sliced bread ever dreamt of being. It's better than a happy wife. It's better than Google itself. OK, I guess it couldn't possibly be cooler than Google itself, but, well... read on!
Google Alert is a free tool based on Google's open-source Web API that lets you tap into Google's index from your own custom, Net-connected apps. This particular implementation is super cool, although I bet only web marketing professionals or webmasters will be interested in it.
Here's what it does: you register with Google Alert, then register with Google, Inc. to receive "permission" to use the Google API (who knows what kinds of rights that Google grants itself with your innovations in its terms of service, but that's another story). Then, you can create up to 5 searches, and up to 100 automated queries per day, to be notified of changes in the Google search index for a specific search term.
For example, say you're in the wine business. You can set up a search to monitor the search results at Google on a regular basis to find out if competitors are leapfrogging you; or if you're just a consumer, you can find a new online wine store that's gaining lots of buzz.
Whatever the case may be, I'm sure there are countless innovative ways to use a tool like this, and I hope we see more things like this that help automate the laborious and boring task of monitoring your site's ranking in Google.
Convoluted Solutions Won't Can Spam
Jesse Berst wannabe David Coursey raves about Mailblocks, another new anti-spam tool that uses the "challenge and response" type method to filter spam:
"IN ORDER to be authorized and have the message delivered, you must follow a link from the Mailblocks response over to a Web site. There, you'll be presented with a graphic image in which a series of numbers appear. You'll be asked to type those numbers into a box on the page. Doing this correctly makes you an authorized sender and your message, as well as any future messages, will go through. "
Uhh, methinks my old granny ain't gonna jump through these hoops just to send my wife a recipe. These convoluted methods are powerful, but their power comes at the price of ease of adoption. Sorry, David, but the only real way to kill spam is a simple one -- collaborative filtering tools like Cloudmark.
Mailblocks may be powerful, but Cloudmark is (and probably always will be) free for the end user.
Sunday, March 30, 2003
If you're remotely involved in search engine marketing, you've no doubt seen "keyword-rich" domain names separated by hyphens like my example above ranking highly in search engines for very desirable phrases. Well, I've been thinking that now that Google seems to be stepping up its battle against spammers, I hope they tweak the algorithm to disallow domains over a certain number of characters.
I'll leave it up to the Ph.D.'s in Mountain View to determine the appropriate cut-off number, but suffice it to say that one of the spider-based engines will initiate the moratorium on domains like this, and on that day, I will drink a few glasses of wine in celebration.
Saturday, March 29, 2003
My Avoision of Webmaster World Comes to an End
Despite its silly name that sounds like some kind of kids' TV show, I finally bit the bullet and registered for Webmaster World, one of the countless online forums covering search engine optimization and related issues. I generally consider these boards the playgrounds of egomaniacs and self-promoters, but enough lively discussion does go on there that anyone interested in staying up to date really does need to drop in once in a while.
What stinks is the stupid requirement that you register just to read most of the posts (some posts don't require registration to read, who knows why). I'm not sure about the reasoning behind this, but I sure wish they'd abandon it. There are plenty of other boards that allow a curious passer-by to lurk harmlessly without registering, and no one seems to get hurt there...
What's worse, though, is the novel-length terms of service you have to agree to abide by just to register. Well, if Robert Clough and others are going to insist on linking directly to interesting-sounding posts on WW, I suppose registration is my only choice. Maybe someone should build a "real" forum good enough to be the industry standard. Hmm...
BBCi dumps Google in favor of Inktomi
Stefanie Olsen of CNET reports that BBC.co.uk has dumped Google as its provider of web search results, awarding the contract to Inktomi after it was put out to public tender (required by law in Europe).
As the saying goes, "that's news to me!" I just wish it had been news to me about three days ago.
While in London this week, I actually made a rare trip to the BBC website as part of some background research for a seminar on search engine visibility at Nielsen Norman Usability Week on Thursday, March 27. The night before my talk, I double-checked some stats on the top web properties in the UK and did some test-driving of the search engine components, including a test of the BBC site's web search... just to see who was powering them these days.
As I reported to the audience for the seminar, I found some strange search results that looked to me like Google results but were not the same as current Google Search results for the test phrases I used. I concluded that this must be either an old feed from Google or some sort of proprietary use of the licensed Google technology. In the coffee break, one delegate approached me to painstakingly explain that she had worked for the Beeb and that in fact my explanation of their usage of Google's technology wasn't particularly accurate. She explained something about how they used Google Search which I didn't understand very well over the din, but I nodded dumbly anyway.
As it turns out, the strange results weren't Google at all! So Inktomi has a new partnership of some significance. Did you know that the BBC site is the #7 most-visited web property in the UK?
According to Olsen's news report, which unfortunately didn't come out until March 27 (the day I was blathering obliviously in seminar), the switch happened on March 20. Which was just in time to confuse me.
How interesting that a public tender wound up awarding Inktomi the contract. One surmises that its paid-inclusion model allows Inktomi to offer a better deal for its technology or a revenue share of some sort, since additional revenues may be indirectly generated from paid-inclusion clients paying for clicks through from searches on the BBC site. Google makes its revenues from its separate Adwords program, but they couldn't sell that to the BBC, since, in case you hadn't noticed, advertising isn't allowed on the BBC site.
So, these search results are blissfully free of advertising. I can't help but think, though, that it's slightly deceptive to pretend you're serving up an ad-free paradise while not disclosing the paid inclusion model that pays the bills. Who pays for paid inclusion? Why, advertisers, of course! Many of them even pay on a per-click basis.
The trick seems to be to run the public sector as if it were a for-profit business while pretending that serving the public good is the primary imperative. High-minded rhetoric serves to legitimate the public enterprise, but scratching this surface reveals the underlying reality: a bloody-minded attention to fiscal detail at all costs. (Sounds eerily similar to the dichotomy between heroic legend and profitability that lives inside the Googleplex, doesn't it?)
Moral of the story: if you've got a really cool car with a chrome tailpipe, chances are it's because your parents don't charge you rent for living in their basement... yet.
Moral #2: If you hate advertising and live in the UK, and don't mind viewing search results that may be influenced by a paid-inclusion model, you may wish to do all of your searching on BBCi!
Pay-Per-Click Strategies Roundtable at Search Engine Blog - Part 2
"Part Two of our PPC interview, which is generating unprecedented feedback - obviously there are a *lot* of people exploring PPC right now. This week: the similarities between PPC and SEO, and we begin to look at how to approach PPC on behalf of clients."
Don't Get Mad, Get RoboForm
So I purged Gator's software and went back to the old fashioned way of filling in forms, keystroke by grueling keystroke. Well, nine months after scrapping the great Gator experiment, these weary fingers have had enough. They are demanding relief. They are demanding RoboForm.
Despite its rather corny name, RoboForm is the answer to the prayers of any beleaguered form-filler-outer. First, it's free for the basic version. And second, it comes with absolutely no spyware. Minutes after installation, I'm already a form-filling fool, going from site to site just so I can fill out forms. It's a compulsion now.
May God bless you and keep you, dear RoboForm! (Oh, and I might even pay for the full-version after I get the hang of it!)
Friday, March 28, 2003
Kanoodle Gets Spammy
It's not like "third world" pay-per-click engines have much of a reputation to uphold, but now Kanoodle is getting dirty by spamming anybody at email@example.com about their free $25 PPC account offer. I got three of these messages myself. How fun!
At least they're honest about their value proposition:
"We're filling in the Gap.
Here's where we come in. Kanoodle.com nabs all those consumers who don't use the big-dog search engines. We reach that hefty hunk of people who use great sites like CNET Search.com, Galaxy.com, and Ixquick."
So, if you want to target that "hefty chunk of people," get a move on!
Thursday, March 27, 2003
Down with Matador, Up with Cloudmark!
To continue our spam theme today... some time back, I fell in love with an Outlook spam filter called Matador by MailFrontier. Sadly, they pulled a bait and switch, and when Matador finished its beta period, you had to pay 30 bucks for it. Now, I don't mind paying for stuff at all, but a client-side spam filter ain't one of them.
Enter Cloudmark SpamNet. Their spam filter add-in for Outlook (other mail software will be supported soon) now finally works on my office machine thanks to their latest version! Yeeha! Now, I can ditch my convoluted Outlook rules for catching spam and let Cloudmark worry about it. *relieved sigh*
Now Yahoo is Suddenly Against Spam, Too
Microsoft has made news in the past few weeks with its newly adopted anti-spam platform. Now Yahoo's getting in on the act. In Yahoo Mail, when you mark a message as spam in Yahoo Mail, there's an option to also enter the "rid the world of spam" sweepstakes.
According to Yahoo, you can win a free year of Yahoo! Mail Extra Storage, Yahoo! Mail Plus, or an Indestructible Steel Mailbox and a Paper Shredder (for "spam's evil cousin, junk mail"... heh). Be sure to check the rules before you gleefully report all of your e-mail as spam!
While it's nice to see the portal heavyweights make a concerted effort to battle this serious epidemic of junk mail, I can't help feeling that there's some tomfoolery going on here. After all, Yahoo is the same company that surreptitiously changed everyone's e-mail preferences last year to allow spam e-mail from Yahoo and its partners. And who knows what Microsoft has to gain from their battle against spam. Rarely has Microsoft done something out of the kindness of its heart. (Mr. Gates' charitable efforts aside)
Much like politicians that change their spots to match the mood of whatever constituency has the most political clout, and with an eye toward re-election, the portals' spam war may be less than genuine. But, anything that helps rid the world of spam mustn't be too bad, eh?
Speaking of Corporate Portals...
I just learned that there is actually a print magazine called simply "Portals" that covers the corporate/enterprise portal segment. I think I may just subscribe, since it's free, similar to mags like InternetWeek, eWeek, etc. (how the heck do those magazines stay in business, anyway!).
It's only published quarterly, but it's heartening to see the emergence of a print publication that covers important portal topics!
Corporate Portals Finally Finding a Place in the Enterprise?
As corporations continue to cope with the impact of the Internet on their business and employee productivity, there will be likely be a steady uptick in the adoption of corporate portals. These special types of portals allow employees to access company resources, partner extranets and the Internet from one common page, not unlike My Yahoo.
A commentator on ZDNet has penned a superb run-down on the state of corporate portals and how we can expect them to evolve. An exemplary quote:
"A portal often evolves through an enterprise first as an outlet for employees, then as an enhanced application aggregator, next as a content and service integrator, and ultimately as a collaborative business platform that can open to partners and customers."
I've helped build a few corporate portals at my enterprise web development company, and I can say first-hand that they are truly helping companies integrate Web technology into their daily operations, and it's exciting to watch!
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
PPC and Web Search Walloping Web Directories
CNET's Jim Hu and Stefanie Olson just can't get enough of the search engine biz. They've been reporting on it for years now, and surely they must tire of writing the same old stuff. No matter. Their newest article, "The changing face of search engines," does raise a few original points:
- Due to the one-two punch of pay-per-click search listings and vast improvements in search engine algorithms and spidering technology, human-edited web directories are in a woeful state of decline.
- As most site owners discovered in October 2002, a $299 editorial listing in the Yahoo directory isn't worth nearly as much as it once was. Now that Yahoo has bought Inktomi, we can surely expect to see Yahoo's algorithmic search side take over. For many reasons, too: Yahoo's directory listings are only for one URL, whereas paid inclusion through Inktomi can result in thousands of dollars of revenue from companies wishing to include hundreds of URLs in Inktomi.
- Yahoo is apparently "redeploying" most of their directory editors to other positions focused primarily on paid search and PPC programs (good riddance, too; Yahoo's editors are perhaps some of the most vilified gatekeepers of the Web anywhere!
After digesting the CNET article, I was struck by how much the search engine landscape has changed -- and there are, no doubt, bigger changes ahead. Google really has knocked the wind out of every other search engine and web directory due to its ubiquitous brand and uncanny relevancy.
But, I think the bigger picture is even more telling. The main reason Google in particular -- and algorithmic search in general -- have succeeded so much is that human editors cannot possibly keep up with the dizzying pace of new web sites and repurposed web sites. The only way to properly catalog the web at this point is the technique for which Google is now famous: link popularity.
It's yet another reminder that getting inbound links is the most important thing a webmaster can do these days.
Microsoft Tries to Cool off Hotmail Abusers
From InternetNews.com: Users of Hotmail will now only be able to send out 100 e-mails per day, which Microsoft thinks will help reduce the amount of spam that plagues e-mail users. Highlights:
"The change was implemented on March 12 and is in place for free users of Hotmail only. MSN Extra Storage and MSN 8 subscribers are not affected by the policy."
According to reports, Microsoft reduced the maximum number of messages from 500 in a 24-hour period to 100. Gurry would not confirm those numbers, saying only, "We don't provide specific details on this limitation."
This is all well and good, but how many people actually use Hotmail to send out spam? Based on my understanding of e-mail servers and such, since Hotmail's SMTP servers are not relay servers, no one could really use Hotmail to send bulk e-mail anyway, so this is largely a public relations gimmick. Still anything that companies do to help eradicate spam is fine with me.
Sunday, March 23, 2003
Pay-Per-Click Strategies Roundtable at Search Engine Blog
Our very own Traffick Editor and author of the renowned guide to Google AdWords, Andrew Goodman, weighs in on the exploding arena of pay-per-click advertising at Search Engine Blog. (Part one of a three-part series)
LookSmart In the News Again (What is the World Coming To!)
CNET reports that LookSmart has purchased the technology created by a company called Grub that employs distributed computing to solve computer tasks on a mass scale. Such technology emulates that of SETI@Home (you know, the screensaver you download that searches for alien signals while you're away from your computer?). Reporter Stefanie Olson speculates that LS might use the technology, scheduled to roll out in April, as a way to make searches on LookSmart -- or perhaps its recently acquired, spider-based engine WiseNut -- much faster and more relevant.
I guess they figure if they can't beat Google at the search game with their own equipment, they'll use gullible web searchers as "slaves" to the "master" computer. This should be interesting to watch...
Trend Spotting: Retro Office Software
Corel WordPerfect (remember them?) Office 11 is set to ship. Among the new features:
"A customizable and intuitive interface can be adapted to meet users' needs and a new Classic Mode features the WordPerfect 5.1 user environment, complete with a blue screen interface and WordPerfect 5.1 keystrokes."
If you're fed up with 2003, and want to plunge into a deep blue sea of nostalgia, WordPerfect may be for you. Caution: you may want to reinforce the "F7" key on your keyboard.
Digital Dog "Arfie" Goes Missing
What the hell, I'll throw those nice Dogpile people a bone. It seems that Dogpile.com's lovable animated mascot, "Arfie," has gone missing. Enter a contest and help find him, and you could dig up $20,000 big ones. I'd settle for another Dogpile t-shirt. (Chicks dig "Arfie"!)
Thursday, March 20, 2003
LookSmart Makes Welcome Changes to PPC Account Policy
Despite Jill Whalen's protestations against using Looksmart, I now do recommend that clients use them because they are really the only way to get listed high in sponsored links for MSN, one of the top portals for search referrals. Their account management system has always seemed confusing and rigid, and I'm glad to hear today that they've made the following changes to their system:
* Assign your own tracking URLs to your LookSmart listings.
* Configure personalized campaign reports and export them to Excel and PDF.
* Take advantage of reduced fees: Add new listings for $29 and update your existing listings for just $19.
[ these fees formerly were $49 each -- just to add new listings or update existing listings; talk about highway robbery! ]
* Organize your listings into multiple campaigns and accounts for advanced control and flexibility.
So, if you manage a LookSmart PPC account, your life should be slightly easier now...
Wednesday, March 19, 2003
Google Keeps a Goin'
Not a day goes by that Google doesn't make headlines somewhere. A recent sampling:
How Google Grows...and Grows...and Grows
"Its performance is the envy of executives and engineers around the world ... For techno-evangelists, Google is a marvel of Web brilliance ... For Wall Street, it may be the IPO that changes everything (again). But Google is also a case study in savvy management -- a company filled with cutting-edge ideas, rigorous accountability, and relentless attention to detail. Here's a search for the growth secrets of one of the world's most exciting young companies -- a company from which every company can learn."
Agog over Google
"Tired of Google? To paraphrase Samuel Johnson on London, those who are tired of Google are tired of life."
Google Builds World's Largest Advertising and Search Monetization Program
Google Press Release
"Google today announced its online advertising program – comprising more than 100,000 advertisers worldwide – is the largest and fastest growing in the industry.... Launched one year ago, Google's partner network provides advertisers with exposure across many of the largest websites in the world. Current partners include AOL, Ask Jeeves, Netscape, Earthlink, Compuserve, AT&T, BizRate, DealTime, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Yahoo! JAPAN, Libero, NEC Biglobe, NIFTY and BT Openworld."
Business Week Schools the Suits on Net Marketing
BW Online's article "Search Engines Are Picking Up Steam" provides a decent recap of how pay-per-click search engine advertising, along with vast improvements in search tech, are reviving the maligned industry. It's nothing really new to those in the know, but here are some interesting highlights:
"Advertisers say that search-related ads, whether overt or camouflaged, attract far more interest than regular scattershot Internet ads. Why so? They give people what they're already looking for."
"Search advertising is also cheap. At an average of 35 cents a click, paid search undercuts the $1-per-lead average for Yellow Pages ads. The money is split between the portal, which generates the traffic, and its search-advertising provider. When a user clicks a search-related ad on Yahoo, for example, Overture keeps 14 cents and sends 21 cents to Yahoo. Pete Howard, vice-president for marketing at Staples.com, says the return on search-engine marketing "outpaces everything in print or online."
"In the early days of the Net, pundits thought surfers would scoff at mixing advertising with search results. Instead, they're seeing shoppers and advertisers in sync because up to 35% of searches are for products or services."
After reading the article, you can't help but being struck by the tremendous upside of search engine marketing and search tech in general. Watch this space!
Now, how are you, dear reader, going to start cashing in on this trend? Why, with Andrew's report on Google AdWords, that's how!
Monday, March 17, 2003
Financial Content Mavens Speak Out on Yahoo! Platinum
CBS Marketwatch is touting the fact that it's "the first provider of business and financial market news to Yahoo! Platinum," a $9.95-a-month subscription service launched today.
I asked Bill Martin, co-publisher of financial advisory newsletter FindProfit.com, and Marc Stockman, a former marketing exec with TheStreet.com and now President of Connectiv Media, an email newsletter marketing consultancy, whether CBS Marketwatch premium content would on its own induce anyone to sign up for Yahoo's new Platinum service. They thought not.
"It's a nice press release for both parties, but that's all. I am skeptical that:
"1) MarketWatch produces enough in the way of "actionable" content that investors would be willing to pay for. Don't get me wrong, MarketWatch is a great site, but investors go there for fast news and tools -- not actionable insights.
"2) Investors want their actionable investment commentary/advice delivered in a multimedia format.
"3) Yahoo! Platinum's sweet spot will be in finance. Seems to me that users would be more willing to pay for sports and entertainment content, and I bet that Yahoo! will position the product and its marketing budget appropriately."
"MKTW's content by itself will not induce many, if any, people to buy either the basic or premium service -- people pay for financial advice, not financial news, which is a commodity. I don't see how that's any different than Yahoo!'s previous efforts in the financial new area (FinanceVision), that failed. I do, however, think that the other entertainment-oriented content will see some demand, as evidenced by RealNetwork's success in garnering 900,000 or so subscribers.
"Yahoo!'s strategy this time around makes a lot more sense in that they are minimizing their own programming costs and maximizing their chances of acceptance by leveraging existing content brands with proven demand -- that's the key difference this go around. Moreover, Yahoo! doesn't need to get an enormous sell-through rate to make this a success -- if they convert only 1% of their registered user base (which I think is well over 200 million), that would be 2 million subscribers, which I would assume would be more than enough to make this a success.
"Finally, Yahoo! has established that they can sell subscriptions given that they have already garnered over 2 million paid subscribers to their various paid services. The ultimate streaming product might not look exactly as it does today, but I have no doubt that all of the major portals will offer something like this in the near future."
The Usual Howe Street Shenanigans: Suite101.com Hits Oil Slick
Suite101.com, formerly a web content company, is now an oil and gas exploration company. Remember when reverse takeovers went in the other direction - when mining and resource exploration companies became dot coms by lending their dormant publicly-traded shells to some brave young web site? I guess "speculative dot com investors" are getting scarcer these days. And we can always use more oil!
Saturday, March 15, 2003
New Traffick Article: "Will Content Targeting Work This Time Around?"
A new article examining Google's content targeting, with some discussion of the dearth of semantic analysis in conventional search technology, has been posted in the Search Engines category.
Friday, March 14, 2003
When Google rolled out its new option for advertisers - "Content Targeting," which puts AdWords text ads near closely-matching articles, newsgroup postings, and the like - it gave advertisers three distribution options: (1) Google only; (2) Google plus all of Google's syndication partners (AOL, Earthlink, Jeeves, etc.); or (3) Google plus all of the syndication partners AND plus content-targeted ads.
The option that wasn't made available was, of course, Google plus content targeting but NOT syndication partners. For example, some advertisers might have a good ROI from clicks emanating from Google and from clicks emanating from content targeted ads, but do very poorly on AOL. Google's check-boxes now give advertisers this additional flexibility.
None of Google's competitors give advertisers any kind of choice about distribution preferences. For Overture, Findwhat, LookSmart, etc., it's the whole network, or nothing. "Google only" distribution has proven to be an attractive option for some B2B and high-tech advertisers, whereas the majority of advertisers like the additional reach afforded by Google's distribution arrangements with search partners.
Thursday, March 13, 2003
I disagree. Circle gets the square. I'll take Harvey Korman to block.
Had a friendly disagreement today with Mike Banks Valentine of website101.com, who wrote a guest column for Jill Whalen's High Rankings' Advisor.
Seems Mike said a few things about portals that kind of got my goat, since I've been defending the poor blighters at Yahoo since they were knee high to a grasshopper (well, maybe not that long).
Here's the exchange, FWIW. The eternal debate "are portals evil, doomed, and irrelevant, or is that complete BS?" continues...
Mike wrote: "It will be interesting in the long term though, as each engine buys up competing services to become more independent. Will any of those search properties need each other when every one of them has their own paid-inclusion, pay-per-click, shopping search, news search, image
search, blogger search, directory, financial channel, auto channel, auction channel, music channel, etc.? Aren't they headed back toward the mostly failed portal model that commentators are pointing to for the reason AltaVista failed, the reason Yahoo! wobbles under its own sheer size and weight, the reason they each had for becoming more like Google?"
Andrew replies: This seems to be the popular analysis these days, but it's hogwash.
First, who says the "portal model" failed? There remain four viable web portals, not counting the many leading indigenous country portals scattered around the globe. Yahoo is profitable, and will be more so after it rolls out Platinum service. It's not a perfect company, but it's large and profitable, so by any rational yardstick, how can it be seen as a failure?
Mike rebuts: I was quoting "commentators" on that "failed portal model", not doing my own analysis here. Fact is, I don't know why those companies failed, other than the famous "First to market" advantage that Yahoo! had.
Andrew fawns: Personally, I consult my My Yahoo! page several times a day. I use Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Calendar, Yahoo Mail (big mailbox version), Yahoo Fantasy Football (plus paid enhancements) and numerous other services. The only thing I never use Yahoo for is search. That means I spend another good chunk of my day over at Google.com (or type queries into the toolbar).
Andrew continues: Anytime you're #6 or #9 or even #5 in an industry where there is limited mindshare, you're going to lose. AltaVista, Go2Net, Excite, etc. lost the portal wars. But there were winners.
Now as for Google. The claim is exaggerated. The fact is, you can go right to www.google.com now and take a look at the page. Look familiar? The word "Google" and a search box. Some clutter, eh? And are you really going to tell me that a search engine company is straying too far from search by offering news search and newsgroups? Most metasearch engines of the future, presumably, will have a much wider scope of options than that, searching both public and invisible web databases, etc. Google needs to pre-empt some of this.
Mike rebuts: I am probably one of Google's biggest fans, have been for about 3 years now and it is precisely because they concentrate so tightly on search. I love and admire the Adwords program and recommend it (and your report) highly to clients. The news search is a staple for me as I'm a news junkie. I think Google is one of the best managed and best run companies on the web and admire Brin and Page for their laser focus on search relevance. My biggest gripe with Google is that they don't support Mac's with the Google toolbar -- but then that is my biggest gripe with many companies, like First Place Software not supporting Mac with a version of Web Position Gold. What can I say? I'm a diehard Mac fan.
Andrew: Granted, insofar as Google is becoming an entry point of choice for millions of consumers, it is indeed a portal. But will it be a failed portal? It seems to me that it's a winner. Profitable, and the FOURTH LARGEST WEB PROPERTY OVERALL, trailing only the Big Three portals in unique visitors per month.
The concept of portal is often taken to mean "cluttered conglomerate" - but it also implies control over the user's daily agenda. Microsoft was the original "portal." How is Bill Gates doing lately? Need I say more?
Call me a portal, call me anything you like, just don't call me late for dinner.
Mike shudders: Please don't compare Google to Microsoft! I hate that analogy because of my emotional dislike of Bill Gates and Windows, .Net power grabs, Microsoft software licensing abuses, MCSE certification obscenities, server software security breaches, privacy issues and of course the way he stole and profited on Apple's ease of use by making Windows a Mac copy and then going on to world dominant monopoly power in operating systems riding on someone else's idea. I admit to biases unseemly for journalist, but I'm not a journalist. That is why I wrote the piece in a tongue-in-cheek fashion using metaphors like earthquakes rather than stating facts and figures.
Andrew concludes: Trust me, I'm no journalist either. Is it a good thing that Microsoft is what it is? No, but it's a very real thing. So whenever I get treated to another warmed-over analysis of the "failed portal model," I feel compelled to point out that the "portal model" is one of the most successful models in business history... indeed it is analogous to the railroads and telco monopolies of days gone by. We're already past the point of Google potentially being a monopolist in the online space, or potentially understanding that, like Microsoft, it can defend its ever-growing turf by "embracing and extending" others' innovations. That's the position Google is already in, in the here and now. Google's revenue figures for 2003, when they finally come in, are going to shock people. The valuation placed on the company when it goes public is going to shock people (particularly their competitor Overture, which is valued at only $1 billion). And like it or not, I still use the Google search engine every day, and I'm arguing with you from a Windows platform using a Microsoft browser. These are harsh realities, but they're realities, and certainly from Google's current standpoint, seem to be unavoidable realities. We all saw what happened to companies that were content to be in second or third place in the search space.
Wednesday, March 12, 2003
Shopping Search Gets Smarter
Shopping search engine Dealtime, a fast-growing provider of product comparisons to consumers, has acquired Epinions, a popular and increasingly useful consumer review site.
The deal makes perfect sense. Recall that too-far-ahead-of-the-curve, overfunded Deja.com was attempting to do just that - marry the community-feedback culture of Usenet newsgroups with the ability to compare products and ultimately purchase them. Deja's message was simple enough, and it might have taken off if (a) they weren't so associated with the entrenched newsgroup culture - it was hard to explain to many people why this should suddenly be about shopping and product reviews; (b) the reading, review, and buying process was smoother; (c) the quality and reliability of user reviews had reached critical mass; (d) it was actually easy, satisfying, and economical to make a purchase online as opposed to using clicks for comparing and heading to the bricks for the actual purchase; and (e) the marketplace was more educated and "ready" for e-commerce and shopping search. That's a lot of "ifs," and Deja didn't have control of all these factors.
Now that the space has come of age, it's thriving. It just goes to show, I suppose, that the marketplace is the ultimate testing ground. You throw stuff against the wall and see if it sticks. And in this case, if it doesn't, you keep throwing until something finally does stick.
I'm probably being a little too easy on Deja. Their media budget was outrageous, and predictably wasted on diffuse slogans like "smart is beautiful" and "share what you know, learn what you don't." At a certain point they arrived at the slogan "Before you buy," but by then it was too late, with no credible business model in sight, and the nerf balls and foosball tables were duly repo'd.
And so we've come full circle and landed in a happy place, at least as far as economic efficiency and online publisher solvency is concerned. I stumbled on an old site that included a "search deja" box, giving you the choice amongst "discussions, reviews, and communities." Type "Sony TV" into the box, and it still takes you to a page of results: on Google Groups, of course! And lo and behold, Google's monetizing the search with granularly-targeted keyword text ads - and experimenting with content-targeted ads if you drill further into some of the content pages. And lest we forget, Google is also working on a shopping search engine, Froogle.
This is about to become very interesting. I know that when I go online to do product research, I may surf directly to a review site like Epinions, but I also do background research using Google's search engine. In this new age of consumer empowerment, it's the customers in the appliance store explaining the features of the products to the salespeople! Not only features, though. When you augment a product search with a background info search using a search engine, you find out stuff like where the factory is located. It's no accident that search engines like Google continue to be the entry point, aka portal, for so many consumers. People aren't just "Googling" that blind date to check up on their background, they're "Googling" the Maytag repairman... or at least his parent company.
Tuesday, March 11, 2003
For Sale: Late-90s Search Tech
Numerous reports say that Disney is shopping its Infoseek search assets, which have been shelved since early 2001, to one or more unnamed parties. If you thought the AltaVista acquisition was pointless, wait until some poor sap antes up millions for this "Goofy" search engine!
Yahoo Mail Spam Filters Upgraded
From ZDNet UK: "Yahoo said the new version of SpamGuard cut complaints about unwanted messages by 40 percent in its own internal testing, even as the volume of spam that it sees had risen dramatically."
It's about time! As I mentioned a few months back, it seemed like a pointless exercise to mark spam messages as spam in Yahoo Mail, as it seemed to have no effect on the spam I was receiving.
Looksmart Joins the Redesign Parade
Hot on the heels of Alltheweb.com's redesign in which the second rate search engine attempted to replicate Google's simplicity and elegance, Looksmart now also has a new look. That's definitely a good thing. Their previous incarnation was way too busy and annoying to navigate.
Hats off to Look$mart!
Monday, March 10, 2003
Enough of the Google Paranoia
Some dude named Gavin frets about how he just can't trust Google any more, what with the mysterious Blogger thing and such. He whines about how Google is slowly becoming the dreaded Big Brother. Taken alone, these might be just the musings of a lone nut, but actually there's been a crescendo lately of all this Google paranoia, and it just all seems so silly.
OK people, let's get this straight: Yes, Google can track what you search for. Yes, you can use any search engine you want. No, Google is not part of the U.S. government. Yes, one of their engineers is a former NSA guy. No, Google doesn't care what you do. And, yes, Google is in it for the money.
Before resorting to one kind of conspiracy theory or another, just think for a moment why Google exists. It's a private company that wants to make money! Why in the world would Google want to become Big Brother? They're far more interested in Big Business. And when they go public later this year or early next, do you think they're going to worry about your online proclivities? So stop freaking out already!
And no, I'm not on Google's payroll -- yet.
Google Gets Go.com
Google stole another from rival search provider Overture today when it swiped Disney's Go.com ex-portal, as reported by CNET. Not that you probably care. Who in the world even visits Go.com, let alone stumble upon it unwittingly?
Traffick... Exciting and New. Come Aboard, We're Expecting Yooooouuuuu
If you're a loyal Traffick follower, you've probably noticed by now that something ain't quite right. There's all kinds of small text and funky colors on Traffick.com!
If you don't know us from Adam, you're probably thinking, "hey this is a neat site with small text and funky colors!"
Yes, we have decided to shake things up a bit here and get right to the point. As of now, we have moved our weblog to our front page to get all that freshly baked commentary and analysis in your nose much sooner. Also, we thought it was time to brush away all the barnacles that have accumulated to our ship and to keep it clean and simple. But, aside from the new look, we're still the same old Traffick you've known and loved (or not) for the past 4 years.
So, whaddya think? We'd love to hear your thoughts! Let us know. And don't forget to come back and check on us each and every day for our trademarked blend of "threads and needles!"
Saturday, March 08, 2003
Planes, Brains, and Gibberish
Roll over, T.S. Kuhn.
Don Tapscott's a smart guy who has been writing interesting things about digital music lately. But I just about choked on a peanut a few weeks ago when I read a short piece by him in EnRoute, the Air Canada in-flight magazine. Tapscott parenthetically apologized for having "helped popularize the use of paradigm as a buzzword."
But I suppose it may be too much to ask that our pundits be humble.
Sunday, March 02, 2003
Don't Look Now, But Web Firms are Making $$$
CNN.com published an inspiring story about a "pure-play" Internet company that is actually thriving: Salesforce.com, which makes a sales force automation web application. It's one of a growing number of tales about successful businesses that survived the dot-com shakeout and appear to be on firm footing for years to come:
"The San Francisco-based company is on its way to generating $100 million in sales this year, making it a hot candidate to go public.
From the get-go, Salesforce.com persuaded its audience to pay for its customer management services, enabling the privately held company to ring up $52 million in revenue last year."
Everywhere I look now, I'm starting to see the same thing. Net companies are figuring out ways to make money and are finally starting to realize the advantages of being a virtual company. Of course, that doesn't mean everyone will win in the end, but those agile businesses that truly find the best way to exploit the unique capabilities of the Internet will indeed be on top of the world when the time comes that almost all business is conducted over the Internet.
That time is coming, this much is clear. It's just a matter of when. And for true believers like me, it feels wonderfully vindicating.
Today, I saw the president of this Ajax, Ontario- based SEO firm on ROBtv making an "elevator pitch" to some VC's asking for $500,000 to buy pencil sharpeners and hire more people. This is sort of a torture show where the host and the VC's sound unimpressed (with reason) and lob inconvenient questions at the would-be recipients of funding. Neat that the Canadian media are just getting all fired up about the venture capital phenomenon now... the week after Red Herring shuts down. It was like living in a time warp! And most uncomfortable to watch.
Nearly as unsettling was the prez of GotMarketing.com - an email marketing firm - making a similar pitch, though for a significantly larger sum of money. Problem is, when you go looking for firms that already went down this path (I happened to go looking for Sandy Bay Networks today - they received $6.5 million in venture funding in 2000, but like MessageMedia, FloNetworks, et al., they just didn't have the scale, product quality, or profit margins to justify such fast growth, and are no longer in business), you find a lot of broken dreams and burned VC's. Is GotMarketing different? I highly doubt it. All the arguments against making a business out of sending other people's email were waged long ago against MessageMedia (a firm that Steve Harmon touted as the "next AT&T") when it was publicly traded. You could look it up.
I really don't know much about venture capital (in spite of reading, like everyone else, way too much about it during the boom). But to me, the "pitch" aspect of this process seems too focused on the story. But surely the best kind of story shouldn't be a story at all - it should be about a history of revenue growth and key accomplishments that would naturally lend themselves to further (but quicker) growth. VC's, it seems, don't want to be like banks - they don't want to fund safe businesses that have already turned a small profit, preferring to ask about burn rates and time to profitability. It makes you wonder, what kind of a world would we live in if VC's were a little more like bankers, and bankers took a few more risks?
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