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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.

Posted by Andrew
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Friday, March 14, 2003

They listened!

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.

Posted by Andrew
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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).

Mike admits: I have to admit to an anti-Yahoo! bias, but it is for a half dozen other reasons related to buying up services that I used and loved before Yahoo!'s acquisition. I dropped most of those services over privacy policy related issues except for a long established e-groups article distribution list I owned that is now a Yahoo Groups list. I just couldn't afford the time to archive and move all of the 2,000 (now nearing 6,000) articles stored in that database back then. I still use Yahoo! for all their services that are available in one place, just don't like them. It's personal and probably irrational to dislike a company on the one hand, but recommend clients pay to get listed in the directory above their objections. I'm aware of the value and utility there, just wish there were more respect for privacy and a bit of visible social conscience from a company with so much power and visibility.

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.

Posted by Andrew
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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.

Posted by Andrew
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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!

Posted by Cory
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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.

Posted by Cory
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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!

Posted by Cory
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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.

Posted by Cory
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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?

Posted by Cory
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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!"

Posted by Cory
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