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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...

Posted by Cory
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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!

Posted by Andrew
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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."

Posted by Cory
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Don't Get Mad, Get RoboForm

Last year, I risked it all to publish a shocking expose on just how insidious Gator's form-filling software is and how nigh-impossible it is to eradicate its presence from your computer. I had been addicted to Gator's ability for years to remember my account information; but with its automatic updates, adware and baiting and switching on the terms of use, I had had enough.

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!)

Posted by Cory
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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 info@somedomain.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!

Posted by Cory
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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*

Posted by Cory
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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?

Posted by Cory
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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!

Posted by Cory
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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!

Posted by Cory
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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.

Posted by Cory
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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.

Posted by Cory
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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)

Posted by Cory
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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...

Posted by Cory
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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.

Posted by Andrew
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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"!)

Posted by Andrew
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