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Thursday, May 22, 2003

Would it be such a crime to build a business worth "only" $10 million?

Am I the only one who can't spot the "small" in Fortune Small Business magazine?

It just seems to be story after story like this one about the cable magnate (who admittedly was the "son of a hog farmer") who needs to raise $50 BILLION with a b to make waves in the massive waste management business.

My idea of a small business magazine - call me crazy - would be stories about finding good ideas, avoiding the pitfalls that cause most small businesses to fail, managing work-life balance, and about growing one flower shop into six, or building a one-limo operation into a medium-sized fleet, or going from one employee to five, then ten. Or about four lifelong skilled tradesmen who buy out a failing shop and turn $200,000 in profit per year, eventually selling out for $2 million apiece. Or about the guy who buys that shop and turns it into a manufacturing operation that grows into a $50 million business. Or how about a dentist who simply practices as a dentist for 30 years with three hygienists and a receptionist, earns a tidy income, and golfs on Wednesdays? Isn't there a right way and a wrong way to go about that? Doesn't the guy get to drive around in a Lexus if he feels like it? Aren't his mom and dad proud?

Would that be so incredibly small-potatoes? What's the deal, then?

I think the answer lies in the biases of business journalists, most of whom know nothing about business, but know everything about image and style, because they live in the world of daily observation and mass broadcast. If it weren't for that one misstep at their last assignment, many of them would be interviewing Martin Scorcese or Nelson Mandela... so they want the next best thing, the "business celebrity." Business celebrities generally own impressive structures and call themselves "billionaires." So that's who you're gonna call.

The alternative would be interviewing genuine small business people. Terribly messy business. Certainly not something that reporters for shiny, glossy, business magazines (even those with "small" in the name) would soil themselves with.

For readers looking for levity, of course, there are plenty of chances for FSB readers to learn about the latest "fun gadgets" (because that's what business is about, eh?) like camcorders, and of course, "CEO Fashion Tips" (hilarious!). And here I thought CEO's were those guys who cashed in millions in stock options working for companies worth billions. But nope, I guess that flower shop owner and dentist must be CEO's too! Kind of leaves you breathless, doesn't it?

Posted by Andrew
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Harvard Law School Student on Scumware Patrol

Chris Sherman reports in SearchDay that Harvard Law School student Ben Edelman has produced a comprehensive report of which sites Gator targets for popup ads. In Edelman's report, you can drill down to see which sites are being targeted. For example, as is easily documented with Edelman's app, certain search queries on Google will generate Gator pop-ups. One of 700 such terms is "Adipex" - a fat loss drug. Presumably Gator (and indirectly, Overture) sells advertising to pharmaceutical companies and distributors. But do all of these advertisers know that they're using a medium which "trumps" the content produced by legitimate publishers who may be losing revenues from their own ads?

This seems to be unethical (and possibly illegal) on a few levels. If Gator can pop up its own ads on the user's screen when a user types a query like "Adipex," then what does this say about Google's sovereignty over ad revenues derived from publishing the results displayed on Google.com?

Ever wonder why there is no love lost between companies like Overture and Google? Look no further than tactics like "Gatoring" for evidence that the gloves are off.

Posted by Andrew
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Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Introducing the 2004 Edsel

"Twenty-seven years of computer technology and we're back to the drawing board" says the intriguing headline from the folks at Compaq and Microsoft.

"Sometimes there is nothing more persuasive, nothing clearer, than the scrawl of freehand."

And often, there is nothing less convincing than the utterances of ad copywriters in full-page newspaper spreads. Maybe they should have scrawled the ad in freehand?

Yes, after all this time, they're still trying to flog pen computing. Thus living up to that old Microsoft saying: "if the shoe doesn't fit, just cram it on there!"

Posted by Andrew
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Search Engine Watch "Tags Along"

In the beginning, Search Engine Watch was a source for information about technical aspects of searching the Web, but as far as I could tell, it didn't have an official tag line.

Now, however, it apparently has been christened "The Source for Search Engine Marketing & Optimization." I guess this makes sense, as most of what SEWatch covers these days relates to the marketing side of the business rather than the research side.

This brings up a point that hasn't been well documented yet. Thanks to the search engine marketing boom, most of us search engine enthusiasts somehow went from webmasters or developers to search engine marketers in the past two years. It must be related to that thing about being able to make money from our vast stores of search-engine knowledge!

Posted by Cory
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Interview with the Daypopper

SearchDay guest writer Gary Price sits down with Daypop creator Dan Chan to get the inside story on Chan's growing service, which is starting to make waves in the search community.

Just what is Daypop? Price explains:

Daypop is a unique search engine, for a number of reasons. It's primary focus is on weblogs, news sites and other sources for current events and breaking news -- currently scouring more than 35,000 of these sources.

Sound kind of like Google News? Yep. My guess is that Chan will be employed by either Google, Yahoo, MSN, Overture or some similar operation within six months.

Posted by Cory
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Monday, May 19, 2003

SpamNet Ain't Free After All

OK, so I spent the better part of a year helping Cloudmark SpamNet perfect its peer-to-peer spam fighting network, in exchange for free usage of the product. Then, last week I find out that SpamNet is not free, after all, as I and many others had believed, now that it has gone to version 1.0.

I guess I'll just have to do without. It's not that I have a problem paying for a quality product. I have no qualms about that. I pay Yahoo for Mail Plus, I paid for Netcaptor, I paid for RoboForm. I paid for Blogger Pro. I have no problem paying for worthwhile and invaluable tools. But, I won't pay for something that I thought was going to be free for end users but would cost ISPs and corporate mail users.

How irritating. CNET can take it from here.

Posted by Cory
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You Down, ODP? Yeah You Know Me!

Is it just me, or is the Open Directory Project constantly down or acting strangely? The only time I ever use the ODP is when I'm submitting new client sites (or resubmitting constantly, as is the case these days). I've been trying to submit a site now for two days, and I'm constantly getting Internal Server Errors. So, I'll try again tomorrow.

Even when I am able to submit URLs, after I search the directory to see if the site has been accepted, I get persistent error messages stating that there is a heavy server load and to try my search later!

What's going on there, guys? I wonder if anyone at AOL is even minding the ODP, and what they plan to do with it. Seems to me that the ODP is a useless piece of junk that either needs to be revamped or sent to the Recycle Bin. Many categories are redundant and lack category editors. While the idea of a free directory is interesting, in practice, the ODP has been a mess from day one.

Posted by Cory
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"Dot Net Alerts" to Offer New Marketing Opportunities?

Microsoft's ballyhooed new "connected technology," collectively called .NET, or Dot Net, has been slow to take off largely due to Redmond's inability to present a clear and unified branding strategy. But, some new toolkits from Microsoft might help spur adoption and developer interest.

One example: Dot Net Alerts. Basically, if you use MSN Messenger, and if you've ever seen one of those pop-up alerts from the Messenger icon in the Windows tray, you've already witnessed Dot Net Alerts in action. Microsoft has created a software development kit (or SDK) that enables developers to tap into this powerful way of communicating with users. Here's some info straight from the horse's mouth:

"Research shows that the .NET Alerts service has a response rate of 35 percent or greater, compared to less than 1 percent for direct mail or e-mail. In addition, alerts delivered to a desktop or mobile device will not get lost in a customer's cluttered inbox. Because .NET Alerts allow you to reach customers at the moment of opportunity with relevant, engaging messages that they have opted for, customers are more likely to respond immediately."

Sounds intriguing, eh? But, keep in mind that your users must have Passport accounts to use these Alerts, so if you decide to monkey around with this, be sure to know your audience in advance to find out if it's worth your company's time to experiment.

Posted by Cory
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Sunday, May 18, 2003

Remembering Why Google is Tops

Tara Calishain, coauthor of "Google Hacks," takes a revealing look back at how Google went from search engine darkhorse to global media powerhouse in three short years.

One obvious fact that I had forgotten about Google's rise is that during the portal boom years, banner ads were ubiquitous, and all the former search engines and web directories like Yahoo and AltaVista had let their web search guard down to to focus on "monetizing their millions of eyeballs," and Google was different because it was pure search with no ads. What a Purple Cow at the time! (And, it's too bad for AltaVista that they didn't find a way to make their Raging Search engine work; they might be the #2 engine today instead of somewhere near #10).

I knew Google would find a way to make money, despite the lack of obvious revenue sources, but I had no idea they'd be where they are today -- the most recognized brand in the world, according to a major survey and pulling in almost a billion dollars from AdWords and other revenue sources. Who knows what the future holds?

Posted by Cory
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Do Google Results Give Crackpots Too Much Power?

Finally -- original, insightful and balanced coverage of Google by a major media property! Geoffrey Nunberg of the New York Times writes that, because Google is so widely used and the top results returned by a search can often be seen as the most authoritative on a topic due to the effectiveness of its heralded PageRank algorithm, there arises an interesting dilemma.

Sometimes, crackpots can taint search results by "googlewashing" an expression -- "in effect, hijacking the the expression and giving it a new meaning," according to Nunberg. This is an astute observation that represents a potential pitfall to our reliance on Google. But, as Nunberg also observes,

On topics of general interest, the rankings tend to favor the major sites and marginalize the smaller or newer ones; here, as elsewhere, money and power talk.... And when it comes to more specialized topics, the rankings give disproportionate weight to opinions of the activists and enthusiasts that may be at odds with the views of the larger public.

Nunberg makes several other interesting observations and clarifications that give Google credit for creating a beautiful, elegant system, and his piece is well worth a read.

Posted by Cory
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Still Mystified by AdWords? Try Google's Flash Tutorial

Nothing helps you learn a process faster than seeing it in action, rather than reading about it. Google has done a smart thing by creating an online tutorial for how to "target your customers with tips from Google":

AdWords specialists have pooled their best advice into a new four-minute online keyword matching options tutorial that demonstrates the huge potential of these options. The presentation guides you through account screenshots and clear examples of how to take advantage of our four matching options (broad, phrase, exact, and negative). -- From the Google AdWords Newsletter.

Oh, and it wouldn't hurt either to pick up Andrew's handy report on how to increase ROI from Google AdWords!

Posted by Cory
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Amazon.com is Next Target of O'Reilly's "Hacks"

Tech book publisher O'Reilly plans to follow up its smash hit "Google Hacks" with a title about how to manipulate another one of the Web's burgeoning platforms -- Amazon.com, with its Amazon Web Services initiative.

The AWS is similar to Google's Web API, and both of these technologies are based on web services, the "holy grail" of Internet programming that's supposed to link all web apps to one another. To learn more about how you, too, can hack the e-commerce giant, read on.

Oh, and in case you were wondering about the "Hacks" series, O'Reilly explains that they adopted the "hacking" label for this book series (other titles include "Mac OS X Hacks" and "Linux Hacks") not to indicate the malicious activities that is usually associated with the concept, but to "reclaim the true spirit of hacking," which is an activity engaged in by adventurous programmers looking to solve problems or devise creative programs.

To see an example of the Amazon Web Service in action, check out Amazon Lite.

Posted by Cory
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