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Saturday, November 01, 2003

The Twilight Zone?

Upon visiting the Windows Family Home Page on Microsoft's web site, visitors today are greeted by none other than a giant image of the new Napster 2.0 logo, in which Microsoft exhorts you to download the reborn music service, now powered by Windows Media Player 9 Series.

Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo...

Posted by Cory
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Friday, October 31, 2003

Yeeha! Google Roundup

Microsoft wants to marry Google.
This marriage just might be worse for the world than Corey Rudl's pending nuptials to an imaginary female named Tracy. Please, please, please Big G, don't pull an Anakin Skywalker and align yourself with the dark side! I believe you when you say that you care about "good and evil," and it doesn't get much more evil (eviler?) than to consolidate so much power in the hands of one company.

Google does not need Microsoft to be a successful company, whether public or private, although going public could make it very hard for Google to "be good." When you have to choose between the interests of your shareholders and your stakeholders, someone is bound to lose, and one party will feel spurned. Let's hope Brin and Page are successful in retaining their corporate culture that has had such a profound effect on so many people and companies. I think many people underestimate how much of a positive effect that ethos has had on the growth of the Internet. Depending on how you look at it, Google (along with Overture) may have saved the commercial Internet from self-destruction, and they deserve a lot of credit for that.

The Google Toolbar is Cool
When the New York Times writes about something, you know it's big time. This piece isn't necessarily remarkable and certainly is old news to Web veterans. But, it is interesting in the sense that Google is now the seeming king of pop-up ad killers, thanks to the new feature in version 2.0 of the toolbar. So, see? Google is still "good"! Oh, and R.I.P. X10.

Google Wants You (To be a Better Bidder)
Leslie Walker of the Washington Post has written an excellent summary of what makes Google's AdWords program so interesting, and that's the feature that rewards ads that get more clicks by charging the advertiser less and displaying his ad more frequently. Of course, readers of Andrew's Google AdWords report already know all about this :)

Leslie also shares some success stories of webmasters who use AdSense, the syndicated AdWords program. Although clickthrough rates are lower for these ads, some webmasters report that the conversion rates are about the same as normal AdWords ads displayed on Google, AOL, etc. In any case, thousands of websites are able to make ad revenue by doing very little labor, allowing them to focus on producing content (refer back to "Google is good" comment above!).

Finally, she concludes by presenting some of the challenges that Google faces (advertisers trying to sneak in "ad mismatches and Google's impending clashes with Microsoft and Amazon.com), as well as briefly mentioning Google's recent acquisition of Sprinks. Anyway, I've prattled enough. If you want a good synopsis of Google's world today, read the full article.

Posted by Cory
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Incomparables

Welcome to the bizarro-world of business reporting. I have no doubt that valuations being bandied about for Google's much-too-eagerly-anticipated IPO sound rich. But comparing the company with Verity is just whacked.

They both have some pretty good search technology. Both do serve the enterprise. But Google's revenues are coming from a massive global user base (an audience). More specifically, the lion's share of those revenues come from advertising, NOT corporate IT contracts.

Open Text is like Verity. Autonomy is like Verity. Google is more like Yahoo... or maybe it's just in a class by itself. It goes without saying that (if you conveniently forget that they remain takeover targets for behemoths like News Corp. and Disney) companies like Yahoo are overvalued right now. Valuations are also rich on Open Text, Autonomy, and Verity -- especially Autonomy -- so what? Eventually this silly mini-bubble will correct itself, possibly when "Crazy Al" Greenspan comes to his senses and raises rates.

Meanwhile, rumors are flying that Microsoft approached Google, possibly even to discuss a merger. I guess there's a story behind every story. Sometimes, "unreal" valuations are all too real.

Posted by Andrew
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Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Down the Aisle and Straight to...

Back by popular demand, an update on how our old friend Corey Rudl's doing.

Got a chirpy email from him today. An excerpt:

Hi Albert,

I am sending this e-mail because I need to vent...

[snip]

At first I did not think much of this pop-up killing software until a couple of months ago when I checked the stats on my pop-ups... the subscribers and sales had literally dropped in half!

Have you checked your stats recently? Have you seen similar drops in your subscribers and sales directly from your pop-ups?

Anyway, when I noticed this I was soooo angry... So after about 2 hours straight of ranting about this to my fiancee Tracy, she told me to just shut up and do something about it. So I did.

Although it cost me over $22,000 and took a couple months to fix, the pay-off has been huge and I want to show you how I did it!

If you want to see how the special technology I just developed allowed me to defeat the pop-up killers...


Careful readers will notice that "girlfriend Tracy" has now been upgraded to "fiancee Tracy." It seems you just can't stop progress.

Now Tracy, I'm talking directly to you. It was bad enough when your man shamelessly flogged a gizmo that could submit a website to "all 150,000 search engines." But now with a popup-blocker-beater?

I'll admit... your man is a strong swimmer. But against the tide is against the tide. Do you really fancy fishing him out of the ocean three years from now?

What if the best possible outcome occurs and Corey is crowned the "Popup King"? Do you know what that will make you? (Tick, tick, I can hear you doing the computations...) Unwelcome at the Googleplex, for starters.

Tracy, while it may be too late for your future husband, it's not too late for you. Save yourself while you still can.

Posted by Andrew
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Tuesday, October 28, 2003

So-Called "White Collar Spam" Getting Attention

Email is fast becoming a difficult way to reach out and touch your customers. This week I received another "win a contest" type email from my cell provider, Bell Mobility. Instead of letting out a scream, I quietly deleted it, a beaten man. When "real" companies are purveyors of the nasty unwanted email, it seems there is nothing we can do, especially when no one who works there seems particularly accountable (that's probably on purpose) for privacy policies.

Today's article by Saul Hansell of the New York Times provides a good overview of the problem.

In this space, we've previously agonized over numerous examples of this type of thing. Conglomerates like Lycos and Yahoo and many others have had little hiccups in their privacy policies leading to unwanted email, and bankruptcy proceedings at companies like Excite@Home often seem to lead to little accidents with databases being sold and shared.

The fact that "spam" isn't restricted to black-hatted "spammers" (along the lines of "Chinese spam gangs from Toronto" infamously referenced in the musings of one European regulatory body) is finally getting through.

It leads one to think that outside of communications that take extraordinary measures to get "whitelisted," and uncommonly useful publications, the whole concept of email "permission" marketing has been ruined, and not just by evil spammers, but by overzealous emailers in general.

Spam filters? Please. I've had my emails to a friend marked as spam because they contained the word "young" plus a double exclamation point (in different places).

Challenge-response isn't a viable avenue for many of us, either. In part, the problem with challenge-response is that it too can find itself in a bulk folder, or may be interpreted by the recipient as spam and deleted without opening, leading to a loss of business. No filter is perfect, needless to say.

And then, there's RSS, but this blog was supposed to be brief, so let's not go there.

If you know how to create pretty marketing materials in hard copy, and are willing to scrawl your handwritten signature & affix real stamps to them in order to get away from the crowds of other marketers doing the so-called "permission" thing... well get scrawlin', as low-tech and high-touch are back in vogue.

Also, consider upping your travel and lunch budgets for 2004.

One of the many spam blockers out there is called SpamArrest. Speaking of arrests, I have an idea. While we're tossing white-collar criminals in jail for accounting fraud, why not make a few examples of folks who shaded the line and sent out email pitches to customers who didn't ask for them? Hmm, then again, that might mean a pretty overloaded penal system.

I have no answers today, but do have a moral of the story. Don't be fooled by those who finger-point at "spammers," then turn around and send questionable email under the guise of "permission." There simply isn't any excuse for the behavior. Unlike TV, we can't mute it, we can't turn the channel, we can't Tivo it, we can't get away from it at work. We need our email addresses to function. Those who rationalize their excessive emailing with corporate doublespeak are actually cutting into gross economic output. There. Now we can arrest them for treason, or something.

Posted by Andrew
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Looking for that Easy Alternative to Yahoo! Mail or Hotmail?

There are a lot of different ways to get email. You could spend forever comparing schemes and features and offers.

Basically though, if you're like me, your situation is this: you already own a bunch of domains, and some of them might be useful as "alternative" email addresses. Wouldn't it be good to just get email service by paying for it - without needing to goof around with hosting? Why of course!

Yahoo offers a strange domain-registration-with-email cobrand, and I've used that in conjunction with one of my domains. But you know what? The box was soon getting bulk mail and moreover, Yahoo Mail is just plain full of ads and annoying.

So I tried a different tack: when I registered a domain with registrar NameBargain, I was able to sign up for a web-based email service for $14.95 that offers up to ten email addresses based on my domain (which I would have owned anyway). $14.95 isn't going to break anyone. Most importantly, the service gives me an inbox that is for now spam-free, with a cool name of my choice (no "parabola4851@yahoo.com" nonsense), and a quick login method. Most of all, no ads popping up all over the place a la Yahoo. Sort of how web-based email used to be in the old days.

There must be 100 ways to deal with spam, organize one's email, and get away from ads. I use multiple methods, as there seems to be no one easy solution. Sometimes low-tech works best.

I kind of like this particular approach, though. If you're one of those people who is getting too much electronic attention and whose email just "vants to be alone," head to NameBargain.com or another registrar that offers the service, and check it out. I guarantee you the experience of sending and receiving mails from this interface (you just surf to http://mail.Whatever-URL.xxx and log in with your password) will be like going back in time!

Posted by Andrew
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