Friday, April 30, 2004
New Traffick Article
By the Numbers: Google IPO Filing Tells Story of '03
By Andrew Goodman, April 30, 2004
It may be awhile before the stock actually trades, but forced disclosure now gives us access to the key numbers for how the company did in 2003. Answer: pretty good.
Thursday, April 29, 2004
Cultural Amnesia: Google Didn't Invent Search, People
For the next year or so, I suppose we'll now have to resign ourselves to hastily-written glosses on info-retrieval "then and now" -- with the "now" being the Book of Google and "then" being mere pre-history.
Check this out:
"Information before Google was a tough and often dull business before Stanford graduates Larry Page and Sergey Brin came up with an algorithm that searched and ranked Web pages on the basis of "importance" value to determine their usefulness.
"Students trudged to libraries, journalists rifled through dog-eared contacts books and computer neophytes struggled with search engines that required precision spelling, hyphens and slashes in the right order."
I hope Danny Sullivan has some fun with that one in his monthly newsletter.
Precision spelling! Like spelling things correctly! Imagine that! And imagine "trudging" to a library. (I really hope students still do that, even if it's only to fire up Google or make out in the stacks.)
Also, she misspelled the word "wacky" in the story. Kooky.
And the Winner Is... Eric Schmidt
Google has indeed filed for a public offering today since they couldn't legally delay disclosure any longer.
The filing shows that CEO Eric Schmidt holds 38.4% as many shares as either of the co-founders, Page and Brin. Phew! Not bad.
So when the inevitable envious talk turns to some smart engineer becoming a millionaire "because he happened to work at Google," put it in perspective. Think about Eric Schmidt.
Wednesday, April 28, 2004
White-Hot Search Sector Pleases Meckler, Befuddles Terra
JupiterMedia CEO Alan Meckler reports that the upcoming Toronto SES show is "significantly profitable" out of the gate, unusual for a first-time show. Canada, Sweden, Japan... Mr. Meckler's becoming more popular than Celine Dion (and better-dressed, too).
I like it, too. I just finished up an interview for Berlin Public Radio. You might call me the David Hasselhoff of Search!
In not-so-good news, Spanish-owned Terra Networks is trying to unload Lycos, a company it never should have bought in the first place. Maybe Barry Diller will get his chance after all, at a deep discount. With the right buyer at the right time, a Lycos-linked web conglomerate could add some spice to an already rejuvenated portal war.
John Battelle has recently commented on this issue as well. With an impending Lycos fire sale, suddenly Ask Jeeves doesn't look like the only major potential acquisition target in the search/portal sector.
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Moreover's Free Webfeeds to be AdSense-Supported
With little if any fanfare, Google has gained a new partner for its contextual ad listings: Moreover, the news aggregator. The tens of thousands of webmasters who use the free webfeeds from Moreover are being asked to sign up for a new feed service at a Moreover division called FeedDirect.
Given the uneven quality of Moreover's feeds these days (it seems unsure whether it's a free-for-all blog feed or a carefully-chosen feed of articles from trusted news sources), this could be the catalyst some publishers need to explore alternatives such as startup Topix.net, which also offers feeds.
There is considerable demand amongst publishers for better-quality custom news aggregation out there, but many got used to not paying for the services. Few would pay steep fees since numerous free options are available. Many won't accept the idea of showing ads, either, especially if Moreover, and not the publisher, gets the part of the revenue that doesn't go to Google.
A middle-ground solution would surely be some kind of compromise that offers better customization of sources, look, and feel, with no requirement to show ads. Since we currently use Moreover on Traffick.com, but would love to try something new, we're open to ideas.
Sunday, April 25, 2004
New Traffick Article:
The Book on Amazon.com's A9 Search Engine
By Cory Kleinschmidt, April 25, 2004
When Amazon.com last year announced they were going to launch their own search engine called A9, many search engine observers thought they were nuts. I was one of them. Now that it's here, however, I'm singing a different tune.
Saturday, April 24, 2004
Because You Demanded It! Traffick in RSS
Well, a few of you demanded it. OK, I guess it was more of a polite request, but so what! Spread the word from on high: Interested parties may now syndicate Traffick.com in any RSS newsreader of their choice, and even My Yahoo now, by adding the following newsfeed in Blogger's Atom format:
I've been learning more and more about RSS lately, and I'll have a review of syndication options as they relate to portals coming soon!
Friday, April 23, 2004
From the "It's About Time" Department: Yahoo Maps SmartView
Here's an idea that's so obviously brilliant that it's hard to believe something like this didn't exist before. On Yahoo's home page today, there's a colorful ad for Yahoo Maps SmartView.
Normally I don't pay much mind to these types of things, but I gotta admit, they got me with that "SmartView" label. It sounded so... smart and so... different. And guess what? It is very different from your father's online mapping service.
In a nutshell, this is seemingly new technology that not only shows you a map, but also points of interest nearby, like where to find Indian food, a wi-fi hot spot, a workout gym, etc. I don't know how they do it, but it sure is cool. And it gives you a new way to find stuff using online maps other than the old way of searching on keywords and viewing lists Yellow Pages style.
Thursday, April 22, 2004
AOL Reinvents Itself as... a Portal
Speaking of the portal wars raging hard, AOL is now trying to become a portal again. In case you're interested, here's a brief and very rough timeline of AOL:
- 1990ish - AOL is an online service with subscriber-only content; subscriber rate increases at rapid rate as online content is relatively scarce.
- 1998ish - AOL launches a "me-too" portal with ad supported model; subscriber growth continues despite cracks in AOL's facade
- 2002ish - AOL sheds online portal in favor of content exclusive to paid subscribers; subscriber growth goes negative as users drop dial-up in favor of broadband.
- 2004 - AOL becomes portal again to try to reverse bleeding of paid subscribers, thanks to re-emergence of online advertising largely due to pay-per-click search ads.
So there you have it. I don't know about you, but I can't wait to try My AOL (again). I never got a chance to say goodbye the first time... *sniff*
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
AOL to Reboot Netscape
Well, it's about time. After doing virtually nothing with its Netscape brand since buying the company in 1998 (six years ago!), AOL says it plans to restart the Netscape brand in this News.com article. The AOL sources quoted in the article don't say what exactly they plan to do, but one safe bet would be to more prominently feature pay-per-click ads, although a quick search reminds me that Netscape does still feature Google AdWords listings in its search engine, which is basically a copy of Google's index.
Currently, Netscape is also branded as a discount Internet service provider that provides dial-up service for $9.95 a month, with no credit card required to register. I don't think I've read any press reports about how successful the recently launched Netscape ISP is, but my guess is that it ain't too hot. I did receive my first Netscape Internet service junk mail CD last week, though, so get ready for an onslaught of discs yourself. I had a feeling something was going to happen with Netscape after I saw that disc in my snail mail box.
Ah, the portal wars rage on...
Sunday, April 18, 2004
New Traffick Article:
Copernic Targets the Information Management Needs of SMEs
By Andrew Goodman, April 19, 2004
Rather than focusing on large corporate accounts with long sales cycles and price tags halfway towards seven figures, Copernic seeks to address the search needs of small to medium-sized businesses.
Thursday, April 15, 2004
Attention Citizens of Punxsutawney: Google AdWords Beefs Up Regional Targeting Capabilities
Today Google announced an improved regional targeting option for its advertisers, making it possible for locally-focused companies in eight countries to show ads only to Internet users in their region.
The countries now included are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, the UK, and the US, which already had access to the program.
Advertisers may choose to show ads to any number of metropolitan areas (according to anonymous Google spokesman "AdWords Advisor," the limit of five per campaign has now been dropped). But a new wrinkle is the "latitude and longitude" feature. An advertiser can set up a "shape" by setting various points of latitude and longitude, and advertise to everyone within that area. So if you're partial to the rhombus, you're golden.
Although the IP-based targeting is far from perfectly accurate, as this technology evolves it achieves an efficiency bordering on elegance. Imagine the shape of an advertiser's target area expanding and contracting in different economic conditions. Want to advertise a concert or restaurant to the surrounding area within an hour's driving distance? Having trouble filling seats? Double the radius.
In the future, could you show your ad only to a tony neighborhood, or decrease your bids for areas that don't suit your target demographic? The possibilities are endless.
Direct mail marketers have enjoyed some of these advantages for many years. But the difference is: with search, the user may be actively looking for you and prepared to transact on the spot.
Man of Many Hats
Red Hat founder Robert Young has purchased his hometown football team, the Canadian Football League's Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Kevin Marron got the lead paragraph exactly correct: "Oskee Wee Wee. Linux, eat 'em raw." (Although he forgot the Oskee Waa Waa.)
Other wealthy high-tech sports team owners have often been destructive meddlers. But I have a good feeling that under the low-key Young, things are going to be different. Whoops, something's coming in over the wire...
Top Ten Ideas of New Hamilton Ti-Cats Owner Robert Young...
- Quarterback receives plays from bench on BlackBerry. Advantage -- can trade his portfolio during commercial breaks.
- Campaign to rebrand Hamilton, Ontario from "gritty steel town" to "only a 45-minute drive to the University of Waterloo."
- Three words: open source steroids.
- Cross-branding opportunity with new software startup "Tiger-Striped Helmet"
- Instead of aiming for small annual profit, plans to create massive losses, then take the company public.
- Team mascot change: instead of random guy in tiger suit, Martin Short in fat suit.
- Master plan to pump up U.S. interest in team, then apply for membership in NFL. How? Three words: Super Bowl Commercial.
Well, that's only seven. The suggestion box is open.
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Ready, Fire, Aim
Senator Liz Figueroa comes out shooting from the hip, comparing contextual ads in GMail to "having a giant billboard inside your home." I completely agree that we should stop at nothing to remove anything that resembles a giant billboard inside the home. That's why I'm drafting legislation that will abolish television!
Actually, what these are is tiny, inobtrusive text-based ads that are considerably less annoying than... oh well, you know what I think. I believe it would be a good idea to allow an opt-out for users who want to pay an annual fee to use GMail, but the fee would likely be steep. Google management seems to be considering this option now.
Tuesday, April 13, 2004
Google to Unblock Trademarked Terms
In a wonderfully comprehensive article on the latest developments in the search advertising trademark controversy, Stefanie Olsen of News.com reports that Google will no longer be setting itself up as a paralegal arbitrator enforcing trademark holders' complaints. Rather, it seems that pretty much any allegedly trademarked term will be fair game for the AdWords program until a court says otherwise.
Told you so. And bravo, Google. The reasoning cited by Google, according to the article, is that "it carefully evaluated the legal landscape before making its decision and is betting on a long-held tenet of trademark law that holds there is no infringement in the use of a registered mark unless there is a likelihood of consumer confusion." This makes eminent sense.
I've been following this issue since the inception of AdWords Select two years ago, and fielding plenty of criticism for repeatedly advocating the position that Google is now officially taking. Lengthy sections in various interim updates of my "21 Ways to Maximize Results on Google AdWords" report argued this point. In Page Zero Advisor (my premium newsletter), Traffick Occasional, and as moderator of I-Search Digest, I maintained that stance. I hoped, at best, that I was providing a devil's advocate perspective to encourage advertisers not to fetter themselves willy-nilly. But I really never dreamt that Google would take this particular position at this early stage. Maybe they're in a fightin' mood on account of the hockey playoffs.
At Search Engine Strategies New York recently, there was an enlightening session called "Leggo My Trademark," in which representatives of both sides of the debate made good points, but in which the advertiser's and Google's side was finally taken by a more eloquent expert than previously. On March 3, 2004, I commented on this in Traffick Occasional, a comment which is worth reprinting now for the benefit of non-subscribers (see below). (The issue was titled "The Best thing Since Wrestling.")
The one unanswered question, discussed with fellow conference attendees at the time, is whether Google would ever "unblock" the existing blocked trademarks if there were ever any definitive legal decisions or policy changes on this issue. In other words, would we as advertisers ever get access to trademarked terms that had previously been blocked, or would these policy decisions be "grandfathered"? From Olsen's article, it appears at this stage that the answer could be "yes." Welcome news for guerrilla advertisers and a potential thorn in the side to arrogant trademark holders everywhere. Evidently, though, the change hasn't yet come into effect. I already had a new keyword blocked today quite quickly after entering it ("elance"); evidently this term was on Google's stock list of disallowed trademarks. Will it come off the list? Will eBay come off the list? Will there even be a list? This will be interesting to watch.
[Excerpt from Traffick Occasional #6, March 3, 2004]
Speaking of that legal issues session... (whoops I feel a song coming on)....
So the FCC won't let me be
Or let me be me so let me see
They tried to shut me down on MTV
But it feels so empty without me
...legal counsel for American Blind, the outfit that's suing Google for allowing competitors to advertise on American's trademark, got a little overheated today in his rhetoric (although all the panelists including him were great, and measured in their comments, which shows we've come a long way in the past six months... formerly it seemed like the world was ready to crucify Google AdWords in the name of trademark protection, placing much higher standards on them than would seem justified by legal history as explained by excellent panelist and author Douglas J. Wood)... calling Google "like a drug dealer" and saying pointlessly that they are allowing this "traffic in keywords" and that they are "trafficking in something-or-other" etc. Well, I never!
Somehow I always suspected it would come down to this. But while the controversyyyy creates billable hours for lawyers and pundits, it is all going to turn out to be much less interesting than people think. It's going to be shown that most of the advertising that appears near search results will be seen as TOTALLY LEGAL because it couldn't be construed to be reasonably causing consumer confusion. People who look at the ads based on the keywords they type aren't "directed to" a competitor's website as some scaremongers would have it. Far from it. They might not even look at the ads all that closely, and if they do, surely it was by choice. And, ahem, the ads are labeled "sponsored links." How much more disclosure is warranted?
So then what? When all this stuff is actually legal as we advertisers thought it would be...? And then we discover that Google and some of their competitors like Overture have a long list of trademark holders for whom they rolled over, and blocked other advertisers from using those terms? Will Google unblock 'em? Everyone knows Ebay advertises on every term on the sun, because you really can buy brand-name products on Ebay so arguably that's fair use. Problem, though: it doesn't work both ways. You can't advertise on the term Ebay, even *if* a court of law might someday find that it's fair use. Google has blocked it.
At some point, when the law gets itself sorted out, we'll need Google to stop playing paralegal and remove all those blocks. Those have been a point of annoyance for my friend, a local lawyer, who has argued vociferously on this point for some time because he's not only a lawyer, he's an AdWords junkie. Finally, as the Douglas J. Woods of the world (who understand the legal history of advertising) get more traction in the debate, more people are seeing the light. A trademark violation in this context means something that is likely to legitimately cause consumer confusion. Some rulings in the past few years have indicated little more than judge confusion as they simply haven't understood the technology. Metatags and keyword suggestion tools are the devil, helping seedy criminals steal business from Home Depot and Playboy, right? Not! As Mr. Wood pointed out, what some may call trademark infringement is good old-fashioned competition, a principle we hold dear, a principle which, among other things, lowers prices, provides choice, and drives innovation in our society.
The one-sidedness of the trademark holders' increasingly-frequent threats finally caused Google to finally stand up and say, you know what, we're going to fight this American Blind thing as a test case. We're no longer going to allow legal arguments which have yet to be tested in the courts determine our policies. American Blind will be doing Google a big favor if they keep moving ahead with this one, and a disservice to Google and the advertising community if they give up on it. We can only hope that the lengthy process sheds light on the legalities. And if that's a controversial viewpoint, well... (sing it with me)...
Now this looks like a job for me
So everybody just follow me
'Cos we need a little controversy
'Cos it feels so empty without me
Hum dee dai la la hum dei dei la la la la la
Hum dee dai la la hum dei dei la la la la la
Another Patented Traffick.com "Call for Jail Time"
Today I received one of those PayPal "account problem scam" spams. It looks like it's really from PayPal because the "from line" is ostensibly from "service at paypal.com." You're then asked to click on a link which looks like it's really from PayPal.com. Of course, if you check the full header, the email is really coming from the domain "hugeupdateinfo.com" (not really, though, as this appears to have been spoofed), as I quickly found out:
Received: from 18.104.22.168 (EHLO mail2.interkey.net) (22.214.171.124) by mta246.mail.scd.yahoo.com with SMTP; Mon, 12 Apr 2004 23:35:30 -0700
Received: from hugeupdateinfo.com (mail.interkey.net [126.96.36.199]) by mail2.interkey.net (8.11.6/8.11.6) with ESMTP id i3D5jfL14237; Tue, 13 Apr 2004 01:45:41 -0400
Received: from Sender [188.8.131.52] by hugeupdateinfo.com with ESMTP (SMTPD32-8.05) id A9D786B40078; Tue, 13 Apr 2004 02:33:59 -0400
And the link is really not to a PayPal address. When you mouse over the anchor text (which is made to look like a URL), the real site you're taken to is "updateaccount.info." From there presumably someone is going to try to get your personal information. Not that I'd ever click on something like this!
That scam's been making the rounds lately, and no doubt catching a certain percentage of recipients who aren't savvy enough to investigate. Usually, the scammers don't leave a lot of tracks, making sure everything they do is overseas. In this case they're probably using an overseas hosting company, but the Whois info on updateaccount.info, registered no earlier than April 8 (that's a fresh scam indeed!), seems pretty detailed:
Created On:08-Apr-2004 17:21:59 UTC
Expiration Date:08-Apr-2005 17:21:59 UTC
Registrant Name:Gennarina Pirrone
Registrant Street1:8205 14 Avenue
Registrant Postal Code:11228
Admin Name:Hostmaster Funktionen
Admin Organization:B-One ApS
Admin Street1:Esromgade 15, opg 1, 4 sal
Admin Postal Code:2200
Billing Name:Hostmaster Funktionen
Billing Organization:B-One ApS
Billing Street1:Esromgade 15, opg 1, 4 sal
Billing Postal Code:2200
Tech Name:Hostmaster Funktionen
Tech Organization:B-One ApS
Tech Street1:Esromgade 15, opg 1, 4 sal
Tech Postal Code:2200
It would be nice to think that somehow the domain registration system would allow us to track down perpetrators of fraud by looking at this info, but at the very least, the Brooklyn phone number given appears to be fake. It almost seems too easy, doesn't it? These people are collecting hundreds or thousands of credit card numbers and other aspects of people's personal identities with only a small chance of getting caught. At the very least, a hosting company that would allow spammers like this to send out large volumes of email needs to be looked at closely by their local authorities. By allowing it, by failing to put stricter controls over the sending of mass emails with obvious spam-filter-triggering content, aren't they really condoning the activity? Shouldn't they be held to account, too?
Monday, April 12, 2004
I know I'm not supposed to say anything if I can't say anything nice, but then wouldn't these be mighty blank pages?
At Cory's urging, I launched the Flash promo for Yahoo! the "Life Engine." I started out with Michelle, who uses Yahoo!'s "mail engine." I have to admit I laughed out loud at that one. I laughed and laughed. Real belly laughs.
The heartfelt mirth was triggered by two things. First, the explanation about the benefits of email, even web-based email, comes 5-10 years too late. It's just too basic. Do most of your 60-something and 70-something relatives use email -- Hotmail or Yahoo Mail even? They get it! And poor Michelle, in the 25-to-34 demographic, just catching onto the benefits of email. It helps her to "manage the pace of her life." Michelle, from the rest of us to you: welcome to email.
The second fantastic statement is that she likes to use IM to chat with her ex-boyfriend. "It's good to keep in touch."
Hey, Michelle, it would be bad enough if you had a weakness for exchanging too many ill-advised emails with your exes -- at least then, you would be managing the pace of your life. But IM? Is this wise? Also, look behind you. Your boss is over your shoulder. And your current boyfriend is coming up in the elevator. Abort that chat now! What's a grown woman doing spending all her time chatting, anyway?
Gator, I Mean Claria, To Go Public
There's a saying that Madison Avenue always gets its way. Actually, there's no such saying, but that's presumably the only explanation for the massive ongoing effort to shape your browsing experience to suit someone's "media buying" model. Big companies can't be bothered with asking your permission or waiting around for you to search for stuff. Apparently they can't even respect your decision to visit sites on which other legitimate advertisers have paid for banner space. So when Gator calls 'em up and says you can pop up all over the place -- even when your prospects are surfing your competitor's site!! -- they say "how much can we buy?"
Usually, big companies like to make a big fuss out of copyright, trademark, and other property-rights issues. Like the right of a publisher not to have its pages overwritten and popped-over by another publisher. So to pull off this hyper-aggressive media buy thing, they'll need someone to sanitize everything. A company with a nice, clean-sounding name. Not Clarica; that's the name of a large insurance and financial services company that used to be called Manulife. This one's Claria. It sounds nice and clean, but it isn't. It'll help to have some ad agencies involved, too. And Overture, who make up as much as 30% of Claria's revenues. Owned by good old Yahoo. Yahoo, profiting from pop-ups and scumware? You bet!
It seems that some of the deep-pocketed advertisers who had previously availed themselves of Gator's services have decided they don't like it when they get "Gatored" on their own websites. I'm not exactly sure how this one played out, but it was probably something like this:
Hertz Germany boss: "What the @@#$^%!? I went to our website like I do every day to think of something to bother our IT dept. with, and this big ad for Avis popped up on my screen! Let's sue their asses!"
Helpful Assistant: "But sir, that ad is served by scumware named Gator, and we just invested $86 billion in those same ads so we could show up on our competitors' sites!"
HGB: "I thought the company we dealt with was called Clarina, or Caribou, or something. Used to make apple pies and air fresheners before going into the advertising business? They called it 'behavioral marketing.' Surely there can't be anything wrong with that?"
HA: "If we sue them, we'll look like idiots."
HGB: "OK, then, let's pretend to be idiots. That way we can sue them."
HA: "Good timing, sir. They're going public shortly. Lots of investor cash in the bank. Plus, your cousin Helmut can always use the billings."
HGB: "You read my mind."
So, to capitalize on hot markets and the prospect of being made even hotter in investors' minds by all this negative PR, Claria's preparing for a whopper of an IPO. But it will always be Gator to us.
Friday, April 09, 2004
Yahoo's "Life Engine" Campaign Kicks Off
Head over to Yahoo's home page, and you'll see a Flashy banner ad, the kind that Andrew just loooooves in his Yahoo Mail, promoting Yahoo's new tag line and ad campaign. The new slogan is "Yahoo: The Life Engine." Clicking on the ad brings up a clever Flash movie that jams with cool grooves while explaining why Yahoo considers itself a "life engine."
I think this campaign will go over very well and should help Yahoo build increased brand awareness. What with its recent stock split, it's hard to argue against Yahoo's has huge momentum and strong position for future growth.
Now if we can just get those ads out of Yahoo Mail, as Andrew implored, I'd be pretty happy!
Thursday, April 08, 2004
GMail and Clutter: It's Fun to Complain in the Abstract
As every news editor on the planet assigns the GMail and Privacy Story to able reporters, the strain to find ordinary, average users who have "concerns" about the new product is starting to show.
You have to look hard to find someone who will say "4 MB is just fine for me thank you and I'm already sick of the clutter of all the advertising and won't they all just get off my back already!" as if it's a relevant statement in the context of GMail's offering. But apparently, getting "ordinary" people to spew a lot of illogical nonsense is not as hard as it looks.
People who like to get free stuff online have always been prone to logical fallacies. The clutter of four AdSense text ads is infinitesimal in comparison with that huge streaming ad for Vonage or Pepsi that shows up in my Yahoo box. So isn't GMail actually an improvement?
And for those who would like ad-free services, cool! I've always said that Yahoo's $60 service should be ad-free... or at least that there should be a $99 ad-free option. It comes down to dollars and cents, surely, not a congenital desire to bother people.
To make GMail ad-free, at 1 gigabyte of storage, I'm figuring based on past industry precedent "where that 4 MB email is just fine for most people," I'm thinking a fair fee would be $500/yr. Still interested?
Before we paint a picture of a populace up in arms and ready to storm the Googleplex, we need to be reminded that standard-issue marketplace freedom applies here. If you don't want the big juicy 1GB inbox, you don't have to use GMail. If there's any app that isn't currently subject to monopolistic, consumer-choice-limiting pressures, it's web-based mail.
So of course, as has happened before with services like Yahoo and Hotmail, those banner headlines claiming massive user discontent that seem to crop up at every hiccup will be overshadowed by the fact that tens of millions of people will make GMail a daily part of their lives. Actually using the product doesn't make for a very good sound bite, though, does it?
Tuesday, April 06, 2004
Logging into Orkut today (a decreasingly common occurrence for me), I noticed one of those bulletins you sometimes get when you log into a web service. It was being announced by a friendly cartoon chap named "OrkutGuy."
Well, maybe not so friendly. Doesn't anyone else find it a little odd that in the midst of growing attention to Google's privacy policies and the evident possibility that one's behavior (to say nothing of one's social connections) could be logged and watched, that the "OrkutGuy" character is a policeman in uniform?
Now granted, he looks like a rather casually-dressed copper along the lines of a traffic cop; he doesn't carry a gun or any type of weapon. And maybe the Orkut engineer meant to cut and paste the next image over in their clipart file, the one of a benevolent-looking, drunk court jester, or the one next to that, a Joan Collins impersonator. But hmmmmm, anyway.
Whew! Well, at least they're being up front about who's really in charge here.
Do you sometimes have a sneaking suspicion you're being watched? Based on what we know about search technology, and the easy accessibility of your data to anyone who might want to sift through it, it's far from a crazy notion. Companies like H5 Technologies are busily sifting through mountains of corporate and governmental data and analyzing it for meaning. Not too long ago, H5 overtly mentioned some of its defence contracts on the website. They're a little quieter about this now. (Prior to May 11, 2001, H5 was ejemoni, a startup led by university scientists.)
Google, one presumes, could do the type same thing, only a lot better, faster, and smarter, with more personal data to peruse from the general population. I'm not suggesting that Google wishes to invade any user's privacy, and I'm taking the founders' well-known anti-evil and pacifist stances at face value. But it's plain that they have the wherewithal to sift and sort personal info more effectively than just about anyone, and over time, may have little choice in the matter in the face of pressure from law enforcement agencies. And no one with a shred of common sense needs advocates from the so-called, oxymoronical "privacy community" to explain that to us.
Am I on the right track, OrkutGuy? Or did you really mean to paste in the next image over, the one of a Joan Collins lookalike? Wearing a fake fur, of course.
Monday, April 05, 2004
GMail: It's 'uge
Rich Skrenta weighs in on the platform aspects of GMail and why it gives them a jump on competitors. Google Search needed to be built around breakthroughs in computing power and storage that would allow maximum searchability and speed for minimum cost. So it goes with GMail. Imagine keyword-searching your mail in a web-based setting and retrieving everything you need within a second or two. Compare that with the 45-90 second search time on Yahoo Mail, and a $60 price difference to the end user for one-tenth the storage. If Google's ability to scale what Skrenta calls "a single, very large, custom computer" is really as good as some think, it's little wonder this company might enjoy an inflated IPO valuation of 15X revenues.
Will NetIQ Acquisition of WebPosition Legitimize Rank Checking Software?
In an e-mail from FirstPlace Software, creator of WebPosition software, this morning, FirsPlace announced that NetIQ, the parent company of WebTrends, has acquired all assets of FirstPlace. Part of the e-mail states:
In the near future, you will be hearing more about exciting WebTrends and WebPosition Gold products and services. We are certain that you will be pleased with WebTrends products and services offered in the future.
NetIQ surely has some strategic plan in mind for the next version of WebTrends related to search engine optimization and marketing, perhaps similar to those offered by ClickTracks, if those are not available in WebTrends already (Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think they are). Perhaps the acquisition is also a recognition by NetIQ that WebTrends faces tough competition from the latest generation of logfile analyzers and that it needs to beef up its feature set if it hopes to remain competitive.
This press release on the FirstPlace website offers a closer look behind the reason for the acquisition:
"Beyond mere click stream analysis, effective Web site analytics provide a holistic view of the entire site: its content, structure, and flow; how visitors and search engines interact with it; and what opportunities exist to drive greater value," said Matthew Berk, Independent Internet Analyst in New York, NY. "The synergies between site analytics and Search Engine Marketing are only in their infancy."
It will be interesting to see if the combined company can legitimize rank-checking software, which is currently frowned upon by Google and others. I think Google needs to work out some arrangement with third-party software companies to allow this automated rank checking or, at minimum, offer AdWords subscribers the option to do this through the AdWords account manager.
Search engine marketers are overwhelmed with all that we are tasked with, and in my opinion, we need the ability to automatically check search engine rankings. One way or another, it's going to happen.
Sunday, April 04, 2004
More on AdSense 'Smart Pricing'
Salar Kamangar, Director of Product Management at Google, offers some clarification on what factors Google may be using to determine the "expected value of a click" in its new version of "Smart Pricing" for clicks on content-targeted ads.
The general idea, as conveyed in Google's press release, is to differentiate between pages that may attract readers with commercial intent (eg. product comparison) as opposed to pages which are more informational in nature (feature article). Kamangar continues to emphasize the determination of pricing largely "at the page level" but secondarily did mention differential value to advertisers "across sites" as well. Google "analyzes pages based on keywords and concepts to determine which pages are more likely or less likely to convert [to sales]," was another way that Kamangar put it.
I wondered, however, how background data on "expected values" might have been collected in the first place. Was Google running tests with a panel of volunteer advertisers, or was it also analyzing a larger pool of data that Google has access to, the data generated by advertisers using Google's Conversion Tracker tool? "Google looks at all possible pieces of information," responded Kamangar, meaning that he wasn't ruling out use of Conversion Tracker data to assist Google in designing a better pricing model for AdSense.
From an advertiser standpoint, this continues to sound like an improvement that will likely lower prices on some clicks. But advertisers using Conversion Tracker, at least those who have privacy concerns, probably won't find it terribly comforting that their conversion data are fair game for Google to build a pricing scheme that may help competitors (or Google) maximize their profits.
From a publisher standpoint, this seems to take a business relationship that was nebulous in the first place -- Google never published its revenue share percentages, and for all anyone knows, arbitrarily sets different ones for different publishers based on a formula, initial editorial determinations, or something else -- and makes it even more uncertain. How is any given advertiser's inventory being priced? It's anyone's guess. On the upside, the reporting is good, and advertisers can see their average CTR's, CPC's, etc. from day to day.
I asked if data such as PageRank or editorial judgments of quality could also factor into the pricing formula. Again, these weren't being ruled out. "We look at everything we can," maintained Kamangar. "If, for example, we determined that time of day was an important factor in determining the expected value of a click, we might factor that in."
So is Google now using time of day to price clicks? Are advertisers going to find that Google is offering significant discounts for clicks that occur, say, in the middle of the night? "No, not right now," was Kamangar's reply.
Friday, April 02, 2004
BusinessWeek Likes Yahoo's Chances
Further to earlier posts about the bright futures ahead for web portals, BusinessWeek says that Yahoo's stock may not be overpriced after all because of 1) its search advertising revenues, 2) personalization offers unexplored revenue opportunities and 3) you guessed it, data mining user preferences for still more targeted advertising.
The article also points out that Yahoo has a perceived advantage because big brand advertisers tend to prefer those silly Flash ads over tiny sponsored links. Sounds realistic, but I don't know if it's true. Of course, there are many unsubstantiated claims in the article about Yahoo's superiority to Google because of the latter's lack of a close relationship with its search customers, but I find those points less compelling.
This Google AdWords support page is jumping the gun a bit, perhaps, by showing advertisers where their sponsored links will appear. Scroll down the page a bit, past the partner logos, and shazam! You'll see a sneak preview of the Gmail webmail interface!
The screenshot is small, but you can clearly see how Google plans to integrate ads into Gmail.
One Month Ago in Webmail History
On March 2, 2004, Traffick did the math, decided that Google Mail would mop the floor with Yahoo Mail.
I have to chuckle every time someone lectures me that portals are important because they're big and powerful and have many cool services, or conversely, points to some flaw in a major portal's business model. What these poor saps have no idea is that I've examined every side of those types of arguments for the past five years, and just to be safe, have taken pretty much every possible position on them. I can't possibly be wrong when I've got sound bites to cover all the bases!
But seriously. Over the past three years, this website has reminded people that in spite of its flaws, Yahoo was strong enough that it was just a matter of time before it enjoyed an economic turnaround. We pointed to the huge, untapped area of fee-based revenues and pleaded with Yahoo to stop clinging to its advertising model and to diversify. Not that they were listening, but smart management eventually got that percentage of fee revenue up to nice healthy levels, and Yahoo began to regain its former swagger. People who wanted to give up on it to soon pay too much attention to the newpapers. (Or they work for the newspapers, which gives them a really good reason to pay too much attention to the newspapers.)
Another slight pet peeve we've had is the constant downplaying of search in the reporting on portal ad revenues until it was finally too huge to deny. (In the past twelve months, 40% of Yahoo's revenues came from those "tiny little classified ads" that barely require anyone to schmooze or booze with ad execs... in spite of what a recent Fortune article would have us believe, Terry Semel's main contribution to the financial health of Yahoo has not been teaching its salespeople how to wine and dine.)
But a fundamental respect for the power of portals (the big three especially) doesn't change the obvious fact that Google is king of search and fast becoming a portal itself. Yet journalists and analysts have fallen all over themselves to warn Google that it wasn't up to the job. This has become a recent obsession on these pages: to dispel the media myths that Google's facing unbeatable competition just because Yahoo has a new search product, and has wondrous fee-based email and finance pages and auto classifieds, or because MSN has Hotmail and is working on a new search product and generally rules the world.
The only reason everyone used Hotmail and Yahoo Mail so loyally in the first place was the product quality, period. Traffick argued that in our series of portal product reviews & related comments in January 2000.
By now, though, these "best" email products have fallen behind users's needs, skimping on storage (or charging up to $59.99 for a decent-sized box) and gravitating towards larger and larger animated ad banners even for paying customers, as I've repeatedly complained here. The time was ripe for Google, or anyone, to move in and fix the problem. Granted, they've fixed nothing yet, and we really don't know if their spam solution is as good as Yahoo's or MSN's. But it will be interesting to watch.
So what was Charlene Li of Forrester Research talking about last month when she argued that Google would have trouble competing with the portals because of its "deep-seated cultural focus on search"?
I retorted, in part:
Wha-? Fortunately for Google, the planet has a deep-seated cultural focus on search. And in spite of their grandeur, clever use of punctuation, and recent profitability, the public has retained a deep-seated suspicion of portals while being quite happy to make use of the portal services that prove most useful. Like e-mail. The portal service that is going to lose big market share to Google next quarter.
One hates to break it to Yahoo, but losing huge webmail market share to GMail is a foregone conclusion, and is going to happen as fast as you can say "gigabyte."
As it has been from the get-go of the portal wars, product matters. Brand and monopolistic power matter to an extent, but users have by now learned how to wriggle out of the clutches of big companies who overcharge for junk. (See: AOL.) So Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail are quite simply going to have to improve. They can't just pull the Flash-animated wool over people's eyes.
Hilariously, the latest media spin -- if only in headlines, but they do shape how people form opinions from their daily newspaper -- is "but whoa, hold on, Google will be serving ads in email!"
Hold on yourself. Did I mention that Yahoo not only charges me $59.99, but also show me gigantic screen-dominating ads, making it cumbersome to navigate through basic daily tasks? Oh, right, I've whined about that about eight times here lately. Need I also now mention that keyword-searching my Yahoo inbox sometimes takes upwards of 45-90 seconds to retrieve results? I love Yahoo Mail, and I'll happily admit that some of the advertising in there, like the Vonage ads, is pretty effective. There's room for a variety of approaches, to be sure. But then again, if GMail is 10X bigger, 5X faster, and twice as good at filtering spam, once I get accustomed to the new GMail power, will I ever set foot inside Yahoo Mail again? I have my doubts. Twenty million or so other users might be thinking along the same lines.
Welcome to portalhood, Google. Live long and prosper.
Thursday, April 01, 2004
Rumor: Koogle to Head Up Friendster
Former Yahoo CEO, already an investor in social networking site Friendster, is rumored to be slated for the top job, replacing Jonathan Abrams.
Makes sense: Koogle takes over at Friendster, Yahoo acquires Friendster, Friendster competes with Orkut, Koogle goes back to work at Yahoo, competes with Google. Almost too much sense!
Google to Take "Actuarial" Approach to Pricing AdSense Clicks?
Savvy online advertisers are aware of the pressure that's been on Google of late to follow in Overture's footsteps and allow advertisers to bid separately on content-targeted listings vs. search listings. An AdSense Update email just sent out to publishers refers to "enhancements to our pricing model for advertisers." In particular, the price per click on content-targeted ads will be "automatically" adjusted "based on their expected value to the advertiser." The main technique here seems to be to assess the degree of commercial intent that might be associated with different pages on which ads appear, pricing clicks lower when they appear on (eg.) discussion forums and higher on more commercially-oriented pages, like buyer's guides.
On paper, that makes sense, but I can already hear the complaints that will undoubtedly be coming from advertisers: we still don't have control over the bidding on content targeting, let alone a way of blocking sources of poor-quality traffic, or a way of bidding higher to appear more visibly on the sites which convert the most sales for us.
We'll take what we can get, for the time being: a tacit admission that clicks on contextual ads have often been mispriced, and an albeit arbitrary lowering of the average CPC on content-targeted clicks across the board in order to give some vacillating advertisers more incentive to take the plunge on content targeting.
The unfortunate side-effect, though, might be that for the minority of advertisers who've had anomalously strong performance with AdSense-published ads may see their average CPC's actually rise somewhat, or at least stay stagnant. On the other hand, such advertisers won't ever be charged more than their maximum bids, so they're protected in that regard.
At this stage we expect most advertisers will give this workaround the thumbs-down even if the bottom-line impact is positive on most, mainly because the process is too mysterious. I've been told that "a girl's gotta have a little mystery," but we're not sure that advertisers will feel the same way when the mystery's applied to their ad broker's billing formula.
Here's the really good part of the announcement, though, and this may be where the real intent of Google's new policy lies. Google implies that some publishers may see a decline in revenues, while others will see an increase. Google can mysteriously apply its actuarial tables to assign different values to different "classes" of publishers as a response to the rise of a parasitic class of site owners who are happy to collect AdSense revenues by (somehow) generating clicks on ads while offering little true of true value, in the form of a receptive buying audience, to advertisers.
Google, as they take frequent pains to demonstrate in their public statements, needn't disclose all details of their methodologies here. While the public announcement states examples comparing a "discussion of cameras" as opposed to a "review of digital cameras," there may be other quality notations kept on file. Editorial review of AdSense publishers, coupled with PageRank, might be used as a check of quality and factor into the overall formula to determine the expected value of a click. Sites that are deemed very low-quality, or which seem to resemble other sites which have frequently sent poor quality traffic to advertisers, could potentially see their revenues plummet based on the new formula. Although the formula isn't necessarily based on *actual* conversion data, it might be based on studies and tests that have been done to assess what types of sites typically are leading to high conversion rates to sales in advertisers' campaigns.
Notice I say "might," "seem," and "could." As always, Google leaves plenty of room for speculation.
Complex? Inexact? Sure. But there's never been any perfect way of buying, selling, or pricing online advertising. A colleague's recent experience buying "targeted" ads on a major portal at a "rock bottom" CPM price of 0.60 attested to that. The cost per lead in that venue was 900% higher than the same campaign run on Google AdWords (with content targeting turned on), and 95% of the "good inventory" on that big portal buy came from one source -- big banner ads appearing in web-based email accounts.
Which is a long way of saying that in spite of the many expected grumbles about this latest change to Google's ad pricing, if the price is right, many advertisers will jump all over it. Compared to other forms of advertising, the price is pretty good.
I've provide more details as they become available, likely later today.
Crying Wolf Leaves Onion Limited Room for Manoeuvre
The publishers of satirical news site The Onion, having produced 4,259 satirical or just plain made-up news items in the past year, was feeling a little hamstrung as a wave of contrived hilarity swept Planet Earth.
Between 7:42 and 7:44 a.m. today, the publication ran stories on the 30-year bond, global warming, and early childhood education research. Not eliciting the desired (or any) response, for the following hour it ran a long, streaming clip of Tony Blair holding forth on the perils of WMD's (which elicited a few chuckles from Jon Stewart's research staff, but otherwise little response).
Asked by a reporter "if that was it" for April Fool's Day, an Onion staffer sounded downcast. "We got nothin'," she admitted.
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