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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!

Posted by Cory | | | Permalink

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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?

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Tuesday, April 06, 2004

OrkutGuy???

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.

I'm just fresh from reading over this excerpt from the "When We May Disclose Your Personal Information" section of the Gmail Privacy Policy:

"...we do not disclose your personally identifying information to third parties unless we believe we are required to do so by law or have a good faith belief that such access, preservation or disclosure is reasonably necessary to (a) satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or governmental request, (b) enforce the Gmail Terms of Use, including investigation of potential violations thereof, (c) detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues (including, without limitation, the filtering of spam), (d) respond to user support requests, or (e) protect the rights, property or safety of Google, its users and the public."

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.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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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.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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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.

Posted by Cory | | | Permalink

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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.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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