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Saturday, June 05, 2004

Google Image Ads: Don't Click the Monkey

Google has quite a few editorial guidelines for advertisers using its AdWords program. The introduction of image ads for the AdSense (content targeting) part of that program appears to have fostered a whole new layer of "good vs. evil"-determining bureaucracy.

One type of banner that is not permitted: banners that look like system warnings or drop-down option menus. Any banner creative that is even mildly deceptive and designed to look like part of the site's or the browser's navigation can be banned.

So to those critics who've been saying stuff like "what's next? pop-ups? or those banners that ask you to click the monkey to win a prize?," we can safely say relax. If these static image banners are so strictly regulated, it's unlikely that any monkeys will ever be harmed in the making of an AdSense campaign.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Thursday, June 03, 2004

Free Web-Mail Waning? No.

Two years ago, Mike Musgrove of the Washington Post noted that the number of free services in Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail were being cut back as MSN and Yahoo shifted their emphasis to focus on fees for premium services.

It's already a bit quaint to see $20 buying you all of 10 megs of storage. And more than a little silly to hear all the squawking today about GMail's ads, which, as we continue to point out, would pay for a FREE service that offers 100X as much storage as Hotmail's $20 fee bought you two years ago.

Unsurprisingly, in the intervening two years, consumer interest in these services has only strengthened due to their power and portability. Free web-based email only appeared to be "waning" because the feature set wasn't worth the price. Now that the tradeoff is getting more favorable (thanks in part to declining costs for storage space), the ubiquity of web-based mail seems assured.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Only You Can Prevent Password Thievery

The Associated Press, via MSNBC, highlights the fact the most web users practice poor password protection. Mostly, this means that, despite knowing better, plenty of people still choose online passwords like "password" or other such nonsense.

e-Smokey (if there were such a thing) would be very disappointed in you. So, all you naughty netizes march straight to your online user accounts, and change your passwords to an alphanumeric combination that no one could guess or easily hack into using automated hacking programs.

The least you could do is change your password to something tongue-twisting like... password2! Oh, and if you need another good reason: Don't let the terrorists win by stealing your Amazon.com account and ordering all kinds of White House handbooks!

Posted by Cory | | | Permalink

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Ask Jeeves: How Did That Happen?

Ask Jeeves' stock valuation has risen more than tenfold over the past two years. Froth? Bubble? How does a company that was unprofitable and struggling two short years ago make it to a $2 billion market valuation?

It's obviously a bit more than hype at work here. Jeeves' market strength has been sustained enough to suggest that where there's smoke, there must be fire. Investors are accumulating the stock, possibly because someone else might be interested in acquiring Ask Jeeves. But why? Here are some conjectures:

  • It didn't die. There's no arguing with consumers actually using a search engine. For whatever reason, unlike many other declining search engine properties, Jeeves has maintained considerable customer loyalty even though its underlying search technology (Teoma's) has little to do with answering questions. The butler, and the idea of typing a question, is still memorable enough to a lot of users that Jeeves remains one of the few search engines other than Google that the average person might consider using.

  • Pay-per-click. The ads are making the company profitable. While the current P/E ratio of 80 is high, it's not so outlandish for a solidly profitable web property that might command a premium to be acquired. There is some question as to how the current profitability can be sustained given that Google AdWords gives away too-large a percentage to Jeeves in their current distribution partnership, but the underlying principle is now clear: if you own lots of user search traffic, it is now possible to monetize it effectively. This wasn't always the case.

  • Search for dummies? Is it possible that many of Ask Jeeves' users are unsophisticated, and that's the reason for the continued profitability of the company, built on search engine results pages that sometimes display up to ten sponsored links at the top of the page, dominating the entire real estate of a user's screen?

  • A great concept could be reinvigorated. Natural-language search caught our attention when Ask Jeeves first launched, but they never delivered on it. That's a cool concept that could still resonate with consumers with no need for any change in the Jeeves brand.

Which major media company will rekindle its interest in search and portal activity enough to grab control of this $2 billion property? Will it be AOL, Interactive Corp., or (wouldn't it just be logical) Disney? Isn't it obvious that a cuddly, smart butler that could answer questions in your hotel room or car is still something that could give the Yahoo and Google brands a run for their money? And don't major media conglomerates like Disney, IAC, etc. have a pretty good "in" in negotiations with other corps. that might help them weave search deeper into the fabric of how we work and play?

If none of that is going to happen, what does Jeeves plan to do with itself? The cuddly butler may still have some life left, but eventually, even the dum-dums are going to catch on that this thing doesn't really answer questions. In addition to a known brand, Jeeves needs a compelling natural-language search product that sets it apart, something it's never really had in spite of acquiring some fairly pleasing me-too search technology. When will this be developed? Doesn't the public demand better than it's now getting... pages of SERP's often prefaced by up to ten sponsored AdWords results?

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Monday, May 31, 2004

Taking Stock of Gmail

Most people lucky enough to be test driving Gmail have probably formed their opinions about Google's radical webmail service by now. I know I have.

After my laptop died a few weeks ago, I was forced to use a series of other computers for two weeks. Because I needed to be able to access my work e-mail from multiple computers, the perfect solution was to temporarily redirect all of my work-related e-mails to my Gmail account. Thus, I was a heavy user of Gmail for a few weeks and was really able to get up close and personal with it.

Here's what I liked:

1. Threaded conversations - It takes a while to get accustomed to this different way of viewing e-mail threads, but it really makes more sense when compared to a series of disconnected e-mail replies in Outlook.

2. Labels and stars - I still haven't used these features very efficiently, but I like their functionality.

3. Lightning-fast search - Searching through mail in Yahoo Mail or Outlook can be arduously slow. Although I only have a few thousand e-mails for Gmail to pore through, it seems extremely fast and accurate.

4. Automatic checking for new mail - Finally, a webmail service gets new mail without me having to trifle with extraneous button clicking!

5. Address Autocomplete - As opposed to Yahoo's clunky feature, this one works like a charm. Just start typing a few letters, and Gmail matches a name or address you've sent mail to.

Here's what I didn't like:

1. Default settings - I couldn't figure out how to change many of the default settings that I didn't like. For example, there are no "reply" links at the top of the message. And, the brief message headers are hidden by default. You have to click "more options" to see them. I can't think of any benefit to hiding them by default since I almost always look at the "to" address, "from" address, and so on.

2. Message filters - It seemed to take more effort than necessary to create and manage filters.

3. Receiving attachments - Attachment downloading seemed a bit buggy to me. A client sent me an Excel spreadsheet, and even though there was a paper clip icon in the inbox view, I couldn't see the actual attachment in message view.

4. HTML e-mail messages - I remember reading something about this on EmailSherpa.com, I think. Most HTML e-mail newsletters get shredded by Gmail, for whatever reason. I like the fact that Gmail strips out non-standard fonts, but there should be some sort of compromise on advanced e-mail formats.

If I had to give Gmail a letter rating, I would give it a straight B. It is certainly a breath of fresh air, but Google obviously has some tune-ups to make.

Posted by Cory | | | Permalink

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