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Saturday, October 02, 2004

Yahoo as Desktop: Then and Now

Never underestimate the power of a user interface.

When we started chattering about this stuff in '99, there was excitement in the air about the whole notion that portal companies like Yahoo! might come to replace Microsoft, the OS giant, as the primary navigational method or starting point on your computer.

This week, stories have been flying fast and furious about Google and the browser, but with the release of an upgrade to My Yahoo!, users are getting a concrete reminder that Yahoo has a longer history as an integrator of search and web services. Not only that, but they've been the most skilful integrator of them (Microsoft has been through many hiccups on that front). Yep, they're just a lot better at it than anyone else. You can access a lot of Yahoo! Stuff with a common login.

So why is Google getting all the ink? Yahoo's long been working on companions, toolbars, and various "meta-level" initiatives "on the desktop." Why hardly any stories about a "Yahoo browser"? (No, I don't mean IE optimized for Yahoo, as offered through certain major ISP's.)

I'm one of those weirdos who uses Yahoo! Mail as my email client to retrieve all the email from my POP-based accounts, and to send, receive, and organize information. (I also use GMail -- who could resist?) It always took a bit of hunting on My Yahoo page (or typing of the URL or accessing a bookmark) to actually fire up Yahoo Mail, though. The new-look My Yahoo! is clearly moving in the direction of a desktop-like interface with a big button for email that makes it easier to fire it up.

If everyone's talking about a top-secret Google browser project today, maybe that suits Yahoo! just fine. They can be the $47 billion company that flies under the radar.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Friday, October 01, 2004

Contextual Advertising on a Tear

(Via SearchEngineWatch Blog:)

FindWhat rolls out a publisher program for contextual ads called AdRevenue Xpress.

Good. This gives publishers yet another option for monetizing their content and should strengthen FindWhat's hand as a solid #3 in the paid search brokerage business. Overture's Content Match and Google AdSense make up a growing proportion of those companies' overall revenue picture.

No one knows how big this market will get, because it's tough to draw boundaries around contextual advertising or Internet advertising. With converging media, any type of growth is possible here.

Having the option to pit the revenue performance of various advertising networks against one another, and to place "never-ending" targeted campaigns on websites in fully automated fashion without negotiating with "media buyers," is something akin to nirvana for the smaller publisher. Competition is good.

For advertisers, it's a mixed blessing. As long as the program is administered responsibly, an influx of new publishers should even out the overall click quality. While ROI from this program might not be stellar in absolute terms, there may be more consistency to it as the publisher pool is deepened.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Synchronicity

Some days, seemingly random events swirl until they start to form a pattern. What's in these tea leaves, do you figure?

  • The name "Red Hat" seems to be popping up more and more often lately. It's a cutting-edge technology company with a market capitalization 7% the size of Google's (thus easily absorbable), and a roughly similar price-to-earnings ratio. There are precious few such companies around. What if...?
  • When Cory blogs an item about Internet Explorer, this site is besieged with a veritable avalanche of traffic! Must be a love-hate thing going on out there.
  • Some of Google's beta projects are still unknown to most members of the business and technology press ("they do? what's that?"), but clearly the Wall Street analysts who upgraded the stock this week were privy to some of them, and have let their imaginations get ahead of them, for fun and profit. Perhaps it's a good thing Google's hiding some of its stuff in plain sight, since features like Google Groups 2 are not ready for prime time. Right now, judged by the standards of a "portal company," Google resembles the demolished Christine before she summons her mystical powers and cobbles the chrome together into a nice shiny package. A lot will have to happen before Google "gets it all together." This seems like it will require bold steps, which means it will be impossible to keep it all under wraps forever. For now, getting Froogle, GMail, Groups 2, and Personalization out of beta might be steps in the right direction, but I'm not holding my breath.
  • On a relative basis, Hotmail has been downgraded back down to "sucks."
  • Mary Meeker is speaking in tongues again.
  • I'll be holding a seminar on how to stuff popular keywords into blog entries. Upper floor, third couch, Bloor Street West Starbucks, tomorrow between 10:33 and 10:35 a.m. Door prizes: Britney Spears wedding photos, "Osama sucks" t-shirts.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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So Many Blogs, So Little Time

Lately, the topography of my My Yahoo! page has been altered significantly as I'm now adding RSS-syndicated blogs by the bucketful to go along with the usual news sources.

Old favorites like Seth's Blog and EGR have been joined by John Battelle's Searchblog and the latest gem, Bnoopy, by Joe Kraus, one of the founders of Excite. Hearing all these voices has a way of filling in the blanks in our short Internet history. A lot of what happened in the past decade isn't written down anywhere. Yet.

Like me, Kraus is a big fan of Michael Lewis' Moneyball. :)

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Thursday, September 30, 2004

New IE Coming Soon -- Or Is It?

Microsoft just swears that it hasn't given up on Internet Explorer and that it's really, really important to the future of Microsoft, to the next version of Windows, etc., etc. Oh, I'm sorry... that sound was my lie detector exploding.

Here's the takeaway from News.com's lengthy piece about one possible future for IE's rickety web browser:

What's new:
Microsoft is facing growing criticism over its glaring neglect of Internet Explorer, but browser technology remains key to the future of Windows.

Bottom line:
Microsoft plans to unveil dramatic new features in future versions of its operating system that aim to take Web browsing to an entirely new level--in many ways stepping beyond the browser completely.
If only that were true. It's easy to overlook this fact, but the web browser -- specifically IE -- is one of the most important parts of the "Internet economy," and it's flabbergasting that Microsoft has done so much to undermine the browser's development with its crass disregard for updating IE. The entire Web is built around IE technology, and Microsoft has deliberately dragged its feet on browser development. Why? Who can say, but I'd wager that it goes back to Microsoft's insistence that IE is not a standalone product, but an integral part of Windows. Not to mention that it's a well-known fact that Microsoft sees web-based applications as a threat to its core business -- Microsoft Office.

Will we actually see revolutionary browsing technologies? Perhaps, but given Microsoft's history of vaporware, don't hold your breath.


Posted by Cory | | | Permalink

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That's What I Call Creative

As reported in ClickZ, a rich media vendor named PointRoll is introducing some pretty clever features to its advertising platform:

The new features, collectively packaged under the moniker PointRoll Reminder, extend PointRoll's essential theme of doing more with the banner space by allowing rollover, clicking and typing actions within an ad's borders.

The toolset consists of three basic features. An e-mail reminder lets users opt in to receive a note about the advertised product or service within a designated time frame. A bookmark feature allows an ad recipient to add the product to his or her favorites. And a calendar download gizmo enables the importing of an event directly to Outlook's calendar. All the tools allow interaction without requiring a click-through.
This is one of those things that seem so simple and obviously beneficial, that it's a wonder why it's never been done before. As the interactive advertising medium continues to mature, it's clear that it offers so many advantages over the offline ad world, or TV-industrial complex, as Godin puts it.

If this toolset is widely adopted -- and I suspect it will -- we'll soon have even more measurable ways (as with PPC ads) to prove that interactive advertising is the superior advertising vehicle.

Posted by Cory | | | Permalink

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Tuesday, September 28, 2004

WebSideStory: We Ain't No Delinquents

It's a tale of two companies.

A commenter on my previous post -- since he left himself anonymous, we'll call him Officer Krupke -- about this company suggested that I might "have something against" WebSideStory, even though I suggested the IPO "made perfect sense." No, there's no grudge, just puzzlement. I did think it was a bit strange that so many of the company's executive team arrived so recently, well after the company's "first phase." (I stand corrected in stating that the early product was a logfile analyzer. It was and is bug-based tracking.)

An Associated Press story about the company's IPO (it started trading today) confirms certain facts. For most of its history, leading up to the first time it tried to IPO in 2000, WebSideStory was profitable. But those profits (90% of them in 1998) were mostly from pornography advertising.

Nothing wrong with that. Online pornographers have sometimes led the pack in adoption of certain marketing technologies. But now the question is, can WebSideStory turn a long-term profit from its 500 or so enterprise-class clients, and what are its growth prospects? As the AP story points out, WebSideStory has mostly lost money catering to the enterprise, though this is beginning to turn around.

Make no mistake, the field of so-called on-demand analytics is crowded. The small business sector that WebSideStory left behind may turn out to be the more fertile and profitable ground for analytics software and services. Personally, from the standpoint of risk and leverage, I'd rather have 50,000 small-to-midsized customers than 500 supersized ones. Enterprise clients are pretty good at pitting one vendor against another, unless a single "category killer" emerges.

Time will tell.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Monday, September 27, 2004

All-New My Yahoo! Coming to You Soon

The long-awaited upgrade to My Yahoo is finally underway. Users of the personalized Yahoo service now see a link near the top of their page exhorting members to try the new My Yahoo Beta. Ever the intrepid adopter of new features, I had to check it out.

The early buzz: this is very good. Those annoying Times New Roman fonts were driving me insane, as were the lame color and content choices. This new approach seems fairly radical, while retaining the elements of personalization that make My Yahoo the industry leading personalized portal experience.

For more info on what the changes entail, go here.

One thing that really jumps out at you -- and it's no surprise, really -- is a dominant search box similar to that on the main Yahoo.com home page. Unlike other portal elements, it doesn't seem possible to turn off that "module." And it's small wonder, considering that this little (OK, large) box is what will finance this overhaul, thanks to the PPC ads that greet you on the other side.

Posted by Cory | | | Permalink

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I've Just Met a Girl Named "Liquidity"

WebSideStory, a small web analytics firm that received a surprising amount of venture capital a few years ago, is set to go public, offering 4.4 million shares at $8-9 million per share.

In the wake of GOOG's sector-defining IPO, it makes perfect sense. As online advertising goes, so goes web analytics. As small as WebSideStory is, its minor liquidity event is no doubt roughly proportional to its importance in the grand scheme of things, riding the current wave.

Certainly, established players in the space, such as publicly-traded NetIQ (owner of WebTrends), have been in acquisition mode, snapping up useful tools and trying to reach a position of relative dominance. Whether current improving conditions bode well for a turnaround in the fortunes of companies like this remains to be seen. Impressive client lists and awards don't change the fact that many in the sector have been very good at burning through investors' cash with little to show for it.

One does wonder why WebSideStory has been treading water / going sideways for so many years and why it continues to show unimpressive financials even in a hot market for its products. It's a long time since this company was just a maker of small-time logfile analysis software (including the famous free one that required users to put HitBox graphics on the site). Since the new company looks nothing at all like the old one, it's likely that the trajectory of WebSideStory was funding-driven, not market-driven. Not being overly familiar with the company, it's nonetheless evident from reading bios of company executives that many arrived on the scene very recently. One has previous tenure at Keylime Software and NetIQ; the CEO and some others have been brought in from unrelated software concerns. The CTO has been with the company since 1998, however. Here's hoping he owns plenty of shares.

WebSideStory would probably be well-advised to use their stock as currency to snap up related companies which have strong products and financials that are sounder than, well, WebSideStory's. Maybe a reverse-takeover-style acquisition of hard-charging Omniture might do the trick.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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