Thursday, December 30, 2004
First it was Google with a prominent link on its home page to an austere listing of links to relief agency websites (there's not even a Google logo on the page). Then, Yahoo placed a link on its My Yahoo page (and probably on other sites in the Yahoo network). Now, links to aid agencies from major websites are cropping up everywhere. E-commerce sites like Amazon are helping out.
It's gratifying to see so many sites using their massive audiences for such a worthy cause. I don't remember portals and search engines doing something this charitable, at least since September 11, 2001. Let's hope it extends the trend of the internet enabling unprecedented voluteering of time and money. As the US election showed, people want to help; they just need to be shown the way.
There's even a tsunami relief blog to help channel those efforts. None of this would have been possible without the internet. As members of this fortunate community safe from the devastation, we have a lot to be thankful for. Donate if you feel so inclined. We should all do what we can to help.
We hope you have a safe and prosperous new year, wherever you are on this spinning blue globe we call home.
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
At the risk of repeating myself, I note that Amazon continues with its burgeoning citation indexing. The volume in question is cited by 362 other books (and counting). The page numbers of the citations are recorded. Why not?
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
In case you haven't heard, mass media is being transformed. This eerie take on the future promises that the traditional fourth estate will make at least a peep or two and possibly record some sort of indelible moral victory in a tomb buried in your backyard... before winking out permanently. Requires Flash and eight minutes of your time. Thanks to Jeff Rohrs for passing this on.
Monday, December 27, 2004
Lately, I've heard a few people downplay the importance of Google's entry into desktop search. This comes from a variety of angles. "What's the big deal? Several companies have come out with this," some have argued. Others offer the usual "just wait for Microsoft to improve their stuff." Still others point out that they rarely use desktop search. And out there in the real world of techophobes, you'd be surprised at how many folks profess to have no idea what desktop search is.
In spite of all that, Google is obviously moving in an important direction. It boils down to how people organize and manage their contacts, documents, and time. Companies like Microsoft have long dominated that kind of "workday management," but the new mobile environment seems to give an advantage to newer companies like Google. Already, Google's web-based email and their desktop search perform nearly instantly, in marked contrast with competing products from Yahoo and Microsoft.
The next piece of this puzzle is surely contact management, even if it's only basic. You should be able to go to your desktop, or search within GMail, for the name "ned" or "zissou" and have the contact info come up instantly. All of that is of course old hat, and others have done it before. But that's where Google is headed, and because they build better, faster search products, that's where a lot of users will be headed. The principles underlying the current versions of GMail and desktop search will no doubt inform a variety of new Google products and services. Ideally this will add up to a reduction in frustration as we attempt to go about our daily business, but in the context of a decentralized, portable, free-agent model where even members of big companies are not necessarily locked into proprietary, centralized corporate IT systems.
Sunday, December 26, 2004
MIT's Technology Review Magazine has an interesting article this month on the future of Google. The article suggests that the ultimate winner in the search wars won't be the company with the largest database or coolest design -- rather, it will be the company that can establish its technology as the standard search platform for all things digital, from the web to desktops. According to the article, this means Google will have to take Microsoft head on, and will need the help of the development community if they hope to succeed.
Friday, December 24, 2004
I've learned a great deal this year, for which I'm thankful. If I had to boil it down to one takeaway, it would be Godin's urgings in Free Prize Inside to focus on "going to the edge" in developing new products, services, and features. To engage in edgecraft, though, it won't do to simply act edgy. You need to go there... to put different stuff in what you make. Even if it just looks or feels different (design and presentation are real to the consumer, too -- it's just your marketing fluff that isn't).
Godin is capable of ripping off hundreds of examples on command. One good one, which he presented in a talk in October, was the example of the Honda Element. That funny, boxy-looking vehicle only got produced because the engineering team (imagine that) insisted on testing it head-to-head against the unremarkable "compromise" design favored by company execs. In real life, goofy-looking car outsold the "focus group friendly" car 3 to 1!
When it comes to the stuff they're buying, consumers are more informed than ever. Big brands know they used to win by aiming for homogenized, middle-of-the-road products and advertising them to death. Unfair allocations of shelf space don't hurt either. At the 7-11 today, I noticed the entire visible display of cough drops front and center at the counter was devoted to Halls. "But Fisherman's Friend is better," I thought to myself. I then went home to figure out why I thought that. It turns out Halls muddles along with one active ingredient, menthol, whereas Fisherman's Friend has several, including capsicum (cayenne pepper). Cayenne may or may not have health benefits. More importantly, you probably won't forget the experience of taking this particular lozenge. Although it's been around a long time, you might say that Fisherman's Friend "went to the edge." Now if it could only get equal shelf space, I'm betting it could take over the top market share spot with only about 20% the ad budget of the big-brand product.
I wouldn't be surprised at all, though, if someone came along with a head-sized cough drop in a few years, one that contained an even more memorable active ingredient. Maybe the TV-industrial complex isn't quite dead as Godin argues, but it's certain that the role of advertising is rapidly changing. Consumers are researching and reverse-engineering your product as soon as they take an interest in the category. All of this is made possible by the huge surge in available information and the speed with which your customer can access it.
Many dominoes will fall in this new age of radical consumer autodidactism. Perhaps even those grocery stores and convenience stores that try to prop up monopolies by allocating shelf space to crap people don't want.
Unless my normally eagle eyes had been failing me, Google has quietly introduced a way to view all AdWords listings relating to your search by clicking a link titled "More >>" at the bottom of the first-page search results listings. Clicking the link displays a page of nothing but sponsored links, presumably all of the available AdWords advertisers for that keyword phrase.
This "full frontal" approach is a nice Christmas present for advertisers without deep pockets, as it will likely increase the exposure for advertisers whose ads normally wouldn't appear until page 2 or 3 of the Google search results.
You'd almost expect to see Michael J. Fox come blasting through the pages of the latest issue of BusinessWeek. Jaded former believers in Internet profitability will probably find it hard to believe that investment analysts are actually recommending the stocks of companies that provide Internet advertising tools and services once again. But it's true.
In a piece called "Where The Real Internet Money Is Made," BusinessWeek shows smart investors that there is money to be made betting on Internet advertising, due to once-elusive profits and industry consolidation, like this week's acquisition of iProspect. To wit:
"It started with advertising on search engines, such as Google Inc. (GOOG ), which collectively grew in five years from near zero to a $3.9 billion chunk of the online ad industry. Now companies are rushing to promote their brands with ever more banner ads, skyscrapers that crawl up the pages, and full-motion videos. Internet advertising should reach $9.4 billion in 2004, according to Kagan Research LLC. And with continued double-digit growth, it's on pace to surpass magazine advertising in about two years, adds Kagan."
Dang. Two years, and the Web overtakes glossy, dead tree advertising! As a die-hard believer in all-things-Internet, even I have to rub my eyes in disbelief at predictions like that. But it's going to happen, and soon (unless, of course, the US dollar's plunge wrecks the global economy first).
The article continues:
Right now, excitement about online advertising is behind a wave of industry consolidation. AOL (TWX ) dished out $435 million for Advertising.com in June. In mid-November, Dow Jones & Co. (DJ ) agreed to buy CBS Marketwatch (MKTW ) for $515 million, a rich 30 times next year's estimated cash flow. Analysts believe that Dow Jones, whose wsj.com is available to subscribers only, is looking to tap the bounty of advertising that a free site can attract because it draws more visitors than paid-for competitors. The current fever has a hint of the dot-com craze, but there's one vital difference: While the advertising stars are still spinning bold visions of the online future, they're measuring their progress with profits every step of the way.
So not only is the advertising resurgence coming fast, it's also reversing conventional wisdom that the only way content sites can make money is through subscription fees. Thanks to the massive audiences and the fact that more than 50% of US households now having broadband access, advertisers now see the Internet for what it is: the undisputed mass, trackable advertising medium in the world. I think we ain't seen nuthin' yet!
On a related note, the latest Fast Company (subscription only) also has a piece called "Commercial Success" about Internet advertising and how Yahoo, after helping Internet adverising crater, has helped bring it back from the brink of oblivion with a mixture of humility and flexibility. It even features a handy infographic about the current ad standards like skyscrapers that helped make the difference.
Monday, December 20, 2004
Like many other analysts, I've had a hard time assessing whether Google belonged in the portal category or not. If you were to look at a comparative feature set between Google and a portal like Yahoo, it might seem that Google should be classified as a portal. But if you look at the home pages of both sites, it's apparent from the sparse interface that Google ain't like the others. B-b-but, if all that good stuff isn't sreaming your face like on most portals, then where is it?!
Like Prego, it's "in there." But, under the surface, there's more to it than that. So what is it precisely that makes Google a non-portal?
Jefferson Graham of USAToday provides a very useful clue, thanks to Marissa Meyer:
For years, Google has said its focus was simply on search. Executives, often in language that can only be described as Google-speak, insist it still is.
"We want to be what the user wants, when he or she wants it, as opposed to everything the user might want, even if they don't," says Marissa Meyer, Google's director of consumer products.
"The portals overwhelm the user by throwing all these different tools at them," she says. "That's not us. We just want to get users to the highest-quality content."
Despite all the portal-like features such as Gmail and online maps, Google is about supplying the right information when and how the user wants it, in much the same way that AdWords ads are about serving up the product or service that the user wants, when and how they want it. That may seem like a small distinction on the surface, but with this new perception, it makes some of Google's recent moves less puzzling.
And here I was going to predict that Google was going to come out of the closet as a portal sometime next year! Trust the big G to zig when the others zag.
So what is Google, then? Um, how about an anti-portal? A find engine? A -- stay with me now -- direct information-on-demand engine (DIODE)? A search almanac? Argh, I dunno. How about some help here?
n 6: extreme conservatism in political or social matters; "the forces of reaction carried the election"
One of my favorite Seinfeld scenes has Newman concluding a particularly melodramatic threat with "because when you control the mail... you control.... information!!!"
The one time my father ever subjected himself to parent-teacher day, he met the outgoing typing teacher, Mrs. Rummery. "What about these new word processing machines?," my father asked politely. Other teachers were starting to show students how to use them. Not Mrs. Rummery. "I'm glad I'll be long gone before I ever have to deal with that," she grumped. A wonderful steward of taxpayer dollars.
Consider now the reaction of Michael Gorman, a librarian who argues that "the books in great libraries are designed to be read sequentially and cumulatively, so that the reader gains knowledge in the reading." Speaking for myself, I know that ain't true. Anticipating a glorious graduate school career, one summer I read Rawls' A Theory of Justice sequentially and cumulatively. It's safe to say I not only gained precious little knowledge from that exercise, but that in the ensuing years, the "snippets and snatches" method ruled the day for the tens of thousands of books and articles I was forced to read to come to a fully professional understanding of politics, philosophy, sociology, economics, admin theory, and other overlapping disciplines.
Gorman, president-elect of the American Library Association, writes with no little passion on the subject of recent high-flown experiments in digitizing content:
The boogie-woogie Google boys, it appears, dream of taking over the universe by gathering all the "information" in the world and creating the electronic equivalent of, in their own modest words, "the mind of God." If you are taken in by all the fanfare and hoopla that have attended their project to digitize all the books in a number of major libraries (including the New York Public and the University of Michigan), you would think they are well on their way to godliness.
I do not share that opinion.
Later on in his Newsday editorial, Gorman tells us which pieces of information he is in favor of digitizing, and which ones should be left alone. It's as if he believes that librarians alone hold the key to understanding how info should best be disseminated and consumed.
I do not share that opinion.
Words should not be taken out of context, but nor should access to them be seen as threatening in some way. There are whole courses, for starters, in "how to" read the canon of Western political philosophy. There might be four major schools of thought on the matter of "how to" read Plato's Republic or the works of Grotius. Some might involve close textual analysis. Others might involve a lifetime understanding the social, economic, political, and linguistic contexts of the works. That might involve a lot more reading, but it might also involve much research; in other words, not always reading all works "cumulatively."
There is talk amongst archivists that one can learn a lot from examining and smelling old books. Nice. But to a modern professoriate, the idea is to get higher education into the hands of the many, not to restrict access to a few "gentlemen." The bulk of reading material from whatever era (99+%) finds its way into the hands of undergraduates via anthologies and reprints. Education is supposed to be for everyone. Book-sniffing is considerably more rarefied territory than, say, wine-tasting, or truffle-digging.
Can there be any holding back the digitizing of some important historical content, and later, nearly everything ever published? Can Gorman see no potential benefit to this? You don't have to love or even like the "boogie-woogie Google boys" to admit it when they're working on something interesting.
The New York times piece on Google Web Library, and the InfoToday article on the announcement, offer a more balanced view.
Sunday, December 19, 2004
In a sign of renewed big media interest in the browser wars, Randall Stross of the New York Times (via CNET) chronicles the dramatic rise of the FireFox browser:
"Firefox 1.0 was released on Nov. 9. Just over a month later, the foundation celebrated a remarkable milestone: 10 million downloads. Donations from Firefox's appreciative fans paid for a two-page advertisement in The New York Times on Thursday."
Stross notes that FireFox's bold challenge to Microsoft shows that the open-source model pioneered by Linux has at last achieved mainstream success in a way that Linux could not due to its complex nature. And if that's any indication of FireFox's destiny, it could be Microsoft who is the next browser to be "Netscaped."
But, not so fast, Mr. Stross. Although many of us share your optimism that the web experience will be vastly improved by the widespread adoption of FireFox, there are at least two major obstacles to FireFox's success:
1. Microsoft still has the advantage in cash and connections.
With far greater resources than Mozilla (FireFox's non-profit owner) can ever hope to have, Microsoft can easily afford to bide its time while it chooses how to respond to FireFox's challenge. In other words, it has the luxury of outspending and embracing and extending FireFox. And when Longhorn finally is released, Microsoft can devise any number of devious ways to dissuade users from adopting competing browsers as a condition for getting the latest operating system technology.
2. Mozilla is a non-profit company.
If Mozilla succeeds in beating Microsoft at its own game, that would have to be a first in the history of business. To be frank, although it's a nice dream, there's probably no chance that FireFox can actually achieve a majority of the browser marketshare. It might be possible for FireFox to achieve a 25% share, but you just know that Microsoft won't even let that happen without a fight.
Mozilla may have lots of good will and support, but again, Microsoft's got the cash. It doesn't seem likely that any product from a non-profit software company, however innovative and sexy, can conquer a company that is driven to succeed financially. Perhaps I just don't understand yet how the Mozilla Foundation is funded and operated, but I don't see how it's possible. What are Mozilla's long-term aspirations? Who knows.
If FireFox is serious about making a dent in the browser market, Mozilla had better not rest on its laurels. Even though Longhorn is at least a year away, you just know Microsoft is gunning for the upstart, all the while it is also gunning for the search engine market, too. FireFox might do well to make a few connections of its own. Google has supposedly stated that it has no plans of partnering with Mozilla or creating its own browser, but the two companies are already collaborating on the FireFox start page, so it will be interesting to see if Google really does have something up its sleeve, or if its telling the truth.
When your quarry is the biggest software company in the world, one would do well to keep one's true intentions under the radar, for now at least.
Friday, December 17, 2004
A big "wow!" to Yahoo! being the first to overlay traffic information over Yahoo Maps. That's so cool.
Word has it that Google's acquisition of Keyhole may allow for some pretty amazing things in this area, too.
Just one more reason why I think many observers are underestimating the impact of local search. It's multi-dimensional.
Greg Boser of WebGuerrilla anchored the controversial "Black Hat vs. White Hat SEO" session at Search Engine Strategies Chicago this week. (These terms are shorthand for those who use aggressive search engine optimization tactics as opposed to those who use gentler methods.)
Boser made the point that many of the largest brand names in the world are the ones who request the most aggressive marketing tactics. Yet the perception in the public is that "spammers" (whether they're taking aim at your inbox or a search index) are exclusively small-timers.
While there are plenty of reasons why I personally think it's inadvisable to pursue certain tactics, many of the most recognizable brands have quietly disagreed.
(And if you read the previous post, you'll get the sense that I always advised clients of their option to advertise on competitors' trademarked words, if that's what they wanted to do. Those words nearly always return a strong ROI relative to the rest of one's campaign. If someone is hired to help you with your marketing, and your stance is an aggressive one, they probably aren't doing their job if they refuse to at least run down the options for you, disclosing risks and rewards.)
The point was hammered home for me again when I arrived back at the home office and noticed on my call display that "Sears Clean Air" had phoned, presumably to try to sell me duct cleaning services. Do I need that aggravation?
Big companies are the some of the worst "spammers," then. And as consumers, that means a constant process of ducking and hiding from irrelevant messages. The notion of a future do-not-call law in Canada makes me wince, because you can already run down the list of big diversified companies who will find ways to exempt themselves from the law by being able to claim a "prior business relationship."
And the kids at Sporting Life can't imagine why I balk at giving out my phone number for the privilege of buying jeans from them.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
Google's lawyers threw five touchdown passes in a romp over Geico in the newly-renamed Yahoo Bowl (formerly Geico Bowl). Geico reportedly wasn't happy with the officiating. "But we have the hardware," jeered an imaginary Google advertising exec to loud cheering from an imaginary search marketing firm which has been taking Google's side on the keyword and trademark issue from the get-go.
Geico's PR department could manage only a late field goal in the form of a press release claiming that it might still go ahead and take action against advertisers who use Geico's trademark in their ad creative. The press release is rather misleading, indicating that Geico has won a small victory, when most news organizations got it right: Geico lost the case.
To be serious for a second: I've watched this debate evolve from a place where many advertisers and observers assumed the Geico's of the world (trademark holders who don't believe ads should show up that are triggered by trademark keyword triggers in an advertiser's AdWords or Overture account) were right and going to win, to a point where the debate was about 50-50. Thanks to Danny Sullivan, Jeff Rohrs, and a variety of informed panelists, the Search Engine Strategies sessions on this topic really contributed to carrying the debate forward.
I've always been to the extreme side of advocating the position that any keyword should be fair game to use in your account as a means of triggering targeted advertising. But to be very clear, this position is simply the position Google took and that the judge upheld: Google's method of displaying ads near SERP's is in line with legal forms of comparative advertising in the U.S. And never would I want to be misconstrued as suggesting that people should go around abusing others' trademarks. Improper use of trademark in ad copy or on a website is illegal. Attempting to generate consumer confusion by impersonating other companies, etc. is wrong, immoral, illegal, etc.
There will, of course, be more cases. Some will go over similar ground. At this stage, though, if you're an advertiser who receives a legal threat for using pay-per-click ad targeting in a perfectly legal way, your lawyer can fax the decision to "their" lawyers and induce them to agree to drop the matter. You shouldn't have to back down.
The remaining bit of messy business is that Google continues to sporadically block its advertisers from using trademark keywords owned by certain large companies like Amazon and eBay. In other cases, you as an advertiser might have backed down on certain profitable keywords because you received a legal letter and didn't want to go to court. It might be time to retry or revisit previously blocked words.
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
It's sunny today in Chicago, but due to the fact that I'm at Search Engine Strategies, for some strange reason I'm in a bit of a fog. Couple of tidbits:
I picked up a print version (fancy that) of DMNews from their exhibit booth and learned that the DMA has dropped its Internet marketing conferences, and will simply add interactive marketing sessions to its regular conferences. The editorial by Tad Clarke noted that ad:tech and Search Engine Strategies are teeming with attendees, but the DMA's interactive show couldn't make a go of it. Probably it comes down to the emerging professionalization of search marketing. Those who attend SES are a mix of small SEO firms, pros who do work in-house for companies that rely heavily on search advertising, and so forth. Deciding to attend 4-5 conferences a year, or 6-7 at most, means many devoted professionals in the field will need to go to at least two SES's. When you're trying to do your job, after all, you go to the source, and network and learn from the best. I guess what I'm saying is it comes down to specialization. There is probably room for the DMA in the hearts and minds of many online marketers... but not in their schedules.
MSN Search has the most beautiful booth at SES. A grand, double-decker facade with lighting, tasteful wood tones, and built-in computer screens. To get the word out, they're handing out garments squished into the shape of a butterfly. When you open it, at first it seems that it's all wrinkled due to the squishing. Turns out though that there's some kind of raised spiderweb pattern on this black shirt - and it has long sleeves. It's a bit slippierier than a regular t-shirt, too. And the logo on the back sort of looks like a bat. And there are magnifying glasses up the sleeves. One thing about it -- if they ever want to sell this thing, I doubt they'll have any trouble running an SEM campaign for it. Not a lot of current competition for "lace henley" - or is it "velour henley." It's some kind of cross between Grandma's Couch and the Chris O'Donnell After Hours collection. Methinks MSN contracted a certain Danish design maven cum SEO expert but didn't pay his whole fee, so he gave them this.
Unlike Andy Beal, I doubt there is room for numerous desktop search products in the marketplace. I have Google's running on my laptop here right now. Does Ask Jeeves, or (!) Hotbot, really believe I'll be downloading their tool too? Isn't technology supposed to *save* us time? Remember the toolbar flurry of a year or so ago? Folks I talk to have Google's toolbar installed. A few have Alexa. I like the Firefox extensions that plug in versions of these quite seemlessly. But tell me, do you have the Dogpile or Hotbot toolbar on any of your machines? And so it will go for desktop search.
Well, no more time to waste. I'm presenting on the ever-fascinating topic of contextual ads this afternoon. And then, back to shaking hands. :)
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Google's been going nuts lately with all of these novel content-indexing ideas. You had the recent announcement of Google Print, and the latest is a major collaboration project with some of the top libraries in the world, in which the big G will index millions of out-of-print and copyrighted books for online searchability. Wow.
I've long thought that there should be no limit to the content that is available for searching online. Google plans to display AdWords ads next to such content, and this move is clearly a win-win-win for Google, book publishers, searchers and -- maybe -- for authors (Wouldn't it be nice if authors were able to get a cut of this?). There will surely be some vexing issues to solve as a result of this project, but if they can be worked out, consider the possibilities!
No one gains anything by having a dusty book tucked away on a neglected library shelf. This project will help ensure that the wealth of knowledge hidden in books is fully revealed to anyone with a web browser.
It will be interesting to see how Amazon reacts to this news. Their "search inside the book" feature holds much promise, but doesn't seem to have gained much traction yet.
This isn't related to the Internet, unless you consider that the Internet couldn't run without oil: The world's oil supply is peaking, and unless industrialized societies make massive changes to their energy infrastructure, we are headed for tragically tough times.
Thought you should know. Happy holidays!
Sometimes I'm ashamed to acknowledge that I read Search Engine Lowdown. If it's not the over-the-top self-promotion about MegaUltraCorporation -- I mean, WebSourced -- it's language like "How retarded is this?" I think we can do without the crassness.
(This post has been rewritten for clarification.)
Update: Now I see that the post has been changed to read "How crazy is this?", but my original point stands.
Saturday, December 11, 2004
Google will, it seems, forever be judged by the standards of the companies they've surpassed.
An otherwise entertaining post about the Google Xmas party by FT writer Tom Foremski concludes with: "...at Google, there are NO media professionals! They’ve done well so far, no one would disagree, but can computer engineers grow a media business? This could be Google’s Achilles’ heel."
Yep, that's what Google needs right now -- to bring in some "media people" so they can build a worse GMail product, a worse local search product, a worse version of Google Groups...
We've heard the argument time and again. An interesting Fortune article by Fred Vogelstein back in March, "Bringing Up Yahoo," talked about that company's CEO, Terry Semel, "writing an old-media script to grow a new media darling." At the time I remember seriously questioning just how much money the "media schmoozing" really made for Yahoo given their ongoing heavy reliance on income from search advertising and the technology underlying this.
Around the same time, Charlene Li, the Forrester analyst, critiqued Google for its "deep-seated cultural focus on search." (This criticism leveled at a search engine company!! Apparently the New York Times has a deep-seated cultural focus on newspapers. And Tiger Woods is really zoned in on the golf thing. And McDonald's on burgers. Yeah, they've got salads now. This salad experiment is going well in part because to sell the burgers, McD's built the drive-thrus and trained the staff and designed the processes and .... hmmm, sort of like the way Google designed the computing power to serve the search....)
I humbly submit that there are a lot of ways to make money from technology. And plenty of ways to rake in the bucks in the vast advertising industry. Just as one ho-hum example, a diversified old-school mogul from Western Canada, Jimmy Pattison, makes a lot of money from billboards.
Now maybe I'm just not imaginative enough and I need to be more worried about these players' financial health lest they not behave like somebody's caricature of a media titan. Perhaps Jimmy Pattison needs to swear more. Maybe the incredibly successful Thomson family should go rabidly insane and steal shareholders' dough, like Conrad Black (makes for better front-page stories). And perhaps Page, Brin, Rosing, Schmidt, and co. really need to turn the Google Show into Cirque de Soleil.
But I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that they'll just keep doing what they're doing, which is to focus on building search and related services that don't drive the user crazy. And that the "media" business will continue to be transformed in part due to the influence of those schmoozeless nerds at Big G.
Remember Go.com? Lotta "media" folks involved there. And....?
Friday, December 10, 2004
Want people to search for you? Make sure your name is easy to spell.
Doing a little keyword research, I found that people search for "Martha Stewart" about 66X more often than they search for "Arnold Schwarzenegger." Does this mean the detained duvet diva is 66X more popular than the guttural governor? I doubt it.
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
Regardless of what its measurable impact may be, the issue of click fraud is certainly making headlines. This article on CNN even quotes Google CFO George Reyes as saying click fraud “potentially… threatens our business model” and therefore needs to be eradicated “really, really quickly.”
By the sound of this article, Google only recently identified click fraud as an issue - and most publications certainly didn't pick up on the problem until this year. This is interesting, given Pay-Per-Click search engines have refunded fraudulent clicks for years; perhaps Google is taking advantage of the recent hype?
The real problem with fraudulent clicks to date has been informing advertisers of when they occur. Few (if any) Pay Per Click engines offer a transparent method for identifying fraudulent clicks and providing refunds. If something needs to be done really, really quickly by engines like Google, it’s implementing a system that can identify fake clicks and dispense refunds accordingly. They won’t catch everything, but it would certainly be a start.
(via Kraneland via Beal): Danny Sullivan gets a letter published in Playboy. This notion of reviving the professionally-edited human-powered directory that he puts forward in stark contrast to the machine-powered profit-machine model of Google Search seems quaint, but really, it's a good idea. The lack of a definitive directory or two is the single biggest glaring hole in online search.
A couple of years ago on a forum connected with Traffick.com dubbed 'The Other Directory Project' (it crumbled into flamewars, unfortunately), some directory diehards debated different principles that should be adopted by the Next Great Directory. Steve Thomas of Wherewithal, for example, argued that directories face a "fixed ontology problem," and that a future directory would offer a way to make the categories definable by users and editors alike. That's probably too complicated. Still, there are many components to the challenge of creating a great general-purpose directory, and in the rush through Internet time, how many have them have really been considered carefully? The job of Yahoo Editor changed significantly the day they turned to paid inclusion. Same goes for LookSmart.
I would cheer for something a little like what LookSmart tried to be at the beginning before aimless drifting, rapid expansionism, biz-model sellouts, and management squabbles. In those optimistic days, Britannica.com was thinking of jumping into the fray. It still could. Problem is, who's gonna fund that? A major media company or the government would need to underwrite it. And the definition of professionalism in editing would need to be upped a couple of notches in strictitude.
I wouldn't want to misunderestimate the challenge a new online directory would face. In light of the business realities of online search, it all sounds rather quirky, I know. The type of thing that might appeal to a PBS listener or National Geographic photographer. But as any Playboy reader or letter-writer might say, "Hey, I'm a Renaissance man." Human editorial organizations in the image of Early Yahoo and Middle LookSmart will have their day.
The BBC-recommended concept isn't a terrible example, come to think of it. It gets very little attention. Certain media organizations are trusted, and have at times lent their editorial review powers to the web. With metadata and authorized access only by accredited members of these organizations, a smart search engine such as Google or MSN Search could incorporate such recommendations into the results; even label them with icons that would lead to reviewer comments. In this way, search listings would be richer and more context-backed rather than just being rank-ordered lists daring you to question their authority. The reviewer recommendations wouldn't have to be seen as definitive, but rather just another source of information. And the entire database of recommendations could indeed be dumped into a categorized directory. Welcome back to dmoz, minus the intrigue and corruption.
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
I can't recall Jakob Nielsen ever using the phrase "worst scum" in a column before, as he does in warning publishers about the negative impacts of pop-ups, audio ads, mouseover ads, and other shifty forms of creative.
"Worst scum" is not quite as damning as my "festering pustule-ware" used to describe a certain brand of adware, but as we all know, Jakob is subtle.
The point is well taken: purveyors of intrusive formats will often point to their short-term effectiveness (high clickthrough rates, for example). But by bothering everyone with ads that 90% of the population viscerally despises, short-term "effectiveness" can lead to a loss of trust and erosion of one's brand.
Monday, December 06, 2004
A few tidbits for today...
* Google Ads on Google. I just typed the phrase "flight tracker" into Google, and saw Google promoting its own flight tracking service in the top sponsored listing position (the good spot, at the top of the page). Seems as if Google is doing more and more of this. But doesn't that make it harder for advertisers to get average ad positions beginning with a "1"? I tell you, when you keep upping your bid and optimizing your ad, and keep seeing "2.0" instead of, say, "1.7," it can get pretty discouraging. Given that Google doesn't bother us with all sorts of offline promo claptrap, I do think it's fair the way they gently self-promote their various search features. You have to get the word out somehow. But I hope they have serious discussions about the damage this might be doing to advertisers in those particular areas. I hardly think that some company advertising on the term "flight tracker" would have expected itself to be in competition with Google and therefore deserving of a gentle slap upside the head. Is Google going to become one of those companies that sees itself in competition with just about everyone?
* Forget Jennicam, Here's Weather Guy! As a weather freak, I often have to control the impulse to post stuff like this. But it's hard to hold back what with the flurry of discussion on weather feeds by all sorts of XML, SOAP, RSS, and other major acronymic tech experts. These folks are saying a lot of interesting things, but one thing they're missing is the major transformation in how we'll soon be gathering the underlying data that count as "the weather." I for one simply cannot stand the wildly inaccurate temperature readings (usually about an hour out of date, moreover) you get on the radio (but the web is just as bad, as the source is an official government weather station)... in Toronto, you often get the main weather reading at Pearson airport (the forecast is always "windy and treeless today, with intermittent loud screaming sounds"), plus some inaccurate station they stick out of their office tower downtown. Sometimes you'll hear some mention of cooler or warmer air near the lake. The reality is, you have gusty winds, all sorts of microclimates, and major variation in temperature in any place that is near a major body of water. And if you're a weather freak, that just won't do. When weather data are drawn from thousands of uplinked personal weather stations owned by weather freaks like me, the weather reports will actually be accurate and useful to your situation. It really doesn't help me a lot to hear that a thunderclap passed by about an hour ago in upper Scarberia when I'm sitting here in lower Humberama. Temperature, precipitation, air quality readings, humidity, wind speed... you name it, I can't wait to upload it. And then there's my other project, relating to water quality... but that's another fish to fry...
* Shopping.com Not Da Bomb. Deutsche Bank, one of the underwriters, goes and initiates coverage on Shopping.com with a "sell." Ouch. I think it's an honest assessment, though. The company is a huge risk because it is competing with powerful conglomerates that they rely on to some extent for referral traffic. One other point that gets overlooked is that Amazon.com and EBay, while not considered "meta shopping engines," increasingly are this. But they do it with the backing of huge resources, an existing loyal customer base, and cool search and personalization features that make the sites easy to use. Shopping.com, unless it can figure out its unique role in this economy, is basically looking to be acquired. They had better not waste too much time deciding. Some others, like Bizrate (now Shopzilla) may fare better if they pay attention to developing original content (reviews) that find a happy place as underlying data for their portal competitors. For consumers, trust and ease of use (and an apparent decrease, not increase, in bewildering options) will win out. It continues to look to me as if Amazon is occupying the space that some of the shopping engines want to occupy. And now that they have solid earnings, there seems to be no stopping Amazon. I do think there will be spaces for dozens of interesting plays in the "consumer reviews and ratings" arena. The key word is "interesting." Some of these things just catch on and spread. No use predicting how or why, as I'd probably be wrong. I mean what the heck was eBay anyway?
Sunday, December 05, 2004
An early beta of the new Netscape browser is said to be able to render web pages in FireFox, and get this -- Internet Explorer. My first reaction to this was, "Um, what's the point?" But having thought about it a bit more from a power user's perspective, this is actually a very useful feature.
Having been clean of IE for a few weeks, I still run across the occasional site that doesn't work well in FireFox, especially my online banking site. When that happens, even the most anti-IE of us must fire up that blast from the past and go about our business. With the new Netscape (version #... uh, who knows) that problem will be averted. You just switch views and keep on going.
An early screenshot is very Netscape-centric and way too green, but it's promising nonetheless. I'd have to check the definition of the word "irony," but I do believe it would be ironic (don't ya think?) if Netscape made a comeback in part by stealing from Microsoft!
Thursday, December 02, 2004
So MSN is getting into the blogging game with a service called MSN Spaces. Nice try, Microsoft, but I see two prime reasons why it will fail:
1) In standard Microsoft fashion, MSN is embracing and extending the blog concept to make it more than it is or should be. At this early hour at least, it seems too different from the more standard services like Blogger or Movable Type. If it's a blogging tool, why not call it MSN Blogs (and who the heck needs a Contact Card!). I guess they're trying to set it apart from other services, but in doing so, it will become something else that people don't understand.
2) Hardcore bloggers like Andrew and I are wonky, tech-savvy people. We don't want to use some corny tool designed for your cousin the landscaping guy, or your aunt the quilter. That type of person is not one who saturates their brains with information and is able to thoughtfully comment on it in real-time fashion.
Further to the Jakob Nielsen post on decentralization... and to a recent Business 2.0 story about startups who eschewed Silicon Valley to work in lower-cost remote areas...
A Canadian satellite broadband company, incorporating technology from Motorola, is offering affordable satellite Internet service that works pretty much anywhere and offers about the same speed as DSL.
The only catch seems to be that a "base station" needs to be installed "by your community" and you need to be within 16km of one of these units. For dispersed dwellers in remote cottage areas, that seems to make the service possible only if residents pool funds to install a number of the units. Driving through the Muskokas (about 90 minutes north of Toronto) this summer, I noticed that deep-pocketed region was already getting on board with new Internet access schemes. It shouldn't be too long before this stuff spreads to less prestigious regions. Within a couple of summers I may not even be able to escape work in the rocky hills and lakes of the Haliburton Highlands. Sooner, if somebody convinces the Wilberforce Chamber of Commerce to give Xplornet a call.
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