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.
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!