Sunday, January 30, 2005
All you users of office software might remember StarOffice from such office suites as Lotus and, "I Can't Believe It's Not Microsoft."
If you've grown tired of paying Billy G. the semi-annual tribute for the privilege of composing Word documents that don't require your recipients to install an ancient file format converter, you do have a choice, you know. Let me explain.
After re-installing Windows on my laptop a few months ago, I never got around to re-installing my "semi-legitimate" copy of Office 2000. And since that POS is a bit long in the tooth now, I faced the hard choice we all must consider: pay for the latest Office suite or go open source. Well, after growing accustomed to open-source software from Mozilla this past year, I realized that open-source stuff ain't so bad. I remembered StarOffice from Sun Microsystems was free at one time, and searched it out. I found it, of course, but more interestingly I found another little gem from Sun called OpenOffice.
StarOffice now comes in a premium yet affordable version, but OpenOffice -- as the name implies -- is a free, full-featured, open-source office suite built from the codebase of StarOffice. Sun still produces StarOffice, and I'm not really clear how it differs from OpenOffice, but apparently there is a (slight) difference.
So, I downloaded OpenOffice 1.1, and it works like a charm. I can't see any reason to pay for MS Office anymore, and I might even try to persuade my IT manager to dump Office in favor of OpenOffice.
Some immediate items of note:
1. OpenOffice can import any Office document just fine.
2. The word processor, called Writer, offers a free "export to PDF" feature. Neat.
3. The suite doesn't come with a personal info manager like Outlook, but if you download Mozilla Thunderbird, you'll get most of Outlook's functionality, for free. Mozilla does offer a calendar extension that must be installed separately, but it doesn't integrate tightly yet. An upcoming release in mid-2005 will fix that.
Friday, January 28, 2005
It's amazing to those of us who ply our trade in this biz that so many search engine optimization myths are still going strong -- Jill Whalen's Q&A dispels them beyond a shadow of a doubt.
It's official: Google has released an API for AdWords. There is a lot to think about there, but it's safe to say the most obvious impact will be a proliferation of campaign management apps, particularly customized and piecemeal ones developed in-house. A key here is that the more you spend on AdWords (either as a single firm or as a manager of multiple accounts), the more free access you get to the system. No doubt there will be a lot of speculation as to what impact that might have on the marketplace for tools and such. For now, the bottom line seems to be that (once your tool is built) the ability to (for example) change bids throughout the day is tied to what you've got at stake as an advertiser. The key word here is "appropriateness." It's highly inappropriate to overmanage a $30/day account with high-powered tools when you could do it just as easily by hand. By contrast, a $1,000/day spend needs much more interaction and frequent checking. It makes sense to automate some of this if it's done intelligently.
Advertisers will definitely face a lot more interesting build-or-buy questions when it comes to custom account management tools. Many probably won't rule out "build." AdWords is that important to so many marketing budgets today.
Thursday, January 27, 2005
This one looks better in print.
Paul Lima's "case" study in the Globe and Mail Report on Business today covers a local Toronto bottled beverage delivery service called Mr. Case. In 1995 when the company started a website, online sales accounted for only 1% of the company's revenue. Today, this is 25%.
A lot of the 12-person firm's growth has come about by simply buying targeted pay-per-click ads to rapidly improve search engine driven referrals. It costs them about $1,000 per month, and for that low, low, price, the company has enjoyed recent rapid growth. "Mr. Case launched an AdWords campaign last November, and [owner Marc Levin] says website traffic has grown almost tenfold."
The story (in the print edition) should appeal to many small business readers because the big photo of workers loading cases into bright orange trucks is very tangible.
Keep in mind that Paul Lima is an independent technology journalist who has been producing pieces on all kinds of computer technology for the past fifteen years. It's one thing if the search engines publish these case studies on their sites; quite another when the independent analysts come in, spend a couple of weeks kicking tires, checking numbers and doing due diligence, and come out with the thumbs-up.
A couple of years ago, people started "Googling" each other. (Insert wisecrack here. No, not there... here!)
Anyway, I'm sure we're all painfully aware of the limitations of searching on a person's name. Problem #1 is that Google will return a jumble of results on different people with the same name. If there are a couple hundred "gary goodmans" of note, you have no way of grouping the results for just one of these individuals. Overall, the data is quite unstructured. A second problem is the negativity issue. Some observers think that Google's PageRank tends to bring negative mentions to the fore.
Enter Business.com's new people search. While not perfect, it's an interesting little hack. Searching for a couple of example colleagues, I notice how the tool managed to extract correct title and educational background from the various sources on the web. The sources accessed also seem to be more restrictive, and from a B2B perspective, that leads to a more professional overview. Web indices today are clogged with junk.
Maybe I just liked it because on the list of Andrew Goodmans, I appeared at the top. A bit further down, I was also listed, as the "owner" of Topica. Apparently that was a glitch, as I owned a public discussion list hosted by Topica a couple of years ago. So, there are glitches. But as an effort in taking public, unstructured data, and using it to create personal profiles, it's cool.
A potentially important development is the opportunity for "that gary goodman" to see his own profile, and click on a link to submit an updated profile. Colleagues can also send an email to the recipient to ask them to update it. Obviously the question is always "will anyone do this" or "will this catch on" - but it's interesting in theory.
Getting "business.com'd" might not be as snappy-sounding as getting Googled, but it'll probably show you in a better light.
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
If you're a Gmail user and would like to learn more about Google's eponymous webmail service, check out this Gmail Tips site. In addition to some general web resources, you'll find almost 40 handy bits of info to help you maximize the usefulness of Gmail.
I particulary liked tip 38 about the Google Gmail Minibrowser!
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
They call it the Firefox Explosion. Who are we to argue? Choice quote:
"Bill Gates' troops must now turn back to IE and battle the ghost of Netscape."
Further to my earlier rant about the decline of AdSense, Danny blogs about Google testing a "related ads" feature for AdSense in which visitors are able to toggle between a new set of ads generated by related topics identified by the big G. It's hard to describe. Just check it out.
I think this is a good start at making AdSense less predictable and more diverse, which will of course help not only the publisher, but also Google and content-targeting advertisers. John Batelle thinks more positive changes are on the way, too, and sooner rather than later.
Giddyup. And goodbye, Johnny.
Yeah, yeah, I know it doesn't mean that Google is developing a web browser... but, wait, no! I'm not so sure it doesn't mean that.
Ben Goodger, the lead engineer of Firefox, has taken an unspecified job with Google, but will remain involved in the Mozilla project to some extent. He says:
As of January 10, 2005, my source of income changed from The Mozilla Foundation to Google, Inc. of Mountain View, California. My role with Firefox and the Mozilla project will remain largely unchanged, I will continue doing much the same work as I have described above - with the new goal of successful 1.1, 1.5 and 2.0 releases. I remain devoted full-time to the advancement of Firefox, the Mozilla platform and web browsing in general. I'm sure you have many questions. While I will be spending more time at Google, I will work out of the Mozilla Foundation offices regularly as the need arises. For all questions regarding Google, I ask that you contact Google directly, rather than myself.Hmm, Mr. Goodger seems a bit cagey. What could he be hiding! :)
I've long suspected that Google was working on a browser, and I think there have been many signs pointing in that direction over the past year that are hard to ignore (like the registration of gbrowser.com). It makes sense for Google to deny the rumors. Anyone would expect that.
It also makes sense for Google to develop a browser, either from scratch or a clone of Firefox. Further to Andrew's speculation about Google's interest in "dark fiber," a browser gives them further control over the internet user. Why wouldn't they grab that chance now, while there's still time to beat Microsoft?
In other Firefox news: Firefox 1.0 hits 20 million downloads; one of the Firefox designers talks about his browser design philosophy; and Firefox continues to steal marketshare from IE...
Monday, January 24, 2005
(via Techdirt) Much like replacing a hard surface with clay courts in a tennis match, the search advertising trademark issue takes on a different spin when moved to France. A court has ruled that Google can't allow ads to be triggered by searches that include trademarked terms.
Wrong, silly, and illogical.
This week I found myself on a brief holiday. In spite of the fact that I was staying at one hotel, proprietors of the other hotels were doing everything they could to induce me to try them next time around. While strolling in an underground mall, employees of one establishment called us over to invite us to a promotional seminar. On the beach, timeshare hawkers did their best to divert us from our quiet walk. And would you believe this one: these rival hotels actually occupy ground that is RIGHT NEXT TO the hotel I stayed at, and they have BIG LOGOS. Drivers of airport shuttles call out the names of the various hotels as they drive by them. How is a poor trademark holder supposed to handle all this competition?
A page of search results is no different. A bunch of links is displayed in a way that a search engine (and its advertisers) deem relevant to the user. Link X is near Link Y. That doesn't mean an advertiser is "buying trademarked keywords" or that Google is selling them... any more than the presence of a Wyndham next to a Radisson, or the publisher of a guide to all the hotels in the area, means that the Wyndham is "buying the Radisson's land."
The Wyndham is on the Wyndham's ground. The Radisson is on the Radisson's ground. And search engine results pages and the ad space they sell belong to Google. Surely the French courts don't believe that search engines should just be handed over to large companies to do with as they please?
The sad irony is that the Google ads are the opposite of the bothersome timeshare salesman on the beach. If I click on the ad, I may be exposed to any number of consequences. But until I do, that ad just sits there quietly minding its own business. The mere presence of the ad does not in and of itself constitute a violation of trademark law. At least that's what the California court said. Looks like we're going to see a few more of these cases before we're through.
AOL is releasing a revamped search interface and is evidently auditioning a few new vendors of search technology, including Vivisimo and FAST.
We've seen this pattern before. Yahoo and MSN have been inveterate tire-kickers when it comes to third-party search technology. In both cases, it finally resulted in taking the project in-house for good. Does this mean that AOL's experimentation is likely to spell the end of its partnership with Google Search and Google AdWords? Hard to say. Given everyone else's need to take Google down a peg in the earnings department, AOL has some good reasons to follow suit. But the changes might be gradual.
The hard part at this stage is to determine whether the process of "getting serious about search" that AOL is belatedly following is more akin to a Rostowian economic takeoff (on the cusp of "breakout") or a stale sitcom getting ready to jump the shark. Yahoo and MSN appear to have done well by redoubling their focus on search, but it's early days yet. What makes it harder for AOL is that all this auditioning of vendors and tweaking of features is being done for a steadily-declining user base. Its search market share, according to recent comScore reports, puts it firmly in fourth place, and falling. Once that share drops below 10%, you can enhance it with magic mushrooms if you like -- it won't be that interesting a story.
We're old-school enough here to still believe there are portal wars, and to still believe that "fourth portals" are on the bubble. Lycos was once a "fourth portal." Google rocketed out of nowhere to its current destination status; Yahoo and more recently MSN have fought to maintain their position.
An interesting question -- although less so in light of AOL's #4 standing -- is whether Ask Jeeves is one of the vendors AOL might be auditioning. (Note the wording of the spokesman's comments -- '“Users are searching because they want answers. The new AOL Search will get users to better answers, faster,” he said.' And the reporter repeats it: '"Part of its strategy is to develop a service focused on providing more detailed and tailored answers to users' questions. It is expected to be a key feature in the relaunch of the AOL.com portal later this year."')
Teoma and other Ask Jeeves technology would no doubt be fine as replacements for the "Google-enhanced" web index currently employed by AOL. If AOL were to acquire FindWhat.com, it would have a head start on running its own pay-per-click ad auction, too. Of course all of this strategy might be a little hot and heavy if users have decided to simply use Yahoo or Google instead. It's not easy being fourth.
Friday, January 21, 2005
Now Yahoo gets a deskbar of sorts, with the My Yahoo Ticker beta (thanks John B.). Um, can someone remind me again why anyone would want an annoying animated ticker distracting you while you work / shop / read / listen / watch?
The only redeeming quality I see in this is the RSS newsreading capability. But the real estate is so tiny that it's useless. I'm convinced the only good way to get RSS feeds is as a sidebar to the browser or e-mail client.
In a lengthy LA Times piece titled "Free-for-All Could Pay Off for Google" (via Yahoo News), reporter Chris Gaither goes in-depth about Google's acquisition and relaunch of Picasa, the photo organizer software.
A key section of the article helps explain Google's surprise acquisition, now in version 2.0, which is offered as a free download:
Picasa didn't have the luxury of giving away its software when it was part of Idealab, the high-tech incubator in Pasadena that initially funded the photo services company. To Idealab Chief Executive Bill Gross, Picasa seems like one piece in Google's grand plan to house people's e-mail, photos and other digital files in addition to launching their Web searches.
I wouldn't argue with that assessment. I will admit to being puzzled by this move when it happened last year, but as Google's strategy begins to unfold in the public arena, it does make sense.
"I think Google wants to be the place where you store your life," he said.
"What they're doing is brilliant. They are using each of their services to promote their other services very well."
It's fun to see Google explore these unconventional areas to see if they can bring the "Google experience" to other online features besides search and e-mail. But, they really must be careful not to take their eye off the ball in terms of search. Microsoft will stop at nothing to destroy Google and will be watching closely for sings of weakness.
On a related note, Danny recently wrote an epic comparison of Picasa 2.0 and Adobe Photo Manager. If you're a recreational photographer, you might be interested.
Thursday, January 20, 2005
If you're a webmail user (and if you're online, you probably are), you might be interested in Microsoft's announcement today of Microsoft Office Outlook Live.
It seems what MS has done is combine the rich-client functionality of Outlook with the portability and flexibility of web-based e-mail, in this case Hotmail. Pricing is almost 60 bucks a year, but is discounted 25% until April 19, 2005.
It's hard to believe that it's taken the portals so long to introduce this hybrid e-mail service. I've been praying for Yahoo to do something like this for years. I find the online webmail interface to be extremely limiting, even after several impressive upgrades at Yahoo Mail and Hotmail in years past.
Yahoo fans got taste of such functionality when Yahoo last year snapped up Oddpost, "a web-based email and news aggregation application that combines the rich, responsive interface of a desktop program like Outlook with the available-from-anywhere convenience of a web mail service like Hotmail," according to the Oddpost FAQ page.
And before that acquisition, webmail users lucky enough to get invited to try Gmail got another glimpse of a better webmail solution. I'm still not sold enough on Gmail to make the switch fully from Yahoo Mail, but I'm waiting for Google to introduce external POP3 account access, and then I just might.
But, if Yahoo relaunches its mail service this year using Oddpost technology, as promised on July 9, 2004, I might never switch... unless, of course, Google creates their own hybrid service. Oh, my head hurts.
Yes, the new MSN Search is here, and it's a Big Story. But, if Microsoft truly wants to build a better search engine than Google, it needs to work on a few things. Specifically:
1. The Search home page. What's with the giant blue box surrounding the keyword search textbox and buttons? It makes you feel constricted or something. I appreciate the attempt to make the page clean and simple, but I would lose the blue box. It doesn't seem harmonious with the overall page.
And because they chose the same blue box as the header on the search results pages, the links to other search types (Web, Images, etc.) are white. That's a bit disorienting to me. It doesn't feel right.
2. The "Next" button. It's more difficult to navigate the search results pages than it should be because MSN's "Next" button is just a simple text link, tucked away in the bottom right-hand corner. It should be more prominent and easier to click.
3. The Search Results link color. The blue they've chosen is a bit hard to read, I think.
4. The Search Results font size. Too. Damn. Big. And I never thought I'd say this, but the sponsored link font size is too small. I'm betting MSN would see a higher clickthrough rate on their PPC ads if the font size there matched the font size of the natural results.
5. Search Relevancy. I don't why other industry watchers are saying that MSN's new search results seem just as relevant as Google's. I disagree. Maybe I'm just too accustomed to what Google tells me is relevant, but in some limited tests, I've found that MSN's relevancy is considerably lower than Google's and even Yahoo's.
Despite my critiques, I'm actually impressed by MSN's new search engine. I'm sure Microsoft will continue improving it as time goes by. And who knows, maybe MSN's introduction of the Search Builder will help spur Google to jazz up its aging interface as well!
Monday, January 17, 2005
Different rumors and pre-announcements are leaking onto various forums. And news reports speak of a "growing proportion" of MSN Search users being defaulted to the beta of the "new MSN Search," which many of us enthusiasts have been using for awhile now.
Sources inside the company confirm that the full switchover will take place tomorrow, with "90-95%" of users soon being taken to the new search, with 100% not long off.
Unsurprisingly, word has it that Microsoft has tested various configurations with a view to revenue maximization. But more importantly, it's fairly obvious (according to observers who have looked at things like job postings) that Microsoft's pay-per-click results, currently served by Overture, will simply be taken in-house.
But what might happen in the interim? I'd guess that Microsoft will keep the page relatively uncluttered this year and even deliberately take a hit on revenues from PPC, since a big share of those revenues would be going to competitor Yahoo, which owns Overture. Indeed, I'd expect Microsoft to keep a pretty clean search results page for some time to come in a bid to grab market share from chief rivals Google and Yahoo.
Neowin.net offers up some scuttlebut about future vesions of Firefox:
Now that Firefox is firmly establishing itself in the browser market (download graph), we can look forward to subsequent milestone releases by the Mozilla Foundation. Firefox 1.1 (Dubbed "Deer Park") is slated for release in March of this year, and will be the end result of the post 1.0 "Aviary Branch - Trunk" merge. Mozilla also plans to release 2 additional milestone builds of Firefox before 2006. (With Fx 1.5 "The Ocho", and "Firefox 2" being released near year end).
On a related note, Firefox keeps popping up in major media sources left and right these days. The latest is BusinessWeek, with an analysis piece called "Mozilla Is Gaining on Godzilla." Heh, cute!
... analysts say Firefox could have an outsize impact on the Net's future. If Mozilla and the other non-Microsoft browser outfits hold their own or gain share, the 15% of Web sites that aren't completely compatible with non-Microsoft browsers will come under pressure to design their sites to open Net standards. That way, Microsoft won't be able to control how content is presented on the Web.
It would also create opportunities for competitors to sell rival Net software -— since Microsoft wouldn't be able to take advantage of the links between Windows and its Net programs. "We're not out to get Microsoft," says Mozilla Foundation President Mitchell Baker. "Our goal is to offer people a better experience so the Web remains open, and people actually have a choice."
For any major portal-like entity to guarantee continued access to consumers' daily information consumption patterns, they'll have to worry about the potential to be blocked by various telecommunications and broadcast monopolies around the world. I've firmly believed this for some time.
Did you know, for example, that Microsoft has stakes in cable companies all around the world? That story has been mostly, er, buried for the past six years or so. Once in awhile, you hear about Microsoft and TV, but probably not nearly as often as warranted.
There are a lot of permutations to work out in any attempt to project who'll wind up gaining an unfair foothold in the future digital lifestyle. Regulatory issues, business partnerships, and the patterns of huge capital investments need to be examined.
Not real surprising, then, that a company like Google has calculated these permutations and realized that they'll need to become something akin to a telco if they want us to be still Googling happily along in 2010.
On a related note: maybe AOL and those proprietary BBS guys from the 1980's were onto something. Private subscription services (in a much more sophisticated form) seem likely to make a comeback in a few years, but again, determining the patterns (and whether to call it wireless media, television, Internet, satellite lifestyle management, or what) is best left to those who make their living building these systems. It certainly won't be the "Internet with training wheels." Quite the opposite.
When Google's now-ubiquitous text-link advertising program debuted in 2003, it was widely praised as the ultimate advertising solution for highly trafficked sites that were hard to monetize, especially blogs.
It was the best of both worlds. And it worked pretty well for a while.
But cracks are starting to show in the AdSense facade because of:
1. Fickle interest in Google's uneven AdWords content targeting, which provides the source of the text ads, as well as the risk of PPC fraud that is causing many AdWords advertisers to shut off content targeting
2. The combination of lower clickthrough rates and fluctuating equivalent CPMs
3. Expanded options for publishers that didn't exist or weren't mature when AdSense arrived.
Then there are the questions of accountability on Google's part. How do you know that you're getting full credit for your clicks? How do you know that unscrupulous publishers aren't committing PPC fraud on your ads?
I don't have a full body of evidence to support this suspicion yet, but the signs are growing.
Many publishers are concluding that the risk of AdSense isn't worth it and realizing they can operate their own text-link advertising programs and generate far more revenue per month than with AdSense.
Then there are the many affiliate options (oh, the horror!). For popular blog sites, there's also the burgeoning BlogAds network. It's as easy to operate as AdSense and much more targeted and lucrative than AdSense. Another one to bear watching is RSSAds, which hasn't launched its service yet, but promises to allow publishers to monetize their RSS feeds. It's sort of an AdSense for RSS feeds.
Maybe Google's looking at something similar on their own. They'd be silly not to. Given Google's stated mission of blanketing online content with content-targeted ads, you can bet they will be watching that outfit closely.
It's too soon to tell if these factors will seriously threaten AdSense, but Google must surely be concerned. But even if Google can solve these problems, the concept itself still might not be the right solution.
For sites with a loyal following of repeat visitors, AdSense proves less useful to them over time, especially if the ads are essentially unchanged for long periods of time. Visitors will simply tune the ads out if they get too familiar with them.
All of this leads me to believe that AdSense is not long for the world -- unless Google makes major changes that restore the perception early on that AdSense was worth it for publishers. Here are some things Google can do:
1. Increase the revenue share to publishers
2. Provide more accountability so publishers know if they're getting the value they need
3. Provide more transparency and allow publishers to more easily "hack" AdSense to their advantage
4. Offer more customization options for the ad creative, such as randomizing the order or putting limits on how many times an ad can appear
5. For advertisers, make it even more compelling to choose content targeting. AdSense doesn't work unless there is a large enough stable of ads to display.
I'm not ready to write AdSense's obituary just yet. I'm confident that Google will acknowledge these risks and take steps to rectify them before too many publishers flee.
Friday, January 14, 2005
Link here. OK, so Microsoft will drop the "Home" and "Pro" labels with the next version of Windows, because they are "not descriptive" enough. Huh? Sounds pretty clear to me, even though I still don't understand why the Home version won't network with other Home editions.
They won't discuss the official name of the next OS yet, although the conventional wisdowm says Windows 2006. Boy, does that sure sound futuristic. I guess the next version after this will be Windows 2010: The Year We Make Contact. Cue ominous startup music!
Microsoft also might integrate the Tablet PC and Media Center versions of Windows into the main version of Windows. Say what? With Longhorn already at least a year late, they're thinking about doing something differently? I'd say it's way past time for that, considering the first beta release is only months away.
I'm not in any particular rush to get my grubby paws on the next Windows, but it sure would be nice to know what to expect, like airtight security?
No, not to make sure that ads are better-written. Rather, to debate at length whether the tenor of the editorial standards is 'prescriptivist', or some such thing.
Here's what I think. (I know you were expecting this "here's what I think" part. But I did fool you somewhat by not writing about the seven other much more important bit of search industry news from the past couple days.)
We're running out of establishment figures to rail against. Take Bush. I mean, we really needed that guy in office. Without him, would we, the Jon Stewarts of the world, have any function whatsoever? Clinton was cooler than us, and that just won't do, at least for our self-image.
Now what about this What Not to Wear show? Brilliant. In real life, of course, no one could give two hoots what you wear. A couple of weeks ago, I went to meet an industry colleague in preparation for a meeting with a client. He was in a suit and tie, I in a sweater looking like a slob; it was the first time we'd met, so I felt both silly and resentful. "Man, I really should have picked up my dry cleaning." And then, "I mean does this guy not get it? We're changing the world here, not wearing ties. I'll bet he collects cuff links."
Then I went to meet him and the client, on the client's premises. This time I showed up wearing a nice suit (no tie though) and a flashy overcoat I'm still not sold on. This time, my colleague was in something like a sweatshirt. Also, he was slouching the whole time. None of this mattered. It appears that when it comes to how you dress or how you sit, you might as well flip a coin.
This surely must be shattering to the fashion industry's pocketbook, and to the self-image of those who always dress for success. What Not to Wear is an important bit of fiction. Those who play along with the show's premise and believe that image is everything get their ego stroked; meanwhile, those who feel like they disagree with the whole thing can snicker up their outdated sleeves about the whole thing being "prescriptivist." Perfect! Both the establishment and the 99.5% of the planet who believe they're anti-establishment get what they need.
So back to Google, and their editorial rules for advertising that appear to err on the side of "old-fashioned" English. Google's like that clever cousin who's either just a bit too cool for their own good (making Establishment Gramps feel comfortable as he weaves tales of hubris) or just a bit too uptight for the 'rest of us.' Overeducated hawkers of thongs can rest secure in the knowledge that they would use the edgy construction of "them" -- em, to be exact -- if only "they" (or as I like to say, "ayy") would allow it.
Google's your uncool cousin. It's like the government young people would rail against, if the act of even bothering to rail against the government weren't proof that you bought into the very importance of all that.
They're like a government you wouldn't bother to overthrow (because you'd be too cool to bother). But instead would lightly critique in a Times article that only lightly plugs your lacy thongs, which you sell on the side. Down with The Guvernment! In a detached, please-buy-my-stuff-and-be-titillated-by-my-tale sort of way.
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
The second annual AD:TECH study (questions asked of attendees of fall Ad:Tech, sent in Dec. 2004) offers a good sense of what marketers are finding on the ground, and what they're expecting for the new year.
The leading marketing method for online marketers -- 45% of respondents said it works "great" -- is emailing a house list. Hot on its heels, though, with 41%, is paid search.
All email didn't fare that well, of course. Emailing a rented list and email newsletter ads were right at the bottom, with only 12% and 13%, respectively, saying they work "great."
Marketers are all talking about, and budgeting for, the same things, it seems. Leading the way in the "will increase budget" category is complete website revamps, with 32% of respondents believing that their companies will get moving on long-overdue overhauls this year. 24% stated that search engine marketing was slated for a significant increase. 20% had something less drastic than massive site overhauls in mind -- they believed their companies would budget more for "custom landing pages" in '05.
Respondents also felt like they'd be measuring and optimizing better with the help of sophisticated analytics and bid management tools. With over half of respondents planning to make better use of these tools, it looks like market demand for them is actually slightly ahead of the tool vendors' capacity to release all the features everyone wants.
All in all, marketers are keenly aware that there is much to do this year to ensure that their companies are reaching prospects in as efficient a manner as possible (without burning the permission they've fought so hard to earn.) Related software and service vendors couldn't be happier.
Monday, January 10, 2005
The SMA, a new search marketing industry association, already underway internationally, starts a North American chapter.
Big developments in the blog world seem to happen every day. To wit:
Many in the technology community know who Dan Gillmor is. If you don't, he is the now-former tech columnist at the San Jose Mercury News who actually, willingly resigned his prestigious and well-paying gig as one of the leading tech journalists in the world to... start a blog.
Say what? Well, surely it's because he's got dollar signs in his eyes.
Nope. Gillmor's got ambitious goals beyond simply making money. He wants to help lead or at least assist in the development of this new form of "grassroots journalism." Last July, he wrote a book about this transformation of the old rules of media, called We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People.
His new blog, which launched last week, is similarly called Dan Gillmor on Grassroots Journalism, Etc. Don't have much to say about it yet, because I just discovered it today, but suffice it to say that Dan's blog is now part of my RSS reading list powered by Sage, syndicated in Firefox.
If you need any more evidence that this new era is rapidly upon us, consider the Asian tsunami disaster. Business 2.0 columnist Om Malik rightly points out that the disaster's first news was reported not by CNN, but by average folks with camera phones and mobile blogging capability. He believes that this decade will reinvent news in much the same way that cable news defined the 1990s and network news took flight in the 1960s.
With all the attention bloggers are garnering, it's clear that the revolution has officially been bloggerized.
Saturday, January 08, 2005
There's now the expected chatter going around that Google's new affiliate advertiser policy has "holes" in it. I certainly raised the issue when I talked with Google's Salar Kamangar about the new policy last week. Anyone who uses the AdWords interface is aware that one could theoretically display a false display URL coupled with a redirect, or something, to get around Google's policy. I'm sure one could come up with a million little loopholes if one tried.
The point about policies is, though: they all have holes. If you create a new speed limit, unless you have a device that controls the engine of everyone's car, you now need to enforce the policy. (I believe this is Policy Studies 101.) The fact that an editorial policy might have loopholes is a big yawn. Laws against murder have loopholes too!
As with all policies, there are instruments to enforce them, and a quantifiable percentage of cases (no doubt over 95%) will conform to the policy through automated means, and 95% of the remaining violators will be caught through editorial cleanup, leaving perhaps 0.25% of cases unresolved.
Friday, January 07, 2005
Google has finally formally informed advertisers of a long-rumored change to its policy regarding affiliate advertisers. Where multiple ads promoting the same URL are shown for the same search query, Google AdWords will show only one -- the one with the highest AdRank (the combo of clickthrough rate and maximum bid that determines position on the page).
Why the change? Many users had begun to notice multiple ads for companies like eBay. These were largely driven by affiliates who used keyword replace techniques to show their ads as widely as possible.
Clearly, by restricting duplication of these types of ads, the user experience goes up.
But it's not an all-or-nothing change. I experimented a little bit with an Amazon Associates campaign on AdWords this fall, so I feel like I understand what is likely to happen. Instead of my affiliate AdWords campaign (which I had running on a wide variety of products, not altogether successfully, but it was very educational!) simply being "shut down," it will just be cut back a bit. Where no other advertisers are clever or bold enough to appear on a given query, it will be bombs away for my ad. Where multiple ones appear, I'll only get to show my ad if I've bid high (taking a risk) or written particularly compelling copy that pulls a high CTR, or some combination of the two that makes my AdRank #1.
That's what'll happen to all of the affiliates currently playing around with AdWords. No one is going to be shut out completely.
This will certainly make the economics of affiliate advertising tougher. Only a few really good ones will survive, since lowballing at five cents will be harder with the new policy. But that's just how it ought to be. There's no free lunch.
A nice side effect of the new policy is that affiliates will no longer be required to identify themselves with the word "aff" in their ad text. Again, that probably benefits users, since "aff" is ugly to look at. And it helps the more thoughtful and hardworking affiliate advertisers blend into the woodwork rather than being "outed" with an ugly-looking "aff" notation.
Finally, it takes the heat off some parent companies who don't like affiliates competing with them on keywords. Instead of needing to police those affiliates directly, they now have the option of bidding a bit higher, or getting off their duffs and optimizing their ads, or both. Most affiliates won't be able to compete.
For those affiliates who actually build their own websites, this policy change does not affect them at all. It's mostly aimed at the types of advertisers who are playing the "Google Cash" game of sending searchers directly from an AdWords listing right to a parent site, with an affiliate code on the URL.
Thursday, January 06, 2005
The good news: Microsoft is finally doing something about the epidemic of spyware affecting its operating system by releasing a free anti-spyware utility called Microsoft Windows AntiSpyware.
The bad news: It's only free until July 31, when Microsoft will release pricing information for the software. Yoink! You just knew there was a catch, right? Furthermore, they scored a PR bonanza by duping many media outlets into calling it a "free" program. For instance: Microsoft offers free security program - Jan 6, 2005. Argh.
It's simply a joke that Microsoft plans to charge for this program, which wouldn't exist in the first place if Microsoft would actually build a secure operating system. At least Microsoft could take the classy step of donating all profits from their ill-gotten gains to the tsunami victims or perhaps offer a rebate toward the next version of Windows as an apology for forcing us to endure this unnecessary headache. It's time Microsoft stop paying lip-service to consumers and actually do us a favor, for once.
If it sounds enticing despite all this, please resist. Don't use it! Spread the love instead and get Ad-Aware. It's not evil and won't lead to a guilty conscience.
The idiocy doesn't stop there, however. Microsoft has a similar plan for their own anti-virus software, which will be out in the next year. Again, they should not make a dime off this thing. Sure, no one will be forced to buy it, but there are millions of consumers who will think that it's the only option.
(via SEW) - Yahoo and Microsoft are collaborating on aspects of a "Digital Home Strategy." According to Dan Rosensweig, Yahoo's COO, "the world is moving from mass media to personal digital media..." He'll get no argument from me.
Is it just me, or is it getting hot in here?
Monday, January 03, 2005
No, I'm not talking about the discontiuned Ford Thunderbird. This Thunderbird is an open source e-mail client developed by Mozilla that just hit version 1.0. Hmm, that reminds me... wasn't there another open source project from Mozilla that recently hit verison 1.0?
I've installed Thunderbird and have just started toying with it. If it's as good as the PCWorld review claims, I just might dump Outlook at the office in favor of Mozilla's latest toy.
Those Mozilla guys really know what they're doing! OK, time for a little prediction on this one. I don't know what kind of marketshare Outlook Express enjoys now, but I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that Thunderbird will capture as much buzz as FireFox has and will rapidly steal marketshare from Outlook Express, say 10% by the end of the year. Anyone have those stats handy?
Sunday, January 02, 2005
Longtime readers of Traffick will have noticed by now that something seems a wee different here... OK, a lot different! We perform a complete overhaul of the Traffick site, including new content, a new design and new architecture. The new site launched on Jan. 2 whilst many of you nursed a hangover.
So what's changed, aside from the new look and feel?
1. Traffick Blog Archives. Now you can easily track down that post from three weeks ago without going insane. A link to the blog archives is now included with every post -- for no extra charge.
2. Streamlined Sitewide Navigation. We've consolidated our navigation options at the top of the page in drop-down menus, and switched to that hip micro-font for our navigation buttons that all the kool kids are using these days. You'll "ooh and ahh" at the semi-transparency of the menu items -- or your money back.
3. More Syndication Options. You're down with RSS right? Then you'll be glad to know that we've expanded our syndication options so you can get Traffick how you want it, when you want it.
4. Return of Haloscan. We tried Blogger's commenting system, but it wasn't flexible enough, so we're back to Haloscan. Feel free to comment early and often, sorta like Ohio in 2004.
5. New Advertising Options. Yep, we've officially sold out. For an un-limited time, our unique brand of internet search enlightenmentTM is for sale to the highest bidder. Assuming our negotiations do not fall apart, we will soon be having an editorial change of heart about Microsoft. (Hey Bill! 'sup Steve?)
6. New Internal Site Search. We've dumped Atomz in favor of Google for our site search box, which is accessible under our navigation bar at top. You can also search the web from Traffick with that same box. Of course, we get a little tiny cut of the action when you click on the sponsored links on the Traffick-branded search results pages. Just sayin'.
There you have it. We hope you like our new appearance. As always, let us know what you think.
If you're a FireFox user looking for a simple yet elegant RSS newsreader that integrates into the Mozilla browser, look no further. Sage fits the bill nicely. Sage is an RSS newsreader extension that adds an RSS sidebar to FireFox, and enables you to get news and blog updates in a non-obtrusive window while you browse.
For many people, a browser-based RSS aggregator is superior to one that integrates into e-mail clients or standalone applications. It just feels right to get your newsfeeds while you browse, rather than firing up your e-mail or a separate program.
For Internet Explorer, Pluck is a similar solution, but I found it to be buggy and sluggish (sluggy?). Future versions will probably increase its stability and functionality, but for now, it's a dealbreaker for me.
The major features of Sage include:
Reads RSS (2.0, 1.0, 0.9x) and Atom feeds
Integrates with Firefox's bookmark storage and Live Bookmarks
Imports and exports OPML feed lists
Newspaper feed rendering customizable via style sheets
Technorati and RSS search engine integration
Multiple language support
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