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Friday, February 04, 2005

Go, Municipal Wi-Fi, Go ... Sing it With Me

(via B.L. Ochman's blog)

Cory Doctorow reports that an "independent" study slammed the idea of municipal Wi-Fi. Then it was revealed the study was backed by major phone companies. Municipal Wi-Fi not feasible? Depends on who you ask.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Ask Ray About Advertising -- Or Calla Lily Bulbs

My buddy Ray Allen is at it again, quoted in the New York Times article "Web Search Sites See Clicks Add Up to Big Dollars." Early February, with the Masters just a few weeks away. Not a bad time for a little publicity!

Ask Ray Allen, a former ad agency executive who is now the president of American Meadows, a wildflower seed supplier in Williston, Vt. "I used to spend millions of dollars of other people's money on TV, radio and newspapers," Mr. Allen said. He now spends about $300 a day to buy search terms like "wildflower seeds" and "hummingbird garden" from Google and Overture to advertise his own company, reaching a national audience of potential customers. "Never in the history of media," he said, "has a small business been able to have that much reach."

In addition to selling seeds and bulbs, Ray has a wonderful blog, This Week in Wildflowers. This is a guy who gets it.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Thursday, February 03, 2005

More on the AdWords API

One way to look at Google releasing an API for AdWords is that now they've come up to where Overture already was. But hang on a second. I just got off the phone with John Marshall, CEO of right-brained web analytics company ClickTracks. In his view, the AdWords API puts Google in a "strong competitive position" because "everyone can use it."

This just isn't so for the Overture API. The process of partnering with Overture in this regard is reportedly cumbersome and restrictive.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Local Search: Advantage, Google

Starting today, Google has begun making all Google Search users aware of the Google Local offering by putting a link to it on the Google Search homepage, with a red "new" notation. This will lead, in my view, to rapid user uptake of local search; perhaps more rapid than many of us expected.

In the November issue of Page Zero Advisor, I published a jokey "Hypothetical Tell-All Q&A" with an imaginary Googler. Although the tone was lighthearted, the intent was serious. One of the topics I covered with this pretend person was local search. I've reproduced the excerpt below.

(In real life, Google's Sukhinder Singh has been kind enough to discuss the future of Google Local with me, though of course leaving out many specifics. Like a number of other Google execs, she quietly occupies one of the most influential positions in any business of any type.)

--

Q. Google Local. That's going to be a go-slow thing like Froogle, isn't it?

A. Incorrect. Google Local is a top priority for 2005. In fact, you can already see how good it's getting. Check it out at http://local.google.com - or http://local.google.ca for Canada.

Q. But how can I make money with it?

A. Let's say you run a beauty salon in Minneapolis. The first thing you could be doing is targeting by IP (using AdWords, bidding on terms like "hair salon," and enabling those ads only for surfers who are near Minneapolis). Not many local businesses have figured this one out yet, but all you need is to use a regular AdWords account and to go into the settings to set up a campaign as a regional one. But more importantly, if you do a search for "hair salons" in "Minneapolis, MN" at Google Local proper (at http://local.google.com), you'll see quite an interesting thing taking place there... listings of local salons. Notice the handy maps to local establishments.

Q. Riiighht... but how do I pay to get on there?

A. Good question. Right now you can see that we are showing AdSense-style matching ads on the local search results pages (let us be the first to coin these: LSRP's - catchy huh?), and some "main" listings that are not costing the listed businesses a dime. We're using an algorithm to rank businesses in terms of relevance to the query, but we'll continue to test the manner in which we do that. As you can see, right now, one of the top sites listed on your example query "hair salon" for "Minneapolis, MN" is VIP Hair and Nail Salon. (This may jockey around.) Notice below the listing is "references:" -- it shows that the site is recommended on a site called afrohair.com. Clearly, we are sticking by the premise behind PageRank, that links matter, but we may be testing a lot of advanced ways of making this work to the best advantage of the searcher. Another thing which you may or may not see on that page of -- we just love to type this -- LSRP's, is a breakdown that says "show only: barbers / salons." You may not see this, and it isn't working perfectly. But rest assured we don't want the search tool to be stupid. It won't be just dumb keyword matching. You might be given category choices and so forth.

So as for additional ways to pay for better exposure, we certainly respect the effort those crusty old yellow pages companies have put in over the years in terms of giving advertisers the opportunity for enhanced listings. We'll be testing various formats. We left some room over on the right-hand side of the page for more ads. Frankly it would really help us out if people would upgrade to 21" monitors.

Q. So does Google plan to crush all comers in the Local Search arena, or will you coexist politely with others?

A. Bingo! We're only human here at Google, and we want to see healthy competition as much as Bill Gates likes Apple to be around making the world a nicer place. We think some of our competitors are as cute and cuddly as Apple, we really do. But sadly, it's market trends that will crush some of our competitors. We just build cool products and hope people use them. We cannot help it if certain companies, like crusty old yellow pages companies, have about 100 years too much experience in this business, which makes them incapable of putting together cool online applications that people love. To be sure, we may partner with certain local listings companies in order to get a head start on this stuff in various international markets, but similar to Microsoft, it's probably along the lines of a "study, embrace, extend, take 20% stake in, study some more, then crush" type strategy. So if you meet us at certain trade shows over coffee, we're not about to say "we really think our competitors suck," but that's what we're thinking. We're pretty sure that they disagree. They think they don't suck. Vive la différence. Roughly translated, that means "see you at the next Kelsey Group conference, old chum!"

Q. So does Yahoo suck, and will you crush them?

A. Nah... they're OK. In some ways they're way ahead of us. We do chuckle at how Yahoo sold all those Google shares about $40 ago, though. Psyched themselves out!

Q. But will users use Google Local? How will you get them to take the initiative to find it?

A. Do chickens cluck? Does Tony Soprano say "fugeddaboudit?" Do users use Google? Fugeddaboutit! We figure the alternative is hunting around the house for the phone book, so we're not too worried. But we will continue to make people aware of it by incorporating some local results into regular Google Search Results Pages (GSRP's) where appropriate. In this way, people will be reminded that Google Local exists. Longer term, the Google experience will be personalized -- more like a portal -- so those local results will be popping up a lot because we'll know who you are. Hmm, now you've really got us worried about Yahoo. That's pretty much what they want to do, too. Which is why -- let's get back to our main point above -- "Google Local is a top priority for 2005." Maybe Goodman's right. Maybe we should start designing the logo for that blimp.

Q. ClickZ says that Jupiter analysts say that national advertisers will dominate local search for the next year or two, while mom and pop local businesses will be very slow to adopt or reap any sort of benefit. True or false?

A. That's because Mom and Pop - hey, even a profitable chain of dental clinics - don't pay Jupiter analysts. Jupiter analysts' comments are directed at their big clients, and should be taken for what they're worth. Fugeddaboutit. We will concede, however, that larger trends threaten some local businesses. But they always have. Search may indeed accelerate the demise of some local businesses, while improving the lot of others.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Google's $4 billion afterthought

Google's quarterly reports continue to amaze. The company brought in $1.03 billion in revenues in the fourth quarter; net income was $204 million.

The pay-per-click version of Adwords will be three years old this month. In the humble beginning, the CPM-based version of AdWords received only lukewarm reception and did not earn much. Until relatively recently it was assumed that Google would maybe earn 25% of its revenues from ads; that it would seek out revenues in enterprise search, or some other clever techie stuff that folks would pay for. You got the sense in the early days (2000-2001) that Google figured they could buy time and pay for a few servers and staff with the ad revenue, and that's about it. Maybe they even dreamt of an IPO that would "get them out of that mess" eventually, if (let's say) licensing revenue dropped off. Lo and behold though, turned out those ads (served on the foundation of a favorite search destination) built a real company that didn't need Yahoo's largesse or an IPO to "bail it out"!

As every Wall Street analyst and business reporter now knows, PPC ads have proved so amazingly successful that Google continues to earn 97+% of its revenues from advertising.

Imagine what a powerhouse they'll be if they can take over two or three other lucrative lines of business. I always wondered when we'd stop hearing about Microsoft's big "war chest" and start hearing the business world taking Google seriously. Not just as a clever search engine or a neat little cash cow, but as an elephant that will rock the world, one with virtually limitless cash flow to fund its grand experiments. Is that day today? With the rising fortunes of the likes of Google, Firefox, and Apple, it's hard not to see a few serious cracks in the Microsoft armor.

Now that I'm finished patting Google on the back, though... I wonder if they'd consider some new ways to thank their advertisers. For starters, they might say "thanks, advertisers."

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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MSN Portal Update Doesn't Cut the Mustard

Microsoft has finally released their homegrown search engine to all users of MSN today. It appears to be the very same thing that's been in beta for months. In addition, we also get a revamped MSN.com portal that does away with MSN's traditional focus on links, links and more links.

There's even a corny letter from "Bill Gates" prominently featured on the home page in which Bill introduces you to the new MSN. He even signed it! Wow, he must really care!

Predictably, MSN's new focus is on search. The keyword box with obligatory search tabs is now emblazoned across the top of MSN now in a space that occupies much of the top of the page. While I applaud Microsoft for focusing on search and kicking their bad habit of link assault, I find the new MSN interface to be lacking. Last week I reviewed the new MSN search and found that while it too was better than its previous iteration, it still lacked the oomph needed to steal my loyalty from Yahoo and Google.

MSN seems to change its spots so often as to be untrustworthy in my book. Compare that to Yahoo's steady user-friendliness and Google's ardent focus on the user's needs, and the new MSN just comes out flat.

Posted by Cory | | | Permalink

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Sunday, January 30, 2005

This Free Office Suite Has Come a Long Way, Baby

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.

Posted by Cory | | | Permalink

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