Friday, September 30, 2005
As we know, the paid search auction has been the great shining tangible example of how inefficient markets can be quickly rationalized through an online auction scenario. Overture and AdWords foreshadow a revolution in media buying globally.
One example is physical billboards, many of which could be changed to all-digital (admittedly more costly) formats, which could be activated and controlled via online platforms open to advertisers and managed by a broker.
I mean just imagine how inefficient this must be - a company trying to sell remnant billboard space through Craigslist.
Someone will buy, and money will change hands. But when you look at the potential for larger and mid-sized advertisers to incorporate offline media buys into an integrated bidding platform, the potential efficiencies -- and benefits to the sellers of ads -- are staggering. On efficient pricing alone, a widespread auction with many participants would leapfrog over an old economy method where someone tries to sell a remnant ad unit, sets an arbitrary price at $550/mo., and winds up haggling and wasting time, eventually selling it for less than it's worth.
To extend the argument a bit farther, there are a lot of other goods and services that are being bought and sold "online," (scare quotes added for emphasis) that really are still changing hands in an outmoded way. As fun and lively as Craigslist is, it's a pretty primitive technology; a version of a flat classified section in a print publication, or the "swap shop" shows on public access cable.
Quite a bit of office space changes hands on Craigslist -- all the high-touch stuff involving sublets and workspace sharing that sometimes seem like half business transaction, and half personal ad. But outside of those odds and ends, a massive trade in office leasing is still highly chaotic, with disparate brokers and such mocking up different listings sites to generate leads. Here, imagine the headaches landlords could save by participating in a more rational lead generation system. What if they had an intelligent way of targeting their best prospects, and vice versa? Maybe you wouldn't see those big ugly FOR LEASE, 555-343-3300 banners on beautiful art deco buildings quite as often.
Buyers and sellers are still having too much trouble finding one another in too many markets. Moreover, the average buyer does not know about the best new platforms for tapping into new-economy models. Someone might tell you about a great way to find a golf buddy or cheaper tee time through a meta-tool or vertical portal that just got released, but how often do we remember to try the tool? Adoption comes slowly, but it comes. Cultural change is very slow in some businesses. Take golf, since I just did. :) How about those online tee time bookers? If you've ever tried one, chances are it's a second-class citizen in how the course actually takes bookings, so they might lose or mess up your reservation. Or, if you look at available tee times online and then immediately phone, often you'll find that more tee times are in fact available than they online system indicated. So... you stop using the online tool. Not only isn't it better, it's actually worse. And $2 off a round as an incentive to use it isn't enough. Online, you expect to achieve more dramatic savings (even if it's finding a cheaper available round at a nearby course).
We've come a long way, baby... but there's still a long way to go.
Thursday, September 29, 2005
A clarification on my previous post about house ads run by Google on publisher websites, as part of the AdSense creative. Yes, Google confirms, it pays for the ads and enters the auction independently, so publishers are paid for those ads.
A similar confirmation (from the Google rep who posts on Search Engine Watch Forums) was received recently as a result of a forum discussion about the same issue as it relates to the ads on the search side. There, too, Google runs its own AdWords campaigns and participates in the auction like everyone else.
In that debate, it didn't seem that forum posters were entirely satisfied with that response. Everyone has had the challenging experience of bidding against a deep-pocketed competitor such as Dell, Microsoft or Yahoo. It can be particularly disheartening when that competitor is actually Google, the one running the ad auction.
Admittedly this is not as much of an issue on the AdSense side because there is no expectations on the part of the advertiser that they will show up in any given ad creative in a more or less visible position, and the bidding aspect simply works differently (smart pricing, etc.)
Google also wanted to make it clear that its house ads are not to be confused with public service announcements which run from time to time on pages where no good ad matches apply. Publishers are not paid for PSA's. Publishers can override the PSA's, should they desire, by choosing the "alternate URL" feature.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
In the past, advertisers have worried that Google "house" ads compete for space with those who are advertising on SERP's for fairly granular search queries, such as "flight tracker."
Now it appears Google's stepped up their inclusion of house ads in Adsense creative units. I wonder if publishers get paid for these clicks? One assumes so, but is this kind of showboating really necessary from the company that is brokering the ads? Do ad brokers traditionally run their own ads above those who are actually funding the whole business, i.e. the advertisers' ads?
The example pictured to the left appeared on the home page of DMNews.com.
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
So Diller will indeed ask his butler, Jeeves, to find new employment. We speculated about this earlier in the month, and now have a partial answer to the "what will happen with Ask Jeeves" question. We still don't know what the rebranding of Ask.com will look like, if anything.
So far, no indication whatsoever that they intend to change the name of the whole thing to Excite. :)
Monday, September 26, 2005
A former lead interface developer of Internet Explorer posts a fascinating confession about "Why I switched to Firefox," in which he admits his allegiance to Firefox. Coming from one of the guys who helped create IE, this is a pretty big time endorsement.
The developer is Scott Berkun. He helped design the interface for IE 1.0 (did anyone actually use this?) and stayed through the launch of 5.0. Thus, I'd say his comments carry a certain weight. He hasn't worked on IE since 1999, when he switched to the Windows group, and Berkun left the evil empire altogether in 2003.
Currently, he's a consultant and the author of an acclaimed book, The Art of Project Management.
Berkun's reasons for loving Firefox are familiar to the rest of us Firefox fans: it looks better, it feels better and it works better. Thanks for coming clean, Scott. That feels better now, doesn't it? Thanks for joining us! :)
(And speaking of Firefox, in case you're the adventurous type, the 1.5 beta is out. Myself, I think I'll wait until at least beta 2. All the warnings about installing this beta have me sufficiently spooked. But go right ahead and download it if you like; don't let me stop you!)
On a related note, Berkun published an excellent essay in December titled, "How to build a better browser." Berkun obviously knows his stuff, so if you want to see what a real browser developer would build if he could, check it out.
Lately, it seems as if the personalized home page space has been exploding after a year or so of dormancy. The last real action I recall was when My Yahoo relaunched with a beefed-up interface and full RSS feed compatibility.
In the past few months, we've seen a trickle of new offerings, from the promising MSN Start.com to the not-so-impressive Google offering. That trickle has rapidly become a flood, with the recent debuts of two impressive newcomers.
Netvibes is Start.com done right. The functionality is very similar: add and manage RSS web feeds without reloading the browser; drag and drop content modules; built-in modules for weather and web search; read web feeds natively inside the interface without leaving the page.
The big differences between Netvibes and Start.com? Netvibes integrates with Gmail, and the interface at Netvibes is far more slicker. So, advantage: Netvibes. We'll keep watching this one to see if it indeed warrants being your home page.
Protopage is a bit of a different animal. It has a much more flexible interface where the color scheme and background styles are totally customizable. But, while it is promising, its Achilles' heel is its lack of RSS feed integration. Its developers promise feeds in the next iteration, and when that happens, Protopage could likely take the lead in this emerging area.
Methinks Yahoo has some serious work to do if it wants to be the page that is returned when I click that "Home" icon.
Tim O'Reilly observes both good and bad in Yahoo management's musings about the future of Yahoo and television. Reading between the lines, though (scroll to where he calls a statement "short-sighted"), you get the feeling that O'Reilly is echoing the still-relevant concerns of the Cluetrainers... to quote them roughly, the problem is that Yahoo management feels it can pipe-weld the Web onto the back-end of television history.
Judging by what we've seen so far, it's early yet to be getting too excited about Yahoo's progress on this front. Given their size and high profile, you might think they'd be farther along than they are. Compare the two major satellite radio networks, which have arrived at lightning speed (albeit with reckless business plans -- a luxury when you're a standalone business that investors understand is a gamble).
Both Yahoo and Google, for now, will be better off coming up with localized, modestly innovative ways to approach the future of broadband and video. Longer term, this could mean huge changes, but it seems early yet to be putting too much stock in it, unless either one makes a sizeable investment in a traditional media powerhouse, etc.
Recently someone came across a Google job notice for someone to work on an ambitious "Google TV" project.
So what will it be? Something completely different? Or a continued effort to claim the Internet is just another place to overcharge big-budget advertisers for "branding"?
Although some Microsoft insiders predicted the rise of the web as the operating system (aka Web 2.0) way back in 1995, perhaps only now is Microsoft understanding how this tectonic shift could affect its lucrative Windows division.
Last week's announcement that Microsoft would reorganize by combining MSN with Windows is a clear indicator that MS is starting to turn the battleship around to fend off Google's encroachment onto its turf. The fact that Microsoft is also opening up the APIs to MSN Search to software developers is another strong signal. It seems MSN will once again undergo a major strategy shift, perhaps for the fifth time.
Although, they haven't come out and said it, Microsoft's worst nightmare is coming true, and Google is its name-o. Web technology has come so far that the actual operating system on the client side is not as important as the OS was in the non-networked world.
In response to CNET's "nightmare" article, Richard MacManus of the excellent Read/Write Web blog posts, "MSN vs WebMachine." Basically, he says, the webmachine is the network computer evangelized by Larry Ellison of Oracle, and the arrival of Web 2.0 has almost made the underlying operating system irrelevant because now the "network is the computer," as famously predicted by Sun's Scott McNealy years ago.
I don't know if buy into the hype yet that says Microsoft will be dethroned by Google, but wouldn't it be poetic justice to see the "evil empire" undone by the company that says, "don't be evil"?
It almost seems fitting that all of Microsoft's efforts to resist open standards in favor of proprietary short-term gains could very well be its undoing.
Sunday, September 25, 2005
I’d like to offer you a chance to win a free copy of my new book, Winning Results with Google AdWords. All you have to do to play is participate in this fun quiz. Hint: some answers are general knowledge and can be found with the help of a search engine.
Repeat: Answer a few silly questions, and you have a good chance of having your name pulled out of a hat for a free copy of the book.
Answer #8, and you have a very good chance of earning a bonus gift! (Unlikely though.)
EASY QUESTIONS (general search oughta do it):
1. Before it was called Google, what did Page and Brin call the prototype of their search engine?
2. A British fashion site spent far more on launch parties, site design, and marketing than it could possibly have expected to recoup in sales. Bankruptcy came next. What was the name of the site? (Hint: not hiss.com.)
3. “I kiss you” was the slogan of what amorous Turkish web celeb?
4. Co-founder of Excite Joe Kraus. Discuss.
5. What did Nick Denton do before Gawker Media? What about before that? Have you ever met Nick Denton? Have I?
6. (Search recent Traffick.com posts): What might a clever expression be for “The original incarnation of Business 2.0 Magazine”?
7. Danny Sullivan and Google’s former head chef have what in common?
BONUS (even harder) QUESTION:
8. Abba and Research in Motion have what in common? (you’re allowed to miss this one)
Now how exactly will the winners be determined?
We’ll use a proprietary scoring algorithm that includes the following factors: accuracy; rightness; randomness; obsequiousness; timeliness. We can’t reveal the exact formula. But at the end of it all, the two (or three, depending on user testing) best answers will get a lovely high-quality book.
One additional bonus prize will be awarded if anyone gets (what our algorithm deems to be) an A+ result.
Shoot me your best try at my GMail account [username is agoodman] or use the contact form.
Saturday, September 24, 2005
London, Ontario's own answer to Scarlett Johansen.
God, I love Flickr.
I just linked it to my Yahoo! account, to make logging in easier. Cool! Well done Yahoo!!
("Scarlett's" real name appears to be Courtney Webb, a photographer and designer.)
In a review of the upcoming Yahoo Mail restart, CNET serves up two small screenshots of the new interface that should give visitors a good idea of how the new AJAX, desktop-style interface will function.
If you're wondering, it looks damn cool. You really will feel like you're using Outlook or Thunderbird.
CNET says Yahoo Mail simply blows Gmail and Hotmail away, but they wish it would offer RSS web feeds. It certainly would make for a powerful combination if Yahoo had that capability. You wouldn't even need a separate feed reader and webmail service. Since those are two of my most-used featues, I could conveniently centralize most of my browing in one window. Damn, I've been waiting for this for years! Gimme, gimme.
I've heard nasty rumors that Gmail offers Web Clips, its own semi-proprietary way of displaying RSS feeds, but more than six months after their supposed debut, I still don't have them in my Gmail.
Hey Matt, if you're reading this... um, can you hook me up? :)
Google officially released its toolbar for Firefox this week, and if you needed extra reason to install it, there are two Firefox-only goodies in it:
1. Using the "customize toolbar" option, all the toolbar buttons are rearrangeable to any other toolbar in Firefox. Meaning, you can move the PageRank bar in front of the back button if you want.
2. Google Suggest has been integrated into the search box. So, as you type your query, the toolbar will try to guess what you're typing. I wasn't too fond of Suggest when I first tried it, but the more I use it, the more I can see its utility.
There you have it -- two more reasons not to use IE! I'm feeling the love from Google, and I just gotta say: "Right back atcha, big G."
Friday, September 23, 2005
A couple of nice reviews of Winning Results with Google AdWords, one by noted online marketing authority Ralph Wilson and one by the folks at Vertster.
I've watched with interest (OK, I've been secretly thrilled) as John Battelle's The Search has risen high in the Amazon rankings and has now broken onto the WSJ's business bestseller list. The last breakthrough for a search book that really amazed me was when Google Hacks made it onto the NYT paperback business bestseller list.
It wasn't so long ago that Battelle was professing to be excited that his book was ranked 50,000th "even though it wasn't out yet." #86 (where it's ranked as of this writing) is a sight better than 50,000th!!!
Winning Results hasn't yet been reviewed in any major media, nor have I appeared on The Daily Show like my archrival Alan Alda (with his new release Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, which appears to be selling like hotcakes). Yet recently it managed to get up to #66 on Amazon.com and #17 on Amazon.ca. This is pretty good for a trade book. Hmm, maybe my publisher shouldn't have assumed that it was "just a trade book", eh? :)
One advantage of working with a big publisher is that the book is distributed widely around the world. Maybe by next year a translation or two will be in the works? (Little known fact: my original AdWords Handbook was translated and sold in Japan.)
I'm going to consider Battelle to be like a big blocking fullback, knocking down the skepticism of the world at large, and leaving me, the shifty tailback, to trot to daylight just behind him. And please don't tell me I can't celebrate when I score the six points.
The book game is endlessly fascinating. Yep, there's a lot of talk about the Long Tail in books. But the extent to which it's a Winner Take All market is a bit surprising. If you look at Amazon's top (updated hourly) sellers, you'll see established books on the list where new ones should rightly be making most of the noise.
Unless you've got Oprah, Jon Stewart, or an outraged American public on your side (or a lot of direct-marketing chutzpah, ahem), you're going to have trouble breaking through. But it looks like once you do, it gets easier.
It's interesting that The Tipping Point is outselling Gladwell's more recent effort, Blink. Blink's good, but the Tipping Point is great. There's 99% of the reason right there.
And as sad as I am to be trailing Alan Alda in the current standings, it saddens me as much that a mere trade book like mine could outsell great literature like Alice Munro's short stories, if only over a short period of time. I justify it this way: the more people learn about how to make more money with less effort, the more time they'll have to read great literature. Long-term advantage: Munro.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
But speaking of easter eggs, they now have an "example short ad" for new ad campaigns in AdWords:
"Visit the Red Planet in style.
Low-gravity fun for everyone!"
They're a fun bunch of kids.
...when your neighbor's wall is on fire."
This is the English translation of the Latin phrase that's buried as a little easter egg in the "About" box in the new Google Secure Access utility. I just downloaded & installed it.
I'm "using" the service right now, and I'm not in the Bay Area. Not sure exactly why there is a benefit, since I could encrypt my wireless connection if I so chose. But I'm sure all will become clear. On the surface, it looks innocuous, but as with any security system, the headache starts when you actually start looking at all the possible settings... looks like I might need to read a manual...
Either this means Google is working on giving away free wireless Internet access to the masses, and this is a way of ensuring security for those who use it, or as some have speculated, it's similar to Google Web Accelerator. Get a number of people into a beta test, collect data like crazy, and then close the availability of the service.
Little test or big plan? We'll see.
The service, whatever it does for me, is working in my home office, protecting me against snooping from the nice folks next door. Next stop: a coffee shop.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Is the bubble back? Tara Calishain believes it might be, as Ask Jeeves is back to their old tricks, buying radio spots. What do they think they are, Yahoo?
It's not because they're "big Internet marketing execs," though, that they choose "hip and edgy" ads over more informative ones. It's because they use (of all things) an ad agency to come up with the concepts! What message does that send?
Hilarious post, Tara, but I won't be joining you for fried okra anytime soon, OK?
Autoblog (link deliberately omitted) is an excellent blog; have it on my list of feeds. I don't click all the headlines, since I don't care about lawsuits and recalls, but some of the new car info on there is really cool.
So they've started running this contest. They're giving away an iPod Nano plus an FM transmitter to one lucky winner. To enter, you've gotta go on your blog (or start one), and then post links to ten (ten, no less!) posts you liked on Autoblog, with a "few words" about why you liked it (man these guys don't miss a trick). Finally, you're supposed to go back to Autoblog and post a comment on these posts, which will then link back to your blog. (Holy geez what an elaborate link exchange.)
Black hat or gray hat SEO? I like to think of it as "sparkling graphite metallic" SEO, which happens to be a really kickass color available on a BMW 325i. Incidentally, Autoblog is currently ranking pretty well on queries like "BMW 325i". They rank #7, nicely on the first page of SERP's, for this particular query.
No doubt this will work as an SEO tactic, short term. And because it will work, it will contribute to the muddying of the waters for SEO 6-12 months down the road, because the SE's will simply learn to discount these kinds of tactics. And/or everyone will be doing it.
Short term: if you've got nothing to lose (a low-traffic site with few inbound links, or you're just ballsy, like Autoblog), what's stopping you from running a contest like this?
Medium term: if the links really are relevant, then some of the benefit will last. It's actually a clever bit of PR. People need to be incentivized to link, and running a contest is easier (and less demeaning) than calling individuals up and offering them cash.
Long term: the whole SEO game will change and evolve because people are so good at SEO tactics nowadays, the major search scientists & companies will have to get creative.
Hmm, come to think of it, good idea, Autoblog. I think I'll try this. (Are you listening, Mr. Cutts?)
I believe the net beneficiary, in the end, will be Apple. ;)
Rumblings of Google becoming essentially an Internet access provider continue. (Hat-tip Zawodny, GigaOm.)
Of course I'd sign up for something like this in a snap. What's more, I can't wait for Google to up the ante to full-on phone service. This would ideally allow businesses to dump their current high-priced phone setups.
Right now that's happening only with a few early adopters. Vonage et al. just don't do it for me.
Skype, not quite. IM in all its forms: cool but limited.
Basically, what people have to realize is that global communications is about more than teens chatting. It's also about businesses working, and soon, realizing huge savings and significant productivity increases, by entering an IP-enabled environment for voice and video.
Google faces significant challenges as they try to enter this world. Microsoft was rebuffed again and again when they tried to break into the ISP biz, though they now have a diversified portfolio of ownership in this area. Google's known for creating cool products. I hope they understand that the world of global communications is also governed by regulators and the clever chess moves of the largest players. To cross this chasm will require a bold move or two, not merely hacking out the "next version."
Monday, September 19, 2005
If you feel the need for a refresher course on the latest trends in search marketing - especially detailed strategies for paid search - consider attending my seminar, Search Engine Marketing: From High-Level Strategy to Bottom-Line Results, at the Nielsen Norman Group User Experience conferences this fall. (Boston, Sunday, October 23, 2005; London, November 13, 2005.)
It's intended to be a kind of meta-class that takes into account perspectives from a range of top SEM experts. If you're needing to stay current but don't have time for a lengthy SEM-intensive conference, this one-day seminar should fill the bill.
Other fall events of note:
I'll be on a panel talking about search marketing at Toronto Interacts, the local chapter of the Usability Professionals Association, October 6, 2005. And I promise not to get on them about having dynamic URL's with three parameters in them. :)
Looks like another great Digital Marketing Conference put on by the Canadian Marketing Association, October 20, 2005. This time it's at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre with a followup reception at the Steam Whistle Brewery (near SkyDome). One of the keynote speakers is Dan Pink (I'm reading his book right now). Other speakers include Bryan Eisenberg (ditto; rereading actually). Word has it I'll be moderating the search marketing panel.
I'll also be speaking at ad:tech in New York on November 8, 2005. Honestly, as a non-lawyer and a non-exec-for-a-lawyered-up-Fortune-500, I'm a bit of a fish out of water on a trademark panel. I do recall clearly that I was one of the first to discover that you could effectively use "branded" terms as trigger words within a paid search account. Since that day, a curious thing has happened. Many established companies and their lawyers have been hopping mad at this form of advertising that allows a competitor to advertise on what appear to be "their" keywords. Lawsuits have been brought against Google by American Blind and Geico, but Google didn't lose those cases. They did lose judgments in France. The second thing that has happened at the same time as many established experts have cast a dim view on such practices. These guerrilla practices have been widely adopted (much like so-called black-hat SEO, used by many large corporations with the help of leading "safe, sane black hat SEO" firms), including by the agencies headed by said experts. I don't expect a lot of pats on the back for saying so. In the end, the courts will rule on specific cases.
The irony is, Metacrawler was selling ad space near SERP's on a CPM basis, and was willing to sell keywords like "yahoo" and "coca-cola," way back in 1997. (I know because I asked, and got specific price quotes on those words.) There was more tolerance for radical targeting methods back in the heyday of Business 2.0 1.0. Now that we've grown that bubble back just a bit, am I sensing a corresponding, if slight, uptick in tolerance for such creative online ad tactics? It'll be interesting to see what attendees at ad:tech think.
Sunday, September 18, 2005
Word has it that the next version of Yahoo Mail is due any day as a limited public beta. This will be the desktop-style AJAX-flavored upgrade based on Yahoo's purchase of Outpost.
You can even request to be included in the beta, which is estimated to last a few months. Until then, however, Firefox users can get some new dynamic functionality similar to GMail today.
An enterprising Firefox developer has released a new extension that injects nifty new features directly into the current Yahoo Mail. Features include:
* Preview messages without leaving the inbox
* Reply to messages with just one click using "Instant Reply"
* Download attachment with one click
It's unclear how many users will be admitted into the beta program, so if you just have to have new features in Yahoo Mail now, you might want to give this extension a try.
Believe it or not, Firefox 1.0 has been around for less than a year. In that short time, it has gained at least 10% of the browser marketshare and spurred Microsoft to finally bring back Internet Explorer from its innovation stasis.
This fall, the plot will thicken even more with the beta launch of a new kind of browser called Flock. Although it's built on top of Firefox, it's reputed to be more than just Firefox with new buttons and a snazzier skin.
Instead, the company behind Flock is billing it as a "social browser" that integrates directly with next-generation services like web feeds, blogging tools, social bookmarks and photo sharing services. These next-gen features are part of what many observers call "Web 2.0", presumably named after John Batelle's groundbreaking technology conference of the same name, whose goal is to bring together the players who are building this new future.
Flock is getting rave reviews already, and I simply cannot wait to give it a whirl. (If any of you Flockers are reading this, howsabout hooking me up with a copy?)
If Flock has its way, we might not even think of the browser as a browser any more. It would simply be the central application through which we find information and communicate with others using a loose federation of complementary tools and services. These days, it's pretty hard to define what is a web site, web service and web application. They're coming together in logical new ways, which is what web 2.0 is all about.
You get the sense that we are on the heels of a new phase of web innovation. You can feel it every time Google introduces a rule-changing feature like maps, or a startup like Flock comes out of nowhere to catch titans like Microsoft unaware (and make no mistake -- web 2.0 is a serious threat to MS's desktop monopoly).
Thanks to the early pioneers who have built the proofs of concept, software developers are launching new services at a dizzying pace. Perhaps we will at last realize the full internet experience promised by open standards and cross-platform tools, with the browser in the middle of it all; a vision that Microsoft has helped foil due to its anti-competitive, self-serving tactics.
Microsoft isn't sitting on its hind end any more. When IE 7.0 is released next year, it will ship with embedded RSS web feed capabilities and probably a few other new gadgets. I predict RSS will be embraced adopted by the masses in short order, and that's when we will close the door on the old web 1.0 world.
Just don't call it Browser Wars II. No more war analogies, please!
Later on this week, I'll take a look at the underlying technology that is helping make the web 2.0 vision a reality.
Saturday, September 17, 2005
ZDNet has some tantalizing screenshots of the radically improved user interface in the next release of Microsoft Office. Apparently version 12 won't be delivered for a few more years yet, so there's a good chance the new interface isn't locked in.
Still, it's exciting to see MS totally rethink the same old "File | Edit | View" menu nonsense that has infected all Windows applications for the past 20 years.
The new interface will not be as common across Office apps as all current and previous versions were. Instead, they will be task-oriented and specific to each Office app. In other words, the interface for Word will be much more tailored to a word-processing program, and Excel's interface will be geared toward spreadsheet tasks.
Let's hope when Vista is finally delivered next year, it will mark a new era in usable interfaces. Microsoft has a chance to get it right at last and at the same time influence a new generation of apps designed for end users and not software developers.
Friday, September 16, 2005
Chatting with some marketing wonks this week, talk turned to how skilful Google has been at hanging back and creating false starts in various areas, with the hopes of spurring competitors to make the first move. Then they come in when the picture is clearer. Classic Microsoft tactic, but it appears that Google has gotten as good Microsoft at this game. Take Skype; eBay blinked and overpaid for a technology that can be built better (or bought and built) by eBay's competition and a user base that will migrate en masse over to whatever the industry standard becomes. This means Google keeps its powder dry for when it really needs it, and eBay now has this questionable investment to manage and pay for.
Turning to rumors about Microsoft being in talks to buy a stake in AOL: is Google considering making a bid as well? They've raised enough cash to do so comfortably.
It seems highly unlikely, but I wouldn't doubt that they might want Microsoft to think Google is interested. Microsoft has a lot of cash to burn, but still, inducing them to jump in and overpay for AOL (where have we heard this song before?) would have to be a source for some satisfaction at the Googleplex.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
So Google has rolled out Blog Search in beta.
Why it's good:
What we'd like to see:
- Less spam
- Bloggers adhere to conventions so readers know what type of content to expect
- Savvy users can subscribe to a feed that will show a result whenever a new blog entry from anywhere matches a specific search query of your choice; that's different and arguably cooler than subscribing to a single feed (and analogous to various news updater services or Google Alerts)
- For now, no ads! It's like Raging Search (OK, Google Search) all over again!
- Handy search operators such as "link:" are available just as they are on Google Search proper; new operators such as "inpostauthor:" are available
- Jazz things up with blogs recommended that suit your preferences; recommended blog of the week; post of the day; some light visuals (photos)
- BlogRank? Just to drive us all crazy.
- Integrating blog entries as a separate type of listing integrated in main Google Search, as they currently do for things like Google News, Froogle, Desktop Search, weather listings, and other types of results, to add structure to SERP's based on guessing at user intent
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
This is going to be fascinating. Yahoo has jumped into the original content business by hiring journalist Keven Sites to produce "Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone." On this news blog, Sites will chronicle life in "areas of armed conflict" like Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir for one year, with all the tools available to a blogger sitting in a comfy living room or office.
Except this dude will actually be a roving journalist trying to blog in some of the most dangerous places on Earth. Imagine trying to pubish a site in a war zone. We have enough challenges making Traffick work when we're not getting shot at!
Keep an eye on this one. The premise behind "Hot Zone" may seem a bit contrived, but it will surely present some unique citizen journalism.
This is probably just the beginning of a bigger trend where the big news outlets try radical experimients that essentially repackage the news to a friendlier format to appeal to them wired youngins. We're already seeing the beginning of that trend with Brian Williams and other journalists blogging in New Orleans after the hurricane.
It's no secret that the general public -- both liberal and conservative -- have lost trust in mainstream media. I predict that this format will dovetail nicely with the rise of blogs and the fall of the evening news. Maybe Yahoo will emerge as a power player in the media biz after all.
Monday, September 12, 2005
eBay to buy Skype.
For Skype: a much-needed exit strategy, even if much of the deal is performance-based.
For eBay: ????
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Bill, you have got to be kidding us all. The always-excellent Signal vs. Noise blog says that Microsoft has seven versions planned for its next Windows release, Vista (the OS formerly known as Longhorn):
* Windows Vista Starter Edition
* Windows Vista Home Basic Edition
* Windows Vista Home Premium Edition
* Windows Vista Professional Edition
* Windows Vista Small Business Edition
* Windows Vista Enterprise Edition
* Windows Vista Ultimate Edition
If this is indeed the final product lineup, I think MS is due for big trouble. People have a hard enough time deciding if they need XP Home or XP Professional as it is! And even power users won't know what the hell ot choose.
But we are talking about the same company that actually runs ad campaigns calling their customers dinosaurs for using outdated versions of Office.
Friday, September 09, 2005
Putting the pieces of the puzzle together, Om Malik astutely connects Google's recruiting of Internet pioneer Vint Cerf with something Malik dubs "GoogleNet." *If* Google were to offer new communications services such as unlimited free Wi-Fi connectivity, goes the scenario, they'd be able to pinpoint users' exact locations and become an even stronger force in the advertising business.
The flipside of this future vision is that Google currently cannot pinpoint users' locations as often as it would like.
Moving from a simple search engine company to a much more powerful infrastructure player who controls access points is no mean feat. It looks like Google is about halfway along that road.
Thursday, September 08, 2005
It's all well and good to speculate (as I recently did) about whether $1 or $2 is a fair minimum CPM rate for ads near online content.
But it's also interesting to benchmark going CPM rates for search, by calculating the effective CPM rates on keywords that do well in a paid search account (even though the actual payment method is "per click").
Glancing at a recent tracking report for one client, I see that one of our "go-to" keywords has an effective CPM of $77. This just emphasizes the key difference between search and nearly every other type of advertising. The market will continue to push effective CPM rates higher on the most valuable inventory.
Importantly, this inventory isn't deemed valuable by virtue of glowing adjectives or spin. The advertiser makes sufficient money from the ad that the $77 is gladly paid with an easy-to-read ROI report in hand. It's valuable not because the ad is near "trusted content" or a "flagship something-or-other," but because it has real, proven value.
When there are so many publishers now out there willing to take 25 cent CPM's or less for their advertising (in other words, admitting their inventory is virtually worthless), it makes you wonder what some publishers are selling, exactly... and why it's even considered advertising.
Now I must go raise my bid on that "go-to" keyword. We'll gladly pay $85 CPM. I'll keep the CPC confidential, though. :)
In a recent issue of Page Zero Advisor, I argued (in part) as follows on the subject of Google's new Site Targeting version of the content targeting program:
...I think two things have to happen for Site Targeting to work for us (and you): (1) Price drop. Sorry, but I'm getting below $1 CPM's on any of the content campaigns I'm running under the old program, and that's why they work. So $2 minimum means the minimum is at least double what is going to be economically feasible. At least. Many of the publishers currently participating in the program simply don't merit $2 CPM's. A very select few are worth $5, $10, or $50, but they are a tiny minority. Google should do what they did with the paid search program in 2002: listen to reason and get rid of the minimum. Drop it from $2 to something like 10 cents, just to see what happens...
Well, they just dropped the minimum CPM in this particular program from $2 to $1, which is better than a kick in the pants, though rather far from 10 cents. Then again, who ever heard of a ten cent CPM? I must be crazy like a fox to have suggested that.
Site targeting seems to have a ways to go yet as a platform that would fully satisfy advertisers. Mainly, it's about the publishers and how advertisers can gather info on them. As it stands, there is a little tool to help advertisers find appropriate sites to show their ads on. Now all Google needs is a tool to help them sign more quality publishers. :) But seriously, I think the tool is going to have to improve over the next couple of years.
Another thing I want to stress is along the lines of "Google was right." We, the advertisers, are pretty bad at choosing the pages and sites to show our ads on. Part of the problem is the limitations of the process... and the fact that not all the sites we want participate in AdSense and have available inventory. But basically, a "pure" site targeting program is up and running more as a response to advertisers who didn't like the "lack of control" as it is a really workable, effective program in its own right. If it were me, I'd want to combine that control somehow with the (widely-dissed) clever matching technology that governed and still governs the original content targeting program. That matching technology helps me as an advertiser. It helps me (and Google, and publishers) achieve scale.
For many advertisers, the main question isn't whether you have control or whether Google is matching the ad placements to the right AdWords accounts, etc. It's more about (a) transparency and disclosure of publisher info, and most of all (b) price.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Maybe it's an occupational hazard of having a front-row seat as a marketer helping companies test new products with targeted online campaigns, but once you get the hang of how today's consumer mind works, it's painful to observe those who still want to communicate with people (to paraphrase Godin's latest free ebook, Who's There) "like it's 1969."
(BTW, for those keeping score, there's nothing wrong with 1969. In fact it was a high-water mark of sorts, given that humans haven't walked on the moon since. But the fact that it was a good year shouldn't govern the way you think today.)
It doesn't have to be complicated. "Palm rallies on Treo smartphone sales." Give 'em what they want.
It's been less than a month that the story came out about the engineer who modified his Prius to get 250 mpg (using more electricity, to be sure), and the Toyota spin-meisters who want us to think that this kind of tinkering is of interest to only a tiny minority of consumers. (True - we don't want to modify our own engines. We want you to build a better one.)
Top-down marketing (or "constellation" marketing, as Jeffrey J. Fox puts it) gathers all the rational reasons why people want what they want. It revels in focus groups, meetings, production cycles. It tells people what they want. But in Godin's underestimated book Survival is Not Enough, we learn that zooming companies don't plan that way. They get into the marketplace and just find out what customers want, and adapt to that. Then they adapt again.
As a car buyer, there are many things I want, and can't have, just to continue with the automotive example. Why do cars come in so few colors, for example? Why do we have to pay an extra $650 for a color that isn't crappy?
Now that the price of gasoline has shot up 30-40% even from our conversation of three weeks ago, I'm thinking that 250 mpg hybrid would be even more attractive to my wallet. Millions of consumers agree. The reason people aren't buying the 250mpg car is not because they don't want it... it's because they can't get it!
Now from the environmentalist and anti-consumption side of the ledger, you have pundits and puritans asking the whole population to give up their fascination with SUV's. Here again, it isn't going to happen. People know what they want. An SUV is irrational for many. You buy it because you think in your mind it's your ticket to freedom. And there you sit, stuck in gridlock. Granted, it was pretty funny to see the Ford Escape sitting next to me at a dead stop next to me on Lake Shore Blvd. yesterday. But that doesn't mean you don't buy it. Irrational, but you want it. That's how markets work. Amazing that in this day and age, big companies (and the no-logo crowd) try to tell people to be "rational" and to start wanting the stuff they "should" want.
I'm like anyone else. I want both. I want it all. I want the 250 mpg hybrid. I want the 2008, moon-walking, avant-garde concept SUV being planned by Toyota. And I want one in burnt orange and the other in metallic silver with a hint of blue.
The car companies will tell me I really don't want a crazily modified electric car, when actually, I do. Anti-consumers will tell me I'm a freak for wanting a giant truck thing that looks like it could collect moon rocks (when in fact I'd just be acting like an 8-year-old boy, and what's so wrong with that?).
Sure, we can overcome our wants and think better of certain anti-social decisions, or just adjust to whatever is available. But increasingly, consumers will have the power to ignore or circumvent those old limitations. I can listen to a million songs at the touch of a button, and that's not supposed to affect the way I think about other things I want?
The era of mass customization, instant gratification, open communications, and relentless marketplace feedback is upon us. For companies to survive this... well, Seth said it. Survival is not enough.
So what's going to happen? First, the typically comic reaction as large companies hold back the pace of change for their own convenience. And the endless, puritanical, economically incoherent, freedom-hating, missing-the-point diatribes against consumption in anti-consumer mags and such will carry on in their quixotic quest to tell me the metallic silver-blue 2o07 Moon Walker is something I don't really want.
Then, the dams will finally burst. People will start getting what they want. It always happens.
One type of want isn't mutually exclusive to another. Krispy Kreme - got huge fast. Whole Foods Markets - same deal. When it comes to analyzing such trends, why fancy it up? It's called freedom of choice.
In a couple of years, we're going to see something very predictable (it's starting already). People will want both the hybrid and the cool moonwalker thing, so they'll clamor for vehicles that incorporate both. The current crop of hybrid SUV's gets crummy mileage and is far from cool enough to satisfy either urge. You'd be better off with either an old Jeep or an old Honda Civic. (Or walking more.) But eventually, the power of those demands will be enough to force the big automakers, kicking and screaming and five years late, to come out with products that are both incredibly cool and incredibly energy-conscious.
That delay is what interests me now. That holding back aspect. The tragedy and the comedy of these attempts to ignore consumer demands for new products, and then, the opportunity that awaits startups and nimbler companies who simply accept those demands at face value and serve them.
That, in a nutshell, will be the subject of my next book, whose working title is one of:
Demand: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Markets
Peanut Butter that Won't Kill You: Harrowing Tales of Actual Consumer Demand
I guess that's what happens when your first book finally hits the shelves. You start planning the next. I'm looking for a publisher. And maybe an agent. :) But I plan to take a good six months away from writing and another six planning that next project. After all, just ask the folks at Toyota. There's no hurry.
View Posts by Category