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Friday, September 30, 2005

Selling Billboard Space... Thru Craigslist? On the Inefficiency of Media Buying

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.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Google House Ads, cont'd

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.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Selling Their Own Dog Food

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.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The CEO Did It: Butler Gets Axed

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. :)

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Monday, September 26, 2005

Shocking Confessions of a Former IE Developer!

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.

Posted by Cory | | | Permalink

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Home Pages Powered by Ajax Tech Making a Splash

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.

The latest are Netvibes and Protopage, both of which offer next-gen functionality using Ajax (asynchronous JavaScript and XML), a combination of technologies driving Web 2.0.

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.

Posted by Cory | | | Permalink

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Choppers! Er, Convergence!

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"?

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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MSN Portal May Hold Keys to Microsoft's Future

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.

Posted by Cory | | | Permalink

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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Book Contest

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?

HARDER QUESTIONS:

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.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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And for a glowing review of the pioneering 1st ed. of the book, check out this review, by none other than Google's Matt Cutts.


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