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Friday, October 14, 2005

And Then There Were Three: Yahoo! Vies for AOL Stake

Remember Steve Case's famous thought after a meeting with Time Warner execs: "you're going to work for us someday"?

Just in: Yahoo! brings to three the list of portals (all of the top three) vying for a piece of the purported former #1, AOL.

For portal watching people this is something like "coming full circle" - or is it full helix?

Speaking of which - it's Friday night. Don't I have an 80's Hair Band Cover Night to get to, or something?

Somebody's going to work for somebody else, soon. Not that it affects Mr. Case all that much.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Transparency & Crullers

Every five years, I get my passport photo taken. The rule is, you're not allowed to smile. I come off looking like a rather grumpy psycho each time (in this case, a grumpy psycho who was 48 hours to the good side of potentially screwing up a trip to Sweden). So as I sit there preparing for the inevitable digital full-color hatchet job, I want to scream: get that camera away from me! No photos allowed! This, however, would be counterproductive.

It seems that impulse to scream "no photos" at the paparazzi has spread to many misguided souls beyond your major celebs. There is this fascination with image management, and avoiding embarrassing situations, in the corporate world. However, if you look like you're managing your image and chasing away the paparazzi, you come off looking doubly suspicious, so part of image management has to be looking relaxed when the cameras are rolling or hovering nearby. (In the case of my passport photo, this ain't gonna happen. There is nothing like a nearly-expired passport to put you on edge.)

Here's the main thought I want to convey in this post: the "search" metaphor is seeping into all walks of life. And it goes beyond text, of course, to the visual and physical worlds. Tapping into the average person's want or need to know (more precisely, their expectation that they can know) is a growing imperative for any business that wants to maintain credibility. As one far-out example of this general trend, I mentioned (in Winning Results with Google AdWords) the botched coverage of the final round of the Masters golf tournament. Due to a rain delay, the penultimate round concluded for some players in the morning before the final round got going. Tiger Woods reeled off an unprecedented string of birdies to overtake Chris DiMarco that morning, but no one but the patrons at Augusta saw it live. The talking heads at CBS and the Golf Channel tried to spin it by saying it's "impossible to show every hole of every tournament." In so doing (Tiger birdieing seven straight holes down the stretch is pretty much prime time viewing, not "just any hole" in "any tournament"), they came off looking like dinosaurs - and in golf, that's tough to do.

In an age when I can see a closeup of my street (or any street) in seconds using Google Maps, absolutely free, it's going to seem pretty silly if you're on the wrong side of some debate about what consumers can see, know, show, find, etc. It might be awhile before we'll have bootleg full coverage of the tournaments (even minor players' fairway irons) by virtue of "patron-cams," but even that last bastion -- Augusta National -- is eventually going to open up to (or is it fall victim to?) greater visibility.

By next year, using Google Earth, you'll be able to walk alongside John Daly for all 18 holes (including smoke breaks) at the John Deere Chrysler Classic, or watch Woody Austin grimace close-up, as he snaps a putter over his knee. (OK, maybe not next year, but you get the idea.)

Another funny illustration of this theme: some Flickr photo-sharing aficionados are discussing a weird policy that barred visitors to Tim Hortons coffee shop from having cameras! A minor hue and cry ensued that seems to have culminated in a response from management confirming that there is no chainwide policy against taking pictures. I mean what did Tim's have to hide anyway? Can the camera see that one of the eclairs is stale? Was someone having a bad hair day?

"Please, no photos" is going to ring pretty hollow when everyone's outfitted with concealed cameras that not long ago were the stuff of Bond movies. As with any kind of technology and any kind of light being shone in places it wasn't allowed to go before, it's mostly good, but sure, there is also a dark side to privacy invasion and excessive surveillance. But if you're in business, demands for transparency can be persistent, and resisting them can have serious consequences.

A similar experience beset an enthusiast who snapped the photo of the Pop Shoppe display (above left). He countered that he wasn't in the store, he was on the sidewalk. I wonder what the problem could possibly be. Seeing that pic makes me want a bottle of that purple carbonated goop.

These don't-show-my-logo people would have seriously cramped Andy Warhol's style.

There. I made it through that one without using the words "naked" or "buff".

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Nitty-Gritty SEM Workshops, Off-Off-Broadway

In the rush towards agency consolidation, big-buck conferences (checked out the cost of a night at the New York Hilton in the height of tourist season *and* when they know ad:tech is coming? yikes! ok... I won't make you guess... right now it's $485 and up), and buzzwords like "engagement," the small business is too often overlooked when it comes to developing an effective search marketing strategy for the long term.

If your "small" business expects to rake in $100k, $1 mil, or $20 mil in online revenues this year and the year after that, you know that a lot is at stake. But you also know that professional development is something you won't take time out for unless you book the time off, and make a day or two of it.

Jill Whalen is leading a two-day seminar at the Philadelphia Crowne Plaza Valley Forge (King of Prussia, PA), November 3-4. It's focused on the smaller business wanting to "take control" of their web marketing. A few other good friends like Scottie Claiborne, Karon Thackston, Debra Mastaler, Christine Churchill, and Matt Bailey, will also be presenting.

No buzzwords, no fluff, no CEO's of major car companies. Just solid how-to by leading SEM pros who have been doing this stuff for real, for real people, for a long time now. If the ad:tech crowd were really smart and thrifty, they'd stop in for this one before carrying onto the big show in New York. (For one thing, the hotel rooms are priced so even a small biz can afford them.)

For more detail, check out the seminar info page. Readers of Traffick (that's you) will qualify for a further 25% discount by entering TRAFFICK in the registration field where it offers a discount code.

I'm getting no compensation for mentioning the seminar, of course. I just think it's a good idea. It's rare that you can get such hands-on help from real insiders in the biz in a small-group setting.

One catch, though. Nothing in life is free; certainly not a 25% discount offer. :) So, as mandated by the Oval Office, I'm going to assign each of the presenters a nickname which I insist you call out during sessions: Queen of Prussia, Easy Lover, Scottie, Not That One, Link, and Copy (in no particular order). Just don't shout "Scottie" at Matt... it will confuse him.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Practical Reasons for Google to Acquire AOL

It's natural to speculate on the bigger implications of talks between Microsoft and AOL, on one hand, and Google + Comcast and AOL, on the other. On this front, and Google's potential to enter into the business strategy chess game (or poker game, if you wish) it's previously shunned in favor of building better products, John Battelle has it about right.

Once again, though, it's useful to point out that until the future falls into place, Google's an advertising-driven company with specific problems it would like to solve. One of those problems is with the extent of geotargeting and behavioral targeting that are possible with its current user base. Gaining more direct access to users (via AOL and a friendship with a company like Comcast) cannot be a bad thing for such a company. It also must think about global expansion and the way that assets are arranged in various international markets. AOL has a decent footprint internationally. (It's not like Google can buy MSN or Yahoo.)

I speculate on a couple of other reasons Google might be interested in AOL in a post I just sent to Detlev Johnson's new SearchReturn newsletter. (If Detlev publishes the post, it will be Tuesday, so I guess it could look silly by then!) This is an email-based discussion forum that looks and feels exactly like the old I-Search Digest, the one moderated by (in turn) Marshall Simmonds, Detlev, and yours truly. Many readers will recall that I recently revived the spirit of now-defunct I-Search in a new platform at Google Groups, in a discussion forum called SEM 2.0, which is percolating along nicely. I also like SearchReturn, with its old-school look and feel, and the intelligent posts (thus far). So for the few and the proud, the diehard SEM fanatics who have intelligent thoughts but don't usually share them... I recommend SearchReturn. Great job Detlev, it's looking like happy days are here again!

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Yahoo Interoffice Memo blog form. Apparently, teens dislike the Yahoo home page. Too much clutter.

In other news, a panel of 12 college students said search is more trustworthy than TV.

What is the world coming to?

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

GOOG Worth $217/Share: Analyst

Morningstar has an interview with an analyst who sees Google primarily as an advertising company that should be valued on that basis. So who's right? Someone who sees Google as an advertising-driven company and only sees that value as germane to the stock price? Or the crowd who see all the other things Google's doing, and have drunk at least a few sips of Upside Kool-Aid?

They're both right -- it just depends what actually happens. If Google can grow to dominate other markets, the stock today is worth what it is now, or much more. If not, it's worth $200, or $100 as the shine wears off. No one can know which is true, because the extent of Google's development of new products, the soundness of their strategies, the quality of those products, competitors' responses, and consumers' embrace of those yet-to-be-released products, are all unknown to us.

Me, I'd pay some attention to the contrarian simply because an awful lot of Google's eggs are in one basket revenue-wise, but so diversified resource-wise. In other words, Google has a lot of projects (and thus growing costs), but just one (very big, potentially vulnerable) revenue stream.

Working on so many different things, and shifting gears often, can carry with it significant costs. Google's investments in thousands of smart humans looks great until it reaches the point of unsustainability. Perhaps, then, the future of this currently-profitable company depends on how units are managed and held to account. And speaking of unknowns, we as outsiders have little idea of the extent to which claims about Google's culture of innovation are exaggerated. If it's always about solving the next problem, then it can be difficult to keep the eye on the ball to continue dealing with mundane everyday operational (already solved) problems. But it's quite possible that this is something of a fiction and that internally, mundane problems also receive considerable attention. It's quite possible that a company where the CEO muses about not wanting to solve already-solved problems, and where a chef plays a starring role in a quarterly earnings announcement, is actually just playing possum, secretly working with more traditional management paradigms, as well.

You'd think.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Tidbits for Tuesday

Geez, make that Wednesday. A tribute to a few worthwhile causes.

Small kindnesses: The Gmail "autosave" feature. Oh my did I type a long email about the ins and outs of business to my friend John K... but I decided to install a critical update to Firefox at the same time (duh). That wanted me to shut down Firefox... the very browser I was using to type the email! That's perfect irony! Now that's interesting writing, Elaine!

Big kindness: CNN story about a school started by Texas educators for displaced kids from New Orleans.

Nothing to sneeze at:'s free tools, including a keyword concatenator and tracking code generator that makes a seemingly difficult task easy. I cling to my dream of a world where many businesses can rely on low-cost, unbiased, third-party web analytics. I'd link to the tools but it appears you have to be a client, and logged in, to access the gizmos. They also offer fun stuff like email address encryptors for people who get spammed too much but would like to publish their email on their web pages.

Trademark, schmademark...: A useful post on Mac Observer about Apple apparently loosening (slightly yet nearly imperceptibly) their stance on advertisers' use of trademarked terms like "Mac" and "Macintosh." Clearly, they want their retailers to be able to offer their products by advertising on Google (!) , but they still maintain a long list of banned terms. Google typically upholds requests from such large companies to block advertisers from using those terms in their AdWords accounts. Google's partial policing of trademark is not so much a matter of law as a matter of practical seat-of-the-pants management of a complex set of business relationships. The fact remains that phrases containing trademarked terms often provide excellent and interesting organic search results, and a perfect backdrop for relevant, but not confusing, ads. Trademark holders tend not to agree. None of this'll be resolved very soon, unfortunately for people who love clarity.

"Mashup fun": Speaking of my friend John K., and legal issues, and tidbits... remember when everyone used to debate whether metasearch is legal? Is that, too, a matter that has proven to be more a matter of compromise amongst interests as opposed to one that gets solved in court? And how about all the metasearch tools that have come and gone? Some of them came and went due to lack of consumer interest. Some of them went away because they did indeed get threatened by the sources they were metasearching. So what happened to, anyway? Why did acquire them in the first place way back in the day? Who knows. The site now redirects to our good friends at, which means there's probably a long story there, which I hope someone else will research. :) So anyway, John K. has created, which is in beta but will give you a comparative look at items available on Amazon vs. the same on eBay. Will legal threats be forthcoming? Will the story make it into the WSJ? Will John parlay his bad boy image into fame and riches of Napster-like proportions? It was just Canadian Thanksgiving, and we have leftovers. I'm pulling the wishbone for you, John.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Sunday, October 09, 2005

Biz Week Buzz Stirs Flock Frenzy

Flock, the Web 2.0 browser sensation that hasn't even shipped its flagship browser to the public yet, got still more golden PR from another big media outlet, this time from Business Week.

The buzz surrounding Flock seems to be reaching a fever pitch, and we common folk can only wonder whether all the hype is justified. I'm starting to think Flock will either be the biggest thing ever to happen to web browsing or the biggest flop.

The internet desperately needs true browser innovation. As good as Firefox is, it's really not that much better than IE. In general, we're still trapped in the dark ages when it comes to content publishing, information retrieval and collaboration. I do think the best is yet to come. Getting there won't be easy.

It's one thing to aim for the best browser ever (with only 12 developers to boot), and another thing entirely to deliver the goods. Here, as always, execution is everything. I'm hoping Flock can pull it off.

Posted by Cory | | | Permalink

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