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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Top Digger Freaks Out, Leaves

As I mentioned recently, the output pattern on many community-built content sites and recommendation engines appears to skew heavily towards a cadre of obssessive contributors.

Via Threadwatch, I learned that Digg revamped its algorithm so it doesn't skew towards the 'take' of top Diggers.

Next thing you know, the #1 Digger goes ballistic and insults the founder of the company.

You give your heart and soul to something someone else profits from - it leads to heartache. Moral? Maybe, don't get "married" to something like a social bookmarking site. Moral 2: incentives still matter, as varied and non-pecuniary as they may be in some cases. Moral 3: some people's incentives for obsessively contributing to something for "free" are not honorable -- hence, Digg's algorithmic shift, no doubt.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Lazy, Eh?

Ken Schafer over at One Degree could spend half his life chronicling maddening Canadian corporate website gaffes. Luckily though, I'm pitching in, so he'll have time for his day job.

Check out www.kraft.ca. It's not that they don't know and can't redirect you to the actual site, www.kraftcanada.com, it's just that they haven't bothered. Hey, you can cut and paste that URL, right? Unless you are like 33.8% of visitors to that page, who will simply leave thinking the site is broken.

No, it never redirects in any of the major browsers. :)

Incidentally, this nearly-blank domain/page/site has a PageRank of 5! Sweet!

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Toronto Search Marketing Seminar, Oct. 5

Under the auspices of the Canadian Marketing Association: a search marketing seminar coming up at the Massey Mansion on Jarvis St. I'll be joining instructors Steve Mast and Kevin Jackson to contribute about an hour on - you guessed it - the latest, greatest info on paid search strategies.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Lead Generation Conundrums

Our client list over at Page Zero is varied. One of the ways we can most consistently add value is in custom work driving paid search traffic and helping with site design and copywriting for "complex" sales, such as B2B campaigns with long sales cycles. The question is, when designing the website, planning the sales strategy, and tweaking landing pages, how *exactly* should one go about it? The debates can be endless, and it's good to have principles in hand rather than simply falling back on the "just test it" mantra (which does make sense too).

One approach to getting prospects to trust you (and to offer contact info), of course, is to offer a white paper. Again, though -- how to produce it, what tone do you take, how to promote it? I remember when I produced an ebook (not exactly a white paper, because I charge for it and it doesn't offer some of the things that white papers do) I was so thankful I could fall back on a resource from someone who'd done it before (in particular, Marcia Yudkin).

Now, I'm thankful again! In the midst of some of these B2B conundrums, I recently read Writing White Papers, by enterprise "B2B" marketing expert Michael Stelzner. The book is amazingly comprehensive, covering every aspect of producing and marketing white papers. I particularly like the stipulations as to tone; he explains today's sophisticated enterprise customer wants you to sell to them without being "salesy." No one minds an intelligent latent sales pitch. But that means paying attention to how much you offer in return for the leads you seek.

Anyway, back to our website design and testing conundrums, I'm looking forward to tapping Mike for ongoing tips to augment our own expertise... expertise he demonstrates in this timely post on his blog, comparing white papers to a "demo" in the world of gaming. Give interested prospects enough to "play with," and they'll give up their contact info.

It goes without saying that being extra forthright about how much email contact they'll receive, in what form, is a big part of the mix. Disclose your intentions fully, and don't mislead prospects, in order to avoid a bad rap in the industry.

It's perhaps not coincidental that this type of thinking has found its way into Google's assessments of Landing Page Quality for AdWords ranking purposes... not all "users" are created equal, but the kind of respect accorded to high-end business customers is also worth offering to B2C customers too.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Whaddya Know, Tucows Bought Kiko

Remember Kiko, the online calendar startup? Once the tagline to an obscure Dennis Miller joke, today, a part of Tucows' offering to corporate email customers.

Kiko got a lot of attention -- some of it negative -- for putting the company up on eBay so the founders could wind down and move onto other projects. Many saw it as an example of a non-business being funded; a feature, not a company. Then, a buyer came along, paying $285,000 to acquire the code for the calendar app. Turns out it was Tucows, a publicly traded tech company we post about from time to time here as they're just down the street. My good friend Elliot Noss blogged at length about the reasons this Ajaxy app was a great deal for his company right now. What he conspicuously left out was the added bonus of free PR. "Hey, we bought our calendar app on eBay for $285,000" is way faster, more fun, and better for publicizing your product than hiring, hunkering down, and building the confounded thing from scratch.

The most fun I've had this week is finding another parking spot on Craigslist. Hopefully I'll be able to improve on that.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Monday, September 04, 2006

Taxonomy for Fun and (Google's) Profit? Community Image Tagging

Google Image Labeler is eliciting intelligent commentary around the virtual campfire, as one might expect.

It seems Google needs to improve the quality of its Image Search by tagging the images. What better way to go about it than luring an army of volunteer taggers? Hey, where have we heard this story before? Remember ODP?

Accurately describing elements of an image in few words isn't as complex as editing directory categories.

Today, sites like Flickr and Youtube thrive on tagging. First, contributors of uploaded images, and later, other members of the community, tag their material as well as they can. It's a rough and ready form of classification that's attracted much interest and much pro & con, parallel with general debate over whether Web 2.0 is really anything, let alone an advance over what came before.

Well, it is an advance, or Google wouldn't be doing this. Tags help users find images, there's no doubt about that.

And now begins the great experiment with different incentive systems and value systems. It looks as if properties like Flickr and Youtube have pretty accurate taggers, perhaps because those engaged in tagging genuinely get it and are genuinely trying to be helpful. At this juncture, by contrast, Google seems to be running into the odd problem with insincere and malicious taggers, at least if the "editorial comment" type tags I'm seeing on Google Video are any indication. But the random "double-verification" approach to tagging is ingenious compared to hierarchical command-and-control systems. Where editors and their "bosses" know one another and can rig up a corruption scheme, this system seems to pair editors up with people they don't know and cannot know. That isolates cheaters, Panopticon-like. I'm going to give it a try, just to check it out.

If accurate tagging requires the equivalent of professional editorial staff, but you're running it like a kind of community effort involving nebulous rewards, because professional staff could never get to everything... it seems likely that odd usage/contribution patterns will arise, as they have before. In ODP, there were "meta" editors and high-output editors who developed expertise and did much more work than most of the rest, but also ran the risk of developing blinders of sorts. *Why* did they do so much more than others?

When it comes to Wikipedia, the same phenomenon has occurred. The "spontaneous outpouring of community input" is driven by a cadre of prolific editors, followed by a long tail of occasional helpers. What does it all mean? I'm not sure, except that it speaks to the competitiveness of some people, even when trying to win at something that doesn't really benefit them, and benefits a "community" in a way that is yet unproven.

In this case the mega-taggers probably can't wreck anything -- especially with the random competitive tagging method tied to points -- so the end result is better search. If Google Video tags currently stink, they can perhaps assign "points" to those folks who want to go in and clean up all those tags too. Google, of course, profits, but there is a certain inherent fascination with watching something work better as taggers get involved. Then again, I'm not 100% sure it's worth anyone's time to accurately tag a Japanese teenager singing karaoke Barbie Girl.

We debated this subject here way back with the ODP case. To get truly professional editorial results consistently, in some cases you have to pay people; in other cases, you don't. With a poorly-thought-out incentive system (quality depends on commitment and skill level as well as incentives and sanctions for bad behavior), alternative (corrupt) compensation schemes can arise.

So, some thinking had to go into it. Google doesn't have a real "vertical" or "spontaneous face to face society" feel to it, but it does of course have the advantage of a lot of money and a willingness to experiment with various filtering and incentive systems. So - it looks like a sawoff. They can find a way to overcome the shortcoming of their bigness.

Either way, tagging is moving search forward. Probably the most intriguing nascent tagging experiment, for me, is Amazon's. Books are being tagged as we speak, first by authors, then by prolific reviewers... and... later, everyone else? Or not? Regardless, the result seems to be a parallel form of taxonomy that arises spontaneously out of community effort (assuming reasonable expertise in the community), as opposed to getting the Library of Congress category right, or some other method that might have existed in the past. From a tag, bringing up all known books about "beanstalks" *tagged as such* is only a click away. That's not the same as doing a raw keyword search for beanstalks. Tagging is shades of past information science efforts, obviously, but it's happening here and now in a specific kind of way, and it would be a mistake to dismiss its impact.

One more thought: vis-a-vis PageRank and anchor text... hasn't linking always been like tagging? It's a mistake to say that Google eschewed metadata because they didn't look at meta keyword tags. They were just looking at different tags, and still do. :) For a long, long time, a high proportion of website publishers voluntarily "tagged" their links with something a little more informative than "click here"... just because the web gurus said it was a good thing to do.

Edit: after playing the "game," I ran across this excellent post on O'Reilly Radar, which explains that Image Labeler is based on Prof. Louis von Ahn's "ESP Game". On Search Engine Watch, Danny Sullivan confirms this in a Postscript, having heard back directly from Prof. van Ahn. As an aid to tagging images, it's clear to me as a player that the type of "ESP" that is involved in playing the game optimally is not going to lead all by itself to the kind of thorough tagging we see on other sites. The best way to get the most points is to match your partner's labels as many times as possible in a timed session. And the only way to do that is to quickly type in the least complex words possible. Sure, Google might tuck away your unmatched, more complex words, but to get the most points, you and your partners will soon learn that you should aim for the least complicated word possible to describe some part of the photo: eg. ocean, sky, people, woman, man, office, desk, etc. Screen shots of something complicated, such as a spreadsheet, are most easily matched when partners type in the heading of a column or any prominent word in the screenshot. A complex (but known) type of logo will be best matched with your partner if you both type in "logo." And so on.

On a final, final note: I suppose "tagging" is slang for "graffiti." This kind of tagging is something like the opposite of graffiti, especially when the sober, straight taggers are assigned to clean up the "Google Video Graffiti."

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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