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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Microsoft Bulls Ahead

In my continuing effort to drill down on the potential endgame in search market share, I just got off the phone with the CEO of an analytics firm. I heard some wild things, like - in some verticals (maybe many), a ranking on PAGE SIX of Google's SERP's will refer you as much traffic as a Page 1 MSN Search ranking.

In light of this, Steve Ballmer's bold talk about facing the threat of Google... now... seems weak to say the least.

On my wish list for 2007: definitely to see life simplified for marketers. MSN Search, drop adCenter and please partner with Yahoo and let us go back to buying this inventory through Overture/YSM/Panama. As great as it may sound on paper to have all these competing platforms, it's actually just a pain. Certainly a deeper-than-normal partnership would be required to bring the strengths of the two companies together - Microsoft can contribute demographic profiling to the mix - but it would be nice to see it happen.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, January 28, 2007

Personalization Will Affect SEO: Oh, Really?!?

Greg Linden picks up the [it's about time, you should have been all over this five years ago] recognition that due to the progress of personalization in search results, and various other contributing factors, "traditional rank checking is dead," and the foundations upon which cookie-cutter SEO services are built are like "dead man walking."

That wouldn't be why a few traditional-style SEO shops have foundered lately, and integrated approaches and more cutting-edge niches have raced ahead, would it?

It seems like a long time ago now that I sat on a patio having pizza with Richard Zwicky (it was August 2005 in San Jose, at Search Engine Strategies) discussing the imminent launch of his company's Enquisite analytics tool. Richard and I agreed at that time that traditional rank checking was dead. The Enquisite service is still being developed and will continue to explore ways of helping the latest generation of search marketers. Needless to say, there's no rank checking.

My firm doesn't do a whole lot of SEO, but when we do do it, it's based on a considered process that is kind of like a long-term "in house marketing strategy". Sure, there are still some basic SEO chops you gotta have to accomplish even a newer-generation SE ranking improvement plan. But you guys who fire out the ranking reports and call that service? Get with the program.

Related: Make Your Own Pie: Google's Personalization Slider Merely a Taste of Things to Come, March 29, 2004, Traffick.com.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Juice Up Your Landing Pages

I don't normally directly plug Page Zero Media's service offerings directly in this space, but this one's really cool.

In about a week, we'll be announcing a new process for sophisticated experimentation on landing pages, with the goal of increasing conversion rates to sales. The math is complex and the experiment design is based on professional marketing and design inputs. But the goal is simple: juice up conversion rates by finding the optimal page as quickly as humanly possible.

Interested in being a beta client (which means, you get to go first, ahead of the others who sign up following the announcement; and you get a substantial discount)? Ping me at pagezero at gmail dot com - subject line "Landing Page Juice Quote Request." We'll explain what the service entails, and then put you at the front of the queue.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Panama Migration: Industry Feedback

Some agencies quoted in popular press stories about Yahoo's Panama migration would have you believe the process has been a snap -- and that it has been so because they were particularly adroit in their "due diligence." Anyone I've talked to directly, however, has described specific glitches and problems in detail.

Although I have not felt debilitating pain personally, and have great things to say about Yahoo's yeoman efforts to provide customer service to as many accounts as possible, some agencies' claims that there have been no major problems smacks of PR spin (and not only from Yahoo). Some of the SEM agencies seemingly least impacted by Panama appear to focus primarily on SEO.

The rest of us have been talking among ourselves. Why suffer in isolation? Misery loves company. So I asked a number of top SEM industry players to give me their hands-on, brain-hurt feedback specifically on the process of getting accounts up and running on Yahoo's new Panama platform.

Making file formats compatible with one another, and translating data from a legacy system to a new system that has superior logic, aren't trivial matters. (Remember Dataviz, that little software company that became a major force in helping, say, Mac users open up those pesky Microsoft office documents? Dataviz is still going strong, helping users grapple with the vast array of file formats today, that now have to be usable on mobile devices.)

Let's face it, almost nobody on the planet makes "migration issues" their business full time. Remember the Y2K crisis? There were so few folks qualified to deal with the problem, for a couple of years a lot of old Cobol programmers suddenly found themselves on the cutting edge. All by way of giving Yahoo a bit of a break here. Their resources (and our preparations) are mainly devoted to making the new Panama the best it can be. Nobody wants to become a true expert on getting legacy accounts across the chasm to the new regime. Mainly because the problem will soon go away through a combination of technology and custom account rebuilding.

In the meantime, reach for the ibuprofen.

The industry response says: it's been a bit of a mess. Yahoo's doing their best to help, but the amount of help (let's consider the fact that they have well over 100,000 active advertisers to assist) they can offer on custom problem-solving is severely limited, and will be case-by-case.

Much like being on an overcrowded exploration ship with insufficient rations, where everyone gets seasick at once. The previously-adequate medical staff and crew take care of a small handful of the ailing. Everyone looks forward to the day the ship finds its way to the destination, which surely promises freedom, abundance, and a better life for all. In the meantime, though, those who don't get medical assistance pretty much get left to vomit over the rail.

Some agency people express basic frustration with just getting from Point A to Point B. Others have expressed concern that matters of editorial or platform "convenience" (to Yahoo's advantage) have arbitrarily stripped out or changed old accounts. The upshot is definitely that you need to pay close attention to what shape your account is in post-migration. In particular, be careful with quirks like content targeting being accidentally turned on. In one such instance, Yahoo's CSR did not admit fault for the $1,500 in unwanted content clicks, but instead, after some pleading, offered a 60% refund (instead of the more fair 100%), saying "I think you'd be smart to take the 60%, it's a good deal."

Here are some of the experts' direct quotes.

"If Yahoo thinks your CTR is low enough, their editorial team has rewritten ads without permission. This typically includes your headline being changed to the keyword with the keyword insert function. [emphasis added] This can leave you legally exposed if you bid on competitors' keywords and Yahoo editorial feels it's appropriate to put that in the headline. This is probably an automatic process, but regardless, our recommendation is to explicitly state that Yahoo editorial cannot make changes to any of your accounts without permission."

- West Coast Marketer

--

"Because of fundamental differences between our business methodology and Yahoo's corresponding migration system, we're proceeding with extreme caution. Though Yahoo has been terrific on the service side, their idea of "migration" is to transfer data from System A to System B, thus vastly oversimplifying our campaign architecture. Like transferring boiling water from one pot to another, it takes a concerted effort not to lose any steam. Normally, we'd address these differences using technology solutions, but because Yahoo's old system canonicalized our keywords, much of our account data will have to be manually updated. All things considered, our migration has run smoothly thus far, and we look forward to the end result."

- East Coast Marketer

--

"We're happy about the transition in concept because the new platform is superior to the old platform. From an overall execution and transition standpoint, though, we are not happy. And I don't blame the reps because they didn't come up with the transition timeline and the transition process."

- West Coast Marketer

There were many other comments, but this offers a representative sample. Thanks to those who sent comments, including FindMeFaster, Point-It, Page Zero, GotAds, and Reprise Media, among others.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, January 26, 2007

Google Kills Our Fun: No More Googlebombs

Danny explains how Google has made a slight algorithmic shift, so that "miserable failure" doesn't bring up the WhiteHouse.gov page anymore, but does leave legitimate commentary on the "bombing" intact. (Seems correct. The only weak attempt I've made at a GoogleBomb - type "woefully out of touch" with the quotes into Google - had an article by a Globe and Mail reporter ranking at the top. Now that's pushed down to 18th place, while my commentary on the bomb ranks #1.)

Seems like the sort of thing the Googlers could figure out. The change in ranking methods might affect non-bomb type rankings also. The present site had Page 1 rankings about the term "portals" based on a lot of established links around the web referring to us as the Guide to Portals. After we stopped calling ourselves that, the rankings persisted, due to the strong link pattern and the external anchor text. Perhaps that's not quite fair to the other sites on the topic, or today's enterprise portal vendors, etc... or to our change in focus to be commentary on the industry around search marketing. I see, though, that we still rank #2 on "portals," just behind Wikipedia :), so that can't be it. Of course, there is still a huge amount of info on the site that uses that word, so I guess that's the difference. You don't see a lot of "miserable failure" talk directly on WhiteHouse.gov.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, January 25, 2007

Google Groups Out of Beta (Again)

So this PC World story covers the new version of Google Groups, which is now out of beta, which means little in the sense that beta users have been using this interface for months.

A theme in the article is that even the new Groups isn't very web 2.0.

A free Traffick coffee mug to the person who can explain to me:

* What's wrong with Groups, exactly, if it's true that it isn't web 2.0? Is there something vitally important that I need to do that I cannot do here?

* What makes it true to say it isn't web 2.0? Is it even true?

* Can an app that includes a wiki-like feature, which this now does, really be accused of being "not web 2.0"? Is it because it isn't a very good wiki, not a true wiki? (Which is fair to say - it isn't.) So, can we give it a 1.7? The Google spokesman seems only prepared to give it 1.5, and it's his baby. Is Basecamp somewhere below 2.0, then? Because some of its features aren't very good. Maybe 1.85?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




SEM Shops, Market Valuation, and "Strategy"

Gord Hotchkiss argues that SEM firms aren't getting acquired for large sums mainly because they're too tactical and don't have skills that help them work on segmenting and customer profiling. I tend to think that the picture is more complex. Or maybe, it's actually simpler. Either way, Gord's assessment of current reality is correct, but his analysis is wrong.

Certainly, the number of firms of any stripe who understand customer profiling is painfully small. There aren't enough of them to go around, and they're not necessarily directly into search (Future Now is a great example).

Let's start by assuming that acquisition binges of service provider firms are anomalies in the first place, and they tend to be just that - anomalies. Much of the timing depends on the sentiment (and stories) emanating from Wall Street in an effort to underwrite certain "rollup" strategies. Industries dominated by small service provider firms, be they in accounting, law, funeral homes, medical services, or web hosting, have from time to time undergone waves of acquisition.

You can't predict financial fads. First, web analytics firms were supposedly struggling. Then, we heard that many online firms would be blocked from exit strategies due to the cooling off of the IPO market. The next thing you know, several analytics providers got acquired by private equity outfits.

True, a big law firm that serves big corporate clients almost never acquires a small firm that has some specialty they'd like to add. And that's the closest analogy with the notion of, say, the world's largest ad agency acquiring my very small SEM agency. The law firm just hires new associates or recruits partners with different skill sets. Is that because the small firm is "too tactical"? Or just too narrow/small to have the marketplace leverage to *force* a buyout? If the little guy starts actually taking the big guy's customers, that's when the big guy takes notice.

So that leaves us a little closer to the answer: if ad agencies are the likely acquirers in the scenario where the target client is mostly larger enterprises, the only leverage a boutique agency has is either in their client list and growing cachet in their own right, or some expertise that the agency will take too long to develop in-house.

One assumes some combination of both was responsible for iProspect getting acquired for something like $50 million. iProspect is known in the industry for its success in attracting large clients.

I happen to think search marketing is a fine training ground for the strategic mind. Of course, no small consulting firm is given the keys to the entire marketing strategy for a large client, but discounting for size, the influence of the search marketer is impressive. Look at all the data clients already let search marketers work with! While expensive, ponderous segmentation and market research exercises are not the typical MO of the searchie, that's often because these don't translate very well to the particular campaigns they're asked to work on.

(It's also the case that testing user response to offers, through for example multivariate landing-page testing, is something the big firms generally haven't allowed their search firms to work on, yet. But it's certainly something search marketers are uniquely skilled to do. In paid search, we learned "direct marketing analysis on steroids," not from any book, but from the ground up. Now we're busy writing the book.)

One large financial institution we worked with kept reminding us that the supposed profile of the target customer was something ridiculously narrow, like a male between 30 and 40 who (we needed reminding several times) had an affinity for golf. Tactical points can't be ignored in strategic navel-gazing: you'll do a terrible job of getting people searching for golf words to sign up for a financial services application using an online form. Golf words won't do it. Financial words will. Customer profiling? I think it's useful, but let's not get too cute.

Can we be honest? The golf obsession in a division that should have been all about figuring out how to expand customer acquisition in a particular niche at an efficient cost per, was a handy way of justifying expensive golf tournament sponsorships, executive junkets and perks, and lavish TV spots that made much of the affinity between a ball circling a plastic cup and the decision to invest with this bank. As if a 42-year-old female who prefers skiing and bocce is not also a target customer. What search forces us to do is to understand the long tail better: to go farther down the path in thinking about micro-profiling and the many differences among many sorts of customers. If it isn't practical anymore to indulge in the institutionalized prejudice that traditional profiling so typically degenerates into, how to we open up the business to be inclusive of more customers, without drowning in data? Traditional shops are no more strategic in answering this question than "searchies". I would argue, they are less so.

What online does is facilitate diversity and heighten forms of communication between corporations and customers of all sorts, in a way that interruption marketing failed to do. Traditional customer profiling has an important role to play in traditional retail, but only if done very well. Meanwhile the old schoolers are missing the boat on the opportunities for customer engagement and even participation in product design, as explained in Tapscott and Williams's new book, Wikinomics.

So traditional ad agencies are still indulging alongside some top execs in traditional, difficult-to-measure, glitzy multichannel campaigns that allow at least a few of the top agency people and execs to spend more time on, say, the golf course, or meeting with the celebrity who got tagged to be the spokesperson based on extensive customer profiling. This "strategy" and relatively costly-per-impression exposure have come at a massive cost, as any observer of advertising knows. The edifice is steadily crumbling.

A few totally awesome data analysts in these firms - and a handful of independent analysts - are doing exactly the right things, while most everyone else in the agency infrastructure is not empowered to act on the power of the data (or put less politely, they're just pretending). Agency culture is still dominated by the power of "creative," and subjective judgments of "spots."

From the ashes of all of this rises search. Which, though highly tactical, is a great training ground for strategic minds like Joe Morin, who is now CEO of StoryBids, a startup that offers an auction system for product placement.

I have a little gig on the side myself. And some skin in the game - similar to Joe, but on a part-time basis. Everything I know, pretty much, I learned from search, which puts you in touch with customers in an unprecedented ways.

Search marketers not strategic? No, I think it's just a bit like web hosting (but earlier days). The many small firms are doing fairly OK by themselves, but the costs of consolidation are large, so waves of finance-driven consolidation will change the landscape over time. Rather than a thousand small dots, you'll see 75 bigger blobs on the map. When those 75 blobs combine into 30 even bigger ones, no doubt the half-dozen large-scale acquisitions will come; or some of the leading firms will go public and diversify their services. As it did Q9 Networks in the web hosting business.

It's very early days yet.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Sorry, but Google's "Accounts" Concept is Just Too Aggressive

I honestly don't know *exactly* how they might have done things differently, but Google's ubiquity is causing a major workflow nightmare for me, and I'm sure many other users.

Like many who are a bit too engaged in the Internet sphere, I use a lot of different Google services, and have more than one Google account (two primary ones, used on purpose for different purposes). A lot of my decision-making occurred before there were in fact "Google Accounts." Pretty much, the decision was to have two different GMail accounts, one because I loved GMail for its speed, searchability, storage, and organizational aplomb. The other Gmail account, for spam and email from the retailers I buy from. Simple enough. This latter also got associated with "me" in certain online forums, and certain people email me there, so I like to keep watch on it.

Now, I use a ton of other Google services, too, all with logins attached. And at some point I managed to set up at least three or four additional Google accounts, for professional reasons.

Some of the great services I use are:

Google Groups - I moderate SEM 2.0 and have set up informal ones for friends & clients & colleagues here and there. To post, you need to be logged into the *correct* Google account. As an admin for several groups, I have to help people come to grips with that fact - in addition to just figuring out how to read my own screen on any given day. Sometimes, colleagues have been confused, thinking that anyone can see certain posts that are very private in nature - because they forget that what they see on their screen is not generic - it's only showing to them because they're logged into the private group. The confusion that reigns in other people's workflow overflows into mine, to the point where I need to start one or two Basecamp accounts to segregate out project management properly. Which causes workflow issues of its own, but in the end I prefer it.

Google Chat - very useful. Lots of people use IM, me, no exception. This fires up on bootup, so here's the thing: nowadays that pretty much determines what Google account I'm logged into unless the system is told otherwise. Actually, that's a huge %$!&)(*!% pain, because it also decides that I want to be notified of all new emails, but does so in relation to a Gmail account I only use for spam and retail. Any of the other Google services I use at any given time of the day - might be associated with the "wrong" account, depending on which one I want. Plus, Chat seems to often require resetting to get rid of certain defaults that crop up from time to time.

Blogger - as you can see - I use Blogger. Uses a Google account. Gotta switch if I'm in the wrong one.

Search - if I'm logged in, it makes sure my searches are recorded! Good! I think. Unless, not good.

I'm sure there are a few other things I'm forgetting.

When it comes time to do my job, though, things get significantly hairier. I've complained about this before.

*Google AdWords* accounts are associated with Google Accounts now. So, all my clients have their own Google Accounts, that they were forced at some point to establish rather than just a standalone login for their advertising business relationship with Google. *Why?* Should this not have been a separate deal? So anyway: I access my client accounts through my THIRD Google Account, which is a master account I use that relates to my admin login for the My Client Center master account that helps me manage all client accounts, with client permission, from a single interface. (Two of the accounts in my MCC are in fact my own, and are associated with my first, and second, Google accounts, respectively.) Having that *third* Google Account makes it even more annoying to be doing the other things I need - checking my favorite email address (at Account 2), and IM'ing (from Account 1). I might add that I have about three computers that I might have this stuff set up on in different locations (desktop, desktop, laptop), so that adds additional issues no doubt.

Does that mean I should have set it up more intelligently? I doubt it, since the fact that I'd have access to a master AdWords account that was a Google Account too, to manage regular AdWords accounts that are Google accounts too, was unforeseeable when I set up the two GMail accounts and associated (without thinking) the Chat account with the first GMail account without really pondering it. We didn't know Blogger would require a Google Account login. And so on.

All the consumer functionality stuff, I think - that's my mistake in some way that I can't properly appreciate now, so I should probably deal with it. I mean that's my problem that I grew up in an era when you could have four Excite Mail accounts if that floated your boat, and it didn't affect the entire day when you were logging in and out of them.

At the very least, though, I feel that Google blundered when it required serious business customers to associate their accounts with mass, all-purpose consumer accounts. Nearly all Google AdWords logins are organized around some individual corporate person's email address. So to make sure others sharing that account login are not able to access that poor person's email, chat, Blogger account, and search history, elaborate workarounds, requiring additional Google Accounts, cursing, duct tape, and magic, have been required. What a mistake.

Did I mention that you should use Basecamp for project management? :) Or anything but something invented, modified, or acquired by Google? Google, will you promise to just keep Jotspot separate? Please don't make your customers associate it with a Google Account.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Banana-Named! Yeaahhh!!!!


B - A - N - A - N - A - S!

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Searching for Parrot: Bad Monty Python Impression Waiting to Happen

rustybrick and WMW ask: Is Google treating Wikipedia too well? (It ranks #1 for "parrots," for heaven's sake!) Probably.

But how about AdWords? Is all right on that side of the page? In the attached screen shot see some of the advertisers who come up when searching for "parrots" in (whoops, I mean from) my Toronto office. Does this crazy list mean arbitrage and other "low quality ad" shenanigans are not, as Google would have us believe, "no more! ... ceased to be! ... expired and gone to meet its may-kar! ... a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace, if you hadn't nailed it to the perch it would be pushing up the daisies! It's rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisibule! This is an ex-...."???

[Meta-oh-so-post-Valleywag-irony: When I search for "parrot python dialogue" on Google, guess what site's account comes up first. You guessed it: Wikipedia's! BTW, it was extremely helpful.]

Anyway, the rundown on the ads in order of position on the page for "parrot" today in Toronto on my computer (your results may vary):

Bizrate: Landing page looks arbitragey, crappy. Ads or listings may even be from Google!

Kijiji.ca/Toronto: Heavens to mercy, there really are high-end parrots being sold here... with photos.

ParrotDirectory.info: It's garbitrage at its worst. Ugh. With links to other garbitrage pages about "dog beds," and so on.

BirdTricks.com: Apparently a real offer for training your parrot not to bite you. But the page may be violating some Google quality guidelines, by resembling a template "squeeze" page. With effort this site could improve its quality score significantly... unless it really is a scam. I would have expected minimum bids on this offer to be prohibitive, but maybe I completely misunderstood Google's landing page quality guidelines. (I actually got a huge kick out of this guy's come-on video, but would have assumed this offer would be kiboshed by the ad quality gods.)

Parrots-Training.com is the exact same site as above, so one or the other should be removed, or be hit with a prohibitively low quality score, unless I'm missing something about Google's rules....

JustAnswer.com: Seems to be a Q&A site about pets.

ParrotTrainers.com: At least it's really about parrots, and discloses a bit more business information than the other parrot training offer.

In a search using a US-based IP, I see additional, very weird, uses of the parrot ad space. We have the usual eBay junk (any word in the dictionary will do, even if the landing page is just 6,200 results of stuff that have parrot somewhere in the description of some product), and then, even weirder, something that directs the user to a SERP on Ask.com. Ask is promoting their search engine in Google ads; because the Ask SERP's are fairly heavy with ads this looks semi-arbitragey in intent, but from a user experience standpoint, definitely violates what Google says users hate - getting another page of search/ad listings, after clicking on a search ad listing. I'm sure IAC has plenty of money for this branding exercise; only they know what they're paying per click.

In fairness, pages of ads on any generic, one-word term are bound to look stupid. And Google's already indicated that their minimum bid policies might be relaxed in markets (countries) that are "less mature" (read: fewer ads). Nonetheless, this example does seem to show that as dead as they may be in Google's rhetoric, once in awhile, users still get to admire the beautiful plumage of the odd prime specimen of "garbitrage" and "double serving cheaters."

Today, some websites are having to fight for the right to run their ads at all. Some are squeaking through the cracks, at least in some query areas. Others, like Wikipedia, simply get the love for free. Is there a lesson in this? Or is this sketch getting too silly?

Unrelated: Lee Odden, SEO: Rocket Science, or Colonoscopy?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, January 22, 2007

ICA Study: Canadian Marketing Budgets Rising, But Online Spend Still Paltry

Kia Canada intends to spend more on marketing to increase share in a shrinking sector - but how will online fare?

According to a survey of 270 Canadian marketing directors, the current makeup of marketing and ad budgets at larger companies is as follows:

Traditional media advertising: 41%
Sales promotions incl. coupons & contests: 20% (!)
Direct marketing: 17%
Internet marketing: 4%
Other, incl. sponsorships & PR: 18%.

I had to rub my eyes when I saw that. Internet marketing - 4%? Given the low costs of clicks in Canada, that puts search advertising at maybe 1.6% of the overall spend. Glass half full: that's a lot of room for growth.

Here's what I think is going on, though, that makes the reported figure come in lower than expected (I would have expected about double that).

First, search spending is granular. In some fields it's going to be ignored completely, or simply dwarfed by what companies can and will spend on media like television. In other, quite specific, areas, it might make up 20%, or 50%, or 99%, of the spend.

Also, the cost of building websites, creating content, optimizing sites for conversion improvement, optimizing sites for organic search, and so on, probably doesn't get listed as a "marketing spend" in a survey like this, but that's basically what it is. In the reverse broadcast network, no one can hear you spend. But it still gets you customers. Presto!

As the home page of one ad agency puts it: "It's about ads that don't look or feel like ads. Media measured by more than GRP's. Or that can't be found or bought on a rate card. It's about owning a larger share of tomorrow by looking beyond work that only works today."

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, January 21, 2007

Thin-Slicing, You, Me, and Your Customers

You can thin-slice your way, and I'll probably keep on thin-slicing in my way. What's not in dispute is that I, you, and your customers will all continue to do so. (So will your friends, relatives, investors, and the police.)

Looking back at the absolute worst business experiences I've had, it makes no particular sense to draw universal conclusions, because some bad stuff can't be predicted.

However, some headway can be made. In online marketing services, in terms of predicting which customers - which *individuals* - will probably turn out to be toxic, there are some really strong signals. They can be boiled down to how contemporary the business owner is, or their willingness to at least be guided towards creating a "contemporary" online experience that will lead to better business outcomes. Maybe it comes down to listening, and dialogue, rather than assertions without data, targets set without reasons. I see this on a sliding scale. No one's perfect, but if you're below the 20th percentile of reasonable, you're a toxic business accident waiting to happen.

Just now I ran across a reminder of perhaps one of the most toxic I've ever met. And I thought: what might we have noticed that would have filtered this guy out?

In the current environment of online retail, a vendor of high-ticket products whose contempt for the user runs so deep that it includes a refusal to even consider simple site improvements (image quality, professional design, etc.), is eventually going to neglect customers in other ways. That's what I should have twigged on immediately, but at the time, I knew that a lot of ugly sites needed fixing were actually good customers for me, because they were in need of services. Some of these fixed it, got better, and moved ahead. That's why they needed us!

At the time I missed a key difference: willingness to consider optimization (in the broadest sense of the term) suggestions. Someone who realizes that there are broken parts of the website and poorly optimized images and wants to fix and optimize the user experience as much as possible; vs. the one who disagrees, changes the subject, and uses a combination of profanity and sarcasm in his next anecdote, to further confuse the issue.

In retrospect, that should have been easy to see. If you're rigid like that, prospects won't buy from you as often as they should. It doesn't appear that you *want* them to buy from you. Not only won't we succeed in advertising to them, we're probably going to wind up on the wrong end of one of those sarcastic tirades at some point.

Sarcasm and profanity aside: what are your customers thinking? How are they thin-slicing? I'm a firm believer that they're doing it. They're judging you on your overall web credibility and your place in the business universe. Sure, they might judge you "small" no matter what, if you really are small, but what are your chances if they judge you "small and hopeless"?

Within reason, what is terribly hideously awful or broken needs to be fixed. Other shortcomings need to be at least on a schedule for improvement, so you acknowledge that they are indeed shortcomings.

Moving onto a second type of thin-slicing. Maybe you agree, maybe you don't. Certain technologies and familiarity with them - and willingness to show up in certain locations (virtually speaking) - can be a powerful symbol, to others you seek to work with, of "getting it." Personally, when I scan the list of companies posting job listings at the 37Signals Job Board, I immediately think: "that's a company that probably understands a lot about the future of the Web, and user experiences, and how to build them." If I was thinking about their likelihood of satisfying customers as well as employees, I'd say "high, or at least they're not ignorant of factors that might need to be considered."

A lot of people who disagree with me will say that this type of snap judgment is trendy. (I received a 1,100 word, no less, critique of a 40-word job ad I posted there once! Someone's ideas must have been threatened.) But we thin-slice all the time, and we're likely to continue to do so. Perhaps the best type of thin-slicing nonetheless points towards business fundamentals; it's not about what brand of eyeglasses you wear. That's why an MBA can immediately work for you or against you, depending on who is doing the hiring.

There's obviously a tension inherent in all of this: a passion for "direct marketing" or "no nonsense bottom line results" or "cutting through the mumbo jumbo" or "hard work" or "fundamentals", as opposed to "giving off the right signals, of letting like minded people know that you think the way they do, of conveying success and upbeat attitudes to the world." It's not about one or the other, but understanding and weighing (rather than dismissing) forms of signaling that seem irrational but in fact are highly rational in their contexts, and highly effective sometimes in that they are often reasonably true representations of what they're purported to represent. Dismissing the "peacock mating ritual" (signaling as described in Seth Godin's Survival is Not Enough: Zooming, Evolution, and the Future of Your Company) as frivolous - if you were a peacock - could be to doom your species to extinction. Also, a demand for familiarity with Ruby on Rails, or "road experience with web services frameworks & methodologies (SOAP, XML-RPC, REST), knowledge of open source frameworks & tools" is not merely a request for pretty feathers: it might actually get some really important stuff done.

The marketplace, ultimately, will decide whether it did. In the meantime, the signaling required to bring like-minded stakeholders together is unpredictable and uncertain, but nearly indispensable.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Day I Didn't Blink

Malcom Gladwell deserves to be paid good money to speak. And I'm glad he's blogging regularly to pursue the arguments made in his excellent book, Blink. I felt that the book wasn't quite as scientific as I would have liked, and some details just made you scratch your head. He would have had trouble knitting the theory together based on some of the cases (which I'm sure he'd admit). And clearly certain examples are more robust than others. In medical triage, coming up with a shorthand set of criteria that will correctly predict a certain diagnosis 99% of the time, saves time and lives where previously you might have needed a full "workup" to get a less accurate diagnosis, on average.

The short explanation is that Gladwell helps illustrate how snap judgments - in certain cases - are not only correct, but become indispensible to processing complex data and reaching good outcomes in the real world. (The reverse is too often true, however. Wrong snap judgments prevent companies from diverse hiring practices, and the like. The secret is in the correlation between your criteria and the correct outcome.)

Anyway, that synopsis is just a digression from the topic of this post, establishing the fact that Gladwell is a smart writer (as you probably already know), so I can actually use an example of "thin-slicing" in action, in my next post.

What I wanted to do here was bounce this "conference speaking pitch" model off you...

I received a call from a conference organizing company. The salesperson/organizer immediately began asking me questions about my business, which made me suspicious, since I didn't know who she was and they seemed like leading questions. After establishing her credentials, I learned that there was to be a conference that would attract top execs from top companies, and "put me in front of them" as a speaker and workshop leader, exclusive to my category. Of course, there would be a fee coming out of my pocket for this opportunity. Now to prove it would be a killer event, Malcolm Gladwell was touted as one of the high-powered keynote speakers.

Let's assume Gladwell receives $10,000 to legitimize this whole exercise. (I hope it's that much.) Then, each of 20 speakers & workshop leaders pays an average $5,000 to attend, and 50 attendees pay $5,000 to attend. Top line $350k. Perhaps a few other wrinkles in there, so let's say this model nets $300k in profit on revenues of $600k. Not a momentous business proposition until you multiply it by say 25 events a year.

What I don't understand is why you'd bother building this model at all. It's not good for the quality speakers, but may be good for vendors who have trouble finding face time with buyers - it makes them into "speakers" (from not being previously sought-after). But why do the attendees want to be put shoulder to shoulder with these vendors in such an illegitimate format? Organizing proper conferences or workshops where the talent is actually compensated would, presumably, encourage quality content rather than just a hard sales pitch. Inviting well-known authors to gloss over the sales pitch aspect just makes the whole thing seem doubly crafty. You can almost hear the calculators tapping: "Hmm... well, if we can get Gladwell for $10,000 but make $100k back from the 'speakers', then we've just outsmarted the whole world." :)

All the more reason for sticking to my New Year's resolution to say no to these "opportunities in reverse." If I have to pay you so I can speak to someone, what I have to say mustn't be very good.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, January 19, 2007

Like Standing in a Squash Court Being Bombarded by Never-Ending SuperBalls...

As I was saying...

...where the walls are mirrors...

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, January 18, 2007

Google Ad Serving Plan: Closing in on Offline

Two recent patents indicate that Google is taking significant steps to finding more places to put search, navigation, and ads.

The screenshot for one product, Google Kiosk, is fascinating because it gives an important glimpse of what the service might look like, and is a reminder that with initiative, a company like Google will have no trouble finding centrally-located, climate-controlled spaces to grow into. Extending beyond simple information about the stores in the mall, IMHO, we'll eventually see store inventories linked to mobile devices (or the kiosks), possibly linked to locations on shelves, at least in more enlightened establishments. That way, the world of shopping moves beyond the top-down, mysterious, "we'll merchandise to you" model, to the "I want the option to find stuff faster" approach.

Billboard ad serving appears also to be a big part of the plans, as we've speculated for some time now. This analyst appears to go slightly overboard in interpreting the meaning of the patent's claim that the "system" will "generate an ad campaign," thus putting all the ad agency creatives out of business. I maintain that it will definitely alter the skill sets required of media buyers and ad agencies, but no, the computers aren't going to come up with all the ads any more than a computer will write the next episode of Ugly Betty or determine the outcome of the Super Bowl (yet). The main distinguishing characteristic of including uploadable billboard ads in an auction-based system is a change in the economics of ad placement on billboards.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Yahoo Responds to Wired Story

What I like so much about this Wired.com version of the article "How Yahoo Blew It," is not just Fred Vogelstein's solid reporting (getting most all of it right), but also the fact that they were able to update the site to show Yahoo's full official response. Speaking of responsiveness, Yahoo's John Slade responds to Jeff Rohr's recent "Sausage Manifesto" on the click fraud issue.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Thirty Freakin' Percent Growth?

The comScore search engine referral share report for December is uneventful, showing slight growth for Yahoo and Google, and a slight decline for Microsoft.

What's jaw-dropping in an era when we're supposed to be blase by now about online user growth and growth in search behavior... it's all tailing off, isn't it?... was the year-over-year growth of 30% in total search queries.

I wouldn't be surprised if 2007 saw nearly the same level of growth, spurred by local search, which was stalled because it didn't used to be very good.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Self-Referential Doesn't Count

Just a reminder for fellow pundits, if you're attempting to guess whether something will catch on with the public. It doesn't count if:
  • Your assessment of the Blackberry Pearl is derived from texting other experts with subject lines like: "I think the new Pearl is just right for me!"
  • You think the new Sidney Crosby "off-ice trainers" will catch on, because you got comped a pair at a shoe industry event, and they helped you not slip and fall on ice running for a cab
  • The latest search engines's tag cloud, as deployed in a demo on your site, contains tags referring to "tag clouds" and "search engines"
Now some of these products may be really good, and may really catch on, but then again, it's hard to be objective when you're skipping along in your comped shoes, texting your friends on your new Pearl, with a tag cloud hovering over your head.

Cartoon credit: gapingvoid

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, January 13, 2007

5.5 Hour AdWords Shutdown

Those really long maintenance shutdowns always make you wonder, don't they? It's Saturday, and Google's shut AdWords down from 9:30-3:00 PST.

Are they about to release a new feature? Or is something just really messed up?

Steve notes that it was down yesterday for a long time, too. Colleagues and I did notice, we were getting booted out left, right, and center Friday afternoon.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, January 12, 2007

Search Ads: Big Buys in December

Interesting Netratings data on ClickZ today for the month of December 2006. Of note, a company called SoulMate Calculator shows up in #12 spot for search ad impressions bought, just behind Yahoo. Not clear on what it is exactly but I see a couple of negative reactions to the ad in the blogosphere. Not that the blogosphere is something you should be condoning or paying attention to! Anyway, I thought Google was clamping down on low quality offers? Must have been temporary insanity, or they fixed whatever it was they were doing.

SoulMate had zero such impressions in previous months. That's quite a campaign.

The usual suspects in terms of search ad impressions are well represented in the list: eBay, Amazon, Shopzilla, Nextag, and the "AOL of 2006" (I dub them, for their mass marketing moxy), Vonage.

John Wiley & Sons had a big surge, which appears to be attributable to ads for Cliff Notes. "Cramming for Christmas" - it's one of my favorite carols/carrels. (???)

Netratings/ClickZ ought to clarify if they're including contextual ad impressions or not. Stats are so frustrating when they're widely disseminated and you don't know what they refer to. In Netratings' methodology notes it almost hints that this might include contextual, which would make a real mess of things, because impressions can be extremely high on some contextual campaigns. And the rules for placement apply differently, so the minimum bid placed on low-quality campaigns/keywords may not hurt low-quality ads showing up in the contextual space (as much, as far as we know).

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Panama Moniker Sticks

Time to get out the Pam, Yahoo...

I had heard Yahoo wasn't so thrilled that their internal project name for the new YSM Platform was getting so much ink, but now the momentum seems unstoppable.

Brian Quinton, in an interview with Mona Elesseily in Direct mag, delves deep into the Panama vocabulary, citing "Panamanian budget-setting tool" and "Panama immigrants."

I talked with a reporter from Marketing mag here in Canada today. One of the questions referred to whether we or our clients would be "using Panama" for Canada-specific accounts.

Maybe this Panama-centrism will die back after the migration, but for now, Yahoo, you're stuck with the moniker.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Bid Management Tools: Thoughts in Progress

J. wrote me to ask what I think of bid management software, as the large agency he now works for in a search marketing capacity has asked him for his views on it. He asked for an email reply "or by blogging." I emailed back, but here's a copy. :)

This isn't exactly a "rant," but it sounds a bit ranty. There is still time to edit before ebook release. :)

--

J.,

You caught me at a good time!

I'm working on a section for my forthcoming ebook. My take is that we forget what we need the tools for when we are constantly studying what particular vendors have to say, or what they offer.

If we study reasons for using these services, the picture becomes clearer.

Examples of what the tools do:

- help you avoid bid gaps (not needed, now obsolete)
- help you daypart (useful sometimes; available within Google)
- help you organize ad creative (not sure if most do a good job "helping")
- helps you with exotic strategies like bid shadowing, and "punish settings" (oh please! don't waste time playing games!)
- help you bid to ROI objectives (definitely useful but you don't always need an automated solution to assist with this)
- in light of the above point, help you deal with large, complex accounts (true, but not all accounts are as big as they seem)
- help you coordinate functions and reporting across multiple platforms (would be nice, but can they achieve this in practice given frequent changes to the features of the platforms? this would be great if it truly saved time and created consistency but does it? and finally if Google is 70% of spend, and you had better not be wasting funds on nonconverting 2nd-tiers like Kanoodle and so on, then this coordination function isn't quite as vital)

So, those are some considerations. Price is a big part of the mix. I have yet to see an unbiased review of all the available vendor offerings, and don't really expect to see one for some time! In examining the above list it becomes clear that bid management may be absolutely necessary for large, fast-moving retail accounts, and few outside of that. Campaign management (building and maintaining even large accounts) can be achieved by logging into the interfaces separately and making periodic (not 10 times a day!) bid adjustments, and by delegating routine tasks. The human analyst has much to do, and while intelligent automation is always a way to improve the workflow, not everyone can afford the time and money it takes to rock with these bid management services (they can be counterproductive).

Best regards,

Andrew

Posted by Andrew Goodman




More than Five Things, Concluded

We're sharing things you wouldn't expect about ourselves. The mayhem continues!

I have one you wouldn't expect. And one you really wouldn't expect! In fact I had to ask the guy if he was BS'ing me!

Mona Elesseily needs virtually no introduction, so I'm giving her a virtual introduction. Mona joined Page Zero in 2003, in a time of rapid growth. Today she manages complex accounts for a range of clients (retail, B2B, and more) and has become our resident Yahoo Search Marketing expert and the author of the only YSM Handbook on the planet. She's also been a highly-rated speaker and networker at recent Search Engine Strategies conferences and actively involved in business development.

Mona informs us that:
  1. Her grandmother was a Deputy Minister in Gamal Abdel Nasser's government (Egypt). She was a "trailblazer for women's rights."
  2. She coordinates food donations, prepares food and feeds 100-150 people per month (in Vancouver's downtown east side).


Mark Shawera joined Page Zero circa 2003 after a bit of freelancing with us. Mark's eclectic background includes an MBA degree from the Schulick School of Business. He has long been an aficionado of library research (business sector related). Yes, the library! He's been doing it that long! Mark digs into client paid search campaigns deeply, seeking to improve and measure business outcomes. He's especially dogged when it comes to uncertain revenue streams, coaching clients to measure or estimate better when it comes to offline outcomes, etc. I've known Mark since University days, but more so recently.

Mark's story cracks me up. Every bit of it is true.

"Very few people are aware of the fact that I am an avid collector of flashlights. Though this could be rooted in a childhood fear of the dark, which was overcome simply because of sheer boredom, it is more likely linked to a gift I received from my grandmother when I was about five years old. It was a nifty model that mounted on a lantern battery with two control switches - one for a red lens at the back that could either be left off, turned on for a continuous glow or set to a flashing mode - and I suppose it inspired a different set of dreams than the standard baseball glove/drum set type of gift.

"More recently, advances in technology (i.e., the use of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) rather than conventional lightbulbs) as well as changes in design and construction (i.e., the emergence of the durable machined aluminum body that is available in a wide variety of colors) have ensured that collectors - though I'm not aware of anyone else doing it - have no shortage of opportunities for pursuing their passion.

"Though I no longer feel the need to carry one with me at all times - the development of high-powered keychain models was nice - I still have to admit that it did come in handy during the Northeast Blackout of 2003."

So there you have it. We've reached a world record three company grandmother mentions, thus concluding the "get to know us" portion of this blog.

I must now tag five other bloggers.

John Krystynak - because he cares so much about ads.
Tony Colan - because he talks local, and is a good sport about me linking to him!
Tamera Kremer - Reading, sometimes it's like looking in a mirror! (But it looks like Tamera.) (Seriously, read her Dec. 14 entry, it's really good.)
Doc Searls - because of his incredible blogroll.
... and finally,
Arieanna [note: chosen at random from a list of all b5 Media blogs], who somehow finds the time to write about both Lindsay Lohan and "The 4400" [note: The 4400 is a TV show. Don't ask, cuz I don't know]!!! The Long Tail gets longer...

If you've been tagged and want to know what that means, this explains it. I've followed virtually none of the rules, but consider yourself tagged anyway.

Matt McGee, who blogs about small business, tagged me awhile back. Keri Morgret duplicated the favor. :)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Apple Squashes 'Berry

... at least, in a stock price sense. The new iPhone announcement threatens to launch a tidal wave of disruption in the mobile device space. For those of you who have heard/seen leaked ideas of what the device would be like, what do you think? Is the real one cooler, or less cool? From here, I think cooler. $499 - and - use - Mac - OS cooler? Maybe not for me. :)

The nice thing for RIM is that the Pearl did turn a lot of heads, and new devices slated for fall of this year can always be tweaked to take advantage of market feedback from both its own devices and Apple's new one.

The consumer's definitely benefiting from all this Motorola, Palm, RIM, Apple, etc. leapfrogging. Meanwhile, they can't all win. Who will be left standing?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




OK Guys, You Can Stop Scheduling Conferences Now

Between May 30 and June 13, it looks like I'll be speaking at, helping to organize, or at the very least attending, four conferences: Toronto, Seattle, New York, and Toronto again. If anyone has the clever idea of scheduling any more events this year, think again! :) I love the energy in our business, but has anyone noticed the trade show business and the unconference business growing out of control, or is it just me?

Speaking of which... I'll be putting on this event... :)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, January 08, 2007

(At Least) Five Things About Us, Con't

Did I say five? A couple more colleagues have sent me their personal touches, so it'll be more than five...

Teran Dale is the person who does a lot of heavy lifting in the Page Zero scheme of things, working on maintaining and monitoring a range of accounts. If you call or visit our office you'll probably see or talk to him. T, as we call him, is basically our Jack of All Trades. He joined Page Zero in summer 2005 with a background in financial services and a passion to start out on a new career in online advertising. He got what he bargained for. He's a family man and his family just settled in a new home in Mississauga.

T. writes: "Not many people know that I used to play the guitar religiously. I received my first guitar at the age of four and I would sleep with it every night. I quit playing when I was 16; heaven knows why I stopped playing. I recently started listening to Wes Montgomery, Herb Ellis, and Django Reinhart. I am seriously thinking of starting to play again. My eyes are set on a Tobacco Burst Gibson Wes Montgomery... excessively expensive but if you ask me, a beautiful arch top."

To this belated Christmas wish, at least no one can say "you'll shoot your eye out, kid!"

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Video Interview with Mike McDonald

Got 5:28? Finally posted from SES Chicago, a video interview with my good friend Mike on PPC Trends, not quite live from the Speaker Room in the Hilton.

We'll hold off on our new forthcoming Traffick catchphrase "Digg the Crapp outta this!" because this isn't all that controversial. So Digg it gently, or amuse yourself by looking for - (1) the "guy who doesn't take his backpack off to use the computer" and (2) Is that Barbara Coll in the background?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, January 07, 2007

Seth's Compact Fluorescent Post

I was a little late to link back to Godin's original post about the good sense of using compact fluorescent bulbs, but this is a link to his latest aggregation of bloggers who linked to him on the subject of CF Bulbs. To add another great site, a client, Rob Walker of The Lightbulb Company (UK), started up this site on Energy Saving Lightbulbs, which includes info about government subsidies.

Now onto the next environmental bugaboo. Stadiums. If we're going to build them, are we watching how energy-efficient they are? Recently, BC Place in Vancouver got a hole in the roof due to high winds. It's one of those "bubble stadiums" that requires air pressure to keep the "balloon roof" intact. At dinner my dad asked "How much energy do you suppose it takes to keep the roof up all year?" I'd like to know, too. The topic's interesting enough that Angus Reid (a national polling firm) has a poll page up on their site. "Rebuild the roof?" OR "Build New Venue for 2010 Olympics?" If that's how we make public policy, of course, we're in trouble. How about an environmental audit of whatever decision gets made, and for that matter, of the Olympics in general.

I had to mention it, because I'd also like to know, if I'm going to be replacing lightbulbs, how many lightbulbs' worth of effort are being negated by the big megaprojects that chew up far more energy than they strictly need to? The average person will want to know: will a new stadium set us back 100,000 lightbulb change units a year? 1,000,000? Or will it improve things (once you factor in the cost and energy of demolition & construction)?

At least someone appears to be thinking about this.

Signed,

Sports Grinch

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Five Crazy Things, Cont'd - Me Edition

As the general editor of this series, I'd like to tell you maybe a couple of small anecdotes about myself (yes I get two, I'm the editor!), and post a pic too. :)

Like some of the others, I'll be talking mostly about other people. The personal stuff I sent around in our production meeting included my own fabulous thespian and athletic accomplishments from high school, but because they were so unbelievably awesome, I wouldn't want you to think I peaked in high school, so I'm changing gears. So here goes.

The first bit is that - as difficult as it might be for Traffick readers to believe - I have first cousins who are even smarter than I am, at least in raw scores of the sort that might get you places in a scientific field. Lesley McKarney has a PhD in something scientific, and Ian Leinert is in his first year at U of T, taking math, among other things. Their grandmother and mine, Isobel Shortreed, must be to blame genetically, having taught school at a one-room schoolhouse in southwestern Ontario. (My grandfather, the broad-shouldered Walter, might be part of it: I don't know, as he didn't talk much.) Actually the eldest two Shortreed daughters (my Mom, Jean, and Lesley's mom Anne) must have spent at least some time in one of those one-room schools before they modernized things. Walking uphill and through snowdrifts and against the wind, both ways. All the Shortreed girls attended the University of Western Ontario -- quite a rarity in any family, especially one from rural Ontario. I won't go into the part where, even after they were grown women, my mother and her sisters would have to walk a few blocks from the parents' in-town house (post retirement from farm) to do their grownup stuff like smoking.

But enough about my family. Currently, I'm reading The United States of Arugula by David Kamp, a meticulously-researched, gossip-laden tome about the rise of foodie culture in America. Whether you enjoy pop culture, like to eat, or are a Long Tail aficionado, this book is definitely worth your time. So anyway, I'm up to the late 1960's, to the part where Graham Kerr, a.k.a. The Galloping Gourmet, is bursting on the scene. What's surprising about the originating "food establishment," the wacky but eventually respectable group headed up by James Beard, Julia Child, and the New York Times' Craig Claiborne, is just how strange and unqualified they mostly were for their jobs... until life handed them the opportunity to learn as they went while becoming celebrities in the process. When British-born Kerr bursts on the scene and tries to do the same thing, the establishment quickly closes ranks. They claim that he's just a showman - cares nothing for food. As Kamp points out in these pages, Kerr would respond indignantly that he tested endlessly in preparation for his shows. More than that, he actually did so much TV after he burst on the scene that his exposure was massive as compared with the relatively light schedules of the core food stars of the day.

Kamp's book also notes the show was produced in Ottawa, Canada - Wikipedia notes it came to an end after Kerr sustained injuries in a car accident in 1971. (It isn't to be confused with Celebrity Cooks, starring Bruno Gerussi, which was taped in Vancouver from 1979 concurrent with Gerussi's starring role in the always-campy The Beachcombers.) This is where a little cross-referencing is in order. I spent eight years of my kid-hood in snowy Ottawa, and lived one block from fancy Rockcliffe neighborhood (home of Ashbury College) on the wrong side of Maple Lane (well, if not wrong, then less fancy and now, slightly gentrified). It's not very interesting if you grew up rich, but looking back, as a non-rich-kid, it's pretty funny to think about how we always got to play with the children of Cabinet Ministers and ambassadors, just because of the proximity. Once I swam in the indoor pool of the Ghanian ambassador. I watched the Irish ambassador's kid, Padraig Power, go from a completely hapless skater to nearly the best player in our league. Anyway, one day my buddy and I went over to visit the home of a wealthy Asian friend. Well, his parents were wealthy. We were just kids. In the home were five kitchens! It happened to be the former home of Graham Kerr himself, the Galloping Gourmet.

Now what would be the point of having five kitchens? Presumably, that's over the top even if you throw fancy dinner parties. I'm guessing Kerr was testing stuff 24-7. The best in any profession usually have substance to go along with the image, and he was no exception. It also shows just how much money he must have been making at the time. To that point, according to Kamp's account, few outside of Child were getting rich from foodie celebrity. How times have changed.

That leaves me with a thought about fame and fortune and how some achieve it while other deserving folks don't. A longtime favorite cooking celebrity in the Toronto area was Pasquale Carpino - "The Singing Chef." In various local shows he would expertly cook, sing, and joke his way through the expert preparation of Italian dishes. I saw an episode today, actually, but sadly it was a rerun - Carpino died last year, at 69. What always makes you wonder is why he wasn't globally syndicated and a huge celebrity. His routine would give you stomach rumbles (from the food) and belly laughs (from the humor) all at once. That stuff could have traveled! Long, long ago, Carpino was immortalized on SCTV, in Tony Rosato's character "Cooking with Marcello." In one great episode, Marcello gets the dickens bit out of him by a lobster.

As if we haven't slid far enough off topic, the top photo is of me hiking in Algonquin Park. My wife, Carolyn, would be in it, but she took the shot. As you can see, it appears that I just kept on partying after Google Dance 2006, as I still have the t-shirt on. The shot here at the bottom is the view of Diamond Lake, from a cottage we've rented three years running. The Hastings Highlands are one of the better-kept secrets in Ontario. The only search marketer to have shared this view with us (to date) is Mike Grehan and his wife, T.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Another Vote for the Power of Analytics

Two years ago we wrote about ViewTracker by Sellathon, an app that helps eBay sellers grok their referral traffic to better understand their online promotional ROI. Sellathon was recently acquired by a company called Auctiva.

As Sellathon's literature aptly points out, with rising listing costs and decreasing findability, sellers need to take steps to optimize their auction participation.

If you've heard the horror stories, like newbie sellers losing money on every sale - on high volume - until belatedly discovering their errors to stem the six-figure red ink... you know that eBay isn't what it used to be. Only those who optimize will come out unscathed.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Latest Ruling on Keyword Triggered Ads and Trademark

Eric Goldman reports factually on the latest trademark infringement case, ruled on by a court in Eastern Pennsylvania:

"The court holds that, as a matter of law, the use of keyword-triggered ads and keyword metatags cannot confuse consumers if the resulting ads/search results don't display the plaintiff's trademarks."

So if the keywords in your Google AdWords or Yahoo SM account -- or the keyword meta tags in the headers of your HTML pages, for that matter -- aren't intentional attempt to "dupe" and trade on someone else's trademark for a use in commerce, then what are they, exactly?

As I've argued all along: they're cues to relevancy, a way of getting relevant consumers to consider your offer. If you owned clickstream data, as all of the major website properties (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo) do, you'd already have a very good idea of which consumers had, in the past, visited (say) the BMW site, or searched for "BMW". If you knew this, you could show them your ads at a later time in their surfing travels. Is that legal? As long as the privacy policies are disclosed, it sure is. It's called "targeting." What if you don't own that clickstream data? Shouldn't you be allowed to benefit from the same phenomenon, by participating in a system that works similarly?

It's nice to see that the court understood the difference between passing your business off as another business, and using legitimate means of optimizing ad campaigns (or web content) to maximize the chances that your target customers, searching and navigating of their own accord, might come across your offer.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, January 06, 2007

Kaboose Buys Bubbleshare

Web 2.0 photo-sharing startup Bubbleshare has been acquired by content company Kaboose for $2.25 million plus another $750k in potential earn-out.

Why so much reaction to a $3 million acquisition? Likely because it provides encouragement to a lot of small web 2.0 startups, who are avidly cheering each other on because they believe in their central role in the next phase of user engagement online.

In an interview with Mark Evans, the acquiring CEO offers some great advice to Canadian entrepreneurs:

"I think it’s a real shame that Canadians aren’t as active in the new media environment as we could be. Part of the reason is we are too Canadian-focused. People who are working on things are focused on the Canadian audience only, and that is not what the Internet is about. Although Kaboose and Bubbleshare are Canadian companies, we are both developing tools and applications that have universal appeal."

It's always surprised me that in a culture that can look to great companies like RIM, with their global appeal, that some investors and entrepreneurs remain so provincial. By necessity, you need to think globally today. (Even if you do "local"!)

Kaboose received a great writeup in (Rogers-owned) Profit magazine this month, but that particular story is not apparently available in the online edition. Profitmag.com redirects to www.canadianbusiness.com/entrepreneur, if you're scoring at home.

Edit: See the comments on this post for the accurate info regarding the link to the Kaboose feature, and the status of PROFIT within the Rogers Publishing group, generously supplied by Ian Portsmouth, the Editor.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, January 05, 2007

Five Things, Continued

Next victims of "Five Things You Didn't Know About Us": Dean Towers and Cory Kleinschmidt.

I've known Dean since university days, when he was a Wallace Knight and I lived next door in Taylor House (University College, University of Toronto). If you'd have suggested then that we'd someday be working together as world-beating pioneers in the field of Internet advertising, we'd have laughed and laughed, and had another beer. Then again, back then there was no Internet advertising. I believe I sent my first e-mail in 1988, to a statistics professor who got university addresses for my class. In 1999, Dean was "around" as an adviser and supporter as I founded Page Zero Media, and formally joined as a co-founder as consulting work began trickling in in 2001. The trickle turned into a much steadier flow after 2003.

Cory and I (strangely, in part due to research for a business venture cooked up in 1998 by Dean and I, during the dot com bubble) met virtually in 1999, quickly deciding to co-found Traffick.com as a "fun hobby" (which it continues to be) in Sept. 1999. In 2006, Cory formally joined Page Zero Media as our Director of Web Development, supporting client site redesigns, landing page testing, and a top-secret SEO Division which is still being built up. What's amazing about Cory is his versatility in helping clients achieve usability and brand image goals. He understands the need to make the business case for web design projects, and executes on it. Yes, he's one of those people who can do both coding and design. Amazing.

Here are the guys' trivial personal anecdotes: :)

Buffalo Bills 'R' Us Dept.: Dean writes: "I played in the Ontario basketball championship senior year in high school. The team, from a town of only 2000, was a Cinderella story. They had never made it before, so going to play the 'big city' teams was big news. The table was set, not unlike the movie Hoosiers - except for the fact that the team was drubbed by 40 points a game. I did chip in with about 8 points, or 20% of their entire team's tournament offense so I consider it the highlight of my basketball career."

I guess you ought to take it with a grain of salt if Dean tells you a campaign's going to be a "slam dunk."

He's a poet, and I didn't know it, dept.: "Until he became married with children, Cory Kleinschmidt had aspirations of becoming the Poet Laureate of the United States. A lifelong dreamer and sentimental naturalist, he began writing poetry in high school and won several poetry competitions at the University of Missouri in the early '90s. Cory writes about topics such as the quite serenity of nature, greatness lost, and decay and redemption in a non-rhyming, heavy alliterative style that uses muted yet powerful words to build short, punchy vignettes."

I'm going to go out on a limb to guess that these verses are much better than my annual "'Twas the Night Before Football" poetry, written for the exclusive viewing pleasure of my fantasy football mates. For sure, they likely contain fewer bad words.

We're not done yet! Two more to go...

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Monster Chiller Horror Post - See Occam's Razor Slash Chris!

Chris Winfield old buddy -- you are creating huge irony here on Traffick.com.

Both Cory and I took the trouble to explain how we are streamlining our lives in 2007. Then you have to come out with 101 top search related news items of 2006, which I just stumbled across.

By way of trying to show you how to live, especially after you and your fiance are done with marryin' and you have lots of outside responsibilities that preclude lists of 101 "top" news items... I'm going to go through item by item... and... yes, I realize that's silly and ironic, because now I'm breaking my resolution to streamline my life in '07. Well you can't break it if it wasn't officially a resolution in the first place!

I realize we've never actually met, but I think you commented here once, and from what I've seen, you're one of the top-quoted SEM firm owners in the world. I'm sure we'll meet at SES New York, for a change.

Now, here's what I'd personally do to cut down your list of 101 unbelievably important (????) search stories... to, like... 8...

I'll post your items if you don't mind, then a couple of forward slashes, and my comments.

101. Google offers domain registrations (12/14) // pretty minor. I'd try to bundle this one in with a Google overall portal strategy post, or something along those lines. Maybe links to Danny's Tipping Points item. Not in the top 101 stories but at some other point in blog time.

100. Ms. Dewey puts the sexy back in search // it can't be debated. keep it

99.
A proliferation of new, free tools led by SEO for Firefox, SEOmoz’s Page Strength Tool and Performancing for Bloggers // not news.

98.
Google opens larger New York City office (10/3)Stephen Colbert vs. Wikipedia // bloggable but not a top story at all.

97.
Stephen Colbert vs. Wikipedia (8/2) // got it on TV already.

96. Tom Brady vs. Yahoo! (12/7) // nah.

95.
Google vs. Belgium Newspapers // obviously key, and proves how lame some of these others are. keep.

94.
Google Pack released (1/6) but Trillian is dumped (5/19) // ?????

93.
Secret to getting billions of pages indexed in Google revealed (6/17) // no doubt too silly to click on...

92. Google Reader users can share their feeds (3/24) // neat! debating this...

91.
Google Base Accepts Payments (2/27), and eBay Express follows // too confusing... not news, therefore...

90.
Google shows off new toys: Google Page Creator and Google Notebook // fiddle dee dee... no.
Dell Google Homepage
89. CarPhone Warehouse purchases AOL UK (10/11) // amusing enough to keep.

88.
Google and Dell create personalized homepage (1/7) // no sir.

87.
Amazon launches their own CPC program ClickRiver Ads (11/5) // ho dee hum, no.

86.
Yahoo & IBM team up on corporate search (12/13) // you can hear a pin drop.

85.
Adam Lasnik is hired by Google as Search Evangelist (5/12) which was predicted over a year ago // Adam seems like quite a good guy but let's give due credit to 1,000 others who work at Google... so... nope, not a news story you need to tell your clients and reporter friends about...

84.
Yahoo! and Ask embark on huge traditional ad campaigns but still remain at 2 & 4 respectively in searchers // I would consider this an interesting feature... a seed of a longer item, but not discrete news. Keepable because interesting, nonetheless.

83.
RH Donnelley buys Local Launch (9/7), MediaWhiz acquires Text Link Ads (11/7) // barely big enough, and probably not big enough a deal to be interesting outside a small circle, respectively.

82.
Lycos Teams with Ask for Ads (11/1) // bwahahaha, ... no.

81.
DMOZ editor corruption exposed (publicly) (8/18) // in 2000. no.

80.
Google Buys dMarc Radio Advertising (1/17), then launches Partnership Initiative with Newspapers (11/6) and Radio (11/7) // the dMarc story is certainly news.

79.
Yahoo partners with newspapers to offer job marketing content (11/20) // probably.

78.
UTube sues YouTube (11/1) and then begins selling ringtone, poker and sex ads (12/13) // sideshow and no.

77.
SEO is put down by Jason Calacanis, Ted Leonsis and Bill Pasternak/Kevin Lee - leading to some interesting contests and fact-based retorts about the Half-Truths of Talking Frogs // worth a bullet in a Danny keynote, but not a news item.

76.
Web reaches 100,000,000 site milestone (11/1) // round numbers are not my kinda news.

75.
Start-ups score big names: Robert Scoble Leaves Microsoft for PodTech (6/10) and Tim Converse leaves Yahoo for Powerset (12/18) // not newsy enough to be essential.

74.
Orkut’s Brazilian Popularity Soars (4/10) // happened in 2004-5.

Udi Manber 73.
The revolving door at SearchEngineWatch - Gary Price leaves SearchEngineWatch for Ask (2/9) and Barry Schwartz takes his place (2/9) but then leaves with Danny to Search Engine Land (11/20) // only the Danny leaving with Chris (and also Barry) story is big enough to be considered news. Some laypersons I talked to about it don't even know about Search Engine Watch, or *Danny*. Yes, you heard me. One of them owns a small SEM shop!

72.
Corporate search engine personnel moves - Steve Berkowitz leaves Ask for MSN (4/22), Udi Manber Leaves Amazon for Google (2/8) and the Microsoft “Brain Drain” has Managers Leaving to Google (7/1) // not sure here, especially since you bundled them. so no.

71.
Corporate moves in the SEO world - Todd Malicoat leaves WeBuildPages (3/30), Andy Beal leaves Fortune Interactive (8/4), Mike Grehan leaves MarketSmart (8/3) followed by Garrett French (10/30) and Jake Baillie Leaves TrueLocal (12/22) // I know all but Garrett, so I'm swayed by this one. OK.

70.
Florida spammer is fined $11 billion dollars // really? OK.

69.
Google launches Book Search (8/30) // sure.

68.
Google acquires Writely (3/6) and then JotSpot (10/31) // Yes.

67.
Microsoft launches Live Spaces social network (8/3) // ????

66.
Yahoo! launches new Video site (5/31) // show me. No for now. Oh yes, Andy in Toronto *did* show me. But let's hold off until we get a sense...

65.
Microsoft announces plans for July 2008 transitioning out of Bill Gates (6/15) // transitioning? ho hum... nah

64.
Google Sitemaps becomes Webmaster Central (8/8) // renaming? no.

63.
Conde Nast acquires Reddit // is that like Digg? hmm... maybe.

62.
Wal-Mart (10/9) and Sony (12/12) learn that the blogosphere is very transparent // ongoing story of corporate clueful/less/ness... no story

61.
Google acquires Measure Map blog analytics software (2/15) // weird. interesting. no.
techmeme
60. Microsoft acquires web analytics firm DeepMetrix (5/3) // yadda. no.

59.
Google opens Online Video Store (1/7) // yes.

58.
Tracking Memes - led by Techmeme, Tailrank & Megite // I'll allow it, counselor.

57.
Though Shall Not Google - Google is declared a verb (7/6) but Google doesn’t like it (12/26) // old news, I thought. no thanks.

56.
Yahoo acquires Bix.com (11/16) // ???

55.
Google announces Google Checkout (6/29), competes with eBay-owned Paypal (7/6) // YES.

54.
Yahoo settles click fraud suit (6/28) // sure.

53.
Google launches Docs & Spreadsheets (10/10) // yes.

52.
Sponsored blog posting services ReviewMe, PayPerPost & Blogvertise make a splash and lead to the FTC ‘encouraging’ disclosures from bloggers (12/20) // absolutely yes.

51.
Google agrees to censor results in China (1/24) // yes.

50.
Microsoft Small Business Directory stops accepting new submissions (11/15) // zzzz...no

49.
Australia suggests that permission be granted to index web pages (11/2) // interesting but obscure, so bundle with a longer item.

48.
Google Bombing as a political tactic (7/19) // too old. no.

47.
Foreign search engines threaten Google’s international presence: Baidu in China and Japan (12/4), Quaero in France and Theseus in Germany (12/21) // interesting - yes.

Google Trends 46.
Wikipedia founder announces plans to launch search engine (12/23) // absolutely.

45.
Google launches Google Trends (5/10) // love this tool. hope it improves. yes.

44.
Google News Comes out of Beta (1/23) // hilarious!!! no.

43.
Netscape launches Digg-like site (6/14), Jason Calacanis lures users with money (7/18) but leaves Netscape shortly thereafter (11/17) for a position at Sequoia Capital (12/5) // it's considered news by many because Calanacis is entertaining. YES.

42.
Yahoo and eBay join to fight the Google and Microsoft giants (5/26) // obscure, hard to quantify, no.

41.
Yahoo launches Search Builder (8/7) // search what? I wish them well on these great initiatives, but it doesn't feel like "news."

40.
Google CSE (Custom Search Engine) announced (10/23) // this always felt a bit more "major" than #41 so I'll allow it.

39.
Google begins notifying webmasters of penalties (4/26) // big enough in an SEO sense that it should be disseminated. yes.

38.
Socially-governed video search sites launched: StumbleVideo (12/13), Digg (12/18), Megite (12/26), and Tailrank (12/26) // trendy, no.

37.
Microsoft launches Internet Explorer 7 (10/18) and Mozilla launches Firefox 2 (10/24) // sadly, yes.

36.
Yahoo focuses on integrating social components in brand websites (12/1) // gonna have to pass.

35.
Time Magazine names YOU ‘Person of the Year‘ // I refuse to countenance this.

Christine Dolce 34.
AskCity Launches (12/4) // if our job in media is to build it up before it's revealed to be less exciting than billed, then OK, yes.

33.
The rise of Internet Celebrities: LonelyGirl15, Christine Dolce, and Ze Frank proving that sometimes you don’t have to even be real to be famous online // definitely not news.

32.
Microsoft signs ad deal with Facebook (8/23) but perhaps the bigger story is the non-acquisition of Facebook by Yahoo! (9/21) // a non-story until it is. no.

31.
The Arbitrage Debate Rages //i certainly think so, and it's me typing. yep.

30.
KinderStart sues Google over PageRank and traffic (3/18) but the lawsuit is dismissed (7/13) // really, that feels like it happened in 1985. ok.

29.
Google will not give in to the DOJ’s search request out of privacy concerns (2/18) but the DOJ says it is not a privacy issue (2/27). Google is forced to give up data (3/14), but not all of it (3/17)AOL Searcher // very important story. yes.

28.
AOL leaks user search data (8/7) leading us to AOL Searcher No. 4417749 (8/9) // one of the biggest of the year.

27.
90% of all email now spam // not a search story!! and round numbers aren't news!

26.
Microsoft launches adCenter and drops Yahoo! Search Marketing ads (5/4) // ok.

25.
Social networks are the most searched for terms of the year on Google, followed by wikis and video, together totaling 60% of the Top 10 (12/18) // really? nah.

24.
MySpace auctions off search business (6/14) and Google wins the auction - resulting in a 3-year $1-billion dollar deal (8/7) // huge deal; yes.

23.
Widgets take off - led by YouTube and MyBlogLog // important but about search? no, then.

22.
AOL goes free (8/2) and begins to focus on SEO (11/3) // urgh, I'll pass.

21.
Google shuts down Answers (11/28) while Yahoo! integrates their own Answers into the SERPs (a rare up moment in Yahoo’s year) // anticlimax - no.

20.
Yahoo announces Panama Search Advertising System (4/6), which is delayed and results in profit dips for Yahoo but it then launches in October (10/19) // Y!es.

19.
Google tops $500 a share (11/21) // round numbers. no.

18.
Local search continues to gain momentum (9/28) // momentum is not news.

17.
Click fraud findings are addressed (7/21) and online giants join the fight (8/4) but does click fraud threaten the foundation of online ads? (10/21) // can't show me a "news story" here so will have to pass.

16.
Google says click fraud worries are overblown (8/9) despite the $90 million click fraud settlement (7/28) and Google’s claim that their click fraud rate is less than 2% (12/11) // Google's claim was actually news, so yes.

15.
Microsoft introduces new search engine (3/8) and then redirects search.msn.com to Live.com (9/14) // sigh, ok :)

14.
MySpace traffic tops Yahoo’s in November (12/19) // maybe, maybe not. pass.

13.
The Butler is Dead - AskJeeves rebrands itself to Ask.com (2/20) // they'd love us to report this as news... but ... no.

12.
Link Baiting and what Paris Hilton can teach us // nope.

11.
Two Words - Quality Score // no! there were changes to QBB but the first two legs both happened in 2005, with some additional stuff happening in 2006... so ... gonna pass.

10.
nofollow concerns (7/7) leads to some high profile sites changing their no-follow policiesThe Peanut Butter Manifesto // bit of an insider thing for now... no.

9.
Digg updates their algorithm (9/8), changes their look (12/18) and bans lots of legit sites in the process (12/21) // nah.

8.
Google’s ‘minus thirty’ penalty // 40% certain this is news, so no.

7.
Congress bans Internet gambling (10/2) // yes.

6.
The Peanut Butter Manifesto (11/18) and Yahoo reorganizing its operations (12/5) // yes.

5.
Google, Yahoo and Microsoft support Universal Sitemaps Standard (11/16) // yes.

4.
Google rolls out BigDaddy (1/4) // yes.

Danny Sullivan 3.
Social Media Optimization and its dark side // no.

2.
Danny Sullivan leaves Search Engine Watch (8/29) launches Search Engine Land (12/11) and the Search Marketing Expo conference and Search Marketing Now webcasts (12/5) // yes.

And the biggest story of the year? Well I was going to pull a Time Magazine and say that you were the biggest story of the year but I changed my mind in about two seconds flat on that. So unless you are Chad Hurley or Steve Chen - you’ll have to wait until 2007…
Google YouTube

1. Google Buys YouTube for $1.65 Billion (10/9) // yes.

--

OK... so I didn't whittle it down to eight. You proved to me that a lot of this stuff is actually important, which means we'll have to be even more ruthless on the stuff that isn't. That is, if we want to have a life, which neither of us do, clearly. Only 60% of your Top Ten even qualify as "news" to me - if that meant I'd relay it onto a moderately engaged client, reader, or enthusiast.

It's those encounters with laypersons that will make you sit up and really question what's important. And yes, they really do say things like "Who is Danny Sullivan?" Let alone understanding the importance of nofollow...

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Got $15?

The domain name aftermarket appears to be hurting badly.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Five Things You Didn't Know About Us

I was shying away from playing this game (I was tagged by Matt McGee), but if it's good enough for O'Reilly Radar, then it's good enough for me. Bloggers are sharing and getting more personal, so people get to know something offbeat about them. It's kind of like an echo chamber chain letter.

So here goes. But I've decided to make it about "us" (I asked fellow Page Zero people to send their tidbits in as well). And I get to be general editor. Which means, rolling these out one at a time, as my colleagues send 'em, and leaving some out!

What I find interesting is many people have an impulse to talk about something interesting about their family or some celebrity they know... as opposed to themselves. That, too, can be interesting, so no argument there. What follows aren't even the *most interesting* things. They're just things.

The first entry is from Scott Perry. Scott and I met somewhat randomly yet purposefully on a forum, commiserating by Private Message about GoTo.com click fraud and how that forum, sponsored as it was by GoTo, seemed to have thread thugs who wouldn't let your voice be heard if it was critical of GoTo. Scott and I hit it off, though he only did SEO at the time. Long story short, in 2002 he joined Page Zero as we focused on paid search. Now, just try to get Scott to do anything SEO-related!

Scott's first major SEM industry milestone (OK, first Sullivan encounter is what I mean) was to have a dozen donuts personally delivered to his suite (and I do mean suite, he got a random upgrade) at SES Chicago in 2004... by none other than Danny Sullivan.

Scott writes (edited version):

"My oldest brother Clark was the lead singer for the Canadian glam-rock band Sweeney Todd for a year or so. He can be heard as lead singer on the US-only release of their #1 hit single, Roxy Roller, previously released in Canada with Nick Gilder on vocals. It was hilarious to hear my grandmother's account of the band's visit to her farm in rural Saskatchewan. 'Clark and his orchestra stopped by the farm for a visit while heading to Regina for a performance.' Clark replaced Nick Gilder of 'Hot Child in the City' fame, eventually being replaced by a future superstar, the 16-year-old Bryan "Guy" Adams. Clark didn't 'work out' because, according to him, he wanted to 'Zeppelin up' the band while the manager wanted to maintain their bubblegum sound and look."

Scott is every bit as interesting as his brother. You might run into him at a Vancouver Canucks game, or at Search Engine Strategies Toronto this spring.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




[Search Engine X] is too [Powerful], So: [Let's Just Open Source It]

Skrenta explains what many of you already grasped about Google's growing power.

A commenter on Melanie's post at Battelle's blog comes up with this solution:

Time for an "open source" search engine without ads and with public algos. Maybe Blake Ross can get that going.

Ahem, can anyone else see a problem with this? A teeny tiny crack in the logic? Something we might refer to as adversarial indexing? The existence of black hats?

The ODP (Skrenta's co-creation) was one attempt to open-source search and navigation. So-called social search and collaborative filtering are another, but like anything else with open-source roots, (a) it can be made proprietary and thus doesn't necessarily get around the power problem; (b) it doesn't allow it to compete any better with the current leader unless everyone decides to use it, and unless a powerful enough coalition agrees that one set of open-source standards are *the* set of open-source standards worth adhering to. That a large manufacturer got an unfair advantage in, say, toilet paper or razor blades, wouldn't mean we'd be raring to embrace "open source personal hygiene."

That said, coming at the end of 2006, the announcement that the Wikipedia founder would launch a search engine to challenge Google might rank as the biggest announcement of last year in search, if your criteria for "biggest" include "what newcomer has any chance of being the next Google". Even a 1% chance.

Particularly interesting about the Wikiasari project is that it's partly funded by Amazon.com along with other Silicon Valley financiers. (Remember A9 going nowhere? You can't compete halfheartedly with Google, it's all or nothing.). This one means business. So much for "co-opetition"?

What makes or breaks a new entrant into the space is not what "ought to be" but what gets massive uptake from users. And that comes from momentum and then monopolistic lock-in practices. For all of the reasons Skrenta outlined, even a great team like Wikiasari's will face an incredible uphill battle (as Teoma/Ask did) before achieving breakout. Good job on the Simpsons quote at the end of your post, Rich. :)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Looking to Simplify Media Consumption? Try Netvibes

Further to Andrew's excellent soul-searching post earlier, here's another perspective on simplifying in 2007. This morning I made the semi-mistake of perusing the day's RSS headines on Netvibes, and found myself following a nearly endless series of interesting posts on various blogs.

Like Andrew and most anyone else these days, I too am searching for better ways of reducing info-clutter and staying on task in 2007. Paradoxically, one way of doing that is by managing one's daily reading material better by utilizing RSS feeds instead of visiting news/blog sites directly. But you have to be careful with how you approach it lest you get gobbled up by the seductive quantities of information.

Back to Netvibes, I truly cannot fathom living without it; that's how much I depend on it. Netvibes is one of those newfangled Ajax personal home pages and really is a superior solution for managing online information, whether it be news, social sites, blogs, calendars, e-mails, etc. -- pretty much anything that offers remote access to information through open formats like RSS, iCal, modules, widgets and other formats.

This fact was confirmed to me when no fewer than three year-end "best-of" lists named Netvibes as one of the best products of the year:
So if one of your goals is to streamline your consumption of information in 2007, check out Netvibes. It just keeps getting better and better. A worthy competitor to Netvibes, if it's not your thing, is PageFlakes, which also is vastly improved over its first version. Or you could also try Google Personal Homepage or Live.com, but both of these offerings from the big two are clearly inferior to Netvibes and PageFlakes. In this day and age of rapidly consolidating media, it's nice to see two small players achieve something so impressive. I suspect you'll be seeing both of these services grow exponentially in 2007.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Monday, January 01, 2007

2007 Undistracted: Zawodny's on Point

Wow, it's like looking in a mirror reading the Jeremy Zawodny post about "too many distractions" and resolving to be more streamlined in 2007. This isn't a New Year's Resolution post, but just for fun I'll assess my messy workday using Jeremy's points as a framework. I'll follow up with a couple of New Year's "hey, maybe you should..." points. (In essence, this is an Other-Regarding New Year's Resolution. Also known as "gettin' preachy".)

A little preface before turning to Zawodny's bullets on distraction causes.

I've heard people say things like "I delete three or four spam a day now!" and other weirdly underwhelming stuff about workflow difficulties to which I have trouble relating. To paraphrase a former client who spends far too much time in corporate meetings, "someday you will feel my pain!"

There are a lot of people who are just now getting ready to go down the same paths of overdo, over-network, over-message, and overenthuse that many of us have already been down (in an online-ish, emaily sense) in spades. Trust me people: the reason I may occasionally bristle at "displays of commitment and initiative" such as too many casual coffees, or fun side projects, is that at a certain point, for reasons outlined below, it all blew up.

I don't mean everything did, I just mean the available time needs to be better managed now, and the "no" I am about to say to some fun idea (in the context of continuing to work long rewarding hours, as ever, on a variety of fronts) is based on saying no to *additional* overload layered on the core stuff and the overload stuff.

Distraction causes according to Zawodny:
  • Longevity. (Zawodny, a Yahoo employee since 1999.) This strikes probably the biggest chord with me. If you're at Yahoo and lots of new people came on board and a whole world of outside people became connected to your writings, I can imagine that's a recipe for always having someone willing to talk with you, like being the most popular kid in a class of 100,000. :) We just run a small dog & pony show here (blog plus consulting company, etc. - both started basically in 1999, at least as far as domain reg. goes). But the fact of having networked so much and having been a conduit for so many ideas, regrettably conducted largely through email and using email addresses not easily abandoned, means just a ton of potential for distraction (to say nothing of spam). Put spam aside for a moment. There is also "soft spam." 75% of external email is soft spam, even after I don't count all the spam. One thing we've always done here is kicked the tires on a lot of products and services - in part to get our jobs done at low cost but also in order to write about them. That leads to vendor relationships, PR contacts, and more email. That's not a complaint, but it's the reality. If you've just started doing this kind of thing in the past two years, you haven't hit the wall yet. Eventually you too will have to balance your healthy attempts to expand your universe with ruthless filtering.
  • Difficulty Saying No. Speaking gigs that take me far afield, and don't pay, had better be for a really good cause, because exposure is just another name for frostbite :). Local speaking gigs that don't offer a really tasty lunch, the opportunity to play squash with Mayor Miller, or some similar perk, had better be a damn good idea. I am going to learn to say no more often. But that won't change the underlying bias towards "yes". I'm just repricing "yes."
  • Many Interests. I think people should have many interests, but the key to enjoying them in both work and play, I think, is to be ruthless in structuring ordinary work so that life can be enjoyed too. You're going to go stale if you don't have many interests. In a Long Tail world, you'll lack empathy in the extreme if you can't get around a bit.
  • Availability of Information. Indeed. The stuff just flows. Avoid pedantic people like the plague: they want to prove they wasted a bit more time than you getting a nuance right. In this environment there is a definite balance to be struck between the sensible "you could look it up" comment, if you're basically correct in your factual assumptions, and the erosion of credibility that comes if you didn't bother to look anything up for a protracted period of time, thus coming off as if you're from the Clued-Out Planet of the Offline. I have to be clear on this. I consider looking it up to be part of my job, a professional responsibility. I am quite impatient with those lazy enough to expect me to look it up for them, or who are willing to conduct an argument from hearsay or guesses when you could just look it up. So the advice to self and others is: do look *it* up. Just don't look it *all* up. Know how to look more of it up when the time comes. Please don't question and argue with someone who took the time to look it up. (Life isn't all about opinions. There are things called facts, just as there are misleading "facts" that should be debated. But it's not all just perspective.) So if you did look it up, and are being questioned by a pedant who wants to out-look-up everyone in the world, don't let these overdoers get you down. They may well have been born that way and cannot help it.
  • Lack of an Obvious Penalty. Define obvious, Jeremy. :) For those with kids, I think the penalty can be pretty obvious: you run out of time too much. And the kids start noticing your strange glowing appendage is getting all of your attention. For me, the penalty has even become pretty obvious: trying to leave the office when it's bedlam at the bars outside (our office is in the nightclub district). And the ergonomic drawbacks of too much computin'. Actually, it makes pretty good sense. When your physiotherapist can't understand why you're in more pain than the construction workers she sees, it's time for a change in routine.

Other-Regarding General Resolutions (My New Year's Gift to You):

  • Here's a great timesaver: don't waste time on the same stupid shit that occupies the days of 15-year-olds! I don't play computer games for hours on end (though I had a funny conversation with a fellow former Civilization addict, who is, gasp, starting to lose her grip on reality as she gets into the new version). I don't spend a bunch of time constructing my library of "personal favorite" tracks running into the tens of thousands, or otherwise fiddling with music. I quite enjoy the themed organization of Shoutcast while working, when I want music. Right now, I'm listening to the Blues. The stations that play it are better than organizing it than I would be. And then I set my Google IM to "show current music track" because sharing is fun. Fun! And not pedantic because someone else picked the track, at the end of the day. Timesaver #1: I don't have a clue about music, or at least don't try to act as if I do. And yet somehow I can still access it in seconds!
  • Please stop telling me to get a Blackberry! I know this is so you'll get an immediate reply to your urgent messages. The thing is, I've read people's messages, the ones they send me, from their 'berries. They say things like "OK". My emails are always longer than that. I guess the 'berry concept of email is more or less for the high-powered decisions and appointment scheduling, which is fair enough, but that's a narrow use. The fact that some of us do so much more with email and other types of messaging (IM, Skype) means we may feel like the 'berry is "yet another device" that will lead to redundancy. I actually have four email addresses that are used for quite distinct purposes! Getting a 'berry will be no guarantee that I even respond faster, unless of course I prioritize certain kinds of messages over all others, which is probably what the argument is really about. I had been planning to get a Pearl, but tried it and found it wanting (too small). So, yes I actually do plan to get a Blackberry but now I'm waiting for the newer, thinner, conventional Blackberry to come out in Spring. Until then, yes, I'll answer my phone and get back to you within 2 hours. And when I'm driving on the QEW, I will *not* be replying to you on my Blackberry. I might even choose to be safe and shut off my phone. Also, my gym requires all members to shut off all cellphones and mobile devices because "the King's Mill Club is supposed to be a place away from work and other distractions." (That replaces the "stop walking around with that camera phone, creep" warnings that apparently aren't good for their business.) I'm thinking of changing gyms, anyway. They have crappy equipment. Sigh. Checking the 'berry in the locker room... is this what I'm to become!?!
I do have an official New Year's resolution. I really need to learn another language, and to get my French back. To do this, I'll need to cut out distractions even more ruthlessly, but probably that won't happen until July.

Keep it busy and keep it fun, friends! I have the feeling we'll be seeing a lot of each other at the Workflow Support Group this year. :)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Slow Down, You Move too Fast

In my inflight magazine I came across a story about "fast culture" that offered this tidbit (roughly paraphrased):

"Google the word 'fast' and you come up with [a bazillion] results. Google the word 'slow' and you only get [bazillion divided by 2.7]. That must mean something."

No, it doesn't. It's meaningless.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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