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Monday, April 13, 2009

Perception, Not Reality, Could Topple Google in Search

Reading recent Twitter-will-crush-Google musings, it looks like the reasoning goes something like this: Google cannot do real-time search as well as Twitter. Ergo, Twitter will take over as a search engine people turn to for this type of information.

There is a chance that a growing Twitter could make significant inroads on that front. But it wouldn't be because Google lacks the capability. They can develop or add this relatively quickly on a variety of fronts, and the results could often be more useful. Over the weekend I typed "Kenny Perry" into Google and saw a custom result at the top of the page that actually noted his position on the current Masters leaderboard (at the time: T3). Adding more real-time capability isn't something that Google just thought of yesterday. What people are really saying when they say "Google can't do real time" is "Google isn't Twitter." Twitter is the current Lovemark in the space. If you're not them, then you're something else. No feature build will fix that, because it's all about who's there at what time. It's not like Google can index your direct messages inside Twitter or organize all the information in the same way Twitter and Twitter apps do.

The fact that Google can do the immediacy thing, and could add more of it to the mix, might not make any difference to users, then. If people want to use Twitter as a starting point for their social and informational lives, then increasingly they will.

And of course, given Twitter's major shortcomings, it's very possible that it's a placeholder for a sentiment of community and immediacy that is happening at a certain place in time. As I wrote here on a perfect April day eight years ago, online communities endure as platforms come and go. (Remember kids, online community is like Christine, the haunted 1958 Plymouth.) As sure as day turns to night, in a few years, everyone will migrate somewhere else, and you'll have to migrate with them to stay connected.

As community and peer based thought have risen to the forefront, we may finally - after a ten-year run - be seeing the all-powerful concept of "search" losing ground to a new dominant metaphor: "share". By "losing ground", I mean this could be merely as a concept, or it could be in the sense of "what's the first place people think of to go online to solve a problem or get information?" By and large, it's been Google in this decade. Many have said that will give way to Facebook, as if one is somehow mutually exclusive to the other. Still, the fact that Google "isn't sticky" -- a threat many analysts used to level at the search giant, and one that increasingly looked laughable as repeat visits and profits piledu up -- could indeed be its Achilles heel in the coming years.

This shift didn't just happen yesterday, but it seems to be gelling.

Of all their many strengths, Google's key weakness is that they really own none of the top-of-mind brands in collaboration, community, and sharing (not counting GMail and GTalk of course, which are formidable but also private, and not counting YouTube): Facebook, Skype, Twitter, all major brands that somehow Google couldn't surpass with in-house offerings.

Not only does this weakness threaten to paint Google in a light it's never been comfortable with -- big, impersonal corporation -- an acquisition of any of these properties wouldn't do much to change that situation because the user bases would lament the loss of an "independent" community. Yahoo began facing up to that difficult paradox more than a decade ago, and arguably hasn't done much to solve it. Independent digital brands engender a lot of loyalty and enthusiasm for their pioneering spirit, but they have trouble scaling, so they sell out to the big brands. And that allows the cycle to begin anew.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Gen-X'ers Bowling Alone?

When MySpace and Facebook started taking off, it was common knowledge that online social networking was a frivolous young person's activity.

But as the technologies and audiences evolved, the stereotype melted away entirely. We got used to thinking of non-adopters as strangely stubborn or churlish. People of all ages, it seemed, were equally likely to have a large friend list. Social media accounts were becoming like a cellphone - yes, teenage girls still ran up ridiculously high bills and/or exposed themselves to brain cancer - but everyone was getting on board, in a general sense.

Whoops, not quite. A new demographic study of social media shows that across all the social networks -- even on LinkedIn -- the number of people with accounts drops sharply when you hit the 35-44 demographic. The number of women using LinkedIn, almost equal to men in the 25-34, drops particularly sharply in the next age bracket.

If adoption patterns don't change, this only sorts itself out eventually over time - a very long, slow time - in the sense that those early-30-somethings will eventually be 40-something. But it points to a potentially big problem on an individual career level for many Gen-Xers and boomers, groups that have long thought of themselves as connected, hip, and in control of their destinies.

Interpretation 1: Exchanging monkey doodles with acquaintances falls into "Level 4 activity" as defined by Stephen Covey. Neither urgent nor important, it's a pure distraction and subtracts time spent working, and isn't even real leisure. Gen X figured this out long ago and are busy beavers avoiding distractions. There is a lot of merit in this interpretation, I think. 13-24's have lots of time to waste which explains their chatting behavior; 25-34's still haven't outgrown their youthful habits. On that interpretation, Facebook is like XBox. Or going to a lot of "stags" and "stagettes." *Not* doing something isn't proof you aren't savvy; it means you no longer need all these distractions as a crutch. You have a "life" - a busy job, a family, and active leisure pursuits. You don't live in someone else's house. For a network, the old-school email address book, etc., works just fine.

Interpretation 2: By shunning connectedness, workers in mid-career set themselves up for a trap should they ever need to change jobs or progress through the ranks. The lack of a handy network also makes it harder to reach out and get a quick answer to a question, or to remind someone of your presence. You lose your sharpness. You have one less tool in your arsenal to tap into the global "brain," since the social graph can augment "mere" research. Relative isolation moves you closer to the camp of The Rooted as described by Prof. Richard Florida in his latest (Who's Your City?, Chapter 5, "The Mobile and the Rooted"). If your virtual city is as unfashionable or as tucked away as an economically-unfavorable real physical location (you've gotta read Florida to get this), you wind up with lower ("rooted") status than those who are connected and mobile (even if only virtually in this case).

There is considerable food for thought in Interpretation 2. Weighing some of the evidence and looking at a list of the most successful folks I know, my sense is that churlish non-adopters may need to take a second look at the benefits of the social graph. While Facebook may be akin to XBox, in other ways, professionals should be wary of involuntary dropping out of a race they didn't even know was being run.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, January 07, 2008

It's Somewhat Illogical, Captain: Don't You Love Social Networking?

If you look me up on Spock and go by the tags, this is the impression you'd get of me:

I:

  • am the Internet Industry (sorry Al Gore), the Toronto Blue Jays (sorry Ted Rogers and #1, Tony Fernandez), and Google AdWords (sorry guys).
  • little known fact: I am a "principal"
  • in addition to being a principal, I work at Page Zero Media
    (we just launched a redesigned site with the unhyphenated version of the domain, so now's as good a time as any to self-plug from over here)
  • have brown eyes and "brown hair hair"
  • enjoy Mexican
  • enjoy hockey
  • am a graduate of the University of Toronto
  • am a graduate of Burlington Central High School
  • among other things.
I just thought you should know. Because it's all mostly 100% true!

In trust we trust,

Andrew

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, November 01, 2007

Life's an Open Facebook: Google's OpenSocial Challenge

As reported in the New York Times, Google has cleverly brought several of the world's largest social networks on board of a new open standard for social networking apps. Bill Tancer of Hitwise expertly quantifies the current state of affairs, assessing Facebook's traffic to be 9X of the OpenSocial sites combined (these include Friendster, LinkedIn, and hi5). He also notes that trends can turn very quickly in this business.

While the combined effort to allow outside developers to power the platforms is interesting in itself, a separate but related competitive question is whether one or two of these networks will see a real surge in usage -- either because there are more open source apps available, or for some other reason, like people getting bored of Facebook. Some of them are obviously quite good -- I still think a lot of LinkedIn -- so there is still a chance a couple of them will race ahead and narrow that 9 to 1 gap.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, October 07, 2007

Somebody's Talking About Portals

Bless you, Steve Rubel. Interesting point that the big guys probably still win even if they can't build a competing social network. I get Facebook notifications through GMail, for example.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, September 17, 2007

The "Failed" Websites that Happen to Be in the Very Top Few Websites in the World

Facebook's in trouble if they hold their "poker hand" too long. Or so say smarmy analysts in the press, worried that the "fate" of Facebook may resemble that of the "failed" Friendster and the "who cares anymore!?" Orkut of Google origins.

The thing is, those who own these companies have long stopped caring what analysts say. No wonder they plan to cash out at only appropriate valuations, or just keep running these communities as they continue to grow and develop.

Caveat: you'll have to believe the Alexa numbers - Alexa gives me the prettiest graph on demand (see below). I believe these numbers when the ranks are below 100 or so. Especially when they are below 10! (When you're in the top 10 or 20 websites on the planet, who's counting?

"Failed" Friendster is, admittedly, only in the top 100 or so websites in the US. Its regional strength ("but" 9 out of 10 users are in the Asia Pacific region, says a news story) in the Asia Pacific Region puts it in the top 10, or even top 3, sites in several countries.

Forgotten Orkut is still the #1 website in Brazil. Weird, but I've heard of worse fates. It's also in the top 5 in India and Pakistan. It's in the top 50 in the US.

I could go on, but I think you see the point. Social networking is hot, and what the press call risks, or also-rans, or failed, are not only doing well, they're doing incredibly well - just not always on the same timetable, or with the same founders, or in the same places, as planned.

So, Friendster's "decision not to sell" (for the $30 mil Google supposedly offered) is touted as "one of the biggest blunders in Internet history." Moreover, the current valuation is pegged by at least one pundit at $1.5 million (?). While it's certainly too bad that Friendster was ahead of the curve and had frequent outages, and too bad that Jonathan Abrams was shoved out, the broader point is: the present ownership of this class of sites is playing their cards right. Hang on. You're worth it.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, March 05, 2007

Social Media Gone Wild

Ever since the rise of social media sites like Slashdot, Digg, Reddit and their myriad clones, those little badge icons and the accompanying invocations from publishers for their visitors to [INSERT NAME OF SITE AS VERB] them have been popping up like the dandelions that will start appearing on lawns everywhere. In the beginning, it was helpful. But as more of these sites have appeared, blogs everywhere are starting to resemble the credits at the end of movies.

Witness the post footer template that our good friends at Search Engine Land are sporting now in the screenshot below. I sure hope no more social media / bookmark sharing / social networks pop up any time soon, 'cause social media fatigue is setting in with me.

As I'm sure Bryan Eisenberg would agree, when you have so many calls to action packed together so tightly, you're less likely to achieve the desired outcome. Maybe publishers should start picking the most popular social sites in their verticals. Or maybe the inevitable shakeout of social sites will make it all a moot point.

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Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Sunday, March 04, 2007

LinkedIn Is the New Classmates.com!

LinkedIn has done it again. Your past educational institutions are typically an important part of your LinkedIn profile. Now, you can browse everyone in the system who shares that affiliation.

I hear a lot of skepticism about LinkedIn in day-to-day conversations, but I think they've really nailed this thing. They keep releasing important new features and have been more viral than their competitors.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




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