free html hit counter January 2004 - Page 7 of 12 - John Battelle's Search Blog

RSS Conference/Webcast This Week

By - January 18, 2004

Dan Gillmor, Dave Winer, Ross Mayfield, and many others are gathering virtually to discuss RSS and its implications at the RSS Winterfest Jan 21 and 22 (agenda). I’m particularly interested in the conversations around the future of RSS, and how it will evolve to support subscription and advertising models (yes, a publisher’s question – how can we monetize this!?).

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The Yellow Pages Strike Back

By - January 17, 2004

Dex, the newly named Yellow Pages unit (formerly of Qwest/US West), announced Friday they have made all 240,000 of their listings – covering a major swath of the midwestern and western US – searchable online. Said Dex President and Chief Executive Officer George Burnett, rather defensively, “We think our product is better than any portal.”

MediaPost has a story on it here.

Reuters: Google Planning Email-based AdWords Service

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This piece (via Forbes.com) explores the idea, which Google does not deny or confirm. Says Google may do its own branded email service.

From the piece: Google last year purchased an e-mail management software maker and in 2001 registered the domain name googlemail.com.
Some in Silicon Valley also believe Google could be preparing to launch free e-mail to compete with offerings from Yahoo and MSN’s Hotmail.
“If they were to go the e-mail route they’d have to provide an offering that competes with free (e-mail). Anti-spam is one form of strong differentiation,” said Jim Pitkow, chief executive of Moreover Technologies, whose personalized search company Outride was acquired by Google in 2001.

Battle of the SEOs

By - January 16, 2004

“SEO” stands for “search engine optimizers,” an oft-maligned class of businesses who specialize in helping companies rank better in organic – aka “pure” – listings. In other words, these are the folks who will help your site get in the first page of results in Google, as Google is (for now) the only game in town when it comes to pure results. And as we all know, getting on the first page of Google results can mean a massive amount of traffic and business to your site. Plus, you can avoid having to spring for paid listings.

Now, SEOs have a long and rather mottled history, and it’s not my goal in this post to revisit it. Suffice to say that many SEOs use tactics which fail the integrity sniff test, and most observers of this space would agree that the overzealous use of search-engine optimization has created a massive spam problem for Google – crap results which clog up otherwise relevant SERPs (search engine results pages). In fact, it’s not at all uncommon to call the dance between SEOs and Google’s programmers an “arms race” – wherein Google will shift its algorithms to thwart obvious SEO deviousness, and the SEO community will respond with new and ever more crafty techniques to foil Google’s algorithms.

But many SEOs perform a honest and valuable service – they play by the rules, and they help sites organize themselves so they rank just about where they reasonably ought to. Optimizing for Google is not a new idea – nearly every good site does it, from CNet to Amazon. The SEO industry recently took a major step toward becoming an industry with standards and practices when it self-organized SEMPO, the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (though I can’t yet find the equivalent of SEMPO Member Guidelines, which I imagine is still a pretty hot potato within that nascent community).

All of this came to mind when I saw this link via Google Blogoscoped: The Google SERPs SEO Competition. Far as I can tell this is an open call for entries for SEOs to prove they can push a particular page (in this case, the #1 SERP for the term “SERPs”) to the top of the heap in Google. No rules, winner takes all (which I think in this case means basically bragging rights). I’m pretty sure this contest will be less than warmly received over at Google, but I wonder what SEMPO thinks? I’ll send a note and be back when I have an answer….

eBay = The Fed

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OK, that’s a stretch. But via Mediapost we learn that Washington Mutual, a major bank, is using an eBay auction to set interest rates for its CDs. This is a stunt, certainly, but an interesting one. I’ve always been fascinated by the use of eBay as a “meta” pricing mechanism for markets outside of individual items. For example, Dale Dougherty over at O’Reilly recently turned me onto the idea of using eBay to create markets that might predict the half-life/value of new gizmos by comparing what past iterations sell for in aggregate on eBay.

From the story:

In a promotion beginning today, the bank is using eBay to auction interest rates for its certificate of deposit accounts. But instead of posting a low rate and letting consumers bid them higher, Washington Mutual will offer the CDs at a relatively high interest rate, which eBay members will bid down. …. Aside from being a radical form of banking, the promotion is the latest in a series of innovative marketing deals to come out of eBay’s new Strategic Partnerships Unit, which also developed such surprising stunts as Seven-Up’s “Liquid Loot” and Hasbro’s “Jedi Knights” promotions.

More on eBay’s SPU here

A Worthy Read

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Not directly tied to search, but I was fortunate enough to get an early copy of Stephen Johnson’s new book Mind Wide Open: Your Brain And The Neuroscience Of Everyday Life, which is now out. As Cory points out, it’s from a guy who many of us revere for elegantly relating Big Ideas. The book does a superb job of relating new thinking about…thinking, and in particular emotions such as love, fear, and joy. A very worthy read, and an inspiration for folks like me struggling to write a book related to Big Ideas.

Playboy v. Netscape: A Wrinkle in the Paid Search Model

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This news came more than a day ago, and I decided to hold off on discussing it, as it felt like a nuisance suit. But the more I think about it, the more I sense this could be something of a big deal. Way back in 1999, Playboy sued Netscape, which was at that time still a major player in the web advertising wars, for misuse of its trademarks. At issue was Netscape’s advertising model, known then as keying – the practice of selling specific advertising that would appear when users typed in certain search terms (basically paid search, but an earlier form). Netscape, and later Excite, were selling keywords to companies capitalizing on Playboy’s trademarks. The suit was dismissed, then appealed, and yesterday we learned that the Ninth Circuit has upheld Playboy’s right to sue.

Now, the defending parties are either gone (Excite) or mere shadows of their former selves (Netscape), but Playboy intends to pursue the suit anyway. This case is not an anomaly, as Stephanie Olsen points out in her piece covering it. Google, among others, has been the target of several suits, and has recently asked the courts to clarify this issue, one clearly central to its business model. Late last summer, Google acquiesced to portions of an eBay request that Google not allow its advertisers to bid or buy on keyphrases that included the eBay brand.

The question here is of balance. Where and how do you draw the line as to what is a misuse of a trademark, and what is not? If we have to depend on the courts every time someone wants to use a word that also happens to be trademarked, the chilling effect on paid search could be significant.

Metrobot

By - January 15, 2004

Chris Sherman over at SearchDay (SEW) gives Metrobot, a new kind of local search engine, a rave review today. From his piece: “Metrobot is one of the most useful specialized search services I’ve seen in a long while. It also shows how thinking outside of the (search) box can lead to a creative yet incredibly useful solution to the local search problem all of the major search engines are throwing a lot of resources at. Here’s hoping they all take a close look at what Metrobot has to offer.”

I tried the San Francisco search, and was not impressed – I searched by “type of business” and could not find a bike shop or a dry cleaner. New York was better populated. The service is very new and the CEO promises to add listings as fast as they can. I’m inclined to listen when Chris or others at SEW say nice things about a new approach to search, and the map feature is really cool (here’s an example here). It’s surprising, in a good way, to see local businesses in context of what else is on the street nearby.

Semel: The Shoe Drops This Quarter

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Yesterday Yahoo CEO Semel gave a timeline for when his company would drop Google for Yahoo’s own internal search technology: this quarter. This has a limited effect on Google’s revenues – Yahoo paid Google less than $10 million a year to license its organic search listings, and has never used Google’s AdWords, where the real money is. But the effect could be argued to be more psychological, and oddly, good for Google.

Google is widely understood to be the 800-pound gorilla of search, and whispers of “monopolist” have begun popping up from time to time (not particularly well-thought-out whispers, but real nonetheless). Certainly whenever journalists cover search, they quote the “Google owns 80 percent of the search market” meme. With Yahoo’s distribution gone, Google may well benefit from the sense that there is more balance in the market. Once it is perceived to be battling much larger companies like MSFT and Yahoo, companies that have as large if not a larger share of the organic search market, Google may again become the internet’s underdog, a position I sense it might very well prefer.