free html hit counter January 2004 - Page 9 of 12 - John Battelle's Search Blog

How Superbowl Ad Prices Prove Old Media Is Splintering

By - January 12, 2004

Advertising Age has a headline today that sounds familiar: “Superbowl Ad Prices Set New Record.” On first blush, it’d be easy to say that the $2.25 million marketers are paying for one 30-second spot proves how robust broadcast television is as a medium. In fact, I’d argue it proves quite the opposite. Broadcast television continues to bleed out as niche cable, the internet, and gaming take hold, creating a a significant shortage of Major Marketing Moments. Back when Laugh In or the Texaco Theater was king, average ratings hovered above 50 for hit shows. Now a show is a hit if it cracks the teens. Hence, when something like the Superbowl creates a mass marketing opportunity (a rarity today), marketers naturally bid it up. So here’s a new law: The price of a 30-second Superbowl spot is inversely correlated to overall network television revenues. I’d wager Major Marketing Moment revenues won’t make up the overall network decline year to year. I’d love to do the stats on this, but I’m supposed to be writing a book, so I’ll leave it at that.

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Why The Search Box Is Important…

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Because your company’s employees can use it to punk you on your 40th birthday: type “old fart” into Amazon’s search box (today only, I’d wager) and you’ll see this… thanks to D. Weinberger for the pointer…


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Dan Gillmor nails it when he says:

The post-broadcast culture is a democratization of media, and it comes at things from the opposite stance. It says that anyone also can be a creator, not just a consumer. There’s a world of difference.

This evolution hit the print world in the mid-1980s, when desktop publishing spurred an array of new magazines, newsletters and other print publications. Then the Web arrived, spurring even more variety in what remained essentially a modern version of printed news and information.

Also in the 1980s, musicians started using technology to create and record music, augmenting and ultimately bypassing some of the most expensive parts of the process. In the 1990s, as computers grew yet more powerful and the software added features, digital music appliances, such as stand-alone hard disk recorders, hit the market to the delight of professionals and motivated hobbyists alike.

Video has taken longer to hit the sweet spot financially and technologically. But now, in the early 21st century, it’s arriving for real.

The post, which is also his Sunday column, has started a great back and forth in the comments section as well.

Sterling on Search

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Thanks to Google Blogoscoped for pointing me to this Reason interview with Bruce Sterling. In it he opines on media, tech, etc., and has some words of wisdom on search in particular. Excerpts:

There is a Google blindness. It’s a kind of common wisdom generator, but it’s not necessarily going to get you to the real story of what’s actually going on.

reason: As today’s children get older they’re internalizing Boolean search logic, and they actually do show some discrimination and drill down to the useful information.

Sterling: It is a form of literacy that’s really peculiar. Socrates used to talk about this: “The problem with writing is that no one memorizes the Iliad any more. You’ve got to just know all of it. And how can you call yourself an educated man if you cannot recite Book Three, not missing a single epithet?” He’s got a point there. It has a profound effect on literary composition. I’ve got Google up all the time. It gives you this veneer of command of the facts which you do not, in point of fact, have. It’s extremely useful for novelists but somewhat dangerous if you’re pretending to be a brain surgeon.

The SCO Suit Spills Into Search

By - January 11, 2004

Google is well known as a poster child for Linux – it’s got clusters of some 10,000 Linux machines happily cranking out hundreds of millions of searches a day. SCO is well known to be a sore loser in the Unix OS wars – it’s suing IBM, claiming Linux (which IBM is pushing hard) violates their intellectual property rights. Folks have speculate for weeks that perhaps SCO would go after Google, given its high profile and imminent IPO. Google would capitulate, the reasoning went, since they’d prefer to pay off SCO and insure a big IPO payday, rather than screw up an offering with a messy legal battle over some of the most important technology they use.

Well, Rueters is reporting that the other shoe has dropped, if somewhat softly. In the story, which has been commented on widely in the Linux/blog world, a company representative says that “SCO has had ‘intermittent, low-level discussions’ with Google, which is well-known for harnessing Linux technology to run its popular search service.” Some wags say that means SCO called Google, asked the receptionist for money, and were hung up on.

Now, I am no expert on the SCO suit – it smells wrong to me – but I’d count on the opinions of Larry Lessig. He says the suit is crap. If and how Google responds will be important. I’d wager they’ll simply ignore it as long as the suit is only against IBM. If SCO sues Google, I imagine the company will join IBM and fight hard. That feels like the right thing to do.

The Search Papers: Do Web Search Engines Suppress Controversy?

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gerhart2.gifThe First Monday peer-reviewed journal recently published “Do Web Search Engines Suppress Controversy?” by Susan Gerhart, a software engineering professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Driving the paper is this sentiment:

“The dilemma of controversies is that the searcher beginning to explore a topic doesn’t know the search terms to investigate a controversy unless it is revealed with reasonable visibility, e.g. not item number 879 in search results, nor buried three links away from result number 30.”

In other words, if you are just starting to research a topic, and have no idea if there are any controversies surrounding said topic, how will you ever know if the search engine has a bias toward not revealing those controversies?

This paper explores the hypothesis that, as Gerhart puts it: “A given, well–known specific controversy will not be revealed in the top search results.” She then creates an experiment to test this hypothesis, by outlining both a broad topic, and a related controversial subtopic. An example is “Albert Einstein” as the broad topic, and “Did Einstein’s first wife, Mileva Maric, receive appropriate credit for scientific contributions to Einstein’s early work” as the subtopic. The question is, do search engines leave out the more controversial bits, the stuff that, taken as a whole, provide texture and context to any searcher’s understanding of a topic?

For the many examples she tested, Gerhart found proof on both sides of the ledger, and the paper left me disappointed that she could not come to a more decisive conclusion. She did note that in fact most search engines were roughly equal in their performance in the experiments. And she has some interesting thoughts on how controversies are integrated (or not) into the web at large, and some suggestions as to how various actors on the web – site authors, researchers, search engines – might better organize themselves to portray a more relevant set of SERPs to any particular query.

All in all, I liked this paper, as it forced me to think about the politics and architecture of search engine results. She introduces the idea of “sunny” vs. “dark” search results, and concludes that “sunny” results – those that do not include controversies, tend to float toward the top. Her final conclusion:

Web search engines do not conspire to suppress controversy, but their strategies do lead to organizationally dominated search results depriving searchers of a richer experience and, sometimes, of essential decision–making information. These experiments suggest that bias exists, in one form or another, on the Web and should, in turn, force thinking about content on the Web in a more controversial light.”

The one thing Dr. Gerhart left out entirely is the effect of blogs. As most of us certainly know, when the blogosphere latches onto a controversy (or just a politically-driven meme), that aspect of a topic usually shoots to the top of the SERPs. As with most good papers, this one left me feeling like there is much work yet to be done.

TiVo Tries To Give Us What We Want…

By - January 10, 2004

Over at Boing Boing Cory’s got a good rant on TiVo’s attempt to free video from the opaque prison most commercial PVRs have become. But he finds the DRM TiVo has imposed too limiting.

From his post: What’s funny about this is that it’s the exact opposite of the traditional way of running a disruptive technology business: no one crippled the piano roll to make sure it didn’t upset the music publishers, Marconi didn’t cripple the radio to appease the Vaudeville players — hell, railroad barons never slowed their steam-engines down to speeds guaranteed to please the teamsters.

Yahoo Getting Into RSS Aggregation Game

By - January 09, 2004

While I was down in the Valley Weds. I heard word that Yahoo’s aggregator was up and running. But then I couldn’t find it when I got home. Seems they put up a brief beta in MyYahoo, then brought it back down again. has a story on it…”Insiders at Yahoo confirmed the plan to add an aggregator as a module within the ‘My Yahoo’ section but described the public appearance of the beta Wednesday as an accident.”

Also of note, NewsGator has a new service to push RSS onto mobile devices.


By - January 08, 2004

As a curtain raiser for CES, John Markoff gives the ever morphing MSFT strategy w/r/t search/MSN a good once over in light of recent video/access/search biz model shifts.

From the piece: The Microsoft executive who heads the MSN service, Yusuf Mehdi, said that Microsoft generated $1 billion annually in online advertising revenue and saw growth opportunities in creating a Yahoo-style Web portal and Google-style search-based advertising.

For more context, here are columns I wrote on both MSFT’s search strategies and video/advertising strategies

Good Overview of Local Search

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Comes, as usual, from Search Engine Watch. My posts will be brief for the next day, as I am taking Friday off, but this is worth a read if you care about why local search seems to be a big deal…