Re-reading Simson’s wonderful rant tonight (in Tech Review, he gives a good overview of why the broadcast flag is evil), I got to thinking about Mike Ramsay, TiVo, and the possibilities of net-based television. As I posted earlier, Mike said that one of his goals with TiVo is to make television searchable and discoverable over the net, in effect, combining broadband with broadcast. To my mind, this makes it possible (though not inevitable) for independent producers and creators to route around the Comcast-DirectTV distribution chokehold by simply creating websites that are tuned for TiVo-like devices. This would also makes it possible for producers to create “broadcast-flag-free” television – to release programming free of that dunderheaded regulation. I wonder, will they? Could the broadcast flag be irrelevant, and will television route around bad policy? If enough folks want their TV from broadband, if enough want to share and manipulate those programs as digital objects, and if enough demand those rights, the market will respond. Right….? The only problem is…the largest provider of broadband in the United States is….Comcast. Sigh.
I’m not sure I buy this, but I really like Mike Ramsay, and I sure love my TiVo….We can dream…
Desktop search (ie searching your own hard drive) is one of those things that seems to have gotten worse in the past ten years (why Yahoo, MSFT or Google don’t do it is a mystery, imagine the goodwill…). Back in 1987, I had a great utility (why do I think it was called Gopher?) that rummaged around through my 20 meg Macintosh hard drive and found any text string, anywhere. Now I’ve got 40 gigs, I think, but no desktop search utility (Sherlock doesn’t have text string search, far as I can tell). My email, for example, is a thicket of badly organized folders. Today David Weinberger raves about X1, a utility for Windows that searches email, docs, etc. But I’m on a Mac. Anyone know of something similar for us OSX folk?
While the column format would not allow a full discussion, I was thinking about blogs and social networking sofware while composing this piece. The focus is on “influencers” and marketing for this column, which by the way is the last of this kind. Next month I’m switching to an interview format (first up is Tivo’s Mike Ramsay…)
The Net of Influence
Influencers are critical to business success. But the last thing you want to do is treat them like a mass market. Instead, do the hard work of cultivating them in a personal network.
By John Battelle, March 2004 Issue
The era of carpet-bombing your brand into existence through a shock-and-awe network TV campaign is over. So what now? Marketers struggling for meaning in a post-mass-media world are turning to the concept of “influencers” — people in a position to shape others’ opinions. Get them to give your product great word of mouth, the theory goes, and your business will flourish.
Push a bit on this particular noodle, though, and it feels all wet. According to The Influentials, a 2003 book from market researchers Jon Berry and Ed Keller, you can target a cohesive set of influencers — 21 million strong — as a single group.
But the idea that one large überclass of community leaders determines the fate of all products seems utterly silly to me. So allow me to posit a different approach: For any product you’re selling, there is a unique set of roughly 150 such leaders, each of whom you can and should get to know personally.
Hard to believe? Paul Rand is developing proof. Rand, an executive at Ketchum Communications, is launching a program to identify the folks critical to a business’s success and target them with intimate and relevant programs and messaging. What Rand has found, time after time, is that the number of influencers for any given product is about 150.
This reminded me of a concept advanced in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. We tend to max out social networks at about 150 individuals (it has to do with group dynamics and how our brains are wired). Below that number, a group is small enough to operate on personal relationships rather than rules and hierarchy. This rings true for villages, military units, corporate divisions, and, I’d argue, communities of interest. A smart marketer will capitalize on that fact.
(more in extended entry below)
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Ask is buying the company which owns Excite, along with iWon and a few other sites.
Ask Jeeves Inc. will buy the privately owned Interactive Search Holdings Inc. (ISH) for about $343 million in a move that the Emeryville, California, company expects will double its search market share, it announced Thursday.
Very interesting….Ask will have 7% share if the deal goes through…
The market LOVES this deal, its stock is up 31% as of this writing.
(Ask’s press release)
This sure feels familiar. Owners of large database businesses, who have been coining cash for decades based on the model of aggregating freely available information, then monopolizing access to and distribution of that information, have finally realized that their business is imperiled by search engines and the web. So they’re pushing shitty legislation through Congress, just like Hollywood did with the DMCA. This is an important issue, well summarized in this Wired News story.
In essence, a bill winding its way through the House (HR3261) would redefine databases in such a way as to extend the owners of those databases far more power over how information could be used. This is a very bad thing. It’s part of the same creeping copyright chill driven by the MPAA and RIAA. This time, it’s Reed Elsevier and Westlaw, et al. Instead of figuring out new distribution and business models, these old line businesses are forcing Congress to do their bidding so they can sue their way into continued existence. It’s depressing, but it’s not surprising. From the story:
Imagine doing a Google search for a phone number, weather report or sports score. The results page would be filled with links to various sources of information. But what if someone typed in keywords and no results came back?
That’s the scenario critics are painting of a new bill wending its way through Congress that would let certain companies own facts, and exact a fee to access them.
….Art Brodsky, spokesman for public advocacy group Public Knowledge, says the bill would let anyone drop a fact into a database or a collection of materials and claim monopoly rights to it. This would contradict the core principle of the Copyright Act, which states that mere information and ideas cannot be protected works.
Under the terms of the broadly written bill, a public-health website could be deemed in violation of the law for gathering a list of the latest health headlines and providing links to them on its home page.
Google would be in violation for trolling media databases and providing stories on its news page.
An encyclopedia site not only could own the historical facts contained in its online entries, but could do so long after the copyright on authorship of the written entries had expired. Unlike copyright, which expires 70 years after the death of a work’s author, the Misappropriation Act doesn’t designate an expiration date.
“The law of unintended consequences in this case has the potential to be huge,” Brodsky said.
In Search Engine Watch today, a personal tale of how a memorial website was defaced by spambots posting PageRank-gaming comments.
OK, now I really have taken a shine to Google Director of Technology Craig Silverstein. I always liked him, what with his oft-repeated quip that search engines ought to be like the computer on Star Trek, but in a SES speech this morning, apparently in a bid to outdo himself, he conjured up the idea of “search pets.” Damn, I wish I had stayed for this! From WebProNews, Silverstein speaks of a future some hundreds of years from now in which:
These search pets would not necessarily be like a pet dog, but more like “a genetically engineered beast.”
Adding to the science fiction, he believes search pets will be able to understand emotions and allow people to search for things that aren’t necessarily facts. For example, searchers can ask search pets, “What did Bob mean when he said that?”
Helping increase and enhance communication, search pets will understand the way the world works and the way humans interact. Search pets will be able to determine and untangle what searchers mean politically and socially. ….Search pets could also help out in the bedroom. Take marital issues, for example. Guys, when you ask your honey what’s wrong and she says nothing – there IS somehting wrong and it’s NOT nothing. Silverstein sees search pets as being able to find to the correct answer to these tricky questions.
Will searching as we know it be completely replaced by search pets?
“We’ll still search for facts,” he says, “but in all likelyhood the facts will be contained in a brain implant.”
Oh man, if that doesn’t give Andrew Orlowski all he needs to go apeshit, I don’t know what will.
This time it’s analyst Charlene Li, whose commentary runs on CNET today. In the piece she gives a fine overview of Google’s weaknesses vis-a-vis MSN, Yahoo, and presumably AOL. Her overview is good, but I disagree with some of her conclusions.
In summary, she argues that Google can’t compete with the portals search offerings, in particular once the portals have integrated search across their sites. Portals, Li argues, are in the best position to incorporate personalization, contextual searching (ie a search for “price delta” within Yahoo Travel yields different results from the same search within Yahoo Finance) and the like. Li further points out that when MSFT integrates search into the desktop qua Windows, Google will really be hard pressed to compete.
Li concludes that Google’s only true advantage lies in its independence as a non-publisher: In a choice between Yahoo, which competes at multiple levels with publishers, or Google, which is focused solely on search, publishers have and will continue to sign up with Google in droves. As contextual marketing makes inroads, Google will evolve its ad network into utilities that will enable the contextual placement of display ads–and siphon a portion of traditional branding ad dollars away from the portals.
Here’s where I think this analysis misses a few key points. One, Google is already a portal, but a loosely joined one. It has Orkut, Groups, Blogger, and – rumored to be coming soon – email (well, they already have email – it’s in Orkut). If for some reason they have to move in that direction to compete, they can and they will.
Second, Li bases much of her analysis on the interface presumption that Google will always take the “blank slate” approach to search – that is, the user comes to a blank box, with no context to guide the search results. While this is true now, it need not be in the future. Page was recently quoted saying “it takes five seconds to type in a zip code” – and I am sure the folks at Google can figure out a way to make sure that zip code (and any other personalized information) only has to be typed in once. In other words, if Google feels compelled to add personalization, they will (and if you’re an Orkut member, my guess is you’ll be able to personalize your search pretty darn soon).
And lastly, Li assume that publishers will prefer Google over the portals, because the portals are competitive with publishers. In fact, publishers will go with whoever sends them profitable traffic, end of story. If Yahoo or AOL can do that, the publishers will work with them.
In any case, I’m glad to see this kind of business model thinking out and about on the web. It’s a refreshing change from the party lines we see so often in the press.