Since the first privacy concerns were raised nearly two months ago, one of the smartest things Google has done in response is to give accounts to a bunch of journalists (I was on the list, but have not really used the account – I’m too swamped to conjur up a reason to fill a secondary account, and in any case I’m writing a book in which Google plays a critical role, so the idea of running my email through their servers feels a bit…odd, to say the least. I can just see my sources at Yahoo or Microsoft wondering whether I’m capable of fairness as they send mail to email@example.com…).
Anyway, those journalists who did use the service almost universally praised it. As a breed journalists are prone to piling on when they identify what they believe to be a clever or counter-intuitive meme. Gmail offered them a pretty prime opportunity to do just that. Most caught the counter-spin on Gmail’s scanning of email – to wit, everyone else does it (Hotmail, Yahoo etc) so why jump on Google? They are right, and it was a brilliant move on Google’s part to point that out. Now the press is full of articles beating up the privacy advocates, and as I mentioned earlier the California legislator who introduced the grandstanding Gmail privacy bill has modified it to allow scanning.
Google’s page points to all these journalist’s reviews as proof that the whole issue has been misconstrued, and in some regards they’re right. But I think the debate is light on a very important, larger point. It’s not that Gmail scans your email, or that it might take a while for duplicates of your mails to be deleted off the system. It’s that with a gigabyte of storage, user habits with regard to email change entirely, and we start to keep our entire computing life online, moving massive amounts of personal and private communications and files into a new realm of “discoverability” – from the ephemeral to the eternal.
Very much to their credit, Google addresses this issue, and acknowledges their role as market leader requires they be held to “a higher standard.” But it’s buried down at the bottom, and it doesn’t take the logical next step, which is to call directly for clarification around providing email and files stored on a third party servers the same legal status that they already enjoy on our private machines and as they are transmitted over networks, thanks to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
In any case, here’s the language that I think stands Google in good stead on this issue:
Let’s be clear: there are issues with email privacy, and these issues are common to all email providers. The main issue is that the contents of your messages are stored on mailservers for some period of time; there is always a danger that these messages can be obtained and used for purposes that may harm you. There exists a real opportunity for misuse of your information by governments, as well as by your email provider. Careful consideration of the relevant issues, close scrutiny of email providers’ practices and policies, and suitable vigilance and enforcement of appropriate legislation are the best defenses against misuse of your information. The only alternative is to avoid new technology altogether, and forego the benefits it provides.
Various people and organizations, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), have been helping to focus the debate on the real issues surrounding privacy and email. We’ve welcomed their input on Gmail and are engaging in a productive dialogue with them, and others.
When we began the limited test of Gmail, we had policies that were substantively no different from those of all other major webmail services. However, we understand that as a leader in our industry, we are held to a higher standard. We don’t believe that the questions around email and privacy are resolved, and we are working to better understand what the issues currently are, and what they will be in the future. We are keenly interested in addressing these issues head-on, and in helping to fashion guidelines and public policies that protect the privacy of not only Gmail users, but everyone. We’d like your help in that process.
Gmail is still in a limited test period. While we’re working to improve Gmail and make it more widely available, we welcome your feedback and suggestions on the service and its features. We encourage users and interested groups around the world to share their thoughts on our policies and procedures by writing to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Net net: a good move on Google’s part, and a sign the company recognizes some of the larger issues at play.
– Overview from MediaPost here.
Once again, a good piece from Stefanie Olsen, this time on audio and search. Recall how I am always on about how search will become the interface to media? From her piece today on NPR’s decision to optimize their sound files for search engines:
The stakes are enormous, not just for the search engines, but for content owners hoping to harness the Internet, stand out in the online information glut and attract new audiences. The winning search companies could become the gatekeepers in a new era of media increasingly defined by consumers’ ability to seek out programming on their own terms and consume when and how they want.
At the Goldman Sachs internet conference today in Las Vegas, MSN search chief Yusuf Mehdi let slip some of MSFT’s plans with regard to search. How do I know he let slip? Well, far as I knew, this stuff was not to be disclosed for quite a while (recall that I was briefed recently by MSFT, on background, for my book).
The news: Microsoft will be including a pretty significant local PC search function as part of its upcoming beta. Mehdi also mentioned that personalized search will be a significant focus going forward, and that MSFT is looking at integrating ads into mail a la Gmail.
From the AP story (Link to an edited version):
SEATTLE (AP) – Microsoft Corp. will soon release technology that takes search functions far beyond the Internet, allowing users to pour through e-mails, personal computers and even big databases to find the information they want, a top executive said Wednesday.
The system being developed by Microsoft’s MSN online division “will, as far as the consumer is concerned, be an end-to-end system for searching across any data type,” Yusuf Mehdi, head of Microsoft’s MSN division, told analysts at a Goldman Sachs Internet conference in Las Vegas Wednesday. The speech was broadcast over the Internet.
The new technology would be a huge step forward for users trying to grapple with an increasing amount of digital information, offering a one-step system instead of having to use several different search engines, file management systems or other tools.
Microsoft’s Windows operating system, which is on 90 percent of personal computers, provides tools for file management on PCs. But Mehdi conceded there really isn’t a quick system for searching.
“I think it’s fair to say that we will tackle all of the things that you expect, including PC search, as part of the MSN effort,” Mehdi said.
Mehdi said Microsoft plans to release an early version of the technology soon, as part of the software giant’s push to compete with Internet search leader Google Inc. A final version is expected in the next 12 months, he said.
During the AdTech panel yesterday I started ranting about what I think is missing from all this contextual, behavioral, paid search, and network-based advertising – you know, all the stuff that’s setting records and revolutionizing marketing. All the stuff I’ve been hyping for the past two, no wait, ten years now. And I think I’ve come up with a clear way of saying it: what’s missing is the advertiser’s endemic relationship with the community a publisher serves.
I’m almost certainly restating what others have already pointed out, but then again, I’ve not seen it put this way yet. So think about a “traditional” publishing environment. You’ve got three parties in an ongoing, intentional conversation: The reader/viewer (we’ll say audience for lack of a better word), the editor/programmer/author/creator (we’ll say publisher for lack of a better word), and the advertiser. In a traditional publication, these three parties interact in various ways through the medium of the publication. Most importantly, the advertiser has voted with their dollars for that particular publisher, hopefully because the advertiser had take the time to understand that publication’s audience, and hence wants to be in conversation with that audience.
What’s inherent in this interaction is the intention of all parties to be in relationship with each other. This creates and fosters a sense of community – the best publications always have what are called “endemic” advertisers – those that “belong” to the publication’s community, that “fit” with the publication’s voice and point of view. I’ve found that in the magazines and sites I’ve helped create, my readers enjoyed the ads nearly as much as the editorial, because the ads served them, seemed to understand who they were in relation to the community the publication created.
It’s this relationship which I find entirely missing in all these contextual, behavioral, paid search networks. Sure, they are “relevant” to either a search, or to the content they match. But they are driven by metadata and the actions of only one of the parties – the content of the publisher for example (AdSense), or the actions of the audience (Claria, Revenue Science, Tacoda, etc.). As far as I know, none are driven by an understanding of the give-and-take that occurs between all three parties in a consensual relationship mediated by the publication. A site which has only AdSense or behavioral advertising fails to value (or monetize) the community connection between audience, publisher, and advertiser. Advertisers in these networks are not intentionally supporting the publication, and by extension they are not supporting the community the publication has created. In essence, they are not being good citizens of the community where their advertising is being displayed.
To summarize: Something is lost when advertisers don’t buy based on the publication. I’m not arguing that buying based on context or content isn’t valuable, it certainly is. But in the long run, not considering the publisher’s role devalues both the publication *and* the advertiser in the minds of the publishers’ audience.
So what, you might be saying. Most major publications utilize both network-based and more traditional “display” advertising – look at the NYT or CNET or CBS Marketwatch. True enough – Martin mentioned yesterday that his “display” advertising at NYT.com is up dramatically and starting to show real traction. (And, by they way, the NYT is steering clear of AdSense image, for obvious reasons….) But the real problem is with smaller sites, sites that can’t afford to be understood or purchased any other way but through a network. Sites where there is simply too much transactional friction to make the advertising purchase worthwhile. Sites like….blogs, for example.
Advertisers can’t grok all the blogs which might be potential fits for their marketing dollar. Besides the tedium of finding and evaluating them, blogs have no standardized marketing or advertising practices, so working with each is a handrolled labor of love (I am in the process of managing such a Cohiba right now over at boing boing).
Yet more than most publications, blogs are about the relationship between author and community. Any advertisers who comes into that conversation with a tin ear does a disservice to all parties. My conclusion: If advertisers are going to truly benefit from marketing on blogs, they will have to get to know each one to the point that their ads speak with a voice that is consistent in the community where they are advertising. You can’t do that on contextual or behavioral or PPC networks as they exist today.
To its credit, AdSense has given marketers a taste of the blog world, and bloggers a taste of a credible business model. And AdSense spares marketers the trouble of negotiating with each and every site owner. But if advertisers want to find those sites that, in the long term, are endemic to their business, sites which reflect a conversation they’d like to join, they are going to have to actually join the conversation. And we, as bloggers, are going to have to help them join. Henry at BlogAds is working on one solution to this, and I am sure there are more to come.
Over time, I believe advertisers will see the value of long-term relationships with endemic communities of interests. Ideally, they will be able to both buy a specific site, as well as reap the benefits of contextual/behavioral/PPC models. Wouldn’t it be cool if we helped them figure this out?
By John Battelle, June 2004 Issue
Hailed as the “queen of the Net” by Wall Street tout sheet Barron’s in 1998, held up as the poster child of the dotcom bust in 2001, Morgan Stanley (MWD) analyst Mary Meeker has lived through several lifetimes of glory and infamy. She’s seen fellow analysts and a former boss indicted for fraud, and then was swept up herself in a massive investigation of Wall Street’s research practices (the case was settled last year, with Meeker cleared). What kept her going through all this? The thing most people still don’t get is that Mary Meeker is a true believer — in the companies she helped take public, in the stocks she picked (and stuck with even as they nose-dived), and in the revolutionary nature of the Internet.
Her record is admittedly mixed, with flubs like her recommendation of AOL, which lost $150 billion in market cap after its merger with Time Warner (TWX) (the corporate parent of Business 2.0), and ExciteAtHome, which went from $35 billion to nothing. But in 2003, Meeker’s picks were up 78 percent, thanks to stocks she’d long championed, like Amazon (AMZN), eBay (EBAY), and Yahoo (YHOO). If you’d had the fortitude to pile on in early 2001, when she reiterated her support of those companies, you’d be a damn sight richer today. And Meeker is still helping create new industries: Her prescient reports on the search market were part of why Morgan Stanley won a mandate in April to lead Google’s IPO. She won’t admit to more than feelings of satisfaction with her recent record, but one can sense a certain bounce in her step these days. We visited her in New York to hear what she has learned from the past and what she thinks about the future.
(full text in extended entry…)
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Today Plaxo integrates Yahoo’s search engine directly into the Outlook e-mail program. Under the deal with Yahoo, Plaxo will get paid for channeling people to Yahoo’s search engine. The search box will be placed beside a Plaxo icon that sits atop Outlook.
Plaxo will eventually make Web searching possible from individual e-mails, according to Masonis. Ultimately, he wants Plaxo to search individual words within the e-mails. You would click on the word and Plaxo would do a Web search through Yahoo.
“We’re in Outlook, so we’re effectively within the operating system. We can scan words,” he said. ‘
The deal is significant because it puts Yahoo search directly into one of the most popular e-mail programs. That helps Yahoo leapfrog rival Google, which earlier put its search engine on the bottom of the computer desktop with its Google task bar.
Do you think MSFT is going to let this happen, on *their* desktop, in *their* application, for very long?
(By the way, Google investor and board member Ram Shirram is also an investor in Plaxo…what tangled webs we weave…)
I’ll be moderating a panel on “Advertising’s Horizons” today at AdTech. Just in time for the event’s opening day this news comes out: Online ad revs hit $2.3 billion last quarter, according to the IAB and PwC. Interesting that Q1 04 beat Q4 03, the Xmas season. Now that’s strong growth. I still think this market is undercounted – but that’s just a gut feel.
If anyone is coming to AdTech and wants to grab a bit of time after, come on up at the end of our session….
“A9’s mandate is to build new search technologies to improve the user experience. We want to invent new things and new ways of finding relevant information. The first question I get from people is, ‘Are you going to build another Google?’ But, no, that’s not what we are doing. There’s so much room for innovation that you can build interesting things that aren’t available today.”…
…”For most users, they expect it to be as simple as possible and that’s a barrier. If music was invented 20 years ago, we’d all be playing one-string instruments,” he said, suggesting that user habits needed to change to adapt to the advancement in search technologies.