free html hit counter December 2004 - John Battelle's Search Blog

Tech Review: New Form of Advertising

By - December 23, 2004


I am breaking my holiday silence as a few readers have reminded me that I forgot to post a link to a column I wrote up for Technology Review magazine. It’s basically a rewrite of my Sell Side Advertising post, but to make the concept a bit more approachable (or perhaps to ruin it) I changed the name to Publisher Driven Advertising. In any case, as always I owe a debt to Ross Mayfield and many others for the ideas contained within. And it’s my hope that in 2005 we can take this idea and see where it might run.

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A Look Ahead

By - December 22, 2004

Crystal Ball

Here we are again, the end of the year. Last year I did pretty well with my prognostications, mainly because I chose carefully. This time, I’m feeling a bit more reckless. A year from now, I am sure I’ll be scratching my head – what was I thinking? – but then again, that’s not such a bad place to be.

So in no particular order, here are some things that I believe have a reasonable chance of occurring in 2005 with regard to the intersection of media, technology, and search.

1. We will have a goat rodeo of sorts in the blogging/micropublishing/RSS world as commercial interests push into what many consider a “pure medium.” I’ve seen this movie before, and it ends OK. But it’s important that the debate be full throated, and so far it looks to be shaping up that way. I’m already seeing these forces at work over at Boing Boing, and I am sure they will continue. We’ll all work on figuring out ways to stick to our principles and get paid at the same time, however, I expect that things might get more contentious before they get better, and 2005 may be a more fractious year in the blogosphere as we evolve through this process.

2. Along those lines, things will not go as swimmingly as we’d like with regard to “monetization.” As the majors get into the space and start throwing around their weight and lucre, some folks will make bad decisions, and others will freeze and make no decisions at all. It will get harder to innovate before it gets easier. We’ll all be surprised by the lack of what we consider “progress” in the RSS/Blogging world, and expectations of major publishing revenues will not materialize as quickly as perhaps we think they should. However, we’ll in fact be making huge strides in understanding the path forward, it just won’t seem like it. By the end of the year, the world will begin to realize that “blogs” are in fact an extraordinarily heterogeneous ecosystem comprised of scores, if not hundreds, of different “types” of sites.

3. There will be two to five major new sites that emerge from “nowhere” to become major cultural influencers along the lines of the political bloggers of 2004. One of them will be sold to a major publisher/aggregator for what seems like a large sum of money, driving the abovementioned #2 and #1.

4. Meanwhile, the long tail will become the talk of the “old line” media world. To capture some of that value, we’ll see a slew of deals and new publishing projects from the established brands that seek to capture the idea of community journalism, affiliate commerce sales, and collaborative content creation.

5. Google will do something major with Blogger. I really have no idea what, but it’s overdue. Six Apart will grow quickly but face a crisis in its implementation as its core users demand more features that are “unbloglike” like customer databases and robust publishing support tools. This (and other things) may drive Six Apart or one of its competitors into the arms of Yahoo or AOL or even – gasp – Quark or Adobe or Marcomedia.

6. Ask will continue to consolidate traffic by buying smaller search sites.

7. Yahoo and Google will both test systems that combine local merchant inventory information with search, so that merchants can use search as a direct sales channel. By the end of the year, there will be no question that the search companies are in direct competition with the ecommerce companies, but it won’t matter – there’s room for them all. Paul Ford will continue to get droves of readers to his related, and very prescient, three year old post on how Google takes over the world.

8. Microsoft will lose search share before they gain it back later in the year when the integration of MSN search starts to scale with new versions of Office and IE . Net net, however, MSFT will gain total in total search sessions from last year, and its technology will get much, much better.

9. Firefox will near 15% of total browser share. Firefox faithful will wonder why it’s not much much higher. But MSFT will release a very good upgrade of IE, see #8.

10. A third party platform player with major economies of scale (ie eBay or Amazon) will release a search related innovation that blows everyone’s mind, and has everyone buzzing about how it redefines what’s possible in search.

11. The China question will become a critical issue to the search community. Defining the China question will in itself be a major task of 2005. How do search companies go in without being “evil”? Is the tradeoff worth it?

12. By the end of the year, there will be no question that search is a media business, and that the major players in search are major players in the content business.

13. Something major will finally happen at Tivo. We all hope that it’s a sale to Apple, but if it is a sale, it will more likely be to Comcast or DirecTv.

14. All year, Apple will be rumored to launch a video iPod, but it won’t – it’s still too early. By the end of 2005, we will just be starting to see traction in the video over IP market and its connection to search. Google will introduce Video search at some point in 05, but it will stay in Labs.

15. Mobile will finally be plugged into the web in a way that makes sense for the average user and a major mobile innovation – the kind that makes us all say – Jeez that was obvious – will occur. At the core of this innovation will be the concept of search. The outlines of such an innovation: it’ll be a way for mobile users to gather the unstructured data they leverage every day while talking on the phone and make it useful to their personal web (including email and RSS, in particular). And it will be a business that looks and feels like a Web 2.0 business – leveraging iterative web development practices, open APIs, and innovation in assembly – that makes the leap. (More on this when I start posting again).

16. Perhaps most recklessly…I will finish my book. The reviews will be mixed, as my attempt to satisfy both the exacting audience of Searchbloggers and the more general audience of a major trade hardcover may fall flat. Many will say I tried to do too much, others that I didn’t do nearly enough (how’s that for airing my deepest fears in public?!). However, I’ll be happy with the effort, and the book will do OK, thanks mainly to the support of this community. So, ahead of time, thanks for your support this past year. I learned more from this process than I ever thought possible, and I owe it all to you, who grace my site with your time and input.

17. Lastly, I will be involved in starting a new business in the field of media and technology. It will start very slowly, and I’ll screw up as much as I possibly can in the early stages, before imposing it on the rest of the world. Hopefully, you’ll all be there to keep me honest as I try to figure out a few ideas I’ve been simmering for the past year or so.

Unless there’s a major story which breaks in the next week or so, I’m signing off for the year, and look forward to resuming posting in 2005. Have a wonderful holiday, and a prosperous, healthy New Year. Oh, and please add your thoughts on 2005 below – I know I missed a lot….

A Look Back

By - December 20, 2004

Nostrad-TmOne year ago, I made a bunch of predictions. Today I call myself out and see how I did. Tomorrow (or maybe a little later in the week) I’ll post some predictions for 2005. That will pretty much round out my posts for 2004 – during the holidays I’m focusing on writing the book. But I couldn’t resist this little exercise first.

So…How did I do? Not bad, all told. Possibly because my predictions were facile, but still, we all have our own bars, don’t we? I managed to limbo under mine pretty well. So, to the specifics.

My first prediction: “The Web becomes a platform (again).” I think with the buzz around desktop search and the Google OS, the strong performance of the major platform players like Amazon, eBay, and Yahoo, the happy and well attended buzz around Web 2.0, this seems to be coming to fruition.

My second: “Blog ecologies of like-minded folks will garner increasing cultural and social power.” With the rise of political bloggers, the rising communities of Scoble, Zawodny, and others, and Time Magazine even considering naming “bloggers” as their person of the year (and the dictionary folks making “blog” their word of the year), I’d say this one was pretty much dead on.

Third prediction: “The Dutch auction/OpenIPO model will be validated.” Check.

Fourth: “We’ll see a major IPO ($100 million+ sold to public) in search that isn’t Google.” Well, I sort of got this one, and sort of did not. We had Tom Online in March, and Navteq in October. Whether Navteq is search related is debatable, but certainly search drove its valuation. The company raised $880 million. We also had Marchex, but it didn’t make my $100 million in proceeds limit (though it did very well…). Perhaps I could argue that, which raised $137 million, is search related (they sure would not have gone out without search…) Also of note: there was Websidestory, $42 million, and Gurunet, which raised $8 million. I probably missed a couple here…

Fifth prediction: “There will be a “Tylenol Scare” in search…There will be much harrumphing, then everyone will calm down, learn from the incident, and move on. ” Yep, that about tells the Gmail story.

Sixth: “Once a month, a new search player will be crowned in the press as ‘the next Google.'” This one was way too easy to predict. More like once a week…the examples are too profuse to mention…

Seventh: “Second generation blog/RSS aggregation sites will come close to combining directory functions with LinkedIn- and recommendation-engine-like features – think Amazon+Yahoo for the blogosphere….” Yup. Bloglines, Rojo and others did just that.

Eighth: ” …at about the same time Yahoo, AOL, MSN, and Google will build or buy second-generation blog/RSS aggregation sites.” Well, I was mostly wrong here. But Yahoo is sure doing some interesting things with RSS, and MSN did introduce MSN Spaces and got very serious about blogging, among other things.

Ninth: “The world will realize the importance of our digital artifacts, and takes further steps to to preserve them.” I think Google Print is a step towards this (once we realize that books are worth saving, we might also realize that websites are as well), and the Internet Archive did a world of good this year, but we’re still in the digital dark ages, for the most part. This was wishful thinking on my part.

Tenth: “Cable companies will control more than 75% of the PVR market, but a backlash/new TiVo-like device (possibly from Apple) will develop by the end of the year.” This is on its way to becoming true, but the cable companies have been slower than I expected in rolling out PVR services. Meantime, there was a new launch, Akimbo, but alas, no Apple moves, yet.

Eleventh: “Microsoft will have a surprise hit product that has nothing to do with Office or Longhorn, causing a minor fire drill in Redmond.” I think Halo 2 qualifies as a major hit that has nothing to do with Office or Longhorn…

And finally: “I’ll finish my book, try to stop writing this blog, but find it impossible to do so. Meanwhile, a deeply cool, once-in-a-decade-magazine-I wish-I-had-thought-of will launch.” Well, I’m close to finishing, but I’d say I missed this one by two or three chapters. I sure didn’t stop blogging, and as far as the magazine launch – I’m sort of happy to report, I was wrong. There were plenty of new magazines, but none that made me wish for my old job back. As for cool new magazines that look promising but are not in my personal sweet spot, I was really pleased to see the launch of Chow, from former TIS editor Jane Goldman, and Breathe, from pals Lisa Haines and Deanna Brown. But most of the new magazines were market-driven pap. As for that deeply cool new magazine which I wished I thought of, I’ve got my money on Make, launching early next year. At least I’m involved in a small way!

Well, 2005 promises to be a very interesting year. Happy Holidays, everyone!

"We'll figure out how to monetize it later"

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That’s a quote in today’s USA Today from Lars Perkins, product manager for Picasa, Google’s recently acquired photo software. It’s a sentiment that rests deep in Google DNA – make the product first, figure out the business case later. It worked for the original Google service, and it’s clearly guiding Print, Orkut, Froogle, and News (though some of those of course are supported by advertising). I don’t have the answer to this question, but it’s worth raising – how long can this approach to the world stand? It’s certainly a wonderful luxury to have – make a useful product, then figure out if/how it might make money. it reminds me of my preferred approach to publishing – make great editorial, then figure out how to sell it later. The only difference – with editorial, there was always a model to fall back on – advertising and subscription. As I’ve pointed out before, I’m not so sure that advertising alone can foot the bill for all of Google’s innovations.

Yahoo Releases Update to Index

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Last year Google released a major update to its index right before Christmas, and all hell broke loose. This year Yahoo did the same, but the reaction has been more muted – even positive, in some cases. It’s always hard to draw conclusions from index updates, but this one seems to be moving a lot of SEO links around the SERPs…

Update: According to SEORountable, an update is happening over at Google as well, though opinions are mixed as to whether it’s major, or simply ongoing maintenance…

Pell, Geico, and Paid Search

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Dave Pell recounts his excursion into buying AdWords based on the Geico keywords, and summarizes some new marketing realties:

My experience does clearly point to the fact that we have opened up a whole new marketing frontier that will require ad buyers and small businesses to be a lot more creative with their marketing plans. It’s not as simple as coming up with the most obvious search terms. As the market grows, those will become prohibitively expensive for most buyers. Ad buyers will need to predict what their potential buyers might be interested in and then try to get in front of them as they’re on the way to finding it. If you want to get in front of a few thousand potential orthodontics patients, you might have to figure out something more creative than the words teeth and braces. And in many cases, your marketing plan may only last for a few days (or even a few hours) at which time you’ll need to add new search terms to the mix.

Cindy – An Appreciation

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Now that the news is out that Cindy McCaffrey is leaving Google, I can post an appreciation. I first met Cindy when I was a cub reporter for MacWeek in 1987. She handled PR for a portion of Apple, and it was my job to try to get anything I could on the company, no matter what. It was Cindy who would call me, exasperated, when I acquired a pre-release version of Apple’s new Mac IIci and published a photo of its motherboard on the front page.

And it was Cindy who campaigned internally on my behalf when I came up with the idea, 15 years later, of writing a book that featured search as its subject and Google as a major narrative actor. With Cindy at the helm of communications and marketing, Google has enjoyed perhaps the most unprecedented run of good press in modern corporate history. (Cindy also sidestepped the marketing excesses of the bubble era, a decision that was not easy to take in 1999-2000). She’s been at Google since the middle of 1999, and certainly deserves the break she plans to take (I believe sailing for a few weeks with her husband is the first item on her agenda). She told me recently that she’s looking forward to reconnecting with family, friends, and “cooking her own dinners.” I wish her well, and expect it won’t be long before we hear from her again. She’s too good – and too restless – to retire forever.

Comment Spam and Search

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Anyone with a blog has come across the bane of comment spam, recently it’s gotten to near epidemic proportions for folks who use Moveable Type, as I do (I think this is because MT users tend to have high PageRank sites, but that’s just a guess).

Why do comment spammers do what they do? Simple: for the ranking juice. A spammer’s link inserted into the comment field confers this site’s authority, such that it is, to the spammer’s target site. Jeremy Zawodny, who is working with the Search team over at Yahoo, posts an interesting commentary on this problem, and suggests a solution.

If you assume the following:

1. 80% of blogs are hosted by or produced on one of the more popular blogging platforms

2. 80% of people don’t significantly tweak the default templates available in their blogging software

3. those people are the least likely to be actively fighting spam and, as a result, have more spam than the 20% of blogs where the owner is more defensive

Then a partial solution is fairly clear. I’ve heard and seen others discuss it over the past few months. The search engines needs to be smarter about reading and indexing content. …the software needs to be able to recognize the difference between links produced by the blog owner(s) and those contributed by readers and spambots. Once you can identify the difference between those two types of links, you simply stop using the second type of link when calculating rank. Sure, you can still count them for the purpose of providing link counts–just donn’t factor them into the ranking.

Jeremy’s suggestion has elicited a lot of commentary. As one of the 20% who actively fight comment spam, I’m hoping that some kind of solution is in the works. But I’m not sure this is it – often I appreciate the links that are left in my comment fields, and I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone who is well intentioned from continuing the practice. On the other hand, comment spam is a major problem, and it might be worth losing a bit of juice to save the ecosystem from the parasites.