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AdWords API: Start of Something…

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SIliconValleyWatcher has the scoop: Google is opening up API support for AdWords. This is a big deal (I hope) in that it lets new ecologies of AdWord-based plays begin to thrive – ideally, this will extend to AdSense, and let publishers start to actually help Google make AdSense work well enough to provide more than just beer money. (Gary Stein notes that Rich at Topix is doing some work along those lines via a premium program).

From the coverage:

The release of the API marks a transition for Google, from an online services company towards that of an IT platform for global ad delivery. The types of sophisticated management tools that will be available from Google and third parties should also help tie advertisers into its ad network.

via GB’d

Isohunt and the MPAA Knuckleheads

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IsohuntIsohunt is a BitTorrent search engine, one of the many sites the MPAA is attempting to scare and/or litigate out of business. But the fellow behind Isohunt isn’t folding his tent and going home, he’s fighting. As Boing Boing points out, so far, he seems to have a far better grasp of the legal issues than does the MPAA. Isohunt simply helps people find stuff, it doesn’t host it. But the MPAA is trying to use the DMCA to force the site down. From the site owner’s response:

You repeatedly mention the “representative” list of works, which serves only to intimidate us as a search service. If you look at the Betamax vs. Universal case, the VCR was not deemed illegal since it is capable of legal use. isohunt.com is a content agnostic search service on indexing torrent links over the net, which is very much capable of legal use.

The implications here are significant, and this overall story is worth watching. Among other things, the dunderheads at the MPAA are trying to make linking to something illegal. That’s a dangerous precedent.

The Yahoo Ticker

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MytickerTickers have been around for while – I remember during Push 1.0 everyone was downloading a stock or news ticker app for their desktop. Then everyone uninstalled it – it crashed the PC or made it unbearably slow, or was simply irritating and a waste of screen real estate.

Well, every good idea deserves another chance, and this time Yahoo’s on the case with a beta of a new kind of ticker, one that rolls not just stock info, but just about anything in RSS – so you can monitor, say, Technorati tags or Yahoo News alerts. Oh, and it has a search box, natch. As usual, it’s PC only, IE only. Sigh. More on the Yahoo Search Blog.

News: AOL Puts A Stake In The Ground

By - January 19, 2005

Aol SearchAs I worked on my book over the past year or so, AOL was quite significant for its absence. It didn’t seem to have a strategy to speak of when it came to search, its focus on its own walled garden of access customers kept it from influencing the broader conversation of web-based search.

That all seems to be changing now, as AOL last Fall announced it was opening up its service and was taking a more web-centric approach to its business. First major step seems to be in search: it too is throwing its hat into the ring, and the approach it’s taking should be familiar to anyone who has a Yahoo login – yup, it looks like Yahoo, with an AOL twist.

(NB: The new search is not available as I write this, I will update when is goes live. Full release is in extended entry.)

First, AOL has used Google as its core index for sometime, and this is not changing. What is changing, and what I find most interesting, is that AOL is throwing open its “Search Experience” to the general web user. AOL has developed any number of interesting tools layered on top of Google – think A9, and Yahoo till they dropped Google for their own index last year. But until now, AOL has focused on its access base – i.e. its access clients, who use PC-based client software to access the AOL service. AOL wasn’t really a search destination for anyone who wasn’t already an AOL member.

No longer. Last Fall AOL announced a business strategy shift which predicated today’s annoucement. It gave up the walled garden model, and – not surprisingly for those who feel search is critical to all things internet – their first big move toward paying off that announcement is in search.

As one might expect, AOL has joined Yahoo in taking what might be called the “media model” of search. The media model takes a person’s query and salts the results with all manners of human edited results – mostly from content the service owns, or content that the service access from partners, or content from the web that the service edits together to create what has been called “smart search”, “search shortcuts,” “programmatic search,” and the like. (To be fair, Yahoo, of all the players, is actually pursuing both a Head and a Tail approach – with their algorithmic index and in particular their approach to RSS and video search, for example, they are very much playing in the tail as well).

But AOL is taking “programmed search” to the extreme. It is, after all, a major division of a gigantic content player, and up until now, that content was locked away behind the failing access business model. No longer. AOL Search is taking the media model of search to the maximum – they have 60 full time employees creating edited “snapshots” which respond to what AOL Search chief Gerry Campbell says are 20% of all queries. That’s 2.5 million snapshots preloaded, so when you type in a popular query, you get an “answer, not just a list of results.” I imagine that number will only continue to grow. Yahoo circa 1995, anyone? This time, however, AOL only has to pre-load queries which prove out to be worth the time – the log files will tell them which ones. As will the economy. “We won’t have a smart box for a query like ‘birds of the Maldives’” Campbell told me. ” But that’s why we have Google.”

Yow! It’s not like Google is against “smart search boxes” – they do add Froogle, News, and Mapquest links when they deem it appropriate. But AOL (and Yahoo) have taken an far more aggressive approach. AOL “without a doubt” wants to to be a major web destination, Campbell says. Which will win? Eh, both.

AOL and Yahoo are playing to the head – where the money is, where the commercial value is – honestly, where most of the most popular content is. Google is playing, as a service, more to the tail. And the stuff they are adding to their new web search, combined with the stuff they plan to add, will, i think, push AOL into being a full throated contestant in the ongoing search scrum. Yippee!!!

Campbell said something interesting as we chewed through this: that AOL is creating a “query driven navigation interface,” as opposed to just another search engine.

To the particulars (and I’d love to have screen shots, but I never got the deck mailed to me that I saw online when AOL briefed me earlier today. When/if I get em, you’ll see em.)

AOL is adding a lot to its search play. First they have a new and much improved interface. Probably most impressive, at least in concept (I have not played with it) is the “SmartBox” feature which is sort of like Yahoo’s “Also Try” or Google’s search suggestion tool, but in real time as you type a query. Cool idea.

They’re adding clustering, via a deal with Vivisimo. They’re adding pay-per-call, via a deal with Ingenio (I’d love to write more about this, but I’m beat, it’s late, maybe later in the week!). They’re adding those smart boxes I was talking about. They’re adding search history – but only your last 50 searches. I think that’s lame, but Campbell told me the average AOL user searches just 20 times a month – same as your typical web surfer. They plan to watch that and possibly add more. And they’re planning on adding robust local search that integrates some of their properties – MapQuest, Moviefone, Yellow Pages, City Guides, etc.

And, of course, they will be adding desktop search, through a deal with Copernic, which is, I hear, a great desktop search tool.

Soon, Campbell told me, they plan to add localized indexing, so you can search just the part of the web that is in your region. That will be through a partnership with FAST.

And, oh yeah, they will be integrating vertical search, travel, shopping, etc. Oh, and they have added the ability for “AOL partner advertisers” to buy their own trademarks as ad terms, boxing out others. Hmmm, that smells a bit opportunistic given all the legal stuff swirling around trademarks, but hey, gotta make a buck.

Man, they’ve been busy. I can’t wait to play with it. I’ll update this post once I do.

Update: Boston.com points out that AOL’s use of FAST for local is a blow to Google. Also, my friends at Ask remind me that they had clustering, smart search, and suggest tools for years. ]]> Read More Read More

(Updated) Follow On No Follow: Will "Fully web-expressed writing" Suffer?

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Signdo15I am still not sure how I feel about this, everyone in the comments field of the last post have valid points to make. As I understand it from the Google Guy post (and I am not sure this really is a “Google Guy” – when will Google just stop being coy and let actual real people make comments?) the rel = tag will possibly extend how comment URLs can be understood, built upon, etc. That sounds like a good thing.

But certainly then one question is, do we default to “no follow”?

Now, I’m not questioning No Follow simply because I want to ensure that those who leave URLs in a blog’s comment space get more search juice. For the most part, I agree with Danny’s approach on this question. But what bothers me is that there may well be an ecology that evolves based on the link mojo in comments which we can’t imagine, but that would be important and wonderful, and that will not develop if every comment has a tag telling search engines to ignore it. Like it or not, search engines are now processors of our collective reality, and fiddling with that requires some comtemplation.

My gut take on this yesterday was “We’re making a decision without thinking through the implications.” My second gut take was “We can’t possibly imagine all the implications.” So my third gut take is “Don’t do it if we can’t imagine what consequences it might have.”

OTOH, there is much to recommend any system that foils spammers, and ecologies always evolve through a rubicon of conscious choice and unconscious wandering. I have found, however, that using the tools provided by MT, comment spam is no longer a big deal for me. I manage the problem on my end (with able help from my webmaster), and that’s that.

In the end, I remain unsure how I feel about this, and will continue to grok it, and if I come to some conclusion, I’ll share it, but for now, I’m still pondering it. Meanwhile, my webmaster has installed the software, but I’m going to ask him to take it off mine, till I figure out how I feel about it.

Update: I’m told by my webmaster that “No Follow” also applies to Trackbacks. I totally disagree with that, so for now, I won’t be No Following. If I have this wrong, can someone clue me in? I know there is trackback spam, but it’s about 1% the problem of comment spam….

Update 2: Anil has a good post on all this here. But as I read through it, I realized I really wanted to read the comments too. And bingo, they were great. Danny chimed in, as did many others, and I learned something. The comments themselves were very valuable information. Let’s imagine a scenario five years from now when someone – perhaps a student doing his thesis on the early growth of blogs – wants to do a search for intelligent commentary on the emergence of post-PageRank relevance schema. Assuming that everyone follows No Follow, does that mean that the comments in Anil’s post, which I found very good, will have less juice in the index, even though they use linking to make posts? What if the comments brought up entirely new ideas, ones that deserve to be found later, or linked to important concepts which elucidate the discussion?

In other words, here is one of the unintended consequences I worried about already becoming apparent: No Follow will discourage people from doing what I’ll call “fully web-expressed writing” on other people’s blogs – where they write in that rather post-modern way of linking as they write, which is what we all do in this bloggy world we live in. A deft web writer is like a spider pulling strands to support his or her central thesis – it’s an emerging form of communication, and from what I can tell, it’s going to be very important long term to our culture.

If as a commentator on someone’s blog, you know that you’re spending ten, twenty, or more minutes crafting a response, and that response – because it lives in someone’s comments field – will be ignored by the conferrers of future societal attention (ie – search indexes) – then I can imagine many folks will simply avoid writing thoughtful responses in comemnts altogether. Instead, they’ll post on their own site. It seems that one of the things No Follow will do – subtley or not – is discourage active and intelligent dialog on a post. That is not, to my mind, a good thing.

So far what I have read seems to frame the folks who are unsure about No Follow as not wanting to lose the ability to gain PageRank from comments they might post elsewhere. Danny pointed out in Anil’s comments that there is something rather seamy about using comments to announce your blog, or point to your favorite post, or whatever. With exceptions, I agree with that. But I don’t think this is about that – it’s not why I am still unsure. It’s more subtle – what am I locking down here that otherwise might flourish? What am I cutting off that might prove important in the future?

Also, the idea that we need to get “back to PageRank as it was in the beginning” feels a bit off – that was then, this is now. We can’t go back.

I would have liked to have posted this on Anil’s site, but he has TypeKey registration set up, and I’m not against it per se, but I just don’t like the siging up proceess getting in the way of thinking out loud as the impulse hit me. Sorry about that, but there you have it, proof in the process. As I have said many times, f*ing spammers.

Lastly, I sense that this is more about the search engines and their need to despam their indexes (important certainly), than it is about the bloggers and the need to despam our sites (which as I said before, we all are getting reasonably good at). Note that Ask – which takes a different indexing approach from the more PageRank-centric MSN, Google, and Yahoo – is on the sidelines on this one. Not that we don’t all live in an intertwingled ecology, and not that we don’t all potentially benefit from this move, but … this felt rushed and rather unilateral.

Anyway, yet more to chew on. This is drawing an amazing array of responses, far more than I can read right now. My apologies in advance if I missing some obvious advancements in the discussion, or have my facts dead wrong.

No Follow

By - January 18, 2005

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this yet, because what ends up happening is folks who leave URLs in comment fields get no search juice at all. This creates an early lock down in the blog space that I am not sure won’t have unexpected consequences. On the other hand, I love the idea of f*ing with comment spammers…

Thoughts on Picasa and Google's Marketing Strategy

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PicasaadLast week I had a chance to speak with Lars Perkins, once CEO of Picasa and now GM of Google’s Picasa unit. He was brimming with the news of his new product’s features, so let’s do a quick overview of what’s new, and then I’ll add a few thoughts as to what all this means. At least, what it seems to mean from where I stand.

First, Picasa is a major upgrade, the first since its release. It adds features in four areas:

- Editing. Version 2 has more and deeper editing features, including new filters, new lighting effects and masks, new color correction, etc.

- Backup. Picasa now lets you back up to CD or DVD, and create “gift CDs” for family and friends.

- Organization. You can now tag pictures with metadata and organize them in new ways.

- Integration with other sites. Picasa announced a deal that allows you to get prints of your Picasa photos through four major photo sites: Ofoto, Shutterfly, Snapfish, and Walmart.

Ok, for more on the features, there’s always PCWorld. What I’m interested in is the more joints after midnight stuff, what does Picasa *mean*, man?

It was odd – almost weird – to be having the discussion I did with Lars. It felt like I was back at MacWeek in the late 1980s and there I was, talking to a product manager at – well, a company like Microsoft about his new product – just one of scores the company was working on at given time. The whole thing struck me as very…traditional. Google was introducing a new software application, touting its new features…Wow, i thought to myself, this is how things are going to be with Google, going forward. Just one more product, one more set of features, one more cog in the machine. I don’t know why that struck such a dissonant note, but it seems to me it’s apt – the company is getting big, and every product can’t have the entire impact of the Google brand, so to speak.

But every product does carry that brand’s influence and potential. And to that end Picasa has many implications. First, let’s consider the business model. I asked Lars what it was, and he admitted “We don’t have one.” Since Google bought Picasa, the software is now free – it used to cost around $30 to download.

“That’s kind of took some getting used to,” Perkins added. “I had to unlearn some of my entrepreneurial instincts…For now, the focus is entirely on creating the best user experience. Like most things Google has done, we’ll figure out the business model down the road.”

OK, I can swing with that, but … really. What about selling prints and calendars, like Ofoto does? “I don’t think you’ll see Google offering end user products like printing or mugs,” Perkins replied.

Well, then, what about getting a piece of the referral action? If you are sending Picasa members to Walmart or Ofoto for printing services, don’t you at least get a piece of that action? “No.”

Huh. Why not? “We are interested in working with all partners, and when you try to cut these business development deals, there are always exceptions they want….”

It seems to me that if you’re Google, you can set the terms of a deal: make it the same for everyone, for example. But regardless of the “we’ll figure it out later” approach to business, which I at once admire and find rather disingenuous (will Google really send its Picasa customers to YahooPhoto?), there are any number of reasons why Picasa makes sense for Google.

1. Photos are data, and Google loves data. The more, the better. Sure, it’s not in the *web* index, but that can come later, as the definition of the PersonalWeb and the PublicWeb start to overlap.

2. Photos are personal, and photos are shared – both trends that allow for search to be better and more important to individuals and groups. This also binds a user to Google, over any other service.

3. Having a photo service will help a search company understand trends in non-textual search, and messy taxonomies of grassroots-driven tagging in particular.

4. And Picasa can be a business, in particular a referral-driven business. Once Google establishes Picasa as an application with its own momentum, I expect the company will reconsider its business model neutrality and start to charge commerce-related fees, much as it most likely will with Google Print.

As I think about Picasa, Google Desktop, Print, Keyhole, Blogger, and Google Groups come to mind, as does Google’s long held aversion to consumer marketing. And I’ve come to the conclusion that Google can no longer afford to avoid consumer marketing. In order for these services to really scale, to get to where they need to go, Google will have to start promoting them. It’s unavoidable – even if you do have the best product in the world, you need to tell people about it before they get locked into other options – Yahoo, for example, promotes Travel, Photo, and other services it owns. That’s what marketing is, after all. Sure, you probably don’t need to market Google search, nor do you need to market in traditional ways. But you sure do need to promote Picasa if you want it to be anything more than a footnote in its space. So I revise what I’ve said in the past about Google hiring an agency. I don’t think they’ll do it to launch a big “We’re Google and we rock” TV campaign, but it makes a whole lotta sense that they might hire an agency to promote the growing number of services and applications the company owns or will own in the future. I don’t know how many GDS downloads there have been, but given how many competitors there are in the desktop search space, I can only guess the number isn’t as high as Google would like, for example. I would not be surprised to see a campaign sometime later this year that reminds consumers that Google has more to offer than just a wicked fast search engine.

Oh, and I did ask Lars if we’d see a Mac version of Picasa, and he asked me if I had used iPhoto. Yup. Enough said.

PS – The Picasa site is very slow today – I imagine it’s getting hammered.

PPS – Danny has a nice piece comparing Picasa to Adobe, and check out this post on an idealized photo site from Thomas Hawk.

Picasa 2 Ships

By - January 17, 2005

PicasaI noticed the news has leakedPicasa version 2 has shipped, a major upgrade to the photo app – purchased by Google last year. More on this shortly. Congrats to Lars Perkins and his team.