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Tuesday Bits

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Been underwater most of this week, and it looks to continue. But here are a few nuggets worth checking out:

Greg points to Amazon Zuggest, a Google Suggest/Amazon mashup. He also points to some interesting personal search work at Microsoft, courtesy Todd Bishop.

Rumors about Yahoo buying Flickr are getting to a boiling point, one source who pinged me (I can’t verify this) said it’s done deal at $20 million, $10 million now, $10 million on earn out. We’ll see….

Philipp reports that Mark Jen, famous for getting fired for blogging while at Google, is now at Plaxo.

Jon Udell is doing some interesting things with Google Maps. On Kuro5shin, some neat things with Google Print.

Technorati has launched “related tags” which is a cool idea. Weinberger reports.

Matt McAlister, who was employee #1 at the Standard, took the wraps off his personal blog and posts on “Why Google Isn’t What It Used to Be.”

SEW has a pointer to an article about a visit to Google India.

Via AdWeek, (SEW also notes this) Yahoo anticipates the end of its relationship with MSN (via Overture). We all knew this was coming.

Via Slashdot, a Threadwatch post noting that Google is cloaking its own pages, perhaps. This practice is banned by Google’s own TOS.

Google Updates Desktop: MSFT Will Take Note

By - March 06, 2005

GoogdesktopI can’t write a full review here (I’m on a Mac…), but tonight Google takes the beta off its Google Destkop Search (this link is to my initial coverage, including a lot of ramblings on the implications).

Taking off beta is no big deal, right?

Well, no. It’s a pretty big deal, because Google is adding a couple of things in release 1.0 which 1/make a lot of sense, and 2/will stir up a pot o’ press reaction, all of which will have some variant of this headline: “Google Plans End Run Around Microsoft.”

In short, the new version of Google Desktop will include APIs for any Windows application developer, letting anyone plug their application into GDS (ie, iTunes, chat, or…MSFT Office, for example). Developers can access these APIs to do two things – one, to make sure their documents are indexed by GDS, and appear as searched by GDS in any way they care to. And second, to plug Google search, all of Google search, into their apps.

In short, if you are Windows developer, you can now plug Google (yup, all of Google search, not just desktop) into your application. Isn’t integrated search what MSFT is promising with Longhorn? Why, yes it is. But that’s two years out. This is ready now.

So is this Google starting an all out war for the hearts and mind of Windows developers, and for the search habits of Windows users? Hell yes to the latter, but on the former, not yet, but it’s sure as hell interesting. When I asked Nikhil Bahtla, GDS product manager, about this, he used Wordperfect as an example. Nice choice. I doubt MSFT will be busy working on a Word or Office plugin any time soon.

But wait, there is more. The new GDS will also create a floating “search box” independent of any browser, which you can place anywhere you want on top of Windows. Hmmmm. This sounds very, er, post browser, very…Web 2.0. See my musings on how web-based apps are starting to do to Windows what Windows did to DOS here….and man, this sure feels a lot like a paving stone down that particular road.

Given all this, I had to ask the Googlers I spoke to about the Microsoft issue, and they, as usual, ducked the question, saying they were merely providing features that Google’s users were asking for. Certainly that’s true. But certainly, it’s also true that this release will cause no shortage of consternation up in Redmond.

Once you have APIs and desktop software like this, you need to create a major push to support developers. Will Google be doing this, I asked? No comment, at least not at this point. But expect it. It will be, of course, what “Google’s customers will be asking for.”

In any case, read more about the news here (only a ZDnet story now, but by Monday morning…). This is certainly getting interesting. Release in extended entry.

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Friday Rant: And Then It Hit Me….It's Not About Distribution Anymore

By - March 04, 2005

Old Radio

When I’m driving, I listen to radio. Radio is a pretty pure medium, particularly AM. I’ve always thought AM talk radio (I listen to sports radio when I’m bored with NPR, which is a lot, honestly) was a lot like blogging – you have a host who sits in the middle of a conversation, and the best ones are really good at getting the community involved. They have regulars, they have a defined area of coverage, they clearly connect to their audience. Anyway, as I was listening to AM radio on my way back from the gym, an ad for something pretty random came on. I don’t recall the ad exactly, but it felt extremely…non-endemic. After all, everyone listening is really into sports, right? (I was listening because the Giants are back in spring training, the blossoms are on the fruit trees, and all is right in the world…)

Anyway, this advertiser sent me on a reverie. Why, in all honesty, was this advertiser buying the ad space on the radio in the first place? Was it to reach men, 24-54? Yes, certainly. Was it to reach men, 24-54 with an interest in sports, and engage them in a conversation that was related to the product they were selling? No, not really, as the ad was for something else – maybe it was a mortgage refinancing offer. Was it to speak to this audience in the language they were all speaking at the point of context – the language characterized by the host? Clearly not. The ad was abrasive, a pushy come on.

So why did the advertiser buy the ad?

And then it hit me. The advertiser bought the ad to gain access to distribution. The advertiser wanted to speak to a big group of men, and the best outlet the advertiser could find was the radio station. At that time, in the Bay area, there simply was no other option. For the most part, the advertiser ignored the context of the endemic conversation it had interrupted (sports talk, in this case), and took over the distribution channel for its thirty seconds, pushing a presumptive and noisome message into my ears.

We have all come to accept this, because that’s the cost of a closed distribution system – those with the most money will pay the most to gain access to that distribution – in short, they rent it for the highest dollar. In nearly all “old” media, sales teams spend nearly all their time hawking this fact: buy our audience, and say pretty much whatever you want to them (as long as its not illegal).

But what happens to advertising when distribution is secondary, and audience and content is primary?

That is exactly the question internet publishing and blogging opens up (at least, the best forms of it). Internet based publishers don’t control access to some finite distribution system, all they control is access to the audience itself. This, in turn, can and should skew the conversation around internet advertising to one based on endemics – is this advertiser a good fit to the audience in the *context* the site provides? Can the advertiser address the audience in a voice that respects and even adds to the conversation occurring at that site? The lack of distribution scarcity creates a subtle but important forcing mechanism – It lets the best publishers (to my mind) say “Sure, we’ll take advertising, but only advertising that respects the conversation present on a site will truly flourish.” That, in the end, creates an ecology which rewards the strongest content and authors/sites which have durable and vibrant bonds with their communities. And that, I must say, makes this publisher a very optimistic fellow.

Fun With Overture RSS

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Plush ThisSince I’m on the topic of Boing Boing, we’ve been testing Yahoo’s long tail RSS ads. It’s tough to find ads that are relevant to Boing Boing’s content, and often the program fails – defaulting to pretty random ads. But when this combination hit my RSS aggregator, I had to note it….

After all, it is Friday. Plush toys, indeed.

Adsense Update: Fred, $500, and Is Google Trying Harder?

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AdsenseFred Wilson seems to be tempting fate by posting on his Google Adsense numbers, but I for one am pleased he’s doing it, as it might spur some innovation in the space. Fred’s pretty pleased with his $500 a year from AdSense, but I think that’s not close to what Fred could or should be pulling in. Thomas Hawk has some comments on the post.

Given experiences like Fred’s and my own (which are similar in scope), I would be upbraiding Google on Adsense as it relates to blogs and smaller sites in particular, but this week when I got a call from a nice fellow in their New York advertising office. He was calling to inquire about Boing Boing and Adsense – basically, it was a cold call – Google was doing marketing outreach. While sites like Fred’s and Searchblog are not getting these calls, the Google rep told me his job was to call “mid size” sites like Boing Boing (I’m the “band manager” there) and convert them into Adsense customers. (He did not realize that I write Searchblog, and was not treating me with any kind of special preference, as far as I could tell. I did inform him during our conversation.)

I explained to the rep why Boing Boing is not using Adsense – the list is rather long. First, the ads are not very relevant – Boing Boing is pretty eclectic and updates quickly, and the content confuses the Adsense algorithms, forcing them to default to lowest common denominator type ads – like mortgage offers and affiliate sites. The Google rep countered that for sites the size of Boing Boing, Adsense can crawl more quickly, increasing the chance that more contextual ads will appear. He also reminded me that Adsense has updated tools which allow publishers to specify keywords for ads they might wish to attract, as well as ads they might want to avoid. So Boing Boing might use keywords like “music,” “gaming,” or “technology” to attract advertisements in those categories. And we can create negative keywords like “mortgage” to get rid of those offers. I knew Google had these tools, but this fellow told me Google has given the keywords more weight lately. This isn’t exactly the verticalization of Adsense I had been hoping for (I’d love it if Google let advertisers “tag” themselves so publishers can connect to those tags), but it’s a start.

The trickier part of Boing Boing’s resistance to Adsense has to do with its Terms of Service (TOS) for both advertisers and publishers. Adsense has an anti-“anti” TOS – it does not allow negative ads. This meant that ads promoting, say, anti-Bush t-shirts, were not allowed. To its credit, Google has updated this portion of their TOS (political speech is now OK), but the “anti” terminology is still in the TOS, and the definition is so vague as to be difficult to comprehend.

Which leads to the big issue with Adsense: transparency. Many have written about this (including Thomas above), but the basic reality is this: No one knows how Google makes its decisions regarding Adsense. This means we don’t know what the split is with publishers, what constitutes a violation of the TOS, or what the average price per click is. Not to mention that the TOS prohibits partners from discussing their earnings (which is why I think Fred might be in hot water….). In short, working with Adsense is a “trust us” proposition, one that Boing Boing is not willing to make. (Though I do make it, here on Searchblog, at least for now. For more on my own experience, read this.)

Lastly, Adsense has a “no competition” clause, meaning we can’t run any other text ad network. In my gut, I just don’t like that approach.

Anyway, the Google rep was quite open and listened, responded, and – most surprising of all – said that if we did try Adsense, he’d be our account executive – we could call him at any time with questions. Now that is new – Google has been really beaten up by nearly everyone I spoke to for lack of response (my post here reflects that). You can’t really blame them – with hundreds of thousands of advertisers, it’s hard to scale up. But clearly, Google is now trying harder. Credit where credit’s due….

Major MSFT Wheel Heads to Google

By - March 03, 2005

From Slashdot:

“Microsoft Watch reports Marc Lucovsky, one of Microsoft’s key Windows architects has defected to Google. His confidence in Microsoft’s ability to ship software seems to have waned, too.”

The poster is referring to this post on Marc’s new blog, his first post, reminiscent of Adam Bosworth’s earlier musings (Adam was another MSFT Wheel who left for BEA, then went to Google.)

Google Local Upgrade

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Local Hp LogoGoogle today introduced upgrades to Google Local, taken together they point to some interesting trends in Google’s approach to this market.

First, Google has integrated its broadly acclaimed Google Maps application, not a surprising move. Second, and more interestingly, Google has incoporated reviews. But unlike Yahoo, which allows for users to submit reviews at the point of search, Google crawls the web for reviews which are already extant, then rolls them into its results. Users cannot add their own reviews on the spot.

This is an important distinction, and yet another declaration of how Google differs from its competitors, in particular Yahoo. I’ve written about this here and here (and a lot of other places). Blogger aside (and there’s plenty to say about the limitations of that platform), Google has always been uncomfortable with user created content, at least on its main site. While sites like Amazon, eBay, and Yahoo are full bore participants in the architecture of participation (AOP), Google prefers to lay an algorithm between user created content and its own search service. It’s still AOP, but it’s AOP once removed.

Why am I on about this? Well, Yahoo’s approach allows merchants to join the AOP party, and start paying for listings, for example. Google’s approach – at least so far – eschews this potential revenue stream. Again, Google seems to be avoiding the deeper media play.

This is not a criticism, per se, just an observation. The new Google Local also scans the web for other useful information such as prices, hours of operation, and so on. On first blush, the new service looks greatly improved. But I wonder if the approach – of filtering the web rather than engaging an AOP based platform – will really work for users. We’ll see. It’s great that there are such distinct approaches to the same market – it means we’ll all learn more, more quickly.