free html hit counter August 2005 - John Battelle's Search Blog

Links for Today

By - August 31, 2005

Every so often there’s just too much stuff:

Searchfox, a personalized RSS reader, is going into private beta. You can ask for an account here.

Yahoo is improving its Mail search. Wonder why?

Doc on blog and RSS spam (which is search spam by another name…)

MSFT to launch Skype killer (via Slashdot). Is there any hope left for old line telcos?!

Reply gets funded. I like the idea of this service. Does it work for anyone?

French President Chirac says he’ll fund a European search engine to thwart Anglo Saxon cultural imperialism. Good Lord.

You want a good roundup of RSS search? SEW has it.

SEW also has good reporting on the ongoing Google Print saga.

Om says: Watch yer Google Wallet, it’s coming. eBay, ho!

Only 11% of blog readers use RSS (but more than half of Searchblog’s, I think).

New mobile search features from Google.

  • Content Marquee

A Blogging Case to Watch

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Aaron Wall, who writes the SEOBook search optimization blog, has been sued by Traffic Power (I am not giving them any link love) over comments on his blog. On its face, this seems outlandish – free and open commenting on blogs should be protected – but there are complications regarding trade secrets and SEOBook’s competition with Traffic Power, which is much maligned in the search world, to judge by its Google results. Slashdot has a thread on it here. The WSJ has a good overview and free link here.

QOOP Does Deal with Flickr, Buzznet

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Remember QOOP, that web-to-print play that does Searchblog’s print edition? They just cut a deal to do photo books with Flickr and Buzznet. Imagine what happens when they, or someone like them, does a deal with Google Print? Oh wait, the book industry can’t possibly want that, it’d cut them out of a new sales channel: once a book goes out of print, all the money would go to the Author and to Google. But the Print edition is based on a copy scanned by Google – a first serial copy, no doubt.

Hmmm, this is a sticky wicket. That *can’t* be good….or…could it? If you’re an author, why, that sounds pretty good. After all, thanks to Search and QOOP, your book all of sudden has a new life, and might even generate a few dollars. Question for readers more versed than I in this stuff: Would an out of print reprint of a book found via Google search and printed and sold in a one-off fashion via something like QOOP be first serial still, or would it be second serial? See why those publishers are up in arms? They make their hay in hits, sure, but the backlist is where the reliable margins are….is Google Print just an extension of the backlist, or is it a new beast, one that needs to be added to the Author’s contract with the publisher?

If you are a publisher, seems it’s time to rework those first serial North American contracts to consider this new wrinkle…..stat…. if you’re an Author, read those contracts closely…I’ve pinged my agent, to see what her take is…

(Caveat – the founder is a pal, and I have a deal with QOOP for Searchblog, as I mentioned.)

Blodget on Boom and Bust

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In today’s Times, Henry hits it, I think.

TEN years ago this month, the initial public offering of the Internet pioneer Netscape set off a dot-com boom that today is usually viewed as a sort of financial kindergarten recess, a regrettable free-for-all of idiocy and greed. Although this view does capture an aspect of the period – the arrogance and punch-drunk frivolity that come with easy money – it misses the big picture. It also implies that had we only been smarter and more disciplined in the late 1990’s, we could have spared ourselves the pain and embarrassment that followed. History suggests otherwise.

The growth of the Internet has paralleled that of most industries based on revolutionary technology. Canals, railroads, telegraphs, telephones, cars, radios, personal computers – all progressed (or are progressing) through four phases of development: boom, bust, mature growth and decay.

Google Injects AdWords Into Magazine Market. Q: Why? A: Money.

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MagazinesThis scoop from Cnet sure caught my eye:

Google is expanding its lucrative Internet advertising network into the print world in a bold attempt to capture traditional ad dollars.

The search king, which makes 99 percent of its revenue from Internet ads, is quietly testing the waters of print advertising sales, according to executives at several companies that have bought the ads. Google recently began buying ad pages in technology magazines, including PC Magazine and Maximum PC, and reselling those pages–cut into quarters or fifths–to small advertisers that already belong to its online ad network, dubbed AdWords.

This certainly has nothing to do with search. An image of the ads is here.

This feels like a revenue diversification play, to be sure – selling directories and marketplace ads is always the next step once a publisher exhausts the low hanging fruit of its core offerings – but I wonder what the real agenda is here. Does Google see an opportunity to, in essence, become the middleman for anywhere from one to ten pages of directory/marketplace ads in nearly every B2B and niche magazine in the world?

Of course it does. And why not? It has the infrastructure in place (as I said in my previous excerpt, the most valuable asset it has after their tech is its network of advertisers). Let’s see. The Cnet piece said that the advertisers paid Google $1000 for their ads in PCMagazine. There were five of these advertisers – so $5K. The manufacturing/distribution cost of that page is probably no more than a grand, so that’s $4K in profit to split between Google and the publishers of PC Magazine. Let’s say the split is 70/30. That’s $1200 to Google, and $2800 to the publisher. As with the online world, this is free money for the publisher, and they probably love it.

Now, $1200 a page, say an average of five pages per B2B magazine, at least 1500 viable B2B mags in the country (probably more, but….), so do the math, that’s $1200 times 5 times 1500, that’s, er, $9 million, and that’s one issue. Say the average B2B magazine comes out 18 times a year (some are monthly, some weekly, some biweekly etc.), that’s $162 million in revenue a year, the vast majority of that pure profit. And that’s just to start.

Yeah, I see how that might be interesting to Google. And to publishers who, in the end, are never very good at monetizing the back of their book.

For now, this feels like a test. But this sure as heck doesn’t feel like a groovy, engineering-driven, throw-it-against-the-wall kind of test. This is a test of a very real opportunity.

Update: Google sent me a statement, thin soup, but here you go:

Google is testing a program to place ads from our advertising network

into U.S. print publications. This limited test is part of Google’s

continuing effort to develop new ways to provide effective and useful

advertising to advertisers, publishers and users.

Google Print: More to Come

By - August 30, 2005

Library

This Infoweek piece rounds up recent and continuing resistance to Google Print, portions of which are currently on pause, from publishing and library organizations. Some strong language and saber rattling, inasmuch as these folks have sabers to rattle.

“Google, an enormously successful company, claims a sweeping right to appropriate the property of others for its own commercial use, unless it is told, case by case and instance by instance, not to,” the AAUP board said in a statement. “In our view this contradicts both law and common sense.”

The ALPSP was the first of the three groups to indicate publicly that it was ready to go to court.

“We call on Google to hold an urgent meeting with representatives of all major publishing organizations, in order to work out an acceptable pragmatic way forward and to avoid legal action,” Morris said.

I’ve asked to speak to someone at Google about this, because this sure sounds like a lawsuit is the next step, if Google does not do more to appease them.

I’ve said in the past that I think this ain’t Napster. Let’s hope the book industry thinks so too.

Time on Search

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Time magazine tackles search in this week’s issue. I spoke to a Time reporter last week, and you never know where it’s going to go – Time tends to talk to a lot of folks, and then boil it all down to the least common denominator.

The piece starts with a “search in the future scene” which pretty much summed up the conversation I had with the reporter (without of course saying we had it), then rounds up the conventional wisdom, numbers and all[1], and then goes into an overview of “next generation search,” beginning with AOL’s SingingFish (a Time Warner property), on to futuristic image search Viisage, mobile search (4INFO), an interesting app called Mobot (pattern matching via cel phone camera images), question answering (KnowItAll), tagging (Flickr), audio/video (Blinkx, Nexidia), maps (A9) and personalized (Greg’s Findory gets a nod).

Why did I do all these links? Because Time’s website doesn’t link out. How 1996 is that?! I can only imagine all the folks who were not mentioned in this roundup are feeling blue – for a startup, a mention in Time is a Very Big Deal. But thank goodness for all of us Time did not put this package on the cover, as the reporter told me they might – that always marks the beginning of the end of any trendy story. Maybe next week….

[1]So the battle is on for the next generation of search, which will be smarter and more tailored to the individual, embrace video and music–and be accessible from any device with a chip. By 2010, search-engine advertising will be a $22 billion industry worldwide, up from an estimated $8 billion today, according to Safa Rashtchy, a senior analyst with Piper Jaffray in San Francisco. It’s the reason search has become the most hotly contested field in the world of technology.

Book Excerpt: Expanding Beyond Search

By - August 29, 2005

Thesearch Bookcover-4The recent news from Google on Talk, Maps, Earth, Desktop, et al reminded me of a couple of pivot points in the company’s history. For this week’s excerpt (I’m just back from time off, and digging out…) I’m going to post excerpts from two. First is the purchase of the assets of Deja and the move into new markets in 2001, next is AdSense in 2003. This is culled from two separate chapters so it may not flow perfectly…. Net net: the idea of Google expanding beyond search is not new – it’s been happening for years.

The book stuff is really starting to heat up. I did my first reading/talk at the Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven, MA last Friday, and the first reviews are in as well, for more, see the Amazon page. Yikes…..

(And by the way, thanks to your pre-orders, the book is first on the list of “Popular Pre-orders” for Business on Amazon. THANK YOU!)

By the time Schmidt joined, Google was handling more than 100 million searches a day. Early in the year, the company began a raft of significant improvements to its search service, starting with the purchase of DejaNews, a failed attempt at making money from Usenet, a public messaging system composed of more than 500 mil- lion discrete postings on nearly every subject imaginable. While the acquisition of such a data-rich asset went largely unnoticed, the move marked a significant departure for the company. By acquiring Usenet and adding it to the index, Google was actively seeking out new information, as opposed to passively spidering the Web.

The move was consistent with what would become the company’s new mission statement: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Google would continue this trend through 2003 and 2004 with the acquisition of Blogger, Picasa (a photo-sharing service), and Keyhole (a massive satellite imaging company), and the launch of Google Print.

But it was during 2001 that Google’s appetite for data began in earnest. The service added public phone-book information to its index as well asa new image search tool, complete with 250 million images. By the end of the year, Google’s burgeoning index comprised more than 3 billion documents. At the same time, the company aggressively expanded internationally—by early 2002, it was serving search queries in more than forty languages. And 2001 saw Google’s aggressive entry into the mobile market through partnerships with major players like Cingular, AT&T, and Handspring.

Clearly, Google was metastatizing—everywhere there was op- portunity, it seemed the company was expanding. Google soon had more than one hundred engineers in the company, but no focused approach to managing how their time was spent. Unsure of the best way to handle such growth, the triumvirate set up a traditional management structure based on hierarchy—teams of engineers reporting to more than a dozen engineering managers, who in turn reported to Brin and Page. But the approach began to feel top-heavy and bureaucratic—it was slowing down innovation. In September 2001, Brin and Page gathered all the engineering managers together at a companywide meeting—then informed them they were out of a job. Most got jobs in other places in the company, but the founders had made a declaration—not only were they in charge, but things would be done differently at Google.

———–

By the end of 2002, Google stopped publicly discussing its key internal metrics, claiming that it had “more than 1,000”employees and “more than 10,000” computers in its vaunted infrastructure. The company did still boast about the size of its Web index, which passed 4 billion documents in December 2002. But it guarded its revenue numbers jealously— perhaps because they were so good: in 2002, the company made nearly $100 million on gross revenues of about $440 million. That’s some serious cash, and the longer people like Bill Gates stayed in the dark about it, the longer Google could remain free from additional competition.

As compared with Google the service, it has always been difficult to extract information from Google the company—clearly this trait was inherited from its founders, Page in particular. But in late 2002 and early 2003, it seemed the company was circling its wagons even more, perhaps for competitive advantage, but perhaps also in preparation for a possible IPO.

In December 2002, the company launched Froogle, an e-commerce search engine. To most, it was increasingly clear that Google planned to play, and big, in the world of e-commerce. Through the next year, the company continued its aggressive expansion and its rather disingenuous practice of avoiding hard numbers. In mid-2003, the company announced it served “more than 250 million queries a day,” and as of early 2005, it has not updated the figure. In early 2003, Google acquired Blogger, the wildly popular weblog hosting company, prompting many to speculate that Google was becoming a portal along the lines of Yahoo or AOL. But Google for the most part left Blogger alone.

Why? The answer most likely lies in the company’s next major innovation, a new advertising program called AdSense. Launched in March 2003 and rolled out to the world that June, Google’s AdSense program marked a departure in the company’s business model—this was not a pure search business; it was something else. AdSense allowed third-party publishers large and small to access Google’s massive network of advertisers on a self-serve basis—in minutes, publishers could sign up for AdSense, and AdSense would then scan the publishers’ Web sites and place contextually relevant ads next to the content, much as AdWords did for Google’s own site. But there was a significant difference to AdSense—it was driven not by the intent-based queries of consumers, as search is, but rather by the content of a site. The presumption was that if a reader was visiting a site written about, say, flowers, advertisements about flowers from Google’s networks would be a good fit.

By nearly any measure AdSense was a hit—thousands of publishers signed up for the service, most of them tiny sites that previously had no way to monetize the small amount of traffic they had garnered. This was particularly true for blogs—the connection to Blogger now became obvious. For many, AdSense was the equivalent of magic—they added a few lines of code to their sites, and in a month or so checks from Google started showing up in the mail.

But while AdSense as a revenue stream has grown steadily—by Early 2005 it accounted for an estimated 15 percent of Google’s over- all revenues—many advertisers complained that AdSense didn’t work nearly as well as AdWords. Potential customers are in a very dif- ferent frame of mind when they are reading about flowers from when they are typing “flowers” into a search engine. Google acquiesced to advertiser feedback and in 2004, allowed them to opt out of the Ad- Sense network. Regardless, AdSense was a major new distribution Network for what can be considered Google’s second most impressive asset, after its core infrastructure: its network of advertisers.

Link Selling: A Case Study

By - August 25, 2005

From time to time advertisers pop up over at Boing Boing who want to do nothing but buy a hard coded text link. The advertisers are not in any way interested in conversing with BB readers, all they want is to grab some Googlejuice by having a link on a high PageRank site. We always say no, as the intent is so evident. But here is an interesting case (at publisher O’Reilly, which is a partner of mine in Web 2) where a more sophisticated approach – via Google ads – to basically the same idea was not caught, at least initially. BB and SEW have good overviews.

From Tim’s post:

So there’s the heart of the question: is it appropriate for a site to monetize its page rank as well as its page impressions?

It’s pretty clear that the practice of “cloaking” — that is, hiding links so that you’re selling only the page rank — is illegitimate. But what if someone pays you for a real ad, even if you know that they are paying you primarily because of your page rank rather than your targeted audience? As long as there’s no deception as to the nature of the sponsored link, and a legitimate opportunity for click through, isn’t this still an ad?

That leads to a whole nest of hard questions: Where are the boundaries between legitimate “search engine optimization” to help people find stuff that they will appreciate, and “search engine gaming”, to inflate the rank of sites that are less useful? Whose responsibility is it to solve this problem? Should web sites turn away advertisers just because they are performing arbitrage on Google and other search engines? Or is it the search engine’s responsibility to adjust their heuristics to counteract any attempts to game the system? Or both? Is it legitimate for a site to improve its own user experience by hosting small, well-paid and relatively inobtrusive text ads rather than the large banners and popups demanded by many advertisers if those ads lead to a worse user experience on search engines?

Long term, I’m pretty sure that supporting people who game search engines is not a good thing.