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Ning. I Likey The Idea

By - September 26, 2006

Ning

Om has the scoop on the first look at Ning’s new services, backed by Marc Andreessen and run by CEO Gina Bianchini. I was there today getting a demo of the service, which will be showing itself off at Web 2 later this Fall. In short, they are launching open, free, customizable versions of YouTube, MySpace, and Flickr. At once. And that’s just the start….it does not lack for ambition.

I really liked the philosophy behind this company and its platform. It has the potential to change the game that major first wave Web 2 companies (like MySpace, Flickr, and YouTube) defined. In short, it’s not about one company owning a space – video, or social networking, or photo sharing. It’s about letting anyone have these kinds of services. That’s biting off a hell of a lot, and there is much to prove, but if the planets align, I have to say, it’s an impressive play. More as soon as I can….

From Om’s post:

The company, if you ask CEO and cofounder Gina Bianchini, has built a web platform that allows users to clone, and modify many social services that can allow you to share bookmarks, or have your friends help you create a little recipe site. Even your own Hot or Not!

The company is about to launch a new video and photo sharing applications based on the Ning-platform. I can hear readers groaning and saying, not another “something” sharing service. The key difference is that unlike YouTube or Flickr, these new add on are about creating a private space, where you can share family videos and photos. You can make it private and limit access to these spaces.

But most importantly, the Ning Video (and Photo) can help you pull in and organize videos from across all video services like YouTube and Google Videos. If you so desire, you can embed the videos in your blog, or MySpace page.

You can customize the look and feel of your video player. I tried it – its pretty simple actually. In other words, if I could find time to exhale, I might be able to do GigaOMtv. No that is not happening anytime soon, but the power of Ning platform makes it possible.

  • Content Marquee

Google Clarifies Philosophy Re: Content

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Last night I had a chance to speak to a rep at Google about this post: Google is clarifying and stating, for the record, it’s approach to that big, wild world known as Content. From it:

The Internet has broken down many of the barriers that exist between people and information –- effectively democratizing access to human knowledge. By typing just a few keywords into a computer you can learn about almost any subject. Google is one of many organizations that work to make this possible.

But today only a fraction of the world’s information is available online. Our aim to help organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful means working with a lot of information – newspaper articles (many written over a century ago), books (of which there are millions), images, videos (including all of the new footage users are creating), websites, important financial information and much, much more.

Because we don’t own this content, over the years we’ve come up with three primary principles to ensure that we respect content owners and protect their rights:

* we respect copyright;

* we let owners choose whether we index their content in our products;

* we try to bring benefit back to content owners by partnering with them.

There is a lot to say about this, and as regular readers know, I have been somewhat vocal about Google’s role in the world of media for some time. While this post might seem rather DBI (dull but important), it comes at a very interesting time for the company. Primarily, it’s important for folks at Google to have something to point to when they are in the endless business development meetings with the music, publishing, and entertainment industries. It’s clear that scores, if not hundreds of such meetings have ended with a frustrating chorus of “Really, trust us, we swear we aren’t out to undermine your business!!!” A post like this helps Google demonstrate to their potential and current partners just that.

This is not a new issue. I wrote in my book about the first complaints from webmasters when Google went live – threats of lawsuits from online museums and the like.

I sense that Google is starting to truly declare its position relative to content creation companies, and it’s this: we’re not in your business, and won’t be. We might impact your business, and in significant ways, but you can’t sue us for that, brother. Now, let’s go make tons of money, together….and if our margins are higher than yours, well, that’s not our fault….

Google Plugs In

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Powercord

Google is pushing for more efficient power cords for PCs. Totally random, seemingly, but a fine idea.

From the Times:



The Google white paper argues that the opportunity for power savings is immense — by deploying the new power supplies in 100 million desktop PC’s running eight hours a day, it will be possible to save 40 billion kilowatt-hours over three years, or more than $5 billion at California’s energy rates.

Is there a Mac version? I HATE HATE HATE the way the Mac handles power.

Reader John Writes…

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< ![CDATA[Reader John (of the New Scientist) writes: We constantly play with where our subscription barrier falls and use site analytics to measure the effect of these tests. While deep linking is your preferred model we are also interested in sponsored-access to content, releasing articles based on their age, releasing articles if there is exceptional interest in them, barrier access holidays, one-click free, and so on and so forth…. Oh, and because of the high interest in the Bruce Sterling article we decided to extend the free access – enjoy.]]> Read More Read More

A Brief Interview with Google's Matt Cutts

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Matt-Cutts-Logo

Matt is the man who the SEO/SEM world looks to for answers around most things Google related. Over the past month Melanie and I have been having a wide-ranging email exchange with him on spam, the role of humans at Google, and other things. Here’s the result:

Let’s say you decide to leave Google and are asked to write an exact job description for a replacement to do exactly what you do now. What does it say? (We told Matt to be honest, or his options will not vest!)

My official job is to direct the webspam team at Google. Webspam is essentially when someone tries to trick a search engine into ranking higher than they should. A few people will try almost anything, up to and including the mythical GooglePray meta tag, to rank higher. Our team attempts to help high-quality sites while preventing deceptive techniques from working.

As a result of working on webspam, I started talking to a lot of webmasters on forums, blogs, and at conferences. So I’ve backed into handling a fair chunk of webmaster communication for Google. Last year I started my own blog so that I could answer common questions, or to debunk stuff that isn’t true (e.g., inserting a GooglePray meta tag doesn’t make a whit of difference). These days when I see unusual posts in the blogosphere, I’ll try to get a bug report to the right person, or to clarify if someone is confused.

As you pointed out, you’ve become the human voice between Google and webmasters/SEOs. We’ve heard Google needs to manually remove spam sometimes. And even the algorithm-based feed for Google News requires an editorial gatekeeper for selecting sites. Do you think there is a growing role for human presence in Google’s online technologies?

Bear in mind that this is just my personal opinion, but I think that Google should be open to almost any signal that improves search quality. Let’s hop up to the 50,000 foot view. When savvy people think about Google, they think about algorithms, and algorithms are an important part of Google. But algorithms aren’t magic; they don’t leap fully-formed from computers like Athena bursting from the head of Zeus. Algorithms are written by people. People have to decide the starting points and inputs to algorithms. And quite often, those inputs are based on human contributions in some way.





The simplest example is that hyperlinks on the web are created by people. A passable rule of thumb is that for every page on the web, there are 10 hyperlinks, and all those billions of links are part of the material that modern search engines use to measure reputation. As you mention, Google News ranks based on which stories human editors around the web choose to highlight. Most of the successful web companies benefit from human input, from eBay’s trust ratings to Amazon’s product reviews and usage data. Or take Netflix’s star ratings. This past week I watched Brick and Boondock Saints, and I’m pretty sure that L4yer cake and Hotel Rwanda are going to be good, because all those DVDs have 4+ stars. Those star ratings are done by people, and they converge to pretty trustworthy values after only a few votes.

So I think too many people get hung up on “Google having algorithms.” They miss the larger picture, which (to me) is to pursue approaches that are scalable and robust, even if that implies a human side. There’s nothing inherently wrong with using contributions from people–you just have to bear in mind the limitations of that data. For example, the three companies I mentioned above have to consider the malicious effect that money can have in their human systems. Netflix doesn’t have to worry much (who wants to spam a DVD rating?), while eBay probably spends a lot more time thinking about how to make their trust ratings accurate and fair.



Google recently
added user-tagging to photos. it’s an interesting way to sort search, adding a personal and human dimension yet opening up a can of worms for syntax and keyword variation. Is this social training of human-input going to be applied to other dimensions of search at Google? Requiring labels to gain a critical mass before they become official is clever step, but of course its not immune to automated spamming. From your perspective on quality control, is this going to open up doors for more abuse of Google as a platform?

I personally would love to see more human input into search at Google. But the flip side is that someone has to pay attention to potential abuse by bad actors. Maybe it’s cynical of me, but any time people are involved, I tend to think about how someone could abuse the system. We’ve seen the whole tagging idea in Web 1.0 when they were called meta tags, and some people abused them so badly with deceptive words that to this day, most search engine give little or no scoring weight to keywords in meta tags.

Google took a cautious approach on this image tagging: the large pool of participants and their random pairing makes it harder to conspire, and two people have to agree on a tag. Users doing really weird things would look unusual, and image tagging is easy for people but much harder for a bot. As tagging goes, it’s on the safer end of the spectrum.

I think Google should be open to improving search quality in any way it can, but it should also be mindful of potential abuse with any change.

W3C Schools is listing its supporters’ websites on Page Rank 9 and PR7 pages in exchange for donations, $1000 a pop in cash or trade (http://www.w3.org/Consortium/sup). Speculation on this is buzzing because though W3C is a well respected educational resource many SEO blackhats endorse similar tactics. Does Google consider link selling a type of webspam against Google’s TOS? And if so, should we expect to see some kind of a censure on W3C? Or how does it differ from what Google considers webspam?

I’ve said this before in a few places, but I’m happy to clarify. Google does consider it a violation of our quality guidelines to sell links that affect search engines. If someone wanted to sell links purely for visitors, there are a myriad number of ways to do it that don’t affect search engines. You could have paid links do an internal redirect, and then block that redirecting page in robots.txt. You could add the rel=”nofollow” attribute to a link, which tells search engines that you can’t or don’t want to vouch for the destination of a link. The W3C decided to add a “INDEX, NOFOLLOW” meta tag to their sponsor page, which has the benefits that the sponsor page can show up in search engines and that users receive nice static links that they can click on, but search engines are not affected by the outlinks on that page. All of these approaches are perfectly fine ways to sell links, and are within our quality guidelines.

Did the W3C decide to add the metatag on their own, or was that the result of talks between you and the W3C?



We were happy to talk to people at the W3C to answer questions and to give background info, but I believe they made the decision to add the metatag themselves.

Thanks for the considered responses, Matt!

Class Action Against AOL Search History

By - September 25, 2006

TechCrunch has the scoop, I have to say, this ain’t just AOL, folks. I’m sure counsel at Google, Yahoo, et al are watching this one closely.

The Internet Ad Market Is, Well, Healthy to Be Sure

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The IAB reports:

Today, during the MIXX Conference and Expo, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) released Internet Advertising Revenues covering Q2 and the first six months of 2006. Internet advertising revenues (U.S.) for the first six months of 2006 were approximately $7.9 billion, a new record and a 37% increase over the first half of 2005. Internet advertising revenue totaled nearly $4.1billion for the second quarter of 2006, exceeding the $4 billion mark, representing a 36% increase over same period 2005. Q2 2006 revenues represent a 5.5% increase over Q1 2006.

News: Froogle Ain't Dead, Google Says

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Froogle 110Tall

Over the past few days, blogs and the news media has been buzzing with reports (started by Robert Peck at Bear Stearns) that Froogle is being de-emphasized as Google begins to implement shopping listings into its main index. I read the coverage with interest – it’s rare that Google actually admits defeat in any category, preferring instead to let the pasta drip off the wall on its own, so to speak. So I sent an email to folks in corporate communications, and here’s what I got back:

Me: Over the past few days, a Marketwatch story and coverage of recent news about integration of shopping features into the main index has stirred up speculation that Froogle’s days are numbered. Are they?

G: Froogle is alive and well. We are continuing to integrate shopping and product search features into Google.com to make it as easy as possible for users to find product information through Google. We don’t have any more specifics to share publicly on how this will look down the line but we will make sure to let you know about any developments.

Now, you might read this as having it both ways – but that’s to be expected, I’d warrant. Froogle isn’t dead, but that doesn’t mean Google won’t leverage Google.com (and Google Base) to make shopping search more profitable and more useful for consumers….

(also see Read/Write on this issue….)

Reader Salman Writes…

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< ![CDATA[Reader Salman writes: To be truly disruptive in a market…you need to start at the low end…that’s how Google’s advertising engine / network became so powerful. But Google seems to be acting in a non-disruptive way in two important high growth markets, by concentrating on ‘big corporate deals’ with ‘big corporate customers’ – those markets are: Video, where it is striking deals with the likes of MTV, and online (non-text) advertising, where it is wooing big customers like GM.]]> Read More Read More