free html hit counter November 2006 - Page 2 of 9 - John Battelle's Search Blog

Google Closes Answers, A People Driven Service

By - November 29, 2006


From the Google Blog:

Google is a company fueled by innovation, which to us means trying lots of new things all the time — and sometimes it means reconsidering our goals for a product. Later this week, we will stop accepting new questions in Google Answers, the very first project we worked on here. The project started with a rough idea from Larry Page, and a small 4-person team turned it into reality in less than 4 months. For two new grads, it was a crash course in building a scalable product, responding to customer requests, and discovering what questions are on people’s minds.

The post eulogizes Google Answers, but doesn’t really explain why Google discontinued it….

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Updated: Google Display Advertising Network

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I’ve got a post brewing in me about this, as it clearly is in my realm of interest, but I plan to get smarter on it first. However, John Chow, who runs the Tech Zone, spills the news that Google is deadly serious about selling direct to the Fortune 1000, and working direct with selected publishers on a CPM basis. Interesting. I knew Google was doing this already, but did not know it had a name!

Google Display Advertising Network was created so Google can go after Fortune 1000 companies, which buy advertising to build a brand more than to sell a product. Google already dominates text and CPC ads so going after display and video ads is the next logical step. Google offers display and video ads to AdSense publishers on CPC and CPM format already. However, the formation of the Display Advertising Network is a clear signal that Google really want to push this forward.

How do you join the Google Display Advertising Network? You can’t. Google won’t even acknowledge it exists. You won’t find anything written about it in any of Google’s web properties. The only way to get into the display network is if Google invites you, which is how I found out about it.

Hat tip to Andy.

Update: Google’s PR has responded to my query about this thusly:

We are not testing or developing a new ad network. The existing display advertising network has been available for over 2 years, and most recently we introduced click-to-play video ads. We are always exploring ways to offer advertisers and publishers more flexibility and control over ad inventory.

I have a lot to say about this. In fact, I have a big brain dump brewing on this very subject – well, on the shift in media and what it means for marketing and audience and authors. It’s coming. I plan to take a day out of my crazed work life and simply write again. Oh, to do that all day long. What joy.

Pardon the Dust…

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I’m flying to LA for some meetings today, and we’re transitioning Searchblog to a bigger, faster server to boot. My mail and this site may be cranky for most of the day….Forgive any blips as we work on it…thanks.

Brewster On Google Library/Book Search

By - November 27, 2006

“The idea of having only one company control the library of human knowledge is a nightmare.” That’s Brewster Kahle, commenting on Google’s contracts with libraries in its controversial book scanning/search service. I have asked many times on this site whether Google would ever share its scans with the world, and I’ve presumed the answer is no. Kahle confirms that, and comments on the implications.

More from Philipp over at Google Blogoscoped.

Google Has My Credit Card Number Now

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Herewith the story of my attempts to buy a Dora the Explorer Mr. Face Plush Backpack from ToysRUs using Google Checkout. In short, Google now has my credit card number. (It’s one I use for testing, however). It feels kind of odd, to be honest.

It seems Google is obviating the merchant entirely vis the ongoing data relationship with the buyer. The registration screen states: “”Google” will appear by the charge on your credit card statement. Your card number will not be shared with the seller.”

Why on earth would anyone want this to be the case? To lose your relationship with the buyer? What information *is* passed back to ToysRUs? What rights do I have to that information, and to know how it’s used between Google and the merchant?

I clicked on the TOS, which is here. What I found noteworthy (GPC is Google Payment Company, the company Google created to drive Checkout):

You acknowledge and agree that your purchases of Products are transactions between you and the Seller, and not with GPC, Google or any of GPC’s affiliates. GPC is not a party to your purchase of Products, and GPC, Google, or other GPC affiliates are not a buyer or a seller in connection with any Payment Transaction, unless expressly designated as such in the listing of the Product on a Google Web Site.

Also, found this:

You agree that you will not use the Service to process Payment Transactions for any Products that violate this Terms of Service, other policies or rules applicable to the Service, or applicable law. The current policy that establishes the Products and other transactions that may not be paid for with the Service is provided here. Failure to comply with these limitations may result in suspension or termination of your use of the Service.

A quick check of what Google finds not worth selling shows expected stuff, like porn and drugs, but also this:

Offensive goods

Literature, products or other materials that:

* Defame or slander any person or groups of people based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, or other factors

* Encourage or incite violent acts

* Promote intolerance or hatred

Which I suppose means that you cannot use Google Checkout to buy a DVD of this or this.

In section 7, they get to a privacy policy, which I read with interest, given my questions above. I wonder if any more than a handful of folks ever read this policy, as it’s a link inside a link inside a link, but here it is. Noteworthy:

Google clearly states that its master privacy policy applies. That can be found here. (Now that’s a link inside a link inside a link inside a link…). So to recap what Google can do with your information under that policy:

* Providing our products and services to users, including the display of customized content and advertising;

* Auditing, research and analysis in order to maintain, protect and improve our services;

* Ensuring the technical functioning of our network; and

* Developing new services.

….We may process personal information to provide our own services. In some cases, we may process personal information on behalf of and according to the instructions of a third party, such as our advertising partners.

….We have a good faith belief that access, use, preservation or disclosure of such information is reasonably necessary to (a) satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or enforceable governmental request, (b) enforce applicable Terms of Service, including investigation of potential violations thereof, (c) detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues, or (d) protect against imminent harm to the rights, property or safety of Google, its users or the public as required or permitted by law.

Whew. OK, back to the Checkout specific policy terms:

They collect a lot of data on you, and they keep it in one place – your Google Account. That’s pretty much what I expected. All your reg info goes there (credit card, address, etc) and then Google reserves the right to add third party data (credit reporting agencies, for example) and – here’s the nub:

…Transaction information – When you use Google Checkout to conduct a transaction, we collect information about each transaction, including the transaction amount, a description provided by the seller of the goods or services being purchased, the names of the seller and buyer, and the type of payment used.

Nowhere does it say that this information is shared back to the merchants. Were I a merchant, I’d be very wary of this.

Now, here’s the thing that might make you think. Once you start a data trail in Checkout, it stays for good, at least, it stays as long as Google wants it to:

You can disable Google Checkout by contacting us. If you do so, your payment information and transaction history will no longer be viewable through Google Checkout. However, in order to meet our reporting and auditing obligations, and to detect, deter, and prevent fraud or other misconduct on our systems, the information will be retained in our systems. If you disable Google Checkout, your personally identifiable information will not be used by Google or shared with third parties except for these purposes. We may delete these records over time if permitted or required by law.

Disabling Google Checkout does not close or cancel your Google Account. For more information about how to manage your Google Account preferences, please click here. This Privacy Policy continues to apply to the personal information we maintain after you disable Google Checkout or close or cancel your Google Account.


Put another way, don’t step in the mud if you don’t want the tracks to stay forever.

Lastly, federal law does interfere with Google using your info in certain marketing-related ways, and the privacy policy allows you to opt out. Details:

We operate the Google Checkout service through a company called Google Payment Corporation (“GPC”), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Google. The information we collect, including information obtained from third parties, is shared between GPC and Google to operate the service. Neither GPC nor Google will share your information with others except as described in this Privacy Policy.

Under federal law, you have the right to opt out of certain sharing between affiliated companies such as GPC and Google. Specifically, you may choose to opt out of:

* The sharing between GPC and Google of information that does not pertain to your transactions or experiences with Google Checkout (also called “non-transactional information”, e.g., information we may obtain from third parties to verify your identity), and

* The use by Google of information shared between GPC and Google to promote Google products and services.

Please remember, regardless of whether you choose to opt out of this sharing or not, we will never sell or rent your personal information, and we will not share your personal information with anyone outside of GPC and Google except as described in this Privacy Policy.

If you don’t want us to share non-transactional data between GPC and Google, please click here (this is a email address).

If you don’t want us to use any information shared between GPC and Google to promote Google products and services to you, please click here. (also an email, I sent both of them mail and asked to opt out).

OK, so I have now read (or re-read) three separate privacy policies, and it’s time to complete my purchase. I hit “agree” and, still on Google’s servers, get the confirmation page, hit “sign in” again and…shit, it’s not working!

What did I do wrong?

I head over to where they tell me to go – – and give them the email I use for my Google account. (It worked before, to log me in in the first place, very odd!). I reset my password, and now…where do I go? There’s not a screen inviting me back to complete my purchase! There’s no way to get back to my order! My daughter’s beloved Dora the Explorer Mr. Face Plush Backpack from ToysRUs is totally MIA!

Hmmm. I sign into my Google Checkout account, maybe that will have the purchase history. After all, they had all the information – but no. While Google did manage to capture and save my credit card info, there’s no history of my attempt to purchase the Dora backpack.

Hmmm. How about I use my Firefox history to go back to the original page where my account did not work in the first place! (Not that this is something most shoppers would ever do, but…). Hey, that should work!

Nope. “Oops! Your shopping cart has expired.”

Shit. So I’m starting over. No, wait, this has been way too much of a trial. I’ll get back to it later. Or, I’ll just go to Amazon.

Sorry Google, but mark this one in your metadata as “abandoned cart.”

Google Pushing Google Checkout

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Google Checkout

From a release just mailed to me:

Google Checkout Adds New Merchants, Charity Donations and Promotions to New Holiday Site

Looking for the perfect holiday gift this past weekend might have been enough to send most shoppers over the edge. That’s why Cyber Monday, November 27, is expected to attract a crowd of online shoppers for the holiday season this year. And now, Google Checkout is working with even more merchants to help gift givers quickly and easily buy exactly what they want.

Just in time for the holidays, Toys “R” Us, Babies “R” Us, Golfsmith, Linens ‘n Things, PETCO, J&R Music and Computer World have joined the thousands of merchants who have already added Google Checkout to their sites. Shoppers can buy directly from these merchants’ sites and use their Google Checkout login to speed their purchase process. On average, Google Checkout eliminates an average of 15 steps from the online checkout process, in many cases making checking out as simple as entering a single login.

For those who like to give back (in addition to giving gifts) during the holidays, donations to eight international charities can be made with a Google Checkout login. Google will add $10 to every user’s first donation of $30 or more.

I plan to go use the service today, will report back.

More here.

I know, It's Too Political

By - November 26, 2006

But it’s really worth watching.

The program’s designers say existing anticensorship programs are too complicated for everyday computer users, leave evidence on the user’s computer and lack security in part because they have to be advertised publicly, making it easy for censors to detect and block access to them.

“Now you will have potentially thousands, even tens of thousands, of private proxies that are almost impossible for censors to follow one by one,” said Qiang Xiao, director of the China Internet Project at the University of California, Berkeley.

Instead of publicly advertising the required login and password information, psiphon is designed to be shared within trusted social circles of friends, family and co-workers. This feature is meant to keep the program away from censors but is also the largest drawback because it limits efforts to get the program to as many people as possible. The program’s designers say existing anticensorship programs are too complicated for everyday computer users, leave evidence on the user’s computer and lack security in part because they have to be advertised publicly, making it easy for censors to detect and block access to them.

Confidential Sources

By - November 25, 2006

I remain deeply concerned about the erosion of press freedoms in this country. A Times case regarding confidentiality of sources is coming to a head, more here. Key quote:

“If the government is permitted to proceed to scrutinize the telephone records of The New York Times and its journalists,” Mr. Abrams said, “it will be in a position to identify literally scores of confidential sources, thus imperiling both the ability of the press to gather the news and of the public to learn it.”

More Europe: Settlement in Belgium

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Google has settled with Sofam and Scam, two news organizations in Belguim that had been disputing Google’s right to index and summarize their work in Google News. The most interesting bit of this story? Right here:

“We reached an agreement with Sofam and Scam that will help us make extensive use of their content,” Jessica Powell, a spokeswoman for Google, said in a phone interview yesterday. She declined to give details of the agreement or say whether it involved paying the groups for the content, and declined to say whether Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., was considering similar accords with the newspapers.

What do you think? Did Google pay up?