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Memphis 2: The Studio

By - June 21, 2007


Rip Jim

I’ll admit that my first measure of the place was unfavorable. Coming from a land where building costs can top $1000 a square foot, the Zebra Ranch seemed to my eyes a mistake of sorts – a tar-paper and tin-roof sugar shack wrapped in chain link and topped by razor wire – not promising as a refuge for creativity, to say the least. The second story was set up on mortar blocks, and it was …. shit, was it really a single wide? Yes, I do believe it was.

But that isn’t accounting for the setting. As I described in my last Memphis post, just about everything resting on that North Mississippi farmland felt as it belonged there – somehow it made sense that this building – as improbable as it looked – would be there as well. Kudzu, wasps, and grasshoppers multiplied in the glory of a rusting sun. Why not this impossible building?

The chain link gate was open and presented Dallas and I with a choice – to the left of the studio, the path was clear but uncertain, one couldn’t see around the corner. To the right a boardwalk of sorts promised continuance, but the headway was clogged with wisteria vines. I chose left, and I chose wrong – a dead end. But as we came closer to the building we could hear music; honest, familiar, unpretentious music, and we knew at least we were in the right place.

Doubling back to the wisteria-laden boardwalk we came to a door, then a brief hallway heavy with Southern humidity and a stronger pulse from the music inside. Now a second door. Through that door we found friends ….

The music dominated the space, so much so that words were unnecessary. Martin leapt up and grinned his salutations, we were in a common room, dominated by a soundboard to the right, a central living room of sorts in the middle, a steep set of stairs leading up to an unknown loft above. Past Martin to the left, the pounding of drums – where Cody was playing; this was no typical studio – Cody had a drum room!

Leading off the back of the commons was a hallway, and to the right of it lay darkness (I later learned that led to Jim’s keyboard room), and to the left was Luther’s guitar room, but as the music gathered, both doors were closed and the family focused on the jam.

In the center of the commons, to the right, the sound board man nodded in time. On a couch to my left, Allenby, the band manager, focused on the progression, but he looked up to smile and hail me. The music was working toward something, the product of a conversation Dallas and I had just missed, but we were learning as we listened. And everyone, including the musicians, was anticipating its arrival.

This was not the time to raise one’s voice. It was time to drop in, to listen, to join. And as Martin passed me a social, I realized that beyond the time I spent with my children, or the moments I steal with my wife, I had found a place where the incessant question we all seem driven by was answered. What else might I be doing? Nothing else but this, my friend, nothing else at all.

For the next 72 hours, I was – happily – on Bonnaroo time.

Google Expands Pay Per Action, Cautiously

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Notice how and where (bolded):

Starting today, advertisers in the beta will see an alert in their AdWords account informing them that they can now create pay-per-action campaigns. Going forward, advertisers who have enabled AdWords conversion tracking and received more than 500 conversions from their CPC and CPM-based campaigns in the past 30 days will be automatically added to the beta on a rolling basis.

Pay-per-action ads are only shown on publisher sites in the Google content network, also known as Google AdSense™ for content sites.

….here is the release.

Discovering the Web's Edge: Web 2 Summit This October

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Web2 Summit-1

Earlier this month we quietly added the first slate of speakers to the Web 2 Summit website.

Our theme this year is “Discovering the Web’s Edge.” This doesn’t mean we’re avoiding “mainstream” web companies – far from it, but rather we will be asking the CEOs of those companies where their edge is, and where they might see new, unexplored continents looming.

Along those lines, coming for the first time (we’ll have folks from Google and Yahoo as well) are:


Mark Zuckerberg

Steve Ballmer

Meg Whitman, CEO, eBay

Steve Ballmer, CEO, Microsoft

Philippe Dauman, CEO, Viacom

Eric Nicoli, CEO EMI

Vyomesh Joshi, EVP, HP (runs their Imaging business)

Robert Kotick, CEO, Activision

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook

The full list includes some curveballs too, like Adam Bosworth of Google, talking about health, Evan Williams on Twitter, Reed Hundt of Frontline, Danny Hillis of MetaWeb, Martin Varsavsky of Fon, and many more.

I’m nowhere finished lining up speakers, expect a lot more soon. Meanwhile, if you were planning on coming, you might want to register asap. We’re already closing in on our fourth sellout. If you’d like to come and did not get an invitation, please request one here. In the form, you might mention Searchblog, as I’m the fellow who reviews all the requests and decides who comes. I can’t promise anything – we have already had 4000 requests and can only take 1000 or so. But I’ll do my best.

Do You Trust Your Search Engine With Your Data?

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Hakia, a sponsor of this site, is asking that question on its landing page. I thought the results so far are interesting, given the ongoing conversation around the Web about privacy.

The question:

Do you trust your search engine with your information?

The results:

Hakia Poll

PS, if you really don’t trust the engine, SEL covers a plugin you can use to insure your info is not stored…I tend to not believe these kinds of approaches will work.

Compete: FaceBook is Growing 3x Faster than MySpace, Some Big Digg Numbers

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From the Compete blog:

There is certainly something magical about reaching 20 million. Web 2.0 darlings, also prime acquisition targets – Digg and Facebook both crossed this milestone last month.

* Digg edged out Facebook, with 2.3 million additional unique visitors

* Facebook is growing 3x faster than MySpace (on a percentage basis)

For what it’s worth, Quantcast says Digg has 6.9mm in the US…

Gigaom:Who Yahoo?

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Is Yahoo for sale? GigaOm wonders who might buy it, from AT&T to NewsCorp. My money’s on private equity.

Leave Google for….VC??

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My my. This from VentureBeat is interesting.

Two more high-level Google engineers have left the Googleplex — this time to join well-known venture capital firm Benchmark Capital.

Bret Taylor (left) and Jim Norris (right), two of the masterminds behind Google Maps and several other Google products, have joined the firm as “Entrepreneurs in Residence.” This gives them paid positions to hang out at Benchmark’s offices on Silicon Valley’s Sand Hill Road and think through starting a business. They have a specific idea in mind, but are secretive about it, telling VentureBeat only that it’s a “consumer Internet” company.

Reprise Report on Panama

By - June 20, 2007

Reprise is a leading SEO/SEM firm, and it was recently purchased by InterPublic Group, a large advertising agency. (My company FM is working with Reprise). One of its founders, Peter Hershberg, recently sent me a report on its early interactions with Panama, and I thought I’d post some of the company’s findings. If you want the full report, I will have uploaded it soon (here is the link to the PDF).

Here’s the nut of the Executive Summary:

In short, while it was found to be a significant upgrade over the previous Yahoo DTC (Direct Traffic Center) system (especially for enterprise-grade clients), there are several challenging aspects of the Panama upgrade that may impede Yahoo’s ability to access the long tail of the market.

Reprise evaluates Panama along many lines of inquiry: Campaign Management (including Perfomance), User Interface, and Technology.

Reprise Media undertook an internal cross-functional study of Yahoo’s new paid system from a search marketer’s perspective, the findings of which are detailed here. This study examines the change that Panama brought about in day-to-day campaign production, optimization and reporting, from both front-end and back-end process perspectives. While we will mention similarities to MSN’s adCenter program, most comparisons in this report center around Google AdWords, given its position as the dominant player in the market and de facto industry standard.

On performance, Yahoo’s CPCs went down, and click through rates went up. The explanations:

Reprise 1

Yahoo was the only engine whose CPCs decreased over the time surrounding the launch of Panama. These results confirm the conclusion that quality based bidding along with more sophisticated and granular campaign structure is allowing us to improve the Yahoo account performance which ultimately results in lower CPCs.

Reprise 2

Yahoo Search Marketing enjoyed a much higher increase in clickthrough rate, bringing it in line with our average Google CTRs. These results demonstrate that the ability to better target our audience through more direct creative, geo-targeting and a separation of search and contextual campaigns are providing us with more qualified ads which are driving the higher click through rates.

Also, conversions were down. The explanation:

While campaign conversion rates were improved on both Google and MSN, Yahoo’s conversion dropped off 5%. In other words, while perceived ad relevance may have improved, the truly important metric in the campaign suffered somewhat. This may be due, in part, to the fact that with improved targeting and ad matching/ranking the distribution profiles of these sites has changed somewhat. In this situation, sites that had been converting at a high level no longer make the relevance cut off as defined by the engines. However, at a 5% variance, there is the possibility that this data is just noise – the normal variance that occurs based on a host of other external factors.

On other campaign management, Reprise does not mince words:

By imitating Google’s organization of data, Panama helps establish industry-wide campaign management standards that will benefit agencies and enterprise-level search marketers. Many of Panama’s most useful new features, such as bulk uploading, dynamic keyword insertion, flexible editorial guidelines, geo-targeting, contextual tracking and remote campaign management, are intended to alleviate scalability issues that arise with large-scale campaigns. These efficiencies, however, make Panama complex, and consequently time consuming. In many ways Panama falls short of Google in terms of ease of use, degree of flexibility and reporting options. In general, we find Panama’s handling of data vastly better than Yahoo’s previous Direct Traffic Center (DTC) platform, but still inferior to Google AdWords.

And on UI:

In order to create a platform that would scale with Panama’s back-end updates, Yahoo overhauled their user interface. By implementing new organizational systems, new terminology, and new production sheets, Panama created a platform better suited to enterprise-level campaigns. Though the new UI doesn’t fully streamline campaign management, it does a good job of establishing more intuitive processes. Furthermore, because Panama’s UI structure mimics Google in many ways, it creates operational standards for the search marketing industry.

On Technology:

Panama’s technology gives large-scale marketers the ability to more easily request and move around massive amounts of data. For that reason, Yahoo’s new API protocols may have the most significant impact of any changes made….Panama brings Yahoo in line with Google’s standardizing tools, system, structure and meta data, to create an industry standard where it was previously lacking.


While the launch of Project Panama represents a significant step forward for the Yahoo Search Marketing platform, it does not yet address all of the

requirements of the market. Though the system makes strides towards establishing industry standard campaign structure, terminology and API

access, it often finds itself under-delivering on the actual execution of these new features.

That said, Panama is brand new. Like any enterprise-level software product, it needs time to find its footing and refine its offering. We are confident

that, with time, Yahoo’s new system will represent a very positive change for paid search advertisers.

There is a lot more in the report. If you’re interested, let me know, and I’ll do my best to get permission to upload it here.