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What's This Fascination with Ad Networks? (Or, the Online Media Business Will Be About Brands First, Technology Second)

By - March 16, 2008

Rc ColaBack a year ago, I wrote a three part series on the future of the media business. It began as an attempt to think out loud about a topic with which I had become obsessed, and it ended up becoming a manifesto of sorts about conversational media and marketing.

As you may recall, I started that last set of posts with the observation that major media companies – Time Warner, NewsCorp, CBS – had all fired or parted ways with the long time managers of their digital assets, opting instead for insiders or traditional media folks with whom they were more comfortable. Out were pioneers like Larry Kramer, Jon Miller, and Ross Levinsohn. In were people with whom the bosses were more comfortable – folks who, in the main, came from television advertising sales backgrounds, the very medium that built those selfsame major media companies. Not surprising – in fact, it kind of made sense. After all, brand marketers were starting to talk about moving serious dollars to the web (following their customers, who had already moved). Best to have folks in charge who have great relationships with brand advertisers, right?

Well, a sequel of sorts is brewing. And this time, the main characters aren’t the major media conglomerates, they’re the majors of the online world (minus Google – more on that in a second). They are the RC Colas, the Tabs, and the Pepsis to Google’s mighty Coke: AOL, Microsoft/MSN, and Yahoo.

And once again, the folks who are leaving or getting the ax are the folks who either built or saved those companies over the past ten years.

The much respected Wenda Millard Harris left (or was pushed out of) Yahoo last year. This was a head scratcher of sorts, because she was much beloved in the world of brand marketers. (And we all know what happened to Wenda’s boss Terry Semel late last year: the Hollywood brand genius, hailed as the savior of Yahoo just two years ago, was pushed out year later for failing to chart the right course for the newly floundering behemoth.)

And just last week over at AOL, the person charged with building the company’s entire “Platform A” strategy – Curt Viebranz – was either shown the door, or ran for it. Curt is a strong brand guy – he worked at HBO, for goodness sake.

Finally, Joanne Bradford left MSN last week – again, she was an executive who operated at the highest level of trust with major agencies and brand clients.

That’s all three people in charge of revenue at all three Google-chasers, all leaving within a span of half a year.



Huh.



Now, why are folks in charge of advertising sales shown the door? For not delivering sales, of course. But not all these folks were fired. In fact, I’m guessing that most of them left after losing a very clearly delineated strategic battle over one very simple question:

How do we truly create value in the media business?

Do we sell inventory to the highest bidder via algorithms, automated processes, and platforms? Or do partner with marketers and creators of media to build brands – both media brands, and consumer marketing brands?

I know how the folks who no longer work at AOL, Yahoo, or MSN feel about this question. They’re all brand people. And it’s entirely clear how the Google-chasers have answered that question: They’ve collectively spent billions of dollars amassing “access to inventory” and “ad platforms” in single-minded competition with Google.

It seems the future, according to AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft, is in ad networks.

It has to be, right? After all, after buying a ton of ad networks, isn’t AOL betting its future on “Platform A” – a one stop solution for all your advertising needs? And, after buying a ton of ad networks, isn’t Yahoo betting its future on “Apex” – a place where, in Sue Decker’s words, “ad operations is sexy” and Yahoo can “eliminate all the friction and complexity that advertisers, publishers, agencies, and exchanges deal with so they can focus on reaching the right audiences and driving greater monetization“? And, after buying a ton of ad networks, isn’t Microsoft betting its future on weaving a platform out of aQuantive, AdECN, Rapt, and Yahoo itself? (Not to mention all the chess moves blocking Google out with non-economic deals on Facebook, Viacom, and others – a practice has Yahoo engaged in as well.)

The reason for all these moves, of course, is that Google already had the biggest ad platform of them all – Adsense – and last year, it won Doubleclick to boot. Google is building the biggest, baddest, most futuristic network of them all.

And every single one of their competitors – AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo – are chasing Google’s tail.

Straight down a rat hole. (A direct response rathole, I might add – the majority of dollars on the web are still in DR).

Because while it makes perfect sense for a company like Google to build out a killer ad platform, it makes a lot less sense for companies like AOL, MSN, or Yahoo to do so. The reason is simple: AOL, MSN, and Yahoo are in essence media-driven companies. Google is driven by scale and technology. Brands are about media. Ad networks are about scale and technology.

I see the logic in why AOL, MSN and Yahoo are chasing the ad network dream. They have a ton of inventory. Most of it is making money at very low CPMs – as low as 50 cents on average. If they can drive that CPM to 75 cents through an ad network strategy, their margins go way up, and they all come out looking like heroes.

But then what?

The future of marketing isn’t going to be built by ad networks, exchanges, or platforms. These scaled technologies are not going to address most pressing issues that marketers now face online. In fact, ad networks have become the problem. Not because they don’t have a place, or don’t add value- they most certainly do. No, ad networks are the problem for one simple reason: the very companies who just two years ago were best positioned to help major brands move online have turned away from the principles dearest to brand marketing, and instead convinced themselves that if they only build the coolest platform with tons of inventory, scaled pools of market liquidity, and the best algorithms to sew it all together, they too can achieve what Google has done: win in the marketplace.

But they’re wrong.

While technology and ad platforms are essential components of digital marketing’s future, they fail to address the core needs of brand marketers: engagement. And they fail to address the core needs of digital publishers: the support of marketers that allow them to make a decent living. And while Google is amazing, Google isn’t a brand marketing-driven company. It’s revolutionized direct response, to be sure. It’s the most efficient harvester of brand equity in the world, but it’s not built to create that equity. It has pulled the curtain back on many of the foibles and follies of brand marketing. But until someone writes an algorithm for human conversation, Google will not lead the way toward the next step in marketing brands online.

Let me elaborate. I’ve spent the past three years in a very deep conversation with two types of media players. First, the creators of a new kind of media property. I call this kind of property “conversational media” but you may as well just call it a “publication” – sites on the web that, at their core, are about passionate audiences engaged in the creation and consumption of media that feeds them in some way. Properties that are, in essence, brands. Brands like Dooce, Boing Boing, Protrade, Watercooler, Ask A Ninja, Left Lane News. I am drawn to these brands – I believe they represent the best the Web has to offer. Everywhere you look, new ones are popping up, driven by entrepreneurial creators who, sure, would like to make a buck, but in the end, couldn’t really see themselves doing anything else but make media.

I love these folks.

The other type of media player with whom I have been in deep conversation is the brand marketer. From GM to Procter, Intel to Sears, Ogilvy to Carat, McCann to Media Kitchen, I have spent countless hours in extremely engaging conversations with the people who are charged with creating, nurturing, building, and curating consumer brands. And you know what? I love these folks too. These are the folks who truly believe in media. These are the folks who helped us build the magazine industry, the television industry, and the first version of the online industry.

And I have to tell you, neither the publishers nor the brand marketers believe that a magical ad platform will somehow address their needs online. Sure, brand marketers will spend 5-15% of their budget on lower-CPM “pray and spray” DR and awareness campaigns. And sure, publishers are happy – thrilled! – to see algorithms drive up their backfill or remnant inventory CPMs. But none of them believe that ad networks provide the same kind of engagement and brand building opportunities that a simple two-page spread or 30-second spot does in the offline world.

So what *are* their needs? To address that, we need to step back, and think about media brands and marketing brands, and why there’s such a symbiotic relationship between the two. Clearly, brands have built what I’ve called “packaged goods media.” And in the past few years, I’ve come to the same conclusion about online media. In short, I think brands will also build the next batch of great online media companies. And up until recently, I thought Yahoo, AOL, and MSN were best positioned to be those companies. Now, I’m not so sure.

And as much as I’d like to keep going, that will have to come in the second post in this series (and that may be a few days, as I am traveling, again, for at least half of this week). This post is already 1500 words long, and I’m as tired as you all are, I am sure. So thanks for listening, and let me know what you think so far in the comments….


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24 thoughts on “What's This Fascination with Ad Networks? (Or, the Online Media Business Will Be About Brands First, Technology Second)

  1. Chris Wexler says:

    The reason that ad networks are hot is that the brand managers that control the purse strings right now need measurement to feel comfortable with the media. They want measurement like they have for TV. They want metrics that they are comfortable with from TV. And they need MASSIVE numbers of impressions to get to the measurement that they are used to with the measurement models currently in place.

    They want to retrofit what they know into online. Hence, big nasty reach vehicles to pry brand dollars out to the scared hands of brand managers whom are getting pressure from the top execs to figure out what this social networking/Google thing that they are reading about in the WSJ everyday is all about.

    Their marketing departments are currently structured to CONTROL message, not ENTER a conversation. There will need to be a major overhaul of the MarCom structure to change this. Right now, Engagement doesn’t have an ROI, and frankly doesn’t scale on the level that they are used to. The organizations will collapse on themselves if they have to do what it takes to LISTEN as well as speak.

    The first big time CMO that cracks this code and truly embraces this will be rock stars of the marketing community in the next decade. They right now are too scared about getting fired to sing more than a few bars.

  2. Infocrawler says:

    Good points, John. We certainly seem to be seeing a shift of focus from major online players away from engagement and brand creation to monetizing the world’s online inventory.
    However, I am not sure I would agree that MSN, Yahoo and AOL are ignoring the brand building aspect. All three are investing billions of dollars on their sprawling media properties, though the proportion of their budgetary spend relative to their ad networks is certainly lower now. And rightly so, since they need the largest and most scalable ad platforms to effectively monetize their O&O inventory (max CPMs and insights), their partners’ inventory (higher CPMs through quality inventory) and long tail inventory (lower CPMs via ad exchange)

  3. Maths says:

    The preponderance of an almost infinite number of website options has paralyzed marketers and media planners, and faced with too much choice, they opted for familiarity and lazy advertising resulting in a very small, elite group of online media commanding 80% of the revenue.

    At the same time, small advertisers’ needs were not being served well by the online ad agencies who instead preferred to focus on big budget clients, and anyway these small advertisers also could not afford the exorbitant media rates charged by this small and exclusive group of elite online media.

    And this is exactly when Google’s Ad Sense struck gold by serving small advertisers’ needs in a cost-effective and affordable manner – and a practical monetization of the long tail of websites finally became a reality. However, as John has pointed out, there is still the potential for greater brand interaction with some of the more “conversational media” beyond just the seemingly hit and miss Ad Sense algorithmic ad placements.

    But will media agencies and marketers adequately staff up to sniff and source out these gems of focused brand marketing or will a brand focused ad network evolve to serve these needs?

    Yahoo, AOL and MSN probably want to monetize the long tail too, but the question is, are they giving up their focus and erstwhile strength in brand marketing as John has suggested, or are they now trying to cover all their bases and are working down the long tail too – or as John put it, “chasing Google’s tail”?

  4. Alex Cheek says:

    John,
    I agree that this is essentially a translation problem from one ad paradigm to another.
    But, my gut says that a focus on brand marketers’ needs is a little off target. If online marketing is going to deliver value, then the people who need engagement are not the marketers, but the audience. Engagement online, or more broadly, engagement while working on a computer, or other media device, is very different for the customer than it is while reading a magazine or watching TV.

    I haven’t researched the experience in depth yet, but from my own experience is that computer users are engaged by things that are either useful or very interesting. I think that your recently noted hulu is a perfect example of an advertising platform for media companies b/c it is very useful (I can watch when and where I want), and it is very interesting (I love House). In the meantime, I am being engaged by a brand. Adobe Kuler is a cool extension of their Creative Suite that helps find nice color palettes, but it is also great marketing for the software itself b/c it talks about CS3 so much.

    We all know that, “You might be a redneck if you click banner ads,” but what about something that is actually engaging?

  5. Robert Tas says:

    John,
    I agree with you but would add that the challenge seems in large part with what the idea behind a network represents. In the past “network” was synonymous with cheap inventory. That’s changing with companies like yours and mine. We sell 95% of our inventory to premium brands like Saturn, Toyota, Nike, Motorola. We sell because we can deliver custom integrated programs, specific audience and most of all authenticity or passionate users. We are seeing great movement but still have aways to go to prove our selves to the brands. There is no doubt that audience quality will matter the most in the end.

    RT

  6. James Lim says:

    I believe there are 3 main points that marketers will look
    into when deciding what ad-seller it will do business with.

    1. Effectiveness of the ads

    2. Efficiency in managing ad campaigns and utilizing inventory.(This was mainly accomplished thru scale & scope)

    3. Accountability

    Until now, especially in the display ad business, my guess
    is that there weren’t really effective ad systems. So 2 and 3 worked as critical differentiating factors.

    But effectiveness is likely to be always the main priority as long as its benefit is greater than the cost. So if the
    emerging online media somehow provides a way that could enhance effectiveness for the brands, especially disproportionately so on their domain, it will be a major hit.

    However, ‘networks’ certainly have possibility in delivering high effectiveness as they utilize accumulated
    data collected from their networks. Also ‘networks’ certainly have merit of integrated marketing platform which
    can provide ‘bundled’ services to the marketers.

    As of now, I feel that the ‘online media’ possess that intangible, soft, human-centered secret ingredient which
    could enhance effectiveness of the brand ads. It seems like they are on their way to discovering it. However as soon
    as that ingredient can be captured and processed by the
    ‘networks’, ‘networks’ will certainly be at advantage. This may be possible online unlike other media related industries because the services are served through ‘digital’ technology.

  7. nmw says:

    Where does http://baby.com fit in this scheme of things? Is that a “direct response” to the English Language? The stuff school teachers teach? Basically: “an educated consumer is our best customer”?

    Apparently, college students are now required to learn “online basics” — but I wonder: who is teaching the teachers?

    Much like Martin Luther “created” the German Language in the 16th Century, I expect that online communities like wikipedia.org, urbandictionary.com and dictionary.co.uk will pave / shape language in the future… — and that will ultimately be the language used by those supplying & demanding information.

  8. Jeff Lanctot says:

    I don’t think Microsoft, Yahoo, or AOL view ad networks as a replacement for their brand advertising business. The biggest publishers want and need to provide advertisers with a complete set of solutions- that includes both engagement and direct response. Buying their way into the ad network business, as each of the portals has done, gives them a complementary offering to their owned and operated properties. If they have the scale and resources, why not compete in both areas?

    The question, of course, is whether or not they can win the battle on both fronts. Can Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL serve the needs of both the engagement-driven brand marketer, and the direct response minded ad network customer? It’s a huge challenge to be innovative and focused in both areas, but I think one or more will figure it out.

  9. Jospehus says:

    Good insights, I think that the place of engagement-focus is where it’s at also. If you think about it, it’s always been where it’s at. To me the question is not whether to engage or not engage, but where to do this engaging. I agree that the Boing Boings with their smorgasborg approach to up to the minute info offerings are becoming more and more the place for brand makers and brand consumers to meet as it fits the bobo comfort level with living with all kinds of lifestyle juxtapositions, but I think the key for those who want to make money out of all this will be flexibility…ie. a sort of internal format-agnosticism if you will. An approach that doesn’t get tied up in the same ole’ meeting places, but is willing to morph, experiment, and track what locations for this “conversation” work.

  10. Daniel B says:

    It takes technology to deliver ‘brand’ advertising as well you know. Sure you may have a person deciding which ad goes where but it still takes technology to allow them to chose that spot, especially if there are multiple people who would like that spot.

  11. Hi John,
    Great perspective on things.

    What happen to the “talented”? Meaning those marketers/brand managers that have the talent to identify viable ways to generate the consumer response that translate to revenue for the brand.

    I’m a publisher of online interactive tv shows. I (my producers too) love what we do. Finding financial support for content is difficult. Yes, Google Adsense is a means, but their structure does not allow Video publishers enough cpm’s to generate any significant returns from their ad placements. “Most people do not refresh their browsers while watching video”. If you do set something up that refreshes their ads on intervals, it’s in violation of their contract.

    Broadband video is the future for media/marketing branding. Ultimately, no matter how big they become, the ad networks, Google and the others (including mobil) would need content/webpages to place these ads.

    Why can’t they see that coming?

  12. Peter says:

    I am and have always been a “brand” guy. And, as much as the internet has changed the marketing mix, it is stil beholden to it’s initial stake in the ground, accountability. After all, it works very effectively in that capacity. It has also been used effectively to build some brands, but those examples are more rare. The frustration for me is that, even in your column, John, the common thread is that the media is responsible for success and failure. Prior to internet advertisng, there was a greater sense that the actual creative mattered. That someone’s experience with a brand was important to whether they would choose it again. That the product actually mattered. Now the conversation about effectively marketing a brand seems to start and stop with media choices.

    While there is clearly a place in the mix for Ad Networks (DR, primarily), they are not brand builders; clients who rely on them are cowardly. Effective marketing does involve engagement and that creates risk. Increasing your spend on networks and search may give the brand manager a short term vicotry, but focusing on engagement, to your point, will make them rock stars.

  13. Great post John. I like it when you get the time to write these longer articles, they give us more insight into where you think the industry is heading.

    I think that ‘engagement’ will be the biggest word in the coming years when it comes to online. This has to be the best way to generate real traffic and sales online. Broadcast media just wont have the same impact.

  14. Chris Kilkes says:

    John — great article and definitely can’t wait to see what you’ll come up with next. As a buyer I interact with any number of companies (including your very own FM) and it’s very interesting to me in my very small corner of the universe how the big boys/girls’ place in the media universe is reflected in how they sell their offerings.

    Google is all over us and all over our clients talking about AdWords, AdSense, their gadget ads, etc. They’re aggressive but smart and oh so responsive.

    But good luck getting any kind of response much less a well-informed (i.e. hey, they know my client’s name and their business needs) one from AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, etc. While Google proactively reaches out to share its latest/greatest, the rest of the the big online players wait and wait for us to come to them.

    For me more than anything this indicates some level of taking their eyes off the ball chasing after Google rather than minding the store.

    Where it will go who knows? Lots of folks talk about engagement but what does that mean and how does it translate into making sure my clients’ brand/product managers make their goals/keep their jobs? We’ve got lots of great data/case studies including backend sales #’s. But really what’s it all mean? Simply that we’re very early into this “new media” world…

  15. matt says:

    I was just at SXSW interactive and was struck by how lost the big ad driven web folk are these days (full disclosure — I left that side of the biz to join the non profit, online world). The core problem is that the old way of branding doesn’t work. People used to have to watch 30 second spots – they had no choice in the matter if the wanted to see “their shows.” So, they appreciated the ones that were actually entertaining and talked about them.

    But, now that they consumers don’t have to watch the 30 second spots anymore, they don’t want to watch content about a new lite beer no matter how entertaining (they’d rather see a whale exploding online). They also don’t want to read Twitter posts about soap.

    This makes the job a lot harder. Today’s CMOs and ad agencies were raised in a world where you could buy buzz. You can’t really do that online. You can if you accompany the campaign by a $50M TV buy but that leaves a lot of folks crying at the party. That’s why CMOs turn over pretty fast these days, the old formula doesn’t work.

    I don’t know the components of the new formula. I think the reality is that, the simple world of big push is largely gone. And, I think the efforts of branders to use Hulu and other efforts will work to a degree but it’ll be a very distant and ugly cousin to the glory days of $3 million 30 second spots.

    It makes me a little sad — I love the advertising and brand world. It is a cool and funky place. But, it — and big media — are in real trouble online.

  16. Dave Morgan says:

    Excellent post John. The big question for those seeking to deliver on brand advertisers needs, I think, will be to deliver solutions that work at massive scale, since the competition here is television not other Internet providers. Television is where the competitive focus should be. The opportunity is to build brand offerings that can compete with television, not to build brand offerings that can compete with the world’s greatest yellow pages, Google. As you say, chasing the latter means chasing Google’s tail.

    Dave

  17. In a world where mass-marketing now has less mass and more fragmentation, and legacy brand marketing methodologies makes good business sense for the very few brands that have an engaged (real) customer following — perhaps the fascination with ad networks is simply that it’s time to try something different.

    In the 21st Century, maybe branding expertise really doesn’t matter. The executive firings will likely continue until all the “branding experts” from a bygone era are purged from these organizations, and pragmatists with customer-centric savvy replace them.

  18. Jeff Smith says:

    I suspect that Yahoo’s board realized the vast potential in APEX in rejecting the premium offered by MSFT. Yahoo may significantly change the online advertising platform with these applications.

  19. Great article!

    I’ve worked as a copywriter and content developer for some of the companies mentioned in this article. My concern is that Yahoo! is making the same mistake AOL made when it bought Time Warner.

    AOL had a solid business as an ISP and point of entry for newcomers to the internet. Then it decided content was the play, and it got into the money pit of trying to be a content provider and a tech company.

    Google has avoided the minefield of media by going for tech. Yahoo! is trying to be a tech company like google, and a content provider, and that takes a lot of work. Legions of writers, editors, and reviewers who write content that other folks are happy to post on their blogs for free is a tough task. I can’t see them managing it profitably.

    I’m looking forward to part two of the article.

  20. nmw says:

    Sean,

    “Content” and “Non-Content” need to be clearly defined. The way I see it, algorithms are also content. Not that Google actually uses algorithms — we should all know better since the “miserable failure” fiasco. And even if Google DID use algorithms, that is hardly to say that Google’s algorithms are any better at finding a car than cars.com or at finding a hotel than hotels.com or at finding a pizza than pizza.com.

    see also my comment on a recent businessweek.com article:

    http://app.businessweek.com/UserComments/combo_review?action=getComment&productId=29633&reviewId=248840#248840

  21. Ken Hittel says:

    Google is “the most efficient harvester of brand equity in the world, but it’s not built to create that equity.”
    Well, Google may not have been built to create brand equity, nor even all that interested in doing so but, boy, it certainly IS doing just that, at least in some verticals.
    Take mine (please!): Life Insurance. Do a search on life insurance and take a look at the first page of results (the only one, of course, that matters): You’ll see a few of the top brand names — Prudential, MetLife, New York Life — who have each spent 100+ years and Lord knows how many millions of dollars building brand equity — along with, uh, CNNMoney, Wikipedia, FEGLI, The VA, Dave Ramsay (!), and a whole bunch of quote services: lifeinsure.com, lifeinsurance.net, elife.com, and etc.
    Now, what’s going on here? Google isn’t harvesting brands — it’s leveling them, equalizing them. If you’re New York Life you get to share real estate with insure.com (“No Medical Exam”) and Globe Life (“No Waiting Period”), not to mention the noted life insurance expert Dave Ramsay. Some major brands, those that don’t show up at all on that first SERP, are marginalized, and those few that do make the list are just a part of a now-authoritative group of life insurance resources (and advertisers) that includes and is actually dominated by price quote vendors with, frankly, no non-Google brand equity at all. Google is “harvesting” the brand equity of lifeinsurance.net? I’m sorry, no disrespect intended, but there’s no there there in terms of brand equity. Is this a good thing for the consumer? Maybe, maybe not; that’s a different discussion. Is this a good thing for brands? It’s a decidely damn difficult thing for brands…

  22. nmw says:

    AFAIK, Google does not dictate what happens on a domain such as those which you mention. Although it is true that they have mesmerized many content creators to create content according to their algorithms, in the long run this will become a minor blip in the technological breakthrough of the Internet and/or the World Wide Web.

    The fact that the “natural language” domains you mention are among the highest ranked domains for people seeking information about “life insurance” has more to do with what I refer to as the “Wisdom of the Language” (in this case: English). What is important to recognize is that people seek to find information about “insurance” — that string is (if you will) a term that has been branded over a period several centuries (indeed: actually several millenia). That will not change overnight, and it will also not change for a long time — regardless of what Google may do or not do.

  23. Ken Hittel says:

    Fair enough in re: the bright guys who long ago understood the wisdom of the “insure” and “insurance” language. But how did (do) the AccuQuotes, SelectQuotes, IntelliQuotes, NetQuotes of the world effectively achieve parity with the 150 year-old and expensively-branded life insurance manufacturers also showing up on that first SERP? More power to them for being smart enough to advertise early and often and for doing very effective SEO, too. I don’t see how you avoid the conclusion that Google is branding (not harvesting the brands) of the DRGAs.
    And, for that matter: What really do (price) quotes have to do with life insurance? Assuming you knew very little about all the relevant factors that go into an intelligent choice of the most appropriate life insurance product — which is clearly the case for the great majority of us in this low interest category — would you not infer from that first Google SERP that price is (obviously) the most important consideration? But that is indeed another discussion.

  24. nmw says:

    Mr. Hittel,

    I think I understand what you mean.

    IMHO, you can rest assured that the novices using Google to help them find a life insurance policy will most likely first brag to their peers that they have found the “cheapest” offer for life insurance when using Google.

    If they find their information at a “reputable” address (e.g. an “insurance” domain — and no, I do not mean “lifeinsurance” [as "lifeinsurance" is not actually a word]), then they can most likely rest assured that they will not be disappointed (since otherwise the very high value of the domain name could easily be ruined — at least for the short / medium term) — but perhaps many will later find out that they have actually “fallen for” some gimmick.

    Few people have a very good understanding of how information retrieval (“search”) works — and an understanding of these processes has fundamentally changed how marketing and advertising works.

    At the moment, many people actually do believe that Google has figured out something like a “magical formula” that will always provide the “best answer” for every question. Since I commonly track the behavior of very young Internet users, I know that are very results oriented — and they quickly revise their methodologies if something doesn’t seem to work. And I see that they are very communicative regarding “what works” vs. “what doesn’t work” — so I agree with Mr. Battelle that an information retrieval system which invites participation (or “engagement“) — e.g. as with digg.com show the greatest promise (I worked on similar sites before digg.com launched — and they were indeed very successful [but at that times they were still too small to survive the dot crash of 2001]). In contrast, Google (though it was originally based on such participation) has become a very closed and cryptic organization (which guards the information it collects as if it were “top secret” [or at any rate a "trade secret"]) — in the long run, this will not lead to the best results (but they are earning alot of money from advertisers who believe that it might work well).

    I feel you should rest assured that the dot com crash has not yet happened. Far more than 99% of all .COM registrations are worth virtually nothing whatsoever. If you are smart, you will guide your company to register a valuable domain name while relatively cheap domain names are still available. If you like, you can click though to a contact form and send me a message.

    Finally, the particular algorithms that google.com (or other google search configurations) use(s) may indeed be rather quirky. You are right in your analysis that google’s algorithms seem rather skewed towards old (and perhaps even outdated) information. That is why advanced users will tend to use “insurance” sites (sites focused on “insurance” — i.e. an “insurance” domain) to search for information related to insurance (and therefore according to search methodolgies that make more sense in this context than e.g. in the context of searching for a music video or something like that).

    I hope this is helpful for you — and please do not hesitate to contact me if you think I might be able to further help you in any way whatsoever.

    :) nmw