free html hit counter April 2009 - John Battelle's Search Blog

More Google News

By - April 30, 2009

Should have noted David Rosenblatt leaving Google yesterday, yet another senior, well regarded exec finding Google not the place to be these days, also, Tim Armstrong has hired a Google colleague to replace the head of AOL sales, so there’s a trifecta.

Also buzzing: Time Warner is looking to buy back its AOL shares from Google (remember that deal?!) so it can spin the puppy out. I swear, if folks just listened to this guy back in 2004, we’d all have saved a few news cycles (and lord knows how much bleeding.)

Meanwhile, Google is “on a charm offensive” to try to stave off becoming the Microsoft of this decade, in terms of antitrust, Biz Week says.

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Oh No – It's the DOJ!

By - April 29, 2009

Google cannot like the parallels (with Microsoft, in the late 90s). The DOJ has opened an inquiry into its book deal (one I have not, to be honest, entirely grokked. In fact, neither has my agent or my publisher, which is rather interesting….). From the NYT:

The inquiry does not necessarily mean that the department will oppose the settlement, which is subject to a court review. But it suggests that some of the concerns raised by critics, who say the settlement would unfairly give Google an exclusive license to profit from millions of books, have resonated with the Justice Department.

Google The Publisher

By - April 28, 2009

Over and over I’ve predicted that Google will be forced to act like a publisher, because there’s only so much demand that can be harvested, and sooner or later, Google’s core revenue-generating customers – that’d be marketers – will demand some help creating supply.

Supply means branding, and branding happens in the magical world of publishing. Here are two additional Google initiatives that point the company toward that world:

Google launches Digg-like feature

A Cnet piece giving an overiew of Google’s attempt to curate value from the wisdom of the masses. Called What’s Popular.


Eric Schmidt on Google’s New Plan for the News

Never seen this site before, but the woman who writes is managed to get into a party where she talked to Eric Schmidt. From the piece:

I asked if the rumors I’d heard, that Google was changing its mind about getting involved with creating original content, were true. No, he responded, quite convincingly, they’re not. Google is not a content company, and is not going in that direction, he explained. But Google does have plans for a solution. In about six months, the company will roll out a system that will bring high-quality news content to users without them actively looking for it. Under this latest iteration of advanced search, users will be automatically served the kind of news that interests them just by calling up Google’s page. The latest algorithms apply ever more sophisticated filtering – based on search words, user choices, purchases, a whole host of cues – to determine what the reader is looking for without knowing they’re looking for it. And on this basis, Google believes it will be able to sell premium ads against premium content.

If this is true (sending a note now to ask), it’s a big step.

The Twitter Inflection

By - April 26, 2009

quantcast twitter 4.26.09.pngcompete twitter 4.26.09.pngIf you want to know why Facebook is working so damn hard to open up its site and make the newsfeed and statuses its main currency, why Google and Microsoft are fighting to incorporate real time/super fresh results into their SERPs, and why it seems everywhere you look, people are talking about Twitter, then look no further than these graphs, from Compete and Quantcast.

I’ve seen inflections like this before, with AOL in the early 90s, with Netscape and then Yahoo in the mid 90s, with Google seven years ago, with Facebook four years ago….and here we go again.

The real question is this: Has the Twitter rocket reached escape velocity, or will its Internet competitors bring it back down to earth?

This is why I love this industry.

On Facebook Opening Up

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I nearly re-upped my subscription to the online version of the WSJ this evening, so as to read this piece: Facebook Opens Site To Developers Of Services.

But I found the text here – also on the WSJ site. Genie’s outta the bottle. From it:

The announcement, expected Monday, means developers can build services that access the photos, videos, notes and comments users upload to Facebook, with users’ permission. That’s a big change for the social-networking site, which has exercised tight control over the look and feel of its service and how developers can interact with it.

What I cannot figure out is whether this means Facebook is going to solve its linking problem. I’ve complained about it before, but the big issue with Facebook, to my mind, is that it does not play well with others when it comes to linking on the open web. In fact, it’s damn hard to even link *inside* Facebook, never mind sending links *from* other services (IE Twitter) into your Facebook status feed (you can’t).

If Facebook fixes this, it’s a game changer. If folks can create a useful service that acts and looks like Twitter, and works both inside and outside Facebook, and if these kinds of services can make money on their own terms (and not be subject to the whims of Facebook’s current TOS, which are terrifying), well, that’s a very big deal.

Will Yahoo And Microsoft Just Do It? If So, How?

By - April 22, 2009

msftyahoo-tm.jpgYesterday’s news about Yahoo’s layoffs was well received by Wall Street (which seems to love layoffs in every sector except its own), and part of the optimism about Yahoo’s future seems to lay in folks expecting Yahoo and Microsoft to finally get around to doing a search deal. I’ve written over and over that I think the two should do this, but as time goes by and the machine at Microsoft continues to iterate on its own internal search play, I find it harder and harder to see how such a deal actually gets done, at least when it comes to organic search.

Now, I predicted in January this deal would get done, of course, so I kind of have a dog in this fight. But recall how I predicted it would go down:

“Microsoft will gain at least five points of search share in 2009, perhaps as much as 10. This is a rather radical prediction, I know, but hear me out. I think Redmond is tired of losing in this game, and after trying nearly every trick in the book, Microsoft will start to spend real money to grow share (IE, buying distribution), while at the same time listening to the advice of thoughtful folks who want to help the company improve the product. However, search share is half the game, as we know. The second half is monetization, and Microsoft will continue to struggle here, unless it manages to buy Yahoo’s search business. Which it won’t, because….

6. Yahoo and AOL will merge.

7. However, in the second half of the year, Microsoft will buy its search monetization from the combined company.”

That’s some pretty damn specific predictions, now that I think about it, and it depends on a lot of stuff happening that is out of Microsoft’s control (AOL merging with Yahoo!) but I think the idea of combining search monetization efforts still makes sense. Yahoo has tons of distribution. Microsoft has tons of money. Both have a common enemy. We shall see.

Meanwhile, Bartz’s bluntness is still pretty damn provocative. Here’s a quote you have to love if you work in product management at Yahoo:

“We sort of had one product management person for every three engineers, so we had a lot of people running around and telling people what to do, but nobody was doing anything,” Bartz said.


News: Google Lets You Put Yourself Into Results For..Yourself

By - April 21, 2009

cd3s9vfk_46dpjthjg9_b.pngOne of the principal things nearly anyone does on is a vanity search: We ask the question: What do people see when they put my name into Google?  

Today, Google is announcing, for the first time, that anyone can change what is seen. (The initial launch is US only).

This, to be clear, is a Very Big Deal.

Joe Kraus, one of the founders of Excite and founder of JotSpot, is now at Google, and this new feature is his baby. I spoke to him today when he sent me a note about the launch. I immediately called him back, because, as I said, I see this as a Very Big Deal.

Why? Well, Google has always been predicated on being a neutral black box. You, as a solitary entity, could not influence the results that Google provided (though of course a very large industry has emerged that attempts to do just that). But this launch changes the game, in a few very, very interesting ways.


First, and most obvious, this is Google leveraging its might in search to get more people to sign up for Google profiles. I shouldn’t have to explain why this is important, given the competition from Facebook and Twitter, but trust me, it’s really important that Google 1. know who you are and 2. compel you to have ongoing relationship with the company.

Second, this move creates, for the first time ever, a new signal that is directly controlled by an individual but changes what *everyone else* will see in results. True, for now, the results are at the bottom of the first page of results, but that doesn’t mean it won’t move up once Google learns enough to make it truly useful.

Third, this is Google putting a human, community-driven face on itself. It’s Google saying “Hey search user! We want to listen and respond to you!” This is a very good thing for the company, and how it plays its hand from now forward is going to be very, very interesting.

Fortunately for Google, the man with the hand is Kraus, who is a master poker player (yes, I’ve lost to him) and a generally good guy to boot.

There are many questions to be asked about this new service, but the first one that came to my mind is this: Who ranks first for any given name? There are a lot of Joe Smiths, for example, and even more than one John Battelle’s, despite the relative uniqueness of that name (and even more if you count dead folks on the roles of

Kraus explained that the initial signal for which profiles would be shown (four will be shown, with a “more” button) will be based on completeness of the Google Profile. AHA! Another motivation to give Google more info on you!Goog me.png

What if there are like 200 John Smiths, and they all have complete profiles? What signals will determine which get into the top four, and which gets the coveted top spot? Kraus said he didn’t have a good answer for that yet, but one signal will certainly be clickthrough rates (like it is for AdSense), and they will be learning and iterating over time.

Google is also doing a US promotion to encourage folks to set up a profile – when you “Google Me” (literally, “me”), you get an ad (see image at left). Again, this is something of a first for Google, or at least unusual, as there are other AdSense advertisers for the term “me” who are not getting placement at the top – Google is taking it for its own promotion.

This all reminds me of the ending of my book. Which of course is my favorite part. In the epilogue, the final paragraph reads:

What does it mean, I wondered, to become immortal through words pressed in clay – or, as was the case here, through words formed in bits and transferred over the web? Is that not what every person longs for – what Odysseus chose over Kalypso’s nameless immortality – to die, but to be known forever? And does not search offer the same immortal imprint – is not existing forever in the indexes of Google and others the modern day equivalent of carving our stories into stone? For anyone who has ever written his own name into a search box and anxiously awaited the results, I believe the answer is yes.

The (News) Web Gets a Time Axis (Sort of)

By - April 20, 2009

TGoogle News Timeline.pnghrough its experimental Google Labs, Google has released a news time line. I remember asking Eric for this in 2002, so it’s cool to see it actually happen (clearly, it wasn’t top of the priority list seven years ago.)

Google’s own description:

Google News Timeline is a web application that organizes search results chronologically. It allows users to view news and other data sources on a browsable, graphical timeline. Available data sources include recent and historical news, scanned newspapers and magazines, blog posts, sports scores, and information about various types of media, like music albums and movies

My own description: I don’t get it. I wish I did, but this is a half step, like so many fine features out of Google. It doesn’t grab me, and compel me to use it in a way that delights. I so wish they had real publishers working there, because damn, there’s so much that might be done if Google had a true publishing mission. But then, this is my age old complaint, and I’m sounding like a real crank now.

A reminder for newer readers: I’ve been talking about the Web Time Axis for a long time now…


By - April 19, 2009

Well that took a long time. I’ve had something of a week, to be honest. I hope to be writing again soon. Not only did I lose my hard drive, I also has some family issues arise which distracted me from writing.

I’m finally pulling out of it, thanks to many folks. My blog software is reinstalled, and I’m almost there with the rest of my digital life.

Missing a week of writing (and normal work flow) made me realize how much I like to think out loud in this space. When I don’t, it feels rather like when I miss a few days of exercise – I get edgy and irritable.

So hopefully, I’ll be back to my calm, well exercised self soon.