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Google's Real Time, Squared Response

By - May 13, 2009

The Google Twitter Facebook goat rodeo is getting more interesting. At its Searchology event this week, (TC/Post coverage), Google unveiled a suite of new offerings that feel reactive to various competitors, including “Google Squared,” a Google Labs response to Wolframs’ new Alpha (more on that soon).

Reuters bills it this way:

Google also showed off a new feature, available immediately, that lets users view only the most timely search results, narrowing the results for a topic to the past 24 hours or the past week.

Google said it will search blogs and news sites, as well as the general information available online, to provide a fresher picture of certain subjects.

This feature comes amid the rising popularity of so-called real time search products, like the search feature on microblogging site Twitter, which allow users to search up-to-the-minute developments about certain topics online.

There is a lot to digest, will be doing it Friday to Monday, when I have time to write….

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Google Backs Into Being a Brand Advertiser on TV

By - May 11, 2009

In its often overly clever way, Google became a brand television advertiser this month. Here’s the ad:

Now, why do I say backed into? Well, this video was created by some Google employees in Japan (so it’s not an effort by the main company, see?!), and it was an promotion to show off how cool Chrome was (not designed to be an ad, see?!). It was released on the web first (see, not debuted on silly old school TV!), and when the ad got some pickup, Google decided to run it on its fledgling Google TV Ads service, the sole remaining attempt by the company to do Adsensify old media (see, we’re not really doing a traditional media buy!).

But none of this really matters. At all.

Because at the end of the day, consumers watching TV are going to see this ad, and judge it as that, an ad. That means the company, no matter how cleverly it’s thought itself into this execution, has to consider itself a brand advertiser, and act like one as well.

Question is, can it do that?

Earned Followers Are Better Than Junk Circulation

By - May 10, 2009

waste2.jpg

(image) The way some folks’ numbers are blowing up on Twitter, it seems to me perhaps we might create two types of Twitterati – those who have purely “earned” audience base, and those whose base has been wildly inflated due to their inclusion in Twitter’s suggested users feature, which I wrote about earlier last week.

I’m not usually one to talk about this stuff, but for whatever reason, it’s been bugging me. I remember when I started this site, and it started to get noticed by people whose opinion I respected. Then concentric circles of folks found out about it, and it built organically, to the point of being one of the largest blog sites focused on tech and media (that was 04-05, before I abandoned covering news and started pointing folks to Danny and Mike). That felt good – I had earned the respect of an important audience, and my numbers showed it. The same is true of Fred at A/VC, Mike at TC, and many, many others.

But that’s not how it’s playing out on Twitter lately. I’ve spoken to a number of folks whose Twitter numbers have recently skyrocketed, and they all have said the same thing – followers may have increased dramatically, but engagement – folks who reply, or click on a link in your tweet, or Direct Message you – increased only marginally. In other words, the system is creating what we used to call, in the magazine business, “junk circulation” – numbers for numbers sake, without a lot of value.

That’s a game many have played, and continue to play, in our Comscore obsessed Internet world, but it never ends well. Ever.

And I don’t think that is in any way good for the Twitter ecosystem.

Just my two cents.

Future of News Round Up

By - May 07, 2009

Yesterday the Senate held hearings about the sorry state of the news biz, and Marissa Mayer from Google, Arianna Huffington from the Huffpo, and various others held forth.

This in context of a building chorus of press voices saying that 1/ Google is stealing what is rightfully ours and 2/consumers must pay for content on the web (Murdoch, Belo). And in the context of a scramble to figure out whether or not the new big screen Kindle is a good thing, or a bad thing for newspapers (Murdoch is not a fan, the NYT is.)

I can’t imagine a more interesting time to be in the news business. Note I didn’t say “fun.” But interesting, yes, very interesting.

More links: Forbes chief Spanfeller says Google is stealing $60million from Forbes.com, Danny of SEL responds, and link to coverage of AP’s saber rattling (last month) along the same lines.

Twitter's View: Not For Sale

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I dunno, do you jump the shark when the venue used to deny you’re for sale is The View? A couple of years ago, I’d have said yes. But honestly, why not go on The View right when your product is breaking mainstream? And I like what @biz had to say:

“We’re just getting started…. The company is two years old, we have so much to do, so much product stuff to fix, and so much growing to do.”

Predictable? Sure. Possibly disingenuous if a large cash offer is put on the table? OK. But it rings true to me.

Tweet Smell of Success

By - May 06, 2009

The speculations about a rumored sale of Twitter are getting pretty loud. The funniest one is Apple might buy the company. Newscorp makes a lot more sense to me, as I’ve said before.

I just don’t get the Apple rumors, the companies couldn’t be further from each other in culture and approach. Most of the folks I know at Twitter use Macs, but…not sure that makes for a $700mm deal. Newscorp, on the other hand, has a real issue with Myspace, which missed the real time train and needs to get back on track.

And Google, well, we all know why Google (or Microsoft) would be interested. Both, however, are wondering whether the monetization efforts they currently have for HTML search would scale to real time search, and both are surely testing that first, with uncertain results, from what my sources tell me. The build/buy calculators are out in force over at each of these company’s corp dev departments.

Then there’s dark horse Yahoo. It’d be a real stretch for this company to win the heart of Ev and co, but I wouldn’t rule them out.

For now, I think the reality is that Twitter is focused on boiling its own ocean. It’s a major task, but why not keep trying? Sure, there’s always a price, but so far, it seems that price ain’t high enough to keep Twitter’s team from focusing on the tasks at hand.

Facebook Now Lets Third Party Apps Link Out…

By - May 05, 2009

fbook external links.pngI missed this, but after some detective work with sources inside Facebook, I’ve confirmed that Facebook now lets third party applications create live links inside Facebook. This has been one of my principal complaints about how Facebook interacts with the “rest of the web” – and now it’s resolved.  

For example, I use the Twitter application on Facebook to update my Facebook status. Everything I tweet ends up as a Facebook status update. There’s certainly no love lost between these two companies, and I’ve pointed out in the past that links in my Tweets are not live in Facebook, so my Facebook friends can’t click on them and see what I’m talking about.

As of sometime a month or so ago, Facebook now makes those links live. As this populates the service, there’s a huge search opportunity (all those links can be crawled, FaceRank can be calculated, etc…)

I think this is huge for the company, and is a major step toward an “off domain” strategy which will let it truly embrace and extend the web. Now, if I could only Tweet from inside Facebook….

Yow. This Is What Happens When You Are Big. And…

By - May 04, 2009

…seen as arrogant. Regardless of whether that charge is true, or sticks, or is fair, this is what will end up in our national “paper of record.”

The Federal Trade Commission has begun an inquiry into whether the close ties between the boards of two of technology’s most prominent companies, Apple and Google, amount to a violation of antitrust laws, according to several people briefed on the inquiry.

At the end of my book, and the beginning of a new phase of this site, I suggested that Google’s largest issue will be its “failure to fail.” I also compared, and continue to compare, the company to Microsoft in the late 90s, when it struggled with anti-trust investigations that ultimately proved hobbling, if not in profits, at least in its quest to be the most innovative and fastest growing company in the technology sector.

If any lesson is to be drawn, perhaps prematurely, from all this, it’s that no company – or two companies – can lead a culture for longer than half a generation. After that, the culture starts to distrust the companies’ motives, regardless of whether they are pure or well intentioned.

As It Inflects, Twitter Must Add Value to New Users, Faster

By - May 03, 2009

I’ve spent a bit of time going back in time lately, at least as far as Twitter is concerned. In short, I created a new account, as if I had never used the service before.

Why? Well, as Twitter hits inflection, it struck me that there was something really, really important that had to happen, in terms of how the service works. As millions of new users try the service, it’s crucial that they find something useful when they arrive. If they don’t, well, they’ll leave.

And leaving they are, if this report from Nielsen is to be believed. Widely picked up last week in the Twitterverse, the report does the math and finds that 60 percent of those who try Twitter abandon the service within a month. That means no matter how steep the inflection, Twitter will soon burn through its available fuel (new user attention) and could fail to hit escape velocity (where escape velocity = a scaled platform at the level of Facebook, Google, or Yahoo).

That got me thinking. What do new users do when they first log into a service like, say, Facebook? Why, they search, of course.

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For old friends, for the names of their colleges or high schools, for any kind of social connection that might make sense of the very large universe that is Facebook.

So when Twitter integrated search last week, it was, as I said, a very big deal.

But to my mind, it’s not enough.

To explain my point, let me go back to the experience I recently had of creating a new account – going back in time, so to speak, and pretending to be a newbie to Twitter. The service is very easy to sign up for (see the screen shot at left). Once you pass this screen, you can check to see if

your friends are on the service. This is a pretty standard email database lookup, and I have no idea how many folks go through it. I don’t have email at any of those services (at least, none with any real contacts), so I passed. (I’d be interested in how many folks do use this service, and how many hit the button to skip this step. If it’s a high percentage that use this step, I’d also be interested in what

Twitter signup 2.png

the experience is like in terms of making Twitter more useful, but I’ll have to be blind to it for

this post. I think my conclusions will be valid in any case….).

Next comes the step that I find most interesting, and in its current iteration, most frustrating. This is where the new user gets a

list of folks that Twitter suggests he or she might follow. It’s a pretty random list of interesting folks, including (as I write this) John McCain, Fred Durst, Chris Anderson, Oprah, John Legend, and so on. It changes from day to day, but anyone who’s ever made it onto the list reports that their followers skyrocket – sometimes by an order of magnitude.

Why? Well, turns out most newbies to Twitter simply hit “follow all” and end up with the list of twenty or so suggested Tweeters as their first set of folks they are following.

Therein lies the problem. Ah, the dinner bell is ringing, when I come back, I’ll explain why, and suggest a better way. I’m sure many have already thought about this, but I never claimed to be original, just persistent. And…I really want Twitter to get

Twitter signup 3.png

escape velocity…because every time a rocket makes it out of the Valley and into the Rest of The World, it feels like the work we all do is worth it.

(Back from Dinner). So why is following twenty or so interesting people a problem? Well, while I am sure these folks are chosen for their general interest and lively tweets (for more, see Twitter’s blog post on suggested users), it turns out that it’s simply not very

compelling, in the main, to watch these guys tweet. It’s certainly not as addictive as finding an old friend on Facebook, for example. It’s neat, but it’s not going to get folks to come back, over and over again.

What *is* interesting, or could be, is watching folks tweet who you care about. Perhaps they are friends, or family, or leaders in your line of work, or entertainers you love. For whatever reason, they are *your* leaders, and finding them, at least during the sign up process, is entirely too hard.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It strikes me that a few more structured steps in the sign up process could really pay significant dividends for Twitter. Perhaps a “follow wizard” that asks a few questions, and makes suggestions based on input

from the new user. Let us drill down by category: Business:Technology:Internet, or Health:Diseases:Cancer. The ontology isn’t very complicated – mapping users to it is a bit more complex, but not impossible.

And encourage folks to put in the names of their friends via search – that’s magic when you find a friend who’s already on Twitter, and might act as a sherpa of sorts.

There are already a lot of third party services that help users find folks worth following, but new users are never going to find them in their initial interaction with Twitter. incorporating this kind of a service into a newbie’s initial experience – even if it’s very, very simple – could pay huge benefits in turning around that 60% abandonment number, and soon.

In short, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and right now, Twitter’s initial impression does not add enough value. But with a few tweaks, it most certainly could.