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

On Facebook, Comments, and Implications

By - September 30, 2009

Today was a good day. I got to meet with serious leaders of the Internet economy, think Big Thoughts, and push my understanding of the world a bit. In short, I spent the day with folks I’ll be interviewing onstage at Web 2 next month, but also, with people who run companies that in one way or another are key partners and players in the ecosystem I love and in which my company (FM) works.

I started with a private meeting with a fellow who is taking time off from Google. Can’t say much more than that, but it was a great conversation. From there, I met with Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen. Now, I’ve got a lot more to say about Adobe, which recently purchased Omniture, but for now, trust me when I say, keep your eye on Adobe. Next, I met with Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz. And then, I met with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

I noted an anecdotal observation to Sheryl – that I would write something here, tweet a notification of my post on Twitter, and that notification would then update my Facebook status through an app.

Then, I’d watch what happens. And what happens, more often than not, is that I’ll get as many if not more comments on the Facebook status update – inside Facebook – as I do on this site or on Twitter. And more often than not, those comments on Facebook are as thoughtful if not more thoughtful than the ones here. On Twitter, responses to posts here are more likely than not retweets, which is great, but not the same as a comment.

I asked Sheryl if she thought I was an outlier, expecting her to agree that in fact I was. But instead, she said the opposite: people like to comment on links referred through friend networks, and for good reason. It’s one thing to comment on blogs like this one, in relative anonymity. It’s quite another to comment in the context of Facebook, where those comments are seen by a group of folks with whom you have a social relationship.

I’d like to close that loop – show the comments locked in the Facebook domain on the site here – and I’m looking into getting that done. Let me know if you have any insight on how I might automate it.

Regardless, the implications are rather vast. Facebook has become a defacto leader in distribution of attention – just as Google was back in 2004-6. And everyone – trust me, everyone – is paying attention. Twitter is also a major distributor of attention, but Facebook dwarfs Twitter in terms of social media sharing. I’ve got a lot more to say about this, but let me mark it this way: With search, we declared private intention, then chose our links to click.

With social media, we publicly declare our intentions and our links. It’s a shift of models that is very, very meaningful. More on that later.

And, by the way, Sheryl and I spoke about a lot more than closing the loops on comments. But for more on that, you’ll have to wait for Web 2!

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Why Are Conversations (With the Right Person) So Much Better Than Search?

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hal.jpegThanks to the BingTweets program, I’ve been asked to opine on search and decision engines. I’m kind of proud of my third and final post, which riffs on the first two and goes a bit, well, meta. I’d love to know what you guys think of it. I’ll repost the first half here, and link back to the whole post on the original site that commissioned the work.  

Over the past two posts I’ve outlined my hopes and frustrations around search and decision making, using my desire to acquire a classic car as an example of both the opportunity and the limitations of web search as it stands today. As an astute commentator noted on my last post – “normally a 30 minute conversation is a whole lot better for any kind of complex question.”

Which leads me to my last post in this series. What is it about a conversation? Why can we, in 30 minutes or less, boil down what otherwise might be a multi-day quest into an answer that addresses nearly all our concerns? And what might that process teach us about what the Web lacks today and might bring us tomorrow?

Well the answer is at once simple and maddenly complex. Our ability to communicate using language is the result of millions of years of physical and cultural evolution, capped off by 15-25 years of personal childhood and early adult experience. But it comes so naturally, we forget how extraordinary this simple act really is.

I once asked Larry Page, co-founder of Google, what his dream search engine looked like. His answer: The computer from Star Trek – a omnipresent, all knowing machine with which you could converse. We’re a long way from that – and when we do get there, we’re bound to arrive a with a fair amount of trepidation – after all, every major summer blockbuster seems to burst with the narrative of machines that out think humans (Matrix, Terminator, Battlestar Galactica, 2001, I Robot…you get the picture).

But I have hope. Given this is my last post in the series, allow me to wax a bit philosophical. While we in the search and Internet industry focus almost exclusively on leveraging technology to get to better answers, perhaps we might take another approach. Perhaps instead of scaling machines to the point of where they can have a “human” conversation with us (a la Turing), perhaps instead (or, as well), we might leverage machines to help connect us to just the right human with whom we might have that conversation?


Web 2: Help Me Interview Carol Bartz

By - September 29, 2009

web 2 09.png_@user_60981.jpgWhat more can be said about Carol Bartz? Her appearance at the helm of Yahoo has certainly energized the company and given both its supporters and detractors plenty to talk about. But beyond the colorful language and straight shooting demeanor lies one of the most challenging turnarounds in Internet history (at least from this observer’s point of view).
Last year I interviewed Jerry Yang, and by most reports, it didn’t go so well. Well, let me put that another way – it was great to watch (and to be part of), but many said that interview was pretty much proof that Jerry needed to find someone else to run Yahoo. Which is why I am both impressed and a bit trepidatious that Bartz agreed to sit for an interview – will she think I’m trying to drive her to the brink of quitting?! Well, the answer there is no, but I will want to ask her the hard questions. And that’s where you come in.
What do you want to hear from Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo?
Others we’ll be interviewing (and I’ve asked for your help):

Evan Williams

Brian Roberts

Jeff Immelt

To come: Qi Lu, Aneesh Chopra, Sheryl Sandberg, Jon Miller, Austan Goolsbee, Paul Otellini, Shantanu Narayen, Tim Armstrong, Tim Berners Lee, and more. Again, an amazing lineup.

If you want to come, I can still get you a Searchblog discount (for about another week). Just ping me here.

Web 2: Help Me Interview Jeff Immelt

By - September 28, 2009

Jeff Immelt is the CEO of GE, one of the largest enterprises in the history of the world. Let that sink in for a moment, it’s not a trivial concept. One of the largest enterprises ever devised by mankind – General Electric. The Microsoft, nay, the Google of the 20th century, and not content with that success, Immelt and his team of hundreds of thousands of employees is bending toward the task of once again redefining the nearly 150-year-old company.

Witness this speech, recently delivered to the The Detroit Economic Club (Immelt was announcing a new R&D initiative in Detroit that will bring 1100 new jobs to the devastated Detroit economy). In it, Immelt does not pull punches. From the text:

I am proud to work at GE, a great American company since the 1800s. Since I joined the company in 1982, GE has earned $230 billion – more than any enterprise in the world. We have paid $130 billion in dividends to our investors – again, more than any company in any country. Today, we have over 300,000 global employees with about half here in the United States.

We are the oldest remaining company in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. This is not because we are a perfect company; it is because we adapt . Through the years, we have remained productive and competitive. We have globalized the company, while investing massive amounts in technology, products and services. We know we must change again. When the current economic unraveling began, many hoped it was merely a harsher version of past cycles. But now it’s clear that a serious and difficult transformation is at hand, not just another turning of the wheel.

I met with Jeff in his office last week in New York, and I found him engaged, thoughtful, and totally aligned with the theme of this years’ Web 2 conference (Websquared). I’m pleased and very honored he’s coming and speaking with us, and I seek your questions and input on what you’d like to hear from him.

Meanwhile, a few more zingers from his speech:

As a nation, we’ve been consuming more than we earn, saved too little and taken on far too much debt . Growth in research and development has slowed. Our country has made too little progress on some of the defining challenges of our time – like clean energy and affordable health care. Our budget and trade deficits have reached levels that are clearly not sustainable.

While some of America’s competitors were throttling up on manufacturing and R&D, we de-emphasized technology. Our economy tilted instead toward the quicker profits of financial services. While our financial services business has performed well, I can’t tell you that we were entirely free of these errors. We weren’t .

What has been the impact? Unemployment is at the highest point in 26 years. And, as a percentage of S&P 500 earnings, financial services expanded from 10 to 45 percent over a quarter-century. Compensation systems have fallen out of balance. You know something is wrong when a mortgage broker is pulling down $5 million a year while a Ph.D. chemist is earning $100,000.

Average real weekly wages have declined since 1980, meaning that we have been unable to provide a rising standard of living for the majority.

Leaders missed many opportunities to add to the capabilities of America. In 2000, the U. S. had a positive trade balance of high-tech products. By 2007, our trade deficit of the same products reached $50 billion. We have already lost our leadership in many growth industries, and other new opportunities are at risk. Trust in business is badly shaken,and it is going to take awhile to get it back.

This is unacceptable. Our country was built on great undertakings that brought out the best in government and business alike. But that kind of vision, that kind of focus on essential national goals, has been missing.

This is not a man who pulls punches or, apparently, plays politics. GE has significant businesses in healthcare, energy, consumer electronics, finance, transportation, media (NBC Universal), and more. Immelt’s presence at the premier Internet conference is a statement about how the Web and the World are merging. So what do you want to know from him?

Others we’ll be interviewing on Day One (and I’ve asked for your help):

Evan Williams

Brian Roberts

To come: Carol Bartz, Qi Lu, Aneesh Chopra, Sheryl Sandberg, Jon Miller, Austan Goolsbee, Paul Otellini, Shantanu Narayen, Tim Armstrong, Tim Berners Lee, and more. Amazing lineup.

Google Google Google

By - September 25, 2009

41B7NrA03OL._SL500_AA240_.jpgA spate of Google books coming out, including one from Ken Auletta and one already out from Jeff Jarvis, and another from Richard Brandt. Ken’s book has dangling, draw-you-in quote, as usual: Apparently Eric Schmidt told him that Google will be the world’s first $100billion media company. MEDIA company, mind you. MEDIA.

Oh, never mind.

Help Me Interview Evan Williams, CEO Twitter

By - September 23, 2009

web 2 09.png


Thanks to those of you who chimed in, via email, Twitter, Facebook, and comments, on our first interview at Web 2 next month with Brian Roberts.   

Next up on day one is Evan Williams, CEO of Twitter. I’ve had the pleasure before (at FM’s CM Summit), and posted on it here. But much has changed in the past year. Twitter has become a mainstream brand, grown to tens of millions of active users, and raised a lot more money (and speculation continues that it has raised even more, at a billion dollar valuation, no less).

And while questions remain about “how will Twitter make money,” there’s been no shortage of ideas – including from Twitter – addressing that particular concern over the past few months.

Not to mention, the past year has seen Facebook pretty much re-furbish its user interface to be more Twitter like, and Twitter has added or promised to add a slew of new features to make the service more robust.

But readers of this site don’t need me prattling on about what the best questions are for Evan. You guys have them in your heads. Do me a favor and help me have a smart conversation with Evan next month! Thanks in advance….

SideWiki and Google's Community Dilemma

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sidewiki.pngToday comes news that Google is offering a universal commenting feature that allows anyone using Google’s toolbar to leave a comment on any page they visit. Called Sidewiki, the service is intended to “increase engagement on the page” for publishers. But as much as I love the idea of SideWiki, I’m skeptical of it for one simple reason: Google isn’t in the community business, and SideWiki, if it’s going to work, needs to either A/be driven by communities or B/Needs to be embraced as a standard by publishers, who are the proxy for communities.  

Now, Google is an advertising services business, and one could argue that it’s in the business of publishing as well (YouTube, Blogger, Knol). However, the company is not that great at leading community. I’ve covered this before (Google Maps and Wikipedia, the lack of Google News comments, the failure of Google Video vs. YouTube (and hence, YT takes off, gets bought by Google…), so I won’t repeat myself. Suffice to say, I think SideWiki will suffer from the same fate as Google’s previous efforts requiring community input: Google is not seen as a explicit community platform.

I sort of wish Yahoo would do stuff like this. This is the kind of product Yahoo could really win with.

SEL coverage here.

Briefly Noted

By - September 22, 2009

Tim A. – who I will interview at Web 2 next month – says the future of AOL is in content. This is a drum he’s been beating for some time, and I still find it intriguing that the man responsible for advertising at Google, a famously technology-driven company, is now a content nut.

The Chair of the FCC has reawakened the net neutrality debate and Comcast and Larry Lessig have already weighed in. Guess who loves it, and who is not so thrilled? Larry came last year, Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, is coming to Web 2 this year.

WPP Chief Sorrell says he cannot keep pace with the decline in ad revenues. By keeping pace, he means firing enough staff.

MySpace, long quiet in this space, makes news with its plan to integrate Twitter. Jon Miller, to whom MySpace CEO Owen Van Atta reports, and Evan Williams, CEO of Twitter, will both be at Web 2.

Modest Share Gains for Bing Continue

By - September 21, 2009

Comscore’s monthly ratings are out and Bing continues a slow but steady gain in share, to the slight expense of Google and Yahoo. Bing has a massive marketing push on right now, but also, I think the service is starting to gain footholds with users who see it as a regular alternative to Google. I am also a fan of the recently unveiled visual search interface – I think it augurs some serious new – and useful – approaches to sifting through massive amounts of related data.

From the Thomas Weisel’s analyst coverage, sent to me in mail:

Google maintains dominance within “core search” but Bing Nudges Up m/m at Yahoo’s and Google’s Expense: Core search excludes searches conducted on video, local and map portions of the companies’ websites. Google’s U.S. query share of core search queries was down 11bps m/m to 64.6% in August but increased nearly 1.3 percentage points from August 2008. Yahoo’s share was flat m/m at 19.3% in August and decreased 39bps y/y. Microsoft’s share increased 35bps m/m to 9.3% in August and up 89bps y/y.’s share were was flat m/m at 3.9% in August but decreased 45bps y/y. AOL’s share decreased 14bps m/m to 3.0% in August and decreased 133bps y/y.

Our take: Google continues to dominate audience market rankings in the U.S. while Microsoft has shown some signs of stabilization and a modest uptick with the launch of Bing in June. Yahoo, while having shown signs of stability over the past 12-18 months, has recently started to lose market share again, declining from 21.0% in January to 19.3% in August. Taken together, Yahoo and Microsoft represent 29% of the core search market in the U.S., flat with the previous month. Microsoft’s new search engine, Bing, was launched at the beginning of June alongside an $80-100mn advertising campaign. This is the third month of data reflecting Bing’s impact. While the data indicates a very modest near-term bounce, we will be watching closely to see if any query pickup is sustainable.