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Google Is Failing More

By - December 13, 2009

Paul points it out as a failed dishwasher search. Mike complains about automated content as does RWW. And we all have experienced it: The Google ecosystem is failing more – failing to get us what we think we want. Failing to not frustrate us. Failing at the more complicated queries we are throwing at it. Failing to be the Google that we came to love back when the web was small and Facebook was a way for Harvard geeks to try to get laid.

Now, Google’s ecosystem is ripe for a quick buck – “content farms” that build article pages cheaply to make a quick buck off AdWords. But these articles, at least for a portion of us, don’t really provide the answers we are looking for. (thanks @thejames for the pointers.)

As Paul puts it in bemoaning his fruitless attempt to use Google for a researching a dishwasher purchase:

This is, of course, merely a personal example of the drive-by damage done by keyword-driven content — material created to be consumed like info-krill by Google’s algorithms. Find some popular keywords that lead to traffic and transactions, wrap some anodyne and regularly-changing content around the keywords so Google doesn’t kick you out of search results, and watch the dollars roll in as Google steers you life-support systems connected to wallets, i.e, idiot humans.

Google has become a snake that too readily consumes its own keyword tail. Identify some words that show up in profitable searches — from appliances, to mesothelioma suits, to kayak lessons — churn out content cheaply and regularly, and you’re done. On the web, no-one knows you’re a content-grinder.

The result, however, is awful.

Yes, it often is. But I’m not worried about this. Audiences always route around that which they don’t want, and when something better comes along as a navigational interface, we’ll pick it up, and quick. If Google doesn’t figure this out, someone else will, and the cycle will repeat.

The truth is, we’re asking far more complicated questions of search than we used to, and we’re expecting the same magic we used to get back when the web had magnitudes of order less content. Back in 2002, when we put “dishwashers” into Google, we’d probably find someone’s blog who was talking about his favorite models. Now, we have five hundred or more attempts at gaming the keyword itself, each promising a potential answer, but rarely delivering it – at least not if we have a complicated question in mind. For simple answers, content farms most likely do a fine job. But the truth is, we are not asking many simple questions of search. We’re expecting a lot more.

And in the end, this is a good thing. Our expectations drive innovation, and I can sense a major breakthrough is coming. To my mind, the essential element required for that breakthrough is human in nature. We need a new framework for search, one that allows us to leverage our inherent ability to converse. And from what I can tell, it’s closer than we might think.

2010 is going to be a very interesting year.

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More on Facebook Public Data and Google Implications

By - December 11, 2009

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You know, I just realized I suggested that Facebook do exactly what it’s doing. Read this post from back in June, deconstructing an article in Wired about the emerging Facebook v. Google battle. In it I say:

I think it’s a major strategic mistake to not offer [as much information on Facebook as possible] to Google (and anyone else that wants to crawl it.) In fact, I’d argue that the right thing to do is to make just about everything possible available to Google to crawl, then sit back and watch while Google struggles with whether or not to “organize it and make it universally available.” A regular damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario, that….

The angle here is that Facebook, by making everything public, will force Google’s hand in search, and potentially dilute Google’s ability to compete in the social graph game (because Facebook will own the results on Google). If, on the other hand, Google decides to de-prioritize Facebook data in its results, Google’s brand will clearly be tarnished as favoring its own solutions (remember when Google announced its incorporation of Google accounts into search? Yep.)

Interesting. The chess is getting really interesting.

This is the Facebook Step We Expected: Default Public

By - December 09, 2009

This is a big deal. Facebook is taking the final step to become more like Twitter. Thanks to RWW for pointing it out. I’ve been traveling and had not had a chance to read the new privacy settings, which state:

…we’ll be recommending that you make available to everyone a limited set of information that helps people find and connect with you, information like “About Me” and where you work or go to school…. This information is name, profile picture, gender, current city, networks, friend list, and Pages….

The blog post explaining the changes amounts to a massive act of “burying the lead”, to use a journalistic phrase. The lead is “the core of the story.” To me, the fact that your status updates and other info will now be public is a pretty big story. But Facebook leads with this:

Today, we’re launching new tools to give you even greater control over the information you share.

This is true, and having a more instrumented cockpit for privacy is really cool (and a big deal on a site with 350mm folks). But nowhere in the post is the status message shift mentioned. RWW found it in the video explaining the changes in more detail:

According to the video explaining the changes, the new default for status messages is “everyone.” That’s a huge change. Of course it’s not hard for people to keep their existing privacy settings, but confusion around what those settings are is hardly resolved by the phrase “old settings” and a tool-tip phrase appearing when you hover over that option.

A substantial backlash has already begun in comments on the Facebook blog post about the announcement. Previous moves by the company, like the introduction of the news feed, have seen user resistance as well – but this move cuts against the fundamental proposition of Facebook: that your status updates are only visible to those you opt-in to exposing them to. You’ll now have to opt-out of being public and opt-in to communicating only with people you’ve given permission to see your content.

Clearly, this change was not made lightly. And clearly, this is a move that pushes Facebook more toward embracing and extending a Twitter like model in the future.

What’s next? Well, if the changes stand, expect a hell of a lot of action in the third party Facebook developer world….

Congrats AOL

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AOL was finally set free today, years after it should have been. Congrats to the AOL team and Tim Armstrong, and I imagine, to the Time Warner folks who managed to destroy so much value by blaming everything on the merger in the first place (sure, it was a bad deal, but man, AOL was not the reason Time Inc. went south!).

Read my rant asking Time Warner to set it free back in March of 2004 here.

Twitter is .. Developing

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Twitter is rolling a ton of features and announcements this week, coinciding both with Le Web in Paris and its own ongoing development as a platform. A roundup:

- Twitter is opening up its “firehose” of tweets to all comers “in early 2010″. This is a very big deal. Before, developers had limited access to the Twitterverse. This means the ecosystem has tons more oxygen to work with.

- New sign up approach. This fixes a problem where it was hard for developers to sign up and in folks from third party sites (you had to send folks back to Twitter before). This will aid in Twitter sign ups from third party developers. A big deal.

- Twitter is embracing its own developer community by underwriting a developer conference, Chirp, which has been key to nearly every major tech platform in the history of the Valley.

The company is clearly gearing up for a big 2010 in terms of features, and had decided that developers and the developer ecosystem is key to its growth. I agree completely.

Google's Real Time Rolling Out

By - December 08, 2009

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Google’s real time search integration, announced at Web 2 in October, is rolling out (good coverage from SEL). It’ll be integrated as “Latest results.” I’ll be watching how this effects the traffic referral ecosystem across the web – that’s the key. Will Twitter grow? Will Google start to obviate some refers it’s now sending to Facebook? Or will the opposite occur?

Google’s announcement is here. NYT coverage is here.

Google Wants Your Small Biz To Barcode Itself

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Google has launched a “Favorite Places” program to jumpstart its local search business. I like the moxy, but the ecosystem is lacking a clear dose of “Why Should I Do This,” at least from the point of view of the business. Or the customer, for that matter. The program has the same “Church lady dancing to rap” feeling that marks nearly all of Google’s socially-driven products.  

If Google is serious about this space, they best buy Foursquare, pronto, and let the folks there take over.

AT&T Takes a Step In the Right Direction

By - December 07, 2009

Screen shot 2009-12-07 at 11.18.26 AM.pngAT&T today released an iPhone app that reports wireless issues. It’s called Mark the Spot. Very cool. This is a step toward the crowdsourced, conversational, map-driven go to market strategy I outlined here….this app was not done by AT&T marketing, but rather labs, I was told, though that is not totally confirmed.

Google Embraces Twitter, Some More. In a Non Facebook Kinda Way.

By - December 02, 2009

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From the Google Social Web Blog (I have to admit it’s hard for me to see those four words together without busting out a silly grin):

Today, we’re bringing Twitter and Friend Connect even closer together. Now you can join one of over nine million Google Friend Connect sites using your Twitter login. Once signed in, your Twitter profile will be automatically linked and you can tweet your new site membership, share discussions from the comments gadget, and invite your friends via Twitter.

So what to make of this?
The snarky approach might be to rewrite the news this way:
Today, we’re bringing Not Facebook and Friend Connect even closer together. Now you can join one of over nine million Google Friend Connect sites using your Not Facebook Connect login. Once signed in, your Not Facebook profile will be automatically linked and you can Not Update Your Facebook Status with your new site membership, share discussions from the comments gadget, and invite your friends via Not Facebook Connect.

But that would be very snarky. And usually my snarkiness is so damn buried in inference and linked nuance that no one gets it. I’m not trying to infer that Twitter integration isn’t important, it is. But honestly, if Google really wants to get social, why doesn’t it do what Yahoo’s already done, and admit Facebook pretty much owns the social graph? After all, Facebook has already admitted Google owns search. And it’s using Google to leverage its own platform, in many ways. Google might do the same…
It’s interesting that the ouroborosphere seems relatively unmoved by this news – it didn’t make Techmeme, like nearly everything else that Twitter or Google does. Coverage so far has been pretty straightforward.
But I do think this move marks another play in the ongoing chess match between Google and Facebook. What I’d like to know is whether anyone is really using Google Friend Connect in ways that matter? Or is it on its way to becoming for social what Yahoo is to search?

What Are The Conversion Rates for Google's "First Click Free"?

By - December 01, 2009

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Google today announced a new policy in its ongoing attempt to reach detente with an increasingly querulous publishing industry. (For background, read Mashable’s piece).  

A key piece of the new policy has to do with changes to Google’s “First Click Free” program. From Google’s announcement:

One way we overcome this is through a program called First Click Free. Participating publishers allow the crawler to index their subscription content, then allow users who find one of those articles through Google News or Google Search to see the full page without requiring them to register or subscribe. The user’s first click to the content is free, but when a user clicks on additional links on the site, the publisher can show a payment or registration request. First Click Free is a great way for publishers to promote their content and for users to check out a news source before deciding whether to pay. Previously, each click from a user would be treated as free. Now, we’ve updated the program so that publishers can limit users to no more than five pages per day without registering or subscribing. If you’re a Google user, this means that you may start to see a registration page after you’ve clicked through to more than five articles on the website of a publisher using First Click Free in a day.

OK, I have some issues with all of this. First, why on earth do publishers need Google doing this for them? Google passes them a refer, and they can take that and do what they want with it. And they can surely create index-able “teaser pages” for their paid content as well. Publishers, stop asking Google to do the work you can and should own yourselves! Do you really need Google’s help here?

But that’s not what’s got me scratching my head this evening. My real question comes down to the whole “First Click Free” program itself.

Google clearly created this program to appease (or OK, if you want to spin it that way, to help) the publishing industry. Now it’s adding features that it says should help publishers close a loophole that is allowing Google users to get content for free.

That implies that folks are actively using Google as a tool to get free content. Is this really the case?

Perhaps, but I’d guess it’s a pretty low percentage of folks who actively try to get the Wall Street Journal by repeatedly searching on Google.

The really interesting question is this: Does “First Click Free” actually deliver a decent conversion of paid customers to media companies? (Know that by traditional marketing metrics, a decent conversion is pretty damn low – IE less than one half of one percent of people who see a paid offer actually converting).

Anyone out there have an answer?