free html hit counter March 2010 | John Battelle's Search Blog

April Fools!

By - March 31, 2010

I was going to post…

…That Twitter had been sold, for 1.75 billion, to Google (who would pay that, I’d reckon).

…That MySpace had been sold, for 250 million, to Viacom (who would pay that, just to rub it into Murdoch’s face).

…That Google had announced it was only kidding about China, and was ready to play ball again with the PRC.

…That Facebook had made all public actions available in its API (oh wait, that’s going to be true!)

….That Foursquare announced it was no longer doing high profile deals and instead was going to focus on its product.

….That Yahoo and AOL were merging.

….That Microsoft had won the iPhone and iPad search business

…That Apple was opening up the iTunes store to web crawling, made peace with Adobe, and was launching an effort to create an SDK that ported iPhone/Pad apps to Android

…That Amazon had launched a payment business to compete with PayPal

…That eBay had bought Skype, again.

….and that Nokia had bought RIM.

But…April’s Fools is so boring now, ain’t it?

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Why I Like Working With Marketers

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Cross posted from the FM Blog:

…For today’s Signal topic, I’d like to talk about marketing as a portal to understanding your business.

Now, before you roll your eyes and click away, stick with me for a minute. If you’re reading this post, chances are you are in business. And chances are also pretty good that business is media or marketing, because that’s the focus of Signal, after all.

So, what business are you in? Or, more to the point I’d like to make: What is your business?

You’d might be surprised at the number of folks I’ve met with in the past year who pause when I ask that question. Because, in the main, that number is exceedingly low.

Allow me to explain. While it might seem, from a cursory review of my career, that I’m fascinated by media and marketing, what really gets me up in the morning (or more accurately, wakes me up in the middle of the night) is business. I love the puzzle that is connecting a great idea with a great market (that’s the entrepreneur in me), and I love learning how Really Big Companies work. In fact, over the past decade or so, I’ve gone pretty deep in both: Starting several small businesses based on Big Ideas, and spending a ton of time with very engaged folks deep in brands like HP, American Express, Walmart, P&G, Intel, McDonald’s, and countless others.

And without an exception, I’ve found that asking interesting questions of senior folks responsible for marketing at large companies has led to exceedingly smart insights on how those businesses work. It’s sort of like Clift Notes for Big Biz – if you want to understand the company behind major brands, start with the folks who run marketing.

An example. Earlier this week I sat down with an SVP responsible for marketing at a major retailer. Because I don’t have his (or her) permission, I’ll keep my source – and the company – anonymous. But know this – this company has a top 25 e-commerce site, a national brand, a major catalog business, and several different divisions, all of which are high-end and are sub-brands in and of themselves.

As we dug into our conversation, we quickly dropped any pretense of our dialog being about marketing, at least in any traditional sense, and quickly got to questions that had to do with the business – what products sold when, where, and why; what kinds of data were gathered to support business decisions; which customers were most profitable, most elusive, and most difficult to convert; what role the founder’s DNA played in what had become a major enterprise’s business decisions (and why it was crucial to respect that); how the competition was playing its cards and what response to take to those moves; what institutional blocks were impeding innovation in the business; and on, and on, and on.

I could spend hours and hours, and days and days, in conversations like this one. In fact, I’m honored to say that for the most part, doing just that is pretty much my job these days…..(more )

Apple Won't Build a (Web) Search Engine

By - March 30, 2010

…but it will build the equivalent of an app search engine. It’s crazy not to. In fact, it has to. It already has app discovery via the iTunes store, but it’s terrible, with no signal that gives reliable results based on accrued intent.

What Apple needs is a search engine that “crawls” apps, app content, and app usage data, then surfaces recommendations as well as content . To do this, mobile apps will need to make their content available for Apple to crawl. And why wouldn’t you if you’re Yelp, for example? Or Facebook, for that matter? An index of apps+social signal+app content would be quite compelling.

What Apple will NOT do is crawl the entire web, which is what’s implied by this headline. Apple has already shown a general disdain for the open Internet, anyway, and I don’t see the company spending hundreds of millions of dollars in capital expense to play a game it can’t win anyway.

Google, on the other hand, already has web search well in hand, and most likely will also create an app engine. Unfortunately for us all, the two will most likely not share data. And that is bad for everyone.

Oh Looky! It's Video of Bloody Jesus! (Nevermind the Facts)

By - March 29, 2010

ht_shroud_of_turin_100326_mn.jpg(Image at left is how ABC News illustrated the story I’m criticizing. Really).

Guys, you don’t come here to hear me rant, do you? Do you? Especially on topics entirely orthogonal to my stated mission of “the intersection of search, media, and technology…and more.” But then again, maybe this falls into “and more.”

OK, so if you don’t want to hear me rant on about how simply awful network news, and in this case, ABC News, has gotten, move right along.

But every so often, I just can’t help myself. Yep, it happened with the Comcast DVR (and despite my renewed respect for the company, the DVR interface is still awful), and it happened with United.

Tonight was one of those nights. At least it only happens once a year or so.

My wife was a producer at CBS News back in the day, when network news meant something, and journalists didn’t excuse themselves for pandering to the lowest common denominator because “the Internet undermined our business model.”

This means she still watches the nightly news, much to my opposition. I find network news broadcasts to be, in the main, derivative, unintelligent, and sensational. There are good pieces in there, and there is good work most certainly, but as every year passes, it’s clear network news has lost its way – no one is taking risks, and everyone is chasing a fractional rating point around the damn drain.

Anyway, tonight my wife was watching ABC World News with Diane Sawyer. This is the same program that I ranted about last week – the same program that sent two extremely intelligent producers to my office to spend an hour taping what became a five second clip with no context, no content, and no value. Anyways.

Tonight the teaser story – the one that producers promote throughout so as to keep an audience till the very end of the broadcast – was called “Science Sheds Light on Christianity’s Biggest Mysteries.” Well, that’s how it was posted to the web, but on air, the piece was boiled down to pretty much this: “We Have Computer Generated Pictures of a Bloody Jesus and We’re Not Afraid to Show Em!”

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I can’t find the actual clip on the web – because ABC News’ website is truly awful (no really, look at what it’s featuring tonight, image at left). It has several pieces from tonight’s newscast up, but not this one. Why? Who knows. But the story goes something like this: A new show from National Geographic explores various tenets of Christian belief, including the Shroud of Turin, a cloth reputed by some to have been laid over the corpse of Jesus. The show includes computer animations illustrating that a bloody body may have lain under the cloth. The animations are, well, bloody. And hey, it’s a computer animation of a recently murdered Jesus Christ!! Or at least, it could have been, right? Now THAT’S GOOD TELEVISION!!!!

Well, who knows. ABC News at least raised the question that carbon dating done in the 1980s found the cloth was only 600 or so years old. Barring time travel, it’s pretty certain that Jesus didn’t lay under it. But no matter, because ABC News found someone who claims the carbon dating findings were wrong.

And his proof? Well, as far as I could tell from the piece, which we recorded and watched several times to ensure we didn’t get this wrong – his proof was this: He found a painting that shows there was a shroud covering Jesus, and that painting was dated some 68 years earlier than the earliest carbon dating of the Shroud!

So see? See? That proves it, right?

Ummm…..excuse me but WTF? Erhhm…how exactly does a painting of a shroud being laid over the corpse of Jesus disprove carbon dating?

Well never you mind, the ABC News piece just keeps on keeping on, because after all, the point of it isn’t to get to the truth, or to bring the facts to bear, or to shed light on an important issue. No, the point of the piece is to hook the viewer in the beginning of the newscast with teasers about how new technology has brought us tantalizing new proof of Christ’s death! And then roll the video – there’s a house on fire somewhere, we gotta show it, regardless of news value!

Nowhere in this piece did I see any evidence of journalism. And honestly, if you want to trace the decline of broadcast news, you should probably start there. Stop blaming the Internet and start looking at your own product. It’s a disgrace.

The iPad Needs The Web, but the Web Does Not Need the iPad

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Dale and others have made some good points on what would make the iPad a better development environment, in particular, Dale recalls HyperCard, which was Apple’s version of a weblike development environment, before the Web existed. I covered HyperCard for MacWeek back in the late 80s and early 90s, and I also covered the CDROM market (remember that?).

Both are dead now, and the Web is king.

Dale writes:

What’s missing today is HyperCard, or an equivalent tool that can be used to create a new wave of applications for the iPad….. Making it easy to create content and increasing the number of people who can create applications for the iPad could be very important to its long-term success. The web has made producers of us all. If the iPad is just another consumer platform for consuming and not creating content, then it will just be another way to watch TV or listen to music or download information…

There’s a very easy way for the iPad to do what Dale suggests, and it doesn’t involve creating another HyperCard. It just involves the iPad becoming a world class Internet client. So far, from all I’ve heard, it sounds like it won’t be, and if you want to make anything that works great on the iPad, you have to make it in Apple’s proprietary authoring environment – just as you did for the iPhone. I think that’s a classic Apple mistake.

Don’t bet against the web. You’ll lose.

Toward a New Understanding of Publishing (Part 1)

By - March 28, 2010

This weekend I finished a the first draft of a new series on publishing, not unlike the three part series I wrote more than three years ago on conversational media. I’ve posted the draft over on the FM blog, as it’s been FM that has inspired my thinking on these topics. From the post:

Ask most media professionals to define “publishing” and they’ll most likely resort to something akin to the standard dictionary entry: “The business of issuing printed matter.”

By that definition, publishing ain’t much of a growth business.

But here at FM, we’d like to recapture what we believe is the essence of the term. To us, publishing means something far more than putting words and images to paper. Back when paper and printing presses revolutionized how humans communicated, we ended up conflating two very important concepts. One was the message – what was being said, and in what context. The second was the medium – the transport for that message. The two became seen as the same thing in printed matter, and the traditional definition of publishing was born.

It’s not an accident that we identified the message (what is being said) with the medium (how that message gets into our minds). After all, before print, all we poor humans had as a medium was our voices. Back then, with apologies to McLuhan, the medium truly was the message.

Think of publishing as speaking – a conversation – it’s clear that publishing means far more than printing. Publishing means connecting a community through the art and science of communication. And nowhere is publishing more vibrant – and conversational – than through the medium we’ve come to call the Internet….

You Say Debacle, I Say Debatable…

By - March 24, 2010

nestle logo US.pngMy daily Signal is up over at FM, in which I break down the Nestle dust up. From it:  

Musing on the recent Nestle Facebook “debacle” (which I do not believe is, or needs to be proclaimed a debacle), Joshua-Michéle concludes: If Nestle neither wishes to change or defend itself on the merits – then they shouldn’t be operating in social media.

Well, yes and no. Yes, in that the sheer beauty of social media is that it forces questions to the fore, and thus forces companies to respond to those questions. But no, it’s not OK, as a strategy, to “not be operating in social media.” I sense, perhaps, that Joshua-Michéle was making the same point in a roundabout way.

My reasoning? Because all of our customers are already operating in social media. You can’t pretend otherwise. And it’s better to engage, make mistakes, admit those mistakes, and move on, than to not engage at all. I call this “conversational judo,” and suggest we all practice it, daily. Twice on Sunday, perhaps….

Google's New "Search Funnels" Belies What Google Really Knows…

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Google today introduced a “Search Funnels” feature for its AdWords clients, a feature that will help serious advertisers tune their AdWords campaigns for increased conversion and profitability. For a very good overview of the service, head to SEL.

It’s clear Google put a lot of thought into how this new feature would be exposed, both in terms of a searcher’s privacy, and how an advertiser might use the new data. It’s clearly limited, and for good reasons.

But what Funnels belies is a more fundamental truth: Google itself has access to all the conversion patterns surfaced by this feature, and more. In the SEL article, Barry Schwartz notes:

Until now, Google would only show you the last keywords that led to a conversion. In many cases, searchers will go through a searching process that includes research that might not lead to an immediate sale but may assist in a sale after a few more searches….

… Funnels are created by noting when someone clicks on an ad at Google. That links their search activity from that click to a particular advertiser for 30 days. If they do other searches in that period after the initial click, even if they don’t click on the advertiser’s ad each time, Google will still track that the advertiser’s ad showed for that searcher and what keywords it showed for. If they eventually click again on the advertiser’s ad and convert, only then is a funnel report created — and only if the advertiser also uses the AdWords conversion tracking code.

This means that no “natural” clicks are logged and reported in the funnel (a potential weakness for those fully trying to understand the research process). It also means that no keywords are reported as part of the funnel unless the advertiser has an ad showing for those keywords — so again, some part of a research process might go missing.

In other words, Google knows a lot more than either its advertisers or its users do. Now, we knew that, but Funnels is a reminder of just how sophisticated the company’s knowledge can be.

Google v. China? No, It's Bigger Than That

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Yesterday a crew ambled into my FM offices from ABC News, setting up quite an array of lights and equipment to shoot an interview. The topic was Google and China. Now, I’m a veteran of these situations, as is my staff, and fortunately the commotion was limited to my office, and the 45 minutes or so of set up happened while many of us were in a meeting.  

When they were ready, I sat down for the conversation and enjoyed my talk with the producer, who was piped in via mobile phone. We talked about many of the nuanced issues involved in this particular story. The crew in the room with me also seemed keen to have an informed dialog. I sensed the piece would be pretty intelligent.

But….instead of nuance, we get a story framed as “a battle of titans” – Google v. China, the death match! “Game on!” is how Diane Sawyer opened the piece. “Who will fire the next shot?!” the reporter asks in conclusion. I’m quoted somewhere in the middle, saying that China employs a large number of Internet police, a well-known fact that I mentioned more as a set up to another point. It all begs the question of why they bothered sending the crew in the first place, but …. at least the major networks are paying attention to the story.

And in a way, that’s really the story here. A private company has pushed a very public and political issue into the minds of several significant constituencies. First and foremost, Google’s move has forced China’s hand, and given those inside the country who may disagree with China’s own policies a clear example of their own leadership’s shortcomings. As the NYT points out today:

China also does not acknowledge to its own people that it censors the Internet to exclude a wide range of political and social topics that its leaders believe could lead to instability. It does not release information on the number of censors it employs or the technology it uses for the world’s most sophisticated Internet firewall. Its 350 million Internet users, many with fast broadband connections, are assured they have the same effectively limitless access to information and communications that the rest of the world enjoys.

Google publicly challenged that stance in January, and reinforced its ideological opposition to China’s policies by finally pulling the plug on its mainland search engine after a failed round of talks with Chinese officials. That forced Chinese leaders to defend their control of the Web…

Thanks to Google’s move, thousands, if not millions, of Chinese now understand the extend to which their own government has been duping them. And those who already knew have a new ally, and perhaps additional courage to continue change from within.

A second significant constituency is the US public. To my mind the US has been lured into complacency about China, forgiving China’s violation of core human rights as a cultural matter best swept under the rug. The main reason? Business! Profit! Huge markets! (Oh, and the massive number of US dollars now controlled by our pals in Beijing). It’s a classic conflict of American values: We are society built on freedom of speech and religion, both of which are brutally controlled by the Chinese government. But we are also a society built on capitalism and the profit motive. It’s clear which one had won in the court of US public opinion – until Google made a decision which forced all of us to think about it in a new light.

A third constituency, related to the first two, are the governments of both the US and China, as well as the executives who run major corporations based in the US. As public awareness and opinion unfolds in both countries, I can imagine shifts in both policy as well as practice in both public and private spheres. We now have an administration whose reflexive approach to China’s moral conflict with American values isn’t to sweep it under the rug, for one.

And if you are running a company that competes with Google in the US, chances are you find yourself in a pretty uncomfortable place this morning – answering to employees, shareholders, and consumers this question: Why can Google practice a values-based approach to business, but you cannot?

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Come to think of it, that’s a question that the US government should be asked as well. And inside the government, you can bet it’s already come up.

Meanwhile, news breaks today that Google’s main site was hacked, with its management bio page turned into Chinese characters (see image at left). Hmmm. Petty retaliation? I doubt it. But yet another strange twist to an ongoing tale.

The broadcast is here, you can watch the piece starting at around 9.15. I tried to use Hulu’s vaunted sharing features to embed just a clip, but the company seems to have caved to the TV overlords and disabled it. That’ll be a subject of another rant.

My Location Is A Box of Cereal

By - March 23, 2010

sbits.pngMy latest Signal is up over at the FM blog. I had a fun day. From it:  

As readers know, I’ve declared the “check-in” as the latest field in the Database of Intentions. “Where I am” is a powerful signal, in particular if where you are is a local business that might answer that signal with an offer that engenders loyalty, purchase, or both.

But I’m starting to think that we need to expand the concept of location to more than physical spaces. Why can’t I check-in to a website? An article? A state of mind? An emotion? Or…an object?

Over at FM, we’ve been thinking about that very question, and have been busy turning theory into practice (more on that later). But I got a glimpse of where “the check-in” might be headed today when my pal Seth Goldstein came over to give me a tour of StickyBits.

StickyBits started as a way to attach digital content to physical objects – “tagging” them with a physical sticker emblazoned with a barcode. A slick iPhone or Android app makes it easy – you just slap on the sticker, take a photo of it, and connect the sticker to a web media object in the cloud (for example a video of your kids). Then anyone who sees that sticker can scan it, and see the same object. It’s a great idea for, say, a greeting card company.

But a funny thing happens when you put technology into the hands of real people. Stickbits launched at SXSW, and as William Gibson famously said, the street finds its own use for technology. In the case of StickyBits, people figured they could scan any bar code and attach annotations. And it turns out, there are a hell of a lot of barcodes in our lives every day. And it also turns out, StickyBits supports the use of any barcode as a tagging location.

Cans of coke, bars of chocolate, boxes of Kleenex or breakfast cereal – the tagged items starting pouring in. People were actually checking into brands through the use of that brand’s product….