free html hit counter April 2010 - John Battelle's Search Blog

The Gap Scenario

By - April 30, 2010

mindthegap.png* It’s been a longstanding thesis of mine that Google’s ability to reorder information in microseconds, based on our declared intent through a search query, has habituated us to expect an immediate and relevant response from nearly every website – and in particular, commercial sites. In time, I think this expectation will leak into realspace as well. In this post, I explore what that might look like.  

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Over the past few weeks I’ve been using what I call “The Gap Scenario” to illustrate how marketing is going to change in the next few years, in particular as it relates to the intersection of physical and digital spaces. Yes, I’m talking about Gap, the retail clothing brand, but I’m also talking about the “gap” between where we are as an industry, and where we are headed.

Yesterday I got a chance to talk on camera about the concept (it’s in the first ten or so minutes), but if you’re like me, it’s sometimes easier to read than watch video. And to be honest, until I write something down, I’m never entirely sure I’ve thought it through. So here goes.

Imagine it is a few years from now. Not much has changed in your life (as much as, say, it has in the past three years. We often get a bit ahead of ourselves when it comes to thinking in the future). You happen by a Gap store, and eager for a bit of retail therapy, you walk through the door.

By walking through Gap’s door, you have declared an intent – just as certainly as if you had entered “Gap clothes” into a search engine.

So what happens next? What response does your “search” elicit?*

In a few years, this is what I think will be pretty standard. First, you’ll have a smart phone on you, one that is running several background processes (think of them as “ambient apps”) at all times. One of those processes listens for signals coming from the environment around you, and when it finds a signal that it finds may be useful, it responds to that signal with a ping saying “I am here.”

This is why, when you cross the portal into Gap, your phone buzzes (assuming you’ve instrumented it to buzz. It might ring, or it might stay silent, because you know as soon as you go into Gap, there’ll be a response waiting for you. My point is that the response is immediate).

As you cross into Gap, you take out your phone and take a look at what Gap has to say to you. And what might that be? Well, it depends on any number of factors, but my guess is the Gap App will welcome you into the store, and perhaps ask if you are enjoying the jeans you purchased at the downtown store last month. It also shows that four of your friends have recently been in the store lately, and another three have purchased something online. Would you like to see what they bought?

Another alert reminds you that it’s been a few years since you bought anything for your daughter, who must be growing up. Might you be interested in a Gap tee or scarf most favored by girls in her age group? Special 15% off applies for folks like you, who have “Liked” Gap on Facebook.

Interested, you stroll over to the Teen section and see a blouse your daughter might like. You hold your phone up to it, focusing the camera on the tag. The Gap app immediately scans the tag and provides another search result, including price, available inventory instore and online, customer reviews culled from various sources, and recommendations for related items, complete with a map icon which, if pressed, shows where those items are in the store.

But for whatever reason, you put your phone in your pocket and head for the mens department. You came in for your own retail therapy, after all. You know that if you want to buy that blouse, you’ve already shown an interest in it, and at any time you can complete the purchase through the app, or, importantly, by asking any Gap associate throughout the store.

And that leads us to the other side of this scenario. When you walked through the front door, you were immediately identified as a returning customer. All the data about your interaction with Gap, as well as any other related data that you have agreed can be publicly known about you, has already been sent to the store, and to the mobile devices of every Gap associate working in the store today. You know this, and further, you expect anyone you might ask a question of to know as much about you as you care to reveal. In a way, it’s both comforting and empowering.

As you head upstairs to the mens department, you pass a Gap associate who smiles, checks her phone (which thanks to something like Presence has lit up with your profile) and says hello. The social action of her checking her phone as you approach is something you consider normal, and you wait for what she might say next.

And what she says next – the next turn in your conversation with Gap – will be critical. Will she be human, empathetic, nuanced? Or will she be corporate, stunted, odd?

Well, that depends, in the end, on how Gap trains its employees, and whether Gap allows them to be themselves. Does Gap hire folks with a high social IQ? Or does it hire folks who secretly hate this data-driven corporate shit, so they grit their teeth as they ask you if they can help?

An important question indeed. But this day, you’ve come to your favorite store, where the employees are fluent in the dance between social data, commercial intent, and real time physical interaction. Your associate simply nods and says “let me know if I can help you,” smiles, and lets you pass. She reads from your face and body language that you don’t want too much more than that. She was right.

At the mens department you find your favorite jeans, but don’t want to dig through the piles to find your size. Instead you point your phone at the stack, and the Gap App tells you the store, alas, is out of size 34. Would you like to purchase them online, and have them sent to your home? They’ll be there later today, because a store across town has them in stock, and Gap provides same day delivery within a 50 mile radius. You press “Yes”, the purchase is confirmed, and, your retail desires fulfilled, you head toward the door.

As you leave, the associate you passed earlier thanks you for your purchase.

Well that was pleasant, you think, as you walk down the street. Out comes your phone again, and you bring up the Gap application again. Maybe you will get that blouse for your daughter, after all.

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Now, think about all the elements that have to work in concert for this scenario to play out. To my mind, the easiest part is the technology and the platforms for that tech – they exist already. The smart phones, the app world, the social instrumentation – all solved. What’s not solved are the business processes that sew it all together. This scenario incorporates many distinct practices of traditional marketing. Customer service, CRM, direct marketing, instore and online promotions, and even brand marketing – because above the line brand work is what ties it all together by making the promise this scenario will pay off.

Getting all those pieces to work in concert is the hard part. My experience with large brands and the agencies which support them is that they have necessarily specialized, creating silos that are very good at what they do (direct marketing, CRM, etc) but not very good at working across the organization. That’s going to have to change. It’ll happen first with retail brands like Gap, but it’ll come quickly to consumer packaged goods (who will want to answer the search even if it happens on a supermarket shelf) and small businesses as well.

Helping them make the transition is a huge opportunity. More on that in another post.

*replete with MOLRS, of course.

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My HP Input Output Interview

By - April 29, 2010

For those of you who might want to watch what I’m on about these days, this is a pretty good overview.

UPDATED: Fixed the autoplay with sound issue.

Apple Makes Its Move to Become the Google of App World

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siri.jpgThis is very interesting news, but not unexpected if you’ve been paying attention. Note in the past I’ve predicted that Apple will not do web search, but will do “app search,” because app search is essentially broken, if you can even call it search to begin with. It’s more like directory navigation at this point.

Today Apple announced acquisition of Siri, a personal assistant app that includes voice recognition and search capabilities. As I wrote about Apple previously:

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.

And as my colleague James Gross reminded me, I also said this in a recent interview on SEL:

Look at the valuable information that you can extract from how any one of us interacts with a well-designed application, then create a dataset for that. Say I use the New York Transit application to navigate my way through New York for 3 or 4 days… all of the questions and back-and-forth that I use that app for, which is essentially a structured search session—right? Now, match that against a set of data which is the transit map. I say, “I need to go over here. I want to go over there. I prefer this route over that route,”—that becomes a dataset that should inform other searches that I’m making on things that seemingly are unrelated but may not be. That should be available as metadata for future searches. And figuring how to inform that is as important as parsing the line or the spoken phrase that I’m making in the moment.

Now, if I take that spoken phrase and go and search for “Chicago rental car” four months after interacting with that New York Transit map application, how can we take the metadata from that interaction with New York and inform the appropriate response in Chicago. Perhaps the best suggestions would be, “Hey, you know what? You don’t need to rent a car. You can use the Chicago Transit. Here’s an app for it. You can get from the airport to everywhere you want to go without having to rent a car. Plus, you’ll save $150 which we know is a goal of yours because you’ve been interacting with the Mint application and it said that a goal of yours is that you want to save $200 a month and here’s a way that you do that”?

Tying all that together, that’s the Holy Grail because then it starts to understand you. If you only parse just the query, even if you get the natural language right and the intent right, you’re missing the whole person.

It’s now clear to me that Apple is very serious about being the Google of the post-HTML, app-driven Internet. But so is Google, so is Microsoft, and there are certainly going to be other players to boot. (Er…Like HP, which just bought Palm and plans on “doubling down” on the Web OS.) Game on.

  

It's Similar to Like

By - April 27, 2010

Screen shot 2010-04-27 at 9.53.23 PM.png

Just read this: Discovering pages “similar to” ones that you like – from the Google Blog. From it:

One of the great things about the web is choice. There’s a website out there for nearly everything, and sometimes there are many sites all dedicated to a single topic. But how can you find all the sites that are related to the subject that interests you? This week, we launched a search feature that helps you easily find new websites that are similar to the ones with which you’re already familiar.

If only they’d add a “Like” button to Google’s results. Oh wait….they kinda have.

I do believe Google’s response to the wave that is Facebook’s Open Graph and Like is going to define the company for years to come. The game’s afoot in the search+social space.

Help BigThink Interview…Me!

By - April 23, 2010

HPIO.png

Next week, as part of HP’s sponsored Input/Output series, I’ll be interviewed by the folks at BigThink.  

Here’s the link to the webcast. I hope you’ll join. I’m proud to be part of this program, as past guests have included best selling thinkers/authors like Chris Anderson and James Surowiecki. I’ve got big shoes to fill, and I need your help to fill em.

With my role at Web 2 and the CM Summit, I’m usually the one interviewing folks, so the tables are being turned and I’m the one in the hot seat. This is your chance to ask me anything – whether it’s about my writings here, my views on key industry players, my role at Federated Media, my predictions for the year, or my favorite color for that matter. The interview is focused on a theme, one that anyone who reads this site knows well – “Marketing in the New Normal.” Of course, the new normal is the real time, social, and mobile web.

So, help me out – what do you want to hear from me about? Leave your questions here, or tweet them out to me with hashtag #hpio.

I look forward to your input!

On Google's Brand

By - April 22, 2010

all Goog Products.png

Yesterday a reporter from Cnet called and asked me a few provocative questions. He was writing a piece on Google as a marketer, and wanted my point of view. I’m not sure when his piece is coming out (or if my thoughts will be included), but our conversation helped me crystalize my thinking around Google and its brand, so I figured I best get it written down.  

Regular readers may recall one this prediction for 2010:

Google will make a corporate decision to become seen as a software brand rather than as “just a search engine.” I see this as a massive cultural shift that will cause significant rifts inside the company, but I also see it as inevitable. Google, once the “pencil” of the Internet, has become a newer, more open version of Microsoft, and it has to admit as much both to itself as well as to its public, or it will start to lose credibility with all its constituents. While the company flirted with the title of “media company” I think “software company” fits it better, and allows it to focus and to lean into its most significant projects, all of which are software-driven: Chrome OS, Android, Search, and Docs (Office/Cloud Apps).

The reporter’s question let me unpack this a bit. He asked me why Google isn’t doing a major brand campaign, given that most other large Internet-driven companies have – including eBay, Amazon, Yahoo, and Apple.

A few years ago, I might have answered thusly: Google doesn’t need to do brand advertising, because Google’s service *is* the brand builder. But today, my answer is quite different: Google isn’t doing brand advertising because Google doesn’t know what its brand means.

And you can’t do brand advertising if you can’t say what the brand means.

Think about that for a second. Up until a few years ago, it was quite simple to say what the Google brand meant. Put simply, Google = Search. Or, to add a few words, Google = The Best Search Service On Earth.

Now, is that true today?

Well, certainly you could argue that Google still means a great search environment. But the brand also means far more. It’s the brand which stands in opposition to the iPhone – the Android Pepsi to Apple’s Coke. The same is true in the office suite – Google Docs are the Pepsi to the Coke of Microsoft’s Office. Google Chrome? The Pepsi to Internet Explorer’s Coke. And there’s a ton more – photo sharing, blogging platforms, social networking, ecommerce solutions, enterprise platforms, media (YouTube, Knol, etc.)….well you get the picture.

And Google = Search doesn’t cover all that. Nor, honestly, does the company’s corporate mission: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” You could shoehorn the Nexus One into that mission, but it’s not a comfortable fit.

Until Google figures out what its brand means in a post search world, it won’t be doing any brand advertising. And given who its competing with – Apple, Hulu, Microsoft and Amazon, among many others – I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

CM Summit NYC in June: Agenda Is Live

By - April 19, 2010

Screen shot 2010-04-19 at 12.57.11 PM.pngI’m pleased to announce the agenda of our 5th CM Summit: Marketing in Real Time. I’m excited about of the mix of one-on-one interviews, hand-picked case studies, and focused discussions with leaders from major brand advertisers, agencies, and digital media companies. We’ve also added new networking opportunities so that conversation is at the center of the conference.

Our early-bird pricing is available until this Friday April 23rd, so register today.

Details in our release here.

What: CM Summit 2010: Marketing in Real-Time
When: June 7-8, 2010
Where: New York, NY
Register:
http://cmsummit.com/register
The extraordinary speakers at this year’s CM Summit include (more are coming!):

Tim Armstrong – CEO, AOL* Henry Blodget – EIC, The Business Insider * Joanne Bradford – CRO, Demand Media * Deanna Brown – President and COO, Federated Media * Chris Bruzzo – VP, Brand, Content & Online, Starbucks Coffee Company * Dick Costolo – COO, Twitter * Dennis Crowley – Co-founder, foursquare * Seth Goldstein – Entrepreneur, Stickybits * Omar Hamoui – Founder & CEO, AdMob * Tariq Hassan – VP Worldwide Marketing, Imaging & Printing Group, HP * John Hayes – CMO, American Express * Curt Hecht – CEO, Vivaki * Bradley Horowitz – VP, Product Marketing, Google * Tony Hsieh – CEO, Zappos * Arianna Huffington – Co-founder & EIC, Huffington Post * Ann Lewnes – SVP of Corporate Marketing and Communications, Adobe * Bob Lord – CEO, Razorfish * Joel Lunenfeld – CEO, Moxie Interactive * Mary Meeker – Managing Director, Morgan Stanley * Mike Murphy – VP, Global Sales, Facebook * Rob Norman – CEO Group M North America, IAB * Adam Ostrow – EIC, Mashable * Amy Powell – SVP, Interactive Marketing Paramount Pictures * Avner Ronen – CEO, boxee * Chris Schembri – VP Media Services, AT&T * Hilary Schneider – Executive Vice President, Yahoo! * Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. – Chairman, The New York Times Company * Omar Tawakol – CEO, BlueKai * Tuan Tran – VP Imaging & Printing Group, HP * Ken Wirt – VP, Consumer Marketing, Cisco * Susan Wojcicki – VP, Product Management, Google * Dennis Woodside – VP, Americas Operations, Google
Hope to see you there!

Twitter's "Public Interest Graph"

By - April 18, 2010

Twitter with WHing.pngIt’s been a few days since Chirp, and I’ve had some time to digest all the news that broke last week. Certainly we’ll have another meal this Weds. with Facebook’s F8, where it’s already rumored that Facebook will both reveal its new “firehose” of public data (a la Twitter) as well as new approaches to monetization (see this piece from The Next Web, for example). I doubt we’ll hear that Facebook is ready to create a syndicated network on the back of Facebook Connect – a la AdSense – but one never knows, it just might.

But while we have a few days, one thing really stands out for me in Twitter’s announcements last week. As you might expect, I’m going to focus on the advertising platform, though I think the annotation and othe r news will prove important shortly, when developers figure out their true power.

But let’s focus on the money for now. To me the most interesting concept Twitter introduced last week was how they planned on tuning their ad platform to something Twitter COO Dick Costolo, in an interview with me on stage, called “the public interest graph.”

More likely than not Dick’s been talking about this for some time, but so far not many folks have picked it up. The first mentions of “public interest graph” (as related to Twitter) first appear on Google April 15th – the day Dick mentions it. On stage, I was taken aback, because the concept struck me as pretty powerful.

Dick first mentioned the interest graph when asked about how Twitter’s new “Promoted Tweets” platform will determine the relevance of a promoted tweet to a user’s Twitter stream. Costolo pointed out that Twitter has a lot of powerful information about each of its registered users; in particular, it knows what that user Tweets about, who he or she follows, and what the folks he or she follows Tweets about.

In short, Twitter knows who you are connected to, and what you (and they) are interested in.

Fashion that into a graph – the same kind of graph that powered Google’s graph of web links, or Facebook’s social graph – and all of a sudden you have a pretty powerful organizing principle for relevance in the Twitterverse.

And when you can decode relevance in what was previously an extremely noisy environment, you can build platforms that connect marketers to users in a fashion that adds value – because the ads are natively relevant. That’s what AdWords did in the environment of search, and that’s what Facebook Ads did in the environment of social.

That’s why for me, the most important thing to watch as Twitter develops its admittedly very nascent Promoted Tweets platform are any developments around the Public Interest Graph. I’ll be watching, for sure.

(BTW, I did ask Dick about whether positioning Twitter’s “graph” as public was something of a shot at Facebook, which can quite legitimately claim to also have access to an “interest graph,” albeit one that, until recently, was predominately considered to be made up of private information. He didn’t take my bait, but if I were running sales and marketing at Twitter, I’d sure make hay on that distinction, at least at this moment…..)

An Open Letter to Apple Regarding The Company’s Approach to Conversation with Its Peers and Its Community

By - April 17, 2010

cover5_06.gifDear Apple:

We miss you.

Once upon a time, back before you got real popular, you used to take part in the public square. You may have been less forthcoming than most, but at least your employees would speak at industry events, have unscripted conversations with journalists, and engage in the world a bit here and there.

But over the past few years, things seem to have changed. You pulled out of MacWorld and began hosting your own strictly scripted events. You forbid any of your executives from speaking at any public conferences (save one victory lap with Bill Gates a few years ago). Employees blogging, posting to social networks, or offering academic papers for public comment is actively discouraged. In the words of an employee of your one of your former partners : Apple essentially bans “things that we at companies with an open culture take for granted.”

Your relationship to the press is famously combative, those who do get access start their articles with phrases like “we fanboys are pathetic, I readily confess.” Not exactly the kind of press that pushes boundaries or keeps a company honest. And that makes us honestly nervous – we’ve seen what happens when large American corporations create cultures that worship secrecy and refuse to answer to the press. It’s not pretty. (Possibly to your credit, your CEO does seem to randomly respond to emails , but so far no one at Apple will actually verify his responses. Very clever, that!)

Despite the gorgeous products and services you’ve created, we worry that you’re headed down a road that may lead to your own demise. Apple is no longer the underdog living in the shadow of a Microsoft monopoly. Increasingly, Apple is a dominant player in any number of critical network services and points of control – from mobile devices to media access, payment systems to Internet browsing and advertising platforms. In short, we believe Apple is far too important to continue its role as the Howard Hughes of our industry.

So we’d like to publicly invite you to step into the light, and join us on stage at this year’s Web 2.0 Summit. The theme –“Points of Control”- is quite topical, we believe.

Yes, this invitation is certainly self-serving, but let’s just say we’re in good company when it comes to that particular instinct, and our primary goal is to serve our industry and our conference attendees.

Over the past seven years, Web 2 has become an important platform where the Internet industry has had critical, open exchanges of conversation that move the economy forward. It’s where AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and Comcast CEO Brian Roberts have faced their critics and countered charges of network discrimination. It’s where senior leaders at Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter debated their battle plans around real time and social search. It’s where Newscorp CEO Rupert Murdoch defended his acquisition of the Wall Street Journal, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained his approach to user privacy.

In short, Web 2 is a place where the leaders of the most vibrant industry in the world interact with 1,200 or so of their most important partners, critics, and supporters, in a forum that is open to blogging, tweeting, conversation, and debate. This debate informs and enlightens our industry, moving it forward and keeping all parties honest in the process.

Won’t you join us?

We eagerly await your response.

Sincerely,

John Battelle and Tim O’Reilly, Program Chairs and founders, Web 2.0 Summit