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Interview: Gian Fulgoni, Chair, Comscore

By - June 26, 2008

Gian

I noticed an interesting comment on my previous post on the launch of Google’s AdPlanner, from Gian Fulgoni, Founder and Chairman of Comscore, a company that has gotten hammered in the aftermath of Google’s launch. I asked if he’d elaborate, and here’s the interview:

In your comment on the Searchblog post noting Google’s Ad Planner, you noted discrepancies between publisher’s server logs and Google’s numbers. Can you say more? Why is this?



I suspect the main reason is that traffic numbers from server log data are inflated because of cookie deletion whereas panel metrics don’t rely on cookies and so aren’t affected by cookie deletion. As an example, Google Ad Planner shows mlb.com as having 9 million UVs in a month. comScore shows mlb.com as having 11.9 million UVs and mlb.com themselves have claimed they get 19 million UVs based on their server logs.

Separately, I’ve noted comments on the blogosphere from several site operators saying that their Google Analytic UVs are twice as high as their Google Trends UV numbers.

Are you concerned about Google’s new product? What are you telling your apparently startled investors?



We think that Google’s products and ours are designed for very different purposes. Theirs appear to represent a point solution aimed primarily at driving ad dollars to Google sites or sites in the Google Ad Network. In contrast, comScore’s products are designed to be used for media planning and analysis on a Web wide basis. We believe that ad agencies, advertisers and publishers (especially any publisher that competes with Google) will continue to insist on the use of objective, third party sources of data such as comScore’s. Nobody wants to see the fox guarding the chicken coop.

comScore offers a broad portfolio of solutions for media planning and analysis that include:

§ Home vs. work vs. university

§ Dictionary hierarchy of multiple levels: property, channel,

subchannel, etc.

§ Ad network view, custom views for companies that represent a

collection of sites.

§ Measurement of duration or time spent

§ Measurement of sessions

§ Measurement of day part

§ Segmentation by heavy, medium and light users

§ Segmentation by content consumption: finance, sports, health,

entertainment, etc.

§ Segmentation by Prism code, PersonicX code, customized customer

segments

§ Source / loss

§ URL level detail

§ Custom entities on the fly

§ Buying power index

§ Ad Impressions

§ Reach / Frequency

§ Advertising effectiveness, including branding, latency and offline

impacts

§ Video Metrix – reporting of online video consumption

Do you trust Google as an arbiter of where ad planners should put their money? If so, why? If not, why not?



My personal belief is that Google hasn’t built these products with the objective of entering the market research industry and being an “independent arbiter” of where ad planners should put their money. Rather, they appear to have built tools that help facilitate the movement of display ad dollars to Google and its Ad Network. Nothing wrong with that if you’re in the business of selling advertising. But, can you be that and be an arbiter at the same time? Perhaps Sarah Fay, CEO of Aegis North America, put it best when she said: “For an advertiser, the last thing you want to do is to have your adviser be the same person you are spending your money with.”

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A Brief Interview With Chris Sacca

By - December 18, 2007

Sacca

I’ve enjoyed my professional relationship with Chris Sacca, who is leaving Google to pursue a career in investing. When I heard of his move, I pinged him in email, and the resulting dialog can be found below, verbatim, despite the fact that Google PR was cc’d on the thread. Thanks for your time, Chris, and good luck!



Why leave, and why why now?

A few reasons. First, I feel like the wireless team I built is in great shape and poised for some amazing achievements. I am proud of what the team accomplished this year and it makes me smile to see Verizon and AT&T fighting over which is more open than the other. Hard to say more about that without triggering the anti-collusion rules of the FCC around the 700MHz auction. That said, though I love Google and my colleagues here, I vested this Fall and it occurred to me how much I miss working in small, entrepreneurial environments.

It’s refreshing to hear “I vested” as part of an answer – even with PR listening. It’s such a powerful force. You also won a Founders Award while at Google. What for, and how much was it for?

I was part of a team negotiators that won one of the first Founders Awards at Google recognizing us for what the hundreds of millions of dollars of cost savings we had achieved in scaling Google’s infrastructure. There are a lot of unsung heroes in that part of Google’s business whose names are not well-known, but whose impact is humbling. I won’t say exactly how big the award was, but I will say I am very grateful to the Larry and Sergey for their generosity. :)

I bet!

So as you leave Google, what do you think the best part of working there was? What is your greatest accomplishment? And, what frustrated you about the company?



I deeply admire how Eric, Larry, and Sergey are trying to build a 100-year company. Google encourages team leaders and entrepreneurs to take actions that traditional public companies, who are being managed quarter by quarter, would never be able to take. This allows Googlers to forget about short-term distractions and instead focus on accomplishing deep and fundamental changes to an industry or space. It’s not fluff. I saw it every day and it was inspiring.

The wireless spectrum and openness stuff makes me smile. To see an informal, unchartered team come together over this past year and already catalyze some dramatic change in the US wireless ecosystem leaves me feeling good. Though I was hopeful about the impact we would have, I must admit that even I didn’t expect Verizon and AT&T to be publicly feuding over claims they are the most open carrier. That said, I am most proud that it was entirely a team effort and there are some very strong Googlers who will carry the torch in my absence.

The one thing I began to miss at Google as it grows was the ability to be a generalist within the company. In a startup, it is easy and encouraged for folks to wear multiple hats. I used to buy data centers and fiber, manage an acquisition, work on Google Talk, pitch an access partner, receive a dignitary and give a speech about the future of media all in the same week. As a company gets bigger, inevitably, it begins to organize itself vertically and employees are pushed to specialize. As I focused my efforts almost exclusively around wireless, I began to miss the excitement and learning that comes with having touchpoints across the entire company on many different teams. One of the reasons I have enjoyed working with my portfolio companies like Photobucket, Twitter, and Auctomatic so much is that it reminds me of those early Google days.

So what are you interested in when it comes to investing? What

gets your attention?

I think there is still a lot of opportunity in consumer web. Despite the fascinating number of funded teams in the space, it seems that many entrepreneurs can’t get outside the Silicon Valley echo chamber long enough to identify problems that millions of users need solved. For instance, I loved the Photobucket investment because there was so much attention on flickr, many investors were essentially ignoring Photobucket despite its traffic being 3-4x larger.

Beyond that, I think we are starting to see the U.S. mobile industry wake-up and go open. As much as the iPhone frustrates those of us who have been fighting for user choice and unfettered distribution when it comes to mobile apps, I do think we need to give Apple some credit for getting American consumers excited to use their devices to access the broader Internet. This hunger for more utility, combined with increasing openness creates so much opportunity for sharp teams to build apps that users want.

I am also very interested in wireless infrastructure and equipment having focused on this space for the last couple of years. I am seeing a lot of innovation by great teams and already have a couple of projects that seem promising.

What gets my attention is when I find small teams that work well together and are comprised predominately of engineers. A long time ago, I wrote a blog post about how to pitch an idea to Google. It all still applies when working with me as an investor: http://www.whatisleft.org/lookie_here/2005/09/want_to_do_busi.html

With Nokia shrugging at the Android threat, JImmy doing the same

about knol, FB (privately) scoffing at Open Social – do you think

Google’s losing its magic touch?

I think two things are in play here: First, how would you expect Nokia, FB, and Jimmy to react? No way those folks would throw in the towel or even concede any threat. Instead, in the grand tradition of technology, they wear a strong face, inspire their teams, users, and investors, and get back to the lab to continue innovating. Soon it will be each of their turns to launch the feature or do the ‘Google killer’ deal and so the cycle repeats.

In parallel, it has always fascinated me to see the press impose upon Google the expectation that everything the company does will be a smashing success. This despite the stated fact the company prefers to launch new projects early and often and see what catches on. Will Android, OpenSocial and Knol all change the world? Who knows. (Actually, I am pretty sure Android will … but I digress.) The important thing is that Google keep empowering entrepreneurs to take chances and try new and creative approaches to solving problems. Failure at many of those ventures is inevitable, but the successes will be worth it all.

Thanks Chris!

A Brief Interview with Jason Calacanis of Mahalo

By - June 12, 2007

Toro-1-1

Last week saw the launch of Mahalo, the new human powered search index from Jason Calacanis (that’s his dog, at left, one of his favorite online images). Jason has a flair for getting attention, and you all gave him some in the comments on my post noting the launch, all right. I emailed Jason for his response and we did the classic Searchblog back and forth. One thing I can say for Jason: He speaks his mind (see his comments on Squidoo, below). The interview:

What do you make of the response so far to Mahalo?



First off, I’m thrilled with the amount of attention and feedback the project has gotten. It’s a very contrarian idea, so I think some folks are rightfully exited and/or skeptical. Launching at the D conference certainly contributed to the excitement.

Of course, we’ve heard and developed a strategy to resolve the issues that people first think of when you say “human search” months ago. As you can imagine, when we spoke to our investors they brought up the same issues: how does it scale, how do you deal with human bias, how do you keep the search results up to date, why would people switch from google, how many search results do you need to reach scale, how is it defensible, etc.

I’m also excited that the SEO community has predicted it will fail because, of course, they have the most to lose when it succeeds! (Jason has been notorious for dinging the SEO community).

Why is this better than, say, ChaCha? And how is it different from the many approaches of the past that have not worked?



For the top 10,000 searchers we will be better than ChaCha because we have full-time, well trained, Guides spending 10 hours building each search result. That’s a lot of effort compared to the five or ten minute interaction with a live ChaCha Guide being paid, what, like $6 an hour (or $2 on a net-net basis from what I’ve been reading–ChaChat guides only get paid during ACTIVE searches from what I can see. So, if they get three five minute interactions per hour they make 1/4 of an hours pay for sitting in front of their computer for an hour–or like $1.50 or $2 I think).

That being said, I’m a fan of ChaCha for long tail searches. I like the concept of real-time searching and I think we’re going to add that feature to Mahalo.com at some point later this year. I’ve read many folks beating up ChaCha, but I think that ChaCha can make live search work in the way that Yahoo made Answers work after Google gave up on Answers.

Also, I think ChaCha would be a nice plugin to Mahalo, so perhaps there is a partnership opportunity for the two companies (although I haven’t reached out to them yet).

In terms of past approaches, I think Scott’s original vision for About.com/Mining Company *did* work, and the DMOZ absolutely worked–for a time. Both of those projects, however, suffered from neglect and a lack of resources. About.com has really switched from being a “guide to the web” to a destination. If you compare our Poker result with their result you will see they are trying to answer the questions and we’re trying to help you find the people who can answer the question. Both are valuable, but my feeling is that the world doesn’t need Mahalo to answer questions for them–especially not with the Wikipedia doing such a phenomenal job answering questions. The most we’re doing are the “fast facts” in the top right hand page of SeRPs. Those are like the top five facts to quickly confirm we got what you’re looking for, and maybe fill in some knowledge gaps users might have–not comprehensive in any way.

What the world needs now curation–not more experts.

Also, the world has changed in a number of ways since we last tried this type of project:

a) Software and bandwidth are essentially free–taking out 50% of the cost of running a web-based business. This trend is call Web 2.0… it’s gonna be big I think. ;-)

b) Google Adsense exists as a massive, scalable, and wildly efficient monitization engine. We’re not going to sell ads directly… we’re gonna leverage the services out there based on which ones perform best on a PER-SERP basis.

c) There are many more users online doing many more searches today

d) There is a lot more noise and “bad actors” polutting the web today (Blackhat SEOs, spammers, affiliate traps, splogs, etc), and as a result folks are frustrated with search.



Speaking of curation, what do you make of
Squidoo?

I just did a search for Paris Hotels on Mahalo and Squidoo, the result are obvious: Squidoo is a disaster and Mahalo is helpful. If you give folks the tools to make anything they will, and if you get some page rank the SEOs will come in and destroy your service. That’s what’s happened to Squidoo in the past year–it’s a dark, dirty, SEO back-alley now and I think folks are afraid to just say that. Do ten searches and look at the results–it’s garbage. There might be one good lens every once and while, but as a service it’s just horrible.

Seth had a good idea with Squidoo I think–empowering people. However, the execution was way too open and you can see what happens when you let anyone do anything without a mandate (think Wikipedia if it WASN’T an encyclopedia project and it didn’t have an active group of admins).

Squidoo is actually dangerous to use and it fails the number one test of Internet usability and trust: would you send your mother there.

That being said it has to be making a fortune for Squidoo and their ‘lens masters” because you can’t tells what’s an advertisement and what’s not. With Google’s new “let us know about deceptive advertising” program it’s only a matter of time before Squidoo winds up in the penalty box in my mind.

Seth should pull the plug on it.

… other than that I have not thoughts on Squidoo. :-)

You’ve said you can go four years without revenue. But your last business made a pretty good living on AdSense. Do you plan to do that again? Also, what about lead gen or similar deals? How do you plan to make money?



We are testing adsense already (see corvette page). My position, and the investors/board position, is that we should spend year one figuring out how to make *perfect* search results (a lofty goal), while figuring out how to scale our process.

As we all know search advertising is the most desired advertising on the planet because users are saying what they are interested in *right now*. It is the most effective advertising on the planet for this reason. If we build a great product it will scale, and if you have scale–as I learned at AOL–you can’t help but make money. Advertisers love scale–thats what federated media is hitting the ball out of the park–ya got scale you win!

Thanks, Jason!

Update: Jason just launched his Greenhouse effort to get the public involved in helping create search results…

Interview with Dick Costolo, Feedburner/Google

By - June 08, 2007

Dick CostoloFlamocon-Tm

When news of Google’s acquisition of Feedburner broke last week, those of us who have known Dick Costolo for a while were all smiles – Dick is a great guy, and we all love his service, which has a very publisher friendly approach and provides real benefit to us all. I shot a congratulatory email to Dick and asked him a few questions over the course of the week. Here’s the exchange:

Why did you sell to Google?

We help publishers manage distributed media by providing a suite of services for analytics, distribution/promotion, and monetization. On the media call yesterday, I said that we thought there was tremendous overlap between our competencies and the depth and breadth of Google’s offerings. Susan Wojcicki commented on this point during the call and used the term complementary instead of overlap, and I think that’s a much better word choice for a few reasons. We both offer detailed publisher analytics, but Google is extremely strong on site and marketing analytics while we are light on site analytics but very deep on feed and distribution analytics. Further, while our customer base is a critical mass of publishers (over 400k) that grows at an amazing rate, we have select advertiser relationships. It goes without saying that Google’s depth and breadth of advertiser relationships well complement the critical mass of publishers we serve. I could go on with a number of other examples like this. So, I like the term complementary as a defining theme for the reasoning behind this relationship.

Why now?

Timing about anything like this is always a hard question to answer, mostly because it’s not necessarily up to one party to decide on timing. Both parties have to agree it makes sense. That’s obvious I suppose, but it can make a unilateral answer to a timing question sound a bit (or a lot) disingenuous. Acknowledging that, I’d say there are two components to the timing question and both harken back to my answer above. I say ‘harken back’ as if I wrote the paragraph above in 1972. Anyway, I mentioned speed of innovation. We now have well over 400k publishers leveraging one or more of our services (do you like how I’ve pointed out that number twice? This is what we call ‘on message’). The type and variety of publisher working with FeedBurner has grown in interesting ways in the last couple years, and it has become more and more evident that in order to provide timely services to as many of our publishers as quickly as possible, FeedBurner must scale in multiple directions simultaneously. Google’s track record for scaling services and innovating on them quickly for a global customer base adds to the logic behind our decision. To elaborate on one element of this point, I have talked before about our desire to provide publishers with a 360 degree view of audience and reach analytics. This is an immensely difficult challenge – one need only note the continued inability of competent third party organizations to agree on classic page view or visitor metrics for many sites – and it has simply become more obvious to us that this is an important challenge and that fully meeting this challenge requires further innovation in a number of areas. Could it be pursued by a private company continuing to operate independently? Of course, but you always want to focus on making sure your customers are successful and part of that is understanding when there is a shorter path from here to there! The folks that we’ve talked to at Google and the work that we’ve all recently seen come out of Google Analytics convincingly point toward a shared vision. Apologies for switching between first person, third person, and second person all in one paragraph; I think that’s the grammar police at the door now.

What changes might we expect in the FB service?

Our immediate focus is integration along several service lines. Certainly, the FeedBurner services that people love will be integrated and enhanced with complementary Google services. While there is tremendous excitement about the kinds of next generation feed services we can deliver, we want to make sure we pay initial attention to speedy integration.

What will you do now that you could not do before?

The short answer is “more, faster”. We need to innovate along multiple axes simultaneously in order to meet the needs of such a diverse publisher base (analytics, distribution promotion, rich media syndication, etc), so we are now in a position where we can tackle more of these challenges more quickly instead of having to pick a linear innovation path that values some publishers over others. So, I don’t think we had anything we couldn’t do before, but now we can do more of the things we need to do more quickly.

Is everyone staying in Chicago? Will you join Google’s offices there?

Everyone is staying where they are based, yes (we have a few people based outside of Chicago), and we will indeed join Google’s offices in Chicago, although it is still unclear whether my request for a luxuriously appointed desk in the Queen Anne style is being taken as seriously as it should be.

What does this mean for Feedburner’s ad sales? Will it be taken over by Adsense, or will you continue to sell it independently?

We’re definitely looking forward to leveraging Google’s existing sales efforts. Selling it independently wouldn’t provide the scale we’d like to offer to publishers as quickly as we’d like to provide it.

Everyone wonders, no one asks, so I will: What’s it like to know you’ve made this kind of money?

As you well know, starting a company is hugely stressful, regardless of what you’re trying to build, and my cofounders and I have been doing this since 1995 or so. Especially as you get married and have kids, there’s just an always-on anxiousness in your mind about financial health, maybe sometimes more at the forefront of your thoughts and other times in the back of your mind, but always there, in much the same way you feel a constant anxiety about coursework when you’re in college (at least I felt that way!). So, to continue that analogy, it feels like the sense of relief you have after finishing a final exam; you have this stress that was present on some level for an extended period of time that falls away. That’s the best way I can describe it – you can see why I’m not a motivational speaker.

What do you want to be doing in five years?

I’m sure this will reflect poorly on my approach to personal growth, but I’ve never given thought to what I want to or should be doing a year or two down the road. I don’t know why, I’ve just never approached things that way. I generally think in very immediate terms like “is this fun” or “it’s time to stop doing this and try doing that”, but i’ve never thought to myself “by the end of next year, I should be doing X”, so I can’t for the life of me take an honest crack at what I’d want to be doing in five years. Right now I want to keep doing what I’m doing, but five years from now? It’s a mystery.

Thanks Dick, and congrats to you and the whole team!

A Brief Interview With Udi Manber, Google, On Universal Search

By - June 06, 2007

Udi

If you’ve been reading a while, you’ve seen my coverage of Udi’s career, from A9 to Google (and before, though I did not cover his work at Yahoo or prior to that…).

I pinged him a while back and he got back to me after the universal search announcement had passed (he had a lot to do with it…).

Here’s our brief interview:

How did Google make the decision to do universal search? What got you comfortable with the approach? It reminded me of the things we spoke of when you were at A9…

The project started way before I arrived at Google. What you see today is just the beginning, and it’s a culmination of many different pieces that came together recently. What got us comfortable are three things: First, the design of the infrastructure is solid. It’s scalable, measurable, and efficient. Second, we solved some interesting ranking problems, which allows us to mix results from many sources in the right way. Third, and most important, we put together a wonderful team that got it done. David Bailey and Dan Belov (from Engineering) and Johanna Wright (from Product Management) ( see http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2007/05/behind-scenes-with-universal-search.html ) lead the core team, but this was an effort of many teams over a period of time. Again, this is just the first step.

I’m very interested in the next steps. Without telling us too much (if you would like to, why, please do), what are the interesting problems in search right now that you feel well positioned to address?

As search gets better, user expectations rise even higher, and we need to improve at a faster rate. Most of our work still focuses on the fundamentals — making results more relevant, more comprehensive, for more users, in more languages. Much of this work involves pure algorithms, deep understanding of search and of the web, and just plain hard work. Just the way we like it. It is not sexy to the outside world and it doesn’t make headlines, but it has the highest impact. Most of the advances in pure ranking that we’re making aren’t obvious to users — they just find what they’re looking for more often and they take it for granted. Just the way it should be.

In addition to the fundamentals, we are involved in dozens of efforts in new areas. I wish I could brag about all the cool stuff we’re doing, but I won’t until it’s done.

Your colleague Adam Bosworth and I had a long chat recently about his work on Health. It strikes me one of the more interesting areas of search might be in domain specific search, like health. You can do things with structured results and deep knowledge of a person’s information needs in that kind of environment. Would you agree that this is an area where devoting significant resources makes sense?



Of course. What’s more important than health?

As you know, we improved the search results for health-related queries with Google Co-op, which launched last year. If you search, for example, for diabetes, we’ll offer refinements at the top of the page (treatment, symptoms, tests, risk factors, for patients, for health professionals, etc.). We are working with the major health organizations and we put special emphasis on ranking of health-related queries. A lot more work on health is being done by Adam and his team.

Given the approach of universal search, how does domain specific fit in? I mean, given that Google is bringing all search results to one place ( google.com) how does domain specific stuff like Health fit into the Google master plan?

The universal search vision is about including results of all types in the best possible way on one page — the main search results page. It does not mean that we will not invest in improving search for particular types of data, in fact it’s the opposite. By building the infrastructure for universal search and by giving every type of result the prominence it deserves we make it easier for the search group and other groups within Google to highlight the best results. We are also working on giving users specialized access to different types of data. The ranking and presentation of local information are different from that of, say, video or news. We now give users the option to play a video directly from the search results page and see a map directly on the search results page. Once you follow the link into our maps area, for example, we provide a very rich experience (with maps, satellite images, and now street view images, all integrated). One of the most important goals of the universal search project is to build new ways to handle specific data types, like maps, images, scholarly articles, or health.

Do you see Google creating stand alone destination sites around search separate from google.com?



My job is to improve search on Google.com.

Well defelected, Mr. Manber. Thanks!

A Brief Interview with Michael Wesch (The Creator of That Wonderful Video…)

By - February 18, 2007

Mike.Thumbnail

Michael Wesch, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University. If you’ve been reading Searchblog, then you know him as the guy behind this amazing video.

After I saw the film, I had to talk to the man who made it. Michael is a very thoughtful fellow, as one might expect, but he comes to “Web 2.0″ from an entirely different perspective than your typical Valley entrepreneur (yet he seems to know more than most of us!). For more, read on….and keep in mind the Michael has agreed to answer your questions in the comments field, should any come up!

You did your fieldwork in a Melanesia, and teach at Kansas State. How did you end up making such a compelling video, one that resonates so deeply with folks like, well, those who read Searchblog?

For me, cultural anthropology is a continuous exercise in expanding my mind and my empathy, building primarily from one simple principle: everything is connected. This is true on many levels. First, everything including the environment, technology, economy, social structure, politics, religion, art and more are all interconnected. As I tried to illustrate in the video, this means that a change in one area (such as the way we communicate) can have a profound effect on everything else, including family, love, and our sense of being itself. Second, everything is connected throughout all time, and so as anthropologists we take a very broad view of human history, looking thousands or even millions of years into the past and into the future as well. And finally, all people on the planet are connected. This has always been true environmentally because we share the same planet. Today it is even more true with increasing economic and media globalization.

My friends in Papua New Guinea are experts in relationships and grasp the ways that we are all connected in much more profound ways than we do. They go so far as to suggest that their own health is dependent on strong relations with others. When they get sick they carefully examine their relations with others and try to heal those relations in order to heal their bodies.

In contrast, we tend to emphasize our independence and individuality, failing to realize just how interconnected we are with each other and the rest of the world, and disregarding the health of our relationships with others. This became clear to me when I saw a small boy in a Papua New Guinea village wearing a torn and tattered University of Nebraska sweatshirt, the only item of clothing he owned. The grim reality for me at that moment was that the same village was producing coffee which eventually found its way onto shelves in my hometown in Nebraska, and this boy may never be able to afford to drink the coffee produced in his own village.

So if there is a global village, it is not a very equitable one, and if there is a tragedy of our times, it may be that we are all interconnected but we fail to see it and take care of our relationships with others. For me, the ultimate promise of digital technology is that it might enable us to truly see one another once again and all the ways we are interconnected. It might help us create a truly global view that can spark the kind of empathy we need to create a better world for all of humankind. I’m not being overly utopian and naively saying that the Web will make this happen. In fact, if we don’t understand our digital technology and its effects, it can actually make humans and human needs even more invisible than ever before. But the technology also creates a remarkable opportunity for us to make a profound difference in the world.

So that’s some of the more personal and philosophical background behind this video. I wanted to show people how digital technology has evolved and give them a sense of where it might be going and to give some momentum to the all-important conversation about the consequences of that on our global society. I did not know it would reach so many people, but I had hoped that for those it did reach it would spark some reflection on the power of the technology they were using. Because without proper understanding and reflection, “the machine” is using us – all of us – even those that don’t have access to the machine at all.

Your video was quite sophisticated about how the web works, and the production quality was quite high as well. Where did you pick up those skills?



I made my first website in 1998 using notepad and HTML while I was a graduate student at the University of Virginia. It was slow- going but I saw a tremendous potential for transforming the way we present our research. Since then I have had a passion for exploring the latest technologies and how they an be used to communicate ideas in more effective ways. I like to learn these technologies on my own through trial and error, because sometimes the errors turn out to be new uses for the tool that I might not have discovered through formal training. I’m always looking for ways to use tools in ways other than for what they were intended. The great thing about our current era is that the tools are not only easier to use (as evidenced by an anthropology professor being able to learn them in his spare time), they are also more flexible than ever, allowing for some creative uses that seem to re-invent the tools all over again.

What tools do you use out there on the web that you find useful? Are you a devotee of any of the “Web 2″ tools?



One can think of the Web as a place where multiple overlapping global conversations are taking place simultaneously. To keep up with these conversations I have established my online home at Netvibes, which allows me to integrate almost all of the tools I use and organize them into different “tabs” in a way that fits with my online life. I have a tab for blogs and comments which allows me to track multiple online conversations, along with a blog search module that updates whenever somebody posts something related to the topics I am currently interested in.

To keep up with parts of the global conversation that might not have a simple RSS feed, I use feeds from social bookmarking services like Diigo and Del.icio.us. As a visual anthropologist I also need to monitor parts of the conversation taking place in photos and videos. Sites like Flickr that allow photo tagging make it easy to monitor the photos, and with new video services like Viddler, Mojiti, and Bubbleply that allow users to tag, comment, and create their own content within and on top of existing videos, it will soon be possible to be alerted the moment somebody uses a tag to describe any particular piece of an online video. On the other end of the media spectrum, it is now easier than ever to keep track of traditional paper-based journals as well, as many are now providing RSS feeds and putting the articles online. This has created tremendous potential for Cite-U-Like, a social bookmarking service for academic journals, which I use to alert me whenever somebody uses a certain tag, or when somebody with similar interests as me tags anything.

The best tools are those that are flexible enough to be used beyond that for which they were intended. The more a web service can build this kind of flexibility in, the better, as it can tap into the collective intelligence of those using the service to extend its possibilities. Netvibes has this built right in by allowing users to create their own modules. With the help of an “API maker” like Dapper, we can create almost anything we need and integrate it into Netvibes, further extending our ability to keep track of those parts of the global conversation that interests us the most.

As a university professor I have also found Facebook to be useful. I was inspired to use Facebook for teaching by something I saw while visiting George Mason University. Like many universities, they were concerned that the library stacks were rarely being accessed by students. Instead of trying to bring students to the stacks, they brought the stacks to the students, placing a small library right in the middle of the food court where students hang out. We can do the same with popular social networking tools like Facebook. Facebook is not only great for expressing your identity, sharing with friends, and planning parties, it also has all the tools necessary to create an online learning community. Students are already frequently visiting Facebook, so we can bring our class discussions to them in a place where they have already invested significant effort in building up their identity, rather than asking them to login to Blackboard or some other course management system where they feel “faceless” and out of place.

Would you be open to answering any other questions readers might have in the comments section of my site?



Sure, sounds fun.

A Few Questions For Joe Kraus

By - January 24, 2007

Joe K

Joe Kraus, a co-founder of Excite (image credit), recently sold his latest company, JotSpot, to Google. I’ve known Joe for quite some time, and thought a quick email interview might be in order given his long history in search and Internet media. (Joe introduced JotSpot at the Web2.0 conference two years ago.)

Did Google buy JotSpot, or your team? If the former, what is the plan for the company? If the latter, what’s the plan for the team?

Simply put, I think Google bought both the technology and the team. In *most* acquisitions, you are acquiring both and ascribing value to both.

Google has invested substantially in collaboration (Groups, Docs&Spreadsheets, Google Apps for your Domain) and JotSpot is a part of that trend. In my opinion the first wave of productivity apps (seen in the 80s) was about making an individual more productive. Word, Excel, Powerpoint were all about making me, as a worker at my desk, able to create more work per unit of time. But, I think we’ve eeked out the last bit of individual productivity gain at this stage. I mean, does the new ribbon on MS Word make me more productive as an individual? Probably not. It’s a great interface, but it’s unlikely that there is a massive gain in personal productivity.

This next wave that we’re in is about productivity gains achieved NOT by making the individual more productive, but by making groups more productive. The massive penetration of email means that we’re in touch with one another like never before and dependent on teams like never before. That means that there is a huge opportunity for productivity gains through more effective collaboration. That’s what Google is trying to do in their efforts and that’s the theme in which the JotSpot acquisition fits.

I can’t talk specifically about product plans, but I hope that the above gives you a general sense of direction.

It does, thanks.

Now, personally, isn’t it kind of a mixed emotion joining Google? I recall a conversation earlier – 2004 or so – in which you expressed some reservations at the giddy growth and presumptive optimism of the place. I think like many of us you felt perhaps Google was due a needed, well, life lesson, one that you learned at Excite, and I learned at The Standard. What say you now to such sentiments?

Well, I have to say that I think “the rumors are true”. Google has collected the smartest group of people I’ve ever encountered under one roof.

In terms of emotion, you know, it’s an understandable question, but honestly, there’s no mixed emotion — I’m honestly just excited to be here. I think that comes from two things — more than the former founder of Excite, I was most recently fully occupied as the CEO of JotSpot. I had 28 employees that were working very hard, who had given up other very good opportunities and and for whom I wanted a great outcome. There’s no better outcome than to be at Google (it’s a wonderful nerd paradise — a place that nerds like me can thrive in) and there is great satisfaction in that. Second, I left excite 6 years ago, and at a personal level, my life has gotten a lot more rich and fullfilled from a variety of sources — marriage, kid, non-profit work (as well as my for-profit work). So, it’s not that I don’t love my work and feel very passionately about it — it’s just that I’m not defined by it the way I was when I was in my 20s.

What can you do at Google that you can’t do outside of Google? And a follow up, what can’t you do at Google that you “gave up” to be there?

What can I do at Google that I can’t do outside of this place? I think there is a lot here, but the short answer is the pretty obvious one. Google operates at a scale that startups don’t approach. And, while that provides its own challenges (making sure your stuff can handle high numbers of users), it provides a ton of opportunities to get your ideas exposed to a large number of people and get a large amount of feedback. Also, if you are pursuing very forward-looking ideas then a larger company like Google provides staying power in the market. There’s that old adage in startups “being early is the same as being wrong”. In a startup, if you’re too early for the market, it feels like there is no market at all. It’s hard in a startup to really tell the difference between early and wrong and in most cases it leads to startup death. Google is a place where there is strong interest in the long term and that is a very unique thing.

Thanks Joe!!

A Few Questions for Dave Morgan, Founder Tacoda

By - January 19, 2007

Dave Morgan

Dave founded Tacoda, a behavioral ad network, six years ago now, and recently inked a deal to add Comscore demographic information to Tacoda’s network. Tacoda is an FM partner, so read with that caveat, but I found our email back and forth interesting, and hope you do too.

Like Tacoda recently did, Google incorporated Comscore some time ago. Why is yours better?



Because TACODA is capturing and can target ads against anonymous browsing behaviors from more than 15 Billion page views per day on 4500 of the top news, entertainment and information sites on the web, from NYTimes.com to MSNBC.com to Orbitz WSJ.com to FM Publishing. This gives TACODA the broadest, deepest and most diverse database of user content browsing anywhere – more than Google or Yahoo! – though they certainly have a lot more search data.

By matching this browsing data to anonymous ComScore data, we now know not only what content they surf, but marketer sites they are visiting online and what e-commerce categories they are buying online. Since we can associate this with time, we can see users much higher up the purchase funnel than search marketing. We can see the users when they are still in the brand consideration phase. By the time that users get to Google, like yellow pages offline, they generally already know what they are going to buy, it’s just a matter of price and vendor.

Will there be any change in how you charge for this?



We sell on a CPM basis only, since our efforts are focused on brand and branded response advertisers – folks that care who sees their ads and where they see them – rather than direct response. We see video as a big part of this future, whether it is on the computer, of IP-driven television or on mobile devices. Nothing beats sight, sound and motion for delivering brand advertising.

Given that you sell on CPM, but are a network, don’t advertisers still want to buy site by site? Will you ever get into that business, or do you think all the behavioral and demographic data obviates site-specific selling?



I expect advertisers to buy both behavioral networks and site-by-site in their media mix. They buy individual sites for the strong, integrated branding opportunities, but they have to live with limited inventory and premium prices. Buying behavioral is a nice complement to that. With TACODA’s behavioral network, they get the audiences that they want on clean, well-lit sites. They get a lot of scale. They get lower prices. However, it will never replace site=specific selling. When someone wants a Wall Street Journal reader or a Boing Boing reader, the only place that they can be certain to reach them, and the only way to fully-leverage the sponsorship value of a great publisher brand, is to buy it site-specific.

As a behavioral network, I do not expect TACODA to get into the site-by-site selling business. It is much better served by direct or specialized sales forces working on behalf of the sites. We are focused on selling people, not pages. When advertisers want to talk to certain types of people, TACODA will be there. When they want to their messages on certain kinds of pages, that will be for other sales organizations.

So how is business at Tacoda? Can you give us a sense of your scale in terms of revenue and margins?



TACODA is doing great. As a private company, we don’t release specific numbers on our revenue or margins, but I can tell you that our last quarter’s revenue was up several hundred percent year over year, our margins are strong and growing, and our team has grown from 25 or so a year ago to more than 90 today, thanks in large part to the work of Curt Viebranz our CEO, who was our COO for the past two years and was the former CEO of HBO International and Time Inc. New Media. Over the past year, our publisher network has grown by 10X as have the number of marketers and agencies that advertise on our network. 2007 is starting out very well and we expect the strong growth to continue.

Can you be more specific on the size of the publisher network?



TACODA’s network today has more than 4500 branded content publishers – folks NYTImes.com, Dow Jones/WSJ.com, Orbitz, Cars.com, NBC, Tribune, BusinessWeek.com, Technorati and FM Publishing. These sites deliver 15-20 Billion page views per month to an unduplicated US audience of more than 140 million unique visitors and deliver real-time anonymous content browsing behaviors to TACODA’s servers with virtually every page and person that they serve. Since TACODA’s market focus is brand advertising, not performance and direct response, its advertiser customer base is quite different than other online ad networks. Among its top advertisers in Q4 were Coke, Snapple, American Express, FAO Schwartz

In your estimation, what are the hurdles/gates in the online advertising business right now?



Advertisers need more scale and less friction and there is a looming shortage of quality inventory at cost-effective prices. If General Motors wanted to appreciably increase their online ad spend this year, they would have a tough time doing it economically and efficiently. All of the substantial auto content sites are largely sold out for 2007. Search usage is growing, but not nearly at the rate that online ad spend is increasing, and the rates for the best search terms are already pretty high. The vast majority of web pages viewed every month – probably 80% of them – can’t currently support premium advertising. They either lack an intuitive and valuable commercial context – they have news, social, email, photo and video sharing content, not technology, travel, cars or health – or they have unsuitable content. Unfortunately, these non-premium content pages are growing much faster than the premium pages. The majority of ad view growth on the web in 2006 was in social and photo and video sharing. Finally, while the “sight, sound and motion” of video advertising on the web certainly offers an attractive vision for the future, it is going to take years for it to truly come to fruition.

Any other thoughts for 2007?

I think that the big online ad stories in 2007 will be brand dollars, targeting and scale. This should play very well for all networks, but particularly those that they serve the needs of brand advertisers – who care about who sees their ads and where they see them. I think that we are going to see a lot of attention, and a lot of money, flow to sites further down the food chain than those few that have dominated this sector historically. The really big guys will do fine, but the mid-size and smaller folks will do even better.



Thanks, Dave!

Three Questions for Peter Horan: New Google Deal Next Year

By - January 18, 2007

PeterhAs I posted yesterday, Peter Horan (image credit) is heading to IAC to run a suite of its media and advertising businesses, including Citysearch, Ask.com, and IAC’s other media assets. I emailed him three questions, here are his answers.

So, what drew you to this job?



The door was opened by a personal relationship. Jason Rapp lead the team at The New York Times that acquired About.com in 2005. During that process and the integration, we came to know, like and respect each other. Jason joined IAC in the fall as SVP of M&A and suggested that I talk to them about this job.

As those conversations progressed, I was very impressed with IAC and realized that this job would let me focus on several things that I am passionate about: the evolving relationship between search and content; developing mobile solutions; and local web products that work. We have the resources, the team, and the brands to really advance the state of the art in all of these areas. There’s also a proven sales team to help with the monetization.

It’s a unique opportunity.

Did you have a vision for what IAC needs, or is it more that you’re there to manage what already exists?



I am fortunate to be going into a situation where I can focus on growth and adding strategic value. There’s nothing to fix. Under strong leaders, the individual businesses have been doing well. The goal now is to bring together IAC’s amazing array of resources in new ways that benefit the consumer (and drive IAC’s share). Mobile and local solutions will be high up on the priority list. I will also be working to find ways to use search to help power other IAC business units.

Early this year, we will also be evaluating our options for monetization and distribution. I expect that to be a vigorous process. The initial overtures have been very interesting.

Hmmm. Can you unpack “evaluating our options for monetization and distribution” a bit more?



IAC’s Google contract comes up for renewal at the end of the year. The company has already started to explore options.

It will be one of my top priorities to make sure that we get the best deal for the company.

Economics will be a big part of that but so will distribution and other factors. Because this will be one of the most valuable parterships in play this year, we expect this to be a very vigorous process.

Ask CEO on AskCity

By - December 04, 2006

Lanzone-Tm-1

OK, let’s start from scratch. What is AskCity?


OK. Here we go: AskCity is a new local search application from Ask.com. You can find it in one of two ways: through the AskCity link on our homepage, our automatically, at the top of our standard results page, in response to your local queries.

AskCity is the fifth major search vertical we’ve launched this year, following Image, Maps, Blog/Feed, and Mobile search, and we’re really proud of it. It stands out from the crowd because it seamlessly integrates four types of local search – business/service, events, movies, and maps – with the best local content on the Web, along with ergonomic design and features, to form an “all-in-one” resource. AskCity users won’t have to bounce around to multiple sites in order to find, and take action with local information. In short, we get you from Point A to Point B faster.

Local has been around for ages. Why now?

Very simple. Local accounts for 10% of all Ask.com searches, and yet it is the vertical on our site, and in the overall search category, with the lowest user satisfaction. Our research showed that people felt that recent local products launched by our competitors focused too heavily on maps, or on “cool” fly-through graphics, and not enough on helping them dig deep into local content, or into helping them accomplish tasks. AskCity fixes that and then some.

Upgrading our local capabilities will hopefully serve our users needs better, increasing their likelihood to adopt Ask as their primary search engine in a very competitive environment.

I really like user reviews/testimonials. Will AskCity have this feature?

We found in our research that one of the biggest causes of dissatisfaction with local search is an over-promotion of and over-reliance on the map, and limiting information to mere links. It reminds me of the over-reliance on comparison shopping in product search, as opposed to product research, which is 80% of online shopping. 
 
In response to this, with AskCity, we went deep on information, incorporating over 25 companies from across the Web directly into the product. We not only feature full editorial profiles of each business, but we include 10 years worth of reviews, both from IAC companies like Citysearch and ServiceMagic, as well as non-IAC companies like Yelp, Tribune, OpenTable, RottenTomatoes, TripAdvisor, InsiderPages, JudysBook, Fandango and others. 
 
An important differentiator with AskCity is the fact that we return these reviews right within the results, just beneath the full profile of the business, service, locale, movie, etc. We even have reviews of the movie theaters themselves.
 
Speaking of which, its important to note that AskCity is much more than just an online version of the yellow pages. Yes, you can use it to find businesses. But there are four types of search in the product – business/service, events, movies, and maps/directions. And we plan to add more next year.

But can **I** post a review?

Are you some kind of review monger?

No, but I do like to hear what folks have to say…



You don’t write reviews directly on OUR site, but that’s not our job. Instead, when you post it on Citysearch, Yelp, InsiderPages, etc., we will crawl them and post the top ones in AskCity. We also tell you how many reviews exist on each one of those sites for that particular business, and link to them. We also have 10 years worth of editorial reviews from Citysearch, which adds a different flavor.


We’re not currently a place where you can write them yourselves. But we are crawling those other sites constantly, so as soon as you write it there, they’ll be searchable on Ask. And the bottom line for this version of AskCity is that we’ve gone further than any other site to incorporate review content directly into our results.

How long did it take to pull this together, and is this the start of Ask.com becoming the “connective tissue” of IAC?



We worked on AskCity for the better part of the year, really turning up the heat over the summer, after our initial relaunch. With Local being such an important part of search, and something we weren’t doing very well, it was an obvious place to make an effort to do something really good and really original.

I look at the connective tissue thing a bit differently, in that to date I think people have assumed that meant we’d stick a bunch of links for IAC companies all over our homepage. But that’s not what people want from search, and going back to Pathfinder I don’t think that’s a model that’s worked well. Even today, we’re being used more and more for what you might deem “portal” content, because people find it easier to use a search box than navigate a page with dozens of services on it and going through a separate experience. If they can get it, people want one, cohesive experience. So instead of looking at Ask as the glue, I look at us as a chef that is remixing IAC into our own recipe, to create new, valuable products that didn’t exist before. AskCity is a great example, but IAC has leading brands in many other categories, so you’ll see us create new recipes for things like shopping, real estate, travel, etc. We develop things with a “quality over quantity” mentality, however, so it may take a little while to get there.

I know you’ve answered similar questions (see Om), but how does this change the positioning of Citysearch, which was a local search destination?



It doesn’t change anything. We’re the doorway, they’re the destination, and we both have well over 20 million users per month, respectively. With AskCity, we’re incorporating more of their content directly into our results than other search engines do, and that helps people make more informed decisions more quickly. This will raise the water level for both Ask and CS at the end of the day, and that’s why the Ask and Citysearch teams worked so well together on this one.

How important a launch is this for Ask.com – what are your expectations?



Very important from the perspective of doing a lights-out job on 10% of our searches, where we formerly had a pretty high failure rate. Any time you can do that, you build your foundation for growth. That’s been a key to our success all year against a very strong headwind, with a company that has few, if any, structural advantages over our competition. Image Search has been the fastest growing part of our site on the back of critical praise and industry-leading relevance. Even our Mobile search, launched last month, has been growing like gangbusters – well beyond my expectations – with almost no real press coverage. With Local, I expect even more. The product deserves it, because it delivers.