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Of Course Apple Is Going to Do Search.

By - June 02, 2010

…you just have to rethink what “search” really means. Last night Jobs said he had no interest in search. I am quite certain what he meant is he has no interest in HTML, “traditional” search. But think about what search really is, and I am certain, Apple will be in the search business.

Why? Well, as I said in the last post on the iPad (and rather hurriedly, and entirely my fault, poorly communicated to many of those who left comments), it’s all about the link. Perhaps I should have said, it’s all about the signal.

Let’s think about the allegories between search and the web as we knew it, and apps and the app platform that Apple controls, as we know it. Last night Jobs said that we’ve never before seen such an explosion of apps as we’ve witnessed on the iPhone platform – 200,000 and counting, up to 20K new ones a week.

That’s true, never before have so many developers created mobile phone apps in such abundance. But think back to the last great platform where hundreds of thousands created value by making new services, content, and places where consumers might interact: yep, that’d be the web. A website is an app. And the platform of the web – it’s open. Anyone can build on it. And anyone can create signals from their “app” to another “app” – a link from one site to another. And anyone can share any data from any site to another site, or mash up those data streams to create entirely new kinds of sites. Yep, it was rather a free for all, but over the past 15 or so years business rules have emerged, social norms have developed, an ecosystem has flourished.

Take yourself back to the early days of the web – just as now we are in the early days of what I’ve called before, and will call here, AppWorld.

Remember what a mess it was? How much noise there was, and how precious little signal? And what application emerged that found that precious signal, made sense of it, and helped us find our way? Yep, it was search, and the signal was the link, interpreted, of course, through PageRank and ultimately hundreds of other sub signals (click through, freshness, decay, etc.)

Now, think of AppWorld. Where’s the signal? Short answer is, we don’t have one. Yet.

The beauty of the link was that it became a proxy for engagement. It was where consumers were declaring their intent – signaling what they wanted from the web. That signal became the basis for a massive marketing economy. Google ascended. And content models were turned upside down (much to my delight at FM, I will admit).

So then, what is the proxy for engagement in AppWorld? Before you argue that “we don’t need one,” let’s not forget Jobs’ stated goal of getting into advertising so as to give his legions of developers a business model, to reward them for creating value on Apple’s platform. That’s the whole reason he’s creating iAds, he declared last night. To get his developers paid. “We won’t be making very much money on advertising,” he said. (Let’s watch and see…)

Well, if marketers are going to find value in AppWorld, they’re going to need a proxy for engagement, a trail of breadcrumbs, some signal(s) that show were consumers are, what they are doing, and ideally, predicts what they might do next. And we as consumers also need this trail – we need smart navigation tools to figure out which apps to use, which apps our friends recommend, and how best to navigate the apps we are using. It was easy when there were just a few apps. Now there are hundreds of thousands. Soon there will be millions. Don’t tell me a Google like metadata play isn’t going to evolve inside such an ecosystem. After all, search did all those things for the web. But so far, we don’t have a similar signal for AppWorld.

But we will. The data is already there. It’s the data we all create when we interact with apps – when we jump from one to another, when we navigate within pages, when we execute a command in an app and then ask that app to store that execution “up in the cloud” also known as the web. And as far as I can tell (Apple won’t answer questions on this) it’s that data which, if shared with others besides the developer and Apple, Apple then labels “third party” and forbids (based on a smokescreen of privacy issues, which I believe can and must be addressed).

I believe such a policy cannot stand, because it will create a fragile ecosystem devoid of feedback loops and external innovation. No matter, whether or not Apple allows third parties to consume AppWorld data, Apple will do search. It won’t be search as we understand it on the web, but it’ll be search for AppWorld, and if done right, it will be extremely profitable.

**Dashed off as I am running to lunch at D….will update soon…**

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Google Steps Gingerly Toward Search As Application

By - May 05, 2010

New Goog Interface.png

When Bing launched, I framed the new service from Microsoft as an important step in the evolution of search:

I actually don’t think Microsoft is trying to out-Google Google with Bing. I think it’s trying to build a different kind of search application, one that sits on top of commodity search and helps people make decisions in a new way. Done right, this totally breaks the AdWords model that has driven search so far. To me, that is a very big step in a new direction, and one that Google cannot afford to make.

Today Google has decided it can’t afford NOT to make this step, at least somewhat. The company has decided to create a left hand nav bar that pushes the service toward search as an app.

Now, when I mentioned that idea in a briefing yesterday, the Google rep I spoke to wasn’t eager to confirm the concept, but to my mind, this is exactly what’s going on. Bing (and Ask before it) has built a service on top of commodity search results, one that does not require you to go back and forth, back and forth, but rather instrument your search session using intelligent, persistent navigation. This is exactly what Google’s new UI lets you do.

The real question, of course, comes down to money. Does this mean fewer clicks on paid ads for Google? I asked that question, and the response was telling: I’m paraphrasing, but in essence Google told me “we’ve found that this new approach increases the chance that users will find the information they are looking for.” And in Google’s parlance, ads are information.

Of course Google would never roll out such a significant UI update without rigorously testing the impact on AdWords clicks, and indeed Google confirmed to me that this is the most tested UI change Google’s ever made. Indeed, the left nav bar has been seen in the wild for several years.Goog Update nav.png

What’s on the bar is worth grokking as well. First, “Web” has been replaced with “Everything.” That’s pretty meta – maybe we should change the name of the Web 2.0 Summit to the Everything 2.0 Summit – but I digress. Second, what is on the bar changes based on your search in real time. And one of the options includes “Updates” – their way of incorporating Facebook, Twitter and other real time data. A “Something Different” link gives you related searches, among many other new or consolidated features on the left nav. A full overview can be found at SEL.

Google told me that the actual underlying results – both organic SERPs as well as the ads that accompany them – have not changed. This is a new skin over Google’s results, not a shift in how those results are determined. That’s important, but not entirely the story.

The story is that this shift will change how we interact with Google, what our search query stream looks like, and therefore, what kind of SERPs and ads will be produced. I am certain Google has modeled this shift, and equally certain the company believes this change will impact their bottom line in a positive way. Of course, the company could be mistaken. Only future quarterly results will prove whether or not Google got it right.

What do you all make of the changes?

OneRiot Indexes Facebook Data

By - May 01, 2010

oneriot.pngFrom the real time search service’s blog post:

Until today, we’ve been indexing the links shared on Twitter, MySpace, Digg, Delicious and by our own OneRiot panel to help determine our search results. Now, with the addition of Facebook data, OneRiot delivers search results that reflect the pulse of a much, much wider social web.

Also, the service seems a bit wary of what might come of all this:
Now, of course, we’re only showing (indeed, only have access to) data that has been shared publicly by Facebook users. A user can restrict the visibility of these Likes on their Facebook profile. However, we’d be sidestepping the issue if we didn’t recognize that some users might be concerned that stuff they have shared on Facebook can now pop up on services like ours. Given that, we are rolling out this feature as a very limited bucket test today to assess users’ reactions and gather feedback. We love the new feature. And if users do too then we’ll roll it out to everyone at an appropriate speed.

As well they should. The service can be found here.

Apple Makes Its Move to Become the Google of App World

By - April 28, 2010

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.

  

Tynt Gets Funding, Searchblog Gets Tynt

By - April 16, 2010

TC broke the news today that Tynt, a search interception and user behavior data company, got a big round of funding from Panorama Capital, which is also an investor in FM. I’ve installed the Tynt service on Searchblog and I’d like to get your response. I think what the service does is quite clever and useful both to publishers and users. However, it does create new user experience for those of us who cut and paste on sites, and I’m interested if folks find the new approach worthy.

The service works like this: when you copy a snippet of text from a site with Tynt, you’ll see that Tynt appends a unique URL into the pasted text (for example, see the graphic below where I’ve copied and pasted a snippet from a Searchblog post into an email).

Screen shot 2010-04-16 at 5.35.08 PM.png

This URL both redirects readers back to the location from which the snippet was pasted, as well as notifies the Tynt service of the actions taken. This gives Tynt a database of user behavior – a signal of intention – that could become quite valuable. At scale, this means Tynt can, for example, build a Digg-like view of the web – without ever having to create a Digg. It all works based on behavior most readers do all the time anyway.

This data is also surfaced to publishers, which can help them improve their editorial and user experience, among other things.

Tynt also has a pop up service (see graphic below from TC – I have not implemented this yet and until recently the company did not disclose this service publicly) that identifies when certain cut and pasted text is likely to be a signal of search intent. This is based on examining the string of words that is copied. Short phrases – of a few words, for example – usually means the reader is doing a search – they are cut and pasting the text into a search bar or another search browser window.

Screen shot 2010-04-16 at 5.50.20 PM.png

Think about that behavior – probably something you do a lot (I certainly do). What happens? Well, you are reading a story, and come across a term or word you don’t understand, or want to research more. You highlight it, go to the search bar (or open another tab with Google in it), copy the text, paste it into Google, and find yourself on another page (the Google search page.)

Who wins in this scenario? Well, usually Google does (or whichever search engine is used). They get the search, and the probable revenue from that search (as we know, many folks click on paid search links!).

Who loses? Well, the publisher, because some number of folks who execute this behavior will leave the publisher’s page and never return. And the publisher never sees that search revenue either, even though it was the publisher which sparked the search intention in the first place. One could argue that the user loses as well, because they often run off into a back and forth search game that distracts them from their initial focus on the article they were reading.

Tynt changes this game, in that it both keeps the reader on the page, and intercepts the search behavior (and potential revenue). This I find quite interesting (as does Google, I am sure, and Bing, which I bet would love to power those Tynt searches which otherwise might go to Google…). For its major partners, Tynt splits revenues with publishers, bypassing the search engines. The company already has deals in place with scores of major publishers representing billions of page view a month. It claims to be doing 100 million searches. That makes it a player, one the major engines will have to deal with.

One to watch.

Funny: From Chirp, "I Don't Get…"

By - April 14, 2010

Ev Williams, CEO of Twitter, from stage today, notes this funny Google search suggest image….Twitter clearly has work to do …

Screen shot 2010-04-14 at 9.58.36 AM.png

Twitter To Roll Out "Promoted Tweets": Initial Thoughts (Developing)

By - April 12, 2010

starbucks-tweet-041210-1.jpg(image from Ad Age) The NYT has broken news of Twitter’s initial version of its native ad platform, which it is calling “Promoted Tweets.” I will acknowledge being briefed on this news prior to its breaking, and I did promise to withhold any comment until the news had been publicly broken.

Now that the Times has provided me with a reason to sound off, here are my initial thoughts on the program.

First the details. I’ll stick to what has been publicly reported, as that only seems fair. Obviously I’ve been thinking about this for some time, given I first theorized “TweetSense” back in 2008. But as to what the NYT has reported:

The advertising program, which Twitter calls Promoted Tweets, will show up when Twitter users search for keywords that the advertisers have bought to link to their ads. Later, Twitter plans to show promoted posts in the stream of Twitter posts, based on how relevant they might be to a particular user.

The news is not so much that Twitter will show sponsored tweets in search results – after all, we’re pretty used to that, thanks to AdWords. The real news is the second part: Twitter will include sponsored tweets in the “the stream of Twitter posts, based on how relevant they might be to a particular user.”

Read that sentence again. And think about what it means.

Let’s go to the basics of marketing, which have to do with attention, message, and return on investment. First, attention. Where is the attention on Twitter? Well, truth be told, more than 70% of it is not on Twitter.com. It’s on third party applications that drive traffic through the Twitter platform. Of course, Twitter has a huge amount of attention on Twitter.com, and with its acquisition of a popular iPhone app, as well as creation of a semi-official Blackberry app, it will have even more “owned and operated” attention out in the mobile world as well. But the majority will remain out in the developer ecosystem, with apps like TweetDeck, Seesmic, and Brizzly. This platform will drive ads out into that previously anaerobic ecosystem. That is a Good Thing.

Regardless of where Twitter users consumer their Twitter feeds, the reality is this: Twitter’s new ad platform will mark the first time, ever, that users of the service will see a tweet from someone they have not explicitly decided to follow.

And that marks an important departure for the young service. One that I think is both defensible, and, if done well, could be seminal to both Twitter and to its partners – both new (marketers) and old (developers). More on that when I come back….

(Posting this, taking a break to get kids to bed, will update soon.)

OK I am back. So I pointed out what I believe to be the major shift in Twitter’s ad platform – that its users will see stuff they’ve not elected to follow. The key question then becomes, as it was with Google’s AdWords – will that which they see be relevant, useful, valuable?

Twitter Dick Costolo responds to this question in the Times piece thusly:

Twitter will measure what it calls resonance, which takes into account nine factors, including the number of people who saw the post, the number of people who replied to it or passed it on to their followers, and the number of people who clicked on links. If a post does not reach a certain resonance score, Twitter will no longer show it as a promoted post. That means that the company will not have to pay for it, and users will not see ads they do not find useful, Mr. Costolo said.

In short, “resonance” is Twitter’s quality score, its measure of whether an ad is useful (Google uses clicks on ads in a similar fashion). That Twitter is including this feature is, to my mind, crucial – it means advertisers have to add to the conversation that is Twitter, or face losing their ability to insert commercial messaging into the Twitter stream.

Initial response to this program – at least in my own Twitter stream, chock full of new media pundits and marketers as may be – is mixed. @Scoble isn’t convinced, but he’s open to hearing more. Others have praised it, and predictably, some have claimed they are forever done with Twitter if it forces ads into their streams.

My reaction is this: This is to be expected, even welcomed, in particular by developers. The initial program is very limited – there are only six initial advertisers – but Twitter has set some pretty clear parameters. First, the ads will be clearly marked as such. Second, the ads will have to perform – and that performance is determined by Twitter’s users, as understood through Twitter’s own algorithms. And third, the ads will be delivered in the grammar of the service itself, not secondary to it.

Sounds an awful lot like the parameters that made AdWords a major success, if you ask me.

I’m not predicting Promoted Tweets will travel the same path, but it sure would have been dumb to ignore the lessons of the most successful digital advertising format in the history of the Web.

Just saying.

Now, on to why I think this is good for the developer ecosystem (I’ll get to whether this is good for marketers next). My initial sense is yes, this is a good thing. Twitter will almost certainly roll this system out through their API, allowing developers to run the same ads in their own curations of the Twitter firehose. And while, as with AdSense, Promoted Tweets may not allow developers to cover 100% of their costs, it sure will help. And as the system develops, and more advertisers join, developers will start to understand how much revenue they might expect from the platform, allowing them to plan for investment and value creation on top of the base dollars they can expect from Twitter.

Again, we’ve seen this movie before, and the web is better for it.

Now, as to marketers.

Unlike with AdWords, which launched in 2001 to minimal fanfare and with a base of mostly small business marketers (the kind who might have spent with the Yellow Pages, or the kind who understood how to game GoTo back in the day), this new system is launching with major brand advertisers who have already committed to “being in the conversation” that Twitter represents.

It’s a safe way to start, free of the wild west, gray market early days of AdSense/AdWords. But to truly scale, Twitter is going to have to open up their platform to anyone with a credit card and the desire to buy their way into the dialog. That’s both scary and potentially very powerful.

Twitter is already open to anyone with an account and something to say. But only those with money can buy a Promoted Tweet. I look forward to the day when the system evolves to let pure capitalism work out its kinks in real time, through the Twitter universe. The key, to my mind, is the concept of resonance. If Twitter gets this right, only “good” ads will make it into our Twitter streams. That will force marketers to mind what they say when given the privilege of being inserted into our feeds. To think hard about adding value to the conversation that surrounds their brands.

And honestly, isn’t that the kind of behavior we’d hope for?

What do you think of Promoted Tweets? I’m eager to hear. Leave a comment or hit me back on @johnbattelle. I’ll be listening.

Is TweetUp Bill Gross' Second Overture?

By - April 11, 2010

It sure sounds that way, from this NYT story.:

Bill Gross, the serial entrepreneur who pioneered search advertising, is unveiling a venture on Monday that aims to make money by allowing people using Twitter to bid on key words to give their posts top ranking.

I’d say this was brilliant if it weren’t for the fact (OK, not fact yet, but my strong sense) that Twitter is going to do something quite similar, soon. I’ve been calling this platform “TweetSense” for some time, but whatever its name, it’s certain Twitter will do something along these lines, and it has a distinct advantage because it sees all the data across the Twitter ecosystem.

But just as with GoTo, nee Overture, nee Yahoo, Gross understands the power of a strong #2. I’m always rooting for Bill, so I look forward to seeing how this develops.

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.

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

By - March 24, 2010

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.