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The Signal Weekly: 1.14.2011

By - January 14, 2011

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Most of you know by now that I do a short summary of the day’s news over on the FM Blog. This year I’m going to try to do a Friday summary of the week’s Signals here on Searchblog. Here’s the first of the year:

Monday Signal: The CES-less Hangover

Tuesday Signal: Murdoch and Jobs and Verizon, Oh My!

Weds. Signal: Do We Have a Quora Yet?

Thursday Signal: Internet By the Numbers

Friday Signal: Enjoy You Some Weird.

If you want Signal each day, sign up for the email newsletter on the site (top right), or grab the RSS Feed.

Have a great weekend!

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Predictions 2011

By - January 03, 2011

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InnostraD-tm-3-tm-tm-tm.jpg the eighth version of my annual predictions, I’ll try to stay focused and clear, the better to score myself a year from now. And while I used the past two weeks of relatively fallow holiday time as a sort of marination period, the truth is I pretty much just sat down and banged these predictions out in one go, just as I have the past seven years. It works for me, and I hope you agree, or at least find them worth your time. So here we go:

1. We’ll see the rise of a meme which I’ll call “The Web Reborn” – a response to the idea that mobile and apps have killed the web as we know it. In fact, we’ll come to realize that the web is the foundation of nearly everything we do, and we’ll start to expect, as consumers, that all our service providers honor and build in basic principles of “web friendliness” – data portability and user-controlled identity most important among them. Call it a return to the original principles of “Web 2.0″.

2. Voice will become a critical interface for computing (especially mobile apps). This is just not true now, but in a year’s time, there will be a handful of very popular apps that are driven by voice, and in particular, by weaving together voice, text, and identity.

3. DSPs (Demand Side Platforms) will fade into the fabric of larger marketing platforms. In the end, DSPs are the handle by which we understand the concept of technology-driven ad networks. And those have been with us for over a decade. Exchanges, DSPs, SSPs, etc. are all important, but in the end, what matters is that advertisers have scale and efficiency, and consumers have control.

4. Related, MediaBank will emerge as a major independent player in the marketing world, playing off its cross channel reach (outside of digital) and providing an alternative to the conflicted digital platforms at Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo. I could imagine a major tech or telco player trying to buy MediaBank as the world realizes that marketing is, in essence, a massive IT business (among many other things).

5. The Mac App Store will be a big hit, at least among Mac users, and may well propel Mac sales beyond expectations.

6. Related, Apple will attempt to get better at social networking, fail, and cut a deal with Facebook.

7. Also related, Apple will begin to show signs of the same problems that plagued Microsoft in the mid 90s, and Google in the past few years: Getting too big, too full of themselves, and too focused on their own prior success.

8. Microsoft will have a major change in leadership. I am not predicting Ballmer will leave, but I think he and the company will most likely bring in very senior new talent to open new markets or shift direction in important current markets like media/marketing/social.

9. The public markets will be surprisingly open to major new Internet deals, despite the current rise of “private IPOs” and the growing belief that the IPO process is broken. In the end, there’s just too many good reasons for public companies to be, well, public. (See Gurley).

10. The tablet market will have a year of incoherence. Apple will dominate with the iPad due to a lack of an alternative touchstone. Google will focus on providing a clear, consistent experience through Android for tablets and mobile, but it will take a third party to unify the experience. I don’t see that happening this year.

11. “Social deals” will morph to become a standard marketing outlet for all business, and by year’s end be seen as a standard part of any marketer’s media mix. Groupon will lead here, but nearly every major player will have an offering, often by partnering with leaders. I’m tempted to say Facebook will abandon its own Deals offering for a deal with Groupon, but I’m not sure that will unfold in one year.

12. Related, Groupon will fend off an acquisition by a major carrier, probably AT&T or Verizon. It’s possible they’ll sell, but I doubt it.

13. Facebook will decline as a force in the Internet world, as measured by buzz. The company will continue to be seen as Big Brother in the press, and struggle with internal issues related to growth. Also, it will lose some attention/share to upstarts. However, its share of marketing dollars and reach will increase.

14. Related, we’ll see major privacy related legislation in the US brought to the floor of Congress, and then fail for lack of consensus. But that will drive a significant shift in how our culture understands its relationship to the world our industry is building, and that’s a good thing.

I’d love to keep going, but I think those are the major ones, at least from my vantage point. Thanks for reading, it was a great year. I’m not going to make predictions about my own work this year, as I’ve got too much inside knowledge on that topic! Let me know your thoughts in comments, and have a great 2011!

Related:


Predictions 2010

2010 How I Did

2009 Predictions

2009 How I Did

2008 Predictions

2008 How I Did

2007 Predictions

Maybe I Was Right…

By -

In my prediction #7 from last year: Traditional search results will deteriorate to the point that folks begin to question search’s validity as a service.

I gave myself a “fail” on this when I graded myself last week. But Anli makes a case in “THREE’S A TREND: THE DECLINE OF GOOGLE SEARCH QUALITY”.

As for 2011 predictions, I’m working on that right now, and hope to have them out later today.

Predictions 2010: How Did I Do?

By - December 27, 2010

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Predictions 2010

2009 Predictions

2009 How I Did

2008 Predictions

2008 How I Did

2007 Predictions

2007 How I Did
2006 Predictions
2006 How I Did
2005 Predictions
2005 How I Did
2004 Predictions

2004 How I Did

Well, it’s that time of year again, time to see how well, or poorly, I did predicting events in the past year. This is my “keep myself honest” post, next week, I hope, I’ll post my predictions for 2011.

So how did I do for 2010? Overall, I’d say it was a mixed year, but by my score, I hit 7 of 12, with 3 pushes and two outright fails. A fair amount is open to interpretation, as we will see. To the results:

Prediction #1: 2010 will mark the beginning of the end of US dominance of the web. This is a pretty soft one to prove, but I think it’s certainly defensible. First of all, the “rest of the world” is growing far more quickly than the US in terms of Internet use, growth, and related development. In the broader economy, China looms large, and is already far larger than the US in Internet population. In terms of startups, I’d have to say we’re not there yet – the US is still the center of innovation, at least for scaled platforms like Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Groupon. But I only predicted that this would be the *start* of this shift, so I’d say the jury is out on whether I was right. But hey, Fred agrees with me…Score: Push.

Prediction #2: Google will make a corporate decision to become seen as a software brand rather than as “just a search engine.” I think this clearly happened in 2010. With both Android and Google Apps in the center of its strategy, Google and its partners poured hundreds of millions of dollars into building the Google brand to mean “an excellent software platform” and next to nothing (OK, one Superbowl ad) into the brand meaning “Search.” Score: +1.

Prediction #3: 2010 will see a major privacy brouhaha, not unlike the AOL search debacle but around social and/or advertising related data. OK, maybe this was a layup, but wow, did this come true, in spades. Take your pick, was it Google’s Street View data collection? Or maybe Facebook’s half-year long meltdown, beginning with sharing all data with search, and ending with the Open Graph? (Not to mention Google Buzz!) In any case, privacy has become the center of attention in Washington, with multiple investigations and pending legislation all brewing, in particular around social and advertising data. 2010 will be remembered as the year privacy took center stage. Score: +1.

Prediction #4: By year’s end the web will have seen a significant new development in user interface design. Well, again, I think this one happened. Not only did Gawker “redefine” what a blog is, the rise of the tablet and touch interfaces, as well as shifts to gestural in gaming (Kinect) have shifted how the web is consumed and produced. 2010 was most certainly the year the web pivoted from boring old HTML to a new approach to user interface based on touch and gesture, not to mention voice (which is coming hard on touch’s heels). Score: +1.

Prediction #5: Apple’s “iTablet” will disappoint. I know, I know, it sure seems like I blew this one. But remember folks, the iPad did in fact disappoint, nearly everyone, when it was announced. It was pretty much universally panned for not having a camera, being the wrong size, being a self-contained universe that shunned the open web, Flash, etc. So in a way, I was right. Then again, the thing went on to be the biggest hit since the iPod, so I was wrong too. I’d score this a push.

Prediction #6: 2010 will see the rise of an open gaming platform. Alas, this did not happen. I thought Microsoft would open up Kinect, as the technology has massive potential. So far, it has not, and no one else has done anything either. Score: -1.

Prediction #7: Traditional search results will deteriorate to the point that folks begin to question search’s validity as a service. I think it’s hard to argue with the overall decline in search results as a core driver of web navigation. Social is clearly on the upswing, and in general, the rise of content farms and the stirrings of data wars between Google and Facebook have meant that search is no longer the presumed king of the web. However, I don’t think it got as bad as I predicted it would, so I give myself a fail on this one, but I predict I’m right here in the long run. Here’s more on why. Score: -1.

Prediction #8: Bing will move to a strong but distant second in search, eclipsing Yahoo in share. This happened, depending on who’s counting, and if you take the Yahoo/Microsoft search deal into account, it clearly happened. Score: +1.

Prediction #9: Internet advertising will see a sharp increase…and most predictive models are not accounting for this rise. I was right on this one as well. Not only did online spend eclipse newspaper spend, but online suprised most forecasters with significant double digit (14% at least) Y/Y growth. By comparison, overall ad spending grew just 3% in the US. That’s sharp by my book. Score: +1.

Prediction #10: The tech/Internet industry will see a surge in quality IPOs. Well, I thought this one would be a layup, and instead, it’s at the very least a push. We did have a surge in filings, but we did not see a ton of companies go public, though compared to 2009, one could easily call this year’s lineup a relative surge. It was the busiest IPO year (overall) since 2007, but we did not see action where we might have expected – from Facebook, LinkedIn, Zynga, or even companies like MediaBank. We did see important filings from Hulu, Betfair, Demand and Skype, but neither have made it out so far. In fact, I did make another related prediction: one, if not more will be withdrawn. That happened, just this month, with Hulu. I’d score this one a push.

Prediction #11: We’ll see a major step forward in breaking the man/machine barrier. I honestly don’t know if this came true. I do know that when machines can translate poetry, and the creation of synthetic life, the strong advances in gene sequencing, and the reprogramming of cells, we’re certainly making progress. I’m out of my depth here, so readers, did this prediction come true or not?! For now, I’ll punt and call it a push.

Prediction #12: I’ll figure out what I want to do with my book. Yep, I’ve figured it out. More on that early next year. Score: +1.

So, overall, 3 pushes, 2 fails, and 7 wins. That’s not a bad year. How do you think I did?

Signal LA Agenda Is Up

By - December 23, 2010

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I’m pleased to announce that the preliminary agenda for our first ever Signal conference, Signal LA, is live and online. Signal is FM’s conference series highlighting one major trend in digital media and marketing, in one city, on one day.

First up is Los Angeles, Feb 8th, with a focus on Content Marketing. Check out the amazing lineup:

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Register today, I expect this to sell out. I’m thrilled to be doing more of these high quality events next year. It’s going to be a lot of fun. And it doesn’t hurt that we’re doing Signal LA at the SLS Hotel, which is pretty much the best place going at the moment….

The Year In Writing, 2010

By - December 22, 2010

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This has become something of a tradition at Searchblog (well, OK, it’s the second time in three years), in which I review the year in posts and note those of which I am particularly proud. For me it’s a way to remember what I’ve been on about, and catalog some of my sketches for further work (perhaps as a book, ahem).

So in chronological order, here are the posts I liked from these past 12 months, with some commentary as well:

January

Predictions 2010 I’ll be getting to this in a post later this week.

Search Getting Worse? What Did I Mean?! I wrote a series on this. This is a summary.

Google’s Tortured History With China In which the eventual unraveling of Google’s business in China began.

The Evolving Search Interface: Mobile Drives Search As App Or why mobile is a major threat to Google, and why Google responded with Android.

Why The Apple iPad Will Disappoint (The Obama Effect) I was wrong about the iPad being a dud, but not wrong about it disappointing me. It pretty much made everyone else happy, but I don’t like it mainly for the politics of it. And it did disappoint nearly everyone when it was announced, but then became a major hit. As to why I was unhappy: The Tuesday Signal: Birth of Another Orifice

Google Rolling Out Social Search: But Does It Leverage Facebook?  Glimmerings of what has become a full out data sharing war between the rivals.


February

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Thursday Signal: Are You Checked In? I realize, in this post, that checking in is a new field in the Database of Intentions.

Updated: Google to Air “Search Stories” Ad During Super Bowl… My big scoop of the year. Sigh, I guess Searchblog isn’t much of a news outlet, is it?!

The Thursday Signal: Is Google Losing Its Customer Focus? In which I determine it is, based on Buzz.

I Don’t Like The iPad Because… I guess I had to keep hammering on this. This is about how the iPad is loved by all traditional media because of its locked distribution model.

Friday Signal: The Web Gets Its Wisdom Teeth (We Hope) An extension of my MOLRS riff: Weds. Signal – “Local-Mobile-RealTime”: Re-imagining Social


March

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Why I Like Working With Marketers Because it makes me smarter.

Oh Looky! It’s Video of Bloody Jesus! (Nevermind the Facts) This year I seem to have become a cranky old journalism professor. This is one of a number rants on how bad some journalism has gotten. Also this one: Google v. China? No, It’s Bigger Than That

Toward a New Understanding of Publishing (Part 1) Cross posted from the FM blog. My first organized thoughts on brands as publishers.

My Location Is A Box of Cereal In which I expand on the idea of the check in as an important new Signal.

The 2010 Web2 Summit Theme: Points of Control Introducing the theme of this year’s event.

The Signal – Instrumenting Our Social Lives The idea of “instrumentation” is introduced and explored. I’ve used this framing all year long.

Video Chat on the Plane? Illegal? OK? Legal Gray Area? Turns out, it depends, but another example of pushing cultural and legal boundaries.

Database of Intentions Chart – Version 2, Updated for Commerce The definitive chart, at least for now. Based on: The Database of Intentions Is Far Larger Than I Thought

April

Brands As Publishers – Part 2 Second in the series started above.

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Foursquare – I Wish It Was Better For Me… And I still do.

Twitter To Roll Out “Promoted Tweets”: Initial Thoughts (Developing) My first take on Twitter’s long anticipated business model.

An Open Letter to Apple Regarding The Company’s Approach to Conversation with Its Peers and Its Community Everyone came to speak at Web 2, except Apple. This was my plea. It went unanswered.

Twitter’s “Public Interest Graph” My take on the value and signal Twitter is starting to create.

On Google’s Brand I point out that the brand is starting to mean too much and not enough.

The Gap Scenario I use this all the time now as a talking point around MOLRS.


May

The iAd: Steve Jobs Regifts The Mobile Marketing Experiencewillywkna.jpg I was not impressed.

Google’s New Mission? “To Organize the World’s information (Unless It Starts With “i”) …..” Google don’t play in Apple’s “Planet of the Apps.”

Fear Is A No No – Except at Night My thinking out loud about being a CEO and a leader. Got a lot of response to this.

The ROI of iAds – A Lot of Unanswered Questions And still unanswered, far as I can tell.

Five Years In One Place, An Appreciation It really is amazing that I love my work after five and one half years.

Is The iPad A Disappointment? Depends When You Sold Your AOL Stock. In which I attempt to explain my POV on the device, again.

June

Of Course Apple Is Going to Do Search. But not search as you know it today.

It’s Official – Apple Kicking Google Out of iWorld Wow, 91 comments, one of the largest responses this year…

Is Apple’s iWorld “The Web”? In which I tell a story about my son…

Will Google Compete With Facebook? Er…It Already Is, Folks. It’s not if, it’s not when, it’s how.

July

Is Yahoo Dead? I Don’t Think So. Who Else With This Scale Can Be Neutral?Screen shot 2010-07-14 at 1.06.43 PM.png My defense of Yahoo, which six months later, I stand by, though I can’t say the company is looking healthy.

On Facebook, Google, and Our Evolving Social Mores Online I go a lot deeper into the concept of Instrumentation here.

Search, Foursquare, and Checking Into States of Mind How a checkin is like search, if you redefine both a bit. Example: Checking into the state of mind of “wanting to buy a car.”

What Means This, To “Go Google”!? It means the brand isn’t about search alone.

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August

Second (Day) Thoughts on Google-Verizon Framework – Isn’t This All About Android? Or maybe, GoogleTV *and* Android. Or Maybe It’s Really About (Google) TV…

AT&T Weighs In: Trust Us, We Know What You Want More thoughts on the net neutrality debate.

Finding a Yogurt Shop A Mile Away: I’m Not Feeling Lucky. An old school rant on the state of search.

Is Google Objective? No. Well, maybe. Sort of. Depending on your point of view.

Web 2 Summit Points of Control: The Map I am very proud of this work.

On Retargeting: Fix The Conversation In which I propose a solution. That Was Fast: TellApart Implements A Searchblog Suggestion In which that solution is implemented.

September

More Thoughts On Demand: A Referendum of Sorts on Google and Social My longish take on Demand’s IPO and business.

Nielsen: Bing Overtakes Yahoo In Search Share Proving my prediction true…

Stop It. Google Won’t Buy Twitter. And why I thought that. One of the most tweeted posts of the year (wonder why).

October

Identity and The Independent Websocial_contract.large.jpg One of my longer pieces, and probably more important than most as well, in that it starts to frame a bigger idea – that of revealed identity as well as the concept of dependent and independent webs. FM, as you might expect, plans on being the most important media company in the independent web space, while working well with the leaders of the dependent web.

All Brands Are Politicians More of my thinking about what it means to be a brand in the context of today’s web.

November

Mark Zuckerberg at Web 2 – A Maturing CEO The most replayed stream of the Web 2 Summit. My writing suffers in October and November due to the work of Web 2 (well, honestly, it suffers all year long). But the output is almost worth it. However, I must say, I can’t both write a book, run FM, and run Web 2. Something will have to give.

Groupon Is Worth More Than $2.5 Billion My first post on Groupon, not my last.

Twitter’s Great Big Problem Is Its Massive Opportunity Twitter at another inflection point, a critical one. This one was third or so in retweets.


December

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In Google’s Opinion…. My continuing exploration of the concept of objectivity in search and algorithms.

Google’s “Opinion” Sparks Interesting Dialog On Tying of Services to Search And on it goes…

Is RSS Really Dead? No, apparently not, as this post got the most comments of the year.

Social Editors and Super Nodes – An Appreciation of RSS And it led to this post, which really crystalized my thinking about a key attribute of the social web.

Why Wouldn’t Google Mirror Wikileaks? Because no one wants to be the target of banks and major governments, I suppose.

Signal, Curation, Discovery The more time I spend in this industry, the more I enjoy writing about it.

Thinking Out Loud: What’s Driving Groupon? Second in retweets and still going.

That’s it – quite a lot of writing when you sum it all up. I was a bit bummed out during the year that I was not writing enough, and honestly, there are scores of posts I wish I had the time to create. While 50,000 or so words ain’t bad, it’s not what I’d like to do. So this coming year, I’ll be doing more, that much I can promise. And reviewing the work above does lead me to some promising conclusions about where “the next book” is going. And that makes me grateful for this site, and for your time. Thank you.

Introducing FM's Signal Conference Series

By - December 08, 2010

SIGNAL.pngI’m pleased to formally announce Federated Media’s upcoming Signal Series – three full-day conferences in three great cities. Born from FM’s annual Conversational Marketing Summit and my daily Signal newsletter, the Signal conference series focuses on one key topic in one city at a time. These three events will culminate in our annual CM Summit in New York next June during Internet Week.
We’ve nearly completed the program for the first event – Signal LA. The event is February 8th at the SLS Hotel (it’s quite nice!). The focus, as befits an event in LA, is content marketing, one of the more talked about trends in brand marketing today.  Our speaker line-up, as I hope you’ve come to expect, is stellar, and we’re really excited for what we’re sure will be an interesting, informative and impactful day. Please join us!

Confirmed speakers for Signal LA include:

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Luke Beatty, VP & GM, Associated Content Yahoo!

Joanne Bradford, Chief Revenue Officer, Demand Media

Deanna Brown, COO, Federated Media

Chris Cunningham, CEO / founder, appssavvy

Arianna Huffington, Founder, Huffington Post

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Peter Guber, Chairman & CEO, Mandalay Entertainment

Ann Lewnes, SVP Global Marketing, Adobe

Joel Lunenfeld, CEO, Moxie Interactive

Suzie Reider, Director of Sales and Marketing, YouTube

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Rashmi Sinha, Founder, Slideshare

Biz Stone, Co-founder, Twitter

will.i.am, Founder, Dipdive and Black Eyed Peas

We’re still adding great speakers, so watch our site for more updates.

Signal is produced for senior decision makers in the Internet, media, and marketing businesses. If you’re involved in the digital media ecosystem, you belong at Signal. Sign up today.

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What You've Missed In Signal: Incl. RSS Feed for all you RSS Readers Out There

By - December 07, 2010

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It’s been a while since I’ve updated you on my Signal newsletter, which I do each day. Here’s the last week or so of them. If you want to read it in RSS, here’s the feed:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/FederatedMediaSignalBlog

Tues. Signal: Does Your Media Have an Address?

Monday Signal: Clearly, It’s Not About The Money

Friday Signal: Nazis From Space!

Thurs. Signal: Go On, Opt Out. Just Don’t Come Cryin’ To Me …

Weds. Signal: The Journal Gives Marketing the Finger

Tuesday Signal: The iPad Is Yesterday’s News

Social Editors and Super Nodes – An Appreciation of RSS

By - December 03, 2010

RSS comments.pngYesterday I posted what was pretty much an offhand question – Is RSS Dead? I had been working on the FM Signal, a roundup of the day’s news I post over at the FM Blog. A big part of editing that daily roundup is spent staring into my RSS reader, which culls about 100 or so feeds for me.

I realized I’ve been staring into an RSS reader for the better part of a decade now, and I recalled the various posts I’d recently seen (yes, via my RSS reader) about the death of RSS. Like this one, and this one, and even this one, from way back in 2006. All claimed RSS was over, and, for the most part, that Twitter killed it.

I wondered to myself – am I a dinosaur? I looked at Searchblog’s RSS counter, which has been steadily growing month after month, and realized it was well over 200,000 (yesterday it added 4K folks, from 207K to 211K). Are those folks all zombies or spam robots? I mean, why is it growing? Is the RSS-reading audience really out there?

So I asked. And man, did my RSS readers respond. More than 100 comments in less than a day – the second most I’ve ever gotten in that period of time, I think. And that’s from RSS readers – so they had to click out of their comfy reader environment, come over to the boring HTML web version of my site, pass the captcha/spam test, put in their email, and then write a comment. In short, they had to jump through a lot of hoops to let me know they were there. Hell, Scoble – a “super node” if ever there was one – even chimed in.

I’ve concluded that each comment someone takes the time to leave serves as a proxy for 100 or so folks who probably echo that sentiment, but don’t take the time to leave a missive. It’s my rough guess, but I think it’s in the ballpark, based on years of watching traffic flows and comment levels on my posts. So 100 comments in 24 hours equates to a major response on this small little site, and it’s worth contemplating the feedback.

One comment that stood out for me came from Ged Carroll, who wrote:

Many people are happy to graze Twitter, but the ‘super nodes’ that are the ‘social editors’ need a much more robust way to get content: RSS. If you like RSS is the weapon of choice for the content apex predator, rather than the content herbivores.

A “content apex predator”! Interesting use of metaphor – but I think Ged is onto something here. At Federated, we’ve made a business of aligning ourselves with content creators who have proved themselves capable of convening an engaged and influential audience. That’s the heart of publishing – creating a community of readers/viewers/users who like what you have to say or the service you offer.

And while more and more folks are creating content of value on the web, that doesn’t mean they are all “publishers” in the sense of being professionals who make their living that way. Ged’s comment made me think of Gladwell’s “connectors” – there certainly is a class of folks on the web who derive and create value by processing, digesting, considering and publishing content, and not all of them are professionals in media (in fact, most of them aren’t).

In my post I posited that perhaps RSS was receding into a “Betamax” phase, where only “professionals” in my industry (media) would be users of it. I think I got that wrong, at least in spirit. There is most definitely an RSS cohort of sorts, but it’s not one of “media professionals.” Instead, I think “social editors” or “super nodes” is more spot on. These are the folks who feel compelled to consume a lot of ideas (mainly through the written word), process those ideas, and then create value by responding or annotating those ideas. They derive social status and value by doing so – we reward people who provide these services with out attention and appreciation. They have more Twitter followers than the average bear. They probably have a blog (like Ged does). And they’re most likely the same folks who are driving the phenomenal growth of Tumblr.

Social editors who convene the largest audiences can actually go into business doing what they love – that’s the premise of FM’s initial business model.

But there orders of magnitude more folks who do this well, but may not want to do it full time as a business, or who are content with the influence of an audience in the hundreds or thousands, as opposed to hundreds of thousands or millions, like many FM sites.

I’m learning a lot about this cohort via FM’s recent acquisition of BigTent and Foodbuzz – both of these businesses have successfully created platforms where influential social editors thrive.

RSS is most certainly not dead, but as many commentators noted, it may evolve quite a bit in the coming years. It has so much going for it – it’s asynchronous, it’s flexible, it’s entirely subjective (in that you pick your feeds yourself, as opposed to how Facebook works), it allows for robust UIs to be built around it. It’s a fundamentally “Independent Web” technology.

But RSS also has major problems, in particular, there’s not a native monetization signal that goes with it. Yesterday’s post proves I have a lot of active RSS readers, but I don’t have a way to engage them with intelligent marketing (save running Pheedo or Adsense, which isn’t exactly what I’d call a high-end solution). I, like many others, pretty much gave up on RSS as a brand marketing vehicle a couple of years back. There was no way to “prove” folks were actually paying attention, and without that proof, marketers will only buy on the come – that’s why you see so many direct response ads running in RSS feeds.

It does seem that no one is really developing “for” RSS anymore.

Except, I am. At FM we use RSS in various robust fashions to pipe content from our network of hundreds (now thousands) of talented “social editors” into multitudes of marketing and content programs. (Check out FoodPress for just one example). We’ve even developed a product we call “superfeeds” that allows us to extend what is possible with RSS. In short, we’d be lost without RSS, and from the comments on my post, it seems a lot of other folks would be too, and in particular, folks who perform the critical role of “super node” or “social editor.”

So long live the social editor, and long live RSS. Perhaps it’s time to take another look at how we might find an appropriate monetization signal for the medium. I’m pretty sure that marketers would find conversing with couple hundred thousand “super nodes” valuable – if only we could figure a way to make that value work for all involved.

Hmmmm…..

Google's "Opinion" Sparks Interesting Dialog On Tying of Services to Search

By - December 02, 2010

the search cover.pngYesterday’s post on Google having an algorithmic “opinion” about which reviews were negative or positive sparked a thoughtful response from Matt Cutts, Google’s point person on search quality, and for me raised a larger question about Google’s past, present, and future.

In his initial comment (which is *his* opinion, not Google’s, I am sure), Cutts remarked:

“…the “opinion” in that sentence refers to the fact our web search results are protected speech in the First Amendment sense. Court cases in the U.S. (search for SearchKing or Kinderstart) have ruled that Google’s search results are opinion. This particular situation serves to demonstrate that fact: Google decided to write an algorithm to tackle the issue reported in the New York Times. We chose which signals to incorporate and how to blend them. Ultimately, although the results that emerge from that process are algorithmic, I would absolutely defend that they’re also our opinion as well, not some mathematically objective truth.”

While Matt is simply conversing on a blog post, the point he makes is not just a legal nit, it’s a core defense of Google’s entire business model. In two key court cases, Google has prevailed with a first amendment defense. Matt reviews these in his second comment:

“SearchKing sued Google and the resulting court case ruled that Google’s actions were protected under the first amendment. Later, KinderStart sued Google. You would think that the SearchKing case would cover the issue, but part of KinderStart’s argument was that Google talked about the mathematical aspects of PageRank in our website documentation. KinderStart not only lost that lawsuit, but KinderStart’s lawyer was sanctioned for making claims he couldn’t back up… After the KinderStart lawsuit, we went through our website documentation. Even though Google won the case, we tried to clarify where possible that although we employ algorithms in our rankings, ultimately we consider our search results to be our opinion.”

The key point, however, is made a bit later, and it’s worth highlighting:

“(the) courts have agreed … that there’s no universally agreed-upon way to rank search results in response to a query. Therefore, web rankings (even if generated by an algorithm) are are an expression of that search engine’s particular philosophy.”

Matt reminded us that he’s made this point before, on Searchblog four years ago:

“When savvy people think about Google, they think about algorithms, and algorithms are an important part of Google. But algorithms aren’t magic; they don’t leap fully-formed from computers like Athena bursting from the head of Zeus. Algorithms are written by people. People have to decide the starting points and inputs to algorithms. And quite often, those inputs are based on human contributions in some way.”

Back then, Matt also took pains to point out that his words were his opinion, not Google’s.

So let me pivot from Matt’s opinion to mine. All of this is fraught, to my mind, with implications of the looming European investigation. The point of the European action, it seems to me, is to find a smoking gun that proves Google is using a “natural monopoly” in search to favor its own products over those of competitors.

Danny has pointed out the absurdity of such an investigation if the point is to prove Google favors its search results over the search results of competitors like Bing or others. But I think the case will turn on different products, or perhaps, a different definition of what constititues “search results.” The question isn’t whether Google should show compeitors standard search results, it’s whether Google favors its owned and operated services, such as those in local (Google Places instead of Foursquare, Facebook etc), commerce (Checkout instead of Paypal), video (YouTube instead of Hulu etc.), content (Google Finance instead of Yahoo Finance or others, Blogger instead of WordPress, its bookstore over others, etc.), applications (Google Apps instead of MS Office), and on and on.

That is a very tricky question. After all, aren’t those “search results” also? As I wrote eons ago in my book, this most certainly is a philosophical question. Back in 2005, I compared Yahoo’s approach to search with Google’s:

Yahoo makes no pretense of objectivity – it is clearly steering searchers toward its own editorial services, which it believes can satisfy the intent of the search. … Apparent in that sentiment lies a key distinction between Google and Yahoo. Yahoo is far more willing to have overt editorial and commercial agendas, and to let humans intervene in search results so as to create media that supports those agendas. Google, on the other hand, is repelled by the idea of becoming a content- or editorially-driven company. While both companies can ostensibly lay claim to the mission of “organizing the world’s information and making it accessible” (though only Google actually claims that line as its mission), they approach the task with vastly different stances. Google sees the problem as one that can be solved mainly through technology – clever algorithms and sheer computational horsepower will prevail. Humans enter the search picture only when algorithms fail – and only then grudgingly. But Yahoo has always viewed the problem as one where human beings, with all their biases and brilliance, are integral to the solution.

I then predicted some conflict in the future:

But expect some tension over the next few years, in particular with regard to content. In late 2004, for example, Google announced they would be incorporating millions of library texts into its index, but made no announcements about the role the company might play in selling those texts. A month later, Google launched a video search service, but again, stayed mum on if and how it might participate in the sale of television shows and movies over the Internet.

Besides the obvious – I bet Google wishes it had gotten into content sales back in 2004, given the subsequent rise of iTunes – there’s still a massive tension here, between search services that the world believes to be “objective” and Google’s desire to compete given how the market it is in is evolving.

Not to belabor this, but here’s more from my book on this issue, which feels pertinent given the issues Google now faces, both in Europe and in the US with major content providers:

… for Google to put itself into the position of media middle man is a perilous gambit – in particular given that its corporate DNA eschews the almighty dollar as an arbiter of which content might rise to the top of the heap for a particular search. Playing middle man means that in the context of someone looking for a movie, Google will determine the most relevant result for terms like “slapstick comedy” or “romantic musical” or “jackie chan film.” For music, it means Google will determine what comes first for “usher,” but it also means it will have to determine what should come first when someone is looking for “hip hop.”

Who gets to be first in such a system? Who gets the traffic, the business, the profits? How do you determine, of all the possibilities, who wins and who loses? In the physical world, the answer is clear: whoever pays the most gets the positioning, whether it’s on the supermarket shelf or the bin-end of a record store. ….But Google, more likely than not, will attempt to come up with a clever technological solution that attempts to determine the most “objective” answer for any given term, be it “romantic comedy” or “hip hop.” Perhaps the ranking will be based on some mix of PageRank, download statistics, and Lord knows what else, but one thing will be certain: Google will never tell anyone how they came to the results they serve up. Which creates something of a Catch-22 when it comes to monetization. Will Hollywood really be willing to trust Google to distribute and sell their content absent the commercial world’s true ranking methodology: cold, hard cash?

…Search drives commerce, and commerce drives search. The two ends are meeting, inexolerably, in the middle, and every major Internet player, from eBay to Microsoft, wants in. Google may be tops in search for now, but in time, being tops in search will certainly not be enough.

Clearly, as a new decade unfolds, search alone is not enough anymore, and my prediction that Google will protect itself with the shield of “objectivity” has been upended. But the question of how Google ties its massive lead in search to its new businesses in local, content, applications, and other major markets remains tricky, and at this point, quite unresolved.