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I Know, I Know. But This Post *Is* About Search and Google, So All Is Well At SearchBlog

By - August 26, 2008

I hear you all. What is Battelle on about, all this music stuff, all this non search stuff? I am sorry, but you have to trust me, it’s going somewhere. I’m following a hunch, of a sorts.

Today some bankers from Piper Jaffrey came by, and they asked me the same question I was asked by two or three reporters who were writing pieces on Google’s 10th anniversary. (When is it, anyway? I am sure it’s this year, depending on how you count…).

Anyway, the question is this: So what’s next? What might unseat Google?

I find the question interesting, mainly for its lack of historical perspective. The answer, I think, is pretty damn easy.

No company will unseat Google (though ultimately, one company will get credit).

Culture will. Unquestionably, inevitably, Google will be surpassed by a cultural shift it will be incapable of exploiting. And that will be OK.

Why am I so certain of this? Well, history, for one. And my own experience, for the other.

Allow me to explain.

It’s my theory that world-changing companies occur when one and only one thing happens: Our culture shifts its relationship to technology. It’s a complex set of parameters that allow for such a shift, but it’s happened three times in my professional life:

1. IBM and DOS. This is when computers became accessible to determined early adopters, and a democratized culture of digital information storage and retrieval began.

2. Microsoft and Windows. As much as I’d like to give this to Steve and the Mac OS, the winner was Gates and Windows. This is when we went from speaking the arcane language of computerese (.exe? .bat?) to the language of “hunt and poke” via a visual interface. A major step forward in how culture relates to information, and therefore, to itself.

3. Google and search. As I have argued many times, search is our latest interface to information, and it’s one based on natural language, albeit typed words, rather than spoken.

So, what might be #4?

Isn’t that the hundred billion dollar question?

I have (my own) pretty clear answer to that. Happy to tell you. But I have to write the post I promised here first. Damn. I really miss having the time to write….

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Updated: Exclusive: A Look at Google Ad Planner Data Vs. Comscore

By - August 14, 2008

When Google Ad Planner came out back in June, I immediately thought of Comscore – and I was not alone. Many in the marketing industry thought that Google’s product would be a “Comscore killer,” and when I noted as much in my coverage, Gian Fulgoni, Comscore’s chair, shot back in a comment to my post:

Hi John: Before celebrating the availability of these products from Google, I think it would be prudent for web site operators to compare their site traffic numbers as obtained from their server logs (or Google Analytics for that matter) with the unique visitor numbers that Google is now publishing through Google Trends and Ad Planner. I think they will be astonished at how much lower Google now says their traffic is.

I asked Gian to elaborate, and published the resulting interview here.

But until now, we’ve not had the data to back Gian’s claim. I asked him if he could provide it, and to his credit, he did. The story it tells is certainly not what one might expect. (Of course, the data is from Comscore, so it must be taken as such, but remember, Comscore is a public company that stakes its reputation and its market value on data, so my gut tells me that Gian is not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.)

A bit of background: Anyone paying attention has noticed that publishers, by and large, believe Comscore’s panel-based measurement system grossly underestimates traffic and unique visitors. As a publisher myself (FM represents more than 160 middle to large sized sites, including this one), I’ve been one of the most visible such complainants. And that list is not short. In fact, Comscore and Nielsen are both working with the Interactive Advertising Bureau (I am a board member) on an audit of their practices to verify their methodologies. (Comscore notes that it believes the issue of cookie deletion can cause significant inflation in unique visitors, for more see this release.)

Given this, the world expected that Google, with its unparalleled access to web-wide data, would validate publishers’ concerns and show that Comscore’s numbers were significantly under-reporting reality.

Turns out, the reverse is true. Gian provided me data comparing Google Ad Planner and ComScore data in two cases. First, for a large sample of 20,163 sites, his shop compared reporting on monthly uniques between the two services. Secondly, Gian pulled out 5,398 sites that are part of the Google Adsense ad network, and ran the same comparison.

The results are pasted in these two charts (provided to me by Comscore):

Comscore-Google Uv Graph 2

Google-Delivered Ads Graph

What to make of the numbers? First off, it’s quite interesting to see that Comscore measures, on average, a significantly higher number of uniques across all types of sites. Comscore’s numbers are three to three and a half times higher, according to Comscore.

Secondly, for sites that are using Google’s Adsense network, the undercounting is not as dramatic (that’s the second chart.). As Comscore’s charts note, there seems to be a “significant bias in Google Ad Planner data” toward “sites that carry more ad impressions from Google.”

In short: If you were a media planner using Google Ad Planner, and you were looking for larger sites, you would be led to sites that are running Google AdSense, on average, over sites that do not. Net net: This data indicates that Google Ad Planner pushes ad dollars to Google sites over non-Google sites. This makes sense – Google has data on Google users, after all. So that data might naturally bias toward Google-related sites.

But as I said in my coverage: “Such a tool must be neutral and not bias advertisers toward buying on Google properties or those that have Google ads, which of course is going to be a perceived bias in any case. Such is the price of being Very Big.”

So far, not so good on this measure. As Gian and Comscore have long pointed out to me, it takes more than raw data to make for good measurement. Ideally, you weight your data with a lot more knowledge of its context – what kind of machine is creating it (work or home? Man or woman? etc.). While Google once blended Comscore demographic data into its ad network, Comscore confirmed to me that this is no longer the case. And while it is subject to endless criticism, Comscore does have a lot more practice at this game than does Google. At least for now.

This data once again raises the question, long asked, of how Google is measuring in the first place. Most believe Google must be leaning heavily on its Toolbar data (see TC for more here and Danny here), and this data does nothing to counter that argument. The strong bias toward Google network sites is suspicious – one can imagine that folks who might install the Google toolbar are clearly already biased toward visiting Google-related sites, for example.

But Google will not acknowledge any use of the Toolbar. Instead it said in its announcement: “Google Ad Planner combines information from a variety of sources, such as aggregated Google search data, opt-in anonymous Google Analytics data, opt-in external consumer panel data, and other third-party market research.”

As I pointed out earlier, I don’t think such coyness can stand. I’ve pinged folks at Google to get a response on this, and as soon as I do, I’ll update this post.

UPDATE: Google has provided a statement to me:

We take the objectivity of Google Ad Planner very seriously in providing advertisers and publishers with a better understanding into online audiences. While we don’t comment specifically on our data collection methods, Google Ad Planner in no way treats AdSense sites differently than non-AdSense sites.

Al Gore Joins the Lineup At Web 2 Summit

By - August 07, 2008

Ag Headshot-1

Those of you following my posts around the theme of this year’s Web 2 Summit already know that we’re expanding the scope of the conference this year, and asking a core question: How can we apply the lessons of the Web to the world at large? From my post outlining the theme:

As we convene the fifth annual Web 2.0 Summit, our world is fraught with problems that engineers might charitably classify as NP hard—from roiling financial markets to global warming, failing healthcare systems to intractable religious wars. In short, it seems as if many of our most complex systems are reaching their limits.

It strikes us that the Web might teach us new ways to address these limits. From harnessing collective intelligence to a bias toward open systems, the Web’s greatest inventions are, at their core, social movements. To that end, we’re expanding our program this year to include leaders in the fields of healthcare, genetics, finance, global business, and yes, even politics.

Increasingly, the leaders of the Internet economy are turning their attention to the world outside our industry. And conversely, the best minds of our generation are turning to the Web for solutions. At the fifth annual Web 2.0 Summit, we’ll endeavor to bring these groups together.

To my mind, no person better exemplifies the merging of these two worlds than former Vice President (and Nobel laureate) Al Gore, the Chairman of Current TV. Gore and CEO Joel Hyatt started Current as “a new breed of media company that works with its young adult audience to create media that informs, enriches and inspires,” by integrating online and offline media, a very Web Meets World endeavor indeed. Readers may recall that Gore recently joined Kleiner Perkins as a partner focused on green issues, as well. And we are very pleased to announce that VP Gore will be joining us at the Web 2 Summit this year.

Others joining VP Gore include Elon Musk, of PayPal, Tesla, SolarCity and SpaceX, Larry Brilliant, the head of the Google.org foundation, and Michael Pollan, author of many wonderful books on our relationship to food, including my favorite: The Botany of Desire. The full lineup is truly wonderful, and we’re still adding speakers.

Requests for invitations can be found here, this is going to be one special event.

What Are Community Standards?

By - June 24, 2008

Is it what people say they value publicly, or what they search for in the privacy of their home? Man, that’s a tricky one.



In the trial of a pornographic Web site operator, the defense plans to show that residents of Pensacola are more likely to use Google to search for terms like “orgy” than for “apple pie” or “watermelon.” The publicly accessible data is vague in that it does not specify how many people are searching for the terms, just their relative popularity over time. But the defense lawyer, Lawrence Walters, is arguing that the evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that interest in the sexual subjects exceeds that of more mainstream topics — and that by extension, the sexual material distributed by his client is not outside the norm.

Every Great Business Is An Argument

By - June 18, 2008

That’s the title of my latest post for Amex’s Open Forum Blog. From it:

In my experience starting businesses, and in my study of other businesses that have succeeded wildly (like Apple, Google, or eBay), every great business is founded in a thesis, a statement of what should be true. It’s then the business’s job to go prove that thesis – in essence, the business becomes the argument that proves the thesis.



Read the rest and tell me what you think at the Amex blog…

Google: Making Nick Carr Stupid, But It's Made This Guy Smarter

By - June 10, 2008

Hal-1

I will admit, I was entirely biased upon reading this story from Nick Carr, who has a knack for writing pieces that get a lot of attention by baiting his hook with contrarian link chum. Heck, he’s really good at it, and I have a lot of respect for Nick. So I’ll take the bait.

His piece starts by conjuring HAL, the famous AI which manipulates humans, then makes his case by citing his own “feeling” that Google has changed his attention span to somehow prove that search and web browsing in general is making us stupid.

Balderdash. What Carr is really saying is this: People are not reading long narrative anymore, and that makes me and my pals sad. So let’s blame the Internet!

Sounds an awful lot like the complaints we heard about TV making us stupid. Did TV make us stupid? I dunno, ask Steven Johnson. I bet he has an opinion on this piece as well.

Carr writes: “Yet, for all that’s been written about the Net, there’s been little consideration of how, exactly, it’s reprogramming us. The Net’s intellectual ethic remains obscure.”

So because Nick hasn’t come up with a singular thesis as to what the “Net’s intellectual ethic” is, we must declare it’s making us stupid, eh?

Huh. He goes on to claim that Google is, in essence, an industrial style factory driven by a philosophy that is mechanizing our collective intellect much like factory automation mechanized our collective workforce – in short, Google is turn our minds into nothing more than collective cogs in some borg like hive mind. We’re fucked, and it’s all Google’s fault.



Puuuuuuuhhhhleezzze.



Here’s another quote: “The last thing these companies want is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. It’s in their economic interest to drive us to distraction.”

Right. And that’s why Google encourages its workers to spend 20% of their time on passion projects. OK.

His conclusion: “As we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.”

Good lord. Somehow Carr seems to presume that there’s simply nothing valuable occurring in our minds when we engage with the extraordinary new medium of the web. Because we’re starting to think in different ways, it must be bad. Right? Carr may believe that search and the Internet make us stupid, but I will counter his personal, anecdote-driven conclusions with one of my own: when I am deep in search for knowledge on the web, jumping from link to link, reading deeply in one moment, skimming hundreds of links the next, when I am pulling back to formulate and reformulate queries and devouring new connections as quickly as Google and the Web can serve them up, when I am performing bricolage in real time over the course of hours, I am “feeling” my brain light up, I and “feeling” like I’m getting smarter. A lot smarter, and in a way that only a human can be smarter.

And I have a feeling I’m not alone. What do you guys think?

Speaking of the CM Summit…

By -

Cms Nyc

My director of events, Stacey Foreman, tells me we have exactly 25 tickets left for the CM Summit in NYC. Now, we are only letting 350 folks in, and we’ve been selling about 20 tickets a day over the past week. So…while I am inclined to push the fire marshal’s tolerance, Stacey is not. If you want a ticket, I’d suggest you go for it asap. I’m really excited not only by the lineup, but by the chance to gather in an intimate environment and really contemplate some of the bigger issues facing the marketing world in the age of conversational media. It’s going to be really, really fun.