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Mayer to Location: Big.

By - October 12, 2010

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Today I was in a meeting with a number of consultants to a very large technology company. Their job: market research, essentially. They called to ask me my thoughts on the media and technology world, in particular as it might play out in the next five or so years. They were responsible for helping the Fortune 50 company navigate an increasingly complicated world.

I love these kind of free association tasks, because while it’s not easy to be right, it’s also pretty easy to not be wrong if the questions are smart. I’ve been a student of technology cycles for a couple of decades, and often times what’s directly in front of you is, in fact, the next big thing.

So when I got this question: “What’s the next big thing after social?” I didn’t lose a beat in answering: “Location.”

Now, many, many folks before me have been saying this for years. I’m in no way first. But I’m an early convert, in particular, as it relates to what I call the conversation economy. And the reason is simple: Once someone can declare where they are, they add extraordinary context to both search and social, and to their expectations of what a search or a social connection might yield. For an example, see The Gap Scenario.

In short, location is a key factor in the future of search, social, commerce, and media, among a lot of other things. And that’s why the news today that Google’s Marissa Mayer, long the VP of Search Products at Google, is taking over responsibilities for the location business, strikes me as a Big Deal.

Some have argued this is a demotion for Mayer, a Google stalwart and press favorite. But if in fact Google is “parking” Mayer in a “non job” due to her status as an early and long standing employee, I can’t imagine a more strategic area for her to park. And given Mayer’s success and wealth, I can’t imagine she’d stay at Google if she weren’t committed to a new role that she believes will be game changing. She has way too many other options, including, well, not working for as long as she’d like.

I for one don’t think that’s what is going on. Local is the most important signal to emerge in the database of intentions since the link. Once a consumer demands that businesses respond to their intent in the context of where they are, right now, well…the first to get that response right, wins.

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Currency

By - September 21, 2010

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I’m very proud of a new platform launched today by American Express: Currency. Sometimes when a brand embraces the concept of truly being a publisher, they align with strong voices around the web, underwriting existing properties and helping them create new sections or services. But every once in a while, a brand realizes that its marketing goals align with a very real need in the marketplace, one that for whatever reason hasn’t been addressed. That’s how Currency came to be.

Yes, Currency is an ongoing FM partnership, just as Open Forum is, but this one is a bit different – it’s for young adults just starting to grapple with financial issues (I wish it existed when I got out of college), and it’s got a lot of social media chops, including a game (called Social Currency natch) built on top of Foursquare that helps you track purchases. It also features tons of coursework to help folks get smart on important money matters, and everything – from reading an article to completing a course to checking into purchases – earns you Currency points.

Now, I know my demo here at Searchblog, and let’s face it, most of you are a bit older, wiser, and richer than Currency’s core constituency. But I also know you’re interested in all things web and media, so check it out, and let me know what you think.

Google Instant: The Headlines and Quick Takes

By - September 08, 2010

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Google today introduced what many are calling a major evolution in search interface today, sparking a landslide of commentary about the impact on SEO, mobile, competitors, search share, revenue, you name it.

It’s a lot to digest, and as much as I’d like to have a definitive statement on Google’s move to “instant search,” I don’t. Yet. I prefer to use it for a while, and think on it a bit more. I will admit that my initial response is more “meh” than “WOW!” – but then, I can’t really back that up. In the main, I think any major shift in search interface that is still predicated on typing inside a command line is most likely not going to change things much.

Then again, there are scores of folks who don’t share that half-formed sentiment. Here are some of the most prominent:

Live Blogging Google ‘Streaming” Search Event & How To Watch Live (SEL) Danny’s coverage of the news as it happened.

Search: now faster than the speed of type (Google Blog) The official announcement, with video.

Google Instant Makes SEO Irrelevant (Rubel) Not so fast, says Matt, below.

Thoughts on Google Instant (Matt Cutts) Matt is a key guy on search quality at Google. He says Google Instant will not kill SEO, among other things.

About Google Instant (Google.com) More from Google on why they did it.

Google Instant: A Mobile App Approach to Search (GigaOm) Interesting and cogent insight.

Google Instant Search: The Complete User’s Guide (SEL) As you would expect, second day overview on the first day from SEL.

Google Instant officially announced. Never underestimate speed. (TNW) Speed is the focus of Google’s announcement.

Google Just Killed The “I’m Feeling Lucky Button” (GOOG) (SAI) And, according to SAI, made a cool 100MM+ in the process.

More after a few days of using it…

That Was Fast: TellApart Implements A Searchblog Suggestion

By - September 02, 2010

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Earlier this week I mused out loud about retargeting, suggesting that perhaps it’s time for marketers to not just chase folks around the web in hopes they might irritate us into submission, but rather offer us the chance to politely say “Not right now, thanks.”

One of Searchblog’s readers turned out to be Josh McFarland, CEO of remarketing startup TellApart. He marshalled his team and within 24 hours had a working prototype integrated into his service. Here’s how it works, in his words:

Hi John –

As promised, here’s our v1.0 of the functionality you described. If a user mouses over the [X], it will highlight in red:

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Clicking on that [X] will disable remarketed ads from that advertiser, reloading the ad with a message that further allows the consumer to opt-out of TellApart targeting altogether (industry best-practice functionality):


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This is now live for all TellApart Diapers.com ads, with the exception of 10% of the users which we use as a control baseline (to measure effects on CTR, conversion rates, etc.)


I applaude McFarland’s ability to quickly iterate and act on what he judges to be good input.

And he acknowledges, this is just version 1.0 of the functionality, executed within 24 hours of my original post. McFarland says he plans to add a lot more features. I think that’s needed, for both marketers as well as consumers – conversation is not just yes/no or off/on, and McFarland gets that.

From a follow up email exchange:

Here’s what we’re working on next, and we’re right in line with your thoughts:


1) Option of pausing the ad for the remainder of the time we predicted the user to be in-market for that retailer — instead of a straight, permanent opt-out.

We named our display ads application “Transactional Retargeting” in a nod to the fact that someone is in market for an item (our clients currently are pure-play e-tailers) for a limited window (5-12 days depending on the retailer’s avg consideration cycle), and most people leave a site without buying and never return during that window. Our job is to present those otherwise lost users with compelling ads (and sometimes offers) to get them to click back and transact… Transactional Retargeting drives higher conversion rates and incremental sales. This also means we only show users ads during those same 5-12 days. This modified “pause” functionality will allow users to stop ads for now but gives the merchant the ability to reconnect in the future.


2) Allowing more feedback as to why the user didn’t like the ad (a la Facebook)

3) A link to a much more informative page (about remarketing, TellApart, etc.) – which we are designing now.

One thing we have to balance, however, is the need to have the consumer rapidly choose one of three paths with the display ad: click through, ignore, or decline. Whereas other providers get paid for building overly complex ad widgets (with tabs, text content, tiny scrollbars, even purchase completion within ad), our goal is to definitively drive the user back to the retailer’s full site where they can re-engage with and complete their purchase.


Our business model couldn’t be simpler: we get paid a percentage of revenue for sales that result from a click through on a TellApart ad. That is the only way we make money. No sham view throughs or cost-per-ad-engagement; we drive clicks that convert. As ex-Googlers, it’s our DNA to start with a very hardcore DR approach, because when we can prove our system works under even the most brutal scrutiny (e-retailers managing ROI down to the penny), it will work for everyone (audience buying, brand campaigns, seasonal promotions, etc.)

Impressive. Expect more from TellApart soon, follow the company’s moves here.

Ping: "Facebook and Twitter meet iTunes" Except…

By - September 01, 2010

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…as far as I can tell, they in fact don’t ever meet. You can’t leverage your networks on Facebook and Twitter in Ping. It’s another closed Apple system, another Apple universe in a gilded gift box.

It’s not that Apple hates the web, it’s just that Apple is better than the web. Apple doesn’t need it. It seems Apple has it all figured out.

I am sure Ping will get traction because it’ll be fun, and if it truly helps folks discover more music, so much the better for all (especially iTunes sales). But I’ve a sneaking suspicion that Ping will soon be about more than discovering music – it will also be about discovering Apps and other media like movies and TV. And while paid media is a sanitized and bounded universe, it’s my fervent hope that Apps, over time, will not be – that they will be far more promiscuous. Breathless predictions aside, I simply can’t imagine you will want your Apps to be recommended to you only by your Ping “friends.” Likewise, when you find something cool, you’ll want to share it on Twitter, and post it to Facebook (and maybe even other places too, places that are outside AppleLand.)

You’ve invested in your Facebook and Twitter relationships, why can’t you use those to find and share good stuff inside AppleLand?

I hope Apple agrees, and will open Ping to the rest of the world. But I’m not going to predict it. I can predict this: If Apple doesn’t open it up, Ping will never crack more than 10% of social networking share. But my, will that share be profitable! And for Apple, that’s certainly seems to be enough.

UPDATE: Peter in the comments notes that Ping does have a “very limited” Facebook Connect integration. So good on them, but if it’s just to find friends to feed your Ping network, I’ll stand by my comments above.

On Retargeting: Fix The Conversation

By - August 30, 2010

The New York Times published a story on the practice of retargeting today, entitled “Retargeting Ads Follow Surfers to Other Sites.” While not nearly as presumptively negative as the WSJ series on marketing and data, it’s telling that the story is slugged with “adstalk” in the URL. Journalists and editors generally dislike and mistrust advertisers – I know, because I am both an editor and a journalist, I’ve worked at places like the Times, and only after studying the business of media for several years (and starting a few companies to boot) have I come around to a more nuanced point of view. We can’t expect every editor to do the same.

But maybe I have an idea that can help.

As the Time piece admits, retargeting is not new. What seems new, the article concludes, is how much the practice has increased, to the point where people feel like they are being “stalked” around the web, often in a fashion that “just feels creepy.”

Well, as I’ve said a million times, marketing is a conversation. And retargeted ads are part of that conversation. I’d like to suggest that retargeted ads acknowledge, with a simple graphic in a consistent place, that they are in fact a retargeted ad, and offer the consumer a chance to tell the advertiser “Thanks, but for now I’m not interested.” Then the ad goes away, and a new one would show up.

The technology and processes required to do such a simple task are already in place. Most third party services which provide retargeting services already use the “i” logo in the creative, which when clicked tells consumers “why am I getting this ad.” Why not extend that to include a “not right now” button, one that allows the consumer to tell the ad he or she is not quite ready for this offer?

Screen shot 2010-08-30 at 8.04.52 AM.pngFacebook is already training us all toward this end with the “X” in the upper right hand corner of every ad on the site (see image at left). Why not modify this practice to mean “No thanks, not right now.” It’s the equivalent of telling a salesperson at a retail outlet “I don’t need your help right now, thanks.”

I’m far more likely to be open to a marketer who offers me a platform to politely say “no thanks for now” that one who pushes a retargeted ad on me to the point of irritation.

And when a consumer says “no thanks,” as any good salesperson knows, that’s an opportunity to learn. No rarely means no forever. Marketing is a conversation, one with more than one exchange. Just because the first one isn’t a sale, doesn’t mean the next one (or the one after that) can’t be. Especially if you have the good graces to know when to pull back into the wings for a while.

Just a thought.

Publishers, Marketers, and the Gap Scenario

By - August 06, 2010

mindthegap.pngA while back I wrote a post titled “The Gap Scenario.” In it I outlined one (of many) scenarios that I imagined would become pretty commonplace as location based services, search, and social merged into a retail setting.

Today’s news (Business Insider) that publisher Daily Candy has created an Android app that sends users articles when they are near “current local happenings” such as designer sales, spas, and concerts got me thinking about this scenario once again.

The app monitors where you might be in the background, then matches content, and one must assume, eventually, offers. It works only in New York for now, but more cities are expected.

As I laid out in my original post (and my 2005 book), location aware services are not yet a cultural habit, in particular ambient ones. But it won’t be long before we assume that our public presence is, in effect, a search, one for which we will expect a response from any number of potential respondents.

What I find interesting is that the first innovators in this space are publishers, for the most part, rather than marketers. I’m not certain that this will stand. As many of you know from reading my thoughts here, I’m convinced that all marketers are now publishers, and the best ones will figure out how to add value in the context of ambient location aware scenarios. Platforms (like Google, Twitter, Facebook, Yelp) will be key mediators, but I’m not sure what we understand to be traditional publishers (like Daily Candy) can hold this ground. We’ll see….

The Facebook App Economy: Revival Time?

By - July 19, 2010

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Who remembers the utter gold rush that was the Facebook Platform back in 2007, back when everyone, and honestly, really, EVERYONE, in the industry was busy answering the question “What’s Your Facebook Platform strategy?”

Well I sure do. At FM, we had meetings to address this question, meetings driven by me, by my staff and my senior executives, and of course, by our investors, who were asking the same question of every portfolio company they had. (And…do you believe…when Facebook launched Platform, it only had 20mm users?!)

Fortunately, our “Facebook strategy” was to not drop everything and start developing apps for the new environment. Despite the extraordinary hype, we took a measured approach, working with a few clear winners (like Graffiti), and waiting to see how it might all play out.

Fast forward a few years, and it’s clear that a very small set of important companies have managed to lever the original Facebook Platform into real value – Zynga, Slide come to mind – but I’m not certain the amount of energy put into the Platform ever netted out a gross ROI for all who threw themselves into the race.

Now, three months after all the Open Graph announcements at this year’s f8, I find myself wondering – where are all the web-based Facebook applications and services? It seems to me that Facebook has won, big time, in terms of getting folks to adopt “Likes.” But where are the developers and the awesome new ideas? Am I missing something? Is Facebook going to go toe to toe with Google, Apple, and Microsoft for the hearts and wallets of the developer?

From what I can tell, Facebook’s privacy tempest has delayed the formation of what I expected to be another goldrush. And no, I’m not talking about publishers who have incorporated “Likes”. I’m talking about entirely new or re-formulated web and mobile services that leverage unique data feeds from Facebook so as to bring entirely new value into the world. We’ve seen a fair amount of this from the Twitter ecosystem (though still and all, not as much as we might see soon). In the case of Facebook, however, I expected that by now we’d have seen a bunch of super cool services. But so far, none.

Again, am I missing something? What are you planning to do with the Facebook APIs? And what do you wish you could do, but so far, can’t, despite the announcements at f8 last April?

(Image above is from the Web 2 Summit, where Mark Zuckerberg will again grace the stage and converse with me).