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Watch This Space: The Next Generation of "Social Networks" Won't Look Like Facebook.

By - April 07, 2011

Lately in talks and private conversations, I’ve been thinking out loud about the role of Facebook in our lives. It’s an extraordinary service (and company), and deserves its extraordinary valuation. But its approach to our “social graph” is limiting, as I and others have pointed out quite a bit.

While in Mexico I had the chance to sit with a couple of entrepreneurs who have an idea I feel is deeply *right* about social networking, and it couldn’t be further from how Facebook works today. I can’t outline what the idea was, but I can say that it hit the same nerve, that we are on the precipice of entirely new ways of thinking about our relationship to others as leveraged over digital platforms, and while Facebook may well be the oxygen or the landmass of this ecosystem, it won’t be the entire ecosystem itself.

To that end, this piece in TNW hits on some parts of what I’m on about. In it, the author writes:

Just as Google had early dominance in lighting up a portion of the web, Facebook has early dominance in lighting up a portion of the world’s social graph. But much like the Dark Web, there exists network upon network not yet graphed by Facebook, waiting to be mapped, organized, and optimized for communication.

I agree, and think there are many, many new places to create value here.

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Guy's Enchantment

By - April 03, 2011

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I’m a Guy Kawasaki fan, so this isn’t really a “review” as much as an appreciation for his new book Enchantment. I read it over this weekend, it’s the kind of book you could skim in an hour, or spend a lot of time with. I fell somewhere in the middle, stopping every so often to consider his advice and apply it to situations I find myself in all the time. (Disclosure: Guy works with my company FM in various ways, but I’m writing this mainly because Guy, in his enchanting way, asked me to blog my thoughts here.)

Enchantment is, in essence, a book of simple advice for succeeding in business, and I found myself agreeing with most of it. Guy is a folksy writer and he loves simple anecdotes, the book is full of them. I rolled my eyes when he encouraged us to “make a checklist,” or to smile when meeting someone, and smile with integrity at that. But he’s right, and I realized that every time I see Guy, or see pictures of him, he’s got the real deal smile working, and it really does work to put whoever he’s meeting into an open frame of mind.

Another little gem was his advice to get to know the public person you are about to meet with. I tell my sales team this all the time – nearly everyone in our business has a public face – flickr and twitter streams, Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, etc. I’m always astounded when folks don’t take the time to get to know the people they’re trying to do business with. There’s almost always a shared story, passion, or anecdote buried in someone’s public lifestream, and taking the time to pay attention to that is always appreciated.

Guy wraps up all his advice in the concept of being “enchanting,” and I get the idea, but it seems to me it comes down to another simple rule: Be a good, highly engaged person, and expect those you work with to be the same. He ends the book with a warning about how not to become enchanted by those who seem to follow his advice, but are in reality just snake charmers. As we all know, there are plenty of those folks out there as well.

Many would benefit from reading Enchantment solely for Guy’s chapter on managing Twitter, he’s clearly a master at it. He follows that with advice on most of the other major platforms (Facebook, blogs, etc), and these alone would justify the purchase, to my mind. Get Guy’s book, it’s worth the investment.

Google "Head End" Search Results: Ads as Content, Or…Just Ads?

By - March 30, 2011

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Today I spoke at Sony HQ in front of some Pretty Important Folks, so I wanted to be smart about Sony’s offerings lest anything obviously uninformed slip out of my mouth. To prepare I did a bunch of Google searches around Sony and its various products.

Many of these searches are what I call “head end” searches – a lot of folks are searching for the terms I put in, and they are doubly important to Google (and its advertising partners) because they are also very commercial in nature (not in my case, but in general.) Usually folks searching for “Sony Tablets” have some intent to purchase tablets in the near future, or at the very least are somewhere in what’s called the “purchase funnel.”

I was struck with the results, so much so I took a screen shot of one representative set of results. In traditional print, we used to watch a metric called “Ad Edit Ratio” very closely (as did the government, for reasons of calculating postal rates). Editors at publications lobbied for low ad edit ratios (so they’d get more space to put their content, naturally). Advertising executives lobbied for higher Ad Edit ratios (so they could sell more ads, of course). We usually settled somewhere around 50-50 – half ads, half editorial.

Google is way lower than that, on any given search. But not for head end searches. In fact, as a percentage of actual “editorial” (organic search results) versus “paid”, it’s pushing towards 35/65 or more, at least when you measure the space “above the fold” on a typical screen.

Then again, in the case of AdWords, one could argue the ads are contextually relevant and useful.

Just felt worth pointing out, if for no other reason as to add a page to the historical record of how the service is evolving. Once “media” adwords start taking over, this picture may well change again, and it might not be a change that folks like much.

+1: Google Figures Out a Way To Leverage Search.

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Google today did something smart in social – they offered a human way to do something they had already offered – the ability to indicate your approval of a search result. Previously, you could push a result up or down, but that action was not social in nature. Now you can “+1″ a search result, so as to indicate the result was good and/or valuable to you. That recommendation is then translated to others in your social graph.

Cool! But I sure wish it integrated with Twitter, at the very least. And man, it’d sure be powerful if it worked with Facebook. Wouldn’t it, now?! But from what I can tell, that will NEVER happen.

Instead, “+1″ is going to become Google’s version of the “Like” button from Facebook – the post is very direct about this:

But the +1 button isn’t just for search results. We’re working on a +1 button that you can put on your pages too, making it easy for people to recommend your content on Google search without leaving your site.

Because it’s directly tied to Google’s most powerful asset, search, I think this move has some serious legs. Site owners will want to put the button on their site – even if they have no idea how or even *if* those “+1s” will aid ranking in organic Google search. I can tell you this: Spammers will have a field day with this one, though I imagine the button will be gated in some way (perhaps to push it, you have to be logged into a Google account). In any case, it’s a smart way to leverage Google’s core strength.

Game on.

(BTW, over at Boing Boing, we’ve used “+1″ as a way to indicate agreement in email threads for years, a remnant of older email systems long since forgotten. That practice is alive and well at FM as well. Funny how Google picked up on the same notation.)

Recent Signals

By - March 28, 2011

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I’ve fallen down in my promise to RSS readers out there (all 250K+ of you). I told you I’d post summaries of my Signal work each week, and it’s been more like each month. Well, here’s an attempt to rectify my failure, below, the past seven Signals. I’ll try to do this more often.

Monday Signal: The Moral Corporation?

Friday Signal: TGIF, no?

Thursday Signal: Yahoo’s Not Done Searching; Why Color Matters

Weds. Signal: Don’t Sell Out Your Twitter, Man

Tuesday Signal: Eat Yer Bran, Folks

Monday Signal: And Then There Were Three

If it suits your information consumption goals, sign up for Signal’s RSS or email newsletter on the FM home page (upper right box).

Everbody Forgets About the Power of Intentional Declaration

By - March 23, 2011

I love that Facebook is testing real time conversational advertising. In short, the idea is that the right ad shows up on someone’s Facebook page when they declare some intention. As the Ad Age coverage puts it:

Users who update their status with “Mmm, I could go for some pizza tonight,” could get an ad or a coupon from Domino’s, Papa John’s or Pizza Hut….With real-time delivery, the mere mention of having a baby, running a marathon, buying a power drill or wearing high-heeled shoes is transformed into an opportunity to serve immediate ads, expanding the target audience exponentially beyond usual targeting methods such as stated preferences through “likes” or user profiles.

Sounds great, but hollow – kind of like a 4/4 beat missing a bass drum. And what’s the bass? It’s the consumer, of course.

Allow me to explain. If I’m a consumer in Facebook’s real time advertising world, and I notice that the ads change based on my status update, I may decide to intentionally declare my desire for a pizza, or a pregnancy test, or some cool shoes, because I know the ads/offers/coupons/deals are going to come my way. In other words, it’s advertising’s version of the street finding its own use for technology. Advertising isn’t one way, Facebook. It’s conversational, and the biggest mistake one might make is to assume your consumers won’t game that system for their own uses. In fact, I’d suggest you design your product around that assumption.

If you do that well, you just might have a hit on your hands.

Why Color Matters: Augmented Reality And Nuanced Social Graphs May Finally Come of Age

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I read with interest about Color, a new social photo app that was much in the news today. The main angle of coverage was the size of the pre-revenue company’s funding – $41 million from Sequoia and Bain. Hell, the company isn’t just pre-revenue, it’s pre-product….at least for now. Tomorrow the actual product launches.

If it works as advertised, it may well be the first truly execution of augmented reality that truly scales.

I for one hope it works.

The service’s founder, Bill Nguyen, is the real deal. He has a particular ability to see around corners, and is a veteran of more than half a dozen startups. So why am I fired up about Color’s service? Because I think it bridges an important gap in how we use the web today. And please know that my definition of “the web” is in no way limited to “PC based HTML”. When I say web, I mean the digital platform through which we leverage our lives.

OK, now that we’ve clarified that, what does Color actually *do*? Well, let me explain it as best I can, based on a great piece here by Bruce Upbin (OK and this piece and this one too).

In short, Colors combines the public social graph and instant sharing of Twitter with the “capture the moment” feel of an Instagram or Path. But the real twist is in the service’s approach to location. To my mind, Colors has the opportunity to be the first breakout application fueled by the concept of “augmented reality.”

Now, let me back up and remind readers of my oft-repeated 2010 maxim: Location is the most important signal to erupt from the Internet since search.

OK, that said, what Colors does is offer up a visual public timeline of any given location, in real time. Every single image captured at any given location is instantly “placed” at that location, forever, and is served up as an artifact of that location to anyone using the Colors application.

Put your brain to that idea for a second, and you realize this is one of those ideas that is both A/ Ridiculously huge and B/ Ridiculously obvious in retrospect. And pretty much every idea that passes those two tests only has to pass a third to Be Really Big. That third test? Execution.

Wait Battelle, you may be saying. What are you on about? I’m not getting it?!

In short, if Color is used by a statistically significant percentage of folks, nearly every location that matters on earth will soon be draped in an ever-growing tapestry of visual cloth, one that no doubt will also garner commentary, narrative structure, social graph meaning, and plasticity of interpretation. Imagine if Color – and the fundaments which allow its existence – had existed for the past 100 years. Imagine what Color might have revealed during the Kennedy assassination, or the recent uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, or hell, the Rodney King beating?

But that’s just the stuff that’s important to us all. What Color really augurs is the ability to understand our shared sense of place over time – and that alone is mind-bendingly powerful. Back in 2008 I was struck with a similar concept, which at FM we turned into Crowdfire – a fleeting, early antecedent to the Color concept focused on music and festivals.

To me the key here is plasticity. By that I mean the ability to bend the concept of “social graph” beyond the inflexible “one ring to rule them all” model of Facebook to a more nuanced set of people you might care about in the context of place or moment. I love these kinds of steps forward, because it’s just so damn clear we need them.

Trust me on this. If Colors fails, it will be due to execution, and someone else will get it right. Because the world wants and needs this, and the time is now. (By the way, I’m not encouraged by the website, which focuses on group sharing and such. I think the service is way bigger than that. But I guess you have to start somewhere…)

Oh, and note to Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare: If you don’t get this feature into your service, pronto, you will more likely than not be rueing the day Color launched.

Intel's Visual Life Contest

By - March 20, 2011

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I’ve agreed to be a judge in Intel’s Visual Life contest, the details of which can be found here. Intel has been a partner and supporter of both my work as well as Federated’s for as long as I can remember, and I was honored to join my former partner Chas Edwards, among many others, as a judge of the content.

The contest invites folks to upload visuals of their life – either photos or videos – and will have HP prizes in multiple countries for four different categories. I’m looking forward to reviewing them all. The full rules can be found here. I’m a bit late to the game, entries are due in just a few days, so get on it!

A Report Card on Web 2 and the App Economy

By - March 18, 2011

As I noted earlier in the week, I had the opportunity to speak at a GM conference today. I was asked to peer into the future of the “app world,” and deliver any divinations I might discover.

I like a challenge like this, as it forces me to weave any number of slender threads of my current thinking into a more robust and compact narrative.

Below is an updated version of a slide I presented today. As I thought through why I have a negative gut reaction to the world of apps as they currently stand, I realized it’s because they violate most of the original principles of what makes the web so great. And when I thought about what those principles are, I realized that a list already existed – in the opening presentation Tim O’Reilly and I gave at the first ever Web 2 Summit, in 2004.

Tim codified those principles in his seminal paper “What Is Web 2,” first published in 2005. For my GM speech, I extracted the core values which comprise the underpinnings of Web 2, then graded them in two categories: The Web, and The App Economy. For each I have a check or an X, depending on progress made since we originally outlined those principles seven years ago. A check means that, in essence, our industry has solidified its commitment to the principle, in particular as it relates to the most important party: The person using the web or the app. An X means we’re not there yet (and perhaps we won’t ever get there).

I think the results speak for themselves. After the image (and a quick break), I’ll offer some thoughts on each.   

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* The Web Is A Platform. There is no doubt that this is true on the open web (by this I mean the legacy HTML web). Anyone can put up a site, without approval by anyone else. This is simply not true in the Apple app world, though it’s more true for Android. I could write further pages on what it means to be a platform – certainly iOS and Android are platforms – but what we meant by “The Web Is A Platform” went deeper than the idea of a closed ecosystem controlled by one company. The beauty of the Web was that anyone could innovate on top of it, without permission. This is simply not true in the App World, for now.

* You Control Your Own Data. I have a very long post in me about this, and I spoke about it at length today at GM. But suffice to say, I don’t think either the web or app world have checked this box. But I see it as coming, very soon, projects like The Locker Project and others are hastening it. It’s my belief that soon consumers will demand value from their data, and that the web will be a place where that demand is met. Apps? I’m not so sure they’ll lead here. But they will have to follow.

* Harness Collective Intelligence. I believe the web has delivered on this concept, in spades. But I believe App World creates islands of disconnected experiences, most of which fail to share APIs, data structures, or insights.

* Data Is the New Intel Inside. I agree with this concept, which is truly Tim’s innovation. But I don’t believe either the Web or App World have delivered this power to us as consumers. As with “You Control Your Own Data”, I think the Web will lead, and Apps will follow.

* End of the Software Release Cycle. The Web has totally checked this box – when was the last you checked what version of Google you were using? Meanwhile, we still have to update our apps….

* Lightweight Programming. The web has excelled here. Apps, not so much. I have a lot of hope for Telehash, however.

* Software Above Level of A Single Device. When was the last time you wondered whether the web worked on a particular device? Oh yeah, when you tried to use Flash on an Apple product….enough said.

* Rich User Experiences. This is where apps kick the Web’s ass. And man, it’s a compelling ass kicking, so compelling we may be willing to give up all the other principles of Web 2 just to have a great experience. But I believe, in the end, we don’t have to compromise. We can have our App chocolate, and get our Web peanut butter to boot.

What do you think?