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Last Few Signals…

By - June 30, 2010

….for those of you reading Searchblog in RSS and not watching ze Tweets….here are the Signals that I do over at FM’s site.

Weds. Signal: It’s a Good Day to Read The News

Tuesday Signal: Location, Location, Location

Monday Signal: Welcome to Summer, Now Get to Work

You can sign up to get the Signal email, a daily roundup of what I’m reading and why, on the main page of Signal here (box in the right hand corner).  

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Will Google Compete With Facebook? Er…It Already Is, Folks.

By - June 29, 2010

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Last weekend the news was conjecture about Facebook doing web search, today, the news is conjecture about Google doing social networks. All of this has been sparked by two well known Valley guys opining on samesaid…Kevin Rose, CEO of Digg, tweeted that Google was working on a “Google Me” social network (he since was “asked to take down his tweet” by someone…) and then a former Facebook employee answered a related question on his own Q&A service, Quora.   

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, folks. I certainly don’t find it the least bit surprising that Google is continuing its push into social – let’s not forget, the company recently launched Buzz, which qualifies as a major social network, already owns Orkut, which also qualifies, and has added social features to its core search service – including Google Profiles and social search functionalities.

Pulling these together into a seamless, useful, and coordinated product just makes sense. It’s to be expected. And it’s badly needed, because none of these disparate features or products have found their own footing.

The real question is whether Google has the corporate will to call a spade a spade, and acknowledge publicly that it’s game on with Facebook. Often companies attempt to pretend they’re not really in a competitor’s business. It’s rather hard to defend such a position now. I say, go for it, Google. If the product is good, the traction will be there.

Google Takes One More Step Away From China

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Google today announced another step in its protracted divorce from China – to satisfy regulatory and license requirements, it’s no longer directly serving results from its Hong Kong based (and uncensored) engine onto its Google.cn site. Instead, it’s directing users to the Hong Kong site, in essence, creating one more click for users to go through before accessing its service.

And there’s no certainty that service will be allowed inside China, as the regime is clearly not pleased with Google’s failure to roll over. Google’s license to do business inside the country apparently expires tomorrow. This move was clearly intended to convince China that Google is living by the letter of Chinese law. I’m not sure that matters, and it may effect Google’s other businesses – Maps, for example.

Meanwhile, Google’s main competition, Baidu, which as a homegrown company has no such issues, has gained marketshare at Google’s expense. CEO Robin Li will be at Web 2 this Fall, a rare appearance and one certain to be newsworthy.

Here’s Google’s blog post.

Google Has to Fix The App Store

By - June 28, 2010

I’m not an Android user, yet (working on that), but if this piece is even halfway true, Google needs to respond, quickly, with a plan to fix the Android app store.

I’ve heard over and over that Android’s user experience, when it comes to apps, is terrible, and it’s a major reason why folks love Apple. Signal over noise.

Noise and dirt are essential to the web, but there’s no reason why they have to overrun it. Curation is a media skill, an editorial skill. Not what Google’s good at. Maybe it needs to outsource it to folks who are good at it (ahem). In any case, it remains a major failing point in the Android competitive ecosystem. Take the good lessons from Apple’s app store, and exploit the weaknesses. There are many on both sides.

Is Apple's iWorld "The Web"?

By - June 27, 2010

I spent a fair portion of today at the O’Reilly Foo Camp, as eclectic an assortment of smart folks as you’re likely to find anywhere. I wrote perhaps the first ever piece on Foo back in late 2003, and I’ve been trying to make it every year since. It’s quite a confab.

Today I asked a number of the folks I ran into the same question: “Is Apple a part of the Web?” The answers I got were nearly unanimous – no, Apple’s iWorld is not part of the Web. Apple’s approach to the world – one of control, limited APIs, top-down control, the utter lack of…dirt…well, that’s not the web. One researcher working on a large scale Web problem dismissed Apple to me in this way: “Oh yeah, Steve’s managed to repackage pieces of the Web and resell them to people, good for him. But that’s not the real Web, so who cares?”

Does Apple represent the same kind of threat to the Web that the Web itself represented to the PC/Windows hegemony ten years ago?

I went to Foo with my son, a fellow who is not averse to running a Tor relay (even as he’s not entirely sure what the heck running that relay really means. Regardless, he met a Tor employee at Foo and was deeply impressed). As we drove home this afternoon, listening the Giants fall yet again to the Boston Red Sox, he asked me this question: “Why does Apple try to control everything?”

“Well,” I responded, “Apple believes that to create the best user experience, it needs to control that experience, at least in terms of what developers can create inside Apple’s environments.”

“That’s stupid,” my son responded.

“I’m not sure,” I said, even as I admitted that in my recent musings, I’ve been pretty partisan on the topic. “It’s true that Apple makes some incredible experiences, right?” After all, my son was pretty much addicted to his iPod Touch, and I knew he was at his wit’s end trying to install Windows 7 on his two year old Dell.

“Yeah, but it took them three years to let people change their background on the iPhone,” he countered. “That’s just lame.”

“Well, you jailbroke your iPod as soon as you could…”

“Yeah!”

“…and as much as I’d like to believe that the entire universe of computing device users were 14-year-old boys, the fact is, most folks don’t want to think about jailbreaking their devices. They just want them to do whatever it is they think they are supposed to do, and if they surprise and delight them in the process (as Apple devices do), so much the better.”

My son thought about that for a tic, then said. “It’s still lame.”

Then he fell asleep, and I listened to my Giants continue their pursuit of a losing cause.

But the question stayed with me – What is the essence of “the Web,” or “The Internet”? Does Apple’s approach to the world we’ve built together over these past 15 years qualify as part of the Web? I’ve argued in the past that it does not. But perhaps I’m being too dismissive. Perhaps, after 15 years of noise, and dirt, and half steps, perhaps we all really want the Web packaged and delivered to us in neat Apps, ready for consumption.

But what do we lose when that becomes our framework for consumption of “the Web”? And what do we gain?

I think this is an important question. Clearly Google falls on one side of this question, and Apple on another. It’s easy to claim that in the end, Apple will repeat its precious history, and end up with a small percentage of the market (Mac vs. Windows, all over again).

But then again….

What do you think? Is Apple’s AppWorld part of the Internet as you understand it? And who would you like to see onstage at Web 2 debating this question?

A Slow Week Or So

By - June 14, 2010

I’ll be traveling this next ten or so days, both for work and vacation, and not posting much here. However, I want readers to know I’ve read all the comments on my last Apple post, and plan a pretty detailed response once I come back. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in these pages soon.

It's Official – Apple Kicking Google Out of iWorld

By - June 09, 2010

I’cover5_06.gifve written extensively about iAds here and here, and one question I raised has to do with Apple’s policies with regard to third party data and ad networks, in particular AdMob.

As All Things Digital notes today, Apple this week “clarified” its policy with regard to third party networks, and it’s hard to read it as anything other than a direct declaration of war with Google. In short, third party ad networks can run in AppWorld, but only if they are “independent”. Put another way, sorry AdMob, you’re not welcome here. (I interviewed AdMob CEO at the CM Summit Monday, and asked him about this. This was before the policy was clarified, but he seemed pretty certain Apple would do this.)

I think this is shortsighted and wrong. I also think it’s classic Apple. It’s a re run of the Us vs. The World mentality that forced the Mac into a corner back in the late 1980s. This time, Google plays the role of Microsoft, but it really doesn’t matter. Apple won’t let anyone play in their iWorld who might pose a competitive threat.

This is all we need now – a major platform war, with marketers and developers having to pick sides, cost of development, ad serving, analytics, and marketing services at least tripled (one process for Android, one for iPhone/Pad/Touch, one for Microsoft or Palm/HP or…. ). That’s not what the web is about. It’s disheartening.

AdMob’s response is here. From it: “This change threatens to decrease – or even eliminate – revenue that helps to support tens of thousands of developers. The terms hurt both large and small developers by severely limiting their choice of how best to make money. And because advertising funds a huge number of free and low cost apps, these terms are bad for consumers as well.

Let’s be clear. This change is not in the best interests of users or developers. In the history of technology and innovation, it’s clear that competition delivers the best outcome. Artificial barriers to competition hurt users and developers and, in the long run, stall technological progress.”

What do you think?

CM Summit: Help Me Interview Amex CMO John Hayes

By - June 04, 2010

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The CM Summit kicks off next week on Monday morning with an interview of John Hayes, CMO for American Express. I’ve come to know John through my work at Federated, and I am certain this session will be lively and full of insights.  

American Express is one of the world’s premiere brands, consistently ranked in the top 25 by marketing and business publications. Hayes has overseen the brand for 15 years, or put another way, since the Netscape IPO and through the rise of Google, Facebook, and Twitter. I’m looking forward to our conversation Monday. Here are a few topics I plan to cover:

- Hayes has said “the chief challenge for brands today isn’t customer awareness; it’s customer engagement.” What does he mean by that?

- Has the American Express brand changed in the past ten years? How?

- How has the rise of digital changed American Express’ approach to marketing? What mistakes does he see brands making in the context of digital?

- How does Hayes keep American Express “in the conversation” when that conversation is increasingly dominated by online chatter, as opposed to popular culture tent pole events like sports and cultural events?

- The past two years have been particularly challenging for financial services brands. But Amex seems to have come out pretty well. Why? And what has American Express learned in the past two years?

- American Express purchased Revolution Money late last year. Why?

- Along the same lines, how has the rise of online payment – Facebook Credits, Google Checkout, PayPal – challenged or spurred American Express?

- American Express has launched a number of new online services for card members. How do they play into the brand promise?   

- Open Forum has been a major success – winning awards, growing traffic. Why? What has American Express learned from that program?

- Stepping back, what do you make of the economy right now? What are your card members telling you, in aggregate, through their purchases?

- What do you expect from your agency relationships? What lessons might you impart about how to work best with agency?

- Publishers and content creators are in the midst of a major disruption. What are you looking for from your publishing and content partners?

So what do you want to hear from John Hayes?

And don’t forget to add your comments for Dick Costolo, Hilary Schneider, Arianna Huffington, Tony Hsieh, Tim Armstrong, Omar Hamoui, and Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. See you in NYC, or online!