Posted on December 30th, 2005 No comments
The latest Google newsletter has more than you ever wanted to know about how they crawl and index web pages, deliver results, and rank them. Being responsible for an increasing number of niche Web sites that always start from zero, I found this bit very interesting:
With PageRank, five or six high-quality links from websites such as www.cnn.com and www.nytimes.com would be valued much more highly than twice as many links from less reputable or established sites.
And also this:
… we’ll often elevate a page with fewer links or lower PageRank if other signals suggest that the page is more relevant. For example, a web page dedicated entirely to the civil war is often more useful than an article that mentions the civil war in passing, even if the article is part of a reputable site such as Time.com.
Once we’ve made a list of documents and their scores, we take the documents with the highest scores as the best matches.
Bottom line: if you want a new web site to get more traffic, you first need links from many high-quality sources. Those need to be a mix of well-respected traditional sources and nice sites that are about a particular topic. This just makes intuitive sense, but it’s nice to hear it straight from the 800 pound Gorilla’s mouth.
Thanks to Susan Mernit for pointing this out in her excellent blog!
Posted on December 21st, 2005 No comments
So AOL’s deal with Google is solidified, and soon Google’s search will be crawling with AOL content results and graphical ads sold by AOL’s ad force. Bla bla bla … as a consumer I could care less, unless of course they go overboard, in which case it will end up hurting Google’s “pristine” image.
But this little tidbit from the San Jose Mercury News is of great interest to me:
… Google and AOL said they would enable users of their respective instant messaging services — Google Talk and AIM — to communicate with each other.
Yeah, now we’re talking! I’m now a GoogleTalker who reluctantly opens and closes the ad-ridden AIM to occasionally talk to friends on AOL. I love the simple GoogleTalk interface and find its voice component to be one of the best out there.
And more importantly, it’s another sign that the walls of instant messenger interoperability are finally starting to tumble down. GoogleTalk already works with the open-source Jabber protocol, and when Google hooks into AIM that could imply that there will be a legitimate tunnel between Jabber and AIM (today, interoperability with AIM by anyone other than Apple and ICQ is a temporary hack that eventually gets closed).
On top of that, earlier this year Yahoo and MSN agreed to let their instant messenger products talk to each other. If one of them also decides to work with Jabber — does that mean we can all get along without having to run multiple IM clients? I sure hope so.
I’m sure that’s not the story AOL and Google will be talking about. If anything, they’ll trump the fact that Google, AOL and AIM together will have the biggest instant message universe around. That’s significant, but as a consumer I really want to simplify my life. So if anyone from AOL or Google is reading this — please save me from this insanity! Embrace interoperability. The potential rewards of an open IM network are much greater than a walled garden, no matter how big it is.
Posted on December 19th, 2005 No comments
I just got the news that Bakotopia is a finalist in the 2006 Digital Edge Awards (the “Edgies”), which the Newspaper Association of America runs every year to recognize cutting-edge consumer products run by newspapers.
Bakotopia is in the category of “Most Innovative Visitor Participation” for sites run by newspapers with circulations of 50,000 – 99,999. It’s between us and Spotted, a very cool photo sharing site created by the Morris folks that’s tied to a print publication.
I think it’s really up in the air as to who wins (but OK I admit it — I obviously think Bakotopia is better because every father has to love his own child the most Regardless of who wins, it’s an honor to be in the list of finalists. And hats off to Steve Yelvington and Ed Coyle at Morris for having Spotted make the list of finalists, too.
Posted on December 19th, 2005 No comments
Yahoo is helping itself to yet another serving at the tech buffet, and this time it’s del.icio.us. This comes not long after its previous acquisition of Flickr, a photo sharing site which, along with del.icio.us, popularized the idea of community tagging tied to an open API. Seems like Yahoo is aiming to own the realm of tagging and social networking — the very heart of “Web 2.0.” I predict all of this stuff eventually morphs into Yahoo 360 as part of one integrated social browsing experience.
In other news, AOL is working out a deal with Google, where Google will pony up 1 BILLION DOLLARS (insert Dr. Evil cackle here) to own 5% of AOL. AOL would be able to sell into Google’s network and Google would surface AOL’s web content (especially video) more highly.
I find it fascinating that AOL and Google are focusing on big ad and promotional deals while Yahoo continues on a slow, steady march to define the future of interactivity. Some news pundits are claiming that this will “cement” Google’s role in search and advertising, and that it will make Time Warner the only company that can sell across both traditional and interactive properties. We’ve heard this kind of thing before. Sounds like the original promise of AOL Time Warner.
Posted on December 14th, 2005 No comments
As an AOL alum who went through the ups and downs of the company in the middle of the Time Warner merger, I couldn’t help noticing this week’s news that Steve Case, of all people, is now advocating breaking the merged company into four separate companies. And I’m not the only one. In Case’s online chat on Washingtonpost.com this week, at least three of the questions came from former AOLers.
First I should just be clear — I have absolutely no personal stake in what happens to AOL, other than that I hate to see hard work from me and many former colleagues go to waste. And I also think that regardless of what happens, AOL still has a good brand and a bright future.
I find myself agreeing with the Steve Case of 2005, and never really understood the confused Steve Case of 2000. Despite all the initial hype and hoopla about AOL Time Warner, I will never forget my reaction when I heard about what would eventually become the most disastrous megamerger in history. I was taking a shower before eating my toast and taking the too-long drive from Arlington, VA to what we called “Dull-ass Virginia” (Dulles) when my wife burst into the bathroom.
“AOL is going to buy Time Warner!” she exclaimed. I remember standing there naked and dripping thinking … “What? That doesn’t make any sense!”
I then drove into the office hearing the story over and over on NPR, then got the big pep talk about how great this was going to be for us all. I was still in a daze and having a hard time understanding why a company that was defining new media wanted to buy a stodgy old media company. All I could think of was that maybe I could get free Looney Toons icons that AOL users could put on their home pages (which I did a year later, I might add, along with getting a personal tour of the Warner Studios movie lot!) Free cartoon characters and a commemorative DVD of Casablanca were as good as it ever got, and we all know the rest of the story.
In light of that experience, here’s what I think.
For one, splitting AOL apart from Time Warner at this point isn’t going to make much of a difference and won’t solve the fundamental problems the division is facing. If anything, I think Case and Co. must be thinking a four-way splitup will raise their deflated stock prices for a short while so that they can completely sell out and be done with it. This is not conjecture — Case pretty much said as much in his Washington Post interview, revealing that he has $250 million in Time Warner stock that he thinks would do better with a splitup.
I also don’t think this would do anything to solve AOL’s real problem, which is that its dialup users are leaving the service as they sign up for broadband. Cable and DSL companies have been squeezing AOL users out of their memberships because honestly, who wants to pay $40 a month for high-speed Internet and another $24 to keep an old e-mail address? No matter how much you don’t want to send out a change-of-address message and leave your favorite chat rooms and message boards, it’s just not worth $64 a month.
Meanwhile, online advertising is heating up bigtime. AOL still has one of the simplest, friendliest interfaces around and extremely valuable online communities, although Web 2.0 applications are coming close to stealing the secret sauce there. If people had more choices over price and features, I bet more would stick around.
So here’s what I would like to see — a different kind of splitup, if you will. Time Warner should offer up AOL’s dialup service to the highest bidder and get rid of it as soon as possible. Then they should let users pay a la carte for the individual premium services that they value the most. The rest of the features should be made 100% free just like Yahoo and the growing number of social networking sites that are growing like gangbusters. The resulting surge in traffic and audience would attract a ton of new advertising dollars, much of which I could see funneling out of Yahoo.
Of course, AOL still generates a lot of cash flow from those dialup subscriber fees, so it would be difficult to get investors to agree to lose that. But the reality is that this money will diminish every year anyway, and there’s nothing they can do to stop that. Since dialup is clearly a dying business, and Time Warner’s Roadrunner doesn’t offer national penetration, it’s clear to see where their current path is going to lead them — down! So stop talking about magic tricks that will get investors excited and make the hard, realistic decisions that will take AOL out of the “also ran” category.
Split access from content and community. Then enjoy the kind of success Google has enjoyed with the online ad surge, and laugh all the way to the bank as the cable and phone companies deal with the pending transition from landline to WiMax. Online access is the most boring and risky business to be in. The real value is in communities and audience.
Posted on December 13th, 2005 No comments
Lately I’ve been thinking about the rise of community and social-networking (aka “Web 2.0″) and the decline of traditional media, as measured by arcane metrics such as print circulation and Nielsen ratings. What is the relationship, if any, between these two trends that have CEOs everywhere shaking in their soft leather chairs?
Put another way, how do you explain the meteoric rise of sites like MySpace.com, which after just two years has over 17 million unique visitors per month, while all News Corp. sites combined have only around 12 million unique visitors per month? That apparently concerned Rupert Murdoch, because he put his reputation and future on the line by spending $580 million to buy MySpace.
Is the rise of one class of media causing what appears to be a corresponding decline in the other? I used to think so, but now I’m wondering if there’s another dynamic at play.
Perhaps it has more to do with the pronouns “me,” “we” and “they” and how consumers subconsciously define products along those lines. Maybe fragmentation — the tendency for people to gravitate toward more personal, niche experiences — is driven by personal and community identity. It’s not that blogs, social networks and smart message boards like Craigslist are luring people away from newspapers — it’s that these new products speak better to me and we than newspapers ever could.
MySpace may be a big national site, but fundamentally it’s about exactly what it sounds like — ME. I can set up a profile about me, invite friends to my profile, leave my trite comments on your profile as a way of getting you to come back to my profile, upload my music, enable ratings so that you can tell me how hot I am, and so forth. It’s the ultimate in narcissistic experiences. And for the young and hip community, it works! I noticed this dynamic long ago with AOL profiles during the short period that I was responsible for that feature, but MySpace has really capitalized on it. Now other sites, like my company’s own Bakotopia.com, are starting to see the early signs of a similar effect.
Before MySpace, blogs and “Web 2.0″ were the hot new thing, community was the buzz word — or to use another term, “WE.” Even Geocities, the personal home page site that was bought by Yahoo in 1999, and AOL Hometown, were organized into categories that Geocities called “Neighborhoods”. That lead to the creation of public and private Groups, in which Yahoo Groups is a clear leader (which pains me, since I helped launch competitor AOL Groups). And of course, newsgroups, Web message boards and Craigslist (really just another form of message board) were always about “we.”
Social networks like LinkedIn, Friendster, Tribe and others seem to seek a middle ground between “me” and “we,” with the primary benefit being to help you find people and information through people you already know.
So what does this have to do with traditional media? In my mind, newspapers, TV and radio have always sought to be about “me,” but consumers increasingly use another pronoun to describe them: “THEY“. In an age where even the mundane act of buying a car might as well be linked to your Meyers-Briggs personality type, where the car you drive is seen as a reflection of your very character, “they” is a dangerous pronoun to be associated with your brand. It communicates disconnection with what I and my community do and represent. It implies something that’s being forced on me that I’m expected to just accept as is. As as the public becomes less and less trusting of traditional media sources and gravitates more toward personality-fortified blogs, “they” also becomes a more common pronoun for us. I hear people moaning about “the media” this-and-that more than ever before. The more people get their news from non-traditional sources, the more they seem to distrust traditional media. Even if a newspaper takes extra steps to reach out to the community, you can’t force such people to embrace you without making radical changes.
Another trend I find interesting is how even “they” media is being re-aggregated on the Internet to fit specific niche interests. While it’s true that online newspapers are seeing a dramatic increase in traffic, the research seems to suggest that it’s driven from the bottom up as people seek out niche content. People increasingly come to news sites through stories they find in search, from links people send them in e-mail, RSS feeds, e-mail news alerts and more. In other words — the growth is in information that’s relevant to me.
What this tells me is that there’s hope for traditional media outlets. Their challenge is to do things that make their identity more about “me” and “we,” and less about themselves. Incorporating things like personalization, on-demand cross-platform delivery of niche information, citizen journalism, participation through comments, and even social networking can help, although they’re not the ultimate solution. As with any hot new trend, these won’t be magic bullets that will magically endear the public to them and reverse fragmentation. If anything, they would mark a movement toward self-fragmentation that could fundamentally change the way people relate to traditional media.
Such radical change in behavior would turn old habits and business models on end, but I think that appears to be happening anyway — so why not follow suit? In my mind, that’s what’s required in order for us to stay relevant in the future. After all, it’s not all about us — it’s about the real “them“: the people who use our products.
Posted on December 1st, 2005 No comments
This month the Newspaper Association of America selected me for one of their 20 under 40 awards. Here’s my writeup and interview. This is a big honor that I completely did not expect, and I’m extremely humbled to have been chosen.
I don’t really feel like this is about me as much as it is about Bakotopia. More to the point, it’s a testament to the management at The Bakersfield Californian and the “Bakomatic” development team they agreed to fund. What we’re doing certainly isn’t unique on the Internet, but it is unique for newspapers. We’re learning things about the young, hip, urban audience in Bakersfield that we never would have known otherwise, and I’m convinced that experiences like Bakotopia are crucial to the future of this industry. I hope to see more newspapers experimenting with niche products that meet consumers where they’re at.
Since no achievement happens solely on one person’s merit, I think it’s appropriate to give credit where it’s due. Special thanks to Mary Lou Fulton, Mark Jackson, Mick Martinek, Chris Ladd, Jonathan Bailey, and of course Richard Beene and Ginger Moorhouse. Things would be quite different without your hard work, faith and support.
And I also want to thank Jeanette Chavez from The Denver Post, who took a chance on me by giving me my first internship and job back in 1994. If it weren’t for her, I may never have seriously pursued journalism and gotten caught up in online media.
Now let’s get some more stuff done!