Tag - google

Why can't the billionaire genius CEO of Google tell us what his company does?

So Larry Page is a genius, right? He’s one of the inventors of Google, the search engine, the empire, the massive complex of algorithms and electrons that makes sense of the greatest collection of knowledge the world has ever know.

And he’s a billionaire. And CEO of Google.

So you might think he has a clue what his company does. And you might further think that he could explain it to people with much smaller brains than his.

You’d think wrong.

In the BusinessWeek story today on Google and Page, talking about his first year as CEO, they ask him a simple question: Google was once incontrovertibly a search company. But what is Google today?

The reply?

I think you have—I mean, what does it really mean to be a search company? I mean, even at that time, I think at that time and now, basically our soul is the same. I think what we’re about is we’re about using large-scale kind of technology: technology advancements to help people, to make people’s lives better, to make community better. Obviously, our mission was organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful, and I think we probably missed more of the people part of that than we should have.


First he’s answering a question with a question … a sure sign of confusion or prevarication (that’s fancy for lying). Then he says something confusing about “at that time” and “now” like “our soul is the same.”

But it gets worse. In the middle chunk, Page talks about “using large-scale technology” to “make people’s lives better.”


So Google now makes refrigerators? Medical equipment? Roads? Perhaps social housing? Wow. First confusion, then PR-speak about making people’s lives better.

It used to be simple – as Page finally gets to in the last chunk. Google used to be on a mission to organize the world’s information and make it accessible. That was understandable. It was a huge vision, and probably mostly unattainable, but most of us can agree they’ve achieved – are achieving – a huge chunk of that.

The prevarication or, more charitably, confusion, comes in when Google realizes that it is a big organism and big organisms tend to do and to want things that make them bigger, better, and more successful. The original mission is fine, organizations rationalize, but “no margin, no mission.” In other words, they start to get focused more on what is good for them, and less on what the great high noble goal that they originally espoused.

Nothing necessarily wrong with that. Companies have the right – within legal bounds – to try to grow.

But please, let’s be honest about it.

Or get Motorola to create a pacemaker that answers your email for you.

Twitter: when will we get TweetRank?

Google has PageRank to tell us what web pages are the best. Facebook has EdgeRank to show us the most interesting, relevant social updates. But what does Twitter have?

There are a lot of tweets.
That might be an understatement. Let’s put it this way: THERE ARE A LOT OF TWEETS. And the signal to noise ratio is not as good as it could be … nor is it as good as it should be.

  • in February 2011, there were 155 million tweets per day
  • in March 2012, there are over 500 million Twitter accounts
  • and they send out 33 billion tweets a day

May I repeat myself … that’s a lot of tweets. WAY too many for anyone to read, and hard even to try to imagine.

That said, many tweets, if not most, suck
We’ve all seen the account from the “social media expert” which consists of 100K followers, 100K following, and mostly automated tweets from a quote database … over and over and over. Profoundly uncool, and largely uninformative, not to mention unimaginative. In a word, spam.

Then there are others who add nothing, but retweet everything. They are slightly less annoying, but they are adding more noise than signal.

Most egregious are the twerps, er, tweeps who endlessly promote their own content, much of it consisting of crappy digital stuff to buy. No conversation, no engagement, no community just a carnival barker set on perpetual play.

These people kill the Twitterverse.

There’s gotta be something better
There’s gotta be a way to increase the signal to noise ratio. To dampen the static, and crank up the song … let the good stuff win out, rather than being drowned out.

There’s a bunch of options for this already. None of them are ideal.

One of them is simple: follow fewer people. If you only follow a few, you’re guaranteed to get less noise, right?

Right, but you’re also guaranteed to get less signal, too.

Even if you only follow a few top-notch people in whatever niches your interest lie … you’re still going to get:

  • @ messages from people you follow to other people who follow them … all of them of dubious importance to you
  • some degree of lame and inconsequential updates (we all do it … we’re HERE, this steak is AWESOME, my toes hurt, etc. etc.)
  • irrelevant messages … just because you follow an interesting person doesn’t mean that ALL of his or her interests directly overlap with yours

It’s true we should follow smart, but Twitter should show smart, too
There are cues to how important or relevant a tweet is. Some are obvious, such as these public indicators:

  • social importance of the tweeter
  • number of retweets or mentions
  • relevance to similar info in the Twitterverse

Some are not so obvious. They’re personal, related to complexities of how your interest graph and the person you are following intersect. So, for instance, if Twitter noticed over time that you responded more to Scoble’s tweets about open source, rather than Microsoft. Or more about startups than gadgets.

In both of those ways (macro and micro, public and personal), Twitter could shape the tweets you see to be higher quality, more relevant, better. There is a danger that we do get trapped in our own little reality bubbles, as Eli Pariser has warned. But the TweetRank algorithm could introduce some serendipity, perhaps bringing in high-quality tweets from other’s interest graphs, rocking your world with new ideas and perspectives 🙂

It just seems odd that Google has a TweetRank system but Twitter does not. And the Twitter user experience could be improved with a gently, carefully applied algorithm to improve the overall quality of tweets people see.


Google and the future of local search

I just spent the last 18 months of my life wrestling with better ways to do local search.

How to find the local events that matter to you, the local businesses that you need services or products from, the local experiences and places that are the most awesome, the local experts and professionals that can help you … in short: everything local that matters to you, served on a platter.

In most cases, you would think, Google would rock at that. It’s always somewhat surprising to find that sometimes, Google’s results totally suck. Like for instance when you want to find a local movie, on your iPad. Since I’m in the Fraser valley in BC, Canada, how can it think that “mission” refers to a city in Texas? That’s just one example, but there are others.

It turns that knowing search intent is tremendously important. For example, the famous beach query: it is about a local beach, some vacation beach, a name of a business, the essence of beachy-ness, people named beach, or what? Google uses a lot of hints and clues based on what it knows about you and your location and your interests in trying to answer, but it’s a thorny problem.

The huge advantage of an intentionally local search engine or app is that it knows you are looking for something local … because you chose to use a local search service. That’s a major simplifier, and the key reason why purpose-built search is often better today than Google.

The question, of course, is how good Google will get, over time, at using and marrying location data and inferred search intent to provide prescient-seeming results. Sometimes they hit it bang on already.

A better question is how good, given all the location and personal data it has built-in native access to, a technology like Apple’s Siri can get over time.

Amazon Kindle is killing it (specifically, Google)

The Kindle is absolutely killing it. Amazon doesn’t release sales numbers, but the whisper number in Taiwan is 4 million Kindles over the last three months of 2011.

That pales beside Apple’s almost 19 million units of iPad, but it’s the biggest number for Android tablets. And that’s a huge problem for Google.

Android, for Google, is about freedom
Android is the trojan horse that Google gives away to device manufacturers and carriers which was designed to ensure that their customers and users would be more tightly (even if virtually) connected to Google … glued tighter via digital services that generate income flow long term than the atoms & molecules that hoover cash up front.

So Android was supposed to guarantee Google’s freedom of access to users. Freedom from those device manufacturers and operating system vendors who might step between Google and users and try to sever the connection … such as making Bing the default search engine in IE. Or Siri replacing 95% of users’ need to search Google on their iPhones. Without users, there are no advertisers. Without advertisers, Google has no cash. And, as the old saying goes: no margin, no mission.

(Google’s freedom, of course, is distinct from users’ freedom. But by and large, Google has not been very evil about its efforts.)

New boss, same as the old boss
But now the Google trojan horse has a virus. A virus that infiltrated the Android dummy and took it over.

That virus is Amazon, who is using the structure and foundation of Android, but has divorced it entirely from it’s Google services roots. Unplug from Google (music, search, mail, apps, ads); plug in to Amazon (music, books, TV, products, movies, etc. etc. etc.).

Open source is … well … open
The reason Amazon is able to do this is the same reason Android grew so quickly in the first place: open source. Android never would have grown the way it did without three factors:

  1. It’s open source, so anyone can get the code, change the code, and re-release the code
  2. It improved rapidly after Google saw Apple reveal what a modern mobile OS should be
  3. It got big just as Apple was unleashing massive change in the mobile landscape, Microsoft/Nokia/BlackBerry all abysmally failed to respond with any even marginally capable riposte, and the carriers were desperate to compete with iPhone

But the biggest reason was number 1: free, baby, free.

It’s hard to compete with free. Free X beats marginally better X+1 … and Windows Mobile, Symbian, and BB OS were all very definitively unfree. Even better, Android quickly got better than tired old WinMo, complicated Symbian, and limited BB OS. Then it was free and good, even free and better. Irresistable!

(Of course, Android is no longer free. Due to patent encumbrances, Microsoft probably makes more money off Android right now than Google does, at least in the short term. Apple probably will start making money by licensing patents to Android device manufacturers as well. But still: it’s better, and it remains cheap.)

Hewers of wood & drawers of water
Now that Google has so kindly provided a great almost-free platform for small mobile devices, including tablets, Amazon is capitalizing on it by hijacking the result for its own use. Google won’t make a penny on any Kindle shipped, because:

  1. Amazon glue has replaced the Google glue
  2. Amazon even replaced the Google app store with an Amazon app store

Rock & roll, baby! This is how you win: turn your opponent’s strength into your strength. It’s very Sun Tzu of Jeff Bezos and company. And it’s turned Google’s hard work at creating a competitive moat of protection and offence into Amazon’s best weapon.

Nice to know you’re working for Amazon if you’re on Google’s Android development team, isn’t it? And due to the nature of open source software, that genie don’t go back into that box. Ever.

Thinking, thinking, thinking
If Kindle continues to be the default Android tablet by virtue of market choice, Google will be cut out of the market it created. And I don’t see how they can get that trojan horse turned around and properly supporting the company that built it.

The only option is continuing to innovate on Android – making it so awesome, and making the connection to Google services so essential – that users will demand the “real Android” experience they can only get from Google glue.

Almost every step on that path also sharpens Amazon’s sword.

Good luck, Google!

Massive Google local search fail

When you’re searching on a mobile device, and you enter the letters B-A-R, you are probably not looking for the Bureau of Automotive Repair in California. You are even less likely to be searching for the meaning and significance of bars on Wikipedia:

Most likely, you’re looking for a place to meet some people, grab a drink, have a snack, watch a game.

Google should know that …

Is the new Facebook prioritizing consumption over creation?

I know a lot of people get very upset when Facebook changes things. I like things that just work to stay just working as much as the next person.

But I love the changes Facebook has recently made. The ticker is awesome and quick. Timeline is very cool and nicely executed, although some are worried about privacy implications.

But I’m wondering about one design choice Facebook made: to keep the status update window closed by default:

You actually have to click on “Update Status” to start telling people what you’re doing:

That seems odd, especially since I’m getting used to Google+, where the “Share what’s new” box is always open:

Seems more welcoming, somehow. More designed for creators, no?

The only reason I can think for Facebook to keep it closed, besides to encourage consumption over creation, is the automatic sharing in the new Facebook platform, in which songs you’re listening to, games you’re playing, and articles you’re reading will automatically be shared to your friends on Facebook.

Still, seems odd.

Why a 30-minute Google Docs outage isn't "a major blow to cloud computing"

So, Google Docs had a 30-minute outage today.

This has C|Net saying that the sky is falling:

No matter how brief this outage, this is likely to be a major blow to the growth of cloud computing, as it reminds IT managers of the danger of relying on a unified product to serve all a company’s users. With traditional installed software and local storage, it’s almost impossible for a single outage, outside of a bad operating system upgrade, to affect an entire workforce at once.

Umm … no.

A major service such as Google Docs, which millions of people use around the globe, is a big deal. So going down – even for 30 minutes – is a big deal. Agreed.

But that’s exactly the reason why our response to it is disproportionate to the actual problem.

Consider how many times you’ve had issues with Microsoft Word, or whatever else you use as a word processor. Oh wait, you don’t use anything else (well, most of you). Word refusing to format properly, Word quitting unexpectedly, Word running slowly, Word eating your document. Or Word behaving like a perfectly gentleman, but your PC deciding to eat a document or two for lunch.

Never happened to you? You must the be the luckiest dude on the planet.

But it happens to most of us. And if you add up all the little annoyances and grievances … they crowd out a couple of outages here or there by Google Docs.

At least, that’s my opinion. Yours may differ!

Google Maps thinks Oregon is in the midwest

My wife and I are planning a road trip. We’re gonna head south from Vancouver, hit Seattle, Portland, and Crater Lake. Then we’ll go to San Francisco and finally Yosemite.

This is a LOT easier than it used to be, given online tools like Google Maps, Kayak, Travelocity, and TripAdvisor. But not when they don’t work.

Google Maps has had some serious issues over the past week.

First, it has the odd idea that Lincoln City, Oregon, is actually Lincoln, Nebraska:

Then Google Maps is quite sure that Seaside, Oregon, is South Dakota:

It takes some real skill to do this. Even more impressive, on the weekend Google Maps told us that Portland was on the east coast of the US. Transporting an entire city across the width of a continent may seem like a major feat, but Google never broke a sweat. Unfortunately, I didn’t immortalize that creative mapping in a screenshot.

We actually had to – can you believe it – use MapQuest.

Wow, how 1997.

Leaving Facebook for Google+? Unlikely

Brian Solis recently posted a poll asking his contacts if they’d abandon Facebook for Google+.

A shocking large number – 24% – are currently saying yes. Really? Are a quarter of technically-savvy social media types going to abandon the biggest social network on the planet?

I say no, and here’s the comment I made:

Facebook = friends & family.
Google+ = tech stuff.
LinkedIN = professional networking.
Twitter = not sure anymore…

Mom’s not going to G+. Not gonna happen. And neither are all your cousins, aunts, and other assorted relatives. Plus, most of your school friends who aren’t engineers or otherwise geeky won’t be there – at least not for a while.

So there’s room for all the networks to play.

Except maybe for Twitter, which is still super-strong, but which will (I think) lose a significant component of it’s more technical contributors to G+.

Time will tell …

Google+: don't add brand accounts if you want to stay social

As we all know, Google+ is about to add brand accounts. And, following the Myspace get-the-bands-and-the-fans-will-com strategy, they’re working hard to get Hollywood stars on Google+.

I think that’s a bad strategy … if you really want a truly social experience.

For those of us who are on Google+ right now – here I am, let’s circle up – there’s a real excitement, a buzz, an eagerness, and a charge to using Google+.

There’s a lot of reasons for that:

  • it’s new and we like shiny new toys
  • friending is more manageable than Facebook and Twitter
  • sharing media is easier, quicker than Facebook and Twitter
  • Google+ is integrated into much of (not yet all of) the Google world we live in online

But that’s not the most important reason. The key reason a lot of us on G+ are absolutely loving it is the MASSIVE ENGAGEMENT FACTOR.

People see things. People post. They reply. They argue. They circle. They +1.

In other words, this social network is social. Whoda thunk it? In fact, it’s intensely social. So social that people like Digg founder Kevin Rose redirected his personal blog to his Google+ profile.

My worry and my concern is that by bringing brands in, Google+ will turn into a less social experience. And instead of being a valid and differentiated alternative to Facebook … it will just become more similar. Facebook is a huge marketing platform. Google+ is an innocent, young, on-monetized social network.

I know it can’t stay the way it is forever. But is it possible there’s another path?

Apple, being strategic with app store approvals is not strategic

On June 28, Google+ launched. Immediately, there was a Google+ app for Android.

For iPhone? Not quite as fast.

In fact, it was not until today, July 19, that the Google+ iPhone app finally hit the Apple app store. That’s closing in on a month later … and it’s not because the app was unavailable, either. It had been submitted prior to July 5 as multiple accounts attest. But it only became available today.

This is not new. Google Voice spent 17 months in the app store approval process. 17 months! And it’s not just a Google-Apple problem either … Opera Mini, an alternative web browser, took the better part of a month to approve, while many speculated whether Apple would allow competition for one of its core iPhone apps. Podcaster was rejected, because iTunes can handle podcasts. My App Sales will never be allowed because it accesses iTunes Connect in an unauthorized way. The list goes on.

While Apple will never come out and say so … some apps are rejected because they threaten Apple’s strategic interests.

My point here is to say that iOS and the Apple app store’s position as the primary and first choice of mobile platforms for developers is a very, very significant strategic interest of Apple. And playing god with the platform … choosing who you’ll let in and when and why … is not good for PR, not good for partner relations, and not good for developer relations. In fact, it’s so bad that it outweighs any possible advantage gained by rejecting apps that might in some ways vary from Apple’s wishes.

A better and longer-term strategic mindset would be: we will do whatever we can to ensure the app store is the best place and first place for developers to publish. Even if it sometimes hurts us.

What other apps have been rejected or delayed by Apple?

Twitter: caught in the Facebook/Google+ crossfire?

Twitter, I fear for you.

You rock, everyone knows that. Well, let’s put it this way: you used to rock. Maybe you still do, but I’m not so sure.

You were my other network:

  • Must-have: Facebook for friends and family
  • Must-have:LinkedIn for work & professional networking
  • Nice-to-have:Twitter for intellectual stimulation, learning, & sharing

Facebook – it’s good to be king
Facebook is pretty secure in its position. 750M users will do that for you.

Guess what: my mom isn’t joining Google+. Not going to happen. Same with most of my friends, who don’t know what SEO is, have barely heard of Android, and wouldn’t have a clue that iOS is the operating system (what’s an operating system?) for iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches.

LinkedIn – prince is OK for me
LinkedIn is also pretty secure. Complete domination of a category will do that for you.

Everyone I know professionally who cares about their online profile is on LinkedIn. Anyone in marketing, biz-dev, leadership, and technology has a LinkedIn profile. They’re not going to pull their entire resumes and professional histories and recommendations and contacts out of LinkedIn anytime soon.

Twitter – contender or pretender?
Twitter is a little shaky. It’s not as big as Facebook. It doesn’t have a strong a niche as LinkedIn.

Where are the smart people going?
And guess what: all the smart connected people I know are spending almost all of their spare social networking time on Google+. It has become aspects of social and news and networking altogether.

Maybe some of that is because it’s the hot new girl in class. Maybe it’s novelty.

But there’s a LOT that Google+ does right. Media-sharing is next-generation. Conversations are awesome. Communities and groups are a dream to manage. Everything works, and there hasn’t been a fail whale in sight: if there’s one thing that Google knows best, it’s managing scale.

Twitter, how are you going to fight that?

Google+ means email+

Google+ is the most interesting thing to come out of Google since … well, since search. Or maybe Android.

But it’s also a major generator of email:

To be fair, that’s not unlike Facebook. It’s just that on Facebook, we’ve had more time to adapt (and update our email preferences). On G+, it’s so new that I’ve wanted to stay engaged and stay updated.

Guess I’m gonna have to update my email preferences!

On another note, I think this marks my fourth straight post about Google. That says two things:

  1. Google is doing a lot of stuff!
  2. I need to focus on some different things!

Back to the salt mines …

Google+ … I'm in! Want an invite?

Kinda pumped here.

I indicated interest in Google+ yesterday, and when I check my email this morning and saw no invites, I thought I was out of luck. If you didn’t get an invite last night, you’re out of luck because invites have been shut off.

But when I went to Google+ this morning, I was happily surprised: I’m in!

Invites are still off right now, but they are sure to be turned on again soon.

Leave a comment here if you want an invite from me when Google expands the beta.

Why thanks, Google

The big G is getting helpful. Now Google is letting you know when your blog could stand some updating:

No, it doesn’t email angry missives with whiny you-haven’t-updated-your-blog-in-two-weeks messages. Instead, it just tells you when there’s an update available for the software that powers your site.

In my case, that’s invariably WordPress, and my portfolio site, johnkoetsier.com, needed some work. I don’t touch it very often … maybe once every couple of months … so sometimes it’s a version or two behind the current WordPress standard.

I think Google sends the update based on what it knows from Google Webmaster Tools. I’ve set up all my sites there, and sure enough, when I go check it out … there’s a message in my inbox that looks strikingly familiar:

I’ve had this site get infected before – there’s nothing like an older version of WordPress with known issues to draw the hackers/crackers – so I appreciated the warning.

And, of course, updated the site.

10 reasons Google's +1 will be a massive success

Google’s massive and long-awaited foray into social begins anew tomorrow morning: +1 is here.

I think +1 will be a huge success, and here’s why.

  1. Google needs this
    Google sucks at social. But the web has changed … and they need, need, need this to work. It’s mission-critical, and have you ever known Google to fail long-term at anything mission-critical? Me neither. ‘Nuff said.

  2. Google has scale
    There are lots of social sharing icons in roughly similar spaces: the Facebook Like button, StumbleUpon, Twitter’s tweet button … etc. etc. Reddit, LinkedIn, Digg, Delicious, you name it … they all have social sharing. But only Facebook has anything approaching Google’s scale. And Google’s massive scale is going to make +1 big, fast.

  3. There’s room for one more social sharing icon
    Right now sites focus on Facebook likes and Twitter tweets. Some will add in Reddit or StumbleUpon, or let you access 10-20 more social sharing networks via a drop-down menu. But there’s room in the higher pantheon of social sharing/recommending always-visible top-of-the-page icons to add one more biggie. That’s Google’s +1, and the only question is which of the also-rans will drop out. Tech sites surely will have Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Everyone else? You’re in a drop-down menu – sorry about that.

  4. SEO types are having wet dreams
    Social ranking signals influencing Google search results? SERPS that I can influence if I get my audience to vote? SEOs are all over that … and they will drive a lot of behavior on top 500 websites.

  5. The web wants a Facebook competitor
    We know Google is the Borg. But we also know Facebook is the Borg. When it comes right down to it, it’s better to have two Borgs than one. When there’s two, at least there’s competition. At least there’s a need to be user-focused instead of $$$-focused. So Google getting some traction in social is a good thing for all of us … maybe even Facebook. Or maybe not.

  6. It’s easy for site managers
    Adding social sharing icons to a site is dead easy. SharePost, ShareThis … there are lots of ways and lots of plugins. Adding one more is a no-brainer that will take virtually no effort for millions of blog owners and site managers.

  7. Google owns search and search traffic
    Because Google owns search engine referral traffic, which is most of many sites’ traffic, it has tremendous power in influencing what those sites do. Search engine optimization is pretty much Google optimization. As such, anyone who cares about traffic optimizes for Google … and +1 is not just a nice idea: it’s going to be critical.

  8. Google has hundreds of millions of users already
    For users, +1 is almost a Trojan horse – to use it, you need to have a Google account. Fortunately for Google, hundreds of millions of people already do: they’re called Gmail users. That’s an incredible installed based to start from … and hundreds of millions more will be jumping all over this. This alone is the key factor that is making Facebook red-faced and white-knuckled: now many, many more will have a reason to not just use Google, but sign up and get an account with Google. This will have significant downstream impact on future Google initiatives in social …

  9. AdWords costs could go down
    Let’s say you’re a big Google AdWords advertiser. You pay 25 cents a click. Now you start using +1, and your users drive up your ranking for all the keywords you are relevant for. And your noticeability goes up. You get more clicks, and more organic clicks. Now you’re paying less … because your organic SEO is improved (non-paid traffic) and your ads convert better (paid traffic that converts better is cheaper in the AdWords algorithm). Huh. You think you’re interested in that? Just a little …

  10. PageRank is over
    PageRank is so over. It’s been done. It’s been optimized for and gamed. It’s not able to provide great results anymore. Social proof is the missing piece, and users and Google alike know it. So both users and Google have a vested interest in improving search results.

Google’s +1 is going to drive major change on the web. And it won’t take long.

How Apple's iOS 5 is going to utterly destroy local search

iOS 5, Apple’s newest operating system for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch is coming in late summer or fall. And I’m predicting it will completely reinvent local and mobile search.

First, some groundwork
Local search is just search for stuff that’s around you.
Mobile search is search on a phone or small device.
And most searches that are mobile, are local.

Done is the new search
Search is an outmoded concept. Most of us just don’t know it, and even for those that do, we can’t really live it yet. I’m betting that’s all going to change in just few months time.

Very simply, search is a process. The goal or object of the search is the product. And since flint knives and sparking rocks, humans reinvent processes continuously to achieve products quicker.

So why search when you can just do?

Laying it all out
Most local/mobile (let’s just say LOMO) searches are action-oriented.

  • Where’s the nearest bar?
  • What’s the best restaurant near here?
  • Is there a movie theatre near here playing XYZ latest & greatest movie?
  • Can I get a cab here?

The search intent, or goal here, is pretty obvious. Shoot me the latest twofer deal at the nearest bar, get me reservations at the restaurant, buy me tickets at the theatre, send a cab to pick me up.

Today, to do that, most people have to:

  1. open a search app (or several)
  2. enter search terms
  3. sort through data
  4. select an option
  5. phone the option
  6. make the reservation/booking/buy

To do this, you might have to open 3-4 apps (a phone is an app), switch context at least that many times, actively personally speak (or wait on hold). Basically, you have to do it yourself.

But wouldn’t it be nice if you had a personal assistant do it all for you?

Enter iOS 5 … your personal assistant from heaven
Apple has a huge problem. That problem is a green little robot dude named Android. And while iPhone is still the best smart mobile platform in the world, Android’s hybrid vigor and essential free-ness to telcos and amazing plasticity is driving huge growth: faster growth than iPhone.

Apple doesn’t need to be bigger than Android, but it absolutely needs to be better.

So Apple is making iOS your new best friend … that does all the annoying little detail work for you. And it’s via an acquisition they made over a year ago, Siri, and a massive data center in the clouds of North Carolina.

Imagine this: pull out your iPhone and say: “I need a flight to Toronto on June 9, arriving in early afternoon, a downtown hotel that doesn’t cost more than $200/night, and tickets to a Blue Jays game that weekend. Oh, and by the way, make me dinner reservations at a good French restaurant for Friday night.”

Rocket science? Star Trek? Prerogative of wealthy execs with personal assistants and fat expense accounts? Rich man’s reality, poor man’s dream?

Think again. This is what Siri does … and this is the future of iOS.

Get ready
Done is the new search. If you’re in the LOMO industry, get ready.

The one potential flaw in Apple’s ointment? Apple doesn’t do social real well … sort of like another tech giant we all know well.

As LOMO becomes SOLOMO (social/local/mobile) this opens doors for others who play nicely together.

Perhaps there’s an opportunity here …

. . .
. . .

Some background resources:

My 3-part series on the future of local search from earlier this year:

TechCrunch on Apple’s new data center and iOS voice plans, and a prior article on iOS 5 and Siri.

And Robert Scoble’s very informative overview and demo of Siri.

Anything else worth linking to here? Add it in the comments …

Bing & Yahoo send less traffic in a month than Google in a day

I know Bing is getting better and better at search. I know they’re even increasing their market share, and not just because they’re also driving Yahoo! search results now.

Frankly, more power to them – competition in any space drives improvements for all of us. So I hope they continue to push Google and both companies get better at finding and organizing information.

But this is really weird. You’d think that if Bing drives about 30% of the searches on the internet, I would see some traffic here at Sparkplug 9 from them. Or from Yahoo. You’d think wrong:

See that big blue chunk of the pie? The 96.91%? Yup, that’s Google’s share of search-engine-driven traffic to this site. It’s not all traffic – I get a ton of traffic from StumbleUpon and other sites. But traffic from search engines is a big chunk of my traffic … and almost all of it is straight from Google.

Perhaps it’s audience – my topics are not interesting to the typical Bing or Yahoo user? That’s possible. But so much less interesting? Kinda hard to believe.

In any case, Bing and Yahoo! send less traffic to my blog in a month than Google in a day.


Search on Facebook sucks, and so does ad targeting (on searches)

OK, so let’s just be honest.

In all this talk of Facebook being a huge competitive threat to Google … there’s a big missing piece. And that’s search.

Social is great, big, wonderful, exciting, profitable, and growing wildly. Social commerce is going to be big. Social discovery is already huge.

But when you really need to get something done NOW, or find something in real-time … there’s nothing like searching. And the Facebook experience is nothing like the Google experience.

The Google experience is obvious – we all use it. Need something, type something, find something (usually). The Facebook experience is odd … at least when you’re trying to do an actual informational search in a built-for-social world.

By default, Facebook says it’s searching ALL results, out of these options:

  • All results
  • People
  • Pages
  • Groups
  • Apps
  • Events
  • Web results (from Bing)
  • Posts by friends
  • Posts by everyone

This cannot actually be true. In fact, it’s completely false.

We’re currently listing ads for sales consultants in BC, Ontario, and Alberta. Wanting to see the ads in context, I searched for “sales jobs bc” … which ONLY brings up group and business pages, none of which are relevant.

Filtering by people or places brings up zero results. Filtering by groups brings up IDENTICAL results to All Results. Filting by Apps or Events brings up zilch again. Filtering by web brings up Bing results for the search query, which bears no relationship with the results in All Results or Groups. Posts by Friends brings up nothing (for me), and Posts by Everyone brings up a couple of personal status updates.

And then, on top of it all … the ads Facebook showed me while search barely changed from the standard FB ads I always see: local deals, products, groups or people wanting my attention. Few were relevant, and it took many refreshes to see my own ad for sales jobs in BC.

So …

  1. Searching by social doesn’t work well (for this kind of query, and for a lot of the standard Google types of queries)
  2. Facebook search results are not blended results; they are silo’d results … which, particularly in the case of Bing, is a problem in terms of utility (i.e., there’s less than there should be!)
  3. Search query terms do not carry enough weight in Facebook in terms of prioritizing ads to display
  4. Bing ads that are shown in Facebook are severely limited compared to the standard web Bing ads … Facebook’s Bing results show only 2 ads, while Bing.com shows 5.

The upshot?
Social and search may still meet. In fact, will still meet.

Just not today.

Connecting buyers and sellers: the coming Action Engine (part 3)

The future of search is found.

That may be a truism … sort of like a classic rock song: an oldy but a goody. But let’s unpack it a little.

I started this series on connecting buyers and sellers a couple of months ago. In the first article, I talked about how companies make money. Mostly, they either:

  1. make stuff
  2. provide services
  3. connect buyers and sellers

The third group, the connectors, have the opportunity to make the most money because they operate across business categories. (Unfortunately it’s hard to successfully layer across too many verticals, which is why Google is now verticalizing search … e.g., boutiques.com)

In the second article, I talked about companies that are working to own layers across the entire web which will enable them to know you, and secondly know a virtual representation of the world (including the commercial world, where money and goods and services are exchanged), and thirdly connect the two … thereby earning the right to “make a piece” (of the action) on every transaction.

I said that:

  1. Google owns the intention graph (what do people want)
  2. Facebook owns the social graph (who do people know/like)
  3. Twitter owns the interest graph (what are people interested in)

And today, I’ve said that the future of search is found. But not really. Actually, the future of search is done … a big red Easy button for life.

Web -> Directory -> Search engine -> ???
In the beginning you had the web. It was cool and good and most excellent.

Unfortunately, there came to be a time when there was just simply too much of it, and you needed a map. Enter stage right: directories … human-edited maps of what was, so you could traverse a neat Dewey-Decimalish system and find what you wanted. Ergo, Yahoo!

Quite astonishingly, the web continued to grow at ridiculous rates, and human-edited directories couldn’t keep track. Enter algorithms, and spiders … automated tools for finding, cataloging, and retrieving all the knowledge that’s fit to post. Hence Google.

Google is amazing, Google is marvelous, Google is incredible.

But Google is not enough.

Action engine
‘Cause it’s not just about finding stuff. Who cares, abstractly, about finding stuff? The reason you do the search for dentists in Detroit is not to find a list of dentists in Detroit.

You search for dentists in Detroit to find a dentist in Detroit, yes. But your actual search intent is only a part of your larger goal intent … and your goal intent is to find A dentist in Detroit (a good one, maybe the best one) and then to get an appointment with said dentist in Detroit … and then to get a root canal, remove an impacted wisdom tooth, or whatever your pleasure might be.

So the progression is as follows:

Web -> Directory -> Search Engine -> Action Engine

So the tools of the future are not about finding you lists of stuff. They’re about actuating desires in your life.

Hence the mention of Siri in the second installment of our little journey through the future (and the past) of commerce. It’s about tools to make our lives simpler. Because we all know about the paradox of choice.

More is less
As Barry Schwarz has shown us, more information is less value. Less value as far as happiness and quality of life is concerned, at least.

More results (millions on Google for everything) means more choices. More choices means more stress … both before a purchase/click initiation (which is the right decision?!?) and after the purchase/click completion (was that really the right decision?!? was there a better XYZ to get/do/use?!?).

So a truly empowering technology will transform intention into action … and manage many if not most of the complexities (quality, reputation, efficiency, effectiveness, etc.) for us.

We’re ready for the Action Engine. Who’s going to build it for us?

Google & HotPot: Google just invented PlaceRank

We all know PageRank … the product of the mythical Google algorithm that magically assigns each website and webpage a numerical quality score for certain searches. Now Google’s just added “PlaceRank.”

I’m using quotes because they haven’t announced it that way, but that’s essentially what it is. And it’s not all that new … local search companies have essentially been doing similar things for some time. TripAdvisor results, for instance, are ranked by location and recommendations.

The announcement is here, but you actually have to watch the movie to catch the important parts … so I’ve embedded it just below this post.

What Google’s just done is added an Amazon.com “like-ness” feature to the physical world. With HotPot, instead of telling customers that people who purchased X also purchased Y, Google will be telling you that since you loved Bob’s Burgers, you’ll probably also like Diane’s Doughnuts.

“Tell us about the place you know, to discover the places you’ll love.”

In other words, as you recommend places, you’re building Google’s database of not just what’s good in the ‘hood, so to speak … but also Google’s database of what you like. And not just what you like now, but perhaps even more importantly, what you’re likely to like in the future.

Interesting. And inevitable. And smart.

With this addition, Google has gone a little bit beyond what it’s done to date in local search. So far, it’s pretty much added features that everyone else already has. Now, it’s using the Google weapon of choice – the algorithm – to disrupt local search.

See the video announcement:

See additional commentary:

Google Maps: massive mini-map usability fail

You’ve see the mini-maps on a thousand websites, right? The one on the corporate website that’s going to give you a clue where the offices are?

Like this:

This is great, helpful and good … it gives you a sense of where the business is, it doesn’t intrude too much into the page, it looks neat, tidy, and modern.

The problem?

When you actually decide you want to go there – and you need to see some more detail – where do you click to get a big map? It’s not clear … although the terms of use and how to report a problem are fairly obvious.

In fact, you have to click in this little tiny rectangle:

No, not on the Google logo, which would make some degree of sense. Not in any drop-down menu (although that may be coming at some point). Nor just a single click on the map itself.

Rather, a click on the tiny “powered by” link.

Fairly non-obvious, I would think.

Google Contextual Search and Microsoft Paperclip

Marissa Mayer, former head of the Google search team and now head of the Google’s mobile/social ambitions, has made no secret of her goals. Lately she’s been hyping “contextual discovery” … or search without search.

The idea is simple and compelling: you happen to be at the office, you often go out for a coffee at 10AM, and your phone mentions a new coffee shop around the corner. Or you’re in a new city halfway across the world, and your phone finds a coffee shop to wake up in … without being asked.

The challenge lies in execution: how to be helpful without being annoying. Basically, how to avoid being Cliff Clavin in a pocket.

Microsoft faced a similar challenge a decade ago. After all, 90% of the features in Word and Excel are used extremely occasionally – 10% of the features meet 90% of our needs. So there’s a discovery problem … if you’re Microsoft and want to justify new versions with increasingly more options and features.

Microsoft’s answer was Office Assistant, building on the foundations of Microsoft Bob. The visual representation of Office Assistant was a paperclip … hence Clippy … hence Microsoft Paperclip. Clippy would “notice” that you were doing something (like writing a letter) and offer advice or assistance. Unfortunately, Clippy was intrusive and annoying, and its assistance was wrong, stupid, or just plain obvious – a user experience disaster.

Here’s the question: how will Google avoid the Clippy fate?

Getting the right information at the right time is wonderful, excellent, and good. But there’s more opportunity to fail than to succeed:

Right fact Wrong fact
Right time Party time! Woohoo! Annoyance & anger
Wrong time Annoyance & anger Annoyance & anger

At first glance, it looks bad, but not too bad. After all, it’s a 25% change of hitting pay dirt right? But actually, it’s much worse than that.

How does Google know what is the right fact … one you’ll be interested in? And not just interested in generally, but interested in now? Can a smart contextual search app trace the route you’ve been following and the speed you’ve been maintaining and make some judgements about whether you’re being hurried and purposeful (and therefore not too interested in random desiderata this morning, but maybe very interested in traffic data) … or leisurely and rambling (and therefore maybe touring, and perhaps interested in historical facts that add color to your experience).

These are not trivial problems. And they’re just the beginning.

How, for example, will Google send the notifications? Will they use the same channel/interface as text messages? Will the user need to set a preference that “now I’m interested in various facts?”

I don’t have the answers … but there are a lot of questions to answer before a truly useful and non-annoying tool can be successfully launched.

TripAdvisor & Facebook: the enemy of my enemy is my friend

Yesterday TripAdvisor launched a new version of their site. The key difference? Enabling Facebook’s instant personalization. This is suspiciously soon after blocking Google from displaying TripAdvisor reviews on google.com … these two events are related.

What does it do
Instant personalization takes your friends to the web with you. All the reviews and activities that your connections on Facebook have engaged in now become part of the website you’re visiting. So for TripAdvisor, I can see that my friends have recently reviewed a hotel, where my friends most popular destinations are, and so on. I can also see cities that my friends have visited – or pinned. It’s very cool, very social, very relevant, very interesting.

How it’s related
Yesterday I posted this on Twitter:

Google vs Facebook is like the cold war: USA vs USSR. I feel like a small African nation in the 70s … which do I choose to align to?

TripAdvisor is making a determination here – very publicly – that Facebook poses less of a challenge to their business model than Google. (Make no mistake … Facebook poses plenty of business challenges to plenty of sites, TripAdvisor included!) I think they’ve made the right call, simply because Google is much closer to centralizing all the features of the purchase decision all in one place, as Bing has recently done in some verticals:

  1. search (find products/services))
  2. comparison (compare products/services)
  3. completion (purchase products/services)

But this is not an easy call. There are two giants here fighting over the future of the web. Just as in the cold-war world … most companies will need to align in some way, shape, or form. Few will remain completely independent.

Google is trying to own the way we organize and find information – all information.

Facebook is trying to own the way we connect to and communicate with people – all people.

Obviously there is increasingly violent convergence between these two imperatives …

Google’s ambitions impinge on vertical sites like TripAdvisor (and many other sites, like that of my company, Canpages) who, guess what, want to also help people find stuff.

Facebook’s ambitions provide an option for sites that Google is squeezing to provide a different, more social, more contextualized, more personal, and potentially more relevant user experience.

The algorithm versus the social graph
Which will win? The cold calculating machines of Google, adding up links and tags and a myriad of other factors and arriving at a calculated relevance score for any given query? The implicit and explicit advice of my social circle?

We live in interesting times!

Local heats up, starts to get ugly

Everyone who follows tech and web news today knows that local is the hottest battleground right now. It’s one that I’m intimately engaged in as part of Canpages, one of the leading local search sites in Canada.

The battle just turned up a few degrees.

Today Yahoo! announced their new local focus “neighborhood mix”, now in beta … a combination of local news, events, and – you guessed it – deals. That’s following hot on the heels of Groupon, the poster child for local commerce deals, which recently turned down a $6B takeover deal from Google. And Google of course just announced Hotpot recently, a recommendation engine to add to Places, Google’s hyper-local search/commerce engine.

I haven’t even mentioned Yelp, or Facebook Places, or the entire location-based networks such as FourSquare and Gowalla, or Bing Local. But that’s not what made the battle hotter.

TripAdvisor is the company that turned up the temperature.

TripAdvisor, of course, is the company you turn to in order to find out if the hotel or restaurant you’re going to is any good. They have hundreds of thousands of reviews, most from ordinary people who have gone to the location and reported their findings. I never pick a hotel without checking TripAdvisor first.

Befitting its status as a search engine, Google has always provided easy access to TripAdvisor reviews, ranking them high in search engine result pages (SERPs). But as a local destination and review engine in its own right, Google is not neutral anymore. It’s not even, really, a frenemy. The coopetition is now pretty much competition. And TripAdvisor has decided to stop feeding the troll.

Google Places works by aggregating web content about a location in order to present a searcher as complete a picture as possible (with some restrictions, as they don’t work with Facebook or – now – with TripAdvisor). They’ve had problems before as content providers and creators such as Yelp have felt they are getting cheated as Google essentially uses their content for free. That’s always been the case, of course, but now with Google Places, users may not ever feel the need to click through to any of the other sites to get a fuller picture. Places, in other words, pushes Google over the line from partner and source to direct competition.

And so TripAdvisor has blocked Google Places from showing full reviews. Greg Sterling at Search Engine Land has a great post showing the exact implications of this blocking.

This is a devil’s deal, of course: you’re protecting your interests but also harming them. While protecting their content, TripAdvisor is risking their traffic. They can probably do it – their brand is strong, and their direct-in traffic and repeat traffic is probably also strong.

The question is: will more content providers start doing this as well?

Are coupons the future of local (e) commerce? Really?

Social coupons are the hottest new old thing on the web today.

With Google maybe/probably coughing up $6,000,000,000 (yeah, that’s billion) for Groupon, Amazon investing in or buying LivingSocial, Baidu launching a group buying engine, eBay buying Milo, WhaleShark Media buying Retailmenot to add to their portfolio of Deals.com and CouponShare.com and everyone else and his dog investing in or buying or building group purchasing deal features …. this is hot.

But seriously.

Coupons are OK. I mean, everyone likes saving money. And group deals are cool … if we can all save money together, isn’t everyone a little happier?

But with all the hype, let’s remember a few important things:

  • Coupons are a feature
    First of all, from a business (and technology) point of view, coupons are a feature, not a platform. Meaning they need to hook into an existing engine.

    The genius of Groupon (and the genius of the entire RESTful, API-centric, connected web2.0-3.0 world) is that they connected with the Facebook platform to drive unprecedented growth. Look for that to get a little harder if they’re owned by Facebook’s arch-rival Google in the future.

    But the point is: it’s not the whole enchilada. It’s a piece of the pie (so if you’re going to do coupons, you better have a pie, not just a cherry).

  • Coupons aren’t for everyone
    Having mixed metaphors fearlessly up to this point, let’s just say this: Coupon Ron is not your preferred client. While there’s no doubt that coupons are a great marketing move for some businesses, you are not going to drive long-term profitable growth based on couponing.

    By definition, Coupon Ron is fickle … he’ll go to whoever has the latest coupon. That means he’s used to getting a discount. If you’re not giving him one, he’s probably not shopping/eating/consuming/buying your services or products. And that means he’s a low-margin client.

    In other words, coupons are not the playing card that a merchant who’s dealing from a position of strength throws down.

So … coupons are great and cool, but there’s a LOT more to commerce, e-commerce, local commerce, social commerce, and any other form of commerce.

And that’s something we’d all do well to remember when the tulip bulb craziness hits.

Connecting buyers and sellers: beyond Google, Facebook, Groupon etc. (part 2)

Note: this post is part of a series … Part one | Part two | Part threepost last week on the future of connectors (companies that connect buyers and sellers), I looked at what connectors are, what they do, and the key ones online.

But the question remains: what’s the future of commerce online?

I ended last post with 3 givens:

  • Location awareness is only going to grow
  • Social connectivity is not going to decrease
  • Mobile devices are going to get smarter/better/faster

It’s all linked in some way
One way of looking at the new web, next web, web2.0, or even web 1.0 is via links. Not just web links (Google) but also people links (Facebook) … and people to thing links (Facebook likes/recommends), and interest links (Twitter). A nouveau chic term for this is graph

  • Google owns the intentional graph (what do people want)
  • Facebook owns the social graph (who do people know/like)
  • Twitter owns the interest graph (what are people interested in)

Let’s get a little more speculative and even more out on a limb with our reckless use of the word “own” and say that Groupon owns the deal graph (or wants to, or will, or part of it).

But the deals and purchases graph is a much more fragmented reality. Amazon owns a big chunk of it. eBay and especially Paypal know a lot about what people buy. Deal sites abound, and Groupon clone-pons are a dime-a-dozen. Craigslist could potentially know a lot about what people buy and who they buy from, except that the ethos of the site is aggressively low-tech, low-friction, low-customization, and low, well, everything (cost, data, you name it).

One ring to rule them all
An obvious answer for the uber-connector to come in and sweep the stage clean of all current competition is a connector that utilizes aspects of all the graphs. A connector that brings all the links together.

Something, for instance, that:

  • knows you
  • knows what you search for (and want)
  • knows what your interests are …
  • knows your friends (and what they own, search for, and are interested in)

AND also knows if not everything at least an awful lot about the digital world:

  • which products are available where and for what prices
  • where to find and how to obtain services

AND can present them to you intelligently, in an organized way, at the right time, and fairly efficiently … OR, with your pre-determined permission make buying decisions, negotiate with service suppliers and product sellers …

… would be an unbelievable connector between buyers and sellers, and would be immensely valuable.

Special agent
As I said, that’s the obvious answer. And guess what, in the 70s and 90s a lot of energy went into thinking about and trying to create software agents, who could do all the tedious painful stuff for you that you don’t want to.

After all, who really wants to check 50 airline sites (or Expedia or Kayak) for the best price for airline tickets. All you really want to do is tell someone (or a system): I want to go from here to there at this time for about this price or cheaper … and have the someone/system go do it.

Essentially, this is AI – artificial intelligence. At least at some level. And Skynet’s got bigger things on its mind.

Agents on the move
The 00’s and 10’s version of agents, of course, is apps. This is precisely the vision behind Siri on the iPhone (check Scoble’s interview if you don’t live in the US and can’t download this app for your phone.)

Siri is a personal assistant that can do mundane (and non-so-mundane) activities for you. But Siri is also a connector that will get you what you want … and collect a small fee from the service providers.

The next web
Siri is a clue to the next web. Because let’s face it: just because we can search search search on Google doesn’t make everything perfect.

Searching Google happens to be easier than the meatspace analogue of going to a library, finding a book, reading the book, finding another, reading the other, getting your data, going home, and continuing your life.

Yeah, it’s easier. But is it easy? Double-plus-no-no-no.

Directed search for in-depth tasks where the master intent is more complex than “what is the capital of Kenya” is hard. Just one example: what TV should I buy. The answer to that question is a non-obvious goal which is better answered by some kind of expert system than a traditional search engine.

Google knows this … and that’s why Google is changing.

Google’s mission may be to organize the world’s information … but in 5 years, Google will not be a search engine.

More on that next time …

Facebook Messages: yes, this is an email killer

Facebook launched its new Messages feature today: social inbox, filtering by friends, eternal history, messages over medium (i.e., from all sources), and DEFINITELY NOT AN EMAIL KILLER.

Well, at least according to Mark Zuckerberg. However, the new Facebook messaging model definitely IS an email killer – just maybe not for 30-something fuddie-duddies. For our kids, the old Facebook messaging system had ALREADY killed email. And now, Facebook is positioning Messages as an overall messaging platform that will handle all of your messaging (eventually) in a single system.

But here’s why Facebook is positioning Messages as a non “email killer:”

  1. Email will stick
    Email will be around until the end of time, so why give an opportunity for people to point, laugh, and say that Facebook was wrong when claiming email’s dead?

  2. Email is too low a target
    Email doesn’t do half of what Messages can/will do. Messages is a bigger, more advanced idea. Maybe not better … we’ll see. But much, much bigger.

  3. Adoption will be uneven
    As always, some will adopt and some will not. There is no one perfect system for everyone. And, especially for older people … they’re not the early adopters that some of us are.

But make no mistake. Google Wave was a flyer that fell. Messages is better-baked because of it. And Messages, or something like it, will replace what we now call email.

It’ll just take some time.


Here’s a great overview of Messages and why it’s an ambitious, interesting, and almost certainly successful project.