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Posts Tagged ‘yahoo’

Methinks the best experience will end up combining real time search with regular web search.  Yes, it’s nice to have unfiltered immediate information in certain situations like breaking news or emergencies.  Outside of that synthesis is essential to keep the noise to signal ratio down.

I don’t so much mind the metaphor used on TechCrunch today of consciousness and memory.

Imagine having just memory or just real time consciousness – it somehow wouldn’t be very efficient for the processing of information into action.  TC brings this up.  Yesterday’s Michael Jackson and celebrity death coverage and the malware issues showcases that without some non-real time synthesis things get pretty messed up.

Thinking through this is not that hard.  Though you can’t use citation analysis to filter results like in PageRank, you can do similar things to get some confidence interval in the real time results.  However, the more accurate you make that the more processing time it will take and, thus, it will be less real time.   I think some hybrid of rapid filtering with a real time pressentation of streams with a big note that says UNFILTERED or UNVERIFIED should do just fine at the top of regular web results.

I’d use that kind of experience, for what it’s worth…

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Whether it’s “valid” or not humans (and probably most animals) make associations of new, unknown things with similar-seeming known things.  In fact, this is the basis of communication.

In the case of discussing new websites/services/devices like Wolfram|Alpha, Bing, Kindle, iPhone, Twitter and so on it’s perfectly reasonable to associate them to their forebears.  Until users/society gets comfortable with the new thing and have a way of usefully talking about it making comparisons to known things is effective in forming shared knowledge.

My favorite example of this is Wikipedia and Wikis.  What the heck is a wiki?  and what the heck is wikipedia based on this wiki?  Don’t get me wrong – I know what a wiki is. But to someone who doesn’t, hasn’t used one, and hasn’t contributed to one it’s pretty hard to describe without giving them anchors based on stuff they do know.  “Online Encyclopedia”, “Like a Blog but more open”…  (for fun read how media used to talk about wikipedia, more here)

More recently is Twitter.  What is it like?  A chat room? a social network?  a simpler blog? IM?  right… it’s all that and yet something different, it’s Twitter.  You know it when you use it.

Just like in nature new forms are always evolving with technology.  Often new tech greatly resembles its ancestories.  Other times it doesn’t.

In the specific case of Wolfram|Alpha and Bing/google… they share a common interface in the form of the browser and an HTML text field.  They share a similar foundation in trying to make information easy to access.  The twist is that Wolfram|Alpha computes over retrieved information and can actually synthesize (combine, plot, correlate) it into new information.  Search engines retreive information and synthesize ways to navigate it.  Very different end uses, often very complimentary.  Wikipedia uses humans to synthesize information into new information, so it shares some concepts with Wolfram|Alpha.  Answers.com and other answer sites typically are a mash up of databases and share the concept of web search engines of synthesizing ways to navigate data.

All of these are USEFUL tools and they ARE INTERCONNECTED.  None of them will replace each other.  Likely they will all co-evolve. And we will evolve our ways of talking about them.

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No. Not really.

This is the main reason most new search engines fail.  This is also why refreshes to existing search engines with radical features don’t work particularly well either.

It’s really a misconception that search engines could be made better.  Common discussion suggests one day the search engines will magically find what we need if only someone will write the perfect semantic algorithms or rank pages better.  Other common attempts to improve search include improving the search interface via cleaner design, more links, less links, categorization and so on.  It is all a big fat waste of time.

The web is messy.  It’s mostly unstructured.  Structure is buried in noise and the noise grows very fast. With this ever growing mess,  the search engines do exactly what we all want them to do.  They help users source possibilities.   They take this mass of web pages, databases and media and make it navigable.   The idea of one engine to rule them all is a bit unrealistic, and probably intractable.  Just do a little thought experiment – can you imagine data that is not effectively accessed and navigable via a little search box? I can – Maps.  So we have Google Earth, Maps and other ways of moving through that data.  Images.  Images are better navigated visually (for a variety of reasons, not least of which is characterizing an image in words…)  There are many other examples.

Another way to think of it… search is just a first layer of discovery.  Yes, of course, we can go deeper than a first effort in some search activities, but generally speaking it can only give you a rough cut.  Where is boundary on that?  No one knows and it changes all the time, but it generally is a thin layer compared to the depth one needs to go to really dig into a data set or subject matter.  This limit arises from the noise on the web, the loose structure of hyperlinks, folksomonies and presentation layers.  The limit is also a result of the difficulty in forming short statements that fit in a search box that properly characterize what one is looking for and filter what one doesn’t want to see.

Again, these are not problems.  Search is what it is and it works.  Just as tables of contents, indices, bibliographies, reference librarians, bookmarks, dog ears, post it notes all do what they should and do it well.  We’re never going to need or want fewer ways to navigate and take notes.  The variety is where efficiency lies.

So if you’re waiting around for a Google killer in web search.  Move on.  It ain’t going to happen.  There’s no big enough reason that it would.  What would that mean anyway? [many great search engines exist that are at least as capable as Google…]

Sure you might have someone that competes with Google for ad dollars, but no one is going to compete with in indexing the web and doing your first layer search. There is definitely roomo innovate  and compete with Google in delivering highly targeted, high performance advertising.  There is definitely a way to compete for audience as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and others demonstrate.

Finally, the cost of indexing and mining the web will never get cheaper.  Even though the hardware and bandwidth prices go down the algorithmic methods, spam fighting, and the raw “keeping up with the web” continue to grow.  Perhaps the most important point here is that advertising budgets have nothing to do with these costs.  That is, improvements in the technology, at this point, don’t necessarily equate to a growth in advertising revenue.  This is one reason why it’s probably not feasible to compete in web search and, my hypothesis is, that growing search ad revenue enough to keep up with the costs is going to be almost impossible.  Add to this the idea that there are no more users for search engines to entice into using them.  Everyone that uses search is using Google or the others.  The search companies have to go outside of web search to gain audience.   At some point the existing model for search and search advertising is going to flatten (it might already be doing that).  This further destroys any motivation to innovate in pure web search.

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Ah, TechCrunch.  You whipped out the old Excel and made the industry famous Up And To The Right Chart.

There is no strong conclusion to draw from this very limited data set.  The only piece of interesting data is:  of the big 4 media companies presented here only Google has any sustained growth and makes up the majority of 4th quarter growth.

The Industry is NOT doing well at all.  Time Warner and News Corp had major losses, and they have huge stakes in the internet.  Yahoo, MSN, AOL all suffered major losses.  Mid-tier Smaller publishers are getting crushed, and you won’t see that in any of this data or any emarketer reports.

If companies in the media industry want to actually survive, get real.  The existing ad model stinks and this recession just nailed the coffin shut.  Don’t take my word for it, run your own analysis. (Just for fun, go look at the ads running on Yahoo, MSN, Facebook, MySpace, Video game sites… let me know if you see a direct sold campaign.  Let me know if you find a non adnetwork ad tag…) Hurry and do it, because this is one short runway and there ain’t no Hudson river nearby.

The biggest advertisers in the game (financial services, computer companies, and auto makers) all took huge hits and continue to falter.  The ad budgets have been slashed and they aren’t moving product.  With that mix, media companies can’t do anything about their ad revenue streams if they don’t find other ways of making money.

No, I’m not doom and gloom.  This is all about reinvention and change and exploration.  The old model stinks and now we get to find out what to do next that is better for the user and the advertiser.  This is good.  It is also painful. It is not Up and To The Right, despite the fact that excel seems to only spit out charts of that type.

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Failure to understand how users and money flow through the Internet costs media and etailers a lot of money every day.  There are huge misconceptions about where the “value” actually lives for user data, advertising performance and profit margins on all this high tech.

The following figures attempt to disambiguate some of the confusion.  The summarized conclusions come from a variety of data sources and real life experiences analyzing financial statements, traffic reports, advertiser analysis and experimentation.  Specifically one could get someone exact figures by combining comScore, Quantcast, Compete, Google Analytics, TNS, @Plan, SEC Filings, internal reports, revenue statements and DART forecasting as I have done several times.

This post is meant to be a demonstration of the core concepts, not a statistical treatise on the topic.

If you hate reading too much, skip to the end for a somewhat realistic example of how traffic flows.

Traffic on the Internet roughly splits 7 segments.  (as shown in the figures below).  These segments are defined by where the sit in the user experience by amount of consumptive behavior (clicks, reading, sharing, watching). How the user gets from segment to segment is not completely linear in actuality, but when you coagulate a users behavior you’ll roughly see a funnel in terms of time spent, pageviews and ad impressions.

Traffic Funnel

Traffic Funnel

The segments can be characterized also by their ad performance, ad targeting (how specific is the user in their activity), and their audience coverage (how much of the particular audience segment does a type of site/service reach)

Funnel Traffic Segments

Funnel Traffic Segments

Each segment has a different cost profile.  Here I look at labor costs to maintain and capital expenses to build and power.

Where's the Cost?

Where's the Cost?

As you can guess, each traffic segment has a different profit profile too.  This is largely the result of combining the advertising/revenue performance with the cost profile.  Certain Internet services simply do not have a strong profit opportunity because they borrow old models and/or cost more than the market is willing to pay. (Perhaps that will stabilize one day, but I think software tools and low cost hardware disrupt the demand curve A LOT because users can often supply their own demands once the cost gets too high, hence why TOOLS are the most profitable segment.)

Profit Margins by Segment

Profit Margins by Segment

Make no mistake about what I’m presenting here.  The profit online is all in retailing, portals/search and tools/utilities.  The stuff in the middle of the funnel is highly susceptible to competitive displacement and has very little intellectual property protection.  You can verify this conclusion by reviewing revenue statements and SEC filings for the big tech and internet companies.

The advent of citizen journalism and self publishing flattened the media market.  Owning a printing press was once “high tech” and a capital investment barrier.  Owning the right location on the main street was once a logistical barrier.  High speed computers and difficult programming languages was once a technical barrier.  Those 3 feature are gone.  Media is now, well, almost purely a creative barrier.  There’s a huge pool of creative talent constantly struggling against each other.  Creativity is worth a lot once it rises above everything else.  That happens so rarely to make it a bad investment.  Every minute more and more people enter the creative market (how many blog posts per hour? how many videos go up each day?… a lot.)

organizing, sifting, filtering, distributing, aggregating… that’s the sweet spot.  There is a technical hurdle, but the investment is worth it as there will never be less of a need to filter, sift, find, distribute.

This week we had a beautiful illustration of these concepts with the Presdential Inauguration.

Most of the US users watched the Inauguration, most on TV, a lot with online video streams and 2 million in person.  During and Immediately following the inauguration the Internet lit up with content creation and massive usage.  The portals and search engines featured as many new links and breaking stories to the news coverage.

The social networks shot pictures, tweets and status updates around, occassionally referencing links to the confirmation gaff, benediction speech text, and satelite pictures from DC.

Micro bloggers summarized everything as fast as they could, while the search engines and utilities sucked in that content.  The original content creators probably released a previously composed story and put that live.

Mainstream users shut down their video streams and took to the portals and search engine, seeking more info on what just happened or insight into a specific moment.  Most times they ended up at CNN or NYTimes.  Many times, but less frequently, they hit a blog that had some recent content.  Most users probably ran into a wikipedia reference link or youtube video.

Some users ended up on amazon to buy Obama’s books or some inauguration swag.  Finally as the day concluded and original content creators finally had enough time to craft something, users might find themselves falling asleep to a good OpEd on the history of the day or an interview with the Michelle Obama dress designers.

By 3 days later the amount of content available on the inauguration is 1000x greater than within the first 10 minutes.  Original content creators are hopelessly buried amongst the blog posts, tweets, continuosly AP feed CNN articles and YouTube embeds.  The bloggers are buried by other bloggers.  The news stories give way to other news stories.

The utilities that sort, sift, filter and monetize on it all just got a 1000x better experience and continue to catch the huge volume of user investigation and digging.  The own the head, the trunk and that dreaded long tail and collect user targeting data all along the way.

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The Situation

A few weeks ago I covered the negative economic reality of video based advertising and the conflict between TV ads and Internet video ads.  To clarify, it is negative for the major networks and those that benefit from aggregated audience, distribution and ad spending.  For individuals and small companies it remains positive (e.g. a video blogger or small comedy group can make real money).  This may not obvious in the short term.

Newspapers, and presumably magazines, are suffering from the SAME basic problem.  Print ad dollars are drying up faster than online dollars are making up the difference for LARGE PUBLISHERS (NY Times, Tribune, etc. etc.)

Don’t let anyone fool you either.  This is REAL MONEY.  The industry lost billions.

Total advertising revenue in 2007 — including online revenue — decreased 7.9% to $45.3 billion compared to the prior year.”

Do the math.  That’s at least 2.5 billion in ad loses in 2007 to the 2000 NAA members.   That’s 1,250,000 per newspaper.  This includes the GROWTH in online advertising.  At that rate, and it’s accelerating, many companies will have to consolidate and/or get out of business.

For reference in the US, and all these come with some grain of salt:

*Note: This is all REVENUE, not profit.  That’s important because every other category costs a lot more than internet, in most cases.

2008 is not going to be good for most publishers – the advertising market stinks and will continue to stink until disposable incomes come back up and consumers start buying more crap again (tvs, video games, music, new cars).  Online advertising growth will stay flat or maybe slow a little bit as most high margin online advertising is driven by crap (tvs, movies, video games, new cars). Magazines had a nice 2007, but it is misleading as almost all growth is in Medical, Drugs, Health, and Food.  Celebrity obsession rags (People, US Weekly) and general news (Time, Newsweek) are the growth mags because they carry adds for that stuff.  Any mags in tech, tv, or big ticket items are losing ground almost exclusively to online and/or some form of digital.

For more info and justification for above argument see who buys all the ads in print and online. (here’s a combined traditional mediums top 10 list. Also check out more spending lists)

Note though that there may be as much as $3 billion spent in Political advertising in 2008.  This should be taken out of the final numbers this year to determine an apples to apples “size of the ad market”.

THE BIG QUESTION

Why do most traditional print/publishers continue to suffer seemingly without any competitive urgency?

THE BIG ANSWER

Follow the money. Online and Digital are still only a tiny fraction of the money most publishers are taking in.  Most larger print publishers have almost no stake in online and losing 1,250,000 in print is less than a 1% for the top 35 magazines and even less for the top newspaper companies.

The consequences (financial, brand, audience, talent) for not succeeding online for most publishers are not painful enough yet.  It’s going to take another 10 years before the losses in print scare executives into online urgency. By then, though, most of these top publishers will be at the mercy of a larger digital company.

What’s funny though is that the market (VCs, angel investors, acquirers) already see this and only value these print companies at 1-3x annual revenue where their digital competitors go for as high as 7-15x revenue (or in the case of facebook like 150x, hahahaha).  Do you think that means anything to publishers?  Oddly enough, I don’t think it does.

Another Big Question

Ok, so besides lack of financial incentive, what else is going on to keep publishers from being successful online?

Distribution Misunderstanding

Publishers do not control the distribution like they used to.  Large publishers have almost no advantage in distribution.  Perhaps publishers have a disadvantage due to their established workflows, outdated asset management, and obsession with control.

Publishers largely do not have internal knowledge of online distribution.   It’s not likely to change anytime soon either because they are reinforced for that ignorance by the hundreds of online companies that bank on that ignorance and sell them services (Brightcove, Pluck, KickApps…) that will solve their distribution problems with the publisher lifting a finger.  Don’t get me wrong, Brightcove, Pluck, KickApps and the hundreds of cool online tool sets are great and useful.  My point is the large publishers think there’s a magic tool or agent that can buy/generate them distribution online and these companies sell them on that misbelief.

Secondly, most publishers still do not understand that GOOGLE is the newstand, the grocery store check out line, the water cooler, the mail room, the tv guide, the movie directory, the local guide.

Some say Yahoo! has an equal share, but it doesn’t.  Yahoo! is mostly a PUBLISHER.  It receives a LARGE amount (10%+) of its traffic from Google and most of its organic traffic is not in its distribution features (search,video,  directory, maps) but in its mail, stores, forums.  (Remember yahoo gets to count traffic to all of its sub properties like geocities, yahoo stores, news, finance, movies…).

No one Googles for Google.  Google directly has 50%+ of search and indirectly drives 10-30% of the traffic on other MAJOR publishers/portals and 50-70% of traffic to smaller publishers.  Google also owns online video and a huge stake in blogging (the other main distribution mechanisms online)

Getting Google (Youtube, maps, blogger, news) traffic efficiently must be the number 1 traffic activity if a publisher hopes to last online.

Major publishers are horrible at syndicating their content to the general public.   They are slow to embrace mechanisms like RSS, MRSS, aggregators, tag clouds, geoURL, openID, openSocial, etc. etc.  They are slow in getting into the social network and twitter like things.  When they do get in all the good real estate is gone.

In short, traditional publishers are still chasing the belief that they can be original destinations, buy out a corner on the internet and brand equity will carry them.

Productization and Convergence

Print publishers moving online compete in a wider pool than just the other major print publications.  They compete with online only content destinations, social networks, video sites, tv networks, individual bloggers/vloggers.   Publishers are being forced into producing non print content to compete (games, photos, videos, interactives) and they aren’t good at it.  How could they be?  They are staffed with art direction and editors/writers not game developers, videographers and interactive designers.  It’s not bad or good, that’s just reality and the skills required to produce a great print publication do not translate to online.

A large website or web experience cannot primarily be about reading and/or passively viewing photos.  It must involve utility and interaction – search, messaging, mapping, visualizing, sharing, mashing and so on.

A large website cannot contain just its own content.  It must bring together other relevant web connected assets.

Users do not equal readers.  The same user may read offline and use online, but their behavior in both mediums is totally different.

The medium (a computer/pda/phone screen) is not great for long reads (for a variety of reasons).

Websites are not viewed in the same form/layout as they come of the production line.  That is, the publisher cannot control even the most basic design parameters (screen size, font size, screen real estate) it can only optimize for most likely format.

Printers have to produce non print assets and doing so efficiently and compellingly is hard work.  Users expect photo galleries, polls, videos, audio, interactive data visuals.

Online moves at a pace traditional publishers can’t handle in their workflow – publishers pursue perfection.  They have multiple levels of “editing” to make sure every layout and word is correct.  Large websites typically QA on the fly and users are very forgiving of errors (partly because they aren’t TIED to the brand and don’t value perfection over speed and availability).  i.e. NY Times can’t put a BETA on their front page and have a mistake in production.  Websites can and do and get away with it.

Publishers typically don’t have product managers like software companies.  Editors work directly with technologists and its rarely pretty.  Without a central in the trenches head considering edit, sales, layout, design, interaction and so on, a website doesn’t have a chance.

Technology is secondary to editorial in most traditional publishers.  Online TECHNOLOGY is EDIT, EDIT IS TECHNOLOGY.  All the big online companies have tech-edit types.  People who both do code and do content.

and… TECHNOLOGY = EDIT = POWER USERS.  Yup, the success stories online all involve power users who control product strategy and drive content creation almost as much as key employees.

Publishers are very far away from ever letting users to dictate much of anything in their experiences.

And more…

Publishers are a long way away from being able to deliver quality interactive experiences and they aren’t going to be able to license their brands to online properties to fulfill that.  Brands don’t matter as much online OR brands online aren’t as difficult to create as traditional media. (maybe.)

Classifieds, Local Directory and Job Ads aren’t owned by the Papers and Mags Any More

Craigslist, online YP and job search sites stole the print business a long time ago.  We see the damage today done by what started 10+ years.  Without those nearly recession proof ad streams, print has been left with brand ads/national ads which ARE NOT recession proof.

Without these revenue streams to subsidize less monetizable editorial concepts print publications must sell their editorial souls in the form of advertorial. (Don’t believe me? pick up a back issue of your favorite mag or newspaper from like 10 years ago and pick up a recent one.  Lemmeknow what you find… 🙂 ).

In the end, publishers must work harder to attract and retain users and advertisers because the steady classified revenue isn’t there anymore.

Counting Things Hurts Pricing

We compress online ad prices simply because we can count and audit online entities fairly accurately (or perceive we can do so).  Media buyers online count everything and there’s really no way to avoid owning up to the performance of campaigns.  Buyers can count the ads and the traffic it generates.  There’s no loosey-goosey “brand awareness” meta metric.  It’s now, “Deliver me uniques and the right uniques or stop getting my money!”

Run the standard deviations on ad revenue by print publication circulation and you’ll see that the prices do not correlate to audience very well.  There’s some accounting for composition+audience but even that is dubious.  And, no, ad pages (akin to impressions/pageviews online) has almost no correlation either.  See below graph for circulation (x axis) against annual ad revenues (y axis)

Magazine Revenues By Circulation

People magazine is number 1 in revenue but is well behind many other more “targeted” publications for circulation.

Magazine ad sales success is so much tied to quality of ad sales team, existing relationship, agency perception, ease of working with the company and other “soft” qualities.  Add in a fair amount of “we buy print because we’ve always bought print.”  It is not about Ad Impressions, Ad Performance, nor Direct Transactions Generated.
Newsprint prices are also localized in some since.  If you are the only paper in town and you own circ in that town, you can raise the price.  Online doesn’t have that restriction.  The ad prices are normalized more universally.

Put it all together and online ad prices will never reach print rates.  People magazine makes almost a billion dollars on a readship of less than 5 million.  Facebook and MySpace reach over 50 million people at least 10 times a month and don’t do that kind of money (Myspace might be close).  Look at that difference!  10x the audience…

Methods of counting print and online are so different most print companies have trouble making sense of both and weaving a cohesive story for advertisers.

What Can Publishers Do?

Nothing different, really.  Or rather they will do what the consequences dictate.  A lot of money will be lost by some companies and a lot of individual people will get left behind over a long period of time.  Advertising will grow and advertiser options will diversify.  The pool of dollars available as a publisher will increase, but the amount of spend they land will not keep pace with the growth of advertising over the long term.  That is, more publishers maintaining a smaller pieces of the pie.

Individual creative types and developers will continue to flourish as long as consumption increases (which it will and always has.)

Those willing to experiment before their financial sheets bully them into doing so should do so aggressively.

They should spend the considerable slushfunds generated from high print revenues on HIGH VALUATION online properties.  A dollar spent in online goes much further than that same dollar in a magazine or newspaper.  Excelling in interactive production requires experience and practice.  They need to spend the money now so that in 5-10 years the have experience beyond writing, layout and photography and have command over the various distribution opportunities.

Publishers should acquire start ups now.  Use that cash to buy highly valued fast growth companies before their valuations and user bases. sky rocket.  Aggregate the digital talent before Google and MicroHoo get it all…

Again, doing this will betray the financies in the short term.  Luckily in 2008 a publisher can hide experiements and acquisitions in soft ad market conditions.  🙂

For Advertisers

Spending more online would be a GOOD IDEA, especially in 2008.  The ad rates are going to fall out and you can get huge chunks of good inventory very cheaply.  Most video and rich media inventory is probably sold out at less than 30% internet wide, meaning there’s a steap discount on inventory now.

Plus your ads can reach 10x more people at a lower cost than full out print campaigns.  (I know, I know, certain demographics are in print, not online… bah! even AARP.org has over 2 million UUs per month!)

Besides the obvious pricing benefits and reach increases, you creative will be cheaper to create and easier to deploy.

To prove my point I propose a challenge to any agency, ad exec, or brand manager:

Give me half of your print/tv/radio budget for a particular product, service or content franchise.  You keep the other half.

I bet, over a one year period, I can drive more revenue and profit with online than you can with traditional media.

Not that I wanna do your work for you… 🙂

~R

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This is a mobile product enabling you to get information real time about sounds and sights in your environment. I’ve been quietly prototyping and testing this concept. So far it’s not primetime at all, but the concept and function is useful.

How many times have you been somewhere and just needed instant access to basic facts or figures and didn’t have the time, hands or ability to “google it?” I’ve been in tons of situations where it would be inappropriate to google something while people are talking but having that information would be hugely useful. My project here (maybe not even unique) stems from my own needs alone, but I’m not alone in getting stuck in these situations.

Check out my primitive presentation:  (download pdf)

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