A while ago, Wired Magazine declared the web dead… the premise was that we are increasingly navigating the online world through Apps which deliver exactly what we want rather than the messy, spammy, and sometimes slow traditional online world. That was no doubt an exaggeration, albeit an entertaining one. It does point to a key factor that more and more content and data is locked behind the walled gardens of Apps, and thus not visible to searchers outside those Apps. Whilst it’s possible for app developers to expose content to search engines, most don’t and it’s getting to be a problem for both searchers and the search engines themselves. It’s clearly an issue, which is causing Google to loose sleep at night, and there are signs this week that this may be changing.
Google announced, at the TechCrunch conference yesterday, that it is integrating with an initial handful of large content sites so that when app users open the app, they are invited to log in with their Google+ account. That then allows Google to index data about the users behavior, which can then be exposed to searchers through regular Google search. In theory, searches for movies would get data on trending films from Fandango or music on SoundCloud. It’s an interesting idea; Google is essentially harvesting data and content from the walled gardens by collecting activity in those gardens from Google+ users. Google+ has been accused of being a social media platform without a reason to exist… and this, in part, at least contributes to it’s reason to exist. Logically this will become more compelling as it rolls out to a much larger fraction of the millions of Aps out there. If it’s easily available, app developers are likely to include it and we will all benefit… we will see.
It’s fascinating to watch an old dog learn a new trick… almost as much fun as watching him chew toffee. The incident I refer to was my experience at the Pantages Theatre in LA. If you haven’t been there it’s an excellent old theater in the unfashionable end of Hollywood where the homeless meet to mingle. I was there to watch a recording of Americas Got Talent. Ever since Howard Stern (blessed be his name) joined the show, I have become a firm fan of its eclectic mix of dancing dogs, jugglers, comedians, and singers. A long time a go I worked at a TV studio for a year. I was mostly the “Studio Gopher” (Gopher Tea, Gopher coffee, lunch, etc), but I did get to see a lot of recordings and it’s almost shocking to see how little the entire process has changed in 30 years. It’s still lots of very important people talking into headsets and ordering the poor benighted studio audience around; much like the guards at a WWII POW camp… come here … go there… no food or water for you… stop screaming!
The tickets were free and I’m always looking for interesting and exciting new places to fight with my lovely wife at, so we grabbed a hotel and went on an AGT adventure. On a side note, I used a new app called “Hotel Tonight” to get a room. It only sells hotels for that day, and doesn’t start selling until 12 noon local. Unlike Hotwire, it let’s you see the hotel before you commit. It has some decent deals and the price actually dropped as I was booking.
We arrived at the theater to begin several hours of waiting in line in the sun and general hanging about before we were brutally strip searched by the camp guards, given a change of clothing, deloused, tattooed, and finally admitted to the theater to be further bossed around. I was actually pleasantly surprised at how they managed the process of recording the acts, the delays between each contestant were manageable and the audience wrangler did a good job of keeping us reasonably entertained. At the beginning of the recording, they asked the entire audience to learn a simple mini dance routine to “living in America” for use in the opening credits (maybe). It was all fun and games for the first dozen or two runs but by the time we had passed 20 the natives were getting restless… we were about three more forced repetitions from an all out camp uprising.
So what about the old dog learning new tricks? Well, it wasn’t much of a trick…but it was interesting to watch. The audience is patrolled for the entire show by what can only be described as video bouncers. They watch avidly for anyone trying to sneak a pic or video of a dog dancer or belly dancer (yes we had one and yes she went through to the next round). Any attempt at video is leapt upon, water cannons are turned on the audience the offending person is dragged out, beaten senseless and in some cases water boarded on stage. However in a massive break with tradition, they did allow the audience to video the judges’ progress from the back of the theater to the stage. In fact, the audience is actively encouraged to do that… and post the pics or videos on their Facebook, Twitter, Vine or Instagram. In a further concession to the real world, all the busy and bossy crew wore t-shirts with #NBCAGT emblazoned across the back. They plugged the heck out of the Hashtag, and from the number of followers and tweets they are getting it seems to be working reasonably well. In my video (attached) of the King arriving, it’s interesting to note that you can hear cheers from the crowd but not much applause… for the simple fact that you can’t clap when you are recording… and fully 75% of the crowd was recording.
What would have been much more interesting would have been for them to let the crowd film anything they wanted, publish, and be damned. What I suspect would have happened is they would create tons of buzz on the show long before its real broadcast driving people who want to see the event in HD, as opposed to shaky phone cam – but baby steps still count as progress.
The Germans have a word for it… Schadenfreude. It literally means something like shameful enjoyment… the pleasure one takes in seeing a good friend fall off a roof… it’s also a terrific song in the show Avenue Q. In any event I was guilty of the “S” word yesterday watching Google fall off the mobile roof. The guilty banana peel is the new app from our good friends at Facebook called Facebook Home. As far as I can tell, it only works on Android but what it does is let loyal Facebook users turn their mobile device into essentially a Facebook Phone. The home screen of the phone, and all the other places and apps which a phone might reach out to, can be controlled through Facebook. The millions of Facebookers using Android devices can now lead a much more highly integrated Facebook world… mostly at the expense of Google… and there’s not a whole lot Google can do about it.
One of the great strengths of Android is that it does allows apps to talk to each other and do just these kind of things. It’s very open and Google, unlike Apple, doesn’t police who can offer what in their store… so they are vulnerable to those kinds of integrations. I imagine there will be an immediate rush to adopt the new tool… after all many Facebookers are just rabid in their devotion to their craft. Once Facebook has taken control, it can set the defaults for things like search to its preferences. It’s a brilliant move essentially allowing Facebook to gain a substantial foothold in mobile without having to come up with an operating system, a handset, or a deal with a carrier. Facebook can essentially hijack android devices.
The real pleasure comes from watching Google, who so studiously ripped off iOS by Apple, getting a piece of their own medicine. Steve Jobs was just furious when Android came out… indeed he had the Google guys over to yell at them from his death bed. So to see Google’s beloved Android having copied Apple then built a significant market share so comprehensively hijacked (just as mobile is exploding) by the only people who could pull that off in a large enough volume to hurt them, does warm my cold dead heart very slightly. Ironically, were Google to release a similar product featuring Google+ I’d be prepared to bet that they wouldn’t get anywhere near the same traction. Google+ is famously a bit of a ghost town with many profiles adopted but not much going on… where as Facebook is still the place where the cool kids hang out… actually Twitter is where the cool kids go but you see my point.
I was at a conference recently and was entertained by a presentation from the CMO of Twitter taking us through how just, Gosh Darned marvelous Twitter is. I found it interesting that they were making the case that “it’s not just for news and celebrity.” Funny… I’d of said it is exactly all about that. Away from news and celebrity, 81% of users have less than 50 followers and 75% of users follow less than 50 people. There are certainly a relatively small number of people who are followed by tons of people. Twitter collided with the news this week in a couple of ways, which reinforce it really is all about News and Celebrity. The SEC carried out an investigation into announcements or comments, which might impact investors from people involved in the company. They concluded that it is indeed OK for folks who work in public companies to use social media for announcements about the company provided that they tell all investors where the announcement will be made. Visualizing thousands of Wall Street types trying to figure out how to hash tag or retweet is hilarious. Always keen to make things easier for the “buy at 10 sell at 12 go home at 3″ brigade Bloomberg announced today that they will be adding tweets from companies to info about those companies on their screens. Luck WSJ types can sort by company, industry proximity to any Kardashian.
To reinforce that it really is all about news and celebrity, Twitter is being cited as an unindicted co conspirator to the recent re-death of Jay Leno as host of the Tonight Show. Leaving aside the inherent goofiness of the public execution (again) of the lantern-jawed late night hack, one of the key reasons for his demise is (supposedly) the modest Twitter following he has accumulated. Strictly speaking, Jay doesn’t have his own page but the Late show does and it garners a measly 500+ thousand followers. In contrast, his replacement Jimmy has over 8 million followers and is famous for viral videos. In terms of online engagement, he’s head and jaw ahead of Jay. The late night TV crowd typically skews old… or very old. It’s unclear that Fallon will be able to bring with him any, or some, of his twitter flock… many of his crowd are no doubt out having fun when his show runs live. In any event, the battle for the key 18-49 demographic has already been lost to the Daily Show and my personal favorite the Colbert Report. Had they broken ranks and made one of those guys the new king of late night, we would really have a battle on our hands… and remember, Twitter is not just for celebrity and news.
If you are old enough you may recall when everyone loved to hate Microsoft. They appeared to have the kind of arrogant monopoly powers which are normally attributed to third world dictators (BTW RIP Hugo Chavez…turns out not only the good die young after all) or more recently Google. Whilst the US regulators never really did humble the Redmond Giant it’s own litany of missed opportunity and dropped balls (Search, mobile, social etc etc) have rendered it if not humble then at least a little shame faced on occasion…only Sony has lost dominance in more market sectors in the last 20 years. Back when they were still an evil empire the EU imposed an anti monopoly deal on them which required that they offer users of Windows alternate browsers to the God awful Internet Explorer when they install Windows or take delivery of a new machine. Unfortunately when they launched Windows 7 (SP1) they “forgot” to include the option to choose and continued to forget to include the option for 15 months. The fact that the EU was relying on Microsoft policing its self (as opposed to occasionally installing a Windows product and checking that the option was there) is testament to how lazy and dumb public servants can on occasion be.
Eventually even Windows spotted this “glitch”and having apologized profusely we all sat back and waited for the EU to impose the nearly $8BN fine they could in theory impose. As it turned out they actually fined MS less than 10% of that ($732MM) today. I actually heard the collective sigh of release from my office thousands of miles away. I’m sure if MS checks behind the sofa cushion they will find enough to pay the ticket. The kicker to this comic opera story is that once again the EU will rely on Microsoft to police it’s self going forwards…..to quote my good friend Hedwig of Angry Inch “I laugh, because I will cry if I don’t.”
I don’t like social discovery, at least I don’t want people who don’t know me but might share interests discovering me without me looking for the attention. So the rumors swirling around Facebook and social discovery are interesting. The inside word is that a high octane team from Facebook including ex Googler Peter Deng and folks from Glancee a location based company FB acquired in 2011 are working full tilt on an Ap to be with eager mobile FB users sometime in March. It looks like the App will ‘know” and alert your when one of your FB friends is in your near vicinity even if the App isn’t running. I can imagine that this might generate “friend spam” where (for example) you are friends of folk you work with your phone constantly letting you know that your friends are nearby.
Where it gets really interesting is how the app will likely go beyond just friend discovery. If taken to a logical conclusion this may allow advertisers to reach out to users who have some level of engagement with their brand such as a ‘like’ with a brand message or offer. In this use case as you pass Starbucks they might hit you up with a special offer or coupon. Given FBs horrible record with end user privacy issues the key question will be “will they be able to withstand the temptation to reach out and spam us with offers and deals”. Either way the smart device in your pocket is about to get even more chatty….and potentially annoying.
So what’s a marketer to do? If you keep an eagle eye on Industry trends you will see some interesting and conflicting trends. The continued migration of dollars away from traditional media continues at pace. A survey from the American Marketers Association shows a 20–30% of respondents plan to move money with (as usual) newspapers being top of the hit list. Digital media in general and social in particular are slated to be the beneficiaries although mobile is lower than I would have expected. However, all is not necessarily sweetness and light. Although marketeers are trending to digital many of them remain confounded by the efficacy of the new medium. In another survey from Vizu another set of marketeers are unsure of how effective it is. In the survey fully two thirds of those surveyed were bullish on social media in general but unconvinced of ROI….a hold out 6% are convinced that it doesn’t work at all..
We are a little different to many marketeers. We don’t do brand support we do results based marketing only. If we don’t get the phone to ring we don’t get paid. We have tried social media as a direct response channel in many different ways with spectacularly underwhelming results. In many ways our hands are tied in that we can’t create social content on behalf of our advertisers and are frequently limited in how we can use logos etc. Mobile is the other large and growing beneficiary of the digital migration and the jury is out on that too. In our testing of mobile ad delivery search works…and works pretty well. Our testing with mobile display is quite different. Thousands of clicks which don’t result in any calls. Our experience of search targeted media indicates that it takes from 3 to twenty clicks to drive a successful call. Thousands of clicks with no calls indicates that the clicks aren’t from people looking for a product or service.
So as the migration continues marketeers are faced with developing channels which either don’t convert or are much harder to track than traditional media. Part of this complexity is the old marketing adage that half of advertising is wasted but we don’t know which. Digital media exposes exactly what does and doesn’t work…and maybe it’s close to three quarters of all media spend is wasted…and we can now tell which works.
If you follow my random musing you will be aware that I’m not a big fan of Facebook. Unlike most people I know I don’t spent hours a week (or day in some cases) updating my thoughts, posting pics of cats etc etc. I also have a limited pool of friends in real life and thus an even more limited number on Facebook…it speaks volumes to my world that I have 168 friends on FB and over 1,000 connections on LinkedIn. In any event last week the good people at FB announced the beta of their new Graph Search…and not surprisingly it’s highly social. Since its limited beta I haven’t laid hands on it yet but from those who have it appears to be an interesting departure.
Essentially FB is mining its vast database of people, their interests and connections and is looking to answer questions posed from the interest and experiences of people in your world. It’s an interesting idea but I doubt my shallow friend pool would be able to answer most or even many the huge array of questions I pose to Google every day. To be useful they will have to include (I would think) many more data points from much wider than just my circle. That kind of makes of sense and could indeed be a great source of answers and feedback. It also represents a very tasty opportunity for advertisers. By adding search to the mix on top of all the other social interest and activity data FB has been accumulating over the past years FB will be able to offer ‘intent‘ as well as oodles of back ground data. For example let’s imagine I’m planning a Maui vacation, the new FB search could give me opinions on hotels from friends who have been along with potentially highly targeted ads from hotels and activity providers. Where it gets especially interesting is that where I am a keen butterfly collector FB might target potential vacation activities around butterflies in Hawaii even though I didn’t originally search for anything to do with bugs. The opportunities are endless.
Where it gets a little scary (OK more scary) is where FB starts returning stuff I may have posted in results to people I don’t know. I’m not entirely sure that I want my thoughts on a topic which I may have thought I was only sharing with my friends to complete strangers. I’m sure all this is handled in the small print of FB privacy regulations, but honestly when was the last time you actually ready any of them. If you want to see an example of how weird and potentially worrying this might get do a search on FB for “Bondage Club.” You will get a list of multiple interesting locations and strangely (to me anyway) public posts which lead back to the profiles of folks posting on those sites. For an absurd but disturbing example the “Total Submission Gay Furry Yiff and Bondage Club” (in the UK of course) has publicly available posts from multiple people which link back to what appears to be perfectly average FB pages. I don’t know these folks and could care less what they may or may not do in their spare time….but do you think that these fellows would be overjoyed to know that I’m writing about them and pretty much know where they live and with a couple of other searches on public search engines I was easily able to find exactly where they do live and in one case who lives with them? Now multiply that use case by a billion users when the Graph Search fully rolls out….I have to imagine that a whole lot of people may not want to be the answers to questions posed by people they don’t know. Watch this space.
It’s nearly that time…I don’t think I’ll be posting much over the break, so here’s what probably amounts to my final post for 2012. Looking back over close to 100 blogs throughout the year it’s striking (to me anyway) just how much happens in our space and how much that impacts the real world around us.
This year we have seen mobile usage and commerce explode worldwide but especially in the US. We typically lag the front runners by a year or two and this year mobile finally made it happen. Over all mobile search volume went from less than 10% to (by some reports) closer to 25% of traffic and it’s possible that mobile will outstrip desktop next year..a full year earlier than expected. At the same time local traffic grew dramatically. That’s perhaps not that surprising given the growth in mobile, but as the guys who have been saying that local is the next big thing I take a certain amount of satisfaction in the 30-50% local intent query numbers we are seeing.
2012 saw the reshaping of social after the debacle of the Facebook IPO. There is still a lot of opportunity in social and more recently there has been some encouraging data on how social may eventually monetize. What I find most intriguing is the idea of using social signals from the relatively few who do engage socially with a product or service to generate a profile of what a customer might look like then target that potential customer in volume through search and social media….it’s complicated and sometimes slightly creepy stuff.
In 2012 Google continued to rule supreme in spite of multiple assaults for “evil” behavior at home and abroad. As I type the FTC is wrapping up it’s investigation into Google and it looks like big G will skate unharmed on their home turf, they may yet have a tougher job convincing their tougher critics in the EU. I feels like almost every day there is some new announcement or development which makes out engagement with the real world as expressed through the virtual world of search and mobile deeper, richer and sometimes scarier.
The world we serve, that of driving new clients to huge numbers of local businesses through search and all kinds of new media has become both more exciting and much more complicated. Given the plethora of media the choose from (search, SEM,SEO, social, local display and mobile to name but a few) and the continued decline of traditional media it’s becoming almost impossible for the average SMB to navigate that complexity. We solve for that by using all those new media on a massive scale to drive the high quality leads the local businesses need. We spent much of 2012 developing the machines needed to make that happen reliably and at scale, 2013 will be the year that hits big.
On the grander scale our industry has enabled revolution and reform and has been attacked by tyrants around the world. We have created enormous amounts of new wealth (and destroyed quite a bit with Facebook). Search is becoming pervasive and in some ways invasive. The mobile device is becoming the prime way of engagement for many more activities and with recent developments in both Apple and Android location based commerce (L-Commerce) will likely become ubiquitous in 2013 changing our world yet again.
For my self, on Leap Day I married my last and final wife, saw my oldest son graduate college and working with our team of hard working, inspired and inspiring people we reshaped our business to lead the upcoming local revolution. I trust your year was equally happy and productive. I wish you and yours a wonderful Holiday Season….Merry Christmas to all…. and to all a good night.
As I have mentioned many times in the past I’m not a huge fan of social media. Given my dislike of people and social situations in general that’s not entirely surprising. When I go to hell, I expect it to be an eternal ‘networking‘ session where I’m forced by little men with horns and forks to talk to complete strangers at trade shows. Having said that I do use LinkedIn and I have a Facebook page which I never post on. I welcome pretty much all invitations to friend or connect (because I don’t really value the platforms) and that has gotten me into trouble on occasion, where my maniacally social wife will grill me on who various women on LinkedIn or FB are….many of whom I actually barely know at all.
In any event I was looking at a new “people search” tool called ark.com which is currently lumbering up to the start. Their paradigm is to index the LinkedIn, Facebook and other social platforms so that users can search not for people they do know, rather it lets users specify the parameters of people they would like to connect with and approach them through the platform. If I were visiting Chicago and I wanted to play chess with a cat loving man of Vietnamese extraction who went to my old high school they could in theory hook me up….assuming that I and the aforesaid gentlemen happen to subscribe to Ark.com and the appropriate other interest or alumni programs.
This approach of using social media to hook up with people you don’t know but happen to be in physical proximity to is highly successful in certain areas such as the gay dating world where platforms like grinder.com facilitate exactly that kind of connection. Recent years have seen the launch of several other platforms which set out on the premise that it would be neat to be able to track down people you don’t actually know who may be nearby with similar interests but discovered that technology enabled stalking was problematic and have morphed into ways to track down people you do know instead.
The folks at ark.com are launching with colleges under the premise that if it worked for Facebook it will work for them, and maybe it will. In the event that it does start to take off I imagine Facebook will pull one of their famous programming all-nighters and will come up with an exactly similar solution which will allow existing FB users to discover people of like minds which they don’t currently know and that will be game over for our friends at Ark.com. Either way…I’m not playing.