Google Glass Turning 2….But Still Sucking

About a million years ago (actually June 2004) I was invited by a dude I knew at Google to join an upstart email system called Gmail. It was in its infancy and 56 thousand emails later I’m still using that account. Of course now everybody has a Gmail account and Google reads our mail to target us with advertising.

Back then Google was a fraction of the behemoth it has become and it was kinda neat having an email address which was exactly what I wanted…no need to add a year of birth or similar to make the name unique.  Over the next couple of years they opened up the program to everyone and the rest is history. 

Google Glass turns two this week and it has been a quite different story. Even tho Google launched it two years ago it’s still in its “Ambassador” stage. That’s not entirely surprising as Google famously keeps products in “Beta” mode for much longer than most.  It does get tons of press (most of it controversial if not actively bad) sightings are rare and noteworthy and the prevailing opinion seems to be that Glass wearers are pretty much pariahs….I had a better word which rhymes with “brick head” Google themselves coined the term “Glasshole” for users without the social smarts to use the product appropriately.There are several things counting against Google Glass which are keeping it in Beta and may even doom it entirely.

Privacy:  Aside from the idiots who actually wore it in the locker room it is creepy to think that the guy over there with the Brooklyn hipster beard may be filming or photographing you without even the needing to pretend not to be.

Price: At $1,500 and holding it’s completely out of reach of all but the wealthiest of nerds and at least initially was only available to those invited to become “ambassadors” by Google. The result is that the only folks you ever see wearing them are early 30 somethings in silicon valley….as sub group who are rapidly becoming as popular are timeshare sales people at the airport in Mexico. We get it…you are rich and well connected.

Features: Put simply Glass is essentially an extension of your smart phone.  The battery life is pretty miserable and although there are cool thing it can do it’s tough to trade instant pariah status for those limited features.  Wearables at a much lower price point are rapidly becoming the new norm. At about $100 and available from Amazon you don’t need to be a founding member of SnapChat to join the game.

Although Google is amazingly wealthy and powerful the products it makes its money from are essentially both egalitarian and empowering…most folk don’t hate Google. Glass is a clear departure from that norm. Google’s other recent adventure into hardware the ChromeCast TV plugin priced at a very approachable $35 has been a huge hit and has sold millions.  The message is clear, cool and affordable beats cool and elitist every time.

A Momentary Loss of Reason?

I don’t usually use my little soap box for more than raging at the thunder in the online space. I’m an immigrant to this fair country, I can’t vote and I mostly leave the Politics to those who can.  Back when I used to sing with a large barbershop chorus in New England my fellow singers would tease me about singing the star spangled banner at various events. In response I used to say “you are here by accident of birth…I chose to live here… damn it” or words to that effect. So it was with a weird mixture if incredulity and real sadness that I have been watching the machinations in Arizona over the past week or so.

ArizonaLike most good Americans I hold dear life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…also freedom for religion and freedom from religion. I gave up praying to the thunder a while back…but I still understand the inclination and have been known to lament “I miss God” from time to time. Democracy is an odd way to run a country…but still better than all the other options. We all hold it dear but many of us don’t vote. If we don’t vote that holds the door open for the activists (on all sides) who are prepared to get out their vote to set that agenda. Sometimes things can go horribly wrong and we end up electing a former wrestler as Governor or deciding to teach creationism as coequal with evolution.  The good news is that what can be voted in can also be voted out, and we tend to have a self-correcting system where things get voted in because the sensible majority just weren’t paying attention can be voted out in short order by the same reasonably sane majority.

Alongside this political horse race runs the typically much less volatile game of business.  I run a business….not a huge one (yet) but none the less one of some size. I think I’d find the vast majority of my fellow entrepreneurs in agreement that no matter what our personal opinion might be on any given matter it makes utterly no sense to attempt to codify religious bigotry, intolerance or homophobia into the law of the land…or the state in the case of Arizona.

Why would you do that? Even if you are so unreconstructed that you might feel that way, why would you attempt to bring that into that which pays the bills?  You may have a “sincerely held religious belief” that women are second class citizens, Jews are the devil and left handed people should be stoned for wearing both synthetic and natural fibers at the same time or on a Sunday…but this is America and you don’t get to monkey with the law to suit your own “sincerely held” bigotry. If you don’t like gay people or Armenians or left handed people you don’t have to marry one or invite one home to meet Mom…but you don’t get to not serve them in your restaurant, not fix their broken pipes or not rent them a room in your apartment block.  You are (supposedly) part of a civil society, one in which we all pay for the roads, the schools the fire department and the F16s. You don’t get to pull up your teensy weensy draw bridge because you think gay people are “Icky.”  I (like many I imagine) might find your intolerant and idiotic “sincerely held” views completely objectionable…but I will defend to the death your right to have them and express them. What you don’t get to do is foist your sad and idiotic bigotry on the rest of society….to cause chaos which the rest of us have to fix.  Were we asleep at the switch?…I guess so. Are there a lot of people in Arizona who find anyone who doesn’t think and act like themselves “Icky” no doubt…but turning Arizona into the one state where you can discriminate without fear of recourse “just because” is idiotic.

Business leader are scrambling to get the Hail Mary save of a Governor’s veto to stop this bill, indeed several Republican law makers who actually voted for the bill (presumably to appease their activist constituents) are even now also pressing for a veto to save themselves from themselves. Arizona is a big, hot, rich supposedly grown up state, with hundreds of thousands of federal and military jobs. It’s also home to millions of private sector jobs in companies who need this kind of religiously driven distraction like they need a hole in the head. I suspect the Governor will do the right thing and veto this ridiculous legislation and I imagine heads will roll….well we can at least hope so.

Search Can Be Dangerous to Your Health

Freshly back from vacation and other assorted adventures I was catching up on search stories and there are some head scratching items out there. What seems to be happening is that the role of search as a measure of intent is potentially getting criminalized. Here’s a couple of examples:

You are probably familiar with the Cannibal Cop trial which is currently happening in New York. It’s an incredibly creepy and weird story which surrounds either a bunch of fantasists or would be murdering psychopaths. My personal experience with the police is that it could easily be either (possibly both) but a good chunk of the police case centers around searches done by the accused. Leaving aside simple questions like “why didn’t he use an anonymous browser like Chrome Incognito” (oh no wait he’s a cop) the larger question is does the mere fact that someone is searching for something online can that search be used against them in a court of law. Do you in fact have a first amendment right to search for ways to kill and cook a woman. Taking that to it’s logical conclusion does searching for Silence of the Lambs on Amazon make you part of Hannibal Lectors fan club?….where do you draw the line?

There’s an interesting regulatory question which could also end in search based Jail for somebody. This tracks back to our good friends at the FDA. If there is any example of our tax dollars at work to a fault it’s the FDA. Whilst they are happy to allow meat processors to feed pink slime to our children they are fanatically keen to be sure that no herbal product ever make claims that it do more than gather dust on your bathroom shelf. The issue here is where herbal companies who are not allowed to make any claims for efficacy link their products with disease conditions with things like meta data on web pages which gets those products found for disease relates searches. Pretty much any medical related search will bring up unconventional solutions to the problem. The other use case they are bothered by is where on a companies own website a search for a disease term brings up product which the retailer would like to link to that disease but can not make legitimate disease claims for.  I would have thought that anyone (even a cannibal cop) with a modicum of common sense would read the warnings and might figure out that the supplements which are coming up in the results aren’t FDA approved drugs….but you never know.

The billion dollar question this raises is can the FDA attempt to regulate search in that way. If they can where does it stop? Google was recently cleared of FTC violations are they going to be up before the FDA now for including herbal products in results sets for disease queries. Could merely doing the query “cure for cannibalism” get me hard time in the Big House….it’s OK I just did that query Incognito.

The Mobile Stampede Accelerates

There were a couple of interesting items this week which point to the continuing ascendancy of mobile. Google inked a deal with Apple; Google will pay Apple a cool 1Billion in cash “unmarked 20s I imagine” to remain the default search on iPhones through 2014 and Comscore  announced over all search data for 2012 and although search continues to grom desktop search saw its first decline since…well since ever. The rapid growth of mobile and vertical search growth on sites like Facebook and Amazon contributed to the overall decline.

In parallel announcements Google’s Q4 was good but not great. It continues to see a decline in click prices (6%) YOY a decline which is now 6 quarters old….and again driven by the ocean of mobile clicks with in sufficient inventory to support the price. This is a tough spot for big G. In an attempt to at least partially stem the bleeding they recently announced a self service online package incorporating desktop and mobile targeted at local businesses.  It’s a clever product which (in theory) let’s SMBs target searchers based on location and time. For example a doughnut shop might want to focus on the 7-9 AM slot whereas a wine bar might target happy hour.

As always adoption by traditionally recalcitrant SMBs is going to be the main issue. Cost is also going to be a factor. The bundling Google is offering essentially rolls the mobile clicks involved up to a desktop click price…which is usually significantly higher than mobile. That’s great for Google but not such great value for the SMB. You have to wonder why Google continues to treat SMBs as cattle fattened for slaughter with their ‘do it for me’ packages which consistently maximize Google’s value ratether than SMB returns.

There’s also an interesting trend I have observed from various recent Google presentations (especially to local/SMB audiences) where they focus of ROI which shows up all over the place not just in the obvious places. It’s an argument which is well made, but sounds a little desperate “don’t just look at directly track-able obvious conversion metrics, check behind the sofa too”. That’s a tough message to receive from the super thin smart young things which Google sends out to preach to the masses. In all my years of knowing Googlies I have yet to meet any with any kind of weight issues…there are literally no over weight Google employees. That’s perhaps not surprising when you read about the latest Google project to provide street level views. Over the summer they send a bunch of their brightest and best to cool hard to reach places like the Grand Canyon to show the rest of us what it looks like. This week they released detailed renditions of 38 top Ski resorts….come on guys we know you are super rich…but what’s next great yacht basins of the world?  I will be off line probably all of next week looking for Googlies doing street level views of Maui. Aloha till then.

Google Bug Watching for Beginners

Google watching is endlessly entertaining….today it got entertaining in an unexpected way. A geek with I’m guessing way too much time posted on Quora that some searches which should be impossible to resolve rather than returning no results at all actually return tons of porn.

This isn’t something the average user is likely to have come across accidentally, most people don’t do advance syntax based searches on Google…but if you did and asked Google for an answer to a logically impossible query like “-4 “1 4″ in which you are essentially asking for results which don’t contain the number 4 but do contain the number 1 space 4, rather than returning no results in this case Google returns 808,000 results most of which (upon very cursory inspection) are porn links. This trick even works with “safe search” filter turned on. Weirdly, similar impossible queries like -4 “4″ return no results and -4 “14″ returns results which don’t have porn links.

Leaving aside what kind of extreme search jiggery pokery you would need to be doing to even find this effect it’s a hilarious bug. According to Google engineering post on the topic sadly it’s not a secret lonely nerd feature, it’s just a bug.  This is fascinating. We don’t often get to see explicit bugs in Google search in real time…especially not bugs of this magnitude. This presents interested parties with the opportunity to witness just how long the Googlies take to track down, fix and deploy a really clear bug in main search. I’m guessing less than two days. The clock is running, let’s see how long it takes.

Meet the New Boss…Same as the Old Boss

Search at Yahoo has languished somewhat since Bing took over their search back in 2008 after a failed bid by Microsoft to buy Yahoo. There has always been an antitrust concern about the search on Yahoo being powered by Google…so I was interested but not that surprised to read today that Google contextual ads will now start showing up on Yahoo properties and more importantly Yahoo mobile traffic. To be clear this isn’t the same as main search on Yahoo being taken over by Google, rather these are contextual AdSense ads displayed on billions of Yahoo web and mobile pages…which will presumably represent a significant revenue opportunity for Yahoo.  It makes perfect sense as Google’s ads are generally more valuable than Yahoos and they have a larger stack of advertisers to play with. At the core of the deal is the dramatic growth of mobile. Millions of people use Yahoo mobile content to keep them up to date with news, celebrity, finance sports and email. Google has a much stronger mobile platform so adding Google mobile ads to the enormous Yahoo mobile inventory. Google doesn’t (yet) have the kind of vertical interest Yahoo boasts so that’s likely to be an upside for them both.

Google survived an  FTC investigation into monopolistic practices last year and is still under scrutiny in the EU, so making a move which further centralizes Google commercial control could be thought of as ballsy.. but in a race to grab as much real-estate as possible before the new Search at Facebook gets out of short pants it makes perfect sense.

Google is Racial Profiling?

You can’t make this stuff up. I checked the calendar and it’s not April 1st. According to a story I found in the Boston Globe Latanya Sweeney a Harvard University academic noticed that when she searched for herself on Google or more precisely a site powered by Google search she received ads back for (amongst other things) criminal back ground checks for her name. She then did a more extensive test and actually wrote a research paper which found that distinctively “black” male first names are 25% more likely to return an ad from offering background or criminal record checks than traditionally “white” names. She doesn’t draw any conclusions other than that this could be problematic for people of color….but the allegation that Google is somehow racially profiling is in the mix.

Of course even a cursory examination of the facts (as opposed to the hilarious conspiracy theory) is (allegedly) that is in fact targeting what it believes to be ‘black’ names with ads for criminal background checks as opposed to more generic services for ‘white’ names. Google racially profiling would be a much better story.  The same thing would apply were I targeting Russian fur hats or nesting dolls to people with Vladimir for a first name.  It is a sad reflection on our society that (according to federal statistics) black males are seven times more likely to end in jail than their white non Hispanic peers. Logically that makes them more likely to have a criminal record, so it makes a twisted kind of common sense to target uniquely black male names with criminal background checks advertisements….but it’s not the Google Geeks doing it.

Social Discovery is Out to Get You

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.

Digital Migration Into Uncharted Waters

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.

Yahoo On the Mend?

Six months into her new job Marissa Mayer the new queen of Yahoo was able to tell some reasonably good news to investors in her Q4 results call yesterday. Yahoo saw their first uptick in revenue for a good while as Mayer shared the good news from the annual meeting of the great and good in Davos Switzerland last week. She pointed to two clear areas of focus for the newly invigorated Yahoo. Not surprisingly mobile is one of them. That makes a huge amount of sense as mobile is rapidly catching up with the desktop. For all its failing Yahoo has a ton of great content which million of people go to each day for their daily dose of sports, news gossip etc. Making that content mobile and personalized for their millions of users through apps and targeting ads around that offers a significant opportunity for revenue growth. However, the other focus Mayer pointed to is search….yes really search. I have been in the search business for about a million years and back in the day Yahoo powered its own search. Then they brought in the cuddly friendly guys at Google to power it for them (under a powered by Google brand) to run their search for them. Their assumption was that people would use Yahoo for everything including search. Back then before high speed connections users could either sit and wait for a yahoo results page encrusted with ugly ads to load or they could hop over to Google and have a fast clean ad free search result from Google. Weirdly I remember discussing this with several Yahooligans at the time and they honestly didn’t think it would be a threat. A decade or so later…they aren’t quite so sure.

Yahoo ceded search to Microsoft’s Bing a while back so for Yahoo to attempt to gain a stronger position in search without even owning the technology is incredibly ambitious. Doing search well is hard, doing it as well as Google does given the 30 trillion pages Google indexes is incredibly hard. Google has beaten off legal challenges for their rivals and the FTC and become both a noun and a verb…it’s tough to beat a competitor which has become the name for the activity. The mobile opportunity is probably more compelling. When I just checked there are about a dozen separate Yahoo apps out there. The question is can Yahoo weave those separate strands into a strong unique mobile user experience…before Facebook does? The jury is out on that. Certainly Yahoo has done a better job than Google whose mobile news app is just horrible. Their biggest problem is that Google has become the way that most of us navigate the chaos of the Internet and Facebook has become the way we share pics of our kids….all that’s left is mobile, and the clock is ticking on that too.