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Google Reader Recommendations Gone Wild

May 04 2009 // Rant + Technology // Comment

Two weeks ago I was on vacation in San Diego. Of course I took my MacBook Pro, particularly since the rental had great wifi. So I was able to check in at work, maintain my FriendFeed addiction, locate the nearest Peet’s and do research on attractions and restaurants.

Upon returning from vacation I caught up on RSS via Google Reader. In fact, I was searching for new feeds and clicked on the ‘browse for stuff’ option. Now, I can’t say Google recommendations have been that great, but it’s easy, it refreshes quickly and it has provided some decent matches.

Geolocated Google Reader Recommendations?

Google Reader Search Based Recommendations

Much to my surprise I saw a number of recommendations with a San Diego theme. Simple GeoIP was my first thought. But that didn’t explain the fact that many of the recommendations were related to San Diego and food. (Sadly, I declined these before I put two and two together and took a screen capture.) The only other food related blog I maintain is the fantastic TasteSpotting. But that’s where it starts and ends.

Then it dawned on me. I’d been searching and surfing San Diego restaurants! Sure, I used Yelp and OpenTable, but I searched Google (and Google Images) for restaurants with the best views. In addition, I would click through to the restaurant’s website to see the menu.

With a little research I confirmed that recommendations are based on Web History (emphasis is mine.)

Your recommendations list is automatically generated. It takes into account the feeds you’re already subscribed to, as well as information from your Web History, including your location. Aggregated across many users, this information can indicate which feeds are popular among people with similar interests. For instance, if a lot of people subscribe to feeds about both peanut butter and jelly, and you only subscribe to feeds about peanut butter, Reader will recommend that you try some jelly. This process is completely automated and anonymous; your personal information will be protected in accordance with our privacy policy.

Confused Google Reader Recommendations

Confused Google Reader Recommendations

The Google Reader recommendations algorithm is easily misled by a vacation or a spate of searches on a specific topic. Together, as in my case, and it’s even worse.

This isn’t a new problem.

Marketers have long had issues with this type of behavior. Buy a baby shower gift and you might suddenly be presented with a host of baby products. Get a Gilmore Girls DVD set for your mom and you wind up getting a promotion for The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2!

The complexity of trying to identify and exclude these ‘non-standard’ signals often make recommendation engines ineffective or just plain wrong.

Simple Google Reader Recommendations

As tempting as it is to use web history and location to generate recommendations it might be better to simply rely on feed history and collaborative filtering of aggregated subscriptions. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

At a minimum, it’s time for Google Reader to turn the dial down on web history and location so recommendations don’t suffer from topical whiplash.

The Capital of the Internet is San Francisco

April 14 2009 // Humor + Rant + Technology // Comment

Is there any argument that the capital of the Internet is San Francisco?

Sure, there are other areas of activity. New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Boston, Austin and a smattering of international destinations all have enclaves of Internet related activity. But the heart of the Internet remains in San Francisco. Or the Bay Area to be more precise.

Just think of the companies based in the Bay Area. Google. Yahoo. Facebook. Twitter. Yelp. Craigslist. eBay. YouTube. FriendFeed. Wikipedia (relocated from Florida). WordPress. Mozilla. Photobucket. Apple. Netflix. CNET. Adobe. Ask. LinkedIn. Snapfish. Digg. ZEDO. Pandora. CafePress. Salesforce.

I’m not even scratching the surface of all the start-ups and other sites, nor am I straying into traditional technology which would be another long list.

The Language of the Internet

Nowhere else is the language of the Internet spoken so fluently. Talk of browsers, social media, search engines, eCommerce, digital media, programming and more are par for the course. You’re bound to hear it if you sit down in a Starbucks and eavesdrop on conversations.

In New York it’s Wall Street. In Los Angeles it’s Hollywood. In Chicago it’s advertising. In Austin it’s music. In Seattle it’s … coffee and the weather. In Boston it’s … the Red Sox. In San Francisco, it’s the Internet.

Under this assumption, the White House is Google. I admit that I haven’t figured out who or where the Capitol is located. (Nominations anyone?)

The Google White House

The other cities mentioned above serve as Internet embassies. These embassies are important, but make no mistake, you’re in a foreign land. The locals don’t speak the language.

Finding the Internet Capital

I know a little more about this topic since I lived in Washington, D.C. for a little over 6 years. Washington D.C. is, without question, the capital of politics. Again, that’s not to say you can’t be a political animal in your own state or city, but D.C. is where it all comes together.

Even in college I couldn’t help but talk about politics and legislation as I drank yards of beer with friends. I knew it was time to leave when the bathroom graffiti was about NAFTA.

I moved from San Diego (yeah, I’ve hop scotched here and there) to San Francisco because I wanted to get into Internet marketing.

Why not do it in San Diego? Well, back in 1999 there was really only one San Diego based option – And the number of applications to openings was staggering. (So was their eventual implosion.)

On a lark (and to my wife’s shock) I sent three resumes to San Francisco based companies. I got three interviews and eventually landed one of those jobs.

San Francisco Detractors

Some simply don’t get it. They view the Bay Area, or Silicon Valley (the latter term seemingly used as a pejorative), as too focused and too caught up with itself. It’s expensive they moan. You live in a bubble and don’t see what’s really going on they shout.

Mind you, the same type of arguments can be applied to Washington, D.C, government and politics. But there are checks and balances.

Internal factions remind us of the outside world. We have our fair share of contrarians. Bubbles pop. And yes, from time to time ambassadors from Internet embassies remind us that there’s life beyond our corner of the world. And there is great work happening beyond the Bay Area.

But at the end of the day …

The capital of the Internet is San Francisco.

Google Cache Crawl 404 Errors

March 13 2009 // Rant + SEO // 1 Comment

When is an error not really an error?

The other day Google Webmaster Tools informed one of my clients that it had found over 1,000 404 errors. Numerous Google folks (including Maile Ohye) have told me that an excess of 404s will adversely impact SEO.

Supporting this thesis and to help in tracking down these renegade links, Google has relatively new functionality that tells you what pages a 404 was linked from. Thank you Google.

Google Logo Cache

Very quickly I realized that all of the ‘linked from’ pages were cached pages. Pages with a discovery date of between four to six months ago. Internal pages. Pages that have since changed. In fact, pages that no longer have a link to the dead page.

No thank you Google.

Clearly it would have been nice if this client had 301 redirected all of these URLs. But when doing a major architecture change you’re often going to orphan a number of URLs. It happens. And if you’ve retired the links internally, and no external links existed, the pages essentially disappear.

Unless you’re crawling an out-of-date copy of the page.

Of course you can request a URL removal via Google Webmaster Tools. But am I really going to do this for 1,000 pages? It’s painful even if I can narrow it down using a directory or subdirectory.

Instead I can implement 301 redirects for the offending URLs. All for the sole purpose of ensuring that a cached crawl of internal pages doesn’t trip a 404.

Both of these options seem unnecessary.

If Google finds a 404 in a cached page why wouldn’t they seek out the original to verify that the problem currently exists? It seems like an easy business rule to implement and would likely reduce the volume of URL removal requests.

Is it that easy or am I missing something?

Digital Discovery Is SEO

March 04 2009 // Rant + SEO // Comment

Today I read Edelman Digital’s Five Digital Trends to Watch for 2009, curated by Steve Rubel. One of these five trends was ‘Digital Discovery’ or ‘The Power of Pull’.

For more than 100 years, marketers have largely focused on reaching stakeholders through push, e.g. paid and earned media. Now, however, in an age when Google dominates, it’s equally important that we turn our attention toward digital discoverability. This requires that brands create relevant content that people will “pull” through search engines and social networks.

Call it whatever you want, but Digital Discovery is just a fancy name for SEO.

I like Steve Rubel and find his blog posts informative and often thought-provoking. So why exactly is he carefully sidestepping the true craft of Search Engine Optimization? Why not call linkbait … linkbait? And is this actually a trend for 2009?  The ‘SEO for Press Releases’ session is a golden oldie on the search conference circuit.

Mr. Angry

So perhaps it’s the audience of public relations professionals who are late in adopting SEO that shaped the report? Do they view SEO as snake oil? That we’re all a bunch of hucksters? There are bad SEOs and good SEOs, just like you’ll find good PR flaks and bad PR flaks. It doesn’t mean that I begin to call public relations something like ‘brand maximization’.

It irks me. Steve is a respected voice in his industry and beyond. This was a missed opportunity to help change the perception of SEO.

How Not To Use Twitter

December 07 2008 // Humor + Rant + Social Media + Technology // Comment

I’m still trying to find how to get the most out of Twitter. (I get far more from FriendFeed.) But here’s an easy example of how not to use Twitter.

The level of noise on Twitter seems high. Ditto the number who feel it’s an obligation to follow back. Or perhaps this is just what increased usage gets you?

4400 Reasons Why Heroes Sucks

November 18 2008 // Rant + TV // 2 Comments

Why has Heroes become less and less interesting and nearly comprehensible with each successive season? The cancellation of The 4400.

The 4400 was a USA Network show that ran from 2004 to 2007. The general theme of The 4400 was the effect on society of having a small band of people with special, super powers. Sound familiar so far? Just wait!

An agency (NTAC) was formed to track down and deal with The 4400. Huh. Sort of like the Agency on Heroes.

The agents, Tom Baldwin in particular, at NTAC have close ties, even family members, who are part of The 4400. Huh. That’s sort of like Noah Bennett’s situation on Heroes isn’t it?

A schism develops within The 4400. That’s odd, isn’t that what happens on Heroes?

The 4400 create a formula that gives regular people a 50/50 chance of developing special powers. Sort of like what Mohinder is trying to do on Heroes, right?

It turns out that The 4400 have been given these powers by people in the future in hopes of avoiding a catastrophe. Heroes doesn’t have an overall theme based on changing the outcome of the future, does it? Oh yeah, it does!

One of the central characters in The 4400 is Isabelle, the offspring of two 4400s. She has incredible power, more than most other 4400s. Who does that remind you of? Wait, it’ll come to me … Peter Petrelli or maybe Sylar.

Isabelle, this seemingly unstoppable individual is stripped of all her powers. Uh, yeah, that sounds familiar. Didn’t that happen to both Peter and Sylar?

Jordan Collier, the mastermind behind The 4400 has the power to remove abilities from other 4400s. Gee, that sounds a lot like Mr. Petrelli!

I could go on, but I won’t because I think you get the picture.

Why does Heroes suck? The problem is Heroes has run out of 4400 material from which to crib and they have little idea of what to do next.

AIG Irony

September 27 2008 // Economy + Humor + Rant // Comment

Did you notice the back cover of the October 2008 Money magazine?

Yes, it’s an AIG ad. Here’s a close up of some of the text.

We’ve been in tougher jams than this? Apparently not.