You Are Browsing The Technology Category

Comcast Upgrade Disrespects Customers

October 31 2009 // Rant + Technology + Web Design // 1 Comment

Saturday is bill paying day. One of those bills was Comcast. I’m signed up for automatic payments but I generally check to make sure everything is okay. I’m a bit paranoid that way and it usually only takes a few minutes with a cup of coffee steaming next to me to confirm that all is well.

Comcast was last on the list since I review my bills in reverse chronological order and the Comcast bill notification arrived in my inbox on Friday.

Comcast Fail

I clicked through on the bill and entered my user name.

comcast fail

I tried three times, paying special attention to ensure I didn’t fat finger something. Each time, same thing.

So I contacted customer support using their Live Chat feature. I was quickly connected with Vanessa who after a brief back and forth provided this explanation.

Vanessa > I wish to inform you that we did an upgrade with our system and we merged the 2 accounts which is the comcast.net and .com

Vanessa > And due to this upgrade since you do not have internet service I am afraid that you need to register it again online, AJ.

That makes as much sense as a fish riding a bicycle! To Vanessa’s credit she was apologetic (even though it wasn’t her fault) and very helpful. Thank you Vanessa.

Comcast System Upgrade?

I’m not an engineer or a coder, but I know enough to know that a database merge can be done far more elegantly. Boiled down, isn’t this a simple left outer join?

Even if there is more complexity (and there usually is) wouldn’t it be wise to deal with those issues instead of inconveniencing your customers?

Comcast Error Messaging

Even if Comcast chose to go ahead as planned, they could have avoided in-bound customer service issues by applying proper error messaging.

A simple statement about a system upgrade requiring users to re-register would have made the situation clear. Inconvenient but at least Comcast would have provided an immediate answer to the problem they created.

But here’s the rub. You need your account number to register!

That account number is not on the billing email and since I use paperless billing I have no material with my Comcast account number. No matter what, I’d still have to contact customer support to retrieve my account number.

Comcast Customer Service

Despite the buzz Comcast has generated around their use of Twitter they still don’t seem to understand customer service.

If they did, they’d have created use cases from a customer perspective and realized that this upgrade would be detrimental for users and would cause added customer support costs.

AT&T U-verse is looking better all the time.

Facebook Data: Gold or Pyrite?

July 06 2009 // Marketing + Social Media + Technology // 5 Comments

The personal data Facebook has could be worth millions or wind up being as valuable as a stack of Monopoly money.

Facebook Monopoly Money

Social Media Data Mining

I got to thinking about this because of a FriendFeed comment Dan Morrill made on an Altitude Branding post titled New Books, New Covers.

Not sure if I really want to shift it, if marketing folks know I am getting tired of microsoft based systems and planning on going all apple, what kind of marketing fight would happen over that one? I want them to look at me one dimensionally cause I can blow them off easier.

A few weeks later I had a conversation with Ana Yang at the FriendFeed open house. Ana’s not on Facebook. Why? She doesn’t think it really represents who people are but who they want to be.

The implications of both these statements buzzed around in my head and connected with other thoughts I’d had on social media data mining.

People Lie

People Lie

Dr. Gregory House is fond of this saying. He’s right too. People do lie, and for a variety of reasons.

Among other reasons, they lie to avoid things, they lie to fit in and they lie to avoid embarrassment.

I’d argue that people are more likely to lie in social situations and that the relative distance created by the Internet also increases people’s proclivity to lie.

So, forget about the privacy issues surrounding data collection. The real threat to Facebook’s plans lay in incomplete or downright inaccurate personal information.

Lies of Omission

The problem isn’t the actual issue of privacy, but the reaction to privacy. The heightened awareness that your personal information might be available to the highest bidder leads many to change their behavior. Some, like Dan, may lie to avoid marketing. Others may go back and remove certain information.

At a minimum, many simply reduce the amount of personal information they share moving forward. This sharing reticence creates a skewed look at people overtime. The personal data becomes a snapshot of who they were, and not who they are.

There are also topics that you might not want to discuss in a public forum. You’re probably not going to fan an incontinence product. You might not divulge the nitty-gritty details of your divorce. Most aren’t going to discuss their pornography habits.

Social Lies

One of the core issues here is the idea that self-reported social data is accurate. This isn’t a magazine subscription or a warranty card submission – things that have roots in a commerce transaction. Commerce serves as a safeguard against pervasive lying. You can’t receive that magazine if your address isn’t correct.

Social data is untethered from commerce and therefore doesn’t have a natural safeguard. The transaction taking place is psychological and emotional instead.

The act of social lying is pervasive. How many share real information when asked ‘how are you?’ Not to mention the powerful force of peer pressure and the innate desire to be liked.

We acquiesce. We embellish. We edit. We redact. Not only that, but we change our behavior based on the environment and setting.

Social Schizophrenia

At work you might say one thing, but sitting out in the backyard with a beer you might say something different. Your status update on Facebook might be different from the one you have on LinkedIn.

Soon after the FriendFeed open house there was a rather public integration of social personalities. This might not be a frequent occurrence but it’s enough to be unnerving. There is no householding of these different personalities under one address, whether it be an extreme case or simply the different facets of your social existence.

Even if you could accurately aggregate social data across various networks and email addresses, would you be able to extract reliable meaning from that data?

Social Trust

Why would companies pay for social data they can’t trust? Most companies already have multiple sources of personal data. Consumer databases with multiple reporting lines are frequent. Many also build their own through rewards programs.

Yet, marketers are always hungry for more. That’s where profiling and detailed segmentation services provided by companies like Nielsen Claritas come into play. You might think that Facebook could give them a run for their money, but it comes down to the self-reporting bias once again.

It’s not what you say you do, it’s what you actually do that matters. Facebook data is interesting but it’s not a hotel on Park Place. It’s more likely a house on Baltic Avenue.

Google + Microformats = Rich Snippets

May 15 2009 // SEO + Technology // 1 Comment

Google adopts microformats. Finally.

What are microformats?

Microformats is a semantic markup that brings structure and meaning to metadata. In less technical terms it means you can tell search engines exactly what the content is versus having them guess. Google is supporting just two of the microformat standards initially – reviews and people – but seems committed to expanding their coverage in the future.

Why microformats matter

The upside to microformats is that search engines no longer have to guess. Remember, think of a search engine as a blind five year old.

A five year old may figure out that what they’re reading is a review by noticing the format or content of the text. (They can’t really ‘see’ a star rating.) A search engine might piece it together. You’d hope so but … they’ll often fail.

Microformats lets you put a big headline on the review that shouts ‘this is a review‘.

What are rich snippets?

If the search engine can understand and trust the metadata it can transform bland search results into something more robust and compelling. This is what Google calls a rich snippet.

Rich Snippets

Both Microsoft and Yahoo! adopted microformats long ago and Yahoo! has been using SearchMonkey to accelerate the display of robust search results. It was an area where I believed Yahoo! had an advantage and should have been seeking to exploit it more.

A rich snippet is far more attractive and will drive more clicks. It was rumored that Google was holding out because they didn’t want to create an inequity based on the ability to implement semantic markup.

Was Google trying to write an extraction program to interpret native code so everyone could obtain a rich snippet? Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t but they’ve clearly decided that rich snippets are important and microformats are the way to quickly deliver rich snippets in search results.

Microformats go mainstream

I’ve been a big proponent of microformats since being introduced to them by Chris Eppstein. I was so sure they’d go mainstream it was one of my 2009 Internet and Technology Predictions.

Does the adoption of microformats by Google fulfill that prediction? I think so.

The Problem with RSS is Marketing

May 12 2009 // Marketing + Technology // 5 Comments

RSS is Dead

That’s the recent proclamation from Steve Gillmor.

It’s time to get completely off RSS and switch to Twitter. RSS just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Twitter? You mean the platform that has no real grouping function, no trust algorithm, limited information storage and a massive repetition problem? Good luck with that.

RSS is Fuel

RSS is the snow pack for the river that is the real time web

If you view the real time web as the ‘river’ of news, then RSS is the snow pack at the top of the mountain. A poor snow pack results in a drought. Without RSS the real time web would be a very different place.

RSS is the foundation of the real time web. RSS allows us to track, consume and share our passions. This is what makes the real time web work. Each person contributes a little bit of their universe to the whole. Give a little, take a little.

If the rate of how much people ‘gave’ declined you’d have less and less to take. Those not ‘giving’ at all are the parasites of the real time web.

RSS is Plumbing

The RSS debate is filled with many who claim RSS is nothing but plumbing. That it doesn’t matter if you think it’s dead or not because it’s built into so many features and products.

It’s this type of talk that has retarded the growth and adoption of RSS.

Of course RSS is plumbing but it is not just plumbing. You get to lay a lot more pipe if you can communicate how great the houses are going to look. It’s time to stop this counterproductive infighting.

RSS is Alive (but not kicking)

The drumbeat of surveys and metrics around RSS adoption are all negative. Forrester reported consumer adoption of RSS was a low 11%. A December 2007 survey for the Canadian government also showed RSS as the least recognized Web 2.0 application.

RSS Awareness

I’m not the biggest Forrester fan, but they did show some insight in their executive summary.

If marketers expect to reach a critical mass of consumers by using content syndication, then they must take on the burden of education.

I’m not sure I’d call it education exactly. I think of it as translation marketing.

Nothing needs to be complicated. People by nature are simple. We like simple things. Confusion might be fun in a mystery movie or a game of Cluedo. But when it comes to businesses marketing to us, confusion just turns us off you and onto your competitors.

My reference to translation marketing is made possible by RSS. There’s no way I’d have this information available to me – right now – if I’d relied on other methods of information consumption.

RSS is TiVo

TiVo Logo

Yeah, I said it. RSS readers are like TiVo. I get the content I want and get to consume it on my own schedule. RSS subscriptions are simply TiVo Season Passes. As such, the content can be grouped by genre and date. Recommendations are based on my subscriptions and behavior.

Nearly every person I introduce to RSS falls in love with it after they use it and understand how much time it saves them. I admit, I was a late RSS adopter in the scheme of things. I didn’t fully grok RSS for a while and then … it clicked. It’s a familiar refrain for RSS users … and TiVo subscribers.

TiVo has done the hard work of training people on a new method of media consumption. RSS simply needs to piggy back on this effort.

RSS is Netflix

Another media consumption disruptor is Netflix. They too have done some of the heavy lifting in training consumers on this new paradigm.

You don’t need to go somewhere to obtain your movies. The movies come to you.

You don’t have to watch them in a specified time frame, you can keep them for as long as you like.

RSS Usability

A number of smart people have pointed to the fact that RSS still has usability issues. Current RSS readers aren’t the most intuitive products on the block. I won’t argue that point. Readers could be a lot better.

I support advances in RSS usability since it would make marketing RSS easier. Yet, even without usability improvements, marketing could turn the tide.

Better RSS marketing would mean more users which would lead to renewed interest in RSS usability advances. It’s a bit like the chicken and the egg debate.

RSS Expectations

Brand promise. Part of marketing is building the expectations for the product. A number of people feel guilt about unread RSS items.

RSS readers encourage you to oversubscribe to news. Every time you encounter an interesting new blog post, you’ve got an incentive to sign up to all the posts from that blog—after all, you don’t want to miss anything.

RSS is not about real time. It is the fuel for real time. RSS is about time shifting your content consumption.

Do you stress about having 5 episodes of 24 queued up ready to watch? I sure hope not.

And 20 unwatched episodes of a show may tell you you’re just not interested in that show. Use your unread counts as a way to prune your subscriptions. It’s a signal!

Usability may help some of these people but abuse of any product is going to lead to substandard results.

RSS Enemies

The definition of old media is going to change rapidly. Email, ad networks and – potentially – content publishers may seek to undermine RSS adoption. Some sites may rebel by not offering an RSS option should RSS really take off and visits and page views decline. The chance of this happening has been reduced with the advent of FeedSense – advertising units within feeds.

RSS marketing will encounter these enemies. They will not go quietly into that good night.

RSS Marketing

RSS needs proper marketing. All the technical babble needs to be translated into something consumers can relate to and recognize. Use ‘On Demand’ or ‘Season Pass’ or any other verbiage that better connects the dots for consumers.

Why doesn’t Google white label Google Reader? Wouldn’t that create an incentive for sites to convert them to a branded reader? So, no matter what feeds you were reading you had the brand in front of you at all times?

At the cross section of usability and marketing, why can’t I be prompted to subscribe to a blog when I’m bookmarking it to Delicious or giving it a Thumbs Up via StumbleUpon?

RSS is Dead

RSS is dead

RSS is dead. Not the product but the brand. It’s time to let go of the acronym, stop squabbling and figure out how to translate and market this great functionality.

Twitter and Google … Analytics

May 08 2009 // Analytics + Social Media + Technology // 2 Comments

Twitter is using Google Analytics

Earlier this month Twitter launched new HTML versions of their Follower and Direct Message emails. Upon clicking through one of these newly designed emails you’ll notice that the links all contain Google Analytics parameters.

Twitter and Google Analytics

For those of you without the best eyesight, the URL contains the normal utm_ parameters. In this case Twitter is using source=follow, medium=email and campaign=twitter20080331162631.

What is twitter20080331162631?

It is not a user id since a Google search for twitter20080330062631 shows results for more than one user. The first part looks like a date, but March 31, 2008 seems like an odd choice for something just released. Any ideas?

Why is Twitter using Google Analytics?

The obvious answer is Twitter wants more accurate or easily accessible metrics. But why select Google Analytics? Sure it’s free but Twitter isn’t hurting for money, are they? Twitter could use any number of other solutions.

Many believe Twitter is a Google competitor and/or acquisition target which makes using Google Analytics more intriguing.

Wouldn’t Twitter be just a little bit paranoid that Google would peek at the Google Analytics data to gain insight into their business? Sure it’s not supposed to happen but … why take the chance?

Or is Twitter using Google Analytics to provide due diligence data to Google for a potential acquisition? Google certainly wouldn’t doubt numbers generated by their own product. Is this part of the rumored negotiations taking place between Google and Twitter?

Google Killer or Google Accomplice

Outside of the conspiracy theories, Twitter’s usage of Google Analytics further cements them as the leader in the analytics space, surpassing competitors such as Omniture and Coremetrics.

PowerPoint decks at conferences are peppered with Google Analytics graphs and screen captures. In a difficult economic environment it becomes more and more difficult to rationalize using a paid product when a free product has a similar feature set.

Twitter isn’t a Google killer. Instead it’s helping Google to kill web analytics providers.

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 – MP3.com. 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.

Parents Run the Internet

April 07 2009 // Career + Life + Technology // Comment

That’s right, parents are the driving force behind the Internet. I don’t mean end users, I mean those who are creating, building and managing the sites, applications and companies that power the Internet.

Parents run the Internet

Web 1.0

15 years ago a bunch of young visionaries and entrepreneurs developed new businesses and companies that would change the way we get news, do research, communicate and purchase goods and services. It was the wild west of business and I was lucky to get in on the tail end of that era.

Web 1.0 was about youthful exuberance. Many spent like drunken sailors and the stories of excess are legendary. Nearly everyone in the industry was young and it didn’t seem like we had to conform to the way anyone else conducted business.

Kozmo

People lived to work and often slept at work. Kitchens were stocked with free soda and munchies. There was no dress code. We shot Nerf guns at each other, rode around in the office on Razor scooters, got good at foosball and relaxed in our comfy Aeron chairs. Companies grew without the aide of a business plan. We counted our options and talked about what number we were in the company.

Po Bronson captured the time in The Nudist on the Late Shift.

The Nudist on the Late Shift came out at the height of the great social experiment – dot com fever, summer of 1999. Amazingly, it still stands the test of time, being the definitive portrait of that crazy place and time in our modern history, when all the rules were rewritten. My classic piece is the first chapter, The Newcomers, which was inspired by the works of Joan Didion, Upton Sinclair, and John Steinbeck, who chronicled other great migrations to California. From 1996 to 2000, almost 400,000 young people moved to the Bay Area from elsewhere to seek their fortune and fate in the internet industry …

It was the era of WebVan, Pets.com and Kozmo. (Ah, Kozmo how I miss thee!) In retrospect it was a lot like college.

The Nuclear Winter

Then the bottom dropped out of the Internet. Reality reared its head and the party was over. The dot com crash, or dot bomb if you like the nuclear winter metaphor, was a wake up call. Suddenly we were the butt of jokes. We finally got our comeuppance!

Thousands of us pulled the cord and found work in other areas and industries. It had been fun but it was time to grow up and start a ‘real’ career. But others stuck around – those of us who thrive on the edge of business. Those who like the chaos and can stomach the ups and downs of the roller coaster. We still saw promise in the Internet. We’d make it work.

By the end of the nuclear winter the fraternity of Internet colleagues was relatively small. Yet, we were well placed when the Internet rose from the ashes. We’d amassed a wealth of experience and learned from our mistakes.

Web 2.0

Something else happened when the Internet returned from the grave. We were in our thirties. Many of us who stuck around had started families. We matured. As any parent will tell you, your view on life and your priorities change once you’re a parent.

We became more fiscally responsible and that translated into the way we ran new start-ups. Excess was out. Making your dollar go farther was in.

The idea of living at work disappeared. Flexible hours became widely accepted and more and more found they could get just as much done working at home. We had kids and we wanted to be there for them. (Or we were made sick by them!)

It was about efficiency and output. It was about time-shifting. Just like TiVo, we’d pause work until later in the evening and then catch up with email.

We understood failure and that tempered our ego. (Tempered mind you, many of us still have big egos.) Our conversations were no longer about Burning Man, they were about elementary schools.

Parents Drove Innovation?

Think about the innovations in the last few years. How much of it was influenced by the fact that those creating it were parents? Parents want to be untethered from work, to time-shift, to document and to reminisce.

Mobile applications allow us to be elsewhere but still be connected. I can be at the playground with my daughter but still stay on top of any pressing matters via my phone. Add lighter more powerful laptops and wifi and suddenly I can go anywhere and still be ‘in the office’.

RSS and other feed based applications let us digest news on our own time.

Social Networks let us connect and interact with others without the time sink of meetings. LinkedIn makes it easy to network – something we learned was more important then we thought. Facebook lets us connect with old friends but only at arm’s length. No awkward coffee store meet ups, thank you very much.

Blogging lets us document our life and our passions. Could the need for self-expression, to keep your own identity as a person, and as a parent, be part of the reason blogs took off?

Is microblogging a way to do the same but a reaction to an infringement on our most precious resource – time? Is the rise of real-time blogging of conferences a way to optimize our information and time balance?

Are the rise of photo and video applications and platforms due to the desire to document our families? Flickr photo albums of first steps sent to family members near and far. The Flip Video Camcorder that lets us put all those dance recitals on video and share them with the world.

Really, why exactly are kids show mashups so popular?

Parents Run the Internet

The Internet has evolved and matured in parallel with those innovators who flocked to it in the mid-to-late 90s. It should come as no surprise that parents now run the Internet.

Is Yahoo the Firefox of Search?

April 01 2009 // SEM + Technology // 2 Comments

Lately, you can’t go a day without Yahoo talking about their new open initiatives. Whether it’s Yahoo BOSS (Build your Own Search Service), Yahoo Pipes or Yahoo SearchMonkey, it’s all about openness and collaboration.

Yahoo SearchMonkey

Yahoo SearchMonkey is the most interesting initiative for search. During SMX West every Yahoo presenter seemed to have a SearchMonkey slide in their deck. I can understand why.

Using SearchMonkey, developers and site owners can use structured data to make Yahoo! Search results more useful and visually appealing, and drive more relevant traffic to their sites.

SearchMonkey turns dreary search results into something more interesting.

SearchMonkey Example

There are only a handful of default SearchMonkey apps currently running on Yahoo and the number of user apps is still a middling 100 or so. Yet, the idea seems right.

SearchMonkey is add-ons for search

That’s right. SearchMonkey apps are the equivalent of Firefox add-ons.

Add-ons extend Firefox, letting you personalize your browsing experience. Take a look around and make Firefox your own.

Yahoo isn’t going to win on their search algorithm. While the result sets are subjective, Google is the perceived leader and perception is reality. In addition, Google is far more focused on perfecting search and iterating the algorithm.

That’s why SearchMonkey is a smart move. Taking a page from Firefox and WordPress, Yahoo is hoping that developers will make their results more appealing and usable through easy customization.

Firehoo

Firehoo Logo

That’s not where the similarities stop. Yahoo has a similar position in search as Firefox does in browsers. They’re both up against large market share giants, Google and Internet Explorer respectively. Hence, they both fight against user inertia.

There are differences. Yahoo had the market share lead and let it slip from their grasp and many (myself included) would argue that Firefox is a better product (add-ons or not) then Internet Explorer.

Could Yahoo become the Firefox of search?

Maybe, but only if they focus and promote SearchMonkey apps to sites, developers and, most importantly, to users. Unfortunately Yahoo isn’t doing this and remains distracted and unfocused.

It would make search far more interesting if Yahoo got serious about SearchMonkey and fully implementing a customized search strategy to woo users back to Yahoo.

Twitter is not a Google competitor

February 15 2009 // SEO + Social Media + Technology // 3 Comments

Twitter search is a great feature but it in no way threatens Google’s dominance in search.

Recency does not equal relevance

The major flaw of using Twitter as a search engine is that recent tweets on a subject do not equal relevance on that subject. This should be obvious but lets do a few searches to illustrate the point. I’ll use searches that appeared in the top 100 from the Google Hot Trends list at some point on February 15, 2009.

Yosemite Camping

yosemite camping twitter search

yosemite camping google search

Which of the results best satisfies the query? Without question it’s Google. Let’s try another.

Daytona 500 Pace Car

daytona 500 pace car search on twitter

daytona 500 pace car search on google

In this instance both provide the answer. The Daytona 500 Pace Car is a 2010 Chevy Camaro. The Google result tells me it’s black and gold and gives me plenty of authority sites to visit.

Twitter on the other hand doesn’t provide this level of detail. In addition, two of the five results are from Mahalo and a third is from kinougo. More on ‘him’ later. For now lets try one last search.

Crayola Factory

crayola factory search on twitter

crayola factory search on google

Hands down Google satisfies this query better than Twitter. The only link available is, again, from our friend kinougo. So who is kinougo?

kinougo twitter profile

Essentially auto generated Tweets based on hot searches. But where do they lead?

daytona 500 pace car on kinougo

Look at that! An API based link farm with Google AdSense as the revenue source. That looks … awful!

Twitter would have been a near complete bust if it were not for Mahalo and kinougo. Yet, these sites are simply exploiting Twitter search, not contributing to it in a natural way. I doubt the user experience on these clicks would reinforce the idea that Twitter was the place to search. Probably the exact opposite.

Recency works only for hyper real-time events: earthquakes, Presidential debates and conferences to name a few. (Sidenote: There’s this other site called FriendFeed which actually did a bang up job on real-time commentary on the Presidential debates.)

Authority is nonexistent

What makes anyone believe that the latest 5 or 10 tweets on a subject are at all authoritative! Twitter has no mechanism to determine what is the best result for a given query other than the Tweets from their users in a very short time span. Do you trust the random users of Twitter that much? I don’t and neither does Google.

The Google algorithm tries to present the most authoritative, the most right, the most useful results, not just johnny-come-lately blog posts and certainly not some 140 character missive. They might not always get it right, but they’re trying … hard.

Duplication is a problem

alzheimer's disease twitter search

Twitter doesn’t handle duplicate results, opening itself up for SPAM both real and unintentional. Even for the hyper real-time events how many times do you need to see the same quote over and over again?

Twitter is not a Google competitor

Relevance, authority and duplication all ensure that Twitter is not, and likely never will be, a Google competitor. At best Twitter could provide supplemental information to a real search engine. Twitter is the crawl at the bottom of a cable news channel.

“I just ate a mango” isn’t going to disrupt the search world.