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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.

Product (Re)Placement

February 05 2009 // Advertising + Technology // Comment

The other night I fell asleep watching Blade Runner.

Before nodding off I got to see a young Edward James Olmos (a nice juxtaposition to seeing him in Battlestar Galactica) and the amazing logo laden neon skylines that serve as the back drop to the epic Philip K. Dick story.

Blade Runner Coca-Cola Logo

A lot has been made of the product placement used in Blade Runner. Not because it was the first to use it, or that it was so prominent (which it was) but because many of the advertisers fell on hard times.

Among the folklore that has grown up around the film over the years has been the belief that the film was a curse to the companies whose logos were displayed prominently as product placements in some scenes. While they were market leaders at the time, many of them experienced disastrous setbacks over the next decade and hardly exist today. [Wikipedia]

The blatant product placement, track record of the advertisers and new technology got me thinking. What happens when an advertiser or brand ceases to exist? Right now that brand will live forever on film, locked on celluloid for eternity. But does it have to be that way?

Could product replacement be a new advertising venue?

In the digital age the logo of Coca-Cola can be swapped with that of Pepsi. Atari could be replaced by Wii. A dead brand can be replaced by the new thriving brand. Science Fiction has the greatest ability to make these changes because there are no inherent problems with anachronisms.

Period pieces would probably be off-limits (e.g. – Sense and Sensibility) and modern movies would pose potential, but not unsolvable, problems. For instance, the Mellow Yellow car featured in Days of Thunder couldn’t be digitally altered to promote ROCKST★R but could to promote Mountain Dew.

It’s an intriguing idea, though I’m sure some movie purists would howl at the moon if product replacement came to fruition. Yet, the new formats in which we’re consuming media make this type of substitution seem possible.

Product placement localization seems likely too. Imagine a character drinking from a branded bottle of beer. Couldn’t that brand be altered based on localization? Bud Light in the United States, Labatt Blue in Canada, Skol in Brazil and Krombacher in Germany.

Clearly this wouldn’t always make sense and could disrupt the suspension of disbelief necessary for many films. Make no mistake, product replacement is a Pandora’s box. But imagine the additional revenue potential of selling ‘dead brand’ space in movies.

Would you be disturbed by product replacement?

The End of Rick Rolling?

January 25 2009 // Humor + Technology // Comment

The Google team has quietly announced changes to the thumbnail selections for videos that might spell the end of the Rick Roll.

End of Rick Rolling

In December YouTube announced changes in a post titled ‘A YouTube for All of Us‘. Outside of the strange capitalization the post contained the following statements.

Improved thumbnails – To make sure your thumbnail represents your video, your choices will now be selected algorithmically. You’ll still have three thumbnails to choose from, but they will no longer be auto-generated from the 25/50/75 points in the video index.

More accurate video information – Our Community Guidelines have always prohibited folks from attempting to game view counts by entering misleading information in video descriptions, tags, titles, and other metadata.

Recently, the Google Research Blog explained a bit more about Smart Thumbnails on YouTube.

… our previous system of choosing thumbnails from the 25, 50 and 75% marks in the video, which often led to arbitrary, uninformative or sometimes even misleading images, is now a thing of the past.  When a new video comes to YouTube, we now analyze it with an algorithm whose aim is to pick a set of images that are visually representative of the content of the video.

Clearly Rick Rolling would be Exhibit A and any engineer working on a video algorithm would use Rick Rolls as a use case for development.

Is this the end of Rick Rolling? Perhaps. Or maybe it’s a continuing chess game as Rick Rollers figure out ways to beat the new thumbnail algorithm.

Never gonna give you up … never gonna …

eCommerce and RSS

January 11 2009 // eCommerce + Marketing + Technology // 1 Comment

Are eCommerce sites overlooking RSS?

RSS still hasn’t hit the mainstream, but could eCommerce sites help drive RSS adoption and at the same time increase the effectiveness and reduce the costs of their communications with customers? Yes!

Too many eCommerce sites seem to believe that the only place for RSS exists if they have their own blog. And lets face it, many don’t have the bandwidth to produce a decent blog. It’s a resource drain and one that many find hard to explain during budget meetings.

Yet, most eCommerce sites already have blogs, they just don’t know it. They’re called newsletters. So the time and effort argument is irrelevant.

Why push newsletters via RSS?

Most eCommerce sites use email as their primary method of communication. Yet, email has three big (and growing) drawbacks: deliverability, over saturation and cost.

Deliverability issues persist as email finds its way into spam folders or bounces due to changed email addresses. A 2007 Internet Retailer survey indicated that only 40% of respondents experienced 90%+ deliverability. And a 2008 Return Path report showed commercial deliverability at 88%.

Just like the old direct mail world, people move … a lot. Here’s the data from Jupiter Research (2008) and Return Path (2007) respectively.

17% of Americans create a new email address every 6 months

30% of subscribers change email addresses annually

Part of the deliverability problem is over saturation. Email marketers have overused the medium, flooding mailboxes to the point where users feel overwhelmed. The result has been a steady decline in open rates, from nearly 40% in 2003 to 13% in 2008.

eMarketer Email Marketing Open Rates 2007-2008

Many eCommerce sites have increased the frequency of email to respond to declining open rates. The open rate might be low on each email but if you send six emails a month your total open rate might wind up being pretty good.

Yet, there is incremental cost associated with this increased volume. Not only that but it contributes to the over saturation problem which negatively impacts open rate and effectiveness. It’s a vicious and costly cycle in which eCommerce sites wind up paying more for less.

The advantages of RSS

RSS solves most, if not all, of the deliverability problem. There is no spam filter or black list. I’d also argue that you’re less likely to switch readers than email addresses, thus reducing the churn rate of your subscriber base.

Email has become unncessarily intrusive and ephemeral. An email will be pushed ‘below the fold’ of a person’s inbox with greater speed as the volume of email a person receives increases. The adage ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is apt in this instance.

Over saturation might be an issue in RSS but the format is a more ‘on demand’ type of solution. TV networks are starting to understand this, that forcing people to watch their show at 8pm on Thursday might not be optimal. Similarly, RSS allows subscribers to engage with your content on their own terms.

Subscribers will still get an inbound notification that new content has arrived, so you’ll still see an immediate (though perhaps less pronounced) traffic surge. And the content will have a longer life due to increased delivery and visibility in the reader.

Did I mention RSS would be radically cheaper than email? Leaps and bounds cheaper really.

But didn’t eCommerce already try RSS?

Yes and no. When RSS first arrived on the scene there was a big ruckus about how RSS could replace email. The problem was marketers didn’t have a clue how to really make that happen. Most didn’t even use RSS and found it confusing at best.

I speak from experience. I was smack dab in the middle of it all as Director of Marketing at Alibris. I sensed that it had potential but I didn’t fully grok RSS until later on, after I’d left the eCommerce space.

The topic was a blip on the radar at conferences and no one really wanted to upset the applecart. Email was a solid performer and search was the shiny new channel.

So any attempts made in those years were premature and uninformed for the most part.

Why could RSS succeed this time?

If eCommerce sites began to understand that RSS could help them achieve their goals they could be a force of change for the technology. RSS needs to be relaunched, rebranded or both. Who better to do that then those in the business of selling.

In addition, the reader market has matured and stabilized. I see no reason why Google wouldn’t want to partner with major retailers and offer their customers an easy (perhaps cobranded) way to start using RSS using Google Reader.

Finally, RSS can be used more creatively by eCommerce sites. In a tough economy, why not let users select products and create a price watch feed? Or let users subscribe to reviews of a product to help them through the sales cycle?

Email versus RSS

email vs rss

The revenue stream from email has obscured the growing cost of the channel. I don’t know of a single eCommerce retailer who really ‘likes’ their email service provider. The time and money dedicated to producing and sending email seems to grow and not shrink.

Yet, instead of looking at new ways to communicate with customers many simply look to ‘fix’ email or find another service provider. Deliverability in particular has given rise to a number of new businesses. That should be a clear signal for change.

I’m not saying eCommerce should abandon email, but the ones who figure out RSS will have a marked advantage.

How To Get Your Twitter Replies Via RSS

January 02 2009 // Social Media + Technology // Comment

Twitter Replies Via RSS

Here’s a simple way to get your Twitter replies delivered to you via RSS.

  • From your Twitter home page, scroll down to the bottom and click on Search
  • Search for your replies using @[your username] (for me that would be @ajkohn)
  • Select the ‘Feed for this query’ link on the top right hand side of the search results page

That’s it. Your Twitter replies will now be delivered to you via RSS in your favorite reader.

Google Search Query Word Length

December 31 2008 // Humor + Technology // Comment

How many words does it take to get to the end of a Google search query?

Tootsie Pop Owl








Okay, I’ll spare you the tedium. The answer is 32 words!

Google Search Query Limit is 32 Words

I’m guessing this isn’t new but it just happened to catch my attention. It would have been far more interesting if they’d stopped at 42.

2009 Internet and Technology Predictions

December 23 2008 // Advertising + Marketing + SEM + SEO + Social Media + Technology // 9 Comments

Now is the time when bloggers go on the record with their thoughts for the year ahead. Place your bets! Stake your claim! Here’s mine.

Crystal Ball 2009 Predictions for Internet and Technology

Facebook Becomes A Portal

Realizing that social media and advertising is like oil and water, Facebook repositions itself as a portal leveraging Microsoft’s Live Search as the revenue model. This also might result in the potential acquisition of Netvibes to provide a more robust offering to compete with Yahoo!

Identity Systems Fail

Confused about the difference between OpenID, Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect, users throw up their hands and decide not to use any of the above.

Video Advertising Succeeds

The adoption of video is surging faster than many expected. Longer formats and better quality will bring even more eyeballs who will grudgingly accept advertising.

Microformats Go Mainstream

Why they aren’t already is shocking. Nevertheless, in 2009 we’ll see microformats become a standard and search results will become far more robust as a result.

Banner CTR Becomes Obsolete

Brands will finally realize that measuring success by click through rate (CTR) isn’t working. Measurement ‘beyond clicks’ will be the new yardstick, whether that’s through new brand advertising measurement services like Vizu or through monitoring services like Brandwatch and Trackur among a gaggle of others.

RSS Adoption Spikes

Someone will (finally) figure out how to market RSS to ‘the masses’ who will grasp the sublime benefits of having content come to you instead of the other way around.

Kindle 2.0 Flops

Amid a weak economy Amazon releases the newest version of Kindle. Other readers have gained ground where Kindle has not and at the core Kindle is a solution without a problem.

Google Search Share Stalls

The move by Facebook (see above) causes a radical change in the search landscape. Microsoft passes Yahoo! for second place and talks about a Microsoft Yahoo merger are (unbearably) reignited.

FriendFeed Surpasses Twitter

FriendFeed adoption increases at an accelerated pace due to quick innovation, uncluttered design and an interface that lends itself to communication.

Someone ‘Dies’

Users reach social media overload and VCs get even more nervous about revenue creating social media shrinkage. In this instance ‘Dying’ means a company goes under or is purchased for a song. My short list includes Plurk, Twitter, Digg and Seesmic. This isn’t a reflection of the people or product but the inability to truly reach the mainstream with a service that has a profit model.

There are plenty of other things that I believe will happen in 2009, but they seem more obvious or an extension of current trends. Instead I tried to be a bit more bold, at least on a few of my predictions.

We’ll check in this time next year to see how I fared. In the meantime, feel free to comment and provide your feedback and reaction to my predictions.

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?

Wikipedia Flirts With Disaster

December 05 2008 // Technology // Comment

Wikipedia has secured a $890,000 grant from Stanton Foundation to make the editing process more user-friendly. At first glance this seems innocuous, but it has the potential to ruin Wikipedia.

“Wikipedia attracts writers who have a moderate-to-high level of technical understanding, but it excludes lots of smart, knowledgeable people who are less tech-centric,” Sue Gardner, the Wikimedia Foundation’s executive director, said in a statement Wednesday.

Ms. Gardner is right. But it also excludes the ubiquitous trolls and troglodytes who inhabit the comment space on social networks and forums. Ever peek at the comments on YouTube? Yeah, not the type you want editing material on Wikipedia.

Here’s today’s featured article on Wikipedia.

Now imagine that the monkeys have overwhelmed the safeguards through new user-friendly editing.

Sure it’s an exaggeration but the fact remains that Wikipedia is inviting more people into the editing process. They don’t get to choose just the smart people.

The current editing environment actually provides a filter via the technical and code obstacles. It’s a screening process that, while somewhat biased, helps keep the monkey masses out. Might it not be easier to provide tutorials for the ‘smart’ people who are motivated to contribute to Wikipedia?

User-friendly editing is a can of worms, a Pandora’s box. Wikipedia should be careful for what it wishes.

Forgive Me StumbleUpon For I Have Sinned

December 04 2008 // Advertising + Humor + Marketing + Technology // 1 Comment

StumbleUpon No EntryThe other day I updated my StumbleUpon toolbar (well, I was essentially forced to) and immediately couldn’t Stumble posts from this blog or my Used Books Blog. Each time I tried my Stumble just would not go through, stalling at a blank white box where the review and tagging takes place. I tried numerous times on a couple different browsers. Nothing worked.

I assumed that something had gone awry with the new toolbar. I even posted a message on FriendFeed calling eBay lame. But you know the old saying about assuming, right?

I sent feedback to StumbleUpon about my problem and got a prompt reply as follows.


Thanks for writing in.

After reviewing your account history, it appears
that you’ve repeatedly submitted content from one
or more sites in particular.

Our site software detects behavior like this to
prevent the unauthorized use of StumbleUpon to
promote a specific Web site, product or service.

This limit will likely remain in place until you
use the StumbleUpon Toolbar more frequently to
rate, review and discover Web sites that can
shared with other members.

If you’re interested in using StumbleUpon to
advertise a Web site, please look into our
Advertising program:

If you have any other questions, please review our
Terms of Service and Community Rules:

Thanks for your feedback,

Oops. I admit, I’ve only been Stumbling my own sites lately. However, I think they’re pretty good so I don’t see anything too wrong with that. Also, I’m pretty transparent. I don’t have a Stumble army nor do I have multiple profiles so I can distribute my Stumbles across accounts and dodge the software.

But I get it and I’m not really complaining. It’s not what StumbleUpon is really supposed to be about. And I respect them for protecting the product and StumbleUpon business model. It also got me to Stumble again and I discovered some interesting sites and images. So … thanks for that.

My one nit would be that I had to contact support to get this information. Instead of presenting the white box of frustration I suggest that StumbleUpon simply insert the text I received into that area. Not only would I have immediately understood what was going on and not throw invective into the htmlosphere but StumbleUpon would have saved a bit of money on customer support.

Forgive me StumbleUpon for I have sinned. My penance? Stumble.