You Are Browsing The Technology Category

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

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

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.

Hello,

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:
http://www.stumbleupon.com/ads

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

http://www.stumbleupon.com/terms/
http://www.stumbleupon.com/rules.html

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.

Does Google Have Pac-Man Fever?

December 02 2008 // Humor + SEM + SEO + Technology // 2 Comments

Google’s share of US searches continues to rise according to a recent comScore press release. In October 2008 Google led with 63.1% of all searches conducted. The resulting pie chart shows that Google is closing in on a Pac-Man like position in the search market.

It hasn’t been this way for that long though. Following is the historic comScore data I’ve cobbled together showing Google’s share of the search market.

October 2004: 34.8%
October 2005: 39.0%
October 2006: 45.4%
October 2007: 58.5%
October 2008: 63.1%

So, in five years the search market went from a dog fight to a laugher. If Google continues on this path the pie chart will take on true Pac-Man dimensions.

Now, I’m not sure who’s Inky, Blinky, Pinky or Clyde but Google certainly has the other search players on the run.

None of them seems to have the right medicine to reduce the Google fever that has swept the country. Acetaminophen (AOL), ibuprofen (Yahoo!), naproxen (Ask) and aspirin (MSN) have all failed to bring the temperature down. And upstart homeopathic remedies (Powerset, Cuil etc.) haven’t made a dent either.

Would mixing some of these medicines together help? Some Yahoo! and MSN with a dash of Powerset? Not likely. And in some cases mixing medicines can prove lethal.

Could Zoetrope Be A SERP Tracking Tool?

November 25 2008 // SEO + Technology // Comment

Zoetrope is a new web tool being jointly developed by Adobe and researchers at the University of Washington. The general idea is to allow users to view the Internet over time. Think of it as the Wayback Machine on steroids. Sarah Perez does a good job writing about Zoetrope in ReadWriteWeb.

Yet, it’s the following video that does the best job of explaining Zoetrope.

Could Zoetrope be used as a SERP tracking tool?

If Zoetrope could capture specific search engine results pages (SERPs), then it could be a very powerful SERP tracking tool.

Let’s say I have 10 high value keywords for which I want to be highly ranked on Google. Using Zoetrope I could conceivably capture the daily SERP for each keyword and link it to the appropriate destination page. This would allow me to see if changes to my page had any impact on SERP ranking for that keyword.

I could even create ‘lenses’ for my competitors and review how they’ve tweaked their site to help influence SERP rank. Zoetrope could provide an unparalleled level of detail and analysis for a savvy SEO practitioner.

Yet there’s a big, actually huge, ‘if‘ in the statement above. I doubt that Zoetrope is or even could capture every SERP. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a way to do this. In fact, I think it provides a pretty interesting business opportunity.

Want Zoetrope to help you track SERP for a group of keywords? Simply sign-up for a subscription and they would begin to capture the information. Toss in a 30 day free trial to get the ball rolling and I think you’d have a number of people clamoring for and using Zoetrope for SERP tracking.