Archive: March 2009

Monday, March 30, 2009

Is Guy Kawasaki Singlehandedly Ruining Twitter? (Part I)

Guy Kawasaki gave a controversial keynote talk about his legendary Twitter tactics at SES New York last week.

Sitting a few chairs from @LisaBarone and like Lisa, tweeting my response to the session, I couldn’t help but wonder if we were watching the same presentation. While I was unsettled by some of what I was hearing, I also felt like the presenter was self-deprecating and self-aware… and like he said, transparent about his sometimes aggressive tactics. @LisaBarone, on the other hand, “threw up a bit in her mouth,” (OK those were words put in her mouth by @dannysullivan), thought Kawasaki was “making an ass of himself,” etc. I just didn’t see the evidence. I thought @LisaBarone was overreacting.

After digesting the entire talk for the rest of the day, Lisa’s position grew on me. In fact I started formulating an even more extreme dislike of Kawasaki.

I’m relatively new to Twitter, but then again, I’m not slow :), so I have seen these kinds of trends come and go. Mostly, since the late 1990’s, what we’ve seen are spammers in various channels tell us that they’re the cool ones and not really spamming. This went for email, “inventions” like “push,” new ad formats that users hated, Claria popups … and so on.

I’d love to be able to make the point that it’s not about the man, it’s about the tactics. As honorable as that might be, it’s impossible to separate the two… as you’ll see.

Let’s take the first thing that really made my blood boil. Kawasaki kept trying to ingratiate himself by saying “well someone out there is going to say I’m a dick for saying this, but…” and various references to the way his critics slam him. At first it seemed open and honest. In reality, it’s a divide-and-conquer method that doubles as a way of constantly echoing the notion that he’s important, talked about; essentially, the center of attention. For some reason. The nice act contrasted with the “he’s a dick” reality. So which is it? Certainly, quite a slick politician.

And yes, he even has those types of operatives who will sidle up to you and say “you know, he’s really quite a nice fellow when you get to know him deep down.” Yecch.

Speaking of divide and conquer: he also made regular use of the old false dichotomy trick. According to Kawasaki: either you’re a money-grubbing, social-media-abusing pusher of some product, service, or yourself to the waiting Twitter masses, or you’re a frivolous nobody posting about your cat, or the new hairbrush you bought, or the fact that you brushed your cat with the new hairbrush. So those are the only two options? Building a genuine professional rapport or exploring mutual interests with a small to medium-sized circle of people? That has no place in Kawasaki’s dichotomous world. People who aren’t on the A-List are really just nobodies who should be spammed by A-Listers; that’s Kawasaki’s mental atlas. Funny that’s how it is, because Kawasaki wastes a lot of breath trying to say that he feels just the opposite. He protests too much, a lot.

I don’t know what office Kawasaki thinks he’s running for, but I hope it’s not much higher up than mayor of a small town. What does he take us for?

Next in Kawasaki’s demagogue’s (and Twitter is nothing if not a place where you’d better have your demagogue hat firmly in place) bag of tricks, he castigates people who don’t follow everyone back because they’re arrogant. By not “reciprocating,” non-followers are showing they “don’t care about their followers.” Sure: he’s trying to make the point it’s not a broadcast medium. Well hold the phone: broadcast is pretty much all he uses it for, and not even interesting or ethical broadcast. So back to broadcast and fake reciprocity: remember when people had blogs and newsletters (even talk shows) and weren’t required to “follow everyone back?” When it was OK to be an authority or a celebrity and to respond to some viewers, some fan mail, some email, etc.? Has Guy Kawasaki singlehandedly swept a wand of democracy over all media communications? Not on your life. He’s on the A-List, and wants you to know it. More on that below.

The thing about Kawasaki’s follow-back habit is: it’s fake reciprocity. He isn’t actually following. Following everyone back is like the old idea of exchanging links with everyone and anyone, in the hopes of gaming Google. You don’t actually have any hope of really following 100,000 people, so instead, you hide behind TweetDeck and other apps. As Kawasaki points out, he does read all @replies and Direct Messages. But don’t believe that the “purpose of following everyone back is so people can direct message me.” The purpose is to get people used to the idea that a follow should be reciprocated with a follow. That way, folks who go out and follow 200,000 people have a greater chance of being followed by, say, 160,000.

Before I forget, on that A-List thing. Kawasaki introduced his talk by telling us he dismisses the whole concept of “A-List” bloggers, celebrity Twitterers, and the like. It’s perhaps more telling than he realizes that one of his early slides illustrates the principle that Nobodies Can Be Somebodies. Nobodies Can Be Somebodies! Yay! You poor loser who got picked on in high school and have only 14 fake online friends, there is still hope for you! Pastor Kawasaki says Twitter loves you! I can almost taste the Kool-Aid on my lips.

If the word “nobodies” is so top of mind for him, I suspect Kawasaki never left the A-List mentality. Says he, we’re supposed to be celebrating the fact that information “bubbles up,” rather than being “top down.” So why then does he have to make such a big deal out of the fact that “ReTweets” (signified by the convention of signing posts with RT in Twitter to indicate you’re reposting someone else’s tweet) are the real proof of Twitter reputation? Well, because he’s mastering the skill of pretending to be the most popular, by that single measuring stick. And he makes fun of Ryan Seacrest for having so many followers… like that’s a yardstick. I feel myself starting to like Ryan Seacrest.

Kawasaki trots out the list of the “retweet leaderboard”. And guess what, he and the Mashable guy are fighting it out for top spot. Out of everyone in the world! But guess what else. Kawasaki spends a good part of his day using and designing tactics to win that fake race (much automation and staff help is involved).

Guy, Guy, Guy. We’ve been down that road before. Remember? You could game Google by getting a bunch of links to your site, even buying them or joining a silly link farm, so that “reputation” could be mass produced?

The problem is, no one is buying it anymore, and algorithms you make up because you’ve pre-gamed them before a search engine has even begun using them as a signal: well let’s hope the search gods don’t fall for it.

Automated reputation enhancement does nothing to convince us you have a strong reputation. So that’s why you’re reduced to selling your self-referential tactics to folks who want to use them to destroy the channel alongside you, and maybe, just maybe (with all the hope of a low level MLM participant) wring just a little cash from some spammy tactics. Here’s hoping they aren’t people who run real businesses: it’s all too easy to squander your hard-won reputation by polluting a social channel with your hard sales tactics. (Hmm, why have I switched to the first person? I think this rhubarb is really heating up.)

Here’s what really turned me off. I don’t have the time or inclination to research them in depth – and am turned off in the extreme by the number of times Kawasaki shilled for them – but I gather he has some involvement with and equity in two companies, AllTop and Adjix. When you follow Kawasaki (and his team of ghost-tweeters, and his automation methods), you get frequent messages on stupid, random topics (or hey, they might be relevant to you because you mentioned a certain keyword; problem is, the dude responding is always Guy Kawasaki, who can’t possibly be genuinely interested.) Kawasaki illustrated this onscreen, by posting some stupid peanut butter cookie recipe and showing how quickly other (mindless followers, employees, or whoever) Twitter users retweeted the recipe. All hail the Peanut Butter Man! I’m throwing up in my mouth.

So. The reality on the ground: Kawasaki pretends to follow a huge number of people, but doesn’t. Spams that huge number of people, in the hopes of self-promoting and in the hopes of boosting the traffic of this uninspiring AllTop site – presumably, enough to cash out of the thing before it fades into oblivion.

So why do I think that he could singlehandedly ruin Twitter, if its brand, community, and technology aren’t robust enough? I think mostly about how a fashion-forward digital brand can be reduced to a sort of flea market image, just by the actions and presence of a prevalence of certain kinds of members. When that happens, eventually the value declines (think eBay) and the cool kids start scouting around for somewhere that isn’t overrun by hawkers and pitchmen and auto-generated babble. To say nothing of desperate losers trying to build their “downline.”

If you strip away the black turtleneck (please don’t), the Silicon Valley pedigree, and the attitude, Kawasaki can be boiled down to the equivalent of the regional sales manager of one of those vacuum cleaner sales operations — the guys who actually admit to being in what is called “the direct selling industry.” Trying to whip up enthusiasm among his subordinate product pushers, making an uncomfortable number of penis references, and flashing his lifestyle and (borrowed) fancy cars to distract the current crop of reps from the fact that they haven’t made a cent yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kawasaki soon grew a mustache and started smoking unfiltered cigarettes.

If everyone listened to Guy Kawasaki and admired his Twitter tactics, Twitter would start looking more and more like a digital trailer park. Hey, that’s no shame and it’s no crime. MySpace’s digital trailer park is a pretty big revenue generator. But is that really where the Twitter founders expect and hope to wind up?

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Posted by Andrew Goodman


Sunday, March 29, 2009

5 Conference Truisms Still Apply: SES New York Wrap-Up

About a year ago I reviewed some traits that really made for a bad audience reaction at a digital marketing conference: excessive salesiness, disrespect of other panelists or the conference, bailing completely without phoning it in (fine if you give notice or have to leave for family reasons, not that these things appease disgruntled audiences), admitting you’re unprepared, and leaving all the brilliance in the bar and drooping through the sessions. I can prove it because those are some of the types of speakers who get very low ratings on surveys.

By these criteria, I didn’t see any bad sessions at SES New York this week. (I do admit that I was relatively unprepared in one session, Turning Small Changes into Big Profits, because I was filling in for someone last minute — no one’s perfect.) Perhaps a sign that audience expectations are up for several reasons: growing professionalism in digital marketing, and a vocal demand to get value for a dollar that doesn’t stretch as far as it once did.

Guy Kawasaki, a keynote speaker, violated the salesiness rule in spades and was (somewhat justifiably) curt to the timekeeper on the session, but the debate can still rage about whether certain highly-paid “showstoppers” (think Jim Cramer) need to be that way because it’s part of their schtick. Ultimately, Kawasaki’s content was original and remarkable. I hated a lot of his message, but I’ll write more about that later.

One panel I’m very familiar with, because I spoke on it, was the Advanced Paid Search panel crammed with six people and a moderator. Normally, paid search panels can tend to get salesy and the agencies can sometimes crow too much about their case studies and client lists. That’s mitigated when the subject matter is a bit geeky (like the Quality Score panels); maybe that’s because it gets a bit more like SEO and everyone is having (good clean technical) fun. This Advanced Paid Search tactics panel had such a rigid pacing requirement that no one had time for a sales pitch, and everyone shrunk things down to a concentrated set of juicy tips. To use a Canadian-sounding analogy I just made up, they were flooding the backyard rink (good) rather than farting in your general direction (bad).

We’re always learning things on the conference circuit. I had assumed that a six-person panel would be bad. Not so. It all depends on the people, the material, the moderation, and audience expectations.

Posted by Andrew Goodman


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Straight Talk on Click Fraud

Because my piece boiling down the whole click fraud controversy appeared elsewhere, many of you may not have seen it the first time (exactly two years ago)! My opinion hasn’t changed. I still think that most of the discussions of click fraud are a sideshow to the serious concerns of marketers. The search engines’ systems are not perfect, but major problems are rare and anomalous. This should be the subject of periodic audits, to be sure, but most of the time you’re not going to find enough problems. Conclusion: much click fraud talk is driven by click fraud solution vendors. Sound familiar?

Anyway, other than savvy use of reporting and analytics in general, I find some tools to be handy for those periodic updates. PPC Assurance by Enquisite is one of them.

Rerun: Click Fraud: Sideshow vs. Reality

Excerpt: If you’ve owned a website for any length of time, you’ve probably received one of those spam e-mails offering you some scam search engine optimization service. The most recent twist on this kind of spam is: “Triple Your Google AdWords Results (By Reporting Click Fraud)”.

This latter claims that advertisers are suffering “exponential losses of profit,” and that if you submit a “periodic report to provider,” the search engines “must comply promptly to your reports.” Inane prose and poor grammar aside, what these claims are, most of all, is nonsense.


Posted by Andrew Goodman


Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Pleasant Friday Dinner in Academia, vs. the Horrible Sunday Hangover

Friday night I had the pleasure of being dragged (er, accompanying) my wife to dinner at the home of one of her academic colleagues, and his family. And I’m glad I did.

Intellectually, I’m vaguely related to my wife and her colleague, from a past life. Their mandate in life, more often than not, is to analyze and critique the undue role of business in the making of public policy, in whatever jurisdiction you can name. In other cases, though, their mandate is just to engage with important ideas and pass them along to curious students.

In political science and related social sciences, even the most mainstream academics (take Robert Dahl) wound up gravitating away from their “everything’s cool” positions (Dahl writing about pluralism in government and reasonably distributed power in the US in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s) to aforementioned “critique of the undue role of business in the making of public policy.”

So that being said, I never expect these cloistered critics to give my line of work the time of day. I fully expect them to be dismissive. But when they hear more about it, they rarely are. That’s because they’re thoughtful enough to realize there are shades of gray. And to realize that people have to make a living.

So when my host said “ever since I heard about what you do, whenever I come across those little ads I think about you,” I was pleased. But I was even more pleased when he trotted out an incredibly insightful point about how much had to be implicit and based on shared understandings between reader and writer, in those tiny little ads. His analysis was drawn right from Aristotle’s Rhetoric! Flattering to have someone that well-versed put that much thought put into it!

Unfortunately, there are also lazy critics-of-everything (AdBusters, Naomi Klein in No Logo) who, rather than thinking things through, envision things like “a world without advertising.” It’s interesting to note that such critics fail to see that their vision is presumptuous about people’s willingness to trade attention for some other good, even if you modeled the transaction in the abstract, minus current forms of compulsion. People who critique all advertising are as extreme as the anarchists who are critical about all forms of power, or hedonists who fail to accept that repressing some urges is required in order to work hard enough or calculate probabilities well enough (or do something well enough) to satisfy your need for material survival. In my judgment advertising is free commercial speech that exists in any free society, and its ideal form is “reasonable targeting”. Overdo the interruption (I called it “surplus interruption” in Winning Results with Google AdWords, 2nd ed., chapter 1) and it’s less than ideal, morally and perhaps practically. (Google has profited greatly from this insight.)

In short, if you disagree with my take that any free society will have advertising, you are a dangerous nut. You are a dangerous nut because you believe people can’t be trusted to think for themselves. And you have little concept of what free speech is, and why businesses (not just citizens) also need to be heard.

(If, as a business, you take it too far and practice surplus interruption, you will eventually annoy me so I’ll tune out — which could affect ad rates. In a dystopian future this can cross the line into propaganda that ordinary people can’t resist. We need to be vigilant about such coercion, of course. Where’s the opt-out?)

So the hangover comes today in the form of a self-important scholar who posts a broad-ranging but spottily-researched analysis of digital advertising. He calls search advertising “misdirection” and lobs a few unfortunate claims out, such as implying that Google threatens companies with invisibility in search rankings if they don’t pay for ads. What they are doing is quite far from that, of course. They are running a massive, efficient, and consumer-ok’d advertising auction. Companies are free to ignore it if they wish.

Occasionally, such a thoroughgoing critique of all advertising pops up out of far left field; this one appeared on TechCrunch and spurred this Danny Sullivan rant over on SEL today. As Danny says, it might be nice to have that hour of your life back spent reading, pondering, and responding to this non-starter of an argument.

I find it strangely comforting that critiques of search advertising — which I take to be a reasonable accommodation between advertisers’ interests and consumers’ needs and wants — are the harshest when they are coming from the laziest analysts. Anyone who digs a bit sees there’s a bit more to the advertising field than a stain on humanity that needs to be washed away permanently by “helpful” armchair revolutionaries.


Posted by Andrew Goodman


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Yes, Twitter’s Business Model Is To Be Acquired, and Yes, It Will Be

This is the type of subject matter we set out to write about nearly ten years ago when we launched Traffick. And I’m a little surprised that we’re still writing about it.

The upshot is Google is a massive funnel today. So not all of its individual lines of business need to make near-term profit. But the whole enterprise, right now, is geared towards dominating core streams of user attention and user functionality, with enough of that attention being monetized through advertising to pay for everything. That’s the kind of scale the major players in the same race are all seeking. And it colors the prospects of standalone services looking to be acquired (or pretending to want to go it alone).

When we launched this site, our subhead/tagline was “The Guide to Portals” or “The Portal Portal”. At the time, the “portal wars” raged. They don’t call them that anymore, but the principle is still the same. In this emerging space of core online standards or starting points, or diversified digital lifestyle brands, or however you want to describe them, there’s room for only a few major players. Since AOL took the lead in the area with Yahoo following on as the savvier version of same, the leading digital lifestyle monopolists have knitted together their various services in such a way that they keep you in their garden, or at least coming back. They had various grand visions of how they would accomplish that; few predicted that one feature — search — would be at the heart of the grand takeover of first place by Google, which hasn’t looked back in years. Many of those schemes revolved around the idea that the ISP would be the lock-in point. Some thought nice features (better email) would do it. Microsoft hoped the browser or the OS would return them to universal dominance. Just buying up a big enough percentage of the important online stuff was another theory. IAC Interactive pursued that path, but never far enough to get anywhere close to scale. The others have played the “buy not build” game enthusiastically at times. They have to! User loyalty can’t always be produced out of thin air. Orkut, Knol, and a good list of other Google inventions may never dominate their verticals.

Every so often a standalone service would emerge that would be so popular on its own it would be eagerly snapped up by one of the leading players. Sometimes it helped them build a nice feature (Rocketmail became Yahoo Mail) or add something viral and even more cool than many realized at first (ICQ by AOL). Yahoo made many great bets, though paying staggering sums for some of them: eGroups and Geocities beefed up community. They made some subtle bets (Flickr) and some awful ones ( Their aggressiveness has left them where they are today: in second place (not bad). History buffs know that many wannabes (Excite, AltaVista, Go2Net) died unceremoniously, failing to reach top of mind.

Yep, this is all about scale – sustainable scale, but scale to be sure. Few of the standalone services would be household names today without those mega-acquisitions. They’d be popular, and bankrupt.

Google has made some subtle acquisitions (Applied Semantics, Blogger, Dejanews, Keyhole) and some stunning ones (YouTube), while developing far more great products and functionality in-house than any of their competitors. Without both the subtle and stunning acquisitions, they most certainly wouldn’t be in the position they’re in today.

In any case, this post is supposed to be about Twitter. Nielsen’s recent report shows the service growing a stunning 1,328 percent year over year.

How to interpret this? One one hand you have the camp that understands what such a rapid growth rate means in this space. It’s a rush of user attention – a locus of operations for the savviest of users that is now crossing the chasm to become a mainstream attention – that the big guys just cannot ignore. The month-over-month growth numbers are hugely important to anyone watching.

On the other hand you have the chicken littles who say that companies like Twitter have no business model.

Both are right. It’s much harder for a get-big-fast online service to build a business model on their own than it is to sell. On the other hand, if they dominate a category, they can be pretty scary to the big guys.

The best precedent would be with YouTube. YouTube could have made a lot of noise about wanting to stick around for the long term, but where would they be today had they not sold to Google or someone else? It takes a long time to continue growing and investing in a platform before monetizing in a way that doesn’t kill your user base. On the other hand, Google Video had largely failed. YouTube was already the People’s Platform for online video. In the end, Google got great value for money. They talked the price down by referring to the copyright threats that were in the air.

The “poor man’s email service” that is Twitter is both growing so fast that it cannot be ignored, and it has no credible way of handling all of the coming hyper-growth *and* monetizing in time to keep itself afloat financially, despite raising large sums of money. (Facebook’s in a similar position but that’s a separate topic.) Like YouTube, it is hurdling headlong towards an acquisition, in a game of chicken with the leading potential acquirers to see who can hold out the longest.

Which brings us to the question of which gigantic company can afford to underwrite such high-volume expansion that will eventually funnel into a bigger monetization picture, as Google did with YouTube.

It’s an uncomfortable scenario in that Yahoo has been forced into a frugal state, and simply cannot afford to acquire Twitter. That’s most uncomfortable for Twitter, as it leaves them looking at Microsoft — who took an expensive stake in Facebook — and Google as the only two logical acquirers. Oddball acquisitions can happen — see eBay & Skype — but they aren’t ideal in the sense that the oddball could get spun out again in a couple of years, and who’s to say the oddball acquirer would be the proper environment for growth.

In a weird sense, Twitter is most like ICQ, in the sense that it’s gone viral and offers a certain kind of immediacy at a certain moment in digital communication history. AOL isn’t the kind of company that acquires a Twitter today, though.

For companies like Twitter, the messy and as-yet-unconsolidated patchwork left by the also-rans (Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL) in the digital space may be bad news valuation-wise, as it creates too many distractions for these lesser candidates, and points so heavily towards a single acquirer.

Make no mistake about it, if Twitter can’t find themselves an acquirer with deep pockets, and soon, they are in deep trouble. They are actually growing too fast.

Eric Schmidt’s comments about Twitter being a “poor man’s email service” may have been even more telling than we realize. Twitter under Google could go anywhere, but the literal interpretation of its value is typically how Google would look at the value at first. Could you slap targeted contextual text ads next to people’s Twitter streams — that look much like a thread in GMail? Why yes. And how much money do those ads make for Google? A healthy sum, but nothing stupendous. So in looking at Twitter as analogous to GMail, Schmidt is actually trying to put a real-world value on the company. And he’s trying to knock that value down a peg from the hyped values that refer to untried monetization methods.

A similar game of chicken happened before — with YouTube. And the valuation was a bargain for Google and didn’t exactly make paupers out of the company founders and their investors. If I had to lay down a chip, I’d expect Google to acquire Twitter by the middle of May. We’ll see.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

YouTube Analytics Data – More Democratization of Analytics by Google

It is difficult to overstate how much of a data-driven culture Google maintains. And right on the heels of that aspect of their philosophy is their commitment to providing more of everything for free.

Recently I heard a bit of a different spin than I was expecting, casually chatting with a client about our recommendation that they finally switch over to Google Analytics. The reservations weren’t coming from the expected places – the IT team not liking the idea, or the fear that Google would have access to private data. Rather, he said he fully expected Google to get people hooked on the free offering and then slap a hefty monthly price tag on it. Hmm! Hadn’t heard that one. (And Google does offer a fuller-featured product, with pro versions of Urchin.) I opined that Google wouldn’t be charging for GA: they might stop adding massive numbers of features, but there will be quite a bit left over in the free version whichever way the wind blows. And if you’re an advertiser… you definitely don’t have to worry.

If you gave me $500 and told me the winning number on the roulette wheel in advance, I’d probably fail to put a chip down. I’d shove the $500 in my pocket and make a dash for the nearest door at the casino. In other words, I’m not generally a betting man.

But I’ll put a chip down on this one. I think it’s unlikely that Google will raise prices on free Google Analytics for as long as you’re running your business. (As long as you promise to sell it in ten years or less.)

Today we’re seeing word that Google is offering a whack of new stats on YouTube. Instead of just seeing how many views your video got, you can look at where people viewed from, user ratings by geography, and more.

So is this functionality only available through some special program for advertisers? Nope! It’s open to anyone with a YouTube account. Anyone who uploads video.

Google’s data-driven culture and their compulsion to provide more services for free: the trend continues with this release.

Liz Gannes comments from the entertainment industry point of view, but in the end, this announcement is for every YouTube user that uploads video and wants to understand their audience better.

[Edit 10:51 EDT: link to item changed from outdated link to today’s announcement on the YouTube blog.]

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Posted by Andrew Goodman


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Nasty Aussie Censorship

The Australian regulator ACMA is out of control, banning links and fining those who post them. Australia, that’s near China, right?

Posted by Andrew Goodman


Saturday, March 14, 2009

SES Toronto Speaking Pitch Window Now Open

Is PageRank dead? How much do my page load times affect search rankings? Do big companies get social media yet? How do I get beyond linkbait? What the heck is linkbait? Inquiring digital minds want to know.

I am returning as Program Chair for SES Toronto, June 8-9, 2009. The event is being held at the Sheraton Centre on Queen Street West. As always it promises to be the digital marketing event of the year in Canada. With the help of the Incisive Media team, great speakers, and sponsors, we’re teeing up another great program to help companies forge through these choppy economic waters with the ultimate in targeted, accountable marketing.

And as always, the networking, rooftop tanning, and cultural opportunities are just icing on the cake.

If you’re interested in speaking at the show, I’ve posted the “how to pitch” info over at the Search Engine Strategies blog.

If you’re interested in attending the event, check out the substantial savings if you register for a Platinum Pass by April 17.


Posted by Andrew Goodman


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ridiculous CRTC CanCon Proposal Blows Logic to Bits

A cabal of film and television writers, directors, and producers has urged the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission to levy a monthly fee through ISP’s in order to protect Canadian online content from drowning in a sea of foreign “programming.” Sadly, the CRTC is listening. The country’s largest Internet providers, including Rogers, Shaw, and Quebecor, are unanimously opposed to the levy, which would create a $100 million fund to help produce Canadian-based Internet “programming”.

CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein reacted sternly to the ISPs’ suggestion that the fee might be unlawful.

It is, of course, more of the same type of over-regulation we’ve seen in this vein. And in connection with online “programming,” it’s a baffling demand.

Protecting culture by levying fees through the providers of the pipes essentially takes the vested interests of one protected industry and asks ordinary consumers to pay to keep them in business. And it hurts the private sector, too. The Internet service providers are standing around minding their own business, and they get hit with this. As shamelessly oligopolistic as the big guys are, they don’t deserve it. And they’re also right to point out it hurts smaller ISP’s.

Incoherent government policy as a whole is ultimately to blame for the techno-incompetence of our leading regulators and decisionmakers. Canada surely does need to support domestic “programming.” In C++, Python, Java, Ruby on Rails, PHP, and the rest. Subsidies are worth funneling into infrastructure and incentives to support innovation, productivity, and digital culture. While particular interests jockey for handouts, the broader strategy languishes.

What if no one wants to watch the programming that gets made? Note to CanCon Programming Industry Goofballs: the Internet doesn’t have fixed “channels.” So I guess you’ll have to raise more funds to have a device to control our mouse hands, and another yet to shove the programs down our throats.

I hope the CRTC listens to the well-reasoned arguments of the beleaguered ISP’s. But for this absurd discussion to even get to this stage is a sad statement.

I’m no rabid free market advocate. But to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff, and the other party leaders Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe: I call for you to begin working on a long term project of ridding ourselves of the buildup of irrational assumptions, petty taxes, fees, and regulations, that detract from the positive work government and business could be doing to move us forward into a dynamic (and equitable) future. In other words, time to get out the loofah and slough off some of that stuff.

The thing about it is: I also agree with Richard Florida that cultural and creative industries can be incredibly dynamic and add value and wealth to a region. How they get built and supported is a complex matter. We start by supporting infrastructure and economic growth and development in the mega-regions, and we stop wasting tax dollars propping up the “spatial fix” of a past era. We don’t get there by holding the most productive people (and taxpayers and consumers) hostage to the demands of particular industries. We’re already doing that with the auto bailout: that’s bad enough.

On the surface, it would seem that the federal antagonism towards “arts funding” has already gone too far. It’s tough to support that general nastiness when you’re hoping to fit in with urban sophisticates. But shouldn’t those sophisticates be looking at how we can support a dynamic creative economy across the board, rather than a “barnacle industry” that depends on funding to support elite-tilted cultural production? (As Florida himself attempted to show in his earlier work, talent and ultimately economic development are attracted to regions not by operas or Olympic venues, but by widespread cultural scenes encompassing music, bars, streetscape, parks, festivals of many stripes, fashion, and chaotic, diverse development that couldn’t feasibly be subsidized directly.)

So about Prime Minister Harper and his nasty friends who cut back “arts funding” — perhaps they’re onto something. If I had my way, they’d put the money back – in a relevant way. But where they and other political leaders go from there is very much in question.

Said Mr. Harper, who only just yesterday made a speech stating that Canada is the best positioned nation to thrive as the global economies recover, is dangerously close to lapsing into complacency… into not challenging us to do better. “Best positioned” — based on what? Our relatively unscathed, conservative banking system? Our relative fiscal prudence during the years the U.S. spent itself into a multitrillion dollar debt hole? Indeed.

But to become a truly dynamic economy, we’ve got to start choosing sides; someone’s got to tell the usual cabal of grant-seeking “writers, directors, and producers” (and their ilk) that they’ll have to fend for themselves — either that or shrink radically (like Chrysler). And leaders like Mr. Harper and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty need to start taking seriously reports like a recent one produced by the Rotman School of Management (authored by the school’s dean, Roger Martin, and Prof. Richard Florida), that provided a roadmap for a transition to a knowledge economy. We can’t give money to everyone, for every purpose. As the CRTC proposal shows, to raise that magical money, you either have to print it, or slap a fee on your poor Aunt Millie’s already-inflated cable bill. If that’s the same Aunt Millie who is supposedly clamoring to defend the ratio of CanCon vs. Other-Con, or her nephew’s cool job at the film production company… isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think? Too bad about the ratio of 6,000 other Aunt Millies to every one Cancon-benefitting-nephew-Aunt-Millie need to send in their buck-fifty too, even though their nephew has no such job.

The “Cancon cabal,” of course, could care less. If they cared, maybe they’d be spending more time advocating for general policy improvements that create solid conditions for cultural industry growth. To come out with a demand that a regulator hang that responsibility on ISP’s and their customers, and to wildly equate the wants-to-be-neutral-and-open IP-based platform with a “TV programming” scenario, nakedly and cynically short-circuits that process.

South of the border, President Obama is appointing CTO’s, CIO’s, forward-thinking FCC Chairmen, and injecting a whole new energy into the digital atmosphere. In Canada, anything less than a full overhaul of our thinking about digital culture and productivity — anything less than our government leaders speaking up and demanding a sea change in attitude as well as fiscal and regulatory priorities — dooms us to continued mediocrity. So what’s it going to be? Innovation and support for the entrepreneurial, digital faces of the future? Or equating our national interest with the same old tightly-knit group of outstretched hands, self-appointing themselves the defenders of “our” culture?

Posted by Andrew Goodman


Highly Relevant: Google Goes Three for Three in Behavioral Ads Rollout

My, how well organized Google was to announce their new behavioral ads in content targeting offering.

To the public at large, VP Product Management Susan Wojcicki provides the official explanation of why digital advertising is good, how Google tries to make the ads relevant, and what behavioral targeting is going to entail. Above all, this part of the announcement scrupulously covers the privacy principles and the user control and opt-out elements of Google’s advertising technology.

For AdSense publishers, a good-news announcement that advertising will continue to reach more relevant audiences, and a brief allusion to settings in AdSense accounts that deal with the new capability.

And finally, the piece de resistance: what about the AdWords gang? For the paying customers, the advertisers, a post on the Inside AdWords blog explaining that this program will be in beta for several months and that it will be expanded “later in 2009.” Product manager Aitan Weinberg writes about this offering “helping you to better reach your campaign goals at scale.” Concisely put, and that is exactly what we’re looking for out here in advertiser-land.

It’s hard to imagine any company covering the communications bases as well as this for a product that won’t be fully rolled out for 4-6 months. Google, if you were expecting a major firestorm of controversy about your announcement, I have to apologize in advance. It just isn’t going to happen.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman


Friday, March 06, 2009

Why I (Finally) Got on Twitter

In addition to the hat tip to my colleague @mona_elesseily, who urged me to finally take the plunge out of Twitter silence, I alluded to “one part @BarackObama”. But perhaps not in the way you might think.

It was just a couple of weeks prior to President Obama’s inauguration when I kept hearing world leaders talking about their keen interest in resuming speaking with the United States. Imagine! Such a protracted period of suspicion and silence, turned on a dime by the election of one man.

“So the channel is open again,” I thought. I was filled with hope for new global possibilities. Surely dialogue is a prerequisite to accomplishing pretty much anything at all. Two-way is ideal.

And then I thought about twitter.

It’s not about how it has this feature, or “does this” or “does that”. It comes down to: the channel is open. Period.

It was then I decided I didn’t really need convincing anymore.


Posted by Andrew Goodman


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Dear Monica, We Changed our Algo – Google’s Matt Cutts

Blogging hiatuses were made to be violated.

There’s a lot of noise in the search space that I don’t pass along, but this new information speaks to major substance in ranking philosophy.

Google has made an algorithmic tweak — Matt Cutts dubs it “Vince’s change”. The upshot, as I interpret the back-and-forth between experts like Aaron Wall and experts at Google, is that Google does find it difficult to accurately assign trust and authority across this vast digital universe. (For some upcoming debate of that issue, check out the panel we’ve just posted for the upcoming SES Toronto show — Is PageRank Broken? The Future of Search — on June 9, 2009.)

The tweak, we assume, bumps up trusted sites slightly in many hotly-contested ranking showdowns. So as an example: is going to get a bit more traffic next week and next month in the aggregate, because many of their internal pages are going to outrank

Matt says that Google doesn’t think brand when it thinks about quality and authority (“if we did, you’d see Mitsubishi Eclipse ranking #1 for [eclipse]”), but this is disingenous. Indirectly, when you take that VW example, they are thinking brand when they take a shortcut that calls the domain “known information” and put a higher threshold of “track record required” on pages of sites that aren’t as known and trusted.

I believe this trend has already been in force, and it’s good that Google is making it only a *slight* change, because — particularly on sites loaded with user-generated content — there is the potential for less useful and even spam pages to get ranked too highly by opportunists exploiting “trusted domains.”

Whether or not this small tweak is consciously focused on trusting brands, or whether that is the end result, is inconsequential. But what stands out is that this — as ever — is essentially a workaround. It’s a response to the problem that we cannot possibly have enough information to correctly rank pages in all cases. So this is a pragmatic way of making sure that algorithmic judgments are slightly more correct (or more satisfying to searchers), more often.

Danny makes an excellent addition to this story by recommending as a way of checking whether key brands did see major ranking improvements on core terms like “airline tickets”. If a brand “comes out of nowhere” to rank well, that’s not quite as minor a change as Google suggests.

Among other things this may have practical search referral implications for naming conventions and URL’s in large companies; microsite creation; and multi-brand strategies. That’s a perennial question: should we keep fewer domains, or create more focus sites and interlink them, etc.? The debate just heated up.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman


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