June 20, 2003

  • Thought

    I’ve seen some people questioning the wisdom of Google’s AdSense, but overall I think the concept is spot on.

    Contextual advertising is the only kind that will work online in the long run. Of course, AdSense text ads on content pages (as opposed to on Google’s search results pages) will have to have lower clickthroughs, but this misses the point. Since the ads are targeted based on Google’s crawl of the page, the ads should be relatively targeted (read useful) and therefore should give good results when people do click.

    The lower average clickthrough doesn’t matter since the advertiser only pays for results.

    One thing I’d like to see is a way to see (before signing up) what kind of ads they would be serving. My guess is many sites will be nervous about trying this because they don’t want to see competitors or “cheesy” sites advertising on their pages.

  • Thought

    There’s a new site that’s just been launched by Mark Hurst at Good Experience. This Is Broken is looking for visual examples of online and real-world experiences that have clearly gone off the rails.

    That shouldn’t be too hard.

June 19, 2003

  • Thought

    In the June 2003 issue of Business 2.0, John Battelle, wrote a great article called “Putting Online Ads in Context”:

    Let that soak in: This is a new revenue source for the entire Web, one that not only is unobtrusive but, because it’s based on relevance, might even be useful to readers. Contextual advertising “could be much larger than the paid search market,” claims Bill Demas, senior vice president at Overture. Google’s Wojcicki seconds his assertion. For the sake of independent, high-quality content on the Web, we can only hope they are right.

  • Thought

    I’ve been a very silent blogger for the last six weeks or so. I’ve been working on major changes to the company’s service offerings and the changes prompted a much-needed rethinking of this entire site.

    The new site went live today. Hope you like it. Feedback is welcome.

April 29, 2003

  • Thinking About Apple’s iTunes Music Store

    I’ve been reading about Apple’s iTunes Music Store and think they got it half-way correct — or maybe more accurately, 1/3 correct.

    Buying songs you know and love for $0.99 is perfect if you want to burn discs of current favourites. And Apple seems to have “fixed” most of what was wrong with earlier online download sites. I think this will be a hit — especially when they get the Windows version live — which they realistically need to do to make this work.

    But what happens if you’ve heard that Miles Davis is really cool but you don’t know anything about him? Well, for about $10 a month, a subscription to listen.com let’s you listen to most every album miles ever recorded. You can then make your decision about what songs you’d like to own forever (if any) and decide to download those for 99 cents (via Apple for example).

    And sometimes you just want music on in the background — music in a specific genre or to match a particular mode. You might want classical in the background for a brunch, 70s pop songs while you clean the house, or ambient “chill” for late night surfing sessions. In these cases you’re less interested in the actual performers than the feeling the music induces in you or your guests.

    So people have at least three goals with music: to own it, to explore it, and to use it to augment other tasks. The iTunes Music Store appears to do an admirable job of the first goal, but leaves the other two out in the cold.

    The “home run” in online music will be a service that combines cheap downloads (I think the magic number will be 10 cents a track, not a buck), music on demand from a vast library of diverse music styles, and high-quality commercial free “radio” that offers songs to match hundreds of genres, moods and situational settings.

April 28, 2003

  • Thought

    Jakob Nielsen’s intelligent take on text-based (and contextual) advertising is called “Will Plain-Text Ads Continue to Rule?”

    Jakob has always had (justifiably) unkind things to say about “traditional online advertising”, but he likes text ads, provided they are put in context by search results. I think that Jakob overly limits the effectiveness of contextual text ads because if the ads are truly placed in context, they also become a content point, just like other pages on the site the user is visiting. His argument regarding online classified ads being viewed as content not ads by online users is spot on — but it also applies to truly contextual text ads as well.

  • Thought

    Great posting by Brad Templeton regarding the past, present and future of spam called “Reflections on the 25th Anniversary of Spam”. While the history lesson might not be to everyone’s interest, I strongly suggest you read his comments on the current state of spam and his overview of the various solutions that are being proposed. If you are involved in e-mail marketing in any way, you need to start thinking about this stuff.

    (FYI, while I didn’t really know him, Brad and I went to UofW together at the same time and I always saw him wondering around the Math And Computer building. How far we’ve all come.)

April 22, 2003

  • Thought

    The New York Times did a big write-up on E-mail Marketing and Spam — effectively ending the hopes that the two concepts can ever be separated in the public’s mind again. The article uses “marketing” and “junk”, “spammer” and “marketer” as synonyms and offers wonderful examples of spammers making the case against anti-spam advocates (thereby limiting the effectiveness of legitimate e-mailer’s concerns).

    What a mess.

April 16, 2003

  • The Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic

    A fascinating recounting of a classic example of mass delusion known as The Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic.

    While the story is important as an example of mass delusion, it is also interesting to note the lack of scientific awareness shown by the public and media.

    While SARS is real, I felt an eerie connection between what is happening in Toronto with SARS and what happened with windshield pits in 1954. Of course, I’m not saying that SARS is a mass delusion, only that the public reaction to an(as yet) minor threat is out of proportion and unscientific.

    Isn’t it hard not to have a moment of panic when someone coughs near you? Or when you shake hands with a stranger?

    [via the always wonderful Boing Boing]

April 10, 2003

  • Thought

    If you search on SARS Virus on Google today you will notice the a “Google Public Service Announcement” at the top of the page linking to the CDC SARS page. Another indication that Google gets that it isn’t like other companies and needs to consider the overall “ecology” of the Net in which it increasingly plays a central role.

    Of course all the sponsored links are to hucksters selling masks and sterilization kits. Ugh.

  • Thought

    Great article called “Permission To Spam?” on ClickZ. Increasingly the challenge with e-mail marketing is going to be getting past the perception that your message is spam — even if you did clearly get permission.

    In the long-run, smart marketers have to begin to temper expectations and realize that they have to make their lists cleaner and their messages more valuable to subscribers if they plan to succeed. For example, I know recommend double opt-in as standard for all lists. Even though it will decrease list size, it eliminates any chance of people not knowing what they signed up for. And you eliminate anyone with over aggressive filters because they never respond to the confirmation list, which means you’re less likely to be sending messages into spam filters.

April 2, 2003

April 1, 2003

  • Thought

    Macromedia put on an interesting Briefing with Forrester Research last week here in Toronto. Summary information is available on the Macromedia site.

    This was the first time I heard (or at least absorbed) the real concept behind Forrester’s “X Internet” concept. Their idea of downloadable applications replacing web pages still sounds silly to me. They are missing the fact that the Internet does many things and deseminating flat, factual data and opinion is one of those things and HTML does it very well. Still, many things we do on the Net are computer assisted tasks that HTML is NOT that good at. Macromedia presented some interesting applications such as a hotel room reservation system that reduced a many stepped HTML process with one dynamic Flash application. This was very compelling and is a good example of where Forrester thinks we’re headed.

    I’d also point out a great use of multimedia in online presentations which Macromedia provided as part of the post-briefing link package. Click on the “Pass along this summary video presentation to your colleagues” link to view.

March 31, 2003

  • Thought

    It’s interesting that online retailer Bluefly is taking their e-mail delivery in-house because of fears their messages will be caught by spam filters if they use an outside technology partner. Most people do this in the exact opposite order — outsourcing for fear of being labeled spammers. Thing is though, companies are in a bit of a bind as most large e-mail services providers are now (rightly or wrongly) on blacklists across the Net. At the same time, companies don’t want to appear on those lists themselves, so they are stuck.

March 25, 2003

March 21, 2003

  • Thought

    Given the war on Iraq, killer viruses, and “Orange Alerts”, many of you are probably looking to find reliable information fast. Certainly Newsworld and CNN can provide an instant visual fix, but there are times when you are not near a TV, or you’re looking for in-depth commentary, or alternate viewpoints from around the world.

    In all these cases, I suggest you temporarily set your browsers default homepage to Google News.

    If you haven’t discovered Google News yet, you’ll be surprised at the effectiveness of this service which automatically collects and sorts links from leading international news sites in near real-time.

    Of course there is no saying what will happen to your productivity if you do in fact check Google News every time your browser loads. Maybe a bookmark would be a better idea.

March 20, 2003

  • Thought

    BTW, Cloudmark’s Spamnet which I’ve been using since the first beta version seems to have really nailed its algorithms with the latest beta version (Beta 9) of their MS Outlook plug-in. I’m now finding that over 95% of spam is being filtered correctly and the number of false positives seem to have dropped quite a bit.

    It’s also worth noting that the false positives are pretty permission-based lists that have at least one of these three characteristics:

    1. In frequent mailers — companies that don’t send for a long time seem to get picked up (probably because people don’t recognize them). CNMA is in this camp.

    2. Low value lists — things that are probably of far less value than the subscriber would have expected. People “block” the messages rather an unsubscribing.

    3. Drifting permission — mailers seem to be pushing the bounds of permission and getting penalized for it. For example content-heavy newsletters get through but if they send a “special offer” from a “valued partner” they get tagged as spam.

  • Thought

    Senderbase.com is a new service from IronPort (an anti-spam company) that offers a peak into who the big online mailers are, including estimates on how much mail is coming from each company.

    Of course there is a hidden implication in a lot of Ironport’s language that just because someone sends a lot of mail they should therefore be filtered out and can’t be permission-based or welcome in users’ in-boxes.

    The arms race between legitimate mailers and ISPs seems to be escalating.

  • Thought

    The The Center For Democracy & Technology has released an interesting study of where spammers get e-mail addresses (it’s a 16 page PDF). It offers some fairly practical tips on cutting down on likelihood of your address being trapped by address harvesting apps. The best advice is to simply replace the “@” in your e-mail with word “at”, so that “[email protected]” is written as “example at schafer.com”. This seems to fool all e-mail harvesters but after a moment’s thought is intuitive to most humans.

March 19, 2003

  • Thought

    People are forever missing the point on how to do a presentation. PowerPoint just makes matters worse by encouraging presenters to use the screen for THEIR needs (i.e. putting their speaking notes up on the screen) instead of the audiences needs (i.e. to provide visual clues to the structure and meaning of what is presented).

    Doc Searls had some good advice on giving presentations back in 1998 that are still mostly relevant (although the suggestions to use hotbot to steal copyrighted images seems a bit out of touch with the times!).

  • Thought

    Great article on ClickZ by Danny Sullivan. The article goes into great detail on Contextual Advertising, including a look at what Google is doing, like the Google AdWords ads that appear within banners on BlogSpot Blogs like IsThatLegal?

March 12, 2003

  • Thought

    If you’re looking for wonderful, mindless distraction, go directly to panoramas.dk and try out some of the full-screen QTVR images. If you haven’t seen these 360 degree photographic images, you’re in for a treat. And if you have, you should still check out the full-screen gallery because they are very large, high quality images that go beyond much of what I’ve seen previously. (link via boing boing)

March 11, 2003

  • Thought

    “The web is dead and will be replaced by an executable architecture.” So says Forrester CEO George Colony.

    The sort of bluster is unbecoming of leading Internet thinkers, but understandable given that making bold statements is what gets Forrester the press that gets them the clients.

    I think that the idea of the “X Internet” or executable Internet is already a reality in places, but Colony falls for a classic mis-interpretation of the Net. People feel an uncontrollable urge to say “The Net is…” and pick one thing, or one analogy for the entire net. If the “Net is…” anything, it is the infrastructure that most non-real-time human-to-human and human-to-machine and machine-to-machine interaction will happen over. What we’re communicating and how we communicate it is entire up to the parties involved. Sometimes it’s static content on a page, sometimes a stream of consciousness weblog, sometimes an online application, sometimes a web service, sometimes it’s software, sometimes it’s entertainment, sometimes it’s something we never imagined.

    I suggest we all stop trying to limit the Net by overdependence on real-world metaphors.

  • Thought

    The Shirky article I just mentioned had a link to a Wikipedia page called “Our Replies To Our Critics” which gave me a new perspective on this fascinating experiment.

    Wikipedia is kind of an “encyclopedia by consensus” where anyone can add or edit an article on anything. While this sounds ridiculous when heard for the first time, the logic explained by the replies to critics page makes some good points.

  • Thought

    Clay Shirky’s analysis of why the Net is different is always refreshing, particularly in these days when it seems that there is little interest in change and innovation online.

    Clay’s done a great piece on the “group-as-user” and the impact on software and site development.

    Here’s a quote to set the context…

    “The radical change was de-coupling groups in space and time. To get a conversation going around a conference table or campfire, you need to gather everyone in the same place at the same moment. By undoing those restrictions, the interent has ushered in a host of new social patterns, from the mailing list to the chat room to the weblog.

    The thing that makes social software behave differently other communications tools is that groups are entities in their own right. A group of people interacting with one another will exhibit be behaviors that cannot be predicted by examining the individuals in isolation, peculiarly social effects like flaming and trolling or concerns about trust and reputation. This means that designing software for group-as-user is a problem that can’t be attacked in the same way as designing a word processor or a graphics tool.”

March 10, 2003

March 8, 2003

  • Thought

    A ClickZ article called “Context Is King, or Is It?” follows-up nicely on my “context is the only way” comment yesterday.

    The article talks a lot about the Google “Content-Targeted AdWords” program. This new program allows advertisers to use content sites Google partners with to run AdWords-like ads within those sites. The thing that makes this different from an ad network like DoubleClick, is that the ads published on those pages directly relate to what the page is about. By using Googles massive and intelligent search algorithms, the AdWords on the partners pages are always relevant (i.e. in context for the user).

    One example Google provides is of the “How Automatic Transmissions Work” page at howstuffworks.com. The page includes Adwords from Google that sell rebuilt transmissions, etc. Of course the live execution of the page doesn’t quite live up to the mock-up because the funnel is not full of willing advertisers yet.

    The article also is the first to (kind of off-handedly) mention what I think is the real reason Google bought Blogger — big heaping wads of context to put Content-Targeted AdWords in. I think a lot of the blogging community looked at it as a technology purchase rather than an ad placement opportunity. Follow the money.

    Google is brilliant. By purchasing Blogger and implementing Content-Targeted ads within it, they have cut the two biggest costs associated with running an ad-based content site — the cost of selling the ads, and the cost of creating the content. The process is essentially automated with Google left to manage the infrastructure and cheque credit card deposits.