Tech Archives

May 14, 2002

The Web, Arabs, and The Trust Equation

Dave Winer, whose weblog software I use and who knows a thing or two about online community, is less impressed with Tom Friedman's column of this past weekend than I am. He says:

Now with all due respect, they shouldn't believe everything they read in the NY Times either.

Well, that's certainly true enough. The thing is, Dave, what the Net helps do is put random content on the same footing as The Times. This is what terrifies Big Media, which has invested bazillions of dollars into establishing a trust equation with readers. Here's what I wrote about that, nearly six years ago to the day (what -- you thought this was a new issue?), in NetGuide:

The camcorder approach to information has its place, and is where a lot of the excitement about the net comes from. Always be asking yourself about what you're reading and why it was put out there. And remember that good information always has a price.

What Friedman, Winer, and I are talking about is a subtle and complex issue. This is my full column, from the August 1996 issue of NetGuide, and I've seen no reason in the intervening years to change my mind.


August 20, 2002

Is Blogging Journalism?

I've been futzing with that question for months, and I think I finally got it down in one place.

Is weblogging journalism? The question confuses the technology with the act it supports -- not something that technologists have ever done before, oh no no no. Just as the equipment doesn't make me a musician or a programmer, blogging doesn't mean you're a journalist. But what makes today's blogging tools exciting is that they're building an infrastructure that allows the rapid and broad dissemination of information. It's an infrastructure that's a natural for building a journalistic enterprise around.



February 9, 2003

French to Deploy E-Cash Universally

Electronic cash and universally usable stored value cards are coming to France, according to the AP.

There's a ton of reasons that stored value cards are a good idea, some of which I outlined in this piece from netWorker magazine about five years ago. There's also a ton of reasons that they're a bad idea; the most compelling one being that people have demonstrated several times all over the world that they don't seem to want them.

But them wacky French, they pushed Minitel on their country, then let the Internet run right over it. This story seems to be saying that the trial phase is over, and that the French banks are simply going to push e-cash on the country. It'll be interesting to see how the French central bank deals with non-currency currency.



March 24, 2003

Adam Osborne Dies

A lot of people have forgotten about Adam Osborne, which is a shame because he's one of the most important people in the history of computerdom.

He didn't make the first portable PC; that came from Kaypro. But there was something completely sexy about the Osborne 1, a CP/M-based machine that looked like a Korean War-era radio crammed into a sewing machine enclosure. The Osborne came with a complete suite of software from WordStar, and the computer's tiny screen wasn't even wide enough to display a full-width document.

But for less than $2000, it was a real honest-to-god computer that could actually do things, a true geek lust object. And what's more, you could take it with you. Good lord, I spent a lot of time at my local Prodigy computer store in the early 80s, trying to imagine how I could possibly scrape together the money on my pitiful UPI salary.

The company grew like a dot-com, until Adam made one titanic error: he announced an IBM compatible model, but it didn't ship for months. Sales of the old model instantly dropped to near zero, and his company just vanished.

Osborne -- a columnist, book publisher, computer entrepreneur, software publisher -- was a wild man in an industry that badly needed them at the time. He faded from the scene in the late 80s, and the word was that he fell quite ill. Adam passed away the other day in India.



April 4, 2006

Why the Net May Look Broken Today

If you discover that you can't reach big chunks of the Internet today, it's not your fault or your ISP's. Network Solutions appears to be down.

NetSol is the company that administers the .com piece of the net, and is far and away the largest domain name registrar on the Internet. For many years, it was the only place to go to buy a domain name. It's fair, even now, to call it one of the Internet's cornerstones. In a lot of cases, people who buy (OK, rent) domain names, just let NetSol handle the technology that translates a people-language domain name (like into the numeric name that the Net itself actually uses.

But when NetSol goes down, all the sites that use that service become unreachable. This is one reason that Network Solutions really really really really is not supposed to crash. Which it has. Bummer.

Fortunately, even though I use NetSol as my domain registrar (old habits are hard to break), my domain name service happens elsewhere. Whew.

 [Update: NetSol came back a couple of hours later. As Fred Allen once said, "There's nothing wrong with putting all your eggs in one basket. Just watch that basket!]


April 12, 2006

Boot Camp and Apple’s Strategy

There's a programmer named John Gruber who's got a Mac-related blog called Daring Fireball. He doesn't blog often but his analysis when he gets around to it is always worth reading.

He recently wrote at some length about Apple's release of its Boot Camp software, which allows the newest Macs to boot Windows XP and Vista. Not the tech stuff -- Gruber doesn't write about technology as such -- but the underlying strategy of letting Macs run Windows.

His points:

Continue reading "Boot Camp and Apple’s Strategy" »

April 14, 2006

Why? Because We Like You.

About 100,000 Disney-branded portable DVD players are being recalled because their batteries have a tendency to explode -- which somewhat detracts from the user experience.


I Got Laid Though The New York Times

Is this something new? Buried in the redesign of the NYTimes's Web site, I just spotted this: personal ads from the New York Times, powered by Yahoo.

I guess it makes sense. Maybe Times readers aren't likely to be as kinky as the bohos who scan the Voice -- and with Net, why else would you bother with the print paper? -- but that's probably just my own prejudices speaking.

But maybe the real answer is that the paper wants to provide cradle-to-grave (so to speak) relationship services. You meet through The Times, feed your story to the Weddings and Vows pages, maybe register your wedding at a NYTimes bridal registry sponsored by NYT Magazine advertisers.

And if the relationship goes badly? Hey -- the Metro desk is always looking for good crime stories....

Time to Think About Getting a Mac?

Got a PC that's running Windows 98? Starting in July, you may have a problem.

Andy Patrizio, at, reports that Microsoft will stop supporting Win98 in early July. They've threatened that before but this time, with Windows Vista on the horizon after the New Year (honest!), the threat sounds credible. No patches, no security updates, nothing.

Trouble is, upgrading a Win98 box to Vista may not be possible. Vista requires a fairly up-to-date processor and at least 1GB of RAM -- specs that a Win98 computer is unlikely to meet. Windows XP may be a solution because its hardware requirements are less rigorous, but it's not clear how available Microsoft will make XP once Vista gets established. (On the other hand, it might take a good three years for Vista to take hold.)

I've got a couple of Win98 machines still running, and it seems I'm not alone:

Power users may sneer at the thought of using the rickety Windows 9x code base, but Jupiter Research has found that one in four homes with more than one PC is running the old operating system, usually on a hand-me-down PC for the kids.

Those machines are usually on the Net. An Internet box with an OS that won't get any more security patches? Not a smart thing to run. Expect a lot of people to do it anyway, so I bet we'll see an uptick in zombie spam this summer.

So Microsoft is forcing a march to new hardware and new software. Gee. If you're replacing your computer anyway for one with a new operating system, maybe you should look hard at a getting a Mac. It'll run Windows, too, you know -- if you have to.

April 18, 2006

Another Nail

It's increasingly difficult for me to describe what I do for a living. When I was a wire service reporter, that was easy. When I was a free lance writer and a newsletter publisher, that was pretty easy, too.

When I became a magazine top editor, it got harder because the job was more complex than most civilians understood. The job is more custodian of the brand than it is assigning and editing copy. (As my friend Louise Kohl used to say, managing is harder than editing because when you tell a sentence to move, it doesn't tell you to go fuck yourself.)

More to the point, a magazine in the year 2006 is a very different thing than it was 10 years ago. It's not the words on paper meted out every month or week anymore; a magazine is the audience that reads it. Smart editors and publishers will use a magazine's brand and interest cohort to address its readers using any appropriate media: SMS, Web, RSS, wireless, fax, whatever. As readers fled print for other media, advertisers at first ignored the move. Not anymore.

According to AdAge, Merrill Lynch is saying that 2006 is the first year that the Net will collect more ad dollars than print magazines. Not good news for print, but not necessarily bad news for publishers. At least, not the ones who understand what it is they publish.

This, of course, is important. It means that if you have a print publication and you're not online in a big way -- and that doesn't mean just putting your print content on the Web -- you're leaving money on the table. You're simply not in business.

So what do I do for a living? I still edit magazines. The thing is, a "magazine" is a different critter than it used to be. Which -- as someone who's been playing in "new media" for 20 years -- is just fine by me. The job's still more complex than most people understand but in different ways than it used to be. Not a problem: It's always more fun inventing the future than replicating the past.

April 26, 2006

First Look: Samsung Helix

I'm pretty sure that mine is the first hands-on review of the Samsung Helix, a combination MP3 player and portable XM Radio receiver. The thing's not on sale until the end of May, but Samsung made an early production unit available for testing.

Look at the full review, but the short version is that it doesn't suck at all. The ability to record and time-shift XM content is pretty cool. But There are two major flaws:

  • First, the thing is tied to Napster and is DRMed up the wazoo. Except for the stuff you rip yourself, you're renting the music for as long as you subscribe to Napster or XM.
  • Second, XM reception remains kind of dicey. Granted that Brooklyn doesn't give the non-stop view of the south sky that XM really wants, but I don't think a lot of places (like office buildings) do. XM, when all is said and done, is radio -- and radio reception does tend to drop out.
  • Oh. There's a third thing. The Helix is Mac-unfriendly. You can't even authorize an XM radio on a Mac, and Napster is tied to WMAs. Macs need not apply.

Needle and the O-Gauge Done

He somehow doesn't seem to be the type, but Neil Young is apparently a big model train fan. In fact, according to Reuters by way of the New York Post, he owns about 20 percent of Lionel, which is currently going through a bankruptcy reorg.

The story says Young and Lionel have a joint venture to sell some of Young's technology as part of Lionel's Trainmaster control system. I guess when you hit 60, the rock-and-roll thing gets pretty old and you'd rather just stay home and work on your layout.

The New Old Hands-On Generation

One of my oldest friends grew up a gearhead/theater tech, then became a computer magazine editor, then evolved into a stay-at-home mom. I remember visiting her and being astounded at her heretofor unsuspected talent for making things like adorable frogs out of edible fondant.

Where do you learn things like that? I wondered. I knew her mom and her dad; she sure didn't get it from them. I was pretty envious, because I've never been good at arts and crafts and this looked like it was just a ton of fun you could have with (and for) your kids.

I read today about a coming-soon magazine called CRAFT: Make Cool Stuff, from the people who publish the excellent Make. But where Make is about doing hands-on hardware techie project things, Craft looks like it'll be about fondant frogs and finger puppets and maybe toilet-paper-roll cars.

O'Reilly, which also publishes tons of *very* detailed books for techies and more less-detailed books for people who wish they were techies, has made the world safe for geeks. Now they're making the world safe for stacking frog sock puppets. Yeah, I'll subscribe to that.

May 18, 2006

The Big Apple Cube

Sometimes it seems like Apple never forgets. Remember the Cube -- a beautiful but flawed Mac, grey encased in clear plastic the stood about 10 inches on a side? Writ large, that's kind of what Apple's built in one of New York City's most public spaces: Fifth Avenue and 58th Street.

     The Cube

The Fifth Avenue store, which opens tomorrow at 6pm and will never close, sits under GM Plaza, across the street from Bergdorf Goodman, the Plaza Hotel and Central Park and steps away from FAO Schwartz. The entrance is marked by a dramtic 32-foot-cube of glass that encases the Apple logo. A 32-step glass spiral staircase winds its way down a round glass elevator one level down.

The Stairs

The number 32 appears weirdly throughout. The cube is 32 feet on each side. There are 32 steps down. Of course, 32 is 2 to the 5th power -- and Opening Day is the fifth anniversary of the first Apple store's debut, and the store itself is on Fifth Avenue. Good thing it's not on 7th; a 128-foot glass cube might be a tough engineering problem.

The natural light that pours down warms the 10,000 square foot selling area. Ron Johnson, Apple's SVP of Retail, says there are 100 Macs and 300 staffers available for customer use. The Genius Bar is 45 feet long, and they've hird 96 full-time "Geni-i." There's a new iPod bar to provide support for iPod users and a "Studio" to help "creatives" with questions about their hardware and software. The plaza above is now WiFi-ed; I didn't check to see how far into Central Park the signal carried.

Oh -- and this is the first Apple store to be open 24/7/365. "Open today, forever," Johnson said. And yes, there will be Geniuses at the Bar all night long.


June 7, 2006

Digital TV Business Models Emerging

Every time the RIAA or MPAA file a lawsuit, they're only proving their intellectual bankruptcy. You sue to protect your rights when you haven't figured out any other way to make money. The TV networks and TiVO this week are looking like they're smarter than the movie or record businesses.

When YouTube made stars out of SNL's Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell by carrying the show's wonderful "Lazy Sunday" clip, NBC threatened a lawsuit, never mind the spectacular publicity bump for the net and the show. Now, well aware of YouTube's buzz-making power, NBC's cutting a deal that will let put ads for NBC on YouTube and let the site carry NBC promos. The network continues to threaten for doing the same thing as YouTube. From the WSJ:

Continue reading "Digital TV Business Models Emerging" »

January 10, 2007

The iPhone -- what everyone's missed

So Apple introduced the iPhone yesterday. Can't hardly wait.

1. I want one. Ain't it just the coolest, slickest thing? On the one hand, I want it on my hip tomorrow. On the other hand, I could use the six months until it ships to save my pennies.

2. The visual voicemail is a killer. The ability to see a list of callers before listening to voicemail is a convenience that you have to use to believe. I get some voicemail through a computer or Web interface and it makes all the difference in the world.

3. Stay focussed on what the iPhone is: a combination iPod nano and cell phone. Other phones can play music; none has 8GB of storage or a decent interface. Other MP3 players (iPods included, by the way) have calendars and contact managers. But none allow data input. At $599 for a locked phone, it's way expensive, it's true. But an 8GB nano runs $250, and a Treo 750 from Cingular runs $400 (a 680 is $200). The iPhone suddenly doesn't look all that expensive any more.

4. The iPhone has Bluetooth 2.0, so expect wireless headphones. But the thing that everyone seems to be missing is that it also has WiFi. You can't use it to swap songs, so why WiFi? Count on wireless VoIP, or at least the ability to tap into WiFi hotspots to do some of the data work like Google Maps and weather reports.

5. Expect the iPhone interface to pop up on a bunch of Apple products. It's a slam dunk that there'll be a disk-based iPod with the same technology before the year is out -- maybe even with the cell phone capabilities. (This will be a big relief to me personally. 8GB is an order of magnitude too small for what I like to carry around.) I bet the gestural elements of the interface shows up in Apple TV and Front Row.

I worry about ruggedness of the iPhone; the first nanos got beat up pretty easily, and the display of the iPhone (unlike the nano) is kind of critical to its operation.

But oh my God, what a great gadget it looks like. The introduction couldn't have fulfilled expectations any better. Here's hoping the real thing measures up. Can't hardly wait.

July 2, 2007

Google buys GrandCentral. Is this a good thing?

When I was writing the FierceVoIP newsletter, I met the founders of GrandCentral. I'd been looking for a service like this for decades: a single phone number that could find me anywhere. That founders Vincent Paquet and Craig Walker are genuinely nice guys with a social conscience was icing on the cake.

Rumors had been flying for about a week, but the companies announced today that Google bought GrandCentral. Congrats to Craig and Vincent; it's nice to see good work pay off.

But why did Google want GrandCentral, anyway?

Google's stated goal is to organize the world's information. Its ability to do that with textual information worries me not at all, and its ability to do that with mapping and video doesn't really bother me, either. I'm a little bugged that I've given Google permission to follow me around the Web, but I can rationalize that by telling myself that it will help Google help me search.

But GrandCentral, used to its fullest, can associate me with phone numbers I call, phone numbers (and -- when they're in the GC phone book -- people and addresses) who call me. GrandCentral stores voicemails; doesn't Google do voice-to-text transcription, too? And when I pick up an incoming GrandCentral call, Google can then tell where I am at that very moment.

Total Information Awareness, indeed.

Consider that when a company or governmental entity (or, for that matter, a matrimonial lawyer) wants dirt on someone, the first thing they try to do is pull phone records. Phone records are incredibly revealing.

GrandCentral is a great service that can revolutionize the way you use your phone. But Google's owning it just kind of creeps me out. Maybe some things are better left unorganized.

November 14, 2007

Tesla Wins! Tesla Wins!

Infrastructurum Longa, Vita Brevis.

Forgive the piggish Latin. The geekier among you know that although Thomas Edison gets all the credit for the light bulb and municipal power and all that -- Consolidated Edison, anyone? -- he actually came out the loser on a big standards war: AC vs DC. Edison was a big proponent of direct current. It was Nicola Tesla (and his backer George Westinghouse) who invented alternating current, which allowed electricity to be delivered over distances unimaginable by DC fans.

But by the time AC's superiority was demonstrated -- in spite of some nasty competitive shenanigans by Edison -- there was a fair amount of DC infrastructure in place. For about 100 years in New York. a small but stubborn set of clients demanded and got DC from Con Ed. (It was true in Boston, too; less than 15 years ago, I worked in a large-ish downtown building whose elevators ran on DC.)

Finally, ConEd pulled the plug on DC, closing the last direct current generator in the city. If a building wants DC, they'll have to put a rectifier on site. From the NYTimes:

The direct current conversion in Lower Manhattan started in 1928, and an engineer then predicted that it would take 45 years, according to Mr. Cunningham. “An optimistic prediction since we still have it now,” he said.

The man who is cutting the link today at 10 East 40th Street is Fred Simms, a 52-year veteran of the company. Why him?

“He’s our closest link to Thomas Edison,” joked Bob McGee, a Con Ed spokesman.

The moral: make your technology infrastructure choices carefully. It may take a while to undo them.

January 14, 2008

Jobs Keynote Leaked?

Steve Jobs's keynote at Macworld is a lot like the president's State of the Union, only with better security. That's why it's so remarkable that there's been a possible leak on Wikipedia.

What makes it almost credible is the a) degree of detail and b) the modesty and probability of the products presented. No flying cars; just stuff like a thinner aluminum Macbook and a preview of the iPhone SDK.

Is it genuine? We won't know until noon ET tomorrow (Tuesday). In the meantime, what fun to speculate!

Update: Computerworld debunks this and other show rumors. Maybe....

January 15, 2008

The Real Macworld Keynote

So the "leaked" keynote was wrong on pretty much every count. What we got was a vastly improved Apple TV, interesting flexible video rental options, a neat network attached storage device, and the sexiest damned laptop I've ever heard about.

The MacBook Air will get a lot of ink for being so thin and so light, but the revolutionary thing about it is that it's the first notebook from a big manufacturer that's got just two moving parts: the keyboard and the hinge. Instead of a hard drive, the top-line MBA has 64GB of solid-state memory. It can't crash, it can't get jarred in a crash, it can't wear out and die (well, it can, but it's way more rugged than a spinning disk).

No one will use the thing as a desktop replacement, but if you've got the $3000 for a travel machine (hey -- memory's not that cheap), this one looks like a real sweetie. It ships in about two to three weeks, and expect a lot of people to line up and try the thing at the Apple Store.

January 28, 2009

Is a fresh start in the White House such a good idea?

OK, now that I've got your attention...

At 12:01pm on January 20, the Web site got turned over to the Obama administration. The old site was swept away into the loving care of the National Archives, along with the rest of the Bush/Cheney documents -- with the possible exception of the torture docs that I suspect VP Cheney threw his back out moving a few days earlier.

After every inauguration, White House operations start afresh. This is why the W-less keyboard meme from 2000 was so powerful; it was, in fact, possible -- even if it isn't true. But all files, all computers, all phone programming -- all of it -- gets zero-ed out at noon on January 20th. That may be one reason that the White House has been having such terrible trouble with e-mail this week.

But even though an inauguration is a transfer of power, it isn't The Great American Reboot. Government continues. People continue to need services. It's not like a new company taking over vacant office space. It's more like getting a new CEO. The new boss may eventually want his own equipment in there -- and some it may be open source -- but it's wasteful and bad IT practice to crash an upgrade on your way in the door.

January 30, 2009

A distinct lack of cumulative learning

Note update after the jump...

A bunch of Big Thinkers got together recently to chew about the intersection of Big Media and Social Media,and concluded the following:

The overwhelming flow of information, crap, or junk cannot be stemmed, [NYU Journalism professor Jay] Rosen noted. "The way to make yourself valuable on the Web is: you edit the fucking Web," he emphasized, sending smiles across the crowd's faces. Journalists should serve as intelligent filters and middlemen if they hope to keep their jobs, Rosen added.

Now, I love Jay Rosen, but this makes me nuts. The idea of editors as filters of new media is not, like, new. That last link dates from 1995, and includes this:

Continue reading "A distinct lack of cumulative learning" »

January 31, 2009

Facebook and the 419 scam

Note to Amazon, Google, eBay, Facebook, and everyone else whose business is in The Cloud: a Customer Service link (and muscle behind it) becomes more important as your user base scales. Here's why (from MSNBC):

In Rutberg's case, criminals managed to steal his Facebook login password, steal his Facebook identity, and change his page to make it appear he was in trouble. Next, the criminals sent e-mails to dozens of friends, begging them for help....
One of his friends, Beny Rubinstein -- a fellow Microsoft employee -- fell for the story. At 10:30 p.m. that Wednesday night, he sent $600 via Western Union using an online service. The following morning, Rubenstein received a phone message from the imposter, asking for more money. So he went to a local retail store and wired another $600.

You do use different passwords for different services, right?

Do URL shorterners pass page authority?

This is something I've got to experiment with: do URL shorteners like TinyURL and hurt a targeted page's authority? And if they do intercept the authority, is the added traffic they drive worth the loss?

Services like TinyURL are extremely useful for sending pages with long URLs to people over e-mail or Twitter, where you only have 140 characters. But bloggers use them, too -- because shorter URLs are just easier to deal with.

But how do those services redirect the traffic? When search engines find TinyURL and URLs on the Web, where do they assign the authority: to the TinyURL URL or the underlying page? Because I don't recall seeing bit.lys or TinyURLs in search results -- and I look at a lot of search results -- I suspect that they pass the authority just fine. But it would be a big deal if they didn't; a few good backlinks can be difference between a non-existent search position and an excellent one.

February 2, 2009

Nice Algorithm You Got There

Google would like you to believe that it's all automatic, that there is this army of search spiders that digs out every last page and image on the Web and decides which is "better" for any given search term. It's true, as far as it goes, but the company tends to carefully elide the human element that goes into its search result. Until something goes horribly wrong, as it did Saturday morning. For an hour, Google said every site on the Net was dangerous -- itself included.

Continue reading "Nice Algorithm You Got There" »

February 10, 2009

Onion: SONY debuts new technical gear

The Onion "covers" a new product release from SONY that, ummm..., well, it promises to be really cool.

Jason Perlow sent this along first. The language is a bit -- well, a lot, really -- rough. You may want to use headphones.

(I can't seem to get the Flash embedding to work. Here's a link to the original.)

March 3, 2009

Is the flexible touch screen here?

The folks at E-Ink -- who make the clear high-contrast screen for the Amazon Kindle -- appear to be prototyping the first flexible computer touch-screen. You know: the digital paper that's been hyped since forever.

This article from Technology Review gives a neat overview of portable flat-screen technology, and why it's so hard to combine both flex and touch. First applications will be, unsurprisingly, military. God only knows how much it'll cost.

May 28, 2009

Why the Verizon deal for Palm Pre is bad for Palm

It may seem counter-intuitive, but today's announcement that the Palm Pre will become available on Verizon after its six-month exclusive with Sprint is pretty bad news for Palm.

Sprint has had six-month exclusives with Palm smartphones since the first Treo, so a post-exclusive deal is surprising only if you haven't been paying attention. But usually, Palm's next move is to ship an unlocked GSM phone for the world market, with Verizon coming a few months after that. But now, AT&T has its own very nice smartphone -- the iPhone -- not to mention a bunch of Blackberries that people like. And T-Mobile is doing very well with the Android G1 and Sidekick lines, thanks very much, with more Android phones imminent. So the two U.S. GSM players don't care so much about the Palm Pre. Verizon, on the other hand, could use some sex in its handset lineup.

But what's big trouble here for Palm is that the Pre now doesn't have a GSM outlet in the U.S. There's no question that there will be a Pre for the world; GSM is far and away the most popular mobile technology globally. But don't count on a U.S. cellco distributor for it anytime soon, which means it will be wicked expensive because there won't be any subsidized sales. For the U.S. market, the Verizon deal shows Palm's weakness, not its strengths.

June 12, 2009

SEO is where marketers should start

If you want to sell something, tweaking your organic search is a great place to start. That's the conclusion of a new study (PDF) published by Forbes.

The study found that:

  • The tools seen as most effective for generating conversions were SEO (48 percent) email and e-newsletter marketing (46 percent), and pay-per-click/search marketing (32 percent).
  • In the coming six months, respondents expect that ad networks will see the biggest declines in allocation of marketing spend; viral marketing and SEO will likely see the biggest increases. Behavioral Targeting is the category that is least likely to see any changes in spend.
Note that "effectiveness" is defined here as generating conversions, not mere page views -- and that SEO is half again more effective than PPC. Notice also that SEO campaigns exceeded expectations of 45 percent of respondents; the next most satisfying tactic -- PPC -- exceeded expectations of only 25 percent of those surveyed.

And one more encouraging thing: the companies Forbes surveys understood that the important thing about search isn't traffic (37 percent) or SERP position (34 percent.) It's conversions: 70 percent.

Organic search = money. Remember that.

July 1, 2009

What's new about Bing?

Not long ago, I gave an interview to Betanews, which (who?) wanted to know what Microsoft's new Bing search engine was up to.

A white paper from Microsoft didn't provide much detail about Bing's algorithm, but was forthcoming about why and how its user interface got that way. Interesting stuff.

But what's even more important is that Bing (like Google) is presenting ever more of a web site's content before users go to a web site. If you're a site owner who tries to monetize eyeballs, you should start getting the message that you're less and less in control of the presentation of your information. That's not a good thing.

August 13, 2009

Optimizing press releases

I was quoted yesterday in a BNet article about using press releases to boost backlink profiles. It's a good article with lots of useful information. Inevitably, as part of the process, lots of better stuff from the underlying e-mail interview got cut. Here's a fuller version of what I told the writer, the estimable Drew Kerr. (Questions are paraphrased; answers are verbatim.)

Q: What does it mean for a press release to be "search engine ready"?

Search engines put a premium on relevance, so the press release services work (to varying degrees) to make the release as relevant to the release's subject as possible. That means using the targeted keyword repeatedly, and linking to the site being promoted with keyword-y anchor text.

It sounds simple. It isn't. First of all, press releases are usually written with more care than United Nations resolutions. They're the result of endless rounds of writing, re-writing, negotiating and re-negotiatiating -- and it's worse if there's more than one company involved. By the time a press release gets to a distribution service, the competing interests have been balanced like a Wallenda. The distribution service isn't going to have any leeway to change words just for SEO purposes. The best they can do is stick a bunch of links onto the most promising text.

That's a shame, because most releases have been so acutely lawyered that they don't use words that most constituencies would want to search for. Press releases, of course, have multiple constituencies -- the media, the public, investors, competitors, government agencies, suppliers, consumers, the closely interested, the casually interested, and now search engines. They frequently will use different terminology to discuss the same thing; that's poison for SEO, which is most effective when the copy uses language that people are actually searching for.

For all of those issues, distribution services are a fine way for a site to to gain authority by building backlinks. Unless it is hopelessly ham-handed, a release about the latest frammistat from XYZ Corp. will inevitably use the words "frammistat" and "XYZ Corp." repeatedly enough to appear relevant for those terms in search engines. By including a few links back to the XYZ Corp. Web site -- particularly using the word "frammistat" as the anchor text (and, even better, linking to the frammistat landing page on -- the release distribution service has cast a "vote" for the XYZ site. The more votes for a site on any given search term, the more relevant the search engines see that site as being, and position on search results pages go up.

But wait -- it gets better. Many web sites republish press releases put out by the distribution services. So if publication sites that search engines regard highly take the bait -- sites like,, whatever -- now *they* are linking to the XYZ Corp. Web page. The technical SEO term for this is "jackpot."

Q: How do people go wrong making documents SEO-ready?

Over-optimizing. It's true that repetition is your friend when you're writing copy that you want to be especially SEO friendly. But even though repetition is your friend, it's possible to overdo it. Repetition is your friend, but keep in mind that search engines understand that the Web is for people and not machines, and if you insist too hard that repetition is your friend you will write copy that no one will read -- and although repetition is your friend, search engines will understand that they are being pandered to. And repetition will no longer be your friend. Neither will anyone else.

Q: Does this work?

As noted earlier, it's very effective and it's an excellent way to start building a good backlink profile. But like anything that works, it's possible to overdo it to the point that search engine algorithms catch on and start devaluing those links. If the only sites that are linking back to you are news distribution sites, you need to rethink the way you're addressing the public. For one thing, if your only backlinks are from distribution services, it's a good indication that no one cares about the news you're putting out and search engines will understand that. At their core, press releases are a not-especially-pernicious form of paid links, which search engines -- Google in particular -- rail against. Like anything that can give a sugary rush, press releases should be a delicious part of a well-balanced SEO breakfast -- not the whole thing.

Q: Why are backlinks important to search?

Backlinks are important because Google sees them as votes of relevance. If one page has 1,000 backlinks from relevant pages and another page has 10,000 backlinks from relevant pages, Google sees the second page as being more relevant for a particular search term -- and will place it higher on the SERP (search engine result page) for that search.

Counting backlinks and judging their relevance is what Google's revolutionary PageRank algorithm is all about. But it's important to remember that PageRank is only one of 200 or 250 "signals" that Google uses to rank pages.

And it's also important to remember that only Google has ever said anything about how it ranks pages. Yahoo and Microsoft have never said how they build their SERPs. It may be some PageRank knockoff, or time-based randomization, or chicken entrails, or 5 million hamsters running on 5 million hamster wheels with roulette numbers randomly attached to them.

To searchers and readers, all that matters is that they get highly relevant results quickly. If Microsoft ever decides to reveal anything about how they rank the Web, you could expect SEOs to start optimizing more for Bing, which will increase the utility of Bing's index, which will draw more users, which will increase the advertising value of Bing's index.

August 14, 2009

Is Google shrinking?

There's a remarkably clueless post on ZDNet today, wherein someone who should know better says that Google's index is 25 percent smaller than it used to be. His evidence: when he checks his own name, he found only 102,000 instances, down from 135,000 in March. (, he says, has 157,000 results.)

The technological Onanism of this aside, it's just a dumb observation. The idea of a search engine isn't to provide the most results. It's to provide the most relevant results. Maybe those "missing" 33,000 results weren't especially interesting; it's hard to imagine that 100,000 results on anything, let alone a blogger, would be worth investigating. (And I mean, really -- who keeps track of the number of results for their own name?)

Does this have anything to do with Google's "Caffeine" update (about which I'll write more shortly)? Possibly, but unlikely; Caffeine seems to be about speed and resources, not index size.

August 26, 2009

Google and Bing as a threat to content

Bing has now been around long enough for people to start looking for referrers in their server logs. Most people aren't seeing a ton of traffic from Bing so they think it's not a big deal.

It's a dangerous and possibly self-deluding conclusion for any content provider. Remember: you -- the content provider -- are not the search engines' market. You are, in fact, the product that they're selling.

Bing is not innovating in search, as far as anyone can tell. It gives some very different results than Google; in many cases, it presents much deeper results than Google's while missing other stuff.

Where Bing (and Yahoo) are innovating are in user experience. The goal of all these search engines is to give their users as much information as possible without their leaving the SERP. You want them to click on your URL to see your content and ads. But the search engines would just as soon that their page be the final word. That's why Google is relying less on Description tags and more on page scrapes and microformats for its snippets. It's why Bing has page excerpts pop up next to the URLs on the SERPs.

Bing has looked at the heat maps of what people look at in SERPs and is innovating around that upper left quadrant of the window. Google is making more options more easily available to searchers. But what kind of business model would your site have if it only existed to send people away? Right: none. The search engines are ever more in the business of helping people stick around, showing your information on their pages, and building environments where they let people leave only if they really want to -- but would rather have them stick around, thanks.

August 27, 2009

Porcine Aviation! Now Software Ships!

In April 2007, I bought an upgrade to the formidable contact manager Now Up-to-Date and Contact. I'd used it off and on for some years and was looking for something a bit more powerful than Apple's Address Book and iCal. It had gotten old, and wasn't really happy with OS X. What Now was promising with "Nighthawk" sounded interesting enough for me to pony up $40 for an upgrade sight unseen. Besides, the software was supposed to ship that June. Two months wasn't so long to wait.

I'm certain that I forgot to ask "June of what year?"

Continue reading "Porcine Aviation! Now Software Ships!" »

September 1, 2009

Skype Goes Free. What's Next? Everything

You've probably heard by now that eBay unloaded Skype today to a consortium led by Silver Lake Partners and a bunch of other people including Marc Andreesen for mumblety-billion dollars.

Dan Hoffman, CEO of hosted VoIP provider M5 Networks, very intelligently points out that Silver Lake is also invested in Avaya (telecom equipment), and IPC (trading systems). Think those could be strategic partners for Skype? Me too.

I'd add to that roster NXP (chips for set-top boxes and mobile phones), Avago (chips for wired infrastructure and computer peripherals), NetScout network management, and Sabre Holdings (Travelocity). I can think of one or two pieces of synergy there, too.

I suspect Silver Lake's board meetings are going to be very interesting places for the next five years.

December 7, 2009

Google Real-Time Search: some questions

Google today announced its inevitable reach into real-time search, instantly adding results from Twitter, FriendFeed and MySpace. As cool and useful as this may be, I've got a couple of questions about it.

How do they assign relevance to tweets? Google's search algorithms are based, in large measure, on the number and quality of backlinks -- relevant links to a given page. How is Google assigning relevance to tweets? By hashmarks? By the number of followers on an account? That's obviously problematic, given the triviality of manipulating it. By the number of relevant followers? Then what determines relevance?

Is more weight given to official pronouncements from known or trusted entities? How do the entities get to be known or trusted? And if "official" sites do get preference, isn't that contrary to the whole idea of Twitter?

What about a common situation where a reporter for a publication tweets about a story that's about to break on their site or in print? How is that differentiated from an unsubstantiated rumor that some celebrity has died? It's not Google's place to be judging the truth value of tweets or posts, but I worry (as often) that this will only accelerate a race to the bottom.

And one more: Tweets are 140 characters long. Google snippets are 156. By presenting tweets on SERPs, Google is preempting one possible means for Twitter to monetize: ads. Why click through to a Twitter page when you get all you need on Google's?

March 22, 2010

Kawasaki on Management

I've been around the Macintosh world since about 1985, so I'm real familiar with Guy Kawasaki. Guy was the software evangelist for the Mac -- the guy who went around persuading software developers to write for this unusual and innovative computer. In the intervening years, he wrote a couple of books about what became known as guerrilla marketing; those books are still on my shelves. In certain circles, he was (and is) quite famous. In certain circles, he became sort of yesterday's news. Now, he runs a venture company and a news aggregator

But there's an excellent interview with him in this past Friday's NYTimes, where he dispenses some pretty insightful advice about careers and marketing:

Sales is everything. As long as you’re making sales, you’re still in the game....

They should teach students how to communicate in five-sentence e-mails and with 10-slide PowerPoint presentations. If they just taught every student that, American business would be much better off... Because no one wants to read “War and Peace” e-mails. Who has the time? Ditto with 60 PowerPoint slides for a one-hour meeting. What you learn in school is the opposite of what happens in the real world. In school, you’re always worried about minimums. You have to reach 20 pages or you have to have so many slides or whatever. Then you get out in the real world and you think, “I have to have a minimum of 20 pages and 50 slides.”

...In the end, success in business comes from the willingness to grind it out. It’s not because of the brilliant idea. It’s because you are willing to work hard.

Most people who graduate from college think they have to make a perfect choice.... They think that their first job is going to determine their career, if not their life. Looking back, that’s absolutely incorrect. By definition you cannot make a mistake in your first job... Let’s say you join a start-up, and it implodes. You would learn more about leadership inside a company that crashes than you would inside the next Google. Specifically, you will learn what not to do. You can’t make a mistake as a college graduate.
Jobs for college graduates should make them gain knowledge in at least one of these three areas: how to make something, how to sell something or how to support something.

It's a quick read. Worth the time.

March 26, 2010

New Bing Coming

Microsoft's Bing search engine will be rolling out UI changes starting in the next few days. Since its launch about a year ago, Bing has been innovating mostly on its interface, and these changes continue that mission. The emphasis for the update will be on providing more context -- including real-time feeds -- and visual information.

What's worrisome about Bing, from a content provider's perspective, is that the search engine will provide so much context that a click-through to the originating site becomes unnecessary. (This, of course, allows Bing and not the publisher to monetize the publisher's content.) Microsoft doesn't see that as much of an issue. From Redmond Channel Partner:

One attendee of the keynote asked [Yusef] Mehdi [Microsoft's SVP of online audience business] if Microsoft’s efforts to render more contextual data within Bing would result in fewer click-throughs to sites. Mehdi responded that he doesn't see cause for concern. "What we have found is there are more click-throughs when you add richer captions," he said.

There's a interesting data point, if he'd be willing to share his numbers. It would also be interesting to discover if rich-content clickthroughs convert on a publisher's site better than clicks based on less-rich content. In other words, do people who click on high-context links bounce more or less than referrals from low-context links? Or are high-context links killing the geese with the golden eggs?

April 23, 2010

Auto-captioning YouTube

I somehow missed the news that YouTube is now automatically captioning all videos in English. That's awesome news for the accessibility crowd. It's a little problematic for the content industry.

Think about it. There's about 20 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute. For every one of them, Google's now generating text. This text is not created on the fly as the video is played back; it's presumably built as part of each video's preprocessing and is made part of the video's metatext. Which means it's being indexed, which means that the videos are now competing directly with more traditional textual information.

It's true that the Google voice-to-text technology is not exactly accurate. (My Google Voice transcripts are generally pretty incomprehensible.) But this is all the more reason that serious content competitors need to be looking more than ever at using YouTube to protect their brands.

June 25, 2010

Hands-on: Motorola Droid X smartphone is a win for Android - Computerworld

My first article for public consumption in quite a while, and a return to old stomping grounds: A review of the upcoming Droid X mobile phone.

Overall a nice piece of hardware. I suspect I'll like Android more as I get used to it.

May 23, 2011

Wuz LinkedIn Robbed?

There's a provocative column by Joe Nocera in today's NYTimes about LinkedIn's IPO last week. Nocera thinks that the investment banks Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch -- which LinkedIn hired to take it public -- essentially stole hundreds of millions of dollars that should have gone to LinkedIn's treasury.

Here's how it works. The investment banks gauge demand for the shares, which are sold by the company's treasury, and set what they believe is a fair-market price. Proceeds of those initial sales go to the company. In LinkedIn's case, Morgan and Merrill set a price for the shares three times, the last and highest being $45. LinkedIn took in $352 million for 7.5 million shares. The investment banks get 7 percent of that.

But once the shares are out, they can be -- and are -- traded freely. On its first day, LinkedIn traded as high as $122 per share, closing at $94.25, more than twice the initial price. LinkedIn got none of that money.

Who did? The people to whom Morgan and Merrill sold the initial shares. That's usually their best customers, people with connections, or other BFFs. A 100 percent gain in one day is a nice day's work.

Nocera says it's a scam. It's the investment banks' job to know what the market sentiment is, he says, and it's their fiduciary duty to price the coming-out shares as close to what they think the market will pay. And at the end of the day (literally), the market was apparently willing to pay $90. LinkedIn should have collected not $352 million but $700 million, Nocera argues. And their investment banks should have been paid $49 million, not a mere $25 million or so.

Why would the banks leave $25 million on the table by underpricing? After all, taking a company public is hard work. Maybe they traded some of their own stock and gained more than that. Maybe they were willing to chalk up the $25 million as a cost of doing business to appeal to their best customers. Promotional expense, you know.

Is this something that should be -- or can be -- fixed? I'm not so sure. I don't know that it's an investment bank's responsibility to take into account a market gone nuts. Maybe a best effort is all that's truly called for. though how you'd judge that is a mystery for smarter minds than mine. I know I don't want the SEC putting its thumb on the IPO scale.

Maybe a Dutch auction, which is how Google went public, is the right anwer. (The Street hated it, but it doesn't seem to have hurt Google's prospects any.) Maybe there should be a rule that a percentage of all first-day sales -- say, 7 percent, same as the banks' take -- be funneled back to the company issuing the shares. It might make for a more orderly coming out, or it might just move the madness to Day 2.

This may just be one of those things that Just Isn't Fair. One thing Nocera's inarguably correct about: it looks like hell at a time when the financial business ought not to be resorting to Old Tricks of the Internet Bubble.

May 24, 2011

Will Google Buy Sprint?

So I'm going to start a rumor here: I think, before the year is out, that Google is going to try to buy Sprint.

The ties between the companies...

Continue reading "Will Google Buy Sprint?" »

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