Archive for May, 2009

Why Google Wave Matters

Lots of discussion around the web about Google Wave.  One common meme floating around dismisses it as an Outlook clone.

I think it’s a mistake to focus on the ‘features’ and the ‘user interfaces’ Google demonstrated.  They are of course necessary to illustrate how this new architecture can be used.  But these interfaces will evolve and morph over time.

Wave matters  because it shifts  communication and collaboration from a document transmission paradigm to a shared document editing paradigm where all documents exist in a shared repository potentially accessible by anyone.  This makes it much easier to ‘mix and match’ different kinds of communication and collaboration — which will likely lead to entirely new forms of interaction over time.

The Traditional Document Transmission Paradigm

Traditional paradigms are all based on the idea of a document being transmitted from one or more authors to one or more readers.  An email, is a very directed communication.  The document may be ‘passed around’ and forwarded to others who might add to the content.  An IM is typically quite a short document.  A tweet is by definition a short document, but one that is shared with many people.  A blog is a longer document – again shared publicly with many people.  Comments on emails, IM’s or blogs are all (typically) document based – your comment is appended to the document.

Likewise, collaborative editing is also document based.  Multiple people can edit the document – it can be sent around to different participants for comments – but (at least in the Microsoft paradigm) the document itself is passed around and edited and is the repository of the collected activity.  People tend to edit the document sequentially appending their edits to it.  The document itself is physically ‘passed around’ – either by email or checking it out of some shared repository.

The New Wave Paradigm

In the Wave paradigm every communication takes the form of a shared document in the cloud.  Communication is accomplished through shared editing of the document and real-time transmission of the changes to a group of readers or participants.  Every document is potentially accessible to anyone and everyone – you extend or contract the circle of people involved by explicitly controlling who has access to the document and what their rights are.

This paradigm easily accommodates all the traditional forms of communication and collaboration.  An email is a shared document with a restricted audience.  An IM is also a shared document with a restricted audience – just shorter.  A blog or tweet is a shared document with a public audience.  Social network type communications are shared documents with defined groups as audiences.  Changes in documents are transmitted to readers or listeners in real-time.  And of course, in the case of collaborative documents anyone given access and authority can participate in the construction of the document.  At any point in time.  There is no need to ‘pass the document’ around for editing.

So What?

If all Wave did was replace existing paradigms – it might not be that interesting.  This explains why some people are  shrugging their shoulders.  To them, it just looks too much like existing applications.  A ‘cloud based’ re-engineering effort.

It realizes it’s true power when you start to utilize the new paradigm to ‘cross boundaries’.  Let me try to illustrate this with an imagined example:

When I read a blog post or tweet there are many different things I might want to do with it.  For example, let’s say it’s something a competitor is doing.  I might want to forward it to colleagues and have a private conversation about it.  I might want to make a comment for public consumption.  I might want to blog or comment on some or all of it for public consumption by people who are following me in some way.  In some cases, I might want to do all three.

I can do all of this today.  But it’s ackward and this ackwardness places barriers that impede the flow of communication.  It causes me to ‘not bother’ with certain kinds of communication because they take too much effort.

In a Wave world I can participate in the conversation on the existing wave (the equivalent of commenting on the blog), create a derivative wave for public consumption (the equivalent of blogging or tweeting it) and create a private conversation with a limited audience (my colleagues say) discussing the original ‘blog post’.  There can of course be both private and public conversations about my derviative public conversation as well.

The comments on the original blog post can also take the form of ‘long and thoughtful commentary’ or an interactive dialog where people are commenting and getting updates in real-time.  You don’t need to have a ‘real-time’ tool for discussing the blog contents in real-time.  You just have the real-time conversation on the blog itself.

So, I use the same tool to manage all these communication streams – my public communication, my public comments on the publications of others and various forms of private communication.  I can seamlessly move between the different paradigms.  The flow of private and public communication is unimpeded.

This reduction in ‘communication friction’ will change how we communicate.  In five years time we’ll look back and marvel at how primitive the ‘document transmission’ paradigm seems.   Communication and collaboration by editing documents ‘in the cloud’ will seem perfectly normal.

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Microsoft and Google Declare War

On Thursday, May 28, 2009 Microsoft and Google officially declared war.

Microsoft announced Bing their new search initiative competing directly with Google’s core business.

Google announced Wave: a new product, platform and protocol that re-imagine communication and collaboration in the cloud.  It has grand ambitions that includes a direct assault on Microsoft’s core business of office communication and collaboration.

Initial reviews of Bing by industry insiders suggest it is competitive with Google’s search and offers some interesting features.  Most also believe these features and function won’t be sufficient by themselves to overcome people’s entrenched familiarity with Google.  Microsoft has anticipated this challenge by also announcing a massive advertising campaign to get people to try their new offering.

Microsoft is betting that search has matured, even becoming something of a commodity.  As such, by offering a comparable product they are able to shift the battle-field to a marketing and branding effort.  This MO is consistent with Microsoft history.  They have never been a first mover or an innovator.  They are an exploiter – a very determined one with deep pockets and patience.  And arguably, Bing is their ‘3rd generation’ of search engine (MSN and Live being the prior 2) — and it took them three tries to ‘get it right’ with Windows.  It will be interesting to see if they can finally grow their market share in search.

Google is not standing still on search – they continue to announce new search offerings at a heady pace.  It’s clear they intend to seriously defend their core business of search.  This highly profitable business is what allows them to make all their other big bets.

And Wave feels like a big bet.  It redefines how people communicate and collaborate.  This directly challenge’s Microsofts traditional paradigm of a ‘computer on every desktop’ in which that desktop computer is the primary repository of one’s information.  In Google’s cloud based future the desktop computer becomes irrelevant.  It people shift to the cloud, it represents a huge threat to Microsoft’s ability to license software stacks running on each of those computers.

Google has made many previous guerrilla attacks with products like Gmail and Google Docs.  But these are really just cloud based implementations of traditional paradigms.  Wave on the other hand is a full frontal assault because it encompasses not only these traditional means of communication and collaboration but also extends to include blogging, micro-blogging (Twitter) and activities currently associated with social networks.

It’s unusual for Google to announce such a grand product in such a relatively immature state.  The timing seems chosen to steal some of Microsoft’s Bing noise.  But it is a grand enough vision that Google will need help from legions of developers to make it happen   It is those legions who are the foot-soldiers in this battle – and they are mercenaries who will go where they see the biggest opportunity.

This battle is going to be played out over many years.  But we’ll likely look back and see these two announcements as a significant milestone in the struggle.

Local SEO Investment a No-Brainer

Local SEO investment is a no-brainer – and it’s one that will ultimately benefit everyone trying to provide marketing services to local businesses.

David Mihm has a great post in which he describes the basics (among many other things worth your time):

Do your keyword research, figure out which phrases you want to target, claim your Google and Yahoo local listings with proper categories, submit to infoUSA, Localeze, and Acxiom (via Universal Business Listing).  That covers 90% of your bases.   This basic process for one location shouldn’t take more than a few hours.  Obviously ongoing optimization, particularly in competitive niches, requires expertise and more diligence, but think of the ‘claiming your listing’ and submission process as an analog for researching keywords and writing your ads.

Every local business should be doing this.  Today.  There is probaby nothing else they can do that will provide the same level of return on investment.  As a point of reference David points to two recent studies by Conductor and Enquisite showing that SEO has a much higher return than many Pay Per Click campaigns for larger advertisers.  And given that the state of local SEO is much less evolved today, the returns in local SEO are likely even higher.

So, why isn’t every local business not doing this already?  Because they don’t know any better.  And since there isn’t a lot of money to be made in telling them how to do this, people aren’t exactly banging down the door to bring them this information.  And those who are banging down their doors to sell them marketing and advertising services aren’t that interested in telling them about something that is nominally competitive.

This sort of thinking is seriously counter-productive.  First of all, all of the local merchants advertising efforts – both online and offline are going to work better if they are taking care of the basics.  And this applies to those attempting to sell them additional services as well.

But more importantly, by shrouding the whole process in mystery we are undermining the confidence of local advertisers.  And when they eventually discover ‘the truth’ they are going to be very dis-appointed with those who didn’t help them earlier.


Truly local advertising set to emerge

A number of announcements this week suggest that truly local, geo-targeted advertising is gaining momentum.

To take-off, three things are required:

  1. Broad availability of geo-reference information in browsers and mobile devices.
  2. Advertising platforms that exploit this information to deliver advertising.
  3. Local advertisers who can benefit from such precise advertising.

This past week saw announcements on all three fronts.

Increased Availability of Geo-reference Information

Skyhook Wirelesss announced the availability of a ‘one-touch’ location capability for publishers.

The Loki plug-in works with all major Internet browsers and operating systems to determine the precise location of any Wi-Fi-enabled device instantly, given the user’s permission. Web developers can use visitor location information to personalize content, ease local searching, deliver localized ads and more.

Major websites such as Flickr, Mapquest and Weatherbug are incorporating the technology.  It makes it easy for web developers to deploy the sort of location based smarts that have been very popular on the iPhone:

“The WeatherBug iPhone application has been extremely successful in part due to its ability to be location-aware. Loki enables us to instantly offer this same, rich experience to our desktop and laptop users and was incredibly simple to integrate,” said Chris Sloop, co-founder and CTO of WeatherBug.

Geo-Targeted Advertising Platforms

Google and Placecast both announced geo-targeting ad vehicles this week.

Google announced a Maps Ad Unit:
mapsadunit

Placecast joined with Alcatel-Lucent to create a platform for delivering advertising to ‘on-the-go’ consumers.  Consumers ‘sign-up’ for the service and the kind of messages they want to receive.  Then when you are near a place that might be interesting you will get an ad sent to you.  (Might be a bit spooky – but it is opt-in.)

Local Advertisers

And finally, TechCrunch reports that the Village Voice is planning a Local Ad Network.  This makes a lot of sense to me.  They already have a relationship with local advertisers – why not help these advertisers get exposed in other media?

Getting access to the local advertisers – often small and medium sized businesses – who can really benefit from such highly localized advertising will be the biggest challenge.  Or the biggest opportunity!

Selling recommendation data as a business model

Pelago/Whrrl CEO Jeff Holden made some interesting comments in a discussion with Greg Sterling.  First, he talked about the opportunity for recommendations in local search:

He discussed how this might apply to the emerging arena of “footstream” data and recommendations for people and places in the real world on mobile devices. Tracking mobile user behavior yields lots of data about the types of places users go and their real-world behavior. This hypotehtically could deliver local recommendations based on user profiles and corresponding “footstreams.”

Given Jeff’s background from Amazon and the nature of the Whrrl application (which has now been somewhat re-positioned) I always thought this was the ‘end-game’.

But perhaps even more interesting, is the possibility of making money off the acquired data in a more direct way:

Footstream tracking of individuals would have to be personal by necessity (with all the potential privacy questions), but the local recommendations Holden spoke about could be provided anonymously to users who are grouped into certain profiles based on their favorite places and activities in the real world.

He hinted that there might be an emerging business model here for Pelago as a repository and provider of this type of data for other publishers and sites.

I can imagine this raising some interesting privacy discussions, but it seems entirely logical – even inevitable perhaps.  And a tangible indication of the value of collecting such usage data!

RELATED:

Publishers: Your Usage Data is More Valuable than Your Content

Twitter is Real-Time + Public-Posting

You may have noticed the frenzy of excitement about real-time search sparked by the continuing explosive growth of Twitter.  Even Larry Page had to ‘weigh-in’ on the topic.  Real-time is the new IT trend.

But an equally important factor in Twitter’s rise and the excitement around it – especially among marketers – is that the posts are PUBLIC.  This means they can be analysed by many different people from researchers to marketers.  Not a day goes by without another story on how to use twitter (or twitter search) for marketing.  Marketers love it, because it gives them ready access to data that is normally hidden behind someones wall.

Google can no doubt index it’s searches in real-time and has it’s own vast real-time database of intentions.  But this data is not public.  Sure, they could probably make certain kinds of aggregate information available in a public format – but they can’t really start releasing details of individual searches.  Twitter on the other hand is based at it’s very heart on the idea of public posting.

Facebook has already implemented ‘real-time’ but their paradigm also runs up against a complicated set of privacy considerations.  They’ve developed a comprehensive  set of tools to let users determine who sees what – so the idea of ‘private’ and ‘group’ communication is central to the paradigm.

Twitters approach to public vs. private is simple.  It’s all public or it’s all just between friends.  And for most people – it’s all public.  If you don’t want something posted publicly on twitter – just don’t post it.

Twitter = real-time + public-posting

Majority of Local Advertisers Manage Their Own Campaigns

Two reports released today by Adquants provide illuminating insights in to the local advertising ecosystem.  Not surprisingly, the largest participants are resellers — accounting for up to 30% of the local advertising.

Paid Search Managers of Local Businesses

But, more fascinating is that more than 70% of local advertising campaigns are NOT being managed by large players.  This means the local businesses are managing these campaigns themselves or these campaigns are being managed by a long tail of smaller players doing it for them.

For these large players, their biggest competition may not be the other large players or even the even bigger players where they buy the traffic.  Instead, they probably need to be looking over their shoulders at the increasing number of Do It Yourselfers and a growing number of small businesses in the business of helping small businesses market themselves in the digital domain.

via Greg Sterling.