Posts about google

Page & Brin: Icons of the decade

The Guardian commissioned me to write a piece on Google founder Larry Page and Sergey Brin as icons of the decade. My kicker:

To understand the power of Brin’s and Page’s focus, go to Google’s home page now and type “weather in Ed” and stop there. Google will not only understand you want weather in Edinburgh but will give you the forecast right there in the search box; it will answer your question before you’ve even asked it. Google’s true holy grail is understanding, anticipating, and serving our intent.

When we’re using Google devices with Google operating systems and Google browsers and Google software to ask Google questions in text or voice or even pictures and Google gives us each the personal answers we need from any source – no, the best source – in the world, in the context of the moment and our needs, that will be the culmination of the Google age. Google’s next frontier is not to organise the world’s information, but our lives.

Google’s synchronicity

On the latest This Week in Google, we talked about many of Google’s product announcements and enhancements and though none on its own was earthshattering, as we added them up, I started to see synchronicity approaching — all the moreso last night when TechCrunch reported that Google’s negotiating to buy Yelp.

I see a strategy emerging that has Google profoundly improve search by better anticipating our intent and then moving past search to build hegemony in local and mobile (which will come to mean the same thing).

Add up Google’s recent moves in local/mobile:

* Yelp would bring Google a scalable platform to get information and reviews about every local business using community. Yelp enhances Google’s place pages. Place pages enhance Google Maps. Google Maps are our pathway to local information on what we still mobile phones but will soon see as our constant connectivity devices.

* Google distributed 190,000 QR codes for local businesses to paste on their front windows. Take a picture of it and Google will give you information about the place (see: above). Businesses have another reason to advertise on and be found through Google and its business center.

* TechCrunch also speculates that we could use these QR codes to check in to Foursquare, Gowalla, et al. Local is social.

* Google Goggles goes the next step and lets you take a picture of a place — or object (or soon, person) — and use that as a search request to get local information — or leave it.

Thus Google becomes a doorway to the annotated world. Everyplace has information swirling around it; Google organizes it and motivates and enables us to create more information for it to organize (more on this idea of the annotated world in another post).

* Google’s reported phone is said to have a “weirdly large camera.” If that camera becomes a key to visual search, that makes sense, eh? That also gives us a better way to take more geo-tagged photos, which better annotates the world and gives Google more information to serve back to us.

* Google is trying to get better at recognizing speech to prepare for a voice-controlled (read: mobile) web world. That, say Chris Anderson and Tim O’Reilly, is why they give away GOOG411 for free: to learn our voices. And now note that Google is asking people to donate their voicemails to Google’s effort to improve its own transcription. Search will become visual and aural (read: mobile).

* Google Earth is coming to the cockpit of the new Audi, giving drivers rich geographic data about where they are and where they’re going.

* GoogleMaps on Android will now tell you what’s nearby.

* Let’s not forget that Google will make money on local — Eric Schmidt said on CNBC a year and a half ago that Google will eventually make more on mobile than the web (which, to me, doesn’t mean phones; it means our constantly on connection devices). This is why Google bought mobile ad leader AdMob for $750 million.

That’s mobile. Now look at some of its search enhancements to better intuit intent:

* Go to the Google home page. Start typing “Weather in Lon” and stop there. Google will not only suggest that you want weather in London, it will give you the forecast for London right there in the search box. You didn’t even finish typing in what you wanted to ask and Google gave you the answer without you even having to click and go to a site.

Google search

Google’s holy grail, they’ve long said, is to anticipate your intent. That explains, I think, some of Google’s other moves.

* Google DNS is supposed to speed up the web for you (speed is a big Google cause these days) but it also gives Google an invaluable source of data about web usage: who goes where when and before and after what sites looking for what. Now, your ISP knows that. But with DNS, Google could know that. It makes Google smarter about the web and its content as a whole, certainly, and so long as it is careful about privacy, it can enable Google to target to us better.

I see a day when search (like news) is no longer one size fits all. Search will be customized, personalized, and targeted to us and our contexts: who we are and where and when we are asking for something. This, I think, could mean the slow death of the dark art of SEO.

* How will Google get us to use its DNS? Well, I’ll bet it will be the default in computers equipped with Google Chrome OS. And I wouldn’t be surprised of the Google Chrome browser can provide some of this data to Google.

* Google launches social search. This creates more context and gives Google another clue to intent.

Now add back in all the mobile developments above. This gives Google more context to anticipate our intent.

But that’s not all. I’ve said for sometime that Google is behind in battles for the live and social web and was going to say here that it was bypassing those strategies to concentrate on mobile/local. But as I wrote the post, I saw more threads in both live and social.

* Google added Twitter to its search results. That’s pretty much a BFD. But it shows they’re trying to grapple with the live web. And that’s why there are never-ending rumors about Google buying Twitter.

* Wave is an important shift in the metaphor for content creation, making it collaborative (read: social) and live. Google added social tools to Google Docs. It make Docs a path to publishing (and being found via search) on the web. Creation itself is a social act once it enables us to connect.

* Add in the social bits above: Yelp is a community tool; QR codes and visual search will let us talk about places and things and find each other and meet; Foursquare and Gowalla make local social and Google could help them.

Last night, after the Yelp report, I tweeted this: “Yelp + GoogleMaps + StreetView + PlacePages + GOOG411 + Google Goggles + Android + AdSense = Google synchronicity”. Om Malik piped in: “@jeffjarvis I love your unrelenting belief in google. I think u need to start look at world in a non-search context.” But then I said – and others agreed: “I also think Google is starting to look at the world in a non-search context (i.e., local, live, mobile)”.

I believe that’s what we’re seeing here: the start of Google’s view of itself after search. Not that search will go away but it will become less important in the shifting mix of out rings of discovery. And if search is going to stay preeminent, it had better update itself profoundly.

: See also Gina Trapani’s excellent roundup of Google’s amazing 2009 developments.

: LATER: Kara Swisher says Google is also eying real-estate search Trulia.

Google goes local

TechCrunch reports that Google is in negotiations to buy Yelp. Makes perfect sense. Google is ready to make an assault on local with its Place Pages and QR codes on local establishments and augmented maps and directions and mobile…. This turf was newspapers’ and phone companies’ to lose and lose it, they will.

Or as I put it in a tweet: “Yelp + GoogleMaps + StreetView + PlacePages + GOOG411 + Google Goggles + Android + AdSense = Google synchronicity”

Content farms v. curating farmers

Tweet: Content farms v curating farmers: Deeper insights in Demand Media’s model & finding opportunity in finding quality.

I spent an hour on the phone the other day with Steven Kydd, exec VP of Demand Studios, to understand their model—using algorithms to assign content creation based on search and advertising demand and to minimize cost and maximize revenue—because I wanted to learn a deeper layer of lessons than I think we’re hearing in the discussion of Demand’s allegedly evil genius.

The talk thus far misses their key insight and the opportunities they create. Much of what I see online is fear that Demand Media—with the slightly rechristened “Aol.” following fast behind—will cheapen content and flood the internet—that is, search results—with crap that’s just good enough to fool algorithms. Some also fear that while putting content creators to work they will put better content creators out of work: the dreaded deprofessionalization and deflation of media.

Michael Arrington marks the end of “hand-crafted content” (somewhere I hear Nick Carr and Andrew Keen cackling maniacally). And Read Write Web’s Richard MacManus worries that the web’s quality will suffer.

They may be right. But then again, the internet has always been filled with crap. So the challenge has always been how you find the cream. That’s where opportunities lie. That’s what Google saw. The new question is whether Google can keep ahead of the content farms and continually find new and better ways to find better stuff. I’ll bet on Google over crap-creators. But they better get cracking.

This is why, when I proposed an X prize to solve media’s key problems at Yale symposium, Clay Shirky responded with a call for work on what he called “algorithmic authority.” A few of my students’ proposals in my entrepreneurial journalism class tackled just this problem with discovering and prioritizing content for us: one using humans aided by algorithms, one using algorithms aided by humans; neither operated like a one-size-fits-all search engine (but then, soon, Google won’t either).

I think we may see search fall as the sole or even key means of discovery and filtering of quality content. I see three rings of discovery today: search (Google); algorithms (see: Google News, Daylife); and humans (see: Twitter). Note again that Bit.ly alone causes as many clicks a month—one billion—as Google News. Human power rises again. That’s what Fred Wilson says today when he argues that social beats search, because “it’s a lot harder to spam yourself into a social graph.” As search becomes more personal and no longer universal, SEO as a dark art and as the fertilizer for content farms will diminish and the social graph — our own circles of authority — will become more important in search as well. So I have faith that there are solutions to stem any rising tide of crap.

This is how I put it in a tweet: “algorithm-aided human writing will meet human-aided algorithmic curation; quality will rise.”

In all of this, I caution us not to miss Demand’s key insight: that the public should assign the creators, including journalists. The public often knows what it wants to know. I learned this lesson when I consulted at About.com and saw how they monitor search queries to see where there are questions for which the don’t have answers. When that happens, they go write answers; Demand automates the process. Makes sense.

This is not how we have operated in media: We decided which questions to answer because we asked them. What hubris! Today, I teach my students to find conversations on the internet and add journalism to them in the form of answers, corrections, reporting, explanations. In 2007, my students in a seminar at Burda in Munich and in my class at CUNY asked why the public doesn’t assign us and my entrepreneurial students in two classes have worked on that problem. Jay Rosen just started playing with this notion at ExplainThis.org, creating a platform for the public to ask reporters to report their questions. Demand and About are doing the same thing, only through search queries. Jeff Sonderman compiles some more examples. Where appropriate, reversing the assignment pipe is a good idea.

Demand is also creating a system they say will find the best writer for each assignment. We are free to disagree with their methods and results, but there’s insight here, too. Two students in my entrepreneurial journalism class won a grant to create a platform to do just this with local and hyperlocal news assignments (note that Kydd told me Demand isn’t touching news); I’ll report more on their project as it gets closer to launch. Can’t news organizations learn and steal some lessons from Demand? What if you wanted to create a content asset — say, a complete travel guide — and you opened up the process and its discreet tasks to a marketplace of paid contributors, enabling you to do larger projects at lower cost than before?

I always tell my students: Wherever you see a problem, look for the opportunity. That’s Arrington’s point: The next generation of content creation is here; deal with it. If you don’t like what Demand et al are doing, see the opportunity in it to surface quality content and to create competitive quality stars whose creations rise not just through algorithmic search cynicism but through human recommendation. Dig to the next layer.

* * *

I got lots of details from Kydd about the Demand method. In their view, they have combined content-creation and social-media platforms to enable content creators with “spare cycles”—his nerdy words—to earn money.

Kydd says 11 community members contribute to each article by fulfilling the discreet functions Demand identified: writing, copy-editing, copy-chiefing, reviewing titles, managing topic pages, checking facts. That is done by freelancers. The staff directs, edits, curates, and manages them. The algorithm makes all this more effective as it tracks content and ad demand and writes headlines for pieces it says will get traffic and earn money. Editors are 1.5 times more effective in creating assignments that will generate traffic, Kydd said, but the algorithm is 4.9 times better than creators.

Kydd said Demand pays from $0 (with revenue sharing) to $100 per piece; it averages at $20. Copy editors make $2.50-$3 per piece, which works out to $15-20 an hour. He said these people like to wake up and know there’s work they can do—there are 100k assignments waiting for takers right now—while they wait for old, human editors to respond to pitches. He said they also like being paid twice a week. Kydd said Demand employed 4,500 creators (text and video) and 400 copy editors in the last 30 days.

What amazed me most is that Demand uses its method not only for service content but for jokes at Cracked.com. Could an algorithm and social network replace Jay Leno? Easy.

: LATER: See also Doc Searls on junk food and chefs.

: Paul Marcum tweeted today: “Prediction: increasing clutter from algo content farms + mobile app convenience will have even @jeffjarvis paying for news by 2011.” I responded seeing the irony here: that value will come from aggregation and curation of quality content. But imagine then if the aggregators become more valuable than the creators and start charging; the creators (i.e., Murdoch) will go batshit. I’ve argued that in the link economy, there are two creations of value around content: from those who make the content and from those who bring together the public around it. Where is there greater value? We’ll see….

: LATER STILL: See Upendra Shardanand (founder of Daylife, where I’m a partner) on the need for new tools to create new handcrafted content. Problem is, he says, we’re using old text tools. See my related posts on storytelling and post-page media.

The new divide: Walled v. open

Tweet: The new divide in media is walled v. open. Here’s why I think walls are bad for the builders and us all.

In the discussion about news, there’s always a divide – because news loves divides. The splits have been old v. new, MSM v. blogs, professional v. amateur, institutional v. entrepreneurial, and lately paid v. free.

But I fear another divide we’re beginning to see develop is walled v. open. The legacy players – in what I believe is their last-ditch effort to save their old ways, models, and empires — are threatening to put up walls. News Corp. is forever rumored to be putting up both pay walls and more walls to keep Google’s hordes of Huns (aka us useless asshats) out.

Some say: Fine, digital suicide couldn’t happen to a better mogul. But I say we should fear the precedent, the balkanization of the web into isolated worlds. It’s true that all the data on the web is not today available via search — content trapped in data bases, in Flash, in comments, in video — though I see continuing efforts to bring that content into the tent. The momentum is toward including ever more data. But now come Murdoch and Microsoft, threatening to take their balls and go home. It’s their right to do so; as Google always points out, it’s also easy to do so.

But I would hate to see walls go up just as we are tearing them down. That’s how Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger began his road show on the mutualization of news for my students a week ago: showing the wall between the press and the people coming down. But then, Rusbridger recognizes that the future of news – any industry, really – is about handing over control. That is what Murdoch et al fear most.

I fear balkanization. I fear stupidity, too – that others will follow Rupert the Pied Piper over the cliff. And I fear the impact on democracy.

At some events lately, I’ve heard it argued that information needs to be free to be democratic. I don’t agree. But I do say that when information is free, it becomes more democratic. Or put it a better way: the cheaper news and information is, the more people can be informed and the better that is for democracy.

Rusbridger reminds us that advertising freed newspapers from ownership and control by political parties and special interests who exercised that control via patronage. Advertising gave journalism independence. Advertising also subsidized news and reduced its cost so more people could get it. Surely the mission of news is to serve as many people as possible and so things that serve that end serve the mission; things that don’t, don’t.

I’m accused by those who don’t listen to what I say of arguing that – in the too-often paraphrased half quote – news (information, content) wants to be free, as if that is my cause, my religion. No, I say that I want to support news in the most sustainable and profitable way possible — and I believe today, that’s still advertising, which will work better in the open. I want to make news more efficient and less expensive so it can, again, be more sustainable — which will also work better in the open as networks, collaboration, and links serve that efficiency. And I want news to be as open as possible so as many people as possible can use it — that’s as close as I get to a cause: not that information wants to be or must be free but that it is better to be open.

Murdoch thinks Google is doing evil — kleptomania — because he doesn’t understand the new realities of media. Microsoft knows better. Its alleged attempt to woo old-man Murdoch is an act of deepest cynicism. It’s evil.

I believe that the next wave of virtue in society will flow from openness: from government transparency, from corporate transparency, from personal publicness and an ethic of openness that will bring greater accountability, deeper connections, and meaningful sharing.

Walls used to contain value; that’s why it’s the reflex of the legacy powerful to want to build them. They don’t see that today, in an open society and economy, walls no longer preserve value, they diminish it.

So I’m not rooting for Murdoch to build his walls as good sport. I really wish he wouldn’t, for his sake and ours.

Rupert has balls

Tweet: Rupert has balls. Well, he used to.

That’s the essence of Murdoch: balls. It’s the essence of the culture of News Corp., which I learned from working there (at TV Guide): Australian macho seat-of-the-pants instant decision making.

That is the secret to Murdoch’s success. It is also the secret to his failure: Sometimes his balls land on red, sometimes on black. Murdoch plays the odds but he does it by making big bets. He can do that because he’s a mogul; they’re his balls. Companies that are ruled by task forces don’t act like him; they overthink to convince themselves they’re making smart decisions (like merging with AOL). News Corp. underthinks.

So I don’t buy the worship of those who think that Murdoch must know something we don’t know, that he’s inscrutable and brilliant and so one mustn’t question his actions – as in the case of pay walls and Google – for fear of missing some Yoda moment. No, sometimes Murdoch wins his bets, sometimes he loses.

He almost lost the company once with bad bets with debt. He bet big on U.S. satellite (and then said, oh, nevermind). He bet huge on China but now admits it’s tough. He wasted a fortune and a decade and any hope of an internet strategy on Delphi (where I worked) and Iguide. MySpace – need I say more?

But he bet big on sports and keeps winning as a result. He started a fourth network against all odds. He launched successful satellites elsewhere in the world and won. He won and lost but so far has still won more than he lost and that’s why he’s a winner.

What’s sad about the Murdoch family’s pathetic mewling about Google as if it were a big, bad bully kicking sand in their face and their desperate, cliff-grabbing speculation about pay walls is that neither is a big bet. Neither shows any vision. Neither shows balls. That’s why I have no faith in the argument that Yoda – or Jabba the Murdoch, if you prefer – has one more up his sleeve. No, son James Murdoch just said News Corp isn’t a news corp anymore but a TV company. They’ve given up. They’re just hoping to squeeze one more pint of milk out of old Bessie before they turn her into fajitas.

You want to look to an executive who has a strategy and fearlessly executes it, look to Jobs. Bezos, too. You want big-picture vision, see the Google boys. Charisma? Obama. Experience? Well, that was Jack Welch, until the value of experience expired.

Murdoch? He has balls. Big ones.

Worthless readers

Tweet: Worthless readers. And what to do about Murdoch et al’s whining about them.

One response publishers make to my argument that Google drives value to them and their content in the link economy is that the readers Google sends are worthless.

Worthless readers. WIliam Randolph Hearst, Joseph Pulitzer, Joseph Medill, Katherine Graham, and C.P. Scott are rolling (with pained laughter) in their graves. Since when did readers become worthless? Since when did a newspaper have enough readers?

“We can’t monetize those readers,” the hapless publishers whine. What’s the problem with these readers? “They read just one article and then leave,” is one complaint. “We can’t sell enough ads,” is another. And how is that Google’s fault?

No, this is the publishers’ failure and fault, not Google’s. Only the publishers can fix it. That they would rather complain than try is only evidence that they have given up on growth, on optimism, on the future. Rupert Murdoch and his son, James, have said they would rather shrink to more valuable (read: paying) customers, but then James has also said that News Corp. is no longer a news company but a TV company. It’s one matter to get rid of readers who cost too much because your trucks drive too far to deliver newspapers to them or you bribe them too often with bingo/wingo or sneakerphones to get them to subscribe. But online, more readers costs you nothing but bandwidth, which keeps on costing less. So Murdoch pere et fils have surrendered.

I choose not to. I say there is plenty they could do:

1. Relevance. Publishers should provide more relevant links and content to satisfy and serve these readers. I learned at About.com, where I consulted, that the most effective means of driving more traffic into the site, rather than away, was relevant links. Readers may come via search but may not find what they are looking for, so offer them more. If someone came to your restaurant for the crab cakes, wouldn’t you also offer slaw?

2. Context. I want to suggest abandoning the article for the constantly updated topic page (a la Wave). The problem with an article online is that it has a short half life and gathers few links and little ongoing attention and thus Googlejuice. It’s for this reason that Google’s Marissa Mayer has been advising publishers to move past the article to the topic. Abandoning the article for some living, breathing news beast yet to be defined may be a bit too radical for today’s publishers. So instead, I suggest, at least place the article into a space with broader context – archives, quotes, photos, links, discussion, wikified knowledge about the topic, feeds of updates; make the article a gateway to anything more you’d want on its subjects. Daylife (where I’m a partner) is working on something like that.

3. Sell. When someone comes in from search without a cookie attached, you know this person is not a regular reader. Yet you give her the same page you give to your constant readers. What you should do, instead, is sell the wonders of your site. Show off your best and most popular stuff. I’ve heard and used the phrase “every page a home page” for years, but I’ve never seen a publisher mean it, except for Stockholm’s Aftonbladet. Go to the site, click on most any store, and scroll down and you will find the entire home page replicated. Insane? Like a Swede.

4. Sell ads. OK, so this search-driven reader may not be local and so you can’t serve an ad for the hospital up the street. What sites do instead is place remnant network ads there at terribly low CPMs; that is why they complain about the value of readers who come from Google, Drudge, et al. But Dave Morgan’s Tacoda solved – at least until it was swallowed up by AOL [pardon me, Aol.] – by using data points across sites to maximize the value of ads served (e.g., someone who visits a travel site is served a high-CPM travel ad even after leaving and going to a harder-to-target local site). I’ve been arguing for reverse syndication as a means of maximizing ad value and even suggested that papers should link together to sell their national inventory (oh, that’s right, they tried to in the New Century Network but couldn’t get their act together … surprise!).

5. Kill commodity news and cost. Focus. Part of the problem is that papers carry commodity content that draws audience – via search – that is hard to target with local advertising. That commodity content also costs money to produce. A key imperative of the link economy is that one must specialize – to draw the “right” audience and to find the efficiency that comes from doing what you do best and linking to the rest. The better job a paper does focusing, the more it can create appropriate content to attract appropriate audience and advertising and the more economically it can operate.

6. Stop whining. It’s unbecoming. It makes you look weak and wimpy as if you have no strategy and no control over your vision and have just given up on adapting to new realities and growing by finding new audience and building a future but only plan to milk the last drops out of your dying business. Or maybe that’s all true.

: See Danny Sulllivan, who beat me to writing this post.

This is round two against Google. In round one, some publishers said Google steals our content. Google’s response was that it sends them millions of visitors for free. So in round two, it’s time to make out like those visitors aren’t worth much. That’s especially important if you’re an executive who, after floating the idea of dropping Google, comes under attack as stupidly cutting your own throat.

Me, I see visitors as opportunities. This is the internet, where you can tell far more about a visitor to your web site than you can in print. . . .

Do something. Anything. Please. Survive. But there’s one thing you shouldn’t do. Blame others for sending you visitors and not figuring out how to make money off of them.

See also Umair Haque: “Blocking Google is about as smart as eating a pound of plutonium.”

: On Twitter, Steven Johnson asks: “unless they’re “worth less” than the cost of serving the page, what’s the harm since Google delivers them for free?”

Murdoch madness

(I double-posted the Murdoch Madness post but won’t kill this entirely because there are comments now attached….)