Posts about Internet

The new metrics of campaigns

Polls are as discredited as they should be. So I’m thinking about writing my Guardian column next week about all the new metrics we have to take the pulse of the nation on the internet. Please help me out with numbers you follow.

None of these is representative or certainly scientific. And many of them can be manipulated — which is just the point of them; they put metrics in the hands of movements that use them to make themselves known: witness Ron Paul’s devoted cult and how they played YouTube like an organ. I speculated after Iowa that one reason for Obama’s success there was the campaign’s ability to organize a critical mass of young supporters in the social services.

The new internet campaign metrics also let us sense trends that aren’t so manipulable, if we know where to look.

Among these metrics (many tracked by TechPresident):

* Mainstream media coverage: Here‘s Daylife’s track of Clinton v Obama v Edwards in the last 30 days. It shows Clinton coverage is ahead in coverage until a surge in Obama’s around Iowa with a dropoff in Edwards’. This kind of analysis is possible now that all the coverage is being gathered and analyzed. Before, we couldn’t so easily measure the perspectives and prejudices of media coverage; now we can. Last April, I used cruder measures to show that the MSM narrative emphasized Obama while the polls still gave more attention to Clinton.

* Google searches: Here, in a chart representing December 2007 in the U.S., we see Clinton generally ahead of Obama but with her falling and then showing a resurgence. What do searches indicate? I think they can at least measure interest if not affection or affiliation.

* AdWords demand: You can get an idea of the market value for a keyword on Google AdWords. Clinton shows an average cost-per-click of $2.30-3.15 vs. $1.04-1.30 for Obama and $1.02-1.27 for Edwards. I’m not 100 percent sure how to interpret this — that is, what factors influence this (such as relative traffic) — but there is higher demand for the Clinton keyword. That’s a market speaking.

* Blog mentions: OK, we’re not representative but there are lots of us and what we say can be tracked via Blogpulse and Technorati. The other day, I tracked the “change” meme in the Obama campaign here. This chart shows Clinton ahead of Obama and Edwards until Iowa and now they’re even.

* Textual analysis: We get to analyze the candidates’ language as well. In this post, I took the transcript of the Democratic debate in New Hampshire and used Tagcrowd to find out that they used the word “change” more than “health” or “economy” or “iraq.”

* Web traffic: This Alexa chart shows Obama solidly ahead in traffic to his site. Compete shows Clinton and Obama leapfrogging each other with a spurt in Obama traffic pre-Iowa.

* Video traffic: TubeMogul adds up YouTube views and shows Obama way ahead with 9.5m vs. 4.6m for Clinton and 4.5m for Edwards (on the GOP, Ron Paul beats them all with 10.5m followed by Huckabee with 4.8m — a surprise to me — Romney with 3.8m, Giuliani with 1.8m, and McCain with 1.2m)

* Microblogging traffic: Obama as 6,667 followers on Twitter, Edwards 4,167 (and his final post came two months ago), Clinton has a big 223 (not her medium, apparently). That is, two of the three said it’s not worth it.

* Social sites: TechPresident has been doing a great job tracking the candidates’ friends. On Facebook, Obama has long been ahead with 235k vs. 71k for Clinton and 35k for Edwards (on the Republican side, Paul is ahead with 72k and Huckabee comes in next with 40k). MySpace: Obama has long led with 225k vs. 162k for Clinton and 52k for Edwards (on the GOP side, Paul is again leader with 114k vs. 41k for McCain, 33k for Romney, and 28k for Huckabee).

* Donors: Of course, we always have money. A recent AP story said that Clinton raised $24 million in the latest quarter vs. $22.5m for Obama and $4.5m for Edwards (the Washington Post said that Clinton and Obama each raised more than $100m in 2007). The other important story is the number of donors. Obama was doing a great job getting lots of small donors — who, as I said here, became invested in the campaign. But USA Today said that for July to September, Clinton exceeded him, 100k to 93k.

* Prediction markets: NewsFuture’s market has a dead heat for the Democratic race — Obama 50% to Clinton 49% (on the Republican side, McCain leads at 44% with Giuliani next at 25%). By the way, whoever wins that race, NewsFuture’s predictors give the Democrats a 65% change of winning in the fall. InTrade is more complex with lots of contracts that get a market value. For the nomination, Clinton’s contracts are on top at 56.8 over Obama at 40.8 and Edwards 1.5. For the November election, Clinton’s contracts are selling for 37.2 vs. Obama for 25.0, McCain 17.6, Giuliani 6.5, Huckabee 4.4, Edwards 0.5.

* Odds: Linesmaker‘s rundown in another market: Clinton 7-5, Obama 2-1, McCain 7-2, Giuliani 8-1, Romney 15-1, Edwards 30-1, Thompson 50-1 — and Michael Bloomberg 5-1.

What other metrics do you know of and follow?

So what does all this tell us? Who the hell knows? The truth is that there is no reliable predictor — certainly not the polls. But there are many ways to try to sniff out trends and many ways to organize people to make those trends happen.

Obama, the internet victor?

I wonder whether, quietly, Barack Obama is to become the first candidate elected by the internet.

It’s not as if he has been all that aggressive in his internet strategy. That is, he has been no more and probably less disruptive in his online tactics than Howard Dean was. But I wonder whether it is the internet that has brought together the factors that are making him victorious.

First, the higher turnout among young people in Iowa — and, it appears, New Hampshire — is being credited as a key factor in his win(s). It has been said plenty of times that young people may get excited about a candidate but they don’t show up. Now they’re showing up, not only to vote but to jam public events that show the mo’. What’s different this time? It could be some magic potion of Obama as Pied Piper, but I think the change may well be the internet. He spoke to young people on their turf and they responded. They made it a point to befriend the bejesus out of him on MySpace and Facebook — they made that their own crusade — and I think media and political strategists thought that was cute but didn’t understand the full power and impact of that. It’s significant that one of Obama’s advisers is a founder of Facebook, Chris Hughes.

This leads to the second factor: the organizing power of the internet. To hell with the phone bank and campaign office downtown. And to heck with rallies, for that matter. The internet is the greatest organizational tool ever and both the campaign — and, importantly, the citizens themselves — used it to organize supporters to get out and support.

Third, of course, is money: It’s not just that Obama raised a helluva lot of money. It’s far more important, of course, that he raised it from a helluva lot of people. But what’s really important in that is that those people felt invested in Obama and his campaign. Yes, he got lots of money to pay for commercials. But what he really got was citizens with an equity stake in his victory. That wasn’t being done before Howard Dean showed how to raise money online and Obama made brilliant use of it.

There are, of course, other factors. The fact that older voters — like me — are the ones favoring Clinton shows that we hold nostalgia for the Clinton years, but young people have no fond memories of the era; they’re too young. I thought that Clinton ran a flawless campaign at the start but now it turns out to be flawed. I do think the media have from the start made Obama their darling and the mo’ was there for him to grab. See my post in April showing how the coverage of him was out of proportion to the polls. You could argue that the media were merely more in touch than the polls but I don’t think so; I believe Obama’s rise became a self-fulfilling prophecy that only he could screw up — and he didn’t.

It would be unwise to count Clinton out yet. She is smart and experienced and tenacious. And Obama is inexperienced and can mess this up. But as a Clinton supporter, I’ll concede the trajectory here.

My point is that as we analyze this fairly incredible and rabid shift in power between the two candidates, I haven’t heard the internet being given the credit I think it may deserve. And that’s not because he ran the campaign on the internet; no one will call him the internet candidate. It’s because he used it to speak to the right people and in ways that weren’t noticed or understood by big media. What do you think?

Myhoo

I am fascinated by the speculation/rumor, which Staci Kramer so ably sums up, that News Corp would sell/merge MySpace into Yahoo for 25 percent of the company while Yahoo — now Myhoo — would outsource its search business to Google, probably making more in search than it could on its own. (More from this Times and that Times.)

This could be a brilliantly cagey move even for brilliantly cagey Murdoch, for it gives him an at-least 20x return on his MySpace investment in only two years ($580 million for MySpace now bringing in more than $10 billion in Yahoo equity) and gets him out of managing MySpace, which could be tough as Facebook gains speed. (Murdoch also becomes the rescuer — depending on your perspective — of old-media companies from Wall Street to Silicon Valley — Dow Jones and Yahoo both being old-media. But note that he was still too smart to buy newspaper empire Tribune Company; that’s just too old.)

For Yahoo, this would focus them, I believe, as a social media company. They’d be out of the search business. They’d still have services — email, Flickr, Del.icio.us, chat, personalization, rss — but those should become aps in a larger social world of MySpace and beyond. Their content could also become modules to be distributed socially. So suddenly what I said yesterday doesn’t sound so crazy:

OK, here’s what I’d do with Yahoo: I’d pull a reverse Facebook, a Zuckerberg with a twist. Facebook opened itself up as a platform for people to come in and do things there. I’d open up Yahoo as a platform for people to export instead. I would turn absolutely every — every — piece of Yahoo into a widget any of us could export and use on our own sites. I’d take all the functionality there and enable people to enrich their own sites, to build on top of it. . . .

I would argue that this would not work if you could do all this only at Myhoo. We should be able to use these widgets anywhere — on our blogs, on major news sites now needing to focus on what they do best, on our own local social networks, on advertisers’ sites, even: anywhere. This becomes Yahoo turned inside out, the exploded portal. It is CBS’ audience network, user-as-distributor strategy to its limit. It takes Google’s strategy of turning itself into aps and widgets (a la AdSense) that can be used anywhere and one-ups them. You see, all this is possible as soon as Yahoo widgetizes itself to be used on MySpace; then those widgets can — or should — be used anywhere. So this becomes Yahoo’s own answer to the question: WWGD? This also starts to show Google’s limits: It doesn’t own social as it owns search and advertising. Orkut didn’t work (outside India and Brazil). Facebook and MySpace are ahead and they fight it out to be the organizer of people and our connections.

The odds of this happening: about 0.1 percent. News Corp. could be nimble enough to pull it off. But Yahoo is, witness the peanut-butter manifesto, just too large and lumbering and, well, old, at 14 years of age, to move decisively. But that was fun to contemplate anyway.

Yahoo’s big mistake

Yahoo made the mistake too many other media companies made: It thought that the internet was a medium. It’s not. The internet is a place. It’s a means, not a medium.

I’ve said it often before and I’ll say in once more: Yahoo is the last old-media company. It controlled content — made or licensed — and spent money to market to bring people in to see it and then forced ads down their eyeballs until they left. Meanwhile, Google distributed itself anywhere and everywhere. The ad on this page is the pioneering commercial widget of the internet; it makes this page part of Google without Google having to make, market, or pay for it. Google is a platform. Yahoo is a portal. Google is a network. Yahoo is a destination. Google is a tool. Yahoo is a thing.

Yahoo hired a media man in Terry Semel and he gave them just what they wanted, the two legs of his old business’ stool: content and distribution. Listen to him here, two years ago:

Yahoo ‘is all about content,” he says. . . . He says media companies should look to Yahoo as a distribution platform.

I’ve also said this, too, before and will say it once more: We debated for decades whether content or distribution was king but it turns out that neither is. The community is the kingdom. The question companies should be asking on the internet — the question Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg answered — is what they can do to help that community do what it wants to do. Zuckerberg thinks of Facebook not as a media or content company but as a software company. Software enables us.

So now Semel is out as CEO. He took Yahoo from its first life as a directory and did, indeed, turn it into a media company with considerable traffic and real ad sales — that was his job and he did it well. But that wasn’t sufficient. Being a media company isn’t sufficient. Semel couldn’t get Yahoo into the next life. Oh, yes, he bought Flickr and Del.icio.us and OddPost, in the hopes that you could buy some Web 2.0 and it would average out the 1.0 in you. But all that does is get you to 1.1. It takes more than that.

So now Jerry Yang is in charge. I met him years ago, in the early days of Yahoo, in a business meeting, and he said then that Yahoo’s job was to get you in and out of the service — and onto what you really wanted — as soon as possible. Well, that sure changed. In the Semel era, and even before, the job became to get you in and keep you in as long as possible.

But the job should have nothing to do with getting us to Yahoo. It should be about Yahoo getting itself to us. Can Yahoo — can Yang — blow itself up and splatter across the web, a la Google? I don’t know. I fear that Yahoo is just the next AOL: the next has-been. Now you may say to me, well, Jeff, you talk about the web being about tools, functionality, and community, and doesn’t that describe AOL at its height? Yes, except that AOL didn’t see that as its business; that was just the cherry on the sundae and the ice cream to them was distribution: a closed network. Again, AOL, thought like a media company, only the other half of media: more distribution than content. AOL never knew where its real value lay. It was in the people. The community. I said long ago that if AOL cut itself up and let us all use and even pay for any part of it, it could have exploded. Instead, it demanded that we come into its closed world. And it failed. I stopped using AOL a decade ago because I had so many other, better, more open alternatives.

I haven’t used Yahoo either in ages, maybe years. I complained that they shut off my email and killed my identity — my identity — because I didn’t follow their rules and use it enough. I can’t remember the last time I went to Yahoo. And it didn’t come to me. When I last tried to use Flickr they yelled at me for not having a Yahoo identity (well, I would have one if you hadn’t killed it). I don’t need Yahoo. It needs me.

What would I do with Yahoo? I’d probably sell it. Just as newspaper companies are now huddling with their former enemies, Monster and Hot Jobs, so may media companies want to take over Yahoo and grow old together. Microsoft never could figure out its media strategy — when it never should have wanted one; it should have been the company to figure out the web of tools first — and so they could stumble off together, blind leading blind. AOL and Yahoo might as well merge. Cable companies might forestall their fate as closed networks while playing with Yahoo; spurned by TV networks now distributing themselves freely online, the MSOs need a younger wife. But all that only forestalls the inevitable shrinkage of Yahoo as a media entity.

OK, here’s what I’d do with Yahoo: I’d pull a reverse Facebook, a Zuckerberg with a twist. Facebook opened itself up as a platform for people to come in and do things there. I’d open up Yahoo as a platform for people to export instead. I would turn absolutely every — every — piece of Yahoo into a widget any of us could export and use on our own sites. I’d take all the functionality there and enable people to enrich their own sites, to build on top of it. . . .

On second thought . . . naw, nevermind . . .

A question for the candidates

Here’s my question for the candidates in the CNN/YouTube Democrats’ debate:

I say I’m worried about the digital divide — between America and the world. The U.S. has fallen to 25th place in broadband penetration worldwide. Our broadband access costs, on average, 12 times more than Japan’s and 7 times more than South Koreas, yet Japan’s is 12 times faster than ours and Korea’s 9.5 times faster. So I ask the candidates: Will you pledge today to assure all Americans affordable — open — high-speed internet access and how will you do it? This is a necessity for our economy, education, culture, and future.