Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Search Insider: What I Learned On My Summer Spin Vacation

What I Learned On My Summer Spin Vacation

THE LONGEST VACATION I'VE TAKEN was my summer trip contributing to MediaPost's Online Spin. Over the past three months, I explored the jungles of the elusive SearchMonkey, went shopping for precious Chrome, and tried to avoid coming down with a nasty case of Jewdar. If you haven't checked out Spin, here's a chance to catch up. If you've been reading all along, this includes some updates and reflection on what happened, so it's not your typical highlight reel.


June 12 - "The Customization Conundrum": When will consumers go through the effort to customize their digital media experience? I threw out a couple examples, such as the daily utility provided by Firefox add-ons and the social currency gained by customizing social network profiles. With Yahoo's enhanced search listing program dubbed SearchMonkey, I mentioned "the payoff isn't worth the effort" due to the several redundant steps users needed to take to activate it. Yahoo listened, in a big way (though I'm not taking the credit here). Not only did they start making SearchMonkey listings automatic for certain publishers, but on their blog they even referenced my presentation available on Slideshare, even though my presentation was highly critical of their initial rollout. This was one of the best, quickest turnarounds from a search engine.

June 19 - "Botox Season on the Web": A number of major sites got facelifts over the summer. MySpace added more room for high impact sponsorships on its homepage. Facebook unveiled a cleaner design with more ad space on the side and tabbed profile pages, which has riled some of its users who are organizing around a petition (now 800,000 strong) to allow the option of keeping the old layout. I joked that the Twitter Fail Whale on its "over capacity" error page became its new homepage, though the past couple months have been good to Twitter with tremendously improved reliability, nearing 100%. The biggest and surprisingly prescient review was of Firefox 3. With its "awesome bar," direct navigation is so much easier that I wondered if it would lead to its users searching less often. I noted, "Google has been promoting Firefox aggressively; if this [drop in searching] takes hold, will Google reconsider?" Ironically, Google's Chrome browser removes the search box entirely and makes direct navigation even easier with its "omnibar." Read more in the Aug. 7 recap.

June 26 - "Ten Questions Not to Ask a Social Media Panel": I managed to dig into panel moderators, conference attendees, and Joe Jaffe, and instead of getting any hate mail, Jaffe's entirely family wrote me thanking me for it. Read these questions and see if they come up at the Social Ad Summit or OMMA Global next week, and you'll know how to answer them. July 3-17 - The Facebook Trilogy: Following the week of July 4's quiz "Which Facebook App Are You?" (I bet you didn't know about Osama Bin Laden's development startup App Qaeda), the next two columns tackled the social network's spurious ad targeting. First, "Stop Calling Me Fat, Facebook" discussed spammy ads that degraded the quality of the site. Then in "The Chutzpah of Facebook's Jewdar," I wondered how an advertiser knew I was Jewish (was it Jewhavioral targeting?), and it turned out they were casting a really wide net -- and getting some hate mail in the process. While Facebook has been trying to crack down on irrelevant and offensive ads (consumers can even give ads a thumbs up or thumbs down and note why they're rating that ad), problems remain, as noted in this month's Washington Post article "Facebook Ads Target You Where It Hurts" which ran seven weeks after the "Fat" MediaPost column came out.

July 24 - "Kiss Your Registered Users Goodbye": The preview of Facebook Connect showed some major tradeoffs publishers will need to consider. Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect could prove to be two of the biggest bombshells for digital media when they roll out, so bookmark this one for later.

July 31 - "Do We Need Another...": A month before Chrome came out, I questioned the need for an entirely new web browser. Chrome still has issues, and I defaulted back to Firefox within 24 hours of working on Chrome, but Google makes a strong case that we'd benefit from an alternative.

Aug. 7 - "Pinning the Tail on the Googoliath Killer": What's a four-letter word for flameout? In the search space, it's spelled "Cuil." While I dismissed the notion of another search engine taking out Google overnight, I showed how Firefox 3's "awesome bar" could be a surprise Google killer, reducing consumers' dependence on searching. That means that with Google Chrome's "omnibar," Google has a great shot at being the Google killer. Meanwhile, it's funny looking back on this and seeing I wrote three columns on web browsers BEFORE Google came out with Chrome.

Aug. 28 - After another lighter column, "Dream Jobs for Social Media Junkies," and a week off for a real summer vacation, I looked at Zannel as an example of how mobile publishing is proliferating in "One Small Asterisk, One Leap for Digital Media." Mobile publishing offers immediacy, efficiency, portability, and increasingly always-on Web access, making a case for mobile devices to become the most widely used content creation technology since the invention of the ballpoint pen.

Sept. 4 - : In the fourth column this summer on web browsers, Chrome stole headlines, but Picasa Web's take on facial recognition could have a major impact on image search, and consumers are already conducting their own cost-benefit analysis of utility vs. potential privacy concerns.

Okay, so it wasn't a typical summer vacation, but it was a reliably atypical summer for digital media. It's good to be back at Search Insider headquarters; let's keep the conversations going.

David Berkowitz is director of emerging media and client strategy at 360i. You can reach him at dberkowitz@360i.com, and you can read his blog at MarketersStudio.com.

Search Insider for Tuesday, September 9, 2008:

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