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48 posts from January 2007

Google vs. Search Wikia: The Next Bout?

Arm_wrestlingBambi Francisco is right.  Relevance always has, still does and will forever rule.  Nothing new there, but what will be new some time in the future is the use of wikis as the backbone of search rather than Google and their ever-changing algorithms.

You're using the wikipedia today to solve some of your search needs?  You're not alone.  But what's going to change is where the wikipedia goes from a community-driven encyclopedia to something much more flexible and powerful for other types of searches. Or at least that's my hope for the Search Wikia project that's still apparently only in the design stages.

I realize the print encyclopedia is only useful for certain types of research; you have to look elsewhere for the answers to certain questions.  That's not going to change on the print side.  That's also the case today for the wikipedia; Google and other resources offer better solutions.  The difference is that the wikipedia can evolve but the printed encyclopedia can't. As the number of wikipedia entries grows, it starts to offer the types of answers that can't be found in a print encyclopedia.  Plus, I think it's a safe bet that the Search Wikia project won't just be using the wikipedia content as is.  If they're smart, they'll be able to tailor the results based on the request and not just dump a bunch of article links at you.

Here's a really simple example...  Let's say you want to know how old George Washington was when he died.  Do a Google search and you get these results.  The answer isn't there, but it's just a click or two away.  Why doesn't Google open the results page with the actual answer to my question?!  Why?  Because that's not how Google's search tool is built and therefore how our expectations have been set. (I'm sure would get the job done, but who uses ask?!)

The Search Wikia folks should be able to use all that content in the wikipedia and just give you back what you need.  Sure, they'll provide additional links in the event your answer isn't right there at the top of the page, but hopefully they'll build a system that draws effectively, with a high degree of relevance, from the wikipedia itself.

So Google is the clear leader today, by far.  They've got the brand, and to be honest, because of how our expectations have been set, they generally deliver the goods.  But I'm starting to appreciate just how much better the search experience could be with Search Wikia and I can't wait to try it out.

Microsoft's Wikipedia Debacle

WikipediaEveryone is apparently up in arms about Microsoft's Wikipedia scandal.  I don't get it.  Sure, I can see where paid posts can create problems, but isn't that just part of the risk of having such an open, community-driven resource?  Everyone is free to contribute, edit, etc., so why should paid posts be eliminated?  Isn't the community also there to help police itself?

If you're really going to diligently try to eliminate this sort of activity, where do you draw the line?  It's apparently taboo to hire someone to write or edit an entry so that it's more in line with your company's point of view.  So Microsoft can't pay me a flat fee to do the job.  Does that mean that a Microsoft employee is also forbidden from doing it?  If so, does that then mean all Microsoft employees are forbidden to touch any Wikipedia entry that has anything to do with Microsoft?  Gee, when does the book-burning rally start?...

P.S. -- Let it be noted that (for perhaps the first time on this blog) I'm not piling onto Microsoft regarding an issue they're taking a lot of heat from everyone else on...


WikileaksI just read this article...  Why do I feel like this Wikileaks idea is a train wreck just waiting to happen?  I think it's a wonderful idea in the sense that maybe, just maybe it will hinder oppression somewhere in the world.  But I also wonder how much misinformation is going to appear, get edited, disappear, etc.

That's the nature of wikis, right?  Sometimes errors are posted and, as the article says, they "will rely on the global community to police the material."  That sounds good in theory, but how many angry employees are going to start posting all sorts of half-truths about their boss or the company they work for?  How long will many of those posts sit unedited, all because someone thought they could really spread the rumors under a cloak of secrecy?  How long will it take for the first company to track an employee's browser history or use some other means to pinpoint the post to them?

Google eBooks

Google_2Here's an interesting story on a not-so-secret ebook initiative that may or may not be happening at Google.  (Are there enough disclaimers in that statement?...)

Does it make sense for Google to consider creating an ebook distribution platform?  Absolutely, assuming they work out the rights, revenue split, etc., issues with all the IP owners.  But what's missing in all of this?  How about a truly useful device?  After all, Amazon and others have been selling ebooks for years and it hasn't moved the needle.  I don't think Google will make a big difference just because they offer a service...unless they add one or more new, compelling features (more in a moment).

The article mentions how you'd be able to read your ebooks on a portable device, such as a Blackberry.  I don't know about you, but I can't imagine reading too many books on my Blackberry.  On the other hand, I do see a way for Google to make a difference by approaching this from a more granular level.

What if you could buy pieces of books, just those chapters or elements that you really feel you need?  They mention a travel guide in the article. OK, you've made your flight and hotel reservations for your upcoming vacation and now you just want a lot of information on dining options in the area.  Would you be  likely to purchase just the restaurant section of a travel guide and use it on a portable device?  Yes, I could see using that on my Blackberry, but I wouldn't need the whole travel guide on it.

This is just one content example but I'm sure there are plenty of others.  It will be interesting to see if Google will invest the resources necessary to create a service that could change the playing field.

DRM Is Not the Answer

Lock_1Is there such a thing as the "perfect DRM system"?  I don't think so, and I'm not sure one will ever be developed.  By "perfect" I mean it's got to be totally transparent and allow the consumer to use the content on however many devices as they want. Up to now, the best DRM solutions have only been a nuisance and the worst have made your system vulnerable to hackers (see Sony).

The music industry is still trying to figure out how to protect its valuable IP and also get back onto a growth pattern.  It's great to hear some smart people weighing in on the subject in this cnet article.  Chris Anderson says that some form of piracy should simply be accepted.  Terry McBride talks about leveraging an affiliate program where community members would have an incentive to recommend track purchases.

As I see it, the fundamental economics have changed dramatically in the music business.  When I was growing up I had to pay full price for an album that contained two or three songs I really cared about.  Now you can buy just those two songs for 99 cents each on iTunes; what would have been a $12 transaction (more or less) is now less than two bucks.

But just how successful is iTunes?  For Apple, it's huge.  For the music industry, I can't imagine the news is very good.  Do the math.  Apple's own press release says 2 billion songs have been sold on iTunes.  This article says Apple has sold approximately 70 million iPods since the first model arrived back in October of 2001.  That means the typical iPod owner has only bought 20-30 songs from the entire time they've owned the device.  Back in the 1970's and '80's, when the record labels were all getting fat and happy, I was probably buying the equivalent of 20-30 songs every couple of weeks, and now that's all they can get from the average iPod owner in the device's life!  Yikes.

The "problem" here is that the labels used to have the upper hand.  They controlled everything.  You had to buy the whole lousy album just to get the one good track.  Now things have tilted back in favor of the consumer, some would argue too much in favor of the consumer.  With this new economic model though, labels have to adjust their financial expectations.  If a typical CD generated $X in the good old days, that same CD now only generates a fraction of $X.  I can't imagine anything taking us back to those good old days, fortunately; thanks to a more efficient distribution model, there are too many legal ways to get just the music you want, without having to pay for those tracks you don't care about.

So what does DRM have to do with this rant?  Since total revenue equals number of tracks sold times price charged per track, and price charged per track is held constant (and below 99 cents!), the only way to drive up revenue is to somehow get people to buy more tracks.  My gut tells me as long as DRM is part of the equation, the total number of tracks sold will always be artificially and unnecessarily low.  The labels need to figure out how to draw in new customers and get all their customers to explore new artists, new genres, new albums, etc.  They can accomplish this by:

  • encouraging exploration with even lower prices (yes, closer to zero than 99 cents),
  • offering more "all you can download" options with monthly subscription fees,
  • developing a solid affiliate program that not only encourages membership but also is so effective that it makes piracy seem silly,
  • thinking beyond the track itself (as the cnet article refers to, by adding value with videos, lyrics, etc.),
  • leverages innovative recommendation systems like Pandora's, and, most importantly,
  • abandons any/all types of least until it can be as transparent and consumer-friendly as it needs to be.

Legacy Content

Old_booksJoel Fugazzotto offers some thoughts on his blog about what publishers and authors could do to make out-of-print and other legacy content available.  This subject is also a subtopic within Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture, which I reviewed and recommended earlier.

Joel's point is valid.  There's no reason for anyone (publisher/author) to sit on old content, especially since someone somewhere could probably benefit from access to it.  In some respects, that's a problem Google no doubt hopes to eventually address with their Book Search service.

It becomes a thorny issue though as print-on-demand (POD) is becoming more and more popular.  Publishers who previously would have been willing to let a book go out-of-print and revert rights to authors now see POD as a way to squeeze every last bit of revenue from the long tail.  Individual titles may not cast off a lot of POD revenue but the income level can become significant when you have a very large list of titles contributing to it.

What to do?  I think this has to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.  As a publisher, if I feel I can still generate a reasonable amount of income off an old title via POD, and therefore it should also continue to generate some income for the author, I generally want to hang onto it and the associated rights.  That said, I'm also sensitive to an author's needs and interests and have certainly reverted rights on plenty of books over the years.

If you're an author who has a "legacy content" situation with a publisher, my advice is to hook up with your editor/publisher and discuss the options.  Don't just let the content sit.  For all you know, they might not even have explored POD as a solution for your book yet!

The BBC on YouTube

Bbc2The BBC has long been regarded as an operation that "gets" the web and knows how to successfully leverage it. This article (free registration required) shows how the BBC is quickly figuring out how to work with Google/YouTube so that everyone benefits.  Let's hope ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox figure out how to follow the BBC's lead some day.  Rather than getting litigious or forcing YouTube to pull clips off the site, why not sit down and figure out how to create a win-win model?  And please don't think for a moment that you (ABC/CBS/NBC/Fox) will figure out how to build a better YouTube of your own!

I just hope this deal will turn out to be something more significant than short snippets of content.  I don't think  teasers like that will work; they've got to be complete segments to attract viewers and keep them engaged.

That reminds me of Google Video's original announcement of their relationship with the NHL.  The NHL's original press release made it sound like live games will be available on Google with a "delay".  I was totally into that idea, especially now that the NHL has virtually disappeared from my cable TV options.  As it turns out, it's just highlights and archived games from weeks ago; a quick search of Google Video today turns up zero games from the month of January!  Apparently the NHL's definition of "delay" (weeks) is different than mine (minutes).  My guess is the traffic hasn't lived up to the original hopes, which is too bad, given how tough it must be to rebuild their fan base after that ugly strike.

The RIAA Is Living In the Past

Old_radioSee that old radio next to this post?  It reminds me of a simpler time.  I'm sure it does the same for the RIAA.  That's one organization that probably wishes technology never would have advanced beyond the 1940's levels.  They once again proved they have their heads in the sand with this complaint against XM Radio.

I own an XM device that allows me to record and play back songs.  It's one of the reasons I bought the radio.  The RIAA no doubt wants to squeeze more royalty payments from XM.  Fine.  Go work out a deal.  But don't be so greedy that you kill what little momentum satellite radio currently enjoys.

FWIW, I also have a DVR connected to my TV.  I use it to save shows and watch them later.  I guess if the RIAA could somehow encroach on that territory they'd push for higher fees from cable companies, making DVRs a less attractive option.  Brilliant.

Just to be clear, when I save songs on my portable XM device they're only playable as long as I continue to pay the monthly XM fee.  It's not like I can record 50 hours of my favorite songs in one month, quit the subscription and keep the songs!  Again, I'm sure this all revolves around the labels wanting a bigger cut; otherwise they'd be going after Sirius for their similar device and those other online music services with an "all you can eat" download option.  I also don't leave the downloaded songs on there indefinitely.  I tend to record, listen, delete and start the process over again by recording new songs.  I already have a dedicated MP3 player with my entire CD collection on it.  I don't need the XM device to serve that role, which it would do a poor job of since it only holds 50 hours of recordings! Instead, I use it as a way to simulate a live radio broadcast when I'm on a plane or out of reach from the XM signal.  It's really not that big a deal, and I suspect most other users tend to follow the same record-listen-delete-re-record process I go through.

When was the last time that artificial technical restrictions and/or higher fees like this helped anyone but the greedy content owners?  I wonder what these RIAA geniuses will do to stunt HD Radio's growth rate as it starts to become more popular...

LibraryThing: 2, Shelfari: 0

LibrarythingOn second thought, I'm not quite ready to switch from LibraryThing to Shelfari.  Yes, the latter's interface is slick, but one two key features is are missing.

First up, is the Amazon Associate functionality.  LibraryThing lets you use your own Associate ID, which means you get credit for any sales resulting from your links.  As near as I can tell, Shelfari uses their own ID and there's apparently no way to override it.  Bad idea.

Secondly, although Shelfari does indeed allow you to import your titles from LibraryThing (or any other service that exports to tab-delimited files), it ignores the review link field.  That's one of the things I like best about LibraryThing: they let me point to my review of the book through their service.  Shelfari apparently doesn't handle this through the import process and there's no way I'm going to manually enter all those links again!  (Btw, LibraryThing includes the links in the export file, so they're available if Shelfari should choose to use them.)

So although I liked what I saw initially in this quick look at Shelfari, I'm sticking with LibraryThing for now.

UPDATE: The score now stands: LibraryThing: 2, Shelfari: 1.  Mark Williamson of Shelfari has pointed out that I missed the Advanced tab options during the import phase.  There's an option on that tab that lets you use your Amazon Associate ID, not Shelfari's.  I still miss the review link feature though...

Secrets of Online Persuasion, by John-Paul and Deborah Micek

Secrets_of_online_persuasionJP and Deborah Micek are the founders of a business consultancy that specializes in generating results from online initiatives.  They've taken their years of experience and squeezed it into this 300-page book, Secrets of Online Persuasion.  Great title, and they deliver on the promise.

If you're already blogging and looking for some tips on more effective ways to appeal to your target audience, this is the book for you.  Because the Micek's do such a nice job of covering the basics of new media marketing tools though, I think this book is perfectly appropriate for the total novice as well.

A key premise of the book is that traditional marketing, or interruption marketing, is dead (or at least dying very quickly).  Regarding your target audience, the authors suggest it's wrong to "find ways to circumvent their defenses."  Rather, they note how you need "to get them to open the door and invite you in through influence, persuasion, and trust."  Think about some of the most successful word-of-mouth brands out there and, of course, that's how they built momentum.

After answering a series of questions that help determine what results you want from your blog, the book goes on to lay out the framework for what the authors refer to as "tribal marketing."  I found the chapter on how to "influence the influencers" to be one of the most interesting ones.  This is where the authors present four different types of communication styles, or codes.  It's important to know your own code as well as the code of the person you're trying to influence.  In the few days since I read this part I've tried to keep what I learned in mind as I'm talking to certain people; I think it really can make a difference in how you communicate, especially in tough situations.