+-ing Google+

Wired offers an interesting perspective on Why Google+ Pages (Will) Beat Facebook, and Twitter.

Google+ Pages are where businesses interact with web denizens on the cutting edge of net technology, and Facebook is where you interact with everyone else. Facebook boasts 800 million users, while Google claims 40 million. Google’s limited audience isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For now, Plus streams generally contain “non-frivolous” information. A company’s message isn’t lost amid a sea of random pictures and cat videos. Of course, this may change. But more importantly, Google integrates Plus into its web-dominating search engine . . . This is where Google will have an advantage over Facebook: With a broad array of services like search and Gmail and Chrome and Android, Google offers tools that are fundamental to the online lives of so many people — and these can be tied to Google+. As Google+ evolves, Google will have the means to promote its social network — and the branded Pages within it — in ways that Facebook or Twitter cannot.

Google & Innovation

Gems gleaned from Google’s recent Think Quarterly-The Innovation Issue:

  • Spark_with_imagination, fuel_with_data–Google Search user said they wanted 30 results per page but actual tests showed they preferred 10 results per page.  “[P]roviding 30 results was 20 percent slower than providing 10, and what users really wanted was speed. That’s the beautiful thing about data – it can either back up your instincts or prove them totally wrong.” Susan Wojcicki, The Eight Pillars of Innovation
  • Credible Mass.  “The insights of how many people like something aren’t enough. The credible mass will help us curate with a greater sense of credibility by tapping the insight of experts.”  Scott Belsky, Favorite Innovations
  • The Internet of Things. “[Embedding the web in things will] be most exciting when it’s not the expected stuff like consumer electronics, air quality monitoring or the dreaded internet fridge. It’ll be bottom-up innovation, when we stick some intelligence and connectivity in our saltcellars, our picture frames and our hats. Not because we have an overwhelming reason to do so but because we might as well, because it’s getting easier.” Russell Davies, Practical Magic

We’ve Been Here Before

Abracadabra! Magic Trumps Math at Web Start-Ups in today’s New York Times explores the use by start-up online businesses of “nonstandard accounting metrics”–tools for measuring economic viability of companies that appear non-viable when viewed through traditional valuation methods.  Anyone old enough to remember the web bubble of a decade ago recalls “concepts like ‘eyeballs’ and ‘mindshare'” (as the article notes), new metrics that reflected the fundamental change in the nature of business wrought by c-commerce.  But the Internet did not change the fundamental nature of business.  Start-ups today are not exactly like start-ups in 1999-2001, but their differences don’t mean investors should uncritically embrace these new valuation methods.  That Amazon established itself with years of huge marketing costs does not mean that spending more to acquire each customer than they spend is the path to e-commerce success.  If it takes more than 90 seconds to understand a company’s business plan, be wary.

Power of the Press

Last fall the New York Times reported on the abusive tactics of DecorMyEyes.com, seller of designer eyeglass frames.  The site’s owner, Vitaly Borker, intentionally practiced horrible customer service, figuring that customer complaints on online consumer advocacy sites would raise his site’s profile–more mentions of the company’s name, more links to the site, more buzz for search engines to pick up–and generate more business.  His insight was true, for a while.  Google’s search algorithms did not adequately distinguish between positive and negative references to a site, so any press was good press.  Until it wasn’t.  The Times reported that when one customer complained about receiving counterfeit frames and said she’d call her credit card company after the site refused to resolve the problem, someone identified as Mr. Russo said

“Listen, bitch,  . . . I know your address. I’m one bridge over” — a reference, it turned out, to the company’s office in Brooklyn. Then, she said, he threatened to find her and commit an act of sexual violence too graphic to describe in a newspaper.

The Times reported that the site’s campaign of threats, retaliatory lawsuits, and harassment continued for months.  Borker freely admitted what he did:  “I’ve exploited this opportunity because it works. No matter where they post their negative comments, it helps my return on investment. So I decided, why not use that negativity to my advantage?”

Here’s why not.  The Times story prompted Google to revise its algorithm to prevent this type of gaming, and prompted law enforcement to investigate Borker’s practices and bring criminal charges.  A few weeks ago the Times reported that Borker pleaded guilty “to two counts of sending threatening communications, one count of mail fraud and one count of wire fraud.”  He’ll be sentenced on September 16.  Under federal sentencing guidelines he could receive 5-6.5 years; his lawyer expects a sentence of 12-18 months.  Another case in which the Internet amplifies the consequences of stupidity/a failed moral compass/poor judgment.

TMI

To me it sounds like a version of hell, but as reported by the NY Times there’s a growing market for “automatically tracking personal browsing histories for public viewing.”  Dscover.me let’s users “[a]utomagically [sic, and yuck] share what you’re up to on the web with friends and followers in real-time. Discover what your network is viewing online and see what you’ve been missing out on!”  Sitesimon.com let’s you “share your clickstream automatically using our browser add-on.”

Does no one have a filter?  Can anyone think for themselves?  I come across lots of new sites.  I share maybe 1 in 50 if it offers a uniquely helpful service, and then only with a few people.

I hate the concept.  I’m sure it will be successful.

New EU Data Privacy Law

U.S. lawmakers dither over new, stricter laws governing online data tracking.  Meanwhile, a EU privacy directive which goes into effect on May 25 requires EU websites to obtain “explicit consent” from users to gather online browsing and shopping data.  Excluded are cookies tracking items placed in website shopping baskets; otherwise, based on this article, the consent directive is comprehensive.  Websites are determining what steps are necessary to comply with the law.  One possible result is “that after 25 May, users see many more pop-up windows and dialogue boxes asking them to let sites gather data.”

Black Hat SEO

Last Sundays NYTimes ran great story about the “dirty little secrets” of search optimization.  Curious about J.C. Penny’s remarkably high-ranking  during the holiday shopping season for a variety of searches (<grommet top curtains>?) the Times engaged an online search expert to figure out why.   His conclusion:  it was “‘Actually, it’s the most ambitious attempt I’ve ever heard of. This whole thing just blew me away. Especially for such a major brand. You’d think they would have people around them that would know better.”  Someone–not it, said J.C. Penney, which fired its SEO consultant–“paid to have thousands of links placed on hundreds of sites scattered around the Web, all of which lead directly to JCPenney.com.”    Said the Times, “[w]hen you read the enormous list of sites with Penney links, the landscape of the Internet acquires a whole new topography. It starts to seem like a city with a few familiar, well-kept buildings, surrounded by millions of hovels kept upright for no purpose other than the ads that are painted on their walls.”

millions of hovels kept upright for no purpose other than the ads that are painted on their walls–cyberspace, John Perry Barlow’s “new home of Mind,” circa 2011.

Court Enjoins Colorado Ecommerce Reporting Law

Last year Colorado passed a law requiring retailers who do not collect Colorado sales and use taxes to–

  1. “notify Colorado customers that the customer is required to pay use tax on the purchase;
  2. send an annual statement to each Colorado customer, summarizing the customer’s total annual purchases from the e-tailer; and
  3. file an annual information report with the Colorado Department of Revenue showing the total amount of sales made to each customer in Colorado.”

Colorado could then use this information to monitor residents’ compliance with state laws requiring reporting and payment of use taxes.  E-Commerce Times reports that the Direct Marketing Association challenged the sale on the grounds that it discriminates against out-of-state retailers and burdens interstate commerce.  Last month a federal court in Denver issued a preliminary injunction preventing the state from enforcing the law until its validity can be determined at trial.