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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Marissa Mayer Leaving Google? Don't Laugh

There are reports that Marissa Mayer is leaving Google. Barry Schwartz commented briefly about it today on SearchEngineLand and he points to a report coming from Valleywag yesterday. I've heard Mayer speak at Search Engine Strategies (SES) San Jose in August of 2007 where I took a few photographs of her conversation with Danny Sullivan, below. (Click the image for more photos)


She seemed personable and intelligent there as she discussed Google search and displayed the iPhone interface on her phone. I've briefly mentioned her comments in a post on "previous Query Refinement" but don't recall hearing much from her elsewhere.

To get a better idea of what google is losing if she does indeed depart, I took a look at a video of her presentations at Google I/O Developer conference 2008. Here's that hour long presentation if you have time for it:

It's often odd to see executives leave successful companies, knowing that they have made major, substantial contributions to the shape of that success. The video above is a great way to become familiar with what Google is losing.

Gawker apparently wants to poke with the sharpest stick and they focus on her personal fortune as the 19th employee of the startup, fresh out of Stanford and her laugh! The laugh does surface a time or two in her I/O conference presentation above, but seems endearing and humanizing there.

Google is apparently about to lose a big talent. I've often wondered why people leave startups after they go public - those who help to build the vision over time. Sergei and Larry are clearly not serial entrepreneurs. They are staying. Is Mayer on the way out?

UPDATE: Turns out she isn't leaving. Still there as of April 1st. Maybe it was an early April fools joke played on Google by Valleywag?

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Microsoft / Yahoo Merger Off: Ballmer Walks Away

Well, it's over, thank goodness. Microsoft has walked away from their unsolicited bid for Yahoo. Whew! Deep sigh of relief from many Yahoo senior employees. But predictions are for an ugly day on Wall Street for Yahoo Monday morning - with a potential return by Microsoft with a lower bid after Yahoo tanks in the markets.

It's frustrating to those of us who love search to watch this epic battle, knowing that Microhoo may yet emerge from the burning embers. I commented in my last post that the Yahoo Open Strategy announced by Ari Balogh last week at Web 2.0 introduced some exciting prospects for the future of search if they can successfully pull it off and Microsoft doesn't win the merger through a lower offer and proxy battle. Well nobody has even commented in the news about the effect the YOS could have, not even Microsoft.

Maybe I'm way off base with this one, but I'm going to stick to my assertions until we see how this all shakes out. If Yahoo survives to stand on it's own and can put together the strategy for opening up their entire network to developers in a sweeping move like they've outlined - I predict that Yahoo could overtake Google in two years - but only if Google stands still and watches - which is not likely either.

Danny Sullivan has an excellent analysis and commentary on the Microsoft / Yahoo / Microhoo battle. I'm surprised that he didn't bring up Yahoo Open Strategy either - is it because nobody expects them to survive to see where that could take them? What if the merger happened - would Ballmer nix YOS?

I'm no Yahoo fan. I've disliked their strategy for years, I hate how they buy up companies and then kill them off or let them die within Yahoo, I can't believe they didn't leverage GeoCities and Yahoo Groups to become a social networking leader. I'm astonished that they aren't more profitable than they are because they emphasize monetization above audience satisfaction and utility. (Yahoo mail still doesn't allow pop access unless you pay for it when gmail allows this access, even using imap.) So I don't use my Yahoo mail account except to log in to the few services I use like MyBlogLog, Yahoo Groups and Flickr.

The public seems completely uninterested in the whole thing if Google Trends is any indication. The chart showing searches for the story and news stories seem to drive little interest. (click to enlarge)

Google Trends: yahoo, microsoft
Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!

Well - I will once again throw out a cautious cheer for Yahoo and hope that they survive the Wall Street rollercoaster to pursue Yahoo Open Strategy as it is their best hope for a true contribution to search. Without YOS - it's over for Yahoo IMHO.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Previous Query Refinement vs. Search Pollutants

This morning I saw a Danny Sullivan post from SMX Sydney after interviewed Google's VP of Search Products, Marissa Mayer during the SMX keynote. Sullivan emphasized the importance of Mayer's announcement that "Previous Query Refinement" is coming to web search - after that product had been tested in a limited way on Adwords ads only.

But then today Mediapost also wrote about search privacy concerns voiced by the Center for Digital Democracy in a complaint filed with the FTC back in November of 2006, brought to a head when public comment to FTC's proposed "voluntary guidelines" drew objections by all major players in "behavioral marketing" ad networks . According to MediaPost, Google's comments to the FTC, said:

"We are currently experimenting in our Search service with providing ads based on both the current query and the immediately previous search," Google wrote. "For example, a user who types 'Italy vacation' into the Google search box might see ads about Tuscany or affordable flights to Rome. If the user were to subsequently search for 'weather,' we might assume that there is a link between 'Italy vacation' and 'weather' and deliver ads regarding local weather conditions in Italy."

So while the two issues (web search and Adwords that appear beside those search results) would not BOTH be affected by the FTC "guidelines" it could mean that we would see better search results and worse ads if those "guidelines" are in any way enforced by the FTC against ads, but not natural algorithmic search results.

What an odd position to be in for a privacy advocate like me. While the search results are bound to be better when previous queries are factored into the algorithm, the ads may be off-limits to the same refinement. Hmmm.

A very funny kink in this story from MediaPost is the quote:

Google rival Microsoft, on the other hand, said it supports the FTC's goals and that the proposed guidelines should be extended "to include the full array of online advertising activities."

Umm, yea - poor search results, no worthwhile algorithm from the last place search company MSN Live - who would never use their latest $6 Billion acquisition, aQuantive, to serve behavioral advertising to anyone - right? aQuantive execs had to be moaning in pain when they saw their new parent making such statements.

It's bound to be an interesting decision with lawsuits flying in both directions from privacy advocates on one side and ad networks on the other after those "voluntary guidelines" from the FTC are finally handed down.

I really do believe the search results using "Previous Query Refinement" would be better in most cases, for most people. I'll probably like those results sometimes and hate them others. I'll love them when I search for "Restaurant, New York City" and then "Italian food, Theater District" but I'll absolutely hate those results when I'm researching "accounting software" client keywords and decide to switch to my "plastic surgeon" client keywords or a search for a local auto parts store right after doing a medical search query.

Do those of us who search constantly get different types of cookies served for "Previous Query Refinement" searches than say my wife who searches for things only after asking me a tough trivia question or home repair question and I say, "Why don't you Google it?" She does two searches a day at most and I do 50 to 100 daily. Will I need to disable cookies? Sign out of my Google personalized search? How will "Previous Query Refinement" distinguish between those of us who want Unpolluted search results and those who need a helping hand with "Query Refinement?"

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

SMX West Day 3: "Matt & Danny and Rand! Oh My!"

I'm just back from three days at SMX West in Santa Clara with an observation which has me puzzled, but one that comes down to my own quirk of valuing SEO topics over "SEO personalities." Over those three days, I overheard several groups of colleagues who had gathered around the large conference schedule boards to choose their next sessions.

One of these gatherings this afternoon had me wondering where people placed their priorities when two of those standing there chose which session they would attend by which SEO Rockstar was on the panel or by which SEO celebrity was speaking. "Matt Cutts is on that panel, I'm going to that one!" was the line that got me thinking about this. (Matt seems like a great guy, but why would I attend his session if he's talking about "linking" - really, how much more can be said about it?)

I chose a great session with Shari Thurow and Lance Loveday on "SEO and Usability" and came away with some great insights and valuable case studies to quote to my clients when they insist on elements that look pretty, but suck for SEO value. While it's great to get authoritative answers on things that matter to your business or your SEO passions, I don't recall ever having chosen even one of the three hundred or so conference sessions (over the eight years I've attended SEO shows) with the criteria of celebrity - I choose them based on the topic of discussion.

This habit has left me more than annoyed several times when the title of the session was a bit misleading - but I continue to choose based on the topic, rather than the speakers. I've also missed wonderful sessions because someone wanted to be "creative" rather than descriptive, something I somehow believe wouldn't happen at an SEO conference.

This morning I missed one I would have loved to attend called "Industrial Strength SEO" which was about SEO for large enterprise sites, not power plants and sewage treatment SEO. This is one case where knowing Marshall Simmonds (SEO for New York Times/ Primedia) was a speaker would have been worth knowing as I would have recognized the reason for that silly title. New York SES last year called this session "BIG SEO" which was a bit clearer. Grrrrr. (Yes I could have looked at the show guide book, but I wasn't carrying it - please guys, pretend you're optimizing your conference schedule, will ya?

Another item had me scratching my head as well when I saw that you could purchase a "Networking Only Pass" for $250, which let you into cocktail receptions, parties and other non-conference events. That pass comes with two drink tickets and permission to stand in a room with a few hundred strangers munching pretzels while holding a drink in one hand and business cards in the other. (I wonder if I could "rent" my "All Access" pass to someone for those events, since I always leave? Hmmm.)

I just don't get it, but props to Third Door Media for recognizing that people will pay good money for this. ;-) While there is no doubt that networking can be valuable, I'm a bit confused as to the value of networking with your competitors. Don't get me wrong, please. I think that Rand Fishkin, Danny Sullivan, and Lee Odden are probably all great guys, as a matter of fact, I think, based on things I've read on their blogs (and SEO Podcasts) that I'd probably be honored to call each of them friends - but they surely have plenty of friends already and I just can't imagine wading through the adoring fans to say hi. I probably have more in common with Kim Berg of Cre8pc who said:

"I’m goofy. I’m terrible with names. I’m shy and uncomfortable in crowds until I get a sense of the place."
It all comes down to personality I guess. I like it quiet while I'm working, I don't party and I've NEVER approached a speaker after a session unless I had something of value to offer them

I have approached precisely three speakers after conference sessions in eight years of attending - to trade business cards and then I've called each of them afterward on business.

There are those of us who love SEO work and love to discuss it with the odd friend or two willing to hear about the value of robots.txt auto-discovery of xml sitemaps. I am not like Shoemoney, who recently told the world, "I do not like 95% of SEO's" - because I actually do very much like most SEO's, but not because they are famous to a couple of thousand other SEO's. I like SEO's because they are usually very smart and interesting people.

Then there are those who worship at the feet of celebrity.

You have probably guessed that I don't watch the Oscars and can't name more than a dozen or so movie stars, but I still watch movies. I tend to choose those movies I watch based on the genre, good critical reviews or by the subject of a good documentary - NOT the BIG names on the marquee - go figure. Probably why I don't read people magazine or ask SEO Celebrities to pose for a photo with me.

PS: GREAT show Chris and Danny! Though I'm sure you don't know me from Adam, (no not Adam Lasnik - Adam the cliche) if you see this blog post, I want you to know that I chose this show and got more from it than from SES New York last year and won't be going to New York for that show next week. I also attended SMX local and Mobile in Denver and loved that one too. I wish I could attend SMX Seattle in June, but the conference budget is blown for this year. The program gripes are minor and I have nothing but praise for the line-up of speakers and their topics. Damn! Shari, can you teach SMX about conference schedule usability? ;-)

ADDED 3-2-08: After a bit of discussion over at Sphinn about this post, there's one thing I wanted to add to this post on further reflection. I've probably already over-thought this, but had another insight about SEO celebrities and star quality. I will admit that there is one time at conferences that I will attend in large part due to who is speaking, and regardless of the topic.

Keynote presentations are put forward by conference organizers as a high point, emphasizing that everyone should attend by placing it front and center without competing sessions, in the big room, encouraging full attendance.

They've said implicitly, "This is big, with a big name speaker discussing important stuff with no distractions." So I trust that and will attend without questioning, no matter the topic.

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