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Mar 2 2006
Social Networking Bubble?
Despite the perceived success of MySpace, there are skeptics of social networking business models. BusinessWeek brings up the possibility that we�re in a social networking bubble that is reaching saturation while ad models remain somewhat shaky.

From the article:

For many sites, the challenge begins with persuading advertisers that their investment will be rewarded with sufficient views by users. What's more, with so many social networks vying for attention, retaining users can be problematic. Amid these difficulties, some observers anticipate a brighter future for smaller niche networks that bring together users with common interests.

Chris Charron, a vice-president at Forrester Research, says some advertisers aren't all that interested in social networks. User-generated content, which dominates these sites, is a tough sell to companies that can't control the material with which their brand is associated. That's all the more the case when content is racy, as personal profiles often are.


Though the page view and retention issues may not apply to MySpace (yet), the site�s average user age is 18 and it largely appeals to a teenage demographic that can be somewhat fickle and swayed easily by effective viral marketing:

... members have little loyalty to any given social network and will switch if something better comes along, or when pals jump ship, the article says.

This statement has some truth but forgets the fact that social networks do have some degree of stickiness, as users have a sunken time investment in having set up their personal, pages, preferences and networks among which their username and other attributes are known by their friends. In other words, the name of the game for competitors of MySpace � such as the newly launched Tagged � is not to attract each user away from MySpace, but to attract a critical mass of networked users that will create a domino effect of others that will follow. It is after all a social network.

The article brings up the potential of more niche-oriented networks such as TripConnect, which brings social networking and user-generated content to the travel vertical. The business case here is that it is easier to attract advertising and easier to contextualize it around user conversations:

Raj Kapoor, a managing director at Mayfield Fund, which led a $7 million investment in teen-focused Tagged, concedes that no one has developed an ideal way to target ads around user-generated content. "At the end of the day advertisers want to find a way to do it," since teens spend so much time browsing their peers' profiles, blogs, and other dispatches.

But with something more niche-oriented like TripConnect:

�The site uses social networking in such a way that users are "directly influencing each other's purchase decisions," he notes. That's "not something you find when people are chatting about bands."

So are vertically oriented social networks better off than broader ones? The same question faces search, online shopping and even classifieds. The question is still being hammered out in those more mature industries where lots of factors weigh in, so it will be a while before a clear answer is discerned about social networking models. But if we are in a social networking bubble, an impending shakeout will get us closer to an answer.
Blog: Local Media Blog
 
posted by  Mike Boland at  07:37 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [1]



Mar 2 2006
Video Game Advertising Takes a Step Forward III
There continues to be business activity in the embryonic field of video game advertising. As we�ve reported in the past here and here, this could be an interesting area to watch because of the repeated exposure that ads could receive, the attractive demographic of gamers, and the IP targeting capabilities of online games that could eventually follow the success of local online advertising.

San Jose Mercury News Tech reporter Dean Takahashi reported yesterday on the latest development in the field. Two former executives of mega gaming company Sega, will join the executive ranks of new video game ad company Adscape (think of it as a tech-savvy ad agency for video games).

It will split ad revenues with game publishers and it �promises to weave advertising into both video game landscapes and their embedded communications.�

From the article:

For instance, Gilbert said, in a game in which a player goes to a cell phone store, the store could have real-world models of cell phones on display. If the player likes the phone, he could click a button and order one on the spot or step out of the game and go to a Web site for more information.

� In another example, he said players could communicate with friends from inside the game using the game's own messaging system, or conduct online financial transactions while they're still in a game.


The advantage of video game ads is that they can be well integrated and even involve products used within game play, as opposed to just being displayed somewhere. For example, Splinter Cell, a popular action game, has Sobe vending machines from which game characters can power up.

And with online gaming and Internet-connected consoles growing in use, it could create a fertile situation for delivering targeted ads and even bring in e-commerce capability for an immediate conversion. A great deal is yet to be developed (technologies and business models) in this space, but we�ll keep an eye on it.
Blog: Local Media Blog
 
posted by  Mike Boland at  07:05 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]



Mar 1 2006
For Every Post There Could Be Six
There is so much happening (most of it interesting) in the "space" we affectionately call "Interactive Local Media" that for every post I do there could easily be five or six more. I could do nothing all day but blog and have the hotel staff slip me bread and water at occasional intervals. So, here are a number of things that have happened that I haven't been able to write about (not for lack of desire):

  • TrueLocal.com relaunched its TrueTarget local search ad program (covered by Search Engine Journal here).

  • Jambo has launched a "passive" PPCall advertiser acquisition program. Here's the release. Advertisers automatically receive phone leads from directories/search sites with which the company has relationships (e.g., InfoSpace). The merchant gets a prompt to accept or decline the lead. If she accepts, the call is billed to her existing phone bill. Putting aside some questions about this practice, from a purely strategic standpoint it eliminates some of the sales challenges of getting people to show up and sign up for the service.

  • eStara launched a deal with the newspaper Palm Beach Post called "talk to seller" where its VoIP/click-to call-system enables real-time phone communication between buyer and seller. This was what eBay had in mind in buying Skype. Expect to see more efforts, whether by phone or through IM/chat, to facilitate real-time communication between buyers and sellers (e-mail is so 2003) in local online marketplaces, whether classifieds, verticals or directories.

  • Meanwhile Ingenio continues to build out a network of major agency relationships as a channel to deliver PPCall to national advertisers.

  • Here's a BusinessWeek piece on privacy and government/corporate monitoring of blogs and social networks. Privacy is a hot issue here at SES � as is click fraud. And this Ad Age piece (reg. req'd) captures a heated session yesterday in which some SEM audience members squared off against the engines on the panel.

  • Mobile local search and content provider go2 put out a release reflecting 51 percent traffic growth from 2004. The most popular categories were "movies, restaurants, accommodations and other travel-related searches." In our view, mobile local search is clearly growing but not yet a mainstream application.

  • According to comScore, Google's market share grows while search volume growth slows. There were 5.48 billion searches in the U.S. market in January, compared with roughly 5 billion in December, a growth rate of 11 percent. Search volume growth has outpaced Internet growth in the past several quarters. But the market will need new high-speed users to keep its momentum and that depends on broadband conversions from dial-up or more Wi-Fi ubiquity.
Blog: Local Media Blog
 
posted by  Greg Sterling at  10:20 | permalink | comments [1] | trackbacks [0]



Mar 1 2006
Google Video Ads
iMedia is reporting on the brief appearance of video ads in Google AdSense. iMedia quotes a Google press statement:

"Google is always considering new ways to provide value to its advertisers and we frequently run tests of potential new features and products. We are currently running a limited test of click-to-play video ads on select AdSense publisher websites. We do not have any additional details to share at this time."

Google can likely charge a premium for such ads in the move to diversify and increase revenues. It's unclear whether such ads can be geotargeted other than by selecting specifically local sites (but I'm getting ahead of myself).

Several things are interesting about this generally. It reflects the growing importance of rich media and video online and the need for all the engines to offer a full range of ad vehicles to clients. It also reflects Google's desire to grab marketer branding dollars. Branding in search has been something of a hard sell to date, but more branding dollars are making their way into search. (See Kevin Ryan's column today.) And the more marketers understand how consumers use search and the Internet more generally in the "buying cycle" the more branding money will flow online.

Some time ago, I wrote about SEM firm Impaqt's Intelligent Landing Page, which can host video and has a range of impressive capabilities. I spoke to them at their booth yesterday at SES. It has taken a while for marketers to understand how such rich media products can be used, but the company says that now they're getting traction.

While the Google video experiment is on AdSense and not search, I think we'll begin to see more dynamic products (such as Impaqt's landing page and ContactAtOnce's presence management solutions) sitting "behind" paid search as a way to enhance or maximize the value of those ads for marketers.

Blog: Local Media Blog
 
posted by  Greg Sterling at  09:49 | permalink | comments [3] | trackbacks [1]



Feb 28 2006
Edgeio: Taking Craigslist to the Next Level
As Mike Boland wrote earlier this week, Edgeio has launched. Here was the original posting I did a couple of weeks ago.

This is a very interesting site because one can publish local classified or services listings directly there or on a blog and Edgeio will "pick them up." In other words, I can set up my free blog (Blogger, Wordpress, etc.), list a bunch of items for sale and they will appear on Edgeio � no fees, nothing!

Here's how Edgeio does it:

Edgeio constantly monitors RSS enabled websites � today we are monitoring more than 25 million sites! Any item tagged "listing" and included in an RSS feed will be published on the edgeio website and through the edgeio network.

Of course all will depend on how many consumers show up and use Edgeio. But its distributed/decentralized publishing model is pretty radical in concept. In one sense it's simply another version of what search engines are doing by indexing sites. But what if Edgeio becomes really a hit and millions of people show up to use it? Perhaps as a trade or service business (accountant, cabinet maker, lawyer) I publish a listing and description of my services etc. on my blog and Edgeio picks it up and I get lots of leads. It's all free to me. I potentially can reduce my spend elsewhere.

Even if it succeeds wildly with consumers I don't think Edgeio will be "disruptive" in the near term. But the medium term could be a different story. I'm fascinated by the potential for RSS distribution both on the advertiser side and the consumer side. There's a great deal more to say there than I have time for now.

Keith Teare, Edgeio CEO, will be speaking on what should be quite an interesting panel at Drilling Down called "The Ultimate Mashup: Classifieds, Local Listings and �Social Search.' "

"Social Search" is the new black.
Blog: Local Media Blog
 
posted by  Greg Sterling at  23:33 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]



Feb 28 2006
Newspapers Should Move Faster Part II
I was at the Topix.net booth tonight on the exhibit hall floor of SES talking to Chris Tolles and Mike Markson about Topix and the newspaper industry. Topix is owned by KRD, Gannett and Tribune. In addition to a relatively recent redesign (very nice), Topix has developed some interesting local-community features (see "forum activity" map, upper right). Here's a story on Ford cutting jobs and the related comments, for example.

I said to Chris, "Why don't the newspapers just add the entire Topix site/feed to their sites? It's better than adding a feed reader," which would have been one of the bullets in the previous entry but for my encounter with Topix this evening.

Local newspaper content could be presented in a primary position and then Topix site and news content could be imported/framed within the local newspaper "look and feel." Admittedly integration might present some issues, but it's clearly doable. And almost instantly these local newspaper sites would be very competitive with Google and Yahoo! news. They would become aggregators themselves (offering a feed reader would do the same but RSS is still too complex for the mainstream).

The community content (comments) that Topix has is gold � wouldn't the newspapers love to have that kind of participation on their sites? That could be added from Topix as well. Once people saw the comments that Topix has already compiled, they would likely be inclined to participate and comment themselves. This overcomes the chicken-and-egg problem of new community sites if the newspapers were to add this functionality tabula rasa.

That community content, once on the newspaper site, would also help jump-start local community participation in other areas across the newspaper site. This is huge, although my description of what I'm suggesting may not be entirely clear. Feel free to drop me an e-mail to discuss.

Why aren't the newspapers exploiting Topix's assets?
Blog: Local Media Blog
 
posted by  Greg Sterling at  22:35 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [1]



Feb 28 2006
Newspapers Should Move Faster
I know that may be asking a lot, but time is of the essence. Lots of smart people who understand the Internet work at newspapers; they just can't get their organizations to move quickly. Among the various things that newspapers can and should do are the following:

  • Radically redesign their sites. Right now, they're not very "usable" other than editorial. Editorial is just a piece of what online newspapers should offer. Editorial is a great hook to get people to the site, but give them more stuff to do and see once they're there
  • Have great site search and offer blended results that are relevant to the query � so the users see the full range of content and advertisers
  • Offer aggregated news from third parties on the site in addition to "local news"
  • Have a comprehensive local marketplace that offers classifieds and services
  • Syndicate classifieds
  • Syndicate local business advertisers (like what the directory publishers are doing with Webvisible, Matchcraft, ReachLocal, Local Launch, etc.)
  • Add community tools (much more important than blogs)
  • Get rid of site registration (or create some real value in exchange for user registration)
I could go on but I won't here.

Online newspapers are a fundamentally different animal than the print product (sites like the WSJ may be exceptions) and need to be thought about differently.

Here's a case in point. My hometown newspaper is the San Francisco Chronicle (owned by Hearst). I know that its site is probably the best and most reliable source of local events, entertainment and restaurant information in my area. I KNOW this. But do I use the site? No. It's too painful. Content is buried. The site is cluttered. You don't need to be a Jakob Nielsen to know that the overall user experience is suboptimal.

Here are the search results for the query "home improvement." Now I'm sure there have been many articles written over time that pertain to interior design, hiring contractors, landscaping, the cost of kitchen remodels, etc. None of those articles shows up in the first page of results. (I'm sure there are advertisers that would love to be contextually presented next to those results, provided they were more relevant.)

Will I go beyond this first page? No. (See Enquiro's "eyetracking" research � a new round is coming out.) Will I come back to this site and look for anything other than editorial content again? No.

Newspapers have a window of 12 to 24 months to work out some of these strategic and usability issues. I know that there's much going on "behind the scenes" but the process needs to speed up.

Blog: Local Media Blog
 
posted by  Greg Sterling at  21:56 | permalink | comments [1] | trackbacks [0]



Feb 28 2006
A Conversation With Ask.com
This morning I had the chance to catch up with Daniel Read and Ryan Massie of Ask.com, as they ran around SES answering reporter and analyst questions about the site re-launch.

The site upon first glance appears to have some appealing aesthetic changes, but after a test drive (and a demo from Read, and Massie), it is much more than that. We will review the site and include a more in-depth look at the conversation in an upcoming Advisory, and a piece in next week�s Local Media Journal.

For now, if you are looking for one example of an enhancement from a user perspective, check out the new mapping engine. This is fresh on my mind as we�ve recently completed an Advisory that compares the user experiences of the major mapping engines (not including Ask, as the release fell outside our production timeline). The Ajax-based functionality first made popular by the dynamic panning (dragable maps) in Google Maps initial launch is taken to a new level by Ask.

Users can escape the once requisite address boxes to the left and move address locations by clicking and dragging. New points on a map can be added by right clicking, and up to 10 points can be marked and directions given (both walking and driving) between them all. Now-standard satellite maps are also included, along with closer aerial images taken from airplanes (more on the new mapping features from Greg's post earlier).

It�s this kind of functionality that is a hallmark of the portal wars in gaining market share. Ask�s main goal in essence is to change its image from a niche search engine where people go to ask questions every once in a while to a general engine where users go every day. In other words, it's becoming more like Google and Yahoo! (while maintaining enough differentiated qualities to keep it unique). Jeeves� forced resignation is part of that re-branding.

It will be an uphill battle to gain search market share from the sector�s current giants. But this is a good start.
Blog: Local Media Blog
 
posted by  Mike Boland at  15:08 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]





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