Google continues its search for the holy grail (a journey that leads to a war with Facebook)

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[Warning: This post rated PG, for “Pretty Geeky.”]

Late yesterday (Wednesday, June 29) on its “Social Web Blog,” Google announced enhancements to the feature called “social search” they launched several months ago. I blogged about social search when Google first announced it, but, frankly, the topic is so out there on the edge of geekiness and includes issues that touch on many loosely connected, esoteric, and little-understood issues, it hasn’t received a great deal of attention, or, has been reduced by many in the “tech press” to being yet another in the stream of skirmishes between Google and Facebook that seem to be flowing to an inevitable full-scale multi-front war over who owns the “social web” — or some such fuzzy concept.

Simply put (or, as simply as I can), this announcement means that Google is continuing to augment search results (for registered, logged-in users) with information that may be relevant to their search because someone among their network of connections — individuals who they’ve friended or followed or connected with — has mentioned or recommended or liked something related to the search query. (As usual, Danny Sullivan does the best job of explaining the precise features involved in this new enhancement.)

The “holy grail” of search is to provide each individual the knowledge they were looking for when they entered the query. A search engine that can take into consideration who we are, what we do, who our “contacts” are, what we and they have “liked” in-common in the past should, in theory at least, have the contextual data available to understand what we mean if we’re using the word apple: the fruit or the computer. For example, if our network of contacts are apple growers, such contextual data might influence the recommended search results differently than, say, if all our contacts are people we met in line at the Apple Store waiting for the latest iPhone.

Search engine results that have been filtered through personal data (sometimes called “actions” or “jestures”) collected from us and from those who are determined to be “like us,” have been the aim of e-commerce oriented collaborative filtering “recommendation” approaches since the early days of Amazon. The recent $1 million competition called The Netflix Prize shined some public light on the incredible value of improving the “recommendation results” by just 10%.

While extensively used for e-commerce recommendations, using such data to anticipate the “content” we may be seeking is, while not a new idea*, only now is shaping up to be a true battle ground. And one of the terms being applied to this mash-up of several ideas, approaches and algorithmic attempts is called “social search.”

The stakes are huge for this race.

Why?

Well, Google’s key to domination of advertising on the web has been two-fold: A payment model that charges advertisers only when Google is successful in generating click-throughs from ads (or, pay-for-performance) rather than mere “page views” and its near-magical ability to consistently place the most relevant ads in front of individuals most likely to be interested in the product or service being advertised.

No one has ever been able to come close to performing the magic of Google’s targeting for narrow-niche oriented advertisers.

No one, that is, until Facebook.

And Facebook doesn’t even have to “guess” (or, predict via algorithms) whose eyeballs it needs to place in front of what advertising. It doesn’t have to guess because Facebook users are perhaps the most generous personal-information sharers in the history of marketing.

From the second they (we) join Facebook, users constantly share such personal information as name and address and zip code and age and gender and educational background and ethnicity and sexual preference and profession and employer and what clubs and associations and houses of worship we are in and what issues we follow and what products we buy and what causes we believe in and support. While Facebook doesn’t sell this data about specific users to advertisers, it does serve-up advertising to users based on all of that information the user has provided Facebook.

Advertisers are beginning to take note. Even local, small business advertisers — the kind of advertiser marketplace that Google has dominated during the past half-decade. Facebook, while not yet offering a web search engine that cooks in all the personal data we provide it, is already using it to allow advertisers to serve up ads that can be even more precise — and effective — than those from Google.

And while Facebook has yet to announce anything that mimics for “search advertising” the Google’s Adsense or Adwords program, such products for publishers and advertisers seem to be a logical extension of its current advertising platform.

Call it what you want: social search, collaborative search, or just search. The goal is all the same: Help people who are searching for something find the most relevant and personal and contextually relevant result or recommendation — and place the most relevant ad possible next to the result.

That’s the holy grail. That’s the war to end all wars.

That’s where Google and Facebook collide.

*Such collaboratively filtered search was one of the key aspects of the original version of SmallBusiness.com, for which we licensed certain very expensive algorithms from the no-longer existing company, Net Perceptions.

The Amazon Kindle App – Could it be the magazine app you’re looking for?

In the coming days, I’ll be writing a lot about iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) apps.

However, I wanted to jump ahead of myself by pointing to this news release from Amazon.com about the new version of the Kindle App that enables embedded audio and video to eBooks.

Last week, Om Malik wrote an opinion piece regarding his belief that the Kindle will win the eBook wars. When you read the headline of that piece: “Why Amazon’s Kindle Will Eventually Win the e-Book Wars,” without reading what he says, your first reaction may be to bristle and say, “No way, the Kindle reader is a one-trick pony compared to the iPad that’s, uh, Harry Houdini.” (Sorry, best metaphor I could come up with so early in the a.m.)

But Om’s post isn’t about the Kindle hardware. Like me, Om is a big believer in Kindle’s platform, channel and software, independent of the Kindle e-reader device. (While the device is not for me, I’ll gladly concede that some folks love it — and I’m happy they do.)

I have loved the Kindle app since the day Amazon announced its availability for the iPhone Kindle.

And, in coming days, I’ll be writing about how I’ve come to love it more and more, with each book I’ve purchased and read via it. (However, I don’t like the “agency pricing model” publishers have forced upon Amazon.)

Also, in the coming days, I’ll be writing about something the iPad has taught me about “user experience” that has blown up any preconceived expectations I originally had about what a “magazine app” should be. I will be writing about what I believe is one potential “killer” aspect of “magazine apps” and where I believe so many of the first generation magazine apps have totally mis-judged the opportunities provided by a new generation of pad/app devices and software.

But Amazon’s announcement about the enhancements of the Kindle iPhone/iPad app provides a hint of what I’m going to write about that I believe has gone most under-appreciated by the “media and content” industrial complex: Magazine apps don’t need to be apps. Magazine companies have great content — only a fraction of which gets into “the magazine.” “Replicating” a printed magazine may not be the only — or even best — opportunity to serve those passionate about your content. And creating something that can only be sold in the Apple apps store may not be the best business model.

There will be many, many channels through which to sell (or distribute free) content that will be read, watched and listened-to on the iPad.

In the end, Amazon will offer one of the best ways to purchase (and sell) such content.

More, much more, later.

Obama’s use of the phrase ‘the red phone’ is the ultimate metaphor to illustrate what I mean when I say, ‘Twitter is too big to fail.’

Recently, I wrote that it is time to consider the notion that Twitter (the service, not the company) has become “too big to fail.”

Here’s a quote from that post:

“Twitter has become the electricity powering entirely new forms of engines of communication, conversation, transaction and collaboration. All of that is great. What I’m beginning to fear, however, is that Twitter, too, has also become the electricity grid through which all of this power must pass. In other words, I believe Twitter (the service, not  the company) is quickly assuming a role in our lives and work that is making it “too big to fail.” I am also moving to a belief that too many people, organizations and transactions depend on “the service” Twitter for this new form of communication — and that makes the network through which this communication must pass too important to be controlled by one company. Or, to put it another way, one company should not bear the responsibility for all that is being done via Twitter.”

In that post, I noted that emergency response and “mission-critical” networks of communications have been built with Twitter infrastructure that continues to be undependable when the service is most in demand.

Yesterday, President Obama said something that is both an incredible endorsement of the service Twitter provides, but underscores my contention that the service has too much responsibility for one company to bear. His choice of metaphor, for anyone with even a slight knowledge of history, conjures the most extreme scenario when a service like Twitter would be most in demand.

Quote from the lede of the CNN story, “Obama to Medvedev: Throw away red phones for Twitter”:

“President Barack Obama joked Thursday that the popular microblogging service Twitter could replace “the red phone,” a longstanding icon of the Cold War that established a direct line of communication between the United States and the Soviet Union.”

Bottomline: Obama’s use of the phrase ‘the red phone’ is the ultimate metaphor to illustrate what I mean when I say, ‘Twitter is too big to fail.’

A post about McChrystal, Petraeus, Magazines, Embedded Reporters & Chuck Norris

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The guy who keeps Chuck Norris up at night.

As someone who spends time interpreting to people the relative roles played by different forms and formats of media and content distribution channels, it’s been fascinating to see the coverage of the dismissal of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal as America’s top commander in the war in Afghanistan.

Because Rolling Stone commissioned and published the article written by Michael Hastings, the phrase “started with an article in Rolling Stone” has been included in every report about this story. Not a newspaper. Not “the internet.” Not a whistle blower. But, “an article in Rolling Stone.”

Rolling Stone? I’m sure people wouldn’t be that surprised if the magazine dug up something controversial about, say, Lady Gaga, but do people think of that magazine producing journalism capable of bringing down a general? Rolling Stone? The fact is, Rolling Stone has a long tradition of great political and cultural writing. But, to be honest, if someone says they get Rolling Stone for its war coverage, it is about as convincing as when one says he gets Playboy for the interviews.

Here are some other quick take-aways from watching the McChrystal / Petraeus news of the past few days flow by:

1. Letting a reporter “embed” with a subject is not always a bad strategy: I’m sure lots of Monday-morning PR experts are going to lambast the decision to allow a reporter to get so “inside” as to become what every reporter dreams of being: A fly on the wall. However, it should be noted that one of the apparently many, many super powers of Gen. David Petraeus is his ability to let reporters embed and observe his omnipotent-like powers. A book example: In the company of soldiers: A chronicle of Combat, by Rick Atkinson. A magazine article example: “The Professor of War,” by Mark Bowden, Vanity Fair, May, 2010. Both the book and magazine article include extensive “embed” time with Gen. Petraeus and his staff — with lots of time for them to talk themselves into corners. Like I said, he has super powers.

2. “Pulling a McChrystal”: A term that will live for a long, long time. Means, roughly, “loose lips sinks generals and their staff.”

3. Speaking of Chuck Norris: General Petraeus eats Chuck Norris for breakfast.

4. One more note about Petraeus awesomeness with a Nashville-connection: Yesterday, when I heard President Obama was calling on General Petraeus to once more perform his military leadership magic, I immediately thought of the WSJ op-ed written three years ago by Peggy Noonan called “Get it Done”. In it, she recounts an almost unbelievable story from Gen. Petraeus career. Scroll down to the paragraph that begins, “It happened on Sept. 21, 1991, when Gen. Petraeus was commanding the Third Battalion of the 101st Airborne in Fort Campbell, Ky. He was at a live-fire training exercise. A soldier tripped on his M-16, and it discharged. The bullet hit Gen. Petraeus in the chest….”

If you haven’t heard the story, read it.

I promise you’ll never be impressed by Chuck Norris again.

Google Adwords launches content marketing B-to-B effort aimed at advertising community

While the Google Adwords marketing team did not label it “content marketing” in announcing it, their new advertising industry news aggregation service called “Ad News” is a great example of what content marketing is all about: Marketing directly to your customer, by-passing any third-party media, by providing content that is compelling and engaging and that helps them do their jobs, or that serves their passions.

Take note marketers of consumer and business products and services.

Take note business-to-business publishers and media companies — especially those of you in the advertising and marketing space.

Learn from this whatever you want, but take note.

As for me, I’m impressed — because developing ideas like this for clients is what Hammock Inc. does every day, so I’m pre-conditioned not to be impressed by anything done by others.

I’m impressed because it’s such a simple idea that is a hack (in the positive usage of that term) of an existing product. I love simple ideas that use APIs and open source approaches, and don’t require lots of developers.

I’m also impressed, because I can look at it and immediately see how it could be replicated in other verticals or topic-areas rather easily.

And I especially like the subtle yet action-oriented promotional approach Google is taking in this effort aimed at developing a service for its primary customer base: Advertisers and marketers.

There are only three simple links at the bottom of the navigation field, subtly placed without any “sponsored by” designation: One to the Official Google Blog’s “Ad News” category. One to the Inside AdWords Blog’s “New Features & Announcement Blog.” And one to a list of links contained in a feed of “Google advertising innovations.”

Notice how, when you click on any of those, an action button appears that suggests: “Add the Ad Innovations feed to you Google Reader.” What you are doing there is subscribing to a feed of advertising messages that you will never consider advertising. Why? Because if something informs and educates you in a way you believe helps you do your job better or stay informed on a topic of interest, you’ll never consider it advertising. That is called “the thing formerly known as advertising” my some (including me).

Helping companies achieve something like this is goal of people who do what I do.

And I’m impressed.