Category Archives: google

Google Custom Search, where have you been hiding?

Just came across this really neat Google feature…

The copyright says 2007 so it has been around for a while. I am quite surprised it does not get more visibility, because it is a must have for everyone who does topical searches on a frequent basis. Yahoo! has been talking about using social / collaborative input to improve its search platform… and it seems like Google has had it for a while?

Google Custom Search is packaged as “community search” and it delivers the goods: users can include lists of sites that present more relevance to a topic. Actions speak louder than words, so click below now to try the Digital Spotlight Search Engine!

One last look at 2007, and a glimpse at 2008

Back on track! I have been unable to pay as much attention to this blog over the last month as I would have liked. Well – one more item to add to the 2008 resolutions list 🙂

Zeitgeist is the German word for “sign of the times” (the literal translation is in fact “spirit of the times”). Search engines remarkably capture what’s on people minds on any given day, and Google Zeitgeist was created to capture and share some of those trends.

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They put together a fascinating summary of 2007 search trends, covering specific categories like news, show business, technology, etc.

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It seems that from that perspective at least, 2007 will be remembered as the year of the iPhone.

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Webkinz, the virtual world for kids, makes an interesting appearance on the second spot of the fastest rising US search terms. According to Quantcast, it is now one of the 300 most popular sites in the US, with a monthly audience of 4.3 million unique visitors.

What’s in store for the year ahead? Yahoo! Buzz is a similar service to Google Zeitgeist. They published today (January 1st) a list of all the searches that include the number 2008. Apparently much of the attention is on bank holidays!

Here is the list:

  1. 2008 Dodge Challenger
  2. Printable January 2008 Calendar
  3. 2008 World Junior Hockey Championship
  4. New Year 2008
  5. 2008 U.S. Holiday List Calendar
  6. 2008 Year of the Rat Predictions
  7. Super Bowl 2008 Date
  8. Presidents’ Day 2008
  9. 2008 Rose Parade
  10. Happy New Year 2008
  1. Free 2008 Online Calendar
  2. Mardi Gras 2008 Date
  3. Thanksgiving 2008
  4. New Year’s Eve 2008
  5. Martin Luther King Day 2008
  6. 2008 Ford Edge
  7. 2008 Dodge Charger
  8. Mother’s Day 2008
  9. Iowa Caucus 2008
  10. 2008 Sugar Bowl

Not direct mention of two 2008 events that are bound to capture worldwide media attention: the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election (11/4/2008) and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games (8/8/2008). Interestingly 8 is considered a lucky number in China, and the opening date of the Olympics reads as 8/8/8 – obviously an intentional move in a culture where superstition is taken very seriously. “Year Of The Rat Predictions” is number 6 in the list after all!

Happy New Year to everyone!

Another week, another social network

Everyone seems to be jumping on the social network bandwagon these days, and things are unlikely to slow down given Microsoft’s valuation of Facebook at $15 billion.

There is certainly what Gartner calls a hype cycle at play with social networks – not just in general, but with each of them individually. Friendster was the first social network to falter into oblivion, and MySpace’s growth has considerably slowed down.

I remember reading a post a long time ago that was comparing social networks to trendy bars and restaurants: the people motivated by exclusivity move on to a new spot as soon as the crowds start to show up in the current one.

Social network fatigue will grow in parallel with, if not faster than the number of solicitations. Like for email newsletters, there is a finite amount of user time and attention available. Each new network brings dilution and accelerates the path to saturation. In that regard, Google’s somewhat ballyhooed launch of OpenSocial is a timely announcement even if it does not address the core issue of proliferation.

Behind the generic term “social networks”, I feel that there is in fact a number of different approaches. Here is my take at a quick and dirty classification of social networks.

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1) In the first category (“connection networks”) you can of course find the most popular names, from Myspace and Facebook to Hi5 and Orkut. At the core of those services there is a “connection engine” and initially the main activity of the users is to accumulate contacts. Sharing becomes most gratifying after they reach a certain threshold in terms of network size.

2) Services like Plaxo Pulse or AIM Pages are built on existing connections like email address books or IM buddy lists. They are mainly adding a content sharing layer to communication tools, and that is why I nickname them “communication networks”.

While these first two types are intentionally generic, the other types of social networks are focused on narrower purposes. I would call them “topic networks”, “demographic networks”, and “media networks”.

3) Social networks like last.fm, LinkedIn, Xbox Live, and sermo.com gather users around a specific interest topic – respectively music, business, gaming, and medical research. Sites like Bebo or MySpace still very much reflect their original focus on music, but they have become less specialized over time.

4) Any topic can be discussed on social networs like eons.com (for people past 50 years old) and cafemom.com but membership satisfies specific demographic criteria.

5) Social networks on sites like usatoday.com or ESPN Sports Nation aim at increasing audience engagement, and as such remain secondary to “journalistic” content.

I would love to hear other opinions and comments on this: would you classify social networks differently? Do you see other categories? Can you think of other examples?

The Music Industry – From Retail to Media

A small hiatus on the blog, because of an intense workload over the last few weeks!

I recently met an executive from Warner Music who is exploring new directions in response to the radical digital transformation that has taken the music industry by storm.

After this discussion it occurred to me that there is a parallel to be drawn between the music and media industries. In both cases the most common business model was about combining content production and content distribution. And in both cases, the digital transformation changed the game … distribution came first. Then once the distribution lock is gone, it opens the gates for a lot more people to produce a lot more content. Natural selection based on talent does the rest.

The media landscape is being deeply reshaped in the digital era – these are not breaking news.

Newspapers are losing classifieds revenue to the likes of Craigslist, paper versions of magazines disappear (good bye Business 2.0), radio is increasingly listened to digitally, and network television shows are migrating online.

There have been several examples in the past where content owners clashed with online content distributors about intellectual property – and how to split advertising revenue. Google was sued in 2005 by AFP, a news agency, over copyright issues. The Google Books initiative was attacked by book publishers and authors. Viacom asked Youtube to remove thousands of copyright-infringing videos, following in the footsteps of NBC and CBS.

Back to the music industry. Those companies were used to operate with a retail (e.g. distribution) model and “moving product” (vynils then CDs). Getting airplay and maximum repetition was a means to an end… not unlike advertising, a way to promote record sales.

Now Apple has the upper hand in music distribution – with no serious competition, except maybe the recently launched MP3 download store on Amazon.com.

Look at the 20 most seen videos of all time on YouTube.

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Nine of them are official artist music videos, including bands like My Chemical Romance and Linkin Park that are signed by Warner labels. Those hundreds of millions of views are proof enough that music companies own the rights to content that is extremely attractive for online audiences. So are these companies the next in line to use legal action to force Google to share some of its advertising revenue? That’s quite unlikely – old habits die hard. They have always sought artist exposure and were all too happy to get this exposure for free.

Artists have discovered that the Internet is also a way to bypass middlemen, not just for marketing but also for sales. Radiohead has created the sensation once again with their recent announcement, and many bands have jumped on the publicity bandwagon.

Talking of Radiohead – this reminds me of John R., a former colleague of mine when I worked in London. John had previously worked as a talent scout for Sony Music and he liked to joke about the fact that he passed on the opportunity of signing Radiohead!

If you want to read more about artists embracing the digital age, Wired had a fascinating cover story on “the rebirth of music” in 2006.

Can artists do entirely without record companies in the near future? Probably not. After all, the music industry has a proven track record in discovering and nurturing talent. If anything the Internet makes the talent easier to spot. There are many hopefuls posting their webcam musical performances on Youtube like Esmee Denters, Mia Rose or Lamiyah. Audience ratings and comments are a transparent way to assess their growing popularity.

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As a conclusion there is some irony in the current situation of the music industry.

When Apple introduced legal music downloads and a robust Digital Rights Management system, the music industry saw this as an opportunity to finally solve the problem of piracy on peer-to-peer sharing platforms like Napster and Kazaa. Yet today, Apple is in such a dominant distribution position that it has become a major threat to the industry.

Google’s stronghold on search is seen as a threat by most content owners. Yet Google is probably the very opportunity for the music industry to achieve its transformation into a media business that leverages an enticing and exclusive content.