Google’s Monopoly

google desperateWe’ve discussed this before and will likely discuss it again. Google. Google is again being scrutinized concerning their business practices. Anyone who has worked hard to generate significant search engine optimization for a client will know that Google keeps it a moving target. Their motto is “Don’t be evil.” However that hardly qualifies as verifiable transparency and accountability. The idea is nice, but what happens when their income streams thin out? About 8 or so years ago well financed marketing managers were falling all over themselves to give Google money. A click for Mesothelioma was worth $75 or more. That’s just one click!

It sounds absurd and that’s what it was. It took a while for the executives to realize that their ROI was going to make them look quite silly. In fact, many remained in denial for years. They dreamed that they could just pay Google and get all the sales they wanted. They assumed that the lack of conversions (or actual sales) was a mistake of their staff and just tried again with a different “guy”. Like someone who paid too much for their car (or a Mac owner) they bragged to their friends about how great their hot rod is. Their friends jumped in too. However, when pay-per-click did not deliver much beyond bills, as the now proverbial “ad blindness” set in and clicks only kept getting more expensive the “fancy car” failed to deliver for many of the markets that patronized it. The inexperienced still rush to buy up their “keywords” in hopes of a marketing miracle. However, the only marketing miracle is that Google made a killing in a market that had the lifespan of a Great Dane.

Great danes have a short life span at about 8 years.
Great Dane’s life span is about 8 years

So the game is over, the hay day is exhausted, and Google is handing out vouchers for $75, $80, and $100 worth of free ad space. Sparky, our beloved but old Great Dane is spending most of his days sleeping on his mat and the vouchers amount to putting vitamins in his food. All they will do is allow the uninformed to discover for free how little value there is left in PPC advertising. After they’ve spent their $75 voucher and generated a few hundred clicks and maybe 2 or 3 conversions into something whose return amounts to ten or twenty bucks, then only fuzzy math will convince them to spend more. It’s an act of desperation that will mostly net folks that cannot use a calculator. There are some niches that this works in, but it is but a shadow of what it once was.

So where does that leave corporate Google and their motto “Don’t be evil?” It’s easy to do the right thing when the wind is blowing your way, but true character is only demonstrated when things get tough. It’s obvious there aren’t any Mac fans here, but one thing Steve did manage to do is create a sustainable fantasy. Google’s PPC fantasy was not sustainable. So what is Google doing to remain profitable? After all, “organic” search results don’t pay them, or at least they shouldn’t. The funny money valuations of “audience potential” are the stuff bubbles and bankruptcies are made of. Enter the FTC.

The Federal government, along with a lot of the more paranoid of us techie types, have our suspicions that Google’s “organic” results aren’t really as “organic” as they appear. You can believe what you’d like, but a company that built its business on scraping other people’s sites for content only to turn around and ban other sites that do the same thing citing “copyright” violations as their grounds sure doesn’t seem capable of not “being evil.” Press releases can say all kinds of things, but the cash cow was adWords and that dog just ain’t hunting. Android is great, and nobody really knows for sure, but on the face it seems to be open-source and royalty free. In fact there are rumors that Google has been paying manufacturers to use it. Yes, maybe 5 years ago Google could afford to have high standards, maybe they can for another 5 years. But, try to knock Wikipedia out of the top spot on a key term for your niche market, try to get out of your way. just so happens to run Google ads, Wikipedia, well while their is no obvious connection they are Google’s example of a “content is king” site. So it may well eat up so many SERPS simply as evidence in Google’s “don’t be evil” favor. If corps are paying for “organic” SERPS positions the connection will not be obvious. If Google is purposely burying their competition on top searches you can bet they will have some more obscure examples to show the Feds, and if they don’t now they will when the time comes.

What will the FTC find? It just depends on how deeply they dig, but Google is a corporation and they will do what they need to to keep the revenue coming. What will the FTC do if they do find impropriety? Well, here’s our guess, they will find a young man named Saddam Hussein and make him an honorary citizen of Detroit, then wink at him and tell him to “do the right thing.” In other words, it’s not likely any good will come of it. Sure Google is gaming the system. At least they have demonstrated a realization that there are limits to how much we will tolerate before giving Bing another chance. The government on the other hand seems to see no limit at all to how far they can manipulate. I say if Google wants to sell search engine positions let them. Just let the public know what they’re doing and let us decide how we deal with them. What we don’t need is “ObamaSearch 2011”.

Windows 8 Impressions

I began this article with plans to have at Microsoft for the same reasons I had at Apple on OSX Lion. Dragging desktop interfaces down to the level of mobile devices is an absurd strategy. However, Microsoft has been accused for years of lacking ingenuity. However upon reviewing the tidbits available on Windows 8 I’m quite certain that whatever may come while Steve Jobs is still implementing ideas he had 27 years ago (or so he claims with iCloud), Microsoft really seems to have some new ones. It might be time to get some stock in M$FT.

As I saw these colored tiles pop up on the screen I thought: “here we go again”… However, it really is not like anything we’ve had before. HTML5, javascript, running the desktop! This is very exciting. A: “Mosaic of Tiles… Tiles are better than icons for several reasons…” … I actually buy that. Snap an app, alt-tab. “Thumbs” keyboard… I’m sure the fan boys and “geniuses” we like to ridicule so much here will find a way to claim that these are all stolen from what would have been Steve Jobs’ intellectual property given enough time for him to come up with it (and perhaps will file a lawsuit to boot). I frankly don’t care. While OSX is releasing what amounts to service packs as “new products” Microsoft has been busy. By the time Apple has OSX service pack 4: Sea Horse, or Tiger Lily, or whatever they call it next, I just hope Windows can get some good Q/A done despite their bureaucratic tar pit. If a mobile OS has a chance at beating Android this is how it would be done. I’m just happy to have a win/win. In fact I may need to get to work on figuring out how to dual boot my phone!

Momentarily remove your robe of resistance to change and take a watch yourself, do you see what I see?

Corporate Pitfalls for IT Staff

We noticed this little zinger on Twitter’s help pages while trying to help out a client:

Due to resource constraints, not every Tweet can be indexed in Twitter Search.
Our engineers are always working to index more updates, but we can’t force individual, missing Tweets into search.

In other words, what you see in Twitter feeds are a supposedly random subset of actual posts and for some reason their “engineers” think this is reasonable?

We began investigating for a user that was Tweeting about an upcoming conference but searching every combination of keywords and hash-tags resulted in NOTHING. The conference is only a few days out and our mashup is streaming the related feeds to the client’s home page, only their own posts were not showing! Not randomly, but none of them. Registrants talking about the conference were showing up fine, but the actual conference information is missing. Contacting Twitter resulted in no joy either. They just referred us to the randomness of their search. So what next? Well, we had to manually parse the search feed and inject the missing posts.

Somehow it seems very unlikely that Charlie Sheen’s tweets are getting “missed” at random by their search, so hiding behind “resource limitations” is a pretty shallow excuse. So Twitter becomes yet another internet company that is assigning values to individuals and widening the gap between the “popular” and the “obscure”  under their control.

Richard Stallman might seem a bit in left field, but there are some bad moons rising in the world of technology, and if the Free Speech people don’t take control of the internet via legislation Google, Twitter, and Facebook will with “resource limitations”. We saw Wikipedia president Jimmy Wales cave in to porn peddler pressure about a year ago when he attempted to “clean up” the graphic images, and to this day, there are still blatantly pornographic images on Wikipedia while Wikipedia remains the top result on most Google searches, despite the site being pornographic.

This is a fascinating time to witness, but also as a tech company we need to be sly and aware. If you want to get publicity without shooting anyone you’ll need these guys’ help and to get it you’ll need to play by their rules, no matter what they are. It doesn’t mean we can’t be clever and work around them. Just be careful not to make them angry.

A final newsworthy quote on “corpcorrupt” culture: “Engineers who simply staked out one component in the codebase, and rejected patches so they could maintain complete control over design and implementation details had much greater rewards.” Caught my attention on Dhanji R. Prasanna’s blog about why he left Google.

We have warned often both directly and indirectly about poor management decisions especially among the “big guys” and this is further evidence. Underneath Twitter’s absurdly implemented search and “resource limitations” undoubtedly lies more excuses, territorialism, and bureaucracy.  In fact, Dhanji is precisely the kind of developer we mentioned that we’d like to know, because big pay checks and cushy couches aren’t enough to keep them happy. He wants to do good work. He is precisely that guy we mentioned that would have left Sony long before their poor standards became public knowledge. I strongly suggest you read his blog as he mentions a few hints about Google’s poor standards. Many of these developers are not as talented as they might seem. Sure they have “Google” on their resume, but they were in the right place at the right time. Talent is what Dhanji had: “working on Search, APIs, UI, performance, scalability and getting each one of those pieces across the line by any means necessary” but he also went on to point out that it “is actually bad for your career.” He goes on to say that he is a “hacker at heart”, the guy that makes things happen after all of the talk. That’s something to be proud of.

Brave Predictions

android and flashAdobe CEO Shantanu Narayen announced at the D9 conference yesterday that “Android will overtake iPad just like it did the iPhone.” You may remember roughly a year ago when we mentioned that Apple’s decision to block Adobe Flash on the Mac would prove fatal to it’s longevity, well perhaps that one thing will not, but the overall philosophy is what is unsustainable. Sure, it is possible for Toyota to sell vehicles with their hoods welded shut, in fact, given the right hype they could get off to a record start. I can see the advertisements now: Cool Car: “What’s that, your hood opens? That’s so yesterday.” … Geeky Old Car: “How do you expect a mechanic to fix you if they can’t get to your engine?” … Cool Car: “I don’t expect to need fixing.” … Nice gimmick, but who exactly are we fooling here?

So back to Android and to our tech-savvy audience. The platform is wide open and we have a lot of fun developing Droid apps. Currently we still prefer the old and reliable Eclipse environment. We combine that with DroidDraw (I personally prefer to just type type the XML and avoid the inconsistencies) for layouts and have slowly gotten brave enough to do significant testing in the emulator before putting it on our devices. There are daily arrivals of some great libraries on GitHub and most of these are OpenSource. We’d love to hear of anyone developing their mobile apps solely in Flash (or Flex) on AIR. We have a client looking for this and could not honestly claim any experience with it yet, but you can bet we’re on it. It has been possible for over a year now, but my concern is what happens with phones that don’t have Flash? Is it still too early to recommend this to clients?

Well, this article will have to remain a “to-be-continued”. Until we get a better feel for the potential. Narayen may be producing precisely the buzz he’d hoped to.