June 30, 2009

Bing, Yahoo! try to capitalize on Google’s Michael Jackson traffic surge

Filed under: advertising, aol, bing, google, search, yahoo — Rakesh Agrawal @ 2:23 pm
Bing, Yahoo! ads on Michael Jackson results on Google

Bing, Yahoo! ads on Michael Jackson results on Google. Click to see full version.

Seen over the weekend: ads for bing and Yahoo! on Google search results for “Michael Jackson”.

The bing ad led to bing’s xRank page for Michael Jackson. The Yahoo! ad bizarrely led to a Yahoo! shopping results page for Michael posters, most of which had nothing to do with Jackson.

The bing ad appeared every time I reloaded the page. The other ads were much less frequent.

Update: AOL has joined the fray with ads for AOL Music, including a pitch to download a “Michael Jackson tribute toolbar” on the landing page.

About these ads

June 16, 2009

How do you pay for a ride on SF Muni with a $20 and a $1?

Filed under: random — Rakesh Agrawal @ 11:37 am

Coming back from Berlin yesterday, I decided to take public transit. I took BART from SFO to Embarcadero station, where I had to switch to Muni to get home. The fare was $1.25 (after a paper BART to Muni transfer discount) and I had a $20 bill and a $1 bill. I also had about $40 on my BART ticket, but that doesn’t work on Muni. Here are the parameters:

  • There’s a staffed booth, but the staff can’t make change and you can’t just hand them money.
  • You can’t buy a pass with a credit card.
  • The turnstiles take only coins.
  • There’s a change machine that will give you $1 coins for $5 and $10 bills.
  • There’s another machine (marked for BART) that will make change for $20 bills and give you $5 bills.
  • There’s a BART ticket machine that has an option to get change for $1 bills.

It worked out to be a 4-step process using 4 different machines (not counting the machine that issues the BART to Muni transfers):

  1. Put the $20 bill in the BART bill change machine and get 4 $5 bills.
  2. Put the $1 bill in the BART ticket machine to get 4 quarters.
  3. Walk across the hall and put one of the $5 bills into the Muni change machine to get 5 $1 coins. Whoops, it won’t take it. Turns out it doesn’t take the new $5 bills. Fortunately, I had gotten one of the old ones.
  4. Put the $1 coin and a quarter into the turnstile and hand the paper slip to the agent to let me through.

No wonder people hate using public transit.

June 7, 2009

What the AP must do now

Filed under: google, journalism, newspapers, publishing — Rakesh Agrawal @ 10:13 am

I’ve written before about how the Associated Press blew it in the early days of the Web by choosing to not play in the online news space. More than a decade later, AP still has tremendous assets that it can use to become a great news source. Rather than fight expensive legal battles that it will almost surely lose, it can try to build a great product:

  • Unlock the content vault — AP content has typically been available online for no more than 30 days, which means that links to AP content goes bad quickly. AP could provide exclusive access to all of the content that it has. Not only does this provide a great service to users, it’s also great for search engine rankings.
  • Exploit the photos –- One of my favorite things when I was working in a newsroom was to look through the AP LeafDesk. AP employs some of the world’s most talented photographers and the LeafDesk was my window to the world. From there, I would choose which photos would appear in our products. In the online world with infinite space, there is no reason to have editors limit the availability of pictures to what they can fit in print. Online access to AP’s photos would be a pageview goldmine; slideshows are incredibly popular. At the New York Times, 11 million of the 49 million pageviews on the day after the inauguration went to slideshows. (Bonus tip: talk to the folks at Cooliris.)
  • Geotag the content — AP journalists are in the best position to include relevant geographic information in articles and photos. Geotagging would provide users new ways to explore AP’s content. Imagine browsing through a map with the latest photos and news. Or using geotags combined with archived content to explore a region in time. Google News tries to do this using algorithms, but often misses or adds irrelevant geotagging.
  • Organize the AP’s information and make it universally accessible – Instead of letting Google organize the AP’s information, the AP should do it. This may be hard to do given the AP’s DNA, but it needs to move from generating disposable news stories to creating longterm news resources. There is a lot of information and judgment that goes into the newsmaking process that doesn’t make it into the final story. If embedded in a database, that information could be used to automatically generate timelines of the major stories of significant news events. AP’s obit file could become a reference source about newsmakers.
  • Talk to NPR – NPR faces channel conflict similar to AP’s, yet they’ve managed to build one of the best news sites and they’ve done it under the NPR brand. is frequently a leader when it comes to adopting new technologies, including open APIs, social media and search. Learn from their experts.

AP needs to do this under the AP brand instead of obscure local brands. It needs to focus on page performance, usability and searchability.

If AP does all of the above, it will have built an unparalleled news product. Maybe one that consumers would pay for.

More on: newspapers, geotagging

See also:

June 4, 2009

Announcing reDesign mobile

Filed under: lbs, mobile, mobile search, wireless — Rakesh Agrawal @ 5:31 pm

I’ve been working in wireless application design for more than 10 years and it’s really exciting to see wireless data take off. Mobile applications and widespread connectivity are bringing oceans of information to our fingertips. In the last year I’ve been more informed, eaten better, taken public transit more and been more adventurous than ever before. I’ve also been less bored and less lost.

The explosion in the availability of data and the creation of data is going to be transformative, perhaps more than the wired Internet. Realtime information from our friends, neighbors and sensors will allow us to be more efficient and avoid a lot of everyday annoyances.

There are challenges:

  • Network quality — Wireless networks in the U.S. aren’t nearly as fast or reliable as networks in the rest of the developed world. I’ve got a love/hate relationship with my iPhone. I love it works and hate it when I can’t use it because of network issues.
  • Filtering and alerting — With all of the content that is being created through mobile devices (tweets, photos, videos, etc.) sorting through it all to find what’s important is becoming a big problem and the tools that we have today are crude at best.
  • Platform overload — There are too many mobile platforms today. Developers have to choose among iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Palm, Symbian. And that’s just the smartphones. It’s just not cost effective to develop for everything.

My new blog, at, will look at interesting (good and bad) applications of mobile technology and the good and bad of mobile user interfaces. If you have an application you’d like me to take a look at, please drop me a line.

This blog will continue to be an eclectic mix of pieces on social networking, search and media. I will also crosspost mobile-related posts for the near future.

June 3, 2009

To tweet or not to tweet: thoughts on Twitter etiquette

Filed under: social networking, twitter — Rakesh Agrawal @ 12:27 pm

With every new medium comes changes in the way we communicate and new social norms for behavior. I’ve written before about how technology changes the way we write. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the norms for Twitter.

How much is too much Tweeting?

My tweeting patterns vary dramatically based on what’s going on. Some days I can have a dozen tweets and other days I’ll have none. I try to tweet only what’s interesting, but that’s highly subjective. I typically don’t retweet @Techmeme, @Techcrunch or @CNNbrk — not because I don’t respect the work, but because many people who follow me already follow them and I don’t need to add to the echo chamber unless I’m adding unique value.

I tweet less frequently than I’d like because I know Twitter doesn’t offer followers any tools for filtering tweets. Filtering based on location or topic would increase how much I contribute to Twitter, plus allow me to follow more people. (See my earlier post on improving Facebook filtering; much of that would apply to Twitter.)

How much self promotion is OK?

In a way, every tweet is a bit of self promotion. What I’m referring to here is explicit promotion of blog posts or companies you have an interest in. I refuse to follow people whose feeds consist entirely of promotions for their blog. Tacking on “also see” to every tweet is also over my line.

When Gerry Campbell asked about this earlier, I half-jokingly said that if your good friends stop following you, you’ve crossed the line. (It would be nice if Twitter showed a “recently departed” followers list.) If half or fewer of your tweets are self promotion, that’s probably OK.

How do you edit retweets?

With only 140 characters, spreading memes can be tough. If I’m retweeting longer tweets, I start by cutting out as many filler words as I can. If it’s been previously retweeted, I will then edit out intermediate retweeters. (I usually credit the person who brought it to my attention, unless an intermediate tweeter has significant relevance.) Losing that data is a shame because the path tweets take could be useful for analyzing people’s reputations as well as the importance of a piece of content.

I typically don’t re-shorten a link and replace it with my own trackable link, but some people do. Ideally the shorteners would credit back to previous retweeters automatically on a regenerated link.

On the question of “RT” vs. “via”: I use “RT” when I’m quoting someone else’s tweet. I use “via” when someone brought a story to my attention but the comment is mine.

Some of the above goes out the window when I’m mobile and laziness rules. e.g. I use “via” for everything because that’s what Tweetie puts in and it’s too difficult to change it.

If I’m posting something that I think has a high likelihood of being retweeted, I deliberately leave an extra 18 characters for “RT @rakeshlobster “.

How do you decide whom to follow back?

Because Twitter allows asynchronous relationships the rules here are different than on Facebook. Many of my new followers are just follow spammers and they’re easy to ignore. People who I know personally (and like) get an automatic follow.

For people who I don’t know, I’ll take a quick look at their profile and recent tweets to see if their content is likely to be interesting to me. It’d be nice if Twitter prompted new followers to send an @reply introducing themselves. Aside from the spammers, I’m curious to know what random people who follow me find interesting.

Is it OK to tweet during dinner or when out with friends?

This will vary with your group of friends, but for me the answer is a resounding “NO!” When I’m out with friends or colleagues I try hard to give them my full attention. Tweeting, emailing, texting, taking phone calls are for emergencies.

More on: twitter, social networking

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