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

April 15, 2009

How the AP blew it

Filed under: google, iphone, journalism, media, newspapers, yahoo — Rakesh Agrawal @ 9:17 pm

In the most recent round of AP getting in a huff about search engines and aggregators stealing traffic that they feel rightly belongs to them, there’s a fundamental problem they’re ignoring: AP chose not be in the online news business. More than a decade ago, AP made two crucial decisions: to not create a destination site and to license its content to news portals. Either of these decisions on their own would have been damaging, but the combination of the two has been nearly deadly.

Screenshot of AP's iPhone app

Screenshot of AP's iPhone app

As a member-owned cooperative, the AP has catered to its members, which includes newspapers, radio stations and other media outlets. Even now, if you go to, news is a footnote. Contrast that with the front page of Reuters. Instead of displaying AP content on the AP-branded site, you get AP content in obscure brands like the Lake County Record-Bee, High Desert Daily Press, and AP is still hosting the content, but the strong national AP brand is subsumed by a large number of brands that have no meaning outside their region.

This might have worked if newspapers had assumed the role of the default home page and people sought out their local brands. Some papers, including the Washington Post and New York Times tried to create all purpose portals; those efforts have been abandoned.

AP also decided to license content to online media outlets. Yahoo! was an early licensee; Google struck a deal with AP more recently. Yahoo! was able to take the AP content and create a leading news destination site without employing hundreds of journalists.

Not only do Yahoo! and Google license AP content, they are doing a better job presenting it than AP. Compare this story on the AP’s site (branded with the same story on Yahoo! News. The Yahoo! story loads a lot faster and the layout is cleaner. On AP-hosted pages, I sometimes get pop up ads. It’s a much worse experience than Google or Yahoo! News.

The fact that AP doesn’t have a destination site presents another big problem in today’s PageRank driven environment: because the same story can be presented at hundreds of different URLs, they don’t rank highly in search results.

It’s not impossible for AP to get back in the game. But they have to play the game as it exists today, instead of trying to reset the calendar to 1995. They’ll need to focus on the things that any Web business needs to focus on today: simplicity, performance, community, analytics and search engine optimization. And they must do it under the AP brand.

One hopeful sign is AP’s Mobile News iPhone application. The app provides a solid user experience, incorporates photos and videos effectively, has acceptable levels of advertising and looks like it was designed this decade. You can even send in news tips. My only real complaint is that the AP brand is buried in favor of a generic “Mobile News Network” brand. (Probably to placate member companies.)

AP has a lot of assets that even now aren’t fully exploited by Google or Yahoo! With some creative thinking and Web-focused talent, they could use those assets to build a killer destination site. It won’t be anyone’s home page, but it can be successful nonetheless.

More on: newspapers.

September 17, 2008

Wall Street and the incredible shrinking newspaper industry

Filed under: google, journalism, media, microsoft, newspapers, yahoo — Rakesh Agrawal @ 8:35 pm

A friend asked me today “Does one Bear Stearns bailout equal the entire newspaper industry?” I decided to find out.

Although there isn’t a clear answer, I was surprised by how small the newspaper industry is. Here are the market caps for publicly traded newspaper companies:

Company Market cap (millions)
Washington Post Co. $5,450
Gannett 3,640
New York Times 1,960
Belo 627
Scripps 388
McClatchy 283
Media General 198
Lee 114
Daily Journal 64
Sun-Times Media Group 19
Combined $12,743

The key newspapers that are missing from this list are the Tribune papers and the Wall Street Journal. If you add in the $5 billion that News Corp. paid for the Journal and assume that Tribune is worth $2.25 billion ($8.2 billion value of the deal, discounted at the same rate as McClatchy’s year-to-date performance), the total value of the industry comes to $20 billion. (I’m being generous here and not subtracting out Kaplan’s contribution to the Washington Post’s market cap, which is likely 2/3 to 3/4 of the $5.5 billion.)

By comparison, the government has committed $30 billion in loan guarantees to Bear Stearns and $85 billion to AIG. The actual cost to taxpayers won’t be known for sometime. Bank of America is paying more than twice the value of the newspaper industry for Merrill Lynch.

Some other comparisons:

Market cap of selected companies (in billions)

Market cap of selected companies (in billions)

In other newspaper news:

More on: journalism, newspapers

May 18, 2008

Occasional reader – Airport security, future of journalism, working with Yahoo!

Filed under: airlines, journalism, media, newspapers, reader, social networking, travel, web 2, web 2.0, weekly reader, yahoo — Rakesh Agrawal @ 5:17 pm

Some interesting reads from the past couple of weeks:

  • The Airport Security Follies (New York Times blog) – Pilot Patrick Smith takes a look at the idiocy of our airport screening processes. Smith argues (and I fully agree) that airport security is a charade designed to persuade people that the government is doing something, when in reality most of those measures have zero impact on safety. Part of the reason we tolerate this is that those who are most impacted by this idiocy are a small fraction of the population: pilots, flight attendants and very frequent fliers. Even the media largely ignore it, despite the billions in lost productivity. (This piece didn’t run in the paper.)
    When they do cover it, it’s for the theatrics: It never fails that when an idiotic measure is announced that the local TV news has a grandma who flies twice a year talking about how she’s willing to fly naked if that would improve security. The media love scare stories because they get people to watch. A CNN promo running this weekend intones “What if a hurricane hits, gas skyrockets to $10 a gallon and everything collapses?”
    Comment #3 to the entry, from another pilot, is also worth reading. via Adam Lasnik
  • So far, so good for Midway Airport’s new screening system (Chicago Tribune) – I was stuck in the metal detector line at SFO last week behind a guy who tried to go through wearing a bulky sweatshirt, a backpack and a baby. I’ve long wondered why airports don’t offer beginner, advanced and expert lanes. Chicago’s Midway now has security screening lines that uses ski resort-style lane designations to sort travelers. In theory, it would also benefit inexperienced travelers and families: “Shannon Spicer, who was traveling with her 2-year-old son, Liam, said she liked being able to take her time without other travelers breathing down her neck.” Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal reports similar signs at Cincinnati’s airport aren’t working well: “The TSA agent at the checkpoint said the signs look nice but they don’t help much. Everybody, she said, thinks they’re experts.” At least there are still the elite security lines at hub airports.
  • The Future (We Hope) of Journalism (Poynter Online) – Former Los Angeles Times editor John Carroll offers his take on the transition from lucrative virtual monopolies to rapidly shrinking competitors. Like many in the old media, Carroll takes potshots at bloggers: “Although blogs have contributed much to the national discussion, they offer only a rare flash of original reporting. For fresh information, the blogs remain deeply dependent on the old media, which they simultaneously deplore and utilize extensively.” Never mind that bloggers were instrumental in holding the old guard accountable in cases like Dan Rather’s erroneous National Guard story and the L.A. Times’ very similar fiasco about an assault on Tupac Shakur. Or that journalists frequently fill air time and ink by interviewing bloggers like Michelle Leder of Or that the old media are “deeply dependent” on press releases and political operatives.
  • Doing Business with the Semi-Permeable Corporation (Greg Cohn’s blog) – Blogs and social networks have made it much easier to reach out to key decision makers in large corporations. But they haven’t erased the rules of business. Yahoo’s Greg Cohn provides a look at the good and the bad of openness in a large public corporation.

March 18, 2008

Tellme about St. Patrick’s Day

Filed under: fun, microsoft, yahoo — Rakesh Agrawal @ 1:29 am

Tellmes know how to throw a great party. The annual St. Patrick’s Day party was a jolly good time. Colleagues from Microsoft’s Silicon Valley campus joined us in the courtyard for limerick and mashed potato sculpting contests. The winning sculpture? A bust of Steve Ballmer:

Bust of Steve Ballmer

Ironically, on the train ride home I heard a Marketplace report about concerns that a Microsoft acquisition would destroy Yahoo’s culture. Who knows what would happen, but the report did contain at least one factual error: Microsoft employees do get free coffee. Tellme employees also get free cookies.

(RSS readers should click through to the post to see the slideshow.)

February 1, 2008

Microsoft yodels for Yahoo!

Filed under: aol, google, iphone, microsoft, mobile, mobile search, social networking, wireless, wireless data, yahoo — Rakesh Agrawal @ 5:12 pm

Microsoft and Yahoo logosThe announced Microsoft bid for Yahoo! means a lot of different things for lots of people. An emboldened competitor for Google. A stronger ad network for advertisers. Heightened acquisition hopes for AOL. Better benefits for Yahoo! employees. (Microsoft has the best benefits I’ve seen in the industry.)

But what does it mean for every day consumers? The biggest impact is likely to be in the mobile space. Microsoft’s ownership of the Windows Mobile OS and Yahoo’s large audience and mobile applications could revolutionize the industry.

As revolutionary as the iPhone is, it’s not a true network device. Apple did a terrific job integrating four devices – phone, Internet tablet, media player and camera – into one.

Even as our lives get more and more digitally connected, the cell phone remains a remote island of information. Someone needs to build a device that integrates the Internet seamlessly.

Some of the things I’d like to see:

  • A network address book. You no longer have to use the 10-key keypad or a sync cable to keep your address book up-to-date. In fact, you don’t have to update it all – as your contacts move, those changes are automatically reflected. The address book would incorporate network presence so that you don’t call people when they’re in the middle of something.
  • A network calendar.
  • Integrated photo applications. I’ve been looking for a way to view pictures from my friends on flickr through my mobile phone or iPod Touch. The best efforts have been clunky. When I take pictures, they’re seamlessly integrated with my flickr account, without the hacks that are currently required. (Sprint has done a nice implementation of this kind of integration with Picture Mail, but their Web application is awful and little used.) The pictures could also be used for picture Caller ID.
  • Richer data push to the phone. It amazes me that we’re still stuck sending 160 character text messages to each other. A network-integrated phone would allow for a better experience. Want to invite someone to dinner? Send them a message which appears complete with photo, address, review and link to driving directions.
  • Web access to text messages and integration with IM. When you’re at your desk, text messages come in on your IM client. Leave and they get routed to your cell phone. All of your texts are available in your mail app. The carriers are an obstacle to making this happen (text messaging is highly lucrative), but a combined Microsoft-Yahoo might be able to pull it off.
  • Network control of your phone. Phone stolen? No problem, send a bullet to erase all of the data. Forgot where you left your phone? See a map of where it is.
  • Local search integration. Found a business that you like? Add it your network address book for quick and easy access. Click to rate right from your cell phone.
  • Location-aware presence. The option to publish location to other networks, including IM networks. More on that later.

Some variations of a few of these features, like the network address book and calendar, exist in enterprise-focused devices. Yahoo! Go is an excellent consumer application that includes features such as a flickr viewer, but without integration into the OS isn’t as great as it should be.

Microsoft’s ownership of the phone OS, deep integration of Yahoo! Go and their combined consumer audiences could be combined to create a phone that out Apples Apple.

See also:

ObDisclaimer: These are my personal views and do not reflect the views of my employer.

December 13, 2007

Yahoo! Local gets Yelpy

Filed under: advertising, city guides, local search, search, web 2, web 2.0, yahoo, yelp — Rakesh Agrawal @ 2:09 pm

Yahoo! Local has rolled out some new features to increase the Web 2.0-ness of its local search product:

  • RSS feeds. You can subscribe to feeds of all reviews near you. If you find a reviewer you like, you can stay up-to-date on his or her reviews.
  • A “first reviewed by” designation to highlight contributors who are the first to review a place.
  • Attribute drill down. You can narrow your search using filters such as “family friendly,” “casual” or “elegant.”

It’s been a few months since I last checked in on Yahoo! Local. Overall, it’s a huge improvement. It has a ways to go before catching category leader Yelp. (The metric being by my subjective opinion of product quality.)

Yelp has had the first two features for at least a year.

Among the local players, Yelp has had the best incentive system for contributors. Its “First to Review” designation is one of many things that Yelp does to encourage frequent participation. An “Elite” system rewards frequent contributors with a badge on their profile and invitations to parties. The front page of the site highlights a review of the day. Featured Yelpers also appear on the home page.

It may sound corny, but such incentives are important to keeping people engaged. Most social systems have some sort of perk system, including ODP’s edit-alls and metas and the Wikipedia cabal.

Although Yahoo’s design is more visually appealing than it used to be, it’s still cluttered.

Unlike Yelp, the map scrolls off the search results page, making it hard to see where results 3-10 are located unless you have a very large screen.

Getting reviews is more work than it should be. Yahoo! breaks its 69 reviews for The Italian Store across 29 pages, 3 at a time. Yelp shows all 42 of its reviews on one page, making it very easy to scan.

Then there’s the ads. I’m all for ads — I work in the Web space and like to get paid — when they’re relevant. The ads on Yahoo! Local are anything but. Here is an example of the ads that appeared above the listings for restaurants:

Irrelevant ads on Yahoo! Local

The top two ads are for services that compete with Yahoo! Local. Ads on the side (not shown) pitched “Watch mouth-watering videos of Oklahoma’s best restaurants” and one from Target offered “Find restaurant online. Shop & Save at Today.” (I’ll admit to clicking through on the Oklahoma ad just to see what would constitute a mouth-watering video of Okahoma restaurants. Unfortunately, they linked it to a video of a bad rendition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.)

I understand that local advertisers are scarce, especially outside the Bay Area. But Yelp takes the right approach.

More on: local search, yahoo, yelp

Disclosure: I used to work on local products for AOL.

October 18, 2007

The quest for buried treasure in mapping

Filed under: aol, geotagging, google, maps, yahoo — Rakesh Agrawal @ 6:50 pm

I wrote the other day about MapQuest’s new beta launch and how they’ve so far missed the mark on mapping innovations that have occurred in the last two years.

Maps can serve many purposes. Finding a business or a place and then getting turn-by-turn directions to it is just one purpose. This is an area where most of the mapping sites do a “good enough” job. Whether you’re using Google, MapQuest, Yahoo! or MSN, you’ll usually find a business and get directions. There are differences in the freshness of data, the quality of the user interface and enhanced features (like Street View). This kind of mapping is increasingly turning up in our cars and mobile devices.

MapQuest, more than any of its competitors, has focused on basic maps and driving directions. But maps can do so much more than get us from Point A to Point B.

Maps can help us to better understand our world. There are many examples of this in the offline world: historical maps that show us how the country grew, the red-and-blue maps that the TV networks show on election night to illustrate how divided the country is. Online, this type of map is largely dominated by mashups with Google Maps, as developers have overlaid data onto maps using Google’s APIs. Some examples of this are Slate’s Map the Candidates and Chicago Crime Maps. Trulia’s Hindsight, built on Microsoft Virtual Earth, lets you see how housing patterns developed.

Maps can help us to connect better with communities of people that share our interests. At Platial, you can collaborate with others that share your interests to build community maps, such as this musical map of London or the world of bugs. Hikers, bikers, kayakers and other outdoor sports enthusiasts can share maps with detailed route information and pictures at Everytrail. With tools like these and Google’s My Maps, anyone can create a map covering the smallest niche.

Lastly, maps provide us an easy way to explore our world from our computer screen. We’ve been able to do this to a limited degree in the offline world with travel guides, but tools like flickr’s map and Panoramio allow you to get up close and personal with a country, city or even one of the wonders of the world.

Great pyramids

The king of this market is Google Earth, where you can layer just about anything onto high quality satellite imagery – pictures, videos, census data, congressional districts. My two favorite layers are GigaPan’s panoramic images and Rumsey Historical Maps.

What’s next for maps? The biggest thing I see is real-time or near real-time data on maps. You can already overlay movie showtimes, buses, airplanes and traffic. Imagine pulling up a map and seeing parking availability or which restaurants have tables available. If the information is tied to a location and can be collected and digitized, you’ll be able to see it on a map.

More on: maps

October 14, 2007

A new MapQuest beta with not much new

Filed under: google, local search, maps, yahoo — Rakesh Agrawal @ 3:35 pm

The latest beta of MapQuest shows how far behind MapQuest is in the functionality race with Google and Yahoo! There are two big improvements in this release:

  • MapQuest finally supports a single search box for entering addresses. The current version of the site requires you to break an address in to four components: address, city, state and zip. For those manually entering data, it’s a slight inconvenience. But for users who copy and paste addresses from emails and Web sites, it’s enough of a hassle to warrant using another product.
  • The number of ad links has been dramatically reduced compared to the version at, from 26 to 15 by my count.

This beta has done nothing to address a number of innovations that have come to mapping services over the last several years:

  • Basic user interface. One thing I love about both Google and Yahoo! maps is that they intelligently size to your screen. If you have a big screen, they take advantage of it and present more map data. If you shrink your window, the map shrinks so you don’t have to scroll. Both also have inset maps to help you orient yourself. With Google, you can use the scroll wheel on your mouse to zoom in and out. The maps themselves are still ugly compared with Google’s and Yahoo’s.
  • Venue information. Despite having access to AOL’s terrific CityGuide data, MapQuest ignores user ratings and reviews. (I suspect that this is because AOL has all but killed CityGuide.) Google has long crawled other Web sites for ratings and reviews and added its own review feature in June.
  • Changing routes. Google allows you to drag a route line to change the routing, for example if you want to take the more scenic route.
  • Public transit. Google and Yahoo! show subway stations on maps. On Google, you can search for businesses using subway stations as a reference point. For example, “restaurants near foggy bottom metro“. Google also offers the ability to get directions using public transit.
  • Street View. It’s not in all cities and some find it a little creepy, but it can be valuable to get the feel for a neighborhood.
  • Embeddability. Google allows you to embed their maps on your own Web site.
  • Traffic. Both Google and Yahoo! offer live traffic. Google even offers estimates of traffic delays during rush hours.

The biggest problem with MapQuest is that it’s still stuck in a Web 1.0 world. (AJAX to support map panning notwithstanding.) MapQuest is too dependent on InfoUSA to provide the point of interest data that is searched.

Google and, to a much lesser extent, Yahoo! have made an effort to incorporate data from the wider Web into the listings. Google provides extensive tools to create and share your own maps and the data from these maps can be used to improve the overall quality of Google’s data.

MapQuest has also done little to get its maps and data used by other sites. Although MapQuest offers an API, when was the last time you heard of a MapQuest mashup? Google’s APIs are the defacto standard for startups looking to incorporate maps into their sites.

TechCrunch reports that some of these features will be coming to MapQuest over the next few months.

MapQuest’s biggest asset remains its brand. When we did focus groups and usability testing, one of the things we’d ask was where people would go to look for specific types of information. Among the various things we asked — movies? weather? news? research paper? — the answer was almost invariably “Google.” The only question that got a different answer was “where would you go for maps and directions?” People stuck by MapQuest.

That advantage is going diminish as the core maps and directions business moves from the desktop to navigation systems and mobile devices.

Disclosure: I worked at AOL (MapQuest’s parent company) and launched AOL’s Local Search product in 2005.

via TechCrunch

September 14, 2007

Bringing email into the 21st century

Filed under: aol, email, facebook, google, microsoft, social networking, yahoo — Rakesh Agrawal @ 7:49 pm

John McKinley, former AOL CTO and now VC, asks “Who will be the first major (Google/Yahoo/Microsoft/AOL) to break ranks and apply a fundamentally new metaphor to email?” There’s been a proliferation in ways to communicate — IM, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Wikis, SMS, comments.

People have more compelling, more contextual, more effective, and more convenient options to share and interact than ever before, and incumbent forms of communications will be the losers here.

Email as we know it has changed little since the mid-90s. Most of the features have been incremental. The biggest breakthrough was Webmail instead of client-based mail — and that happened in 1996.

John has some great thoughts. Here are my additions, in priority order:

Spam control – One of the reasons I like Facebook messaging is that I know that messages are much more likely to be real — no Viagra or stock pitches. I’d say more than 70% of the mail I get in my Gmail account is spam. I also have had numerous cases of false positives with important personal mail getting sent to the spam folders. As a domain owner, I also get to deal with the bounces from spammers forging my domain name. We need to move to a model where we focus on identifying the good email. (See my blog post on Picture ID for one example.) If the big four would work together to secure email sent among them, it’d be a big step forward.

Security – This strikes me as a business opportunity for the big 4. It amazes me that this far into email, it is less secure than paper mail. I’d love to sign up for e-billing with all my credit card companies and utilities, but it’s a pain. The lack of email security requires that I get an email reminder (hope that the email doesn’t get spam filtered), log into their site and then view a PDF. I just want them to send me a copy of my bill that I can view, store and search. You could probably charge for this – 1 or 2 cents per bill is a lot cheaper than the post office. You could also provide the ancillary service (which is becoming even more important) of authenticating the emails to prevent phishing.

Smarts – I wrote a blog post about smart email a while back. Many of the emails I get are from computers – banks, credit card companies, airlines, etc. They’re all generated off templates. Understand them and do the right thing. Put my bill due notices on the calendar, along with my itineraries. Show me when that package from Amazon is going to arrive. Automatically archive all the sales and deals that have expired. I don’t think entity extraction is good enough for this. Google has been trying for a while with Gmail and the results have been fairly poor. It will likely require the mailers to follow microformats and append the data in machine readable form. But if the Big 4 were to agree on a framework for the formats, it would take off. You could start with vCal and work from there.

Recommended reading:

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