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May 2005 Marketing Archives

Friday, May 06, 2005

Mary Jane vs. E-Mail

Since nobody in the blogosphere really covered this, it's my duty while Jason's away to bring it up: "Email hurts IQ more than marijuana."

Is this a joke? Apparently not.

According to a study by Kings College in London (for HP), researchers found that "workers distracted by email and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers."

The articles I read don't go much into the design of the study, just its sensational conclusions. But after the sacastic remarks and the joking is over, it's worth considering that email and IM and the Internet are really a very mixed blessing in our lives.

I owe my job to the Internet and I think the changes that it's bringing to business and society are, in one sense, fascinating. Some of them are great.

I work at home and so can work in my underwear or a bunny suit (unless I have to go out and visit clients, in which case I wear the bunny suit). But that also allows me to work 24/7, which I feel like I do sometimes, much to the irritation of my wife.

Those old "industrial" films produced in the 50s and 60s that forecasted the future promised that automation and technology would create more lesuire time for people. It's now almost a cliche to say that the opposite has happened -- we're able to work all the time, from anywhere. And because of that possibility, that's become the expectation.

To that end, Google just made blogger (which Jason uses) capable of being updated "on the go." Here's the official statement:

Today, Google released a new service for Blogger that enables anyoneon-the-go to create a new blog and post to it-- for free-- using theirmobile phone. Users with a camera phone can also post photos just as easilyto a blog. They can simply snap a photo and send it via email or MMS, and they have a new blog on Blogger.

Existing Blogger userscan send messages and photos from their mobile phone directly to a currentblog.With more than 180 million people in the U.S. with mobile phones, this newfeature makes it even easier for people to start blogging. There's no needto sit in front of a computer to start sharing photos and thoughts withothers.

More information about Blogger Mobile can be found at

So next time, there will be no excuses for Jason not blogging on vacation . . . Which brings me back to the question of sustainability.

The pace of competition and product innovation in the Internet (and especially search) arena is unprecedented in the history of American enterprise (or the world for that matter).

How are these companies going to sustain their growth and how will the people working in them deal with the ever-increasing frenzy fomented by the ever-accelerating pace of work?

Have trouble relaxing? I know I do.

We in this Internet space who were not lucky enough to get on the Google IPO gravy train will need to find a way to create "boundaries" around the work so that it and we can sustain for the long term. In a macro sense, that's the same challenge that Google, et al face in trying to position themselves as the media giants of the 21st Century -- sustainability.

Wall Street loves that Google and Yahoo! are showing triple-digit growth right now, but they secretly worry it isn't sustainable. Hello? -- it isn't. Neither is working 24/7-365.

So, since it's Friday afternoon, maybe it's time to stop checking email, turn off the computer and . . . (I won't say what you think I was going to suggest). Instead, why not sit back and pick up John Markoff's new book "What the Dormouse Said...: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry." (Talk about your unintended consequences!)

Thanks for letting me sit in. Jason will be back next week.

Greg Sterling

Mary Jane vs. E-Mail By Jason Dowdell at 03:37 PM
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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Search Engine Usage, Inertia and Firefox

This is an updated version of a post I ran on our blog, but I'm including some thoughts about Firefox's 50 million downloads, the browser market and its analogy to search.

The conventional wisdom is that there is little or no search-engine loyalty; Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Jeeves, InfoSpace/DogPile, Lycos, etc. are "just a click away" from Google. I hear this argument again and again. And, as a hypothetical matter, it's true. However, I want to challenge the conventional wisdom with two separate pieces of data that seem to reflect, if not search engine loyalty, then, inertia.

First, comScore recently reported that search engine market share has remained largely unchanged in the past year. Their U.S. data are as follows:
  • Google 36.4%
  • Yahoo! 30.6% (and hasn't gained ground)
  • MSN 16.5%
  • AOL fell to 8.9%
  • Jeeves increased to 5.5%, explained as a by-product of its acquisition
There are a lot of people that will dispute this data or cite other studies that reflect different share distribution. But directionally this is consistent with what others have found (e.g., Nielsen, Hitwise, etc.).

Next, take findings from Jason's survey of the uniqueness of search results. What Jason found was that among the engines he surveyed and tested, "Google had the least amount of unique results when compared to the other search engines." (There are many comments that dispute or seek to explain this in response to the post.)

In The Kelsey Group's research last October with (now Shopzilla) with 3,887 online consumers, findings reflected that 35 percent of respondents indicated loyalty to one search engine (consistent with Google's U.S. share percentage). What's interesting from my point of view are the following:
  • According to Jason's research, Google is lowest in terms of unique search results yet retains its leadership position
  • Other studies and analysts have similarly suggested that the difference in quality among search results has all but disappeared
  • Google's market leadership position has remained basically unchanged during a time of furious competition and search product innovation
I think these pieces of information are evidence that Google's leadership is no longer about a better user experience, it's about brand (nothing new here) and inertia. People are familiar and comfortable with Google. And the willy-nilly product rollouts/upgrades (toolbar, desktop, image search, local, personalization, etc.) help reinforce that inertia for different consumer-user segments.

What about data that reflect little or no loyalty to search engines? People may indeed use multiple engines, but that apparent lack of "loyalty" is probably a reflection of primary and secondary engine choices rather than true fluidity.

It takes something obviously better to motivate a change in consumer behavior. And unless or until that happens, we're likely to see the market share numbers remain largely unchanged.

So what about the browser market and Firefox? Does its rapid adoption hold any lessons for the search marketplace and for Google in particular?

The upstart open-source browser recently passed the 50 million downloads threshold; and it's closing in on 10% market share.

Thus far, the people who have adopted Firefox are not entirely what you might call "mainstreamers." Indeed, the Firefox phenomenon is largely explained as a reaction against IE's security flaws. That's true, but I think only partly correct. I believe the other side of the story is: backlash against Microsoft's dominant market position.

More and more Google is perceived to be the "Microsoft of search." In fact, I think that MSN is getting some mileage (and rare sympathy) out of being the underdog in this game.

What all that means from my point of view is that Google, which is beloved by users generally, needs to take care not to take for granted the influencers among its user base. (There is some evidence that the company is not doing a good job with SEM customer service.)

This seems to fly in the face of what I said above about inertia. The analogy to Firefox helps reconcile these seeming contradictions. Firefox was and is better than IE. But resentment toward Microsoft "primed the pump" for defection when the right product came along.

Inertia will remain a powerful force in search. But new products will come along; and if they're better (in obvious ways), people will adopt them. The potential danger for Google is taking its users for granted and not being mindful of the way the perceived arrogance of being the "900 pound gorilla" tends to alienate people.

Search Engine Usage, Inertia and Firefox By Jason Dowdell at 11:49 AM
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Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Backfence Bringing Blogs to Local

Not sure I can do this blog justice in Jason's absence, but I'm gonna give it my best . . .

With the tagline, "It's all local," went live tonight in McLean and Reston, Virginia. Backfence aims to become a national network of local sites serving communities around major metro areas with populations of no more than 75,000.

Backfence is seeking to be a kind of ultimate local destination, combining local news, classifieds, community input, local business reviews, Yellow Pages, an entertainment and events calendar and a good deal more. And if it were intended to be a Hollywood movie, Backfence might be pitched as "Citysearch meets Craigslist" with a couple of interesting twists, one of which is the idea that the community will create almost all the content.

Founders Mark Potts and Susan DeFife are using blog and wiki software (without telling users and scaring them away) to help facilitate that and make it as simple as possible for people to participate and provide input.

It addition to its attempt at being a comprehensive local resource, the site also has some unique elements, one of which is a content area called "voices," a local discussion forum.

The site is well designed and visually appealing. It has a personality that will aid it in seeking to gain users and local content creators. Right now the content appears to be all from insiders and those once-removed from insiders. However, it is quite likely that Backfence will catch on relatively quickly and be able to build some loyal usage within a short period of time. That's because its broad, local utility is self-evident.

It must also be said that Backfence is taking on two significant challenges. First, Potts and DeFife are taking a big risk with their heavy reliance on blogging and user-generated content. Second, the idea that they will be able to go head to head as a destination with the portals, directory and local newspaper sites takes a certain amount of chutzpah.

But the reason that Backfence might be able to compete and win in that increasingly crowded field is its local community focus and its comprehensiveness. It's not a local marketplace, or a local newspaper site or a directory site; it combines elements of all three and offers other things not found on any of them.

Backfence's hyper-local focus also may enable the site to develop a devoted following that is willing to generate content and use the site regularly. The local structured data that Backfence has the capacity to offer (assuming users show up and start blogging) is also more relevant and reliable than trying to find information on McLean, VA on a traditional search engine.

Potts and DeFife are taking some chances, but they're also being very smart. It addition to having an enviable cost structure (your users generate all your content), they are selling a range of different types of ads (display, directory, Yellow Pages and sponsorships). Basic classifieds are free. Potts and DeFife also previously told me that they intend to build small, local sales teams in each of their site communities to reach local businesses.

Backfence wants to work with local media companies (e.g., newspapers) to extend their reach down into local communities that they're out of touch with (the WSJ today chronicled the subscription woes of major dailies). In a certain way Backfence has established a model for what local newspaper sites could and maybe should be: comprehensive local portals. But because of legacy and culture issues, it's probably unlikely that newspapers could have developed this model by themselves.

We'll see how many of them now try to imitate it.

Backfence Bringing Blogs to Local By greg at 01:41 AM
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May 2005 Week 2 »

  • Week 1 (3 entries) May 1-7
  • Week 2 (0 entries) May 8-14
  • Week 3 (5 entries) May 15-21
  • Week 4 (5 entries) May 22-28
  • Week 5 (0 entries) May 29-31

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