Archive for the ‘trends’ Category

Mahalo - A Directory In An Identity Crisis

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

Mahalo logoYou’d expect that when a new player enters a space, it hopes to attract users from competitor sites, right? That isn’t the case with Mahalo. But then again, Mahalo claims to be in a space that it isn’t actually in. You follow? Mahalo is a search engine in an identity crisis. Heck, it’s not even a search engine. It’s a directory. The search function is nothing more than a glorified shortcut to an individual directory page. “Guide Notes” and “Fast Facts” aside, this is really nothing more than DMOZ.

Mahalo lacks a dynamic, continuous crawl process - it’s static. Therefore, I don’t see how it can be called a search engine. Personally, I’m not convinced that you can define a search engine as such without an algorithm. Having said that, it is of my opinion that Mahalo won’t be able to compete with the big boys. Simply put, I can’t see people switching from Google or Yahoo. Mahalo has quickly realized this and since introduced Mahalo Follow. Now, users don’t have to switch services - they can continue to use Google or Yahoo at their leisure. In the event that a Mahalo result is available, it is automatically displayed in the sidebar.

It seems that Mahalo Follow is a good, passive approach for the company. It may even be the business model in the end (in my mind at least). I respect that the company has only been around for a few months, but the fact that this ’search engine’ lacks ’search results’ for many popular queries is inexcusable. I won’t even touch on unique, long tail queries…

On another note, Mahalo founder Jason Calacanis has been quoted as saying, “SEO is bullshit. If you generate a web page with good content, Google will rank the page properly”. Hmmm… that seems pretty hyprocritical. You see… directories thrive on SEO. Their very structure and nature are tailored for search engines. Even quasi-directories like Wikipedia and IMDB drive a significant portion of their traffic from search engines.

Consider this: both Mahalo and a given directory site contain unique pages with keywords and phrases stuffed into important areas such as the page title, URL, and header tags. In other words, Mahalo is a ’search engine’ dependent on other search engines. SEO is a primary traffic source. Instead of competing against Google and Yahoo, Mahalo has cleverly positioned itself to reap the benefits of these search giants via SEO.

Basically, Mahalo plans to profit from the search results of the other search engines.

If you are still not convinced, type in “Berlin vacation” or “save on your energy bill” into Google? Which directory ’search engine’ has a front page result?… You should never see a given search result in another search engine results page - it’s ridiculous. Need I say more?

What’s your take on the situation? Do you think Mahalo is a search engine?

Wikipedia - The Central Source For All Human Knowledge?

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

Wikipedia logoWill Wikipedia one day be the central hub for all human knowledge? This may sound crazy, but I’m not so sure that it’s as far-fetched as it may seem. The site has developed a loyal following and continues to generate an unprecedented amount of traffic. Founder Jimmy Wales always had a vision “to create and distribute a free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language”. In other words, if someone wants to learn something about anything, they can find it on Wikipedia in their native language. This seemingly unrealistic goal is now within reach.

This is where the nay-sayers step in. Many discount the credibility of the site, stating a lack of accuracy and accountability. Some refute the reliability of sources. Others even claim that the ‘mediocrity of the crowds’ depreciates the quality of articles, arguing that a single, expert voice can provide a more clear, authoritative perspective. These are the critics of social media.

One thing is for sure: most numbers, measurements, dates, and quantitative data cannot be argued. It’s fact - it’s indisputable. Qualitative data, however, is a whole different story. Biases and opinions can creep into articles at any given point, subtlely manipulating the thoughts of the reader. Though Wikipedia users and editors do a good job of controlling this type of behaviour, it will always be present. When disputes arise, authority must be present. A moderated system such as Wikipedia can create bureaucracy and formalization, but it also helps to deter potential gaming.

Wikipedia has also successfully opened the playing field. Transparency and accessibility are key. Anyone can access all information in all languages without the need for a login or special permissions - this even includes all edits. A by-product of this is that information inefficiencies are eliminated. It is well known that many companies and organizations profit from a lack of information distribution. The introduction of such a system levels the playing field for all.

The concept of a free service also eliminates another tall barrier to entry: price. Historically, people had to purchase books or other learning materials to educate themselves on a particular topic. Now, this can be done at no cost. Anyone can view all information without paying a cent.

Finally, anyone can edit any article at any time. This is probably the most important feature. Furthermore, it probably carries the heaviest weight outside the walls of the site as well. Though there is a level of moderation, anyone can provide input, information, details, clarification, or data to further enhance the quality and depth of articles. The potential effects and widespread reach of this function simply cannot be articulated.

Obviously I am a big fan of Wikipedia. But it’s not so much the brand I’m a fan of, as the idea behind it. The principle is what interests me. Creating a free learning network for all mankind in every language is not an easy task. It’s not about Wikipedia, or competition, or brand names, or fames, or eyeballs. It’s about human knowledge. Once we can all access all information, the potential is only limited by our own creativity.

Facebook Bigger Than Google in Canada?

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

Facebook new logoAccording to Alexa rankings, Facebook is now the #1 most trafficked property in Canada. This puts it ahead of Google, Yahoo, and MSN among others. Do I believe this to be true? Not likely. As we all know, Alexa ranks are inaccurate at best.

Obviously the social network has witnessed phenomenal growth this year, but I can’t imagine Facebook being bigger than Google - at least not yet. Keep in mind, however, that Canada has had one of the highest Facebook penetration rates among all countries. Most notably, Facebook adoption has reached unprecedented levels in Toronto with over 700,000 registered users. Only London has a larger user base.

Though Alexa rankings may be skewed, one thing is for certain: Facebook engagement metrics are much higher than those at Google or Yahoo. A comparison of the 3 properties by Compete indicates the following:

Page views per visit [source]:

  • Facebook: 45.2
  • Yahoo: 17.3
  • Google: 12.2

Average stay (in minutes) [source]:

  • Facebook: 13:53
  • Yahoo: 9:57
  • Google: 5:43

Keep in mind that the Compete metrics are not exclusive to Canadians, but can provide a general overview of website engagement levels.

What we can conclude from all of this is though overall traffic may be lacking, user engagement cannot be overlooked or understated. Facebook has done an excellent job of creating a ’sticky’ experience. Their traffic numbers may not be as high yet, but their users are more immersed and absorbed than can be said on other sites. I think it is even fair to say that many are hooked or addicted to the service.

What Do You Get When You Combine AJAX, RSS, Widgets, Wikis, Podcasting, VOIP, and Tagging?

Monday, August 6th, 2007

The typical marketing plan of a clueless, old-school Internet company looking to kick it up a notch with some new-school, trendy social marketing strategies. 

Sound familiar? Countless Internet companies have become brain-washed. They are convinced that these new technologies are critical to their future success. In some cases, they may be right. But for the most part, they lack fit. Successful marketing techniques have to be strategized on an individual basis. What works for one start-up may not work for another. In other words, RSS may work for company A, while widgets may be best suited for company B.

My consulting background has really driven this point home. I’ve heard things like: “Our website NEEDS tagging” or “Let’s throw in some AJAX”. My subsequent steps are as follows:

  1. I laugh (well, not aloud).
  2. I describe the technology in detail and outline the benefits.
  3. In most cases, I dismiss the use of the given technology.

My basis is simple: the ‘trendy’ technology MUST further the user experience and/or provide a greater marketing punch. The simple implementation of a technology for the sake of an implementation is pointless. Simply put, the questions that a company needs to ask itself are as follows:

  • Will this technology create a more enjoyable user experience?
  • Can we reach more potential users if we implement this technology?
  • Do we simply find comfort and security in new, buzzword-compliant marketing techniques?

All jokes aside, this is a serious problem. More and more, we are seeing the use of these technologies in places they shouldn’t be. They are a waste of resources and confuse the offering.

Simplicity is key.

If traditional Internet marketing strategies (such as e-mail marketing or SEO) will provide the greatest ROI, then forget about RSS, podcasting, and the rest of their buzzword siblings. With all due respect, I am a huge advocate of all the technologies mentioned. Their place on the Internet cannot be argued, but they must be used in the proper context. 

PS. Another correct answer to the initial question would have been: the typical business plan of a Silicon Valley start-up. Too many start-ups are looking to jump on the web 2.0 buzzword bandwagon - VCs just don’t buy it anymore, literally.

The Race To 1,000,000 RSS Subscribers

Friday, August 3rd, 2007

RSS IconWhich blog will be the first to claim 1,000,000 subscribers? Only time will tell. Perhaps, we may never know exactly when the first blog does reach 1 million RSS subscribers. One may have already, although it is highly unlikely. Of the top 10 blogs listed on Technorati, only TechCrunch and Daily Kos publish their RSS readership numbers (from what I can see). For this reason, we may never know who will be first to reach the magic mark.

Here is the Technorati top 10:

  1. Engadget
  2. Boing Boing
  3. Gizmodo
  4. TechCrunch
  5. Huffington Post
  6. Lifehacker
  7. Ars Technica
  8. Daily Kos
  9. PostSecret
  10. TMZ

Keep in mind that these blogs are NOT ranked by RSS readership, but rather by Technorati Authority level.

Once again, the mystery surrounding web statistics and traffic numbers manifests itself. Why all the secrecy? Why the need to conceal? Quite honestly these blogs should be proud of their success and top 10 ranking.

Blog networks seem to be very fickle about their numbers. Weblogs, Inc. and Gawker* own 3 of the top 10 blogs and control many other notables including Kotaku, Joystiq, Valleywag, and AutoBlog. Nevertheless, they choose not to showcase their RSS numbers. I assume it’s like war - you don’t want to give away your position to the enemy. Meh… I think it’s a pretty lame excuse.

The independent bloggers have no reason not to publish their numbers. I would even wager that new visitors are more likely to add a given feed if they see a large RSS readership number. In other words, it may persuade people to follow the crowd and be in the know (excuse the cliches).

Getting back to the original topic, it will be interesting to see who will be the first to break the 1 million mark, if we do indeed ever see it. The rivalry and competition of the blogosphere is almost laughable. Having said that, it also makes it extremely difficult to track the progress of the Internet’s top blogs.

*Please note that Gawker does post traffic numbers, but not RSS stats.