Will Facebook overtake Orkut in India?

It has been three years since social networking started off in this part of the world, and for almost the entire period it has been Orkut that has been the leader in this market. Orkut’s simple interface was preferred as the networking tool over the American favorite MySpace. Facebook was unheard in South Asia (India and Pakistan).

Today Indians constitute over 16% of all Orkut users, just behind Brazil and US. Add to this the Alexa report that Orkut is the fourth most popular site in India just after Yahoo and Google search sites. This gives an indication of how strong Orkut is. But, the hype and popularity that Facebook has received in recent times has also given the site a terrific boost in India. Facebook is now the sixteenth most popular site in India. And this number is well set to increase further considering the hugely positive response from Orkut users who have tried Facebook. But does this mean Facebook will overtake Orkut?

In the light of this question, it will be interesting to see how Orkut has matched up to the increasing demands over the past few months. The interface was completely revamped to give the site a more trendy look. Indian languages were included into the community. You can also scrap in Hindi now!

But I think the biggest boost that Orkut shall get is in the days to come. Recent reports suggest that Orkut is planning to release its Application Program Interface (API) to the public. This means that any freelance developer may use the API to develop applications for orkut users. Facebook is popular for this very same reason: apps. Applications provide Facebook users the ability to do much more with the website than just networking.

Releasing API will also make Orkut a more critical in the commercial aspects. Facebook was virally popularized from companies that used Facebook apps to advertise their product. Now Orkut becomes another avenue for these companies to reach to their target customers. For these companies, their success is directly proportional to the popularity of Orkut. These factors will help Orkut in not just maintaining its lead over other social networks in the Indian market, but also create new markets as users find more interesting things to do with their orkut profiles than just scrapping.

Also read: LinkedIn Vs. Facebook

iPhone: $599 to $399 – Where Apple goofed up

When Apple announced yesterday that they are dropping the price of their iPhone 8GB from $599 to $399, you would expect jubilation all around. One thing that had held back many people from purchasing their own iPhone was simply the price and this drop in price was always to be expected and when it really happened, it is in fact a happy news.

Who’s protesting?
But Steve Jobs was in for a rude shock when the blogosphere got abuzz with hate posts vehemently protesting the huge drop in price. The leaders in this campaign are the die-hard Apple loyalists who were one of the firsts to purchase the iPhone when it first hit the market. So naturally when they see the price drop after they have just become proud owners, you would naturally expect disappointed loyalists.

What went wrong?
To put it in the mildest of terms, nothing actually. Apple did nothing wrong in either overpricing it in the initial stages nor bringing down the price at this point. In marketing, this kind of overpricing a new product when it is first launched (and has hardly any competitors) is called Price Skimming. This is a strategy that so many companies have so successfully used to break even quicker while making a quick buck from those who consider purchasing the product early a status symbol. Everything from television, cellphones, internet, everything have used this strategy in their early days.

So why has the iPhone alone had to bear the brunt of the wrath of Apple loyalists? There are two main reasons for the same. The primary reason is that iPhone is a technology product. Technology related blogs are one of the widely popular sites on the internet, and most of these blogs are written by those who purchased iPhones early on. So, Apple can always expect this crowd of technology bloggers to have opposed this price drop.

But the most important decision for this vehement opposition is in the fact that Apple has brought about the price drop so quickly after its introduction. The iPhone was introduced on June 29th of this year to be precise, and paying $200 extra for the same product is something not everybody would prefer.

What Should have Apple Done?
A price drop to gather more user base is always on the cards. But this should be done in a way so that loyalists base does not get offended. The way to achieve this could be by launching iPhone in a newer market, say the Europe or Australia. Since there is a huge demand from people from these countries as well, Apple could have expected to keep up the momentum in sales growing. It is being increasingly speculated that iPhone sales growth is lesser than what Apple claims and that’s exactly the reason for this quick price drop.

This strategy could have helped Apple price-skim the other high demand markets as well. On the other hand, the strategy adopted by Apple shall hit it on two fronts. One, early adopters feel ripped off because Apple ‘fleeced’ them. Two, Apple will have no opportunity for price-skimming at these newer markets since they will have to price their product on par with the new price it is available for in the American market.

The iPhone is scheduled for launch very soon in some of the newer markets. Apple has definitely lost an opportunity to increase profit margins in these newer markets by announcing a price drop in the US.

Celebrity advertising – No, this is different!

We all know how brands are made or broken with celebrity advertising. But of late, Yahoo and Google have chosen the new way to use celebrities as a way to popularize their products.

Yahoo first came up with this idea for its Yahoo answers website. For this, they roped in the Indian President, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, popular IPS officer Ms. Kiran Bedi and other celebrities like the tennis star Leander Paes. The idea was to make these popular celebrities use this medium to reach out to the people. It is a way to show that even celebrities as these have come to know the ability of Yahoo answers to reach out to the common man.

However, the logic behind the scenes are entirely different. This campaign was well supplemented by countrywide advertising along with ‘cool gifts’ to those participating in the discussion. The President may not have actually endorsed the product. But the purpose is served. Yahoo Answers is now a huge Yahoo product in India.

Taking cues from this, Yahoo’s rival Google has tried to exploit the Cricket World Cup season to strengthen its social networking site, Orkut. Orkut has invited Kris Srikanth, former captain of the Indian cricket team as a guest contributor to one of the newly formed communities. The advertising intentions are indeed clear. This community with only around 1000 members is the first such community or Orkut with a personalized link: http://www.orkut.com/worldcupwithkrish

The success of this community will no matter depend on the success of the Indian team in this world cup, but nevertheless Google too has announced its intentions to go the celebrity way to popularize its products.

Will this pay?

This question has to be answered assuming that each of these celebrities were indeed paid to participate. I believe the Yahoo campaign has been successful since it was well backed up by mainstream ads and also it is a sustaining model of advertising as we see in the way new social celebrities like Shashi Tharoor being roped in to ask questions.

Google might not have started off too well since there are still hardly 1000 members on the community. Also, unlike in Yahoo answers, orkut requires repetitive participation which might not be okayed by all celebrities. However for events as the world cup which last for one or two months, celebrities may be roped in for that specific period.

'Google Bombing' for the right reasons

Google Bombs are always thought of as part of technology humor; something to simply show why George Bush is a ‘Miserable Failure’ or to do other similar pranks. But it is also one of a very vital part of the SEO strategies for companies.

Recently I was searching for a different issue while I got across this particular search result.

A search all related to Gmail gives Yahoo as the first result. A little knowledge in Search Engine Optimization will show that Google gives high priority to the following aspects of inbound links when ranking pages:

* Number of Inbound links
* Inbound Anchor text
* Inbound page Quality
* Inbound page relevance

This is not some sort of a clinching evidence to prove that Yahoo played a dirty game here. It is always probable that there exist so many Yahoo Vs. Gmail id comparisons linking to Yahoo Mail which has caused this ‘fudging’ in search results. The point of this blog is not that. The point is if this can be a strategy to capture rival userbases.

Now, consider this: You are company ABC making widgets. You have a competitor XYZ. People searching for ABC naturally may end up on your website since they already know you and hence searched for you on the web. You can also optimize your webpages for the relevant keywords so that you capture people looking for widgets. But how do you capture the attention of people looking for your competitor XYZ in the search engine. What if this customer did not even know you existed for the same product/service.

Google Bombing is a nice way to advertise your product to this group of customers. It is similar to standing outside your competitor’s store and handing over leaflets for your own company. The customer may end up in your rival’s store eventually, but now he knows you exist and could satisfy his requirement too. It is a nice way to build a potential user base.

IM through Ads

I recently came across an Adsense ad on John Tp’s blog. Here is a screenshot of the same. The advertiser in this case was John Chow, a technology blogger.

It is a new concept floating around called ‘IM through Ads’. Why this is interesting is because of the unconventional way to target the audience. Instead of the usual universal way to target audience from all blogs alike, this is a new way to focus audience site by site.

Why should this be effective?

I consider an effective strategy on two main counts.

(1) Though ads on most counts are not effective owing to the ‘banner blindness’ factor, it isn’t
that the audience does not even pass a cursory glance at the ad. An ad titled, ‘I Love JohnTP.com’ is given a second glance simply because the audience does not expect any website to advertise on its own webpage.

(2) There is a more critical aspect to it. JohnTP, in this case is a popular blog in itself with over 800 subscribed readers and many more loyal audience. This means that this audience knows that ‘JohnTP.com rocks!’ – as is mentioned in the ad. So, this is a humble way to reach the audience. The ad is akin to saying, ‘Your favorite blog is awesome, no doubt! By the way, take a look at my blog. You might find it good too…’

The ad hence does prove effective in capturing new audiences.

Is it Legal?

The next question that follows naturally is if this method is legal. At first thought, it does seem illegal for me to use a trademarked logo of another company in my ads. Isn’t that infringement of copyright rules? Apparently, the law is with JohnChow in this particular case. This follows from a case Google won over Geico over a similar suit that the latter had filed against the former. So, rest assured, you shall not be penalized for using the above strategy. In my opinion, if you are going to use the above strategy for popular websites, it shall and will pay.

Marketing Internet companies in different geographies

Companies which establish a global presence usually take marketing locally; the very reason why Pepsi makes such a cry about ‘blue’ in India (where the local Cricket team wears blue uniform), but not in say the neighbouring country, Pakistan. But it is normally perceived that such localization is not actually necessary in the Internet industry, except for those countries cut off from the others due to liguistic differences such as China. Apart from the big players like Yahoo, Microsoft and Google, other companies do not take real effort to create custom marketing for different parts of the world. This is because Internet is supposed to be a melting pot of all cultures and localization does not matter to a great extent; provided content is presented in the appropriate language.

Quite a few may disagree to the point I made here, but there is a bit of truth when I say that internet companies do not take efforts in marketing locally. There is one predominant reason which is that in most of these countries including India, the population that has taken to Internet is quite skewed towards the “educated, English speaking,young-Gen” kinds. This population is quite exposed to the American culture and so does not require a personalized touch to the marketing efforts. Though this is one predominant reason, a simple truth is that companies don’t go for such a comprehensive advertising that encompasses all cultures simply for the reason of economics of doing so.

Why this shall not sustain

But, internet companies will have to give in at some point to increasing their customization of the websites to different countries soon. This is because, with newer technologies the internet population is getting more diverse. For example, take CrossLoop. This is a simple, secure screen sharing software which is likely to help us in achieving that diversity. This helps young people (say those working in the US) teach their parents(in India) who are not used to working on a computer how to work on them, remotely. So, with increasing exposure of internet in the mainstream media, more and more older people are likely to take to working on the internet.

CrossLoop in itself is a new company which has been growing and developing the product that shall be helpful and easier to use and learn and colloborate online. But it is to an extent helping in achieving the diversity. So, when this happens, more customization requires to happen to cater to this population of people. This has already been happening for internet populations in countries such as China, but with diversity happening in other English-speaking countries, companies have to employ marketing people who cater to this various geographies.

YouTube Monetization plan – Loopholes and Ways to combat

This week, YouTube founder Chad Hurley had set up a storm by announcing that YouTube is planning to share its revenue with its users. This has, over the week, generated so much of a heated discussion about how YouTube is now turning to become the undisputable leader, which it already is, and how this is going to stop users from using any other video sharing services.

The plan, so far, seems to be this. YouTube is monetized by the Google ads that appear alongside the videos. These videos are both, uploaded and viewed by the users, and YouTube plainly serves as the platform for all this action. So, it does not make sense if YouTube, or rather Google have all the money to themselves. Also, competitors like MetaCafe were trying to breathe down the neck by paying users for their content. So, it naturally necessitates YouTube to also help its users make money.

There have been quite a few ‘theories’ doing the rounds on how YouTube plans to monetize in the first place. Adsense ads alone might not help, since a video sharing site can generally only expect lesser clicks on ads than a text based content site. It is speculated that YouTube might have small ads preceding actual videos.

That being said, it becomes important to see the roadblocks ahead for YouTube in its current proposal. Firstly, you should look at the demographics of usage of YouTube. Visitors between 12-17 years are more than 1.5 times to visit YouTube than the average web user. And this young user base means that the chances of these youngsters clicking on ads, simply to expect a larger sum to pocket becomes much higher. It is time for Google to decide if they are going to generate revenue for users from the text ads or not. If they indeed intend to do so, then it shall not be long before their Adwords clients start to cry foul.

Another important aspect is the sheer number of uploaded videos. At present, any important video, be that of Saddam Hussain’s hanging or a sporting action clip are duplicated widely across YouTube. It would not be very wrong to say then that of the 65000 videos that YouTube claims, are being uploaded everyday, a majority of them are duplicates. And all this is at a time when those users who upload the content gain nothing but user comments.

One ‘theory’ regarding monetization suggests that video uploaders could be monetized based on their popularity. That would mean more duplication of content by users expecting a high popularity and hence a good revenue from Google. So, while this may dramatically increase the number of videos uploaded everyday on YouTube, it shall also correspondingly reduce the quality of videos.

The third aspect is that of copyrights. YouTube is primarily automated with only little intervention by humans (in case of spams, etc). Now, Google cannot monetize with copyrighted stuff, which means that now there should be a human check each time a video is uploaded to see if it is a copyrighted material. If yes, either delete it, or atleast do not put ads on them, lest they be sued.

Now, these aspects make revenue sharing seem to be a costlier proposition than it looks from the outset.

Means to Monetize:

It is costlier if Google backs off from monetization now. Monetization from videos is here to exist. But it is the methodology of ads that is to be discussed. One thing that holds loyal YouTube users apprehensive is about the quality of the website degrading due to more and more vents for ads on the website. Adbrite currently offers unintrusive ads on videos. The user gets to see the ad only when he/she hovers the mouse pointer over the top section of the video frame. This is an idea for ‘unintrusive’ ads on YouTube, which shall be better than an ad preceding the actual video.

But then, fears of ad clicks still linger. A better solution is what I first observed from an Indian news channel called CNN-IBN. All videos available on the website are free of ads of any sort on the video frame (that is, excluding the Adsense ads). However, any embedded video of the same on any other website or a blog is preceded by a still image of the TV channel logo. Similarly, YouTube could prevent loyal YouTube visitors from being disheartened by keeping the
YouTube website as it is now. Presenting ads of any sort, be it like the one in Adbrite or CNN-IBN could be on the embedded videos alone. This will also help YouTube in several ways.

Only relatively popular videos are embedded. This shall save users from viewing ads before videos which they might not enjoy.

It also gives Google an opportunity to integrate Adsense accounts with the new form of monetizing that YouTube offers. Since bloggers are encouraged on creating Adsense accounts, a monetizing scheme based on user’s video activity, similar to that on Adsense ads will be easier to monitor. This will also mean bloggers shall be encouraged in embedding videos from YouTube over other Video sharing sources. Also, more and more bloggers shall tend to put up videos on their blogs, dramatically increasing the usage of YouTube, and Adsense accounts.

There is no need to employ extra staff to monitor abuse. The Adsense Support team shall now be responsible for this. This is not to say that no new staff is required, but just that taking care of abuses being the core competency of the Adsense Support team, it will ensure that there is not much redundancy in work profiles.

NOFOLLOW: Business sense of manipulation

Earlier during January, Wikipedia announced that all external links on its websites shall be hyperlinked with a NOFOLLOW tag in order to put a curb on spamming. This means that getting referenced on Wikipedia will not add any ‘Google juice’ to your website, and hence shall not in any way, help in increasing your PageRank. This seems to have started a trend of sorts. Google Videos was accused of manipulation because they provided NOFOLLOW tags to some of the videos on their homepage, while their partner AOL’s videos were linked directly.

Now, since spamming is a global issue, all websites are likely to take some sort of an action sooner or later. And most of them are likely to go the NOFOLLOW mode. It makes better business sense. Here are some of my observations…

Let us take the example of Wikipedia. Personally, I do not grudge their actions, and concur with Christer Edwards on this issue. However, their first-moving decision for a NOFOLLOW tag can be adopted as a strategic business decision for many other websites with huge volumes of data simply because of its ability to manipulate results. Let us take Wikipedia itself as an example. Wikipedia links every external link with NOFOLLOW, while directly linking its internal pages. There are a lot of wiki pages that hold a high PR of more than 6. So, while these pages link to other wiki pages, their PR too gets a huge boost. But the external links are left ‘juiceless’. So, ultimately, with such a decision, under the veil of challenging spammers, websites can actually help themselves get listed many more times in the top results pages of search engines.

Less-voluminous websites however cannot take this route simply because they do not have enough internal linking to maintain the high PR. So, if other websites too make it a point to add NOFOLLOW to the links to these websites, it is these small websites that end up as losers.

Please note that even Wikipedia has been criticized. So, other for-profit websites, taking such a route may cause a huge Public Relations failure. This is because, it is not just the PageRank that is the problem here. It is much more. It is that of proper and just attribution of references. An attribution with a NOFOLLOW ultimately ends up with the web page that sourced the info appearing before the original page. This is a matter of ethics, which most websites can manage to ‘forget’ at this stage, but could result in a lot potential law suits over a period of time.

The voting on Wikipedia over remove/keep of the new NOFOLLOW rule in Wikipedia suggests a 61 percent favor for reverting the situation as it is now. But the issue now is no longer with Wikipedia. It is about what big websites will now strategize towards their position on NOFOLLOW.

Implications of changes in the Adsense ToS

This week, Jennifer Slegg, author of the blog on Contextual advertising, JenSense announced after her conversation with Brian Axe, the Senior Product Manager of Google Adsense that here on, Google Adsense can be used along with other contextual ads, though under certain specific restrictions. This is indeed a very interesting development since Google had been adamant for long to accomodate other contextual advertisements on the same page as the one where Adsense ads are being served.

This news could sound sweet for two categories of people. First are the web publishers, who have long been demanding the removal of this section of the Adsense ToS. Now web publishers definitely have the freedom to choose the kind of ads that they would like to serve on their web page. The other section has to be the lesser known contextual ad providers, including those of the kind of Kontera, intelliTXT, and Kanoodle. This slackening of the rule on part of Google means that more and more publishers are likely to try their ads out, which in effect would lead to increasing competition among the advertising network, which shall eventually result in higher CPCs and earnings.

Why Change:

It shall be appropriate to discuss why this change was made in the first place. One prime reason are the legal law suits looming large on the company. In the US, there exists a “restraint of trade provisions” law that prohibits any service from that hinders businesses from making money. Effectively, if you are a web publisher, by prohibiting you from displaying other contextual ads and making money, Google could be booked for action. However, this law is weak in Google’s case. Simply because the web publisher was never forced to publish Adsense ads in the first place. So, he can always choose to display other ads over Adsense.

However, this is not all. Like it happened to Microsoft in 1999, Google could have been fined upto $10,000,000 for monopolizing the market of contextual advertising. Since these are law suits that were only waiting to happen, it was upon Google to change the Terms of Service sooner or later.

What Next:

From Jennifer’s article, even Yahoo seems to be giving indications that they could be slackening the rules a bit. Though at the outset, it could mean an ushering of the open era, there are certain questions remaining to be answered.

For one, how are those who have been banned in the past for violating this specific clause of ToS be reinstated? Shall they remain to be banned for having vioated a ToS while it existed or be reinstated simply because the rule that got them banned no longer exists? All this is going to take some time to be settled, unless Google straighaway chooses to keep banned publishers still out from the game.

The other ad-serving networks should be expecting a surge in their user base as well as on their revenues. However still, it is going to be a race for the second place, and so, anytime Google chooses to revert the rule back, they are going to lose again, though it is very unlikely to happen. The publishers, no doubt are going to have a field day. But, it remains to be seen how the ‘visitors’ world is going to take the news. They can now expect more prime estate of the web page going to ads, more cluttering of ad blocks, and lesser content space. This is definitely not an encouraging news to those advocating for high-content websites.

Age of Google: Branding an alternative Search Engine

In a book titled ‘101 Best Dotcoms’ published in 2000, I found an interesting line from the author which went like this: ‘Amongst your favorite search engines like Yahoo, MSN, Askjeeves…‘.Google was simply missing, although it was launched more than two years prior to this. This line, in no way decreases the credibility of the author. Rather, it simply glorifies the path that Google has taken to success. At that time, the very reason Google emerged numero uno in web search technology was because most of its competitors had search alongside their other offerings. Google had only one text box on its homepage. So, while Yahoo was remembered for so many things, Google was remembered for only one thing:Search. Now, they have been trying to grow much beyond that; as proved by the numerous products Google labs has been rolling out, as well as, the suit Google filed to prevent their company name to be used as a synonym for web search.

So, if Google was this primary source for extracting information from the web, why are the other newer search engines even emerging? Yesterday, I had blogged about one niche of Search: searching Images. There are in fact, several other niches that search engines can operate. In this article, I am merely trying to suggest ways in which these newer search engines can also gain popularity.

For the cause, I shall take up the example of Guruji.Com . This is a website dedicated to searches on Indian websites alone. Websites like Technorati operate on a niche that is not addressed by Google or Yahoo. So, they manage a dedicated user base of their own. But, for a search engine like Guruji, whose needs are already taken care by Google to a great extent, the task become much more difficult. So, here are a few points to address this situation.

Purpose of use:

The question we should first ask is why use Guruji? Google and Yahoo are much more convenient. At present, you do not even have to visit their website for a search since a search can be performed right on the toolbars in the browser window. This is regarded the ‘comfort zone’, and if for any reason the user must move out of this ‘comfort zone’ and use Guruji, there has to be a reason,and that reason must be unique.

And the reply to this question is the niche; ‘Indian websites’, in this specific example. But the question still remains. Any Indian search can be performed on Google itself by suffixing a ‘+ India’ to the search query. From a user point of view, any search result pertaining to India will do. The user, at most instances is not looking for a website maintained by an Indian for an answer to his reply.

This brings us then to the question of how to leverage the value of Guruji to expand the user-base. There are no specific answers and every brand manager will have his own route to achieving this task.

Brand Value – Not Search Engine Value:

One primary mistake that could possibly happen is make a search engine just another website and market it like other websites. This was a mistake made by Sproose, an interactive search engine, which ranks web pages based on what ranking users give to the search results. The concept is good, but the advertising format was bad. Sproose took services from PayPerPost to put a word about their search engine on the pages of their blogger network.

The mistake here can be discussed in two ways. 1) Numerous bloggers being paid to ‘write’ about their search engine will help spread the news about their service. But, Search Engine technology is not a new concept. So, while users may know and remember that such a site exists, it will not help in getting them out of their comfort zone to make a search on Sproose the next time they need info. The point is that users do know that Yahoo, MSN, Ask, etc all exist. But for search, they use Google.So, adding a new search engine to their knowledge does not, in any way, help the user base grow. 2) An attempt to gain inbound links is futile. One necessity to advertise is to get inbound links to the website, which in turn helps the website rank better in a search result. But the chances of a person searching for a search engine are way too minimal.

To make people use your search engine, it is necessary to give them an opportunity to use your web service, outside the website itself. This means that Guruji should market the product in such a way that the users get a feel of the Search engine from other regular websites they use. Here are some possible suggestions:

Study the search requirements of popular Indian blogs and websites, and offer intrasite searching functionality. Now,this is a tricky situation, since most web masters make use of the Google search box. It is here that an optimal bidding comes into place. Now, let me take two popular Indian blogs for an example; India Uncut and Digital Inspiration. The former is a gossip blog while the latter is a technology blog. While both enjoy popular readership, the technology blog will experience higher number of search queries than the gossip blog, as a reader would often visit a technology blog to search for an answer to his problem. This means that after studying the traffic, we need to estimate a good amount that the blog would potentially make from searches (which will be higher for the technology blog than the gossip blog), and with this as a base, bid an amount to the blogger to place your search box instead of the Google Search box.

There is another possible way to perform the same thing. Renting space on blogs. This is equivalent to placing banners or other forms of ads in most cases. But, for a search engine, that does not suffice. A website like Guruji that requires users to feel and experience the service could negoatiate to place a search box in the rented space. Though some web masters may not agree to the idea, a bid higher than that offered for merely renting space could help.

Now, one of the above techniques could help the search engine in getting the users to search the web using their service, and persisted use of the techniques could fetch loyal visitors.

Roadblocks:

As in any other technique, these techniques too have their own roadblocks. The primary one being achieving targetted search results. This is possible only with indexing a huge list of web pages. For one, a website like Guruji indexes only Indian web pages, and two, it requires users to submit site, which is a pretty long route to achieving a huge index. It worked for Google, but it need not work for newer search engines. The alternative way forward could be to use the index of other established search engines, and applying the unique search algorithm of your search engine. For example, this could be one simplistic option: Since a search engine like Guruji basically needs Indian content, a search query may merely search the keyword from all major search engines, filter the Indian content of them, and then produce result. This is a very simplistic solution, but merely a suggestion at increasing the number of indexed files, which is the only way to increase keyword relevant search results.