LinkedIn getting wary of the FB virus?

Facebook has been the most talked about social network in recent times. Be it for the latest Facebook app or the rumors of acquisition, the blogosphere loves talking about Facebook. It is no surprise that LinkedIn, the leader when it comes to business networking, now has a reason to worry after Facebook launched the Career Center back in March. It is not entirely clear about how many people use Facebook for the primary purpose of business networking. But a look at the Alexa graph showing the traffic levels of the three top business network sites: Facebook, LinkedIn and Xing show that while the latter two have more or less stable userbase in the six month period, Facebook has grown exponentially since March. So, it is possible that a lot many people are indeed using Facebook for finding jobs.
Alexa traffic
Though not entirely attributable to the Facebook phenomenon, LinkedIn’s recent move to allow profile photos certainly looks like an attempt to bridge the gap between Facebook and LinkedIn. A lot of thinking definitely would have gone into it as it was a conscious decision not to allow photo displays in the first place. However, presuming from the Alexa graphs that new users are not coming to LinkedIn and rather moving to Facebook, the question that is to be asked is, ‘What’s in Facebook that is not available in LinkedIn?’

Pricing in LinkedIn
In my opinion, one biggest drawback of LinkedIn has been its exorbitant pricing. The basic membership is indeed free and that is sufficient for the common users. But however trying to monetize every new feature on LinkedIn does not augur well from a user’s point of view. For example, when LinkedIn launched a simple feature to display ‘Who clicked my profile’, the basic user was not shown more than 5 recent visitors. This is not a feature to be monetized. It is better to only display 5 visitors to any user, free or premium, than asking the user to pay $20 a month to view another 5!

Will bridging LI close to FB solve the problem?
As I said before, the move towards allowing users to post pictures need not necessarily be derived from the competiton with Facebook. But it certainly looks an inspiration. But would getting LI close to FB work? I believe this kind of a move shall fail. This is because LinkedIn has earned a reputation for itself by being a very business-like website to find business partners. It is this USP that is still helping LI be the number one recall site when it comes to business networking. Allowing profile pictures will take the sheen out of a person’s achievements and resume and over-emphasize on the appearance.

So, will complaints like ‘I was racially discriminated because of LinkedIn’ or ‘Someone created a fake profile of mine with my photo but false details’ start making news? Yes, definitely possible. LinkedIn needs to realize its strengths. Facebook is not a primary business network. So, the traffic details might not be all realistic about job seekers going the FB way. Xing might try and catch up with LinkedIn given its more affordable pricing and popularity in Europe. These are some things that LinkedIn need to analyze for proper gap-reasoning between itself and its competitors.
View Anand Srinivasan's profile on LinkedIn

Did Robert Scoble forget Nokia?

Duncan Riley caused a mass heart-attack of the Techcrunch audience this week when he reported Robert Scoble’s prediction that Mahalo, Techmeme and Facebook are very soon going to destroy Google’s businesses. Robert Scoble might have succeeded in link-baiting, but his prediction did surely create a debate on who is going to halt, or at least prove a tough competitor for Google in the long run.

Ever since, I have been looking at the long term strategies of different companies trying to see what each of them strives to achieve in the long run. In my own analysis,I found Nokia to be one company that can seriously match up with Google in not just the mobile segment, but the internet segment as well.

Nokia’s Plans
Nokia had sometime back given its first indications of trying to get onto the internet segment earlier this year with its acquisition of Twango. Twango is a social network to share pictures, videos and audio, and this acquisition was seen as a move towards enabling easier sharing of social mobile apps among users.

This week, Nokia have further demonstrated their aggressive future plans with the launch of Ovi. Through Ovi, Nokia shall simplify the way its users access Internet services. This includes accessing the Nokia Music store, Nokia Maps and games.

Google Vs. Nokia
There seems to be a striking similarity in the way Google and Nokia have identified the future path. Both the companies seem to agree on ‘Internet on Mobiles’ being the clear path to the future. While Google has been beefing up plans on introducing the GPhone, which will clearly take all that Google has achieved on the internet to the cellphone, Nokia has been trying to extend its expertise in the area of handsets to internet.

However right now, the monetization model of these two companies seem to be different. Google will clearly stick to its tried and tested method of ads on its services. When it comes to Internet based services, mobile phones are still an unchartered territory. And Google shall surely be able to scale their existing ad model to the mobile phones. Compare this to Nokia, which shall stick to earning money through purchase of music and games.

Which of these two services shall win in the long run is a difficult question to answer, though worth guessing. In my opinion, Google shall still win this race. Reason – In the lucrative US market, the wireless carriers decide what handsets to provide that CAN prove to be a hindrance for Nokia. While Nokia faces considerable less pressure in the Asian and European market, one should also note that in the emerging countries like India, where Nokia expects huge sales, the consumers are still not tuned towards value-added services like music and games. Google at the outset, faces no such competition and atleast this will make Google a winner yet again.

Now get rewarded for Spamming!

The blogosphere is now speculating a new form of ad network that Google is coming up with. This is after a series of patents have been filed by Google in that direction. The key points to note in the new patents filed are:

User-Distributed-Search: From what I infer from the patent statements, Google provides an interface through which you may input the links that are useful to you in a particular context and Google shall determine the corresponding search query that shall provide all the links that you provide as the search result. This shall also come with advertisements. You may use this interface to email your links, post it on your blog or forums.

User-Distributed-Advertisements: This one looks the more evil of the patents. According to Google, users may individually select which ads are to be shown alongside an email message or a blog post. This will make ads closest to the actual content.

The methodology as such is not innovative. This is how referrals and affiliate links work. But it is the way that the advertiser is charged that makes it debatable. The UDA ads are not charged with the traditional CPC/CPM charges. There shall be an initial automatic arbitration that shall decide how much the advertiser should pay, but as and when the ads are being served, depending on how the ad is served (whether served alone or in combination with other ads), the prices are likely to change.

Spam Proliferation:

With UDA, It is not just the bloggers who are now making money. Every internet user is now in a position to make money out from emailing. Introduction of UDA will see a spurt in the bulk-emails and chain-mails. Imagine a group of hundred made specifically to send and receive mail-with-ads. Unlike the conventional Adsense ads, Google cannot ban users who it sees have a pattern of clicks from same users/IPs. This is because such a ban will defeat the very fundamental under which this ad-network is built, a friend-to-friend ad network. Even a genuine user of this ad network can expect clicks from only the same people he normally emails. So, detecting a spammer is all the more difficult.

Next time you get an email forward that ends with, ‘Each click on the adjacent ad will help one starving child..’; don’t forget to reward the spammer.

Youtube video ads – Where Google is going wrong

Yesterday, Google announced that they shall now be placing ads inside the Youtube videos. Here are a few significant points with regard to this announcement:

Ads appear semi-transparent on the videos from about the 15th second to the 25th second
Advertisers need to pay $20 for every 1000 impressions
The ads shall be non-intrusive and can be closed by the user at any instant
The user can also choose to open the ads on a new window

This announcement was on the cards for a long time, especially after Google announced in early February that they shall be sharing their revenues with the users. And also according to their own research on around 200 videos, this seems to be the most “preferred” form of advertising since the number of users who click on the ads was more than ten times the normal Click-through-rates of normal text based ads on websites.

Why this interpretation could go wrong
I have serious doubts about the results actually implying that users are ten times more interested on these ads than the context-based ads on websites. Let’s face it that none of us are really “interested” in ads. Any average report on website ads-optimization will tell you that clicks increase when people actually come to your website ‘looking’ for something. That is they assume your site as an interface site for them to get to their ‘destination’. But, in the case of YouTube, where users are normally there simply to watch videos and enjoy. That is to imply that Youtube is regarded a ‘destination site’ in itself.

Why then are the ads getting more hits? I can reason out two points. One, ads on Youtube are now a new thing. And more so ever during the testing period in June and July. New things do arouse curiosity and this is probably one reason why they invited more hits. The other reason could be that users could simply be looking to close the ads to watch the video in peace. Unlike the conventional Google ads that remain whether you wish or not, in this case, Google deliberately provides you an option of closing an ad that you do not want. And this can just increase the number of times an ad was clicked ‘by mistake’.

An Alternative?
Google is unlikely to change their ad format anytime soon, since it does need time to see the efficacy. Also, given that the number of clicks are going to be higher, the advertisers may also be under the impression of their ads doing well here. But, what is the best ad format for a video? Google’s tests on preroll ads – ones that are displayed full screen before the video is shown, show that 70 percent of the users actually stop watching the video in such a case. So, that clearly cannot be an option. However, I think marquee ads at the bottom of the video can be a nice option. It is a preferred form for rolling out news on TV, and users are already accustomed to such a format. That will also give the advertisers independence to decide how to show their ad – whether show their ad one time per video thousand times or show it twice per video 500 times.

Having said that, this is an interesting move and is surely going to shoot up the Google shares much more at the stock market. For Google, it looks like there is no sky at the top..

Three reasons why Yahoo should not partner with Google – An advertiser's perspective

If you cannot face an enemy, become his ally. That’s exactly what Yahoo is trying to do. If the recent rumours are to be believed, Yahoo might give up its paid search advertising to partner with Google to do it for them. It is a deja vu of sorts for Yahoo who had snapped their partnership with Google years back to start their own search engine.

Why’s Yahoo doing this?
In fact, this is one of the cleverer decisions from Yahoo’s point of view. Adwords IS the most dominant of online advertising programs and YPN has always come way behind Adwords in competition. This step will help Yahoo boost up its numbers. Let me take hypothetical numbers to explain this: Suppose I need to advertise on both Adwords and YPN. Because Adwords is huge, and I also have more people bidding on my keyword here, I might be bidding at $10 for my keyword, while at YPN, due to lesser competition, I might only pay $5. So, simplifying the calculations, Yahoo might make only $5 at the max from this advertising.

Now, Yahoo is a huge site by itself. So, Google shall give Yahoo a much better deal than it would to any other Adsense partner. So, now with Google ads on Yahoo, Yahoo might just make $6 or $7 from the earlier $5. It is a better deal considering they are also not taking care of the ads inventory and the related cost now.

Why it’s going to affect me?

1. Google Monopoly
Google is already a clear market leader in this segment. Now with Yahoo partnering Google, it shall move into a much higher reach. As an advertiser, I might just not find the right variety of options to choose. Google still has competition, but then this partership will always mean more dominance.

2. Possible Ad-Price increase
For a moment, let us assume the advertisers at YPN to be mutually exclusive to their Adwords counterparts. With this partnership in place, the YPN advertisers have to move to one of the other existing options. If not Google, they will be moving to others like Microsoft adCenter. Eitherways, peer-competitios is going to increase amongst advertisers on each of these ad networks. Since in all these networks, pricing is based on bids, increasing competition means more pressure towards a price increase. Definitely not something I would want.

3. Potential increase in partnerships for Google
Point 2 suggests that Google could actually be increasing its profit margin per click with this partnership in place. This also means as an Adsense publisher, I might stand to get more earnings per click. That stands not just for ordinary publishers, but to the other big websites too. Probably Digg might get back to Google now!. This shall give more dominance to Google, which might shoot the prices further.

As you see, it is clearly going to create many more partnerships in Google’s favour. As I see now, it is going to be a nice thing to happen for an Adsense publisher. But if you want to advertise, it is going to be all the more harder!

Google "Smartads" on Mobiles?

Last week, Nokia announced that they were acquiring the multimedia sharing website Twango. Twango is a website where you may share all the pictures, videos, audios from your cellphones or digital cameras with your family and friends through a blog, website or a discussion forum. This was probably for the first time that a Mobile handset maker had laid hands on a Web 2.0 company. In fact, Nokia had supposedly had a look at 70 probably candidates before rounding upon Twango. Well, this is just the flavor of the season as many big companies have started expanding their customer reach by taking to 3G for the next level of revenue growth.

Now, the news is just coming out from WSJ that Google is courting Mobile handset makers for a GPhone. This handset will help Google push mobile users to use Google apps on their phones and also set a platform for serving more and more ads to mobile users.

Smartads for Mobile phones?

Yahoo introduced the patent-pending Smartads as the way to provide the most personalized ads to a customer. This was based on his activities on the different microsites of Yahoo. Now, with GPhone, Google can really be taking the alternative route for personalization. This is because Google has already patented a technology that provides local search on mobile phones based on GPS-based technology.

With internet on mobile becoming more pervasive, Google’s marketing strategy would revolve around pushing the customer to use mobile technology for localized searches (say the restaurants, beauty parlor, etc) and the web for more globalized searches. This would really give Google an upper hand against Yahoo and the other traditional rivals.

So, is Google moving out of web to counter Yahoo? No. Google is still the leader when it comes to search on the web. It might not be very long before Google introduces a technology to counter the Smartads. But, with mobile phones still being a largely untapped market, the future leadership might just be on the side of the company that makes early inroads here.

Is Wikipedia a vulnerable tool for propoganda?

Wikipedia is the most celebrated example for success in Search Engine Optimization. There are hundreds of thousands of keywords that get a link to Wikipedia on the top 5 search results on Google. This being the case, Wikipedia holds tremendous clout on what internet users read and perceive.

Though it does not make financial nor commercial sense for companies to use Wikipedia for customer’s perception about the company’s and their competitor’s products, Wikipedia still remains widely vulnerable to attack from the different intelligence agencies on political issues. Recently, Slashdot published an article on a Wikipedia admin who was found to be a former investigator of Britain’s MI5. This raises questions on how much vulnerable Wikipedia is to propogate distorted information.

Where is the problem?

The problem lies in the very nature of the internet and in the way Wikipedia chooses its administrators. All one requires to become an admin on the Wikipedia network is a dedicated contribution is addition and edition of articles on Wikipedia. Such Wikipedians can then be chosen admins on request and approval. All along, the admin remains anonymous and there is no way out but to take the information that he provides at face value.

Can the problem be solved?

It is humanly impossible to manage the huge database that Wikipedia is. Hundreds of thousands of modifications happen everyday that Wikipedia cannot afford a centralized contol of information and has to rely on the admins and the approval of co-admins to the decisions taken by each of the admins.

However, a background of the admins, atleast for the policitally sensitive articles needs to be known. For this, Wikipedia needs to categorize the pages as politically sensitive or not. This can be quite easily achived by asking the very readers to rate it as sensitive or not. Such pages alone may be edited by only those admins who have provided their background and other information like the Social Security Number etc. This will help provide more unbiased editing of such articles.

Can companies use it for propoganda

Given the current scenario, can companies use it as a propoganda tool? Could Enron have used Wikipedia to tell people that nothing was their fault? Yes for reasons already said, but it is also commercially unviable. Firstly, an effective propoganda can be made only if there are quite a few admins from ‘your side’ who can approve of each others’ actions. Repeated attempts by an admin to propogate false information can lead to his banning from other admins. Secondly, the exercise is not a one-time effort. Companies requires the admins to be dedicatedly work as long as the propaganda needs to stay. In case of companies that are looking to exist to the future, such a means is financially unviable and serves little purpose as the propaganda if exists can still be made news through other channels of communication.

On an ending note, here is an interview of Mathias Schindler, a Wikipedia admin that can give insights on the job of an admin.

Del.icio.us – Is Yahoo getting anything out of this?

It is one and a half years since Yahoo acquired Del.icio.us, the online bookmarking service. Any acquisition goes with a long term business strategy. At most times, one of the primary reason for the acquisition of a company is to integrate the users of both the services. Other times, it is to leverage the audience of the acquired company through ads on the site. Now that sufficient time has passed since the acquisition of one of internet’s most loved websites, it makes sense to introspect into what benefits has Yahoo gained out of this acquisition.

Undeciphered Reasons
Frequent users of Del.icio.us will vouch for the fact that one reason why Del.icio.us is best is because they have absolutely no ads on their pages. This makes it a pure utility website. That also means Yahoo is not monetarily gaining too much out of this acquisition.

Yahoo is yet to integrate Del.icio.us to Yahoo. Users of Yahoo and Del.icio.us still have different usernames for the two websites. So, Yahoo is yet to decipher how many of the users of these two websites are common and how many new users they have added as a result of this acquisition.

Google’s happy
Does this acquisition get Yahoo any closer to Google? No. In fact, ever since Del.icio.us made it to the internet scene, Google has been able to get more relevant results thanks to the concept of tagging on Del.icio.us. Not that Google would have not got better results otherwise, but a huge directory of tagged links to numerous webpages does indeed help. Yahoo too has been able to use this to get search results closer, but nothing more than what Google probably has got. It is after all Yahoo’s property.

What can be done?
This blog post comes close on the heels of the launch of SmartAds by Yahoo. SmartAds are aimed at providing more personalized ads to the Yahoo users. Traditionally, when a user searches for a keyword, “Apple” (say), the keyword is taken at face value while delivering the ads. So in this case, it could be a mixture of ads on Apple computers as well as the fruits.

SmartAds tends to infer more about the user through his activity on other Yahoo products, like Yahoo Finance, Sports, Music, etc. So,if Yahoo infers that you follow the stock of Apple computers at Yahoo Finance, the ads that relate to Apple Computer Stocks is displayed thus getting you the most relevant ads.

Yahoo can leverage Del.icio.us for the first time with SmartAds. By learning what kind of webpages a user likes to bookmark, a great deal of information can be unearthed. Added to this, SmartAds will also enable Yahoo to infer why a person is bookmarking a particular page for. If a user is storing a webpage on ‘Weather in Mumbai’, it can either be because he is interested in Mumbai or the weather. Tags(“Weather” or “Mumbai”) can greatly help Yahoo interpret the same webpage in different aspects for different users.

Del.icio.us is a goldmine waiting to be tapped. Unlike Google, which wastes no time in integrating user-ids of its hot properties with its existing user base, Yahoo has so far not done it with respect to Del.icio.us. Allowing users to login to Del.icio.us with their Yahoo ids is the primary step in this direction.

What if Google buys PayPerPost?

Google has been on a buying spree over the past few months. Just weeks after announcing the purchase of DoubleClick, the online advertising network, this week, Google announced the purchase of FeedBurner, the very popular RSS feeds website. With the kind of money that Google has been making, and also stands to gain through such acquisitions, it has become almost a regular ‘Breaking News’ from tech bloggers announcing yet another Google acquisition.

This just got me to think what if Google decides to purchase PayPerPost. If Google has its way, such an acquisition will not be a great problem at all, considering that PayPerPost is such a small entity compared to the internet big shots that Google has acquired of late.

Why then should such an acquisition be of interest then? It is primarily because Google and PayPerPost stand at opposite ends of what is regarded an unbiased Keyword search. While Google’s search results are displayed with the presumption that a webpage is linked with a particular anchor text simply because that webpage was considered a reliable reference for that particular anchor text, PayPerPost strives to exploit this by offering cash to bloggers who do just this.

For sure, Google shall not buy PPP simply to curb this search malaise. There are two primary reasons for this: One, simply because there are other ‘blog for money’ websites that shall continue with the legacy that PPP introduced, and two, there is simply no gain out of such an acquisition. If the user is going to get such flawless results simply through the organic search results, why is he even going to click on ads!?

So, if ever this acquisition should happen, there should be other criteria that in a way can help Google make money. Here is one way by which Google can monetize through PayPerPost.

Adsense ‘Opportunities’:

PayPerPost sponsored blog posts are called ‘opportunities’. Now every opportunity has one guy (the advertiser) who pays the money and one guy (blogger) who gets paid for making the blog post. This can be very well integrated with Adsense. For example, the Adwords advertiser can pay for a particular keyword, and an Adsense publisher (who owns an authenticated blog) can do the post and get paid.

Do the Search results get tweaked

Like the nofollow link, Google can require users to include a ‘specific’ attribute or comment inside the blogpost. Blogposts with this specific attribute shall not be considered for organic search results. Rather, they shall be displayed on the Ads side when a relevant search is made.

How the payment is made

The payment cannot be using the usual CPC format since the blogger needs to be paid for his work and $0.50 and $1.00 will not help. To achieve this, Google can introduce a new format of payment. Like the CPM and CPC, there can be something like CPP (Cost Per Period). That is, the Adwords advertiser may have to pay a specific amount for this blog post to appear on for relevant keyword searches for a particular period. This can be a one time payment without a concept of pay per click.

Let me explain with an example. Suppose I am a travel agency looking to woo tourists for the upcoming holiday month. Then, I can get bloggers to make a blog post using all the possible keywords that my potential customers will be searching Google for. The blogger gets paid $20 for this, very well knowing that he is not gaining any PR weightage to his blog because of this. I pay Google $100 for a strategically chosen one week during this holiday period, when I know the maximum searches for travel packages are made. So, inspite of the number of visitors I get during this week through the ads, I have paid only $100. Also, bloggers can make money out of this,and hence everyone can expect to be in a win situation.

Drawbacks

This was just a hypothetical thinking trying to highlight the extent to which Google has started dictating terms on the internet. This acquisition cannot be as rosy as it loooks. There are quite a few drawbacks on such an acquisition. One primary fact is that there will be too many people willing to take to blogging on such things that either the proportionate number of advertisers will be less or the general quality of blogging as such will stoop to too low levels. Another very important aspect is that a chunk of revenues from ad clicks for Google is because of the fact that most people (believe me!) still do not know how Google actually makes money. In the sense that they have been clicking on ads without knowing that they are actually doing so. Introducing such a method of advertising will really stall the ad clicks to a halt in the long run as everyone grows intelligent!

Nevertheless, it is interesting to think of such deals going through, and by the way, sorry for the loong hiatus in making a blog post. I have been really busy these days.

Ad Network consolidation

This April, Google announced their acquisition of Doubleclick. This was for a whopping $3.1 billion dollars. This has signalled the first step towards online Ad network consolidation. This is because, soon after, Yahoo too has announced their complete takeover of RightMedia. This was for $680 million (Yahoo already owned 20 percent of the company)

For Google, this acquisition widens the entire scope of their advertising operations in the internet. This is because Doubleclick has a portfolio of products which Google can leverage. The most important is the DoubleClick Ad Exchange program. This is an impression based advertising network which connects the advertisers with the publishers. Doubleclick already enjoys a huge publisher and advertiser base, and hence Ad Exchange is touted as the next big thing for Doubleclick. This apart, they also have other products like Performics, something quite similar to CommissionnJunction, a website for affiliate webmasters). The acquisition hence takes Google much much beyond where they are, in terms of Adwords and Adsense.

Yahoo’s acquisition too, is right on track, and with the acquisition of RightMedia, have taken the company that directly challenges DoubleClick Ad Exchange. These websites also manage the ad inventories for many other popular websites. Yahoo could also possibly take over Microsoft’s advertising operations, if not be acquired by MS; which is a huge ask.

What does all this mean to you, as a publisher or an advertiser? With increasing consolidation comes increasing bargaining power. Google already enjoys such a huge competitive advantage, that they exploit with not revealing the share of money that the publisher earns per ad click. This acquisition widens the area where they can flex their muscle.

The same, however cannot be said about Yahoo’s acquisition. Yahoo has come to be the second best always, losing out to Google. However, Yahoo’s acquisition of RightMedia is more of a reliever, since this puts DoubleClick’s direct rival also in strong footing. This will ensure that DoubleClick does not end up wiping away competition. The balance thus continues to remain steady. However, it shall be interesting to revisit this story after a few months where things will be more clear on the implications of such an acquisition.