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Jan 22 2006
The (Unintended) PR Genius of Google
What started out as an act of resistance toward the Bush Administration�s effort to obtain porn-related search data, has now turned into something of a PR coup for Google. I don�t think this was a calculated move but there�s a great deal of good will being generated by Google�s thumbing it�s nose at the Justice Dept. subpoenas.

Search Engine Journal quotes last week�s ABC News report and interview with Google co-founder Larry Page:

�Our company relies on having the trust of our users and using that information for that benefit,� said Page. �That�s a very strong motivation for us. We�re committed to that. If you start to mandate how products are designed, I think that�s a really bad path to follow. I think instead we should have laws that protect the privacy of data, for example, from government requests and other kinds of requests.�

In the same way that Google�s meteoric rise in search made Microsoft appear to be an underdog and thus generated sympathy for the world�s largest and most powerful software company, this legal standoff has generated sympathy for Google. The company was starting to experience a backlash that had been slowly building since Google went public in 2004.

A growing number of critics had started to believe that the Mountain View-CA company had become too big and too powerful too quickly. It was starting to appear to some as a �Big Brother,� with too much data about too many things.

And while the other portals and search engines have turned over data to varying degrees, with varying justifications and explanations, Google digging in its heels against the Bush Administration at a time when government overreaching and legally dubious behavior is all around seems almost heroic.

Indeed, the move has generated a ton of news reports and PR (most positive), although the stock fell Friday amid the standoff and concern about potentially softening revenues. But Google�s stand, at least temporarily, has reversed the perception that the company is becoming Big Brother as it fights what to some is a more real version of Orwell�s shadowy political leader portrayed in his 1949 dystopian classic 1984.

Again, I don�t think the PR angle was a calculated motivation; I think it was a secondary effect of wanting to keep its search data from disclosure. But by saying �no� to the Justice Dept. Google has raised the stakes and created some high drama that the world is now watching. And if Google now �caves� it may grab as many or more negative headlines and reactions for doing so than it gained for taking a stand.

While I personally applaud it, Google�s decision was either very courageous or very arrogant�or a little of both.

Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Greg Sterling at  16:35 | permalink | comments [1] | trackbacks [0]

Jan 21 2006
Labor Fired Up About Verizon Talks
Striking Verizon Information Services workers in upstate New York found an interesting way to express their displeasure at the pace and manner of negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. You can read about it here. The two sides have apparently come close to settlement, but have failed to reach terms.

We have no comment to offer on the merits of the positions in this current dispute.

This ongoing strike does lead us to wonder how well the directories industry will be able to manage labor peace given the changes taking place in this industry. In particular, how successfully will management and labor negotiate adaptations publishers are making and will need to keep making in order to remain competitive next year, in five years and a decade down the line?

Blog: Global Yellow Pages Blog
posted by  Charles Laughlin at  15:48 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]

Jan 20 2006
Verizon Quick to Leverage Usage Data Results
Verizon Information Services was out of the gate quickly with a press release touting its usage share leadership position in Manhattan, Washington, DC, the Bronx and Brooklyn, citing data from the Yellow Pages Market Reporter, a new syndicated usage service from Knowledge Networks/SRI. Verizon competes in these markets with Yellow Book and Ambassador Publishing (in the New York markets). Verizon�s release says nothing about the degree to which it beat its competitors.

This announcement suggests syndicated research may become as much a public relations tool as it is a credible research resource for agencies and national advertisers.

What is interesting about this announcement is that it shows how much the syndicated research game is subject to spin. The syndicated research methodology has undergone tremendous scrutiny, and all participants have accepted it, so the results Verizon is touting do not appear to be in dispute. However, it really isn�t necessary for Yellow Book or Ambassador to have a No. 1 market position for either of them to declare their own victory. All that is required is enough usage to make buying an ad in one of their books a good value.

We imagine this announcement will be the first salvo in an ongoing press release battle over which publisher really is the winner in the syndicated usage game. We hope ultimately everyone wins by attracting more advertisers, who now gain confidence in the medium because it has a third-party measurement program in place.

Blog: Global Yellow Pages Blog
posted by  Charles Laughlin at  08:58 | permalink | comments [1] | trackbacks [0]

Jan 20 2006
Drilling Down: Targeting the 'On-Demand' Marketplace
There�s a new consumer paradigm emerging, one in which users have almost total control over the media they consume and how, when and where they consume it. How advertisers respond to that new disruptive consumer behavior model and the increasing fragmentation of the media marketplace is what we�re seeking to address at this year�s �Drilling Down� event.

We finally (whew!) have the agenda online. It took so long because we had to cut about 10 excellent potential panels to squeeze it into two days with no breakout sessions.

We�ll announce panelists (there�s still time, contact me) and keynote speakers very soon.

It should be a very interesting show (I�m not just saying that) as we tackle our perennial local search theme with emphasis on some of the related developments in video, VoIP and wireless.

We�ll have both national and local advertisers �live on stage� in what should be two very good sessions about the changing nature of marketing and the different �national-local� and �local-local� responses to that. The local advertiser sessions are always a hit and make for some great feedback and occasionally some surprises.

We�ve also made the final session a wide-open discussion about the evolution and potential integration of online and offline media buying (which of course YP and newspapers have been doing) in the wake of the Google dMarc acquisition.

Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Greg Sterling at  08:10 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]

Jan 20 2006
JamBase: The Next MySpace?
That may be premature and a bit of a stretch, but the San Francisco-based live music and community site has quietly generated a solid business and extremely loyal following without funding and totally under the radar. Founded about eight years ago, the site has built a huge local music events database.

Events is an immature piece of the local search product mix, although an important one ultimately.

Founder Andrew Gadiel previewed for me some of the coming site features that may make it a good deal more like MySpace. The company has spoken with a couple of the major search players about providing its feed for live events, but has yet to do any deals as far as I know.

It will be very interesting to see how the site evolves and to see, given the spectacular growth of MySpace, whether funders and others try and court JamBase at this still relatively early stage of its development.
Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Greg Sterling at  07:26 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]

Jan 20 2006
Google, Bush and Privacy
Yesterday it was revealed that AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo! complied with Justice Department subpoenas to turn over search data. Google has made a very high profile statement that it will not. Here�s more coverage of the issue in the NY Times (reg. req�d).

Yahoo! spokespeople said none of the information revealed individual identities and thus did not violate individual privacy rights. The government claims�although given the history of this administration any claims must be viewed with skepticism at a minimum�that the search-engine data will enable it to defend the Child Online Protection Act of 1998 (which the U.S. Supreme Court previously blocked from implementation).

It may well be that the information being requested by the Bush Administration can be provided without revealing any sensitive, personal information; I don�t have any insight into the technical issues nor have I yet read the subpoena(s). But I would defer to Danny Sullivan on this point who said:

In particular, the Bush administration wanted one million random web addresses and records of all Google searches for a one week period. The government apparently wants to estimate how much pornography shows up in the searches that children do.

Here�s a thought. If you want to measure how much porn is showing up in searches, try searching for it yourself rather than issuing privacy alarm sounding subpoenas. It would certainly be more accurate.

Getting a list of all searches in one week definitely would let US federal government dig deep into the long tail of porn searches. But then again, the sheer amount of data would be overwhelming. Do you know every variation of a term someone might use, that you�re going to dig out of the hundreds of millions of searches you�d get? Oh, and be sure you filter out all the automated queries coming in from rank checking tools, while you�re add it. They won�t skew the data at all, nope.

Moreover, since the data is divorced from user info, you have no idea what searches are being done by children or not. In the end, you�ve asked for a lot of data that�s not really going to help you estimate anything at all.

There�s a bigger picture and a bigger struggle here. The government wants unfettered access to desired information about individuals� behavior online and off and the NSA wiretapping and spying is reflective of that intent. As the NY Times piece points out:

Whatever the courts ultimately decide on the pornography law at issue, however, Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School, said the Google case pointed to a larger struggle for the identity of the Internet.

�Search engines are at the center of that battle, both here and in other countries,� said Professor Wu. �By asserting its power over search engines, using threats of force, the government can directly affect what the Internet experience is. For while Google is fighting the subpoena, it�s clear that if they lose, they will comply.�

The now discredited �Total Information Awareness� (TIA) initiative is being revived piecemeal through myriad techniques (search-engine subpoenas among them) and under myriad guises (Patriot Act, COPA, etc.).

As EPIC points out, the TIA �was as envisioned to give law enforcement access to private data without suspicion of wrongdoing or a warrant.�

The recent US Supreme Court decision this week to uphold Oregon�s assisted suicide law was about federalism, but was also widely seen as a rebuke to the Bush Administration�s unfettered exercise of executive power and discretion.

One of the things that we all should be concerned about, liberals and libertarians alike, is whether the Internet will become a vehicle for creative innovation, communications and growth or whether it will become something else�a mechanism to monitor dissent and to help exercise social control (through intimidation or chilling of free speech).

I realize that�s a �black and white� distinction but those who are interested in the health of the Internet and the society more generally (and more importantly) need to be extremely vigilant during these precarious times and speak out against unilateral assertions of anti-democratic authority whether they appear nakedly as such or in the guise of protecting children.


Lots of material on the issue resides at the bottom of Danny Sullivan�s blog post I linked to above.

Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Greg Sterling at  06:20 | permalink | comments [1] | trackbacks [0]

Jan 20 2006
Touch Local to Challenge Thomson, Yell
In the context of discussing some high level personnel exiting Yahoo! for various startups, the Search Engine Watch blog identifies a new (to me) local directory/search site in the UK, Touch Local.

Touch Local allows users to search locally and nationally and offers products (through a relationship with Yahoo!-owned Kelkoo) in addition to traditional, YP-style service listings. The site features ratings and reviews and the ability for businesses to update and enhance their information for free.

Advertising options for local businesses include guaranteed leads packages, PPClick and PPCall.

The site is relatively new and so content in some areas is sparse, but local ratings/reviews and product search capability appear to be two consumer differentiators from more established competitors (the dominant incumbent) and Thomson Local.

Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Greg Sterling at  06:12 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]

Jan 20 2006
I Love Coffee . . .
I�ve really come to apprecitate Fridays as a slower news day. But here�s a fun local story that originally appeared in the New York Post. Yahoo! personals and Starbucks are reportedly hooking up to provide $10 Starbucks gift cards to people who register for Yahoo! Personals. As part of the promotion, Yahoo! will direct aspiring matches to the nearest local Starbucks.
Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Greg Sterling at  06:05 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]

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