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Mar 21 2006
An Amusing Take on Yellow Pages
Neil Steinberg, a columnist at one of my local newspapers, has a peculiar obsession with Yellow Pages. You might find his take amusing. It begins down the column a bit, after his brief take on the Iraq war (which I will resist commenting on).
Blog: Global Yellow Pages Blog
posted by  Charles Laughlin at  10:11 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]

Mar 21 2006
Google Finance Launches
Google Finance, an impressive collection of tools, news and resources, was supposed to launch at 12:01 a.m. ET on Tuesday. However, it's 12:27 and the site isn't yet up. Because I only got a sneak peek and wasn't able to "play" with it, it's not entirely clear to me how it lines up against other competitive sites (all the other portals have well-established finance sites). But from what I saw, it did appear to have some impressive and very useful features and I'm sure it will be a popular vertical within Google. (One can do portfolio tracking, for example.) And given Google's enormous traffic, the site should get immediate traction.

The idea is that users will search for a ticker symbol or other finance-related query on and be given a link to Google Finance, as well as other financial sites (just like mapping today). Then users will enter Google Finance, which is a very rich, structured environment put together from a combination of crawling and feeds from content partners. There appeared to be an enormous amount of content, from what I saw. And one thing that was particularly interesting is how Google links news to the fluctuation of share prices (actually plotting them on a graph). That's a great feature that has to be seen to be appreciated. The site will be a valuable resource for individual investors and analysts.

It's also interesting as part of the "verticalization of Google," as the company builds out specific user experiences around particular content areas to create more value for users and, ultimately, advertisers.

As is typically the case with Google beta products, there are no immediate monetization plans. But expect that it will be another source of valuable ad inventory for Google. Even though the company has said no graphical/display ads will run on Google domain sites, this would be a perfect area for rich media and graphical ads (like on Yahoo! Finance). And advertisers, I'm sure, would welcome that option too. We'll see.

According to comScore, Yahoo! Finance is the No. 1 global finance site with 31.4 million uniques. MSN's Money is second with 21.9 million, and AOL's finance site has 14.3 million global uniques. It will be interesting to see if Google's brand and traffic will enable it to grab usage from the existing leaders. As a latecomer, Google has a mixed track (traffic/usage) record in other areas, such as mail and shopping. But it has had great success with Maps and Local, for example.

More later when the site actually goes live. I believe the URL will be


Update: I just found a working URL. Here's the page for GOOG. I'm reminded that it also includes blog content, which is valuable. Manipulate the chart's horizontal scroll bar and see how the news changes � very interesting stuff. The site also remembers your most recent (company) searches. And it has discussions/community as well. These kinds of features make it "sticky" (to use the outdated expression).

Here's a plethora of news on the launch, with lots of detail from Danny Sullivan at SEW. And Battelle adds some interesting color and factual tidbits. Om Malik doesn't like it at all.

Tomorrow you'll be able to go to Google Finance and see how all the coverage boosted the company's share price. Neat, eh?
Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Greg Sterling at  00:12 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [1]

Mar 20 2006
What Is Joga? is an invitation-only social networking site from Nike and Google for soccer/football fans (you first need a gmail/google account). It's MySpace for soccer and it may be a "template" for other corporate promotional/vertical social networking ventures for Google and partners.

Here's more from BusinessWeek and Search Engine Journal.
Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Greg Sterling at  17:33 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]

Mar 20 2006
KinderStart Take 2
So I've now scanned the complaint (reminding me of why I left litigation). This case appears to be substantially about lost AdSense revenues:

On March 19, 2005, Plaintiff KSC�s Website suffered a cataclysmic fall of 70% or more in its monthly page views and traffic. Thereafter,�s monthly average of page views for the last 11 calendar months through February 2006 was a meager 30% of monthly levels prior to March 2005. Initially, KSC did not know why its Web traffic had dropped so dramatically � it had not been provided any notices, and certainly no advance notices, whether or why its Web traffic might decrease. Eventually, KSC realized that common key word searches on Defendant Google�s search engine no longer listed as a result with any of its past visibility.

By April 2005, Plaintiff KSC�s monthly AdSense revenue suffered an equally precipitous fall by over 80%. With the sharp fall-off in search engine referrals from, quite naturally and automatically click-throughs for the sponsored ads on would drop proportionately with the actual key word search traffic sent from Defendant Google.

Here is a very quick and incomplete summary of the claims:
  1. Violation of free speech rights under the U.S. and California constitutions: By blocking KinderStart, Google allegedly denied the company its free speech rights. (I think the legal basis for this claim is very dubious: "If I don't show up on page one of Google, my free speech rights have been violated!")
  2. Violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act/abuse of monopoly power (Google's got a big market share, but it's not a monopoly and hasn't acted in an anti-competitive way; search is the most competitive of industries)
  3. Two claims of unfair competition and unfair businesses practices under California law (these claims basically allege bad faith and deceptive manipulation of KinderStart's ranking and a related breach of contract argument)
  4. Breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing (this claim basically alleges that the plaintiffs allocated "precious" Web real estate to AdSense ads and Google's alleged blockage of KinderStart denied them the benefit of traffic and thus AdSense revenues)
  5. Defamation and libel (among several ridiculous claims this is one of the most ridiculous; plaintiffs are effectively claiming the absence of their site on the first page of results is tantamount to defamation)
  6. Negligent interference with prospective economic advantage (and in this claim is the most telling of all the statements: "Defendant Google owed a duty of care to Plaintiff KSC to undertake all reasonable steps and actions to allow a continuous flow of referrals from the Google Engine onto the website." This is just an incorrect statement.)

Google has no legal duty to guarantee the placement or ranking of any site. One might argue that Google does have a duty not to unfairly punish a site that isn't violating any of its policies � and the absence of clarity/transparency about what may or may not constitute punishable behavior may be a problem and need to be clarified. Also, the complaint reflects frustration and anger over not being able to communicate with Google and rectify the situation � something that may need to be addressed internally.

I'm not an AdSense advertiser and there may be some language in the Ts&Cs of the AdSense fine print that plaintiffs can use to make some plausible claims about Google's obligations. But on the whole this complaint seems to me to be sour grapes and grasping at straws rather than making any legally enforceable claims.

At the center of all this is the question: What do search engines owe the owners of the sites they index? I would argue courts aren't going to insert themselves into this question, the answer to which is probably only "clear policies." Also, Google is not a monopoly, which the complaint seeks to argue and thus bring it under federal antitrust law.

But the biggest strike against the plaintiffs here is the fact that ruling in their favor would embolden sites whose rankings had declined to litigate. In the high-stakes cat-and-mouse game of search engine rankings, it would create a sense of "ownership" or entitlement to those rankings. Again, this would effectively kill organic search.
Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Greg Sterling at  15:37 | permalink | comments [1] | trackbacks [1]

Mar 20 2006
Competition Spurring Growth of Muni Wi-Fi
According to this WSJ article (sub. req'd), cable companies and telcos have stopped trying to resist muni Wi-Fi and have jumped on the bandwagon:

AT&T Inc., the nation's largest telecom provider, put in a bid March 7 to build a wireless Internet service for Michigan's Washtenaw County with roughly 325,000 residents. Among cable providers, Cox Communications recently teamed up with two companies to offer wireless Internet access in some Arizona cities, and Time Warner Inc.'s Time Warner Cable has signaled interest in Texas.

The article cites Google and Earthlink's efforts toward enabling free or low-cost municipal Wi-Fi (Earthlink's isn't free) as the reason for the shift (and the lobbying failures of the telcos). Arguably, telcos help undermine their traditional businesses when they enable cheap or free broadband access. But the article says this may be a juggernaut that is becoming unstoppable. More than 50 municipalities now have wireless broadband initiatives.

High-speed Internet access is the single independent variable that affects a host of user behaviors beyond others. That's why there's a great deal at stake in whether broadband continues to grow. We'll be discussing those issues early on next week at Drilling Down with:

  • Chuck Haas, CEO, MetroFI
  • Brian Jurutka, Director, Marketing Solutions, comScore
  • Om Malik, Senior Writer, Business 2.0 Magazine
  • David Payne, Director, Development, EarthLink Municipal Networks
Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Greg Sterling at  13:27 | permalink | trackbacks [0]

Mar 20 2006
N.Y. Times Profiles Expo
The N.Y. Times' Bob Tedeschi profiles (reg. req'd) Microsoft's classified marketplace Expo and explores how and whether it will compete with Craigslist. Garry Wiseman, the product manager behind Expo, will be speaking at Drilling Down on the panel "The Ultimate Mashup: Classifieds, Local Listings and 'Social Search'," which should be one of the more interesting panels at the show.
Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Greg Sterling at  11:49 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]

Mar 20 2006
Campaign to Save The Mercury News
The Mercury News is a daily newspaper that publishes in the heart of Silicon Valley. It was Knight Ridder's "hometown" paper and one of its flagships. Now it's being sold by McClatchy. SiliconBeat alerts us to the "Save the Merc" campaign, which contends that the potential sale of the paper will have disastrous effects on the quality of its journalism and, by extension, the community.

Dan Gillmor, who will be keynoting Drilling Down, sounds off at length on the situation and argues why it might make sense for Yahoo! to acquire the paper:

This wouldn't be an expensive acquisition by Yahoo standards, and the paper's cash flow is still significant, so Yahoo's shareholders might willingly tolerate such an experiment. Certainly, if Yahoo really means to be a serious player in journalism, it could do a lot worse � way, way, way worse � than to employ the still terrific (if vastly smaller than it was) editorial staff of the Mercury News along with the already talented journalists who work at the company.

Yahoo could become the international test bed for the transition we all know is coming in print journalism. (One place it could start is fulfilling the promise of the under-utilized asset that Knight Ridder has failed to nurture.)

Again, the shift to online is clearly happening even though papers have some future ahead of them. Yahoo, better than most � if it cared � could help make that transition the kind that honors the reasons we all should care so much about the future of quality journalism. If Silicon Valley and environs aren't the best place in America to start, what is?


Here's a piece from today's NY Times (reg. req'd) about Dan, the McClatchy transaction and the situation at The Mercury News.

Here's CNET's blog community's responses to Gillmor's suggestion about Yahoo! buying the Mercury News.
Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Greg Sterling at  08:00 | permalink | trackbacks [1]

Mar 20 2006
Lawsuit Asks Google to Reveal Algorithm
U.K.-based, a "search engine" for parents of young children, has sued Google on the basis that its organic search ranking apparently declined in March 2005, allegedly because it was unfairly "penalized" by Google. According to this Reuters article, the site lost "70 percent" of its organic traffic when it was "downgraded." The lawsuit seeks financial damages and asks that Google reveal the methodology behind its Page Rank algorithm.

Having read only the coverage and not the actual complaint, I'm struck by a couple of things that are amazing about this lawsuit. First, I think it's dead on arrival. I think the company probably knows this and either hopes for a nuisance settlement or is looking for publicity.

The suit contends that its rankings did not change on Yahoo!, MSN or other engines. But it seems to be saying that these other rankings don't matter, because Google is responsible for the lion's share of its traffic. There's a sense of both dependence and entitlement here � and how search engine rankings can be "life or death" for an online business.

If Google were truly the only search engine and there were some unjustly punitive action that was directed toward KinderStart (and provable), perhaps this claim might have a chance. (Even then the damages would be highly speculative.) But given that there is a competitive marketplace and other engines can equally be used to find KinderStart, it's unlikely that any court would rule in KinderStart's favor. Think about the precedent: It would be the end of organic search � every other site would litigate when its ranking fell. Finally, given that it's a trade secret, KinderStart is also audacious in asking for Page Rank to be revealed. There's zero chance that this aspect of the suit will succeed either.


Update: just found out that KinderStart is seeking to be certified as a class action (another one!). Still haven't found the complaint online (although I'm told it's there now). One of the implications of the suit is that Google should effectively be treated as a public ultility, in other words become a regulated monopoly. Again there's a sense of "entitlement" to an organic position here. I think the implications of finding in favor of the plaintiffs are just to sweeping. Once I actually read the complaint however, I'll post some amended thoughts.

Still haven't read the complaint . . . but another thought I had was: Why didn't these guys buy paid search on Google, then users presumably would've been able to find them when their organic link was down. There's an obligation on the part of injured parties to "mitigate" their damages. None of the stories I've seen have reflected that KinderStart attempted to or was buying paid search. To me that suggests a "failure to mitigate."
Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Greg Sterling at  07:20 | permalink | comments [1] | trackbacks [1]

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