Google Getting Serious About Interstitials

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Yesterday, Google announced that as of November 1st, webpages need to get rid of any interstitials— those annoying prompts you get from some websites that want you to download their mobile app— or else face the penalty of losing priority in mobile search results:

“After November 1, mobile web pages that show an app install interstitial that hides a significant amount of content on the transition from the search result page will no longer be considered mobile-friendly.”

As discussed previously, more and more people are using their phones— not their laptops or desktops— to perform searches. Being considered non mobile-friendly can significantly impact organic traffic, as it’s known that Google aims to return only mobile-friendly sites in mobile search. Also, the Mobile Usability report in Search Console will warn you if it detects large app download interstitials. Rather than using app download interstitials, Google reminds that browsers promote apps in ways that are more user-friendly.

Back in late July, Google published a post on its blog asking people to reconsider using app download interstitials. History shows us that when Google issues a recommendation it is best to listen, because an algorithm update soon follows behind.

YouTube Gaming Launches Today

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One year and one day after Google lost Twitch to Amazon, YouTube is taking gaming to the public. Launched today, users can head down Youtube’s gaming site to check out the new interface, see who’s streaming, or start a stream themselves. A slick interface, huge user base, and tons of content might have Twitch worried a bit.

YouTube calls YouTube Gaming the “go-to destination for anything and everything gaming.” It not only shows who is live streaming, but serves as a collection point for all gaming content on YouTube. YouTube Gaming automatically categorizes YouTube’s gaming content and sorts it by game and by the content of video.

The new dashboard makes streaming less of a scheduled event and more of a casual thing that streamers can do whenever they want. Streaming on YouTube Gaming is done on HTML5, and, unlike Twitch, streamers can enable a “DVR Mode” that buffers the last four hours of a stream and allows viewers to rewind.

YouTube Gaming will give Twitch the biggest competition in the live streaming space it has ever seen. Almost every Twitch streamer also uses YouTube for archival purposes and as an additional revenue stream, and now YouTube is a one-stop-shop for every kind of gaming video on the Web. It will be interesting to see how the battle of the game streaming service plays out.

Facebook Takes the Top Spot in Referral Traffic

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Content analytics platform Parse.ly recently released data showing that Facebook passed Google in referral traffic to publishers in June. And as of July, Facebook claimed a 38.2% share of referral traffic, compared to 35.2% for Google. These findings are based on Parse.ly’s analysis of referral traffic to hundreds of clients, including Condé Nast, Mashable, Fox News, The Atlantic and Reuters. Facebook’s rise has been slow and steady since at least 2012, as it has been gradually winning referral traffic market share from Google Sites.

Both companies have switched places before, including last fall, when Facebook passed Google for the first time. However this time the lead is more sizeable. Parse.ly’s study comes as Facebook seeks to tighten its grip on publishers even further with programs like Instant Articles, which allows publishers to host content directly on Facebook’s platform, making distribution and consumption easier and more efficient.

Facebook has also tweaked the algorithms that govern organic reach, in favor of publishers and at the expense of brand marketers. Google has also been refining the way it refers traffic to publishers. Most notably they started to give lower search rankings to algorithmic content publishers, which post content based on analysis of patterns in search traffic and auction bids. In December 2013, Google announced a big move towards “high quality” content, again by giving it a higher profile in news feeds. Will Facebook sustain its lead over the long-term? Only time will tell.

The Stillson Problem

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I’m about to head out for our summer vacation, then I have a bunch of business travel to get done, which means I won’t be posting as much in the next few weeks (I can hear the cheering from here). I’m hoping that by the time I get back fully in the saddle, the silliness which is the weird political bachelorette contest currently being carried out by the Republican Party will have come closer to some kind of sane conclusion, a conclusion which doesn’t include Donald Trump.

If you are a movie fan, you may have come across the 1983 adaptation by David Cronenberg of the Stephen King classic The Dead Zone (it’s streaming on Netflix). It stars Christopher Walken as a guy who suffers a brain injury and acquires the mysterious power to see glimpses into the future of people he touches. Enter Gregg Stillson: a brash, independently-minded senator (played excellently by Martin Sheen); a self-made man who worships his creator.

Stillson is a populist who believes in straight talk. His catch phrase is “Hot dog, somebody gives a damn.” Stillson draws large crowds of supporters who are fed up and “not going to take it anymore.” At one point, Stillson grabs the hand of our hero in a ‘Grip and Grin’ moment, and Walken sees Stillson as president pressing the big red button which sets off the nuclear exchange to end all humanity. Walken then spends the rest of the movie plotting his preemptive assassination. It’s a decent movie, one which has stayed with me more than most King adaptations.

What is so disturbing is that Trump and Stillson are eerily similar. They are both self-made blowhards who strike a populist note and garner way more political respect than they deserve. It seems there is a certain fragment of the GOP base that is completely OK with supporting a bigoted misogynist with no real answers and only a vague grasp of the issues. It’s horrifying, but not surprising.

By the time the dust has settled, it’s inevitable that the GOP will have coalesced on an “anyone but Trump” ticket — probably featuring two from Kasich, Rubio and Fiorina — and Trump will either go back to his board room and sulk or will run as a third party candidate, much like Ross Perot (remember him?). All Trump will have done is shine a light on the GOP, which will likely remind many minorities and women why they don’t vote GOP. At least that’s my sincere hope. I really don’t think that Trump will prevail, but just for grins, stream The Dead Zone and see how well you sleep after that.

Have a great summer.

Will the “Right to Be Forgotten” End in the EU?

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Google is refusing to follow a French Ruling that is asking to delete records globally, each time an individual requests the right to be forgotten. The company is clarifying its stand saying that the European ruling of Right to Be Forgotten should not be applied globally. By not following the ruling, Google might be inviting trouble and is likely to be fined for its stand.

CINIL, the data protection authority in France, made the order on the basis of the European court ruling that Google will have to delete irrelevant and outdated information when it receives a request from the individual or organization. Since the ruling, Google has received millions of requests and even cleared many of them. But it is refusing to accept the order that asks it to remove the name from the global list, arguing that the search is already being routed locally.

Google has further pointed out that one country should not have the authority to decide and control what content users in another country can find and access. The company notes that such a measure isn’t necessary, because as much as 97% of Internet users in France access a European version of Google’s search engine.

Google argues in a new post on its official blog for Europe: If the CNIL were to get its way, “the Internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place.”

A Buyer for Twitter?

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I hate to join a mob scene, but really Google, it’s time to spend some money wisely and buy Twitter. The little blue bird has been having a tough year. It’s trading at about $30 with a market cap of about $20 Billion, which is roughly half of where it was 18 month ago. Its investors are screaming about profits, which must make trying to plan ahead tough (trust me, I know of which I speak). Its management team is looking a little shaky, and it’s also seen slowing membership growth, which makes the market nervous. Last time I checked, Google had roughly $60 Billion in liquid cash stuffed behind the sofa, more than enough to pay cash and still have walking around money to fund their next moon shot projects.

 

Some argue that Facebook, Microsoft or Apple should make an offer, but Google would be the best fit. Apple has more than enough to do already, Facebook doesn’t need it, and Microsoft has their own social effort in Yammer. In contrast, Google could really use Twitter. To start with, in addition to the cash behind the sofa, it has another $440 Billion in market cap to play with, so putting the deal together seems feasible. Next, Google has been getting it in the neck of late for spending cash on projects with a high cool factor but no actual revenue. Google isn’t a car company or a Wi-Fi company or a VR company; at its core it’s an advertising company and a really good one at that. What twitter represents is a massive pool of end users who could be great consumers for the advertisers Google already possesses.

In recent months, Google has been killing off its failed social media effort Google+ (may it rest in peace). That leaves Google with a ton of advertisers, a difficult landscape in terms of making money out of mobile users, declining desktop traffic, and no social media component. If they were smart, they would make a play for Twitter and get them under their wing as a wholly owned subsidiary like they did with YouTube. YouTube thrives with a light managerial touch from Google and is now the second largest online search. If Google can annex Twitter, it can pretty much guarantee that it will also have the third largest search in Twitter as well.

Facebook has been focusing more on search recently, Apple has fired Google as their search, and with Windows 10, there is a chance that Microsoft will be able to grow Bing’s market share. If Google loses Twitter to one of those guys, its opportunity to grow its search in social will be greatly reduced at the same time their rivals are making aggressive moves into Google heartland.

It will be expensive, no doubt, and many will cry “foul” and “monopoly,” but it’s a move which makes perfect sense in many ways. It may by now be as close to a “must do” play for Google as makes little difference.

Sky High Wi-Fi

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In many places around the world, Internet connectivity is an almost unheard-of luxury. Roughly 4 billion people have no access to the web. Much of India doesn’t even have functioning lavatories, public or private. Much of the Third World went straight to mobile phones and never developed a copper wire infrastructure, which makes delivering Internet at reasonable speed hard and expensive. What to do?

The answer from two of our online overlords came into closer focus this week when Facebook revealed their Internet drone and Google announced that it was working with Madagascar for that island state to be the first customer for its balloon based platform, Project Loon. In both cases, the idea is to get a platform high enough to beam a laser-based Internet signal to Earth, which can then be distributed through a network of repeating towers to remote towns and villages.

Both projects have a pretty high gee-whiz factor. The Facebook drone has the wingspan of a 737 and in theory, will be able to deliver “tens of Gigabits per second” from twice the height at which a 737 would normally fly. It’s solar powered and pretty much Star Wars awesome. The Loon is a little more pedestrian, but still way cool. Think microwave tower suspended under a Zeppelin.

In principle, all this tech applied to bring the Internet to billions of poor people is a laudable, perhaps noble idea. Communication brings people together. Having access to the world anywhere in the world no matter your status is surely a good thing? But so is clean water, childhood immunization, education for girls and women, the end to genital mutilation, universal health care and contraception…the list goes on.

Whether you like Bill Gates or not, you have to grant that he and his wife have almost single-handedly taken on some of the greatest curses of the poorest people in our world and made a huge difference. They have pretty much eliminated the horrific parasite Guinea Worm, and they are closing in on a bunch of other diseases which plague the world’s poor. They are doing this with well-managed grants; they have donated over $30 Billion so far. I have no idea how many Loons or drones you could get for $30 Billion —a few I’m guessing — but how about we eliminate Malaria first?

The sad fact is that to the narcissistic tech wonders who rule Silicon Valley, Drones and Loons are cool. Malaria, not so much. How about we do the Loons and Drones, but we donate an equal amount to the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and help them give a reasonable standard of life to the future customers of those Wi-Fi services?

Search Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Search-Wars-Logo-e1421429928227We have all been bystanders as the tech giants duke it out in various arenas. Microsoft won the battle for the desktop, Google won search, Apple won the device war, and the phone war continues. The supremacy enjoyed by Google in search has been so strong for so long that we have all stopped talking about it, except as a possible cause of anti-trust law suits. That could be changing, and the cause might well be Windows 10.

Microsoft has had the Bing search platform for a good while now, but it’s only loosely integrated with their other products. It was once terrible; now it’s pretty good. In most cases, it’s just about indistinguishable from Google, and has clawed its way to about 20% of the overall U.S. search market. However, those clever guys over in the Evil Empire of Microsoft have plans.

In the new Windows 10 version (which is officially released today), Microsoft has wrapped search around all of its components. Irrespective of what you may be looking for, whether on your PC, in your Outlook or anywhere on the web, Windows 10 will be able to give you an answer without you ever leaving the Windows environment.  Since that environment is to be found on something like 93% of all desktops, that must be a little worrying to our good friends at Google. In addition, the new Windows browser is supposed to be lightning fast. The start bar is back, their digital assistant is impressive, and all in all, what I’ve seen looks both modern and very usable.

I’ve put in for the free upgrade, and I’ll know more once I get my eager little hands on it. However, if I’m rattling around on my Windows desktop using mostly Windows programs, I might not be bothered to go open a Chrome browser just to search on Google. Of course, there will be an adoption curve. There is still a measurable number of Windows 3.1 users, but if the Windows 10 search is as good as it looks, this is going to hurt Google’s search market share, and it will once again be game on in Search Wars. I’m getting popcorn; want some?

Google Meets The Pelican Brief

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Sometimes, I find a story that is so weird and apparently unlikely that it can’t be real. But then, suddenly it is.

A few months ago, I read The New Jim Crow, which sets out a well substantiated case that the political right wing of America conspired to essentially jail our young men of color by the thousands as a way to keep the black population “in their place,” following the progress made through the civil rights movement. It’s a staggering story. A more recent and less wide scale story — but almost equally unlikely — has emerged around Google. And this time, Google is the victim. Here’s what appears to have happened:

The film industry hates movie piracy. It’s an entirely understandable position, and one they have been pursuing by all available means in recent years. They had placed a lot of hope in the Stop Online Piracy Act, which nearly made it into law a couple of years ago, but fell at the last fence when mighty Silicon Valley lobbyist (led by Google) convinced the Obama Administration that it would amount to far reaching and unprecedented censorship of all things online. The act would have made search engines, in some part, responsible for displaying pirated content in search results. Search engines understandably hated and feared this idea, as it would strip from them the safe harbor they had been enjoying since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act protected them back in 1998.

I understand this is profoundly dull so far, but bear with me; this gets good. Having failed through the judicial process, the movie studios plotted (conspired is such a harsh word) to have various state Attorneys General file suit against Google, with the goal of tying them up in legal knots and making them so miserable that they remove their support from the anti SOPA campaigns, leaving them with the chance to get it reinstated at some point, perhaps under a Republican President.

It was nothing if not ambitious in scope and breadth, budgeting $500,000 per year to fund this process. They even suggested that News Corp (Fox) and NBC plant stories in the Wall Street Journal and the Today Show speculating on the likely impact these actions might have on Google’s stock price. Leading the charge for the bad guys was the AG for Mississippi.

Why Mississippi, you ask? Why not California, where movies are made? The neat wrinkle is that the tax climate in California is so hostile to business that it has allowed other states to offer tax breaks to encourage productions to move there. Mississippi has benefited enormously from these changes, so it makes perfect sense that they sign up to be the stalking horse for this process.

There are many twists and turns with which I won’t bore you, but Google has just filed additional documents in its case against Fox, NBC Universal and Viacom detailing an arsenal of smoking guns. The bad guys weren’t exactly successful in covering their tracks; it would be comical if it weren’t so revolting. The case continues…

Google Finds Interstitial Advertising is Just Annoying

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How many times have you been browsing the internet, and see that annoying popup from the website asking you to install its app? Google has published the result of a recent study they performed, saying it found nearly 69% of visitors served with an interstitial (the popup for those who don’t know) for its Google+ social service abandoned the page entirely – neither downloading the app, nor going on to visit the mobile website – attributing this to the added friction of serving mobile users with an interstitial. Usually there is a large button to get the app and a small link to allow you to continue to the mobile site.

9% of the visits to the interstitial page resulted in the “Get App” button being pressed. But some percentages of users have already installed the app or gone through the entire course of the app store download. That means not only didn’t they go to the app store, but they didn’t even continue on to the mobile site.

Mobile web users are often irritated by the interstitial ad that often pops up to promote the website’s native app. However this week Google has eliminated its ads and did a big favor to users. The Google Plus iOS native app installs only experienced a 2% drop. Maybe this might be a precursor to other websites dropping their interstitial, allowing for a seamless transition to the page you actually want to visit.