The Mobile Stampede Accelerates

There were a couple of interesting items this week which point to the continuing ascendancy of mobile. Google inked a deal with Apple; Google will pay Apple a cool 1Billion in cash “unmarked 20s I imagine” to remain the default search on iPhones through 2014 and Comscore  announced over all search data for 2012 and although search continues to grom desktop search saw its first decline since…well since ever. The rapid growth of mobile and vertical search growth on sites like Facebook and Amazon contributed to the overall decline.

In parallel announcements Google’s Q4 was good but not great. It continues to see a decline in click prices (6%) YOY a decline which is now 6 quarters old….and again driven by the ocean of mobile clicks with in sufficient inventory to support the price. This is a tough spot for big G. In an attempt to at least partially stem the bleeding they recently announced a self service online package incorporating desktop and mobile targeted at local businesses.  It’s a clever product which (in theory) let’s SMBs target searchers based on location and time. For example a doughnut shop might want to focus on the 7-9 AM slot whereas a wine bar might target happy hour.

As always adoption by traditionally recalcitrant SMBs is going to be the main issue. Cost is also going to be a factor. The bundling Google is offering essentially rolls the mobile clicks involved up to a desktop click price…which is usually significantly higher than mobile. That’s great for Google but not such great value for the SMB. You have to wonder why Google continues to treat SMBs as cattle fattened for slaughter with their ‘do it for me’ packages which consistently maximize Google’s value ratether than SMB returns.

There’s also an interesting trend I have observed from various recent Google presentations (especially to local/SMB audiences) where they focus of ROI which shows up all over the place not just in the obvious places. It’s an argument which is well made, but sounds a little desperate “don’t just look at directly track-able obvious conversion metrics, check behind the sofa too”. That’s a tough message to receive from the super thin smart young things which Google sends out to preach to the masses. In all my years of knowing Googlies I have yet to meet any with any kind of weight issues…there are literally no over weight Google employees. That’s perhaps not surprising when you read about the latest Google project to provide street level views. Over the summer they send a bunch of their brightest and best to cool hard to reach places like the Grand Canyon to show the rest of us what it looks like. This week they released detailed renditions of 38 top Ski resorts….come on guys we know you are super rich…but what’s next great yacht basins of the world?  I will be off line probably all of next week looking for Googlies doing street level views of Maui. Aloha till then.

Google Bug Watching for Beginners

Google watching is endlessly entertaining….today it got entertaining in an unexpected way. A geek with I’m guessing way too much time posted on Quora that some searches which should be impossible to resolve rather than returning no results at all actually return tons of porn.

This isn’t something the average user is likely to have come across accidentally, most people don’t do advance syntax based searches on Google…but if you did and asked Google for an answer to a logically impossible query like “-4 “1 4” in which you are essentially asking for results which don’t contain the number 4 but do contain the number 1 space 4, rather than returning no results in this case Google returns 808,000 results most of which (upon very cursory inspection) are porn links. This trick even works with “safe search” filter turned on. Weirdly, similar impossible queries like -4 “4” return no results and -4 “14” returns results which don’t have porn links.

Leaving aside what kind of extreme search jiggery pokery you would need to be doing to even find this effect it’s a hilarious bug. According to Google engineering post on the topic sadly it’s not a secret lonely nerd feature, it’s just a bug.  This is fascinating. We don’t often get to see explicit bugs in Google search in real time…especially not bugs of this magnitude. This presents interested parties with the opportunity to witness just how long the Googlies take to track down, fix and deploy a really clear bug in main search. I’m guessing less than two days. The clock is running, let’s see how long it takes.

Meet the New Boss…Same as the Old Boss

Search at Yahoo has languished somewhat since Bing took over their search back in 2008 after a failed bid by Microsoft to buy Yahoo. There has always been an antitrust concern about the search on Yahoo being powered by Google…so I was interested but not that surprised to read today that Google contextual ads will now start showing up on Yahoo properties and more importantly Yahoo mobile traffic. To be clear this isn’t the same as main search on Yahoo being taken over by Google, rather these are contextual AdSense ads displayed on billions of Yahoo web and mobile pages…which will presumably represent a significant revenue opportunity for Yahoo.  It makes perfect sense as Google’s ads are generally more valuable than Yahoos and they have a larger stack of advertisers to play with. At the core of the deal is the dramatic growth of mobile. Millions of people use Yahoo mobile content to keep them up to date with news, celebrity, finance sports and email. Google has a much stronger mobile platform so adding Google mobile ads to the enormous Yahoo mobile inventory. Google doesn’t (yet) have the kind of vertical interest Yahoo boasts so that’s likely to be an upside for them both.

Google survived an  FTC investigation into monopolistic practices last year and is still under scrutiny in the EU, so making a move which further centralizes Google commercial control could be thought of as ballsy.. but in a race to grab as much real-estate as possible before the new Search at Facebook gets out of short pants it makes perfect sense.

Google is Racial Profiling?

You can’t make this stuff up. I checked the calendar and it’s not April 1st. According to a story I found in the Boston Globe Latanya Sweeney a Harvard University academic noticed that when she searched for herself on Google or more precisely a site powered by Google search she received ads back for (amongst other things) criminal back ground checks for her name. She then did a more extensive test and actually wrote a research paper which found that distinctively “black” male first names are 25% more likely to return an ad from offering background or criminal record checks than traditionally “white” names. She doesn’t draw any conclusions other than that this could be problematic for people of color….but the allegation that Google is somehow racially profiling is in the mix.

Of course even a cursory examination of the facts (as opposed to the hilarious conspiracy theory) is (allegedly) that is in fact targeting what it believes to be ‘black’ names with ads for criminal background checks as opposed to more generic services for ‘white’ names. Google racially profiling would be a much better story.  The same thing would apply were I targeting Russian fur hats or nesting dolls to people with Vladimir for a first name.  It is a sad reflection on our society that (according to federal statistics) black males are seven times more likely to end in jail than their white non Hispanic peers. Logically that makes them more likely to have a criminal record, so it makes a twisted kind of common sense to target uniquely black male names with criminal background checks advertisements….but it’s not the Google Geeks doing it.

Social Discovery is Out to Get You

I don’t like social discovery, at least I don’t want people who don’t know me but might share interests discovering me without me looking for the attention. So the rumors swirling around Facebook and social discovery are interesting. The inside word is that a high octane team from Facebook including ex Googler Peter Deng and folks from Glancee a location based company FB acquired in 2011 are working full tilt on an Ap to be with eager mobile FB users sometime in March. It looks like the App will ‘know” and alert your when one of your FB friends is in your near vicinity even if the App isn’t running. I can imagine that this might generate “friend spam” where (for example) you are friends of folk you work with your phone constantly letting you know that your friends are nearby.

Where it gets really interesting is how the app will likely go beyond just friend discovery. If taken to a logical conclusion this may allow advertisers to reach out to users who have some level of engagement with their brand such as a ‘like’ with a brand message or offer. In this use case as you pass Starbucks they might hit you up with a special offer or coupon. Given FBs horrible record with end user privacy issues the key question will be “will they be able to withstand the temptation to reach out and spam us with offers and deals”.  Either way the smart device in your pocket is about to get even more chatty….and potentially annoying.