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August 2008 Archives

August 1, 2008

Long Live the Browser Wars!

Another day, another dead market turns out to be not so dead. Remember the browser wars? Contrary to public opinion, they're not over; IE hasn't completely won:
According to the most recent data made available by the market research firm today, Internet Explorer stands at 69.88% today, while Firefox 2 and 3 account for a combined market share of 20.68% (Firefox 2: 13.75%, Firefox 3: 6.92%.)

I just love stories like this. If you would have walked Sand Hill Road in 2002/03/04 pitching a new browser start-up, you would have been laughed out of every VC's conference in record time. The browser wars were over. Microsoft won. There chief competitor, Netscape, was cooked and given the locked in distribution IE had, no one could take market share.

So how did Firefox get 20% of the market then? It's not like using Firefox is a passive opportunity - it doesn't just show up on your machine. You actually have to actively seek it out by going to mozilla.com and downloading it. How on earth did they get so many people to do that given that every machine bought does come pre-loaded with a working alternative?

Lots of people could probably give you lots of reasons - feature set (the tabs!), Mozilla's open source mojo within the developer community, affiliation with Google, etc. I have my theories, but in truth its probably a bit of all of those things.

The point is that there is no such thing as a dead market. Every day new entrants manage to cleverly find ways to wrangle market share away from competitors in very mature markets. Every one of these markets has lots of barriers to entry: start-up costs, distribution difficulties, marketing challenges, pricing problems, etc. But every day, smart companies figure out a way to get through all of these and steal market share. Firefox is just the latest example.

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One more note, Apple Safari is not mentioned in this article, so either they're not being counted or most Mac users are also Firefox users. Either way, as Mac continues to grow its laptop market share, that can't bode well for IE either.

August 4, 2008

Out of Style Online

I wrote an entry a while ago that perhaps certain ads weren't meant to be online - they weren't contextual to the online world, regardless of the domain or the page. I'm starting to think the same may go for content as well.

Case i point: Rick Reilly. From his bio:

Voted National Sportswriter of the Year 11 times, Reilly had been a senior writer for SI since 1985. Reilly has won numerous awards in his 27-year writing career, including the prestigious New York Newspaper Guild's Page One Award for Best Magazine Story.

In other words, the dude can write. When he was writing for Sports Illustrated, I used to buy the magazine just for his columns. The rest of it lost its relevance to me since its late 70s/early 80's hey day.

So what happens? Reilly signs a deal with ESPN, and becomes a feature writer for espn.com. His infamous pun-filled and tearjerker columns are now available there every week. Seems like a smart move - same audience profile of male sports fanatics, but just lots more of them. Unfortunately, at least for me, it was a terrible move.

For whatever reason, I now find his work to be unreadable. Weird. Same writer using the same style in a different medium leads me to a completely different reaction to his work. On the back page of Sports Illustrated his column to be clever, witty, etc. - like I said it's why I bought the magazine. Online though his work comes across as the opposite: pompous, not funny, and trying way to hard.

Why is this? I thinks its because the web has its own voice and its different than other mediums. There's a tone to it. Yes, it's all still words on the page, but its completely different. There's an edginess the web requires. Because of the commenting capabilities, there's a humbleness required. Humor is a big part of it, but not concocted humor - rather timely, relevant humor. Fine, snarky, if you will.

In many ways writing online is more like talking with someone than to them. As a user, if a voice doesn't conform to the expected tone, it comes across as out of place and out of style and just doesn't work. ESPN.com's other columnist, Bill Simmons, is a master of this. In fact, he's probably one of the people who created this tone back in his Digital Cities days.

I guess this isn't really surprising - every medium has its own voice. Books speak differently to us than magazines, which speak differently than newspapers. And they all speak differently than the web. Laurua Ries astutely advises that "different mediums require different brands." She's 100% correct. They also require a different voice.

I sure hope Rick Reilly figures this out. I miss enjoying his columns.

August 7, 2008

Adventures In Rug Buying

This blog entry about buying a rug in Turkey really cracked me up:
I had no intention of buying a rug on our trip to Turkey in December 2006. Certainly, not on the first day....Yet, there I was, just 4 hours after arriving in Istanbul, shaking hands with a rug merchant as he packed up our newly purchased kilin carpet. How did this happen?

I had pretty much this same exact experience in Morocco in 1999. We too found ourselves in a rug shop - in our case, brought there by a hired guide, who no doubt got a commission on folks like us. After a quick tour, we settled in for some tea. At that point the show began. Various workers brought out hundreds of rugs for us to see. We were instructed by our host to merely point out the rugs we liked and the ones we didn't. The field of hundreds of rugs was quickly winnowed to the 20 we said we liked, and then further narrowed to the 3 we liked the best.

And that's when the fun started. The merchant instructed me that in Morocco, the custom is to take a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle and then have him and I write our price on opposite sides of the line. After each number, we would trade the paper back and forth until we had a deal. Even though I didn't want a rug, much less three, I agreed.

The merchant wrote down a very high price to start - $1000 or something. The price was so high in fact, that I politely thanked him for his hospitality, told him I wasn't in that ball park and didn't want to insult him by saying what i would pay. But he insisted. Fine. I wrote down $20 and cautiously handed him the paper.

The funny part was that after a great deal of chuckling and acting put off, the show went on. He didn't walk. He countered. $500 or something like that. And that's when I thought I had him. If he was going to actually entertain my lowball offer and continue with the negotiations, I was certain I was going to get a deal. So I continued and bumped my offer $40. And so went the back and forth of this tennis match for a while...

Anyway, long story short, I walked away with 2 of the three rugs for $200 or so total. Now, I was feeling really good about this. I won. I got a deal. I wasn't intimated, I stood my ground and I walked away with two rugs (that I didn't want) cheap.

Or so I thought. As I was walking out the door, the merchant stopped me and told me if I wanted the third rug, I could have it for another $80. Ugh. So much for victories. Just another sucker paying too much for a rug I didn't want.

August 11, 2008

Two Thumbs Up For the Thunderbolt Kid

I know I am late to the party on this one, but last night I finished The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir, Bill Bryson's book on growing up in America in the 1950's and figured I'd still write it up. Given that I probably wouldn't bother writing up a book I didn't like (or, finish such a book for that matter), obviously I give this one a thumbs up.

I've read a few of Bryson's books in the past (A Short History of Nearly Everything, Neither Here Nor There, etc.) and always enjoyed them, but for some reason I liked the Thunderbolt Kid more. I think one of the reasons is that the era I grew up in, the 1970's, was not that far removed temporally from the 1950s. So many of the now quaint and quirky cultural references in the book brought back pretty vivid memories for me.

Case in point: TV dinners. I hadn't forgotten about them altogether, but I had forgotten about this nuance: the only consistency among the various brands and types and flavors was the inconsistent temperature once cooked. Somehow the dessert scalded your mouth, while at the same time the mashed potatoes remained frozen. Reading Bryson's description immediately put me back in my family's den, sitting next to my brother, both of us behind a TV tray, watching Love Boat while sawing away on semi-frozen meatloaf in a metallic dish. Good times indeed.

To add to that, the town where Bryson grew up - Des Moines, Iowa - was a relatively small Midwestern city that, based on his description, reminded me a lot of Pittsburgh, PA, the relatively small Midwestern city that where I grew up. So much of the life he describes in the book matched my own experiences pretty closely.

Fear not though, the book is not just a walk down memory lane. In addition to the personal memories, he also provides a very readable historical look back to this era in American history. Good descriptions of everything from the space race, McCarthyism and Jim Crowe to baseball, movies, cars and comic books, give you both macro and micro sense of what life in 1950's America was like. Its always humorous for me to be reminded that in many cases, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

So if you want to learn a few things, perhaps walk down memory lane and have a few laughs, Marksonland recommends the Thunderbolt Kid.

August 12, 2008

Random Observations/ Thoughts

Random thoughts that, for whatever reason, have been running through my head:

1. Sam mentioned Schlitz beer in the office today (actually he called it schiltz). That made me think of Stroh's - a beer we used to drink in high school. After a few minutes of research I learned that Stroh's was bought by Pabst and Miller in 1999 and pretty much discontinued. That made me sad.

2. I then remembered drinking Goebel's beer and Schaefer beer in college. Schaefer was "the beer to have when you were having more than one." I think that adequately summarizes college. Anyway, after a few minutes of research on those two, it turns out that both brands were actually owned by the aforementioned Stroh's.

3. My beer of choice now is Miller Lite, which of course is part of Miller Brewing, who, as noted, bought Stroh's. Turns out I've been a loyal customer for a long time.

4. I think I have Olympic fever. I haven't given a crap about the Olympics in many years, but for some reason, I find myself drawn in this year. So far anyway...

5. I always find it odd when the local TV station sends a reporter to an event like the Olympics. From a news perspective, there's zero reason for this. I guess it helps the local station package up a local product and therefore sell the time to local advertisers. But really, couldn't they do this without the local reporter going there?

6. And does the reporter realize that the only qualification they have for the job is their home address? Or do they really think they are being sent there for their reporting skills?

7. I once asked a buddy of mine who is in the radio business why they even bother with DJs - wouldn't pre-programmed playlists do the trick? Well, apparently, radio stations can charge more for ads read by DJ's than the pre-programmed ones. And the amount they can charge for these ads exceeds the cost of the DJ's. So there you go - that's why we still have local radio talent.

8. I once asked a news reporter whether they thought that media could be a big business online. The reporter explained to me that it was all an advertising business and Google was proof it could be a huge business. I felt like telling them that Google's and traditional media were in the ad business the same way like tennis and pro football were both sports - same top level category, but that's about it.

9. I think they should cut from the Olympics basketball, tennis, soccer and any other sport where there is a sizeable market outside the Olympics. While usually these are the more interesting sports, in the Olympic setting they are the least interesting. Because of the big names, unfortunately they get a disproportional share of the spotlight though.

10. Imagine its 1776, you live in South Carolina - your farming, raising a family, etc. All of a sudden, someone tells you that your life and future is going to be effected by people in Massachusetts, NY, PA, etc. who you don't know, won't ever know and really have no way of directly communicating with. And you agree. How does that happen? This country of ours is an amazing thing...that deserves its own entry sometime though.

August 15, 2008

Happy Anniversary Woodstock

To borrow a phrase from Sergeant Pepper, it was 39 years ago today that the music world showed up to play. Of course I'm referring to the Woodstock music and arts festival of 1969. As everyone knows, the event took place at Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, NY and was four days of peace, love and music. And rain, lots of rain. Or so I hear. Of course, I was only 2 years old at the time, therefor I wasn't in attendance. But if there's one pop culture event that has plenty of coverage, even after 39 years, its Woodstock.

To be sure, the musical line-up was impressive: Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Grateful Dead, Arlo Guthrie, Santana, Janis Joplin, CCR, The Who, The Band and Jimi Hendirx, to name a few. All headliners at one time or another during the course of their career.

But, there were also quite a few bands that played who weren't as well known and some others that, looking back, seem a bit out of place. For instance, Sha Na Na. That's right, the "At the Hop", greaser, doo wop group Sha Na Na played Woodstock. Also bands that no one remembers like Burt Sommer, TIm Hardin, Quill and Sweetwater played.

But this is probably one of the things that made the event even more memorable. Not only the diversity of music but also you can't have every act be of equal stature. Any good performance, whether its 3 minutes, 3 hours or 3 days needs lows so that the highs become more memorable. The Who sounds so much better after you had to endure a set of the Keef Hartley Band (no offense Keef).

Anyway, in the tried and true tradition of the entertainment industry, Woodstock I led to its sequel Woodstock II (1994) and then to Part III, the disastrous Woodstock 1999. I do remember these two events. My best friend from college met his future bride as she was returning home to Baltimore from Woodstock 1994. He came to visit me in DC the next night and told me he had met someone pretty interesting the night before and was headed back to Baltimore the next night to hang out with her. Six weeks later they were engaged.

Woodstock 1999 was less happy - I was in NYC at the time and remember watching them literally burn the place down after that event. Pretty ironic for the follow up to the festival dedicated to peace, love and music.

There's no sequel to Woodstock this year. In fact, not too much media attention to it at all. Event anniversaries are like birthdays in that way though - after a while only the round years seem to matter. No matter, here are Marksonland we say happy 39th anniversary. And here's a great number from one of the long forgotten bands (10 Years After) that played there:

August 18, 2008

Does Too Much Self-Linking Make Users Go Blind?

Tim O'Reilly today notes a recent (well, not that recent) trend of sites linking to themselves, and wonders what this means for the future of the web:
When this trend spreads (and I say "when", not "if"), this will be a tax on the utility of the web that must be counterbalanced by the utility of the intervening pages...If they are purely designed to capture additional clicks, they will be a degradation of the web's fundamental currency...

The typical self-linking strategy involves a site creating one or more "topic pages" that consist pretty much entirely of other articles related to that content. Most of the time the links on the topic page link to proprietary content of the site owner, not to the web in general. For example, this is the NY Times content page on Russia.

If you look closely at it, there's a couple of links to third party sites, but the prominent links are NYTimes pages. Note the search engine friendly nature of the URL: http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/russia/index.html

Having spent 5 years at Topix, the creation of topic pages is nothing new to Marksonland. We launched with 150,000 of them in 2004 and now the site has over 500,000 such pages. When we first launched, all the links on the topic pages went to 3rd party sites that we crawled - now many point to proprietary forums or licensed content.

So what's the magic in the creation of topic pages? Well, first it does allow you to crank up page views for your site users. All internal links do that though. The real magic is in the SEO though. The site owner gets to create dynamic content on static URL's that are optimized to popular search terms. With any of these urls, you can apply some SEO magic to them and, voila, your site actually comes up as a result for searches that are really just tangentially related.

O'Reilly mentions Crunchbase in his article, and rightly so. Arrington does a good job of self linking. Here's the search for Twitter, Blekko and Anna Patterson (Cuil's founder). There's a Crunchbase result on every page. Whether or not those results are good results, well, that's an editorial judgment. From Arrington's point of view - and from the NY Times, Topix and everyone else who does this point of view - he's now competing for traffic on search result pages that he otherwise wouldn't be.

Here's an example of the NY Times topic page showing up as a search result on one of their competitors (Gannett). A bit more SEO magic and maybe it ends up showing higher than the primary entity!

Anyway, as the Web continues to grow and more and more site traffic becomes referral traffic from Google, the creation of pages that are easily index-able by Google becomes more and more important. And so does the job of search engine discovery (SEO) of those pages. So, yes, there is no doubt this trend will continue. Perhaps not to the benefit of the web in general, however.

August 20, 2008

SES RIP?

When we launched Topix back in 2004, one of the first conferences we bought a booth for was Search Engine Strategies. I remember it was a big event for us. It was the first conference where we got to exhibit and get our name out there. We bought everyone in the company the embroidered golf shirts (human billboards!) and all 8 of us showed up to man the booth and walk the floor. Didn't really matter that our booth sign had a typo on it.

Aside from our personal excitement, the show itself was great too. For two days if you were in the Valley and working in the tech industry, It was THE place to be. Everyone was there. The place was teaming with potential customers, partners, investors and, of course, the press. If memory serves me right, its where we made our first contacts with lots of our media partners, including the NY times and the AP.

I mention this because I decided to head down to SES this morning just to walk the floor and check out the vibe. Unfortunately, it wasn't good. The excitement and buzz that I remember from years past was no where to be found. The exhibit hall was kind of empty. And this was during the lunch hour, when no speakers/ panels were going and should be the busiest time. When I swung by the Topix booth (obviously long ago upgraded from the typo one) all the folks there concurred that it was pretty slow.

So why is this? Is it because Danny Sullivan left a while ago and started his own competing show? Perhaps. Or maybe its because, as Chris theorized, SEO/ SEM is so mainstream these days that a show about it doesn't really work. It's not like there's a show about buying TV ads or print ads. Dunno.

Regardless, it kind of made me a bit sad and nostalgic walking the empty floor of SES. I wonder if I'll feel the same at Techcrunch 50 next month? Sure hope not...

August 23, 2008

Notes From Outside Lands

Kelly and I decided to brave the fog and wind and head over to Golden Gate Park to check out the Outside Lands music festival. Here are a few notes from the show:

1. Whoever sets up this event does a great job. The stages are spaced pretty much perfectly apart so that the acts can perform simultaneously without any overlapping sound to the audience. Also, lots of food and beverage stands, pot-o-potties, ATM machines, etc., so the lines are really manageable. Almost makes me forget about the goofy names they give the stages...:)

2. The festival's overall lineup was great too. Radiohead, Beck, Widespread Panic, Tom Petty, Jack Johnson just to name a few.

3. Unfortunately we didn't see any of the above-mentioned acts. Not the festival's fault, we just had other stuff scheduled. But we did get to see some pretty good performances. My favorite was Steve Winwood. He's one of those guys who i always wanted to see but hadn't had a chance to yet. Anyway, he rocked. So did Ben Harper. I'm not a huge fan, so I don't know his material that well, but dude can crank the slide guitar. Kelly's favorite, hand's down, was Cake. Not my favorite, but they were pretty good.

4. Music festivals are great for the diversity of the acts, but the short time they get to play kind of leaves me a bit empty. Just over an hour of Steve Winwood wasn't enough. I wanted a full concert. I think that's why I never walk away from these festivals completely blown away by the shows - just when the act and the audience is gearing up, that show's over.

5. Celebrity sighting of the day: Steve Wozniac. Standing about 3 or 4 people ahead of us in the hamburger stand line. Kind of surprised that he wasn't hiding in the VIP area (yes, they had a VIP section - ugh), but good to see your run of the mill billionaire grabbing a burger with us commoners. Also, pretty appropriate celeb sighting for the bay area.

6. Most ridiculous thing I saw were the corporate sponsored tents. Microsoft had a huge tent set up with a ton of machines for online access, no one was in there. Same with the Dell tent. Given that the "crowd sourcing" tent was empty, I would think the crowd sourcing wasn't that successful. My question is this: If you bought a sponsorship tent or a booth in one (like some start-ups did!), what kind of ROI on your marketing spend were you hoping for? I like Seth Godin's rule on these types of sponsorships - fine, go ahead and buy them but NO exec's from the company is allowed to attend the event. i wonder if these tents would have been as well sponsored if that rule was followed.

7. if you are in your 40's and want to feel old, go to a music festival. Memories of days of yore for sure, but also a great way to feel old.

8. Nicest surprise of the night: flagging down a cab pretty much right as we left the park. OK, it was a car service who over charged us, but whatever. I assumed getting back home was going to be measured in hours, not minutes. Happy to report I was wrong on that one.

I guess that's the proof of getting old - when the nicest surprise of the night is not a song or an act or running into somebody, but getting home in time to order Chinese and watch the end of the Olympics...Oh well, the shoe fits and I like to think I wear it well.

August 27, 2008

DNC: Voyager

Tomorrow night Barack Obama is scheduled to accept the nomination of the Democratic party as their candidate for the next President of the United States. In his speech, I'm sure he'll acknowledge his wife and family, his running mate, his primary opponent and lots of other folks. But for some reason, I'm guessing he's not going to mention or thank one person who had a pretty big impact on him being where he is today.

Obama started his meteoric rise in national politics back in 2004 when he won the Senate seat in Illinois. He soundly defeated Alan Keyes, gathering 70% of the vote. But he wasn't supposed to run against Keyes. He was supposed to run against Jack Ryan (no, not the Tom Clancy character).

Ryan was a rising star in Republican politics. He was a former Goldman guy who left the firm (with hundreds of millions of dollars) after it went public and started teaching inner city schools in Chicago. With this stellar resume, he not only won the Illinois republican nomination for Senate, but was perhaps a rising star in the party. Don't believe me? Here's the glowing column George Will wrote about him in 2003.

Anyway, the reason you probably don't remember Jack Ryan is because in addition to a great resume, he also had some serious skeletons in his closet. Specifically he had an ex-wife who alleged in court documents during their divorce proceeding that he had taken her to sex clubs for the purpose of having public sex. The allegations were made public during his Senate campaign and proved to be too much. Only months before the election, Ryan was forced to withdraw his nomination and Keyes substituted in his place. (BTW, Obama during the campaign called for the divorce record to remain sealed.)

Oh yeah, the ex-wife who made these allegations? That would be actress Jeri Ryan, star of Star Trek: Voyager, among other things.

Anyway, who knows what would have happened had Jack Ryan's divorce proceedings remained sealed. Barack could have beat him in the general election - Illinois, despite being the land of Lincoln, is pretty a strong blue state. But who knows, given his background and available cash, maybe Ryan would have won? He certainly would have received more than the paltry 27% of the vote Keyes won.

But none of this matters now. Obama won and is now poised to be the next President. I just think he should think about giving Seven of Nine a shoult out in his acceptance speech.

About August 2008

This page contains all entries posted to Marksonland in August 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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