Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Not evil, but a pinch of deliberate confusion

I don't have any scientific evidence to back up a full-fledged assertion, but I have always suspected that a key success factor behind the simple text ads that comprise search marketing is their subtleness. They look just like natural search results, and I don't think most consumers actually understand the difference.

I run Google ads on my blog, and last month I received this note from Google:
We're writing to let you know about a coming change to the appearance of your Google ads. Your ads currently display the default Google color palette, Seaside (formerly known as Mother Earth). In the near future, we plan to update the default palette to Open Air, a new palette containing the same set of colors, but without the blue border. We've found that many publishers prefer the cleaner look of this palette and have also seen that a blended color palette performs better for them -- attracting user interest while still maintaining the distinction between ads and content with the 'Ads by Google' label.
Big deal, they changed the default colors. Actually it is a big deal -- they eliminated the blue border. Is it me or is this an attempt to further blur the line between content and advertisements? If we polled 1,000 random Internet users, how many really understand that text links are ads?

Evil? Probably not.

Deliberately confusing? Definitely.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Google's Iron

Until today, I didn't fully appreciate how aggressive Google had become with its desire to own datacenters around the world. Of course I have heard countless stories of the massive server farms Google operates. One rumor even suggested Google built a meaningful single digit percentage of all PCs last year.

Still, I was stunned to learn from a young New York based startup about its recent run-in with a hosting service provider (HSP). As background, this startup serves about 1.5 billion monthly page views out of its single datacenter in New York. That's a lot of data, which makes this company a reasonably attractive HSP customer.

A few months ago, its HSP informed the startup that it would not be able to add any more servers to its cage. There was plenty of physical space in the cage, but the HSP claimed it was out of power. There were not enough volts to power any additional servers.

At first, the startup figured someone at the HSP was going to be fired for making such a stupid miscalcuation. How could they not design the place with enough power to operate cages chock full of servers? It just didn't make sense... until they learned what was really going on.

Google had moved to town. It appears Google is trying to purchase as much datacenter capacity as it can find. It offered a certain New York City HSP so much money that the HSP started mistreating its own customers to get them to leave so Google's appetite could be satisfied.

Let this be a warning to other HSP customers around the globe -- beware the day that Google moves to town.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Giving good phone

Some people have such great phone voices that it's hard not to want to talk to them. A multi-hundred million industry emerged based on that observation. Marketers persuaded consumers to call 1-900 lines (often, though not always, for sex chat) and relied on their operators' ability to give good phone to keep consumers engaged as the bills ran up at the tune of $5 per minute.

Excellent reporters typically give good phone as well. They use the skill to keep their interview subjects engaged beyond the length of time it makes sense to spend talking to a reporter.

Of course sales executives are often blessed with (or develop?) this talent as well. People buy from people they like, and the first step toward liking someone is talking to them for a while. That's why giving good phone comes in quite handy in sales.

I think I give average phone. Not great, but not awful either. A new service from Ether is allowing me to test how good my phone is. I decided to reserve a short period of time during each of the next few weeks to dispense venture capital advice to people I don't know. I'm mostly curious to see if anyone will take me up on it, and if anyone does, I'll be sure to ask them if I give good phone.

I believe Ether handles all the billing and logistics, though I haven't tried it yet, so I'm not entirely sure. If $2.50 per minute doesn't scare you, give me a call. While I cannot guarantee satisfaction, I promise to talk fast.

1-888-MY-ETHER ext. 01610091

Update: As a further inducement to potential callers, all proceeds will be donated to the East Harlem Tutorial Program.