Tag Archives: New York Times

MetLife’s new ad, featuring Schroeder, is more than just a rich banner – it’s an interactive experience and game that encourages the user to play the keyboard to help Schroeder successfully play a mini concerto in what looks like Carnegie Hall. It’s a brilliant way to engage with users and keep their attention for more than a split second, and the scoring and social sharing ensured this unique experience went viral.

You can view a video of how the ad works here:

This is easily one of the best banner ad executions since the I’m a Mac banners that also ran on the NY Times home page. It must be the high dollar cost of the ad placement on nytimes.com that brings out the best in banner creative.

If you missed the ad, you can play the game on Facebook, or catch it on March 1st on People.com.

 

Brilliant MetLife Ad

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Google Should Learn from Blekko and Open Up

Image representing Blekko as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

The New York Times recently highlighted how one insidious online retailer was able to use the power of negative reviews to drive his site to the top of Google and drive his business revenues at the same time. The piece brought to light a flaw in Google’s valuable algorithm; and drew a response from Google, who announced that they had made changes to keep this type of thing from happening again. The problem is, of course, Google can’t say what they changed in the algorithm or how they went about solving the problem. And they can’t because, like the Coca Cola recipe, their algorithm is secret and worth billions of dollars a year in revenues. Google’s secrecy will continue to leave it open to attacks of this kind and the negative press associated with them; and that secrecy is bad for business. That’s why Google should take a page from Blekko and open up about it’s algorithm.

And here’s why. Let’s start with the original article from the New York Times:

It’s all part of a sales strategy, he said. Online chatter about DecorMyEyes, even furious online chatter, pushed the site higher in Google search results, which led to greater sales. He closed with a sardonic expression of gratitude: “I never had the amount of traffic I have now since my 1st complaint. I am in heaven.”

That would sound like schoolyard taunting but for this fact: The post is two years old. Between then and now, hundreds of additional tirades have been tacked to Get Satisfaction, ComplaintsBoard.com, ConsumerAffairs.com and sites like them.

Not only has this heap of grievances failed to deter DecorMyEyes, but as Ms. Rodriguez’s all-too-cursory Google search demonstrated, the company can show up in the most coveted place on the Internet’s most powerful site.

The article states that links from sites like Get Satisfaction, even those in negative reviews are driving the site higher in the Google rank. The article makes the argument that inbound links that his site was getting from negative reviews was actually helping his search ranking; and potential customers who took his high rank as a mark of credibility fell into his scam. But then Get Satisfaction jumped in with a response basically saying that Get Satisfaction was wrongly implicated because of the company’s use of “nofollow” tags which prevent valuable link juice being passed from posts in their support forum:

But the article is unintentionally misleading. The story implies that links on Get Satisfaction positively accrue to the benefit of a company, even if they’re negative. Like any online community that cares to combat spammers, we code our user-submitted links so that Google ignores them for the purposes of calculating page rank (specifically, we attach “rel=nofollow” to anchor tags). Somebody trying to gin up their Page Rank by encouraging complaints on Get Satisfaction would be sorely disappointed.

Which makes sense to people familiar with the web, and absolves Get Satisfaction of unwillingly helping this crook, but could be easily missed by a reporter on a salacious story who doesn’t know which facts to check.

So, today Google comes out with the following statement about the fiasco on their blog:

We were horrified to read about Ms. Rodriguez’s dreadful experience. Even though our initial analysis pointed to this being an edge case and not a widespread problem in our search results, we immediately convened a team that looked carefully at the issue. That team developed an initial algorithmic solution, implemented it, and the solution is already live. I am here to tell you that being bad is, and hopefully will always be, bad for business in Google’s search results.

We can’t say for sure that no one will ever find a loophole in our ranking algorithms in the future. We know that people will keep trying: attempts to game Google’s ranking, like the ones mentioned in the article, go on 24 hours a day, every single day. That’s why we cannot reveal the details of our solution—the underlying signals, data sources, and how we combined them to improve our rankings—beyond what we’ve already said. We can say with reasonable confidence that being bad to customers is bad for business on Google. And we will continue to work hard towards a better search.

And while Google is (rightfully) getting praised for their responsiveness, I can’t help but think that this entire fiasco and misleading story would’ve been diffused before it even got started if Google was more like Blekko. If you aren’t familiar with the new search engine, you should invest some time to checking it out. They have some innovative features, most notably slash tags, but they also do something novel in the search space – they put their search recipe out for the world to see. You, me, everyone can see the how, what and why that goes into each and every listing on their site. Danny Sullivan does a nice overview of Blekko in his piece on Search Engine Land, worth a full read:

There’s much, much more that you can drill down into, enough for a separate article in the future. Using the “Visualize URLs” feature, you can even compare four different sites to each other

Blekko had considered if it should refine its reporting to make it a paid service for SEOs but decided instead to stick with what it shows as a way of being more transparent about how it works behind the scenes.

“Our primary purpose is to be open in how it works,” said Skrenta. “It might be the case that in the future, we’ll provide an API for people who want to build tools further on our data.”

This openness is not only refreshing, but provides users a clear view of how the search engine thinks. It renders the stories like the ones in the Times moot. By looking at a domain in Blekko you can clearly see what factors go into the ranking, you can see the inbound links and the ranks of those links, you can get a very clear picture of what elements Blekko is using to rank domains.

In fact, if you searched the domain in question at Blekko you’d see that there are no Get Satisfaction links being used to rank the site (because of the “no follow” tags,) and that Polyvore was the largest inbound link contributor used in ranking the site in Blekko. If Google was open like Blekko the reporter or fact checker could’ve easily clicked on the seo tag for the entry and received a much clearer picture of the math that went into the ranking, rather than relying on the business owner’s word for it and incorrectly implicating sites like Get Satisfaction.

The web would be a better place with more openness in search. Black hat SEO would be less likely, people could get a better understanding of why sites were ranked where they were, and there would be more trust in the rankings themselves, because search companies can stand on their algorithm, point to the data used and let the community have a conversation about it, rather than simply saying “We’re not evil. Trust us.”

And this is what Google can learn from Blekko. It’s not the slashtags (although cool) that’s the killer feature of the engine, it’s the openness. And Google should work towards a day when they can point to the data in response to inquiries about their search, rather than say “don’t worry, we’ve got your best interests in mind,” and expect that to be the end of the conversation.

Blekko has published a “web search bill or rights” that clearly outlines how they think about web search and includes things like “search shall be open,” and “ranking data shall not be kept secret.”  I hope that one day soon, Google will provide its users and customers the visibility and access that will make search more open, transparent, understandable and safer for everyone.

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Google Fast Flip Just Made Mainstream News on the Web Relevant Again

google_fast_flipGoogle launched Flipper nee Fast Flip today at TechCrunch50. The product is a news reader that brings the same concept of Google Reader (the ability to read lots of news from disparate sources in one place, quickly) to mainstream news sites.  In my daily work flow this innovation has just made mainstream news relevant again in my consumption of media.

Why?

Because it gives me all of my news from mainstream sites in one place – in an environment where I can skim quickly and dive in to the articles that interest me most.

The Problem with MSM News Sites Up Until Today

The problems with mainstream news sites have been many including:

  • Terrible UI
  • Rejuritated AP News (aka duplicate content)
  • Poor search
  • Limited RSS capability
  • Limited customization

But perhaps the biggest problem is that there wasn’t an easy way to get all of my news in one place.  To keep news in my daily information workflow I would have to:

  • Go to New York Times
  • Go to LA Times
  • Go to SFGate.com
  • Go to WSJ.com
  • Go to OC Register
  • and on and on…

I’m too busy for that to ever happen with any regularity.  That’s why I rely so heavily on Google Reader.  Since most newspapers publish partial RSS feeds I was able to read a headline and jump to a site if it was really important.  But even that wasn’t ideal as I had little more than the first 50 words to determine if the article was something I was interested in.  Now with the new GUI I am able to see much more of the story and context before making that determination.

Google Solves a Lot of Those MSM Problems, but Not All

Flip Fast solves many of the above problems. But primarily it makes news easier to digest at a rapid place all in one easy-to-use environment.  It’s how news consumption should’ve been all along and I think will become an important part of my daily information in-take.

Now, of course, there is a lot to be desired, such as customization options, social features and the like; and I still have to visit the publisher site to get the full story, but now I can get a better sense of the news out there rather than relying on the few miserable  partial feeds in my Google Reader.

Moving forward I’d like to see many of the social features and discovery features that have been redefining what it means to read and share news in Google Reader.

An Embarrassment for the MSM?

Flip Fast seems like an embarrassment for the mainstream media institution.  While Conde Nast is busy paying McKinsey to tell them to cut their staff 25%, Google is redefining what it means to read and consume mainstream news on the Web.  Fast flip is exactly the kind of innovation that the publishing industry needs and it’s exactly the kind of innovation that the main stream media (for the most part) has avoided, trying instead to protect their dwindling online revenues with thoughts of micro-payments and paywalls.  When you start to look at options besides the same old tired ones, sometimes new answers come to light that actually give you hope and a chance of making it through the revolution of an industry.

nyt_skimmerFrankly, the mainstream media should be embarrased and disappointed it didn’t create something like this themselves. Instead they took the music industry approach and tried to protect a vanishing island by charging $12.50 for 5 words from the AP. Now, the one mainstream site that hasn’t succumbed to this model is the New York Times who has developed their own “Fast Flip” prototype called Article Skimmer; which makes reading the news easier online; but still is limited by the one-property nature of the news.

Guarded Optimism

Now, who knows if this will help save newspapers online and become a viable revenue stream. It’s hard to see a lot of mainstream readers adopting this site without some serious education about the product, benefits, and connections with the rest of their online life without some refinement.  It also bucks the “local is everything” hyper-targeted track that media companies have been chasing recently, which is an interesting approach. Instead of “hey we’ve pared everything down to what’s relevant to you” that mainstream media has been trying to do, it’s a “hey, here’s the tools to get you through all the news you want in the same amount of time you’d spend on one site.” And I like that approach better.

So what do you think? What do you think about Fast Flip?  Is it the next Google Maps or the next Froogle? Let me know in the comments.

Read more: Mashable, New York Times, GigaOM

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Ad Space Disappears from New LATimes.com Home Page?

I was just checking out the new LATimes.com redesign and apart from its striking blog-like look, I noticed another feature that made it different from other news sites.  The ads seemed much less prominent in size and number than I’m accustomed to at other newspaper Web sites.  It piqued my interest that the change was that drastic that I immediately felt it with a quick visual scan of the page.  I decided to do a little comparison of the LA Times new Web site to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal in terms of ad space and units on the home page to see if my initial reaction was right.  It turns out my eyes did not deceive me.

Some findings:

  • The new LA Times Web site has 34% fewer home page pixels dedicated to ads then the WSJ and 21.5% fewer than the New York Times
  • The new LA Times home page has fewer than half the ad units of the NYT and just a touch more than 60% of the WSJ
  • In total ad space (in square pixels) the LA Times has slightly more than the NYT, but the total size of the page drops the percentage of real estate drastically
  • The new LA Times home page is 13% bigger than the WSJ home page and 22% bigger than the NYT home page

Here is a comparison:

Los Angeles Times

Ad Space: 311,239 sq. pix
Full Page: 5,596,353 sq. pix
Ads: 5.56%

New York Times

Ad Space: 308,513 sq. pix
Full Page: 4,347,246 sq. pix
Ads: 7.10%

Wall Street Journal

Ad Space: 408,635 sq. pix
Full Page: 4,849,920 sq. pix
Ads: 8.43%

What does it mean?

It’s tough to say right off the bat of course, because the LA Times could be planning on new ad units that aren’t currently live.  They may want to break in the site and get feedback before crowding the user experience with ad units.  However, if this is a rather final design and implementation then it is quite a shocking reduction in potential ad revenue from Web traffic for the LA Times.  We all know that online ad revenues aren’t propping up these papers, but is it so bad in some cases that 20% less ad real estate is an acceptable loss? (Or as Chris Anderson likes to say “too cheap to meter?”)  Perhaps someone with more insight can delve into this; but at first look it seems like an awful lot of screen real estate committed to content (which is great for the user) with a much lesser emphasis on monetizing that traffic with ads (not great for the LA Times, unless of course they’re making it up elsewhere).

What do you think?

Some disclaimers:

  • I didn’t count other revenue generating areas such as job searches and real estate searches, etc. because it’s too hard to know what’s a rev share and what isn’t.
  • I did count the Yellow Pages box on LA Times because that was a fairly obvious ad unit. If you take it out it makes the numbers even more startling.
  • I did this quickly so I’m sure I’m missing some pixels here and there; but I believe the trend holds.
  • I didn’t have the time or inclination to do internal pages of the sites.
  • I’m not a math geek – feel free to pummel my math
  • You can see images of the home pages with the ad units I counted for the LA Times, WSJ, NYT (click the thumbnail for larger image)
latimes nyt wsj
LA Times NY Times WSJ
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