Forrester: Unwarranted Criticism?

October 31, 2013

I spoke with a colleague after my webinar about Google’s “bulletproof vest.” After some small talk about the difficulty some folks having getting actionable information from online services, my colleague asked, “Have you seen ‘Forrester Is Failing Marketers with BS Data about Facebook’”?

After the call I located the article which appeared in Business Insider. I am not sure who owns Business Insider and I don’t know anything about the author of the write up. What was clear to me is that a mid tier consulting firm sure annoyed at least one person.

How did the annoyance surface?

The cause, it seems, was a report by the upscale Forrester consultancy. The write up works through some snippets and methodological observations. The main point of the write up, in my opinion, was:

The Forrester analyst who produced this appeared to have an axe to grind long before they ever got the “data” quoted in this report. The report says: “A handful of notable brands have drawn first blood, announcing they’re leaving Facebook entirely.” The analyst’s endnotes cite only one company, namely General Motors, who (a) did NOT say in May 2012 they were leaving entirely but were just stopping Facebook paid media, and (b) over six months ago said they were also returning to buy Facebook ads once more.

I don’t pay much attention to Facebook. I pay even less attention to the antics of the mid tier consulting companies. What I do pay attention to includes:

  1. The difficulty I have in figuring out what data are accurate and what data are public relations
  2. The motivation for certain somewhat snappy analyses. I am not sure if it is a brilliant insight, a desire to outwit Google’s pandas and penguins, or a signal that someone hired a person who just misunderstands certain business facts, events, or models.
  3. The foam whip up following a flashy report. Folks appear to care a great deal about Facebook, its revenue, and its importance in the advertising world. I suppose my surprise is a result of my living in rural Kentucky, far from the hip hop of Madison Avenue.

Take a look at the write up in Business Insider. Chase down a copy of the Forrester report. Look at Facebook’s financials in today’s frothy investment pool.

I have a simple question. Why do I have to use to locate information in non English social media. Perhaps the experts should focus on systems that make it easy to use these Facebook-type services? Just a thought. I am delighted the “BS” does not refer to Beyond Search.

Stephen E Arnold, October 31, 2013

Newspaper Companies Attempt to Catch Up with Data Analysis

October 31, 2013

The jargon-heavy article on Nieman Journalist Lab titled The Newsonomics of “Little Dad,” Data Scientists, and Conversion Specialists introduces the push big news companies are making towards data analysis. The article suggests that although news companies have lagged behind other web-based companies, they have started to seriously invest in their engineers and in mining the data they have on their visitors habits. Some expected emphasis is misplaced, instead of Big Data, Little Data is suddenly of great import. The article explains what one company experienced,

“We might have thought that progressive Schibsted would be farther along in the data sciences… Long-time Schibsted strategist Sverre Munck says that despite the company’s great successes and acute reading of changing consumer behavior, it still felt like it didn’t know what it needed to know. “Our analytics were haphazard, ad hoc, case-by-case,” says Munck, Schibsted’s soon-to-be-retired executive vice president. Where Schibsted believes its unique strategies are right…— it invests heavily. It’s now doing that in analytics.”

Some of the article is difficult to grasp, which may be a good thing. One surprise that caught the engineers off-guard was that a huge number of digital subscribers never registered for free before paying for a subscription. The focus on registered users shifted with this development, and this is only the beginning.

Chelsea Kerwin, October 31, 2013

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

More Consultants Promised to Aid in Difficult Website

October 31, 2013

The article Obama Administration Promises ‘Tech Surge’ to Fix Ailing website on The Verge discusses President Obama’s proposed path to adjusting the new healthcare initiative. Overshadowed by the government shutdown, the difficulties users have encountered on the site have included confusion, long waits, inability to create an account and even, as the article mentions, wrong information being sent to insurance providers. The article explains that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will be launching a “tech surge” which comprises bringing in more consultants and the “aggressive” monitoring of problem areas. Some of this has already gone into effect, as the article states,

“Apparently, the website has already seen some improvements. For a short time, as HHS explains, the department created a “virtual waiting room” for those attempting to create an account — but this only caused more confusion. That ad hoc solution is gone now, but we still haven’t received a firm number of how many people have successfully created accounts and received insurance. Instead, the HHS has only said that the site has had 19 million unique visits.”

This embarrassment for the Obama administration is partially due to the complexity of the “technical hurdles” faced, especially that contractors most likely needed Federal Information Security Management Act certifications. Recently President Obama addressed the nation to admit to the issues with the site, and to reassure Americans that those issue are being worked on. The promised “tech surge” can’t hurt, but it waits to be seen whether adding more consultants will solve the myriad problems with the website.

Chelsea Kerwin, October 31, 2013

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Safari Search Feature

October 31, 2013

This quick honk is to let you in on a mobile Safari feature you might not have been aware of. You probably know that, in most PC browsers, one can search a webpage for a certain word using the Edit -> Find command (or control + F). But what if you are on an iPhone or iPad? TÚAW directs us to a helpful feature with, “How to Search a Webpage for a Specific Word in Mobile Safari.” Editor Yoni Heisler describes the process, complete with screen shots for illustration. He writes:

“This feature is a lifesaver if you happen to come across a lengthy article, for example, and want to quickly skip ahead to a particular segment of the document. [. . .]

“All in all, this is a great search tool to keep handy when browsing through mobile websites where search functionality exists, but is somewhat buried underneath the surface.”

Heisler starts with a Google query, then directs us to the “on this page” option at the bottom of the suggestions list. This unassuming entry tells a user how many times the word is mentioned on the current page. Clicking upon that entry highlights the word everywhere it appears and lets you scroll through the instances with the click of an arrow. The process is pretty straightforward, but if you’re a visual learner the illustrations in this write-up may help clarify. This time-saver may be worth noting for anyone who browses the web through a mobile Apple device.

Cynthia Murrell, October 31, 2013

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Thomson Reuters: Easy Cost Cutting? Not for 3,000 Jobs

October 30, 2013

I spoke with a former publishing executive last week about what he called “easy cost cutting.” Publishers like Thomson Reuters, Wolters Kluwers, and Pearson have been tightening their WalMart belts for some time. Chasing down expensive off site meetings and taking close looks at senior executives authorized expenditures is good business management.

Publishing companies have been struggling to get back to the good old days of William Randolph Hearst. But the cost of paper, pesky worker demands, the sky rocketing cost of buying advanced systems and then paying to try and get the systems to work so old fashioned work processes can be streamlined, upstarts like former middle school teachers who start a blog and give away the content for free, Amazon and its silly “anybody can publish” approach to content, environmental costs associated with ink and disposal of unsold printed matter, and the lousy outlook for law, accounting, library, and other high value materials are making life tough.

How tough?

Well, the story “Thomson Reuters to Cut 3,000 Jobs in Second Layoff Round This Year” suggests life is getting pretty tough. Now that the easy cuts are gone, heads have to go away. Thomson Reuters is interesting because it has had some senior management turnover in the past two years. The article pointed out:

Third-quarter net income attributable to common shareholders fell 39 per cent to $271 million, or 33 cents a share, from $441 million, or 53 cents, a year earlier. Operating profit, which excludes one-time items and businesses that have closed, declined 15 per cent to $316 million in the period.

Thomson Reuters is revenue and profit oriented. So, the decline is worrisome.

However, set aside the serious problems at Thomson Reuters. Let’s ask a larger question, “What about Thomson Reuters as a flagship outfit?”

My view is that Thomson Reuters, particularly when headed by Michael Brown, was a pretty well managed outfit. Now the company seems to be signaling that the ship is listing. Thomson Reuters is not lying on the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, but the company has got to make some changes that return the company to its former posture. Growth requires more than acquisitions in Argentina. Leadership requires more than a new crew in the pilot house.

Many publishing companies are in a similarly precarious position. The private companies do not have to report their financial woes, but they are evident if one pokes into specific markets; for example, the library sector. Libraries are not rolling in cash. The companies dependent on libraries for revenue are going to have to shop at the WalMart belt display too. Newspaper publishers are interesting. Perhaps Jeff Bezos knows how to make the Washington Post the Miley Cyrus of the dailies? Book publishers are trying to figure out what to do with the 300,000 to 600,000 self published books likely to be generated this year. Most are no good, but the sheer volume underscores the challenge the folks in London and New York face from an unemployed Webmaster with an Amazon account or Apple’s publishing software.

Will more layoffs occur? I hope not. Thomson Reuters once was the leader of the publishing pack. Is it now the leader in the headcount reduction derby? Worth monitoring.

Stephen E Arnold, October 30, 2013

A Bit of Search History

October 30, 2013

Will Oremus at Slate gives us a history lesson in, “Google’s Big Break.” Though back in 1998 Larry Page and Sergey Brin did indeed come up with the best approach to search the Internet had yet seen, their enterprise nearly collapsed for lack of one little detail: a way to monetize their service. Investors pressured the startup to embrace the day’s popular money-maker, banner ads. Oremus writes:

“They thought banner ads were ugly and distracting. Worse, banner ads took time to load, and Google’s founders possessed an almost religious devotion to efficiency and speed. In their seminal 1998 academic paper introducing the idea of Google, Page and Brin criticized advertising-funded search engines as ‘inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of consumers.'”

All true. Brin and Page found their alternative by peering at rival (later renamed Overture), whose founder had devised paid search to address the same problem. This approach reduced unsightly spam while more tightly targeting audiences for advertisers; it also switched from charging advertisers per page-view to charging per click-through. The solution was an improvement for both users and advertisers. No wonder Google could not resist incorporating the idea into its search engine, beginning in 2000 with the first version of AdWords. At the time, GoTo’s founder Bill Gross suggested a merger to the Googlers-in-chief, but they weren’t interested. Two years later, the refined version of AdWords took off, carrying Google to overwhelming success.

Charitably, Gross says Google did not “steal” his idea because he had not thought to patent it. Overture did file for certain peripheral patents, with which it was able to sue Google after the 2002 iteration of AdWords launched. (GoTo-turned-Overture was owned by Yahoo by then, which picked up a passel of Google stock for its litigative trouble.) Gross remains philosophical about the situation. The article concludes:

“Gross, for his part, seems comfortable, even happy, with how things turned out. . . . ‘I’m wildly proud of coming up with the paid-search model,’ he told me. ‘I didn’t know how big it was at the time.’ Besides, Gross says, if Google didn’t make billions with the pay-per-click auction model, it would have made its billions some other way. ‘I wish I had come up with the Google idea,’ he says. ‘The Google idea was the idea for organizing the world’s information. Mine was just an idea for making money.'”

“Just,” he says. It is refreshing to read about a business person who can take pride in his concept without bitterness at having had that concept profitably pilfered.

Cynthia Murrell, October 30, 2013

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Analyzing Science Publishing Costs

October 30, 2013

The science journal Nature examines the changing state of academic journals in, “Open Access: The True Cost of Science Publishing.” Writer Richard Van Noorden goes in-depth on the costs behind publishing research articles, the factors behind those costs, and how open access publishing may turn the whole field on its ear (and whether this is a good thing). Let’s start with some crazy-sounding numbers; the article tells us:

“Data from the consulting firm Outsell in Burlingame, California, suggest that the science-publishing industry generated $9.4 billion in revenue in 2011 and published around 1.8 million English-language articles — an average revenue per article of roughly $5,000. Analysts estimate profit margins at 20–30% for the industry, so the average cost to the publisher of producing an article is likely to be around $3,500–4,000.”

That sure seems like a lot. Traditional publishers say that fans of open access understate the value they add to each article while overstating how much they make on them. It is difficult, though, to examine these claims, since these journals play their financial cards close to the vest. Such secrecy may eventually give way before the wealth of information available about open access options, which Noorden covers thoroughly. More and more researchers will hesitate to take the big names at their word on costs.

It is worth noting one downside to the current proliferation of open access journals: quality control. The traditional journals maintain that their high publishing fees are partially justified by the effort they put into sorting and disqualifying submissions. Both those publishers and open access journals ensure quality through the peer-review process, but recent findings bring doubt to the reliability of this measure at certain, newer publishers. Though the transition to open access journals may appear inevitable to some, the old-school players seem determined to defend their model. Will they succeed?

Cynthia Murrell, October 30, 2013

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Adding Search Results On Top of Search Results

October 30, 2013

Bing is viewed as the redheaded stepchild that hangs around, but no one wants to engage in a conversation with. Microsoft continues to roll out features to entice users to its search engine and this new one is a good idea in concept, but whether it improves search is still questionable. SearchEngineLand tells us that “Bing Gives IE11 Users A Quick Look At The Top Search Result With New ‘Pre-Rendering’ Feature.” The “pre-rendering” feature does this:

“Bing’s pre-rendering feature was designed to reduce the number of tasks needed to complete a “typical search” by using an IE11 pre-render tag that, ‘Automatically downloads and renders the top result page in the background’ without wasting a user’s bandwidth and battery life. Bing recommends website owners leverage the pre-render tag for their web pages, ‘To boost your own visitors’ experience with your site.”

Bing’s overall goal is to reduce the time users spend searching by saving them typing and clicking time. Improving the user-end experience is Bing’s ultimate goal and creating features like this is an attempt for them to compete with Google. The main reason that Bing can even compete with Google is because of the big name behind it. It also gives the impression that scanning a results list is too much work for users. Since when did reading become so difficult?

Whitney Grace, October 30, 2013

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Forking Google: The Future of Fone Flaps

October 29, 2013

I read “Samsung Is Pulling Another Amazon on Android, But This Is Even Bigger.” I liked the write up. It acknowledges in a semi-nice way that Google is either smarter than everyone else or Google is less smart than everyone thinks.

The idea is that open source Android is working like a Petri dish. Instead of growing little Googles, the Petri dish harbors a big Amazon and may soon give birth to a bigger Samsung. Here’s the point I noted:

As much as Google likes and touts that Android is open, that freedom may come with the cost of some control over the platform. Amazon may have started the first truly successful “fork” of Android, but Samsung is going after the whole place setting. Samsung kicked off its first Developers Conference on Monday and based on the keynote message, I wouldn’t be too happy if I were Google.

The point is that Android is supposed to be Google’s open source mobile platform. Others can use it, but Android is Google’s idea.

With iPhones too expensive for most mobile users and Microsoft mobile not getting the buzz Redmond hoped, Android is the mobile platform with legs it seems. Amazon and Samsung have figured this out. The companies have been moving forward with Android that has been reworked to make it less Googlely than Google may have hoped.

Amazon is a lesser problem for Google. Samsung, however, seems to be a bigger potential problem.

But my view is that the larger challenge will be from innovators in other countries who surf on Android. When I was in China, I learned about a number of mobile phones running Android that performed some interesting tricks. One taxi driver had a line of four mobile devices in his taxi. Each mobile had four SIMs. Each SIM connected to a different service providing information about pick ups.

I asked the taxi driver if the phones were running Google Android. The answer was, “I don’t know. There are cheap and do more than a high dollar, upper class phone. These are the future, not Apple or Google.”

Is the taxi driver correct? My view is that Google’s Android is not just fragmented. Android is enabling innovators to go in directions that may prove difficult for Google to control. Samsung may be the near term challenge for Google. Looking out over a longer time line, there may be a different set of challenges created by an open source mobile operating system, new manufacturing options, and a burgeoning demand for mobile devices that are delivering fresh, high-value functionality.

Sure the four phones put on a light show when orders came in. My smart phone has one SIM and was woefully out of step with the Chinese taxi driver’s needs. Google has to think about Android as free and open source software that may spawn some antibiotic resistant competitors.

Stephen E Arnold, October 29, 2013

Better Data Is Out There

October 29, 2013

Many have been operating under the assumption that the digital age has been providing us with reliable and accurate information. David Soloff noticed that this was incorrect when he was comparing grocery store prices against a government claim that they had dropped for the first time in more than half a century. Soloff discovered that prices, however, had increased by 5%. People are relying on misconstrued data, so Soloff founded Premise Data Corp. to sell better data. The San Francisco Gate details Soloff in “Google-Backed Startup Seeks Clearer Economic Signals Through Better, Faster, Stronger Data.” Backing the company are Google Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz and Harrison Metal.

Premise gathers data with a “global Internet trawl” that reads data from the Internet as well as using the old-fashioned approach of sending people into the field. The company plans on selling its “better” data to financial institutes, packaged good companies, and government and international organizations. So far the only customer they have is Bloomberg, but starting off with a big name like that is not a bad start.

John Morgan, an economist at UC Berkley, does not think it will be as easy to collect data as Premise hopes. He points out that governments change data for their own political aims and stores are not too keen on having people take photos of their wares. These are obvious observations, but Morgan goes on to say that not many people are going to want to buy Premise’s product:

“Meanwhile, he’s dubious that many consumer product companies will pay for this information because there are already many reliable sources on pricing for packaged goods. He’s also doubtful governments will be in the market for this information because they’ll insist on control over the collection and analysis. Morgan said the remaining question is whether Premise can earn a comfortable profit supplying tools to remaining potential customers, such as financial institutions, while paying a worldwide army of data collectors.”

It looks like we will have the choice of data vendors in the future. Who provides the best data? Who is going to be providing Google with the better results? A new market just opened up and Wall Street has not caught on yet.

Whitney Grace, October 29, 2013

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

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