Grist for the Machine

Grist

Much like publishers, employees at the big tech monopolies can end up little more than grist.

Products & product categories come & go, but even if you build "the one" you still may lose everything in the process.

Imagine building the most successful consumer product of all time only to realize:'The iPhone is the reason I'm divorced,' Andy Grignon, a senior iPhone engineer, tells me. I heard that sentiment more than once throughout my dozens of interviews with the iPhone's key architects and engineers.'Yeah, the iPhone ruined more than a few marriages,' says another.

Microsoft is laying off thousands of salespeople.

Google colluded with competitors to sign anti-employee agreements & now they are trying to hold down labor costs with modular housing built on leased government property. They can tout innovation they bring to Africa, but at their core the tech monopolies are still largely abusive. What's telling is that these companies keep using their monopoly profits to buy more real estate near their corporate headquarters, keeping jobs there in spite of the extreme local living costs.

"There's been essentially no dispersion of tech jobs,' said Mr. Kolko, who conducted the research.'Which metro is the next Silicon Valley? The answer is none, at least for the foreseeable future. Silicon Valley still stands apart.'

Making $180,000 a year can price one out of the local real estate market, requiring living in a van or a two hour commute. An $81,000 salary can require a 3 hour commute.

If you are priced out of the market by the monopoly de jour, you can always pray!

The hype surrounding transformative technology that disintermediates geography & other legacy restraints only lasts so long: "The narrative isn't the product of any single malfunction, but rather the result of overhyped marketing, deficiencies in operating with deep learning and GPUs and intensive data preparation demands."

AI is often a man standing behind a curtain.

The big tech companies are all about equality, opportunity & innovation. At some point either the jobs move to China or China-like conditions have to move to the job. No benefits, insurance cost passed onto the temp worker, etc.

Google's outsourced freelance workers have to figure out how to pay for their own health insurance:

A manager named LFEditorCat told the raters in chat that the pay cut had come at the behest of'Big G's lawyers,' referring to Google. Later, a rater asked Jackson,'If Google made this change, can Google reverse this change, in theory?' Jackson replied,'The chances of this changing are less than zero IMO.'

That's rather unfortunate, as the people who watch the beheading videos will likely need PTSD treatment.

The tech companies are also leveraging many "off the books" employees for last mile programs, where the wage is anything but livable after the cost of fuel, insurance & vehicle maintenance. They are accelerating the worst aspects of consolidated power:

America really is undergoing a radical change in the structure of our political economy. And yet this revolutionary shift of power, control, and wealth has remained all but unrecognized and unstudied ... Since the 1990s, large companies have increasingly relied on temporary help to do work that formerly was performed by permanent salaried employees. These arrangements enable firms to hire and fire workers with far greater flexibility and free them from having to provide traditional benefits like unemployment insurance, health insurance, retirement plans, and paid vacations. The workers themselves go by many different names: temps, contingent workers, contractors, freelancers. But while some fit the traditional sense of what it means to be an entrepreneur or independent business owner, many, if not most, do not-precisely because they remain entirely dependent on a single power for their employment.

Dedication & devotion are important traits. Are you willing to do everything you can to go the last mile? "Lyft published a blog post praising a driver who kept picking up fares even after she went into labor and was driving to the hospital to give birth."

Then again, the health industry is a great driver of consumption:

About 1.8 million workers were out of the labor force for "other" reasons at the beginning of this year, meaning they were not retired, in school, disabled or taking care of a loved one, according to Atlanta Federal Reserve data. Of those people, nearly half -- roughly 881,000 workers -- said in a survey that they had taken an opioid the day before, according to a study published last year by former White House economist Alan Krueger."

Creating fake cancer patients is a practical way to make sales.

That is until they stop some of the scams & view those people as no longer worth the economic cost. Those people are only dying off at a rate of about 90 people a day. Long commutes are associated with depression. And enough people are taking anti-depressants that it shows up elsewhere in the food chain.

Rehabilitation is hard work:

After a few years of buildup, Obamacare kicked the scams into high gear. .... With exchange plans largely locked into paying for medically required tests, patients (and their urine) became gold mines. Some labs started offering kickbacks to treatment centers, who in turn began splitting the profits with halfway houses that would tempt clients with free rent and other services. ... Street-level patient brokers and phone room lead generators stepped up to fill the beds with strategies across the ethical spectrum, including signing addicts up for Obamacare and paying their premiums.

Google made a lot of money from that scam until it got negative PR coverage.

At the company, we're family. Once you are done washing the dishes, you can live in the garage. Just make sure you juice!

When platform monopolies dictate the roll-out of technology, there is less and less innovation, fewer places to invest, less to invent. Eventually, the rhetoric of innovation turns into DISRUPT, a quickly canceled show on MSNBC, and Juicero, a Google-backed punchline.

This moment of stagnating innovation and productivity is happening because Silicon Valley has turned its back on its most important political friend: antitrust. Instead, it's embraced what it should understand as the enemy of innovation: monopoly.

And the snowflake narrative not only relies on the "off the books" marginalized freelance employees to maintain lush benefits for the core employees, but those core employees can easily end up thrown under the bus because accusation is guilt. Uniformity of political ideology is the zenith of a just world.

Celebrate diversity in all aspects of life - except thoughtTM.

Free speech is now considered violence. Free speech has real cost. So if you disagree with someone, "people you might have to work with may simply punch you in the face" - former Google diversity expert Yonatan Zunger.

Anything but the facts!

Mob rule - with a splash of violence - for the win.

Social justice is the antithesis of justice.

It is the aspie guy getting fired for not understanding the full gender "spectrum."

It is the repression of truth: "Truth equals virtue equals happiness. You cannot solve serious social problems by telling lies or punishing people who tell truth."

Most meetings at Google are recorded. Anyone at Google can watch it. We're trying to be really open about everything...except for this. They don't want any paper trail for any of these things. They were telling us about a lot of these potentially illegal practices that they've been doing to try to increase diversity. Basically treating people differently based on what their race or gender are. - James Damore

The recursive feedback loops & reactionary filtering are so bad that some sites promoting socialism are now being dragged to the Google gulag.

In a set of guidelines issued to Google evaluators in March, elaborated in April by Google VP of Engineering Ben Gomes, the company instructed its search evaluators to flag pages returning'conspiracy theories' or'upsetting' content unless'the query clearly indicates the user is seeking an alternative viewpoint.' The changes to the search rankings of WSWS content are consistent with such a mechanism. Users of Google will be able to find the WSWS if they specifically include'World Socialist Web Site' in their search request. But if their inquiry simply includes term such as'Trotsky,''Trotskyism,''Marxism,''socialism' or'inequality,' they will not find the site.

Every website which has a following & challenges power is considered "fake news" or "conspiracy theory" until many years later, when many of the prior "nutjob conspiracies" turn out to be accurate representations of reality.

Under its new so-called anti-fake-news program, Google algorithms have in the past few months moved socialist, anti-war, and progressive websites from previously prominent positions in Google searches to positions up to 50 search result pages from the first page, essentially removing them from the search results any searcher will see. Counterpunch, World Socialsit Website, Democracy Now, American Civil liberties Union, Wikileaks are just a few of the websites which have experienced severe reductions in their returns from Google searches.

In the meantime townhall meetings celebrating diversity will be canceled & differentiated voices will be marginalized to protect the mob from themselves.

What does the above say about tech monopolies wanting to alter the structure of society when their internal ideals are based on fundamental lies? They can't hold an internal meeting addressing sacred cows because "ultimately the loudest voices on the fringes drive the perception and reaction" but why not let them distribute swarms of animals with bacteria & see what happens? Let's make Earth a beta.

FANG

Monopoly platforms are only growing more dominant by the day.

Over the past three decades, the U.S. government has permitted corporate giants to take over an ever-increasing share of the economy. Monopoly-the ultimate enemy of free-market competition-now pervades every corner of American life ... Economic power, in fact, is more concentrated than ever: According to a study published earlier this year, half of all publicly traded companies have disappeared over the past four decades.

And you don't have to subscribe to deep state conspiracy theory in order to see the impacts.

The revenue, value & profit transfer is overt:

It is no coincidence that from 2012 to 2016, Amazon, Google and Facebook's revenues increased by $137 billion and the remaining Fortune 497 revenues contracted by $97 billion.

Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook ... are all aggressively investing in video content as bandwidth is getting cheaper & they need differentiated content to drive subscription revenues. If the big players are bidding competitively to have differentiated video content that puts a bid under some premium content, but for ad-supported content the relatively high CPMs on video content might fall sharply in the years to come.

From a partner perspective, if you only get a percent of revenue that transfers all the risk onto you, how is the new Facebook video feature going to be any better than being a YouTube partner? As video becomes more widespread, won't that lower CPMs?

No need to guess:

One publisher said its Facebook-monetized videos had an average CPM of 15 cents. A second publisher, which calculated ad rates based on video views that lasted long enough to reach the ad break, said the average CPM for its mid-rolls is 75 cents. A third publisher made roughly $500 from more than 20 million total video views on that page in September.

That's how monopolies work. Whatever is hot at the moment gets pitched as the future, but underneath the hood all compliments get commoditized:

as a result of this increased market power, the big superstar companies have been raising their prices and cutting their wages. This has lifted profits and boosted the stock market, but it has also held down real wages, diverted more of the nation's income to business owners, and increased inequality. It has also held back productivity, since raising prices restricts economic output.

The future of the web is closed, proprietary silos that mirror what existed before the web:

If in five years I'm just watching NFL-endorsed ESPN clips through a syndication deal with a messaging app, and Vice is just an age-skewed Viacom with better audience data, and I'm looking up the same trivia on Genius instead of Wikipedia, and'publications' are just content agencies that solve temporary optimization issues for much larger platforms, what will have been point of the last twenty years of creating things for the web?

They've all won their respective markets & are now converging:

We've been in the celebration phase all year as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Facebook take their place in the pantheon of classic American monopolists. These firms and a few others, it is now widely acknowledged, dominate everything. There is no day-part in which they do not dominate the battle for consumers' attention. There is no business safe from their ambitions. There are no industries in which their influence and encroachment are not currently being felt.

The web shifts information-based value chains to universal distribution at zero marginal cost, which shifts most of the value extraction to the attention merchants.

The raw feed stock for these centralized platforms isn't particularly profitable:

despite a user base near the size of Instagram's, Tumblr never quite figured out how to make money at the level Facebook has led managers and shareholders to expect ... running a platform for culture creation is, increasingly, a charity operation undertaken by larger companies. Servers are expensive, and advertisers would rather just throw money at Facebook than take a chance

Those resting in the shadows of the giants will keep getting crushed: "They let big tech crawl, parse, and resell their IP, catalyzing an extraordinary transfer in wealth from the creators to the platforms."

They'll take the influence & margins, but not the responsibility normally associated with such a position:

"Facebook has embraced the healthy gross margins and influence of a media firm but is allergic to the responsibilities of a media firm," Mr. Galloway says. ... For Facebook, a company with more than $14 billion in free cash flow in the past year, to say it is adding 250 people to its safety and security efforts is'pissing in the ocean,' Mr. Galloway says.'They could add 25,000 people, spend $1 billion on AI technologies to help those 25,000 employees sort, filter and ID questionable content and advertisers, and their cash flow would decline 10% to 20%.'

It's why there's a management shake up at Pandora, Soundcloud laid off 40% of their staff & Vimeo canceled their subscription service before it was even launched.

With the winners of the web determined, it's time to start locking down the ecosystem with DRM:

Practically speaking, bypassing DRM isn't hard (Google's version of DRM was broken for six years before anyone noticed), but that doesn't matter. Even low-quality DRM gets the copyright owner the extremely profitable right to stop their customers and competitors from using their products except in the ways that the rightsholder specifies. ... for a browser to support EME, it must also license a "Content Decryption Module" (CDM). Without a CDM, video just doesn't work. All the big incumbents advocating for DRM have licenses for CDMs, but new entrants to the market will struggle to get these CDMs, and in order to get them, they have to make promises to restrict otherwise legal activities ... We're dismayed to see the W3C literally overrule the concerns of its public interest members, security experts, accessibility members and innovative startup members, putting the institution's thumb on the scales for the large incumbents that dominate the web, ensuring that dominance lasts forever.

After years of loosey goosey privacy violations by the tech monopoly players, draconian privacy laws will block new competitors:

More significantly, the GDPR extends the concept of'personal data' to bring it into line with the online world. The regulation stipulates, for example, that an online identifier, such as a device's IP address, can now be personal data. So next year, a wide range of identifiers that had hitherto lain outside the law will be regarded as personal data, reflecting changes in technology and the way organisations collect information about people. ... Facebook and Google should be OK, because they claim to have the'consent' of their users. But the data-broking crowd do not have that consent.

GDRP is less than 8 months away.

If you can't get the fat thumb accidental mobile ad clicks then you need to convert formerly free services to a paid version or sell video ads. Yahoo! shut down most their verticals, was acquired by Verizon, and is now part of Oath. Oath's strategy is so sound Katie Couric left:

Oath's video unit, however, had begun doubling down on the type of highly shareable,'snackable' bites that people gobble up on their smartphones and Facebook feeds. ... . What frustrates her like nothing else, two people close to Couric told me, is when she encounters fans and they ask her what she's up to these days.

When content is atomized into the smallest bits & recycling is encouraged only the central network operators without editorial content costs win.

Even Reddit is pushing crappy autoplay videos for the sake of ads. There's no chance of it working for them, but they'll still try, as Google & Facebook have enviable market caps.

Video ads are good with everything!

Want to find a job? Watch some autoplay video ads on LinkedIn.

Mic laid off journalists and is pivoting to video.

It doesn't work, but why not try.

The TV networks which focused on the sort of junk short-form video content that is failing online are also seeing low ratings.

Probably just a coincidence.

Some of the "innovative" upstart web publishers are recycling TV ads as video content to run pre-roll ads on. An ad inside an ad.

Some suggest the repackaging and reposting of ads highlights the'pivot to video' mentality many publishers now demonstrate. The push to churn out video content to feed platforms and to attract potentially lucrative video advertising is increasingly viewed as a potential solution to an increasingly challenging business model problem.

Publishers might also get paid a commission on any sales they help drive by including affiliate links alongside the videos. If these links drive users to purchase the products, then the publisher gets a cut.

Is there any chance recycling low quality infomercial styled ads as placeholder auto-play video content to run prerolls on is a sustainable business practice?

If that counts as strategic thinking in online publishing, count me as a short.

For years whenever the Adobe Flash plugin for Firefox had a security update users who hit the page got a negative option install of Google Chrome as their default web browser. And Google constantly markets Chrome across their properties:

Google is aggressively using its monopoly position in Internet services such as Google Mail, Google Calendar and YouTube to advertise Chrome. Browsers are a mature product and its hard to compete in a mature market if your main competitor has access to billions of dollars worth of free marketing.

It only takes a single yes on any of those billions of ad impressions (or an accidental opt in on the negative option bundling with security updates) for the default web browser to change permanently.

There's no way Mozilla can compete with Google on economics trying to buy back an audience.

Mozilla is willing to buy influence, too - particularly in mobile, where it's so weak. One option is paying partners to distribute Firefox on their phones.'We're going to have to put money toward it,' Dixon says, but she expects it'll pay off when Mozilla can share revenue from the resulting search traffic.

They have no chance of winning when they focus on wedge issues like fake news. Much like their mobile operating system, it is a distraction. And the core economics of paying for distribution won't work either. How can Mozilla get a slice of an advertiser's ad budget through Yahoo through Bing & compete against Google's bid?

Google is willing to enter uneconomic deals to keep their monopoly power. Look no further than the $1 billion investment they made in AOL which they quickly wrote down by $726 million.

Google pays Apple $3 billion PER YEAR to be the default search provider in Safari. Verizon acquired Yahoo! for $4.48 billion. There's no chance of Yahoo! outbidding Google for default Safari search placement & if Apple liked the idea they would have bought Yahoo!. It is hard to want to take a big risk & spend billions on something that might not back out when you get paid billions to not take any risk.

Even Microsoft would be taking a big risk in making a competitive bid for the Apple search placement. Microsoft recently disclosed "Search advertising revenue increased $124 million or 8%." If $124 million is 8% then their quarterly search ad revenue is $1.674 billion. To outbid Google they would have to bid over half their total search revenues.

Regulatory Capture

"I have a foreboding of an America in which my children's or grandchildren's time - when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of america is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance." - Carl Sagan, The Demon-haunted World, 1996

The monopoly platforms have remained unscathed by government regulatory efforts in the U.S. Google got so good at lobbying they made Goldman Sachs look like amateurs. It never hurts to place your lawyers in the body that (should) regulate you: "Wright left the FTC in August 2015, returning to George Mason. Just five months later, he had a new position as'of counsel' at Wilson Sonsini, Google's primary outside law firm."

Remember how Google engineers repeatedly announced how people who bought or sold links without clear machine & human readable disclosure are scum? One way to take .edu link building to the next level is to sponsor academic research without disclosure:

Some researchers share their papers before publication and let Google give suggestions, according to thousands of pages of emails obtained by the Journal in public-records requests of more than a dozen university professors. The professors don't always reveal Google's backing in their research, and few disclosed the financial ties in subsequent articles on the same or similar topics, the Journal found. ... Google officials in Washington compiled wish lists of academic papers that included working titles, abstracts and budgets for each proposed paper-then they searched for willing authors, according to a former employee and a former Google lobbyist. ... Mr. Sokol, though, had extensive financial ties to Google, according to his emails obtained by the Journal. He was a part-time attorney at the Silicon Valley law firm of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, which has Google as a client. The 2016 paper's co-author was also a partner at the law firm, which didn't respond to requests for comment.

As bad as that is, Google has non profit think tanks fire ENTIRE TEAMS if they suggest regulatory action against Google is just:

"We are in the process of trying to expand our relationship with Google on some absolutely key points,' Ms. Slaughter wrote in an email to Mr. Lynn, urging him to'just THINK about how you are imperiling funding for others.'

"What happened has little to do with New America, and everything to do with Google and monopoly power. One reason that American governance is dysfunctional is because of the capture of much academic and NGO infrastructure by power. That this happened obviously and clumsily at one think tank is not the point. The point is that this is a *system* of power. I have deep respect for the scholars at New America and the work done there. The point here is how *Google* and monopolies operate. I'll make one other political point about monopoly power. Democracies all over the world are seeing an upsurge in anger. Why? Scholars have tended to look at political differences, like does a different social safety net have an impact on populism. But it makes more sense to understand what countries have in common. Multi-nationals stretch over... multiple nations. So if you think, we do, that corporations are part of our political system, then populism everywhere monopolies operate isn't a surprise. Because these are the same monopolies. Google is part of the American political system, and the European one, and so on and so forth." - Matt Stoller

Any dissent of Google is verboten:

in recent years, Google has become greedy about owning not just search capacities, video and maps, but also the shape of public discourse. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, Google has recruited and cultivated law professors who support its views. And as the New York Times recently reported, it has become invested in building curriculum for our public schools, and has created political strategy to get schools to adopt its products. This year, Google is on track to spend more money than any company in America on lobbying.

"I just got off the phone with Eric Schmidt and he is pulling all of his money." - Anne-Marie Slaughter

They not only directly control the think tanks, but also state who & what the think tanks may fund:

Google's director of policy communications, Bob Boorstin, emailed the Rose Foundation (a major funder of Consumer Watchdog) complaining about Consumer Watchdog and asking the charity to consider "whether there might be better groups in which to place your trust and resources."

They can also, you know, blackball your media organization or outright penalize you. The more aggressive you are with monetization the more leverage they have to arbitrarily hit you if you don't play ball.

Six years ago, I was pressured to unpublish a critical piece about Google's monopolistic practices after the company got upset about it. In my case, the post stayed unpublished. I was working for Forbes at the time, and was new to my job.
...
Google never challenged the accuracy of the reporting. Instead, a Google spokesperson told me that I needed to unpublish the story because the meeting had been confidential, and the information discussed there had been subject to a non-disclosure agreement between Google and Forbes. (I had signed no such agreement, hadn't been told the meeting was confidential, and had identified myself as a journalist.)

Sometimes the threat is explicit:

"You're already asking very difficult questions to Mr. Juncker,' the YouTube employee said before Birbes' interview in an exchange she captured on video.'You're talking about corporate lobbies. You don't want to get on the wrong side of YouTube and the European Commission… Well, except if you don't care about having a long career on YouTube.'

Concentrated source of power manipulates the media. Not new, rather typical. Which is precisely why monopolies should be broken up once they have a track record of abusing the public trust:

As more and more of the economy become sown up by monopolistic corporations, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for entrepreneurship. ... By design, the private business corporation is geared to pursue its own interests. It's our job as citizens to structure a political economy that keeps corporations small enough to ensure that their actions never threaten the people's sovereignty over our nation.

How much control can one entity get before it becomes excessive?

Google controls upwards of 80 percent of global search-and the capital to either acquire or crush any newcomers. They are bringing us a hardly gilded age of prosperity but depressed competition, economic stagnation, and, increasingly, a chilling desire to control the national conversation.

Google thinks their business is too complex to exist in a single organization. They restructured to minimize their legal risks:

The switch is partly related to Google's transformation from a listed public company into a business owned by a holding company. The change helps keep potential challenges in one business from spreading to another, according to Dana Hobart, a litigator with the Buchalter law firm in Los Angeles.

Isn't that an admission they should be broken up?

Early Xoogler Doug Edwards wrote: "[Larry Page] wondered how Google could become like a better version of the RIAA - not just a mediator of digital music licensing - but a marketplace for fair distribution of all forms of digitized content."

A better version of the RIAA as a north star sure seems like an accurate analogy:

In an explosive new allegation, a renowned architect has accused Google of racketeering, saying in a lawsuit the company has a pattern of stealing trade secrets from people it first invites to collaborate. ...'It's cheaper to steal than to develop your own technology,' Buether said.'You can take it from somebody else and you have a virtually unlimited budget to fight these things in court.' ...'It's even worse than just using the proprietary information - they actually then claim ownership through patent applications,' Buether said.

The following slide expresses Google's views on premium content

No surprise the Content Creators Coalition called for Congressional Investigation into Google's Distortion of Public Policy Debates:

Google's efforts to monopolize civil society in support of the company's balance-sheet-driven agenda is as dangerous as it is wrong. For years, we have watched as Google used its monopoly powers to hurt artists and music creators while profiting off stolen content. For years, we have warned about Google's actions that stifle the views of anyone who disagrees with its business practices, while claiming to champion free speech.

In a world where monopolies are built with mission statements like 'to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful' it makes sense to seal court documents, bury regulatory findings, or else the slogan doesn't fit as the consumer harm was obvious.

"The 160-page critique, which was supposed to remain private but was inadvertently disclosed in an open-records request, concluded that Google's 'conduct has resulted - and will result - in real harm to consumers.' " But Google was never penalized, because the political appointees overrode the staff recommendation, an action rarely taken by the FTC. The Journal pointed out that Google, whose executives donated more money to the Obama campaign than any company, had held scores of meetings at the White House between the time the staff filed its report and the ultimate decision to drop the enforcement action.

Some scrappy (& perhaps masochistic players) have been fighting the monopoly game for over a decade:

June 2006: Foundem's Google search penalty begins. Foundem starts an arduous campaign to have the penalty lifted.
September 2007: Foundem is'whitelisted' for AdWords (i.e. Google manually grants Foundem immunity from its AdWords penalty).
December 2009: Foundem is'whitelisted' for Google natural search (i.e. Google manually grants Foundem immunity from its search penalty)

For many years Google has "manipulated search results to favor its own comparison-shopping service. ... Google both demotes competitors' offerings in search rankings and artificially inserts its own service in a box above all other search results, regardless of their relevance."

After losing for over a decade, on the 27th of June a win was finally delivered when the European Commission issued a manual action to negate the spam, when they fined Google €2.42 billion for abusing dominance as search engine by giving illegal advantage to own comparison shopping service.

"What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules. It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation." - Margrethe Vestager

That fine looks to be the first of multiple record-breaking fines as "Sources expect the Android fine to be substantially higher than the shopping penalty."

That fine was well deserved:

Quoting internal Google documents and emails, the report shows that the company created a list of rival comparison shopping sites that it would artificially lower in the general search results, even though tests showed that Google users'liked the quality of the [rival] sites' and gave negative feedback on the proposed changes. Google reworked its search algorithm at least four times, the documents show, and altered its established rating criteria before the proposed changes received'slightly positive' user feedback. ... Google's displayed prices for everyday products, such as watches, anti-wrinkle cream and wireless routers, were roughly 50 percent higher - sometimes more - than those on rival sites. A subsequent study by a consumer protection group found similar results. A study by the Financial Times also documented the higher prices.

Nonetheless, Google is appealing it. The ease with which Google quickly crafted a response was telling.

The competitors who were slaughtered by monopolistic bundling won't recover'The damage has been done. The industry is on its knees, and this is not going to put it back,' said Mr. Stables, who has decided to participate in Google's new auctions despite misgivings.'I'm sort of shocked that they've come out with this,' he added.

Google claims they'll be running their EU shopping ads as a separate company with positive profit margins & that advertisers won't be bidding against themselves if they are on multiple platforms. Anyone who believes that stuff hasn't dropped a few thousand dollars on a Flash-only website after AdWords turned on Enhanced campaigns against their wishes - charging the advertisers dollars per click to send users to a blank page which would not load.

Hell may freeze over, causing the FTC to look into Google's Android bundling similarly to how Microsoft's OS bundling was looked at.

If hell doesn't freeze over, it is likely because Google further ramped up their lobbying efforts, donating to political organizations they claim to be ideologically opposed to.

The Fight Against Rising (& Declining) Nationalism

As a global corporation above & beyond borders, Google has long been against nationalism. Eric Schmidt's Hillary Clinton once wrote: "My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, some time in the future with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it, powering growth and opportunity for every person in the hemisphere."

Apparently Google flacks did not get that memo (or they got the new memo about Eric Schmidt's Donald Trump), because they were quick to denounce the European Commission's move as anti-American:

We are writing to express our deep concerns about the European Union's aggressive and heavy-handed antitrust enforcement action against American companies. It has become increasingly clear that, rather than being grounded in a transparent legal framework, these various investigations and complaints are being driven by politics and protectionist policies that harm open-competition practices, consumers, and unfairly target American companies,.

The above nonsense was in spite of Yelp carrying a heavy load.

Yelp celebrated the victory: "Google has been found guilty of engaging in illegal conduct with the aim of promoting its vertical search services. Although the decision addresses comparison shopping services, the European Commission has also recognized that the same illegal behavior applies to other verticals, including local search."

The EU is also looking for an expert to monitor Google's algorithm. It certainly isn't hard to find areas where the home team wins.

Virtual Real Estate

Wrastlin With The News

The current presidential cabinet includes a WWE co-founder & this passes for modern political discourse:

CNN promised vengeance.

Something To Believe In

The pretense of objectivity has been dropped:

These reporters aren't ideologues. They're just right-thinking people who lean left. Somewhere along the line, they stopped pretending to be objective about Trump. ... People don't just disagree with each other. They can't imagine how a decent caring human being could disagree with their own view of race or the minimum wage or immigration or Trump. Being a member of the virtuous tribe means not only carrying the correct card in your wallet to reassure yourself. You have to also believe that the people carrying any other card are irrational, or worse, evil. They're not people to engage in conversation with. They are barriers to be ignored or pushed aside on the virtuous path to paradise. This intolerance and inability to imagine the virtue of the other side is the road to tyranny and chaos. It dehumanizes a good chunk of humanity and that in turn justifies the worst atrocities human beings are capable of.

The WSJ, typically a right-leaning publication, is differentiating their coverage of the president from most other outlets by attempting to be somewhat neutral.

The news is fake. Even historically left-leaning people are disgusted with outlets like CNN.

  • "I think the president is probably right to say, like, look you are witch-hunting me. You have no smoking gun, you have no real proof." - CNN supervising producer John Bonifield
  • "When you do shitty reporting like CNN, the Washington Post, the New York Times & Rachel Maddow especially. When you do that & it is revealed to be bullshit, what you're doing is building up Trump. There's no greater way to build up Trump than to falsely report on him. There's no better way to build up Trump than to make him the victim." - Jimmy Dore
  • "Rachel Maddow was given the facts, she ignored them, & she kept right on going. That's MSNBC, that's CNN, that's the New York Times, the Washington Post - they're all horrible. That's why we had the Iraq war. That's why we have the Syria war. That's why we are still in Afghanistan. That's why we had Libya. That's why we have the biggest income disparity since the gilded age. Meanwhile we are spending more on the military than the rest of the world." - Jimmy Dore

And, since people need something to believe in, there are new American Gods:

"A half hour of cable news delivers enough psychic trauma for a whole year. The newspapers are talking of nothing but treason, espionage, investigations, protests." ... "Stocks are rallying because of how little faith we have in the government. The Mega Blue Chip Corporation is the new Sovereign."

Current Headwinds for Online Publishing

I struggle to keep up with the accelerating rate of change. A number of common themes in the current ecosystem are:

  • We are moving toward a world where more things are becoming fake (only accelerated by the demonetization of neutrality & the algorithmic boost associated with reliably delivering confirmation bias in an algorithmic or manual fashion)
  • risk keeps being radiated outward to the individual while monopoly platforms capture the spoils (forced-place health insurance purchases where the insurance company arbitrarily drops the sick member on the policy even though that is supposed to be illegal, more temp jobs where people don't get enough hours to get health insurance through their employer, under-funded pensions, outsourcing of core business functions to sweatshops where part-time workers don't get paid for dozens to hundreds of hours of required training & get to watch beheading videos all day)
  • the barrier to entry keeps increasing (increased marketing cost due to brand bias, heavy ad loads on dominant platforms, & central platforms making partners do "bet the farm" moves in how they adjust distribution to drive adoption of proprietary formats & temporarily over-promote select content formats)
  • the increasing chunk size of competition is making it much harder for individuals to build sustainable businesses. (Yes the tools of the trade are improving quickly, BUT the central platforms are demonetizing the adjacent fields faster than publishing tools & business options improve.)
  • In Europe publishers are aggressively leaning on regulators to try to rebalance power.

Some of this stuff is cyclical. About a decade ago the European Commission went after Microsoft for bundling Internet Explorer. Google complained about the monopolistic practices to ensure Microsoft was fined. And we've went from that to a web where Google syndicates native ads that blend into page content while directly funding robot journalism. And then Google is ranking the robot-generated crap too.

But to keep the ecosystem clean & spam free, Google is also planning to leverage their web browser to further dictate the terms of online publishing. Chrome will block autoplay audio & will automatically reroute .dev domains to https. Cutting edge developers suggest using a web browser other than Google Chrome to prevent proprietary lock in across the web.

While Google distributes their Chrome browser as unwanted bundleware, other web browsers must display uninstall links front & center when trying to gain awareness of their product using Google AdWords. Microsoft Edge is coming to Android, but without a BrowserChoice.eu screen it is unlikely most users will change their web browser as most are unaware of what a web browser even is, let alone the limitations of any of them or the tracking embedded in them.

If you go back several years, there was celebration of the fact that the cost of doing a startup was so low. You didn't have to pay Oracle a million dollars for a server license any more. You didn't even have to rack your own hardware. Now you can just dial it up on Amazon. But there are now these gatekeepers and toll-takers. Back in 2004, you had the wide-open internet. - Jeremy Stoppelman

The Mobile Revolution

If you are an anti-social work at home webmaster who has dual monitors it is easy to dismiss cell phones as inefficient and chalk most mobile usage up to the following.

The reality is cell phones are more powerful than they seem if you are strictly consuming rather than working.

And that is how the unstoppable quickly becomes the extinct!

Many people the world over are addicted to their cell phones to where viral game makers are self-regulating before regulators step in: "From Tuesday, users below 12 years of age will be limited to one hour of play time each day, while those aged between 12 years and 18 years will be limited to two hours a day, Tencent said."

While China is using their various tools to clamp down on Honour of Kings, Tencent is bringing the game to the west, which makes blocking VPN services (with Apple's help - they must play along or have the phones reduced to bricks) & requiring local data storage & technology transfer more important. Anything stored locally can be easily disappeared: "China's already formidable internet censors have demonstrated a new strength-the ability to delete images in one-on-one chats as they are being transmitted, making them disappear before receivers see them."

China has banned live streaming, threatened their largest domestic social networks, shut down chat bots, require extensive multimedia review: "an industry association circulated new regulations that at least two "auditors" will, with immediate effect, be required to check all audiovisual content posted online" AND they force users to install spyware on their devices.

In spite of all those restrictions, last year "Chinese consumers spent $5.5 trillion through mobile payment platforms, about 50 times more than their American counterparts." In the last quarter Baidu had ¥20.87 billion in revenues, with 72% of their revenues driven by mobile.

People can not miss that which they've never seen, thus platform socialism works. Those who doubt it will be tracked & scored accordingly.

History, as well, can be scrubbed. And insurance companies watch everything in real-time - careful what you post. The watchful eye of the Chinese pre-crime team is also looking over every move.

Last quarter Facebook had revenues of $9.164 billion, with 87% coming from mobile devices.

Simulacrum has ALMOST been perfected:

"We didn't have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people." ... "Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It's not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones." ... "Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy."

The web is becoming easier to get addicted to due to personalization algorithms that reinforce our worldviews even as they make us feel more isolated and left out. And the barrier to entry for consumers into one of the few central gatekeeper ecosystems is dropping like a rock due to the falling cost of mobile devices, coupled with with images & video displacing text making literacy optional. As we become more "connected" we feel more isolated:

"Social isolation, loneliness or living alone was each a significant factor contributing to premature death. And each one of these factors was a more significant risk factor for dying than obesity. ... No one knows precisely why loneliness is surging, threatening the lives of many millions of people, but it does seem that the burgeoning use of technology may have something to do with it. Personally, I would contend that technology may be the chief factor fueling it."

The primary role of the big data mining companies is leveraging surveillance for social engineering

App Annie expects the global app economy to be worth $6.3 trillion by 2021.

The reason those numbers can easily sound fake & mobile can seem overblown is how highly concentrated usage has become: "over 80 percent of consumer time on mobile devices is now spent on the apps, websites and properties" of just five companies: Facebook, Google, Apple, Yelp and Bing.

eMarketer stated Google will have more mobile ad revenue than desktop ad revenue in the US this year. They also predicted Google & Facebook will consume over 2/3 of US online ad spend within 2 years.

The central network operators not only maintain an outsized share of revenues, but also maintain an outsized share of profits. When the home team gets a 30% rake of any sale it is hard for anyone else to compete. Even after buying and gutting Motorola Google bought part of HTC for $1.1 billion. The game plan has never changed: commoditize the compliment to ensure user data & most of the profits flow to Google. Put up arbitrary roadblocks for competing services while launching free parallel offerings to drive lock-in.

Central data aggregators can keep collecting more user data & offer more granular ad distribution features. They can tell you that this micro moment RIGHT NOW is make or break:

it's intended to create a bizarre sense of panic among marketers - "OMG, we have to be present at every possible instant someone might be looking at their phone!" - which doesn't help them think strategically or make the best use of their marketing or ad spend.

The reality is that if you don't have a relationship with a person on their desktop computer they probably don't want your mobile app either.

If you have the relationship then mobile only increases profits.

Many people attempting to build "the next mobile" will go bust, but wherever the attention flows the ads will follow.

Those with a broad & dominant tech platform can copy features from single-category devices and keep integrating them into their core products to increase user lock-in. And they can build accessories for those core devices while prohibiting the flow of data to third party devices to keep users locked into their ecosystem.

Smaller Screens, Shallower Attention

People often multi-task while using mobile devices.

When multi-tasking it is easier to accidentally click an ad. This happens 10s of billions of times a year:

This year, in-app mobile ad spend will reach $45.3 billion, up $11 billion from last year, according to eMarketer. And apps are where the money is at for mobile advertising, comprising 80 percent of all U.S. media dollars spent on mobile.

But multi-tasking means doing almost everything else worse. The "always on" mode not only increases isolation, but also lowers our ability to focus:

"while our phones offer convenience and diversion, they also breed anxiety. Their extraordinary usefulness gives them an unprecedented hold on our attention and vast influence over our thinking and behavior. ... Not only do our phones shape our thoughts in deep and complicated ways, but the effects persist even when we aren't using the devices. As the brain grows dependent on the technology, the research suggests, the intellect weakens. ... when people hear their phone ring but are unable to answer it, their blood pressure spikes, their pulse quickens, and their problem-solving skills decline. ... As the phone's proximity increased, brainpower decreased. ... Anticipating that information would be readily available in digital form seemed to reduce the mental effort that people made to remember it. ... people are all too quick to credit lies and half-truths spread through social media by Russian agents and other bad actors. If your phone has sapped your powers of discernment, you'll believe anything it tells you."

Further, the shallow attention stream makes it easy to displace content with ads:

4 Ads
3 map carrousel results
5 organic results
4 Ads

Then "see more results"

4 more Ads
5 organic results
4 more Ads

On desktop devices people don't accidentally misclick on ads at anywhere near the rate they fat thumb ads on mobile devices.

Desktop ad clicks convert to purchases. Mobile ad clicks convert to ad budget burned: "marketers are still seeing few shoppers purchasing on mobile. The 52% of share in traffic only has 26% share of revenue."

For traditional publishers mobile users drastically under-monetize desktop users due to

  • drastically lower conversion rates (true for almost everyone in ecommerce outside of Amazon perhaps)
  • limited cross-device tracking (how do you track people who don't even hit your site but hit a cached page hosted via Google AMP or Facebook Instant Articles?)
  • lower ad load allowed on publisher sites due to limited screen size
  • aggressive filtering of fat thumb ad clicks on partner sites from central ad networks

For the central network operators almost all the above are precisely the exact opposite.

  • higher ad CTR by making entire interface ads (& perhaps even disappearing the concept of non-ads in the result set)
  • great cross-device user tracking
  • higher ad load allowed by the small screen size pushing content below the fold
  • more lenient filtering of fat thumb accidental ad clicks

If you look at raw stats without understanding the underlying impact, it is easy to believe the ecosystem is healthy.

However the huge number of "no click" results are demonetizing easy publisher revenues, which have traditionally helped to fund more in-depth investigative reporting. Further, much of the direct navigation which happened in the past is now being passed through brand-related search result pages. You can argue that is an increase in search traffic, or you can argue it is shifting the roll of the address bar from navigation to search.

The first page is nothing but ads

On mobile so is the second, and most of the third

If a search query has lots of easy to structure crap around it, a user might need 6 or 7 scrolls to get to an organic result

Then if third parties go "well Google does this, so I should too" they are considered a low quality user experience and get a penalty.

31% ad coverage on mobile website is excessive / spam / low quality user experience for a publisher, while 301% coverage is reasonable for the central network operators.

Google not only displaces the result set, but also leverages their search suggestion features & algorithmic influence to alter how people search & what they search for.

Ads are getting integrated into mobile keyboards.

And when a user finally reaches the publisher's website (provided they scroll past the ads, the AMP listings, and all the other scrape-n-displace trash) then when they finally land on a publication Google will overlay other recommended articles from other sites.

That feature will eventually end up including ads in it, where publishers will get 0.00% of the revenue generated.

Remember how Google suggested publishers should make their websites faster, remove ads, remove clutter, etc. What was the point of all that? To create free real estate for Google to insert a spam unit into your website?

This wouldn't be bad if mobile were a small, fringe slice of traffic, but it is becoming the majority of traffic. And as mobile increases desktop traffic is shrinking.

Even politically biased outlets that appear to be nearly perfectly optimized for a filter bubble that promotes identity politics struggle to make the numbers work: "As a result of continued decline in direct advertising, [Salon's] total revenue in the fiscal year 2017 decreased by 34% to $4.6 million. Following the market trend, 84% of our advertising revenue in fiscal year 2017 was generated by programmatic selling. ... [Monthly unique visitors to our website saw] a decrease of 23%. We attribute the decline primarily to the changes in the algorithms used by Facebook."

The above sorts of numbers are the logical outcome to this:

we've heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it's difficult to find the actual content, they aren't happy with the experience. Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away. So sites that don't have much content"above-the-fold" can be affected by this change. If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first either doesn't have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or dedicates a large fraction of the site's initial screen real estate to ads, that's not a very good user experience. Such sites may not rank as highly going forward.

Especially when combined with this:

As you scroll through it, you are then given travel ads for flight options through Google Flight search, hotels through Google Hotel search and restaurants through Google Local results. Then towards the bottom of the knowledge graph card, all the way at the end in a small grayish font, you have a link to "see web results."

Bad news for TripAdvisor.

And amongst the good news for Expedia, there's also a bit of bad news for Expedia. The hotels are fighting Airbnb & OTAs. In travel Google is twice as big as the biggest OTA players. They keep eating more SERP real estate and adding more content behind tabs. On mobile they'll even disappear the concept of organic results.

Room previews in the search results not only means that second tier players are worth a song, but even the new growth players propped up by aggressive ad buying eventually hit a wall and see their stock crash.

As the entire ecosystem gets squeezed by middlemen and the market gets obfuscated with an incomplete selection it is ultimately consumers who lose: "Reservations made through Internet discount sites are almost always slated for our worst rooms."

The New York Times pitched Yelp as a pesky player holding a grudge:

"For six years, his company has been locked in a campaign on three continents to get antitrust regulators to punish Google, Yelp's larger, richer and more politically connected competitor. ... Yelp concluded that there was no better way to get Google's attention than to raise the specter of regulation. ... something [Mark Mahaney] calls the Death of Free Google. As the internet has migrated to mobile phones, Google has compensated for the smaller screen space by filling it with so many ads that users can have a hard time finding a result that hasn't been paid for."

In spite of how quick The New York Times was to dismiss Yelp, the monopoly platforms are stiffing competition & creativity while bundling fake reviews & junk features into their core platforms.

People can literally switch their name to "Loop dee Loop"

and leave you terrible, fake reviews.

Google's lack of effort & investment to clean up trash in their local services department highlights that they don't feel they need to compete on quality. Pay for core search distribution, throw an inferior service front & center, and win by default placement.

As AI advancements make fake reviews look more legit Google's lack of investment in creating a quality ecosystem will increasingly harm both consumers and businesses. Many low margin businesses will go under simply because their Google reviews are full of inaccurate trash or a competitor decided to hijack their business listing or list their business as closed.

To this day Google is still egregiously stealing content from Yelp:

Yelp said it investigated and found that over one hour, Google pulled images from Yelp's servers nearly 386,000 times for business listings in Google Maps, which Google exempted from its promise to not scrape content. Yelp then searched Google for 150 of the businesses from those map listings and found that for 110 of them, Google used a Yelp photo as the lead image in the businesses' listings in search results.

Stealing content & wrapping it in fake reviews is NOT putting the user first.

Facebook has their own matching parallel shifts.

The aggregate quality of mobile ad clicks is quite low. So as mobile becomes a much higher percent of total ad clicks, those who don't have scale and narrative control are reduced to taking whatever they can get. And mainstream media outlets are reduced to writing puff pieces so the brands they cover will pay to promote the stories on the main channels.

As programmatic advertising, ad blockers, unpatched Android-powered botnets & malware spread each day gets a little uglier for everyone but the central market operators. It is so bad that some of the central market operators offer surveillance apps which claim to protect user privacy! Other app makers not connected to monopoly profit streams monetize any way they can.

The narrative of growth can be sold (we are launching a new food channel, we are investing in our internal video team, we have exclusive real estate listings, and, um, we acquired a food channel) but the competition is a zero sum game with Google & Facebook eating off the publisher's plates.

That's why Time is trying to shave $400 million off their expenses & wants to sell their magazine division. Newspaper companies are selling for $1. It is also why Business Insider is no longer chasing growth & the New York Times is setting up a charitable trust.

The rise of ad blocking only accelerates the underlying desperation.

As long as news websites make their own customer experience worse than what can be found as a cached copy on the monopoly platforms there is no reason to visit the end publisher website. That is why the proprietary formats promoted by the monopoly platforms are so dangerous. They force lighter monetization & offset the lack of revenue by given preferential placement:

click through rate from Google search went from 5.9% (Regular) to 10.3% (AMP), and average search position went from 5.9 (Regular) to 1.7 (AMP). Since then, we have deployed AMP across fifteen of our brands and we have been very pleased with the results. Today, AMP accounts for 79% of our mobile search traffic and 36% of our total mobile visits.

As long as almost nobody is using the new proprietary, ghetto lock-in format the math may work out there, but once many people adopt it then it becomes another recurring sunk cost with no actual benefit:

the only voices promoting AMP's performance benefits are coming from inside Google. ... given how AMP pages are privileged in Google's search results, the net effect of the team's hard, earnest work comes across as a corporate-backed attempt to rewrite HTML in Google's image.

Even if you get a slight uptick in traffic from AMP, it will lead to lower quality user engagement as users are browsing across websites rather than within websites. Getting a bit more traffic but 59% fewer leads is a fail.

No amount of collaborative publisher partnerships, begging for anti-trust exemptions, or whining about Google is going to fix the problem.

"The only way publishers can address this inexorable threat is by banding together. If they open a unified front to negotiate with Google and Facebook-pushing for stronger intellectual-property protections, better support for subscription models and a fair share of revenue and data-they could build a more sustainable future for the news business. But antitrust laws make such coordination perilous. These laws, intended to prevent monopolies, are having the unintended effect of preserving and protecting Google and Facebook's dominant position."

Wait a minute.

Wasn't it the New York Times which claimed Yelp was holding an arbitrary grudge against Google?

The following sounds a lot more desperate:

newspapers that once delivered their journalism with their own trucks increasingly have to rely on these big online platforms to get their articles in front of people, fighting for attention alongside fake news, websites that lift their content, and cat videos.

Well maybe that is just smaller publications & not the gray lady herself

"the temperature is rising in terms of concern, and in some cases anger, about what seems like a very asymmetric, disadvantageous relationship between the publishers and the very big digital platforms." - NYT CEO Mark Thompson

In unrelated news, there's another round of layoffs coming at the New York Times.

And the New York Times is also setting up a nonprofit division to expand journalism while their core company focuses on something else.

Apparently Yelp does not qualify as a publisher in this instance.

Or does it?

The Times is backing the move for what is called an anticompetitive safe haven, in part, Mr. Thompson said, "because we care about the whole of journalism as well as about The New York Times."

Ah, whole of journalism, which, apparently, no longer includes local business coverage.

You know the slogan: "news isn't news, unless it isn't local."

The struggles are all across the media landscape. The new Boston Globe CEO lasted a half-year. The San Diego Union-Tribune resorted to using GoFundMe. The Chicago Sun-Times sold for $1. Moody's issued a negative outlook for the US newspaper sector. As the industry declines the biggest players view consolidation as the only solution.

These struggles existed even before the largest brand advertisers like P&G cut back on low & no value ad venues like YouTube:

In the fourth quarter, the reduction in marketing that occurred was almost all in the digital space. And what it reflected was a choice to cut spending from a digital standpoint where it was ineffective: where either we were serving bots as opposed to human beings, or where the placement of ads was not facilitating the equity of our brands.

Google & Facebook are extending their grip on the industry with Google launching topical feeds & Facebook wanting to control subscription management.

Best of luck to journalists on the employment front:

The initiative, dubbed Reporters and Data and Robots (RADAR), will see a team of five journalists work with Natural Language Generation software to produce over 30,000 pieces of content for local media each month.

Hopefully editors catch the subtle errors the bots make, because most of them will not be this obvious & stupid.

The cost of parasitic content recycling is coming down quickly:

In a show of strength last year, Microsoft used thousands of these chips at once to translate all of English Wikipedia into Spanish-3 billion words across five million articles-in less than a tenth of a second. Next Microsoft will let its cloud customers use these chips to speed up their own AI tasks.

Voice search makes it even easier to extract the rewards without paying publishers. Throwing pennies at journalists does nothing to change this.

And that voice shift is happening fast: "By 2020 half of search will be via voice"

If Google is subsidizing robotic journalism they are thus legitimizing robotic journalism. As big publishers employ the tactic, Google ranks it.

It is almost impossible to compete economically with an entity that rewrites your work & has zero marginal cost of production.

YouTube has perhaps the worst comments on the web. Some mainstream news sites got rid of comments because they couldn't justify the cost of policing them. That in turn shifts the audience & attention stream to sites like Facebook & Twitter. Some news sites which are still leaving comments enabled rely on a Google filter, a technology Google can use on YouTube as they see fit.

Any plugins publishers use to lower their costs can later disappear. It looked like FindTheBest was doing well financially, but when it was acquired many news sites quickly found out the cost of free as they now have thousands of broken articles in their archives: "Last month, Graphiq announced that features for news publishers would no longer be available after Friday."

Driving costs toward zero by piling on external dependencies is no way to build a sustainable business. Especially when the central network operators are eating the playing field:

"Between fast-loading AMP articles from major news brands hosted in its domain, full pages of information scraped from outside sites that don't require you to visit them, basic shopping functions built into ads, YouTube, and a host of other features, the Google-verse is more of a digital walled garden than ever. ... If Google continues to choke these sites out, what incentive will there be for new ones to come along?"

Unprofitable partners which were buying growth with artificially cheap pricing eventually find out investors want profits more than growth & either reprice or go away. The longer you use something & the more locked in you are to it the more aggressively it can afford to reprice. Symbiotic relationships devolve into abusive ones:

  • "for every pound an advertiser spends programmatically on the Guardian only 30 pence actually goes to the publisher." - Mediatel
  • "Google wants to cut out the middlemen, which it turns out, are URLs." - MobileMoxie
  • "[AMP is] a way for Google to obfuscate your website, usurp your content & remove any personal credibility from the web" - TheRegister
  • "Though the stated initiative of ads.txt is to stop inventory resale, it achieves this by establishing 'preferred' channels, which naturally favors the industry's most influential companies" - Ad Exchanger

That Apple does extra work to undo AMP says a lot.

Those who think the central network operators are naive to the power structure being promoted by the faux solutions are either chasing short-term goals or are incredibly masochistic.

Arbitraging brand is the core business model of the attention merchant monopoly.

we've found out that 98% of our business was coming from 22 words. So, wait, we're buying 3,200 words and 98% of the business is coming from 22 words. What are the 22 words? And they said, well, it's the word Restoration Hardware and the 21 ways to spell it wrong, okay?

Publishers buying the "speed" narrative are failing themselves. The Guardian has 11 people working on AMP integration. And what is Google doing about speed? Google shut down Google Instant search results, often displays a screen or two full of ads which mobile users have to scroll past to find the organic search results AND is testing auto-playing videos in the search results.

Facebook is also promoting fast loading & mobile-friendly pages.

To keep bleeding clicks out of the "organic" ecosystem they don't even need to have explicit malicious intent. They can run a thousand different tests every month (new vertical sitelink formats, swipable sitelinks, showing 8 sitelinks on tiny mobile devices, MOAR sitelinks, message extensions, extensions on call-only ads, price discount labels, frame 3rd party content inline, dramatically ramp up featured snippets +QnA listings, more related searches, more features in ad units, larger ad units, ad units that replace websites & charge advertisers for sending clicks from Google to Google, launch a meta-search service where they over-promote select listings, test dropping URLs from listings, put ads in the local pack, change color of source links or other elements, pop ups of search results inside search results, etc.) & keep moving toward whatever layout drives more ad clicks, keeps users on Google longer & forces businesses to buy ads for exposure, claiming they are optimizing the user experience the whole time.

They can hard-code any data type or feature, price it at free to de-fund adjacent businesses, consolidate market power, then increase rents after they have a monopoly position in the adjacent market.

And they can fund research on how to remove watermarks from images.

Why not make hosting free, get people to publish into a proprietary format & try to shift news reading onto the Google app. With enough attention & market coverage they can further extort publishers into accepting perpetually worse deals. And free analytics & business plugins which are widely adopted can have key features get pushed into the paid version. Just look at Google Analytics - its free or $150,000+/yr.

The above sorts of moves can be done in isolation, or in a combinatorial approach. Publishers aloof of the ecosystem shifts may use microformats to structure their content. They'll then find it is integrated in Google's new image search layout, where Google copies the content wholesale &
shows it near other third party images framed by Google.

How about some visually striking, yet irrelevant listings for competing brands on branded searches to force the brand ad buy. And, of course rounded card corners to eat a few more pixels, along with faint ad labeling on ads coupled with vibrant colored dots on the organic results to confuse end users into thinking the organic results are the ads.

While Google turns their search results into an adspam farm, they invite you to test showing fewer ads on your site to improve user experience. Google knows best - let them automate your ad load & ad placement.

What is the real risk of AI? Bias.

"It's important that we be transparent about the training data that we are using, and are looking for hidden biases in it, otherwise we are building biased systems," Giannandrea added. "If someone is trying to sell you a black box system for medical decision support, and you don't know how it works or what data was used to train it, then I wouldn't trust it."

And how does Google justify their AI investments? Through driving incremental ad clicks: "The DeepMind founders understand that their power within [Alphabet], and their ability to get their way with [Alphabet CEO] Larry Page, depends on how many eyeballs and clicks and ad dollars they can claim to be driving"

No bias at all there!

And if publishing was killed in 2015, things have only got worse since then:

Looking at 2015 vs 2017 data for all keywords ranking organically on the first page, we’ve seen a dramatic change in CTR. Below we’ve normalized our actual CTR on a 1–10 scale, representing a total drop of 25% of click share on desktop and 55% on mobile.

SEOs who were overly reliant on the search channel were the first to notice all the above sorts of change, as it is their job to be hyper-aware of ecosystem shifts. But publishers far removed from SEO who never focused on SEO are now writing about the trends SEOs were writing about nearly a decade ago. Josh Marshall recently covered Google's awesome monopoly powers.

few publishers really want to talk about the depths or mechanics of Google's role in news publishing. Some of this is secrecy about proprietary information; most of it is that Google could destroy or profoundly damage most publications if it wanted to. So why rock the boat? ... Google's monopoly control is almost comically great. It's a monopoly at every conceivable turn and consistently uses that market power to deepen its hold and increase its profits. Just the interplay between DoubleClick and Adexchange is textbook anti-competitive practices. ... Is your favorite website laying off staff or 'pivoting to video'. In most cases, the root cause is not entirely but to a significant degree driven by the platform monopolies

His article details how Google owns many points of the supply chain

So let's go down the list: 1) The system for running ads, 2) the top purchaser of ads, 3) the most pervasive audience data service, 4) all search, 5) our email. ... But wait, there's more! Google also owns Chrome, the most used browser for visiting TPM.

He also covers the price dumping technique that is used to maintain control

In many cases, alternatives don't exist because no business can get a footing with a product Google lets people use for free.

And he shared an example of Google algorithms gone astray crippling his business, even though it was not related to search & unintentional:

Because we were forwarding to ourselves spam that other people sent to us, Google decided that the owner of the TPM url was a major spammer and blocked emails from TPM from being sent to anyone.

If the above comes across as depressing, don't worry. The search results now contain a depression diagnostic testing tool.

Time to Retire From SEO

Since we are now at the point that some search results don't have *ANY* organic search results, it is hard to see much purpose in SEO.

Maybe the doommasters who called SEO dead for over a decade were finally proved right about SEO?

SEO is dead.

SEO was only ever a bug. And web users mostly didn't notice when the search results turned into nothing but ads.

Everything is going full circle. Ad heavy is bad to nothing but ads.

Webmasters are focusing so heavily on mobile-first that they are making their desktop sites unusable...

...at the same time usability experts are now recommending making things harder to save humanity.

Change creates opportunity. New changes, new channels, new options, new models, new methods.

I have decided to take a break from SEO and am transitioning to paid search, since clearly that is the future of all search marketing.

I've closed our membership site down to new paid member accounts & canceled all active paid subscriptions.

Perhaps it might be time for me to dust of PPCblog and shift most of my blogging to over there.

That is, if blogging still matters!

Going out on a positive note, the great team at Bing recently shared a promotional code with me to offer new advertisers a free $100 ad credit. Bing Ads clicks are a great value when compared against Google AdWords. You can access this coupon today via the following link:

For a limited time, get $50 in free search advertising with Bing Ads* and start tapping into millions of potential customers searching for products and services like yours on the Bing Network.

How Google Search Works in 2016

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Many years ago we created an infographic about how search works, from the perspective of a content creator, starting with their content & following it through the indexing & ranking process.

As users have shifted to mobile devices, the limited screen size of the devices have pushed search engines to squeeze out & displace publishers with their own self-hosted information in an effort to offset the poor usability offered by tiny devices, while ensuring the search habit does not decline.

The philosophy of modern search has thus moved away from starting with information and connecting it to an audience, to starting with the user and customizing the result page to them.

"The biggest three challenges for us still will be mobile, mobile, mobile" - Google's Amit Singhal

How Do Search Engines Work?

Fix Humming Microphone Noise

I frequently use Skype to talk online and over the past 3 or 4 months I have had a bit of a struggle using it. Nothing has been wrong with Skype, but sometimes when I plug in headphones and a microphone I hear a loud humming or buzzing noise.

On Windows there is also a setting in the sound control panel to try to fix some humming issues.

The following picture shows how the microphone had a green bar level stuck at 2 or 3, which was associated with that hum noise.

If I spoke or didn't the bar continued to stay stuck at 2.

To try to fix the problem via Windows internal software you can click from
sound > recording > microphone > properties > enhancements

and then from there enable both the noise suppression and acoustic echo cancellation features.

While doing the above made the hum quieter, it still did not completely fix it.

Beyond that software solution approach, some issues can be fixed simply by:

  • switching from plugging the microphone into the back 3.5mm plugin instead of the front plugin,
  • disabling then enabling the microphone, or
  • turning the computer off then back on.

None of those worked for me!

I thought the problem was that the headset was old & broken, so that was the first thing I replaced. Unfortunately that did not fix the issue.

Before buying a new headset, a good way to isolate the issue is to try your headset on another computer or laptop. If it works there, then the problem is internal to the computer.

Reading many online reviews it appears that a common cause for the background static noise is the computer having an issue with not being grounded. The humming sound was the electrical current running through the audio jack.

If your computer is a laptop, you can test unplugging the power cord from the laptop while talking to see if that makes the buzz sounds go away. If your computer is a desktop PC then you will need likely need to get it grounded.

To fix the floating current problem I plugged the computer into a 3-prong outlet in the wall. The problem was the only grounded outlet in my room was the one for the air conditioner & it had a specialized fitting. I had to buy a converter to allow a regular power strip to plug into the grounded outlet & then run the air conditioner and computer off of it.

I was certain that would have fixed the grounding problem, but it still didn't.

I ensured all my power plugs are connected tightly, but there is still a floating current.

I use a universal power supply which may be introducing the floating currency issue & I could try to remove that from the equation by not using a UPS, but then my computer work won't be saved if power goes out.

The best solution I was able to come up with was to move away from using a 3.5mm microphone and headphones combo to instead use a USB powered headset. Gaming headsets are quite comfortable and affordable & can plug into your USB outlet, allowing you to turn off your core microphone outlet and still be able to hear clearly.

My wife got me a set of SteelSeries USB headset for about $40 on Amazon.com and it worked great.

The only thing I had to do to make it work was ensure the old 3.5mm audio jack was turned off so the humming noise was not carried across & then plug in the new set to USB and they worked right away.

If you have a limited number of USB ports on your computer then a USB splitter can be had for under $10.

It is also worth noting that if $40 is more than you want to spend on a headset, some of the options listed on Amazon.com are as cheap as $10.

I hope the above post helped you fix any problems you have with noises running through your mic. If it didn't please comment below with information about your situation and I will try to help.

Google's Chris DiBona On Search Ecosystem Diversity

It's hard to deny that some folks working at Google are geniuses. It's also hard to deny the disconnect in their messaging.

As Google locked down their "open" ecosystem (compatibility as a club, abandonware, deleting privacy settings, extensions required to be installed from store, extensions required to be single-purpose, forced Google+ integration, knowledge graph scrape-n-displace, “We could either sue him or hire him," etc.), I thought an interview of one of their open source evangelists would be entertaining.

Chris DiBona delivered:

Can you imagine if you didn't have the malware protection and the process isolation of Chrome, that Chrome brought to other browsers? Can you imagine surfing the web the way it is right now? It's pretty grim. There's a lot of malware. You end up basically funnelling people into fewer and fewer sites, and therefore fewer and fewer viewpoints and all the rest.

There are many hacked websites, but sometimes large sites serve malware through their ads. Ad networks are one of the best ways to distribute malware. The super networks core to the web ecosystem are home to much of the malware - even GoogleBot was tricked into doing MySQL injection attacks. But even if we ignored that bit, it doesn't take much insight to realize that Google is achieving that same kill diversity "goal" through other means...

...as they roll out many algorithmic filters, manual penalties, selectively enforce these issues on smaller players (while giving more exploitative entities a free pass), insert their own vertical search services, dial up their weighting on domain authority, and require smaller players to proactively police the rest of the web while Google thinks the n-word 85 times is totally reasonable on their own tier-1 properties.

We have another post coming on the craziness of disavows and link removals, but it has no doubt gone beyond absurd at this point.

Why is diversity so important?

Dissent evolves markets. The status quo doesn't get changed by agreeing & aligning with existing power structures. Anyone who cares to debate this need only look at Google's ongoing endless string of lawsuits. Most of those lawsuits are associated with Google (rightly or wrongly) taking power from what they view as legacy entities.

Even on a more personal level, one's investment returns are likely to be better when things are out of favor:

"Investors should remember that excitement and expenses are their enemies. And if they insist on trying to time their participation in equities, they should try to be fearful when others are greedy and greedy only when others are fearful." - Warren Buffett

In many markets returns and popularity are inversely proportional

Investing in Internet stocks in 1999 was popular, but for those who stayed too long at the party it was a train wreck. Domain name speculators who bought into the carnage a couple years later did well.

Society is so complex & inter-connected that its very easy to think things run far more smoothly than they do & thus buy into to many fibs that are obviously self-evident until the moment they are not.

Popularity is backward looking, enabling the sheep to be sheared.

Unfortunately depth & diversity are being sacrificed to promote pablum from well known entities in formats that are easy to disintermediate & monetize.

Think about it: an actual scientist who produces actual knowledge should be more like a journalist who recycles fake insights! This is beyond popularisation. This is taking something with value and substance and coring it out so that it can be swallowed without chewing. This is not the solution to our most frightening problems – rather this is one of our most frightening problems.
- Benjamin Bratton

Innovative knowledge creation and thought reading tattoosthe singularity is near.

Google Paid Inclusion Programs: Buy a Top Ranking Today

Google announced they were going to extend their vertical paid inclusion program to product search queries, where the paid inclusion results are put inline with the organic search results, often driving most (if not all) of the organic search results below the fold.

The layout of the result looks something like this

Or if you put it in Google's browser analysis tool, it looks something like this

And with that move, if you are in ecommerce & you don't rank #1 you are essentially invisible to most searchers.

As John Andrews highlighted on Twitter: "Notice Google tells us "paid relationships improve quality" and then penalizes for paid links?"

As always, it is more profitable to follow Google's biz dev team than Google's public relations pablum.

In some cases Google might include 3 or 4 different types of monetization in a search result. In the below search result Google includes:

  • AdWords ads
  • Google Offers
  • Hotel Comparison ads
  • Hotel Price ads


And those are *in addition* to featuring promotional links to Google Maps & Google+ in the search results. Further, some of these vertical results consist exclusively of paid inclusion & then have yet another layer of PPC ads over the top.

As SEOs we focus a lot of energy on "how do I rank 1 spot higher" but when the organic results are displaced and appear below the fold why bother? The issue of the incredibly shrinking organic result set is something that can't be over-emphasized. For many SEOs the trend will absolutely be career ending.

AdWords, product listing ads, brand navigation, product search, local, etc. A result like this has a single organic listing above the fold & if Google decides to rank their local one spot higher then that turns to zero.

If you look at the new TLD announcement Google applied for .MBA & .PhD (as well as many names around entertainment, family & software). Thus it is safe to say that education will eventually be added to local, video, media, shopping & travel as verticals where Google is displacing the organic results with links to more of their fraternal listings. About the only big categories this will leave unscathed will be real estate, employment & healthcare. However those first 2 are still in contraction during our ongoing depression & Google blew a lot of their health credibility by pushing those illegal ads for steroids from a person posing as a Mexican drug lord.

In addition to these fixed vertical that cover the most profitable areas of search, Google is also building a "vertical search on the fly" styled service with their knowledge graph. Their knowledge graph extracts data from 3rd party websites & then can be used to funnel traffic and revenue to Google's various vertical services. To make it seem legit, Google will often start by sending some of the traffic onto 3rd party sites, but the end destination is no different than product search. While it is a "beta" product it is free to justify an inferior product being showcased front & center, but after Google gets enough buy in they monetize.

There is a non-subtle difference between Google's approach and Microsoft's approach to building a search ecosystem.

Sucking the Brains Out of the Internet

After Google was unable to acquire Yelp they offered Yelp (& sites like TripAdvisor) an ultimatum: "either let Google steal your content & displace you with a competing service consisting largely of the stolen content, or block GoogleBot if you don't like it." While Google sucks in the value created by such 3rd party sites, they also explicitly exclude them from various vertical services aligned with the most valuable keywords. Yet at the same time, all this is to be seen as legitimate because there is a computer used somewhere. It as though humans are not making these profitable business decisions at all & so Google hires lawyers to write coin operated legal opinions about how computer generated results are free speech.

Nextag's CEO wrote a scathing article about Google in the WSJ, which promoted a response from Amit Singhal.

If you've wondered why Google keeps appearing before regulators, keeps being called evil, was just sued by the Texas AG, & has their own hate organization the above exemplifies why.

Let's compare that behavior against Yahoo! or Bing.

Yahoo! has long been considered out of the search game, yet when they want to have a competitive advantage they do things like license photos from Getty. They use the content with permission on agreed terms.

Google's approach is more along the lines of "scrape it now & figure out legal later." And after a long enough period has passed they will add monetization & mix it into the core of their offering, like they recently did with books:

This launch transitions the billions of pages of scanned books to a unified serving and scoring infrastructure with web search. This is an efficiency, comprehensiveness and quality change that provides significant savings in CPU usage while improving the quality of search results.

Both Bing & Google are creating knowledge graphs. Bing does things like partner with Britannica, Yelp & Qwiki.

Eric Enge interviewed Stefan Weitz about the new Bing interface. As part of that interview, Stefan described Bing's editorial philosophy on building a search ecosystem

We partner with 3rd party services instead of trying to build or acquire them. There are probably something like a million apps out there today.

I talk to probably two dozen start-ups every week that are doing different cool things on the web. To think that we are ever going to be able to actually beat them, or out-execute them (when they are talking about 12 guys with half a million angel funding building some really interesting apps), it is just not likely.

Ars Technica also has a piece discussing the creation of entity graphs (which is where the "sucking the brains" line came from). A key difference between Bing & Google is that Bing feels they should partner with sources & link out, whereas Google links the results back into more Google searches. What's more, when Google features their own vertical results in many cases links to the data sources are not provided at all & you stay on a fully Google experience, in spite of the cost to 3rd parties in building & maintaining databases that are scraped to power Google's offerings.

Off the start forays into new categories might provide some value to publishers in order to get buy in, but eventually the "first hit free" stuff shifts to paid & Google continues to displace publishers across more and more of the ecosystem, using content scraped from said publishers.

Funding Scraping

When Google or Apple drive cars around the country or fly military-grade planes over cities to create 3D maps of cities they are creating databases & adding new information. Outside of collecting private data (like wifi payload data) there is little to complain about with that. They are adding value to the system.

However, at the same time, Google not only scrapes themselves, but they are a revenue engine that drives a lot of third party scraping. And they design penalties in a way that allows those who scrape penalized sites to outrank them. With batch penalty updates some folks can chain redirects, expired domains & so on to keep exploiting the combination of copyright violations & Google penalties to make a mint. Google also had a long history of funding Traffic Equalizer sites, sites like Mahalo that would take a copy of a search result & auto-generate a page on it, newspaper sites that would hang auto-generated stub preview articles on subdomains, & sites like eHow which integrate humans into the process.

While many sites are still penalized from the first version of Panda, downstream referrals to eHow.com from Google in the US were up over 9% last month. They know "how to create SEO content."

Yes, this really is an ad inside an ad, from eHow.

Recently a start up that launched a couple years ago decided to take their thousands of subdomains of scraped databases & partner with authoritative websites to syndicate that content around the web. Some of those get double listings & for some search queries there is the same page (with a different masthead logo) 5 different times. Those sites don't get hit by duplicate content filters or algorithms like Panda because they have enough domain authority that they get a free pass. Including AdSense in the set up probably makes it more palatable to Google as well.

If you have scale you can even auto-generate a bunch of "editorial" questions off the database.

More data = more pages = more questions and comparisons = more pages = SEO alchemy (especially if you don't have to worry about Panda).

The parent scraper site includes links back to itself on every syndicated page, which to some degree makes it a glorified PageRank funnel. WPMU.org got smoked for syndicating out a sponsored theme on one of his own sites, but the above industrial-scale set up is somehow reasonable because it was launched by a person who sold their first start up to Google (and will likely sell this start up to Google too). The site also includes undisclosed affiliate links & hands out "awards" badges to the best casual encounter sex dating sites, which then get syndicated around the web & get it many inbound links from "high quality" porn sites.

I won't name the site here for obvious reasons, but they are not doing the above in a cloak of darkness that one has to look hard to find & do deep research to patch together. For some search results they are half or more of the search result set & they even put out press releases when they add new syndication partners, linking to numerous new automated subdomains or sections within sites related to various categories.

When the search results look like that, if you do original in-depth reviews that are expensive there is zero incentive structure to leaving your content and ratings open to Google and these sort of scraper/syndicaters.

There is always a new spin on the mash up low end content with high trust websites and try to feed it into Google. So long as Google biases their algorithms toward big brands & looks the other way when they exploit the ecosystem that trend will not end.

The Illusion of Choice

It is hard to see & feel the cost of a dominant market participant unless you have to do business negotiations with them:

The Independent Publishers Group, a principal distributor of about 500 small publishers, recently angered Amazon by refusing to accept the company’s peremptory demand for deeper discounts. Amazon promptly yanked nearly 5,000 digital titles. Small-press publishers were beside themselves. Bryce Milligan of Wings Press, based in Texas, spoke for most when, in a blistering broadside, he lambasted Amazon, complaining that its actions caused his sales to drop by 40 percent.

However, even when companies are brutal in some aspects they do amazing things in other areas, so one has to weigh the good with the bad.

Now more than ever we are drowning in perceived choice, but if you look at market after market they are far more consolidated on the business side.

Into hipster indie music? Those labels are heavily reliant on the bigs. The increased flow of online streaming royalties will further increase the consolidation as big businesses prefer to negotiate with other big businesses & small players lack the resources needed to move the needle.

At any point Google can fold one vertical into another or extend out a new model. The Android Marketplace feeds into Google Play, Google local feeds into Google+, Google search force feeds just about everything else & even free offerings on sites like YouTube will eventually become pay to play stores.

Where Google lacks marketshare & forced bundling isn't enough to compete they can buy the #2 or #3 player in the market & try to propel it to #1 using all those other forms of bundling.

Part of what made search competitive against other platforms was its openness & neutrality. But if the search results are Wal-Mart over and over again (or the same scraped info 5 times in a row, or a collection of internal listings) then the system becomes more closed off & the perception of choice becomes an illusion. John Andrews wrote a couple great Tweets expressing the shift in search:

  • "Google SEO is no longer worth the effort for those who are not writers, artists, speakers, trainers, or promoters. What happened to Search?"
  • "If you want to see what Google will look like after it locks up, look at Apple. ipad users are already "managed" very tightly."

When companies try to expand the depth of their platform with more features it is a double edged sword. At some point they capture more value than they create and are no longer worth the effort. When they get to that stage it becomes a race to the bottom with scrapers trying to outscrape one another. Then in turn the company that created the ecosystem problem uses the pollution they rewarded to further justify closing off the system, guaranteeing only more of the same. Those who actually add value move on looking for greener pastures.

Protecting Privacy

Google promotes that they make browsing safe & Firefox will soon stop passing referrer data. Apple was granted an anti-Big Brother patent. StopBadware partnered with Google, Facebook & others to create a self policing industry organization named the Ads Integrity Alliance.

When these companies are not busy "protecting" users they acquire recognition technology, collect a treasure trove of personal data, deliver fake endorsements, provide false testimonials & sell off the data to third parties.

Microsoft filed a patent for serving mood-based ads & there is research on how depressed people use the internet.

These companies compete on both the hardware & software level, collecting more data & creating more ad formats.

A label or an interest is a vector for ad targeting. There is no need to worry about de-anonymizing data for ad targeting when it is all in-network and you monitor what someone does, control which messages they see, & track which ones they respond to. Tell someone something often enough and they may believe it is true.

The Contempt Large Companies Have for their Customers

There is a sameness to customer service from a lot of big companies. They spend loads & loads to track you and market to you, but then disappear the moment things go wrong, as they are forbidden to care.

Perhaps the only thing worse that AOL's customer support is the unmoderated comments on the YouTube page.

Google will rate YOUR customer service, but when it comes to customer service FROM them you are on your own:

Denise Griffin, the person in charge of Google’s small customer-support team, asked Page for a larger staff. Instead, he told her that the whole idea of customer support was ridiculous. Rather than assuming the unscalable task of answering users one by one, Page said, Google should enable users to answer one another’s questions.

Even their official blog posts announcing that they are accepting customer feedback for your applications go unmoderated.

This sort of contempt exists at essentially all large companies.

Everything seems on the up & up, but that "private listing" was maybe for a counterfeit product.

If it isn't a counterfeit & you get too good of a price you are threatened with a lawsuit, and the branded network falls behind a "oh we are just a marketplace and can't be bothered to give a crap about our customers" public relations angle.

If a company has size there is a limit to how much they can invest in any individual transaction. And so ebooks made of YouTube comments invade Amazon.com.

Apple creates "beautiful" products designed around forced obsolescence:

The Retina MacBook is the least repairable laptop we’ve ever taken apart: unlike the previous model, the display is fused to the glass—meaning replacing the LCD requires buying an expensive display assembly. The RAM is now soldered to the logic board—making future memory upgrades impossible. And the battery is glued to the case—requiring customers to mail their laptop to Apple every so often for a $200 replacement. The design may well be comprised of “highly recyclable aluminum and glass”—but my friends in the electronics recycling industry tell me they have no way of recycling aluminum that has glass glued to it like Apple did with both this machine and the recent iPad. The design pattern has serious consequences not only for consumers and the environment, but also for the tech industry as a whole.
...
Every time we buy a locked down product containing a non-replaceable battery with a finite cycle count, we’re voicing our opinion on how long our things should last. But is it an informed decision? When you buy something, how often do you really step back and ask how long it should last? If we want long-lasting products that retain their value, we have to support products that do so.

One last bit of absurdity on the YouTube front. Google recently threatened to sue a site designed to convert YouTube videos into MP3s.

  • How does Google's "computers deserve free speech rights" & shagging 3rd party content to fill out their own vertical search services compare against their approach when someone uses YouTube content in a way Google does not desire?
  • There are AdWords ads promoting free unlimited MP3 downloading & song burning bundled with shady adware.
  • Google's AdSense for domains funds boatloads of cybersquatting. While Google threatened to sue this particular site, they could have just took the domain due to it cybersquatting on the YouTube trademark. The fact that they chose to turn this into a press event rather than simply fix the issue shows that this is more for posturing.
  • Further aligned with the above point, while Google singled out a specific MP3 conversion site, there are other sites designed around doing the same exact thing which are PREMIUM ADSENSE PARTNERS, with the body of the page looking like this:

How Small Companies Are Taxed With Uncertainty

When Google decided to move away from direct marketing to brand advertising things that are often associated with size, scale & brand recognition became relevancy signals.

For big brands there is no shortage of companies trying to service the market that Google is favoring. For smaller companies it's a struggle. There are so many things to know:

  • how to create & pitch feature content
  • what do unnatural link warnings mean & how do I interpret reinclusion request replies?
  • how much to invest in marketing, where to invest it, how to balance the need for short term cashflow with the required reinvestments to build real (or fake) brand signals
  • how long does the market have left before Google enters the niche and destroys the opportunity that organic SEO once represented
  • should you run 1 website, or many to hedge risks? and how many is optimal?
  • how big should your site be?
  • if one of your sites gets penalized, should you try to fix it up, should you start over with a new site, or should you consider SEO to be a pointless goal?

Google mentions that they want people to do what is best for the user & not worry about Google, but that advice is a recipe for pain

If you do not run a large & authoritative website there are so many landmines to trip over with the increasing complexity of SEO. And any of Google's "helpful" webmaster messages can suspend a webmaster in fear, leading them to an eventual bankruptcy.

Small companies need to do all sorts of canonicalization hoops & prune content and such to hope to avoid algorithms like Panda. Then Google changed their host crowding preferences to let some large sites get up to 8 listings in a single search result page for their LACK OF effort. Those larger sites can then partner with glorified scraper sites that syndicate databases feeding on domain authority with no risk of Panda.

Due to how Google penalizes smaller sites, those that rewrite their content will outrank them when they get hit. These horrible trends are so obvious that even non-SEOs like Tim Carter (who was a Google golden boy for years) highlights how the tables have tilted away from what is most relevant to what pays Google the most.

The promise of the web (especially search) was that it could directly connect supply and demand. However, just like propaganda promoting the superiority of certain countries in the physical world, it is unfortunately fast becoming a myth.

If Matt Cutts Was Made of LEGO, What Would He Look Like?

Maybe something like this...

Matt Cutts Drawing.

...or this...

Matt Cutts Drawing.

A bunch more here, with cut & paste code near your favorites.

Consumer Ad Awareness in Search Results

Consumer Search Insights.

For the following study, we asked "Does this search result have ads on it? " to 1,000 searchers, per search results. Due to these surveys requiring a smaller image (to fit the ad unit size) we chose search results that generally had more ads on them (typically 3 or 4) so that the background had a significant portion of real estate devoted to ads, in spite of its small size. The one exception here was DuckDuckGo, as it only displays one ad at most even on highly commercial keywords like credit cards.

Other than resizing the search result to fit, the only modifications we generally made were removing the graphic picture from the Wikipedia page near the top of the DuckDuckGo SERP (since a prior study showed that users presumed there was a correlation between graphics and the perception of ads) and that in most cases we removed the right sidebar. We did include the sidebar ads on 3 different Bing, Google, & Yahoo! search results so that we could compare the impact of sidebar ads vs not having a sidebar.

Executive Summary

The 3 big takeaways are:

  • For most search engines, people are generally unaware of ads vs organic results if there are no ads in the right column ... most of these yes/no questions came down to about a 50/50 vote, even though all of them had ads on them. It is every bit as true today as it was in 2003.
  • If there is a right column, the percent of people who voted that there are ads on the page jumps significantly. Thus it is pretty safe to say that people think ads are in the right column & that the right column is ads.
  • Interestingly, among major search engines, Yahoo! (without sidebar) got more "yes, it has ads" votes than other search engines. In fact, Yahoo! without sidebar ads scored within 1% of Bing with sidebar ads.

Combined Survey Results

For the question Does this search results have ads on it?

search engine yes no
AOL 53.1% (+3.9 / -3.9) 46.9% (+3.9 / -3.9)
Ask 52.0% (+4.0 / -4.1) 48.0% (+4.1 / -4.0)
Ask Arbitrage 51.6% (+3.9 / -3.9) 48.4% (+3.9 / -3.9)
Bing 50.2% (+3.8 / -3.8) 49.8% (+3.8 / -3.8)
Bing w Sidebar 57.7% (+3.7 / -3.8) 42.3% (+3.8 / -3.7)
Dogpile 44.7% (+4.1 / -4.0) 55.3% (+4.0 / -4.1)
Duck Duck Go 52.3% (+3.9 / -3.9) 47.7% (+3.9 / -3.9)
Google 54.5% (+4.0 / -4.0) 45.5% (+4.0 / -4.0)
Google w Sidebar 62.9% (+3.6 / -3.8) 37.1% (+3.8 / -3.6)
Yahoo! 56.8% (+3.9 / -4.0) 43.2% (+4.0 / -3.9)
Yahoo! w Sidebar 59.8% (+3.9 / -4.1) 40.2% (+4.1 / -3.9)

User Voting Images

Here are the images users saw when they voted:

AOL SERP

Ask SERP

Ask Arbitrage SERP

Bing SERP

Bing With Sidebar SERP

Dogpile SERP

DuckDuckGo SERP

Google SERP

Google With Sidebar SERP

Yahoo! SERP

Yahoo! With Sidebar SERP

Which SERP Has an Ad? (Maps vs AdWords Ads)

Prior to doing the above study, we asked users to please click on the search result which has an ad in it, listing search results side by side. Any bias presented in this (outside of both having smaller than actual sizes) impacts both images. At first we did a regular Google SERP where we included the branding & then we followed up with one that is more zoomed in on the actual search results but does not include branding. On the one that was less zoomed in people thought the map was an ad more often, but upon further zooming they thought it was roughly 50/50.

SERP All (1172) 
 Left 53.7% (+3.3 / -3.4)
 Right 46.3% (+3.4 / -3.3)

SERP All (1198) 
 Left 49.6% (+3.4 / -3.4)
 Right 50.4% (+3.4 / -3.4)

Comparing Google+ to Ads

Does this search result have ads on it?

layout yes no
Google+ without ads 56.3% (+3.1 / -3.1) 43.7% (+3.1 / -3.1)
Google+ with ads 56.9% (+3.2 / -3.2) 43.1% (+3.2 / -3.2)
large top ads w/o Google+ 53.6% (+3.2 / -3.2) 46.4% (+3.2 / -3.2)

Searchers tend to think that Google+ integration in the right rail is an ad unit. More people voted that Google+ without ads had ads in the search results than a SERP with 4 AdWords ad units and no Google+ integration.

Search Engine Ad Background Color

After seeing that users generally guessed no better than a coin toss at best in most cases, we decided to ask What background color do Google search results use to denote top left search advertisements? The same question was asked of Yahoo! & Bing search results.

Google
Google All (1147) 
none, they are white 49.7% (+3.2 / -3.2)
blue 25.5% (+3.0 / -2.8)
yellow 10.6% (+2.3 / -2.0)
pink 7.0% (+2.1 / -1.6)
purple 7.2% (+2.2 / -1.7)
Yahoo!
Yahoo! All (1080) 
none, they are white 44.6% (+3.4 / -3.4)
blue 20.9% (+3.0 / -2.7)
yellow 15.6% (+2.7 / -2.4)
magenta 11.2% (+2.5 / -2.1)
orange 7.7% (+2.3 / -1.8)
Bing
Bing All (1063) 
none, they are white 49.0% (+3.6 / -3.6)
blue 23.5% (+3.2 / -3.0)
yellow 13.0% (+2.8 / -2.4)
purple 7.5% (+2.4 / -1.9)
pink 7.1% (+2.4 / -1.8)
Summary

Bing scored highest, however blue also scored as the 2nd highest color for all 3 search engines. Nearly half of searchers believe that top ads have a white background, which highlights a general widespread lack of awareness of search ads.

Search Engine % Who Answered Correctly
Bing (blue) 23.5%
Yahoo! (magenta) 11.2%
Google (yellow) 10.6%

Ad Location on the SERP

Given how little awareness users have of ad background color, I decided to ask: Where might ads appear on search results at top search engines like Bing & Google?

Vote All (1144) 
right column 34.2% (+3.4 / -3.3)
all 3 locations 29.6% (+3.2 / -3.0)
search results do not carry ads 19.4% (+3.0 / -2.7)
top of the left column 9.2% (+2.5 / -2.0)
bottom of the left column 7.6% (+2.4 / -1.9)

Less than 3 in 10 answered the question correctly & nearly 20% of people do not think search results carry any ads, which explains how an algorithmic penalty can create a bad quarter, why Google was sued in Australia for misleading ads & why the Rosetta Stone vs Google case was overturned. Next time you hear a search engineer talk about clearly labeling paid links, ask them why they do such a poor job of it themselves!

User Trust in Ad Versus Organic Results

Ever since search engines have weeded out some of the more exploitative reverse billing fraud ads, trust in online ads has been growing. Based on the above, we wanted to see how users perceive ads vs organic search results, so I asked: Search engines include both algorithmic search results and ads in them. Which do you trust more?

Answer All (1168) 
I trust both equally 45.8% (+3.3 / -3.2)
Algorithmic search results 40.9% (+3.2 / -3.1)
Ads that appear in search results 13.3% (+2.5 / -2.2)

The above result surprised me given how people disliked money influencing search results. It is a strong compliment to the ads that only 40% of people trust the editorial more than the ads. However this number might be thrown off by the fact that many people are unaware of where the ads actually appear in the search results & what results are ads. (As noted above, most people voted that they thought that either search ads were only in the right column or that there weren't ads in the SERPs.)

Making Up for the Small Image Problem

One of the bigger issues with Google's current survey solution is that you are limited to rather small sized images. Such limitations do not harm asking a question like "what color does Google use for x" but they do make the search result a bit harder to see. To compensate for that problem we ran a separate survey on AYTM, where users were able to view a search result in full screen mode for 10 seconds & then they were asked 3 questions.

The purpose of the first question was to put a few seconds in between them seeing the image and them answering the second question. One other improvement that was made here (in addition to allowing users to see a larger sized search result image) was that we added an "I am not sure" answer to the questions. Below are the responses in table + graphic form, followed by the AYTM widget.

Where May Ads Appear on Google's Search Results Page?

Location Vote
in the right column 28.70%
top of the left column 6.20%
bottom of the left column 1.90%
middle of the left column 2.30%
search results do not have ads in them 6.80%
I am not sure 18.90%
right column & the top + bottom of the left column 35.20%

Did the Viewed Search Result Have Any Ads On It?

Answer Vote
I'm not sure 41.00%
no 12.40%
yes 46.60%

What Background Color Does Google Use to Denote Ads At the Top Left of Their Search Results?

Answer Vote
none, they are white 28.10%
blue 20.80%
purple 1%
I'm not sure 22.60%
pink 6.80%
yellow 20.70%

Even directly after viewing a search result with 3 ads in it, most users are uncertain of where ads may appear, what color the ads are, and if the search result even had any ads in it!

Users confusing the yellow background as white shortly after seeing it is anything but an accident:

In a RGB color space, hex #fef7e6 is composed of 99.6% red, 96.9% green and 90.2% blue. Whereas in a CMYK color space, it is composed of 0% cyan, 2.8% magenta, 9.4% yellow and 0.4% black. It has a hue angle of 42.5 degrees, a saturation of 92.3% and a lightness of 94.9%. #fef7e6 color hex could be obtained by blending #ffffff with #fdefcd. .

If you have an older monitor or a laptop which you are viewing at an angle these colors are nearly impossible to see.

Embed The AYTM Graph in Your Website

Here is the AYTM widget of the above 1,000 person survey, which you can embed in your website.

Embed Code:

How Many Search Engines?

Consumer Search Insights.

How many search engines do you typically use in a given month?

Most people only use 1 or 2 search engines in any given month.

Vote All (1223) 
1 48.9% (+3.1 / -3.1)
2 26.2% (+2.9 / -2.7)
3 9.1% (+2.2 / -1.8)
4 4.7% (+2.0 / -1.4)
5 or more 11.1% (+2.3 / -2.0)

There isn't much difference between men & women on this front.

Vote Men (669)  Women (554) 
1 49.4% (+4.0 / -4.0) 48.4% (+4.8 / -4.8)
2 25.5% (+3.6 / -3.3) 26.9% (+4.6 / -4.1)
5 or more 10.6% (+2.9 / -2.3) 11.7% (+3.8 / -3.0)
3 9.7% (+2.8 / -2.2) 8.5% (+3.6 / -2.6)
4 4.8% (+2.5 / -1.7) 4.5% (+3.6 / -2.0)

Surprisingly, older people are more likely to use a variety of search services while younger people are more likely to stick with their one favorite. I would have guessed that to be the other way around.

Vote 18-24 year-olds (295)  25-34 year-olds (300)  35-44 year-olds (165)  45-54 year-olds (204)  55-64 year-olds (182)  65+ year-olds (77) 
1 54.9% (+5.5 / -5.7) 57.7% (+5.7 / -6.0) 45.6% (+7.7 / -7.5) 50.4% (+6.9 / -6.9) 48.1% (+7.3 / -7.3) 35.8% (+11.5 / -10.1)
2 23.0% (+5.1 / -4.4) 23.0% (+5.4 / -4.6) 23.1% (+7.1 / -5.8) 22.5% (+6.3 / -5.3) 29.2% (+7.1 / -6.2) 36.8% (+11.3 / -10.1)
3 5.8% (+3.3 / -2.1) 5.5% (+3.4 / -2.2) 13.7% (+6.0 / -4.4) 10.5% (+5.0 / -3.5) 11.5% (+5.5 / -3.9) 7.0% (+8.0 / -3.9)
4 6.8% (+3.5 / -2.4) 4.7% (+3.3 / -2.0) 4.2% (+4.7 / -2.3) 4.9% (+4.3 / -2.3) 2.1% (+3.8 / -1.4) 5.4% (+9.1 / -3.5)
5 or more 9.6% (+3.9 / -2.8) 9.1% (+3.9 / -2.8) 13.4% (+6.2 / -4.4) 11.7% (+5.3 / -3.8) 9.0% (+5.2 / -3.4) 15.0% (+9.7 / -6.3)

Here is the geographic breakdown.

Vote The US Midwest (260)  The US Northeast (320)  The US South (374)  The US West (269) 
1 53.6% (+6.5 / -6.6) 45.1% (+6.1 / -6.0) 47.0% (+5.8 / -5.7) 50.4% (+6.4 / -6.4)
2 22.7% (+6.2 / -5.2) 27.1% (+5.7 / -5.1) 26.8% (+5.5 / -4.8) 27.9% (+6.1 / -5.4)
3 8.7% (+4.9 / -3.2) 11.4% (+4.8 / -3.5) 8.6% (+4.4 / -3.0) 8.2% (+4.8 / -3.1)
4 3.5% (+5.2 / -2.1) 5.3% (+4.3 / -2.4) 5.7% (+4.1 / -2.5) 3.8% (+5.4 / -2.3)
5 or more 11.5% (+5.5 / -3.9) 11.1% (+4.7 / -3.5) 11.9% (+4.5 / -3.4) 9.7% (+5.2 / -3.5)

Here are stats by population density.

Vote Urban areas (608)  Rural areas (107)  Suburban areas (499) 
1 48.1% (+4.5 / -4.5) 50.2% (+9.8 / -9.8) 47.2% (+4.7 / -4.7)
2 26.4% (+4.1 / -3.8) 21.2% (+10.6 / -7.8) 27.8% (+4.5 / -4.1)
3 9.1% (+3.6 / -2.7) 14.2% (+10.7 / -6.6) 9.6% (+4.0 / -2.9)
4 5.3% (+4.0 / -2.3) 6.5% (+12.0 / -4.4) 3.8% (+4.4 / -2.1)
5 or more 11.0% (+3.8 / -2.9) 7.9% (+11.4 / -4.9) 11.6% (+4.2 / -3.2)

Here is data by income groups. No obvious pattern here either.

Vote People earning $0-24K (132)  People earning $25-49K (673)  People earning $50-74K (326)  People earning $75-99K (70)  People earning $100-149K (27) 
1 45.0% (+8.9 / -8.6) 47.7% (+4.2 / -4.2) 50.2% (+6.1 / -6.1) 42.1% (+12.3 / -11.4) 48.3% (+17.9 / -17.5)
2 29.1% (+9.0 / -7.6) 26.3% (+3.8 / -3.5) 23.1% (+6.2 / -5.3) 35.2% (+12.2 / -10.5) 37.4% (+18.8 / -15.6)
3 8.7% (+9.1 / -4.7) 8.6% (+3.2 / -2.4) 11.6% (+5.8 / -4.0) 9.7% (+11.7 / -5.6) 0.0% (+12.5 / -0.0)
4 6.1% (+9.5 / -3.9) 5.2% (+3.2 / -2.0) 4.3% (+6.3 / -2.6) 2.6% (+17.0 / -2.3) 3.4% (+22.2 / -3.0)
5 or more 11.0% (+8.9 / -5.2) 12.1% (+3.3 / -2.7) 10.9% (+5.8 / -3.9) 10.4% (+11.9 / -5.9) 10.9% (+16.7 / -7.1)

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