Okay, so you've read the news about the launch of Google's "Search plus your World" mashup - Google's latest adjustment to the way it renders search results. You've seen the arguments for and against. I've got a question for you: where did you find these arguments?
I found entire breadth of these anti-Google arguments on... Google. Including some that were absolutely scathing.
A truly evil company would not let you see any of this. They would just make changes to the way they do things, and block the discussion - end of story. Which goes to the heart of the argument that some are trying to make - what constitutes evil behavior?
Google is not evil. Evil people don't allow arguments and don't share information. The fact that Google is allowing all arguments to blosson - including those for and against their plans - allows us and them to collectively discuss and figure out what the world wants. And it might be that the world actually decides that Google Search Plus Your World is what the people decide they want.
As shown by Facebook several times over now, sometimes the world doesn't know what it wants until six weeks after they start using something they hate. Then they love it.
Note: Google, I do have an issue with paying you thousands of dollars for search, SEO, link and keyword data that remains incomplete, via your APIs*. That said, I feel a need to thank you as well, because we wouldn't have taken the time to develop our own algorithms in several key areas if your data had been enitrely trustworthy. So maybe, by withholding data, you actually helped us create some value that wouldn't have otherwise been created. If so, thank you.
Final note: There's a great article on the current state of SEO that was just published by Danny Sullivan. If you're in this business, it is well worth a read.
Watching Yahoo struggle forth is an exercise in frustration - like watching the final scene in Gladiator.
Actually, it's worse - because the wounds have been all self-inflicted. First, the board spurned an offer that would have made shareholders rich, and handed control of the company to an entirely new set of people (obviously, this is needed.)
Then in the immediate aftermath, they decide to double down and make the Yahoo content even less navigable, turn their once-great Yahoo Ecosystem (read: APIs) into a befuddling minefield, and make the user experience for advertisers, would-be social media users, and would-be buying customers ever more horrible. Then they topped that dubious set of accomplishments by devaluing the value of a Yahoo user id to the point of worthlessness, relaxing their once-heroic mobile efforts, and removing themselves from serious contention in the cloud, in search technology, and in social media.
Now, they have a new CEO. How long can user forums, email and dusty bookmarks lodged inside ancient PC browsers sustain a business? You're about to find out. Unless Scott Thompson is super-smart, the answer is: not very long. Can he fix it? That all depends - most of the core stuff that could be used to rebuild the business is really, really broken:
1. Yahoo user IDs are worthless, and virtually unusable outside Yahoo
When was the last time a site let you log in using Yahoo? When was the last time you needed to? Yahoo doesn't have a front-and-center strategy that could expand the use of its user identities - I find it consistently easier to log in to Yahoo using Google - than using my Yahoo credentials, and my Yahoo credentials are useless almost anywhere else on the web, either for commerce or access. Bye, bye social network, content-sharing and commerce partnerships.
2. Yahoo's confusing APIs, poor navigation, unreliable results, and "corporate' legal stance make it almost impossible for developers to use them
Yahoo's APIs - once the cutting edge of what was available - are becoming harder to use, license and manage every day. Try finding the billing page within the developer area and you'll instantly know everything you need to about Yahoo's other commercial businesses - and general approach to user interface design. Try understanding how "non-commercial use" expands their business when everyone is speeding in the opposite direction, and I predict you will, like most of us, just give up and try one of the 4,000 other sources of data. And what's with the substantial statistical differences between Yahoo Search results, and the results I'm paying you for? Why don't they match?
By the way, if any of you out there are studying user interface design, and what to see an example of what NOT to do, sign up for Yahoo BOSS (the custom Yahoo search API that is one of the few Yahoo APIs we still use.) I guarantee you will come away from the experience inspired - as in, inspired that there is much still to be done in the world of UX design.
3. Yahoo's own social media presense is zip, zero, nowhere
Sure, Yahoo Finance and News still get lots of hits. But the trend is, more and more, we are getting our news by following the stories that friends recommend on the (non-Yahoo) social networks that are the new web front end. Yahoo 360 has less users than Anderson Cooper has blood-stained white t-shirts. At Heardable, we track over a hundred social networks. With the single exception of Flickr, which remains a great, but internally under-loved service, Yahoo ranks at the very, very bottom.
In fact, when I go take a peek at the new Social Network Utilization Map on Heardable, I can't even find (non-Flickr) Yahoo nets unless I first expand my results to show all 100+ social networks - and then finally, there they are, with almost zero presense. This, on top of a massive email base of tens of millions of users? Unforgiveable! What was Carol Bartz doing the whole time she was there? Did she ever look at the user database, and think "social"? Obviously not...
4. Yahoo Stores need to morph into something more like Facebook Pages, pronto...
If you're a business utilizing Yahoo's commerce, you're probably in one of the few areas of Yahoo that actually does what it says on the box. But how do you make users aware of the fact you exist, outside of Yahoo (and Bing?) Answer: not very easily.
5. Yahoo's advertiser front end sucks - indeed, as evidenced above, Yahoo's front end to virtully every possible customer - sucks
Why is Google so great? Because their user experience is a breeze. I can add advertising to my brand new site in a few minutes, and everything is really well-integrated, from AdWords, through to Google Analytics, site optimization, you name it.
Okay, I'm going to stop here. You get the idea. The problem with Yahoo is it has sat resolutely on its behind and watched the world go by. I'm sure inside Yahoo there were some really caring people who never, ever got a chance to do what they felt was needed. But I'm also sure that there are an equal number of dummies that really need to be shown the door.
On that subject - I had a meeting in Yahoo a few years back and sat in a conference room next to the executive offices. On the massive room-wide white board, someone had laid out Yahoo's corporate strategy. There were many, many interconnecting boxes, reiterating the need over and over again to create a "larger audience for our content" - but seemed to be missing any of the steps that would enable this to happen, including utilizing the brand, user base, or expanding via social media. The map told us everything we needed to know about where Yahoo was headed - i.e. into the abyss.
Can Yahoo be saved? Now is the time for Scott Thompson to start walking the halls and talking with everyone to see who gets it. Time to reach down and find that small band of repressed smart people that still work there. Time to finally give them their chance to make Yahoo great again.
It can be done, but only with a massive, company-wide effort - starting with the firing of the people responsible for this mess, and the hiring of some brilliant internal or external folks (from Facebook?) with great ideas and strong experience in building and sustaining innovative, web-wide user experiences and brands.
I just checked out the new StumbleUpon site, and I am very pleased to report that the redesign they released today is stunning.
Most importantly, the experience I had just now was technically flawless - no floating whales, no bunnies - in fact, the only time I managed to get the Gnawing Bunny to appear was when I purposely searched for something I knew wouldn't be there - and the site still behaved as it should. Investors - StumbleUpon's engineers deserve a steak dinner, and a bonus - nice work, guys.
The other surprise was the fact that the site still feels like StumbleUpon. Why should that surprise me? Because, dear reader, I learned long ago, that with few exceptions, no one wants change more often than brand owners.
Way back in the day, at age 19, I won a radio station competition and ended up working as an advertising copywriter at a major ad agency (George Patterson/Bates in Adelaide, Australia.) Before you can say "where is the next revenue coming from?", I learned very quickly that no one tires of ads, logos, signs, business cards and slogans faster than the client.
It is SO easy to sell a new logo and/or slogan to an ad agency client that there should be a law against it. Seriously.
Want the client to approve a new web site? Just ask them. They've viewed their own web site five gazillion times. And, unlike their customers, who've seen it one millioneth of that amount of times, they are sick to death of it. Does the client want a redesign? A new logo? A new TV ad? A different jingle? Just ask! Ka-ching!
This sad knowledge is why it was so gratifying to go onto StumbleUpon's site and see that they have retained their personality, and enough of the look and feel of old for it not to feel like a new place (unlike, say, Digg, or, ahem, Friendster). This is credit-worthy - that StumbleUpon somehow managed to avoid the temptation to throw away all that is old, and easily-identified by the customer, means they won't find themselves out in the cold, like Digg, who managed to achieve the complete opposite of greater loyalty during their redesign, and alienated technical and non-technical customers alike (the fact Digg apears to have their act together now is too-little, too late, really.)
This all goes to show that StumbleUpon has some smart, long-term thinkers running stratagy. How's this translating to verifiable success on Heardable? StumbleUpon is among our top 1% performing brands, and recently cracked the Top 10 of all listed Social networks on Heardable (we track over 120 social networks, including all the ones you use, plus some you've never heard of, and we run every site in our database against them every time we do a scan - to see them all, just click the link and increase the results shown.)
According to our analysis, StumbleUpon is sitting at #9 with a bullet, with more than 1.2% of all sites we measure linking to them. That number is surely to rise with StumbleUpon's new, much easier to understand, channel strategy for users and brands. Watch this space.
Yesterday, former GOP front-runner Herman Cain announced he was dropping out of the 2012 race for President. When interviewed by Reuters, several of his followers told us what most of us already know: it wasn't the affairs that bothered them, it was the denials: the covering up.
Yes, in trying to be the "perfect brand", Cain found out the hard way that people prefer their candidates/brands to be... well, a little more human perhaps. And honest with the customer.
Nobody has learned that lesson better than another Atlanta-based brand - Coca-Cola. At the same moment Cain was announcing his retirement from the race, Coca-Cola distributors were busy apologizing to retailers and consumers and re-stocking shelves with Coke's traditional red-colored cans, after a disastrous campaign involving a white-colored can.
The decorative can - the centerpiece of a campaign that was designed to ring in the Holidays, confused a lot of folks and annoyed Diet Coke buyers as they grabbed a can that looked like Diet Coke and instead gave themselves the sugar rush/calories they'd been trying to avod.
Coke's solution to the problem? Admit the error. Wind back the campaign - totally. As Coca-Cola learned way back during the "new Coke" campaign, you can actually earn a decent amount of fresh new brand equity from admitting your imperfections (and your love and respect of the customer and his views.) Whereas not admitting you're at fault - and especially not getting to the heart fo thigns - can detract from your brand equity significantly.
Full marks to Coca-Cola this week. Herman, next time you run, maybe you should drive across town first and sit down and take counsel from the masters of building brand equity on the back of imperfect ideas (there's a reason why Warren Buffett has always loved these guys.)
Anyway, back to the national stage. Do you think Herman Cain could have stayed in the race by admitting his "imperfections"? could he have weathered the storm? Of course, we'll never know - and only Herman Cain knows for sure how much of the noise translates into past reality. But one thing is sure - to a man/woman, Cain's followers are saying loud and clear that they wish he'd just "come clean with the dirty" - so they could then make a call as to which alleged womanizer they want as President, rather than attempt to appear "perfect."
Of course a brand needs to provide as great a customer experience as possible. But absolute perfection, as it turns out, may not be an absolute positive when it comes to brand-building.
Note: We removed Herman Cain from our list of canidates at our SocialStrawPoll.com site this morning. Which is fine, because it's been looking like Newt vs. Mitt vs. Paul for about two months now, according to the major social networks.