A Week’s A Long Time Vol. 1

So, I was chatting to my friend and former colleague Mark Hadfield today and he was asking me which sites I used to keep up to date with digital & tech news. After listing off a few, he suggested that I should put some of these into a weekly round-up. And, as Mark’s a very clever chap, I figured, “Why the hell not?”

So, this is the first in what will be, I hope, a regular update on what I think are the most interesting stories from around the web, along with a quick summary of why I think they might be of interest.

Facebook IPO: The Sky’s Falling In!

So, Facebook is about to go to market in what is likely to be the largest ever flotation of a US company. But, despite the shares being massively oversubscribed, many decided to get the boot in early by predicting that it would all end in tears.

First to market was research consultancy Forrester with this article arguing that Facebook needs to take marketers seriously. And then, as if to rub salt in to the wound, came General Motors (one of the world’s largest advertisers, as the media was so keen to remind everyone), who anounced that they would be pulling their Facebook ad budgets.

So, game over before it’s begun?

Well, possibly not.

Firstly, as I pointed out in a couple of comments on the Forrester piece, just because they say Facebook doesn’t work for marketers doesn’t make that so; there are plenty of clients who think that it works very well, and are continuing to invest because of that. There are also plenty of ways of proving its effectiveness, and its partnership with Nielsen is an attempt at bringing clarity to digital effectiveness that should be lauded.

I also didn’t think it would be polite to point out that Forrester probably would have liked the Facebook deal, nor that they’ve often been the worst cheerleaders when it comes to encouraging brands to pump money into the latest Kool-Aid, with little mention of the sort of metrics they’re now so keen for Facebook to stump up.

Any-hoo, on to GM. Surely the fact that they’re pulling budget means that we might as well get the fat lady to start singing now?

Again, not quite. This (partial) rebuttal, from AllThingsD, highlights a couple of interesting points:

  • Obviously there’s a backstory here. If GM didn’t want to keep advertising on Facebook, it didn’t have to announce that three days before an IPO.
  • Big Fuel, GM’s social media ad agency, didn’t do a good job. That’s why GM fired them in December. For the record, here’s a quote from a Big Fuel rep: “GM never seemed persuaded of the value of social media in general and Facebook likes in particular. In a sales-driven culture, it is very hard to wrap your head around putting money in places where you don’t see immediate results in an uptick in sales.”
  • Starcom, GM’s media buying agency, didn’t do a good job. That’s why GM fired them in January.
  • How the heck did GM spend $3 on Facebook “content management” for every $1 it spent on Facebook ads, as the WSJ reports? That’s a sure sign that someone was doing something wrong.
  • Ford loves Facebook.
  • GM is pulling $10 million out of Facebook. Facebook did more than $3 billion in ads last year.


Does any of that mean it’s worth more than $100 billion? A lot of clever people think not, though if they do even half of the things suggested here, it might start looking slightly less ridiculous. Whatever the case, I think this flotation is likely to highlight the fact that the entire stockmarket/VC model is a bit clunky (as all the value that used to be taken by shareholders at flotation has now been taken by the investors, which is why the share price has to be so high), and probably needs rethinking.

Yahoo Killed Flickr. Or Did It?

The recent departure of Yahoo’s CEO, Scott Thompson, under something of a cloud, was, to put it mildly, a bit of a case of SNAFU. One might therefore suggest that Gizmodo’s fascinating, if rather long (and sweary) article about the (mis)adventures of Flickr since being bought by Yahoo, is kind of like kicking a man when he’s down. That said, it makes fascinating reading and raises some very interesting point.

It argues, convincingly I think, that too much effort was put on integrating Flickr into Yahoo, at the expense of developing the core product; that Yahoo missed the boat on social, despite owning Flickr and Yahoo; and, most recently, and perhaps most damningly, held Flickr back from developing a decent mobile app due to a Napoleonic mindset in the man in charge of mobile at Yahoo.

That said, Broadstuff have done a decent job of, if not rebutting the points, providing a contrary view on events:

1. In 2005 Yahoo knew what Social was all about, and went out of their way to buy leading “Web 2.0 v.1” companies.

2. They tried to integrate all their assets to simplify the UE and impact. It worked, but pissed off the early power users, and that whinging tends to cloud the issue and generates a lot of “Evil Yahoo” negative press even today.

3. The reality is that Flickr was a Web 2.0 v1 creation and got outmanouvred by the v 2.0 startups built on their shoulders, in the darwinian stew of any developing technology. Yahoo actually could see this judging by their actions.

4. Most of the v 1.0 companies haven’t made it through the cut, not just Flickr (in fact thay have done a darn sight better than most – or even all!) so it is arguable they would not have made the cut if they were still independent. And virtually no pre-smartphone dotcom/web 2.0/m-commerce business has survived the New Mobile 2.0 game. Just ask Nokia. It was hit with a classic generational shift in developing technologies, like the move from propellor to jet in aircraft.

5. Yahoo by then had far bigger problems, meaning management turmoil at the highest level, which – I know from my own experience – means decisions don’t get made and Things Grind To a Halt (the Peanut Butter conspiracy).

6. Yet, despite all this, Flickr is still going strong, rumours of its death are somewhat exaggerrated. Its just no longer the 95% giant in a tiny grovy market, its just a major player in a far huger mass market.

As with most of these things, I’d suggest that the truth lies somewhere in between. I remember being at a search conference back in 2007, and being very excited about how Yahoo was in a position to utilise the data from flickr & delicious to really start creating social driven search (the sort of product that Google & Bing are now making so much noise about).

Gizmodo suggests that they were wrong to be thinking about this – I’d argue that they didn’t think about it enough, as if they had really cracked it, it would have given them the justification to invest properly in those products. Bizarrely, at that conference I attended, Yahoo made a big deal about saying they wouldn’t use social data to drive search, as it might creep people out. Honourable, but possibly rather short-sighted.

Google Knows Everything

Semantic search has long been one of many holy grails for those in the tech-space, and, with the launch of Google Knowledge, many think that Google might have finally made a large step in that direction.

For those not familiar with the jargon, semantic search is where the engine attempts to understand the actual meaning of the query, and answer it, rather than just providing links to places that are likely to hold relevant content. An example of  this that has been around for a while is a search for weather.

With this new launch, Google are going far beyond that, providing data on everything from the birth-dates of celebrities and historical figures to books that authors have written, the length of time theme park rides take (Space Mountain is 3 minutes apparently) and the length of famous bridges. What’s key though, is that all of these answers are presented on the search result page, meaning that if these facts answer your question, you won’t need to click through to a site from the Google results.

Sounds great right? Not if you rely on that traffic to make revenue.

What a lot of commenters on these posts are pointing out is that Google has, with this, moved irrevocably away from what has always been its stated aim previously of getting people off of its site as quickly as possible, and that many aren’t happy about it, and think that there could be a backlash:

“Wherever we can get our hands on structured data, we add it.” — This
is why Google wants you to mark up your data with Schema.org


Just as the search engines “inevitably” include more and more stuff harvested from the web into what used to be called “search results” (and is now “answers,” apparently), without sending traffic back to the original source, more and more webmasters will inevitably start blocking large portions of “harvestable” content from search engines.

It will certainly be harder for Google to argue that it’s not a media company, in direct competition with newspapers and content sites.

It also seems slightly harsh that, just after telling site owners that if they don’t create great content, they won’t rank, they could well end up ensuring that even those that do rank never get any traffic, if their content is displayed within the results themselves. Whatever the case, some believe that at least we now know why Google changed its privacy policies.

What really strikes me about all this, especially considering the other stories that we’ve looked at, is that Yahoo could have done something like this years ago, and actually tried to. Glue was a product rolled out back in 2008, and it really does seem like a product that was ahead of its time, but might not have been, had Yahoo been better able to make use of all that data they had access to.

So, that’s my first weekly (I hope) newsletter/blogpost. I’d love to know what you think, so please feel free to leave a comment, drop me a line on ciarannorris at gmail dot com, or tweet me.

Subscribe to A Week’s A Long Time: Digital Digest by Email

Wall St image by Alex E. Proimos on flickr (of course!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *