I threw up a little bit in my mouth this morning while reading the press release titled 2008 Republican National Convention Names Official Innovation Provider.
Embracing technology that will propel the 2008 Republican National Convention to the forefront of the digital age, the GOP today announced that Google Inc. will serve as the Republican National Convention's Official Innovation Provider. Convention President and Chief Executive Officer Maria Cino made the announcement in a unique video posted to the convention's new YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/gopconvention2008). The video is also showcased on the convention's website (www.GOPConvention2008.com), and highlights Google's cutting-edge, computer-generated SketchUp graphics of the Xcel Energy Center, where the convention will be held.
I didn't know that the Republican campaign was so hard up for innovation that they needed to get it from Corporate America, but okay...
As Official Innovation Provider, Google Inc. will enhance the GOP's online presence with new applications, search tools, and interactive video. In addition, Google will help generate buzz and excitement in advance of the convention through its proven online marketing techniques.
On-line marketing (AdWords and AdSense, presumably) generating excitement. Yeah. Sure. I get excited by ads all the time, don't you? Especially Republican ads!
The convention's official website, www.GOPConvention2008.com, will eventually feature a full-range of Google products, including Google Apps, Google Maps, SketchUp, and customized search tools, which will make navigating the site easier. The convention's YouTube channel will enable visitors to upload, view, and share online videos. These innovative technologies will also help the GOP streamline convention organization and expand its online reach across websites, mobile devices, blogs, and email.
So they've figured out how to embed stuff in their web site to make it easier and, presumably, make up for their inability to get together a web team that could design a site that's easy to navigate? Yeah, I'd brag about that too.
I was tempted to re-write the release without all the buzzwords and over-the-top language, but I have to hit the road soon for a long drive. I guess it pretty much speaks for itself.
I'm not sure who's paying who here, but the republicans sure are kissing some Google Ass. It kinda makes you wonder what the revenue share on this deal is, doesn't it?
Either way, a dumb thing like this is an excellent way to lose credibility in my mind. I'm surprised they didn't also announce HTML as their official markup language and HTTP as the site's preferred protocol.
[Apparently I'm not the only one. See also, GOP Names Google Its ďOfficial Innovation ProviderĒ from the Wall Street Journal.]
A few times a week I get email from some sorry Outlook/Exchange user which contains a dreaded winmail.dat file. Being a Thunderbird user, this presents a bit of a problem--one that has been well documented in Dealing with the winmail.dat file and unreadable attachments and How to Prevent the Winmail.dat File from Being Sent to Internet Users.
The are various "free" winmail.dat readers around, but this is 2008 not 1998. I shouldn't have to install the email equivalent of a "helper application" to read a fucking word doc that crappy email software couldn't encode in a sane format.
So anyway, I got one today and actually needed to read it. And I hadn't installed one of those stupid winmail.dat decoders since I had my laptop replaced. Faced with the prospect of actually installing software I wondered what'd happen if I forwarded a copy of the message to my Gmail account.
Well, wouldn't ya know it? The damned thing came through just fine. I was able to extract the attachment and open it faster than you can google "free winmail.dat decoder."
Just for kicks, I sent it to my dormant Yahoo! Mail account too... and it was also able to extract the Word document from the winmail.dat file.
Now why on earth hasn't this functionality been built into Thunderbird? Or Windows for that matter?
It's days like this that I might confuse my laptop for a stone tablet... just for a moment or two.
The Google Chart API looks to be an excellent offering for developers and web front-end engineers. It provides a brain-dead simple way of putting a variety of charts into a web page, all generated by Google.
There are ton of line style and color options, simple instructions for encoding the data, and a rate limit of 50,000 per day.
Read more in the announcement on the Google Code blog.
Well done, guys.
Now, can you do a web page thumbnail generator too? :-)
The recent upgrades to the Gmail interface are, in general, okay by me. They haven't changed much of anything that I really care about too much. But there were some under-the-hood changes made to presumably make Gmail feel faster. One of them has managed to piss me off on a semi-regular basis.
I end up seeing that about 20% of the time when I go to close my Gmail tab. And that just annoys me. I feel like this effort to focus on perceived responsiveness has actually slowed down the system overall and I end up paying the price when I'm trying to get in and back out of my mailbox quickly.
Am I alone in this?
A few recent news items made me realize that I haven't written anything positive about Google for a while. So allow me to point out a couple of things...
First off, in a press release titled Google and IBM Announce University Initiative to Address Internet-Scale Computing Challenges, I read the following:
The goal of this initiative is to improve computer science students' knowledge of highly parallel computing practices to better address the emerging paradigm of large-scale distributed computing. IBM and Google are teaming up to provide hardware, software and services to augment university curricula and expand research horizons. With their combined resources, the companies hope to lower the financial and logistical barriers for the academic community to explore this emerging model of computing.
Fantastic! The world needs more people who know how to design, build, and deploy large grid computing systems.
For this project, the two companies have dedicated a large cluster of several hundred computers (a combination of Google machines and IBM BladeCenter and System x servers) that is planned to grow to more than 1,600 processors. Students will access the cluster via the Internet to test their parallel programming course projects. The servers will run open source software including the Linux operating system, XEN systems virtualization and Apache's Hadoop project, an open source implementation of Google's published computing infrastructure, specifically MapReduce and the Google File System (GFS).
We've been big fans of Hadoop for a while now at Yahoo. In fact, we employ a number of engineers who primarily work on Hadoop--making sure that anyone (yes, even Google) can use it.
Now we can count both Google and IBM among our bigger users!
It's great to have such big visible partners working to spread the knowledge of Hadoop to more and more students.
It's great to see them bringing up the issue of email storage again. It was back in March that Yahoo! Mail announced unlimited storage.
I'm not sure why they insist on counting anymore, but it's so nice of them to keep brining up mailbox sizes again. :-)
It's been about a year and a half since I wrote Following the Search Engine Referral Money Trail, which looked at my traffic sources from an AdSense earnings point of view.
Realizing that I hadn't been keeping good tabs on it, I decided to use last night's closing numbers (well, from 15 minutes until midnight) to get a one day snapshot of the eCPM values for my AdSense referral tracking channels. Here's a screenshot with the irrelevant columns removed.
I really need to figure out how to attract more Ask.com, Comcast Search, and AOL users! Apparently the MSN Search users that used to monetize really well a couple years ago have migrated to another search engine. Good for them!
Just kidding. :-)
There's clearly a lot going on behind these numbers and it is only one day's worth of traffic. From what I've seen in the past, the fact that this is data from a weekend (and a Sunday) is quite significant. It might look different on a Wednesday, for example.
What hasn't changes since last time is the large variation among all the sources.
Anyway, I just thought I'd see if anyone else is doing similar analysis on their own personal sites.
Last week I lost a ton of productivity because the hard disk on my laptop failed. There's a long story behind this.
The short version is that I knew it was failing for a few weeks and, yes, I had backups. The IT folks got me a new notebook (an HP nc6400 which isn't bad, really) and I've spent quite a bit of time getting my stuff running again.
But I had backups, right? Yes. But let's be honest. The vast majority of Windows applications make it quite difficult to migrate from machine 1 to machine 2 and preserve all your settings, customizations, and preferences. Notable exceptions to this are Mozilla Firefox and Mozilla Thunderbird , both of which were designed to be cross-platform from the beginning. With them I simply need to copy my profile from the latest backup over to my new machine after I've installed the latest version. It's almost trivial.
Compare that with something like Microsoft Office, where I always find myself having to fuck around in the settings to disable all the "helpful" auto-formatting defaults and other nonsense.
When I wrote How To Add Good Expires Headers to Images in Apache 1.3 earlier, I loaded up my trusty and recently installed AbiWord only to find it hanging for some mysterious reason. I let it sit for a while and eventually killed it off after waiting about 15 minutes. In the meantime I loaded up the bloatware known as Microsoft Word to compose that little blog post.
For whatever reason, Word had a different problem. When I clicked the font list (I hate the default font), it hung. The UI became completely unresponsive. Having less patience, I killed it after a couple minutes of waiting.
Neither of those problems are likely to be easy for me to debug (do they write out a timestamped log file that I can read?).
It was at that point that I basically said "screw these freshly installed desktop applications on this brand new notebook... I'll just use Google Docs to compose the damned blog post." You can understand my state of mind, already having invested far too much time in what should be an appliance that does what I need.
And you know what?
It worked quite nicely. I'd used Google Spreadsheets before, but this was my first real use of Google Docs. No auto-formatting crap to turn of. No annoying load time. No disk swapping as the software pulled in a ton of libraries. Heck, my browser was already open anyway. And I was writing with the intent of publishing to everyone, so who cares about security?
It was at that point that a shift took place in my thinking. I'm simply not going to bother with the hassle, trouble, expense, and complexity of desktop applications when an online substitute will do the job anymore. Life's too short already.
I have to say, this on-line office stuff is starting to seem very, very real. I wonder what Microsoft will do about people like me...
Fueling my interest, the first sentence made me more convinced there was something to get worked up about:
Today we introduced some exciting changes to Google Docs & Spreadsheets.
As a technology guy, I'm often interested in things which are entirely new or the result of exciting changes. But that interest was quickly washed away as I realized that it was mostly a fluff piece aimed and dressing up a long missing feature from Google Docs: folders.
That's right: folders.
Sure, they also talk about prettying up the UI and adding search (search? from Google? no way!), but search is often used when you're not organized because you're lazy like me. It has little to do with staying organized. But that's beside the point, really.
Folders are about the farthest thing from being "entirely new" when it comes to organizing documents. This is 2007. I remember folders back in the Commodore Amiga days. What was that? 15 years ago? This is hardly a revolution.
This leaves me wondering a bit about the users of Google Docs & Spreadsheets (of which I am one). Does Google think that their users are so easily impressed (or clueless) that folders, search, and a UI touch-up really qualify as "exciting" and "entirely new"?
If so, that's kind of insulting.
Or is it the case that Ron Schneider and team were so buried in work to get this release shipped that they forgot to think about it from their audience's point of view?
Either way, I'm disappointed. I want my exciting and entirely new stuff!
I'm not going to say much about the fact that the screenshot looks like a cross between Gmail (which has no folders but people still want them) and a Windows desktop application. Noddle on that one yourself.
Thus ends my snarky post for today.
After an extended period of time during which I simply couldn't trust Gmail's spam filter to Do The Right Thing, I'm happy to report that for the last few weeks it has been performing exceptionally well.
This all began back in January when I asked Did Gmail's Spam Filtering Freak Out This Week? and followed that up with Gmail Spam Filtering Update after exchanging a bit of mail with a Googler who worked on Gmail. But ever since then it's still been a little twitchy, and I'd just decided to accept that and move on.
But at some point in the last couple weeks it finally turned the corner. I can't recall a single false positive I've seen this week and the false negative rate has been remarkably low as well.
Getting this dialog box prompted me to mention something that's been bugging me for a while now.
"You have sent a message in a conversation marked as spam. The message will not appear in your Sent Mail unless you mark it as not spam."
On several occasions I've had a incoming message marked as spam that was clearly a response to a non-spam message I'd already seen. Once I marked the suspect message as "not spam" Gmail intelligently grouped it with the others to form a complete "conversation."
But I have to wonder why that isn't given higher precedence when deciding if a new message is spam? I mean, if I can tell it's part of a non-spam conversation, and Gmail can tell too, why doesn't it err on the side of including it?
Marc's The Video Library of Alexandria post on O'Reilly Radar connected a set of dots for me that I can't believe I never connected on my own.
In that, it certainly seems like an appropriate purchase for Google, much like DejaNews before it.
That one sentence made me realize that Google has been buying up a lot of digital information archives and repositories of various types: DejaNews (Usenet News), Keyhole / Google Earth (Satellite data), and YouTube (Video). When you combine that with their archive(s) of the web, the growing mountain of email stored in Gmail's perpetually expanding mailboxes, and book scanning, it's quite impressive.
In casual thinking, I can only think of a few on-line information repositories that I care about that Google doesn't own.
Notice that #1 is owned by a competitor, #2 and #3 can't really be bought, and the last two are paid for by US taxpayers.
A few years from now I might be convinced that Flickr belongs on that list too.
What other big sources of data would you like to see outlive the organizations that currently control (or own) them?
Last week I asked Did Gmail's Spam Filtering Freak Out This Week? because it certainly had for me.
I was contacted by a member of Gmail's anti-spam team over the weekend. He asked for a few sample messages and was then able to diagnose the problem in fairly short order. In the meantime, several days worth of manually reclassifying email as "not spam" had improved things quite a bit.
At this point it's almost back to normal. However, it'll be a few weeks before I trust it to the point that I can ignore the spam folder on most days. But I'm impressed by the speed with which the system seemed to learn from my inputs and the team's interest in getting this resolved.
While I've been a big fan of Gmail for a long time now (especially the spam filtering), earlier this week things really got bad.
Until Monday or Tuesday, I'd normally see 1-2 false positives in my spam folder each month. So I only looked at it once a week or so and did so very quickly. But I wasn't seeing some mail I expected and it finally occurred to me that I ought to check the spam folder. I was shocked to see a non-trivial chunk of my mail ending up there!
If I had to guess, I'd say I was suddenly dealing with a 5% false positive rate compared to what was far less than 0.1% previously. So I've been checking much more frequently during the last few days and marking items as "not spam" when necessary.
Things seem to be improving slowly. But I was a little stunned by the dramatic change. Has anyone else encountered this recently?
I'm not sure if this is stupidity, laziness, or a mix of both, but check this out.
Back when IE7 launched, Yahoo! created a customized version and began to market it to our existing IE users. The "splash page" looked like this:
Today it seems that Google has similar intentions. So similar, that they decided to basically copy our page and slightly Googlify it. If you look, the design, layout, and most of the text are the same!
WTF is that about?
Was some product marketing person so uninspired that he or she decided it was "good enough" to just copy us?
Seriously, click those images and look at the full-sized versions. They're remarkably similar. And I've checked with our PR group to make sure that this wasn't just a template that Microsoft gave to all partners. It's not.
Yikes. Even the toolbar in the Google version of the picture has bits of Yahoo still in it.
Update (10:45pm): Google appears to have updated the page so that it looks far less like Yahoo's page now.
I was cleaning up some email recently and decided to click on what I believed was a poorly targeted advertisement. It really wasn't interesting, but I was curious to see what page it led to. I figured that might give me an idea why it was selected in the first place.
Here's the advertisement:
Okay, so I should expect to see a page that contains info on a lot that's for sale in Los Altos Hills, right?
Well, not so much...
What a waste of modern technology. I should have been linked directly to the property they were advertising, not their front door.
AdWords advertisers need to realize that having relevant ads is only half the battle. If the landing page isn't also relevant, you're going to lose people.
As much as I love Gmail, it occasionally does things that make me chuckle and scratch my head a bit.
Take, for example, this email message that's clearly an eBay phishing attempt. I've inserted a red arrow to point at the amusing disconnect between the advertising and/or related links and the spam/phishing filter.
Apparently the "related topics" algorithm is pretty good at identifying phishing attempts. Perhaps that should be factored into the filtering as well?
In reacting to Google's Do you "Google?" post, I think Ben Metcalfe speaks for a lot of people. In Google can go shove their lexicographical Ďadviceí up their ass he says:
But in the end, regardless of whether itís positive, harmful or somewhat in between for Google, I for one donít like to be told how to use the English language.
The decision of which words I use is my decision. The decision to refer to trademarked terms as generic terms in conversation through to casual blogging is my decision. Together as society, the choice of which terms are used regularly and thus become officially public domain is our decision.
We own our language. So Google, you can go shove your lexicographical Ďadviceí up your ass.
I think it's been well established that fighting the will of your users is a bad idea (see also: Friendster). So, as far as I'm concerned, you're more than welcome to google on Yahoo. Or MSN. Or Ask.com.
In fact, why not google wherever the hell you want. Search boxes really aren't that hard to find nowadays, are they?
But the if the lawyers really do threaten you, I guess you could always yahoo.
Update: Apparently John is equally impressed.
Update #2: If you've ever wondered when you can Ask or ask, the folks at Ask are glad you asked. This is just comical now! :-)
You may have noticed that I never wrote anything about Googleís recent acquisition of YouTube while the rest of the world seemed to be.
Thatís not entirely true. I wrote about it a bit on an internal mailing list at work. What I read there and all over the Internet shocked me. A significant proportion of people completely missed the point. They thought Google had gone off the deep end.
I was shocked. It was so pervasive that I figured I better keep quiet, since I was obviously missing something.
People wrote about how the site is ugly, the technology sucks, the potential legal problems, and so on. They made passionate arguments that sounded convincing if you didnít understand the business that Google is in.
My hatís off to Dave McClure, the Master of 500 Hats for finally saying it.
Itís not about community, design, technology, or copyright. Itís about eyeballs. Lots and lots of eyeballs. Itís 1999 all over again.
Google bought themselves a really, really big video advertising distribution network (or ďplatformĒ if you prefer).
Can someone please explain to me why this wasnít blindingly obvious to a lot more people? Iím at a loss here. I have been since the speculation of the deal first surfaced.
In trying to explain this to people, I pose a different question: What's the single biggest threat to Google's continued growth?
The variety of answers I get is interesting, but few people hit the one I have in mind: a lack of inventory. Their ability to find new places to stick ads is the single biggest threat to the continued growth for their business.
That's why they're doing deals with MySpace, Dell, and all sorts of companies. It's all about the eyeballs, or inventory (as DanR recently said[*]).
I don't know about you, but as a Google shareholder, I'd be pretty upset if they weren't pursuing deals to expand their inventory. Of course, as a Yahoo! shareholder and employee, I hope they're not too successful. :-)
Is this new?
I noticed today that in place of Web Clips and the normal Sponsored Links, I sometimes see "related topics." A few searches reveal little discussion of this elsewhere, so I'm wondering if it might be a small bucket test.
Now back to your regularly scheduled... uh, whatever you read this for. :-)
Last night I did an OPML export of my subscriptions and imported them into Google Reader. Here's what I learned from that process:
Having said all that, the product has improved a lot since I first kicked the tires. It's responsive and uncluttered. You can even turn off the fancy animation. Like Gmail, it seems to have a bit of a learning curve (good keyboard shortcuts but no folders), but I'm trying to keep an open mind about it. I suspect I'll end up unsubscribing from a few of my marginally useful feeds just to keep the clutter down.
I'll try to document the pros and cons I run into along the way.
Have you tried switching to Google Reader? What was your experience like?
Update: Okay, screw that...
Since its enthusiastic adoption a year and a half ago, by Google, Six Apart, Wordpress, and of course the eminent Dave Winer, I think we can all agree that nofollow has done Ö nothing. Comment spam? Thicker than ever. Itís had absolutely no effect on the volume of spam. Thatís probably because comment spammers donít give a crap, because the marginal cost of spamming is so low.
But it's worse than that, he claims.
Worse, nofollow has another, more pernicious effect, which is that it reduces the value of legitimate comments. Hereís how:
Why should I bother entering a comment on your blog, after all? Well, I might comment because youíre my friend. But I might also want some tiny little reward for participating in a discussion, contributing to the content on your site, and generally enhancing the value of the conversational Web. That reward? PageRank, baby. But if your blog uses the nofollow tag, youíve just eliminated that tiny little bit of reciprocity. Thanks, but no thanks. Iíd rather just comment on my own blog. And maybe, if youíre lucky, Iíll link back to you.
I've seen that first hand. The "psychology of linking" did change in a fairly obvious way after nofollow started. Unfortunately, that was a downside that none of us saw coming back when we announced our support. I'm not sure any of us expected people to ration their links as if they were somehow in limited supply. But it happened anyway.
Introducing even a fairly subtle and indirect "economic" model into a system always changes behavior. I know that I forget (or at least underestimate) that more often than I should.
Look. Linking is part of what makes the web work. If you're actually concerned about every link you make being counted in some global database of site endorsements, you're probably over-thinking just a bit. Life's too short for that, ya know? Link and be linked to. Let the search engines sort it out.
I'm really not sure if Marissa simply drew the short straw again or if the person who wrote this text never took a critical thinking class. But in the mildly defensively titled Yes, we are still all about search is an unsupported assertion:
Google Desktop 4 gives you another way to improve search, by personalizing your desktop. New "Google Gadgets" deliver an array of information--ranging from games and media players to weather updates and news--straight to your desktop.
There's a bit of a leap in there. Do you see it?
We're told that Google Desktop 4 improves search, but that's not backed up by any evidence at all. Instead, we're presented with a non-sequitur about gadgets you can use to increase your day to day information overload.
How exactly does that improve search?
Okay, there's been too much written about this already, so I'll try to keep my 2 cents short.
Concerned about Microsoft's decision to make MSN Search the default search engine in Internet Explorer 7 (earth shattering, isn't it?), Marissa Mayer said:
"The market favors open choice for search, and companies should compete for users based on the quality of their search services," said Marissa Mayer, the vice president for search products at Google. "We don't think it's right for Microsoft to just set the default to MSN. We believe users should choose."
Here are both of my cents:
First off, I agree that companies should compete based on quality. But Microsoft and McDonald's are both shining examples of how that's not necessarily the way it works when "the market" is involved in the decision making. Price and convenience tend to trump quality.
However, if that's what Google or Marissa really believe, why did they enter into an agreement that'd result in paying $1 billion to Dell Computer in exchange for a Googlized web browser on the computers they ship?
Right! Because many users don't choose. And Google decided to take advantage of that fact.
Now that Microsoft is doing the same, it's suddenly a big deal.
Cry me a river...
Google has been pushing their toolbar for Internet Explorer very aggressively ever since information about Internet Explorer 7 was first available several months ago. The writing was on the wall and they could see it as well as anyone.
If Google actually cared about user choice, they'd have asked the Mozilla Foundation to configure Firefox to prompt you to choose your favorite search engine the first time you ran it. You know, a level playing field.
Did they do that?
Instead they bought their way into the default position with a revenue sharing deal. And now they're upset because they can't do the same with Internet Explorer. Well, they can but they're gonna have to pay OEMs like Dell, Gateway, HP, and so on. That's a lot of deal making and a lot more money that'll hit their earnings in the form of TAC (Traffic Acquisition Costs).
And let's not forget about Safari, where Google is the default and it's very hard for normal people to change that.
Did they think we weren't paying attention?
In reading Richard MacManus' Why Google is extending RSS, I couldn't help feeling that he was missing the point a bit. It's as if he was focusing on the small things ("Why RSS?") rather than looking at the bigger picture of where all this is going.
It's not about building an easier onramp to Google Base.
Well, it is. But, again, that's the small stuff.
It just so happened that I re-listened to his talk a several weeks ago during a walk to the bank. Hearing it for the second time, I was much more receptive to his ideas about creating a simple and open replacement for all the proprietary communications protocols currently in use by database vendors. By using HTTP and RSS or Atom, one could get 80% of the needed functionality while also greatly simplifying how things work.
The benefit is that you'd have a single API that could be used to query, update, and index structured data on the web--anywhere on the web. It's a pretty powerful vision and something I didn't expect to see for a couple more years.
Give his talk a listen and tell me if you don't see Adam's fingerprints all over GData. It's time well spent if you care about this stuff.
The next logical questions, for me at least, are:
I hope the answer to #1 is "yes, they should" and suspect the answer to #2 is "probably--at least for some of them."
I've been thinking a bit more about Google Base recently. As Google edges closer and closer into ultimately including more Google Base derived results in the main search results, on-line businesses, marketers, and stores are faced with an interesting question.
Is my money better spent on Search Engine Optimization techniques and advertising, or should I be paying someone to build tools that make it easy to get my data loaded directly into Google Base (and kept up-to-date)?
Imagine being a latecomer to the world of ecommerce. You've got a vast catalog of good quality stuff to sell, but you are behind the times on your SEO and on-line marketing. Could Google Base be a shortcut to the promised land?
After all, if that's where the traffic is, why not put a copy of you catalog there? Perhaps the algorithm that selects relevant content from Google Base will be more "fair" than PageRank's popularity contest, which often favors early movers.
I expect this to get a bit more muddy before the real benefits become clear either way.
Are the smart SEO companies and consultants already building such tools?
I've struggled for a while, trying to figure out how to write this. So long, in fact, that I intended to publish this yesterday but kept stalling. So I'll keep it short and sweet.
I recently left Yahoo to go to work for Google.
In a strange twist, Matt Cutts (who we'd been recruiting forever) recently decided to leave Google and come to Yahoo.
What were the odds of that?
There's a lot more I want to say about this (all the memories and great people left behind), but it'll all happen in good time. Some things are best said after having some time for reflection first.
Anyway, to lessen the confusion (or maybe increase it), I'll be blogging on his site from now on and he'll be here.
I've had several folks ask me what I think of Google Finance. There's already a fair amount of good commentary out there on the topic (Bambi, TBAiT, Charlene, Matt, Publishing 2.0, Blodget, and others), so I'm going to answer this in a different way.
Warning: This is long and not terribly flattering stuff that's been under mild pressure for a few years now.
You see, I started at Yahoo! back in 1999 as an engineer working on Yahoo! Finance. It was one of the sites I used most often back then, so it was a privilege to get my hands on it and really contribute in a meaningful way. I spent roughly the next three years working with the good folks in our group, including Katie Stanton, who announced Google Finance a few days ago.
Katie was one of the best people we had in Yahoo! Finance. I was disappointed when she left Yahoo a few years back. I remember chatting with her a few times when she decided to go back to work. Trying to choose between Yahoo and Google, she asked for opinions.
How time flies...
Last year I teased her a few times about Google Finance. Of course, she denied that any such thing was in the works. Since I knew it was in the works, I wasn't surprised when it finally came out. Nor was I surprised to see her affiliated with the product.
It clearly has a Yahoo! Finance feel in several areas but with a distinctly Google flavor to it. I have minor complaints about it, but I think it's a good start aside from the fixed width home page.
So why does this make Jeremy sad?
It makes me sad because I end up thinking about how Yahoo! Finance has stagnated for a long time. It never really recovered from the pain of the dotcom crash. So many of my old Finance coworkers have either left the company or moved on to other groups (several moved into Search last year). Heck, I encouraged many of them to get out!
There was a lack of leadership and, even more importantly, a serious LACK OF VISION. It really disappointed me.
It makes me sad because virtually all of the new/innovative/cool features in Google Finance are things we talked about YEARS ago. Many of them I'd lobbied for repeatedly. Some were even prototyped.
Who's gonna get "credit" for all that now?
I'm not gonna name names (virtually none of them are around anymore anyway), but there was a real lack of leadership in Finance for long time and it really sucked the life out of the group. Users noticed. Finance employees noticed. Other Yahoos noticed. We all knew it. And, frankly, I was glad to be out when I moved on (and the next time and the time after that).
Over the years since leaving, I've made pleas to numerous people in the Finance organization: engineers, product managers, engineering managers, editorial, and so on--veteran employees and newbies alike.
Push into community more. Get more into personal finance, not just the high-end Wall Street stuff. Adopt blogging and syndication. Get around to those chart improvements we'd talked about. Fix up the message boards. (Remind me to tell the story of how they freaked out when I snuck RSS feeds out back in 2002. It took another TWO YEARS before someone re-did that work and finally shipped it. But the RSS train had already left the station by that time.)
Last year I started talking about Google Finance and they got a little excited. They talked more about all the stuff they could maybe do. Asked for some input (again). My hope was renewed for a while.
During all that time, I purposely didn't write anything here about my frustration and disappointment. I've been accused of using my writing in public as a instrument to instigate internal change at Yahoo. I've been accused of complaining in public before talking to folks internally. So I tried to be a good Yahoo and give my suggestions to anyone who'd listen.
On the other hand, people tell me they like reading my stuff because it's not sanitized corporate PR speak and I'm not always painting a rosy picture of what goes on. Instead, I tell it like it is--from my point of view, of course.
Well, here we are.
As a company, we need to get better about facing this stuff, dealing with it, and get back to kicking ass. But I have no idea how to make that happen. Maybe this will result in some useful discussion somewhere.
There's a light at the end of the tunnel. All hope is not lost. Unlike a small number of Google product launches, this one didn't blow the doors off. It's no Gmail or Google Maps. Yahoo! Finance isn't out of the game. But I sure as hell hope this is a wake-up call!
On the flip side, Katie's a kick-ass product manager and knows the Finance world very well. I can only imagine what else they're cooking up. The clock is ticking.
(Remember: I'm not speaking for my employer... yada, yada, yada. See the disclaimer at the bottom of the page.)
The browser business isn't a half bad place to be, it seems.
What an amazing business: make a kick-ass browser for $10-15M a year in expense and make $72M (and growing) in revenue. It's such a good business that the folks at Flock.com are trying to do a similar thing by building a wrapper with value-added services (like bookmarking tools) on top of Firefox.
Makes you wonder how much Microsoft income is derived from Search in Internet Explorer, doesn't it?
Someone should make a "cash cow" skin for Firefox. :-)
Before heading off to SES New York (I still need to pack), I took a minute to try out the new Ask.com (formerly Ask Jeeves):
And noticed some striking similarities to Google:
Common colors for sponsored links (though the ones on Ask.com don't "work" if you click in the bluespace that has no text under it), navigation at the top and bottom, color bar, and so on.