Month: April 2019

The Fractured Web

Anyone can argue about the intent of a particular action & the outcome that is derived by it. But when the outcome is known, at some point the intent is inferred if the outcome is derived from a source of power & the outcome doesn’t change.
Or, put another way, if a powerful entity (government, corporation, other organization) disliked an outcome which appeared to benefit them in the short term at great lasting cost to others, they could spend resources to adjust the system.
If they don’t spend those resources (or, rather, spend them on lobbying rather than improving the ecosystem) then there is no desired change. The outcome is as desired. Change is unwanted.
Engagement is a toxic metric.Products which optimize for it become worse. People who optimize for it become less happy.It also seems to generate runaway feedback loops where most engagable people have a) worst individual experiences and then b) end up driving the product bus.— Patrick McKenzie (@patio11) April 9, 2019
News is a stock vs flow market where the flow of recent events drives most of the traffic to articles. News that is more than a couple days old is no longer news. A news site which stops publishing news stops becoming a habit & quickly loses relevancy. Algorithmically an abandoned archive of old news articles doesn’t look much different than eHow, in spite of having a much higher cost structure.
According to SEMrush’s traffic rank, ampproject.org gets more monthly visits than Yahoo.com.

That actually understates the prevalence of AMP because AMP is generally designed for mobile AND not all AMP-formatted content is displayed on ampproject.org.
Part of how AMP was able to get widespread adoption was because in the news vertical the organic search result set was displaced by an AMP block. If you were a news site either you were so differentiated that readers would scroll past the AMP block in the search results to look for you specifically, or you adopted AMP, or you were doomed.
Some news organizations like The Guardian have a team of about a dozen people reformatting their content to the duplicative & proprietary AMP format. That’s wasteful, but necessary “In theory, adoption of AMP is voluntary. In reality, publishers that don’t want to see their search traffic evaporate have little choice. New data from publisher analytics firm Chartbeat shows just how much leverage Google has over publishers thanks to its dominant search engine.”
It seems more than a bit backward that low margin publishers are doing duplicative work to distance themselves from their own readers while improving the profit margins of monopolies. But it is what it is. And that no doubt drew the ire of many publishers across the EU.
And now there are AMP Stories to eat up even more visual real estate.
If you spent a bunch of money to create a highly differentiated piece of content, why would you prefer that high spend flagship content appear on a third party website rather than your own?
Google & Facebook have done such a fantastic job of eating the entire pie that some are celebrating Amazon as a prospective savior to the publishing industry. That view – IMHO – is rather suspect.
Where any of the tech monopolies dominate they cram down on partners. The New York Times acquired The Wirecutter in Q4 of 2016. In Q1 of 2017 Amazon adjusted their affiliate fee schedule.
Amazon generally treats consumers well, but they have been much harder on business partners with tough pricing negotiations, counterfeit protections, forced ad buying to have a high enough product rank to be able to rank organically, ad displacement of their organic search results below the fold (even for branded search queries), learning suppliers & cutting out the partners, private label products patterned after top sellers, in some cases running pop over ads for the private label products on product level pages where brands already spent money to drive traffic to the page, etc.
They’ve made things tougher for their partners in a way that mirrors the impact Facebook & Google have had on online publishers:
“Boyce’s experience on Amazon largely echoed what happens in the offline world: competitors entered the market, pushing down prices and making it harder to make a profit. So Boyce adapted. He stopped selling basketball hoops and developed his own line of foosball tables, air hockey tables, bocce ball sets and exercise equipment. The best way to make a decent profit on Amazon was to sell something no one else had and create your own brand. … Amazon also started selling bocce ball sets that cost $15 less than Boyce’s. He says his products are higher quality, but Amazon gives prominent page space to its generic version and wins the cost-conscious shopper.”
Google claims they have no idea how content publishers are with the trade off between themselves & the search engine, but every quarter Alphabet publish the share of ad spend occurring on owned & operated sites versus the share spent across the broader publisher network. And in almost every quarter for over a decade straight that ratio has grown worse for publishers.
When Google tells industry about how much $ it funnels to rest of ecosystem, just show them this chart. It’s good to be the “revenue regulator” (note: G went public in 2004). pic.twitter.com/HCbCNgbzKc— Jason Kint (@jason_kint) February 5, 2019
The aggregate numbers for news publishers are worse than shown above as Google is ramping up ads in video games quite hard. They’ve partnered with Unity & promptly took away the ability to block ads from appearing in video games using googleadsenseformobileapps.com exclusion (hello flat thumb misclicks, my name is budget & I am gone!)
They will also track video game player behavior & alter game play to maximize revenues based on machine learning tied to surveillance of the user’s account: “We’re bringing a new approach to monetization that combines ads and in-app purchases in one automated solution. Available today, new smart segmentation features in Google AdMob use machine learning to segment your players based on their likelihood to spend on in-app purchases. Ad units with smart segmentation will show ads only to users who are predicted not to spend on in-app purchases. Players who are predicted to spend will see no ads, and can simply continue playing.”
And how does the growth of ampproject.org square against the following wisdom?
If you do use a CDN, I’d recommend using a domain name of your own (eg, https://t.co/fWMc6CFPZ0), so you can move to other CDNs if you feel the need to over time, without having to do any redirects.— John (@JohnMu) April 15, 2019
Literally only yesterday did Google begin supporting instant loading of self-hosted AMP pages.
China has a different set of tech leaders than the United States. Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent (BAT) instead of Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google (FANG). China tech companies may have won their domestic markets in part based on superior technology or better knowledge of the local culture, though those same companies have largely went nowhere fast in most foreign markets. A big part of winning was governmental assistance in putting a foot on the scales.
Part of the US-China trade war is about who controls the virtual “seas” upon which value flows:
it can easily be argued that the last 60 years were above all the era of the container-ship (with container-ships getting ever bigger). But will the coming decades still be the age of the container-ship? Possibly not, for the simple reason that things that have value increasingly no longer travel by ship, but instead by fiberoptic cables! … you could almost argue that ZTE and Huawei have been the “East India Company” of the current imperial cycle. Unsurprisingly, it is these very companies, charged with laying out the “new roads” along which “tomorrow’s value” will flow, that find themselves at the center of the US backlash. … if the symbol of British domination was the steamship, and the symbol of American strength was the Boeing 747, it seems increasingly clear that the question of the future will be whether tomorrow’s telecom switches and routers are produced by Huawei or Cisco. … US attempts to take down Huawei and ZTE can be seen as the existing empire’s attempt to prevent the ascent of a new imperial power. With this in mind, I could go a step further and suggest that perhaps the Huawei crisis is this century’s version of Suez crisis. No wonder markets have been falling ever since the arrest of the Huawei CFO. In time, the Suez Crisis was brought to a halt by US threats to destroy the value of sterling. Could we now witness the same for the US dollar?
China maintains Huawei is an employee-owned company. But that proposition is suspect. Broadly stealing technology is vital to the growth of the Chinese economy & they have no incentive to stop unless their leading companies pay a direct cost. Meanwhile, China is investigating Ericsson over licensing technology.
Amazon will soon discontinue selling physical retail products in China: “Amazon shoppers in China will no longer be able to buy goods from third-party merchants in the country, but they still will be able to order from the United States, Britain, Germany and Japan via the firm’s global store. Amazon expects to close fulfillment centers and wind down support for domestic-selling merchants in China in the next 90 days.”
India has taken notice of the success of Chinese tech companies & thus began to promote “national champion” company policies. That, in turn, has also meant some of the Chinese-styled laws requiring localized data, antitrust inquiries, foreign ownership restrictions, requirements for platforms to not sell their own goods, promoting limits on data encryption, etc.
The secretary of India’s Telecommunications Department, Aruna Sundararajan, last week told a gathering of Indian startups in a closed-door meeting in the tech hub of Bangalore that the government will introduce a “national champion” policy “very soon” to encourage the rise of Indian companies, according to a person familiar with the matter. She said Indian policy makers had noted the success of China’s internet giants, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. … Tensions began rising last year, when New Delhi decided to create a clearer set of rules for e-commerce and convened a group of local players to solicit suggestions. Amazon and Flipkart, even though they make up more than half the market, weren’t invited, according to people familiar with the matter.
Amazon vowed to invest $5 billion in India & they have done some remarkable work on logistics there. Walmart acquired Flipkart for $16 billion.
Other emerging markets also have many local ecommerce leaders like Jumia, MercadoLibre, OLX, Gumtree, Takealot, Konga, Kilimall, BidOrBuy, Tokopedia, Bukalapak, Shoppee, Lazada. If you live in the US you may have never heard of *any* of those companies. And if you live in an emerging market you may have never interacted with Amazon or eBay.
It makes sense that ecommerce leadership would be more localized since it requires moving things in the physical economy, dealing with local currencies, managing inventory, shipping goods, etc. whereas information flows are just bits floating on a fiber optic cable.
If the Internet is primarily seen as a communications platform it is easy for people in some emerging markets to think Facebook is the Internet. Free communication with friends and family members is a compelling offer & as the cost of data drops web usage increases.
At the same time, the web is incredibly deflationary. Every free form of entertainment which consumes time is time that is not spent consuming something else.
Add the technological disruption to the wealth polarization that happened in the wake of the great recession, then combine that with algorithms that promote extremist views & it is clearly causing increasing conflict.
If you are a parent and you think you child has no shot at a brighter future than your own life it is easy to be full of rage.
Empathy can radicalize otherwise normal people by giving them a more polarized view of the world:
Starting around 2000, the line starts to slide. More students say it’s not their problem to help people in trouble, not their job to see the world from someone else’s perspective. By 2009, on all the standard measures, Konrath found, young people on average measure 40 percent less empathetic than my own generation … The new rule for empathy seems to be: reserve it, not for your “enemies,” but for the people you believe are hurt, or you have decided need it the most. Empathy, but just for your own team. And empathizing with the other team? That’s practically a taboo.
A complete lack of empathy could allow a psychopath to commit extreme crimes while feeling no guilt, shame or remorse. Extreme empathy can have the same sort of outcome:
“Sometimes we commit atrocities not out of a failure of empathy but rather as a direct consequence of successful, even overly successful, empathy. … They emphasized that students would learn both sides, and the atrocities committed by one side or the other were always put into context. Students learned this curriculum, but follow-up studies showed that this new generation was more polarized than the one before. … [Empathy] can be good when it leads to good action, but it can have downsides. For example, if you want the victims to say ‘thank you.’ You may even want to keep the people you help in that position of inferior victim because it can sustain your feeling of being a hero.” – Fritz Breithaupt
News feeds will be read. Villages will be razed. Lynch mobs will become commonplace.
Many people will end up murdered by algorithmically generated empathy.
As technology increases absentee ownership & financial leverage, a society led by morally agnostic algorithms is not going to become more egalitarian.
The more I think about and discuss it, the more I think WhatsApp is simultaneously the future of Facebook, and the most potentially dangerous digital tool yet created. We haven’t even begun to see the real impact yet of ubiquitous, unfettered and un-moderatable human telepathy.— Antonio García Martínez (@antoniogm) April 15, 2019
When politicians throw fuel on the fire it only gets worse:
It’s particularly odd that the government is demanding “accountability and responsibility” from a phone app when some ruling party politicians are busy spreading divisive fake news. How can the government ask WhatsApp to control mobs when those convicted of lynching Muslims have been greeted, garlanded and fed sweets by some of the most progressive and cosmopolitan members of Modi’s council of ministers?
Mark Zuckerburg won’t get caught downstream from platform blowback as he spends $20 million a year on his security.
The web is a mirror. Engagement-based algorithms reinforcing our perceptions & identities.
And every important story has at least 2 sides!
The Rohingya asylum seekers are victims of their own violent Jihadist leadership that formed a militia to kill Buddhists and Hindus. Hindus are being massacred, where’s the outrage for them!? https://t.co/P3m6w4B1Po— Imam Tawhidi (@Imamofpeace) May 23, 2018
Some may “learn” vaccines don’t work. Others may learn the vaccines their own children took did not work, as it failed to protect them from the antivax content spread by Facebook & Google, absorbed by people spreading measles & Medieval diseases.
Passion drives engagement, which drives algorithmic distribution: “There’s an asymmetry of passion at work. Which is to say, there’s very little counter-content to surface because it simply doesn’t occur to regular people (or, in this case, actual medical experts) that there’s a need to produce counter-content.”
As the costs of “free” become harder to hide, social media companies which currently sell emerging markets as their next big growth area will end up having embedded regulatory compliance costs which will end up exceeding any sort of prospective revenue they could hope to generate.
The Pinterest S1 shows almost all their growth is in emerging markets, yet almost all their revenue is inside the United States.
As governments around the world see the real-world cost of the foreign tech companies & view some of them as piggy banks, eventually the likes of Facebook or Google will pull out of a variety of markets they no longer feel worth serving. It will be like Google did in mainland China with search after discovering pervasive hacking of activist Gmail accounts.
Just tried signing into Gmail from a new device. Unless I provide a phone number, there is no way to sign in and no one to call about it. Oh, and why do they say they need my phone? If you guessed “for my protection,” you would be correct. Talk about Big Brother…— Simon Mikhailovich (@S_Mikhailovich) April 16, 2019
Lower friction & lower cost information markets will face more junk fees, hurdles & even some legitimate regulations. Information markets will start to behave more like physical goods markets.
The tech companies presume they will be able to use satellites, drones & balloons to beam in Internet while avoiding messy local issues tied to real world infrastructure, but when a local wealthy player is betting against them they’ll probably end up losing those markets: “One of the biggest cheerleaders for the new rules was Reliance Jio, a fast-growing mobile phone company controlled by Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest industrialist. Mr. Ambani, an ally of Mr. Modi, has made no secret of his plans to turn Reliance Jio into an all-purpose information service that offers streaming video and music, messaging, money transfer, online shopping, and home broadband services.”
Publishers do not have “their mojo back” because the tech companies have been so good to them, but rather because the tech companies have been so aggressive that they’ve earned so much blowback which will in turn lead publishers to opting out of future deals, which will eventually lead more people back to the trusted brands of yesterday.
Publishers feeling guilty about taking advertorial money from the tech companies to spread their propaganda will offset its publication with opinion pieces pointing in the other direction: “This is a lobbying campaign in which buying the good opinion of news brands is clearly important. If it was about reaching a target audience, there are plenty of metrics to suggest his words would reach further – at no cost – on Facebook. Similarly, Google is upping its presence in a less obvious manner via assorted media initiatives on both sides of the Atlantic. Its more direct approach to funding journalism seems to have the desired effect of making all media organisations (and indeed many academic institutions) touched by its money slightly less questioning and critical of its motives.”
When Facebook goes down direct visits to leading news brand sites go up.
When Google penalizes a no-name me-too site almost nobody realizes it is missing. But if a big publisher opts out of the ecosystem people will notice.
The reliance on the tech platforms is largely a mirage. If enough key players were to opt out at the same time people would quickly reorient their information consumption habits.
If the platforms can change their focus overnight then why can’t publishers band together & choose to dump them?
CEO Jack Dorsey said Twitter is looking to change the focus from following specific individuals to topics of interest, acknowledging that what’s incentivized today on the platform is at odds with the goal of healthy dialoguehttps://t.co/31FYslbePA— Axios (@axios) April 16, 2019
In Europe there is GDPR, which aimed to protect user privacy, but ultimately acted as a tax on innovation by local startups while being a subsidy to the big online ad networks. They also have Article 11 & Article 13, which passed in spite of Google’s best efforts on the scaremongering anti-SERP tests, lobbying & propaganda fronts: “Google has sparked criticism by encouraging news publishers participating in its Digital News Initiative to lobby against proposed changes to EU copyright law at a time when the beleaguered sector is increasingly turning to the search giant for help.”
Remember the Eric Schmidt comment about how brands are how you sort out (the non-YouTube portion of) the cesspool? As it turns out, he was allegedly wrong as Google claims they have been fighting for the little guy the whole time:
Article 11 could change that principle and require online services to strike commercial deals with publishers to show hyperlinks and short snippets of news. This means that search engines, news aggregators, apps, and platforms would have to put commercial licences in place, and make decisions about which content to include on the basis of those licensing agreements and which to leave out. Effectively, companies like Google will be put in the position of picking winners and losers. … Why are large influential companies constraining how new and small publishers operate? … The proposed rules will undoubtedly hurt diversity of voices, with large publishers setting business models for the whole industry. This will not benefit all equally. … We believe the information we show should be based on quality, not on payment.
Facebook claims there is a local news problem: “Facebook Inc. has been looking to boost its local-news offerings since a 2017 survey showed most of its users were clamoring for more. It has run into a problem: There simply isn’t enough local news in vast swaths of the country. … more than one in five newspapers have closed in the past decade and a half, leaving half the counties in the nation with just one newspaper, and 200 counties with no newspaper at all.”
Google is so for the little guy that for their local news experiments they’ve partnered with a private equity backed newspaper roll up firm & another newspaper chain which did overpriced acquisitions & is trying to act like a PE firm (trying to not get eaten by the PE firm).

Does the above stock chart look in any way healthy?
Does it give off the scent of a firm that understood the impact of digital & rode it to new heights?
If you want good market-based outcomes, why not partner with journalists directly versus operating through PE chop shops?
If Patch is profitable & Google were a neutral ranking system based on quality, couldn’t Google partner with journalists directly?
Throwing a few dollars at a PE firm in some nebulous partnership sure beats the sort of regulations coming out of the EU. And the EU’s regulations (and prior link tax attempts) are in addition to the three multi billion Euro fines the European Union has levied against Alphabet for shopping search, Android & AdSense.
Google was also fined in Russia over Android bundling. The fine was tiny, but after consumers gained a search engine choice screen (much like Google pushed for in Europe on Microsoft years ago) Yandex’s share of mobile search grew quickly.

The UK recently published a white paper on online harms. In some ways it is a regulation just like the tech companies might offer to participants in their ecosystems:
Companies will have to fulfil their new legal duties or face the consequences and “will still need to be compliant with the overarching duty of care even where a specific code does not exist, for example assessing and responding to the risk associated with emerging harms or technology”.
If web publishers should monitor inbound links to look for anything suspicious then the big platforms sure as hell have the resources & profit margins to monitor behavior on their own websites.
Australia passed the Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material bill which requires platforms to expeditiously remove violent videos & notify the Australian police about them.
There are other layers of fracturing going on in the web as well.
Programmatic advertising shifted revenue from publishers to adtech companies & the largest ad sellers. Ad blockers further lower the ad revenues of many publishers. If you routinely use an ad blocker, try surfing the web for a while without one & you will notice layover welcome AdSense ads on sites as you browse the web – the very type of ad they were allegedly against when promoting AMP.
There has been much more press in the past week about ad blocking as Google’s influence is being questioned as it rolls out ad blocking as a feature built into Google’s dominant Chrome web browser. https://t.co/LQmvJu9MYB— Jason Kint (@jason_kint) February 19, 2018
Tracking protection in browsers & ad blocking features built directly into browsers leave publishers more uncertain. And who even knows who visited an AMP page hosted on a third party server, particularly when things like GDPR are mixed in? Those who lack first party data may end up having to make large acquisitions to stay relevant.
Voice search & personal assistants are now ad channels.
Google Assistant Now Showing Sponsored Link Ads for Some Travel Related Queries “Similar results are delivered through both Google Home and Google Home Hub without the sponsored links.” https://t.co/jSVKKI2AYT via @bretkinsella pic.twitter.com/0sjAswy14M— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) April 15, 2019
App stores are removing VPNs in China, removing Tiktok in India, and keeping female tracking apps in Saudi Arabia. App stores are centralized chokepoints for governments. Every centralized service is at risk of censorship. Web browsers from key state-connected players can also censor messages spread by developers on platforms like GitHub.
Microsoft’s newest Edge web browser is based on Chromium, the source of Google Chrome. While Mozilla Firefox gets most of their revenue from a search deal with Google, Google has still went out of its way to use its services to both promote Chrome with pop overs AND break in competing web browsers:
“All of this is stuff you’re allowed to do to compete, of course. But we were still a search partner, so we’d say ‘hey what gives?’ And every time, they’d say, ‘oops. That was accidental. We’ll fix it in the next push in 2 weeks.’ Over and over. Oops. Another accident. We’ll fix it soon. We want the same things. We’re on the same team. There were dozens of oopses. Hundreds maybe?” – former Firefox VP Jonathan Nightingale
This is how it spreads. Google normalizes “web apps” that are really just Chrome apps. Then others follow. We’ve been here before, y’all. Remember IE? Browser hegemony is not a happy place. https://t.co/b29EvIty1H— DHH (@dhh) April 1, 2019
In fact, it’s alarming how much of Microsoft’s cut-off-the-air-supply playbook on browser dominance that Google is emulating. From browser-specific apps to embrace-n-extend AMP “standards”. It’s sad, but sadder still is when others follow suit.— DHH (@dhh) April 1, 2019
YouTube page load is 5x slower in Firefox and Edge than in Chrome because YouTube’s Polymer redesign relies on the deprecated Shadow DOM v0 API only implemented in Chrome. You can restore YouTube’s faster pre-Polymer design with this Firefox extension: https://t.co/F5uEn3iMLR— Chris Peterson (@cpeterso) July 24, 2018
As phone sales fall & app downloads stall a hardware company like Apple is pushing hard into services while quietly raking in utterly fantastic ad revenues from search & ads in their app store.
Part of the reason people are downloading fewer apps is so many apps require registration as soon as they are opened, or only let a user engage with them for seconds before pushing aggressive upsells. And then many apps which were formerly one-off purchases are becoming subscription plays. As traffic acquisition costs have jumped, many apps must engage in sleight of hand behaviors (free but not really, we are collecting data totally unrelated to the purpose of our app & oops we sold your data, etc.) in order to get the numbers to back out. This in turn causes app stores to slow down app reviews.
Apple acquired the news subscription service Texture & turned it into Apple News Plus. Not only is Apple keeping half the subscription revenues, but soon the service will only work for people using Apple devices, leaving nearly 100,000 other subscribers out in the cold: “if you’re part of the 30% who used Texture to get your favorite magazines digitally on Android or Windows devices, you will soon be out of luck. Only Apple iOS devices will be able to access the 300 magazines available from publishers. At the time of the sale in March 2018 to Apple, Texture had about 240,000 subscribers.”
Apple is also going to spend over a half-billion Dollars exclusively licensing independently developed games:
Several people involved in the project’s development say Apple is spending several million dollars each on most of the more than 100 games that have been selected to launch on Arcade, with its total budget likely to exceed $500m. The games service is expected to launch later this year. … Apple is offering developers an extra incentive if they agree for their game to only be available on Arcade, withholding their release on Google’s Play app store for Android smartphones or other subscription gaming bundles such as Microsoft’s Xbox game pass.
Verizon wants to launch a video game streaming service. It will probably be almost as successful as their Go90 OTT service was. Microsoft is pushing to make Xbox games work on Android devices. Amazon is developing a game streaming service to compliment Twitch.
The hosts on Twitch, some of whom sign up exclusively with the platform in order to gain access to its moneymaking tools, are rewarded for their ability to make a connection with viewers as much as they are for their gaming prowess. Viewers who pay $4.99 a month for a basic subscription — the money is split evenly between the streamers and Twitch — are looking for immediacy and intimacy. While some hosts at YouTube Gaming offer a similar experience, they have struggled to build audiences as large, and as dedicated, as those on Twitch. … While YouTube has made millionaires out of the creators of popular videos through its advertising program, Twitch’s hosts make money primarily from subscribers and one-off donations or tips. YouTube Gaming has made it possible for viewers to support hosts this way, but paying audiences haven’t materialized at the scale they have on Twitch.
Google, having a bit of Twitch envy, is also launching a video game streaming service which will be deeply integrated into YouTube: “With Stadia, YouTube watchers can press “Play now” at the end of a video, and be brought into the game within 5 seconds. The service provides “instant access” via button or link, just like any other piece of content on the web.”
Google will also launch their own game studio making exclusive games for their platform.
When consoles don’t use discs or cartridges so they can sell a subscription access to their software library it is hard to be a game retailer! GameStop’s stock has been performing like an ICO. And these sorts of announcements from the tech companies have been hitting stock prices for companies like Nintendo & Sony: “There is no doubt this service makes life even more difficult for established platforms,” Amir Anvarzadeh, a market strategist at Asymmetric Advisors Pte, said in a note to clients. “Google will help further fragment the gaming market which is already coming under pressure by big games which have adopted the mobile gaming business model of giving the titles away for free in hope of generating in-game content sales.”
The big tech companies which promoted everything in adjacent markets being free are now erecting paywalls for themselves, balkanizing the web by paying for exclusives to drive their bundled subscriptions.
How many paid movie streaming services will the web have by the end of next year? 20? 50? Does anybody know?
Disney alone with operate Disney+, ESPN+ as well as Hulu.
And then the tech companies are not only licensing exclusives to drive their subscription-based services, but we’re going to see more exclusionary policies like YouTube not working on Amazon Echo, Netflix dumping support for Apple’s Airplay, or Amazon refusing to sell devices like Chromecast or Apple TV.
The good news in a fractured web is a broader publishing industry that contains many micro markets will have many opportunities embedded in it. A Facebook pivot away from games toward news, or a pivot away from news toward video won’t kill third party publishers who have a more diverse traffic profile and more direct revenues. And a regional law blocking porn or gambling websites might lead to an increase in demand for VPNs or free to play points-based games with paid upgrades. Even the rise of metered paywalls will lead to people using more web browsers & more VPNs. Each fracture (good or bad) will create more market edges & ultimately more opportunities. Chinese enforcement of their gambling laws created a real estate boom in Manila.
So long as there are 4 or 5 game stores, 4 or 5 movie streaming sites, etc. … they have to compete on merit or use money to try to buy exclusives. Either way is better than the old monopoly strategy of take it or leave it ultimatums.
The publisher wins because there is a competitive bid. There won’t be an arbitrary 30% tax on everything. So long as there is competition from the open web there will be means to bypass the junk fees & the most successful companies that do so might create their own stores with a lower rate: “Mr. Schachter estimates that Apple and Google could see a hit of about 14% to pretax earnings if they reduced their own app commissions to match Epic’s take.”
As the big media companies & big tech companies race to create subscription products they’ll spend many billions on exclusives. And they will be training consumers that there’s nothing wrong with paying for content. This will eventually lead to hundreds of thousands or even millions of successful niche publications which have incentives better aligned than all the issues the ad supported web has faced.
Added: Facebook pushing privacy & groups is both an attempt to thwart regulation risk while also making their services more relevant to a web that fractures away from a monolithic thing into more niche communities.
One way of looking at Facebook in this moment is as an unstoppable behemoth that bends reality to its will, no matter the consequences. (This is how many journalists tend to see it.) Another way of looking at the company is from the perspective of its fundamental weakness — as a slave to ever-shifting consumer behavior. (This is how employees are more likely to look at it.) … Zuckerberg’s vision for a new Facebook is perhaps best represented by a coming redesign of the flagship app and desktop site that will emphasize events and groups, at the expense of the News Feed. Collectively, the design changes will push people toward smaller group conversations and real-world meetups — and away from public posts.
Categories: publishing & media

27 Ways To Drive Traffic From 9 Top Social Media Platforms

When was the last time you made an affiliate sale through social media? Can’t remember? I’m not surprised. Affiliate marketers have a love-hate relationship with social media. Those who use it the right way, drive hundreds of thousands of visitors to their sites and make millions of dollars in affiliate sales. For example, Millionaire Mentor, a […]
The post 27 Ways To Drive Traffic From 9 Top Social Media Platforms appeared first on NicheHacks.

Keyword Not Provided, But it Just Clicks

When SEO Was Easy
When I got started on the web over 15 years ago I created an overly broad & shallow website that had little chance of making money because it was utterly undifferentiated and crappy. In spite of my best (worst?) efforts while being a complete newbie, sometimes I would go to the mailbox and see a check for a couple hundred or a couple thousand dollars come in. My old roommate & I went to Coachella & when the trip was over I returned to a bunch of mail to catch up on & realized I had made way more while not working than what I spent on that trip.
What was the secret to a total newbie making decent income by accident?
Horrible spelling.
Back then search engines were not as sophisticated with their spelling correction features & I was one of 3 or 4 people in the search index that misspelled the name of an online casino the same way many searchers did.
The high minded excuse for why I did not scale that would be claiming I knew it was a temporary trick that was somehow beneath me. The more accurate reason would be thinking in part it was a lucky fluke rather than thinking in systems. If I were clever at the time I would have created the misspeller’s guide to online gambling, though I think I was just so excited to make anything from the web that I perhaps lacked the ambition & foresight to scale things back then.
In the decade that followed I had a number of other lucky breaks like that. One time one of the original internet bubble companies that managed to stay around put up a sitewide footer link targeting the concept that one of my sites made decent money from. This was just before the great recession, before Panda existed. The concept they targeted had 3 or 4 ways to describe it. 2 of them were very profitable & if they targeted either of the most profitable versions with that page the targeting would have sort of carried over to both. They would have outranked me if they targeted the correct version, but they didn’t so their mistargeting was a huge win for me.
Search Gets Complex
Search today is much more complex. In the years since those easy-n-cheesy wins, Google has rolled out many updates which aim to feature sought after destination sites while diminishing the sites which rely one “one simple trick” to rank.
Arguably the quality of the search results has improved significantly as search has become more powerful, more feature rich & has layered in more relevancy signals.
Many quality small web publishers have went away due to some combination of increased competition, algorithmic shifts & uncertainty, and reduced monetization as more ad spend was redirected toward Google & Facebook. But the impact as felt by any given publisher is not the impact as felt by the ecosystem as a whole. Many terrible websites have also went away, while some formerly obscure though higher-quality sites rose to prominence.
There was the Vince update in 2009, which boosted the rankings of many branded websites.
Then in 2011 there was Panda as an extension of Vince, which tanked the rankings of many sites that published hundreds of thousands or millions of thin content pages while boosting the rankings of trusted branded destinations.
Then there was Penguin, which was a penalty that hit many websites which had heavily manipulated or otherwise aggressive appearing link profiles. Google felt there was a lot of noise in the link graph, which was their justification for the Penguin.
There were updates which lowered the rankings of many exact match domains. And then increased ad load in the search results along with the other above ranking shifts further lowered the ability to rank keyword-driven domain names. If your domain is generically descriptive then there is a limit to how differentiated & memorable you can make it if you are targeting the core market the keywords are aligned with.
There is a reason eBay is more popular than auction.com, Google is more popular than search.com, Yahoo is more popular than portal.com & Amazon is more popular than a store.com or a shop.com. When that winner take most impact of many online markets is coupled with the move away from using classic relevancy signals the economics shift to where is makes a lot more sense to carry the heavy overhead of establishing a strong brand.
Branded and navigational search queries could be used in the relevancy algorithm stack to confirm the quality of a site & verify (or dispute) the veracity of other signals.
Historically relevant algo shortcuts become less appealing as they become less relevant to the current ecosystem & even less aligned with the future trends of the market. Add in negative incentives for pushing on a string (penalties on top of wasting the capital outlay) and a more holistic approach certainly makes sense.
Modeling Web Users & Modeling Language
PageRank was an attempt to model the random surfer.
When Google is pervasively monitoring most users across the web they can shift to directly measuring their behaviors instead of using indirect signals.
Years ago Bill Slawski wrote about the long click in which he opened by quoting Steven Levy’s In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes our Lives
“On the most basic level, Google could see how satisfied users were. To paraphrase Tolstoy, happy users were all the same. The best sign of their happiness was the “Long Click” — This occurred when someone went to a search result, ideally the top one, and did not return. That meant Google has successfully fulfilled the query.”
Of course, there’s a patent for that. In Modifying search result ranking based on implicit user feedback they state:
user reactions to particular search results or search result lists may be gauged, so that results on which users often click will receive a higher ranking. The general assumption under such an approach is that searching users are often the best judges of relevance, so that if they select a particular search result, it is likely to be relevant, or at least more relevant than the presented alternatives.
If you are a known brand you are more likely to get clicked on than a random unknown entity in the same market.
And if you are something people are specifically seeking out, they are likely to stay on your website for an extended period of time.
One aspect of the subject matter described in this specification can be embodied in a computer-implemented method that includes determining a measure of relevance for a document result within a context of a search query for which the document result is returned, the determining being based on a first number in relation to a second number, the first number corresponding to longer views of the document result, and the second number corresponding to at least shorter views of the document result; and outputting the measure of relevance to a ranking engine for ranking of search results, including the document result, for a new search corresponding to the search query. The first number can include a number of the longer views of the document result, the second number can include a total number of views of the document result, and the determining can include dividing the number of longer views by the total number of views.

Attempts to manipulate such data may not work.
safeguards against spammers (users who generate fraudulent clicks in an attempt to boost certain search results) can be taken to help ensure that the user selection data is meaningful, even when very little data is available for a given (rare) query. These safeguards can include employing a user model that describes how a user should behave over time, and if a user doesn’t conform to this model, their click data can be disregarded. The safeguards can be designed to accomplish two main objectives: (1) ensure democracy in the votes (e.g., one single vote per cookie and/or IP for a given query-URL pair), and (2) entirely remove the information coming from cookies or IP addresses that do not look natural in their browsing behavior (e.g., abnormal distribution of click positions, click durations, clicks_per_minute/hour/day, etc.). Suspicious clicks can be removed, and the click signals for queries that appear to be spmed need not be used (e.g., queries for which the clicks feature a distribution of user agents, cookie ages, etc. that do not look normal).
And just like Google can make a matrix of documents & queries, they could also choose to put more weight on search accounts associated with topical expert users based on their historical click patterns.
Moreover, the weighting can be adjusted based on the determined type of the user both in terms of how click duration is translated into good clicks versus not-so-good clicks, and in terms of how much weight to give to the good clicks from a particular user group versus another user group. Some user’s implicit feedback may be more valuable than other users due to the details of a user’s review process. For example, a user that almost always clicks on the highest ranked result can have his good clicks assigned lower weights than a user who more often clicks results lower in the ranking first (since the second user is likely more discriminating in his assessment of what constitutes a good result). In addition, a user can be classified based on his or her query stream. Users that issue many queries on (or related to) a given topic T (e.g., queries related to law) can be presumed to have a high degree of expertise with respect to the given topic T, and their click data can be weighted accordingly for other queries by them on (or related to) the given topic T.
Google was using click data to drive their search rankings as far back as 2009. David Naylor was perhaps the first person who publicly spotted this. Google was ranking Australian websites for [tennis court hire] in the UK & Ireland, in part because that is where most of the click signal came from. That phrase was most widely searched for in Australia. In the years since Google has done a better job of geographically isolating clicks to prevent things like the problem David Naylor noticed, where almost all search results in one geographic region came from a different country.
Whenever SEOs mention using click data to search engineers, the search engineers quickly respond about how they might consider any signal but clicks would be a noisy signal. But if a signal has noise an engineer would work around the noise by finding ways to filter the noise out or combine multiple signals. To this day Google states they are still working to filter noise from the link graph: “We continued to protect the value of authoritative and relevant links as an important ranking signal for Search.”
The site with millions of inbound links, few intentional visits & those who do visit quickly click the back button (due to a heavy ad load, poor user experience, low quality content, shallow content, outdated content, or some other bait-n-switch approach)…that’s an outlier. Preventing those sorts of sites from ranking well would be another way of protecting the value of authoritative & relevant links.
Best Practices Vary Across Time & By Market + Category
Along the way, concurrent with the above sorts of updates, Google also improved their spelling auto-correct features, auto-completed search queries for many years through a featured called Google Instant (though they later undid forced query auto-completion while retaining automated search suggestions), and then they rolled out a few other algorithms that further allowed them to model language & user behavior.
Today it would be much harder to get paid above median wages explicitly for sucking at basic spelling or scaling some other individual shortcut to the moon, like pouring millions of low quality articles into a (formerly!) trusted domain.
Nearly a decade after Panda, eHow’s rankings still haven’t recovered.
Back when I got started with SEO the phrase Indian SEO company was associated with cut-rate work where people were buying exclusively based on price. Sort of like a “I got a $500 budget for link building, but can not under any circumstance invest more than $5 in any individual link.” Part of how my wife met me was she hired a hack SEO from San Diego who outsourced all the work to India and marked the price up about 100-fold while claiming it was all done in the United States. He created reciprocal links pages that got her site penalized & it didn’t rank until after she took her reciprocal links page down.
With that sort of behavior widespread (hack US firm teaching people working in an emerging market poor practices), it likely meant many SEO “best practices” which were learned in an emerging market (particularly where the web was also underdeveloped) would be more inclined to being spammy. Considering how far ahead many Western markets were on the early Internet & how India has so many languages & how most web usage in India is based on mobile devices where it is hard for users to create links, it only makes sense that Google would want to place more weight on end user data in such a market.
If you set your computer location to India Bing’s search box lists 9 different languages to choose from.
The above is not to state anything derogatory about any emerging market, but rather that various signals are stronger in some markets than others. And competition is stronger in some markets than others.
Search engines can only rank what exists.
“In a lot of Eastern European – but not just Eastern European markets – I think it is an issue for the majority of the [bream? muffled] countries, for the Arabic-speaking world, there just isn’t enough content as compared to the percentage of the Internet population that those regions represent. I don’t have up to date data, I know that a couple years ago we looked at Arabic for example and then the disparity was enormous. so if I’m not mistaken the Arabic speaking population of the world is maybe 5 to 6%, maybe more, correct me if I am wrong. But very definitely the amount of Arabic content in our index is several orders below that. So that means we do not have enough Arabic content to give to our Arabic users even if we wanted to. And you can exploit that amazingly easily and if you create a bit of content in Arabic, whatever it looks like we’re gonna go you know we don’t have anything else to serve this and it ends up being horrible. and people will say you know this works. I keyword stuffed the hell out of this page, bought some links, and there it is number one. There is nothing else to show, so yeah you’re number one. the moment somebody actually goes out and creates high quality content that’s there for the long haul, you’ll be out and that there will be one.” – Andrey Lipattsev – Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google Ireland, on Mar 23, 2016
Impacting the Economics of Publishing
Now search engines can certainly influence the economics of various types of media. At one point some otherwise credible media outlets were pitching the Demand Media IPO narrative that Demand Media was the publisher of the future & what other media outlets will look like. Years later, after heavily squeezing on the partner network & promoting programmatic advertising that reduces CPMs by the day Google is funding partnerships with multiple news publishers like McClatchy & Gatehouse to try to revive the news dead zones even Facebook is struggling with.
“Facebook Inc. has been looking to boost its local-news offerings since a 2017 survey showed most of its users were clamoring for more. It has run into a problem: There simply isn’t enough local news in vast swaths of the country. … more than one in five newspapers have closed in the past decade and a half, leaving half the counties in the nation with just one newspaper, and 200 counties with no newspaper at all.”
As mainstream newspapers continue laying off journalists, Facebook’s news efforts are likely to continue failing unless they include direct economic incentives, as Google’s programmatic ad push broke the banner ad:
“Thanks to the convoluted machinery of Internet advertising, the advertising world went from being about content publishers and advertising context—The Times unilaterally declaring, via its ‘rate card’, that ads in the Times Style section cost $30 per thousand impressions—to the users themselves and the data that targets them—Zappo’s saying it wants to show this specific shoe ad to this specific user (or type of user), regardless of publisher context. Flipping the script from a historically publisher-controlled mediascape to an advertiser (and advertiser intermediary) controlled one was really Google’s doing. Facebook merely rode the now-cresting wave, borrowing outside media’s content via its own users’ sharing, while undermining media’s ability to monetize via Facebook’s own user-data-centric advertising machinery. Conventional media lost both distribution and monetization at once, a mortal blow.”
Google is offering news publishers audience development & business development tools.
Heavy Investment in Emerging Markets Quickly Evolves the Markets
As the web grows rapidly in India, they’ll have a thousand flowers bloom. In 5 years the competition in India & other emerging markets will be much tougher as those markets continue to grow rapidly. Media is much cheaper to produce in India than it is in the United States. Labor costs are lower & they never had the economic albatross that is the ACA adversely impact their economy. At some point the level of investment & increased competition will mean early techniques stop having as much efficacy. Chinese companies are aggressively investing in India.
“If you break India into a pyramid, the top 100 million (urban) consumers who think and behave more like Americans are well-served,” says Amit Jangir, who leads India investments at 01VC, a Chinese venture capital firm based in Shanghai. The early stage venture firm has invested in micro-lending firms FlashCash and SmartCoin based in India. The new target is the next 200 million to 600 million consumers, who do not have a go-to entertainment, payment or ecommerce platform yet— and there is gonna be a unicorn in each of these verticals, says Jangir, adding that it will be not be as easy for a player to win this market considering the diversity and low ticket sizes.
RankBrain
RankBrain appears to be based on using user clickpaths on head keywords to help bleed rankings across into related searches which are searched less frequently. A Googler didn’t state this specifically, but it is how they would be able to use models of searcher behavior to refine search results for keywords which are rarely searched for.
In a recent interview in Scientific American a Google engineer stated: “By design, search engines have learned to associate short queries with the targets of those searches by tracking pages that are visited as a result of the query, making the results returned both faster and more accurate than they otherwise would have been.”
Now a person might go out and try to search for something a bunch of times or pay other people to search for a topic and click a specific listing, but some of the related Google patents on using click data (which keep getting updated) mentioned how they can discount or turn off the signal if there is an unnatural spike of traffic on a specific keyword, or if there is an unnatural spike of traffic heading to a particular website or web page.
And, since Google is tracking the behavior of end users on their own website, anomalous behavior is easier to track than it is tracking something across the broader web where signals are more indirect. Google can take advantage of their wide distribution of Chrome & Android where users are regularly logged into Google & pervasively tracked to place more weight on users where they had credit card data, a long account history with regular normal search behavior, heavy Gmail users, etc.
Plus there is a huge gap between the cost of traffic & the ability to monetize it. You might have to pay someone a dime or a quarter to search for something & there is no guarantee it will work on a sustainable basis even if you paid hundreds or thousands of people to do it. Any of those experimental searchers will have no lasting value unless they influence rank, but even if they do influence rankings it might only last temporarily. If you bought a bunch of traffic into something genuine Google searchers didn’t like then even if it started to rank better temporarily the rankings would quickly fall back if the real end user searchers disliked the site relative to other sites which already rank.
This is part of the reason why so many SEO blogs mention brand, brand, brand. If people are specifically looking for you in volume & Google can see that thousands or millions of people specifically want to access your site then that can impact how you rank elsewhere.
Even looking at something inside the search results for a while (dwell time) or quickly skipping over it to have a deeper scroll depth can be a ranking signal. Some Google patents mention how they can use mouse pointer location on desktop or scroll data from the viewport on mobile devices as a quality signal.
Neural Matching
Last year Danny Sullivan mentioned how Google rolled out neural matching to better understand the intent behind a search query.
This is a look back at a big change in search but which continues to be important: understanding synonyms. How people search is often different from information that people write solutions about. pic.twitter.com/sBcR4tR4eT— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 24, 2018
Last few months, Google has been using neural matching, –AI method to better connect words to concepts. Super synonyms, in a way, and impacting 30% of queries. Don’t know what “soapopera effect” is to search for it? We can better figure it out. pic.twitter.com/Qrwp5hKFNz— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 24, 2018
The above Tweets capture what the neural matching technology intends to do. Google also stated:
we’ve now reached the point where neural networks can help us take a major leap forward from understanding words to understanding concepts. Neural embeddings, an approach developed in the field of neural networks, allow us to transform words to fuzzier representations of the underlying concepts, and then match the concepts in the query with the concepts in the document. We call this technique neural matching.
To help people understand the difference between neural matching & RankBrain, Google told SEL: “RankBrain helps Google better relate pages to concepts. Neural matching helps Google better relate words to searches.”
There are a couple research papers on neural matching.
The first one was titled A Deep Relevance Matching Model for Ad-hoc Retrieval. It mentioned using Word2vec & here are a few quotes from the research paper
“Successful relevance matching requires proper handling of the exact matching signals, query term importance, and diverse matching requirements.”
“the interaction-focused model, which first builds local level interactions (i.e., local matching signals) between two pieces of text, and then uses deep neural networks to learn hierarchical interaction patterns for matching.”
“according to the diverse matching requirement, relevance matching is not position related since it could happen in any position in a long document.”
“Most NLP tasks concern semantic matching, i.e., identifying the semantic meaning and infer”ring the semantic relations between two pieces of text, while the ad-hoc retrieval task is mainly about relevance matching, i.e., identifying whether a document is relevant to a given query.”
“Since the ad-hoc retrieval task is fundamentally a ranking problem, we employ a pairwise ranking loss such as hinge loss to train our deep relevance matching model.”
The paper mentions how semantic matching falls down when compared against relevancy matching because:
semantic matching relies on similarity matching signals (some words or phrases with the same meaning might be semantically distant), compositional meanings (matching sentences more than meaning) & a global matching requirement (comparing things in their entirety instead of looking at the best matching part of a longer document); whereas,
relevance matching can put significant weight on exact matching signals (weighting an exact match higher than a near match), adjust weighting on query term importance (one word might or phrase in a search query might have a far higher discrimination value & might deserve far more weight than the next) & leverage diverse matching requirements (allowing relevancy matching to happen in any part of a longer document)
Here are a couple images from the above research paper

And then the second research paper is
Deep Relevancy Ranking Using Enhanced Dcoument-Query Interactions
“interaction-based models are less efficient, since one cannot index a document representation independently of the query. This is less important, though, when relevancy ranking methods rerank the top documents returned by a conventional IR engine, which is the scenario we consider here.”
That same sort of re-ranking concept is being better understood across the industry. There are ranking signals that earn some base level ranking, and then results get re-ranked based on other factors like how well a result matches the user intent.
Here are a couple images from the above research paper.

For those who hate the idea of reading research papers or patent applications, Martinibuster also wrote about the technology here. About the only part of his post I would debate is this one:
“Does this mean publishers should use more synonyms? Adding synonyms has always seemed to me to be a variation of keyword spamming. I have always considered it a naive suggestion. The purpose of Google understanding synonyms is simply to understand the context and meaning of a page. Communicating clearly and consistently is, in my opinion, more important than spamming a page with keywords and synonyms.”
I think one should always consider user experience over other factors, however a person could still use variations throughout the copy & pick up a bit more traffic without coming across as spammy. Danny Sullivan mentioned the super synonym concept was impacting 30% of search queries, so there are still a lot which may only be available to those who use a specific phrase on their page.
Martinibuster also wrote another blog post tying more research papers & patents to the above. You could probably spend a month reading all the related patents & research papers.
The above sort of language modeling & end user click feedback compliment links-based ranking signals in a way that makes it much harder to luck one’s way into any form of success by being a terrible speller or just bombing away at link manipulation without much concern toward any other aspect of the user experience or market you operate in.
Pre-penalized Shortcuts
Google was even issued a patent for predicting site quality based upon the N-grams used on the site & comparing those against the N-grams used on other established site where quality has already been scored via other methods: “The phrase model can be used to predict a site quality score for a new site; in particular, this can be done in the absence of other information. The goal is to predict a score that is comparable to the baseline site quality scores of the previously-scored sites.”
Have you considered using a PLR package to generate the shell of your site’s content? Good luck with that as some sites trying that shortcut might be pre-penalized from birth.
Navigating the Maze
When I started in SEO one of my friends had a dad who is vastly smarter than I am. He advised me that Google engineers were smarter, had more capital, had more exposure, had more data, etc etc etc … and thus SEO was ultimately going to be a malinvestment.
Back then he was at least partially wrong because influencing search was so easy.
But in the current market, 16 years later, we are near the infection point where he would finally be right.
At some point the shortcuts stop working & it makes sense to try a different approach.
The flip side of all the above changes is as the algorithms have become more complex they have went from being a headwind to people ignorant about SEO to being a tailwind to those who do not focus excessively on SEO in isolation.
If one is a dominant voice in a particular market, if they break industry news, if they have key exclusives, if they spot & name the industry trends, if their site becomes a must read & is what amounts to a habit … then they perhaps become viewed as an entity. Entity-related signals help them & those signals that are working against the people who might have lucked into a bit of success become a tailwind rather than a headwind.
If your work defines your industry, then any efforts to model entities, user behavior or the language of your industry are going to boost your work on a relative basis.
This requires sites to publish frequently enough to be a habit, or publish highly differentiated content which is strong enough that it is worth the wait.
Those which publish frequently without being particularly differentiated are almost guaranteed to eventually walk into a penalty of some sort. And each additional person who reads marginal, undifferentiated content (particularly if it has an ad-heavy layout) is one additional visitor that site is closer to eventually getting whacked. Success becomes self regulating. Any short-term success becomes self defeating if one has a highly opportunistic short-term focus.
Those who write content that only they could write are more likely to have sustained success.
A mistake people often make is to look at someone successful, then try to do what they are doing, assuming it will lead to similar success.This is backward.Find something you enjoy doing & are curious about.Get obsessed, & become one of the best at it.It will monetize itself.— Neil Strauss (@neilstrauss) March 30, 2019

How The Internet Happened: From Netscape to the iPhone

Brian McCullough, who runs Internet History Podcast, also wrote a book named How The Internet Happened: From Netscape to the iPhone which did a fantastic job of capturing the ethos of the early web and telling the backstory of so many people & projects behind it’s evolution.
I think the quote which best the magic of the early web is
Jim Clark came from the world of machines and hardware, where development schedules were measured in years—even decades—and where “doing a startup” meant factories, manufacturing, inventory, shipping schedules and the like. But the Mosaic team had stumbled upon something simpler. They had discovered that you could dream up a product, code it, release it to the ether and change the world overnight. Thanks to the Internet, users could download your product, give you feedback on it, and you could release an update, all in the same day. In the web world, development schedules could be measured in weeks.
The part I bolded in the above quote from the book really captures the magic of the Internet & what pulled so many people toward the early web.
The current web – dominated by never-ending feeds & a variety of closed silos – is a big shift from the early days of web comics & other underground cool stuff people created & shared because they thought it was neat.
Many established players missed the actual direction of the web by trying to create something more akin to the web of today before the infrastructure could support it. Many of the “big things” driving web adoption relied heavily on chance luck – combined with a lot of hard work & a willingness to be responsive to feedback & data.
Even when Marc Andreessen moved to the valley he thought he was late and he had “missed the whole thing,” but he saw the relentless growth of the web & decided making another web browser was the play that made sense at the time.
Tim Berners-Lee was dismayed when Andreessen’s web browser enabled embedded image support in web documents.
Early Amazon review features were originally for editorial content from Amazon itself. Bezos originally wanted to launch a broad-based Amazon like it is today, but realized it would be too capital intensive & focused on books off the start so he could sell a known commodity with a long tail. Amazon was initially built off leveraging 2 book distributors ( Ingram and Baker & Taylor) & R. R. Bowker’s Books In Print catalog. They also did clever hacks to meet minimum order requirements like ordering out of stock books as part of their order, so they could only order what customers had purchased.Amazon employees:2018 647,5002017 566,0002016 341,4002015 230,8002014 154,1002013 117,3002012 88,4002011 56,2002010 33,7002009 24,3002008 20,7002007 17,0002006 13,9002005 12,0002004 90002003 78002002 75002001 78002000 90001999 76001998 21001997 6141996 158— Jon Erlichman (@JonErlichman) April 8, 2019
eBay began as an /aw/ subfolder on the eBay domain name which was hosted on a residential internet connection. Pierre Omidyar coded the auction service over labor day weekend in 1995. The domain had other sections focused on topics like ebola. It was switched from AuctionWeb to a stand alone site only after the ISP started charging for a business line. It had no formal Paypal integration or anything like that, rather when listings started to charge a commission, merchants would mail physical checks in to pay for the platform share of their sales. Beanie Babies also helped skyrocket platform usage.
The reason AOL carpet bombed the United States with CDs – at their peak half of all CDs produced were AOL CDs – was their initial response rate was around 10%, a crazy number for untargeted direct mail.
Priceline was lucky to have survived the bubble as their idea was to spread broadly across other categories beyond travel & they were losing about $30 per airline ticket sold.
The broader web bubble left behind valuable infrastructure like unused fiber to fuel continued growth long after the bubble popped. The dot com bubble was possible in part because there was a secular bull market in bonds stemming back to the early 1980s & falling debt service payments increased financial leverage and company valuations.
TED members hissed at Bill Gross when he unveiled GoTo.com, which ranked “search” results based on advertiser bids.
Excite turned down offering the Google founders $1.6 million for the PageRank technology in part because Larry Page insisted to Excite CEO George Bell ‘If we come to work for Excite, you need to rip out all the Excite technology and replace it with [our] search.’ And, ultimately, that’s—in my recollection—where the deal fell apart.”
Steve Jobs initially disliked the multi-touch technology that mobile would rely on, one of the early iPhone prototypes had the iPod clickwheel, and Apple was against offering an app store in any form. Steve Jobs so loathed his interactions with the record labels that he did not want to build a phone & first licensed iTunes to Motorola, where they made the horrible ROKR phone. He only ended up building a phone after Cingular / AT&T begged him to.
Wikipedia was originally launched as a back up feeder site that was to feed into Nupedia.
Even after Facebook had strong traction, Marc Zuckerberg kept working on other projects like a file sharing service. Facebook’s news feed was publicly hated based on the complaints, but it almost instantly led to a doubling of usage of the site so they never dumped it. After spreading from college to college Facebook struggled to expand ad other businesses & opening registration up to all was a hail mary move to see if it would rekindle growth instead of selling to Yahoo! for a billion dollars.
The book offers a lot of color to many important web related companies.
And many companies which were only briefly mentioned also ran into the same sort of lucky breaks the above companies did. Paypal was heavily reliant on eBay for initial distribution, but even that was something they initially tried to block until it became so obvious they stopped fighting it:
“At some point I sort of quit trying to stop the EBay users and mostly focused on figuring out how to not lose money,” Levchin recalls. … In the late 2000s, almost a decade after it first went public, PayPal was drifting toward obsolescence and consistently alienating the small businesses that paid it to handle their online checkout. Much of the company’s code was being written offshore to cut costs, and the best programmers and designers had fled the company. … PayPal’s conversion rate is lights-out: Eighty-nine percent of the time a customer gets to its checkout page, he makes the purchase. For other online credit and debit card transactions, that number sits at about 50 percent.
Here is a podcast interview of Brian McCullough by Chris Dixon.
How The Internet Happened: From Netscape to the iPhone is a great book well worth a read for anyone interested in the web.
Categories: book reviews