Earlier this week, the board of directors of a well trafficked grassroots online news-source decided to pull Google AdWords from their site. The decision was based on the outrage its members felt over what they perceive to be Google’s collaboration with Chinese Government (PRC) officials to censor or otherwise limit content available through Google China.

It’s easy to understand why a group of social activists have become disenamored with Google over its relationship with the PRC. The details surrounding the numerous issues shared amongst activists are far too broad to mention however most people are familiar with concerns over Tibet, Human Rights and Democracy. Read more…

Yahoo is testing a new paid-ad placement and revenue model in Scandinavia that appears similar to the algorithm Google uses to determine the placement of paid advertising.

Basing its rankings on a combination of cost-per-click and the number of times search users click specific paid ads, Yahoo’s new ad placement system is expected to be rolled out in the UK in July.

While there is no official word on when the new system will be introduced in North America or other parts of the world, an announcement about Yahoo’s intentions is expected in the coming weeks with speculation on a global rollout in late 2006 or early 2007.

Codenamed, Project Panama, the switch is expected to bring a higher volume of click-throughs than the current system that determines ad placement based on the highest keyword bidder.

According to a story in Forbes Magazine, Yahoo has already notified a number of high volume search buyers of the upcoming changes.

North American MSN users awoke today to find MSN Search was out of commission. The service was down for at least four hours today. Thus far we have been unable to find out why. Read more…

The search engine, web portal formerly known as America Online has changed its name to that of its acronym, AOL.

“Our company long ago accomplished the mission implied by our old name. We literally got America online,” said Jon Miller, chairman and chief executive of AOL LLC, in an interview with Associated Press.

This is the fourth time the company has changed its name. Formed in 1985 as Quantum Computer Services, it changed its name to America Online Inc. in 1991. Ten years later, it bought the Time Warner media empire and changed its name to AOL Time Warner in 2001. Three months after the purchase, the bottom fell out of the tech market and the name AOL became a liability on the larger corporation. It was later dropped from the Time Warner banner.

Time Warner is making AOL a limited liability company, removing its corporate status, hence the name AOL LLC. Miller added, “Our new corporate identity better reflects our expanded mission – to make everyone’s online experience better.”

Around here, we’re just going to keep calling it AOL.

Wednesday, April 5th, 2006

Is Google No.1 Forever?

Google is without a doubt the world’s number one search engine. According to the research firm Neilsen/NetRatings, Google’s share of the global search market in February 2006 was 48.5%, more than double the 22.5% share its nearest rival Yahoo saw. Having been the engine of choice for nearly five years, Google is synonymous with search. Because Google is the first thing most folks think of when they think about search, it is the most important search marketing venue, at least for the vast majority of SEOs. Read more…

Through its Overture pay per click search division, Yahoo has been found facilitating fraudulent click activity generated by known spyware makers including 180solutions, Intermix, and Direct Revenue. A study released earlier today, The Spyware – Click-Fraud Connection – and Yahoo’s Role Revisited, (Apr. 4, 06), shows how at least a dozen different spyware firms redirect Internet users searches through their servers, inserting Overture ad links on unrelated websites or with pop-ups triggered by those sites. Read more…

Having failed miserably to come up with a funny but obvious April Fool’s Day prank to post to the StepForth Blog today, we decided to err towards the informative.

Today’s edition of Wired News opens with the 10 Best Internet Spoofs, as selected by Drew Curtis of Fark.com.

Happy April Fool’s Day friends.

It has been an interesting and rather heady month here at StepForth’s news desk. Several times this month, we had the cursed blessing of realizing the absurd, awesome reach of our column, newsletter and blog.

One story we covered (or miscovered, depending on how one looks at it) led to the delisting of INewswire from Google News. Another, written eighteen months ago, was introduced as Exhibit G in the Motion for Dismissal filed as part of Traffic Power vs. BatteryFuel Suit. Lots of stuff we wrote about Google was quoted and reprinted in literally too many other places to bother trying to keep up with. The weirdest one though, the one even my mother probably wouldn’t believe is that someone at Cambridge University (the one in England) liked an article enough to reprint a hardcopy in their quarterly tech-mag. Read more…

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

Animals in Pants – Ask Ad Spots

Ask.Com is advertising. It recently released two commercials intended for US audiences, both of which use monkeys to express ideas an older English butler could not.

The idea is that search is evolving and Ask is ahead of the game when it comes to serving up information in ways its users want. Two features of the Ask search interface are mentioned in the ads.

The first is the binoculars feature that offers a quick glimpse of an image of sites in the results. The images are often older and do not necessarily correspond with the current or cached version of the site, but it does save users time by showing them a vision of the site before they surf to it. Read more…

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

Microsoft's Mistakes Proving Costly

The wizards of Redmond turn thirty this year. Officially founded in 1976, Microsoft appears to have lost its edge as it enters its third full decade. At one time, not so long ago, Gates and Co. drove the machine, setting standards that everyone else conformed to. Virtually nothing could stand in their way and competitors who did seriously threaten their dominance could be effectively diminished in one way or another.

Over the past few years Microsoft has gotten slower. Key product releases have been delayed, upper-management has been reshuffled several times in two years, defining initiatives such as the .net strategy have been virtually abandoned and worst of all, Microsoft has lived in reaction mode for the better part of the 2Ks.

To complicate things, their chief rival, Google, opened the year by signing a last minute deal with AOL, one it suddenly snaked away from MSN Search. The company is not on the leading edge anymore and to a staff member, they know it.

At times it feels like they have adopted a “fake it till you make it” public face. Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer parrot each other’s speeches about facilitating the pending digital lifestyle while demonstrating product ideas that other firms have already developed. Both have been talking about “… beating Google in six months”, for over a year now but the search division of Microsoft doesn’t even seem capable of bettering itself. They are so scared of Google that both have stated they don’t see Google as competition, and they still don’t have a functional pay-per-click search advertising model.

They are trying to develop a new search engine in Windows Live. The product is in its beta phase and its interface feels experimental. One interesting personalization feature they are testing is user controlled search macro commands. Basically, users will be able to create personal information buttons that will be added to a search toolbar running across the top of the Windows Live screen. The buttons are used to narrow or focus search results, the example offered by MSN being actual recipes as opposed to results full of advertisements for cookbooks. A detailed explanation is provided at the MSN Search WebLog.

The future of Microsoft depends on the web. It can still exercise a great deal of power and influence by controlling the core operating system of most PC machines but the shell surrounding the OS has been breached by web-based services and software and Microsoft’s long term dominance is obviously threatened.

The latest rollback on the delivery date of Vista , their first OS upgrade since XP, shows how difficult it is for Microsoft to evolve into an age when the desktop computer is reaching its obsolescence. First expected in early 2005, Vista , (formerly known as Longhorn), is now expected to be ready for release in January 2007, a full month after the Christmas season.

Microsoft earned everything it has today by establishing control over the basic user interface that everyone uses, the operating system of most PC computers. To observers, the development of its new one has spiraled out of control.

Pulling on its core historic strategy, the plan to deal with Google and Yahoo has been tied up in the OS. Microsoft wants to make the experience of working on one’s desktop computer and across the greater Internet, or an internal Intranet, virtually seamless. Since late 2004, the plan was to bundle a number of web services into something they could control, the OS.

That is why Vista is such an important milestone for Microsoft and for the various industries that work around Microsoft’s massive sphere of influence. Vista has been pushed back year after year and actually placed on Wired Magazine’s list of vaporware products for 2004 and 2005. Computer makers and retailers most recently expected the product in November 2006.

The problem Microsoft faces moving towards that future, and the reason the Longhorn/Vista initiative has been so difficult is they have fallen behind the curve when it comes to servicing consumer expectations over the web. They have been a constant third in the race for search supremacy and frequently trail behind their rivals when it comes to introducing branded products typical consumers use over the web. That, in part, is because consumers are using the web differently than they use the XP driven computer they access the web on.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule that tend to fly below the radar screen of daily users. Windows Media Player is a good example. It works directly with online information sources to provide a richer multimedia experience. Users don’t need to turn to Google to learn the recording date of the CD or to receive other information about a piece of media. It is simply provided by the product. Hundreds of millions of people use the product everyday but few think about Microsoft while they do it. It is a subtle product that is taken as granted by North American XP users.

Other examples are abundant. When they do lead, as in the case with MSN Messenger, Windows Office, and other branded, daily use products, they simply don’t generate the buzz that keeps consumers thinking about their products.

The problem for Microsoft, unfortunately, doesn’t revolve around creating more buzz for their products. Their problem is that other companies are creating the products that people want to use.

While Windows Media Player is a multi-functional product, smaller digital music storage and replay devices have replaced its daily use. Google is poised to introduce an online word processing suite. Firefox has taken a significant share of the browser market.

The crux of the problem is that when servicing a general web based audience, the only large-scale profit model is found in advertising, not subscriptions or purchase pricing. If users aren’t looking at a Windows Media Player screen when listening to their MP3s, they aren’t looking at, or following up on any commercially sponsored information. Similarly, with Internet Explorer, users could be subtly directed towards other Microsoft products, properties and advertisers.

Microsoft has made some costly mistakes over the past few years. Its long-term dependence on the OS as the tool in its fight to dominate the online experience has put it behind its competitors in terms of product adoption and loyalty. The door is thus open and several other entities are walking into the room. Regardless of management shuffles and realignments, the delays of today will haunt Microsoft long into the future. The delay of Vista will have a palatable affect on PC sales over the Christmas season. Take your local PC dealer or manufacturer to supper sometime. He or she could probably use a good meal.