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.

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 22nd, 2006

Still Waiting For Duke Nukem

Citing the need to build all inclusive security systems into its long-awaited operating system Vista, Microsoft Windows co-president Jim Allchin, announced that Vista would not be released in 2006.

Vista is, or eventually will be, the replacement for Windows XP. It has been five years since Microsoft updated its core operating system. Read more…

Friday, March 17th, 2006

SES China 2006

An historic event in the search marketing community is taking place in Nanjing, China over the next two days. The first annual Search Engine Strategies China Conference is taking place. The fine folks at Search Engine Round Table are providing full coverage of the conference from attendee Marc Hil Macalua.

Here are a few quick facts about the Chinese Internet market in 2006, as noted by Yu Yang, CEO of Analysis International.

– There are 100 million Chinese Internet users.
– 65% of those users are under the age of 30.
– 84% of them use search engines at least once per week.

Peter Lu from the China Internet Network Information Center told his audience that approximately 50% of Chinese searchers use Baidu. Google is rapidly gaining a loyal following, becoming more popular with governmental, corporate and high-income users.

There is a great deal to learn about the Chinese search engine market. The SES China 2006 Conference continues until tomorrow.

(by Jim Hedger)

The process of search engine optimization and placement has undergone a number of fundamental changes over the past year. Once a highly technical, hands-on operation, SEO is now more about analyzing information, strategic planning and long-term consultation. The changing nature of how SEO services are performed has caused many SEO firms to make radical alterations to their office environments and staff skill-sets. The most interesting thing about this period of intense change in the search marketing industry is that the biggest changes are only starting to happen. Read more…

Friday, March 10th, 2006

Google's Growing Online Office

Does anyone remember how, less than a year ago, several commentators suggested Google was compiling a series of products that could emulate an online operating system? At the time, Google steadfastly denied such rumors. Yesterday, Google purchased Upstartle, the maker of a browser-based word processor called Writely. Read more…

Wednesday, March 8th, 2006

Measuring Success as an SEO

“How do I know if my SEO campaign has been successful?”

I was asked this deceptively simple question the other day. I wasn’t able to give the fullest response but considering the circumstances, I gave it a great effort.

It’s mid-spring in Victoria and the golf courses are playable again so I joined a friend and a few of his acquaintances for a short round on Saturday. By the time we had gotten to the third tee-box, talk had turned to Google and eventually search engine marketing in general. That tends to happen around me for some reason. Read more…

What is Social Networking and how will it affect online marketing in the coming years? That’s a question a number of people have been thinking about since the dawn of the commercial ‘net. In the earliest days, online social networks formed between users of bulletin board services (BBS). People met each other by joining the board with planned, in-person gatherings taking over entire cafes. That was a time so geeky it seems quaint in remembrance. Today’s social networks are enormous, robust and sophisticated. The medium is a lot of things but these days, there’s nothing geeky about it. Read more…

The room was excellent, providing seating for about 50 people per session. The chalkboard and flip charts were fully stocked with fresh chalk, clean brushes and brand-new Sharpie markers. There were three thermoses of organic coffee, which never seemed to empty, no matter how many cups were consumed. The overhead projector and the A/B/C switch (attached to the three laptops used by the presenters) were wired and the movie screen behind the podium automatically raised and lowered at the push of a button. Sizing up the situation at half past seven o’clock in the morning, Bruno, Frank and I smiled, each knowing something interesting was going to happen in just a few short hours. Read more…

Blogs have become a bastion of free speech on the web – where anyone can start their own personal commentary on any topic for free. Businesses use blogs to post their latest news, celebrities make fans salivate as they update their blogs with news about their day, and they even demonstrated the power to keep online vendors in line (Google bombing). The fact is, blogs have become massively popular and it seems the sky is the limit for this online phenomenon. But that is not the end of the story, I wrote this article to tell you how blogs are soon going to influence buyers of your products in the offline world. Read more…