Marissa Mayer On Recent Google Innovations and Newspapers

In the most-awaited session of the afternoon of Day 1 at LeWeb, Michael Arrington (from TechCrunch) sat down with Marissa Mayer, Vice President, Search Products and User Experience at Google to discuss a series of hot topics like recent Google innovations, mobile and the newspaper industry.

Marissa Mayer Google Michael Arrington Techcrunch LeWeb Paris December 2009 - 1

On recent innovations:

  • Mayer says Google is focused on future of search and they expect different modality of search, not just through keywords. That’s why they launched Google Goggles this week which is basically image recognition (you take a picture and Google tells you what it is). See this example. They also expanded voice search to Japanese and added the “What’s nearby” mobile functionality. Mayer thinks that people will eventually talk to their phone or take a picture to make a search. They also added real-time results (from Twitter, blogs, Facebook, MySpace, etc.) to regular search results, which drastically increases the relevancy of Google search results.
  • On Google Chrome, she mentioned the release of Chrome Extensions which allows anyone to add functionalities via plugins in the Chrome browser (like Firefox). She said there are “tens of millions of Chrome users”.
  • On Google Wave, Arrington stated “there’s something there” but wondered if we needed more “training”. I think most people are unsure of the value of Wave today and that’s why the Techcrunch founder asked the question.

On mobile searches:

  • Mayer says they’ve grown tremendously on smart phones. Asked by Arrington if their total share of mobile searches over total searches was in the 1 to 5% range, she answered “slightly higher than that”.

Marissa Mayer Google Michael Arrington Techcrunch LeWeb Paris December 2009 - 2

On newspapers:

  • Arrington started by saying we all understand the dire situation of print media and mentioned Eric Schmidt recent vision piece in the Wall Street Journal. He then asked Mayer: “What’s your vision?”. The VP from Google answered with a question: “how do you get users more engaged with news online?” She continued by stating that if we could build a news site from scratch today, it would probably look very different than what we have today. She then mentioned The Living Stories experiment they’re doing with the New York Times and the Washington Post. “What if the story was alive? Not just the print version posted online.” She added that the Web “puts pressure on the atomic unit of consumption. The article is the atomic unit.” She then suggested we could aggregate all news story on the same topic on one page, like Wikipedia, to help with discovery in Google.
  • She closed that topic by suggesting “personalized stream of news”, probably on your mobile phone, would be interesting. The stream would be filtered according to your social circle, location, the news brands you like, the writers you like, and the important news you should know about (she called them “veggies”).
  • Asked if newspapers will move fast enough, she thought so and mentioned the New York Times and Washington Post are very progressive partners and very interested on how they can reinvent themselves.
  • On Murdoch, Mayer mentioned the partnership with MySpace. Asked if she thought News Corp would pull their content from Google, she answered “I hope not” as it would impact comprehensiveness of their results set. She added “we have to respect the content owners. We would respect his will.”
  • Finally, Arrington asked if Google would consider paying for content, Marissa Mayer proposed that they already have programs for content monetization through Google Adsense and their display ads network.

See more on Techcrunch.

Machinima: Leveraging Second Life in the Offline World

(via the Washington Post)

HBO said on Tuesday it has acquired the rights to a short-form documentary shot entirely within Second Life, as entertainment companies increasingly turn to virtual worlds as a source for new content. “My Second Life: The video diaries of Molotov Alta” purports to tell the story of a man who “disappeared from his California home” and began issuing video dispatches from Second Life.

The popular virtual world, which has its own currency and a growing economy, has drawn millions of users who create alter egos called avatars and interact with people from around the world. HBO, the premium channel owned by Time Warner Inc, paid a six-figure sum for the rights, Douglas Gayeton, who made the film, said in an interview. Gayeton, who uses the avatar Molotov Alta in Second Life, said the documentary is scheduled for release in 2008.

Second Life has hosted dozens of real world companies in the past year, usually as a means of promoting products like cars or movies. However, Hollywood has been increasingly interested in using worlds like Second Life as virtual movie sets, a process known as machinima. (…) The pilot episode of “My Second Life” is available on YouTube.

What it means: There was a lot of excitement around Second Life in the last 12 months but it seems to be dying down. Wired even said: “The Internet will eventually be full of such 3-D environments; Second Life might even be one of them. But in the meantime, it’s just slurping up corporate dollars and delivering little in return.” But I wonder: maybe the big potential currently is leveraging Second Life in the real life?

Marchex’s Bill Day: It’s the Right Time for Investments in Local

As an interesting segue to my VoiceStar/Marchex blog post from last week, MediaPost offers an interview with Bill Day, their new Chief Media Officer in which he talks about the importance of local for Marchex. “Kaufman Brothers analyst Sameet Sinha questioned the company’s heavy investment in local search at this moment, after the announcement it would buy pay-per-call ad provider VoiceStar. It happened to be the first official day at work for new Chief Media Officer Bill Day, most recently at WhenU, but also a co-founder of About.com and one of the online pioneers of the ’80s at Prodigy. He was nothing but optimistic about the opportunity for local.”

Highlights:

Q: Why is the time right now for local? When we did it at About.com, it was too early. The interest area was the place to invest. Things have changed. First of all, many more people use the Internet. If you want to have a pro-sumer model, you need one that scales to be very comprehensive. Marchex is a leader. It already has thousands and thousands and thousands of sites. You also need a model that can get really really deep within those localities. I did a lot of diligence coming in and with the Yellow Pages advertisers now coming on, it suggests it really is a good time to invest in local. You have to invest to reap the rewards.

Q: What is the first thing you’ll do in your new job? The first thing is to focus on the continued rollout of our open list technology populating businesses down to the ZIP code level (editor’s note: e.g. 90210.com). I’m also talking to media companies in the local space. There’s a lot of business development I need to do to get the ball rolling.

Q: Who is doing local right? There are certainly sites that get parts of it right. I can’t point to one network that gets it right consistently. I don’t know anything countrywide. The sites that tend to do that are using very stale and automated generic content that is not good enough to get repeat visitation. I’ve looked at some of the WashingtonPost.com sites, what Sidewalk’s done for Digital Cities. We’re in a pretty open space for starting to do things that haven’t been done so far on the net–to truly create a broad, deep network of sites.

What it means: Marchex believes online revenue action in the future will happen on the local and hyperlocal front. They’ve acquired web real estate (local URLs) and local content. They have solid search engine optimization (SEO) expertise and they now want to introduce user-generated content. Using all of these tools, they’re building a large-scale local ad network. The only thing I would question is the quality of traffic coming from SEO, as not all clicks are born equal. Measuring ROI will become key when evaluating the quality of local search traffic but, as I believe a good chunk of the revenues in local will happen around pay-per-call in the next 5-10 years, the acquisition of VoiceStar makes complete sense strategically. That’s a great way to measure and prove local search ROI.

I am Media: From Theory to Practice in 6 Days

Remember last Saturday morning when I shouted “I am media”? Want to know what happened since then? I accidentally went from theory to practice… 🙂

Robert Scoble picked up my post and confirmed my theory. My blog received 10 times more traffic than usual for two days and I’ve had many interesting conversations during the weekend. I also added many friends to Facebook, Pownce and Linkedin.

And just when I thought that wave had subsided, the magic of Facebook connected Colin Carmichael and I on Tuesday morning and put us on a mission to save Business 2.0 magazine. Alerted by my status update feed, Colin created a Facebook group dedicated to this cause and we started leveraging social media to create some buzz around the group. You can read the chronology of these events here.

The group now has about 1075 members. We’ve been adding 1 member every five minutes since the launch and all of the major industry influencers have joined the group. Since the launch, we’ve received coverage from the following major media/blogs:

Valleywag, “Facebook to the rescue!

Advertising Age, “Can Fans Save Business 2.0?

San Francisco Chronicle, “Save Business 2.0

GigaOm, “Saving Business 2.0, Facebook Style

Fast Company, “Can A Social Network Save Business 2.0?

Washington Post, “Trying to Save A Magazine Through Facebook

San Jose Mercury News, “Facebook group hopes to save Business 2.0

Business 2.0, “Can Facebook Save Business 2.0?”

I even got mentioned by name in the San Jose Mercury News article! Many Business 2.0 readers have had the chance to express their love for the magazine, many subscriptions have been sold and some people even registered on Facebook just to be part of the group! I think we’ve already made a difference in the lives of the Business 2.0 team. I think there’s a lot of things we can learn from this experience especially about the various social media vehicles working together but I’m still digesting as this is an ongoing process. It’s been a good ride so far. What a week.

One thing’s for sure: I am media!

Web Cleaners: They Exist!

Following my post last Tuesday on teenagers and how they live their online lives very publicly, I was predicting the arrival a new job: the Web cleaner. To my surprise (you’ve got to love the clarity of my crystal ball!), the Washington Post talked on Monday about calling in pros to refine your Google image.

The article exposes the story of Sue Scheff, a consultant to parents of troubled teens, who came under cyber-defamation attacks in 2002. She would type her name in Google and find many pages attacking her personally. The article continues: “The stream of negative comments began in 2002 after a woman who had sought advice from Scheff turned on her. The postings appeared on PTA Web sites in Florida, where Scheff lives. On bulletin boards and online forums. There were even YouTube videos threatening her. She sued for defamation and won an $11.3 million verdict, but the attacks only got worse. In December, Scheff turned to ReputationDefender, a year-old firm that promised to help her cleanse her virtual reputation. She no longer dreads a Google search on her name. Most of the links on the all-important first page are to her own Web site and a half-dozen others created by ReputationDefender to promote her work on teen pregnancy and teen depression. “They created Sue-Scheff.net,” she said. “They created SueScheff.net. They created SueScheff.org. . . . They created my MySpace account, for God’s sake. I didn’t know how to do any of this stuff.”

Additional article highlights:

Charging anything from a few dollars to thousands of dollars a month, companies such as International Reputation Management, Naymz and ReputationDefender don’t promise to erase the bad stuff on the Web. But they do assure their clients of better results on an Internet search, pushing the positive items up on the first page and burying the others deep. (…)

Companies like IRM try to outthink Google. Search engines comb the Web with complex and ever-shifting algorithms, evaluating relevance and authority by looking at many factors: Is this a government Web site? How many people have linked to it? And so on. The point is, said ReputationDefender founder Michael Fertik, “Google’s not in business to give you the truth, it’s in business to give what you think is relevant.” The goal is to get Google and other search engines to seize on relevant sites that contain positive information on their clients and to downplay the rest. Google does not object in principle to people adding positive content to outrank the negative. But a spokeswoman said in an e-mail, “if you use spammy and manipulative techniques to get this positive content to rank highly, we may take action on it.”

What it means: wow! this is going to be big business in a few years. I would suggest that everyone working in search engine optimization today starts thinking about how this could positively impact their business.

Is Hyperlocal Dangerous for News Organizations?

(via the Los Angeles Times)

News organizations confronted with declining revenue and increased competition are entering an era of more limited ambition in which they will drop a broad worldview for more narrowly focused reporting, according to an annual review of the news business being released today by a watchdog group.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism reports that the struggle to create sustainable media brands is driving “hyper-local” coverage in newspapers; encouraging citizen journalism on the Internet; and giving rise to opinion-driven television personalities like CNN’s Lou Dobbs and Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly. “The consequences of this narrowing of focus involve more risk than we sense the business has considered,” said the report from the project, an arm of the Washington-based Pew Research Center. “Concepts like hyper-localism, pursued in the most literal sense, can be marketing speak for simply doing less.”

The review describes print, radio and television news operations as weathering “epochal” changes — with audiences splintering so radically that is has become difficult to accurately measure new viewing and reading habits. Daily newspaper circulation declined 3% in 2006, for instance, but the increase in online readership is more difficult to quantify. The three television networks collectively lost an additional 1 million viewers — about the average in each of the last 25 years — but YouTube and other online services created a new delivery vehicle for the networks’ content.

Traditional newsrooms remain the primary source for information, and the report suggests that news organizations need to be more aggressive about mining revenue for their work. The old-line media may have to form consortiums to force Internet “aggregators,” which compile content from other sources, to pay licensing fees for news and information, the report says.

Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said that most news organizations would have to shrink their staffs but that much more thought needed to go into how the reductions are made. “The current thinking, hyper-localism, seems problematic,” he said in an e-mail response to a question. “In an era of globalism, how can you suggest that the L.A. or Boston market does not need its own specialized foreign reporting that informs the local economy, the local culture and more, in a way that is different than what generic wires would cover?”

Respected newspapers such as the New York Times and Washington Post have placed high hopes in replacing declining print advertising with ads on their websites. Indeed, as audiences online have expanded, newspapers have seen their online revenue grow by more than 30% a year. But the Project for Excellence report suggests that the boom in online news audiences and income has begun to wane. A Pew Research Center study cited in the report found that the number of Americans who said they went online for news every day declined to 27% in June 2006, compared with 34% in June 2005. (…)

Today’s report says that the loss of about 4,000 newspaper journalists since 2000, combined with the smaller number of pages devoted to news, “suggest that American newspapers have reduced their ambitions.” Newspapers have traditionally served a “complete diet” of news to the public and alerted television, radio and other media to stories, the report found, suggesting that more study is needed to determine “what is lost and what is left uncovered.” (…)

The Project for Excellence report says that the ethnic media sector is one of the few experiencing solid growth. Spanish-language newspaper circulation, for example, jumped 900,000 to 17.6 million in 2005. That was the most recent year with available data. (…)

What it means: is hyperlocal all about reduced ambitions or increased relevancy and differentiation? I think it’s all about the latter. I personally believe that we will see a polarization between what I now call hypernational news sources (very credible news organizations that cross borders like the ones I mentioned here) and hyperlocal ones (very relevant local news and content sources). Those in between will possibly lose a lot of their former luster. Smart news organizations will own one or two hypernational brands and a multitude of smaller hyperlocal brands. Hypernational content will flow into hyperlocal vehicles.

Buffett: “If The Internet Had Come Along First, Newspapers As We Know Them Probably Would Never Have Existed”

Via the Washington Post 

In his annual letter to his company’s shareholders, Warren E. Buffett— the world’s second-richest person and the largest shareholder of The Washington Post Co. — wrote that “fundamentals are definitely eroding in the newspaper industry” and warned that “the skid will almost certainly continue.” (…)

Buffett often includes in his letters brief history lessons on his business segments. In addition to owning 18 percent of The Post Co. — Buffett sits on the board — Berkshire also owns the Buffalo News, and Buffett opined on the newspaper industry.

“When Charlie [Munger, Berkshire Hathaway’s vice chairman] and I were young, the newspaper business was as easy a way to make huge returns as existed in America,” Buffett wrote in the letter, which was released Thursday.

“As one not-too-bright publisher famously said, ‘I owe my fortune to two great American institutions: monopoly and nepotism.’ No paper in a one-paper city, however bad the product or however inept the management, could avoid gushing profits.”

As early as his 1991 letter to shareholders, Buffett recounted, he warned of looming problems in the industry: For the first time, he wrote then, newspapers no longer held a monopoly on news and information.

In today’s economy, Buffett wrote: “Simply put, if cable and satellite broadcasting, as well as the Internet, had come along first, newspapers as we know them probably would never have existed.”

Average daily newspaper circulation in the United States has declined each year since 1987. At The Post, print advertising revenue decreased 4 percent in 2006 from the year before.

And for newspapers that have pinned their revenue hopes on their Web sites, Buffett had a sobering prediction: “. . . the economic potential of a newspaper Internet site — given the many alternative sources of information and entertainment that are free and only a click away — is at best a small fraction of that existing in the past for a print newspaper facing no competition.”

Dan Gillmor adds: “It’s a sobering assessment from the world’s most famous investor.”

Stowe Boyd says: “The Oracle of Omaha is dead on, in this time and place.”

Mathew Ingram thinks that “getting more social with readers is something newspapers have to do, if they want to have a chance of avoiding the inevitable decline that legendary investor and gazillionaire Warren Buffett referred to…”

What it means: Very sobering assessment indeed. I agree with Mathew that, if newspapers want to be successful in the future, they need to re-take their place in the social ecosystem at the center of local conversation. They also need to become more hyperlocal. Finally, they need to increase their online reach, to be able to offer to their advertisers an equivalent reach in print and online.