Monday, January 30, 2012

The World's Ugliest Music - music without repetition is hard

I would be a better person if I was better at maths. I'm not sure I regret finding a loophole in the university system in order to duck out of the tough math class and into the easy one - only never to show up again until exam day was a success or a failure.

This TEDx video reminds me why maths is worthy of attention more often than not.

Scott Rickard oozes degrees. He's a smart man. In this talk he sets us up to listen to the World's Ugliest Music. Music, you see, makes use of repetition. The question what would music that did not use any repetition sound like turns out to be an interesting maths challenge.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Focus on the User: The real winners and losers of Don't Be Evil

Engineers from Twitter and Facebook got together to hack out a bookmarklet called “Don’t Be Evil”. You can grab it from a site called Focus on the User. These engineers are being pretty direct with their choice of names.

The goal of the bookmarklet is to show that Google could have done Search+ differently. Twitter and Facebook say that Search+ is not fair. They say Google are using their search market share to bully their way into social.

If you read this blog then I’m sure you’re already familiar with the bookmarket but, just in case, here’s the video.

As it happens, Focus on the User also shares the code to the bookmarklet and this reveals there are a simple whitelist of social networks which “qualify”.

When Google rolled out Search+ they only qualified Google+ for special promotion. Twitter and Facebook complained. I do think the Don’t Be Evil bookmarklet has been a big PR win for Twitter and Facebook but, for me, it opens a can of worms. If you want Google to include other social networks in Search+ then which other social networks should be included and who decides this?

The Don’t Be Evil bookmarklet “favours” the following networks. These are the winners.

  • Crunchbase
  • Facebook
  • Flickr
  • Foursquare
  • FriendFeed
  • GitHub
  • LinkedIn
  • MySpace
  • Google+
  • Quora
  • Stackoverflow
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter
  • YouTube

That’s a pretty good list and some other Google properties in there as well.

There are some sites that are missing, though, and I accept “missing” is subjective. Here are the losers:
  • Bebo
  • Cyworld
  • Delicious
  • Foursquare
  • Fotoblog
  • GetGlue
  • LiveJournal
  • Orkut
  • Plurk
  • Renren
  • Xing
  • Posterous

There will be some technical reasons why some of these sites weren't easily included. There will certainly be some geographical reasons too – Xing, for example, is far bigger than LinkedIn in places like Germany but were these American engineers to know that? The fact there are reasons why some sites weren't included in "Don't Be Evil" only serves Google's point, I think, rather than Twitter and Facebook.

If Twitter and Facebook wanted into Search+’s new promotional areas – an understandable wish – then they also need to tackle suggesting ways by which Google could make these decisions.

I don’t think it’s arrogant of Twitter and Facebook to expect to be in Search plus Your World’s special zones but there are other social networks out there. If Search+ isn’t exclusively for Google properties then it’ll be a huge challenge to work out who else qualifies. Would social networks expect Google to publish requirements for Search+ inclusion?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Google's new privacy changes and tracking are a good thing

Google has announced a new simple and connected privacy policy. We already have large sites like the Washington Post writing on this and wheeling out concerned experts. Had Apple not announced amazing financial details at the exact same time Google just happened to publish this news then it would surely have been a bigger story.

Gosh. Fancy that.

Putting my cynicism aside; I actually support the changes.

I buy the story. That helps. There are too many Google privacy variants and I welcome a single and easier to understand one.

Do I worry about Google’s cross site tracking? No. I welcome it. I do believe it’ll improve the service.

I’m pretty sure it’s the cross site tracking that Google is really after here. The improvements to privacy transparency is a sugar coating for both internal Google consumption as well as external.

I accept there are some risks in putting more eggs in a single basket but this feels more secure than the sort of behind the scenes deals Facebook signs with the like of Yelp for instant personalisation.

I look forward to some of the products that Google could make with the result of this tweak. The video above teases us over the possibility of adding geo-data to Calendar alerts. There are a lot more. For example, what about Google News giving me prompts or alerts for areas I’m due to travel into – if Google knows I’m flying from Heathrow on Friday then I’ve no problem with Google Alerts for potential travel tips for Friday. Alternatively, if Google knows I like to try and catch viral videos on YouTube before they go viral then I have no problem with their creators being recommended as Google+ connections or surfaced in search.

Users can't opt out? Of course not. How could it work if users could pick and choose the T&Cs of sites they use? I don't see a two tier privacy system being a good thing - one, simple, set of privacy rules for most people and yet Google serving up complex and separate rules for each of their sites for a small percentage of users? The opt out is a red herring.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Google's new games promo brings fully fledged ads to Google+

Games have been part of Google+ for a while. They were not a launch feature but Google understands how important social gaming is and was quick to introduce them to their must-succeed platform.

It's also been the case that Google has been happy to promote individual games too. Games have traditionally lived in the sidebar to the left and Google+ would know to remind you of those games you've already looked at or even tried.

File this as "new to me" but the most recent games promotion on Google+ is different. We're talking about banner promotions here and left to speculate how games score this prime slice of real estate. Does Google get paid for this? Is this an editorial choice?

The new game promotion lives in the sidebar to the right. That's the same column that Google typically reserves for calls to action - such as Circle suggestions and prompts to send Google+ invitations to your friends.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why Wikipedia is using JavaScript for the blackout

Today Wikipedia is supposed to be "offline" with a blackout to support the protests against SOPA and PIPA. Buzzfeed already has a collection of angry students who can't do their homework due to the content being unavailable.

There's a catch.

Wikipedia's content is still there and it's easy to get at. Just disable your JavaScript. Wikipedia are simply using JavaScript to open a layer over the main content. If you disable JavaScript, that layer does not render and you can navigate and read Wikipedia as usual.

I don't think this a weak protest. The type of people in favour of SOPA, for example, are unlikely to figure the 'hack' out.

It does raise a question; why are Wikipedia using this blackout tactic?

One answer is loud and clear to anyone with experience in search marketing. This approach should not impact Wikipedia's awesome SEO. There are no redirects here. No 404s, 503s or other server side rejections. Google can still index the full page of content.

Caution! This does not mean you can copy Wikipedia. Google is unlikely to let other sites away with this - it's not good form to have too a high percentage of a page's content accessible to spiders and not immediately visible to users. You risk falling into the 'hidden text' trap which has been part of Google's guidelines for years.

There's a second reason why the Wikipedia charity has adopted the JavaScript approach. JavaScript is a client-side script. In other words; it runs on your PC (or tablet, smartphone, etc) rather than Wikipedia's own servers.

Wikipedia is hugely popular and not cash rich. They make heavy use of caching in order to serve up their pages (millions of which go untouched for days). The beauty of the JavaScript blackout approach is that it will not corrupt Wikipedia's content cache with lots of black pages. This approach helps ensure that the blackout only lasts for a day and that we're not discovering protest pages on Wikpedia for days to come.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Searching by similar image, repeat nearly 3000 times

This video shows what happens if you start witha 400x225px blank and transparent PNG and use Google's search to find a similar image. That similar image and use Google's image search to find a similar image.

Rise and repeat that cycle some 2,951 times and put those images into an animation that runs at 12fps. What do you get? You get this! Surreal.

This bit of insightful insanity comes to us from Sebastian Schmieg, in The Netherlands, who put this together in December 2011.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Always on ambient social connections and hardware

This design by Kairi Eguchi caught my eye. It won the LG Mobile Design competition last year. LG, of course, are now dabbling with Google TV.

In essence the "Finestra" is a charging cradle for a smartphone. Just as the Motorola Atrix (also now Google-y) is designed to be plugged into a keyboard and screen so is the Finestra more than just a power charger.

Once the smartphone is in the wall mounted Finestra the system turns into a rather nice ambient display for your social activity. It can also interact via the laser keyboard. Laser keyboards have been available for years.

I'm rather reminded of the work Dentsu did with Berg on media surfaces and incidental media.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Google+ images dominates SERPs

I noticed that many of the 2012 predictions for SEO agreed that Google+ would be important. We also know that Google+ Pages for businesses and brands have started to appear in the search results pages.

This, however, is a new (for me) way to incorporate Google+ content in the web results and it utterly dominates the SERPs. Look at just how much of the screen those images take up. Clicks take you to the Google+ page and not the URL you can clearly see associated with the post.

Geek Tyrant is also an especially interesting Google+ Page for Brands as with just over 500 followers it is one of the smallest I know that has qualified for Google Direct.

To get this result I searched for [geektyrant].

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

An insanely dangerous path? Google, accidental and incidental links

I find myself deeply worried by yesterday’s drama over incidental links.

The SEO echo chamber thought they had spotted Google buying links. They hadn’t.

They had spotted a campaign to promote a video and, as a result of that and against the quality guidelines put in place by the people running the video campaign, one link was generated that accidently missed out the nofollow value on the relationship attribute. One single link. Just one.

Google has responded. Matt Cutts, head of web spam and who is technically on holiday, explains on his Google+ page that the Chrome page will receive a penality.

Google was trying to buy video ads about Chrome, and these sponsored posts were an inadvertent result of that. If you investigated the two dozen or so sponsored posts (as the webspam team immediately did), the posts typically showed a Google Chrome video but didn’t actually link to Google Chrome. We double-checked, and the video players weren’t flowing PageRank to Google either.

However, we did find one sponsored post that linked to in a way that flowed PageRank. Even though the intent of the campaign was to get people to watch videos--not link to Google--and even though we only found a single sponsored post that actually linked to Google’s Chrome page and passed PageRank, that’s still a violation of our quality guidelines, which you can find at

In response, the webspam team has taken manual action to demote for at least 60 days.

In some ways this is a very smart move by Google.

They’re showing that their intentions are that no one, not even big brands, are above their own quality guidelines. This is designed to silence critics who suggest that Google too often turns a blind eye to dodgy links when it suits them or when the brand is big enough.

In fact, I’d argue that if you were to dissect the motivation of some of the SEO echo chamber then you’ll find the intent to embarrass Google in the weird hope that the engine would somehow abandon its current position on paid links.

Fears for the future

In some ways this is a very worrying move by Google.

A web page has been penalised because just one link was created as the result of a media campaign even though the intent was never about links.

What does this mean?

I worry that that what is acceptable and not acceptable is now horribly blurred. I worry that many genuine and common place forms of media buying could result in accidental and incidental links.

I’ll try and articulate these concerns through some questions and scenarios.

Does this mean if you pay for and run an advert on TV and that, as a result of this advert, bloggers discuss your brand and link to you – that you have committed a similar mistake?

Perhaps Google’s problem was that individual bloggers had been approached and offered money and a media asset to promote?

Would that mean if the same outreach had been attempted without the financial incentive that the “nofollow” value would not have been necessary on any links produced? If that’s the case then blogger outreach and relationship building will soar in popularity.

Of course, the latter would still allow for paid-for video seeding. The goal would be (as it always has been) is to use the paid media to ignite the fires of interest and inspire many other bloggers to re-use the video and discuss your brand.

On the other hand, if you invite bloggers to your conference, giving them free tickets as part of a social media campaign – and, as a result, your conference is written about, with links, have you committed the same mistake?

Google, via Matt Cutts, used to say that if you had no intention of generating links then any links that the engagement created where safely incidental. Intent mattered. The company frequently gives away Android phones to developers and bloggers for review.

It’s a scary world if a single, accidental, link created off the back of a digital marketing campaign can result in a penalty.

Best practice for the future

In November, for Econsultancy, I speculated on four ways the SEO industry could rule the world and suggested that SEO is your digital strategy.

If this incident is illustrative of the digital direction for 2012 then I may be right.

This means that all your branded content, social media and PR, all your asset creation must take oversight and direction from search savvy digital marketers.

I’m not suggesting the SEO boutiques must be the lead agency on digital work. I’m suggesting that digital work is led by strategists with expertise in the digital media landscape.

I fear I’m also suggesting that almost all digital marketing work, pre and post-campaign, will need to be checked by people with enough SEO skill to ensure that nothing accidental has been triggered by the work that might have included a PageRank passing link. I can tell you now that that the world is full of brands and agencies, busy with effective digital marketing campaigns, who don’t have the expertise or organisational structure to do that.

What do you think? Is this incident just a one off? Or does it herald a new and somewhat scary future?

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Is Google really breaking their own link buying rules with sponsored posts?

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase
Search Engine Land has a good piece of news out that hit the web late yesterday that asks if Google is buying links or working with thin content. Danny Sullivan wrote the piece himself.

There are some poor blog posts that contain the phrase "This post is sponsored by Google". These posts, most of them, also contain video ads that have come via Unruly Media.

Danny writes a balanced article on the discovery and points out the concerns;

"The campaign is odd in two major ways. For one, it potentially violates Google’s guidelines against paid links.

The head of Google’s web spam team, Matt Cutts, has been quite vocal that sponsored posts shouldn’t be a way for people to gain links in response for payment, that any links in such posts should use the nofollow attribute to prevent them from passing credit to Google’s ranking algorithm."

I don't have any inside knowledge on this one but I have worked with Unruly Media in the past. They've never asked me for a link and always ask for suitable disclosure - hence the "This post is sponsored by Google" cropping up in these posts. If we tweet about a video we're asked to include #spon or #ad in the tweet too. The tweet request is more strict than current ASA/CAP rules suggest (since they don't give us the text to tweet) but probably wise given the indications coming out of the OFT.

If this is a standard Unruly Media campaign then the media asset being promoted here is the video. That's what Unruly do. It's also most likely that that's what Google's ad agency wanted to achieve.

If, as an SEO or a blogger, you had a video that you were paid on a view-to-earn basis then wouldn't you write some content to post the video along side and publish the two together? Or would you just blog a video without any context? That would look odd. Or would you just blog the video without any traffic driving text content to go with it? Wouldn't that be pointless?

My hunch is that individual bloggers have written editorials for their sponsored video (which is just a CPA ad - like so many others, just like any affiliate deal) and put a link naturally into that text.

There are certainly times when editorials are encouraged for videos. After all, the best viral candidate videos tend to get to success by building up some buzz. It's certainly known for video seeding companies to push for this - but they never ask for links.

There's one exception; ebuzzing. Ebuzzing demands links, gives you the links to use and then checks the links are in place before your article is validated. I have experience of ebuzzing UK and can tell you that they nofollow those links and redirect them through a tracker.

I hope I'm not wrong. This will be a big story as TechCrunch has picked it up but unless Unruly Media US is very different from the core of Unruly then I doubt these posts were about links.

Sadly, I could be wrong. It's all too easy to imagine an ad agency putting pressure on some rookie Unruly Media account manager to ask bloggers to go that extra step and put in a link - but let's hope not. If so then it's an argument as to why all ad agencies need to blend SEO expertise into every part of their digital activities. Branded content is a media activity.

I really doubt Google's ad agency decided to promote Chrome, by brand, in search by asking bloggers to include links and videos in their posts. If they had wanted to spam they'd just have dropped the video requirement.

Google have done this before

It's also worth noting that Google have used other viral video platforms before. I've taken part. Over on Geek Native I wrote about a video ad from Google about their Science Fair project. Many other bloggers did too.

Google's Science Fair video came to bloggers via the AOL owned GoViral. Bloggers got paid for each play of the video they achieved.

In my case I wrote some text to showcase the video. I even included a link to the Science Fair page on Google - but I didn't have to and wasn't asked too. It's an editorial link.

The one eyebrow arch for my own post is GoViral's video player. I could have sworn the wrapper for the player included a statement about the video being an ad - the standard disclaimer mention. That's why there's no additional reference to it at the foot of the blog post. It could be the case that once the video ad expires on GoViral and it's no longer bought media that the player transforms into a more discreet unit. That, however, has nothing to do with links, Google or Unruly. That'll be an AOL idea.

To consider...

The real issue here, I think, is whether the blogs caught up in this stormy teacup count as thin content, spam, made-for-ads or good enough for advertisers. Let's just ditch "made-for-ads" as a concept in any way similar to "made-for-adsense" right now. Many blogs are commercial. That's not a crime.

I bet Unruly will be wondering whether their screening processes are good enough - although given that it's a CPA deal you could argue that the system is self-correcting.

I've not checked out all the blogs that have been surfaced by today's drama but some are certainly pretty poor. Hopefully Panda will keep that sort of content away from our eyes.

Lastly, there's a debate about exposing dodgy SEO here. I'm very happy to point out when some one's cheating. I think it's good for the industry as a whole (read: it'll save SEO from itself) and a valid business tactic. However, some people in this exposé are supposed to be strongly against "outing". They've done themselves no favours on that front.

I'm sure it was one of Google's agencies that have done this - and either spam SEO has been outed, in part, by the no-outing brigade or some of the no-outing brigade have cried wolf on this one.

Ironically, perhaps they're right and I'm wrong - perhaps outing is bad because unless you can be certain you know what's going on then you have no business slapping on labels and spotlights on your terms?