Whither Apple: It’s the infrastructure, stupid!

Apple LogoIf you’ve not been following the work of Dave Winer recently, I encourage you to do so. He’s on an impassioned quest, to keep the Web itself open for future developers, and I think he’s onto something terribly important. As Silcon Valley companies like Google, Apple and Facebook continue to develop their business models, they’re doing so by trying to keep us within the confines of their own infrastructures.

That’s because infrastructure is where the money is in a world where we — you and me — are the product being served to a hungry hoard of people with deep pockets: advertisers.

This is a concept that Dave is pounding away at, because when we’re inside someone else’s infrastructure, we’re playing by their rules, and we’re trapped in a universe that will always default to the best interests of the owners. The Web, on the other hand, isn’t owned by a corporation, and it must remain as such, complete with its own infrastructure.

Apple’s odd introduction of OS X “Mountain Lion” to its biggest fanboy writer, John Gruber, yesterday is an example. Apple’s future is built onpushing everybody and everything to iCloud, which it will own and operate. Sounds okay for now, but we’ll see.

Facebook wants you on its servers and inside its infrastructure. Same thing with Google, although Google  is a different iteration of the same theme, because it gives the appearance of growing an independent Web — with Google’s “help.”

I think this is a big story that’s not going away, because Madison Avenue lives in the pipes and stitchery of media infrastructures. Mass marketing’s infrastructures are on the way out, but those offered by Facebook, Apple and Google are alive and well.

I still remember AOL and the remarkable statements made when it was purchased by Time Warner. AOL’s entire value was based on its infrastructure, a captive audience that still needed the Internet training wheels the site provided. As a result, I’m not convinced that anybody has the wherewithal to pull this off completely, because the more the cinch is tightened, the more it will feel like AOL, and the goodies will seem beyond its reach.

Let’s be careful not to give away tomorrow for the sake of today’s convenient experience.

 

Media companies await Google+ for Business

Facebook launched its “Facebook for Business” subsite this week to take advantage of the tardiness of Google in opening up its new Google+ engine for businesses, Google+ for Business. The Facebook site, however isn’t much more than a primer on how to run a fan page, which is something everybody already knows anyway.

Facebook for Business

Facebook has become a very important tool for media companies, especially as a referral back to our own websites, where we can hopefully monetize the traffic.

But I think Facebook will be child’s play for media downstream compared to the potential of Google+. It’s not that I expect the news conversation to necessarily shift, but Google+ isn’t merely a Google social play; it’s the next version of Google itself, and no company on earth has disrupted the business of media like Google. Media companies look at Google as a competitor for content, but the Web giant is actually a competitor for our revenue, and that’s what makes Google+ for Business both so potentially useful and yet dangerous at the same time.

While we’re thinking that Google+ creates new brand extension opportunities, what it will really do is make it easier for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) to connect with customers and potential customers. It will also help us reach people in the community, although we’re going to have to figure out how to make that really work for us. Google+ for Business will also tilt the balance of search, and while Facebook and Twitter are feeding local news websites, nobody already does that better and more often than Google. The point is that Google+ for Business won’t be an option for media companies.

The real power of Google is that the Web itself is its business world. You don’t have to be within its proprietary framework in order to be influenced by Google. There is no walled garden, per se. Oh, its tools are all within its cloud, but it doesn’t need to “capture” people to make money. Google provides ammunition for the people of the world to help themselves and their enterprises, and it does that very well. Google+ for Business is simply the latest.

An excellent article in PC World outlines reasons why G+ for Business is a game-changer. Looking at this list as a media observer, it’s easy to see why it will be so important.

Search — Google will incorporate the real time stream from G+ into search, as it was doing with Twitter before its contract expired July 4th. This will radically alter news searches, but it will also create great opportunities for smart businesses who learn how to play the game.

Productivity and Communication — Google has 200 million Gmail users and 3 million businesses already using its Apps for Business productivity suite, and these will be incorporated into its social network. As noted above, Google is already a significant driver of traffic to media company websites, and the addition of Google+1 will accelerate that. Facebook has its “like” button, but it has nothing to compete with all that Google can offer.

Video — Yes, Facebook has a deal with Skype, but Google owns YouTube and has already advanced the interactive video world with G+ “Hangouts.” KOMU-TV in Columbia, MO has already experimented with using Hangouts on-the-air, and I expect we’ll see a lot more of that downstream.

E-commercePC World: “Google already has the Google Checkout payment system and its Products search tapping into all sorts of online merchants. Google could theoretically tie both services into Google+ for businesses, enabling a company to link its payment service to a back end database of products within Google’s ecosystem, rather than sending shoppers off to PayPal.”

Business Websites — Google has its Blogger publishing platform, which has a wide variety of implications for media companies and SMBs in a Google+ environment.

Advertisting and Analytics — Google’s highly successful Adwords system has been around since 2000 and Adsense, which enables people to embed contextual ads on their blogs and websites, has been working since 2003. Google Analytics is far ahead of anything Facebook can offer on deeper traffic and ad performance tools.

Mapping and Location-based Tie-ins — Google will likely integrate the new Google+ pages with Google Places, which appear in its Maps search results. This is a natural for SMBs but even more so as a tool for users, because integration with G+ allows for interaction with those search results. PC World: “Say, for example, that a user is considering several local search results for sushi in his neighborhood. He could theoretically not only compare the local results, but also ask questions about the menu or seating on each restaurant’s Google+ business page before deciding where to eat.”

Mobile Payments — Google has been testing various near field communications (NFC) applications as part of its e-wallet concept through its Android operating system, and they give a hint as to what’s potentially in store downstream. In theory, according to PC World, a Google+ user could be tracked from when she clicked on an ad, how much time she spent on the website, when she checked into the store, and what she bought. Google already has proven models for most of these interactions; there’s no reason not to tie them together.

There’s no official timeline yet on when Google+ for Business will be available to everybody, but now is certainly the time for us to begin thinking about and talking about how we fit into the mix. There has never been a more important time to immerse ourselves in all that Google offers and to appreciate the reality that half a loaf is better than none. Google+ for Business has the potential to be something for us that goes far beyond simple brand extension, and the smart local media manager is one who understands that.

The ultimate success of the modern social network, the PC World article notes, will depend as much on its supportive services—in which Google has an advantage—as it will on its aggregate users. This truth is the essence of Media 2.0.

Close doesn’t count in database advertising

I’m constantly preaching the value of targeted advertising, and here’s a humorous exactly from today’s Web surfing. The image below is from YouTube, owned by Google. A little over a week ago, I did a Google search for “tall nightstands,” because I was in the process of a bedroom remodel. I found what I needed at Amazon, and they’re sitting in the bedroom today.

So YouTube/Google served me an ad today for tall nightstands, which is targeted specifically to that search. It’s very sophisticated, except for one thing: I don’t need them anymore.

So nice try, Googs, ol’ buddy, but close doesn’t count. Of course, I suppose it’s just a matter of time before they get this one right, too. It is, after all, a simple matter of connecting shopping behavior with actual purposes.

The ad I was served this morning via YouTube.

Goodbye, Google; hello, Google+

Google PlusBy now, you most likely have heard about Google+, Google’s new entry into the social networking phenomenon. I was fortunate enough to get an early invite, so I’ve spent the last week playing in the application. I think this has the potential to reshape Google’s entire business in ways that will be very, very hard to ignore. It all begins with the name, Google+. It’s not merely a new application, it represents a complete shift in the company’s strategic thrust. It’s THAT significant.

Check your company’s analytics, and you’ll see that, in 99% of cases, Google is the top referrer of eyeballs to your website. Why is that? It’s all about search, and Google owns search. Everything they do is important in that regard, and while most people are comparing G+ to Facebook and/or Twitter, I think that misses the point. Google+ is far more than “just another social network” or a “Facebook killer” (yeah, right), because it incorporates all that is Google.

My search results, for example, are now personalized and presented within the plus framework. I like this very much, because the first organic result often reveals the website most recently visited by me that addresses the search query. This is incredibly useful for those “I read that somewhere” searches.

The two things I find most intriguing for news are both found in the service’s Android app (an iPhone app is coming, but I don’t know if it contains the same abilities as the Android app). One, I can set it so that any picture I take is immediately and automatically uploaded to a folder on my G+ account. This type of application — where a picture I take on earth is automatically distributed to the cloud — is game-changing for the real-time news industry, and I fully expect to see similar applications applied more broadly to the news business. However, G+ is first out-of-the-box with this, and it is powerful. Next will be video. You can count on it. Try to imagine online news with this feature. It will be amazing.

The second Android function involves the information stream of Google+ itself. Since every one you “follow,” gets placed immediately into a circle of your choice (friends, family, coworkers, etc.), you can choose what stream to follow at any given time. It’s a great way to use connectivity, and the infrastructure is all drag-and-drop simple. You can deliver posts to any group as well, including making them “public,” where anybody can see them. This is significant, for it mimics Twitter in that sense.

The mobile app allows you to make your location known to Google (it’s off by default) and then read a stream of posts “nearby.” This has staggering implications for spot news coverage, where geolocation is important. Want witnesses, photos, video? No hashtags necessary, if you’re on location, for if everybody’s using G+ (a big question), a simple swipe of your Android phone gives you everything automatically. This is another innovation that will expand beyond Google, but the reality is that it is Google that brought this to the table.

Jeff Jarvis admitted yesterday that his school, City University of New York (CUNY), is going to have to begin teaching Google+ in its journalism program, and I certainly agree. His views of G+ include many thoughts about its application for news, and I recommend reading this piece.

But the most important thing to note is that Google has the clout to actually force businesses (of their own free will) into its “plus” cavern, and that is a big game-changer. Firstly, Google has announced that Google+ for business is coming, and I’m sure it will incorporate everything of Google’s already stout toolkit for businesses. Secondly, everybody will need a Google profile in order to be fairly “seen” by the search engine. What business would turn that down? It’s free.

And if businesses will use it, we need to know everything about it.

Social media consultant Jay Baer wrote this week that Google’s history is entirely built around the ranking of “Pages” on the Web. It developed PageRank to provide searchers with the best possible results. However, personal publishing via social media has changed everything.

Philosophically, Pages with more and better other Pages linking to them must be better content, and each link counts as a “vote” for that Page. But when the dominant form of expression became something smaller than a Page, and our votes of content confidence became expressed by social sharing and other behaviors that differ from “I’m going to link to this website from my website,” Google found itself trying to play web page ranking poker with less than a full deck of cards. It was trying to do a very difficult job with incomplete information.

This explains, in part, why Google had to make a move like this. The world of information is simply changing, but Baer adds that it is the integration of G+ content into its search algorithms that makes it so potent, especially for businesses. Remember, he points out, Google owns the top two search engines in the world. YouTube is number two.

Google has inserted so many tentacles into so many crevices of our digital lives, that they can compel us to use Plus via integrations and reminders in (just a starter list):

  • Gmail
  • YouTube
  • Picasa
  • Maps
  • Android (the app for Plus is fantastic)
  • Chrome
  • Analytics
  • Blogger

…Here’s the scenario I see unfolding before the end of 2011, and possibly before Labor Day. Google opens up business pages on Plus to Adwords customers. Any clicks and +1 (Google’s version of Facebook “like”) your business content receives on Plus has a direct impact on your organic search engine rankings, while your Facebook activity continues to have no impact.

Go read Jay’s article, for it’s really quite good. Then, if you don’t already have one, create a Gmail account, which will lead to a Google profile, which will lead to Plus. The company has announced that the service will be completely open to everyone by July 29th.

Most observers are writing about how Google+ will impact the news industry, and that’s important. I think its greater shock to the media ecosystem, however, is its potential to once again influence advertising, and that this is what should interest us most. It’s true that the two have always gone together for media companies, but they are increasingly disconnecting, and we must pay very close attention to what’s happening in this space.

This is why my best advice for any media company is still this: don’t leave to geeks what rightly belongs to upper management, especially sales. There’s still far too much ignorance about all of this stuff at the upper management level. Google+ will be a critical element in local advertising downstream. Will people shift from Facebook or Twitter? That’s the wrong question, for in the end, it really doesn’t matter.

Like a great many other things, it’s all about the money. Money doesn’t require mass anymore, and nobody knows that better than Google.

In defense of Google TV

There are a lot of broadcasting executives who breathe a sigh of relief when they see headlines like With TV, Google Stumbles (again), Rescheduling Google TV May Be a Smart Move, and Google TV: Snatching Failure From The Jaws Of Success? Broadcasters, cable companies and the program providers who have a cozy and prosperous business model all know that Google TV — and applications just like it — will deliver a crushing blown when consumer content is separated from its source via the Internet.

But I’d be very careful in reading too much into those headlines. Just because the networks have decided not to play ball (right now) with Google TV doesn’t mean an end to the concept. It may slow it down, but there are trends at work that are ideally suited to a Google TV experience. Those trends are growing and accelerating, and no amount of legal maneuvering or business strategizing is going to stop them.

I’m talking about J. D. Lasica’s “personal media revolution (pmr),” outlined in his seminal book Darknet, Hollywood’s War Against The Digital Generation. The industry of making movies and TV programs is facing a bottom-up challenge to its century-old business model. Ever look at the credits of a film? That’s what the pmr disrupts — the cast of thousands “needed” to create quality content. New tools have made their way to local and network television, and, union “bargaining” notwithstanding, it’s just a matter of time before the same happens with entertainment.

Michael RosenblumMichael Rosenblum is the father of the video journalist (VJ) movement, a man who saw the handwriting on the wall many years ago. He’s been teaching people ‐ those who used to work with crews of two or three — to work by themselves, and the results have been getting better and better. He told me in an email that the key to content today is creativity and the ability to express it at bargain rates. We’re in the midst of an explosion of creativity.

When it comes to content, the driver here is a) a really limitless appetite for content, b) increasingly smaller budgets as platforms multiply and revenue is shattered, and c) the technology that makes it increasingly easier and cheaper to make great content. HD quality films can be made with about all the difficulty of word processing — and the expense. What we saw in news, we now see percolating into fiction and that’s a basic change.

Those who make films outside the studios’ walled garden will want the easiest distribution available, and that will default to whoever has the best search for Internet TV. Can you say, “Google?”

So while people are fawning all over Netflix and suggesting that Google learn how to “do lunch” the Hollywood way, there are powerful forces at work that favor Google over the long haul. Greg Sandoval wrote for CNET that Google needs to learn how to make relationships over lunch, but I suspect it’ll ultimately be the other way around.

…Google TV was launched before it was ready. If it was fully baked, why did the company appear so unprepared by the rejection of the platform by broadcasters?

Some in Hollywood suspect the reason is that Google didn’t know it was coming. After two years wooing the film and TV sectors, Google is still not very tuned in to the industry, said two film sector insiders who spoke to CNET.

These same executives cautioned against naming Netflix the winner of Internet distribution, adding that there’s a long way to go in this contest. But both sources acknowledged that Netflix has had more success acquiring content thanks to the company’s big head start in the sector as well as adopting a smarter approach to Hollywood.

All of that grossly underestimates Google, but that’s understandable, because the perspective comes from the side of tradition. Google does not.

People who’ve had the advantage of monopoly on their side for decades are the ones most endangered by technological disruptions, because they can’t — or won’t — see things any other way. They want and expect Google TV to fail, but we’ve heard this before. The copyright industry’s biggest weakness is its assumption that only they can make “quality” entertainment, just as traditional journalists insist they alone have the market on “real” journalism. Poppycock!

I often think that our greatest problem is oxygen deprivation atop the pedestals we’ve built for ourselves. You’d think the view would be clear, but it’s not, because all we see are each other.

Make no mistake. Unbundled television is upon us, and search will be the governor. Google’s essential role in the video disruption is to provide tools that so-called amateurs can use, and usually for free. Years of subsidizing YouTube’s vast and improving library of videos will have its day, and we must not miss it in the arrogant belief that we will always own the video creation and distribution business.

Now is the time for action, not guffaws.

Viacom rolls the dice on every media company

The decision by Viacom to continue its pursuit of a lawsuit against Google and YouTube is the last, dying gasp of the old guard. Viacom can’t win, and that means the old guard can’t win, which has ramifications far beyond Viacom. The risk you take when you vow to pursue your position to the end is that you will, in fact, reach the end — your end.

A much better strategy would be to work with Google to craft something that’s workable for everybody. That would require compromise, and rather than do that, Viacom is putting the golden goose on the chopping block. By choosing to push its view that YouTube violated its copyrights, Viacom risks those copyrights in ways it can’t even imagine today. I say that, because Viacom cannot win this war. Even if they did get a favorable decision — they won’t — it wouldn’t stop the fundamental disruption to media. It would, in fact, accelerate it, because people are simply fed up with being milked and squeezed at every turn in the road by the copyright-as-property industry. History is filled with incidences of laws wearing out their welcome on cultures, and the downstream revolt after a favorable Viacom decision would make the current one seem like child’s play.

Maybe Viacom actually wants a Supreme Court ruling, but from where I sit, the only people who gain by this are the lawyers.