Why Do Not Track Hurts Consumers

Chains wrapped around computer keyboardEveryone is hurt by “Do Not Track” and other well-meaning privacy initiatives that  hurt the economy, reduce the number of online options consumers have for news, entertainment and research and could even change pricing of mobile phone, Internet, television and other plans.

Most business leaders would agree that any short-term gains generated by compromising customer privacy would be offset by reputation damage and may eventually drive an organization out of business.  But consumers may not understand what happens when they install ad blocking software or take advantage of Firefox’s proposed “do not track” flag.

By informing companies that they don’t want their activities tracked or they don’t want to see advertising on websites or smartphones, consumers will block  the activity that allows organizations to provide free and subsidized services.   Google said that today that they would make code available for Internet developers to embed this opt-out mechanism in future browsers, but even The Washington Post conceded that doing so might cause repeated or less relevant ads.

Smart advertisers aren’t tracking you–they are tracking the activities of a computer session to serve better, more relevant advertising.  That tracking leads to better advertising targeting which means the companies sponsoring the information and connectivity are more profitable and can continue offering free services.  Imagine a world where  you pay a membership fee for access to a search engine or for Facebook or to watch a video.

Advertising pays for all of the services and more, including subsidized telephone services, broadband pricing initiatives and a global economy where a small business in Europe can compete with a multinational conglomerate in Los Angeles for the same consumers in South America.

You must know that companies have to be paid.  Someone pays the employees, pays for the lights to be on, pays for the things we all enjoy now free.

Forget free applications and consider how your daily surfing habits would change.  Email would likely remain free, but would probably have more restrictive sizes that wouldn’t allow pictures or files to be transmitted.  Even browsers are advertising or product supported.

Two popular browsers, Mozilla’s Firefox and Google’s Chrome, are directly supported through donations from Google, an organization that creates almost all of its revenue from online advertising.  You don’t pay $29.95 to buy browser software as you were expected to during the web’s nascent days.  And that’s true in so many situations because online advertising is affordable and effective.

I know that because I help small businesses and non-profits generate more revenue from their online advertising efforts.  That profit means they can create new jobs, keep prices stable a longer time and fund philanthropic activities.  Today’s Wall Street Journal print edition featured a story about Mozilla’s “do not track” future capability on the front page of its Marketplace section.  Further inside the section and no coincidence was an article about The New York Times’ plans to begin charging consumers for access via Amazon’s Kindle and the Apple iPad.

The Journal called this “the biggest test to date of consumers’ willingness to pay for news they’re accustomed to getting free.”

Providing bandwidth, content and creating websites costs money.  When consumers realize that some of their favorite activities may now be unavailable for free, it may be too late to restore some of those services.  Online ads are effective thanks to the tracking mechanisms that make ads appeal to the proper audiences. If ads become random and less efficient, you just may pay for the privilege of telling law-abiding companies that you don’t want to be tracked while organizations who don’t follow the practice or are not based in the United States will do as they please.

Ad blocking and “do not track” initiatives are bad for America’s businesses and worse for America’s consumers who use free Internet services.

Source:  ”Web Tool on Firefox to Deter Tracking”, Wall Street Journal, 1/24/11
Source:  ”Times Prepares Pay Wall”, Wall Street Journal, 1/24/11
Source:  ”Google, Mozilla Detail New Privacy Procedures“,  Washington Post, 1/24/11
Source:  ”Do Not Track FAQ“, Mozilla, 1/24/11
Source:  ”Keep Your Opt-Outs“, Google, 1/24/11
Image:   Courtesy of Armin Hanisch

PDFs Under Siege – Fast Friday Fact

Latest PDF File Icon

Watch for PDF security vulnerability says owner Adobe. Image via Wikipedia

That seemingly safe PDF you receive may not be as innocuous as it looks, warns Washington Post security guru Brian Krebs.

Writing in today’s online edition, Krebs reports that PDF-format owner Adobe is warning of security vulnerabilities.  According to Krebs, the company plans to release a fix Tuesday so that its software updates at the same time that Microsoft sends its weekly operating system update.

Put a note in your calendar now to have your company’s computers updated Tuesday.  Meanwhile, be on the lookout for a blizzard of PDFs even from addresses that you know.   A good rule of thumb:  if you’re not expecting a file from someone and the tone of the email doesn’t sound like your acquaintance, send a short note and ask them to confirm they sent you a file.

Fast Flip: Google’s Newsstand

Google Fast Flip

Google's Future Newsstand - Image by Esteban Trigos via Flickr

I love magazine subscriptions.

I especially love free magazine subscriptions, but I love all sorts of print.   Magazines, newspapers, catalogs.   How many marketers do you know who still keep a copy of Famous Catalogs on their bookshelf between a PHP book and Robert Spector’s book about Amazon‘s business model called Get Big Fast?

In a world of Kindles, on demand cable television and smartphones, print may be dying as a media, but the print layout is something many still seek.  Google Reader add-on Feedly is maybe the best RSS platform I’ve ever used.   And now Google itself enters the fray with Google Fast Flip, currently in development in Google Labs, but available to all.

Fast Flip is just about the coolest news platform ever.   Enter the microsite to be greeted by your choice of periodical, subject or popular stories (with links to the most popular in each category).  The periodicals are simply A-list: The Washington Post, BBC and The New York Times are just a handful of the news periodicals available.  Subject-specific periodicals like Billboard, Cosmopolitan and Popular Mechanics are also here.

Fast Flip gives a thumbnail view of a periodical page.  Text links float around the top or bottom (Google is always testing, after all) although simply clicking the thumbnail itself brings forward a copy of that publication’s online article.    Subjects are on target for world events.  Today’s topics include Nigeria, Facebook, Pakistan, Tsunami — actual news.  A recommended link will undoubtedly make smart use of Google’s algorithims and create a newsstand populated by your previous choices, biases and likes.

In its quest for increasingly granular micro-targeting, Google started with big brands and refines their content to the reader’s biases.  What’s not to like about a fast Google rendering with a familiar New York Times logo showing that someone was at least paid to edit and fact check the article?

Fastflip isn’t the end of print.  Print already ended.  We’re simply watching its slow death now.   But the thin-slicing of Google information about its users and search patterns are fast resulting in something that could easily converge with YouTube and challenge CNN or the BBC with enough video content.  That’s a future phase.  Right now, FastFlip seems content to be an electronic newsstand.

Executive Summary:  Google’s Labs features enhancements and new services you should stay on top of to see where the search giant is headed as it morphs into an information services company.  The latest foray, Fast Flip, reproduces the online pages of traditional print media in an appealing filmstrip layout.

Redskins Shatter Implied Promises, But What About Your Business?

Not all promises are explicit.   Sure, if a small business says they’ll provide a service for $100 and either doesn’t provide the service or charges more, trust takes a hit.

Prize winning reporter James Grimaldi broke story on Washington Redskins

Reporter James Grimaldi broke story on Washington Redskins

But there are implied promises every business makes every day.  At Silver Beacon, we promise each client that we are going to stay on top of online marketing trends, notify them when their business could be impacted and maximize the return on their advertising dollar.   If I visit a client tomorrow who asks about Bing and I think he’s talking about Bing Crosby, we would have broken our implied promise.

Implied promises are getting a workout here in Washington where the city’s beloved Redskins claim to have a season ticket waiting list that stretches tens of thousands of names to along with decades of sold out games, including in what is now the NFL’s largest stadium.  Great reporting by The Washington Post‘s James Grimaldi, a reporter with a passel of awards including a shared Pultizer Prize, uncovered a broken implied promise.

The Redskins — who are still the number one topic of sports conversation in this town when they’re not playing — sold tickets to ticket broker StubHub instead of whittling down the list of fans willing to shell out thousands for tickets and endure hours of snarled traffic.   The Redskins made no promises.  But they’ve broken an implied promise.   Just like we vow to keep the best interests of our clients in the forefront, the Redskins’ implied promise was to take care of its most ardent fans who were willing to prove their loyalty with money.

Unpopular owner Daniel M. Snyder now faces a public relations crisis as his team takes the field tonight in its final preseason game.   The blowback on larger than life figures like sports team owners is huge.  Snyder needed no fake scarcity to drive his team’s popularity.  The Redskins were locked and loaded for decades of financial growth.

And once **a promise like this is broken, everyone can opine, even in a small business blog.

For his part, Grimaldi’s followup was a knockout PR blow in today’s paper where he reports that during the recession, the same business that broke implied promises to its fans have filed 137 lawsuits against multiyear ticket holders who could no longer make payments.  Sure, there was a promise to pay and people get sued when they don’t honor those promises.  The Post’s reporting has uncovered that those seats were then sold to ticket brokers as well.

Today, not tomorrow, but today:   take 15 minutes while you gobble your lunch at your desk like the hectic small businessperson you are and start scribbling on a notepad.   You’re answering this question:

What implied promises have I made to my customers, my employees and to my equity holders? Include yourself as an equity holder because like any small business leader, you’ve been making promises to yourself for a long time.

Then come back here and post your findings.  You don’t have to share what you’ve learned only how well the exercise worked for you and any changes you’ll be making.

Google Vagaries

There are times when Google or any other search engine seems intuitive beyond belief.  And then there are simple queries that confound me.

Many folks were not surprised but taken a little aback when major local categories such as “pizza” began showing up in results pages.  The search engine identifies the area where the searcher is located and assumes that these very local searches are for the area you’re in now.  That’s not much help if you’re looking for something later in the day or for a trip, but it’s a massive time saver, effectively turning Google into a dynamic yellow pages.
Continue reading

Washington Post Brand Suicide – Fast Friday Fact

Want to watch one of the nation’s premier media organizations destroy itself?   The Washington Post, which now gets so much revenue from its overpriced Kaplan subsidiary that Reuters refers to the company as an education organization, has a site that describes advertising specifications for its digital properties.

That’s smart.  We have a rate card too for our digital properties too.   Even better, unlike the Post, we create individual rate cards for properties that actually list prices.  But today’s head-shaking sad moment was seeing that the very accessible advertising spec page includes rates for intrusive ads and roadblocks.

Roadblocks are a relatively benign sale where every ad slot on a web page is sold to the same advertiser.  We do that too, and most consumers are likely indifferent to the practice.  But intrusive ads are just that — they’re the little window that pops-under your browser or something that covers the content or audio that blares through your speakers when a page is loaded.

Most online marketers that only the world’s biggest brands or those who don’t care can get away with intrusive advertising.  But the height of hubris may be advertising for intrusive advertising on a publicly accessible web page.  For those of you interested, the company allows pop-under ads to be as big as 720 pixels wide — about half a screen for most casual users.   But remember, if you want the “full page takeover”, you only get 15 seconds.

After all, your consumers probably get frustrated when content driven sites try to take over the browsing experience for 20 seconds so keeping the takeover limited to 15 seconds shows the company cares.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Mainstream Media Bemoaning Slow Death

Men and a woman reading headlines posted in st...
Early news distribution – post it in the window, not in Windows, and make them leave to see our words.  Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr.

There will always be a place for double sourced stories, good editing and original feature articles.  As the U.S. is quickly learning, however, those elements may be served in a different distribution method.

In our DC hometown, The Washington Post remains the paper of record and an institution.   Even as long-term staffers take buyout packages and make way for editorial sharing with other papers, we are fortunate to have an amazing hometown paper.

There may not be a better one-two editorial columnist punch in America than Dana Milbank exposing the man pulling the levers behind the curtain and David Broder explaining why the levers were being pulled.  Our sports columnists are Sally Jenkins, Michael Wilbon and Tom Boswell with Kornheiser and Feinstein showing up every so often.  The catty Lisa de Moraes exposes why television is called the boob tube, and Metro’s reporting reporting remains solid.

But WPO, as they’re called in financial circles, is less a newspaper or media company and more a content conglomerate.  Tutoring mill Kaplan accounts for a massive share of the company’s financial growth according to its 10-K filing with the SEC last month.    A tiny paid circulation chart on page 13 tells the story.  In 2006, there were 681,510 subscribers.    In just two years, circulation has fallen 6% and shows no signs of ever regaining its lost customers.

The Post isn’t alone.   The Tuscon Citizen ran its last issue this weekend.  Papers in Denver, Detroit and other cities go online or cease operation.   Just as millenials continue to eschew wired telephone service in their homes, the U.S. information-seeking population continues fragmenting, seeking news fast via blogs, Twitter or even cable news.

Yet word on Ad Age’s site yesterday was that the mainstream media wants the world’s search engines, especially Google, to deliver mainstream media results higher than “parasites off the true producers of content”.    An ESPN exec reportedly drove the issue at a meeting of the Google’s Publishers Advisory Council.

Quoting SEO guru Lisa Barone at Outspoken Media, “They knew that a Publisher’s Advisory Council even existed. Did you know?”

I would have been shocked if such an entity didn’t exist, but the very notion that the blogosphere competes with mainstream media is nonsensical.   The distribution method used by mainstream media is flawed, and until it is fixed, the mainstream media companies will continue suffering.    Even now, when streaming cable television offers multiple news channels, finding an actual newscast at an off-peak hour during prime time is impossible.

The Internet provides news seekers with the ability to create their own news supplier, likely a cluster of sources each reporting on different issues.   Media outlets who insist that those news seekers use their form of distribution will soon join typewriter ribbon suppliers and telegraph repairmen on the sidelines of technology history.   I heard the rallying cry in the mid 1980s when media was told to get online.  For the most part, they laughed at the geeks sitting in front of monochromatic screens and communicating with someone in another city, much like people wondered why anyone would ever need a private telephone line.

Yet the biggest source I’ve found of anyone bemoaning the slow death of print and live broadcast is mainstream media.    The public may not know what is best for its information gathering need, but the public must assuredly knows what it wants.

Google spent billions figuring out how to track what the public wants and became ubiquitous.  Surely international conglomerates can figure out how to make their stories appear before this opinion piece if small upstart companies can do so.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

“Follow The Money” – Advice and an Urban Legend

Follow the money.

The advice has floated around small business and other circles for decades.   Following the money first came to prominence in All the President’s Men, the based-in-truth story about the Watergate conspiracy.   I thought about the advice again when Woodward and Bernstein’s “Deep Throat” informant, Mark Felt, passed away two weeks ago at the age of 95.

Hal Holbrook played Felt (who was still anonymous) with silence and confidence in the highly recommended movie.  But while Holbrook’s performance of screenwriter William Goldman’s line put the phrase in common use,  Felt never uttered the words nor do the words appear in The Washington Post.

This beautiful turn of phrase takes on special meaning for small businesses during economic hard times.  Following the money, a mentor once told me was the equivalent of not confusing activity and achievement.  The smart businessperson who follows the money spends their effort and their company’s resources on those things that earn a return.

Those activities differ for every business, but if you’re making an early resolution for 2009, write the three words on a piece of paper and tape that paper to your phone.

As you go through your day on January 5 (or January 2, or even January 1), refer to the note and always ask yourself if you are following the money.

Don’t beat yourself up for a little downtime, but do make a note of that time.  Then look at your note at the end of a few days.  Was what you were doing indeed following the money?  If not, was the ratio of “money time” a fair amount for your company and for your career?  If so, pass along the phrase and keep the words front and center for yourself.  If not, like all other changes, this one needs a plan and incremental milestones.

Have a great 2009, no mater what New Year resolutions you make.