Google

Google’s first Super Bowl ad. Awesome. Google search influences so many decisions we make in life

These days, you really can’t make an informed decision about anything without consulting Google first.

Whether you are looking for the best price on something, reading restaurant reviews, or planning a wedding, you can’t be without the internet.

Great ad. Simple, low budget, but really touching. I like it.

Will SEO experts ruin search results? Or will Google stay one step ahead and always give you the best content?

Over the weekend I tried to buy a new dishwasher. Being the fine net-friendly fellow that I am, I  began Google-ing for information. And Google-ing. and Google-ing. As I tweeted frustratedly at the tend of the failed exercise, “To a first approximation, the entire web is spam when it comes to appliance reviews”.

This is, of course, merely a personal example of the drive-by damage done by keyword-driven content — material created to be consumed like info-krill by Google’s algorithms. Find some popular keywords that lead to traffic and transactions, wrap some anodyne and regularly-changing content around the keywords so Google doesn’t kick you out of search results, and watch the dollars roll in as Google steers you life-support systems connected to wallets, i.e, idiot humans.

The result, however, is awful. Pages and pages of Google results that are just, for practical purposes, advertisements in the loose guise of articles, original or re-purposed. It hearkens back to the dark days of 1999, before Google arrived, when search had become largely useless, with results completely overwhelmed by spam and info-clutter.

As Search Engine Optimization techniques get better and more effective, will a web search revert back to looking like it did in 1999? Remember when search results were full of spammy sites? Whereas now we find sites like Wikipedia, Yelp, and Amazon ranking highest, all sites with great content.

The whole point of Google’s search algorithm is to find and return the best content for any given set of search terms. They use a number of factors to figure out what’s “best”. For example, the more times someone links to an article, the better that article probably is.

Whenever someone asks me about SEO and how they can improve their page rank, I always say one thing: create good content. If you post good stuff, people will talk about it, discuss it, link to it, and Google will eventually see that it’s good and present it to people.

Doing anything for SEO outside of just creating good content is just trying to trick Google into thinking your content is better than it is. In fact, if Google is doing their job right, they should make adjustments to counter these SEO tactics.

I was discussing this with a friend and he brought up an interesting point: searching for “dishwashers” brings up a bunch of junk, so why doesn’t Google fix their algorithm? Because it’s those junkie websites that drive clicks that result in ads sales. Maybe they aren’t trying to optimize for the best results, but for making the most money.

If you do believe that Google is in fact optimizing for revenue (I don’t necessarily believe that), then won’t search results get worse and worse? They will. Until a new player comes along. The next Google. And consumers will switch to this new search engine if they see better results there.

And then the cycle will begin again.

I’m not an SEO expert, but seems like SEO is something spam sites do. If you are trying to create a high quality destination site, just write good content and let Google do its job.

And now the SEO experts are going to slaughter me in the comments, I can feel it.

Note: These opinions are mine alone, and not those of Posterous, Inc.

Why do people think software should be free?

When I was at Apple yesterday, I was describing Posterous and our upcoming iPhone app to many people. Everyone asked me, “How much does Posterous cost?” It’s free. I think people at Apple don’t have an expectation for free software like people on the web do. At a traditional software company, you build something, then you charge for it.

 But people have a hard time paying for software these days. Google has definitely led the way in providing great free alternatives to desktop software, that have become the de facto tools for most users. That’s great, but makes it harder for new companies to charge money. Users aren’t willing to pull out their credit cards on the web (unless it’s at Amazon.com).

 And I never hear about people purchasing traditional desktop software, other than creatives who need Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, or other professional tools. This is partially because most machines these days come with great software (iLife, iWork).

 The exception to all this is the iPhone. The distribution model is magnificent. Every iPhone owner has an iTunes account, and every iTunes account has a credit card on file. Most iPhone owners probably already had one for buying music at the iTunes music store. So now these same people have an iPhone and can buy $0.99 applications with one click. Zero friction, it just appears on your iTunes statement. Even my mom does it. (This, btw, is the same on the Apple TV and it’s brilliant)

 I wonder how many people are buying software for the first time ever, now that Apple has made it so easy.

Google Reader is a really great product

In general, I’m pretty negative on the movement towards web apps. Most web apps are lacking in functionality compared to desktop alternatives and are still trying to catch up. I really like drag and drop, multiple windows, and offline access. I know Google is working on all these things in the browser, and when it’s all working well it will be great…. but for now, I don’t want to use something that is web based simply because it’s made by Google and free.

Google Reader is the exception. It’s not just another product that has moved from the desktop to the web just because. It’s actually better than any desktop RSS reader I’ve ever seen, by far. First, some good reasons why any RSS reader should be on the web:
  • There was never a good desktop RSS reader. People rave about NetNewsWire but it never impressed me that much. So there’s a need here, and might as well make it cross platform.
  • RSS readers actually are web browsers in a sense. They are viewing HTML posts, so it does make sense for them to be web based
  • I am in my browser reading a site when I decide I want to subscribe to the RSS feed. I shouldn’t have to move to another tool to do so
And now, why Google Reader is the best RSS reader (and in my opinion, the best and most polished product Google has ever released):
  • Easily subscribe to a site you’re on with the bookmarklet
  • Infinite scrolling. When you are reading your reading list, it might just load 20 or 30 posts. But as you scroll down near the bottom, Google Reader loads more posts via AJAX. So you just keep scrolling down and keep reading, you are never interrupted by pagination.
  • As you scroll through posts, it marks them as read. You don’t need to click on them or actively do anything else…If they were viewed on your screen, they are read. Awesome
  • Keyboard shortcuts like ‘j’ and ‘k’ to move between posts quickly. Scrolling on web pages is usually dumb: it just moves down a fixed amount. But j and k actually scroll just the right amount to put the next post at the top of your list. I use this to jump through posts super fast and then only read the ones I find interesting
  • Space bar pagination is smart. Usually hitting space on a webpage scrolls down exactly one page length. But Google Reader is smart: If the next post is just above the fold, it scrolls down less than a page length to bring that post to the top of your screen. A tiny detail, but SO SO smart.
What makes a great Apple product is attention to detail, and Google has nailed that with Google Reader. Major props to you Google Reader engineers and designers out there. Thanks for making a phenomenal product.

Don’t use Google to check flight status

My mom was in the town for the past few days. She got a call last night saying her flight was cancelled. I jumped on Google and searched for her flight. It said:

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And at the exact same moment, the United website said it was cancelled:

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I called United and had her rebooked on another flight out of LGA. I asked the guy for the flight number and looked it up in Google to see the details. It said:

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“Wait, that’s not where she’s going,” I told the guy. On the United website, the correct info showed up:

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Ok, I know this information isn’t owned by Google, it comes from flightstats.com. But by enabling these quick searches, Google is implying that this date is accurate. The information is actually completely wrong and could really mess you up your travel. Beware. Double check the info with the source, not some middle man.

Tools of the corporate world

The past few weeks I’ve been dealing with a lot of corporate paperwork, legal crap, accounting, etc etc. As such, I’ve been forced to use the tools of the trade, things I wouldn’t normally have to touch. A quick summary:

Fax: I can’t believe people still use fax. Unbelievable. Thankfully most places are fine with scan+email, but there were times I had to go to Kinkos to fax something. No, I don’t own a fax machine. I don’t even have a landline phone.

Kinkos: What a terrible, terrible place. So mediocre and expensive. Could be so much more.

Microsoft Word: Makes me want to pull my hair out. Probably one of the buggiest, bloated products I have used in a very, very long time. I definitely prefer Pages whenever possible.

Microsoft Excel: Actually, a really great product. I’ve been using Excel for years and I love it. Now, if I was trying to do something quick, I would probably use Numbers since it’s more lightweight and prettier, but you can’t beat Excel for it’s power and features.

Microsoft PPT: Also makes me want to pull my hair out. Funny this is, I never use it. I just see other presentations made with it and they look so damn ugly. Keynote is gorgeous.

Google Docs: Buggy as hell, but the only way to collaborate on documents online. I’m very skeptical of tools becoming web based just for the sake of being web based, but you actually need to collaborate on documents with other people. So Google docs is actually very useful. But seriously Google, hire some more QA and fix that shit.

Screen sharing: It’s amazing how hard it is to just share your screen with someone else so you can give them a demo. iChat rules here.

Video conferencing: Again, products in this area are SOOO bad. We tried using tokbox.com but the quality stinks. Yeah, yeah, it’s on the web in flash. That’s cool, i guess. I’d rather have higher quality video, and no damn audio feedback.

There are all this “pro” products out there for collaboration and video conferencing like Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro. But they are sooooo bad. At the end of the day, iChat offers the best video conferencing and screen sharing solution out there. And it’s a consumer IM application! Crazy.