Mar 312005
 

According to PCWorld.com, Jeffrey Lee Parson, 19-years-old from Hopkins, Minnesota has been given a sentence for launching the W32.Blaster-B worm and its variant in August 2003. In a merciful move by Microsoft, the teen will not have to pay back the $497,546.55 owed the software giant. The Blaster-B worm exploited a Microsoft security flaw and in turn launched a Denial of Service attack against Microsoft.

Judge Marsha Pechman will still need to confirm the settlement, which includes an 18-month jail sentence followed by 225 hours of community service. The community service is in exchange for the money owed Microsoft. Microsoft has stated that since Parson, nor his family were in a position to pay back the money owed, that community service was the best option.

According to the settlement, Parson will have to work 75 hours per year for 3 years doing community service and this service cannot involve computers or the Internet. Parson was arrested by the FBI after launching the Blaster-B worm variant. According to PC World, “Parson’s variant used a file name that was identical to a domain name registered in his name. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation was able to trace the domain name to computers owned by Parson, and he was arrested days after his variant appeared.”

Even with so many viruses floating around at any one time on the Internet, it is still rare to see any of the virus creators brought to justice. Hopefully, publicizing this story will deter some hackers from creating and launching their viruses. It’s also good to see that this teen was granted leniency especially because of his young age.

So, the moral of the story is that if you’re feeling creative, why not create something useful like a new software utility instead of a virus. Or create a digital painting. Or do digital basket-weaving. If not, the FBI may just launch its own Denial of Service attack against you. Enough said.

Mar 302005
 

Amazon-owned A9.com has opened up its OpenSearch technology for all users who currently have a search box already on their websites. OpenSearch is a new XML-based technology that lets users syndicate their website’s search results. On the A9 website, a visitor can search for products or information and once the results are returned, they can do another search inside each website while staying upon the A9 site.

The advantage of this kind of search is that deeper searches can be made into each website. According to A9, “The web is a big place. And search engines that crawl the surface of the web are only picking up a small fraction of the great content that is out there. But more than that—the richest content can’t be adequately indexed by one engine alone. Different types of content require different types of search engines. And most of the time, the best search engines for a site are the ones written by those that know the content the best. Unfortunately, that often means that users need to know where that site is and how to find, and use, the search engine once they are there. By supporting OpenSearch, that search engine can be exposed to the world and the results made available everywhere. Even small, specialized websites can now have the same visibility and distribution as the major search engines.”

Some of the websites that have jumped onboard of this new technology include the New York Times, NASA, Wikipedia and Flickr. By clicking the “Try It” button next to any of these websites results listing, A9 will display an additional search box for searching the internal contents of each of these websites. By clicking on any of these new results, a new window is opened up that links directly to that website.

One of my favorite features of the A9.com search is that when you do a search not only are the web results displayed along the left side, but in the middle of the page are the image search results as well. When trying out a new search engine, I like to search for the keyword phrase “funny t-shirts” as a test. With A9, results similar to other search engines are returned under “Web Results” but a whole row of images of funny t-shirts is also returned, which, in my opinion, greatly adds to the relevance of the search. There is even a new feature on the right side for adding and deleting columns so that you can display instead of (or in addition to) images, books, movies, reference, yellow pages, Your History, Your Bookmarks or Your Diary results as well.

When hovering the cursor above the “Site Info” button on the search results, a box appears with information on traffic rank, links, loading speed and age of the website. The downside is when clicking the “Site Info” button, the A9 site jumps to Amazon.com in order to display much of this same information and suddenly you find yourself surrounded by all sorts of Amazon advertising, which in my opinion, is irrelevant to my search.

All in all, though, A9.com is worth checking out. It adds a whole new dimension to search not covered by the Big 3 search engines with its website search features and multi-search capabilities. A9 ranks a 10 in my book.

Mar 292005
 

Google has announced its intent to buy Urchin Software Company. Urchin is a San Diego based web analytics firm that offers leading edge tools for analyzing visitor behavior upon websites. Urchin offers two main products, Urchin On Demand (accessible via the Web) and Urchin Software, a modular log-based web analytics software that resides on a server.

According to the Urchin website, “Founded in 1995, Urchin Software Corporation is a leader in the web analytics market. With more than 20% of the Fortune 500 as customers and a user base in the millions, Urchin is the most widely trusted professional web analytics and marketing intelligence software in the world. Urchin’s products offer enterprise level features at a mid-market price point.”

Now why would Google acquire a web analytics company? For several reasons. First, Urchin could be a valuable tool for those who use Google’s Blogger for analyzing visitor traffic. Second, AdWords could benefit from the robustness of Urchin. Third, well that is yet to be seen within the minds at the Mountain View Googleplex.

Now, when the Urchin deal went down, their biggest competitor WebTrends was acquired by Francisco Partners from NetIQ. Francisco Partners is known for being a large, technology-focused private equity fund. According to Ben Ball, general partner of Francisco Partners, “We are proud to establish a deep relationship with WebTrends, and are excited about providing the company with resources to accelerate its growth. We look forward to working with WebTrends’ experienced management team to enhance the company’s customer relationships, product capabilities, and strategic leadership.”

Francisco Partners must be doing a double-take right now since corporate giant Google has more resources to put into Urchin than Francisco Partners will have to throw into WebTrends. What must be even more disturbing for Francisco Partners, though, is that Google is known for giving away free services (such as Blogger). So, if Google intends on giving away Urchin for free (or some form of Urchin) to the general public, then most likely people will flee WebTrends with its hefty price tag ($9,995 for enterprises users), making Urchin the sole proprietor of the number one position for web analytics packages.

There has been some speculation that Google was interested in both Urchin and WebTrends and chose Urchin because of the lower price tag. Another big factor that most likely swayed Google’s plan to go with Urchin instead of WebTrends is that WebTrends owns Google’s long-time nemesis, Web Position Gold. For several years, Google named Web Position Gold by name as a software package to avoid in relation to Google since WPG violated Google’s Terms of Service.

No matter what happens, it will be interesting to keep an eye on how this story develops and to see if there actually still is a WebTrends a few years from now.

Mar 282005
 

An article in InADaily.com says the Google is backing off from a lawsuit filed by Agence France Presse. In an earlier blog story that I posted a week ago titled, “French Fries Google With Copyright Lawsuit Again” I pointed out that Agence France Presse (AFP) had filed a $17.5 million lawsuit against the California search giant for indexing its headlines, photographs and news snippets.

Instead of using the common robots.txt file or NOINDEX tag to exclude Google from indexing its news stories, AFP has put the onus on Google to remove the AFP stories using Google resources and technology. While this kind of nationalism is sure to be a hit in France, the repercussions for AFP in the long run may do more harm than good.

Since Google is the world’s largest search engine, most online companies profit by being listed in Google. Being de-listed by Google generally can have very ominous and detrimental results for a company’s bottom line. Since AFP is choosing a rather dramatic way to opt-out of Google, this will have some immediate impact on their bottom line. Of course in the short term, AFP will most likely make up with this with the publicity that the lawsuit has brought them.

In the long run though, this will most likely turn out to be a very bad move for AFP. Not only will they not be getting search engine traffic from the world’s largest search engine, but also, their competition will getting this traffic. In fact, AFP’s competitors are most likely salivating at this prospect right now. When a competitor storms off in a huff and leaves an open space for the rest of the competition, one can bet that other French press agencies are already huddled in the boardroom scheming how best to take advantage of this situation.

Six months from now it will be interesting to see how this French flogging has paid off for AFP, or whether Agence France Presse will now have taken to simply flogging themselves.

Mar 262005
 

Chess great Bobby Fisher recently emerged from Japan, escaping to Iceland to avoid U. S. authorities. Even Bobby would be amused with the chess match that search engines and SEO’s play on a daily basis. This is especially true when it comes to linking.

In the old days, websites didn’t have to have links from other sites pointing to them. People would simply submit their websites to the search engines directly. Then it became known that links were important. So, webmasters started trading links with a wide variety of websites with differing themes, under the idea that quantity would get great results. Which it did.

Then the search engines made another change to their algorithms, giving priority to relevant links. So, reciprocal link trading between relevant websites was born and continues to this day. But, it is also theorized today that reciprocal links don’t hold the same value that they once did.

So, those into SEO know that in order to stay competitive they need to make a counter move to the search engines’ reciprocal link devaluation. Three basic counter moves have developed. The first move is to gain one-way links from directories or other sources such as paid links. The second method, which is employed by some unscrupulous Webmasters, is to do reciprocal linking but employ some methodology so that the search engines cannot find their partner links so that their websites appear only to have a bunch of one-way links pointing back to them and none going out.

The third move is find link partners who are willing to do triangular linking. This would look something like, “If you link from your site to my site, I will link from another of my websites to your website.” This would give both websites non-reciprocal links. This method, though, is not quite as effective as one-way linking since the Webmasters would still be giving away an outbound link. Triangular linking is currently most difficult if not impossible for the search engines to detect. And, if somehow, in the future, the SE’s will be able to detect this method, then octagonal linking may just be the next counter move employed.

In fact, since there is not a lot to do in Iceland and it looks like Bobby Fisher will be holed up there for a while, perhaps some of the big search engines would like to employ Bobby’s help with fending off the SEO’s. Bobby has proven himself to be able to think many steps ahead and from his opponent’s eyes. Maybe along with the Cassandra, Florida, Brandy and Allegra updates, there will be a Bobby update in the near future as well.

m4s0n501
Mar 252005
 

Well, its that time of the year again, the end of the first quarter and strange oddities are happening with Google. The SERP’s (Search Engine Results Pages) are burping, bouncing and bandying about as they have tended to do every quarter now for the past year or so. In the SEO forums, there is quite a stir as some sites have finally popped into existence on Google and some sites have dropped out of sight.

Most of the changes though are not this drastic, but there definitely is a shuffle going on. It must be pointed out that it is early in the process and things have not shaken out yet. Normally, these quarterly updates take a week or two from beginning to end before all of the results settle into place.

Google PR (Page Rank) is also starting to get its update right now. As is typical, many are seeing their PR fall a notch at this point. This has happened in the past 3 PR updates as well. Many will see a PR drop only to be followed days later by PR going back up a notch to where it was before the update. The PR update will be welcomed by many who have spent this past 3 months with intense link-building campaigns and wish for this to be validated by a jump in PR.

The Google back links update is also occurring at the same time as these other two updates which makes one wonder if this is one of the famous (or infamous) major Google updates such as Florida or Allegra occurring? For the SEO Firm website, Google right now shows 10 more back links than it did just a few days ago. The back links update also gives validation to Webmasters and SEO’s that their linking campaigns are working.

No matter whether this is a major or not so major Google update, the inevitable is happening: change is occurring. It will be interesting over the next couple of weeks to see how things shake out. For SEO’s and their customers this will also be a time for reassessing strategies and making any refinements to those strategies if necessary. Hopefully all these burps in the SERP’s will lead to more relevant listing in the rankings. That’s what its all about, right?

Mar 242005
 

According to a press release in the Topix blog, Tribune Company, Gannett and Knight Ridder have jointly acquired 75 percent of Topix.com. Ownership among the three of the largest news organizations in the country are split evenly with each company gaining a 25 percent stake.

According to Rich Skrenta, CEO and co-founder of Topix.net, “This transaction provides us with the resources to be the best place to connect to a very wide range of news on the Web. We all serve the news enthusiast, so it’s a natural partnership. Gannett, Knight Ridder and Tribune generate valuable online content and Topix.net is dedicated to making that content easily found. By believing in the potential of our ideas and technology, they have made an investment in the future, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it.”

Here’s a little background about Topix.com, ‘Topix.net was founded in 2002 with the specific mission of providing users the ability to quickly and easily find targeted news on the Internet. With thousands of news sources continually releasing stories twenty-four hours a day, finding relevant news can often be a time consuming task. For complete coverage, users are forced to visit many different sites and sift through a variety of stories that may or may not be relevant to them. Topix.net alleviates this problem by creating thousands of topically driven, specific news web pages and populating each of those pages with only news about that particular topic. So, whether you are interested in finding all the news about your community, or your company or industry or perhaps even your favorite team or celebrity, Topix.net provides an intuitive, easy way to find the targeted news that is relevant to you.”

Now, why is all of this important? For those who subscribe to the “Internet will develop like Television” theory with Google, Yahoo! and MSN paralleling both the growth and flattening interest in CBS, NBC and ABC, this may give some more ammunition for this argument. Some recent studies have pointed out that Internet users jump to using more than one search engine for their specific needs. With the backing of the three large newspapers’ news databases and advertiser base, Topix could be the next premiere news search portal on the Web. Over time, it may elbow out Google News, Yahoo! News and MSN News as users become more sophisticated and expand their searches beyond the Big 3.

Just like CNN created the first 24 / 7 news channel, the Internet may be ripe for its own version of this. News search portals running 24 / 7 is nothing new to the Internet, though, but having one mega-site serving up relevant news gathered from 10,000 new sources from around the world, rather than from just its own company’s resources may make Topix a big player in the months and years to come. Time will tell. Wait for the late-breaking news on this one.

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Mar 232005
 

U. S. media mogul and entrepreneur, Barry Diller is acquiring AskJeeves search engine for $1.85 billion according to the BBC News Online and the LA Times. Diller heads up IAC/InterActive, which is 10 times the size of AskJeeves and owns other popular properties such as Expedia.com, CitySearch.com, Hotels.com, TicketMaster.com and Match.com. So, if you’re looking to take your date on an exciting weekend getaway to a far off city, then a newly integrated AskJeeves may be your place for one-stop shopping to make this happen.

The integration of AskJeeves and the other online properties may just give the Internet’s 4th (or 5th depending upon who you talk to) largest search engine a boost in the search engine wars in relation to Google, Yahoo! and MSN. In addition, having the Ask search engine on the other properties’ website will also undoubtedly boost their marketing efforts and effectiveness.

According to Diller, “AskJeeves was founded almost ten years ago based on the idea that simple text search results alone are not sufficient or satisfying – but, rather, that consumers want answers to questions – and questions posed in natural language and answered with spot-on accuracy were especially desired and appealing … we believe that in the future it has the potential to become one of the great brands on the Internet and beyond, and by beyond we mean in wireless, in the search for anything on any device.”

AskJeeves and its quirky butler logo was named for a P. G. Wodehouse character. According to the Jeeves website, “P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975) was the creator of, among others, the original and immortal Jeeves (the archetypal ‘gentleman’s gentleman’) and his master Bertie Wooster. Affectionately known as Plum, Wodehouse is widely regarded as one of the greatest humorists of the 20th century, and is read and loved by fans worldwide. His prolific output included nearly 100 novels and collections of short stories, as well as plays, musicals and song lyrics.”

AskJeeves has had many ups and downs over the years. According to the L. A. Times, “Ask Jeeves, named after the butler from P.G. Wodehouse’s stories, has taken employees and investors on a roller coaster ride since its founding a decade ago during the start of the dot.com boom. It’s stock once soared above $100 a share, but came crashing down below $1 during the dot.com bust.”

Steve Berkowitz will continue to head up the AskJeeves property in his role as CEO. He has stated that joining IAC/InterActive will give his company the financial backing to compete with the Big 3 search engines. Upon the announcement of the acquisition, AskJeeves shares jumped 15-percent. Its too bad that I just got a few stains on my new AskJeeves “I Love Bloglines” t-shirt as this could have been worth something, someday.

Mar 222005
 

MSN.com (Microsoft) search engine has recently announced two new programs for courting advertisers. First, according to the Detroit News, Microsoft will be testing its MSN adCenter in France and Singapore within the next 6 months. Currently, MSN serves up sponsored ads on their search results pages which are delivered by Yahoo! – Overture (or YO! for short). MSN’s contract with Yahoo! for ad delivery runs out in July 2006.

According to Microsoft, “MSN adCenter is the MSN Paid Search solution, which will offer innovative tools in search marketing. The new MSN search advertising solution will put the power and knowledge of the audience in your hands, allowing you to refine your online campaign with flexibility and control to help you maximize ROI.”

The second advertising solution, which MSN is beta testing right now, is MSN Shopping beta, which will replace the current MSN Shopping site and is expected to compete with sites like Shopping.com, Froogle and Yahoo! Shopping. According to MSN, “We are testing new technology to help you find product information easily and make informed buying decisions. Our focus here is to explore new ways to help you search for products, refine your search, sort results in a variety of different ways (by price, popularity, etc.), compare similar products and their cost at different stores and to provide product ratings and reviews by shoppers like yourself.”

The new MSN Shopping site offers yet another avenue to connect buyers and advertisers and compete head on with the other two search giants. In fact, both MSN adCenter and MSN Shopping will help MSN take market share away from Google and Yahoo! and attract new advertisers as well. Currently many advertisers buy PPC ads on Overture in order to get into MSN. The PPC ad rates for MSN adCenter are expected to be far lower than Google or YO!, which will give advertisers yet another alternative for their advertising dollars. MSN’s shopping site will also pull advertisers away from the other two search engines and help MSN to gain ground in the ever growing competition of the search engine wars.

This competition will be great for consumers, advertisers and MSN. It will challenge Google and Yahoo! to keep delivering new and innovative search tools in order to try to retain market share themselves or at least grow the market so that even if their shares decrease, the market will increase and they will still be able to satisfy their own shareholders.

The search wars are just getting started so stay tuned.

Mar 212005
 

First, it was the French flap over Google putting great books of the world (including French) online, then it was the French AdSense publishers threatening to boycott Google, and now Agence France Presse (AFP) is suing Google for indexing their news pages. This Rabbit Redux copyright lawsuit means AFP wants Google to stop showing snippets of their news stories, including photos in the Google News search results.

Since AFP uses a subscription-only business model, they have a financial vested interest in where their stories appear on the Internet. The question is, however, does showing a headline and 60-word snippet of their stories which link back to their website erode or enhance their bottom line? Apparently, AFP thinks that Google has eroded their bottom line to the tune of $17.5 million which, is the amount of the lawsuit.

Even though AFP is subscription-only, not all of their content is locked into password-protected pages. A trip to their homepage will reveal top news stories on the right panel, that when clicked will open up a new browser window and display the entire news story. The same is true for photos on the front page as well.

Has AFP taken the easiest method to disallow the search engines from indexing these pages? The answer is no. When taking a peak at the AFP robots.txt file below, one can see that none of the search engine robots have been disallowed. Isn’t adding one short line to the robots.txt file a little easier than plunging forth with a $17.5 million lawsuit?

User-Agent: *

Disallow: /beta
Disallow: /francais/news
Disallow: /english/news
Disallow: /espanol/news
Disallow: /arabic/news

Perhaps AFP isn’t concerned about Google indexing these pages and are more concerning with the indexing of the subscription pages. Since Google cannot get to these pages on the AFP site it is picking them up from other sites which do have an AFP subscription and have not taken measures to disallow Google from indexing them. A simple NOINDEX tag on these pages would do the trick, which AFP could require from its subscribers.

This may not even be the point, though, since under the “fair use” laws, using a title and 60-words of text will most likely not be seen as infringing in the U. S. courts which is where the lawsuit was filed. One has to wonder why the lawsuit was filed in the U. S. where these laws apply and not in the French courts where there is not as much lenience on using snippets from others copyrighted materials.

So, what is this lawsuit really about? Could it be about control, territory, pride, domination, keeping foreign influence at bay? Or is it really about the money? If it is all about the money, then it will be interesting to see how AFP fairs when Google excludes them and AFP’s competitors start riding high on the Google Gravy Train. Perhaps AFP doesn’t care, though. And perhaps this is what its all about.