Jun 292005

Adware-Maker WhenU has won a major victory in the 2nd U. S. Court of Appeals, which ruled that WhenU did not violate trademarks with its distribution of pop-up advertising. The complaining company, 1-800-CONTACTS contended that WhenU was violating their trademark by selling pop-up ads to competitors while visitors were on the 1-800-CONTACTS website.

According to an article in CNET, the ruling states “We hold that, as a matter of law, WhenU does not ‘use’ 1-800’s trademarks within the meaning of the Lanham Act when it includes 1-800’s Web site address in an unpublished directory of terms that trigger delivery of WhenU’s (ads) to computer users.”

WhenU makes free downloadable software that is distributed with popular free downloads such as free screensavers and peer-to-peer file sharing applications and is on an estimated 12 million PC’s. Both WhenU and the free download manufacturers split the profits from the advertising fees generated from the pop-up ads. WhenU’s spin on the win is that this victory is a “win for consumers”.

The real win for consumers though may be in downloading a free anti-adware / spyware application such as Spybot Search & Destroy in order to keep adware to a minimum.

Jun 282005

Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer vowed recently that in the next 6 months, MSN Search will serve up results that are as relevant as the Google results. According to an article in ZDNet, Ballmer added that, “Search has more relevance than just the desktop. It’s important for people who search a corporate network. We’ll use search to peer into a range of business applications which would allow multiple applications to be searched simultaneously.”

Ballmer is referring to MSN’s newest Neural Net & “RankNet Technology, where current reports of renewed relevance in search have been exciting. In a Microsoft white paper about gradient descent, they outline some of the mathematics behind the newest MSN algorithm.
One of the problems that MSN has faced and still faces is its interface. Most people go to MSN.com only to find a search box hidden at the top among an entire page of distraction hiding the search interface. Few people even know that a cleaner MSN Search URL exists.

The other question that arises is “Just how relevant do you have to be?” Some argue that all of the current search engines are now relevant and now it’s just a matter of marketing to get the word out and claim to have a better mousetrap. They say that “perceived relevance” is what is important.

No matter whether perceived or real, relevance is something that the big search engines will be fighting over for years to come. The biggest benefit will be to the search consumer, so in this case, competition can only make the mousetraps better.

Jun 242005

Google Wallet, the new online payment system that is still in development has been rumored to be a rival to eBay’s Paypal online payment system. Since rumors of the clash have been flying around for the last week or so, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, decided to step into the spotlight for a few moments and squash the rumors.

Apparently, Google Wallet, will not offer a stored-value payment system, like PayPay does. With this kind of system, money is stored temporarily in a PayPal account during the transaction. This stored-value payment system is how PayPal has gotten in trouble and faced many regulatory hurdles in many states. The number one complaint is that the stored-value system is a function of a bank.

Google does not intend to go down this road. According to Schmidt, “The payment services we are working on are a natural evolution of Google’s existing online products and advertising programs, which today connect millions of consumers and advertisers.” It looks like Google’s first use for Google Wallet will be to send its AdSense Advertisers electronic payments. Currently, advertisers are paid via company check once per month.

Since eBay is one of Google’s biggest advertisers, it was necessary for Schmidt to address the rumors quickly and directly. As more and more people jump into the Google AdSense and AdWord world and sign up for the new online payment system, it won’t be long before you’ll start hearing television advertisements that say, “What’s in your Google Wallet?”

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Jun 222005

The Open Directory Project (ODP) is the largest human-edited, all volunteer directory on the Internet and one of the two major authoritative directories acknowledged by Google (with Yahoo Directory being the other). There has been much criticism over the past few years, some warranted and some not, of slow response times by the ODP to index sites. This is understandable, since anyone who has worked with volunteers knows that working with volunteers is a lot like herding cats. They come and go on their own time and you’re pretty glad to accept whatever they have to give.

In order to ease this frustration, though, the ODP put up a message board area on their website called the Resource Zone where the frustrated public could post a message to check on the status of their website in the ODP directory. Now, this wasn’t the perfect solution, but it did offer some relief to frustrated Webmasters who otherwise may never know after months what has happened to their site and if it ever was reviewed or not.

According to ODP administrator, DonaldB (Tin Man), “Our feedback indicates that the information we are giving out really is not a practical help in the vast majority of cases. People want information we either simply do not have or cannot for confidentiality reasons give out. Therefore, despite our communications, the existence of the status check forum raises unrealistic expectations, leading to more frustration but no satisfaction, for anyone.”

The Webmasters’ and SEOs’ frustration is understandable since there is so much pressure to get top placement in the search engines and the ODP is called out by name as one of the top two authority directories on the Internet. What Webmasters and SEOs need to realize though, above all else, that even though the stakes are high, the Open Directory Project is still an all-volunteer directory. It is regrettable to see the Resource Zone die from complications, though. Perhaps another process, such as an automated one, where an automatic email is sent to the Webmaster when a website has been accepted or declined can be developed.

Who knows what’s next for the Open Directory Project? Sometimes a step back can lead to two steps forward.

Jun 202005

Search engine guru, Danny Sullivan called for search engines to issue “weather reports” at Search Engine Strategies in San Jose last summer, informing the public on when an update to their search engine algorithms is about to occur. Yahoo has taken this to heart and is offering up their second Yahoo Weather Report concerning at update that is occurring tonight.

According to Tim Mayer of Yahoo Search, “This is our second weather report. We will be making changes to the index tonight so you should be seeing more of your pages in the index as well as some fluctuations in the rankings of results from previous searches.”

It is commendable that Yahoo is sending out a Weather Report or a “Warning Shot” as I like to call it to the search community. Not all other search engines have followed through and those who do, mostly do it after-the-fact once speculation of an update begins on the message boards. With Yahoo setting an example of doing the little things to keep being customer focused, hopefully some of the other search engines will follow this lead.

Jun 172005

A company called YotoPhoto has emerged, which offers search for free-use photos for both personal and commercial use. According to YotoPhoto, “Yotophoto is a search engine for free-use stock photographs. Some of the images are public domain and others have generous Creative Commons (or similar) licensing. Nearly all these photographs are free for personal and commercial use with minimal restrictions.”

They are currently indexing approximately 100,000 photos and their archive is growing by leaps and bounds. For instance, in one month’s time, they have doubled their photo index. There are some general restrictions on how the images may be used, such as no images may be used for hate or adult sites. They also ask that you contact the photographers as a courtesy to let them know how you’re using their photos.

Instead of searching Google images where most of the photos are copyrighted, YotoPhoto is a place to search and use photos for personal or commercial use. Webmasters, designers, and many others will no longer have to be frustrated searching for photos that are free for personal use but not for commercial use. At least this is one more tool in the toolkit for those looking for royalty-free and copyright free photos.

Jun 152005

This Chinese government has decided to encourage businesses and the general population to blog but without any subversive or sexually explicit language. According to an article in BusinessWeek, “…bloggers were not allowed to post terms to MSN Spaces such as ‘democracy’, ‘human rights’ and ‘Taiwan Independence’. Attempts to enter those words were said to generate a message saying those words were prohibited. Chinese censors scour Internet bulletin boards and blogs for sensitive material, and block access to violators. Sites that let the public post comments are told to censor themselves or face penalties.”

Apparently, this just goes with the territory when large corporations deal with China. Microsoft seems to take this in stride as part of the regulatory nature of dealing with individual countries and the filtering that needs to take place in order to do business in such countries. Earlier this year, France was up-in-arms about Google Books appearing online, which they thought may supplant French language and thought with English language and thought.

In order for U. S. technology companies to spread their wings abroad, it is important that they adapt to cultural norms inside the countries that they market in. This is especially true of countries that fear outside ideologies may be pushed upon them by the so-called “arrogant superpowers.” U. S. technology companies need to do their homework first when entering these countries and not rush into another Coca-Cola branding fiasco such as the one in China a few years back where the Coca-Cola corporation didn’t know the words “Ke-kou-ke-la” meant “bite the wax tadpole” in Chinese. Enough said.

Jun 132005

A Japanese man from Osaka was caught phishing in Yahoo waters recently. Instead of surfing the Internet, Kazuma Tabano was busy setting up look alike websites, trying to reel in naïve customers. The Japanese man built a Yafoo site that was nearly identical to the Yahoo Japan website. Now while Mr. Tabano was arrested by Japanese police, he wasn’t charged for phishing without a license, but rather for copyright infringement since his Yafoo logo clearly resembled the Yahoo logo.

According to The Register, “It is suspected that the man gained personal information on between 20 and 30 people who entered his site. The data was transmitted via mobile phone to the man’s PC. It isn’t clear what the phisher intended to do with the data. Police suspect he may have illegally entered the real Yahoo auction site by pretending to be one of his victims. The suspect is in charge of data input and software operations at a company, police said.”

Phishing in Japan is a fairly new phenomenon with only a handful of sites set up in the last 2 years. In the U. S., however phishing victims have cost banks and credit card companies an estimated $1.2 Billion in 2003. Some of the more common phishing sites have been those that have been set up to look like an eBay or Paypal site, asking email recipients to verify address, phone number and credit card information.

So, remember when it comes to phishing, don’t take the bait. If you do, however, wriggle off the hook quickly, report what has happened to your own bank and credit card companies and then contact the Internet Fraud Complaint Center so that you can help others to stay off the line as well.

Jun 102005

First, what does VoIP have to do with the Internet? Everything. VoIP (or Internet telephony as some call it) is sending voice over the Internet and avoiding traditional local and long-distance telephone charges. According to the VoIP Service Providers website, “Residential VoIP subscribers are expected to jump from 3 million today to 27 million by 2009. Residential VoIP spending is forecast to increase 64-percent per year over the next 5 years.”

Over the past 5 years, local telephone companies have been losing landlines to cell phone services in an unprecendented pace. Once VoIP hits the consumer market hard, this landline loss will start to spiral even faster. Businesses already know the value of VoIP with many replacing their old PBX systems and teleconference systems with VoIP systems.

Why VoIP? VoIP is cheaper. Businesses and consumers can save over 50-percent off their traditional phone bills by going to VoIP. Most VoIP service providers in the U. S. offer VoIP for a low monthly fee that includes free calls to the U. S. and Canada and cut-rate prices to the rest of the world.

Why should SEO’s and the Internet marketing communities care about VoIP? SEO’s will see an increasing number of VoIP clients as the market continues to heat up. New Internet marketing opportunities also can also be realized through VoIP.

VoIP still has some drawbacks, though, which are keeping its growth rate from expanding too rapidly. The FCC has mandated that emergency 911 service be mandatory with all residential VoIP phone services by September 2005. Currently, the market is fragmented in this regard. Also, like all Internet connections, VoIP is subject to power outages, so power back ups by manufacturers will also need to be in place for home use.

By like all emerging technologies, it is good to start thinking about the Internet marketing possibilities for VoIP. In a couple of years, you’ll start to hear, “Can you VoIP me, now?”

Jun 082005

There is a new reciprocal link scam that’s been going around. Instead of Webmasters emailing other Webmasters asking for reciprocal link trades, some unscrupulous Webmasters are approaching others by saying that they’ve done business with them in the past and that their link has fallen off the other person’s site and to please put it back up.

Our website has been approached by all kinds of people in the past couple of months claiming to have prior reciprocal linking relationships with us. The most recent was from a known bulk email spammer. When checking this company out of Whois it was discovered that this company was blacklisted for spamming. This website had never had a link on our website and in fact did not have any kind of links, resources or link directory page on its own site.

These scammers are trying to play on the goodwill of others hoping that Webmasters will apologetically put the link scammers link “back up” with no questions asked. It’s a nice racket for the scammers since they will receive a certain percentage of one-way links without much effort. All they have to do is accuse another Webmaster of dropping their links and many Webmasters will comply by putting up the links without further investigation.

My recommendation is to consider these emails a brand new link requests. Investigate the other website to see if you would actually like to trade links with them. Check them out on Whois to make sure they are not a ‘bad neighborhood’ website, do a search for their company name + message board to see what others in the community say about the company and find out where your link will be placed on their site. A little due diligence will go a long way.