Matt Mullenweg On Ads

Ran across this quote today which I just had to blog from WordPress.com’s Matt Mullenweg since I found it funny:

“We decided to show ads only on certain pages, only to the people who were sort of random drive-by visitors…if you use Firefox, you’ll never see an ad, no matter what, mostly because I like Firefox.”

Also kinda interesting from a business perspective. There’s been some suggestion over time that Firefox users are prone to ignore ads. Partially because of extensions that block ads (though products to block ads on the OS level, and in IE exist too btw), but partially because they are said to be more technical.

I wonder if a practice like this actually provides a higher click through rate. Because they only show ads in certain places, it’s not about total impressions (they control that by picking where to show ads, and when). They control how many impressions they run in a given period. By targeting those more inclined to click on ads, theoretically your ratio should be higher.

I’ve heard of quite a few different ways to target ads over the years, but this is a new one.

Web Application Coherence

One of the greatest things about Parallels is Coherence. The integration between the virtual machine and the host OS makes virtualized applications feel almost native. It’s a major win for users who don’t want to be locked into a mini-desktop.

I wonder if this concept could be brought to the web in a secure, but convenient method. There are many applications that could benefit. You could pull widgets off a page and onto your desktop as an application. For example you could take Meebo, an online IM service. In a matter of seconds it would feel as if you downloaded a new application, but your still using your browser. People love web applications, and hate downloads. This has been known for a while. Meebo is extremely popular because it feels somewhat like a desktop application, but it’s web based. Think of this as Apple’s Dashboard taken to a whole new level.

Take for example this psudocode (it’s just to make a point, not an API):

<div id="frame">
    <p>This is a window that can be brought to the desktop</p>
    <p id="test"></p>
</div>

var widget = document.getElementById(‘frame’);
 
// This would test if it’s currently coherent
if(!widget.coherence){
    // This would prompt the user to allow coherence on the page.  Typical extension-like install warning.
    widget.allowCoherence();
}
 
// When you first enter coherence mode
widget.coherence.oncoherence = function(){
    document.getElementById(‘test’).innerHTML = ‘I\’m in your OohS, integratin your web pagez’;
};
 
// When you focus (bring a window to the front)
widget.coherence.onfocus = function(){
    document.getElementById(‘test’).innerHTML = ‘Your in focus’;
};
 
// When you first enter coherence mode
widget.coherence.onminimize= function(){
     document.getElementById(‘test’).innerHTML = ‘I\’m idle right now.’;
};

The first time your browser would hit allowCoherence() you would be prompted to allow coherence for that domain. Other than the integrated look/feel it would adhere 100% to typical web sandboxing. This isn’t like building an XULRunner app where JS can write to the filesystem. It would just be a way to make web applications more usable for people. and breakout of the web browser feel.

There are other things that can be done as well. For example css theming could give the app a more native look/feel dependent on the host. Perhaps just an attribute in the <html/> would trigger the browser to render things to look like a native app by default (pinstripe background for page by default, etc). Another great thing to use with it would be offline support. A little more cleverness would allow you to create bookmarks that essentially “open the application”.

Ultimately this would still be about web applications, but making them live outside of the browser window. The user wouldn’t need to install anything more than a web browser. The applications would be as safe to use as browsing to a website.

So there’s my giant idea. Implementing this in something like Firefox would be a rather large task, and to be useful the API would need to be standardized across browsers, but much of the underlying stuff is there. Anyone interested in taking web applications to the next level?

Backlash From User Generated Websites

All the buzz these days seems to be about websites that let users generate the content (while the site collects most or all of the revenue). From Wiki’s to MySpace, and Digg (and their millions of clones), all the cool kids are letting the users dictate most if not all of the content on the site.

Though lately these stars have been falling from grace. For example the recent Digg controversy has raised questions about if it’s possible to have a system where users can’t game the system.

YouTube’s business plan has been subject to constant question and often doubt. It may also be subject to a new form of viral marketing further eroding trust in user generated content. Perhaps not just the trust of YouTube investors, but for sure some users.

So the question I think of are: Will the web continue to move towards this model of user generated content? Or will we go back towards the web being a more read-only medium with occasional points of interaction (forums, article comments, blogs)? Can a business model be based on someone else providing all the content? Can investors trust a company whose actual content is created by it’s customers (try explaining that as a business model to someone 10-20 years ago)?

Of course this leads to the question: is this “Bubble 2.0”?

First of all, there is more to the “2.0” movement than just user generated content. It’s about usability, and flexibility more than who generates the content. For example the impact AJAX has had on making web applications like Gmail easier to use. And getting rid of the clutter on so many sites, to be replaced with easier to read text. Sure “Web 2.0” is getting over hyped with silly names, frustrating reflective logo’s, and goofy highlighting all over the page, but there is an advantage to all this XHTML, and DOM scripting. More usable and flexible websites.

I personally don’t believe the MySpace or YouTube model will survive on their own, it’s just not practical. They depend 100% on users to generate the content that attracts users. The same attracting is what draws spammers and just regular delinquents who abuse the system for profit, or simply to be a pest aka “Troll”. They may survive as part of something (MySpace is now part of News Corp.), but as a stand alone operation? I’m not to confident. People get tired of things. Video is fancy now, but eventually it will be just another GIF. Advertising will further help us become blind to the content, just like it did to GIF and Flash that came before.

YouTube today, YouGIF tomorrow.

Does that mean “Bubble 2.0” is confirmed? Hardly. There are many useful applications around with a more stable and reliable model, such as Flickr, WordPress, Technorati, Bloglines, JotSpot, LinkedIn and of course Google who seem to have some sort of a balance, by being more service driven than content driven (you go there to do something, rather than see something), or in the cases of Flickr, WordPress, and Technorati, they have done a good job keeping spam and other abusers out of the system, while fostering an open community using things like API’s to further growth. Flickr and WordPress have “Pro” features for paying customers. Technorati doesn’t (that I’m aware of) but uses advertising to cover it’s cost. It’s main problem is spam, and competition from the likes of Google. Though Google doesn’t seem to have figured out how to handle blog searching yet, either just like a regular website, or though a special blog search interface. LinkedIn has a social networking aspect but also bundles in useful things such as job /people finding tools, which lets face it: aren’t a fad.

Who will survive? Those that can correctly manage and balance user generated content. It’s that simple. The days where there is no balance can’t last. While the days of totalitarian websites that ruled the web are gone, the days of anarchy can not last. There is a balance, and likely an profit for the one who can find it, and use it effectively to allow users the freedoms they desire without the problems facing todays websites.

Good Sites Bad Design

This article tries to explain why some websites with really ugly designs do so well regarding usage. I think it dances around the reality of the situation. These sites are ugly because they weren’t professionally designed. They were implemented to be functional and to get into the marketplace (budget/time/resource limitations). The reason they are successful is because they were either: innovative, viral (word of mouth), or just plain useful.

Design doesn’t make or break a website, the ability to expose usability and functionality of your product in a way the user can grasp with minimal effort is what ultimately is important.

The sites mentioned (Craigslist, MySpace, and Google) all have rather humble beginnings. None were started by the big companies. They were created people with an idea, not a design.

I guess it’s all about how you view things. You can either be vein, or be functional. In my opinion the gifted are the ones who are rather balanced between the two.

facebook.google.com?

According to Business Week the reason why Google is raising $2 Billion, may be to buy Facebook. I guess that would be the final nail in the coffin for Orkut. Could be interesting to see what Google would do with another social networking site. The first attempt didn’t seem to be very successful. Perhaps they have different plans for this one? Personally I think $2 Billion is a bit to much for the site.

Web 2.0 I can’t hear you

There’s been a lot of talk about what seems to be called “Web 2.0” lately. It’s this new renaissance of browser wars, new dot com’s coming about, users contributing content (blogs, wiki’s), more fluid applications using AJAX, rich media over broadband, and all that good stuff. Personally I agree, we are at a great time for the Internet. I barely remember the last time it was this good. Ideas are flowing, and technology is advancing. But how far will it advance?

Using newly discovered (though not new) technologies like AJAX, it becomes possible to make a web page feel rather fluid. Almost to the point of a good client side application. Using something like SVG (or more likely Flash as SVG is still rather new) you can get enhance that even further. These are great. When put together nicely, you get this wonderful complete application. Well not really. Since very early on, computers gave audible feedback. Apparently we lost that in Web 1.0, and haven’t fixed that regression in “Web 2.0”. We leave it to plug ins like Flash, or QuickTime, but is that really appropriate? I will suggest it’s not. Audio has been rather closely integrated to computing since the beginning from those beeps computers made when keyboards really clicked as you typed. Auditory feedback is part of a complete application (that error beep when you do something wrong in an OS for example). We don’t have that on the web.

Innocent Proposal

Yes, I am aware the below proposal will upset some people, but hear me out before attacking.

I propose the web push to make OGG or find some other open solution to solve part of this problem. Pre recorded audio that’s compact and patent free so web application developers can provide audio feedback to user problems. OGG has been used by games such as Unreal for some time, so it’s proved to be adequate in quality. It would be perfect for things like voice overs, music, and other pre-defined audio purposes.

Secondly, there’s a need for what is essentially MIDIXML, MIDI in XML format. Something that could easily be generated by a server using JAVA, PHP, PERL, ASP, CF, or what ever language and transmitted. Since XML can be gziped, it could be compact (though a slight latency for gzip reasons). Easy for anyone to generate it would allow for much simpler creation of audio than ever before.

Bonus points for text-to-speech on the web, which would reinvent this whole thing to a new level (imagine using simple xml-like markup to present a human speaking, from within a web application). Combine that with AJAX and filling out your taxes on line could be designed in a way that would be usable. You could get explanations while you enter data, dynamic forms adjusting so you only see what you need to.

If these two formats were included in browsers like we now are seeing with CSS support that finally has started to come of age, Web 2.0 would essentially be able to replicate a client side experience, minus the graphical abilities, though flash can compensate for part of that. Sound isn’t just a frill, it’s partially accessibility. Audible feedback is a good thing. That’s why cars do it (in addition to that light on your dashboard), and aircraft as well “Pull Up!”. Even my cell phone is capable of audible feedback (key press sound, ringing, photo taking, etc.). Yet my computer can’t really do audio when online.

There is an annoyance factor of course (we all hate loud websites), but that could easily be compensated for by a good browser UI which could feature volume controls, including a mute capacity. Ideally plug ins would respect that setting so that the experience is clean and simple. Perhaps a way to have visual notification when audio is used if the user has it muted. This would mitigate the annoyance factor while providing for audible feedback.

Why not plug ins? Because they don’t standardize. We’d never get the penetration that you can get with standards. Look at video, there is still a complete lack of standards between players and codecs. Imagine if CSS was only available with a plug in. Do you think the entire web would download the CSS plug in? No, not likely. The penetration Flash has had is unique, and not likely to repeat itself, so that’s not even an argument. It’s one front the browser has no hand on. With video the browser at least has GIF support (which is on occasion used for things like webcams), it supports, images and text natively. But really no audio support.

Imagine a web application that could verbally explain a form to you (filing out taxes online?), or the ability to have a service like Gmail open in a tab, and get notification of a new message via audio. No javascript alert(). Imagine an online store with complete audio support (so far we really have only iTunes, which is proprietary).

Audio on the web has been misguided for a long time. I think Web 2.0 needs to address this. Audio is a part of computing.

The web is capable of so much, but it only touches 1 sense. If the web reaches 2 senses it doubles it’s potential. Perhaps in a few years I’ll be able to suggest SmellML or TouchML or TasteML.