May 15, 2008
Yahoo! No Longer Top Web Destination
Yahoo! certainly has its work cut out for it. Having dodged the Microsoft bullet it now finds itself on the other end of a proxy fight brought on by Carl Icahn to oust the current Yahoo! board and work a deal with Microsoft. That, of course, assumes that Microsoft is still interested. They probably are in spite of what Gates, Ballmer, et al. said since the buy offer collapsed, but at the right price. It might be less than the reported $33 per share that Microsoft put on the table before walking away. That may not matter to Icahn if he gets more than what he paid for his shares.
That may be ok given the other news that popped up yesterday. AP Reports that Google is now the most popular web site in the United States according to comScore Inc.'s rankings. Yahoo! comes in at around 140.6 million unique visitors while Google barely passed it at 141.1 million. More people still stick around Yahoo! compared to Google because there is more content there. Microsoft came in third at 121 million. One would think that with barely a difference between the first two and 20 million or so between one and three that there would be less discrepancy between revenues each company generates from the web. Google leads them all by huge amounts.
Microsoft has stated that it wanted Yahoo!'s talent as much as its web properties to better position competition with Google. I can only ask the same question I asked when this first started in February: How can two also-rans come up with strategy together when they had none separately? Carl Icahn doesn't care. He just wants to sell his stock at a premium to Microsoft. Good luck with that. I think Google is the only one to come out of this mess with the fewest problems. They'll say otherwise, but don't believe it.
May 14, 2008
Charter Communications to Track its Subscriber Web Habits
Charter Communications is planning on mining customer web surfing habits as a way to raise revenues. The company will collect data against a range of product types and give that information to a company called NebuAd who will then send targeted advertising down the pipe to the customer. Charter says no personal identification will be made. Everything, including a marker of opting out, will be handled by cookies. The announcement has brought out the usual cries of invasion of privacy and spying.
I would hardly defend the practice, but at least Charter is telling its customers what it is doing. The FCC's mantra these days is notifying the customer about web management practices, so there is at least that. And yes, the opt-out feature is crude. It just about begs customer acquiescence by forcing it on a per browser per computer basis rather than having a clean opt-in option. Is this any different from visiting the Chicago Tribune sports page and seeing Google serve up ads relating to fantasy baseball on a completely different web page? Perhaps I'm reading too much coincidence to what I look at on the web and the ads that show up later on.
Think of ads as something similar to wallpaper. One customizes a computer by personalizing the desktop with pictures of kittens, or heavy metal bands, or Star Wars, or something. Do the same thing with ads. Visit a car site and get a spate of car ads. Get bored and visit a travel site. Ads are coming anyway, so manipulate what you get to see. No one is forcing anyone to click on them. If we're stuck with ads, we can at least have a little fun with the companies who send them to us.
Charter, by the way, just reported a net loss of $358 million in the last quarter. That's better than last year when they lost $381 million. The financial good news is that Charter stock broke $1 for 10 consecutive days placing them in compliance with NASDAQ listing requirements. They had closed at less than that for 30 consecutive business days, placing their listing in jeopardy.
The report on the ad tracking program is in the New York Times.
May 12, 2008
Facebook Sued To Reveal Identity of Fake Poster
A Dean of Students of a Roman Catholic school in Indianapolis is suing Facebook over a prank page depicting which depicts that individual as acting inappropriately for a person in that position. The issue for Tim Puntarelli is not to punish Facebook but to get them to cough up the details of who posted the fake page in his name. The judge in the case issued an order requiring Facebook to turn over information on the poster and to preserve the now deleted profile. Facebook requires a court order before they would give any details to anyone. The story in the Indianapolis Star did not indicate if Facebook put up any type of defense as to why they should not give up the information.
The story also quotes a staff attorney from the ACLU suggesting that the content of the fake page could be protected speech as a form of parody. That question, however, is reserved for a different legal action, should it be brought against the perpetrators by Puntarelli and the Roman Catholic Diocese.
One would think that the most interesting question to come out of this case is what level of detail Facebook has on the original poster, and how fast they give it out. The news story speculates that all Facebook could have is the IP address where the logins originated. With the aggressive marketing information Facebook is trying to collect with its Beacon program, there may be more information lurking than a simple IP address. We may learn more about the data collection process than strictly what information gets collected when setting up a profile, fake or real.