Universal Voice Translators are almost here

One of the neat futuristic gadgets in Star Trek was the universal translator, a device that would take in any language and output English.

Engadget reports that NEC says they are close to having one of these.

the firm has developed a system that can understand around 50,000 Japanese words and translate them to English text on the mobile’s display in just a second or two.

Now this is not quite Star Trek because you’d need to convert the text to voice, but that technology is here already.   This is close, and it’s just another in the long line of technological improvements we all call … home.

I see this as very fertile ground for the open handset alliance.  Just think how positively travel would be affected if the language barrier was stripped away!    Perhaps even less conflict as people would find it harder to keep from communicating during crises.

Who is clicking at your online business door?

Back in July I missed this great post by Dave Morgan at AOL but thanks to Danah Boyd’s post it has surfaced again.    The findings are very surprising and very relevant to anybody running click or online advertising campaigns.   Dave summarizes the findings very concisely as follows:

We learned that most people do not click on ads, and those that do are by no means representative of Web users at large.

Ninety-nine percent of Web users do not click on ads on a monthly basis. Of the 1% that do, most only click once a month. Less than two tenths of one percent click more often. That tiny percentage makes up the vast majority of banner ad clicks.

Who are these “heavy clickers”? They are predominantly female, indexing at a rate almost double the male population. They are older. They are predominantly Midwesterners, with some concentrations in Mid-Atlantic States and in New England. What kinds of content do they like to view when they are on the Web? Not surprisingly, they look at sweepstakes far more than any other kind of content. Yes, these are the same people that tend to open direct mail and love to talk to telemarketers.

What does all of this mean? It means that while clickers may be valuable audiences, they are by no means representative of the Web at large

Indeed, this means that many online marketing campaigns may need to dig a lot deeper to obtain a positive ROI, and for some campaigns positive ROI is not attainable.    If, for example, irrelevant clickers (not to be confused with click abuse) mean you’ll have to spend a few dollars to reach a single prospect, and your margin on your product is only a few dollars, you may be fighting a losing PPC battle for online hearts, minds, and pocketbooks.    On the other hand if your target audience is, say, midwestern stay at home soccer moms, you may want to up your PPC spend dramatically because your nickel or dime per click could be worth many times that in prospective sales.

Obviously Dave’s post is only the beginning of the big story which has yet to be written,  and I’m not clear how representative this sample was of all PPC activity (I think it was broadly representative though – they looked at billions of data items).  However this helps me understand why some of my PPC experiments have failed to yield much of a return.     A good travel experiment given these findings would be to look at midwestern travel patterns and try to advertise popular packages to Mexico  or other commonly travelled points south in the winter.   Since women are the main travel planners this match could work well to increase the normally very low conversion I have seen on travel related PPC spends.

Oban Scotch for Christmas

I owed a friend a pretty good bottle of Scotch for a favor, and knew he liked Oban Scotch.   Unfortunately I had not checked the local price which is consistently $69.95.   Not bad, but I was shooting for a $50 “thank you” gift.   Enter the internet shopping thingie at Google which offered up Turnpike spirits way out east as having the best price by far on Oban – $42 plus shipping.    Unfortunately the website showed “not available” so I called them and got excellent help.  He had some bottles and I managed to order 4 of them.   With shipping I’m going to be under $50, and have a few more nice gifts to give.   Hey Dad – don’t read this post!

Shopping for scotch shows that the internet has not stabilized pricing at all – at least for Oban Scotch.   This single product has dozens of different online prices, which is especially interesting given that locally the price seems almost “fixed”.    I’m guessing few people buy liquor online – perhaps it is an impulse or very-close-to-Christmas purchase usually and therefore people go local?  However it would seem this price inefficiency could be monetized somehow by matching  low online pricing to high priced areas.    I’m guessing that our local liquore store paid more for the bottle they are selling at $69.95 than I just paid Turnpike, so somewhere in here there is a business.

Amazon unearths some great startups

The Amazon startup contest here has a video profile of the seven finalists in their contest which I think was to showcase users of Amazon Web Services (AWS).   I think  Jeff Barr  will have more about this on his blog or on Amazon’s blog.

These look like some really interesting companies.    One is measuring brain networking, another is providing 19 usability testing (this is brilliant for the small website market!)  One is optimizing PPC campaigns (hmmm – but won’t Google analytics do that extremely well?.)

Paid Links and SEO – game over dudes

It has now been over two years since Google started their crusade against paid links.  I first understood this crusade back in 2005.  It was the first time I’d met Matt Cutts, and we were sitting at the hotel bar during the New Orleans WebmasterWorld PubCon with a handful of SEO folks. I asked about the practice of paid links.  “Don’t buy links”, he said.  Matt was a bit vague about the consequences and other details, and the the Google guidelines back then were not very clear on this point.   In fact a substantial paid link economy had developed and continues today.  However over time Google has become very clear about paid linking.

In my opinion this this recent post from Matt Cutts, Google’s uberMeister of spam tricks and SEO, should sound the death knell for this strategy even for those willing to take the risks that have been associated with paid linking strategies for some time.   Clearly Google is dedicated about this, and will continue to crack down severely enough that the risk outweighs any likely gains.  Certainly any of the sites and folks I’m familiar with in Travel and Tourism should *not* use this practice to raise their pagerank.     I’ve been advising this for some time, but I knew the practice was still fairly common among some elites in the SEO community which meant it was still working.   I’m sure there are some exceptional cases but the basic advice here is easy – don’t buy links.

Like Graywolf, one of the most vocal critics of the Google anti-paid-link jihad, I have a lot of concerns about fairness, best practices, and how much pleasing Google has come to distort the production of good content.   But jousting at Google’s windmill has probably become a waste of time, especially given that many of their concerns about buying and selling links are legitimate.  That practice certainly did distort the relevancy of rankings in a significant way.   In fact Google’s core brilliancy – the pagerank algorithm – put in motion a variety of online linking practices that have reshaped  web content in dramatic, mostly negative ways.    People used to link freely and often as a matter of course because links are the heart of the web and commercial concerns were not in play.  Now, free links are doled out by many very sparingly in an effort to preserve pagerank at their own websites and to deny others a competitive advantage.    I hope Google is considering this factor as they revise the algorithm.  e.g.  linking out to other sites should tend to *boost* ranks for a given term more than it lowers the rank due to leaked pagerank.

Make Ads, Not War

As I’ve noted many times here I believe that our massive US defense spend is unwise, returning a fraction of the return we’d get by putting most of the annual approximately $500.000.000.000 spend into high ROI global and national development projects, pro USA marketing campaigns, and other infrastructure improvements.

Interesting to me was the number just cited for the 2008 global advertising spend –
486 billion, just shy of what we’ll probably spend on US military.   Global military is about 2x the US number, or approximately one … trillion … annually.   

For you  bogus-fiscal-conservatives-who-call-themselves-conservatives-but-believe-in-huge-military-spending you owe the world at least a 250 billion per year apology, because this military spend is so ineffective at obtaining the desired objectives that no business would ever tolerate it going into the future.  It’s tolerated out of ignorance and mathematical stupidity – the same foolishness that drives huge social spending.  I think the flawed logic generally spawns from the assumption that projects that *might* work to bring stability (e.g. war) actually will work.    Since many such projects often bring a negative or low return rather than the desired one, the ROI on our military spend is spectacularly low.   Vietnam, for example, was left in worse shape than if we had spent zero on that war, and it now appears that Iraq may wind up suffering the same fate.

So, I propose this:   Let’s try to corner the advertising market for a year with out half-trillion.   Instead of weapons, lets see how effectively a global advertising campaign  would sway global public opinion in our favor.    Think about it.   Every TV, every billboard, every radio, and all online ads are featuring themes favorable to the USA.   For every propaganda piece against us, our almost Orwellian media dominance would counter with wine and roses and happiness in the USA.   Maybe we could just corner half the global ad market but reserve a hundred billion to include lots of giveaways and promotions to butter folks up.   Free turkies, cheeseburgers, and flat screen TVs …

Oh, and then that last hundred billion would come close to solving all the major pressing infrastructure problems on earth.

A disclaimer –  I guess I’m only partly serious here.  We need to maintain an adequate defense, but current pork barrelling, inefficiency, and bad strategy have bloated the defense budget out of proportion with its return on the huge investment.   I’d guess we could cut it by at least 60% with no appreciable dilution of our US security, and we could *certainly* do this for a limited time with very little dilution in security but a huge benefit to infrastructure projects all over the world, which would create incalculable good will.   No, this would not solve all our problems.   My point is that it would solve more problems than our current use of the funds.