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Archive for May, 2008

Presenting Friend Connect from Google. It’s the latest tool that will turn any website into a social website by enabling interactions amongst the visitors. As the press release explains…

“Websites that are not social networks may still want to be social — and now they can be, easily. With Google Friend Connect (see http://www.google.com/friendconnect following this evening’s Campfire One), any website owner can add a snippet of code to his or her site and get social features up and running immediately without programming — picking and choosing from built-in functionality like user registration, invitations, members gallery, message posting, and reviews, as well as third-party applications built by the OpenSocial developer community.

Visitors to any site using Google Friend Connect will be able to see, invite, and interact with new friends, or, using secure authorization APIs, with existing friends from social sites on the web, including Facebook, Google Talk, hi5, orkut, Plaxo, and more.”

This is the basic idea behind Friend Connect.

And this is what a typical website would look like after Friend Connect is installed.

Personally, I think this is great. The idea is really an extension of the good old chat rooms which are usually sorted out by personal interests but became useless because of too much spam and the inability to network with people who aren’t online. Friend Connect would neatly take care of that. And quite honestly, most social networking sites aren’t that friendly anyway. As this Washington Post article explains…

“While large social networks such as Facebook and MySpace are judged to be worth billions, they have also drawn criticism for being “walled gardens” — places that allow members to connect easily only while at those sites.

The Friend Connect service raises the possibility that the kind of kibitzing now largely contained in a handful of mega-sites could be easily spread anywhere.”

and…

“Friend Connect is aimed at the millions of Web sites that could benefit from having members interact, but are unable to open their Web pages to such connections because of a lack of technical expertise or hardware.”

So how does Google make money out this thing? Funny you should ask…David Glazer, an engineering director working on Google’s social initiative explains…

“Friend Connect is “about helping the ‘long tail’ of sites become more social,” Glazer said. “Many sites aren’t explicitly social and don’t necessarily want to be social networks, but they still benefit from letting their visitors interact with each other.”

And this gem about Google…

“[Google] benefits when “the Web is healthy.” When more people use the Web, more people see the ads that Google runs on Web sites.”

Now that’s the way to stay ahead of competition. Keep on changing the game.

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In an article titled ‘The Mother of All Privacy Battles‘, The New York Times talks about a new trend in online advertising. For long, Internet Service Providers were happy to provide the connection and collect a monthly charge.  And for long, they have gawked at companies like Google that has made billions by posting search-relevant ads. All of this is about to change, as the ISPs are getting into the advertising business by tracking the browsing history and search patterns, so they can display appropriate ads. As an previous article about three British ISPs adopting this approach explains…

“A marketer that wants to reach wealthy golfers, for instance, would not have to restrict itself to advertising on golf sites. Because the ad system would track golfers’ Web habits, it could follow them to other sites and show them golf-related ads there, too.”

Now I am not at all against following around wealthy golfers and piddling stuff to them. And one can argue that this practice already exists on the Internet, especially by Double Click and Ad Sense, but this gets tricker, as the case of Phorm shows

” Phorm’s pitch to these companies is that its software can give them a new stream of revenue from advertising. Using Phorm’s comprehensive views of individuals, the companies can help advertisers show different ads to people based on their interests.

‘As you browse, we’re able to categorize all of your Internet actions,” said Virasb Vahidi, the chief operating officer of Phorm. “We actually can see the entire Internet.'”

When a company promises it’s clients that they can SEE THE ENTIRE INTERNET…either they are lying or worse they actually can.

And this development is sure to leap ahead…

“This is just the beginning of what is becoming a serious debate. There is a strong incentive for Internet providers to sell data for companies. Eventually, cellphone companies will start to face the same choice. If there is a G.P.S. unit in your phone, it will be able to keep track of what stores you visit, among many other things. How much would Honda pay to be able to send ads to people who’ve been in Toyota dealerships lately?

As they have with all the other behavioral targeting systems, proponents of these new I.S.P. monitoring services, argue that the worst that will happen is people see advertising that is related to their interests. Of course, it’s not so simple. There is a real risk that personal data could leak out of these systems, just like credit card numbers sometimes are revealed by online stores, by means of theft or accident.

More broadly, how comfortable are we in allowing private companies to snoop on us so long as they promise to forget all the juicy bits?”

And if you are not comfortable with this, apparently the users can ‘opt-out’. Now anything with an opt-out option usually doesn’t bode well with me. Since you don’t opt-in, one can’t even know where they are and how to get out of this. Plus, there is always a catch.

“Customers of BT, Carphone Warehouse and Virgin Media can opt out of the new system when it is introduced next month. But they will be encouraged to stay by being given a higher level of protection against online fraud.”

See…if you opt-out of getting hammered with relevant advertising, we will let the hackers have a free shot at you.

But to be fair, this is such an early stage and this practice could end up being a boon to advertisers, since you know the old saying about where do we waste 50% of ad revenues. And it might even help consumers who will get branded messages that are relevant to them. So are we at last seeing the beginning of online advertising utopia?

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