18 November 2007

According to Google, sponsored posts are just another form of paid links.

The legendary John Chow recently discovered that Google has decided to penalize blogs that are affiliated with PayPerPost, a popular paid posting service for bloggers, by reducing their PageRank to 0. Clearly, this is connected with Google's ongoing battle against paid links. While I am sympathetic towards Google's efforts to keep linking merit rather than profit-based, I must admit I am a little more saddened over the harsh penalties inflicted on bloggers in the PayPerPost network than I was at the PageRank reduction that some paid linkers experienced a few weeks ago. To begin with, this penalty is harsher -- all affected blogs seem to have lost all their PageRank altogether rather than just having their PageRank reduced. Secondly, I must admit I have a higher regard for IZEA, PayPerPost's parent company, than I ever had for Text Link Ads, the most prominent arbiter of paid links. PayPerPost has consistently provided opportunities for all kinds of bloggers, small and large, to make money by writing paid posts. While Text Link Ads paid links typically look a heck of a lot like any other link, PayPerPost posts are often immediately recognizable as paid posts even if they are not specifically identified as sponsored posts (why else would your favorite washing machine blog be talking about mortgages all of a sudden?!) and they can even be fun to read, depending on the creativity of the blogger involved. A lot of small-time bloggers (many of whom use Google's Blogger to host their blogs) are going to be hurt by this, in contrast to the previous paid links crackdown which affected a lot of blogging's fat cats.

At the end of the day, though, isn't a paid link a paid link? It's true that PayPerPost in practice led to a lot of blogs linking to a lot of sponsors merely because money had changed hands. While bloggers in the PayPerPost network can control what text is posted on their blog, Google the search engine is not smart enough to consider the context of a link in a blog post. It just sees the link, and it doesn't understand that some links aren't necessarily an indication of quality or popularity. I honestly think PayPerPost could survive even if paid posts all had no-follow links to sponsors because it is still worthwhile for the sponsors just to be mentioned in multiple blog posts -- paid posts are content which will be indexed in search engines, even if the links don't impart PageRank, and all the links can still drive traffic. For now, IZEA seems to be taking an uncompromising, unrepentant stance; they hope to continue "business as usual" without relying on Google PageRank at all. I'm not sure Project Goo-Gone is going to have Google shaking in their boots any time soon, but there are a lot of people who aren't feeling too thrilled with Google tonight.

25 October 2007

It does pay to be a Live Search Club member.

Back in July, I posted about some of my early experiences with the Live Search Club. I was a bit too optimistic when I predicted I would receive my travel drive in September, but my prize finally did arrive a couple of weeks ago. Although it was a long wait, I have to say it was well worth it...the flash drive I received actually had a larger capacity than what I thought I was getting! Since that's the only prize I've redeemed so far, I have no idea if you always get more than you are expecting, but I'm rather keen to find out. X-Box 360, here I come!

The Live Search Club has surely had a few interesting months since my last post. I'm glad that Microsoft stuck by the project even as many people tried to actively hack the service so they could redeem tickets for prizes without actually playing the games. Indeed, it used to be that a web search for "Live Search Club" would mainly come up with discussions or descriptions of cheats! Many suspected cheaters have had nasty things happen to their tickets previously "won" and prizes redeemed; some of the penalized, naturally, claim to be innocent of all charges. The "rush" times for the Live Search Club may be over as Microsoft's crackdown on cheaters has dissuaded those eager for quick rewards, but the site continues to attract a more patient set of gamers, some of whom are quite contented to donate their winnings to charity. That's nice, most definitely, but I'm more of a prize guy myself.

From a corporate Microsoft point of view, the Live Search Club has principally been a vehicle to increase Live Search's profile and popularity. It has definitely done that; not only do the games themselves force Live Search searches, but the Live Search Club toolbar also encourages active use of Live Search. Additionally, the Live Search Club has been a great promoter of the Live brand in general; although Microsoft's web ambitions know no bounds, Live needs a few more killer products to establish itself as a true Internet giant. While Windows Live Club is no Hotmail, it's a really solid and entertaining site that will continue to be popular as long as Microsoft is willing to pay for the prizes.

14 October 2007

Can giants shrink?

The mere act of listing the web properties of Yahoo!, Google, Amazon, and AOL would not be a trivial process. Those companies collectively have hundreds of fingers in hundreds of pies. Their audiences if anything expect these web giants to get only bigger, to continue creating and purchasing innovative new products. Sometimes, however, even an Atlas shrugs. What should a giant do if they find themselves providing a service which has not been as successful as they would like? Should they be cavalier in pulling the plug or prop up redundant and struggling sites indefinitely?

There are three reasons why I think giants should not allow themselves to shrink if they can possibly avoid it. First of all, the closure of any service pisses off happy users of that service, and even the "unsuccessful" services of a powerhouse like Yahoo! or Google often have thousands of users. Yahoo! may have thought Yahoo! Photos was no longer needed because of its acquisition of Flickr, but plenty of disgruntled users still think Yahoo! Photos was better. Secondly, closing sites creates distrust. For instance, there has been a steady stream of questions on Yahoo! Answers asking about whether Yahoo!'s new social networking offering, Mash, will replace Yahoo! 360, such as this one. This is not such a good thing -- the arrival of a new service shouldn't make existing users panic and ask, "Does that mean this old service that I use is going to go away?" Personally, I was really reluctant to start using Google Page Creator because of Google's killing of Google Answers...but Google, in my opinion, has done the right thing in keeping Google Video running alongside YouTube. Google Video is becoming more of a search engine for video than a video host, and it's still really useful. Thirdly, a shrinking giant creates opportunities for other competitors. For instance, many ex-Google Answers Researchers can now be found at Uclue, a paid answers service created after Google Answers was shut down.

I wouldn't argue that maintaining a costly service that shows no signs of generating profit is good business practice or makes good sense, but the costs of closing a service extend beyond the costs associated with maintaining the service. In general, I think the closing of any service should be approached very cautiously, and those services that users really, really care about (email or blog hosting, for instance) should probably NEVER be closed unless the provider is planning to quit the Internet. Closing Google Answers makes some sense to me; as a commercial service, it required both maintenance and promotion in order to be successful, but the majority of Web surfers seemed to prefer Yahoo! Answers' noncommercial and open version of an answers-type site. The closing of Yahoo! Photos doesn't make as much sense to me -- a little redundancy never hurts, especially in this case where people's personal pictures were the assets being played with by the web giant.

12 October 2007

The paid links debate pits Google against enterprising webmasters.

Google has made it clear that it disapproves of paid links (see this post and this one too at Matt Cutts' blog for more details) because paid links undermine the usefulness of links as a measure of the worth of a web page. Once links become a widely traded commodity, search engines like Google which use links to rank web sites can no longer be said to effectively index the web -- they will merely rank sites according to the amounts their owners are willing to spend on them. Google's response has not been to ban offending web sites but simply to penalize them, and that seems fair to me. However, the webmaster response to Google's "crusade" has been very mixed, as one might well expect considering that many incomes are in jeopardy.

Although Google is concerned with the bonus the buyer of paid links receives, many webmasters are sellers rather than buyers of links. Writing a paid review might simply be a way for a small-time blogger to earn a few bucks and add some content to his site. Publishers who are thinking about signing up for Text Link Ads aren't likely to be motivated by the prospect of lowering the quality of Google's search index -- they're much more apt to have paying the bills next month on their minds. For such webmasters, paid links are a lot like advertising and affiliate links: a way to make money. Why, then, does Google insist that paid links should be treated so differently compared to the "acceptable" ways to make money online?

I think Google is correct to be concerned about the effect that paid links are having on PageRank. Google's main business is still search -- anything that threatens the usefulness of Google's search results is bad for Google, and, since most searchers use Google, bad for most web users as well. On the other hand, Google is also in the advertising business in a very big way, so companies like Text Link Ads are competing with AdSense for prime real estate on potentially millions of web pages. Google's crackdown on paid links could be perceived as an attempt to weaken a competitor -- indeed, the seemingly artificial difference between a text AdSense ad and a paid link sold through Text Link Ads supports such a conclusion. The difference IS deeper than it seems on the surface, though: AdSense ads aren't giving "link love" like Text Link Ads are.

Perhaps an unsatisfying compromise will eventually be made: paid links and paid reviews are fine by Google so long as they can be easily identified and ignored by search engines, such as through the use of the nofollow attribute. So, links can still be sold, but their benefit to the buyer will be much reduced. If this is strongly reflected in the price of the link offered to the seller, it may no longer be worthwhile from the average webmaster's point of view to sell links; it may be that only high traffic sites will be able to sell links for a decent price in the future.

04 October 2007

Mgnet is a fascinating and frustrating experience.

Mgnet is a new service from AOL that provides a novel way to discover news, blogs, and other web content. Part of AOL's myAOL suite, Mgnet customizes what content it will display based on the user's past clicks. Its basic interface is essentially visual: you click on photographs which interest you and are led to related content, which you can rate to teach Mgnet what you like. There is something quite appealing about the randomness of this approach; part of the fun of surfing the Web stems from the realization that you really have no idea where you'll end up after an impulsive click or two! Mgnet, on the other hand, seems like it would be useless for focused searchers; if you already know what you're looking for, you don't really need Mgnet to guide you there...that's why AOL News exists!

I really like the concept of Mgnet, but I think it has quite a bit of growing up to do. Right now, it's still very possible to click an interesting photo and be led to totally irrelevant content. Case in point: I clicked on a music-related photo and got a whole bunch of results about Lotus Symphony, IBM's free OpenOffice based office suite, in lieu of anything about music. I don't think Mgnet knows me well enough yet to realize that I am, in fact, a total office software junkie who is interested in Lotus Symphony. Even if Mgnet is psychic, I still want to get music-related content when I click on a music-related photo. On the other hand, sometimes Mgnet works like a dream -- it's certainly not too shabby for a product that is still in beta. It's well worth a visit and I expect it to get much better in the future.

30 September 2007

AdSense's new Allowed Sites feature is a step in the right direction.

In the past, it has been too easy for the unscrupulous to get their competitors or enemies banned from AdSense through such means as repeated clicking on ads. While I expect this problem to continue for some time, Google has introduced a new feature which will help AdSense publishers protect themselves. Publishers can now at their option specify which domains or subdomains they wish to allow ads to appear on; although the ads may be displayed on sites which are not on the allowed sites list, no impressions or clicks will be counted for those ads. This prevents two possible situations that could lead potentially to trouble: competitors or enemies will no longer be able to steal someone's AdSense code and plaster AdSense ads on sites which violate the AdSense terms of service, and people who mistakenly put in an incorrect code when placing ads on a site that violates the terms of service will also no longer get innocent people into trouble. Truthfully, neither situation happens all that often...but both do happen sometimes so it is good that Google has addressed this issue. Hopefully, getting incorrectly banned from AdSense will be the least of the worries facing web publishers in the future.

Is using the Allowed Sites feature a good idea for everyone? I've begun using it myself, but there is one issue all publishers should be aware of before they create their own Allowed Sites list. Archival sites which cache old versions of pages, such as archive.org and various search engines, will no longer generate revenue for you from those cached pages unless you also add those sites to the Allowed Sites list. You'll have to do that manually at the moment. I would hazard a guess that most people make next to nothing from impressions on cached versions of their sites, but those that do might be better off if they avoided the allowed sites feature for now.

28 September 2007

Google Presentations might change the world.

I have enjoyed using all three of the programs which now make up Google's online office suite, but Google's presentations program is in my opinion the most important of the trio. While the main selling points of Google Docs has always been that it allows documents to be viewed and edited online and that it makes long distance collaborations trivially simple, Google's presentations program adds an additional function: the ability to conduct simple "webinars" via a combination of a slide show and text chat. If you are the "Presenter" of a Google presentation, you can take charge of the presentation and control which slide all those who are currently viewing it will see. The chat functionality allows the presenter to discuss each slide and answer questions from the audience. This is something that could find eventually wide use in business, academia, and online communities -- it could be really big. At any rate, I think it's really cool that Google has made the webinar as almost trivial undertaking.

Up to this point, I think Google Docs has not been embraced by many who would like it if they tried it merely because they see no need to share their documents online. A business letter, a school essay, or a proposal have a very specific audience and each is usually subject to some sort of requirement as to how the finished product may be presented. Most of my college professors expected a printed hard copy of all my written class work, for instance, and I doubt I would have gotten away with emailing them a link to a Google Doc in most cases, so I had no particular reason to use Google Docs to produce my documents instead of my ordinary word processor. Presentations, on the other hand, are all about sharing information among a group -- rather than being viewed by one person such as a professor, they are usually meant to be viewed by at least a handful of people and often many more than that. Where the goals of the presentation can be met through online viewing, Google Docs offers a really powerful and really simple solution.

It will be very interesting to see how Google Docs develops in the future. I predict that the suite will grow more sophisticated and feature-rich over time; this by itself will boost its popularity among those who are loath to abandon the functionality of the office programs they currently use just for the online benefits offered by Google Docs. I'm especially curious if we will ever see new features added by Google which do not have equivalents in other office programs; that is, will we see an online office suite that can truly rival offline office suites? If so, that's probably far in the future, but I think it is definitely possible.

14 August 2007

Google AdSense should worry about the other kind of PR.

Tales of webmasters being banned from Google AdSense have become commonplace topics in forums and blogs. I strongly suspect that a good number of those banned by Google really did violate the AdSense Terms of Service at some point, despite all their tearful proclamations to the contrary. However, if even a small number of people are being banned (potentially for life) from AdSense for no reason, that is disturbing for everyone who makes money with AdSense. Unfortunately for Google, I suspect that new webmasters will increasingly have the notion in the backs of their minds that AdSense is an unreliable ad network that could ban you at any time. Personally, I've never had any trouble with Google AdSense and I have a high opinion of the network, but I do think all this banning could come back to haunt Google in the long run.

When Google and PR are used in the same sentence, most people think of Google PageRank, Google's system for ranking web sites based on the number and the nature of their incoming links. However, there is another type of PR, too -- public relations. Google has built a strong reputation for providing free, high quality web services. Google's reach is so massive that, for some services, it has a more or less captive audience and needn't work extremely hard to maintain that audience. However, I don't think Google AdSense is such a service. There are many other alternative ad networks out there that Google must compete with for both publishers and advertisers, and large sites often sell advertising space directly, without going through a network. With every webmaster banned, AdSense loses another publisher to another ad network. With every new publisher gained, each alternative ad network becomes a little bit more attractive for advertisers. The effect of these bans can easily cocoon as well; one complaining banned publisher could convince three old publishers to drop AdSense and five new publishers to not even bother to signup for AdSense, for instance.

So, what should Google do? On one hand, AdSense's viability is dependent first and foremost on it being trusted by advertisers. To secure and maintain that trust, Google must crack down hard on those who cheat the system. On the other hand, advertisers will go wherever the eyeballs are; if enough publishers leave AdSense, advertisers will leave, too. My opinion is that Google needs to be very careful when it comes to banning. If a webmaster is suspected of clicking his or her own ads, for instance, why not just throw out the suspicious clicks and send a polite note to the webmaster informing them of this? Most naughty webmasters will soon understand that cheating won't make them money; some, perhaps, will reform their evil ways. In some cases, webmasters have claimed that a competitor or personal enemy has gotten them banned by repeatedly clicking on AdSense ads...that's not something that should ever be allowed to happen. Unfortunately, even a giant like Google has limited resources to police their network, but due diligence is necessary if both publishers and advertisers are to be well served by AdSense. While the potential for false positives exists, Google should be very reluctant to ban. Additionally, many banned publishers are complaining loudly about how difficult it is to be reinstated by AdSense once banned; this process should be more straightforward, too, as it is one of the best ways to silence a disgruntled webmaster. Even a publisher that has previously abused the system may well obey the terms of service once he or she realizes that AdSense is not so easy to game.

21 July 2007

Fun and prizes are at the Live Search Club.

I love it whenever a company, in the course of promoting its own products, lets consumers profit as well. Microsoft's Live Search Club is an online gaming web site with a few unusual features. First of all, all the games are word games and all integrate search results from Live into the gaming experience. For instance, you might be playing Flexicon, the Live Search Club's crossword game, and want to see if one of your answers is correct: your answer will be checked and a Live search will be conducted related to your answer. More usefully, you might be unable to figure out an answer and so you could use the hint feature to automatically do a Live search on a helpful topic. Another slightly unusual feature is that Live Search Club users can earn points ("tickets") by playing the games and redeem them for a wide variety of prizes, including Zune MP3 players and Windows Vista...that's where the consumer profiting comes into play.

In my opinion, Live Search Club is a phenomenal idea! It simultaneously builds good will and brand awareness for Microsoft's web properties and gets people searching Live more because it is integrated with the games. The games are honestly fun, too, and they fit well with the growing trend of casual gaming as each game takes only a small amount of time to play -- at most 15 or 20 minutes, I'd estimate, and some games can be played in about 5 minutes or less. My favorite game by far is Flexicon while my nemesis thus far is Chicktionary...but honestly I like all the games at least a little bit. Yes, even Dingbats, the game that spits in your face for playing it by only rewarding you with 3 tickets after successfully completing a puzzle. It is possibly true that Microsoft is using the Club as a way to generate more searches, as this article alleges. Personally, I'd prefer if searches were only performed when I ask for a hint, because I almost never pay attention to the searches that show up after I input and check an answer...so much searching just slows the games down.

A few days ago, I redeemed some tickets for my first prize: a 256 MB Memorex travel drive. My prize supposedly will arrive in September, but I've yet to receive the promised confirmation email so I'm not exactly waiting for it with bated breath. What I'd really like is an XBox 360, but it actually requires more tickets to redeem than anyone has ever earned through the site according to the Live Search Club leaderboard...indeed, it requires more tickets than can be earned until more puzzles are added. Whether or not the Live Search Club will be my gateway to an XBox 360 remains to be seen, but I'll certainly update this blog to let everyone know if I receive my travel drive in September!

17 July 2007

Yahoo!, Google, and branding your ad network.

Yahoo! operates so many web properties that it is perhaps inevitable that the company will not develop all of them to their full potential. I find it disappointing, though, that there is not more integration between the Yahoo! Publisher Network and Yahoo!'s other web services. It is still fairly common for people to build their first web page on Yahoo! GeoCities. Some are now setting up their first blogs on Yahoo! 360°. At least some of the people who everyday become content publishers for the first time using Yahoo! web services will likely end up among the professional web publishers of tomorrow. Yahoo! has a perfect opportunity to interact with these web gurus of the future by letting the little guys of today join the Yahoo! Publisher Network and earn a few cents or more with their content. Unfortunately, GeoCities forbids ads on its free pages other than those imposed directly by and for Yahoo!, and the Yahoo! Publisher Network is restricted to those webmasters who own their own domain. In short, Yahoo!'s perfect opportunity is a missed opportunity. GeoCities and 360° users will have no more reason to join the Yahoo! Publisher Network in the future than they would have had they used other services. Yahoo! has its reasons for acting as it does, no doubt: click fraud, an especially attractive temptation for small fry, would be a nightmare to police, and Yahoo! makes money by selling premium hosting on GeoCities which enables GeoCities users to escape Yahoo!'s ads. If Yahoo!'s ads were the users own ads, GeoCities users might not be so eager to get rid of them.

Another web giant takes a very different approach to hosting and to its ad network. Google's Blogger and its free webspace provider GooglePages both allow users to place AdSense ads on the blogs and web sites they create. On Blogger-hosted blogs, at least, AdSense ads are an exceedingly common sight. Google's path is good in at least two ways. First of all, Google has created an environment that encourages its users to create content and also to plaster Google ads on that content, bolstering AdSense's already enormous reach. Secondly, Google is introducing new webmasters and bloggers to AdSense early on. As some web publishers move their content away from Google servers, they will quite likely take AdSense with them because they are already familiar with it. AdSense's biggest enemy may ultimately be itself, as there is a great deal of chatter on the Internet about AdSense being too willing to ban publishers for alleged fraud.

In short, there is a big difference in how Yahoo! and Google use their free hosting services. For Yahoo!, hosting seems to be an end in itself. Google, in contrast, uses its hosting services to promote and brand its ad network.

10 July 2007

Mechanical Turk has a bright tomorrow.

Amazon's Mechanical Turk is a marketplace which lets people who have small online tasks that need to be done and people who wish to do small online tasks come together. Turkers can often choose from a wide variety of tasks including transcriptions, image tagging and marking, trivia question writing, and information gathering. At present, the site works pretty well, especially for those with tasks to do as they can get away with offering very little money (task payouts are generally measured in cents rather than dollars, though keep in mind that you might be able to complete many tasks in a short amount of time). I use the site regularly and I expect some groups of people, such as college students whose variable schedules make steady employment difficult or stay-at-home parents who are looking for online revenue streams, will become heavy users of Mechanical Turk in the future if they are not already. At the moment, what is holding the site back (and it is still in beta) seems to be some aspects of its interface.

To be more specific, at present looking for tasks means cycling through a long list of every task on the site. This includes tasks which a given turker might never consider doing. You can organize the list in a few ways, but in all cases the entire list is generated with the exception that those tasks which the turker is not qualified to do (a qualification can often be earned by completing a qualification test but also could be linked to something like the geographic location of the worker) can be filtered out. What I would like to see is the option for workers to blacklist some employers or task types so that they do not have to see tasks from those employers or those task types again in the future. A task categorization scheme is much needed. Some workers undoubtedly specialize in some tasks, such as transcription -- it would make sense for these workers to be able to enter a transcription section and see all available transcription tasks from all employers. This will make things a lot easier for the workers!

Recently I've noticed a proliferation of tasks by bloggers in which a small amount of money is paid for a turker to make a comment on a blog. This is an excellent use of this marketplace, in my opinion, because it allows the turker to do something he or she might enjoy doing anyway and get paid for it. The way Mechanical Turk is set up enables a turker to "view" a task before completing it, so typically the turker will be able to see what blog he or she is being asked to post on before accepting the task. So, the potential is there for people interested in a certain areas to post comments to interesting blogs related to those areas and get paid for it. The bloggers and turkers both win!

I'm hesitant to make grand predictions on a blog so young, but here's one nonetheless: Mechanical Turk will improve the interface and will become huge. OK, one addition to that: if Mechanical Turk itself does not come huge, some other similar service will. There are just too many tasks that can be done online and too many people who are hungry for online work for these needs to go unfilled. Someday, it's going to be big business!

07 July 2007

In2TV is AOL's rough diamond.

AOL's big move from Internet access provider to Internet content provider has, in my view, been generally well thought out. There have been hiccups -- that horrible public release of search results last year, for instance -- and there is certainly resistance against the AOL brand from disgruntled customers and veteran Internet users who still recall with horror the first deluge of the AOLers upon their once pristine network. Nonetheless, AOL offers a lot of good services and still has positive name recognition among millions of users. Like Yahoo!, AOL is too focused on safely providing to users what it thinks they want, an attitude which can hinder innovation sometimes. In2TV is a nice example of AOL innovation at work: the content is terrific, the idea is superb, and the execution is flawed.

In2TV is essentially Internet video's answer to Nick-at-Nite. It is an increasingly vast repository of old television shows and some public domain films. Its strength is the quality and quantity of its library: its offerings range from the Hanna-Barbera classic Scooby Doo to the anime classic Bubblegum Crisis, from the philosophical drama Kung Fu to the slapstick comedy of the Three Stooges, and from the recent flop Joey to the perennially popular Gilligan's Island. Episodes are viewable on demand and registration is not required for viewing. With a lineup like it has, In2TV can rival many television stations. How, one might ask, could it possibly go wrong? Actually, if In2TV works for you, you'll probably be delighted with it -- it's certainly one of my favorite web sites! The trouble it is it may very well not work for you. Windows Media Player is a requirement, a definite minus for non-Windows users! The video content is only licensed to be viewed inside of the United States, so that restriction alone eliminates most of the world's population from the potential In2TV audience. Playback is not always smooth -- I've experienced my fair share of frozen videos, endless ad loops, and other unpleasantness. Serious problems have even required me to reinstall Windows Media Player twice. I keep coming back, though, because In2TV's content rocks, and on an average visit I don't experience too much difficulty in seeing what I want to see.

I'm not sure the problems I mentioned will ever be "resolved." Since In2TV is advertising-supported, it makes sense that it be targeted to an American audience so long as that is what the advertisers want to target. Perhaps with time the appeal of a world market will also draw in internationally-minded advertisers. It is also doubtful that In2TV's restrictive technology will change any time soon -- since AOL doesn't own the rights of the video content it is broadcasting, DRM-friendly solutions are necessary to keep the copyright holders happy. Nonetheless, as long as there are plenty of media hungry American Windows users out there, In2TV ought to thrive. I know I'll be watching!

03 July 2007

A prodigal webmaster returns to the Web and has experiences with major and minor search engines.

May of 2007 was a momentous time in my life because it was towards the end of that month that I finally returned to the Web as a content publisher after a six year vacation. My first new site was a simple blog -- that, naturally, would prevent me from discovering exactly how much or how little of web design I actually remembered. Having created the blog and regularly posted to it for a couple of weeks, I decided it was time for me to share my site with the world. Although I've not been a web publisher for some time, I never gave up my addiction to devouring web content so I maintain a large selection of search engine and directory bookmarks. One by one, I went through the collection of links I'd assembled over the years and submitted my new site to each search engine and directory that would allow me to do so for free. And then...I waited.

I was not so naive as to be waiting for hits -- my past experiences as a webmaster taught me well how elusive those things can be. Instead, I was waiting to be indexed. I was keenly interested in how my site -- a content-rich but not at all search engine optimized blog -- would be received by search engines, especially the majors. To my surprise, Live Search added me very quickly to its index. Yahoo! soon followed suit. Google alone of the three majors scoffed at me. As the weeks turned into a month, I feared I'd fallen into what I'd heard other webmasters speak of with horror and loathing: the Google sandbox. As it turned out, my experience with the sandbox was relatively innocuous -- my blog was soon featured obscurely in the Google index after about a month. Google also did the best job of exploring my site out of the major search engines.

My experience did make me think twice about the search engines I use on a regular basis, though. I've used Google as my primary search engine since 1998, and I've largely been pleased with the search results I get from Google. I'm too interested in the Internet not to play around with other search engines from time to time, but at the end of the day I've basically been a Google search guy for the last nine years. My experience as a returning webmaster taught me an important lesson, though: Google doesn't necessarily have the freshest index around. There are doubtless thousands of websites in queue waiting to be introduced into the Google index...and these sites may well already be indexed by Live Search and/or Yahoo! That is potentially a chink in the Google armor; I expect my search engine to keep up with a World Wide Web that is growing rapidly. Admittedly, I would not trade irrelevant search results for fresh content -- I unreasonably want both relevancy and freshness, but relevancy is more important to me than freshness, so as long as Google continues to usually give me good search results I'll probably continue to use it as my primary search engine. However, Live Search and Yahoo! have definitely given me something to think about, and I've begun using both search engines more.

I was a little surprised by something else, too: the smaller search engines appear to generally be overburdened. It seems like it takes longer to get listed by them than by the big boys, which makes me question if they have the resources to be competitive in the search engine world. Choice is good, but search engines that don't actually index the web aren't particularly useful to anyone, especially someone who is seriously searching for information.