Category Archives: Industry

Internet, RSS and Personalization industry stuff

Yahoo!’s Bangalore Office on MG Road

Originally uploaded by sgatz.

One of the perks of my new job is working with an amazing team of developers that live and work in Bangalore, India.

So, for the first time ever, I’ve traveled to Asia, I stopped in Singapore and I’m now in Bangalore.

Yahoo has a few offices in BLR (the one pictured is on MG Road) and there are lots and lots of people that work here. In fact, there are more Yahoos in Bangalore now than there were worldwide when I started with the company.

I’m learning a lot on this trip, building some great relationships and I’ve been inspired by the spirit of the folks here. Everyone here is excited, passionate and wanting to figure out how to get the best stuff done quickly. (especially the APG team here). And seeing different cultures firsthand is so much better than reading or being told about them.

I’ll post a little later about some of my key learnings about South East Asian markets…

Two weeks ago, as part of my “Living the Customer” post, I promised that I’d be talking about how search engine optimization sucks (from the perspective of the small website owner).

As fate would have it, Jeff Weiner, SVP of Search at Yahoo! just spoke at PC Forum and gave the perfect quote: “Search is the tyranny of the Web master. The only people getting into search indices are those sophisticated enough to get into a search index–they only can generate relevancy by incoming links, and there are a number of people for whom that doesn’t apply.”.

For the last few months, I’ve been helping a small niche content/community site to get noticed in search engines. And Jeff’s statement is spot on. Search results today are largely (and sadly) ruled by people who know how to game the system. It is simply too hard for a new, but good quality, site to get noticed and the techniques that search engines use to combat the SEOs and sploggers work against the little guy.

During the process of getting this site up, I worked with them to do everything right: submitted site maps, got into Y! Directory, got a fair number of links from other sites/directories. And then we waited. And waited. And waited. And then I learned about the “Google Sandbox”. The “sandbox”–which Google officially denies–means that you will not show in the results of any popular/generic query for up to a year. Its been 9 months for this site, and it still doesn’t appear anywhere on popular searches on Google (not at all anywhere in the top 1000 results for relevant queries). Thankfully, it is getting good and relevant traction on Yahoo and MSN Search.

So who does appear on relevant queries? Well, the site in the #1 spot for most queries had keyword stuffed hyperlinks hidden on the page (white on white). The site that often appeared as #2 had two screen’s worth of ads before you scrolled all the way down to the content. And then there’s a ragtag bunch of semi-related sites. Now of course everyone thinks their site is the most relevant, but in this case, the site really is. The site that appears #1 most often is actually quite relevant and deserves its place, but they had to resort to Google trickery to get there. An honest, relevant site doesn’t seem to stand a chance.

In the end, I had to buy keywords on Google for this site. They’re paying about $140/month to get some attention. I guess that helps that google stock price, huh?

When I see all of this, its really clear that search has a long way to go. From a consumer perspective search is losing some of its usefulness as a way to find relevant info and from a small business perspective: forget it – unless you pay an SEO, you are not going to get noticed for a very, very long time. Small businesses need to focus elsewhere…

For almost as long as I’ve worked in product management, I’ve always appreciated getting a true feel for a user’s problem by living in their shoes.

One of my first PM jobs was at Reuters working on a system for doctor’s offices. I wanted to get a real feel of what a doctor and his/her staff go through on a daily basis and interviews & research weren’t cutting it. So, I took a week or so and went and sat in different doctors’ offices. I worked at the front desk alongside the staff and learned how utterly inefficient their day to day lives was. When you first visited, they had to call your insurance company to make sure your coverage was still valid, then if you got referred to a specialist, they had to call and wait on hold to get a verbal approval for the referral and find a doctor that was in your plan – and most doctors weren’t in more than a few plans. Then, after you left, they had to fill out tons of paperwork with each insurer offering a different form, different terms, different questions they needed answered. It was eye-opening to say the least and we ended up building an amazing solution that cut a lot of time out of these people’s days. The system was very well recieved.

Fast forward to today. At Yahoo! I have access to lots of survey research, customer feedback, blog posts, and focus groups. We also conduct “ethnographic research” where we visit people’s homes and follow them through their normal daily activities (some of which include the internet). And this research is truly fascinating. But it still isn’t enough.

So lately, I’ve been trying to get much closer to our customers. Actually, not closer, but I’ve been wanted to live in our customers shoes (like I did at Reuters).

Blogging here has been great for me to not only meet all of my blogging goals but it has also allowed me to get the true feel of what its like for a professional blogger to get started (too difficult still). It’s also got me to learn some of the intracacies of YPN. I’ve made $15.17 so far, and I’ve been literally incented along the way to pay close attention to ad relevance and give that feedback to the YPN team.

Lately, I’ve been spending time trying to get a site listed in search engines and ensure that its “search engine optimized”. I used to run the search team here, so you think I could do it in my sleep, but it is really frustrating to get your site found in Google, Yahoo and MSN. Tomorrow I’ll write about SEO and my thoughts there, but again, I have a HUGE appreciation for small business owners trying to do a good job and get found on search engines. I feel first-hand the exasperation of dealing with search engines and the temptation to spend huge $$ on SEOs who know how to game the system. All those years that I ran search, I never fully appreciated how those folks felt, now by going back to the fundamentals, and living the customer, I get it.

All of my training as a PM taught me not design products as if I am the customer. But no one ever taught me to actually try to become the customer. It’s an eye opening process and one that I think makes a better product and makes me a better product manager.

I’ve known for a while that MeasureMap was on the market and looking for a good home and now they’ve gone to google.

I was lucky enough to meet the team there and get a very early alpha account to use on this very blog. It’s a beautiful product that demos well. Nice visual design, seemingly simple dashboard and like I said, it demos well.

But for me, that’s where it stopped. I found it hard to really grok all the info that they surfaced and I simply stopped using it except for the occasional check in after Jeremy or Dave linked to me. They promised that they would make this data meaningful to bloggers, but from where I stand, I can’t see it. Om said it “sucks wind” – its really not bad, its just kinda “ok”.

Now, they are a part of Google. It’s times like this that I’d love to hear what the real story is. I can’t imagine Google bought them because of the app itself. It hasn’t even launched (so scaleability is probably an issue) and its so micro-focused on blogs that it seems too limited (I don’t think Google cares about Blogger enough to buy it a stats package).

I’ve also been a user of urchin (not google analytics) and while it wasn’t amazing, I found it to be useful and it seems like they knew what data & functions mattered to folks.

So, if I were Google, I’d be taking the smart folks that made measure map and pair them with the smart folks that made Urchin (um, Analytics, I mean). And I hope that Google would say “ok, neither of these products was great, can you guys come up with a brand new thingy that does the trick?”. 0.25+0.75=2?

Like a lot of things in the space, it’ll be fun to watch. The whole idea of acquisitions is that “together we can do better than we could do apart”, for Google’s sake lets hope so…

At last week’s Syndicate conference, I got the chance to give a lunchtime keynote in front of about 200-300 attendees (its hard to count while you are presenting 😉 ).

I walked through the work my team has been doing around RSS, gave a demo of the new Yahoo! Mail beta, and talked a little bit about where this might all be going in the future.

In my blog comments, Rafael Sidi asked me to post my slides online and I thought that those of you who couldn’t attend would like to check them out.

A few things to note:

  • Slide #2 – “That’s who I am who are you?” – was a note to myself to ask the audience if they were publishers, marketers, tech industry folks or bloggers. The room was, surpisingly, pretty equally split amongst those types with the largest group being people who didn’t want to raise their hands.
  • 2005 Moving RSS beyond the start page – Even I was wowed when I put all of our RSS related launches onto one slide. So many launches! More than one RSS launch each month of 2005.
  • Overall, I filled in a lot of points with talking, so it’ll be hard to completely tell what I was saying, I don’t know if someone recorded it, but if you know tell me and I’ll post it here.
  • Important URLs mentioned: , ,, ,

Download it here:
Scott Gatz’s Keynote Presentation – Syndicate Dec 2005 (PDF)

Last night I was invited to attend a dinner to discuss issues that marketers and aggregators are facing as people are beginning to use RSS as a marketing channel. People in traditional email marketing businesses are asking how they can deliver “One-to-one marketing” via RSS – that is, how can they track and target individuals through RSS. I wasn’t there at the beginning, but CDF and Netscape’s RSS were thought of as more of a broadcast medium and not designed like email where every message is unique.

The conversation got lively when someone stated “well, maybe we shouldn’t try to market via RSS, leave it alone” (I’m badly paraphrasing). Marketers and tool manufacturers defended their take and in the process I learned a lot about where this industry may go as marketers come on board.

I think I picked up a few key things:

  1. No index flag. We need a way to mark an RSS feed as “OK to aggregate, but don’t show in search results”. For publishers who output a different feed per user, you don’t want to see 100 different feeds that are basically the same thing.
  2. Truly Personalized Feeds could be cool – if you could get your own updates from your bank (lets ignore security for just a sec) via RSS that would be compelling. I think the whole industry wants that, but he who executes for real will be a leader here.
  3. Tracking A lot of the tool companies say that they want personalized feeds, but really want tracking. The ability to get granular stats on who is reading their content, so they want to tie a user on their site to the RSS. I think sites can get there using tried and true methods (cookies/beacons, etc) so I hope the industry can work to realize that they don’t need to do #2 to accomplish their goals.

Overall, I always like events where I can see things from a different perspective than my own and I’m glad people are talking about all of this early. I look forward to the next steps: actually getting to work to look more critically at this and at least do #1 to start. And for those looking for #3 above, I encourage you all to come together to think through this creatively and at the same time recognize when you are & when you are not doing #2.

UPDATE: Rok (the host of the event) has a much better writeup on his blog.

This week is the Syndicate Conference in San Francisco.   When I went to the first Syndicate in May in NYC, I was floored at the idea that there would even be a whole conference dedicated to content syndication/RSS.   When we started working on RSS here, Dave Winer had just launched RSS 2.0 we weren’t sure of where this was all going.   There was only a small crowd of people in the “RSS community”.  

Fast forward to today, there are millions of people using RSS, companies are joining the RSS fray everyday and these conferences are usually packed with people.   Its gratifying to see this kind of growth and consumers are clearly benefiting from all the innovation that’s happening.

I’ll be giving a keynote on Wednesday.  As with any conference like this, I want to make sure I’m addressing the audience – be it publishers or industry types – so I’ll be paying close attention to the people in attendance tomorrow and the questions they raise.   Currently, I’m planning to walk through how we’ve gotten from those early days to where we are today, some successful examples of using RSS and where I think this might all be heading.

If you are attending, please be sure to drop by and say hello. 

Yesterday, we put out TWO new products.    One was the much blogged about/talked about RSS Reader in the new Yahoo! Mail.    The other, was the ability to get IM, SMS or Email alerts to any RSS Feed out there.   We call it Feed/Blog Alerts and its live now on

If you have never used Yahoo! Alerts, its a service that allow you to get real-time updates sent to your mobile phone, email or Yahoo! Messenger with triggers you specify like: Stock prices go above/below a limit, your favorite sports team wins/loses a game, the snow at your favorite Ski resort is perfect, etc…

So it made a lot of sense to want this feature: “send me an alert whenever this RSS feed updates”.    And that’s what we launched yesterday.   It works with ANY RSS/Atom/RDF feed so that means you can get notified of pretty much whatever you want.

So there are lot of cool ways to use Feed Alerts, but I’ll share with you how I’ve been using the service (I’ve been testing it for about a month now):

  • Blogs that update infrequently – I don’t like to clutter up My Yahoo! with feeds that don’t update too often, so I subscribe to an email alert for those feeds.   If that feed only updates once every few weeks, I’ll get it by email when it does.  
  • Stuff I need to know right away – like a Craigslist search for something I’ve been hunting around for a while or today’s sale on Woot!.
  • My own blog’s comment feed – ok so maybe I’m a little too new at this, but I love to know when I have comments, send it right to my phone please!

How will you use it?  Let me know in the comments. 

Also, since it was popular on the mail post, here are some screen shots, be sure to go check it out at …

Yahoo! Alerts Home Page
(see the Feed/Blog BETA option)

Alerts Home Page

 The Signup Screen
(you can enter the feed URL, or pick from your MyY! choices, also note you can pick the delivery options like “as it happens” and email, messenger, mobile)


Yahoo! Messenger Alert

(for a Yahoo! News RSS feed)


Alert via Email
(this one is a daily digest of all updates from RotoWire’s RSS feed

Sample Email Alert

So anyway, take a look. After a few days using it, I think you’ll find yourself moving some feeds out of your aggregator and into alerts.

Also, stay tuned, we’re working on an integration of the Add to My Yahoo button and alerts, so you can get your users to signup for alerts right from your site.

As you can probably guess, I’m a big fan of My Yahoo! And use it as the primary way I keep up with RSS feeds and all sorts of other content. I love it because I can quickly see all my news at a glance in a format of my own choosing. And lots of people agree, its the number one RSS aggregator out there. But, even though over 25 million people use My Yahoo! we’ve wanted to take RSS to an even bigger audience.

Enter Yahoo! Mail. Tonight we are launching a full post rss reader in the new Yahoo Mail beta. If you are in the beta, you’ll automatically get the new features.

RSS in mail makes perfect sense for a few reasons: 1) people already spend a lot of time in their Mail experience, why shouldn’t personally relevant content be there too 2) While you read RSS you are probably gonna want to forward good stuff you find 3) Hundreds of millions of users use Yahoo Mail, so if we want to reach the masses, we need to go where they are.

And, its cool to realize that we are the first major webmail service to offer an RSS reader integrated into the experience.

If you are in the beta check it out, if you are not yet I think they are planning on adding more users soon, so be sure that you are on the waiting list.

In the mean time though, I thought I’d share some screenshots of what it looks like.

The folder area on the new Yahoo Mail, showing the new RSS Feeds
(it uses the same subscriptions you’ve set up on My Yahoo! or if you don’t use My, you can add feeds here, also notice the little gleam next to a feed if there’s new content since you last checked)

A view of how Scripting News looks in the RSS reader
(notice the full posts, and notice how it realizes the first post is new and the others are marked as “Previously Viewed Posts” with a subtle grey color)

We’ve been working on this for a long time, and its finally nice to share it with you. Overall, its another great step in bringing RSS to the masses. We already have a list of things we want to do next, but I can’t wait for the feedback to start coming in from the beta testers.

(BTW, it uses the same RSS backend as My Yahoo, so if you are already pinging us and if you feed is already in My Yahoo, it’ll work just fine in Mail.)

UPDATE: Be sure to read my post about the new Yahoo! Alerts RSS integration, which we also launched.