Sunday, November 26, 2006

60 Minutes advertises Yahoo search as finding aid

For a while now, Pontiac has told people in its TV ads that people should go to Google to search for information on their vehicles. Huh? Not to Or Tonight, I noticed CBS' "60 Minutes' doing the same sort of thing.

The ad said that you could go to Yahoo and search for "60 Minutes" to find out more about tonight's stories.

That's right: they didn't say go to, or, or

They sent you to Yahoo to find CBS' own content.

It's not news that CBS and all other old media are constantly seeking content partnerships. There may be a new battle brewing for building search partnerships.

AOL pioneered this with AOL Keywords. Google has sold its Adwords to the highest bidder, with great success. Without using the term, I think we're seeing Yahoo Keywords, Google Keywords, and MSN Keywords -- registered keywords that are uniquely owned by the advertiser or content partner.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The abysmal architecture of and election results

Ever since then-Governor Engler outsourced to an IBM datacenter running Vignette in Colorado, I've thought that our great state's Web presence was pressed into a misshapen cookie cutter.

Last Tuesday I tried to find out when the polls closed in Michigan. Fox News offered a vote tracking tool that claimed that the latest poll closing in Michigan was 9 pm. As a long time Michigan citizen, I was sure it was 8 pm.

So I went to to learn the scoop. There I found oodles of links including a nice way to look up myself (or anyone else for that matter) to see where I was registered to vote.

What I couldn't find was a simple answer to a very basic question: when do the polls close?

I challenged some friends on Ed Vielmetti's "Vacuum" list to tell me where the Michigan Secretary of State site reveals when the polls close. One old Michigan friend, Jeff Stuit, cheated a bit based on past experience and revealed that the answer was to be found in a PDF guide for poll workers. Ed, who thinks about such things a lot -- e.g. how late is the library open -- remarked that the most basic thing a storefront must tell its customers is its working hours.

This demonstrates yet again the hubris of the Webmaster. She or he publishes what the boss wants to say, and doesn't think about what customers need. She or he doesn't ask a sample of customers what they seek; let's just assume what we need to publish. Surely out of the millions of people seeking to vote last Tuesday, many thousands had a simple question to ask of state government: How late can I vote? Not many would-be voters would think to click on a link for poll workers -- especially not an Acrobat file.

Lou Rosenfeld and I are writing a book on search log analysis. Our mantra is that every Web site should include a search function, and every competent Webmaster (or searchmeister) should analyze search logs to determine what customers seek the most.

Having found it ridiculously hard to even find the phone book for state workers, my guess is that no one at the Secretary of State in particular, nor the Michigan state government in general, is doing search log analysis.

By the way, I concluded that the western part of Michigan's Upper Peninsula -- we call it the UP -- is in the Central time zone, and that their polls follow state law and close at 8:00 pm -- thus 9 pm Eastern. And Fox News, for once, was right.

Also by the way: Saturday, days after the cataclysmic 2006 election, offers a helpful link to election results. The only problem? It's the results from the 2004 election.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Eminent domain, the 2006 election, and me in a statewide commercial

On the hottest day of 2006, a July day with the heat index well above 100, I participated in a film shoot. This was a political commercial produced by a good friend, one of the leading makers of commercials in Michigan, Doug Monson. For over a year I'd asked Doug to let me tag along on a video shoot. I've dabbled in video production for years and wanted to see a pro do it.

Doug upped the ante: he cast me, and other friends, in the commercial. The pitch was in favor of Michigan Prop 4, which amends the Michigan constitution to place severe limits on the ability of government to take property from one private party (e.g. a homeowner) and transfer it to another private party (e.g. a strip mall developer) in the name of "economic development." I play the reluctant bad guy, who has to tell the aging homeowners that the state is taking their homestead away from them to build a strip mall.

It was an amazing eye-opener for me to see how much work goes into a quality 30 second spot. Doug worked with Such Video, a Lansing area video production company. They had 10 or 12 production workers on site. It was the making of a small movie -- very specialized, the sound guy, the lighting guy, the cinematographer, the production coordinator --and Doug directing.

We did take after take after take, all in 100 degree heat. No one needed a pee break despite consuming hundreds of bottles of water.

Doug shoots on film, even though the editing is digital. He insists the quality of film remains superior, even though he has to have it developed in the one lab in Michigan that still processes film.

You can download and view the finished commercial.

You can also see still photos depicting the making of a 30 second campaign ad.

How will I vote on Prop 4? Frankly, I'm not sure. Most newspaper editorials in Michigan say we don't need to amend the state constitution, as the most recent state Supreme Court decision makes it hard for government to abuse eminent domain. I guess I lead towards voting for the proposal, knowing how governments across the country have abused the notion of "blight" to take perfectly fine, albeit older, homes and neighborhoods to serve the tax base.

In particular, I believe that the city of East Lansing has never admitted that John Hannah brought over 40,000 students to town. The city and its homeowner tax base (and voter base) remain in a 40 year state of denial. Starting circa 1967, East Lansing should have encouraged smallish, mixed-use student apartment/retail complexes around town, instead of creating the ghetto of delapidated 40s homes and new duplexes, with a nod and a wink to illegal rentals.