Thursday, March 27, 2008

Destroy the Democratic Party

This meme is really taking off. Already Google has indexed about 26,200 results for a search on
"destroy the democratic party" +obama +clinton"
Google Blog Search (not always the best source...) has 118 results from this query in the last month, and only 2 more if you expand the scope of the search to "all time." 7 of these results are from the past day -- making a monthly average something over 200, so the meme may still be seeing acceleration.

What has everyone upset? Number one is the idea that the super delegates will select the nominee, against the clear majority expression of will by the direct electorate. As one politically connected friend of mine recently said "that would tear the party apart, like the whigs being destroyed by disagreement in the mid 1800s." I don't believe he was connecting the debate of that time (over slavery) to the debate today (also with a racial component). But it was an interesting point about how deep differences of value can bring to an end institutions which have otherwise stood the test of time. While not as long-lived as the current Democratic party (there have been others), the Whig party lasted a long 23 years -- for some voters it existed during their entire lifetimes at the moment of its destruction.

In case you have been hiding under a rock, but somehow read my blog, the latest in this debate is the entry of Nancy Pelosi into the fray. Through her media representative, her position was clarified quite clearly today:
"The speaker believes it would do great harm to the Democratic Party if superdelegates are perceived to overturn the will of the voters," Daly said. "This has been her position throughout this primary season, regardless of who was ahead at any particular point in delegates or votes.”
This was partially in response to a set of big wheel donors who sent a letter to her stating, in part, that superdelegates "have an obligation to make an informed, individual decision about whom to support and who would be the party’s strongest nominee."

The debate about super delegates is of course a veiled debate about Clinton vs. Obama -- sort of like a war in Korea or Vietnam, its a proxy war for the bigger issue. The saddest part of this process for me is in watching the Clintons entirely deconstruct. How does it remain a rational position to say that Obama is not ready for the White House given the broad support he has received from other politicians and from the electorate? To continue this petty and self-serving argument merely reduces Hillary Clinton to the position of spoiler.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Vertical Search = Vertical Market

"Watch Out Google, Vertical Search is Ramping Up!" shouted a September 2006 headline in Read/Write Web. According to the "experts" we were going to see a rising tide of vertical search products like Technorati, pluggd, retrevo, zoominfo, and Farecast taking market share from mass market Google. But by the beginning of 2008, Read/Write Web was instead describing Vertical Search as limited to "...the search space that Google has not yet grabbed..." So what happened?

I have been reading about the panel on vertical search at the SES conference in New York. Bill Tancer (Hitwise) points out that search is increasingly dominated by Google:

- 66% Google,
- Yahoo 21%,
- MSN 7%
- Ask 4%
- Other 2%

And Google has been doing a great job putting "vertical search" content into its search engine. And so a lot of searchers are going "from search engine to search engine."

The result of this is that many of these vertical search engines receive an enormous amount of their overall traffic from Google (their supposed enemy). These "pass-through vistors" have not learned to go to the vertical search engines, but start with Google, end up at a vertical search location for the results they want, and then move on to their destination -- never developing a relationship directly with the vertical search engine.

The really interesting unanticipated consequence? Vertical search companies are being lulled into believing that there is a mass market audience for their vertical search products. This skews expectations and business model -- making these companies think that this pass-through traffic, which represents the larger share of their page views, is also the most valuable part of their traffic.

Instead, I believe that these vertical search companies would do much better to focus on the dedicated repeat visitors -- the vertical MARKET that their vertical search capabilities appeal to, and to find ways to serve that core repeat audience and not the fickle pass through audience that comes from Google.

Once a vertical search company has focused on their core audience, there are a set of very different decisions they will make about the features and core capabilities to invest in from an engineering perspective. And a very different set of revenue opportunities to explore.

In the end, Google is going to do a great job in virtually every vertical search category for the "casual" searcher. Differentiating from Google is going to mean focusing on the needs of a particular vertical user, not just carving out one data type to index.