Archive for the ‘google’ Category

Getting into the graph

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

Designing forms online is a hard job. What you need to do is find the right balance between the consumer experience which is generally worse as the number of fields grows and the amount of content you or your employers want to get from the user in a single form. With this you’re defining the conversion rate of a form – less fields will, ceteris paribus, give you a higher conversion rate – which means that you should strive to have less fields in a form (although recently I saw an argument on twitter that you want for people to put some effort into forms to avoid registration from people who will never use your service1). Having many fields in a form has two major effects – users cannot easily scan the form to see if they’re actually willing to give away all the information that you want and they don’t want the form to take a lot of time. Since you sometimes can’t lower the number of required fields you can try to lesser the pain of filling them – by auto pre-filling them.

This is especially true of contact/feedback and registration forms. On contact forms the only thing consumers want to give is the message, on the other hand what you want is at least a name and a way to contact them (the others in your company might want more, but that’s a different storypost). The registration form is somewhat similar in the way that you can make it really simple by just using email and password fields but then again it’s nice if you have a way of addressing your users other than an email address and if your application is at least a bit local you also want their location.

The other side of the story is obviously that consumers don’t want to fill the same forms all the time. As time passes they’re minds are saying “Not again…” which is not that far enough from “Why can’t they get it from some place I already use”.

Into the graph

There have been a lot of attempts at solving this issue of repetitive entering of same data. There’s a way to do it with OpenID, which unfortunately isn’t ready for mass use since not many people use it. Other possibilities are public APIs of numerous services that allow you to get at least some user information if you have some data about them.

One of these APIs is Flickr‘s as it allows access to user information if you have the user’s email through flickr.people.findByEmail and then flickr.people.getInfo as is neatly demostrated by huffduffer which uses it to retrieve your Flickr avatar.

What you have now is the user’s name, “preferred” username, location and avatar (which you might have had already if the user is registered with gravatar).

The graph

Social Graph Platform Wars
Image by davemc500hats via Flickr

The other place where you can get decent information about the user is Google’s SocialGraph API. With it you get lots of services from which you can get all kinds of public information about a user. The problem with this API is that you first need a relevant entry point which must be a URL that the user owns. This can be a Flickr user URL (that you have if you successfully completed the previous step) but these don’t always produce very good results.

What seems to produce better results are twitter URLs – the only problem wasis how to get one. An easy way to get the users twitter URL is demonstrated in a blog post by Chris Heilmann. This will get you all the information you get from Flickr for all the users that are currently logged in to their twitter account. Seems that this is not possible anymore!

If you’re still not getting anything you can still ask a user for a URL – be it their blog or any social network service account. Or you can let her log in using other services that will give you a good starting point, like Facebook Connect or OpenID.

Data from the graph

What SocialGraph gives you is a list of services the user is registered with. You can also get their list of friends – if any of them are also users of your service you can suggest they also connect on your service. You might also get to know whether they use OpenID and suggest them that they use that login to log into your service too. Or you might be able to figure out what their blogs are – especially when they’re claimed on Technorati.

This information can also help you get in touch with your users as you can automatically contact them on services where you also have an account, like Facebook, twitter, friendfeed and others.

The thing is that once you have all this information you should be able to get all the public information the user has exposed on any of these services. And you can use this information to help the user by pre-filling forms or use it in other ways that a user might find helpful, but not spooky.

What you shouldn’t do is use this information in ways that might scare the user. For example if you can get the birth date from any of the services, don’t hide the fact that you did – offer a form to fill the date and prefill it. This way the user won’t be spooked if you send them a happy birthday note or you greet them with a happy birthday note.

This form should get your Twitter data and then get some of your services via Google’s SocialGraph. It’s all nicely wrapped in an hCard.

  1. Sorry I forgot your name as I’m not yet used to bookmarking twitter statuses. back
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The Catch-22 of contextual advertising

Monday, April 7th, 2008

Wikipedia states the following:

Contextual advertising is the term applied to advertisements appearing on websites or other media, such as content displayed in mobile phones, where the advertisements are selected and served by automated systems based on the content displayed by the user.

As a content publisher I have the possibility to put ads on my blog and earn a few bucks whenever a visitor clicks on the link. Since I’m to small to be targeted by any advertising agency or advertisers directly (which is proven by the lack of text-link-ads on this page) the contextual advertising is the only way to go.

The goal of contextual advertising is to display ads targeted at the reader of the content and in the case of blogs also the creator / owner of the blog. This essentially means that whenever I check my blog to moderate comments, write a new post or just to check what’s going on I’ll see ads that target me directly. When I see such an ad I’m invited to click it and I sometimes do – when the ad is interesting enough. I click on it as I would click on the same banner if I saw it on any other page.

If we try to see this from the other side – the advertising network will pay me for every click anybody makes on any ads on my blog. Actually the advertisers pay for the ads and a part of that money is passed on to me as the content owner. This means that I could easily place ads on my blog and earn money by just clicking on them. Obviously they will want to prevent such action. A local advertising network ToboAds does this transparently – they told me that they registered a few fraudulent clicks and that it constitutes a breach of their TOS – if I continue to do this they’ll throw me out of the system. I wonder what Google does…

So they’re targeting ME and not letting ME click.

As I talked with a guy from the ToboAds team today it made me think whether I could find a favorable solution for all parties. I understand that this might be hard but how about this – I could only use the money I earn from clicking on “my” ads for buying ads on the same network. Of course if the amount is relatively high there need to be other measures – we wouldn’t want ad networks to charge us for clicks some freak did on their own blog.

I’d really like to know how these guys (oh, and these guys) do it.


YouTube related videos

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

I see that this isn’t news anymore but I was amazed when I saw it. It needs a few more refinements though.

YouTube related videos vizualization