$8 Clicks

I’ve been working on a draft of a my “note” for the BU Journal of Science and Technology Law all weekend. In the course of my research for the note, which is about FTC regulation of paid listings on search engines, I’ve discovered some very expensive clicking going on on the internet.
Overture (originally called Goto.com) was the first search engine to offer paid listings to advertisers. Each advertiser has to be approved for a certain category of search term. Then they bid for placement at the top of the search results. For example, I could bid $.05 for “Andrew Sinclair” and this page would come up first in an Overture search. Then I would have to pay Overture $.05 every time someone clicked on it. This is kinda ridiculous of course, because you should be able to find this page anyway when you search for “Andrew Sinclair”. That’s what the page is about. Of course, there are more competitive search terms out there.
Now, Overture has been making deals with all the major search engines: AOL, Altavista, etc. When you do a search on those and see the “featured listings”, those are the Overture listings. Overture pays these companies to host the listings, and keeps some of the profits from them.
The problem with this system is that it promotes pages by the advertisers value-per-lead rather than by relevance to the searcher. For example, if I type in “credit card” I’m going to get a lot of results that are people trying to get me to sign up for a credit card, not information about how a credit card works or the problems caused by credit card debt. A lead for a credit card might be worth a couple bucks while a lead for a credit counselor might be worth a couple cents. In short, the scale is tipped to the profitable industry, but based on lead value rather than overall profit. (A lead for a car might be worth a lot more than a lead for car products, even though car products might be more profitable in the long run. The car sales advertisement will rise to the top.)
Now for the revelation: Overture lets you see how much people are paying for a click on their listing. I’ve often tried to guess what the most expensive search term is. Is it travel? ($1.06) Is it credit cards? ($.90) What? Finally today I read an article that suggested that the most expensive clicks (and therefore probably the most valuable leads) are in the data recovery industry. I guess people looking for data recovery really end up spending a lot of money on data recovery services. This makes sense of course, because if you’re looking for “data recovery” you’ve got a problem and you’re willing to pay to fix it.
How much are people paying right now for you to click on their listings after searching for “data recovery”? $8.55 PER CLICK! Click away!

Tech House

I found myself at a Brown frat party last night… sorta. I haven’t been to a frat party since my first day of college six years ago. This “frat” wasn’t really what one thinks of when he hears the word “frat”. The residents were not frat boys, they were nerds. I should have expected this when the house didn’t have a bunch of Greek letters for a name but was instead called “Technology House”. They didn’t have any alcohol, but they did have about five kegs of coffee (including “Shock Coffee”).
This was my first trip to Providence and I must say it seemed like a nice town. I’ve heard mixed views though.


Don’t blame me.
I turned up yesterday to let me voice be heard. Apparently, it wasn’t enough.
This was my first time voting on the east coast, and I was really surprised at the crazy-looking voting machine I was asked to use. The mechanical lever machine was used by 20% of the voters in the 1996 election. I have a feeling that my previous residencies in newer western cities explains why I’d never seen one until yesterday. The machine has a giant level that you pull to one side. This closes the little curtain. You then turn all these little screws to choose your candidates. There’s essentially no information about the candidates. Then at the end, you pull the lever back and your vote has allegedly been counted.
I have to admit that, despite my disapproval of the detail of candidate and initiative descriptions, there’s something pretty cool about casting your vote with a giant lever. In some parallel universe yesterday, trains were being switched onto all sorts of crazy tracks. There are a few resources on the web about voting machines. I found this page to be the most interesting, and it has a picture of the lever machine. This article has pictures of some other voting systems.
Why don’t we have a standard system? Surely it would save us some problems.

Japanese Computers

I saw an ad recently for an importer of laptops from Japan. This seems like a good idea. It’s kinda cool that different countries have different stuff, but it’s even more cool that people occasionally get there hands on that stuff in countries for which it was never intended. I lost the ad so I was trying to find that store online. Then I figured I could just go to some Japanese websites and navigate via the pictures. Amazon.co.jp didn’t have enough pictures for me to figure out where the computers were. I don’t think they sell computers there actually (though they had an entire category of game systems). I decided to check out Sony Style in Japan. Whoa. They have lots of pictures so the site is easy to navigate without knowing a word of Japanese (indeed, not even being able to see half the words because I never installed the Japanese language pack). Most of the inventory is the same as that in the US, but now and then they have some crazy things that you’d just never see here. Check out this laptop that appears also to be a video camera. There’s even a demo in flash which features thought bubbles with Japanese text – fun to make up your own story to go with the pictures.

Planes and Trains and… Uh, Just Trains

I’m quite impressed with the new website by my old co-worker, Nick Aster. The man has some good opinions. Most notable, in my opinion, is his quick write-up of the proposed California High Speed Rail. Car travel always seems cheaper than other means, but that is because the total cost is absorbed by the overall population. US residents pay taxes to pay for the roads, and the world pays the cost of pollution and oil-related wars. I don’t have any facts to back this up, but it seems to me that train travel just has to be more efficient than car travel. Unless the government is willing to either push some resources toward more efficient travel or give the true cost of car travel back to the drivers, trains will never be feasible.
If you’re going to make a train though, don’t screw up the engineering, and don’t promise a train and deliver a bus instead.