Are Horizontal Portals Losing Out To Verticals In India? Not Yet…

There’s something amiss in this article in the Mint: it creates the incorrect impression that all Internet conglomerates like Info Edge, Times Business Solutions (TBSL), Consim Info and Web18 are drawing advertising away from horizontals like Indiatimes and Rediff. The article infers that this might be to blame for Rediff’s “declining growth in revenues” – down from just 8 percent up in FY08, compared to 90 percent up in FY07).

The fact is that for sites in the Info Edge, Consim Info and TBSL portfolio, advertising remains a fairly small percentage of revenues: for Info Edge, two quarters ago, it was less than 5 percent of overall revenues. Even assuming that it is now 6 percent of total revenues for the Q4 2008, that’s a maximum of Rs. 4.14 crores. Compare this to Rediff’s online advertising revenues (pdf)of around Rs. 22 crores in the quarter. Frankly, a 42 percent increase in Info Edge’s ad revenues, or a 200 percent increase in Consim Info’s ad revenues doesn’t mean much if the base is low.

For classifieds businesses, there’s better ROI in advertising some of their own services to increase usage. For example, a TimesJobs is more likely to prefer advertising a special package of jobs in, say, Hewlett Packard, as a relationship building exercise with a client, because the returns are greater in the long term, instead of putting up an advert for Sunsilk or BigAdda. Classifieds businesses mostly use Adsense. Horizontals have an ad-sales team, and also use adsense for extra inventory; ergo Classifieds and horizontals aren’t a like-for-like comparison.

The bigger competition is from other content-based Internet conglomerates like Web18, though their collection of sites can well be likened to a horizontal. Then there are other horizontal portals like Yahoo, AOL and MSN. Bear in mind that these sites have a significant online marketing budget, and are able to draw in traffic using search marketing. Then they sell advertising based on these numbers, and make the margin. Since Yahoo India’s revenues have grown 100 percent y-o-y for the last five years, there clearly isn’t a case for verticals taking away advertising from horizontals.

P.s.: The story also quotes Comscore numbers, which I have debunked here. Talk to any of the Internet co’s and they’ll tell you that Comscore numbers are not in line with their internal stats. Also, the term Internet Conglomerates was coined by Outlook Business.

Disclosure: I own an inconsequential number of shares in Info Edge and Network18

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Nominated…(and going to LA)

No, not MixedBag. Our flagship publication paidContent.org, has been nominated for a Webby award, in the Best Business Blog category.

Update: Says Rafat about awards – “we diss them publicly all the time, but as soon we get nominated, we become an award whore (well, more specifically me).”
Heh…true for me too.

Also, we’re just 16 days away from our first conference, EconSM, which I shall also be attending, and surely blogging about.

Will be reaching LA on the 24th, and after five days there, leaving for NY for two days, and then Boston for another couple of days. Plans for each city are still being firmed up, but after the mixer and the conference, I’m going to meet people a few people who’re in the thick of things in a fast converging world – be it culture, media and/or technology. If there’s anyone you know in any of these cities whom I should meet – please do let me know.
And before I leave, there’s a get together for ContentSutra readers being planned…

(psst…any tips on getting over jetlag, or things I should be careful about in LA, NY and/or Boston?)

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Google Click-To-Call and ICICI Bank

I was just searching Google for the ICICI Bank phone banking number (it’s easier to search online than rifle through papers), and I came across a Google Click-to-Call sponsored link for ICICI Bank.

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I gave my number (should I not have?), and got a call on my cell phone (CLIP: +410), that connected me with ICICI Bank Customer Care in Mumbai.

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Now if only they could do something about customer care executives…

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Not really a Dreamhost

So, Dreamhost really seemed like a dream host, with their packages and the massive first year discount. Ankit is using Dreamhost, and has had no problems. My cousin Vivek also recommended it; he’s using it for a few of his portals.

So, I signed up for a Dreamhost and paid.

Next thing I know – Dreamhost informs me that I need to fill out a form, make a pencilled impression of the credit card and fax it to them for a confirmation. Now, I don’t know anyone here who uses a fax machine, or even has a fax machine with a phone that has international calling facility. Plus, why the hell should I pay for an international call when I’m already paying for the account?

Also, there was no mention of the faxing requirement during the sign-up stage, so Dreamhost are ensuring that you make a payment, cause the faxing requirement could put some people off. This way, you’re more inclined to fax cause you’ve already paid. I had other means of payment, so would have chosen other means if only they had mentioned it.

What really irritates me is the fact that DreamHost actually charged the card for the payment and THEN asked for a verification. It’s common sense that the card should be charged after the card has been verified.

I don’t have that kind of time to look around for a ISD fax machine, so I asked dreamhost for an alternative solution. They offered me none.

Finally, fed up, I had to ask them to close my account, and cancel the payment. They’ve “issued a refund”, which means that the payment had already been processed before verification.

One good thing: They cancelled the account on request immediately, and there were no processing charges.

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Phishing sites on Geocities? What’s Yahoo! doing about them?

I should think that attempts at phishing violate Yahoo!‘s Spam Policy, and Yahoo! obviously doesn’t seem to be doing enough to check on how their service is being used.

Five to six emails everyday that get by Gmail‘s spam filters carry a message similar to the following:

In accordance with our terms please visit here to verify your information on our secure, private site to ensure our records are accurate.
http://mx.geocities.com/Grace32_e820/

That is a phishing message, attempting to fool me into giving away my details. mx.geocities.com is a Yahoo! owned Geocities site for Mexico. Anyone can register a page, and this one redirects to a home loan/mortgage website. Other addresses in other similar mails:

http://hk.geocities.com/Kitty12_g402/
http://es.geocities.com/Bacon40_p776/
http://sg.geocities.com/Fiona70_c70/

The senders email address is always different, and from different domains. GMail’s spam system isn’t able to stop these, so my only recourse is to set a filter. All mails with the word “geocities.com” will now go directly to Trash.

Unfortunately, some messages from Yahoo! Groups also carry a mention of geocities, so that goes into trash too. I’ve already got enough to read/scan and write every day, and I can’t deal with spam coming directly to my main mailbox. GMail, otherwise is most efficient.

Also, seems like this isn’t new:

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A web of email addresses

Some of you may have already implemented a similar email structure, but I thought I should list it for the benefit of those who might have not.

Instead of creating a single email address and using it for all my email, I’ve created a star network topology. I’ve got a central email id (listed on this blog), and have a number of email addresses that forward email to it. I have separate email addresses for newsletter subscriptions, forums, GMAT and MBA, work etc. All mails received by, say, newsletter subscriptions are forwarded to my main ID (using GMail filters) where I delete the email after reading it. This way, the main mail ID only stores personal mails and the peripheral ID’s hold the rest. It also allows me increased email space, and if ever an ID gets congested (if I finish my GMAT and MBA and have no use for it), I can just delete the filter and disconnect the email address from the network. I got this idea from the term ‘web of companies‘, allegedly created by him.

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Save the Internet, okay, but from whom?

There are two sides to the proposed legislation on the internet –

One, as Indiatimes tells us (link via AlooTechie) is against ISP’s charging websites for providing their content faster to the user, effectively creating a payment structure wherein each site can possibly be graded according to the speed of content delivery and charged accordingly. Unfair? Possibly.

Google, Microsoft Corp and other major Internet site operators are not ok with the “pay to get fast” scheme that the ISP’s have proposed but the wesite owners are against it and are all for “net neutrality” as this issue is dubbed.

The other side argues that with costs of regular upgradation and maintenance going up, and charges of providing internet access decreasing or, at best, stagnant, somebody’s got to pay. Either the consumer, or the website. According to this presentation, the big corps like Microsoft and Google make the money, so they should be willing to pay, instead of the consumer being forced to face increased accessing charges. Do they have a point? I guess they do.

My real problem is with the regulation of the internet. Call me cynical, but once you let the Government in, things can only get worse. I’m more comfortable with consumers holding companies accountable, than the government doing that. When ISP’s gang up to charge corporates for access, I see it as a monopolistic practice, but it still leaves space for someone to take advantage of the situation. Slow my speed down and I’ll look for a better ISP, so there is an opportunity in the problem. I find Sergey Brin’s attempt to ask the US Congress for this change in legislation unfortunate. Do see Hand off the Internet

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And since we’re talking about Google, see this.

Particularly interesting is this series of questions:

1. Rep. Tom Lantos: Can you say in English that you’re ashamed of what your company and what the other companies have done?
Google: Congressman, I actually can’t, I don’t think it’s fair for us to say that we’re ashamed.

2. Lantos, to Microsoft: Is your company ashamed?
Microsoft: We comply with legally binding orders whether it’s here in the U.S. or China.

3. Drawing parallels with IBM’s collaboration with Nazi Germany, Mr Smith said: “US technology companies today are engaged in a similar sickening collaboration, decapitating the voice of dissidents.” He added: “Women and men are going to the gulag and being tortured as a direct result of information handed over to Chinese officials.”

And Finally:

4. Lawmakers were generally unmoved by this last argument. “If the secret police asked half a century ago where Anne Frank was hiding, would the correct answer be to hand over the information to comply with the local laws?” asked Rep. Chris Smith, the New Jersey Democrat and chair of the subcommittee on human rights.

While I agree with the US Congress’ stand in this case, I think it’s rather hypocritical coming from a system that has, in the past, financed coups and wars to further their own interests. I don’t think it’s beneficial for Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! Businesses should have a long term perspective; their “compliance with Chinese law” is going to hurt them in the long run.

Update:

From: Yahoo clear winner in Chinese censorship race

… While yahoo.cn censors results as strictly as baidu.cn, search engines google.cn and the beta version of msn.cn let through more information from sources that are not authorized by the authorities. In fact both Google and Microsoft, though certainly not squeaky clean in the eyes of Reporters Without Borders, come up in a relatively favourable light compared to their competitor Yahoo.

Reporters Without Borders says it is particularly shocked by the scale of censorship on yahoo.cn, which is even higher than local Chinese search engine Baidu. It found that the search results on “subversive” key words are 97% pro-Beijing. It is therefore censoring more than Baidu. The media watchdog was able to show that requests using certain terms, such as 6-4 (4 June, date of the Tiananmen Square massacre), or “Tibet independence”, blocked Yahoo.cn for an hour before the service could be used again. According to Reporters Without Borders, this method is the same technique used by Baidu, while it is not used by any other foreign search tools.

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Google Calendar

In case you don’t face connectivity issues and have no problems being connected 24×7, you might like to give Google Calendar a shot. I like it a lot more than MS Outlook because it is, typical of Google – quick, doesn’t overload the PC, is easy to use and has great additional functions. You can take a tour here, and login with your Gmail account. Reminders can also be mailed to your email account, as well as popup alerts. I think Indiatimes also had something similar to Google Calendar, but I never really used their email services extensively.

Once you sign up, a little section is added to your Gmail interface that allows you to access your Calendar from Gmail:

Very useful little addon, that, additonally working as a reminder. I’ve stopped using Google Reader because I just didn’t remember to access it. It would help if Google would allow us to customise this section. Oh, and it gets added to Gmail with half an hour of activation of Google Calendar.

Also, Manas Tungare (Drummy, you might remember him from the time we were both trying to design the alt.FLS forum) has an excellent Google Desktop addon called Goocal, which downloads your Google Calendar events (to do, reminders etc) on to Google Desktop.

Like I’ve said before, while they’re really making things much easier for us, it’s kinda scary the way Google has a slice of a lot that we do on the web and our PC. Take a look at their product list and the things under development. Of course, they have the capacity to buy out every new little innovation that comes along, and they make it free and sometimes improve the product.

Still, there are products from Google that don’t really impress much; specifically – Google Finance has been a major disappointment, and seems to have occupied a tier three level of importance since it really hasn’t changed over the past couple of months. Will review it later.

Has anyone tried the new Yahoo! Mail Beta? I’m still waiting for my chance, even though I don’t like to and don’t really use my Yahoo! Mail and most Yahoo! services.

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Trusting Google: They’re on to ya

Google Desktop tracks your browsing habits, and every time you visit a new website, it sends the details to trackers.

I recently installed a trial version of this software, just to track the incoming and outgoing connections, as a precaution against spyware.

Preferences on Google’s Desktop clearly states that Information about web pages you visit may be sent to Google to personalize features such as the news shown in Sidebar. Other non-personal usage data and crash reports may be sent to Google to improve Desktop. To learn more about our privacy protections, read our Privacy Policy.

According to the Privacy Policy,

If you choose to enable Advanced Features, Google Desktop may send information about the websites that you visit to provide enhanced Google Desktop functions, such as personalizing news displayed in Sidebar. Enabling Advanced Features also allows Google Desktop to collect a limited amount of non-personal information from your computer and send it to Google. This includes summary information, such as the number of searches you do and the time it takes for you to see your results, and application reports we’ll use to make the program better.

The information is being sent in spite of the fact that I’ve not enabled the Advanced Features. One of the sites, to whom information was being sent, is www.theplanet.org theplanet.com, which is not being used to “provide enhanced Google Desktop functions”. Whenever I visit a new website, Google Desktop pings a tracker. This is not too dissimilar to other trackers like Gator, only more discreet.

This discovery (I’m sure I’m not the first to discover this) is quite co-incidental in light of this discussion a few days ago on Codey’s blog.

That said, Google Desktop is one of the most useful softwares that I’ve ever come across; it saves me a lot of time while searching for info on my pc. I’ll keep it, but I don’t like this either. I’m not going to trust Google only because it’s Google.

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