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John Battelle on the Future of Search

John Battelle on the Future of Search Brad Berens

John Battelle is an entrepreneur, journalist, professor and author who has founded or co-founded businesses, magazines and websites. Currently on leave from Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, Battelle, 39, is founder and chairman of Federated Media Publishing. He is also a founder and executive producer of conferences in the media, technology, communications and entertainment industries, and "band manager" with BoingBoing.net. Previously, Battelle was founder, chairman and CEO of Standard Media International (SMI), and publisher of The Industry Standard and TheStandard.com. Prior to founding The Standard, Battelle was a co-founding editor of Wired magazine and Wired Ventures.

Battelle recently completed work on a forthcoming book, "The Search: Business and Culture in the Age of Google," and is the monthly "Titans of Technology" columnist for Business 2.0 magazine. He also maintains a daily site covering the intersection of media, technology and the internet at (Page 2 of 2)


Consumer action and Greasemonkey

Berens: Let's talk about Greasemonkey -- a relatively new application that let's Firefox users run javascripts (and there are lots of them freely available for download) on other people's web pages and change how they appear. It was created by Aaron Boodman, who, ironically, now works at Google. You've mentioned Greasemonkey a few times in your Searchblog -- most notably here in this post from 3/14/05. And recently Paul Botin has written some interesting articles about it in Slate and (your old stomping grounds) Wired.

I'm completely compelled by Greasemonkey for two big reasons (with lots of little ones along for the ride): one, if I can change the appearance of a website then that level of customization/personalization means that I get the environment I want, but it ALSO means that I can no longer presume that my version (of Amazon, Slate, CNN, BoingBoing, Wired, Slashdot, et cetera) of a site looks at all similar as that of my colleague in the office next door. Mass culture is already on the Atkins diet with the explosion of traditional and new media... but this seems to make the media landscape look even more complicated. Will this impact consumers' ability to search for things, advertisers' ability to place ads on the things consumers look for?

Battelle: I am not convinced that masses of folks will want to do the work to change what sites on the web offer them. Those that do are pretty sophisticated.

Berens: I'm just waiting for a script that quietly removes sponsored/paid listings from the display on Google, Yahoo!, MSN, et cetera. Waiting, in other words, for the paid search version of TiVo. You write in your book that 99 percent of Google's revenue comes from those sponsored/paid listings. Lots of folks think that consumer-controlled media is the future of media. Should Google be worried about this?

Battelle: A little, but at the end of the day, it's my thesis that advertising, if done right, actually adds value to the content and services that it is attached to. So ideally, if that is true, then advertising becomes worthy of our attention. Having the ability to get rid of it forces advertising to be worthy of our attention, and that is a good thing.

Federated Media: Battelle's new network

Berens: You've recently launched Federated Media, a new network. Every time I turn around there seems to be a new ad network. You've said in your blog(s) that FMPUB is more than an ad network. Why the glut of new networks and how is FMPUB different?
Battelle: We focus on providing services to authors of high quality blogs. As we say on the site: FM's authors are all respected authorities in their fields, and FM does not interfere with their creative independence or intellectual property. We focus on creating an environment that allows creators of high quality content to do what they do best, and get paid for it by engaging with high quality marketing.

In addition to establishing a devoted following, each blog in the FM fold subscribes to a core set of values: Strong point of view, factual accuracy, engagement with the community, responsibility, integrity and transparency. Our blogs and their RSS feeds connect authors, readers and advertisers to a powerful conversation. One source of that power is the fact that -- unlike at traditional media companies -- at FM, the authors are in charge. They write what they want to write, and they retain the power to decline advertising from any brand that doesn't fit their community. In an important way, then, FM's authors endorse the validity of the ads that appear on their sites.

We are an ad network, yes, but we are not an "all comer" network like AdSense, and we focus on connecting marketers to high quality sites where their advertisements are a fit. We also provide a suite of services to our authors, and handle all the reporting, invoicing, billing and research for both sides.

Berens: Relatedly, last year you wrote a very intriguing piece in MIT's Technology Review about "Publisher-Driven Advertising" in which you postulated that advertisers would make their ads available to online publishers and that the publishers would then pick and choose based on the nature of the publisher's audience. Is Federated in any way your realization of this nifty idea?

Battelle: Not yet, but I hope we can start to test it once we get up and running in full scale.

How the future will look back on the present

Berens: A generic futurist question -- I learned to type on a TYPEwriter... although admittedly an electric one.

Battelle: Me too

Berens: So to most of the kids in high school and college today that's akin to admitting to having learned to write with a quill.

Battelle: Yep

Berens: And similarly, when I first started watching TV there were three networks and no VCRs, let alone cable and TiVo. My four-year-old daughter doesn't understand why things AREN'T available on demand because she's never known life without TiVo. If you can cast your mind forward 20 years, what do you think the people who are growing up in the time between now and then will find most mystifying about how we engage with media in late 2005?

Battelle: Yow, that's an interesting one.

I think the way that we surf the web -- page to page -- will, by the time our kids grow up, seem extremely quaint. RSS will have its "AOL moment" and become mainstream, and the site-based models -- media as packaged goods -- will be over.

All of media will be search driven, and point to economy driven. Advertising will be seen as a service, rather than an interruption.

Other than that… well, I certainly hope the idea of anything being disconnected from the web -- as most of our audio, video and even print content is now -- will seem totally insane.

Brad Berens is executive editor at iMedia Communications, Inc.

A trusted advisor to companies of all sizes and a respected voice within the interactive media industry, Dr. Brad Berens has enjoyed a wide-ranging career that features storytelling as an organizing theme. These days, he divides his time among...

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