Posts Tagged ‘microsoft’

MSN Search Is in Free Fall

Friday, March 30th, 2007

MSN Search (or Live Search, or whatever they call it this month) now accounts for under 6% of my search engine traffic. In fact, even this is overstated, because it includes all links from “unknown search engines.

Google accounts for 68% to 91% of my search engine traffic, depending upon the site.

My sites are all #1-ranked for their primary search phrases. My site content is highly diversified (video games, Palm image software, and investment newsletters). The implication is that my results are representative of search traffic generally. It implies strongly that Microsoft’s share of search traffic has fallen dramatically (more than half) in the past year.

This may explain their desperation to attract advertisers.

Can Microsoft Still Execute?

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

Microsoft says its biggest strategic threat is Google. If true, then their most critical tactical initiative is MSN AdCenter, which competes directly for Google’s revenue. Yet my experience with AdCenter was utterly amateur-hour, unbecoming a Fortune 500 firm in any industry. The disconnect between top-down strategic initiatives and bottom-up execution suggest basic operational problems at the firm. Some highlights…

October 2005 through April 2006

  • Frequent 500 errors, forced logouts, all progress lost.
  • All browsers except IE6 failed silently, no error message. IE 7 crashed.
  • Support (800-852-3568) connects to some poor sap’s personal cell. No calls returned.
  • Ads only run in Singapore. Can’t they scale up to run in a major market? Maybe the poor guy with the cellphone will call back and explain.

July 5, 2006:

MSN today sent me two $30 gift certificates to try AdCenter again. There followed a comedy of errors:

  • Account funded, ads approved, but no ads appear. This has been true for months. “Support” does not respond.
  • Account thinks I’m in Singapore, and doesn’t let me change the setting.
  • Started over today with a new account. Explicitly entered USA, yet my location is again recorded as “en-sg” (Singapore).
  • New account system forwards me to a blank page at MSN. No buttons, text, instructions — nothing. Had to browse away, return, log out, log back in.
  • Waited 20 minutes for a “credit check” on my MasterCard. Huh? Any one-man shop can instantly determine validity of U.S. credit cards.
  • Unable to save new ads: browser shows “missing object reference” error. Googled an ASPX programming forum and was able to guess the workaround: log out and back in. Nontechnical users would stall here.
  • Long delays on each page load. While waiting, I was able to log into Google Adwords, check status, and log out — all before the MSN AdCenter page had finished loading.
  • Entered my ad text. On hold again while the ad is approved. Stay tuned…

My overall sense is that this system was not designed to handle the pace of the modern Web. It feels like something from five years ago. Today, customers expect credit cards to be approved instantly, as with Adwords. They expect advertisements to go live instantly, as with Adwords.

And above all, there should be no “A” bugs in the signup and login paths. For a startup, this would be egregious. For a market leader, it’s unconscionable.

September 12, 2006

Microsoft emails me a product launch advertisement for MSN Live Search. Email was sent with the wrong mime type, arriving as an unreadable pile of naked HTML code.

Astonishing. Fly-by-night solo spammers in emerging countries send me hundreds of emails per day, and none have formatting problems. Microsoft is a huge multinational with a reputation for quality execution at all levels. How can their bulk mail performance be two standard deviations worse than the average Russian mobster’s?

I’d ignore it as a onetime screwup, were it not for all the rookie moves in Adcenter — errors routinely avoided by
twentysomething web service development teams of just a few people, on shoestring budgets and GPL platforms.

The only way adCenter could make so many mistakes is if someone in the management chain just doesn’t care. Is the team leader a wealthy, bored MSFT lifer?

October 12, 2006

My credit card expired, visited AdCenter to update it, and the dance began again…

  • AdCenter’s entirely static home page takes 6 seconds to load over my dedicated T1.
  • AdCenter uses a login name distinct from email address (a previous-century design rule).
  • Requested my login name by email. Response didn’t arrive from MSFT for two hours.
  • Now I have my login name, but need my password. Another two hour wait.
  • This 4-hour retrieval process takes 5 minutes at Adwords. No hyperbole.

October 20, 2006

Finally received adCenter password reset info. It requires copying a 512-bit validation code (five hundred and twelve bits, no kidding) back to the browser, along with the new password.

The password reset function in AdCenter failed silently, no error message. Second try, it worked. Went to log in with the new password. Again failed silently on the first try, worked on the second. Tried this on my other AdCenter account, and the same thing happened: fails once, works the second time. I.e., this is a 100% bug in the login path of a shipping product. This could ONLY be shipped by a project manager that does not care about quality.

Finally, I’m all logged in and ready to go and… nothing. Contrary to PR announcements, adCenter still doesn’t support my Mozilla-based browser, and still fails silently: no error messages and half-working pages.

Forget this. Every other piece of my workflow works fine. I’m not firing up IE just to get an extra 3 clicks a month from this also-ran. Sheesh.

Handheld Game Software Business Strategy

Monday, September 1st, 2003

by Bill Mitchell

Originally published in Mobility magazine, September 2003.

When Tiger Woods PGA TOUR Golf for
was released in
1999, the deck was stacked heavily toward success.  Palm hardware sales were
doubling every 10 months, Tiger was the first major gaming brand on the Palm platform,
and there was almost no commercial-grade competition.  Best of all, for several
months, Tiger Palm was the only software cartridge available at the Handspring

How times have changed.  Today, with industry growth at zero
and more than a thousand games available, even brand names and commercial polish
are not a guarantee of success.  Most new titles simply vanish without a trace,
and neither great design nor promotion alone will change that.  If you are
serious about winning in this business, then what you need, more than anything
else, is a strategy.

What is “strategy?”  Most people think it’s synonymous with “plan.” 
But a great strategy means much more than just a plan.  At its heart, strategy
means this:  doing what customers value highly, but competitors can’t copy.

That’s a simple statement with a lot of meaning behind it. 
Let’s consider a couple of examples.

Say you intend to write the first PalmOS bicycle racing
game.  You are certain you can build a quality product;  moreover, since it’s a
popular genre not yet available on Palm, you figure you can probably get some
free publicity.

This constitutes a good plan, but not a strategy.  Why? 
Because anyone could copy you — and probably will, especially if your game is
initially successful.  A bad omen for the long run.

By contrast, a strategy, to use a whimsical example, would
be to publish your game while living in Nicaragua.  Rock-bottom living costs
would mean a decent return on your invested time and money, yet you could price
the game so low that no one in an industrialized country could ever compete. 
In general, developing a permanent cost advantage is a strategy, because it
increases your value to the customer in a way (lower price) that most
competitors cannot easily imitate.

Another strategy might be to obtain long-term rights to use
a branded theme, such as the Tour de France or Greg LeMonde.  The familiarity
of a known brand has great influence — it’s considered one of the few sure
things in the videogame industry.  But note the weakness in this strategy:  all
of your advantage results from something you are renting from another company. 
What the licensor giveth, he may eventually taketh away, or at least reprice to
your disadvantage.

To use a more subtle example, strategy could rely upon a permanent
distribution advantage.  For example, if you could obtain exclusive PalmOS
rights to the mailing list for a popular Macintosh-based cycling game, you
could simply contact every Mac user and ask them to download your new PalmOS
product.  Your product would instantly vault to the top of its category at
PalmGear and Handango, in a way that a competitor would then have great
difficulty copying.  Since most new visitors to PalmGear and Handango simply
download whatever is already popular, as shown by downloads, you gain a persistent
advantage on the basis of just a few plaintive emails.

Still more subtle is to “design” a distribution niche around
yourself, such that no one at all competes with you.  For example, if you set
up a table selling CD-ROMs to spectators at the finish line of the Tour de
France, you would have no competition at all.  Of course, you might not sell
many copies, either.  It’s quite difficult to come up with a distribution niche
that is both strategic and cost-effective, but if you can do it, the payoff is
great.  There’s more on this in the real-life examples below.


So how do you go out and develop your own strategy?  Coming
up with an answer to this puzzle is very hard, and rightly so:  it practically
guarantees success in any industry.  Start by thinking about unusual long-term
experience you may have, or unusual personal contacts, which might be of value
in developing or promoting your application.  If that doesn’t work, try
brainstorming unusual ways to develop or distribute;  ways to attract or
enforce customer loyalty;  or ways to gain benefit from the existing success of
someone else.  Crafting good strategy is a creative puzzle to match the best
problems in game design.  The key is to remember that it’s not enough just to
have something no one else has.  You must have something of value to customers
that no one else has today, and that no one else can easily copy,
even if they tried.

If you look closely at the sustained success stories in the
Palm software industry, you will see solid applied strategy over and over again
– whether on purpose or by sheer luck.  Here are just a few examples, all drawn
from the Palm economy, based on my observations of public information since

  • Astraware appears to use the mailing list from its initial
    megahit, Bejeweled, to promote its growing stable of products.  In effect, this
    list provides a permanent cost advantage in advertising any other product.

  • There are over two dozen golf
    scoring applications available, yet IntelliGolf consistently
    outsells most or all of them.  They did this in part by niche distribution:  airline
    magazines.  This was no doubt expensive, but it guaranteed that they had no
    competitors in their sales channel.  Since travelers are also often Palm owners
    and golfers, the tactic is a logical one.  It’s also a pretty good strategy,
    since it would now be very difficult for a second golf scorer to enter through
    the same channel alongside IntelliGolf.

  • PalmAid from Emcon Emsys
    makes money by virtue of a low-cost operation:  the company is based in India.  As
    long as the product they offer is of high quality, any Western competitor might
    as well just give up on direct competition.  To beat PalmAid, a new entrant
    would require some other advantage, such as cheaper access to advertising.

This is not to say product design doesn’t matter.  But the
Palm games business is so competitive that great design is simply a starting
point.  Many Palm games are released with adequate attention to design — and
sometimes promotion, too — but very few have a well-thought-out strategy.  By
taking that extra step, you can gain a jump not just on today’s competitors,
but on tomorrow’s as well.