February 2010

Happy Olympics, World!

Long before the Internet, the Olympic Games have had a means of uniting the world. Tonight, billions of earthlings will turn on their TVs to watch the opening ceremonies of 2010 Olympics and, for a precious moment in time, our global thoughts will be bent on themes of goodwill, fun and joy. There is nothing else quite like this, and if you’re going to watch the Games, I want to wish you a very Happy Olympics!

Every 2 years, my brother’s family prepares a dinner on the night of the opening ceremonies that reflects the cuisine of the host country (he’s been a little puzzled by dining a la Canada…I suggested maple syrup). My youngest sister is giving a party for all of her college friends tonight to celebrate the start of the Olympics. Around the SEOigloo, we’ve decorated with flags of many nations as our way of participating in the spirit of the Games. In a world overburdened by cynicism and the rule of warlords, how good it is to sense the innocent and simple pleasure people around the globe can still take in good sportsmanship and the celebration of human achievement.

My Predictions For The 2010 Olympic Men’s Figure Skating Competition

I’ve been watching figure skating since the Innsbruck games of 1976, when I was just a baby. I’m not a big sports person, but I know figure skating well. Here we go:

Evgeney Plushenko : Has more technical clout than any of his competitors. He won gold last time and he can win it again if he skates well. He’s got the Russian reputation for perfect technique, but his long program in 2006 was hopelessly devoid of artistry – something very odd for a Russian. It was as if he knew he could win and so did the least possible in his performance. This lost him some admirers, and we’ll see what kind of passion he puts into his programs this time around.

Stephane Lambiel: This is the guy I’d love to see win the gold. He skates with absolute joy and when he wins, he screams and cries. It’s very touching to see someone who lives so in the moment that he allows himself to be overcome with the emotion of achievement. He won silver for Switzerland in 2006 and if he skates well, he has the technical ability to do it again. His skate is the one to watch, in my opinion, for pure enjoyment.

The Rest: The bronze is up for grabs and that will make this competition exciting. Because I live in America, American media pushes US athletes as potential winners, often without cause. This time around, I do see Jeremy Abbott as a medal contender, but much more hype has been given to Evan Lysacek whom I find unimpressive and Johnny Weir whose off-ice antics have been deserved of more notice than the content of his skating. Patrick Chan of Canada will be skating at home and I see him as a fair contender for a medal, as well.

Let’s see how it plays out. That’s the fun of it, after all!

The Games begin in just a few minutes. Happy Olympics, World!

Reflections On An Unemployed Chinese Chef

A couple of weeks ago, I came across the YouTube page of a fellow named Kai. I spent the next couple of hours watching video after video, reaching the conclusion that this man is a past master at the art of that made-in-the-USA overwhelmingly favorite cuisine – Chinese restaurant food. In mainland China, people don’t eat the General Tso’s Chicken and Sweet and Sour Pork that Americans love, but that hardly matters. According to The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee, our national passion for Chinese food has resulted in the country playing host to 40,000 Chinese restaurants – more than the total number of KFCs, Burger Kings and McDonald’s, combined! As Lee points out, our slogan is “as American as Mom’s apple pie”, but how often do you eat apple pie, and how often do you eat Chinese food? Good question.

The answer to it brings me back to Chef Kai and the unhappy note I found on the bio portion of his YouTube page:

I been laid off. No work to feed my family. And my life is in HELL.

I went to bed that night thinking about this man, out of work and, yet, possessed of something I suspected could be of great value to the public. In order to confirm my suspicions, I turned to Google. Google says that some 27,000 people a month are searching for ‘chinese restaurant food’. Another 3,600 are searching for ‘how to make chinese food’. When you start getting into the long tail (‘how to make chinese food like the restaurants’ + all of the searches for specific dishes and recipes), traffic potentials take on a rather golden shine.

Americans love Chinese restaurant food – dining in or taking it out – but the do-it-yourself mentality that is part of our culture inspires an apparently large segment of the public to want to learn to make these classic meals at home. And that’s where Kai – and the 200+ cooking videos he’s created – comes in.

What Could Kai Do?

I gathered from browsing through some of Kai’s videos that he tried to have a website, but when I went looking for it, I discovered that the site no longer existed. Who knows what happened with that, but having a website will start off my list of suggestions:

– A website with paid content. Show maybe 5-10 awesome videos and then offer a package of paid videos with lead-in language that would entice users to conclude they *must* see Kai’s video tutorials for Lemon Chicken, Hot and Sour Soup, etc. Set the price low enough so that people of all incomes can afford the package, but high enough so that Kai starts to make income.

– Include a blog on the site. Kai could give great tutorials about Chinese cooking equipment, how to shop at an Asian foods market, special dishes for holidays, Chinese cultural stories, reviews of local Chinese restaurants, etc.

– Market the site via Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, etc.

– Go offline for more income. Get hired by the local junior college or local community center to do a class on Chinese Restaurant Cooking. Market this class offline and via social media.

– Make a strong local component for the website and start working as a professional caterer in Kai’s hometown – real Chinese restaurant food prepared in your home by Kai. He is so fun to watch, he could even be part of the party.

– Increase local visibility by giving talks in local public schools, participating in local events, perhaps even offering pro-bono catering on a limited scale for some small but popular local happenings. Good ways to get links!

– Put it all together and send it as your resume to several of the most famous high class Chinese restaurants in New York or San Francisco. Chef Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger restaurant has made himself famous on the foodie scene and YouTube comments prove that people still have a nostalgic yen for Yan Can Cook. Though I don’t know what Kai’s culinary background actually is, I imagine that if he gained a fair following on the web, it could be fairly impressive to some of the more celebrated Chinese restaurants in major cities, and Kai might have a job again.

What About Competition?
With 40,000 Chinese restaurants operating from coast to coast, it’s pretty obvious that the USA is awash with Chinese cooks. However, Kai has something that many of them don’t have, and I only realized this after reading Jennifer 8. Lee’s book. The majority of the folks who cook your Chicken Chow Mein and Pork Fried Rice hail from Fujian Province – a region about the size of Delaware in Southeastern China.

Some 300,000 Fujianese have come, both legally and illegally, into the country over the past 2 decades and the majority of them come to work on the Chinese restaurant circuit. The back story on this makes fascinating reading, but the point I want to make here is that most of these immigrants have little or no acquaintance with the English language. Not so with Kai, who not only speaks English well, but who has a very engaging manner of talking you through cooking Chinese-American dishes, somehow making it look incredibly fast and easy. Actually, a few nasty people apparently made rude comments about Kai’s speech, and if you want a laugh, watch his response (warning: some colorful language). That’s telling ‘em, Kai!

The bottom line: America was charmed by Martin Yan and part of his charm was his accent and fun-filled presentation, and Kai’s excellent grasp of English sets him apart from many immigrants who might otherwise be able to market an inside look at Chinese restaurant cooking that would be certain to have appeal for an American audience. Only a certain portion of the public knows how to cook Chinese restaurant food authentically because they’ve worked in Chinese restaurants, and only a percentage of those people will have the skills to necessary to share that inside-scoop-knowledge with others. Kai has the skills he needs to present what he knows, and what he knows is something keyword research says that many people want to know. There’s money to be made somewhere in this, and certainly, reason to believe that Kai need not remain unemployed for long.

I don’t know this gentleman, and have no idea what his life story or circumstances are, but if he came to me as a potential client, this is what I’d be telling him. It’s enjoyable to look at a puzzle like this and try to find the solution, and in case this blog post should make its way over to Kai, I’d like to invite you to make additional suggestions for how Kai could use what he knows to make a living. Have fun with it. Be creative. What would you tell Kai?

Google Acting Like Merchant Circle With Nearby Places Move

using business names competitively

Check your Google Place Page today if you haven’t in awhile – the one with your business name on it, your photos, your reviews, directions, videos, contact information, custom made maps and etc. on it. The one you’ve claimed. Scroll down a bit, and you’re likely to encounter something that looks like this:

nearby places you might like

Yes, chances are, your competitors are now being given considerable space on the document you may have begun to think of as your Google Place Page. If, like most of us, Google’s September introduction of Place Pages led you to believe that this page belonged to you, you’re in good company. It was language like this that probably caused you to feel this way:

If you’re a business owner, you can add or update your business details through the Local Business Center. This allows you to make sure your (emphasis mine) Place Page reflects the most accurate, authoritative and recent information about your business.

It sort of sounded like you were in control of your claimed Place Page, and at that time, there wasn’t any mention of the fact that you’d soon be hosting your competitors on your company’s page. Understandably, Google’s latest rollout of the Nearby Places You Might Like feature is ruffling some feathers, but it’s doing more than that. The philosophy behind this move is taking on the odd quality of a deja vu…

Do you remember, back in October of 2009, when Mike Blumenthal published this screenshot he took from Merchant Circle?

nearby places you might like

*Note to Mike: in a blog post about swiping…excuse me, appropriating stuff, I hope you don’t mind my appropriating your screen shot. As readers may recall, Merchant Circle launched a campaign of using unclaimed company names in advertisements that listed not the companies’ phone numbers, but the phone numbers of things like affiliate model hotel booking sites. There was much speculation about how much of a kickback Merchant Circle was getting for this activity, and there was general loud agreement that this was a lousy, unsavory thing to do. Few were surprised that a company with Merchant Circle’s reputation would do something like this, but most folks agreed that using Company A’s business name to funnel traffic to Company B, without the knowledge or consent of Company A, is slimy behavior.

And there’s that deja vu.

Google has taken on a Merchant Circle aura by giving a big, fat paragraph of links to competitors on both the claimed and unclaimed Place Pages of businesses. All the while you are working to outdistance your competition and distinguish yourself on the local scene with both your offline and online efforts, Google is forgetting to ask your permission to advertise the other guys on what you thought was your Place Page. Matt McGee has succinctly asked the question, Who Owns Your Place Page? and, more directly, Mike Blumenthal has asked Google’s Carter Maslan the following question:

MB: If it isn’t a Landing Page over which they have reasonable control, what would incent an SMB to claim and control their listing?

CM: The primary reasons to claim your listing are a) ensure the accuracy of the core listing data, b) get insights into how and when people are finding you even before they arrive at your site/doorstep, and c) engage with the people searching for you by posting updates, photos, videos, etc.

Yet again, it’s the scenario I have so much trouble with of a corporation creating something with your business name and then expecting you to come a-running over to their ball field to play their game, by their rules, because they’ve swiped your name and you’d better make sure they aren’t misrepresenting you. I’ve complained about this mentality loud and long over the years, but even I am getting used to the highhanded manner in which Internet hot shots conduct their business affairs. Merchant Circle is just so highly ranked for business names and Google is just so huge…their policies end up setting the tone of the Internet and trying to fight their interpretations of trademarks, copyright and privacy seems borderline hopeless right now. Working on the web as I do every day, I feel a sort of numb acceptance of this. But what I’m not going to get used to any time soon is the semblance of hypocrisy.

goose gander

What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander. I mean, taking into account Google’s apparent feeling about using, without permission, one business name to promote the names of other businesses, they shouldn’t have a problem with something like this, right:

google vs. bing

Wrong! When Google feels threatened by something like a Chinese company using the name Goojje, we read news like this:

Google accused Goojje of infringing on its trademark rights, saying the logo of the Chinese website could make users believe it was authorised by or linked to the US company, the Shenzhen Economic Daily reported.

You see, Google is afraid that someone might be led to believe that this switcharoo stuff with their name might appear to have been authorized by them. It might misdirect the public and lose Google money. They don’t want the competition using their name to achieve prominent visibility.

In fact, Google takes their competition so seriously that Search Marketing expert Danny Sullivan suggests that Google’s choice to run a first-ever commercial during the Superbowl only served to signal how afraid Google is of their competitor, Bing.

Thus, many of us will scent hypocrisy in the policies of a corporation that fears and tries to extinguish the fire of competition while at the same time forcing millions of small and large businesses to share space with competitors on what was originally presented as a win-win product for business owners and Internet users alike. Business owners are winning a bit less when Google is using their name to display the data of direct local competitors and has the clout to steamroll over any small business squeakings about trademark infringement and fair business practices. And, that’s just not nice.

Will the nearby places you might like benefit Internet users? To be fair, I can see how they might. If you’re looking for Chinese food in San Francisco, it might be nice to see a list of options. But it won’t be nice for the owner of San Tung restaurant who may have worked like crazy to get into the A position for ‘chinese restaurants sf’ in Google Maps, only to find that his Place Page now lists 10 of his top competitors.

I’d like to finish up by mentioning that Mike Blumenthal did ask Carter Maslan if, in Google’s process of doing user-acceptance testing of new features, they ever consider doing SMB-acceptance studies. Maslan’s answer:

We want both consumers and businesses to find the results useful in engaging with each other. While the implication is that this feature puts the interests of consumer and business at odds, owners often realize quickly that the Web of connections among places and people is both inbound and outbound.

I know how this answer strikes me, but what I want to know is, how does it strike you?