Sleeping in a Treehouse

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Since I joined Airbnb a couple of weeks ago, I have been steadily checking the boxes on my on boarding process. The final on boarding action I need to check off my list, is to actually book and stay with an Airbnb host in their property. So I made a plan...

Build Lasting Memories

When I was young, I went on summer holidays with my family. I can still remember flashes of these, stopping at French wine houses to buy wine, on which European citizens still needed to pay duty when crossing the borders, Spending countless hours playing on the beach in the water with my brother or finally getting my own tent when camping. Those memories last a lifetime!

Having small children myself now, I want to spend sufficient time with them, so that I'm able to build similar lasting memories. However, that is not always easy, busy life, not a lot of long vacations and a new baby on its way.

So what better opportunity to spend time with the kids while staying in an awesome place. Airbnb is not only good to find your vacation rental for a longer stay, there are plenty of great listings in which you can just stay for a night, or two.

Pajama Party in the Treehouse

As our CEO Brian Chesky just recently mentioned in a TV show about Airbnb;

"We want to provide incredibly local and personal experience when you travel. people love homes and that's why you live in them. What if you can feel at home anywhere in the world?"

So for my daughters 6th birthday, I arranged the ultimate birthday party adventure. What better adventure is there than staying in this Treehouse close to San Francisco...! It was magical and resulted in a family plan to pick a treehouse to stay at every year. Now my son of 4 can't stop talking about how much he would like to stay in a treehouse for a night together with Daddy!

A Treehouse for Every Year

So to keep this tradition going, Jools and I made the plan to go visit a different treehouse every year, and try to sleep a night in the Treehouse. Luckily for Dad, there are a great number of Treehouses around the world, with a good selection of tree houses available here in California!
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Treehouse at the Sunset time.

Evening Pajama party in a treehouse, Bo-Jools

Airbnb Treehouse near San Francisco at Dawn. Sunrise above the Bay

Morning sunrise at Airbnb Treehouse Burlingame

Two Mushrooms at sunrise

Mushroom in the morning sunlight

My Review

For my daughters 6th Birthday, we rented Doug & Linda's treehouse. It was an unbelievable experience, and probably will stick with her for the rest of her life as a fond memory of her childhood. Although it was raining really hard upon arrival, the treehouse is built solid and can stand the wind and rain. The host, Doug, was very friendly, and had the treehouse ready for checkin an hour earlier than normal.

We had cake and hot chocolate while lounging in the treehouse with the rain falling on the roof, making that cozy noise. Pajama Party For The Win! Waking up, the sky had cleared, and we experienced a beautiful sunrise above the Bay of San Francisco. We enjoyed the breakfast supplied by our hosts, and spend more time in the garden on the swing, finding mushrooms and enjoying the nature.

The Treehouse is an absolute recommended experience for anybody who ever wanted to sleep a night in a Treehouse, or just as an adventurous overnight stay while on a trip through California. It's just a great vacation rental for anybody on a holiday in the Bay Area!

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Carte Blanche – YouTube Auto Generated Pages #FTW

(Updated Jan-3-2013; since I started writing this post, a lot has changed. I initially began to write about the Auto-generated pages by YouTube back in Oct 2012. Only being able to finalize the post after the FTC closed the negotiations with Google on their behavior)

For an SEO workshop at First Round Capital, I collected a number of new screenshots of changes in the way Google is displaying results in Search. I stumbled on a YouTube page, which is, after re-reading the guidelines, is in clear violation of the Google Webmaster Guidelines. More and more you see Google taking an aggressive stands towards implementing their own domains into the results, either as Universal search boxes, or as normal results. But who cares, not the FTC: see here! After all, it's Google's index, Google's website and Google's Audience, right..?

Auto-Generated Pages by YouTube

In Google Webmaster Guidelines you can find the following Technical Guideline:

Use robots.txt to prevent crawling of search results pages or other auto-generated pages that don't add much value for users coming from search engines.

For years, Google has been advocating the prevention of crawling of search results for any website. How many in-house SEO teams have been scrambling lately with the removal of Search-in-Search. I know one large eCommerce company was hit really hard late October this year. How convenient, with Google Shopping Pay-for-Play and Black Friday and Cyber Monday just around the corner.

If you are large, and spend sufficient Adwords budgets, you might get an answer like:

"We believe the changes are best for our users, where we optimize for the user experience. We cannot disclose the details of the changes made to our algorithms and the way we rank websites. Google publishes Webmaster Guidelines recommend you go through these. Are you familiar with our webmaster Guidelines?  

(Not an official quote, more my best recollection of what was the answer to our questions)

And with that, the discussion is closed. Even the biggest budgets don't give you access to what is happening in the Googleplex with regards to the rankings. Trust me, I've been on the receiving side of that message!

But do you expect action will be taken against YouTube...? See this Auto-Generated YouTube page, filled with Michael Jackson video's...

YouTube auto-generated pages ranking great in Google Search results

Search Bias

As you can read from the final decision (or negotiation, it's however you would like to look at it), the FTC does not see any 'Search Bias' in Goolge results.

First you read:

Under the same commitment, Google also has promised to provide all websites the option to keep their content out of Google’s vertical search offerings, while still having them appear in Google’s general, or “organic,” web search results. The FTC investigated allegations that Google misappropriated content, such as user reviews and star ratings, from competing websites in order to improve its own vertical offerings, such as Google Local and Google Shopping. Some FTC Commissioners were concerned that this conduct might chill firms’ incentives to innovate on the Internet.

But then...(emphasize mine)

The FTC conducted an extensive investigation into allegations that Google had manipulated its search algorithms to harm vertical websites and unfairly promote its own competing vertical properties, a practice commonly known as “search bias.” In particular, the FTC evaluated Google’s introduction of “Universal Search” – a product that prominently displays targeted Google properties in response to specific categories of searches, such as shopping and local – to determine whether Google used that product to reduce or eliminate a nascent competitive threat. Similarly, the investigation focused on the allegation that Google altered its search algorithms to demote certain vertical websites in an effort to reduce or eliminate a nascent competitive threat. According to the Commission statement, however, the FTC concluded that the introduction of Universal Search, as well as additional changes made to Google’s search algorithms – even those that may have had the effect of harming individual competitors – could be plausibly justified as innovations that improved Google’s product and the experience of its users. It therefore has chosen to close the investigation.

Now, I came to the auto-generated page on YouTube by doing a simple search on Google for the query: Michael Jackson. Check the screenshot, where all Google properties are in the red boxes, with the knowledge graph content in the green box (also linking to other Google pages)

Google SERP for Michael Jackson. How many Organic results do you count..?

 

The big blue arrow is pointing to the page on YouTube which does not have an embedded video in the SERP. This initially caught my attention, as normally, YouTube video's are integrated through a Universal Search One Box.

Now, the questions is, how many 'real' organic results can you count..? Right; 6! It's what we call a 7-SERP, as there are only 7 results organically ranking for the query. But with the Auto-Generated page from YouTube at #3, you can bet Google is raking up the pageviews on their own site.

Expect the worse is yet to come

With the News on the FTC arrangement with Google today, they have carte blanche from one of the only government institutions which could have stopped more integrations in the search results.

Maybe 2013 will become the year SEO dies...SEO is Dead, Long Live PPC (and Google Revenue growth!).

 

Disclosure: because I expected the outcome  due to what I believe could be called a lack of understanding of the government officials, I went long in Google back in December. It has paid off so far... :-)

Postscript: Don't get me wrong, I live of the fruits of the changes made by the search engines. SEO is constantly evolving, and there is a growing need in corporations to understand the direction and best practices. I wrote the post for my entertainment, and to be able to get my thoughts in order of where it's all heading.

The Fast Food of Technology News – Headline Journalism

I won't deny it, I'm a Techmeme junky. Every morning, and during the day, I check what are the latest headlines in the world of Tech News. And although I stopped reading Techcrunch by going to the Techcrunch homepage and picking a story, I end up a lot of times on an article on Techcrunch, TheNextWeb or The Verge through Techmeme. So when Gabe Rivera published a post around the biggest (i.e. tallest) stories of 2012, my first expection was to see the sites which make up the top of the Techmeme Leaderboard to take credit for breaking the biggest techstories of 2012. To my surprise, hardly any of the top tech stories on Gabe's list of Tall Tech Stories were from the websites which sit at the top of the Techmeme Leaderboard.

Techcrunch in the Lead - Techmeme Leaderboard

Techmeme Leaderboard March 3For years, Techcrunch have been holding the #1 position on this leaderboard. It has been a close call one day in March this year, where The Verge almost took the top spot. With just 0.04% difference, Techcrunch held the top spot of the Leaderboard (click the screenshot on the right for large image of the LB from March 3). This screenshot of the small difference between #1 & #2 was made on March 3 2012, which was the period Techcrunch lost a number of main contributors, editors and executives.

Only 0.04% difference, however, Techcrunch got their act together, and started to increase the lead again, where the AOL site ended the year with a comfortable lead, and % of top headlines well above the 10%. Meanwhile, The Next Web, a technology website started a little over 5 years ago, have shown a gain in coverage, and have been on #2 for the last couple of weeks. (disclosure, The Next Web was started by two of my Dutch Internet Friends, Patrick & Boris, and I've helped the editorial team here and there in stories, like here, here and here, and even got a guestpost published back in 2010)

How do get these technology websites featured on Techmeme Leaderboard? According to the explanation of Techmeme about it's rankings:

Sources are ranked by Presence, the percentage of Techmeme headline space a source occupies over the 30-day period. "More" links are not taken in to consideration here — only full headlines are counted. For more information, see our original announcement from long ago.

The Tallest Tech Story

Techmeme Tallest stories in Tech for 2012In his blog post, Gabe already points out how the Techmeme Leaderboard websites have not been well represented as the leading headline for the tallest tech stories.

It's important to understand that each headline shown here is just the one that happened to be the leading headline when its cluster reached the maximal size. So these headlines don't always indicate the most representative story of the bunch, the best summary, or the most cited story...

...The stories dominating this list are mainly announcements, often product introductions, from the industry's largest firms, often Apple...

So when the tallest Tech Stories are announcements from the larger Tech companies, mainly Apple, where do the % of headline visibility for Techcrunch, The Next Web and others come from? Yes, covering these announcements.

At the latest Apple announcement, I believe it was the iPhone5 announcement, I counted the number of articles written by Techcrunch. I believe the editors published more than 15 articles on the announcement.  A couple of years ago, when I enjoyed reading the full website from Techcrunch, all these announcements were published into one single article. Now you will have to flip through multiple articles to get all the details you would like to see.

Headline Journalism

We are living in a world where more and more Internet Journalists are becoming accountable for the number of pageviews they generate. Having worked at a Tech Media company, where the number of pageviews is directly linked to the revenue the company makes through advertising, I know the pressure of pumping pageviews. Mo Pageviews, Mo Money.

So the company can either pursue Pageview Journalism, like Mashable & Business Insider are pumping Slideshows, where the top 20 lists are spread over multiple pages, or the company can pursue what I call Headline Journalism, spread the actual news over as many articles all with a catchy headline. Push these on the social media streams to grab the attention of the news consumer with the headline, when they click on the link in their Twitter stream or Facebook Newsfeed, Voila, you just printed another Pageview!

I stopped reading Mashable for their abuse of the Pageview Journalism techniques. I can't look at any more slideshows with a top 10 list. I don't want to waste 5 minutes of my time to flip through a number of pages just to find out who is at the top of another lame list. That is 5 minutes I will never get back.

The Headline- & Pageview Journalism as I described here, can be called the Fast Food of Technology News. You consume it fast, it's cheap to make, and you're not getting a whole lot smarter from it, as you might get hungry again in a couple of minutes...

Quality over Quantity

As people get overloaded with news, too many signals from the social streams and the need to flip pageviews to get the real, full story, I expect more readers to turn away from this kind of journalism, and will start searching for, and sharing more in depth, high quality writing, where the research and time invested in writing the article is worth their time.

So writers of the Technology websites featured on the Techmeme Leaderboard, Please write something that is worth my time. You are getting 5 minutes of my life, think about that!

The problem is, who will pay for all these writers who spend more time writing good Sh*t? Because time on site has not paid any of the bills...yet!

Happy New Year 2013

And with that...it is 2013. Happy New Year to everybody, and all best wishes.

Moet & Chandon Champagne, White Star Label

Pied a Terre Shoe Ads

While doing some research for KW/Page rankings for Airbnb, I came across an un-related paid search advertisement by my former employer, eBay. It's kind of funny that I used to know how keywords would flow into the paid search systems for those targeted ads, and sometimes completely unrelated ads could have massive Return on Investment. Here, I was looking at the keyword Pied a Terre, where a lovely room in Philly ranks just on the second page for me. Rittenhouse Squared Pied a Terre, $80 per night!

According to the all knowing Wikipedia, a Pied a Terre is

The term pied-à-terre implies usage as a temporary second residence, either for part of the year or part of the work week, by a person of some means.

It looks like the Ad generated by the eBay Paid Search system is based on the French word Pied, which means Feet.

Pied a Terre eBay Ads
In the past, there have been plenty of strange eBay paid search ads shared. Over the years, the systems used to optimize those ads had become much better to filter out the obvious wrong keywords to bid on. I heard eBay is moving away from their internally build system to an outsourced solution, where we probably can expect a learning curve again around what keywords are relevant, which creative needs to be served for those keywords, and how to optimize for conversion and ROI. What a waste...

Boris & Patrick Visit Airbnb

Almost 7 years ago, I moved to San Francisco while working at eBay. The first summer living in the US, I hosted a BBQ for a group of Dutch Internet entrepreneurs at my house who were visiting the Valley. Part of that group Dutch Internet entrepreneurs were Boris Veldhuijzen Van Zanten & Patrick de Laive. At the time they were looking for funding for one of their startups, Fleck. Boris & Patrick were always in for some fun which could generate the attention from the right people. Eventually they didn't got the funding for Fleck, and sold the assets. Maybe better, as they continued to work on other great concepts, one of these the technology news website and conference: The Next Web.

Over the years The Next Web has been growing in audience, exposure and breaking stories. It will just be a matter of time for the team of The Next Web to become the #1 Technology blog on the Techmeme leaderboard. A position taken for years by Techcrunch. So with that in mind, it's always nice to see how Boris and Patrick has been able to keep their feet on the ground, and make the time at the last moment to catch up over beers at the Airbnb office today. It's always great to keep good relationships alive and kicking!

Boris & Patrick - The Next Web visiting the Airbnb office

What’s for Dinner; Job Interview

The way Airbnb is taking care of its employees is amazing. What is even more fun, is that I just participated in the best interviewing of a candidate ever. How about you're being asked to be part of the last round of interviews of a candidate for the position of Sous Chef at Airbnb, and the interview round consist of eating a specially prepared dinner by the candidate. Obviously, the interviewee would like to be hired, so will be pulling all the best tricks out of his/her book. This just happened to me today, where you can see what I just had for dinner below here. The names of the candidate have been changed to protect the innocent.

So tonight I had a California/Asian Dinner with:

  • Arugula Salad, with Shaved Carrot, Pine Nut, Candied Coconut with Miso Dressing
  • Korean Style BBQ Beef; Beef, Garlic, Tamari, Sugar, Sesame oil and Green Onion
  • Curried Quinoa; Sauteed Onion, Black Bean and Butternut Squash
  • Sauteed Nappa Cabbage; with Rainbow Carrot & Ginger Sauce

Airbnb dinner - interviewing a candidate for Sous chef position

Doesn't it look wonderful? It tasted delicious. I immediately volunteered to be on the interview panel for the next candidates. I was feeling like a judge of the TV-Show Top-Chef.

But even the Popcorn at Airbnb is great!This is Popcorn Airbnb style!

Popcorn Airbnb Style

I explained before that we take our food program really serious! Today we had Truffle and Nutritional Yeast Popcorn, and Chili and Lime Popcorn.YUM!

 

Hellenic Heritage at Folsom & Third street in San Francisco

Last Sunday I learned there is a specific Neighborhood in San Francisco with a big Hellenic Heritage. It's a part of SOMA where Greek immigrants settled in the early 1900's. I learned this by paying attention to the signs and plagues placed on the sides of the streets to remind people what has happened in the past. I happened to see the following sign at the corner of Third street & Folsom, which is at the south-east corner of the Moscone Convention center, right next to the Yearba Buena Ice skating & Bowling Center.

San Francisco Hellenic Heritage at Folsom & Third street

 

San Francisco Hellenic Heritage at Folsom & Third Street

San Francisco's Hellenic Heritage
An Affirmation of the Promise of America

In tribute to the Greek immigrants who settled in the vicinity of Third and Folsom Streets in the early 1900s

And in Commemoration of their pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit, patriotism, faith and pride in their Hellenic Heritage.

We, the beneficiaries of their vision, recognize and acknowledge the significant and vital economic, social and political contributions Hellenes made to their beloved adopted city, San Francisco.

The Hellenic American Professional Society of California
Dedicated in the year 2001

Just two weeks ago, I listened how Dr. Mike presented at BlueGlassX how he liked to take pictures of local signs of historical events or things to remember about the history of a local neighborhood. I had never expected to learn so much new stuff about the area's in San Francisco. Opening up your eyes, and take pictures of the signs and plagues around the city can educate your kids about why there are a large number of Falafel and Mousaka restaurants around Folsom & 3rd street.

 

Another Day, Another Drama in SEO Land

Sometimes you wonder if we, SEO's, should all come together and just start ignoring these kind of link bait posts. I'm talking about the article from Paul Boag at Smashing Magazine today with the title: The Inconvenient Truth about SEO. To avoid playing into Paul's cards, I'm not linking to his article, but instead linking to the fantastic response from my buddy Joost at Yoast.com; SEO Paul Boag.

So Joost is really smart, not only a quick and snappy response, he also managed to upsale his SEO for WordPress Plugin into the post. And see what he did there with the URL, yes, it would be awesome if this post will start ranking #1 for the name of Paul Boag in combination with SEO, pointing out how clueless Paul actually is.

I didn't spend any time in the Drama. These days I rather keep my head down, and show those people who dismiss and who are ignorant to the need to have good SEO's my back and get ahead. Just recently I came across the following picture, which I think is very accurate of how I think about all the drama:

50 Fat Diabetic Ahead of YouFoto credit: TrexRunner.com

 

Google Dance 2007 T-Shirt

Back in 2007, at the SES San Jose, I picked up the T-Shirt I was wearing today. I believe it must have been the last Google Dance at a large search marketing conference. The SES in San Jose in 2007 has gone down in history as the point Google brought down the hammer on Paid Links.

Google is not the Government

To make sure you know your history, make sure you read these posts, and understand how we got there. Sometimes it's just important to understand your history to know what will be coming next..So for those who were not there, here are the links to some great readings:

This was also the last SES where Danny Sullivan was working at the SES conference before he started Searchengineland, Third Door Media and the successful SMX conferences.

T-shirt Google Dance at the SES San Jose 2007
T-shirt Google Dance at the SES San Jose 2007

At least I can say, I got the T-Shirt...

A couple of observations;

  • It's been 5 years since the war on paid links started, and there is still no end in sight
  • Paid links have gone underground, even more off the radar all SEO's thought would happen back in 2007
  • Paid links now come in disguise; AKA guest posts; content marketing or sponsorship
  • After 5 years, I still fit this T-Shirt.. (really!)

Honestly, link-building is a blind spot on my SEO resume. First I worked for eBay, getting links thrown at pages left-and-right. My job was just to not shoot ourselves in the foot and let the link equity go to waste. Second, Slashdot and SourceForge, the sites I've worked at for 14 months, both have Billions of links. Yes, Billions with a B! Now, at Airbnb, I can see where we are going. This will be a link printing machine if we play our cards right. Why.. Because the product doesn't Suck!

Which brings me to a quote of a good and wise SEO friend of mine:

The best SEO is a product that doesn't suck. Otherwise it's just manipulation.

The best SEO is a product that doesn't suck. Otherwise it's just manipulation.