Category Archives: Apps & Services

Adsense Nonsense 2.0 – Google writes a bad check

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If I tried, I couldn’t make up a story like this. First, there was the problem, then, there was the solution, and now comes the comedy. I hope you’re wearing your laughing pants.

Catching everyone up to date quickly:

  • Google Adsense technical gitch screwed up my address change for a month
  • The check is already six weeks overdue per Google’s schedule
  • I chatted with them via email for a week
  • Result, I must wait until the check is redeposited in my Adsense account and whatever monthly check issuing cycle that hits is when I get a new check sent out (maybe July, maybe August)
  • I blogged about the experience
  • Matt Cutts from Google stopped by, tipped his white hat and passed the case to someone in Adsense management
  • A day later my check was sent via FedEx

So, today I go to cash the check. I’m standing at the teller window, and realize, gee – this is taking a long time. She looks up at me and says, “There aren’t sufficient funds in the account to cover your check.” *stunned silence* I say, “Excuse me, could you repeat that?” She does. My reaction?

<font-style:”small>Historical Reenactment

Google bad check reaction reenactment

First, denial and disbelief. I say, “Are you sure? Do you know who Google is? You’re kidding me, right?” She says she does know who Google is, but that this particular account doesn’t have enough funds to cover my check. I’m too stunned to move. I look down at the check handled back to me and look back up at her confused.

Next, shock and awe. I say to the teller, “How does a gazillionaire company like Google have a bank account with so little money in it?” She laughs. I laugh. What else is there to do?

Finally, the teller suggests I call someone. I stare at my mobile phone realizing I don’t have any numbers for any of the people I’ve spoken to at Google. She says, “Call the number on the check.” Great idea! So, I do.

It’s the main inbound number at Google. The Voicemail Lady and I have an exchange. You all know her voice.

Voicemail Lady: If you know the extension of the person you’d like to reach, dial it now followed by the pound sign.

Me: Nope, I don’t know any extension numbers.

Voicemail Lady: Press 8 to dial by name.

Me: Great! Pressing 8. *whistling to myself a bit*

Voicemail Lady: Please enter the first few letters of the last name.

Me: Hmmmmm, Brian the payments operations guy probably won’t work as a name in this system. That’s the result of Google’s employee privacy policy. I don’t know the guy’s last name. I know, Matt Cutts! Surely, Matt can get me transfered to Brian the payments operations guy or someone else. I type in Cutts.

Voicemail Lady: Please enter more characters.

Me: More characters for his last name? Or should I start on his first name, now? I’ll do both alternatively until some combo works.

Voicemail Lady: Please enter more characters.

Me: Entering Cutts, Matt.

Voicemail Lady: That userid is not valid. Goodbye.

So, finally I get over the enter more characters hurdle and hear what I believe was Matt’s voice – sternly.

Matt: This voicemail box is not active. It is not checked on a regular basis. Do not leave messages in this voicemail box. Beep.

So, I call back having heard an option given by the Voicemail Lady for customer service.

Voicemail Lady: For customer service/technical help press 5.

Me: I’m so there!

Voicemail Lady: (gives options 1 & 2) Press 3 for all other questions.

Me: Done.

Voicemail Lady: As Google does not currently authorize customer support, please see our website.

Me: Doh!

Google sent me a bad check! Now what?

I’m sure this is a result of someone trying to do something outside the normal and timed operations of this huge monolithic organization, but still…. WTF?

Mobile Web – Just Say No!

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Mmetrics have released an interesting little data snack from their smartphone user panels. The chart shows the top “mobile web” destinations in the US versus in the UK.

Top Mobile Web Sites

What’s interesting here is that five of the top ten web sites accessed from mobiles in the UK are carrier/operator sites, while the US list more closely resembles the top www sites list. There are the very consistant top three, Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft (MSN) and only two carrier/operator sites in the US top ten list. I’ve asked this question of a number of people in the mobile applications, infrastructure and operator businesses, “Is the US consumers’ entry to mobile data services impacted by the very high PC peneration rate and previous web experience in the US versus Europe?” The answers have varied and granted one should not draw conclusions from this one data point, but it validates asking the question.

The label “mobile web” creates cognitive dissonance and confusion in the marketplace. Is there a separate web? The real answer should be no, and in fact, as one observes the growth and evolution of mobile data services in the US what strikes the chord of recognition and apparently adoption are those services familiar from our web experience which add a mobile specific UI and uniquely mobile VAS (value added service) to existing behaviors.

For example, Alltel’s award winning Celltop application ties web services into a UI which works on handsets and tiny screens. Note: Celltop awards are both industry and user bestowed.

Celltop Business View Celltop Sports View Celltop Consumer View

Weather, news, sports scores, stocks and new ringtones/callback tones are services combined from the web and/or the carrier/operator presented in a handset specific UI. Alltel are also running polls to ask their users which web service they’d like to see offered next through Celltop. The options include a digg feed, Gmail, NASCAR updates or horoscopes. Sounds webilicious, no?

Another example is a personal favorite, Sprint Navigation by Telenav. I love this application.

Sprint Navigation Menu View Sprint Navigation Turn-by-turn Sprint Navigation Traffic

Most of you have used Mapquest, Yahoo! Maps, Google Maps or some combination of web based mapping and navigation applications. Telenav brings web services behind maps and navigation along traffic information together with GPS and voice capabilities from the handset and mobile network. The result is a powerful personal navigation solution.

First, your actual location is determined via GPS, then you have the option to type or speak the address of your destination. This is where Telenav have done a superior job of integrating with native handset strength in functionality. Screen viewing to observe navigation instructions is supremely difficult at 80 mph on a California freeway. (This is an illustration not an admission of guilt in case the CHPS are listening.) So, Sprint Navigation allows placing a call from inside the application to an automated voice search facility which locates and confirms your destination address, then returns the handset to application state on completion of the call. Your route is calculated and finally the application checks a web traffic conditions service and either reports traffic is good or reroutes to your destination, if possible.

So great! You’ve got a route, traffic considered, and now to get there you need to view the directions. Well, not nessarily. The application repeats turn-by-turn instructions periodically via voice. Using your headset or speakerphone (safety first people) you will hear updated instructions until the turn is reached or you bypass it. If a turn is missed, the application automatically informs you and recalculates the directions. That’s user fault tolerant which I often need give I suffer BADD (blogger attention deficit disorder) which is far shorter and more easily distracted than ADD or ADHD.

Here are two excellent and well adopted applications which do all the things that we’ve been told at countless events and conferences are essential to a successful application, and more importantly, they are implemented extremely well.

  1. web functionality
  2. augment with handset mobile network strengths
  3. mobile specific UI – this might require multiple modalities (don’t ignore voice)
  4. user centric design and fault tolerant

Okay, maybe the list wasn’t presented exactly this way, but it should’ve been. To all those evangelizing “the mobile web,” please stop. And reset to evangelize web services on mobile devices.

I’ll continue to try and persuade you on this logic. Stayed tuned for the next article of the series: .mobi winners and losers.

Back to the Mmetrics findings.   Well over half of the web browsing activity by smartphone users in the UK occurs on operator portals.  Well over half of the web surfing activity by smartphone users in the US is through Google.  It would be helpful to have a breakdown of the Google activity.  Is that all search?  How much is attributable to Gmail access?  Data always raises more questions.

These findings also highlight another consideration when combined with the illustrations of web services in this article.  What does it now mean to access the web from a mobile device?  Are web services through thick clients merely a interim step on the path to fully functioning web browsers on mobile devices?  I think not.  Again, with the example of Sprint Navigation, it takes a handset application to weave handset functionality into a complete solution.

And finally what does it mean that smartphoners in the UK rely upon their operator portals for web browsing?  Are the services offered by operators superior to those on the web?  Is it habit?   Or perhaps, the walled garden is simply more persistent in the UK than it is in the US.

Adsense Nonsense or Dell Hell 2.0

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I’ve been interacting with Adsense customer service for a week now, and I empathize with Jeff Jarvis’ Dell Hell saga and the resulting frustration that he must have felt. I know I’m frustrated. After a full week of email exchanges (there is no other method provided to contact Adsense), I’m turning to my blog in the hopes that someone at Google might be listening just as Jarvis did with Dell two years ago.

Guy Kawasaki wrote a post analyzing the performance of his blog over its first year called, A Review of My First Year of Blogging. One of the measures Kawasaki examined was his Adsense performance. What was significant in that bullet was not his reported low CPM, but this aside:

(This assumes that I can get Google to pay me. I’ve tried several times during the year to get my snail mail PIN so that I can get paid, but I’ve never received it. I don’t mind Google getting the float…)

There was an update which stated that the Adsense Product Manager, Rob Kniaz had read the post and Kawasaki’s problem was resolved fourteen hours following his post about it. I’m no Guy Kawasaki, and I don’t have his audience reach, but with that sort of responsiveness can you blame me for trying after a full week of Adsense Nonsense?

I’ve used Adsense on almost from its beginning. Many bloggers, myself included, thought if we receive a bit of revenue for something that we were doing anyway, all the better. I never went into the Adsense relationship thinking that it would provide me a living, but heck, something is better than nothing. I allowed my tiny ad revenue to collect at Google, and finally when I had a purpose for it, on May 15th 2007, I requested my first check to be mailed and simultaneously changed my address to ensure the check would arrive at my current residence. That’s where the trouble started.

I read all of Adsense’s FAQ docs and even watched a video on the payment process and checked my account which showed my first Adsense check was processed on May 25th and should be on its way. Two weeks later, I checked in with Adsense and noticed that the address my check was mailed to was the old address I had updated on May 15th. I checked my Adsense account information and the new address was displayed. The problem must be simple to resolve, I thought, afterall, this was an error by Google. I thought wrong.

According to the Adsense help files, if you must request a reissue of a check, you must wait until one month following the release date of the check, request the reissue, and wait for the next month’s check cycle for payment to be made. Some quick math in my head and I realized that my check wouldn’t be released to the correct address until July 25th. More than two months from the time I requested it. That’s bureaucracy that would make the government blush. (okay, maybe not)

Of course, since the problem in my case was created by Google there must be an expedited process. Wrong, again. My email exchanges with Adsense customer service were professional and pleasant on their side, but my ability to gain the attention of anyone other than anonymous emailers felt like insult to injury.

I assured that my “feedback” would be shared with the “appropriate people.” Hello! This is a problem created by the company not feedback, and if you can share my email with the appropriate people, then why not share me with the appropriate people and give me a way to contact them. I was told the following:

I understand that you would like to be able to contact a particular AdSense specialist directly. In order to protect the privacy of our employees, Google’s policy doesn’t allow the release of contact or personal information for any of our specialists.

I appreciate your understanding.

To which I replied:

No, Suzie. I don’t want to talk to Adsense specialists. I want to talk to their managers, directors or VPs. I do believe that Adsense owes me this much after destroying our business relationship. Can you do that? Or does policy require that you blow off (ignore the requests from) a customer who is so clearly mistreated and unhappy?

And received this reply from payment specialist Suzie:

This privacy policy applies to other Google employees as well but please be assured that I will take the appropriate escalation measures.

Privacy? Isn’t Google a public company doing business with the public? What sort of escalation measures are involved here, given that I’ve been told there is nothing that can be done other than I wait another month for a payment requested and processed on May 15th? Suzie had instructed me that there were no expediting processes available to her, so what is there to escalate? From Suzie on July 2nd:

Thanks for your reply. While reviewing our system, I have confirmed that your address was changed on May 15th but was not properly updated in our system until June 15th due to a technical delay. I apologize for this inconvenience.

Please be assured that the process to have your payment credited back to your account and issued again has been started. Although I would like to expedite this process for you, we only issue payments on a monthly basis. I appreciate your patience.

Why should I have patience? And 2 1/2 month’s worth of it? So let’s rewind.

  1. You’ve told me that the error was an Adsense technical problem.
  2. You’ve told me that there is no expedited process for correcting the problem. I must wait until Adsense reaches its check issuing cycle.
  3. You’ve told me that I can’t communicate with anyone else or anyone higher up at Google, because it’s a privacy issue for Google employees.

So, what is there to escalate? Suzie did have some advice for me, though. Her recommendation:

One way that we’re improving our payments system is offering the Electronic Funds Transfer payment option (EFT) to more publishers. EFT is a payment option that allows you to have your AdSense payments deposited directly into your bank account at no additional cost. With EFT, there’s no risk of having a check lost in the mail and you don’t have to wait for a check to clear. Within about 10 days after a “Payment in Progress” line appears in your AdSense account, you should see your earnings credited to your bank account.

Okay, so I’ve let my Adsense account accumulate at Google for a year. The first time I request payment, Adsense has a technical problem and doesn’t recover from the system fault for a full month. My address change was processed on June 15th although it was submitted on May 15th. And now, I’m suppose to give Adsense access to my bank account? You can’t be serious!


Thanks for your note, but I, now, have no confidence in Adsense and, therefore, wouldn’t let the system near my checking acct…. There’s no reason to expect that some technical glitch from Adsense wouldn’t screw up my bank acct., if it can’t recover from an address change. I find that prospect too frightening to consider.

My first communication with Suzie following her admission that indeed the error was created by an Adsense technical error provides the best summary of how I continue to view this situation.

Thank you for your diligence and honest reply. However, a system that can’t recover from faults isn’t a working system. What if Google’s search engine experienced a fault and couldn’t recover for a month or two? How many customers could Google retain with that sort of performance?

I find you’re inability to expedite my payment not as your fault, but a systemic fault which renders Adsense unreliable. What a shame that this is my first and last experience with Adsense [payments]. Customer service that is incapable of dealing with corner cases (especially those it creates) is no service at all. It is my view that you should be empowered and should have the ability to run this issue up the chain and get it resolved. You are, afterall, the face of Google to me and other customers. tsk, tsk, on Google.

Darren Rowse, author of the excellent Problogger blog, responded to Kawasaki’s conclusion that Adsense wasn’t a good solution for bloggers with a post prophetically titled, Does Adsense Suck for Bloggers? Well, Darren, for this blogger…it does suck. Not because of the low income involved, but because getting service including the service of getting payment is just not reliable.

As I explained to the first customer service person to email me from Adsense, I finally requested payment from Google because I had a use for the money. I need to buy a car. I planned to use my little Adsense check to add to a down payment for a car. No Adsense check, incomplete down payment, equals no car. The impact for me in this event is real and significant. Google…are you listening?

UPDATE:  Today from, If Trust is Lost, Google Will Crumble.   Money quote:

Google’s business model is built on trust. If users’ perception of the company changes, its business perspectives and profits will come under threat.

Data Goldmine from Mobile and Social Networks

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The BBC reports on how real time data on mobile phone use in Rome is being used by MIT researchers to observe how people move around the city through the day.

Map of mobile usage in Rome

Anyone who has ever driven in Rome or any city in Italy knows the chaos which results from traffic congestion.  Researchers are looking to the mobile networks for real time data on the movement of people through the city.  Mobile networks must track phones to execute handoffs between towers as one moves in through space to ensure optimal signal strength.

There is little doubt that the mountains of data we generate when using our phones for talking, texting surfing the web or engaging with our social networks offers astonishing opportunities for new applications, targeted marketing, and new lines of business for those who house and store our data.

In Rome, one possible application for all this real-time information is its use by traffic planners to expand roads or increase public transportation resources in obviously high traffic areas.   The article extends this idea.

…in future sic buses might not stick to a fixed timetable or even route.

Sending busses to where the people are rather than vice-versa could mean fewer wasted journeys, so Real Time Rome might ultimately be good for the environment.

Better route planning for buses and cars could mean less time standing in traffic, pumping out noxious fumes.

Another example of how this data might be put to use was a demonstration by Verizon Wireless for the AdAge’s Madison+Vine event in LA last year.  Verizon wanted to show Madison Avenue the power of data mining its users to generate targeted advertising.  The demo consisted of a list of Verizon users in the LA area who had downloaded a hiphop ringtone during the previous 30 days.  A group of 10,000 of these identified subscribers were offered concert tickets for a same day outdoor concert and all of the 10,000 tickets were purchased in the span of one hour, according to John Stratton, chief marketing officer, Verizon Wireless.

And finally, consider MySpace’s move to launch a record label, and now, it’s own TV network.  These new lines of business are enabled and assured by the knowledge of what music and media (think YouTube) that MySpacers are consuming and promoting to their networks.  Further, the company knows much personal information about the demographics they can target with new media services.

The backend data from social networks, mobile phone networks and of course, mobile social networks and social media is a treasure chest for the data miners, researchers and marketeers wishing to understand or monetize your interactions.

What was new at BREW 2007: into the new

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The BREW Conference is traditionally focused on developers. Past events brought together operators, handset makers and developers working with Qualcomm’s BREW platform for the delivery of content, namely games and other applications. There were several new aspects to the conference in 2007 that distinquish it from previous years. A clear signal of the change in the conference and for BREW, itself, was the choice of Keynote speakers, notably H3 and Time Warner Music.

BREW and GSM Operators

The addition of GSM operators this year was a first for the conference. You might wonder what the attraction for a GSM operator would be in a platform designed to deliver applications to CDMA subscribers. The answer is found in Qualcomm’s move 18 months ago to break BREW into three components: UiOne, DeliveryOne, and QPoint.

UiOne has been deployed by O2, Telecom Italia and apparently there is a deal in the works between Qualcomm and Three for use of the platform (no official announcement, yet). In Europe, the UI is determined and controlled by the handset manufacturers, but UiOne places that critical aspect of the user experience back into the operator’s domain. UiOne allows for customization through theme development as illustrated by Alltel Wireless’ Celltop application. The availability of the scripting language TrigML from UiOne’s SDK makes the UI extensible. Third party theme development, enhanced discovery and web services delivery are simplified which is very attractive to operators regardless of their underlying network technologies.

Welcome Media/Content Providers

Also, a new addition to the conference this year was the participation of media companies like keynote presenter Time Warner Music (TWM). This is foreshadowing to the future of BREW plus MediaFLO. A number of other media companies were present as attendees changing the BREW audience and definitely the conference session lineup with broader coverage than in past years. The BREW Conference has been technology centric, but with the expansion of participants new topics arose focused on solutions over technology and seamless user experience as the path to monetization.