The Secret Behind Google’s Success: The Instant Massage

Google’s profits are indeed impressive, and if my local newspaper (no link available, I’m afraid) is right, it’s clear clear why: the company is offering a service no right-minded person could refuse:

But the introduction of new products, such as instant massaging, and upgrades to existing services, such as mapping, helped Google attract more summer traffic than anticipated, executives said during a conference call yesterday.

This seems to have emanated from an AP story, carried by The Seattle Times and Canoe Money, both of which either fixed the typo or else didn’t create the error (no way of easily telling whether the error was in the original copy, or whether my local paper ran an ageing spellchecker over the word to create the fluff.)

Instant massaging is actually not that uncommon.  3G UK’s JustYak Chat “brings the popular Internet Instant Massaging to the mobile world” (a press release that hasn’t been fixed in two and a half years. Does no one proofread these things?) In fact Google offers “about 535” entries for instant massaging, only one or two of which seem to deliver what they promise. (IWantOneOfThose.com points to the USB Massager, which I’ve long touted as a serious peripheral.)

In fact instant massaging has a pedigree. It throws up 27 matches on Factiva, including this comment from Charles Gibson on ABC Good Morning America on June 20 (sorry, no links for these as Factiva is a subscription only service. You’ll just have to take my word for it):

Are cell phones, instant massaging, and multi-tasking giving us all Attention Deficit Disorder? Yes, is the answer.

I can well imagine. Instant gratification always was the enemy of concentration. Or this from the UK’s Birmingham Post on Nov 17 2004 in its Anniversaries section, which goes some way to explain why British workers are using more paper, but still leaves us wanting to know more:

2001: A study showed that paper consumption in British offices had increased by 40 per cent with the advent of emails, faxes and instant massaging.

Then there was the report of a local man exactly a year earlier in the Providence Journal arrested for online harrassment, or “cyberstalking”. The paper explains:

Cyberstalking is a misdemeanor charge that involves harassment via e-mail or instant massaging, according to the state police.

Indeed. People leaping upon strangers in public and on the Internet, delivering instant backrubs should definitely be stopped before it gets out of hand. (Sorry.) But then again, maybe this explains AOL’s difficult times. Back in August 1999, according to CNNfn’s Moneyline, AOL was doing its bit to make online a more pleasurable place to be, as a transcript of the show has host Stuart Varney explaining:

America Online is pushing to make its popular instant massaging feature an Internet standard. And in the process, out-muscle Microsoft. For the first time, AOL will let other Internet service providers use the massaging systems: EarthLink and MindSpring. The deal lifted shares of Earthlink 4 1/2. Mindspring rallied nearly three. And AOL edged up nearly a dollar.

Only a dollar? Microsoft clearly lacked the technique and strength necessary to make backrubs an Internet standard. EarthLink and MindSpring (the names carry different connotations now, knowing they were more focusing as much on massages as messages) clearly were 100% behind this initiative.

One can’t help but wonder, though, what the transcribers and stenographers made of what they were writing when they wrote ‘massaging’ rather than ‘messaging’; take, for example, this transcript from September 1998 Congressional Testimony by John Bastian, Chief Executive Officer of Security Software Systems, a company offering “computer software solutions designed to protect children on-line”. His testimony on the dangers of life online was otherwise impeccably recorded by the Congressional stenographer, except this bit:

Thousands of explicit web sites exist with millions of pages of pornographic material. Most are easily accessed by a few clicks of a mouse. But sites are only a portion of the sexually explicit areas. E-mail, chat rooms, news-groups and Instant massaging can be virtual playground for the sexual predators and pedophiles.

Makes the Internet sound an even scarier place than it already is. Maybe we’re better off that AOL failed in its vision, and that Google may not, after all, be reaping huge profits from instant physical therapy.

The Demise of the Anti-phishing Toolbar?

Must confess I missed this when it first kicked in, but could it be the nail in the ‘anti-phishing toolbar’ coffin? EarthLink lands a win, according to ZDNet, after being sued by a bank incorrectly flagged as a phishing website:

EarthLink had warned its customers who installed a free “ScamBlocker” toolbar–and visited AssociatedBank.com–that the Web site was “potentially fraudulent” and said that they should “not continue to this potentially risky site.”

The warning was wrong. Associated Bank, headquartered in Green Bay, Wis., with more than 300 locations in the Midwest, operated a legitimate Web site.

EarthLink got off the hook because they bought their list of dodgy websites from a third party. But who? The articles I’ve read don’t mention who it was. And how could the third party have judged a bank to be a phishing website?

I’ve not been a fan of most of these toolbars because I don’t think they do a good job of warning the user of dodgy websites. as my tests a few months back indicated. But to be honest it didn’t occur to me that these toolbars would create false positives. Bizarre.

Why Did EarthLink Drop Charges?

What’s the story behind EarthLink’s decision to drop charges in part of the Alabama Spammer spam case? The Atlanta Business Chronicle yesterday said:

Atlanta-based EarthLink dismissed charges against Alyx Sachs and Albert Ahdoot and said it believes the two were victims of a massive and sophisticated campaign of identity theft and that they were unaware of and had no role in spamming. In January 2005, EarthLink scored a legal victory against the Alabama Spammers.

That must have been quite a campaign to dupe EarthLink, who one assumes are quite good at sorting their wheat from their chaff. The press release itself leaves no doubt that EarthLink feels the two are on the good side of the email marketing fence:

“Sachs and Ahdoot are considered professionals in legitimate internet marketing and recognized leaders in web based advertising,” says their attorney, Paul Sigelman. “Their dismissal is a clean triumph of truth for legitimate Internet ad agencies.”

Earthlink noted that after careful evaluation, it believes Alyx Sachs and Albert Ahdoot are by their own company policies diligent in enforcing maintenance of a spam-free Internet Ad business and prohibit the sending of unsolicited commercial email.

Sachs and her company (I think it was Netglobalmarketing, but the domain has expired) were the subject of a NYT piece in April 2003, and legal threats against Techdirt shortly thereafter after a reader of the site published the duo’s contact details (further discussed on Slashdot).

Ahdoot seems to have been near the top of the SpamHaus list of top (alleged) spammers, but is now nowhere to be found. I can see an interesting tale lurking behind this. How can one be a ‘top spammer’ one day and then the victim of massive identity theft the next?

Big Boys To Get Tough On Spam Together?

The big players are about to get tough on spam. Maybe.

An announcement on behalf of America Online, EarthLink, Microsoft, and Yahoo!, four leading e-mail providers and founders of the anti-spam industry alliance formed a year ago, says they will “make a joint announcement regarding the results of its first industry collaboration aimed at stopping spam at its source”. The statement said nothing else, apart from the fact the press conference will be held at 10:30 a.m. EST / 7:30 a.m. PST at the St. Regis Hotel in             Washington, D.C.

Internetnews.com reckons it might be a good reflection of cooperation between the big four. Although they’ve been talking for some time together, ”most of the actions taken by these players are independent motions to establish themselves as the heavyweight”.

 ”If they have managed to actually coordinate and cooperate among themselves in an effort to advance the fight against spam, that’s wonderful,” internetnews.com quotes Anne P. Mitchell, CEO of the Institute for Spam and Internet Public Policy, an organization that consults with business and government, as saying.

Spammers And Crime, Continued

The ISP bites back.

EarthLink , an Internet service provider, has announced legal action against a multi-state spam ring called the Alabama Spammers. The 16 individuals and corporations allegedly sent out more than 250 million illegal junk emails and “represent a technically sophisticated criminal organization that engaged in a massive scheme of theft, spamming and spoofing.” The lawsuit alleges that the defendants used a hierarchy of falsified names, false addresses and non-existent corporate entities to disguise the identities of individuals involved.

Earthlink’s allegations make the group sound pretty scary. “To further hide their identities, the defendants used spam emails to direct people to dynamically-hosted Web sites that would disappear after advertising a product.” In its lawsuit, EarthLink is charging the defendants with violating federal and state laws, including federal and state civil RICO laws, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and the Georgia Computer Systems Protection Act. The lawsuit also alleges that the defendants used stolen or falsified credit cards, identity theft, banking fraud and other illegal activities to fraudulently purchase Internet accounts and send out their junk emails.

It’s not the first time Earthlink have gone after spammers, and, as Techdirt points out, they’re not the only ones to do so. And it’s probably no bad thing. If what Earthlink alleges is true, there’s a clear link here between spammers and crime which needs to be investigated and exposed.