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The News Ė 02/15/01

News Flash: Sex Sells

One of the findings of a newly released two-year study by Alexa Research is that the number one word people enter into search engines is ďsexĒ (1 of every 300 terms). Some things never change. Porn launched the VCR, and itís certainly fueling some of the growth of the Internet. People will be people, and the social uses (if you can call porn social) of the Internet will probably always be paramount.


Take my new favorite site: www.HotOrNot.com. This is a site for masochists and voyeurs. Normal folks (the masochists) put up pictures of themselves, and site visitors (the voyeurs) rank their appeal on a 10-point scale. Some people are obviously in it for a goof (http://www.hotornot.com/r/?eid=OYNREE&key=TPW). Others are probably unaware that someone has posted their picture (

http://www.hotornot.com/r/?eid=G8SZKL&key=HDA). Still others really think theyíre hot, and may be surprised at their ratings. Rolling through the pix and observing the aggregate ratings does give you a bit of an insight into the cultural norms, at least as far as menís tastes go (I concentrated on the women, and didnít look at too many of the guys). Anybody in a bathing suit is an 8 or a 9. The more provocative the pose, the higher the rating. Asians seem to be rated lower than blacks or whites. Donít be heavy, or theyíll be cruel.

This site has been held up as an example of Peer-to-peer computing (about which I am researching a white paper; this is a totally business-related exercise!) but I donít see why. Itís an example of community, to be sure, but I donít see any P2P implications.

Anyway, the popularity of this site (over 600 Million votes counted and 800,000 photos submitted) is not surprising in the context of Survivor and Cops and the dozens of Fox reality shows on TV. Like Chance the Gardener, we like to watch. Americans are becoming fascinated with watching reality. Witness the proliferation of traffic cams and other location video cameras on the Net. There are tremendous business opportunities in feeding this need for reality programming on the Web. But are we headed toward a future where someoneís always watching? I, for one, am not too comfortable with that prospect. Once all the 7 Eleven security cams are net accessible, Iím not ever leaving my house again.

Searching the Web a Problem for Many

Other findings from the Alexa survey indicate that people are either lazier than anticipated, or are finding it hard to navigate to sites they want. The survey found that in a large number of the 42 million searches examined, the user merely entered the name of a Web site rather than typing it into the browserís address bar.

Four of the top 10 search terms sought by users in the study were Web site names or addresses. Hotmail -- whether entered as "hotmail," "hotmail.com" or www.hotmail.com -- was the second most popular term sought. Yahoo (including "yahoo.com" and ďwww.yahoo.com") was third. EBay (including "ebay.com" and "www.ebay.com") and AOL (including "aol.com" and "www.aol.com") were ninth and tenth, respectively. Also among the top 50 were Excite.com, AltaVista, Amazon.com, and MSN.

Come on, people, work with us here! How much harder is it to type the same stuff in the browserís address field? My feeling is that the users in question donít know that modern browsers (since about the 3.0 version of Netscape and MS Explorer) donít require you to type http:// at the beginning of a Web site address. So they type the site name, wait for the search page to display, find the site in the listing, and then click on the link to get there. All to avoid typing seven characters.

Alexa Research has another possible explanation:

"This study shows that for many, there's a conceptual misunderstanding of how to effectively navigate the Web," said Matthew Work, vice president of Alexa Research. "Some people think that their homepage is the Web, that they have to go through their homepage in order to get to the site they want, without realizing that any Web site can be accessed directly. This notion is supported by our Web traffic popularity rankings, where eight of the top 10 sites are portals and/or search engines."

That I can believe, as well. Iíve had people come to me and tell me, ďThe Internet isnít working,Ē when in reality thereís either a problem starting their browser, or the browser canít load their start page.

Whatever the reason, itís clear that folks are finding it hard to find things on the Web. Their reliance on search engines to help them, when other methods like directly entering the Web site name are available, indicates that businesses maybe should put more emphasis on search engine placement, rather than advertising their Web site names.





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