Afternoon Keynote: Jason Calacanis
* Jason Calacanis, Founder & CEO, Mahalo.com, Inc.
First of all, Jason clears the air. He wants all SEOs to know he didn't mean to offend them. Some people think SEO is about gaming their way to the top rankings at search engines. Since then, however, Jason Calacanis has been educated about SEO and realized that there's more to it than that "black magic" stuff (which you know is "black hat SEO.") Does he feel that SEO is BS? No, but black hat SEO is BS, he says. "I do feel that the white hat stuff is very important... In some ways, I am an SEO. I'm a white hat SEO." If it's about building clean sites, that's what he does.
Now, the big announcement:
Mahalo was launched on May 30th of last year. Many people asked, "Isn't this DMOZ?" After all, the directory structure on the site looks like DMOZ or Yahoo Directory. That's intentional. But they said - DMOZ and Yahoo Directory failed for search queries. Why doesn't it exist? Yahoo Directory sold placement and removed human curators. It failed because they sold it out. Why did DMOZ failed? It was neglected. Both, however, were incredible at their respective times.
The next question is "How is this going to scale?" It's a tough question. Well, it works with a distributed workforce. The Mahalo Greenhouse was launched where people can work from home and build search results. http://greenhouse.mahalo.com's Most Wanted page shows the data. There are 400 people doing this at home. It's trailing behind Wikipedia and About.com.
He displays a graph of the projective cumulative pages and you clearly can see that the pages are only increasing in number.
"How are you going to keep this up to date?" Having seen delicious, SU, and Wikipedia use site owners, Jason knew that a lot of people want to keep pages correct. They can inform Mahalo when the pages are incorrect. Additionally, in December, they launched Mahalo Social where you can recommend links and update content. They look at everything coming in and build a trust score (which is working well). If you submit good links, you get trusted more often and don't have human review as frequently.
After Mahalo Social was launched, there was an incredible boost of cumulative recommended links. The monthly message board posts also increased.
"How do you reduce bias?" We'll discuss with anybody any time in public the order of the links we put on a page. If you disagree about a Google and Yahoo ranking, you can't talk to anyone. Mahalo has that feature -- and they have that conversation in public.
With recommended links, you can share it with many people on twelve social networks at this moment. New domains need to be validated by a human and old sites (over a year old) are considered (loose rule, he says). There are about 15k recommended per month. There is a high percentage of links that are accepted lately. Only a small number is banned. This is 9 months in and people are seeing good traffic with 4.1 million uniques in the past 30 days.
Where is all this going? Today, we (re)search with machines, experts, friends, and the wisdom of crowds.
If you do a search for the Macbook Air, for example, you might look at blogs, reviews, StumbleUpon, and the social graph (delicious, blog comments, Wikipedia, Digg, etc.) Now the social graph is being added on top of the search. This is called My Mahalo, the new feature at Mahalo. You can now see what your friends are recommending in terms of products, movies, services, etc.. If you don't have any friends, the most trusted Mahalo users' reviews are going to be posted first. There will be ratings on the right hand side and reviews will be on the bottom. Push the social graph to when people want it: during the search. It's not valuable in Facebook or MySpace. You want this information when you're searcing.
The semantic web: Search for a movie that isn't out yet. Look at which friends are looking to watch that movie. Communicate with that person. Create a relationship between people and objects. We create states between people and objects. What's the state between you and a book? "read a book, reading a book, want to read a book." They'll start with movies, books, places, music, and products. As you look at his profile at Mahalo, there are other vectors in terms of the trust score: pages you've submitted, things you've reviewed, etc. If you trust people through their behaviors, they can contribute more to the site. The algorithm to determine this trust score at the time being is not yet determined; it needs careful study.
They also let people take information out of Mahalo and sync it with other services. An example is GoodReads (a bookworm site) - social networking for books. Using the Mahalo toolbar, if you go to GoodReads, it will ask you to import your book list into Mahalo. Now your books appear on Mahalo search results. This will work on other services as well: pulling your Netflix queue, your order on Amazon -- all of this is opt-in. He mentions that Chris Finke works for Mahalo. (I like Chris Finke.)
A lot of people don't want to give up Google or Yahoo. But if you do a Google and Yahoo search and you're a Mahalo user (AND you opt in), you can still get the same experience -- part machine, part human.
(He also says that Mahalo put a bid in for Yahoo. But he was kidding.)
Q: Define what you think an SEO does. A: My perception has changed radically. I think that affiliate SEO types are intelligent and hustlers. But I think that they are misguided in a way because they are "gaming" rather than creating a "value solution." The blackhats are polluting the web. Consumers don't trust the internet if the first 20 results are polluted. He mentions that he puts nofollow on stubs and tag pages to focus link juice on his stronger pages. Kevin says that you shouldn't want to piss off black hatters. If I'm technically able to take the number of results, should I do it? If you feel like you deserve the #1 site and someone who steals content is in the first position, you're upset with it. (They're schmucks, he says.)
Jeff Rohrs asks: You tend to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. But Mahalo supplants Google's paid listings in their results. Can you address this? A: When people go to Internet, what they end up doing is their choice. (He's okay with AdBlock, etc.) It's their right to do - you can do whatever you want with your data.
Q: What is your approach toward linkbait? He also thinks that you need to be authentic. Linkbaiting, he says, takes you so far. "15 ways to XXXXXX" is not authentic.
Q: You've repeatedly dumped marketers. The only positive message is that you want better website content. It seems that you shot the messengers and failed to understand the reasons behind the message. If you were a marketer, what is the best way to promote your content? A: I think the best way to do it is to have a blog. Being real and making a good product is important. You should have an about us page that indicates that real humans are working behind it. People don't want to have products that don't have people around it.
He talks a lot about Allen Stern. It seems that he loves Allen.
Q: What about the long tail? Most searches have never been seen before. A: I don't believe that one solution is going to solve the search problem. I think it's going to be a blend of techniques (not blended search, however). Sometimes machine search is the best. Sometimes human search (experts) is better. For mid-tail, social stuff is good. Sometimes you go to delicious because PHP scripting resources are very good there. Sometimes you go to Indeed to find a PHP job. The person who is going to win big is the person who figures out how to blend these different disciplines to build a single product. We had a lab and determined that people do not care about the layout of pages. They care about if the result is good. It was a real shocking lesson.
Q: How would you categorize the traffic relationship that you have with other search sites and where do you see that headed? A: There are going to be a series of services that are dependent on search engines and some portions will be able to convert it to direct traffic. We saw a trend at Weblogs Inc. that 60% were coming from SEs, but a year or two in, 60% was direct. It converted users. In many cases, search gets it right. We're a content provider at the end of the day. We're in for the long term.
Q from Joost de Valk: You were speaking of becoming an affiliate marketer. Can you elaborate on that? Jason: I'm learning a lot of affiliate marketing and I think there's potential there to create affiliate links (that are high quality) on some of our pages. They will be hand-picked. He's only really sold display advertising thus far but doesn't know much about it to say if it's going to work or not.
Q: Can you explain why you chose not to implement canonical redirects? A: I wanted to have URLs that you can easily type - mahalo.com/keyword. When we started, that's how we installed it - I hated the SEO value of the other URLs.
Q: How to you categorize Mahalo contributors? Jason: There's a large group of people who don't like FT jobs and do freelance stuff and have a passion for certain verticals, so if they can monetize that, it's a cool way to live their lives.