Kirk Petersen, Professional Blogger

Irene, Schmirene — let’s talk web traffic, baby!

I’ve just been notified that as of August 24, 2011, I have entered the august and distinguished pantheon of professional bloggers.  Specifically, I received my first payment from Google AdSense.  My autograph is now available for purchase.

It’s taken a lot of hard work and dedication to get to this point.  Since May 29, 2009, when I launched my first AdSense ads, I’ve made more than 300 posts to my blog.  Almost all of them involved a fair amount of research, writing and editing.  I keep  telling myself that I should do more quickie blog posts with just a single observation about a single aspect of an issue.  But once I get started, it nearly always turns into an essay — I described this slippery slope in “Mary Meeker, Entitlements, Wikipedia Drift, and Why It Takes Me Three Hours to Write a Blog Post.”

My average time investment is certainly less than three hours (although that post took longer than that).  Let’s call it 90 minutes.  That adds up to more than 450 hours of blogging, plus an indeterminate but not trivial amount of time spent backing up, upgrading and enhancing the design and recovering from hackers.  500 hours is a reasonable estimate.

During that time, the blog helped launch “My International Consulting Practice,” although I don’t count that vast revenue stream as a direct payment for blogging.  Unfortunately, my two biggest traffic days — an Instalanch and a Sullivalanch — both occurred before I got started with AdSense.

Enough background.  So how much is this lush AdSense payout that makes all the effort worthwhile?  If you know anything about AdSense, you know what’s coming.  Drumroll, please…

$102.34.  That, as my AdSense dashboard so helpfully calculates, is an average of $0.13 per day since I began publishing ads.  (I can almost hear you thinking: “Thirteen cents a day? Gotta get me summa that!”)

A good rule of thumb is that when you hear someone say “it’s not about the money,” it’s usually about the money.  However, sometimes the check really is in the mail — and blogging, for me, is not about the money. Thanks for reading my blog.

Hey, did I mention that I’m now a professional blogger?

Wikipedia Upload

Click image to embiggen

Do you ever wonder why people sometimes tend to do the exact opposite of what they should do?

For example, when leaving a voicemail message, many people will speed up while giving the all-important phone number — at the precise time when they should slow down.

So someone says “nineseventhreefiveohfiveonetwoonetwo” as fast as they can, and you have to listen to the message twice, or even three times, to capture the number.  What they should say is “nine seven three”… [pause] “five oh five”… [pause] “one two, one two”.

(No, it’s not my real phone number.  What, do you think I’m nuts?)

Now let’s look at the “help” page above from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.  (If you can’t see the graphic because you’re using an RSS reader, thank you for subscribing to my RSS feed. Now click through to the site already!)  My simple goal this afternoon was to upload a photo to help personalize the few lines of text I wrote for my Wikipedia user page.  It’s the same photo you see on this blog in the column to the right. (You did click through to the blog, right, RSS feeders?)

Wikipedia uses a proprietary coding language to invoke HTML commands so that users don’t have to learn HTML.  The Web Goddess, a self-taught guru who knows HTML cold, finds it confusing and not intuitive.  But the real problem is the poor design of the “help” pages.

The page above pops up from a simple “Upload file” link in the left navigation of the Wikipedia toolbox.  So far so good.  But… how do you actually upload a picture?

Click to embiggen

If you embiggen the second graphic, you’ll see that the page starts out by telling you how to do everything you might possibly want to do, except for the single most likely thing.

Do I want to look at six different help pages first?  Not if I don’t have to.  Do I want to put my face on Wikimedia Commons, so anyone can use the photo free for any purpose?  No, especially since my Wikipedia log-in doesn’t seem to work there, and I’d have to create a new account.

Finally, the fourteenth link on the page, in the third highlighted section, has the magic words “go directly to the upload form.”  So why couldn’t they have said that 10 minutes ago?

What does all this have to do with good people doing nothing in the face of evil?  No clue.  Tune in again later.

Governor Christie Kicks Ass and Takes Names

I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Chris Christie, because of his extreme anti-gay position, and I imagine I’ll have occasion again to oppose him on that topic.  In the meantime, I love listening to him talk about the budget and take on the teachers unions, as in the video above.  If you don’t have the time or patience to watch all 9:50 of it, skip ahead to the 9 minute mark and you’ll get a good flavor from his peroration.

The governor also is making good use of social media to take his message to people directly and unfiltered.  Every video turned out by his communications staff ends with the screen shot below, urging people to connect with Christie on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.  He inherited a budget deficit more than one-third as large as the entire state budget, and he’s going to have to make a lot of cuts in a lot of places to avoid raising taxes, as he has promised not to do.  I like his chances — listening to him is like a breath of fresh air compared to most politicians.

Active bloggers get used to seeing comments along the following lines:

I wanted to thank you for this excellent read!! I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it. I have you bookmarked your site to check out the new stuff you post.

Or:

This post is beyond awesome. I am always wondering what to do and what not to do so I will follow some of these tips.

Or:

Well said. I never thought I would agree with this opinion, but I’m starting to view things differently. I have to research more on this as it appears quite interesting. One thing I don’t get though is how everything is related together.

This is known as comment spam, and the examples above are not hypothetical — they are all actual comments intended for this blog, but trapped in a spam queue by the indispensable Akismet plug-in for WordPress. (And no, I have not been and will not be compensated for saying something nice about Akismet, or about any other product or service.)

The formula the spammers use is pretty transparent:  Say something flattering and brief, and vague enough that it could apply to any blog post.  Then format the comment so that the user name links back to whatever Adsense-gaming, drivel-infested website the spammer is flogging, fire up a comment bot, and post the comment to a few thousand or a few million blogs — some of which will not have any protection against comment spam.

I have no objection to Adsense itself — I use Adsense to serve up ads on this blog.  What I object to is the phenomenon of setting up multiple blogs with extremely low signal-to-noise ratios for the sole purpose of generating clicks and page views.

It’s hard to believe the spam-bloggers are making much money.  Under Adsense’s terms and conditions, I’m not supposed to say very much about my relationship with them, but I’m permitted to disclose truthfully how much money I’ve made.  Since I began hosting ads about 10 months ago, my total earnings have been $45.82, or about 15 cents per day.  If and when the total earnings reach $100, they’ll send me a check.  Ca-CHING! (Update: Woo hoo!  Got that check!)

In contrast to the spam comments, here is the text of an unsolicited email I received yesterday, referring to my previous blog post:

Hi Kirk,

I read your commentary on Left v Right echo chambers and I gotta say that win seems solidly in the ‘Right’ column. As you point out in your post the right leaning Fox is destroying CNN. I think you will like this video on the same topic. It analyzes news coverage from different sources to examine why audiences are migrating away from CNN. It also explores various theories about the future of new media and journalism. I hope you will consider embedding the video in your post.

Thanks,


Rosa Sow
Community Manager
[redacted]@newsy.com

Now to some degree, Rosa’s intention is the same as the spam commenters’: to drive traffic.  But what a difference in execution.  Her email is specific enough to prove that she actually read my blog post.  It has a flattering tone, without being over the top about it — and without giving away any hint of her own political views.  It forthrightly acknowledges that she has her own agenda — she wants me to embed her video on my site.  And it offers me something in return – a promise of news and information about a topic in which I have a demonstrated interest.

And since she asked so nicely, here’s the video:

I had not heard of Newsy.com until I got her email, but I’m glad to have learned of it.  I watched the video above a couple of times, and then sampled a few other videos on the site.  Their boilerplate self-description is on target:

A news analyzer, not a news aggregator, Newsy.com is the only multi-source video news service producing daily videos that analyze the key differences in how a story is being reported by various news organizations. Newsy.com offers context with convenience — in 2 to 3 minutes, users understand the nuances in coverage.

They’re based in Columbus, Missouri, which explains the frequent appearance of Kansas City Star columnists among their sources.  If I look at enough of their work, I may be able to diagnose a tendency to lean toward the right or the left, but they don’t seem to have any obvious partisan ax to grind.   Whatever their politics, they treat differing points of view with respect, which is exactly what I aspire to on this blog, although I don’t pretend to be neutral.

So Rosa, I hope you don’t mind that I’ve quoted your email message.  I sent you an email asking if it would be OK to publish it, but then I went ahead without waiting for an answer.  I figured that because it was an unsolicited email for commercial purposes to a recipient who does not know you, you had no reasonable expectation of privacy.  I’ll take your name off the post if you wish.

Anyway, thanks for the email, and congratulations on scoring a link.  I hope my vast traffic doesn’t overwhelm your servers, and I promise you that I’ve actually bookmarked your site.

patch-smtMaplewood Patch has published a feature article I wrote about Social Media Today, a Maplewood-based social media company that draws on the work of bloggers from around the world. It’s a part of my continuing effort to establish myself as the premier chronicler of the Maplewood BlogolopolisTM.  (It may already be safe to claim that distinction, in that I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who has ever used that term.)

(Welcome, Social Media Today readers. While you’re here you might want to look at other posts under my Social Media tag.)

facebook_iq_challenge-markup

Several weeks ago, I wrote about having been taken in by an IQ test scam on Facebook.   Lots of other people have also written about that and other scams.  Somehow I naively thought that once Facebook realized it was enabling deception on its service, it would get rid of the scams.  But if anything, the scams have become more plentiful — and more disgraceful.

The image above is a screen shot, captured today, with my annotations in red. It’s an ad — but if Facebook permits advertisers to use Facebook blue and otherwise mimic Facebook’s look and feel, it thereby lends Facebook’s credibility to the ad.  So when the text falsely says “3 of your friends have challenged you to beat their IQ scores,” Facebook is lying to me.

As before, clicking to accept the challenge leads to a brief quiz with a few easy questions, which then leads to a screen asking me to enter my cell phone number to get the results:

iq_scam_-_large-copy

If I enter my cell phone number — as I was foolish enough to do before — I expect it will then give me a code and ask me to send it as a text on my cell phone.  Doing so will constitute a confirmation that I agree to their terms of service.

Now, let’s take a closer look at that page:

iq_scam-disclaimer

The barely readable diagonal blue text at right says “$9.99 Monthly Subscription.” The barely readable “Terms” link leads to a page with more than 9,000 words of dense legalese.  Somewhere therein it says that using the “service” constitutes agreeing with the terms.  Way at the bottom,  it states that the terms are $9.99 a month.

Facebook peddles plenty of other scams to its members as well, such as this:

admirers-copy

And this:

iq_variation-copy

And this:

message_center-copyThis one is particularly diabolical, as it has grabbed the name of one of my Facebook friends — a woman who, I am quite confident, has an IQ considerably higher than 106:

charlene_li-copyEach of these ads-that-look-like-Facebook-applications leads either to an IQ scam or some other “service” that will be billed to your cell phone.  For example, one of them led to this landing page, which is a model of transparency and rectitude by comparison:

crush_landing-copy

The eye is naturally drawn to the simple images in the center, but at least the text on the periphery (both at top and left) discloses the $9.99 monthly charge.  Try to navigate away from the page, however, and you’ll get this popup message:

crush_cancel-copy

It’s a standard Windows popup message, the text at top and bottom is generated by Windows.  The only customization is the text in the middle — which tries to keep you on the site by telling you that “Cancel” means the opposite of what it says on the line below.

Once you’ve “agreed” to the terms for one of these scams, you can get out of the charges by spending half an hour or so in voicemail hell with your phone company.  But how many teens and tweens have incurred the charges without realizing it, or without having the courage to tell Mom or Dad that there may be a problem on the cell phone account? The fact that there are competing scams says to me that it’s a business model that works for the scammers.

Facebook didn’t actually create these scummy scams.  It just knowingly profits by driving its 200 million members to them.  That is to say, it profits in the short run.  In the long run, it’s hard to believe that it is truly in Facebook’s best interest to participate in victimizing its members.

J’accuse, Zuckerberg.

Googliath Continues Patchwork Expansion in NJ

Patch.com, the venture-capitalized, Google-zillionaire-backed startup that recently launched town-specific news and information websites in Maplewood, South Orange and Millburn, today announced plans to expand into an additional three nearby communities.

The newest Patches are slated to open in May in Summit, Westfield and Scotch Plains (including Fanwood), all in Union County. Summit is contiguous with Millburn in Essex County, but Westfield and Scotch Plains/Fanwood are further south, separated from the other Patches by Route 22 and by the towns of Springfield and Mountainside.

In a world-exclusive interview (OK, he replied to my email), Patch Editor-in-Chief Brian Farnham told A.T.I.N. that Googliath has “no specific rollout plans beyond these next three, or hard target figure to hit by end of year. I can say we remain bullish about expanding Patch as quickly as is prudent and in as many communities as can use us (which we think is a lot).”

Each of the new Patch towns are served by local newspapers, and Summit even has SummitNJ.net, a sister site of the venerable Maplewood Online. Even after the new sites open, however, none of the towns will have an online presence to rival the Maplewood BlogolopolisTM, which is served by five separate, general-interest websites.

As the crisis unfolds, the Avellino Waterproofing ad
appears as a cruel joke… mocking me.

About 6:05 a.m., Eastern DAYLIGHT Time — The Web Goddess reports no water pressure at any upstairs faucet. “I hope we don’t have a burst pipe in the basement.” Yoicks!! This would have to happen on the very morning that clocks “spring forward,” depriving emergency responders of a potentially crucial hour of sleep.

6:07 a.m. — No water pressure at the downstairs faucets either. Visual reconnaissance confirms dry basement — an indication that the crisis may be systemic to the entire Tuscan Road microregion (the water could be out all up and down the street). Important tactical note: Each toilet can be flushed one time with water stored in the individual toilet tank.

6:15 a.m. — Time to see which news outlet in the Maplewood BlogolopolisTM is doing the best job of reporting the looming crisis. As long-time A.T.I.N. readers (i.e., since six days ago) are aware:

Maplewood NJ, Pop. 23,000, Now Has Four FIVE Competing Local Websites

As a reminder, the websites, in approximate order of online presence:

Maplewood Online
Maplewoodian.com
Maplewood Patch
NY Times “The Local”
LocalSource.com (News-Record)

6:19 a.m. — Frenzied surfing reveals disappointing fact: the Maplewood BlogolopolisTM appears to be ignoring the mounting hydration catastrophe. I need to take a shower, people!!

6:25 a.m. – [Lightbulb] — I should sound the alarm!! The technology is in my hands!! But where to turn first? Here’s where more than a decade of brand development comes into play — I happen to know that Maplewood Online, Est. 1998, has a thriving complex of local message boards, and I have not seen anything comparable at the other sites. At 6:25 a.m., while others in the Maplewood BlogolopolisTM sleep soundly in their beds, I (me, Kirk Petersen!!) post the first emergency bulletin in a still-innocent world. At a mere 55 words, including the subject line, and if you count “a.m.” as a separate word, the message is a model of understated intensity and resolve:

Water Main Break in Tuscan Road Area

New Jersey American Water confirms a water main break in the Tuscan Road area. Service is out at our house on Tuscan near Springfield. The company expects to restore service in 4 to 6 hours from the time of the initial report at 4:25 a.m. today, Sunday, 3/8/09.

6:30-6:40 a.m. – Finish sending emails to the other four players in the Maplewood BlogolopolisTM. That’s right, emails. This is the 21st Century, people!

6:59 a.m. – At last! After more than a quarter-hour of clicking the refresh button (no wonder Jamie gets so many page views at MOL!!), the first confirmatory report arrives. Well, sort of. A person styling herself as “Joan Crystal” posts the following:

Thanks for the alert. We have water at 6:59 AM this morning and we are one block from Tuscan Road.

Is she doubting me?? Or is the crisis more contained than originally feared? (Ugly thought: if there is a break between the water main and my house, am I liable for the repairs?)

7:02 a.m. – Visual reconnaissance out the front window reveals no sign of water bubbling out of the front yard. (But would I even be able to see it?)

7:06 a.m. — “elsie” provides the following report:

Thanks – ours is out too. Had seen a truck and water gushing into the road around 6 last night, so suspected it was related.

Neither of my next-door neighbors are named “elsie,” so this provides the first welcome indication that the problem may be wide-spread. (In typical suburban busy-street microculture, I do not know the names of the folks across the street.) I ponder the bittersweet irony of my satisfaction at the knowledge that others are suffering, too.

7:32 a.m. – Two additional breathless outage reports have been filed, indicating at least four households are without water. With a humbling yet majestic sense of history, I note that all of the respondents have started their comments by thanking me. This touching response from a grateful public provides a rare opportunity for a vertical screen grab. I’m starting to think about a bagel run.

7:40 a.m. – Maybe later on the bagel. ZZZZzzzzzzzz.

9:56 a.m. — Nearly three hours after the initial emergency report, citizen-journalist Joe Strupp reports the outage on his newsblog, The Maplewoodian, and links to this site. (Thanks, Joe!) I’m not sure the powder-blue text works, but I love the graphic.


I met Joe the other night at the NY Times “The Local” launch party, and I remember thinking, this guy is toast — he’s up against the mighty New York Times, a Google zillionaire at Patch.com, and the online version of the venerable News-Record, which has been reporting from Maplewood for however many years it has been.

But just as Andrew Jackson said “one man with courage makes a majority,” Joe has proven that one man who checks his email on Sunday morning makes a news cycle.

10:15 a.m. – First photos from the disaster scene at Tuscan Road and Oberlin Street, where the tension was palpable. (I had to walk several blocks from my home, I might add.)


Photo below reveals a shiny red new plumbing thingy in a hole — first responders at the scene confirmed that the hole had been dug by the big yellow hole-making device pictured above. The hole undoubtedly will need to be filled before normal traffic can resume on Oberlin. Traffic on the much-busier Tuscan Road was thankfully not disrupted.


Service has been restored, according to one of Maplewood’s finest, who did not give his name. (Note to self: next time ask for name.) And here I thought New Jersey American Water was blowing smoke when they said 4 to 6 hours.

Wait… you mean I could be taking a shower right now?!?

Signing off from the Tuscan Road microregion of the Maplewood BlogolopolisTM, where it seems likely that some late-sleeping citizens will never know how narrowly they averted hygenic inconvenience.

11:30 a.m. — Quick update while my hair dries — Jamie Ross likes me! He included me in today’s edition of the Maplewood Dispatch!

Think Twice Before Having Fun on Facebook

(I subsequently wrote a followup to this post.)

(Insert cruel joke here about my apparent IQ)

I love the Internet. For starters, I met the Web Goddess on an online divorce support group. Thanks to the Internet, I have been able to pontificate on this blog to an audience of literally dozens of people who otherwise would be bereft of my wisdom.

But it’s still the Wild West on the World Wide Web (WWWWW). Web-enabled social media platforms such as Facebook lend themselves to scams that depend on social engineering as much as they do on TCP/IP. I think of myself as a reasonably sophisticated Internaut, but I got pwned this morning — before church, no less.

The Facebook message claimed that four of my friends had challenged me to an IQ test, with the smartest of them scoring 127. I was encouraged to click Continue to find out who they were and see if I could beat them. OK, Facebook friends — it’s on!

The welcoming page at the IQ site included a screen (see top image) with the words “Answer the questions quickly and accurately to find out your IQ.” OK, speed counts, good to know — bring it!

After racing through 10 multiple-choice questions (sample: of these four presidents, which was America’s 16th president?), I get to the screen below. My heart’s pumping — I just know I aced all those questions! But now they want me to tell them my cell phone number… am I going to get junk calls?

Oh well, I can always hang up, and at least they’re not asking for a credit card number. After I enter my cell number and click Next, I get a screen that tells me I have been sent a text message with a code number, and I have 30 seconds to enter the code number in a field on the web page. Crikey, my cell’s in the other room, the webpage is counting down the seconds, and I’m not sure how to retrieve a text message, I rarely use that service.

I get the code number entered with about four seconds to spare… which leads to a screen telling me I have to accept the Terms and Conditions. Damn! I’m out of time! But maybe it will still work a few seconds late. I select the Terms and Conditions approval box and click Next.

The next screen tells me to select the special ringtones I have ordered… and I start to have a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I hit the back button to get to the page where I entered my cell phone number, and I see the virtually camouflaged reference (in the calculator screen in the picture above) to a $9.99 per month subscription. In small type at the very bottom (click the image to see a full-size version), there are five nondescript links, the fourth of which is the Terms and Conditions I didn’t read because I was running out of time.

The Terms and Conditions are a true work of art. (They were in a pop-up and I don’t know a way to link directly, but I’ve captured the complete text just in case.) In addition to telling me that my high IQ will now cost me 10 bucks a month until I cancel, the term sheet contains this cheeky statement: “YOU AGREE TO REVIEW THIS AGREEMENT FROM TIME TO TIME AND AGREE THAT ANY SUBSEQUENT ACCESS TO OR USE BY YOU OF THE SERVICES FOLLOWING CHANGES TO THE AGREEMENT SHALL CONSTITUTE YOUR ACCEPTANCE OF ALL SUCH CHANGES.” In other words, if they change the price to $10 a minute, it’s on me to opt out — and if I use the ringtone in the meantime, I’m hosed.

So after all my rushing, I ended up spending 28 minutes in voice-response hell with Verizon, before I got a human to tell me that I can cancel the ringtone “service” and I can dispute any charges that may get applied. I spent the 28 minutes rethinking my arrogant attitude toward the clients of Ponzi artist Bernie Madoff — clients who, I recently opined, should have known better.

Look, I freely acknowledge that I screwed up here. But shame on Facebook for enabling this. There apparently have been a variety of IQ test scams, none of which look any more dangerous than the standard Facebook fare offering superpokes, virtual hugs, good kharma and the like. If you Google “Facebook IQ test scam” you’ll get 86,000 results, some of them going back at least to 2007. (Let’s make it 86,001.)

I’m tempted to say “shame on Verizon” as well, but the ability to charge goods and services to your cell phone is at least potentially useful, and the nice Verizon lady assured me I would lose no money over this. Even though I “agreed” to the Terms and Conditions.

But here are other candidates for the IQ Test Hall of Shame: The aptly named Shadylizard.com, a ringtones peddler; Media Breakaway LLC, which according to the Terms and Conditions runs Shadylizard.com; quizyou.net, the site that hosts the phony quiz; and the “service” providers used by Media Breakaway to deliver ringtones: Flycell, Ringaza, Jamster and SendMe Mobile.

Media Breakaway LLC, according to its Flashy website, is based in Westminster, Colorado, and offers “performance-based marketing solutions for our business partners.” If you have any comments or suggestions about their “solutions,” their phone number is 303-464-8164. The CEO, Scott Richter, can be reached at scott@mediabreakaway.com.

(Images above may be subject to copyright; publication here is believed to be permissible under the fair use doctrine of U.S. law.)

Israel’s Further Adventures in Social Media

Israel continues and escalates its efforts to use social media to press its case in the global court of public opinion.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the once and perhaps future Prime Minister, is pulling out all the stops to explain Israel’s position in the war with Hamas. In addition to an excellent op-ed in the Wednesday Wall Street Journal, Bibi’s Likud Party has a trilingual blog and social media site (in Hebrew, English and Russian), with an oddly cheery-looking Flash animation showing which towns in Israel are within various ranges of the Gaza Strip.

From the op-ed:

In launching precision strikes against Hamas rocket launchers, headquarters, weapons depots, smuggling tunnels and training camps, Israel is trying to minimize civilian casualties. But Hamas deliberately attacks Israeli civilians and deliberately hides behind Palestinian civilians — a double war crime. Responsible governments do their utmost to minimize civilian casualties, but they do not grant immunity to terrorists who use civilians as human shields.

The international community may occasionally condemn Hamas for putting Palestinian civilians in harm’s way, but if it ultimately holds Israel responsible for the casualties that ensue, then Hamas and other terror organizations will employ this abominable tactic again and again.

The charge that Israel is using disproportionate force is equally baseless. Does proportionality demand that Israel fire 6,000 rockets indiscriminately back at Gaza?

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