Archives for "September 2003"

Blog Glass Ceiling Update

One of the most-read entries in this weblog is a post I made some months ago about the blogosphere’s so-called glass ceiling.

I argued that the notion of there being any impediment to the popularity of women’s blogs was clearly nonsense. That such a complaint was even postulated reveals the whining, blaming, conspiracy-theory mentality that underlies much of feminist “ideology”.

From my everyday experience as a blog reader, I suggested there were roughly equal amounts of male and female bloggers. I noted that men’s blogs tended to express opinions about external events, while women were more likely to opt for introspective biographies, and offered this as an explanation for the greater audience share enjoyed by male bloggers (people, I can only presume, are more likely to read weblogs that present or discuss newsworthy subjects).

These hunches have been confirmed by the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education on its blog census site. In an article entitled Equal Numbers, Different Interests, the NITLE “hand-checked a random sample of 776 out of a pool of 490,000 English-language weblogs.”

It was found that “39.8% of bloggers in the sample were men, and 36.3% were women.” (Of the remainder, the blog was either maintained by a group, or the sex of the blogger was not stated or otherwise inferred on the site.)

However, when the researches looked at the category of “personal diary”, which made up about half of all blogs in the sample, “women outnumbered men by about two to one. (56% to 28%).”

Women were less likely to write about other topics. For example, “of the 6.2% of sites in the 'political' category –- sites primarily devoted to politics, current events, foreign policy, and various ongoing wars -- a bare 4% were written by women.”

There's no glass ceiling on the web. But men and women blog differently. Why should this surprise us?

Blogging In The Future

dear blog

Don Park has given us a glimpse of what he believes blogging will be like in the future.

It's a surprising mix of hi-tech and lo-tech, since it involves moblogging (i.e. taking pictures with a mobile phone or digital camera) and handwritten entries.

Basically, Park reckons, we will write notes, point our cameras at them, and click "send to blog".

I don't honestly believe that blogging will evolve in this way, but it's a cute idea.

Blogs as Marketing and Identity Management Tools

In an article entitled Towards A Weblogging Empire, Wired magazine reports on the new ambitions of former Silicon Alley editor Jason Calacanis -- to create a business based on blogging (Weblogsinc).

What I like about the Wired piece is that it challenges Calancanis's assumptions. "Longtime bloggers," Wired points out, are "dubious about whether blogs can be cash cows."

I'm with the longtimers. Blogs aren't about making money; they probably never will be. Blogs are about marketing; creating a narrative; and thus about designing and maintaining an identity, a brand.

I don't believe we live in a world where individuals have become brands. Rather, I believe that individuals have always branded themselves within their own communities (schoolteacher, athlete, scribe, and so on).

These days, moreover, we participate in virtual communities -- in mass communities, mediated by television and other "broadcast" media, and in thin communities, maintained by the "narrowcast" medium of the internet.

Those communities are themed and powered by the common interests of their participants; communities are no longer necessarily based on cultural or geographical associations.

Our world is one of overlapping communities, of mass and minority communities. Blogging is a narrative form that works particularly well for medium- to small-sized communities.

Google Search By Location

The latest cause of excitement among Google-watchers (or should that be Google-worshippers?) is a search by location feature, currently in beta.

Personally, I'm quite happy with the location-based results I get by typing the name of the region I'm searching directly after my keyphrase, e.g. Internet Usability Consultants Ireland ;)

Google determines the location of a web page (which is never obvious -- all my websites are hosted in the US, for example, even though I'm in Ireland) through what it calls "signals" about "the geographic nature of a page".

I imagine these signals include IP addresses (often misleading -- as per my own example), geo.location meta tag information (rarely used) and the text on the site (again, a regular Google search will find this text anyway).

For now, the Google location search only handles US addresses, but G-Ws have already speculated that the UK, France and Germany will be next -- simply because these are the only other countries served by Google's partner, MapQuest.

Google Personals -- Geek Seeks Geek?


google-personals.gif

Interesting how ideas come about. In January, Biz Stone -- blogger, self-proclaimed genius and author of Blogging: Genius Strategies for Instant Web Content -- came up with a humorous logo (above) for a dating service by the web's top search engine, which he called Google Personals.

Stone didn't elaborate, except to say that the idea "came to him in a dream". The proposal was all just a bit of fun until a site called LoveCompass decided to examine it more closely.

LoveCompass makes some interesting arguments, mainly that one of Google's main rivals, Yahoo!, offers personals. Why shouldn't Google, already diversifying into contextual advertising, offer dating, now one of the web's most popular services?

GoogleGuy (the company's spokesperson who posts regularly on the WebmasterWorld bulletin boards) recently confirmed to me that the company was "happy to take suggestions from anywhere" so, who knows, perhaps they'll consider this one.

Of course, Google would have to do things differently. Perhaps it could offer a
dating service
specifically aimed at geeks, based on compatible genome sequences?

Hmmm, I feel (another) science fiction novel brewing...

Viral Marketing

you are fat

To add this banner to your site, simply cut and paste the source code.


I was reading a how-to guide on viral marketing and realised that I'd already carried out a successful campaign on the web. I didn't need any e-marketing software products (a.k.a spam generators or 'scumware') -- just the simple banner ad I've pasted here.

I originally created this ad for my Diaryland site. It was designed to run only within the members area -- i.e. the banner was only displayed to a selection of others with accounts on Diaryland, who would see it when logged into their private pages.

Yet from this small group I had a huge response. An average of 5.5% of users who saw the banner clicked on it.

So I created a page here on Mediajunk just for the ad, and gave it the name "insulting advertising". The result? Many webmasters have copied the banner to their sites, and the page now comes up in the top 10 Google results for a search on the word "insulting". Traffic to my Diaryland site increased significantly.

The moral? Viral marketing isn't as hard as you might think.

Update: I have since added viral marketing to the services offered by Mediajunk.

One Less Famous Blogger

I should have kept my, uh, laptop shut.

A few days ago I said that there were too few celebrity bloggers. Well now there are even fewer, as sci-fi author William Gibson has stopped blogging.

Gibson had warned some time ago that he would stop as soon as he began working on his new novel, believing that the two activities were mutually exclusive.

He found the practice of blogging, however, to be a "low-impact activity, mildly narcotic and mostly quite convivial".

Worst Jobs In Science

If you're having one of those "I hate my job" days, maybe you should pause to count your blessings. It really could be worse. You could, for example, be a professional fart sniffer, or barnyard animal masturbator.

I'm serious.

William Speed Weed has written a great feature for Popular Science magazine on the 18 worst jobs in the world of scientific research.

You'll instinctively hold your nose (and other body parts) as you're reading it; just as well DigiScents never managed to perfect their proposed smells through the web technology!

Dublin Becoming Internet Advertising Hub

Two years ago, the Irish government was touting Dublin as an e-commerce hub. When the dot-com bubble burst, that aspiration faded.

But the city has more recently gained a new “hub” reputation – in internet search and advertising. These previously overlooked sectors are fusing and reinvigorating the industry. Following a frenzy of acquisitions and mergers in recent months, Dublin has unexpectedly found itself host to most of the remaining players in search-dependent advertising.

The latest internet giant to plum for the capital is eBay, which has just announced the creation of 800 jobs in Blanchardstown, a suburb on the northwest of the city. A pushy IDA initiative to shoo the company to Athlone is reported to have greatly irked, but not deterred, the web’s most profitable company.

It is rumoured that eBay’s decision was influenced by Google’s decision, earlier in the year, to locate its European headquarters in Dublin too.

Originally occupying different niches, the two companies have been competitors since Google launched its “Adwords” campaign last year, attracting retailers away from eBay. The auction site has since announced its own keyword advertising service.

Another specialist in the search/advertising crossover – Overture – also put down roots in Dublin earlier this year, hiring 100 employees. Having recently acquired a raft of smaller search engines, Overture was itself gobbled up in July by another huge internet brand, Yahoo, for US $1.63 billion.

Also last month, Yahoo bought Inktomi, the company that currently powers Microsoft’s search. In a direct riposte, Bill Gates sanctioned the development of a homegrown search engine. A Dublin resident since 1985, Microsoft has already hired leading mathematicians, and filed patent, in its bid for search supremacy.

Such rapid maneuvering and consolidation testifies to the suddenly red-hot status of internet search and advertising. Regardless of who – Google, Yahoo, eBay, Microsoft, or an as-yet unforeseen rival – comes to dominate internet search and advertising, Dublin should benefit from its new hub status. The Irish government is certainly hoping the internet tide will rise again, providing a much-needed lift to other boats.

Too Few Celebrity Weblogs

I must admit that I am surprised that, nine months into 2003, the list of celebrities who keep weblogs is still modest.

The names are still much as they were in January of this year; Moby and William Gibson are still probably the best-known celebrity bloggers. But the list of famous blogs at the end of the right-hand column on this site hasn’t changed much since I started it nine months ago.

So why hasn’t blogging taken off among celebs, in a culture that is increasingly celebrity-focused? It’s certainly not because the blogging phenomenon has come and gone. No, the blogosphere is growing all the time: the phenomenon; has moved into the web’s mainstream, while the internet itself has moved into our culture’s mainstream.

So why aren’t our "idols" blogging? Here are some of my guesses:

The advantages of celebrity blogs haven’t yet become obvious. For those who are already famous, a weblog can serve as a great marketing tool; as a way of interacting directly with fans; as a way of making press releases and statements without the need for an intermediary; etc. These features would be even more relevant to “up-and-coming” celebrities, such as a music artist trying to break it. However, I don’t think these messages have yet filtered through to the marketing departments that manage celebrities’ identities.

Blogging involves a commitment. Few celebs have the time – or the energy – to invest in regularly updating a diary. Again however, an emerging talent might have some more time to invest, so we might see many more celebrity weblogs in the future – when some of today’s blogging drama students etc. become famous.

Bloggers expose themselves on a world stage. You wouldn't imagaine that global exposure would be a problem for celebrities, but I'm referring particularly to the instantaneous nature of blog-publishing, which makes it more likely that your text will have grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. You also run the risk of publishing an angry post, or saying something otherwise embarrassing or regrettable. I’m sure many celebrities, whose interactions with the public are nomrally meticulously coordinated, would be wary of taking such a risk.

Despite these disadvantages, however, I still think that celebrities who make the commitment and take the risk stand to gain much respect, and to greatly increase their fanbases through regularly updating a simple site. Fans would get an insight into their heroes’ (or heroines’) lives, and their minds – one that isn’t intermediated by some trashy “reality” television show.

Conversely, we as surfers and readers should watch out for any celebrity blogs that clearly don’t involve the genuine participation of the stars themselves. I expect that some marketing departments will simply hire individuals to manage post “on behalf of” stars, who may have no authentic interaction with the site or the fans. This practice (which effectively is an attempt to dupe the audience) is already occurring in the US political arena…

Natural SEO Vs. Adwords

UPDATE: Buy my e-book, "Website Findability: How to get Traffic from Google and other Search Engines.

On a recent Google search on "search engine optimisation", I noticed that many companies take out adverts offering this service.

There's an inherent irony here, as companies that claim to be good at optimising should’t have to advertise. But then, the majority of surfers wouldn’t know this. So here’s my attempt to aid the education process (and maybe even prevent one or two people from being ripped off):

Optimised sites are those that contain the right choice of keywords and keyphrases, in the right amount and with the appropriate formatting, so as to boost their listings in search results. This is sometimes called "natural" search engine optimisation (SEO), though that's something of a misnomer when it comes to Google.

On Google, there's no "unnatural" or alternative way to optimise a site. Google doesn't accept payment in return for guaranteed positioning. Instead it offers adwords – those classified-style ads you see on the right hand side of Google’s results.

But if a company has to take out an advert to say that it offers natural search engine optimisation, that doesn't say much for its SEO services.

Not that I can talk – my business site doesn’t show up very highly for a Google search on search engine optimisation … yet. But I do quite well for a search on findability. No prizes for guessing which jargon I'm backing...

Email the Future

Some of you might get a bang out of this one. A couple of guys have set up a site that allows you to send a time-stamped email.

As they put it: "FutureMe.org is based on the principle that memories are less accurate than emails. we strive for accuracy."

Of course, you can configure your own email programme to send post-dated email (I sometimes send myself "reminders" of meetings or suchlike -- sad, I know).

But the fun thing about the FutureMe site is that many users choose to make their emails public, so you get to read what other people have sent to their future selves. Here's my favourite:

Dear FutureMe,

If you haven't gotten laid since the time I wrote this, what the hell have you been doing wrong?!

-Jason
(written Wed Sep 3, 2003, to be delivered Sat Sep 4, 2004)

The Simple Language of Usability

Usability is a big part of my business offering, and is an aspect of web design I've been devoted to and preaching about for years.

A few years back, usability was almost unheard of; today there are thousands of usability consultants out there. While these fellow evangelists have done much to raise standards, I'm still amazed by their lack of focus on clear, concise language.

And for all web designers' concern these days with good navigation; web-safe colours; page widths that fit in windows; etc., many do not put enough thought into the single most important aspect of web design -- language (text) that is easy to understand.

We can't just blame web folk; after all, they pick up poor language-use traits from the offline world. Too many documents -- from insurance forms to competition rules on the back of cereal boxes -- are written in gobbledygook.

Remember: usability begins with plain English or (French, Russian, Chinese, Irish...).

RIIA Sues 12-year-old Girl For Music Theft

The Recording Industry Association of America — the lobbying group that represents the world's largest music industry corporations — is suing a twelve-year old girl from New York, because she downloaded some songs from the internet. Without using her credit card, presumably.

The music industry still does not get it. The bad press generated by these bullying tactics will make people more determined, not less, to resist paying for downloaded music.

*****

Here's something to cheer you up (and down) though: the pursuit of happiness has officially been declared futile!

A group of US psychologists suggests (convincingly) that our brains are wired to "miswant" -- that is, to overestimate the effects that imminent decisions will have on our emotional states. A new car won't really make us happy; a break-up won't really be unbearable.

The good news is that things will never turn out as bad as we fear. The bad news is that they will never turn out as good as we hope.

As they said in that movie whose title I can't quite remember: "maybe this is as good as it gets."

Collaborative Internet Tools

I mentioned in my last post that bloggers tend to act as editors/sub-editors for one another. Well Jeff Jarvis says much the same thing in a recent post of his: "The internet doesn't need editors. The internet is the editor." (My italics -- edited in!)

The internet has long been seen as a breeding ground for collaborative tools. While many "community" features have now become common (bulletin boards; comments on blogs; etc.), the list of collaborative tools that have failed is far greater.

The fact that they’ve all disappeared is precisely why I can't think of any right now.

Oh hold on, here's one I remember: “Virtual sticky notes” have been touted many times over the last few years. The idea is that you could leave sticky notes on sites you visit, for other surfers to read.

(Zezame.com is one of the latest companies to offer a toolbar with a sticky-note feature.)

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But here's why I doubt it will succeed:

1. For the tool to have value, it needs a certain critical mass of users. After all, who’s going to install the software and leave a note that no-one else will be able to read?

2. If the tool does manage to traverse this tipping point, sites would soon become clogged up with sticky notes, to the extent that users would rarely bother turning the feature on – catch 22!

Other collaborative tools have likely failed for similar reasons. Successful collaborative phenomena, however, tend to be self-organising (e.g. bulletin board communities that spring up around a hot topic); they grow from the bottom up. The internet may be ripe for collaborative tools, but no-one can impose collaboration.

Amateur Ideas

Clay Shirky wrote a much-linked-to essay last year about how weblogs were "amateurizing" publishing, a process that was having some fundamental changes on the price – and quality – of the words we read.

Shirky warned bloggers not to expect payment for their posts:

"The search for direct fees is driven by the belief that, since weblogs make publishing easy, they should lower the barriers to becoming a professional writer. This assumption has it backwards, because mass professionalization is an oxymoron; a professional class implies a minority of members. The principal effect of weblogs is instead mass amateurization.

... Weblogs fix the inefficiencies traditional publishers are paid to overcome one book at a time, and in a world where publishing is that efficient, it is no longer an activity worth paying for."

Now UK blogger Tom Coates has extended Shirky's argument, claiming that weblogs are a symptom of a wider phenomenon: "the mass amateurisation of (nearly) everything."

While I think Coates has stretched the idea a little too far, some of his points are worth exploring. He agrees that the internet has amateurised the process of putting words into the public domain (publishing), AND the process of getting the information in the first place (research). Other media tools like camcorders, animation software and music-making equipment are leading to other forms of mass-distributed, amateur-produced content:

"Hard-rocking poorly-animated kittens that once roamed e-mail newsletters (http://www.b3ta.com) are now showing up in adverts and credit-sequences, pop-songs written on home computers are reaching the top of the charts, weblog commentators in Iraq are getting columns in the national and international newspapers, music is being hybridised and spliced in the home for competitions on national radio stations."

Incidentally, I found an error in Tom's post. At first I thought this ironic – a spell-checker would not have registered the mistake (a "their" used instead of "there") but a professional sub-editor would have corrected it. I emailed Tom to let him know about the error – then realised that *I* was performing the sub-editing role.

Perhaps the blogosphere will eventually evolve so that the services traditionally provided by professionals – such as research, sub-editing, editing, etc. – will eventually be provided by the wider blogging community.

I think we are already seeing the beginning of professional qualities *emerging* from the blogosphere, in the way that "more important" content gets linked to more often and subsequently gets viewed more often.

And, in a sense, we are each editing one another’s ideas...

Virtual Ulysses: Web Content Wants To Be Free

Did you know that many classic books are available for free on the internet? You can even get them in PDF format, so you can print up the pages as they would look in the "offline" book.

See the set of classics available at PDFworld, for example. They've got titles from Kafka to Dostoevsky.

Instead of buying Joyce's Ulysses and leaving it forever (unread) on the shelf, now you can just bookmark the site and leave it on the, er, virtual shelf!

These books are free because they come from an era when copyright laws did not favour the publisher as much as they do today. Indeed, copyright laws were originally developed to help artists make an income from their ouvres, for a short time, after which the work would lapse into the "public domain".

Modern publishing companies, in various art and entertainment industries, have cynically manipulated these laws over the years so that now they favour the publishing "middlemen", and not the artists.

But the internet is changing all that. :)

Search Engine Optimisation in Ireland & UK

In reading a report on how poorly New Zealand sites score for findability – or search engine optimisation – I realised that the same is true of UK/Irish sites.

The US leads the way in developing "optimization" techniques – largely by methods of trial-and-error, and by reverse-engineering the black box that is Google’s ranking algorithm.

It will be at least 18 months before the rest of the world catches up.

Meanwhile, it can be difficult to persuade businesses in Ireland and the UK of the need for “natural” optimisation (i.e. not using adwords, contextual ads or similar pay-per-click techniques).

For example, I recently spoke to the owner manager of a well known Irish company, with offices each of the major cities. Let’s just say his product is “widgets”. His site doesn’t show up in the top 500 hundred Google results for the 25 most obvious searches relevant to his company's site – for example: “widgets Ireland”, “widgets Dublin”, etc.

But here’s the rub: he told me that he was paying a search engine optimisation/findability company a handsome sum -- per quarter!

Ahem. For more details on my search engine optimisation services, visit the findability page on my business site.

UPDATE: Since first writing this article, I have published a search engine optimisation book, which you can download from my internet consulting website!

Not Working But Surfing

One of the (many) advantages of being self-employed is that I no longer have to pretend I'm using the internet for serious research reasons, when I'm actually staring at an image of a man's head buried in a load of nuts that claims to determine the efficiency of my right hemisphere.

I wouldn't begrudge employees a little surfing on company time, as Ann Perry puts it.

It’s human nature to slack off. Our brains need short and regular rest periods in order to perform better -- we can't use the right hemisphere all of the time! (Then again, we should probably take our eyes off the screen while resting our brains.)

Perry actually seems surprised to learn that consuming pornography isn't high on the list of office internet activities. I don't share her surprise. Most people have the sense not to indulge in porn at the office -- just as they have the sense not to have sex in the office (… well, except at Christmas!).

Most Disturbing Entry Award

In one of the most offputting blog entries I've yet encountered, Jared Wagner -- an 18 year-old Ikea employee from southern California who describes himself as "girlfriendless" -- posts a photoessay on his consumption of a lot of burgers.

I can't decide which are more disturbing though: the images, or the comments that follow...

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Visit Michael Heraghty's current blog at User Journeys

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Mediajunk was Michael Heraghty's blog from 2002 to 2010, with articles on usability, UX, SEO, web design, online marketing, etc. More »

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