On content farms

It looks like Google has taken action against content farms, low-quality sites that publish articles about anything and everything quickly, and try to make money from the ads.

I can’t tell yet if this has really affected my traffic any–my traffic can drop or jump 20 percent on a daily basis for no apparent reason. But I support the change.
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Pontificating on how to blog

Several people I know have started blogs lately. Conversations with them have reminded me of a few things. I’m far from an A-list blogger, and was never anything more than an E- or F-list guy. At my peak, I got about 2,000 page views per day, but I’m a ways from that now. All I can say now is that I’ve been doing it 11 years. Some people have been blogging longer than me, but not a lot.

Oddly enough, 11 things about blogging came to mind. One for each year?

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Bias is good?

Blekko could be an idea whose time has come. It’s a search engine with bias.

The idea is, you punch in what you’re looking for, and include a slash term to bias the search in a particular direction. That could help filter out spam sites–sites that are loaded with keywords and a few links but no real content, for instance.

But I imagine some significant percentage of its users will use it to try to find content they already agree with. Read more

A late adopter’s survival guide to Facebook: Part 3 of 3

This is part 3 in my series on Facebook and avoiding pitfalls. Here’s part 1.

Too many friends

Psychology professor and self-help pioneer Jess Lair used to ask people if they had five friends. If they said no, he said to go make some–with fewer than five, you wear your friends out. If they said they had a lot more than five, he said no they don’t–they have a lot of acquaintances. People don’t have enough time and energy to maintain more than about five deep friendships.

I think about that when I see people who have hundreds of Facebook friends. One Facebook meme I’ve seen is people posting a status update that just says, “Tell me how I know you?”

By hiding game/app updates, you can make it a lot easier to keep up with larger numbers of people. Hiding friends who post excessively helps as well.

But the odd thing is, even though I’ve done these things, there are still friends I’ve never seen a status update from. They appear to be active. Many of them have hundreds or thousands of friends. Whether they’re using filters and I’m just not in any group that gets their updates, or whether Facebook just isn’t designed to handle hundreds of relationships, I don’t know.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to keep in touch with large numbers of people, but don’t let the “friends” misnomer get in the way of the relationships that are most important to you.

The power of lists to filter updates and avoid conflict

Sometimes you may post something that you suspect will rile certain friends up. Hopefully it will be a small number of them. Before posting, click on the lock icon, and there’s an option there labeled hide. Start typing the names of friends you don’t want to see the post, then select them. This will keep them from seeing the post, and hopefully prevent you from inadvertently starting a world war.

A former Mizzou classmate clued me in to an even better tip: Some people go so far as to create lists and hide certain updates from those lists. Click on Friends, then click Edit Friends, then click Create List. Name the list by topic, add friends you don’t want to send updates on that topic, then click Create List. Now, when you go to post a status update, when you click on the lock, you can type the name of that list into the hide option.

You can also use lists to avoid sending irrelevant updates to all 999 of your closest friends. You can create lists of family, coworkers, former coworkers, former classmates, and any other list that’s useful to you. Then, if you want to send an update just to your family, type your update, click the lock, select customize, select specific people, and then type the name of the group. Now you can send a message to your whole family and not worry about bothering other people who won’t care or understand the message.

And then you can use those lists to see updates just from those specific groups, so if you ever wonder what your old coworkers from Initech are up to, you can find out really quickly. Just click on Friends, then click that list, and you’ll see all the recent updates from the people on that list.

The upside

Despite the pitfalls, there’s enough upside to make it worthwhile. I’ve questioned it a couple of times, but never for more than a few days.

It is an effective way to keep in touch. One blatant example: Last summer, we had a project at work that required several teams to travel. Those of us who had Facebook accounts knew how the remote teams were doing. Those who didn’t knew very little. It was a lot easier to sign in to Facebook at the end of the day than it was to use our convoluted e-mail system from the road.

I also find it easier to deal with than e-mail. I used to get more e-mail per day than I could possibly read or respond to in 24 hours. With Facebook, people’s expectations are more reasonable. I have a much better handle on what’s going on in people’s lives by spending a few minutes on Facebook than I did plowing through hundreds of e-mail messages.

I’m a whole lot more connected now than I was in 2007. I can trade family pictures and talk effortlessly with my first cousin in Philadelphia, whom I haven’t seen in person in 22 years. I can do the same with my first cousin in Germany, whom I’ve never met at all. I’ve even used it to try to chase down job leads for friends who weren’t on Facebook yet. There’s nothing at all wrong with any of that.

A late adopter’s survival guide to Facebook: Part 2 of 3

This is part 2 in my series of observations about avoiding potential pitfalls in Facebook.

What do your updates say about you?

It’s hard to know who’s watching you, and how your updates could potentially come back to haunt you. If your status updates or photos suggest questionable judgment, it could potentially jeopardize your professional life.

For example, it’s easy to make people wonder if you’re ever sober if every status update talks about going out drinking, and every picture posted looks like it was taken in a bar. That’s not necessarily career-killing–I had a coworker once who seemed to have a hangover every single day and he managed to outlast me at that place–but in these tough times, people lose opportunities over dumber things than that.

Boundaries

I’ve dealt with this before. Odds are, at some point, you’re going to run across old flames. I won’t revisit all of that. The most important thing is to live in the present, and set boundaries.

One of mine found me about 16 months ago. After maybe three days of back-and-forth and being part of her morning routine, I set down some ground rules. That ended the conversation, and she hasn’t contacted me since. Maybe that’s not the perfect ending, but it’s an acceptable one.

Every relationship is different, but it’s not uncommon for current spouses/significant others to be uncomfortable when old flames come into the picture. And depending on how the relationship ended, opening old wounds is a possibility. In my case, it was clear the 1997 she remembered wasn’t or isn’t the same 1997 I remember. Maybe she never knew, or just doesn’t remember anymore, that she messed me up pretty badly.

Ending communication showed she did respect those boundaries. And any reasonable person will. They don’t have to like it. The important thing to remember is that once a relationship is over, and especially once there’s a new relationship in the picture, a different set of rules applies.

And let’s talk about two of those rules. Is it wrong for my wife to not want to have to compete with a predecessor for my attention? No. Is it wrong for me to want to avoid getting hurt again? No.

If they don’t respect those boundaries, un-friend them. Or reject their friend request.

Privacy

It should go without saying, but don’t announce to the world, or even just your 999 closest friends, that the entire family is on vacation and your house is sitting empty. And I shouldn’t know that someone my wife knows received enough money in a lawsuit to buy a house. I shouldn’t know this, but I know that and then some, because she posted the whole story on Facebook.

If you want to talk about how great your vacation is, well, wait until you get back and talk about how great your vacation was. If you come into a windfall, well, those 999 people you barely know probably don’t need to know how much it was or where it came from. Maybe you trust those 999 people, but you don’t know who those 999 people are talking to.

And if a friend of a friend–or someone who just isn’t as good of a friend as you thought–finds out you just came into a lot of money and you just happen to be on vacation right now? You tell me what pops into mind. Maybe that person won’t act on it. But it’s better not to even take the chance. These are tough times, and someone may think they’re more entitled to that windfall than you.

Wasting time

I think Betty White put it best when she said, “[Facebook] sounds like a huge waste of time!” And yes, it can waste as much or as little time as you want it to.

Anymore, I check in every couple of days, usually in the evenings, to see what’s going on. A friend from high school got married last weekend. That’s a big deal, and I’m glad to know about that.

I used to try to set time limits for myself, so I wouldn’t get lost in it. Anymore, it’s usually a few skims, some page scrolls, maybe a couple of minutes to post a response to something, and I’m out.

Some people spend a whole lot more time on it than I do, but it isn’t necessary.

Part 3 of this series will follow tomorrow.

A late adopter’s survival guide to Facebook: Part 1 of 3

A good friend asked me for some thoughts on Facebook this week. Like many people, he’s resistant. But, as he put it, it’s the standard for personal, non-professional communication these days. As a Facebook late adopter, I understand the hesitancy. As someone with a couple of years’ experience, I’ve weathered some storms. So he asked me for my thoughts on its pitfalls and avoiding them.

Arm your system’s defenses

I went something like 16 years without catching a virus, until I caught something earlier this year. My antivirus software minimized the damage, but this was embarrassing. Whether it came from a rogue ad on their site or some rogue app, I don’t know. But if you intend to participate, protect your system from known malware domains. whether at the operating system level, or by using Adblock Plus.

Even if Facebook is completely benevolent (which I doubt), it’s a huge, attractive target for malware authors, and it has a history.

Games

Maybe the games are fun. I don’t know; I stay away from them. I get tired of hearing about casual acquaintances’ game activity, and I really don’t care to annoy all of my casual acquaintances with them. And frankly, before I learned you could hide these games by hovering over the update and clicking the ‘x’, I really wondered about certain people because it looked like they were spending their entire lives playing games.

But there’s an even better solution…

Filtering

Several filters exist: F.B. Purity, Better Facebook, and FFixer are popular ones. I use F.B. Purity and I’m pretty happy with it. It blocks the games and the stupid link-sharing apps, which eliminates at least 50% of the noise. At least now I don’t see waves of “Click here if God ever answered a prayer!” and similar posts that tend to percolate up every so often–and it seems like once one of your friends posts one of those, 30 of them follow.

I don’t know why people see the need to use Facebook apps to say things like that–I could go through my friends list and tell you who would say yes and no to that particular question, probably with greater than 90% accuracy–but it’s not my problem anymore. Every time I sign on to Facebook, all I see is that FB Purity hid 10 superfluous updates. I can see them if I click on something, but I never bother.

Politics and religion

There’s a growing disrespect for differing views in these two arenas. I suspect it’s because today’s popular opinion makers have no respect for differing opinions and encourage their fans to behave similarly, but whatever the reason is, I have less and less interest in participating in it.

My view seems to be a minority view. I have some acquaintances who seem to have plenty of time to post 15 updates every day about these things. You probably already know who you can safely talk about these things with and who’s just going to call you an idiot. (Hint: the more extreme the view, whether left or right, the worse your chances.) Unfortunately I’ve had some conversations on these topics that damaged relationships. A better approach is just to hide the status updates of people who post 15 inflammatory updates per day. Then you can still keep in touch, without being stuck reading a ton of stuff that gets under your skin every day.

And since you probably don’t want to read that kind of stuff, you shouldn’t be one of those kinds of people. While there are things I believe in, I realize it’s counter-productive to post updates about those things multiple times a day. Posting obnoxious links and status updates isn’t going to convert my atheist friends to Christianity. It’s more likely to make them dig in. Posting obnoxious links or parroting obnoxious pundits isn’t going to convert my friends’ political views either. And on the latter, I’m not certain that it’s productive.

If you feel the need to talk about such things, do it in a targeted fashion. Confine it to the people you know you can have productive discussions with. Not all 999 people you know. But I’m getting way ahead of myself–I’ll cover that in part 3, when I talk about lists.

Parts 2 and 3 will follow later in the week.

Tagged!

I’ve only wanted tags for about 10 years. Tags are little keywords you can use to help categorize blog posts. And the first blog I ever saw use them used them liberally. You’d read a post, and at the bottom, there were links to similar posts.

I found a way to make WordPress automatically tag all 1800+ posts here. Many of the tags are nonsensical, but they seem to work. I’m finding all sorts of related content all of a sudden. Which makes sense, seeing as I tend to write about maybe 20 different things over and over. Due to the many migrations I’ve made with this blog, much of my content was never categorized, let alone anything else. Now it’s all cross-referenced. Finding related content is easy. Depending on the age of the related content, it’s not always enlightening, but often it is.

So I hope you like it. I know I do. Suddenly it’s far, far easier for me to find stuff on my own blog. And I wrote all this stuff. If I didn’t know it was all there, then how will anyone else?

Of politeness and consideration in the connected age

I’ve quit several online forums in recent months, and lately I’ve been noticing a lot of Facebook wars–discussions that just got out of hand too fast. All of this makes me extremely nostalgic for the days of Commodore 64s and 128s, dialup modems, and hobbyist-run BBSs. It was hopelessly primitive compared to what we have today, but for the most part it was polite, and it certainly felt more like community.

What happened?

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How eBay is ruining itself

A thread on one of the train forums I frequent mentioned today that the number of listings for Marx trains on eBay is down about 50% over what it was a year or so ago. Not only that, the listings are by and large the common, less interesting stuff.

Meanwhile, a debate rages on another forum I read sometimes, frequented by eBay sellers. On one side are the eBay apologists, saying they’ll just change as eBay changes. On the other side, people struggling to make a profit in the ever-changing environment are finding other venues to sell their wares and finding themselves a lot happier.The problem is that eBay is trying to create a sterile, retail experience. The big shareholders and the executives seem to think that’s what the consumer wants.

Another seller’s theory is that the people who sell brand new merchandise in huge quantities are less troublesome, causing fewer headaches for eBay and for the customers.

The eBay business books I’ve read talk a lot about people who drop-ship pool tables and other merchandise in large quantities, never touching any of it, and supposedly becoming millionaires by doing it.

But the people who put eBay on the map are the people like the ones I see every Saturday morning. They study classified ads the way a devout monk would study Scripture, looking for clues and carefully plotting out their routes. They get up before dawn and drive to their carefully chosen site. Their prey: The estate sale. They line up in the driveway hours before the sale opens, like bargain hunters the day after Thanksgiving. When the sale finally opens, shoppers come in, 10, 20, or 50 at a time, depending on the size of the house, while those who arrived later wait their turn. Any time someone leaves, those in the driveway gawk, trying to see what he or she purchased.

It doesn’t matter what item you can name, I know someone who goes out every Saturday looking for it. Some of these people are collectors, but some of them hawk their finds on eBay. They buy on Saturday and Sunday, then they spend hours the following week figuring out what exactly they have, carefully photographing and describing each item, then listing it, hoping to attract bidders.

The typical eBay addict doesn’t go there to buy a pool table, or the kind of things they sell at a suburban mall. Certainly there are people who buy those sorts of things on eBay. But those tend to be occasional shoppers. The biggest eBay addicts are the fanatics–the serious collectors who spend hours every day scouring new eBay listings, looking for items they don’t have in their collections.

And guess what? These collectors don’t buy from drop-shippers who duplicate the retail experience. The drop-shippers can’t get those kinds of collectibles. It’s the people who get up at 5 a.m. each Saturday to be first in line to prowl around in someone’s attic or basement who get that stuff.

The problem is that the people who do get that stuff have a difficult time becoming (and remaining) Powersellers. A Powerseller has to sell 100 items or $1,000 worth of inventory per month. If I wanted to sell vintage trains on eBay, there’s no way I could locate 1,200 items each year. Not in St. Louis. The $1,000 mark wouldn’t be much easier to hit.

So eBay is driving away that kind of seller. And as a result, eBay is going to lose that type of buyer as well.

I know for a fact there are plenty of collectors in Europe and elsewhere who are eager to take advantage of the low value of the dollar and buy a bunch of collectible American trains at bargain prices due to the exchange rate. Unfortunately the timing is horrible. The new eBay policies have driven away a lot of the people who sell the best items. So the foreigners with money to spend end up spending a lot less than they would like. Sure, they’ll buy the $10 items that are listed, but they’d really rather buy the $100 and $1,000 items that were listed last year but are conspicuously absent today.

Ten years ago, eBay was flying high. They weren’t the first online auction, but they were the most successful, precisely because they allowed ordinary people to sell ordinary (and extraordinary) things. I bought a number of things from online auctions in the mid 1990s, including the Lexmark 4039 laser printer I still use every day. I don’t remember now the name of the auction house where I bought it. I do know it went out of business shortly after eBay became widely known.

Lots of other companies wanted in on the action. Amazon, Yahoo, and others launched auction sites that looked and acted a lot like eBay. But they never went anywhere. The best sellers put their best stuff on eBay. The wannabes tended to just have second-rate stuff sold by second-rate sellers. Case point: I once tried to buy a lot of vintage train magazines from an Amazon auction. I won, paid my money, and waited. And waited. A week later I e-mailed the seller. No response. Finally after another week he responded, saying he’d been having computer trouble and asking if I still wanted the magazines. Well, since he offered me the refund, I took it. I spent the money on eBay instead.

Yahoo auctions are gone, closed about a year ago. If Amazon’s auctions are still open, they’re sure doing a good job of hiding them.

If another company wants to get a piece of eBay’s business, the time is right. There are lots of refugee eBay sellers looking for someplace a little cheaper, with a little more stable set of rules where they can sell. And if a large enough group of them take up shop somewhere, there are plenty of buyers more than willing to follow them there.

It may not happen this year. But I do think it’s only a matter of time.

What net neutrality means and why it\’s a good thing

This week, John C. Dvorak makes a good argument in favor of net neutrality.

I’m going to take it from a different angle. I am a conservative. While I rarely vote a straight Republican ticket, I am registered as a Republican. Republicans generally are against net neutrality.

They are wrong. I will assume it’s from a lack of understanding rather than bad intentions, but in this case, wrong is wrong. I’ll explain why. Read more

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