Just Shelley Social Media Writing

Weblogging is for winners

Page archived, with comments, at Wayback Machine

Marc Canter called me a couple of months ago about a new concept he was working that would help webloggers make money. The concept became reality today, as several people started making 800.00US a month to promote a new CMS called Marqui.

When Marc and I talked, I was ambivalent about the idea and whether it would work. Ben Hammersley has been a sponsored site for some time, but it worked with Ben because he could be enthusiastic about the products of the company that was paying him bucks. Ben likes cigars, and the ambiance associated with cigar smoking, so being sponsored by a cigar company suited his site. I remember reading one of his cigar reviews and being surprised at how much I enjoyed it, precisely because he does feel enthusiastic about cigars.

But I don’t know of many people excited about Content Management Systems, or CMS. I’ve used too many commercial variations of these product to have anything even remotely resembling enthusiasm for them, myself. And if you couldn’t be enthusiastic about the product, wouldn’t the sponsorship come off like the old Geritol television show sponsorships of the past? You know the kind, where the host would stop whatever he or she was doing, plant a fake, bright smile on their face and extol the virtues of a product that would re-build tired blood?

Still, there is a great deal of discussion about the ‘purity’ of this environment and compromising the faith with our readers and that sort of thing, all of which gives me a rash. It’s as if weblogging is for winners only — people who are supremely successful and need no other help; or independently wealthy, and couldn’t use a few extra bucks. Let me tell you something: only the rich can be Saints, and the rich weren’t Saints to become that way.

Or as Alan, Head Lemur, wrote:

This is going to facilitate a dialog, between the company, me and most importantly you. They are paying us for this. They are paying me to tell them and everyone else who reads me what I think. It may not be what they want to hear. This is a risk they are taking.

I do not need the money, I have a day job.
Can I use the money? You bet!

Here are my risks.

Will I be regarded as a whore for taking money?
I already have. And if I am successful I will become a call girl.

Isn’t that ‘call boy’, Alan?

Can I use the money? Damn straight. I had a hard time making enough money to keep this site going, without having to pass the hat not once, but twice in the last few years. So which is better, and more dignified? The hooker on the corner, or the beggar across the street from her?

Still, I write tips and techniques and help folks and I like to think that when the people have contributed to keep the site going, it’s because I’ve provided something that’s been helpful a time or two. But it would be nice to be able to do this _without_ having to pass the hat.


(Of course, what I really need to do is finish my own weblogging tool, Wordform, and then I will automatically become both wealthy and hugely popular.)

So what’s stopping me from tugging at Marc’s shirt and saying, “Hey buddy of mine, can I get back into this deal?” It’s that old Geritol thing, I can’t get it out of my mind.

Stowe Boyd covered some of this in a writing about the Marqui Effect, saying:

Note: I am not a purist who turns away from ads. On the contrary. But I think there needs to be a clear separation from content and commerce. I don’t say good things about Silkroad just because they are sponsoring my blog and the True Voice seminar series. Their ad occupies the upper right rectangle on the blog, and by all means, click through sometime and see what they have to offer. And if they don’t get enough traffic, I am sure that they will put their ad dollars elsewhere. But I am not being paid to write about Silkblogs once per week. And that distinction, although nuanced, is important.

Mitch Ratcliff responded to Boyd’s assertion, writing:

Of course Corante has incentives to increase click throughs, because most ad programs are priced based on click performance. Sorry, but the condescension here is just annoying, since the substance of the Marqui agreement seems to be identical to the ads placed on Stowe’s site, from the simple click through on the SilkRoad ad to the “free” seminar offer (Corante presumably gets some kind of compensation for promoting the conference, even if it is sponsorship placement at the event) that are clearly compensated placements or else they would not be on the page. I’ve been a publisher and editor and trade show producer, so let’s step back from the ledge (or “Get Real,” as Stowe’s blog is called) right here and now: Admit that publishers, especially early-stage publishing companies, exist on in-kind trades. If these are not “not evil,” how are they qualitatively different than what I am doing in relation to Marqui? I put a sponsorship graphic on my site and say thanks once a week, creating a kind of periodicity in the appearance of the company’s name in the blog, just as Corante creates a special section sponsored by Zero Degrees that features fresh links.

Ratcliff’s point is good, as is his earlier notes in the post about how at one time he used to make a lot more money for his writing. Hey, if a few bucks can help Ratcliff and others continue writing, where’s the bad?

Boundaries. I’m hearing people say, “boundaries”. As if Technorati and Google aren’t already placing boundaries in this game.

From the Wikipedia article on the history of commercial television:

In the earliest days of television, it was often difficult to perceive the boundary between the actual television programs and the commercials. Many of the earliest television shows were sponsored by single companies, who inserted their names and products into the shows as much as possible. One of the most famous examples of early television broadcasting was Texaco Star Theater, the variety show that made Milton Berle a household name. Texaco not only included its own brand name as part of the show, it also made certain that Texaco employees were prominently featured during the course of the show, often appearing as smiling “guardian angels” who performed good deeds in one way or another, while the Texaco musical logo would play in the background.

I know Alan, aka Head Lemur, and I have no doubts that he wouldn’t be corrupted for a mere 800.00 a month. A couple of grand now…

Seriously, unlike the television shows of yore, the amount of money at stake, and the number of people involved is going to limit how much the Marqui Effect will impact on the weblogging environment. As for me, personally, at a minimum it doesn’t impact on how much I trust the webloggers involved. If I trusted the weblogger before, I still do now. If I didn’t know the weblogger before now, I don’t have an increased sense of trust because they’re, like wow, sponsored.

In comments to this post at the Kitchen, I wrote:

I have known some people in weblogging for years. I trust them and their judgment. If they were to tell me that a product is great, I would trust what they said. Even if I found out later they’re being sponsored by the company who sold the product, I would still trust what they said. I would be surprised, but my trust would still be in place.

But, and here’s the kicker, the people who I trust and who I’ve known for years would not, I feel, do such a thing. They would either tell me they’re being sponsored or make note of this in their recommendation. So in a way, my trust is based on their past behavior, which would preclude the need for the trust anyway, because their behavior is such that they would issue a disclaimer.

After some thought, though, I realized that even if I trusted another weblogger, and there are some I have known for years now, and do trust implicitly, I would still not likely act on just that trust, alone.

If it comes to buying a product, especially something fairly expensive, I research reviews at publications and read opinions in forums and scrutinize the specs in addition to listening to those I know from weblogging. I would value the other weblogger’s opinion, highly in fact; but would also understand that they bring into their discussion all sorts of assumptions about what is a ‘good’ product that may not agree with mine. A case in point is my recent purchase of a photo printer — I had advice from several people I know and trust, but ultimately made my decision based on which printer fit my needs the best.

And if others are more easily influenced? Well, I guess they’ll have to find room for their boxed CMS software — perhaps next to the Chia pet, or up against the Ginzoo knives.

Sponsorship isn’t the Titanic event of weblogging; our ‘purity’ is not compromised because some people are selling some space and words in their weblogs. Still, those webloggers who protest that being sponsored in this way will have no effect on them whatsoever are being idealistic and even a little naive.

Becoming sponsored does impact on you. You will be made aware of it each week as you write your little thank-you note to Marqui. You will see it every time you access your site and the first thing you see is the largish “Sponsored by Marqui” graphic. Your readers will be aware of it, and it will, even subtly, alter their perceptions of you and your writing. This may not be bad — in fact, you may get increased respect for swinging such a good deal. But your relationship with your readers will be different.

Eventually, the Marqui Effect could impact how you perceive your own space. Being hired to write an article for O’Reilly or weblog posts at a Marqui weblog, still leaves you your space to do whatever you want in it: to write obscene material, and be hateful all you want; or write your most intimate thoughts, which could eventually be equated one in the same. You may find yourself hesitating, even a moment, before you put down those words.

Or maybe you’ll continue just as you are, sane or not. Who knows? Me? I’m still working through that “weblogging is for winners” thing–but I think he or she who has the cutest kitten picture, or the most lovely poem, or is the most amazingly well read and erudite, or can bake a mean loaf of bread, be the best friend, or is the biggest pain the butt (that’s the rest of you), is a winner in my book. But then, I’m a begger on the corner, so what do I know?

I guess only time will tell what impact the Marqui Effect has. Stay tuned, and we’ll return after a word from our sponsor…


Marc was kind enough to extend the offer to me once more, and I was tempted. And it was tough to decline, but decline I must. I didn’t know that Marqui used to be Maestro, and Maestro is an ASP (Application Service Provider) — a service that you subscribe to, to manage your content; not a product you install and own.

It’s comparable to using Blogger or TypePad to manage your weblogs, rather than WordPress or Movable Type. This isn’t bad, but it does make you dependent on the service, and that’s something I’ve been rather vocally against for some time. However, I also know service-based products can be faster and easier to use for non-techs.

Personally though, regardless of subscription service or installed product. I think most CMS (and that’s Content Management System, no matter what word games are played) are bloated, over-priced, and over-engineered. They’re the primary reason why I now only work with lightweight, modular, open, PHP-based or comparable technologies. They’re why I’ve rejected ‘frameworks’ or anything of that kind — because the clients of the software more often than not buy into systems more complicated than they need, too costly to maintain, and usually dead-ended proprietary to boot. And I helped by supporting these products.

It would be tough for me to endorse a CMS, but to endorse a centralized one? No, just cannot do it. And endorsement of the product is what this is about. Reading the contract that the webloggers have to sign with Marqui, the following spells out a direct endorsement of the product:

It is our desire that acceptance of this agreement reflects your basic confidence in the product and that it serves as an endorsement on your part of the Marqui product.

I can’t help thinking it would send confusing signals to spend three months being negative about a product that supposedly you endorse.

However, just because I am burned out on CMS and large-scale, complex, proprietary, centralized applications doesn’t mean others should be. Each of us has unique interests and challenges, and one woman’s corrosive drain cleaner is another woman’s fragrant tea.

In other words, lots of really smart and intelligent people like CMS, and have excellent reasons to do so. This, then, could be a very good deal for them, and for those of you who have gotten the golden goose for the next three months, I am glad for you.

And if I were to beg on the corner for alms to support this site again–which I don’t plan on doing but lord knows I change my mind more than my underwear– but if I were, then you’re more than entitled to a ‘neener neener’ all the way to the bank.

But since I’m not being paid, consider this my last word on Marqui.

Social Media

Choosing to be a comment spammer victim

Liz Lawley was recently the recipient of a comment spamming google bombing attack. What happened is that someone placed comments in several weblogs, signed “Whiny Communist Bitch” and then included a link to Liz’s site.

There are two reasons for this: first, to associate those words with Liz’s site, hence the Google bombing; secondly, as people moved to clear up these comments, they automatically added her domain to their blacklists without checking first to see if it was a legitimate site. Hence, Liz’s domain would be blacklisted if she left comments in other sites.

Unfortunately, this type of attack is extremely easy to perpetuate and we’ve seen them before and will be seeing more of them in the future. I wasn’t surprised by the attack, especially since Liz does teach computer technology (nothing worse than a young, disgruntled and semi-adept student). But I was surprised at some of the responses Liz received in her comments.

Too many people had banned the IP addresses of the person who placed the comment, and then sent the IP address to Liz. This following so many weblog postings about the use of open proxies in order to hide the actual IP address of the postee. Secondly, too many people had moved to ban Liz’s domain without first making even an attempt to verify whether it was a legitimate domain. This following so many weblog postings about the dangers of blacklists, and the need to review all URLs included in comment spam.

Now, it’s true that there might be people in the list who hadn’t read these posts, but I find it more likely that these same people have been exposed to postings of this nature, but they would either skip what they would see to be a ‘technical’ post, because they aren’t technicians; or would only skim it, without bothering to take the time to understand how it relates to them.

I’ve long seen a trend among the non-tech webloggers to either blame the techs for not getting all this right; or to depend on the techs to help them when things stop working. Even when we write post after post about what they people can do to help protect themselves, they resist; the reasons for doing so are less that the technical material is over their head, as they don’t want to waste their time on technical stuff. Yet, isn’t it a greater waste of their time being the victim?

Of course, some of the material we write about is very complicated, and I have no blame for any non-tech who doesn’t want to touch code or the innards of MySQL, or needs help with installations or things that break. But understanding the concept of open proxies doesn’t require a technical background; nor does understanding the concepts behind ill-managed blacklists.

If we who write on these issues aren’t clear enough, we welcome questions and requests for clarifications. But this still implies that the non-techs take the time to read the material–to choose not to be a passive recipient of the whims of malicious people.

There are options such as using hosted technology or turning off comments, and hiring people to help manage your site. These are valid choices and more power to the person who makes them. But for the rest, if you don’t want to continue being a victim, you also have some responsibility to understand both your tool and this environment.

To this end, I’m in the process of re-publishing to the IT Kitchen, several of my writings where I’ve attempted to explain to non-techs how this environment works. Hopefully if the writings aren’t clear, I’ll get asked for clarifications. Or will I get silence as the non-techs skip over something that smacks of the faintly technical, in favor of another lambast at Bush, or cute cat quiz? I guess we’ll see in the next round of comment spam attacks.

I and the other techs will continue to work the issues of comment spam and it’s like, trying to find solutions that make it easier for the end-users. I’ve spent time this week on several different approaches in Wordform, to see if I can prevent automated comment spam posting, which is the most destructive and time consuming type. I am less worried about the individual comment spammer.

In the end, though, I have a feeling all the solutions are going to require equal participation from all, non-techs and techs alike. Personally, I think that Liz’s solution is the one that is most effective: maintaining a sense of both humor and perspective about the whole thing.

I wrote in the missive to Dana Blankenhorn, as detailed in the last post, that when a user is faced with ads in their syndication feed, rather than blame open source and the RSS 2.0 specification, they can exercise their freedom and unsubscribe from the feed. I said that this was the user’s responsibility in the open source equation.

Understanding this environment could also be considered an end-users responsibility, unless they want to give up all technical independence. Or continue to be a victim.

Social Media Weblogging

Technorati, Technorati, wherefore art thou Technorati

I remember once being critical of TypeKey because (as I said at the time) centralized services don’t scale. Those who didn’t agree pointed out the excellence of both Google and Technorati to demonstrate how well centralization works.

This week, as I noticed comment spam in a TypeKey controlled blog, I thought back on that argument and still believe that centralization doesn’t scale. True, Google seems to be the exception, as it takes a licking but keeps on ticking (though it has faltered a time or two in the recent past, and lately it seems as if you have to wade through sellers trying to get to useful information). As for Technorati, though–I can’t be the only one who wonders if this service will ever be able to re-capture it’s former glory, as days go by searching on both keyword and URL, only to get less than useful results.

I feel like I’m kicking baby squirrels again being critical of Technorati — I like Dave, and think he’s providing a very useful product (which, I should add, is not costing me penny). I’m glad he got VC funding, and a great gig at CNN. And I like the fact that Dave never gives excuses when things go wrong.

But today was the first day in six that I got anything back for my weblog and this afternoon the results will most likely differ wildly from what it was this morning. This is seriously cutting into my ego surfing, forcing me to take drastic measures.

I’m warning you Dave — if you don’t get Technorati fixed soon, the squirrels get it.

Cute squirrels begging Dave for help, saying they're road kill without it.

Social Media Technology Weblogging

Exit door

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I wanted to to thank those (SteveLorenLizaTim) who have volunteered their weblogs for conversion for my upcoming tutorials on weblog tool independence. This is in addition to those who are offering space and installation of MT 3.1.

I’ve been asked if because of this series I’m thinking of switching back to Movable Type; what I’m going to do with this weblog moving forward, I’d prefer to leave for the denouement. (Sorry Marc – no peeking at the end.) The purpose of the series isn’t to sell one weblogging tool or another, as much as it is to sell the idea of weblog tool independence.

Sam Ruby once said, and I can’t find where, that the first thing to look for when evaluating a weblogging tool is the exit. Most tools provide an import utility and instructions, but very few provide an easy to use method to export entries into a format consumable by other tools. In fact, Movable Type is one of the best in this regard, though it’s also relatively easy to export from Blogger.

Weblogging tool lock-in serves no one, not even the tool makers. If a person feels they can’t easily move their weblog to a different tool, but they’re also not happy with the one they’re using, they’re going to be vocal in their criticism of the tool; this is the only outlet they have for their frustration. A better approach would be to give them an easy out, so they don’t feel ‘trapped’.

Moving the data is only part of the battle, though. The tough part is handling the differences in tags, functions, and plugins. But there’s a method to the madness, and the tools are more alike than unalike when it comes to processing that data they all hold in common.

Of course, none of us wants to have to spend time moving to different weblogging tools; we’re here to put deathless prose and pithy comments online, not spend time fiddling with technology. Still, it’s hard to be creative when your software crashes, your writing disappears, your post takes forever to publish, your host shuts your weblog service down in a hissy fit, or you’re fighting off hordes of comment spammers who clutter up your space (not to mention taking down your server with the force of their attacks).

Connecting Social Media Standards

How far is too far

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Making the rounds in the advertising world is an interesting technique, termed viral marketing: making use of social software techniques learned from spammers, virus makers, and other experts of this nature. With viral marketing, rather than a formal ad campaign, with purchased space in newspapers and time on TV, you create ads or content that is notorious enough to generate a lot of Internet activity, seed them via email or through online groups, and just allow what comes naturally. The recent subservient chicken is based on viral marketing…and so is a new ‘ad campaign’ if you want to call it this, for Ford.

A few weeks ago, links to an online ad for a new car were sent out via email. The ad is part of an ‘evil twin’ concept: Ford is trying to market the car, the SportsKa, as the supposed evil twin of its popular Ka model.

The ad opens showing the car in a driveway, when a ginger cat starts walking past it. The sun roof pops open, and the cat, curious, jumps up on the car and sticks its head through the opening. At this point, the sun roof starts to close on the cat’s head. The cat struggles madly before its head is decapitated. Through the window you can see the head fall into the car, and the lifeless body falls down the windshield and off the car to the back.

I’ve been told that this is computer enhanced, and supposedly no cat was harmed in the making of this ad. I hope so. I sincerely hope so. Unfortunately, it was real enough when I first saw it to have upset me quite deeply. Warning people “not to click this if you like cats” cannot prepare you for this. Especially when you assume that a major car manufacturer like Ford has limits.

Evidentally, there are no limits.

After watching the ad, I started looking around for reactions. If the purpose of this viral marketing campaign was to generate notice in the car, one can say the ad has been successful. But whether it will earn the company customers is hard to say because reaction has been strongly divided.

A considerable number of people believe this ad to be humorous, and that those who are disturbed by it lack a sense of humor, and are taking it too literally. There’s this from a weblogger:

I haven’t had a free moment to blog lately, but this is just too good. You’ve gotta see this. This is MY kind of car commercial.

Surprise. UK’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty doesn’t like it.

By the way, have I ever told you? I love animals; they’re delicious.

However, appreciation is not universal, and Ford has said that the release of this ad was a ‘mistake’ – the one targeted for their viral marketing campaign featured a pigeon being killed, instead:

It was, they say, intended as a “viral marketing” tactic – designed to be sent via the internet from one individual to another – although this idea was subsequently rejected by Ford on taste grounds. A clip costing several thousand pounds and showing a pigeon being catapulted to its death by a bonnet springing open was approved and released last September. However, the rejected advertisement began circulating on the internet last week, at first because of an apparent mistake, and then spurred by black-humoured web users who passed it around.

…black-humoured web users who passed it around. I hesitated to participate in this little viral marketing exercise, except that this ad goes back to a conversation we had about censorship and Howard Stern. At that time, we asked: how far is too far?

According to an Australian ad agent:

“I reckon the line of acceptability has probably been pushed quite considerably by viral advertising because the whole point is to be notorious,” he says.

How far is too far. A month ago, I would have thought decapitating a cat to sell a car would have been too far.