Monday, February 12, 2007

Off to New Zealand: See You In March!

Sadly, after really revving up and fine tuning Dumpster Bust in '07, I'm forced to take an extended absence as I'm off for several weeks of touring and outdoor adventuring in New Zealand (which is really entirely not sad in every other conceivable way!).

I've really enjoyed honing in on blogging, social news, and Internet-y 2.0 stories and opinions over the last few months, and look forward very much to picking up when I get back. In fact, there are some grander plans in the works including a re-branding of sorts and tighter integration with Blogcritics' BC Network of sites (speaking of: if you're into gossip and celebrity-related stuff, please check out the newly launched and super rad GlossLip, run by the great Dawn Olsen).

The slow and incremental rise in RSS readers is encouraging as are the great notes and encouragement I've heard from many of y'all, so I'm excited and anxious to get back in March to proceed upon cracking with the online media cult-ery!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Blogger Tags and the Mysteries of Search Engine Traffic

I just realized that Blogger allows you to add tags to blog posts.

Actually, I must give credit where it's due and that belongs to my online pal and fellow member of Blogcritics Magazine and The Mondo Project, Mat Brewster. I've seen tags appear on blogspot blogs countless times, I'm sure, but absolutely assumed that they were part of some fancy plug-in that was not for the likes of me.

Part of my reintroduction to blogging from my own site on Blogger (as opposed to writing exclusively for BC, which I did for about a year) is that I've been able to better tune in to how bloggers are organizing themselves and their information, promoting themselves, and building audience.

This post is a bit of an experiment. Since I started posting here regularly since the first of the year, I've noticed that the majority of my traffic comes from the following sources:

* MyBlogLog: A great networking site for bloggers, it also helps to bring in some traffic.

* Techmeme: Great great source for following current tech and online media stories and the conversations springing up around them. I've been able to hit this page a nice number of times, and have brought back some visitors because of it.

* Blogcritics Magazine: Cross-publishing at the old battleship BC absolutely has a positive effect on one's "home site" bottom line.

* Search traffic: mostly, but drips and drabs from Yahoo!, Ice Rocket (I think mentioning Mark Cuban's name helps, which is indeed worthy of another experiment!), and Google Blog Search.

Search traffic is that great randomizer. If you can pull lots of it, you can sail off to Tahiti for six months and still have rip roaring traffic stats when you get back. If you don't, it's a grind-it-out battle to itch and scratch each reader home for supper.

This is somewhat the topic of a raging debate of the online moment, with entrepreneur and provocateur Jason Calacanis setting off fireworks with talk of SEO (search engine optimization, or rigging one's code to harness more search engine traffic) being "bullshit" and a swift and immediate blowback from the likes of Neil Patel following, who challenges Jason to allow him to increase his own traffic "by a minimum of 10 to 20% after 30 days of putting my changes into effect" with promises of no shady dealings on route. And it seems Jason has accepted – the great SEO throwdown is on!

In any event, without being shady (I know so little about code that this would be very difficult anyway!) and as openly as I can, I've placed a nice number of wide ranging links and references here that hopefully add up to nearly a coherent whole.

I've listed the following blog tags as part of this post: blogger, blog, blogs, google, search, SEO, ice rocket, mark cuban, google blog search, techmeme, mybloglog, blogcritics, jason calacanis, neil patel, page rank

So the questions are: did I "optimize" this post by writing a decent piece and linking out to fellow bloggers and engagers in the online conversation? Or will dropping a deluge of tags at the bottom help auto-magically bring home some visitors? Or, perhaps, did none of this pile up to a hill of e-beans in the vast vacuum of the blogospheric realm?

I'll report back the results, and look forward to your thoughts.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

New York Considers Pedestrian Ban On iPods In Crosswalks

New York, my homeland, is considering legislation that would levy a $100 fine for pedestrians who listen to a mobile audio device while crossing the street.

This, in my view, is cruel and unusual punishment for the iPod set. Sure, it's possible that listening to Slayer at 900 decibels might prevent you from seeing that Mack truck just before it splits your dome, but isn't that your decision to make as a pedestrian? Doesn't the pedestrian "always have the right of way," even if they're lost in la la land?

I'm more liberal than not in my political leanings, and I like to think that means respecting the rights of individuals. For the most part, the vast majority of people listen to iPods responsibly: while walking about town, on the subway, crossing the street, and so on.

At some level, people must govern their own actions and act responsibly outside of a set of legal strictures. While I'm not a lawyer, I'd love to see a legal mind argue against this bill with counter-legislation that makes it illegal to listen to the radio above a certain volume level (anyone remember the "red line" on the stereo from one of the opening scenes in Say Anything?).

Engadget has a hilarious picture of a chalk outline of a presumably murdered ipod here.

In sum, to quote Gizmodo: "This has got to be the dumbest ban I've ever heard of."

Monday, February 05, 2007

How Does StumbleUpon Help Bloggers?

Yeah, I feel a little bit silly and sheepish about it, but I must admit that I don't really get StumbleUpon.

The idea behind the site is pretty simple: a downloadable tool bar add-on allows you wander around the Internet (via pressing the Stumble button) with the presumption that the more you interact with the tool (rating sites along route with a thumbs up or down) the more it knows what you like and helps you to discover cool sites that you would likely never find on your own.

I get that part. It's not something that I would personally get into, but it's a nice little service. Where I start to lose grasp is in understanding how StumbleUpon has become "a substantial driver of traffic," as Mathew Ingram and many others have noted, and how publishers are supposed to take advantage of the site to harness the stumblers.

Getting the toolbar installed and logging into StumbleUpon was a somewhat clunky experience for me, but perhaps that was an aberration. Figuring out what to do next as a publisher was, however, where I really got lost. I was eventually able to figure out how to submit a site URL, but I was left confused as I've seen other writers note how they've used StumbleUpon to drive traffic to individual stories.

After spending a fair amount of time investigating, I realized that there's a tagging feature in which you can add tag words to individual "pages." I'm not sure if adding tags to an individual "drilldown" story page in effect submits that story into the StumbleUpon system with those tag words attached, or if you're simply associating tag words with an entire website or blog.

I like to think that I'm a relatively savvy Internet user, so if I'm confused, I'm guessing others are as well. For non-publishers, for those people just looking to stumble around and find cool sites, the service is likely less of a headache to figure out. But I'm genuinely curious to hear from bloggers who utilize StumbleUpon as part of ongoing promotion efforts. Is it necessary to tag your own pages every time you publish a story, for instance? Or is some other action involved?

There's also a social networking side to StumbleUpon where you can find and socialize with other stumblers who have interests similar to your own. Again, I'm guessing that there are those that find this to be an engaging feature, but I've never really believed that social news or social bookmarking sites have an overwhelming amount to offer in terms of social networking. In other words, when I visit Reddit I'm interested in finding stories that I'm into and don't really care connecting with others who may be as well. Maybe I'm just a curmudgeonly electronic loner though, who knows?

A standout exception to this is MyBlogLog, which does a great job of building community around the blogging experience, playing into the inherent need for bloggers to self-promote and connect with fellow online scribes.

In any event, I'd love to hear from those who have had some experience with StumbleUpon, particularly from the publisher/promotional perspective.

In essence: is there more to get than I've gotten?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Is PayPerPost Trying to Outflank the Blogosphere's Defenses?

Crunchnotes notes that high profile blogger "Robert Scoble got sucked into the PayPerPost machine" because he accepted a fee from PayPerPost – a company that pays bloggers to write reviews about products and services – to speak at a conference.

It's a clever strategy on the part of PayPerPost: throw out enough money in enough different ways and all of the sudden everyone is complicit in its activities. Not that its activities are implicitly or necessarily ill-intentioned. As I just commented over at a Deep Jive Interests piece that defends the right of "blue collar" bloggers from making a living:

I take sort of a middle position here. While I don’t begrudge the blue collars from trying to squeak out a living in the online blog-mines, I’m fearful that services like PayPerPost will help to lower the whole of the blogosphere’s credibility. Like it or not, “blogs” as a whole have a reputation (good, bad, and ugly in the mind of the general public) and if web surfers and searchers sense that paid services have sullied the bloggy waters (via paying writers to write paid editorial without clear disclosure), that can have adverse reaction in terms of traffic, page rank, and the overall health of the blogosphere.

Scoble has since backtracked and says that he will now reject PayPerPost's honorarium but oddly still seems to imply that he will take travel expenses. Talk about ambiguity!

TechCrunch has announced that they have refused to take on PayPerPost as an advertiser with the intention of keeping a "fence" between the likes of PayPerPost and themselves. Just as a point of note, Blogcritics decided against running PayPerPost ads that were offered to us through a third-party service. Not only would it be a strange conflict of interest, but it goes against the grain in terms of our philosophy that money is neither efficient nor valuable compensation that a company can offer to an open pool of bloggers. And that's not taking into account the ethical thicket that PayPerPost writers can get into if they're not super right-sharp in declaring loud and proud about how and why a review came to be.

I'll be curious to see how many blogger luminaries and high profile conferences PayPerPost can lay some money on, and how many well known online media sources will end up running paid ads.

Can PayPerPost buy its way around and through the blogosphere's defenses? I hope not. I'd like to see the hub bub die down and generally go away, but I fear that won't be the case. For now, I'll continue to follow the money.

The Grind and Crunch of Blog Production

A short piece by Fred of A VC fame about the time of day (early morning) that he finds to write prompted me to think of what I can only describe as the grind and crunch of blog production.

This is a topic that I don't see bloggers talk about very often. You see a great many generalities of course about finding time and making room in your life to write but there's really something more fundamental at stake than that: bloggers and writers in general must have a neurotic, incessant, nearly haunting drive to get in front of a keyboard hour-after-hour, day-after day in order to find popular success (which we can roughly define as a large-ish regular readership).

This is something – a condition – that you're born with, I'd wager. You either have it or you don't, and I'd be curious to hear someone describe a case where a writer developed this of sheer will.

Writing a blog is akin to generating a daily or nearly daily newspaper. Most blogs are one-person operations, so keeping the hum of the e-press going day in and day out – kids screaming, boss bawling, spouse lamenting – takes an enormous amount of staying power that is driven by the nightmare question lurking in the back of the blogger's brain: what will I write about next, and when will I write it?

And perhaps most important of all: will anyone care?

That mania forces the serious blogger to shove other responsibilities aside to get at that computer, to attack with a ferocity that will compel others in the digital void to take notice. That passion shines through and wins because it must.

So it's a mania driven of ego and fears and dreams, a blessed/cursed realm that all seriously drawn to the craft inhabit.

Stephen King describes writing a novel in On Writing as something close to trying to cross the Atlantic in a bathtub. I would agree as I've sunk (plunk to the depths) every time I've attempted this time-slurping and perilous voyage.

Blogging may be like trying to circle the globe on foot… and never stopping.

The grind and the crunch of blog production, I salute thee. I submit.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

PayPerPost Adds New Features, But Does PayPerPost Add Up?

PayPerPost, the controversial company that pays bloggers to review products and services, has launched a new set of features, which Darren Rowse at ProBlogger breaks down as including new video ad products, targeted channels, and payment based upon traffic rankings from Alexa, Google, and Technorati.

My position on what essentially is paid editorial falls somewhere near Darren's take that "I’m not really into writing paid reviews on a blog - however I’m not completely opposed to the idea IF there is disclosure." However, my feeling is that the vast majority of PayPerPost bloggers will not fully disclose and that lack of transparency could have the ripple effect of hurting the full of the blogosphere's credibility.

There's no one better at sussing out the philosophical nuances of online media than Scott Karp, who writes over at the The Blog Herald: "There’s a direct connection between bloggers and their communities — so who better than the blogger to create marketing messages that are relevant and interesting for their communities?" However, he then goes on to examine his own potential bias or the perception of potential bias because of paid advertising from PayPerPost that runs on The Blog Herald. He ends with this: "The truth is, standards in media have never been simple — blogs are just the latest medium to slog through the commercial mud."

Here's the thing about PayPerPost, though, something that I have not spent a lot of time looking into. Jeff Jarvis flat out states that PayPerPost pays bloggers to write "positive posts about products." According to PayPerPost's requirements, they only mention that bloggers should state their opinion about products. However, they also state that Step Three of the "The Simple Process" is that "Blogger posts based on opportunity requirements."

That's kind of a strangely phrased step, isn't it? If I sign up for PayPerPost and follow each requirement to the letter, but trash each product in a ruthless and reasoned and intelligent way, will I continue to meet the "opportunity requirements"?

I'm thinking not.

I Really Really Like(d) Joe Biden

Short break for politics here. Senator Joseph Biden's strangely worded and offensive (vaguely to some, likely sharply to others) backhanded compliment of Senator Barack Obama's candidacy will likely stifle any small chance that he had of obtaining the Democratic nomination to run for president in 2008.

I've been a big admirer of Biden for a long, long time. His critique of the administration's war policy and approach on what to do next has long been proactive, centrist, sober, and intelligent. He's a serious guy for a serious time, and I've always found it refreshing to hear his views.

He's also been relatively outspoken and off-the-cuff, normally fantastic qualities for a candidate. Which makes it all the more disappointing that he would make this bad a slip so early in his presidential campaign.

The Democratic field has been clearing out relatively quickly and early this cycle. Very big deal and potentially formidable candidates such as Mark Warner and John Kerry are already of the sidelines. Those who are left will need to try to find a way to line up as an alternative to Clinton, Obama, and Edwards. Bill Richardson may fit the bill as he is bright and personable, has a long resume, and is a successful governor of a western state. And Al Gore still waits in the wings.

For several years now, I thought Biden would make an ideal Secretary of State. He still might. I hope this one comment doesn't doom his future prospects to serve our country.