Category Archives: internet

Cursor_and_Story_Globe___This_American_Life

A Simple, Clever, Why Didn’t I Think of That Idea

For years, I’ve been fascinated with the ways in which one can tell stories with maps using simple tools Google Maps provides. (Since my first attempt at doing it, the tools have become incredibly more sophisticated).

On the website for the public radio show, This American Life, I just ran across a map-as-feature that I can’t recall seeing on another news site. It could be on lots of them, I just don’t recall ever having seen it. And it could have been on This American Life’s website for years, but I just saw it for the first time today. This American Life calls the feature a Story Globe (reminds me a bit of a “Tag Cloud”). It’s simply an interface of the story archive displayed by location using Google Maps.
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wheaties_-_Google_Search

Hey, General Mills Lawyers: Better Eat Your Wheaties

(See update at the end of the post.)

While I typically support efforts to add sanity to our overly-litigious culture that seems to encourage anyone to sue anybody for anything, I don’t think the lawyers at General Mills thought through the type of social media firestorm they would ignite by adding language to the company’s website alerting customers they can’t take legal action against the company if they’ve done things like download a coupon, enter a contest or, if read literally, liked on Facebook one of the company’s products, say, Cheerios or Wheaties or Macaroni Grill or Fruit Loops.

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Advice to web advertisers: Dial back the retargeting

A few months ago, I posted an explanation of what advertising retargeting is.

In it, I wrote:

Say, you have an interest in bicycling and you spend a few minutes on a Saturday morning visiting some online retailers to see what they have related to something you’re thinking about getting. Later, you notice that everywhere you go on the internet you see ads that look like the ad below.

what is retargeting?That’s advertising retargeting.

I believe good advertising is a good thing. Good advertising can help us discover things we might otherwise miss. And the revenue from advertising helps keep lots of content free to the user.

But I’m not sure advertising retargeting, as it is being practiced today, is good advertising.

Advertising retargeting (also called behavioral retargeting) must be effective, for it’s everywhere I go. For example, a month ago, I visited the website of a security camera that was mentioned in a post on SmallBusiness.com. Over the following weeks, ads for the camera appeared  on random websites I’d visit, dozens of times each day.

So, retargeting must work–at least in the way that 2 out of 100 click-throughs are twice as effective as 1 out of 1oo click-throughs. But what about the 98 people who don’t click at all? I believe that some of them are being inspired to learn how to opt-out of retargeting — and other forms of advertising, altogether.

Retargeting is especially offensive during any gift-giving season, I wonder how families who share a computer (who don’t know how to avoid retargeting) are responding to the way retargeted ads will be show up when the person you’re shopping for is using the same web browser.  (Tip to keep your gift shopping a secret: Shop from an “Incognito window” if using Chrome,  “Private Browsing” in Safari, or “Private Window” in Firefox. In those modes, tracking cookies can’t be downloaded to your browser.)

I believe the use of retargeting has reached the point at which it can be so intrusive and random it will encourage people to adapt their usage of browsers to avoid such ads, altogether. In doing so, they will lose some of the personalization and customization features of a browser that can be helpful.

Too often, marketers tend to forget to think like customers. Too often, they don’t realize when they’re killing geese who lay golden eggs.

Helpful links:

Google Ad Help (allows you to adjust the types of ads you see)
NAI (National Advertisers Initiative) – A self-regulatory approach major advertisers and ad-serving networks are providing that provides consumers a single dashboard to control the types of ads they see.

 

 

I think my RSS news reader is smarter than your Al Gore rhythm


(Sidenote: On SmallBusiness.com, I’ve written about the new Getty embed feature like the one I’ve posted above.)

The Verge has an interesting take on the acquisition earlier this week of the mobile app owned by CNN, Zite, by Flipboard, another app that does the same thing as Zite, but differently and with greater success (apparently).

Here’s a clip from the piece:

“The premise of apps like these is that they will find interesting articles for you that you never would have seen otherwise….And yet for all the millions spent and the machine-learning algorithms that have been built, none of them have improved on the big portals — CNN, The New York Times — or social networks like Twitter or Facebook, which bring you both the news and the conversation happening around it. Newsreading-app developers hire PhDs to do the easiest thing imaginable — find you something interesting on the internet that you haven’t already seen — and then beat you over the head with it, bludgeoning you with an endless barrage of links that never feel half as personalized as they’re made out to be.”

I especially agree with the writer on two things: (1) Twitter does a good job of finding me things I would have missed if I didn’t use Twitter (along with lots of links to cat videos, but still) and (2) I agree with the premise that PhDs don’t seem to be unlocking the secret of relevancy and context necessary to make their algorithms better than what I can hack together with other tools. It’s much like the way advertising “retargeting” algorithms consistently misinterpret why a web user might surf by a product without having any interest in purchasing it).

Where I disagree with the analysis is this: There is a technology that allows people to personalize and customize a flow of news that’s been around since the Mesozoic era of the web. It’s called RSS and is an often misinterpreted part of the infrastructure of the web that enables us to access content as a real-time flow of news, audio, video, etc. (Despite the never-ending predictions that somehow RSS will die, I’ve written before why that’s never going to happen.)

Ironically, the Verge piece not only fails to mention RSS, it fails to even mention that Flipboard is a self-proclaimed RSS newsreader.

But the thing is…

Flipboard, doesn’t look like an RSS newsreader. The vast amount of coverage it has received (and that’s a vast amount) has focused on its user interface that replicates, in skeuomorphic fashion, the conventions of a print magazine, specifically (thus, its name) the virtual flipping of pages.

I’ve always considered it a bit ironic that web-based tech and media writers would buy into the notion that the ability to turn a page is the killer feature of magazines that should be ported over to the web. I would think, rather, that great writing and graphics that work together to tell great stories would be.

Setting the stage for a real showdown

So here we are in 2014 and we’re still looking for ways that the web was supposed to do something promised to us by Al Gore when he invented the internet: Customize and personalize content and deliver it up to us with our morning coffee and toast.

For a moment, I’ll ignore that this blog has 12 years of me talking about this topic and pretend that we are starting out today and no one has ever actually thought of the hundreds of ways that exist for people to do this. In other words, let’s pretend to be like the Verge article.

Let’s make this a show down between what we will pretend are “brand new” personalized, customizable news catching filters created by people who weren’t around for endless iterations of this concept.

Here’s what we can do to test this brand new, never thought of before, “algorithm vs. human” theory.

(1) First, do whatever it is that you do now to catch up on whatever topic you turn to the web for. (Sort of like what scientists might call, “the control.”)

(2) Set up a TweetDeck account (or use the one you already have) for tracking a few hashtags (Here’s how.). If you are willing to spend five minutes learning to do it, set up some lists of Twitter users or topics you’d like to follow.

(3) Set up a Flipboard account (it’s an iPad/iPhone, Android app) and follow the standard instructions of how you should subscribe to the topics. Some of the instructions will result in you subscribing to an RSS feed, but they (wisely, perhaps) have hidden the “how it works” and are focusing on the “what it enables.”

(4) Set up an account on Feedly.com (an RSS newsreader with an interface and instructions you’ll understand that has an app version and is also available in a browser). While there are other new-fangled RSS newsreaders that are far superior to Google’s now defunct newsreader, Feedly is what I use, so I’m most familiar with its strengths and weaknesses.

(5) (Optional) Set up a Zite account (like, Flipboard, an app) and let their algorithms do their magic. It looks like Flipboard but the test is over the algorithm vs. manually choosing news sources.

(6) (Optional) Download the new app from Facebook called Paper and see their version of recommending news stories based on the preferences of people who were your kindergarten classmates.

I know that I’ve already revealed what I think you’ll discover is best among this group for  delivering a consistent flow of the most relevant and personal content, in the most efficient way. I trust the network of smart news catchers I’ve put together manually more than those that aggregate their suggestions by algorithm.

Answer to a question I’ve been asked several times today

clint-eastwoodI have received several questions today related to the unique username I have for Twitter.

Has it ever been the target of a hack similar to one receiving a lot of attention today?

The answer is, “yes,” it has been a target, a successful one. On July 9, 2012.

I recovered the account.

I also decided, at the recommendation of a friend,  to never blog about it, other than to say it happened.

That is all.