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One Guy's Thoughts On Technology, Social Media, Internet Marketing, Artificial Intelligence, and more


Archive for March, 2010

Twitter Birthday

Today, a year ago, I went to a technology networking event with a friend of mine. On our way to the event he told me: “dude, you and me – we have to join Twitter”. I said “Why? It doesn’t have anything that Facebook doesn’t that I need” (yes, I know I was wrong). Then he shared with me the following story:

“Yesterday I went to a public event. When it was nearly over, the organizer asked us all to vote on a subject. He said ‘Log in to Twitter now and tweet me YES or NO’. I had no idea what he meant. I never used Twitter – so I sat there doing nothing, while everyone logged in to their Twitter accounts and voted. That’s when I realized that I’m getting old”. Then he looked at me and said: “You and I – we have to join Twitter”.

He was right, you know. I think that’s how it happens. A new generation of software/products comes along and you skip it, thinking that if you ever want to master it, it won’t be a big deal (and it really won’t).

The next generation of the software/product is eventually released: features are added, the existing terminology and slang are expanded. You ignore it again.

When the third expansion happens, you suddenly realize: even if you wanted to, you are so far behind that it’s next to impossible to catch up unless you make a considerable effort, which older people – ok, translation – people with a full time jobs and kids – can’t afford. So you fall back… and accept defeat on this.

When it happens multiple times. You, my friend, are officially old – or at the very least, not young anymore. Doesn’t matter your real age. I’ve seen it multiple times. I remember my father couldn’t use a PC until he made a major effort to master it (and that he did!). My wife’s grandmother couldn’t even use a remote control. I believe it all starts this way.

So when my friend said this, it resonated with me: I immediately realized that he’s simply right. Twitter was just starting to be hot and we had to be involved… or risk the consequences.

I hope you realize that Twitter is just an example here, it could be any number of technologies. My point is not that joining Twitter is mandatory, but the fact that our social circle (the one my friend & I belong to) used it extensively, it was considered important, and we were out of the loop – now, that was significant.

Once I got home I signed up to Twitter and very quickly realized that I’m quite bored. I used it on and off for a few months, until I started using it intensively towards a specific goal four months later (namely, the promotion of this blog). The rest is history (… as this blog demonstrates quite well … look which word is biggest in my tag cloud).

So happy birthday to my Twitter account! It’s been mainly a good year. I met a lot of great people. I made tons of business connections. Numerous business opportunities were created, and multiple friendships as well. Some, I hope, will last me my entire life. I also met some – not a lot of – negative people, but I’d like to think I learned from these experiences too. In conclusion, overall I think it was a pretty good Twitter year for me.


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Gaining twitter followers
Click on the image to see it in higher resolution

Everybody knows that interacting on Twitter attracts followers, right? This is the main reason for Twitter’s existence. As a long time active user, I can say: this is, of course, true – you can gain followers based on that alone (as I wrote about very early on).

With that being said, very active users know that if you tweet too much, it really hampers this process. There were periods where I was extremely active and tweeted as many as 400 tweets a day ( …see my article on Twitter Jail… ). I was well aware of the fact that if I tweet less, I will gain more followers. But gaining followers wasn’t what I was after, so I did what I wanted to do. If someone didn’t want to follow me because I talked too much, then there’s nothing I can do about it – I’m not going to change myself.

In the past two months I’ve drastically reduced my Twitter activities. Not to change the subject, but the main reason is that I’m busy and simply can’t afford the time. There is also another big reason, which I may dedicate a post to, but can’t discuss at the moment.

However, watch the above graph (click here to see it in higher resolution) – a new feature, I believe – courtesy of TwitterCounter. It shows my number of tweets and followers over a three month time period. I really like this feature.

As you can see, there is no correlation at all between the number of followers I gained every day and the number of tweets I tweeted. I was aware of it, of course, but it’s nice to see it visualized.

The truth is, while interacting and being active – in moderation – really helps getting followers, it is entirely unnecessary. One does not need to be active at all to gain followers. How? That’s a story for another time. I am aware of several users who don’t tweet at all whose Twitter growth is extremely fast.

Twitter may not like this fact, but that is the case. In fact, in many ways they encourage this by setting artificial limits on tweets and DMs (again I mention my post on Twitter Jail) and other issues. Hopefully this will change in the future.


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Alexa is not accurate

Click on the image to see the full stats


I’ve already written before that I doubt Alexa’s accuracy. But this is just comical. When I go to the Alexa stats for this blog, it gives me the demographics of my visitors. For crying out loud, where are they getting this information from? I have the Alexa toolbar installed as well and I don’t recall ever giving them any information, let alone specific details such as education.

So you can imagine my surprise when I found out that my blog is vastly popular with guys between ages 45 and 54, and quite shocked to discover no one over 55 reads my blog – and very few in the age group 18 to 24 as well. I’ll try harder, I promise.

Also, it seems the number one query for my blog is “chinese affiliate” (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, click on the image above to see the full stats). This is very interesting. Yes, the phrase is mentioned once in this blog, but with all due respect to Alexa, I look at my stats every day (usually a few times), and “chinese affiliate” is not my #1 source of traffic, nor is it second, third, fourth or fifth.

Neither is “affiliate network”, which is probably a very competitive phrase. I think it would be quite cool if I did rank high in Google for “affiliate network” – I’d probably get tons of traffic. But that’s not the case.

This is comical, but it also raises serious questions. Recently I did a small media buy based on demographics I obtained from Alexa. How can I trust these results at all? I think the stats for my own blog are complete nonsense.


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Fan seekers

By writing this there’s a chance I will offend a few people.

Like everything else, there are many different ways of categorizing types of users on Twitter. One way is to examine how they view followers.

There are basically two broad approaches (and within each some variations, but I’ll now focus on the big picture).

First, there are the people who care about the number of people who follow them. These will often follow back those that follow them, though not always. Some of them aggressively try to get more followers, others don’t. However, the commonality is that they care about the number of followers.

Then there are the people who don’t care. Often they never follow back a user that follows them, though some times they do. Some of them won’t respond to a user they don’t know. The vast majority of celebrities fall into this category, but I know users with as few as 30 followers who behave this way. It’s just a different approach.

Don’t get me wrong, I think both are valid and are legitimate. It’s OK to try and get followers. It’s also OK to have your own community and not invite anyone in (even though personally I think it would be polite to respond to all messages, as I do, I can understand people who feel this intrudes into their “community”). It’s certainly OK not to follow back everybody who follows you. I even understand the celebrities who don’t want to respond to their followers, but rather view Twitter as a tool to gain publicity. I do.

However, recently I noticed an interesting variation of the second type. FriendOrFollow is one of my favorite sites: it enables a user to see who he follows but doesn’t follow back, and vice versa: who follows him but he does not follow.

FriendOrFollow, which is very popular site, has a ’sponsored users’ section. I don’t know the specifics, but I assume people pay a certain amount to be featured there for a period of time. What this means is that whenever someone uses this site, the user’s picture will appear with a short description. Personally, I never really understood the point: it’s so easy to get followers: just spend some time on Twitter, make conversations, follow interesting people, and before you know it you’ll have a respectable audience. But whatever – maybe they are just too busy? I’m not passing judgment.

What bugs me is that I noticed users I know are of the second type in the ’sponsored users’ section, that is: they don’t follow back or respond to tweets. I even saw a semi-famous celebrity there (whom I tried to communicate with a while ago but was always ignored). Isn’t this hypocritical?

In essence, these are people who want fans. They want more followers just so they can say they have more followers. They have no intention of communicating with the people who follow them. It’s going to be a one-way conversation. I guess they are not famous enough to draw more followers on their own, so they resort to paid methods.

Of course, I don’t mean to imply that everyone who advertise there is like that. Not at all. I believe most are ordinary people who just don’t know how to find followers. I’m only referring to those I know are like this. I call them “Fan Seekers”.

In my opinion, these people are missing the point of Twitter completely. I think it’s rather sad.

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Twitter hashtags

Bringing a laptop to a conference is a pretty good idea. Not only it helps summarize notes – I type much faster than I write – but you can also email these notes, share them, post them online, etc.

These days it seems every conference – even small ones – have a Twitter Hash tag (and why not? It doesn’t cost anything). What this means is that people can send messages with this tag, and everyone who “listens” to this tag will get it. It’s a bit like group chat. This is one of the things that differentiates Twitter and Facebook (as I mentioned in my one of the first posts in this blog: Explaining Twitter to Facebook Users).

This has several effects I didn’t fully grasp until Affiliate Summit East 2009. Motivational, educational, you name it.

For starters, days before a conference starts, people already start tweeting using the hash tag (i.e. in Affiliate Summit West 2010 it was #asw10). So even if you’re at home, you’re already starting to feel the ‘vibe’ of the conference, get the excitement. People announce they’ve left their homes, that they’re at the hotel, that they’re checking in, that they’re meeting other participants. Some people even upload photos. And since it is all in real time, you get pulled into it. You feel you’re a part of the conference before it even started.

Furthermore, during sessions people constantly tweet about what they listen to. This proves to be extremely useful from several reasons:

So my second point: you know who is present. During one session I discovered that two of my Twitter friends (whom I never met in person until then!) were in the room with me. We tweeted each. One even uploaded an image of the speaker (in real time, of course), so I could even tell where he was sitting in the room. Later I went to meet him.

Third, people constantly tweet the highlights of a session, the important points. There was one moment where I missed what the speaker said, but knew it was important. I looked at the stream, and multiple people tweeted that point. I just copied this directly into my notes. Moreover, thanks to the Twitter 140 characters limit, the point has to be concise, and this greatly facilitates the transmission of ideas in this context.

Fourth, you get to “hear” what’s going on in other sessions as well. So in a sense it allows you to attend multiple sessions at once. I actually took some of the tweets from other sessions as notes, as they were very relevant and interesting.

Fifth, one session allowed people to ask questions through Twitter and had its own hash tag. This certainly improves interaction between audience and speaker. Another session I attended had a contest where people suggested ideas and at the end, there was a reward for the best one.

Sixth, I tweeted quite a lot of the good highlights from sessions I attended. Some were actually retweeted by people who were NOT at the conference. So this helped spread useful information beyond the conference. In my opinion, this can be said to make Twitter itself a more valuable site. I remember that during Blog World (a conference that took place several months ago and I didn’t attend) there were occasional retweets of highlights from their sessions – some I found fascinating. And I wasn’t even there!

Finally, sites and conferences now take this into consideration. For example, the conference I speak at next month, Social Media 201, constantly “listens” and places on its website tweets that use the #sm201 hashtag. Or another example: ad:tech NY had a huge screen which featured select tweets that use the #adtechny hash tag (see the above image).

I think what we’ve seen here is a glimpse into the future of education. Where future students will get more and more opportunities to interact with the speakers and each other in real time, as well as potentially virtually “attend” sessions they are not present in. So not only the conference hash tag is great for passing information and ‘bonding’ everyone, but it also contributes a great deal to the effectiveness of taught sessions. I find this fascinating.


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Social Media 201

I want to announce that I’m going to be participating in Social Media 201: a social media conference which will be held in Seattle next month.

This conference, which is sponsored by Microsoft, Comcast, Fresh Consulting, Regillo consulting group as well as other companies is geared towards small business owners.

I will be giving a talk titled “SEO for Small Businesses” in which I’ll discuss the benefits small business owners have to gain by optimizing their websites to rank in search engines for phrases related to their business and their local area. In addition I’ll also be participating in the “monetizing social media” panel.

As far as I know a recording of the conference will be sold later: though I may be wrong on this.

For more information, go to the conference website or view its agenda. You can also follow its hashtag on twitter: #sm201

Note that to get a $50 discount, enter code ULABS (this is not an affiliate coupon – I’m not personally gaining anything from it).


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SEO Traffic in 2000

I haven’t blogged in a while. Some people have asked me whether I decided to quit blogging. “Of course not” I responded “I’m just too busy”. Which is true (as I briefly elaborated in my last post).

The frustrating thing is that, as mentioned before, I already have three posts just waiting to be finalized and published. One of them I’m not going to do anymore. It describes my experiences at Affiliate Summit West (ASW10) and it would feel quite silly to publish it almost two months after the fact. So I won’t. I’ll just say: ASW was great!

Earlier today I was lying in bed and suddenly realized it’s been exactly ten years since I began my first job in the US (had others elsewhere. Curious? Check my LinkedIn profile).

In my first job I worked as a software developer for a dotcom called iAnalyst. This was before the dotcom bubble burst, so we were all reaching for the stars, ready to work crazy hours, and mentally preparing to become millionaires. The sad fact is, we kind of knew we won’t become millionaires, many of the crazy hours were spent starting at the PC and chatting – it was more of a “morale” thing, we all stay at work regardless of whether it’s actually necessary. So there were whole weekends I spent at the office doing nothing. With that being said, I don’t regret even a single second – it was a fantastic experience even when the company went down.

I had three projects in iAnalyst, with the most important one being the creation of the company’s production system. Basically, it allowed our producers to enter content, which would miraculously be transformed and transferred to our website. Sounds familiar? I bet it does: Wordpress does just that. More than that, Wordpress does it 1,000 times better than my creation did. Then again, we’re talking a full decade ago – that’s centuries from a technological perspective. Literally the stone age.

Why am I mentioning all this? I was lying in my bed and thinking why the company failed. It failed because we didn’t get almost any paid clients. This despite the fact the company got a massive amount of media attention: we were featured in many articles as “a hot new startup”, and our CEO was even interviewed on CNN – NOT the website – the television channel. Yes, we were on our way to greatness.

Prior to the CNN interview, we had a company bet: how many new people would register immediately afterwards. There was even a reward promised to the person who will be the closest. I remember increasing my bet to more than what I thought it would really be, for company morale. One of my colleagues was a financial analyst: he came up with a complicated calculation that derived a number. This was the lowest estimate, by far, of everyone. What happened was that he was the closest – the real figure was roughly half of what he projected. There was such a gloomy atmosphere after this he never got his reward. We just didn’t talk about this anymore.

So why did we not succeed? Basically, we just waited for people to register to our services, counting on the media attention and word of mouth. Considering I was a prominent member of the technical team (which consisted of only several people), I don’t remember a single conversation about advertising online, making ourselves available for people who search for certain terms. We didn’t even consider this. Yes, these were prehistoric times in terms of internet advertising and SEO, but it still existed back then in its primordial form.

We just sat and waited for the traffic to arrive, and it never did. Then we ran out of money. And then we shut down.

What we should’ve done is used paid advertising. As far as I know, PPC didn’t exist back then, but there were ways to pay per impression (I’ve heard many stories about the “good old times”, how easy it was back then to profit from advertising because there were no accurate measures or pay per click). I don’t know exactly how Google ranked sites back then (yes, even then Google was #1), but considering I was involved in generating the site, I don’t remember a single conversation about how we should optimize it to appear higher in search rankings. The whole concept never occurred to any of us.

I’m wondering what would’ve happened had we been able to optimize our online presence using all the knowledge we now have, even with the tools that existed in 2000. I’m sure we could’ve increased our traffic a hundredfold if not a thousandfold. We did have money. Whether this would’ve saved the company? Probably not, but I guess we’ll never know. There were talks of eTrade buying us (they didn’t) – it certainly could’ve made the difference in that case.

It doesn’t feel that long ago, yet in so many levels, it’s light years away.

Note that exactly one year later (2001) I was working as a lead developer/team lead for a small firm. That is when I was first introduced to SEO. We had a guy do a bunch of what I thought was pretty comical: he hid a lot of keywords in white text on our site’s main page so they would be invisible to everyone but the search engines, also put tons of links in tiny fonts. Of course, these are very rudimentary SEO tactics and now search engines will punish you if you use such tricks, but in 2001 this still worked.


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