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

 

When two separate discussions that I conduct converge, I know that I’m onto a topic I need to blog about.

 
I’ve written about affiliate fads in a different blog post. It’s interesting, but in the past month I’ve seen one product launch and three webinars (so far!) that deal with, yes – making money using Twitter. I find this amusing since this is an old fad that’s making a comeback and I honestly never expected that it would. Most affiliate marketers scoff at anything related to Twitter.

 
So is it possible to make money on Twitter? I’ve been (very) active on Twitter for a long time, though recently I have reduced my activities for various reasons. I do think it’s fair to consider Twitter a platform for making money, however, it’s not one of the best places to do so. Despite its flaws, twitter is a fantastic platform for other money-related activities though.

 
Here’s a survey of methods I know of that can be used to make money using Twitter. There are probably more, some I forgot, and some I am not aware of. I’ve classified them to the good (effective), the bad (ineffective) and the ugly (misleading). This classification is, of course, based on my own opinions and others may not agree with it.

 
The Bad (ineffective)

  1. Affiliate links: the most obvious way of generating money with Twitter. You tweet a link that promotes an affiliate offer: if someone buys a product/fills in details, you get commission. It’s as simple as it gets. Theoretically, if you have a large number of followers or a very targeted group of followers, it could work.

     
    There are two problems: first, normally it just doesn’t work – the percentage of people who actually buy/fill in details is very low. Yes, you can make money, but very little money. Worse, because Twitter users are so used to spam, they’ve become extra sensitive to anything that even sounds like an attempt of making money. A person who tweets affiliate links, even if they are completely beneficial to all parties involved (i.e. freebies) will often find himself blocked and reported for spam, and some people will even tell him they do intend to do so. Happened to me more than once.

     

  2. Barging into conversations: I believe this is the method that is recently promoted, particularly since I seem to see it a lot more than I used to. For starters, I want to declare I’ve never tried it myself so can’t say with absolutely certainty whether it works or not. However, with that being said, I don’t believe it does.

     
    This method consists of searching on Twitter for people who discuss a certain topic, say, for keywords such as “losing weight” or “diet”, etc, and sending them a very relevant affiliate link. In theory it’s not a bad idea (“You’re helping people”). In practice? Rude.

     
    I’ve had conversations with people where suddenly someone would “jump in” and offer me something that was relevant to a point I made. Almost always it was something I only casually mentioned, so I wasn’t even looking for anything related. It is my belief – and let me emphasize that being an affiliate marketer I am obviously affiliate friendly – that most people consider it the worst kind of spam, since this is spam that actively barges into your Twitter activities. I know that when this happens to me, I always ‘block and report as spam’. If a friend were to offer this to me, or someone I knew, I would be much more open to this idea. But this method doesn’t suggest building long term relationships but rather jumping in with an affiliate offer – and never has any friend sent me affiliate links on Twitter.

     
    Like I said, I never tried it myself so who knows, maybe it does work. But the people I know – and I know quite a few – would treat this as the worst kind of behavior on Twitter.

     
    Continue to part two of ‘Making Money On Twitter.

 

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I haven’t written about blogging for a while. Since I follow quite a few blogs every day, not to mention, monitor the activity of my own blogs, it’s interesting to see what works and what doesn’t work – sometimes it’s just plain obvious, other times I had to learn certain lessons the hard way. Here are six suggestions that may be useful to anyone who’s blogging.

 

  1. Avoid ads (at first, at least): when you just start a blog and even when it’s quite a bit more established, it’s best to avoid putting ads. First, you’re not going to make any serious amount of money: if you place AdSense code, you may get the occasional click which would probably amount to ~10 cents. However, you will cause – and this is particularly important at the beginning – your potential audience to reconsider visiting your blog.

     
    Here is a personal example: I have a niche site which provies book and movie reviews. When it first launched I got quite a few people very involved because it’s dealing with a specific topic that apparently many people find interesting. About a month after I launched it I added ads: this drove my two most loyal readers away – they never came back! I even wrote one emails and she never responded. After two months during which I made a whopping $4 I took the ads off. I think these people’s response was extreme but some people are turned off by ads or anything that can be viewed as trying to make money (if you’ve been on Twitter for a while, you know that people on Twitter – tweeps – are very hostile to ads). Note that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with placing ads – you spend time and effort, get a domain, a hosting account – why not get compensated, at least a bit, for your efforts?

     
    Another consideration is that a blog is a personal thing and ads take away from that intimacy. I think when you have an established audience, most (if not all) will understand it if you put ads, but at first it will turn people off.

     
    If and when you do place ads, it’s a good idea to put them in a place that doesn’t ruin the “visitor experience”. Some blogs are so crammed with ads it’s just a turn off even for me.

     

  2. Give your posts proper titles – the search engine perspective: Try to incorporate phrases that people search for in your titles. It’s not really hard to do, a quick visit to the Google keyword tool will show that. For example: Six Blogging Tips and Tricks (the title of this post).

     

  3. Give your posts proper titles – aim to go viral. If you can come up with a good catchy title it will certainly draw attention. And if it’s a good post, people will want to share it, retweet it and send it to their friends. My recent blog post “Gaining A Million Followers In Less Than 30 Days” – got the fastest numbers of visitors from the moment I tweeted a link to it from all of my other blog posts.

     

  4. Use video properly: using video is a great idea which is highly recommended. Search engines love it and people respond better to videos than to text – after all, it’s easier to listen than to read. However, videos can’t replace your blog post completely.

     
    There are blogs that only rely on a video to convey their message. No description of the content nor a meaningful title. Not only this is bad from an SEO perspective since there is no way for the search engines to figure what the post is all about, and so, index it properly, but this is also true for people too. Often I can’t turn on my speakers from various reasons and consequently, can’t listen to the video – so there are some blog posts I literally have no clue what they are about as much as I’d like to know.

     

  5. Use a correct permalink structure: meaning, the path to the post should not use Wordpress’ default structure (which looks something like this: www.domain.com/?p=1234. Instead, use /%category%/%postname%. This is good for three reasons.

     
    First, it helps with search engine optimization, as the path has a definite impact on SEO.

     
    Second, it helps humans know what the post is about if they just see the link. For example, even without reading this blog post, by looking at the link (which is: http://www.industryreview.org/search-engines/six-blogging-tips-and-tricks), people can get a pretty good idea what the post is about.

     
    Finally, it helps you when you check for rankings. One of my oldest sites – coincidentally, the one I mentioned in #1 – has multiple pages that rank well in Google (and Bing and Yahoo) for various phrases. However, I made the mistake of using the default permalink structure – so unless I manually check, I have no idea which pages rank! All I see is a www.domain.com/?p=1237.

     

  6. Beware of spammer comments: Although I’ve written a post about this before, some comments are really quite devious in the sense you may be tricked into approving them.

     
    Not only they may have hidden links – and this has happened to me – a space between two words had a link to some nasty site, and I couldn’t see it until I actually viewed the code. But additionally, even if they are harmless, and you approve them, they make your site look amateurish to anyone who has seen these comments a million times before.

     
    In other words: avoid any comment that sounds generic – like they could fit any post – particularly if they sound flattering, i.e. “Thank you for the great post”, “Can I use parts of your post in my own blog?”, “Darn, I left a comment but it didn’t work.. do you see it?”, “Your design is fantastic – can I ask where you got that theme from?” and that sort of thing. All these are similar to comments I get every single day.

 
That’s it for now. I hope this has been useful.

 

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Click on the image to see the full statistics

 

 

Ok.. the title is slightly misleading (only slightly). But you’ll have to forgive me for that.

 
As I’ve mentioned earlier in this blog, I like using TwitterCounter. It shows interesting statistics about my Twitter activities, not to mention, it can be used to manually update the number of followers that appear on the top right corner of this blog (otherwise it updates periodically).

 
In the past few days TwitterCounter seemed to have a few issues. I kept getting error messages whenever I tried to access it. Yesterday when I was eventually able to, it told me I have 26 followers. Pretty amusing – it brought me back in time to April 2009 (back when I did have 26 followers).

 
What I find particularly funny is that TwitterCounter hasn’t compensated for that. So according to the application’s logic, I gained more than 76,000 in a day.

 
Based on this rate, I will have 1,230,729 followers in 30 days. You think it might happen? I’m crossing my fingers! That would be SO awesome! :D

 

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Nostradamus: Only fools try to predict the future?

Nostradamus: Only fools try to predict the future?

 

From some reason I remember there is a saying “Only fools try to predict the future”. I can’t seem to find it so I might be mistaken.

 
Even though I completely disagree with the idea that it’s foolish to try and predict the future – many people and companies do it all the time – we have to remember it’s all based on what we know, on past events – and that things can change at any given moment.

 
Many financial companies – Lehman Brothers, for example – successfully predicted the future for many decades and made unimaginable sums of money. Until one day things – in this case, the economic market – changed dramatically and all their predictions turned sour. A company that existed since 1850 perished in a matter of weeks because it didn’t predict the future properly.

 
Yesterday I met with a very good friend of mine. He has a Twitter account but he’s not really active. However, he is very interested (and knowledgeable) in technology trends. He asked me: where do you see Twitter going?

 
That is a very good question. Where do I see Twitter going, I wondered to myself.

 
My guess, and of course, it’s just a guess – that Twitter will follow the same patterns that other companies faced in the past, particularly in the last few decades.

 
Here are two examples – I can give many more.

 
You might not have been online back then, but I still remember the times before Google existed. I was mainly using Altavista and Lycos and was very pleased with the results. When Google appeared, I didn’t see the point of switching. I also didn’t believe – and I remember saying it to a friend – any new company stands a chance in the search market. A few friends of mine mentioned Google is good, I figured I’ll give it a chance. The results seemed to be better though weren’t dramatically better. However, at some point I did find myself switching to Google – though that was mainly because of the simple interface.

 
Of course, Google reinvented the search engine landscape and deserves a lot of credit for that. However, I wasn’t the only one who guessed wrong: I bet Altavista and Lycos were taken by as much surprise as I was.

 
Similarly, when Friendster, the first modern social network, was created, I was one of the first people using it. That’s actually an understatement – I was extremely active because it was so new and really explored interesting territories. Many of the things we now take for granted were actually “discovered” by Friendster who had to find the right way through trial and error.

 
Numerous new social networks later emerged, but the one that deposed Friendster was MySpace. MySpace got so well established I thought “this is it!”. It seemed immovable, but then Facebook rose and completely and utterly took MySpace’s.. space. I still remember articles writing that “Facebook is not going to be successful, MySpace will reclaim its position”. Kind of funny when you think about it now.

 
Quick disclaimer: I’m not writing anything that hasn’t been written before. Someone comes, creates a product – it could be successful, even very successful – but then a successor creates an improvement that completely wins over the audience. Though I don’t remember anyone saying this about Twitter (even though probably someone did).

 
That’s my guess for Twitter.

 
Twitter is flawed. Technically it is awful. Years after its launch we still get the fail whale on a regular basis (I get it at least 5-10 times a day). It has numerous bugs. It has a lot of really silly features and flawed concepts: the retweet button, no search mechanism for bios, no way to mass delete DMs, no way to filter DMs… the list is endless. However, no one can deny twitter is extremely popular. Extremely.

 
Based on these factors: that Twitter is a very flawed application and that the space is extremely attractive, while looking at past trends, I find it hard to believe that at some point in the next 1-5 years a new microblogging service, one that has learned from all of Twitter’s mistakes and improved on it, won’t come and completely dominate this market. That is, unless Twitter will clean up their act completely… but in all fairness, I don’t see that happening.

 
This may seem impossible now, but that was the case in both the examples I gave.

 
Google tried to do this with Google Buzz – that didn’t go too well because of the privacy issues (just too eager, huh?).

 
My prediction is that there will be someone else. And they will be successful. And in a couple of years we will all be seeing articles analyzing how Twitter lost its market share, and “what went wrong?”.

 
Only fools try to predict the future. Perhaps that might be true, but this is my guess.

 

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Pulling hair

 

If there’s a simple solution to the problem I describe below then (a) I will be very happy and (b) I will think that this post might make me look like a fool – BUT I’ll take that risk :)

 
I probably mentioned this in the blog somewhere but I like creating sites. At the moment I have around 70 and keep creating more all the time – some for specific niches, some personal, some for hobbies, some for lead generation, some for.. other… purposes.

 
Putting the necessary effort in keyword research using tools like Micro Niche Finder and Market Samurai (both are superb tools!) in order to create sites that have a good chance in appearing in high positions in search engines is fun and creates a nice income (if done consistently!). Even though this does require effort, and more importantly, patience, it’s generally a very good method.

 
Some of these sites I can truly set and forget. Of course, I track the search rankings of all my sites and know that some eventually drop unless I continuously add new content. It really depends on the niche and its competitiveness. Usually if it’s a successful site or a site I put a lot of effort into, I continue building it, but at times I prefer to spend my time creating new sites rather than tweaking and retweaking old ones.

 
A large portion of these sites, naturally, have affiliate links. When I first started I spent months finding the “perfect” links, hunting down exotic offers from specific vendors, it all had to be just right. Didn’t take very long for me to realize that this is a very inefficient usage of my time.

 
Last week I happened to visit one of my older sites which seems to be getting a lot of traffic again. I clicked on one of the affiliate links: broken! I clicked on another: Internal Server error! I clicked on a third – took me to an unrelated offer. Then I started going through my old sites and many, many links were broken or switched to another, irrelevant offer. God knows how many conversions I lost.

 
Almost always these were CPA offers – the product offers/eBooks (Clickbank) mostly still worked. And of course, AdSense (in those sites that include it) continued to work. That is why I never explored this in depth – as the sites that performed continued to perform.

 
I continued checking and even a site I recently updated – only two months ago – had all broken links!

 
This is extremely frustrating! The only affiliate network I am aware of that updates you about broken links is Commission Junction, and unsurprisingly, my CJ links work properly as I always fixed them (actually, Lidango too, but I don’t really use them anymore – and they just send you emails “you have a broken link” which isn’t helpful). Then again, all my Shareasale, Linkshare, Linkconnector and Amazon links seemed to be working properly, maybe they update you as well.

 
I’m thinking of creating a massive list of links and periodically running through all of them either using a script or even manually. It will take some effort but it’s worth it. Though even this is a partial solution: it’ll show me the broken links but not when the links have been switched to different offers. I could factor the landing page into that though, I guess.

 
I’m also thinking of limiting the networks I take links from. This is actually something I have been doing for quite a while… whereas in the past I used to pick the ‘best’ links from many different networks, now I feel it’s easier to stick with a handful of networks. Easier to keep track of, and often that extra bump in commission isn’t worth the hassle.

 
Any suggestions as to how to monitor this? Are there any tools available? I’ve discussed this with several friends and it seems I’m not the only one facing this problem. I’m just angry at myself for allowing it to go on for far too long.

 

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As you all know, there are quite a lot of celebrities on Twitter and more are joining every day. I noticed that there are roughly three categories of celebrity following… and yet there seem to be inexplicable (?) exceptions.

 
Let me emphasize, this is not a scientific study, just my general impression. However, my brain usually works by classifying things. There are plenty of other examples in my blog…

 
On this note, I have to say, doesn’t Twitter have a name suggestion mechanism?! It took me quite a while to find some of these celebrities. Eventually I discovered that the easiest way is going to Google, typing the name, seeing the suggestion (which was always right) and using it. Come on, Twitter – can’t you do the same? I remember considering doing this for an eCommerce application I wrote 8 years ago, wasn’t supposed to be hard.

 
Celebrities are easy to recognize on Twitter. They either have the verified tag next to their name, a ridiculous follower/following ratio, or – quite often – by the fact they “broadcast” – it’s a one way interaction on their end.

 
First, there are the big celebrities. They don’t need to do anything and still get a large follower base almost overnight.

 
For example:

  • Britney Spears (5,016,111 followers) – she pushed aside the former king of Twitter and is the new reigning queen.
  • Lady Gaga (4,251,933 followers)
  • Conan O’Brien (1,021,242 followers) – didn’t he just recently join?
  • Jim Carrey (1,017,771 followers)

 
Second, there are the somewhat smaller celebrities who are still household names. Some of them used to be ‘bigger’ in the past but the canceling of their shows or the fact they haven’t been in a big movie recently in a leading role obviously affected their status. Their number of followers is actually reachable by “mere mortals” – I have more followers than most of those I include below.

  • Elizabeth Banks (Spiderman, W., Scrubs – 156,579 followers)
  • Alyson Hannigan (Buffy the Vampire Slayers, How I met Your Mother – 101,537 followers)
  • Jason Segel (How I met Your Mother – 52,941 followers)
  • Julie Benz (Dexter, Desperate Housewives – 44,182 followers)
  • Kelsey Grammer (Frasier, Cheers – 22,207 followers)

 
Finally, there are the “minor” celebrities, those who are known to some, but generally are not household names. These can also be of the previous category whose television shows have expired. I have secondary accounts that have more followers than these…

  • Diora Baird (The Wedding Crashers, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning – 14,066 Followers)
  • Shiri Appleby (Roswell, Life Unexpected, ER – 4,251 Followers)
  • Elisabeth Harnoi (Point Pleasant – 1,559 Followers)

 
Then again, there are some celebrities who ought to belong to the second or even third category yet still have a staggering number of followers.

 
For example:

  • Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Big Bang Theory, Stand By Me – 1,654,037 Followers)
  • LeVar Burton (Star Trek: The Next Generation – 1,601,451 Followers)
  • Brent Spiner (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Independence Day – 1,366,661 Followers)

 
All three are known to Trek lovers, but I doubt they are household names. Moreover, considering their main show was canceled in – what, 1994? – isn’t this large number of followers very surprising – they far outrank more household names like Julie Benz. Heck, even Jim Carrey!

 
Why is that?

 
In my opinion, this is a result of these celebrities not only being active on Twitter, but also using it as a two-way communication medium. They all communicate with their followers: I didn’t say they speak to everyone but they do talk rather than “broadcast”.

 
I believe even Ashton Kutcher (4,986,024 Followers) – that despite the fact he’s already a pretty well known name, he is not of the caliber of Jim Carrey in terms of celebrity status, as well Demi Moore (2,732,687 followers) and Alyssa Milano (856,495 Followers). All are not only extremely active Twitter users, but also heavily interact with their followers.

 
More importantly, to all three this has brought significant Twitter attention. At least in Ashton’s case, I believe this has even translated into success in the real world, being known as the king of Twitter – the #1 most followed person (until last week).

 
So my advice? Use Twitter as it’s meant to be used. I know you’re busy. We all are. But use Twitter as a two-way communication medium, respond to followers, interact with them. People appreciate not being ignored and want to “touch the stars”. Give it to them. They will appreciate it and you will feel the effect.

 
I believe that a celebrity who has a very low number of followers is impacted, to some extent, by this – and the opposite is true as well.

 
Like it or not, Twitter is a measure of sorts of popularity. I would not be surprised if some casting agencies actually check Twitter before they cast an actor. I think it would be wise to do so.

 

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a

 

Before I begin, let me say I’ve written so much about Twitter Jail, this has become a series: here are links to my two other articles about Twitter Jail:

 
Twitter Jail: Some Suggestions
Twitter Jail: A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma

 
I think somewhere in Twitter there is a guy whose responsibility is coming up with innovative ideas. In the past few months he has dedicated a large portion of his time to Twitter Jail.

 
Why?

 
Because it’s a fresh concept: have you heard of Google Buzz Jail? Or Plurk Jail? Don’t think so!

 
Because it’s clearly something that gets people talking – check my most popular post. Yep, Twitter Jail. Check my other post to see how many people are looking for information about Twitter Jail.

 
I consider myself an expert on all matters Twitter Jail, so imagine my shock when I discovered yet another type.

 
Yesterday I tweeted four tweets with links in a rather short amount of time. One is an article criticizing Twitter I found (which I just waited for the opportunity to tweet – as you may know, I tweet every few hours. Best way to avoid addiction). One was a link to my friend’s online seminar. One was a link to my newest blog post.

 
Immediately after I tweeted the last one I noticed a typo, so I deleted it and tried to repost it – only to be informed I can’t, because I exceeded the rate. What the hell?! I just started using Twitter after several hours, I certainly did not do 100 tweets per hour/1000 per day!

 
Obviously this was created as a way to stop spammers – which considering the advice I gave in my other post, is not very efficient – there are so many simple ways for Twitter to automatically recognize I’m not a spammer. Besides, what good is it going to do? Assuming this works by limiting the number of links that are sent in a span of time, a spammer would simply space them out. Fewer links, yes – but he/she would still be spamming.

 
Or maybe it’s just the fact that I posted a link to an article criticizing Twitter..? I doubt that Twitter is capable of tracking so many articles, so that can’t be the case :-P .

 

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Since it’s a four part story, here are links to the other parts.
The Prehistoric Times of Social Media (Part 1 of 4)
The Prehistoric Times of Social Media: The Sting (Part 2 of 4)
The Prehistoric Times of Social Media: Cybercrime (Part 3 of 4)

 

This is the conclusion of the events that took place in 1991.

 
One day, right after I logged in as Solarwind, I found myself in a large room filled with wizards. What was going on? A wizard by the name of Destruction (whom I knew and was even my friend!) claimed that they know what I’m up to, that I’m cheating by helping a user. They demanded an explanation!

 
I was shocked! I got caught! In retrospect, I know they caught me easily. It wasn’t that hard to see that a wizard and a player were constantly together. Turns out that Destruction was sent on a mission to spy on me: he followed me invisibly and saw what I was doing. Of course, there was an easy way for Solarwind to see invisible wizards… but I didn’t know it at the time.

 
However, my paranoia did pay off. Because I logged in from two separate countries (separate continents, actually), they still believed these are two individuals: one Israeli and one American. I still don’t know how this fooled them: couldn’t they see we never talked? ever? What, we were telepathic?!

 
So I confessed, yes, I cheated. Yet I still didn’t tell them I was just one person.

 
The council of wizards told me that my punishment would be given within 24 hours. In retrospect, these wizards were pretty formal… I imagine a group of chubby computer science geeks/student corresponding about technicalities and legalities. Though that was in the “real” world – in the MUD they were powerful and almighty entities.

 
I believed that they would delete both Solarwind and Thor. Consequently, I still had a day to be a wizard – so I decided to use my powers for good, to make the MUD a better place. From now on, I am not Solarwind… I am Solarhood (y’know, like Robin Hood?). I shall steal from the wealthy and give to the poor.

 
I went out and found people to help. I went to the shop – which was magically shielded, but could not stop me - and stole all the weapons and armor and gave it away. I created vast amount of gold and gave it to the people. I healed the weak, cured the blind, turned frogs to humans, kissed babies and hugged widows. I did a lot of good things that day. I wanted my downfall to mean something.

 
Then I bid farewell to Solarwind and logged off.

 
The next day I connected and heard the following story: apparently the council had no plans of deleting either Solarwind or Thor. They planned to return Thor to – roughly – the state he was in when Solarwind started helping him, and just issue a warning to Solarwind.

 
However, since I caused quite a riot, they decided to permanently suspend Solarwind (for my nefarious activities. They did NOT approve of my benevolent actions!), and “only” demote Thor to his previous level.

 
Oh yes, I was told, they had to laboriously go through all the MUD logs and nullify everything I’ve done: cancel all the gold I created, take away all the weapons I handed out. It was hard, but they were able to do it.

 
All my good deeds were stripped away. Solarhood was caught, the Man won.

 
I could still log in as Thor but from that moment I lost all motivation to play. I never became a wizard in that MUD. Though, as I briefly mentioned, a few years later I did become one in other MUDs (the internet connection dramatically improved by then – and apparently, most MUDs were vastly easier).

 
Sometimes I wonder what happened to the real Solarwind. My guess: nothing. I’m pretty confident the original player probably never even heard of this episode. And if he did, he must’ve been quite amused of this story.

 
Strangely, after these events I took on myself the Solarwind persona. To this day – two decades! – I often register in forums and other sites as Solarwind. I guess I liked the Solarhood aspect so much I decided to take it with me.. It just feels right. Though I do plan to return it if the original Solarwind wants it back…

 

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Since it’s a four part story, here are links to the other parts.
The Prehistoric Times of Social Media (Part 1 of 4)
The Prehistoric Times of Social Media: The Sting (Part 2 of 4)
The Prehistoric Times of Social Media: Crime and Punishment (Part 4 of 4)

 
(I’ve decided to speed up the posting of this event. Since it’s long, I will still chop it to one more part, and will post this and the other post today. There are other things I want to discuss and I don’t like posting more than a post a day…)

 
This time no recap. If you’ve gotten here, I assume you read part 2.

 
As I was saying, I was becoming increasingly nervous that I won’t make it, so decided to pull a sting.

 
Note that the following took place in 1990-1991, when I was already familiar with MUDs for a while. Also note that this was prior to the creation of the World Wide Web, so the whole concept of cybercrime was pretty much in its infancy. And also, I was a minor ;-) I would not have done this today.

 
With that in mind, I will continue.

 
As I mentioned before, there were many MUDs. The vast majority of them originated from the same code. Every MUD creator took the code, made changes, and expanded on it. However, in almost all of them there were regions that were identical – these were the areas that were created in the original MUD.

 
Usually MUDs grew a lot like real world cities do. The first domains created by wizards would surround the original city, and every new addition was placed farther and farther away. Though some wizards used to outsmart this by doing something creative, like placing a closet in one of the original rooms which would take you to their realm if you entered it (obviously, inspired by the Narnia series).

 
In my MUD, one area was right next to the entrance. I was playing for more than a year at the time, and during the entire period there was no change – it was clearly abandoned. There was absolutely nothing going on there. After investigating this, I found out it was created by a wizard name Solarwind whom I knew (there was a way of checking) had not logged in for years. Since at the time virtually all internet access originated in academic institutions, my guess was that he simply graduated and moved on. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure that was the case.

 
Considering his vanishing and the fact his area was so close to the entrance, my theory was that Solarwind must’ve been one of the original founders of the MUD.

 
I decided I would try and “borrow” his account in order to help Thor reach Wizardhood – and then I would abandon it. I’m not going to say “steal” since I genuinely intended only to use it to advance my own character. Time was running out and I had to do something!

 
Since it was obvious Solarwind was long gone, I was certain he would not even know it, and where he was he probably wouldn’t even care. Listen, I was under a lot of pressure, I had to get this done! We’re talking addiction here.

 
I didn’t know how much information MUD administrators had on users, so I decided to be cautious. I had access to an American account (through a friend of my father) and I used telnet (nice to see some things haven’t changed in 2 decades – telnet is the same as it was back then) to log in to the MUD from that account.

 
This is a good time to mention that every MUD had a God. Meaning, the person who literally owned the MUD – set it up and maintained it. I imagine most MUD Gods were geeky, computer science students in real life. But to us… they were gods! They could do everything! They could even raise the dead – NOTHING was beyond their reach.

 
I guessed that Solarwind must’ve been a friend of the MUD’s God because he was one of the original founders. Yes, this was all a series of speculations, but I decided to risk it.

 
So one day, when the God materialized in the MUD, I logged in through my American account, and created a user by the name of “Solarwin”.

 
I sent the God a message “Hey buddy, long time no see! How are you?”.

 
[my heart was beating like crazy]

 
He responded: “I’m good, and yourself?”

 
[I couldn't believe it!]

 
I said: “Things are great here. It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I haven’t been here for so long that I can’t remember my password anymore. Can you help me out?”

 
[Every second felt like hours]

 
He responded: “Sure, no problem”.

 
And before I knew it… I was Solarwind. I was an immortal force of nature, I wielded powers beyond even the mightiest of mortals. I logged in and found myself in Solarwind’s personal chamber (all wizards had one, it’s where they had guests come over. Seriously). My plan worked!

 
With the year’s 2010 perspective, I know that what I did was Phishing. I don’t know when this term was coined, but I probably did it way before. This was 1991.

 
Again, just so you won’t judge me: I was just a teen at the time, it was a victimless crime, and I intended to abandon Solarwind’s account once I’m done. And don’t they say addicts will do everything to get their next fix? I just had to do this.

 
Immediately I proceeded with my plan. To my great disappointment, I found out that it’s much harder to be a wizard than I realized. And worse, I could not ask anyone for help. There was no one to guide me nor were there tutorials.

 
A few years later I became (legitimately) a wizard in a different MUD, so in hindsight I know what I did was incredibly clumsy and awkward. I could’ve accomplished my goal so easily – but I barely knew what I was doing.

 
What I did was log in to both Thor (my real account) and Solarwind simultaneously – each from a different country – and have Solarwind constantly provide information to Thor on how he could defeat monsters. Even then I knew that in principle Solarwind could’ve made weapons that would kill any monster on a hit – but would be caught. He could heal Thor – but would be caught. He could bring every monster to the point of death and allow Thor to “finish it off” – but would be caught. So I did the only thing I knew is safe.

 
I also used Solarwind to gather intel and objects from places unreachable. I even manufactured one of the items needed for a quest – I suspected this won’t raise any red flags.

 
Slowly – yet much faster than before – I was approaching my goal… Thor was becoming very close to becoming a wizard. Then I could really do things the right way.

 
Yet I failed. I was caught.

 

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Since it’s a four part story, here are links to the other parts.
The Prehistoric Times of Social Media (Part 1 of 4)
The Prehistoric Times of Social Media: Cybercrime (Part 3 of 4)
The Prehistoric Times of Social Media: Crime and Punishment (Part 4 of 4)

 
This is the sequel to “The Prehistoric Times of Social Media” post. Quick recap: in the previous post I elaborated why social media is not a new phenomenon and in fact, was already alive and kicking back in the mid 80s in various forms, notably BBSs (Bulletin Board Systems) and MUDs (Multi User Domains). MUDs are the prehistoric ancestors of massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPGs) like World of Warcarft, in the sense that every user created a fantasy character, fought monsters, gained experience, solved quests, cast spells, etc – all in order to advance in levels and become more powerful. However, MUDs had a huge advantage over modern games: once a user got to a certain point (level 20) he would become a “Wizard”, the MUD equivalent of an administrator. Then he would be allowed to program his own realm in the MUD universe with any theme or concept he had in mind.

 
This background, while interesting in its own right (I hope?), was necessary in order to share this story.

 
Just like many modern gamers are obsessed – even addicted – to these games (I even dedicated a post on how to break this addiction). I became obsessed with becoming a MUD wizard. I just had to! There was something almost magical in becoming one. Whereas previously you were just a player – as a wizard you could do anything: teleport anywhere you wanted, become invisible, pull pranks (well, you weren’t supposed to), be invulnerable. Since I spent so much time in the game, gaining these… super powers.. would’ve felt almost real. I planned to be a kind and benevolent wizard. Create easy and imaginative areas that would be fun and reward players.

 
Since I was living in Israel at the time, playing MUDs was a major problem. The internet connection of the entire country was flaky and unreliable. Often the connection would just die for a while. Could be a few minutes, could be a few hours. But it happened a lot. Therefore, playing the game was not easy.

 
Some MUDs required a LOT of effort in order to reach “wizardhood”, in particular, the one I describe. I had to skip class a few times. Quite often I used to spend the entire night playing. Unlike today, I had to physically go to a local university and connect from there (I still remember the expression of the night guard who caught me one night… utter shock. He just looked at me and went away). There was even one missile attack sent by Saddam Hussein during the first gulf war… instead of sitting home with a gas mask, I was at the university, trying to kill monsters. Death by biological and chemical weapons? Ha, worth the risk if it means I become a wizard.

 
Because of the unreliable connection, death was a sad fact of life. I always became furious when in the midst of a terrible combat, the connection died, and when it returned a few minutes afterwards, I found myself as a ghost hovering above the body of Thor (my character). Yes, MUDs had an amusing concept of ghosts.. it was necessary to go to a location and pray in order to be resurrected. Every death resulted in a major setback and it particularly frustrated me since often it was not my fault at all!

 
A friend and I came up with a solution: we will establish an Israeli MUD! We sent a proposal to the person in charge of the internet connection in Israel at the time. He got so angry at us for even coming up with this suggestion, that he blocked port 2000 – the port used for MUD connection – for the entire country. Imagine a single person pulling off something like this now… Of course, we easily found a way around this limitation and continued playing, but till this day, there has never been an Israeli MUD to my knowledge.

 
So I continued playing, often dying for reasons out of my control. And time went by.

 
As you probably know, in Israel military service is compulsory. By the age of 18, everyone must enlist for 3 years (men) and 2 years (women). I became increasingly nervous that despite my best efforts, I will be drafted and still not become a wizard.

 
Therefore, I decided to take action. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

 
I decided to pull a sting.

 
It was dangerous and risky, but I just couldn’t accept my dream not turning to a reality.

 

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