I haven't written much here recently. And that's really due to a lot of reason, not the last of which is being busy and that we have a wonderful new kitten named Bear:
The other issue is that I've becoming increasingly unhappy with my blogging tools, the custom hacks I've added over the years, and the required maintenance and upkeep.
So I've decided to give WordPress a try. You can visit my new experimental (likely semi-permanent) blog here: Jeremy Zawodny's WordPress blog
I may find myself posting stuff here from time to time. Maybe. But the reality is that I'll probably work on a mega export of this stuff into the the new blog and setup some redirects at some point.
When I have time.
Which means it may take a while. But that's life.
In the meantime, I have more efficient tools over there and am likely to publish more often. So check it out if you're interested. Or not.
Just a quick heads up to anyone who cares (probably only a few of you), as mentioned last night, I've implemented FeedBurner for my blog's main RSS feed on a trial basis.
For most of you, that means virtually nothing changes. At worst, you may see the last 10-20 entries appear as "new" or "changed" in whatever RSS reader you use. And for most of you that's either Google Reader or Bloglines (based on the stats I have already).
If you're interested in the details, the relevant section of my Apache's httpd.conf file now looks like this:
## Blog stuff Redirect permanent /backend.php http://jeremy.zawodny.com/blog/rss2.xml ## Added on 06-19-2006 Redirect permanent /blog/atom.xml http://jeremy.zawodny.com/blog/rss2.xml ## Added on 06-21-2006 Redirect permanent /blog/index.xml http://jeremy.zawodny.com/blog/rss2.xml ## Added on 03-17-2008 Redirect temp /blog/rss2.xml http://feeds.zawodny.com/jzawodn/rss2
That means anyone fetching my rss2.xml file will now receive a temporary (HTTP 302) redirect to feeds.zawodny.com which is, in turn, a CNAME to feeds.feedburner.com.
I implemented it this way so that i can turn if off at some point (by removing the redirect) and not "lose" subscribers. Unless, of course, some folks subscribe directly to the FeedBurner hosted copy.
In any case, I'm curious to see what the FeedBurner stats look like. I'm sure there are a few settings I need to tweak. I've probably missed a few. So don't get all paranoid about click tracking and whatnot. My goal is to do little of that.
As a long-time user of Movable Type, I'm glad to see it going fully Open Source now. That's only going to help this great platform continue to evolve.
The funny thing is that I'm still sitting on a very old Movable Type installation for my blog. It's not that I had no reason to upgrade, but the old version works pretty well. And I've customized it enough that any upgrade is going to break my changes and cause me even more work. So it may be some time before I finally make the jump, but I'm definitely keeping an eye on the project.
One of these days I'll take the plunge and go all the way up to the latest release.
Anyone have some free time I can borrow? :-)
This is a bit of site news, which really doesn't happen a lot around here. File this in the "meta" category, I guess.
My blog is now available in numerous non-English languages thanks to the folks at TechCzar. They approached me a couple months ago about a partnership that'd provide content from my blog in other languages as part of their blog network. In return for that, I've added a banner to the top of the site that contains several links to TechCzar along with national flags that link to the translated content.
I have committed to try this out for a few months, so I'd love to hear your feedback if you'd rather read my site in a language other than English. Either drop a comment on this post, or email me.
I will also mention the translated content and TechCzar in general a couple times a month, much like other blogs thank their sponsors from time to time.
Just to be clear, they're getting exclusive access to translate my content and host the translated copy on their site. They're also getting links to that from my site (in the form of that new header). I'm getting exposure to more potential readers for the stuff I write and a bit of extra cash each month.
The original version of all my content stays right here on jeremy.zawodny.com/blog as you'd might expect.
Now back to your regularly scheduled geeking...
Today I finally taught the spell checker in AbiWord that "Zawodny" is, in fact, a correctly spelled word. And as I did so, for reasons not entirely clear to me, I found myself thinking that this must mean that I've decided to stick with AbiWord.
You see, I've been using it in place of Microsoft Word for the last four weeks or so (ever since the Microsoft Bloatware Alert, in fact) and have been pleasantly surprised by how closely it matches what I really want from a word processor while also staying out of my way most of the time.
Unlike Word, I've not had to dig through lots of preferences to turn off various "smart" features that invariably Get It Wrong and cause me to do more work than I should have to.
In case you're wondering, I used to just type these posts into my browser and fix the typos after people reported them. But I realized that was dumb and starting using Word to compose them. That was, of course, also dumb in other ways. Blog posts are the only thing I really use a word processor for anymore. Strange, huh?
Anyway... I guess it's official. I've switched.
Taking that extra 5 seconds of effort hopefully marks the beginning of a long-term relationship with a less annoying word processor.
If Ira Glass (or Aaron Swartz maybe) ever starts a radio show called "This Geeky Life" (in the spirit of "This American Life"), I'll have to remember to submit this tale.
Thanks to Vanessa Fox (nude!)  for tagging me in the latest Friday blogging meme.
Here are my five reasons for blogging, with very little deep thought:
 I'm sure that she'll get a ton of clicks with the "nude" reference in there. But that's what she calls her site. I wouldn't be surprised if a few people had a weird mental association that brings back memories of a nude Samantha Fox (you know, the one-hit wonder that created "Touch Me" back in the 80s). She posed nude, or nearly nude, at some point. At least that's what I'm told... :-)
Given the surprising attention attracted by yesterday's annoyance, I'm sitting on a blog post titled "Blogging Lessons" that starts out like this:
Here's a list of things I've been meaning to write down for a while. They seem to creep back into mind now and then, often after dealing with a hot (or potentially hot) button issue.
But can't decide if I should post it or not.
Part of me thinks it's worth doing and folks will likely learn something, commiserate, or add their own lessons.
Another part of me thinks that people will read too much into it, see themselves in one or more of the "lessons", and ultimately get [more] pissed off.
I find myself reading more "corporate" blogs (those associated with a company and not a single person) now than I thought I might a year or two ago. And, sadly, most of them suck.
Among the sins they commit are:
But rather than name the big offenders, I figured it'd be more useful to highlight those I think are doing a fantastic job. In my mind, two of the best are the Zillow Blog and the Garmin Blog. Our own YPN Blog is a runner up in my mind, but I'm really too close to it to be unbiased.
What do I like about these blogs?
Do you have favorite corporate blogs that you subscribe to or visit on a regular basis? What are they? Why?
Now and then I see people write about "blogging" when they're really talking about the less than 1% of blogs that find themselves writing about each other in an almost herd-like and insular fashion sometimes. Often they'll all devote many bits and bytes to some trivial topic of the moment related to Google, blogging, Microsoft, patents, or government.
I like to think of this small subset as the "echo chamber" that is occasionally written about in regards to blogging. They're the ones who often appear on echo chamber amplifiers like the Technorati popular blogs, Techmeme, and similar services.
So when someone as bright as Jeff Sandquist says something like this, I have to pause and think about what he really means:
TechMeme.com has become a critical part of the blogging plumbing and is a site I visit many times throughout the day to keep up with what is happening in the tech industry.
I think that "critical part of the blogging" is a bit of an overstatement, given how few blogs ever appear on TechMeme. But at the same time, I know what he means. In context it's clear that TechMeme is critical to people, like Jeff, who want to keep up with what's happening in the tech industry (or at least what people think about what is apparently happening).
Don't get me wrong. TechMeme is a useful service for many people. I used to be one of them. But I lost interest a while ago when it became far less useful for discovering stuff on that long tail of blogging. Anymore, a small subset of blogs (and increasingly non-blogs) hog much of the attention. That happens to be exactly what I'm not looking for most of the time.
Disclaimer: This blog tends to participate in the echo chamber more than I'd like. I've been trying to fix that in recent months, but it's hard to go cold turkey.
One of the many types of email that manages to clog up my inbox is the regular stream of recruiters looking for good engineers. Occasionally they're interested in recruiting me, but all of the time they'd appreciate it if I could pass the word on to others I know.
Unfortunately, that doesn't scale well.
And this has been going on for a long time now. A few times, partly out of desperation, and partly to see if they'd take the bait I've responded with something like this:
Honestly, I probably do know folks who are qualified and even interested in the position. The trouble is getting to them in a way that's not spammy or tiresome (I can't do it every time someone asks). And it'd be rude of me to just give you their email addresses. But if you're willing to pay $xxx, I'd be glad to post it on my blog...
I'd then go on the describe the readership and traffic characteristics of my blog and hope and pray that they'd say "no thanks."
Because I had no infrastructure in place for taking money, putting the listings up, and so on. It would have all been manual work and I was already too busy.
But I was curious. It felt like there might be demand... and opportunities for someone.
It was around the time that Paul Stamatiou wrote The Job Boards Boom that I sent out an exasperated email to a list of people that I figured would know if anyone had cracked that nut--someone who had built a simple self-serve system that solves exactly the problem I was having.
Amazingly, I quickly learned that there was at least one service already up and running. There are at least two more in late stages of development or testing.
So I've decided to start trying them out. You'll see technology job listings appearing on the right side of my individual blog posts (in the sidebar).
I'll write more about each service in future posts, including the one I'm using now. But I just wanted to point out that it's there so that nobody is surprised. And, if you're looking to hire, feel free to post a job. :-)
I've decided to experiment with alternative forms of comment spam moderation, filtering, etc. It used to be that MT-Blacklist would handle blocking spam for me and moderating comments on old entries. And my "type Jeremy here" challenge keeps most of the bots away (there are literally thousands of attempts per day). But it didn't do quite as good a job protecting newer entries where a human spammer was at the keyboard.
As of now, all new comments hit the moderation queue. However, you can bypass the need for me to approve your comment. When you submit a comment, my system will send you a small email to the email address you supplied. If you click the link in that email message, it'll approve the comment right away.
Now, I may still approve or remove comments on my own, but this may prove to be a useful balance. We'll see.
It's worth noting that your email address is never made public on the site, so you shouldn't worry about it appearing. If you're not comfortable telling me your email address, I may not be comfortable approving your comment. It's that simple.
So if you've been a regular but anonymous commenter, you have a decision to make.
We'll see how it all works out. I'm interested in feedback on the system--including bug reports! I wrote a bunch of this myself.
BTW, I've known who the famous grumpY! is for a while now. :-)
There's a $5,000 "blogging scholarship" up for grabs and Paul Stamatiou is in the running. Paul was an Intern at Yahoo a few months back and helped get the corporate blog out the door. He also does great job of tracking new technology, services, and gadgets on his site.
Sadly, the scholarship appears to be based entirely on popularity (is this the dig influence gone too far?). He or she with the most votes wins. So please take a moment and go vote for Paul. :-)
I recently noticed an upswing in the traffic my blog gets from comment spam bots. They're never successfully able to post comments, of course, but it still results in a lot of hits to the Movable Type script that handles comment submissions: mt-comments.cgi
Notice the "cgi" there? That's right. This is a old school stand-alone Perl CGI script. I'm not running it under mod_perl, so for each request Apache must fork() and exec() to start the Perl interpreter. Then Perl has to parse and compile the script, along with all of its supporting modules.
This all culminates in an error message back to the spam bot--a message that is surely discarded. In short, it's a lot of effort to tell a spam bot to go fuck off. And it causes my 4 year old web server to strain at times.
So I decided to add a new layer to my defenses recently. I added mod_security to my Apache setup and crafted a few rules to combat most of the poorly written bots as well as those that are slightly more well designed.
You see, mod_security provides a decent framework for request filtering within Apache. You can craft all sorts of rules to validate input and check various conditions before control continues in the request handling.
Here's are a few of the rules I use:
SecFilterSelective REQUEST_METHOD "^GET$" chain SecFilterSelective REQUEST_URI "^/mt/mt-comments.cgi"
That basically looks for GET requests attempting to access the comments script. Even though to only references on my entire site to mt-comments.cgi are in forms that specify POST, some bots try to use GET anyway. This is a simple way to guard against them.
A keen observer might point out that I should write a rule that allows only POST requests, rather than denying GETs. You never know when someone might try to use PUT requests or something equally useless.
# Don't allow POST to mt-comments.cgi without 'jeremy' SecFilterSelective REQUEST_URI "^/mt/mt-comments.cgi" chain SecFilterSelective POST_PAYLOAD "!jeremy" "redirect:http://jeremy.zawodny.com/comments-jeremy.html"
That rule doesn't allow anyone to hit ht-comments.cgi unless the POST payload (the data being submitted) contains the string "jeremy" (case-insensitive). The custom field I've added to the comment form all my blog entries requires that you type my name anyway. But this pushed a loose version of that check into Apache itself.
This rule will let requests through that contain my name anywhere (in the comments, the name, the URL, whatever), but that doesn't concern me. The few that do make it through will still be checked by the Perl code anyway.
Rather than merely returning an error code, I redirect the bot to a page that tells them what was wrong--just in case it's a human, not a bot.
The results are encouraging. I've been running this setup for about 3 days now and I've blocked over 1,000 attempts. No unusual complaints have come in from would-be commenters so far.
I first learned of mod_security from a couple of ONLamp.com articles:
In addition to providing a good introduction, they also provide some useful rules to plug into your configuration. I've used a handful of them in my setup, but I omitted them in the examples above.
I just spent some time cleaning up my Bloglines subscriptions. I was finishing up my daily ritual of reading various blogs and new sources when I realized how sucky it felt.
Reading feeds used to be fun. And interesting. And decidedly not like "work" at all.
So I spent a few minutes reviewing my feed list. If I couldn't remember the last time I learned something from a given source or was entertained by reading it, I unsubscribed.
That included a number of "high profile" bloggers in the echo echamber who used to be interesting but have become to wrapped up in trying to tell others how they should do things, folks who merely repeat memes and "hot" stories, and so on. So often I would just look at and think "who cares about this shit?" and click on to the next feed. No more.
In looking over what was left after my slash and burn effort, I realized what was going on. I like to read what interesting people write. The less they write about their jobs (genrally speaking), the better. Most of those who are preaching and/or wannabe journalists didn't make the cut.
It's funny how you can be stuck in a rut for a long time without ever realizing it. I'm going to keep doing this pruning until reading is enjoyable again. I think I got pretty close in this one pass.
I know a lot of folks out there use FeedBurner to outsource the hosting and metrics of their RSS feeds. I've not done so (yet?) but am curious about one thing.
If you use FeedBurner, what percentage of your overall subscribers are using Bloglines?
You might think that this is a roundabout way of asking trying to ascertain Bloglines share of the "market" but it's not. I believe there's enough bias in the types of people who even use Bloglines that the number I'm asking for aren't terribly meaningful in getting at their share of the market.
Any, please share if you have such data. I've always assumed (meaning that I pulled this out of my ass) that Bloglines represents between 30% and 50% of my subscribers. But for all I know, I'm way, way off.
Your numbers could help to triangulate a bit. In fact, I suspect they'll help a lot of people wondering the same thing.
I've recently decided to consolidate the various syndication feeds for my blog. Historically I've offered the following feeds:
So I dropped some 301 (permanent) HTTP redirects into my Apache configuration a few days ago and am watching my logs to see how long it takes aggregators to get the clue and start consuming rss2.xml.
The results aren't terribly encouraging right now. Consumption of the less popular feeds hasn't dropped as I hoped it might. But I'm going to give it some time and see what happens. If, after a few weeks, they still seem to be used by more than a handful of readers, I'll probably hand-craft a custom message that may encourage them to update their software or at leas subscribe to the "correct" feed.
This will be interesting to watch...
Apparently my ability to stay under the radar is more effective with some blog search engines than others.
When I read about the launch of Ask.com Blog Search, I thought "it's about f-ing time!" and ran over to kick the tires.
Apparently I kicked a bit too hard:
Just for reference, I check a few other blog search engines to see how many results that query returns:
I think that Jeeves is still around and he's pissed off about something.
Update: It turns out that Jeeves was just messing with me. It seems to be working Just Fine now and I'm getting a chance to poke around at the service. Not bad so far.
Quite some time ago, Irina (her take) asked me to write up my "top 10 sources" for Top 10 Sources. As usual, it took longer than expected. But I finished a few days ago and it's now live: Jeremy Zawodny's Top 10.
Picking my ten favorite sources took me a bit longer than I thought it would. It's not because I'm lazy (I am) or because I've been busy (I have). No, it's because I never really thought that hard about why I like the blogs I read. What is it about a particular person's musings that is able to grab and hold my attention over time? What makes me go back for more, day after day?
You know, I can barely remember back to when I was using AmphetaDesk to read less than 20 feeds. I even patched the code once to fix a bug that annoyed me before switching to Bloglines, which lasted for a few months. Once I hit 60 or so feeds, I ditched to idea of having a blogroll on my site.
I'd share my OPML but it's kinda painful to do. It changes often and I haven't found the time to automate it. If I had, there'd be some sort of blogroll-like thing on my site.
Until that day comes, this will have to do.
Who is on your top 10 list?
It's easy to get sucked into things. You can sit down with a good book for a few minutes and before you know it, several hours and a few hundred pages have gone by. It happens to all of us now and then.
My allocation of time spent reading RSS feeds and various blog or social web sites (Digg, Reddit, TailRank, Memeorandum, del.icio.us) has always been a bit slippery. I'd simply read until I was done reading. I had to make sure all those folders and feeds were un-bolded before I was "done." And every once in a while, the periodic update would run before I finished, and I'd end up with even more work to do. The horror!
I spent some time thinking hard about that use of my time yesterday and realized that it's a classic example of diminishing returns. Since I almost always read that stuff in my own "priority order" I get the most bang for my time in the first 15 minutes or so. Beyond that, I'm panning for gold and it feels like the supply is dwindling. Another 10 minutes spent reading about the latest Dave Winer drama is hardly a good use of my time.
I remember reading about Robert Scoble's reading habits a while ago. He'd spend 3-5 hours every day reading his 1,500+ feeds, also panning for gold. That seemed insane to me then (and still does). But I've been doing the same thing, albeit in a less extreme way.
So it's time to change my habits--or at least form new ones. For the next two weeks I'm allocating 30 minutes per day to this reading, trolling, and mining effort. There's no pre-set limit on how much time I'll spend writing. The returns associated with writing appear to be quite different.
What will I do with that extra time?
I'll spend the "work" time coding a new idea and battling the inbox. I'll spend the "home" time studying for my upcoming FAA written test.
Someday someone will pull all this ranking, customization, personalization, recommendation, and other magic technology together and give me a great reason to throw out my RSS Aggregator once at for all. Until then, I'm going on a Feed Diet.
Nick has just announced the availability of Performancing Mertrics, which he describes as "a professional grade blog statistics service aimed at professional bloggers."
I was invited into the closed beta test but unfortunately didn't find the time to set it up on my site. I ran Google Analytics for a month or so but quietly removed it a while back. While there was some interesting data porn, I didn't actually need it or the performance penalty that came with running it.
If their Firefox extension is any indication, I suspect that Performancing Metrics will rock too.
One of the unintended consequences of writing regularly on a public web site is all the "fan mail" you accumulate.
This just arrived a few moments ago:
I can FU-- with the best of them, but a public forum isn't the place for it. I accidentally stumbled on your so called web site, and find it to be very sophomoric! The little shit with the big mouth MUST BE HEARD I guess. I grew up during the Depression in South Buffalo, and we had people like you for lunch!
I really have no idea how to respond to that.
Do I invite him over for lunch?
[This is a brief rant. Go elsewhere if you don't like rants. Thanks.]
I'm becoming more and more sickened by the increasing number of articles and blog posts I've seen in the last few months that are self-proclaimed "HOWTOs" on making your company, PR folks, or Marketing Department blogger friendly.
After all, there's nothing like a few excited bloggers to kick off a good viral marketing campaign, right?! Who cares if your product is lame. Just get some bloggers to talk about it!
No offense to Guy Kawasaki, but his How to Suck Up to a Blogger is the latest of these to cross my aggregator. At least he's using a more honest title. You're kidding yourself if you think this is not about sucking up from a corporate point of view. And, like many others, he's feeding into the frenzy.
At this rate, it shouldn't be long before the suggestions get more and more, uhm... "interesting." So I decided to follow this to its natural conclusion: sexual favors.
There. That was easy.
How long can it be before some new Web 2.0 startup (old maybe a desperate Old Media company) offers up the chance to "win a date with a supermodel" for anyone who blogs about their newest product. What after that?
Can't we just tell people to act like themselves and not the companies they represent? It seems like the better advice to me.
[Part of me already mumbles a subconscious "blow me" every time I get a non-sequitur PR pitch via e-mail , so the title of the post makes that bit of my brain happy in a strange way. I shudder to think how much of this Michael Arrington must deal with.]
Irina pinged me the other day to let me know I was listed over on Top Ten Sources in the thinking bloggers section.
The subtitle on that particular part of the site is "Thinking Out Loud" and I think it describes the main reason I got into this blogging thing several years back. I think of it as being able to think about things in public by posting what are essentially draft ideas and then get feedback from lots of smart people.
That got me thinking. It's been a long time since I had a blogroll on my site. I subscribe to far too many feeds anymore. It'd be difficult list them all here. But if I had to pick my "top ten sources", who might they be?
I'll have to think on that one for a while...
In the past year or so, there have been a few aggregator-centric acquisitions. But that's really just the tip of the iceberg. As Mike Manuel notes, there are completely separate tools to:
Holy crap! And that small sampling doesn't even count the numerous hosting options.
Most of the stuff on that list comes from small companies that are likely to find themselves competing against much larger companies or simply bought out.
It's gonna be really fun to see how 2006 works out. Who will be left standing?
Well, the last month has been entertaining and educational. After a month of having paid text link ads on my site, I've taken them down--just as I said I would. In the process I got to find out what a lot of people think about the practice of selling or buying "sponsored links" or "text link ads" on various sites.
I'm not going to rehash the whole debate, but for those tuning in late: The big controversy comes from the fact that one is "selling PageRank" rather than forcing publishers to earn it through good content, lots of links, and all that other stuff it takes. The search engines (one of which I work for) would rather that paid links be tagged with a rel="nofollow" attribute to indicate that any "link juice" or authority shouldn't be passed on to that site.
Now here's the thing that surprises me. There are many folks out there who don't care about buying PageRank, link juice, authority, or whatnot. Given the chance to buy a link that's been tagged with nofollow, they're willing to do so. In other words, some of the folks buying links really do see them as advertisements not just a way to "cheat" Google. They simply wan exposure.
I know this because some of them have asked me if they could advertise on my site. So may you'll see the sponsored links module reappear if they do. And if that happens, every one of them will have rel="nofollow" attributes (a poorly named attribute if I ever saw one). Perhaps link condom isn't such a bad name after all. :-)
Anyway, maybe I should put a blogroll back on my site in that space, just so I can link to Matt Cutts (without the "www" for those of you playing along at home; if you don't know why that's amusing, don't worry…).
Steve Gillmor has his panties in a bunch (yeah, we blogger non-journalist types can say stuff like that) because he's subscribed to my ancient RSS 0.91 feed which contains only excerpts of each post.
However, the default feed for my blog has been my fancy new RSS 2.0 creation for a while now. It appears I'm not the only one impressed by his lack of research.
The folks over at TechDirt had this to say:
Normally this is exactly the type of post I wouldn't even read, but something seemed odd -- and it took me a few seconds to realize that two things didn't make sense. (1) I came across Steve's post in the ZDNet blogs RSS feed which (whoooooops!) is a partial text feed -- so, yes, his attempt to make fun of partial feeds is, indeed, cut off itself by his own partial feed. (2) I read Jeremy Zawodny's feed as well, and it's full text. So, here we have someone who has a partial feed complaining about the partial feed of someone who actually appears to only offer full feeds...
Now, it's true that I still offer the old partial feed for folks who use it (most do not), but the full-text one is what I've been promoting for a while.
Looking at Steve's feed, I see that he offers both at once. The "description" section for each post contains an except. The "content:encoded" bit, however, contains the full post. I wonder which aggregators prefer the "description" over "content:encoded'?
Alright, it's pretty clear to me that I've stirred the pot on a never ending debate. I might as well have come out arguing against (or for) abortion and legalizing drugs.
So I'll make a final pass through some reactions I've seen since last night and then go back to my regularly scheduled random blogging until this trial runs its course (roughly two weeks from now) and the Lemur Auction begins...
Philipp Lenssen of Google Blogscoped weighs in on Paid Links Evil?
Over on SEO Scoop, Matt is being pressed for details:
If Matt or Google would simply be slightly less Googlish (vague) and more clear in what they mean, they could probably stop all the arguments immediately. So what is it Matt? Does Zawodny's site deserve to be penalized for selling links? Will you do so?
Of course, it's the wrong forum for getting a policy answer like that. (Hint: my blog is an equally wrong forum for that.)
Over on SiteReference, there's a Purchasing Links for Pagerank post that goes into many of the issues brought up here. Of particular note is this:
Of course, you might want to make sure that you don't get in trouble for buying links, even if your intention is completely innocent. Although Google has gotten better at determining what links are purchased and what links are natural, they still can not determine a person's intent. To keep yourself safe, always request that the person you are buying the link from adds the “nofollow” attribute. This will protect both you and them from getting penalized.
That leads to a question. Do any of the popular link brokers recommend this to their publishers? I haven't done an exhaustive survey of their sites, but I've yet to see one that includes a nofollow recommendation in their publisher documentation. Might one expect them to at least drop in a footnote?
Finally, I received a private email which said the following:
As a personal user, I want to thank you for being bold enough to make the moves you've made with sponsored links. Experimenting is important.
I was thinking just the other day---mainly thinking about the Protestant Reformation; it's what I get as a Methodist for being friends with lots of Presbyterians who idolize Calvin and Luther---that those who are often the biggest defenders of orthodoxy must live in the conundrum of loving and praising those who were, in and of themselves, unorthodox. After all, you don't build a new orthodoxy or restore and old one without being outside the bounds of the present orthodoxy!
It's refreshing to see that there are folks out there who actually get what I'm doing. I thought it was pretty clear when I wrote this:
It's one thing to hear about this stuff second hand (or from the folks on either end with a vested interest in "selling" their idea to publishers), but it's quite different to become a participant in the system. I've experimented with AdSense an YPN in various forms. I've tried paid job listings (never worked out, which is a story for another day). I've used Amazon.com's affiliate program. I've even tried AdWords. And each time along the way it's been a useful exercise. Sometimes it works well, other times not. My success rate has been rather mixed so far.
But people have a way of reading only what they want to read. And my success continues to be mixed, but that doesn't mean I should just walk away, does it?
Let me close with a final question. How do you know none of my other links were paid? Is Amazon.com paying me via their affiliate program for linking to one of their product pages when I say something nice about a product I like? Does that help their rank, their brand, and their sales? They are text links without nofollow.
Well, judging by the reaction to my sponsored links post I've struck a nerve. And I have to say, it feels like there's a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of FUD out there. I'm still trying to digest everything. But so far I've found that there are at least three sides to this issue.
Yeah. I've since heard directly from three of the advertisers. Advertiser #1 said "we're outta here!" and pulled their link. Advertiser #2 said "we're with you man!" And advertiser #3 said, "hey, give us a nofollow on our link."
Interesting, huh? I sure couldn't have predicted these results.
In fact, if I had merely asked what people thought of this practice, I probably wouldn't have received even 20% of this feedback. And speaking of feedback, it's my turn to point at and respond to a bunch of what I've read so far in no particular order. (Bear in mind, it's 1am as I start to write this…) As a bonus, you don't have to track down a bunch of this on your own.
#1 In what is otherwise a pretty good summary over on SearchEngineWatch, Danny Sullivan says that I'm caught in a link selling debate.
Caught? No, I practically *started* the debate. I'm facilitating it. And it's teaching me a lot.
He also says:
What's going to happen to Jeremy? As Greg notes, he's not going to be yanked from Google. His site is far too important for that. But Google might prevent it from passing along link juice to others. Apparently, I'm told by others (not Google itself) that Google's done the same to Search Engine Watch because of our SEW Marketplace ads that we sell.
Far too important? Ha! Wordpress.org was removed, if I recall. I think anyone would agree that WordPress is far more important than my dumb blog!
He then goes on to bash the practice of de-juicing entire sites rather than specific links:
If so, Google's just stupid. If it can't figure out that we carry the same sponsored links in the same area and filter out that part, really -- they're dumb. They're even dumber if they have to wipe out the ability of an entire site to help influence its results in a good way. We link to many excellent things -- including things Google wants people to know about. Our links don't carry weight because Google's not smart enough? And Jeremy's site might not carry weight as well? Please.
There's some commentary in the SEW Forum too.
Tim Converse (of the Yahoo! Search Engineering Team) adds to this a bit:
Anyway, selling linkage does make life harder for search engines, but maybe that's our problem not yours. (By "our", I mean people who actually work on the search engines themselves.) A perfect search engine would be able to detect which links were true endorsements and which were purely sold, and adjust accordingly. But to the extent that imperfections exist, there's money to be made.
He also asked why I wasn't using nofollow and speculated that it'd make the links worthless. Using nofollow would have ruined the experiment. I'm trying to find out "does this stuff really work? And is it sustainable?" And the early returns are mixed, as I noted above.
Part of what makes me wonder is the fact that these link brokers exist and seem to not be going out of business. What's behind it all?
#2 Jarrod at TextLinkBrokers.com (hadn't heard of them until today) says that there's lots of excitement over this.
It's too bad that he didn't say more, since he's clearly got an insider's viewpoint.
#3 In Links, Condoms, Shit and Fans we learn that I'm "essentially daring the engines to throttle his outflow of link juice."
I assure you, if that was my goal I could have come up with a much more dramatic way of doing it. (No, I'd rather not explain what that might be.)
But, hey, good attempt to make it look like I'm playing chicken with the folks in Mountain View or my co-workers. I'd give it a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10.
#4 The folks over at Best of the Web have posted their thinking on the matter which also came to me via e-mail.
A couple of weeks ago, Brian received an early afternoon email informing him of a pretty intriguing advertising offer. We were told that industry pundit, and Yahoo insider, Jeremy Zawodny would soon be accepting advertising - text link ads, to boot. Naturally, we were excited - the demographic of Jeremy’s readership is a nice fit for BOTW eyeballs. We signed up by the end of the day.
That's the first I heard of operations on the buying side. I guess that means they had expressed an interested in buying links and waited for a site that matched their profile to come along. They also thought about asking for a nofollow right off the bat, but decided no to:
Ultimately, we decided not to ask Jeremy for the tag. Primarily, we hoped that we would get the “juice” that we needed to start pulling better in Yahoo, an engine in which we have historically had difficulty making significant headway. Ironically, we were not trying to manipulate Anchor Text/PR for Google purposes, but quantity of links in an attempt to boost our Yahoo listings.
They've changed their minds since in light of the recent discussion:
we have decided to ask Jeremy to add the rel=”nofollow” tag. (I just received an email from Jeremy saying that he’d “rig up the code to do that within a day”) In hindsight, we should have requested it from the beginning, and I hope that this is not now a case of closing the barn door after the cows have run out.
Advertisers discussing the thinking behind their choices and doing so in public? Nice.
#5 Macalua.com is all about playing up the drama in Paid Links Soap Opera:
Will Jeremy fold and add nofollow? Will advertisers pull out because of that? Will Jeremy say up my arse Google? Will Matt counter with a sitewide penalty/ban? Will Matt take it to the advertisers?
Marc is really fond of this "Jeremy vs. Matt" meme. As if I was thinking "ha! Surely *this* will get under Matt's skin..." all along. I suspect Matt's job is hard enough without me actively trying to get in the way too.
#6 Over on Threadwatch we see that seobook (who I must assume is Aaron Wall) says several things, including:
Keep in mind that this is not just any old search employee selling links. Jeremy has on multiple occasions posted how much he hates spam. So long as the link is not pointing at spam Jeremy sees no problem with it.
Eh? I can't think of a single Internet user, let alone a Yahoo! employee, that I've not heard complain about spam if the topic came up. This hardly makes me special, now does it?
But like I said in my previous post, I visited each site to see if it felt like spam. If it did, I rejected 'em.
Anyway, there's some interesting questions in the comments on that post.
#7 Over at Search Engine Roundtable, Barry used a headline that bugged me: Google Fights Paid Links & Yahoo Defends Paid Links
I said the following in his comments (which have some sort of posting delay, so I ended up making the same point twice):
Your title is just plain wrong.
Making this out to be a "Yahoo vs. Google" think is barking up the wrong tree. And you know better.
What I do on *my* personal site is my business. If I experiment, I experiment. I've been pretty open about this, past experiments, traffic sources, money sources, etc. It has nothing to do with Yahoo policy.
I'm pretty surprised that he did that, but he's also going for some drama points I guess. It's odd, because he specifically points out that this is a *personal* site in his post.
His post also appears on Search Engine Journal ("fair and balanced" as it is).
#8 There's a funny Greg Boser quote in the SEW Thread:
Reminds me of a quote Greg Boser made at SES San Jose something to the effect that "Google started this whole link popularity game but now they want to take their ball and go home."
That reminds me of what I was thinking over two years ago when I wrote PageRank is Dead and said, among other things:
Google has a really hard problem to solve. It's not unlike the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. PageRank stopped working really well when people began to understand how PageRank worked. The act of Google trying to "understand" the web caused the web itself to change. Blogs are only a recent example of that. Oddly, unlike many of the previous problems with Google (see also: search engine optimization companies; link spammers; google bombing), blogs were not designed to outsmart Google. They just happen to use the web and hyperlinks the way we should have been using them all along.
#8 Over on Wolf-Howl.com I read one of the more amusing titles: Six Degrees of a Lesbian Porn Scraper
thanks to Jeremy Zawodny a large portion of the web just got one step closer to lesbian porn.
It's pretty late now, so I'll resist the temptation to make a juvenile comment about doing my part to surface more lesbian porn.
#9 In Text link follow-up, Matt Cutts (of Google) digs into what the links link to and was the one to uncover the Lesbian Gay Sex Positions site. Luckily he does this stuff for a living, so he can call it "work." :-)
He also suggests that I could offer flying lessons to my 10,000th visitor. I'd need to get my CFI certificate first, but you never know... Gimme a couple more years.
There's some amusing theories, wild speculation, and even a few insightful comments in the discussion on his post too. Give 'em a read for what both sides think.
Matt is wise not to respond to those asking him if AdSense is providing most of the motivation for folks who want higher ranks and resort to various tactics to get it. There are mines in that field!
#10 Over on the ink-stained banana, JR (a co-worker) says:
What Jeremy is doing is the same thing as a Morning DeeJay doing a spot for a mattress company or a TV show character talking about how comfy Brand X shoes are. You pony up extra, you get that extra love.
Everyone listening to the morning dude knows it's and advertisement when he says that stuff. But would a speech to text system? What if Google tried to index all radio ever broadcast using such technology?
#11 Jesus, it's almost 2am. I'm going to bed!
A co-worker pointed this out to me the other day (I've been waaay behind on blog reading). The folks over at Search Engine Journal have opened voting for their 2005 Search Blog Awards. And, believe it or not, I'm up for an award!
Question #4 on the ballot is:
Matt vs. Jeremy: Which Search Employee Most Likely to Flame You For Spamming?
Heh. This is quite amusing. All because of this?
Just between you and me, Matt really needs to take the flaming up a notch if he's gonna win. He's letting me off way too easy!
Come on, man... To quote Road Trip, Uleash The Fury! :-)
Update: Tim Bray just emailed me to point out that Matt and I are merely following in his footsteps. :-)
Tomorrow I'll be at the Syndicate Conference in San Francisco most of the day. I'm part of Charlene Li's "Corporate Blogging" panel, which she describes as:
Blogging - it's fast, cheap and effective. Customers are coming to expect it. Marketing should love it, so why aren't more corporations doing it? Probably because senior management is uncertain and the legal department is scared. Even if you get permission, who should write the blog and what should they say? And should you really let anyone comment on your corporate blog? Learn how to get through these roadblocks and develop best practices from veteran corporate bloggers.
Other folks on the panel are: Greg Reinacker (CTO & Founder, NewsGator Technologies, Inc.),
Jodi Baumann, Senior Manager (Corporate Public Relations, Network Appliance), and David Geller (President & CEO, WhatCounts, Inc.). I was on a panel with Jodi once before and am looking forward to meeting Greg and David.
If you're there, drop by and say Hi. Or come to the panel and harass me. :-)