Monday, December 21, 2009

Fast Away The Old Year Passes...

First of all, courtesy of the Mental Floss web site, possibly the most disturbing image of Santa I've ever seen:

That's disturbing on many, many levels. Discuss...

On a more pleasant note, the crew at Daily Blog Tips [which you should be subscribed to; if not, take care of this NOW] recently posted the results of a group writing project: 90 Reviews Of 2009. The title is a little deceptive: it's not so much multiple reviews of the year about to end as a look at some of the best postings on the Web this year, in a variety of topics. A lot of these, I should note, will be useful to bloggers in the Home Audience, if for no other reason than as examples of notable posts. There are whole sections on blogging topics and marketing, for those in the monitization trade, as well as parenting tips [none written by Jo Frost, oddly enough. Incidentally, correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't the differences between the British and American covers of her books kinda interesting? (The British seem to want discipline, while Americans seem to crave a bit more warmth {motherlyness?} in their Supernanny. Check it out for yourself, if you don't believe me...]

Anyway, read the posts, take whatever you can from them and, for God's sake, don't stare into the eyes of this guy:

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

-Mike Riley

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What I Did On My Summer Vacation: Nothing - And Rather A Lot...

About three months ago, I announced a "time-out" for my various blogging endeavours [this site, as well as After Midnight, Challenging The Thunder, and Coming Out Of The Candy Store]. Part of that declaration was due to personal issues that are still in the process of playing themselves out. But part of it was, pure and simple, burnout. I was beat, out of ideas, recovering from the less-than-successful "Can-Am Celebration" [which, at the end of the day, I didn't even take part in officially. I am grateful to those of you who did, though]; I had stopped giving the proverbial "rat's ass" about any of it. I needed a rest.

So I stopped [to quote my Muse Of Choice, Dorothy Parker: "It's only an old wives' tale that you have to taper off"]. I jumped back in, very briefly, to comment on the Entrecard shuffle in mid-July [you knew I couldn't resist that topic, didn't you?], but spent most of the next 90 days neither blogging, or reading blog posts. Oh, I'd see the odd item in the news, or think about a matter of writing or design, that tempted me to the keys. But nothing held together long enough to turn into an actual post. Lesson One: It happens. People who get paid for this sort of thing run dry periodically.

Interestingly, I found I was still selling the odd EC ad. Lesson Two: Ec'ers will sometimes "buy in bulk", purchasing space in as many low-priced blogs as they can afford. Even those which clearly state they're on sabbatical. Makes you wonder if they think anybody actually reads the blogs, instead of just "harvesting" cards [of course, this has been an on-going problem at EC, one that I don't think has been solved yet]. I'd make some comment here about how visitors should at least look over the current entry when visiting a site, but it didn't work in the past, so...

Desperate to get my creative juices flowing again, I turned to the "father of the essay", Michel de Montaine. Sorry. Seemed like an original thinker and all [though he did use a great deal of Classic literature to make his points], but just didn't inspire me. Lesson Three: the Muse tickles on her schedule, not yours. Nothing wrong with looking for inspiration wherever you wish, but understand that the Creative Moment comes when it comes, not when you would have it. There are people who suggest writing at least fifteen minutes per day, or at least to try and write something daily. If that works for you, great. I would think, though, that some days' output will be better than others. Only the mediocre are truly "at their best" each day...

Thinking that perhaps I needed to update my references, I plunged head-first into Facebook
[no matter how hard I try, I just can't make myself "follow on Twitter "] There is a school of thought that Twitter and Facebook are "blogging's next wave". I guess, but, with a few exceptions, most of the blogs I've ever seen are hardly getting warmed up by the time they reach 160 characters. Lesson Four: "trendy" doesn't always equal "usable". Use the form that best suits your needs.

But, for what it's worth, the biggest lesson was the one that the whole process taught: Lesson Five: Sometimes you need to walk away from the things you enjoy to realize how much you enjoy them. None of this is profound, or worthy of being engraved in stone, of course. But all of it worth thinking about. It's good to be back...
Update: since I wrote this, Daily Blog Tips featured a guest post on writer's block, one of the reasons I went on vacation. Check it out for yourself here. "DBT", by the bye, is a frequently excellent sources for bloggers at all levels [although a lot of it is monitization. Not that there's anything wrong with that]; subscribe...MR

-Mike Riley

Thursday, July 16, 2009

From The Sidelines: The Entrecard "Purchase"

Yeah, I know. I'm on sabbatical. But yesterday's Entrecard news pulled me off the sofa, with a few thoughts:

- who or what is Zip Runner, Inc [Entrecard's new "owner"; quotation marks to be explained momentarily] - This is, or was, nearly as big a mystery as why people really give a damn about the horse's- asses collective known as Big Brother. But, as usual, I digress. Kudos to "Turnip of Power" and Mama ASID of BadGals Radio fame [her anti-Entrecard blog is known as "It's EntrePod"] for the 411. Sort of. I mean, they presented everything that is known about ZR; the problem is, there's just not much to know. Based in Southern California, it appears to be little more than a front for venture capitalist Andrew Te. Through ZR, Te invested 112k in EC [a lot of two-letter names and abbreviations in that sentence; maybe I'm not as much off sabbatical as I thought...]. Given the current economic climate, Mr. Te [why do I picture him wrapped in chains, saying, "I pity the fool who don't pay up!"?] probably called in his investment. Which he had every right to do. Despite Graham's many attempts at making EC profitable [or at least break-even able], at the end of the day, he couldn't pay off his chop. While it may seem unusually kind for Te to allow Langdon's loss of the company to him to be called an "acquisition", it allows both of them to save face; entrepreneur Graham goes on to another project [that said, I didn't know the act of writing a blog made one an entrepreneur; maybe I'm doing better than I thought], investor Te can pretend he didn't sink 112k into the Blogosphere equivalent of the Titanic; big smiles for everybody!

- what happens to EC? - Damn good question. As "ToP" and Mama ASID point out, ZRInc has no obvious interests in development anywhere else in the Internet. It's unlikely Te has much interest in trying to solve EC's problems. He's trying to get his money back. Investors. at least the smart ones, try not to sink any more money into a losing investment. Te's goal, therefore, is probably to find another purchaser ASAP. Who'd buy? Google and Microsoft, the US and USSR of the ongoing Internet Cold War, are likely pigeons...sorry, players. Then again, $112,000 US is pizza money for these guys. EC is a proven social network. Either one could do worse than buying it and turning its promotional-developmental networks [the Internet's equivalent of the military-industrial complex] loose on it. And the buyer gets to thumb its nose at the other one, which both seem to just live for. As for other possible dance partners, your guess is as good as mine. After all, Te came out of nowhere. There may be others. Fast money takes it, I'm guessing. Will the real problem [finding a profit-making paradigm for EC] be addressed? I'd like to think so. But I was raised a Cynic, and I'm too old to give up the old-time religion now...

-whither Graham? - Short answer; who cares? That said, for all my on-line grumbling about the seemingly endless series of snafus that marked his operation of EC: 1], he had the cojones to go for it, and, 2], he didn't give up on it. Yeah, much of what he tried didn't work. But he tried. When one attempted "fix" failed, he went to another one. And another. And another...but at least he tried.
Now he has a blog, where, if I understand it right, Graham will regale us with stories of his entrepreneurial adventures. Could be interesting. After all, I live in western New York State. A whole cottage industry has grown up around the players of the Buffalo Bills teams of the early 1990's. They can tell marvelous stories about playing in four straight Super Bowls. Unfortunately [and you can't begin to understand how painfully sad the fact makes me], none of them can tell you what it's like to win one. Of course, knowing what not to do does save some preparation time.

Graham, good luck.
ECers, good luck.
Mr. Te, good luck.
And good luck to all of you...

-Mike Riley

Monday, July 6, 2009

Lab Is Closed...

It is with great regret that I must take a break from writing this blog. I have several personal matters to attend to, which will consume the vast majority of the time I used to spend writing it. As of now, I hope to return to blogging, in one form or another, in January of 2010.

I want to thank my readers and commentors for their friendship and insights. So that none of you will worry, please understand that my health is good. I just need to devote my full attention to these "off-stage" matters.

My intention is to leave the previously written posts up, for those who may not have yet read them.Entrecard advertisers: please be aware that I am taking no new ads. Any ads that I have already agreed to use will be presented as scheduled. I intend to leave the EC widget up, but EC may remove it because of no new posts.

Again, with regrets, I declare INTERMISSION. Smoke 'em if you got 'em...

-Mike Riley

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Another Fine Mess

Once a person reaches a certain age - it varies from person to person, but it's usually somewhere in the 40's - he or she begins to realize there are certain constants, things that happen on a regular basis. These constants can be expected, the same way one expects the change of seasons. Other examples include:

- the late-season collapse of [insert your favorite hard-luck team's name here] - for me it's the Buffalo Sabres. You likely have your own choice;

- the unavailability of the outfit you want/need to wear to an event - never fails. And, of course,

- Entrecard shooting itself in the foot - as certain as death and taxes. You know, I don't really enjoy being critical about EC. But its moves are usually ham-handed at best, and downright idiotic at worst. Take the latest announcement from Graham & Co.: offering, for those unable [or unwilling] to visit sites and acquire EC credits "the hard way" [Heaven forbid someone actually have to read a post once in a while!], the option of gathering credits by either purchase or "completing offers" [The purchase option doesn't bother me; if people want to buy EC credits to advertise, well and good. They know what they're buying, and what they're spending]. But "completing offers"? Sounds like the scam certain "apps" on Facebook [and other social sites that offer games] run. Here's how it works: the ad for the credits [or points or whatever] tells you the offer is free, if you do what they tell you to. In practice, this involves you being forced to sign up for one or more "programs" offered by businesses. At best, you'll end up with scads of spam, trying to sell you something [now do you see why people have more than one e-mail address?]; at worst, you're stuck trying to meet a series of conditions that can cost many times more than the value of the item you're getting for free.

Why would a networking site do it? Well, if Entrecard is like most sites that do, they get money for each person who gets involved in the process, as well as their cut of credits actually sold. A percentage of the money made on each person in the process also goes to whomever put the offers together. In the case of EC, they are working with a company called Gambit. Since I kept getting "error" message when I tried to use the link provided to the new service [note to EC: the whips aren't working. Have you considered kindness? It works wonders...], I cut straight to the "middleman"; Gambit. If you're interested, click on the "take the tour" option on the front page. Based on the the sites they note working with, and the "example" of their system, it's likely you've seen this before [I must play the right games on Facebook; almost all of them have a set-up like this, presumably created by Gambit]. I have no reason to believe that Gambit is an inherently dishonest company. But I am a bit troubled by the fact that social networking sites [FB, EC, etc], especially since both Facebook and Entrecard have a large number of pre-adult members, would do business with a service which offers a program built around questionable ethics.

As I said earlier, I don't object to Entrecard selling its credits. I do have serious doubts about the program offered through EC by Gambit. I'd like to think that Entrecard management may have doubts, also. Are desperate times leading to desperate measures?

-Mike Riley

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Random Thoughts Are Better Than No Thoughts At All

Oh, wow. There are still people here? I thought this had become a permanent study hall. Sorry I abandoned you for so long. Part of the problem is that I don't feel particularly expert at blogging tips anymore. Whether your interest is better writing, better visuals, better monitization [is that even a word?], or some combination thereof, there seems to be someone out there writing frequently and consistently [sounds like saying the same thing twice to me; that said, the same post quotes what I think is a good rule: "Don't talk unless you can improve the silence". And if it only were silence!] on the topic, or topics, in question. In the past, I've linked to articles or sites I thought useful; lately, there seem to be so many of them that I don't know what's good or bad anymore. At the end of the day, though [cliches; avoid 'em like the plague], I think the same things that make any type of writing good make blog posts good:

-simple, clear writing is best. And this comes from your ol' buddy, Dr. Verbose! Seriously, the clearer and more easily the idea flows, the easier it is for the person at the other end of Said Communication to get the message. And, as the immortal Wedding Event known as the Hokey-Pokey teaches us, "that's what it's all about".

-plan before you write. I'm not saying outline the whole thing up front [most of us wrote the outline for our papers in school after we completed the assignment]. I am saying have at least an idea in your mind of where you're going [usually from Point A to Point B; by the way, what are Points A and B? And why should we care about them?].

-respect your audience: use proper spelling and grammar. Yeah, we're almost all of us a bit weak on points of grammar. But in this era of SpellCheck there is simply no excuse to mis-spell the words you choose. If you don't respect your words enough to use them properly, why should your reader respect them enough to read them?

Another reason that I've lost the fire that I once had for blogging tips is that I'm tired of Entrecard! There, I've said it. Everyone who drops here that hasn't received a reciprocal drop in recent days now knows why. Frequently in this blog, I've taken on the role of EC Whipping Boy. No, not the victim of scorn from the 125 X 125 crew; more the part of the person wielding the cat o'nine tails [in my own defense, I was only critical of those things that I felt needed criticism. Indeed, I was cautiously optimistic about EC selling ads in its ubiquitous widgets. The firestorm that blew up and out over the short-lived policy of not allowing paid-ad refusals was much ado over nothing: Since bloggers, by right of creation, own their blogs, of course they would have the right of refusal]. I stayed on the sidelines during the whole "must register to use Forums" controversy because, one, I almost never read them, and two, the whole EC Forum section has been so controversial as long as I can remember, it seems useless to tackle any one issue.

What else is making headlines on the 'Net? Facebook? As a time-killer extraordinaire, it's a little marvel [my favorite apps are, in no particular order, Street Racing, Metropolis, Vampire Wars, Mafia Wars, and the one that lets you "suck your friends' Lollipops"]. I enjoy taking a quiz or two, usually the ones that challenge my memory of 60's and 70's cartoon shows. And it is without question the best way to realize just how many people you went to school with that you don't remember anymore. But, when all's said and done, it's just as useful [mostly not at all] as Twitter. If you're a celebrity, trying to promote your agenda by sending out little messages to a large group of "followers", I get it. But for the average person, who cares? You're going shopping. Who cares? You're having dinner with friends [obviously, ones you think more highly of than the ones who are getting the "tweets", since you're having dinner with them]. That's nice. Who cares? (As for those souls who feel compelled to share information concerning their bodily functions, you have my honest sympathy. But not a bit of my interest.)
Don't get me wrong. I haven't yet given up on this space, and will post to it whenever something seems necessary to say. But you probably won't see a lot here, at least for the foreseeable future. Check in periodically [unless you're here daily, dropping, dropping, dropping those EC cards]. I'll show up just when you least expect it. And I'll probably yammer critically on something I know nothing about. It's what I do best...
-Mike Riley

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The NEW "New Entrcard Economy"

Friends, I have bad news to report; the ladies at BadGalsRadio are pissed. Then again, I can see their point. They declare their anger in this post, a fundamental blast against the Entrecard "drop and run" technique. To be fair, EC does not endorse "d 'n' r", nor do they encourage it. Then again, in a system which allows, no, requires the acquisition of vast numbers of EC credits [which can then be used to advertise on the most popular EC blogs], what did they expect would happen?

To be fair, Graham and Co. have tried several ways to get droppers to linger and comment. Limiting the number of drops per blog in theory should give EC'ers the time to leave a comment or two [of course, serious 'Carders simply started multiple blogs, then shifted credits around as needed]. SezWho seemed to be a step in the right direction, but went nowhere [technical issues at the launch didn't help]. Comment contests were nice, but only for the host blogs [and, if memory serves me right, most of the comments were, at best, "Great blog! Hi..."; at worst, they were an excuse for link requests and monitization offers (obviously people who, again, weren't even reading the blogs).]. Nothing seems to work.

Another issue BadGals is aggravated by is this weekend's announcement by EC that, starting very soon, it will sell advertising on blogs, reducing [in theory; see below] the maximum number of ad impressions to 50 % in some cases [if paid ads run on specific blogs]. As EC's in-house J. Arthur Crank, you'd think I'd be bothered by the whole thing myself. Truthfully, though, I'm rather blase about it. Of course Entrecard needs to find a revenue stream to support itself; selling advertising is a reasonable way for the company to do so [with tens of thousands of users, it certainly has an audience]. And, for the vast majority of EC blogs, nothing will change. Let me explain: enterprises spending money on advertising will want the biggest "bang for their buck" [or Euro, Australian Dollar, or, well, you get the idea]. There is already a whole sub-industry on the Internet concerning keywords, ideal ad placement, etc. "Real-world" advertisers already have experts advising them on where to spend a shrinking advertising budget. EC ad buyers will almost certainly want to purchase space on the most popular blogs, within their field of interest. Sure, there will likely be some experimental "mass buys", wherein an advertiser will consider buying space on a large number of blogs within a category. But I expect these to be few and far between.

One point I disagree with the BadGals on; those blogs that are chosen by "money" advertisers will receive compensation, at least to the degree they are willing to sell acquired credits back to EC [I'm assuming "selling credits back" is not mandatory; it shouldn't be. None of this should be mandatory...]. Will EC get the lion's share of the compensation? Of course it will; it created the mass of audience, and it's handling the sales of space.

One point I agree with BG on; there should be no penalty for rejecting advertising. In the above paragraph I said, I think rightly, that EC created the "mass of audience". It did so by creating the social network that is Entrecard. But the most popular blogs within EC are responsible for creating their own following. Just as a radio or TV station, newspaper or magazine can choose to turn down advertising not consistent with its philosophy, EC blogs should be free to refuse advertising they are for any reason uncomfortable with, without penalty, save the loss of compensation. We the bloggers own our blogs. It is our toil, tears, and sweat that power them [no matter what Blogger thinks; of course, with their "I power Blogger" buttons, they've shown that they get the message].
Once again, Entrecard is rolling the dice. Unlike some of their previous attempts, I believe this one could lead to a stronger Entrecard framework, which will make the whole network of blogs more secure. Let's see who comes to the table. Let's see who chooses to sell ad space. Let's see who rejects it, and why. Let's be observant, patient, and willing to let this brave new EC world play itself out for a while.
-Mike Riley