The New Blog

A fresh start on a new life.

I decided to start a brand new blog today — a place where I can document the new things in my life: my new home, activities, friends, and lovers.

I won’t be abandoning this blog — I’ll keep posting about the usual things. But I will use the new blog to post information about the new things I’m doing to move forward in my life as I finish up my divorce and leave behind the man I loved for 29+ years.

The new blog will remain pretty much private until the divorce is finalized. A few of my close friends will get the URL. If you want the URL, contact me.

I’m looking forward to working on this new project and documenting my new life. I hope you’ll join me there.

Spam from a Wannabe Guest Blogger

You have to know how to read before you can write.

Today, I received the following e-mail message, sent to me via my blog’s content form:

Subject: Guest Blog Post on Tech Gadgets

Message Body:
Hello,

My name is [redacted], and I found your blog on a consumer electronic blogroll.

I would love to contribute to your blog by being a guest writer and focusing specifically on technology gadgets. Getting the best deal on tech gadgets like TVs, computers, or smartphones takes some serious strategy. We all know that products like the iPhone get launched at $500 and, within a few months, sell for nearly half the price, but do all electronic goods follow this pattern? When’s the best time to buy? This article gives you the insider secrets, so you can get your gadgets at rock bottom prices.

Are you interested in my writing an article for you?

Thank you for your time and best regards,

[redacted]

Blog Content Guild – 1015 Bee Caves Woods Dr, Suite 102 – Austin, TX 78746

About the Blog Content Guild:
The Blog Content Guild is an organization that provides blog writers with the opportunity to make a living writing about products and services. The writers then work to place their writing on other blog sites that are relevant to those product and service offerings.

(Please let me know if you don’t want to receive any more emails from me or others at the Blog Content Guild.)

PS – I love your website aneclecticmind.com

Screen Door by CharlieUnderstand that I’m in a foul mood this afternoon. I went out to run a few errands, leaving our new dog, Charlie, in the condo’s small walled-in patio. When I returned 40 minutes later, he greeted me in the parking lot. He had escaped by tearing down some metal mesh and squeezing through the back gate. He then tried to get back into the apartment through the screen security door, tearing the screen to shreds from the outside.

So getting a request from someone wanting to be a guest blogger really pissed me off a lot more than it normally might have.

Why would it piss me off at all? Well, he contacted me using the form on my Contact page. And that page has a section with a heading that says:

Guest Bloggers

This is a personal blog. It does not accept guest posts.

What’s more is that the first paragraph under the Contact Form heading says:

First, read the above. All of it.

So this clown used a form on a page that says I don’t accept guest posts to ask me if I would accept his guest post.

I guess when you’re spamming every blogger who you can find a contact method for, it doesn’t really matter whether you a get clear indication in advance that your request won’t get a positive response. After all, spam is spam. Does it really matter whether you target the right audience?

Of course, I just had to see what Blog Content Guild was, so I looked it up. The first item on a numbered list on their home page explains what they do:

We work on behalf of companies who want to increase the buzz in the blogosphere

In other words, advertisers pay them and their bloggers to write blog posts about their products. They basically sell advertisements disguised as objective advice or product review blog posts — just the kind of misleading crap people with low moral standards are willing to publish to turn a buck.

I composed a typically nasty response:

Wow! You’ve already amazed me with your complete inability to read; I don’t have very high expectations about your ability to research and write intelligently about a topic. But then again, writing original, objective content is probably not something folks at Blog Content Guild do.

Maybe if you would have read the information on the Contact page where you found the form you used to contact me, you’d see why you’re not likely to ever write a post on my blog.

But then again, I’m sure your query to me was just one of dozens you fired out to the blogosphere today. Spam, pure and simple. I’m sure you spend more of your time composing and sending spam than writing actual content.

I didn’t send it. I figured that if he really loved my website so much, he’d see it here when he returned to read the latest new content.

Or not.

Dealing with Trolls

A few comments from experience.

I just finished writing a pretty lengthy article about blog comment moderation for Maria’s Guides, the site where I’m putting most of my tech content these days. The piece, which will appear tomorrow, has a lot of tips and advice for bloggers.

But it also touches on the topic of Internet trolls — you know, those people who use the veil of anonymity to disrupt forums and blog comment threads with offensive, controversial, or off-topic commentary, mostly to get a rise out of other commenters.

Trolls aren’t new. In the old days, we referred to them as flamers and the exchanges that resulted from their behavior were flame wars.

I’ve dealt with trolls and people who just don’t have any courtesy at all on this site and elsewhere. I have since learned and confirmed that the only way to deal with trolls and other offensive commenters is to (1) prevent them from having a voice on my blog, (2) ignoring them on other blogs/forums, and (3) in extreme cases, avoiding blogs/forums where they comment.

In other words, ignore them and they will go away.

June 30, 2014 Update
I’ve finally gotten around to writing up the site comment policy on a regular page (rather than post) on this site. You can find it here: Comment Policy.

You would not believe some of the crap people attempt to post on this blog. “Offensive” is putting it mildly sometimes. But I have a strict comment policy — thanks to the abuse I put up with in the past — and I stick to it. Post a comment that violates the site comment policy and your comment will never be seen by anyone on this site.

What does this do? Well, the casual troll who doesn’t come back to reel in his victims doesn’t even notice that his comment has been deleted. And since the offensive comment never appeared, no one replies in kind or in defense of what was said. No more trolling, no flame war.

The hard-core trolls — those folks who actually use their offensive comments to get under people’s skin and then feed upon the responses — they do notice that their comments didn’t appear. Sometimes they try again. Other times they complain in a comment or in email. Sometimes they get even more offensive. Guess what? I delete that crap, too. And after a while — after they have wasted minutes or even hours and days of their pitiful lives trying to cause trouble here — they give up and go away.

Yes: Ignore them and they’ll go away.

After all, there’s always other more fertile ground for their efforts: blogs and forums that aren’t moderated by people who care.

Result: there are no trolls here. This blog remains a civil discourse zone.

Now, apparently there are a handful of bloggers who doubt the “ignore them and they’ll go away” concept. These people have evidently spent too much time on blogs where trolls are allowed — or perhaps even encouraged — and have likely been victimized. Some of these people have also been contacted by email and offended there. These people have begun speaking up, whining and complaining on their blogs and elsewhere. They seem to think that we somehow need to fight back against trolls — perhaps by stooping to their level and getting just as offensive in our responses.

Each time these people post one of their whining complaints against trolling they are feeding the trolls. That’s right. They’re just letting the trolls know that their offensive comments are hitting their marks and giving them plenty of ammunition to keep up the trolling.

I maintain that the best way to fight back against trolls is to…well, I already said it above. Do I really need to repeat it here?

Get a grip, folks. This isn’t high school. Stop acting like it is.

Comments? Let ’em rip. Just remember the Site Comment Policy. I take it seriously here.

Update: @Beeclef on Twitter shared this link. Very funny.

New Social Networking Scam

Another story from my inbox.

Yesterday, the following e-mail message from “Ben” arrived in my e-mail inbox. It had been sent using the contact form on this blog. Here’s the text with the identifying information redacted.

Hi,

My name is Ben and I’m working with the [dedacted TV channel] to help spread the word about their new outdoor photography show, “[redacted name of show].” The second episode airs [redacted date/time] and follows [redacted host name] as he photographs the red rock canyons of the American Southwest.

I came across your wonderful blog and I thought you might be interested in doing a post to let your readers know about the show and help spread the awareness. Any posts that you put up will go up on [dedacted TV channel]’s Facebook Page and/or their twitter page- so it is a good way to get some publicity for your own site. I also have a copy of [redacted host’s name] ‘[redacted host’s book]’ which I could offer out to you for your time.

I’ve put some info about the show, pics, and videos below just to give you some background. If you have any questions or need more information please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Thanks for your time and let me know if you are interested as it would be so great to have your help.

Best,

Ben

What followed was a bunch of links to content in various places that evidently showed off the show. (I admit that I didn’t follow any of them.)

Bryce Canyon DawnI received the message on my iPhone while I was stuck waiting for a tow truck (long story) and, because of that, didn’t really read it carefully. At first, I was flattered. This well-known TV channel had found my blog, liked it, and wanted to work with me on some publicity for their show. This made me feel really good because, as regular visitors here know, I do a lot of photography in red rock country in Arizona and in Utah. It looked as if I were getting a bit of recognition.

But when I got back to my office and re-read the message on my computer screen, I realized that the message was obviously boilerplate. Nowhere did it mention my name, the name of my blog, or any other identifying piece of information that might make me think it was written specifically to me. “Your wonderful blog” could be a nice way to refer to anyone’s online drivel — provided you wanted to make them feel warm and fuzzy about your project.

I’d been duped.

Or almost duped.

I then took a closer look at the domain name on “Ben’s” e-mail address. It wasn’t from that TV channel. I popped the URL into my browser and found myself looking at a Web site for a company claiming to be “social media marketing & publicity specials” that “develop strategies and execute initiatives, which generate conversations & cultivate relationships between brands and publishers.” In other words, they con active members of the social networking community to tweet and blog about their clients.

For free.

Well, the client doesn’t get their services for free. It’s Ben and his company who get the services of the social networking folks for free. Free authoring, free placement of the ads, free “buzz.” Ben and his cohorts just send out boilerplate messages to lure in unsuspecting bloggers who apparently have little else to write about. Along the way, they get these bloggers to look at the content on their clients’ sites, bumping up the hit counter to show immediate results.

I’m wondering how many bloggers fall for this strategy and how many thousands of dollars Ben & Co. rake in weekly by copying and pasting boilerplate messages on the Web.

I composed my response:

Ben,

I’m interested in this, but admit that I’m a bit put off by being ask to write what’s essentially an advertisement and place it on my own blog without compensation. Not quite sure how this would benefit me. A few additional hits to my blog would be nice, but since my blog does not generate any income for me, getting more hits is not really that important to me.

I also wonder how many dozens (or hundreds) of other bloggers you’ve contacted. Your message was very generic and could have been sent to anyone with a “wonderful blog.”

Now if I were offered compensation via exposure for my helicopter charter company (http://www.flyingmair.com/), which specializes in aerial photography over red rock areas such as Sedona and Lake Powell — well that might interest me a bit more.

Or is your message just another bit of spam to get ME to check out this site? So far, it’s a FAIL.

Any interest in making this more appealing to me?

Maria

I’m waiting for a response that likely won’t come. Why should he respond to me when he probably has dozens or hundreds of other bloggers taking the bait?

In the meantime, Ben has indeed given me something to blog about.

Spam is Spam

Don’t try to advertise your products and services on my blog.

June 30, 2014 Update
I’ve finally gotten around to writing up the site comment policy on a regular page (rather than post) on this site. You can find it here: Comment Policy.

For some reason lately, my blog — and many others, I’ve heard — has been attracting a much larger than usual amount of comment spam. Comment spam — in case you’re not familiar with the term — is an attempt by spammers to incorporate links to products, services, or Web sites they’re trying to promote in the comments on blog posts. Smart bloggers use spam filters like Akismet (which I use) to separate the obvious spam from what might be legitimate comments. Some bloggers let everything that their spam filter doesn’t catch get published to their blog, but I don’t. I review and approve every single comment. This is all laid out in my site’s comment policy.

This site attracts, on average, about 100 spam comments a day. Lately, that number has quadrupled. On another one of my sites, Maria’s Guides, spam has increased tenfold. Apparently, there’s a new spam tool available for spammers. But Akismet has me covered.

Akismet, unfortunately, doesn’t catch all spam. One or two spam comments slip through each day. I dutifully delete them — or, more accurately, mark them as spam so Akismet will recognize them as such in the future — even if they appear to have been manually entered by a real person. (Most comment spam is entered automatically by spamming software.)

What some people don’t seem to understand is that my blog does not exist as a platform for them to advertise their goods and services — especially if those goods and services compete with mine. What can people possibly be thinking if they attempt to advertise their helicopter charter service or computer how-to book on a blog post that talks about my service or book? Do they think that I spend hours every week building a platform for their advertising? I don’t.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not discouraging comments here. I’m just asking readers to think about their comment before adding it:

  • Is it on topic? Most spam is not.
  • Does it add to the conversation, and thus, to the value of the blog to other readers? A comment written solely to advertise a product or service rarely adds to the conversation. And yes, it is possible to mention and discuss a product or service without it being an advertisement.
  • Does it provide information about products and services that compete with the blog author’s business? You can’t honestly expect a blogger to allow comments that would reduce his or her ability to earn a living.

If the answer to any of these questions is NO, don’t post it. You’re wasting your time since it’ll never appear here.

And here’s a tip: you’re far more likely to have a comment containing product or service information accepted here if you’re a regular commenter.

If your first comment here simply presents information about a product or service, it’s all to obvious to me that your sole purpose for posting it is to spam my blog. Don’t waste your time. It only takes me a second to click the Spam button.

When Is an Ad Not an Ad?

When it’s part of a blog post.

The other day, I was contacted by e-mail by someone who claimed to represent an advertising company that bought text ads on small blogs. They were interested in placing an ad on Maria’s Guides.

I was interested. It’s always nice to make a few bucks with advertising. I replied that I was interested but did not accept ads for pharmaceuticals, casinos/gambling, or sex/dating services. He got back to me within 24 hours and told me the rate they’d pay, which was agreeable, and the fact that they just wanted to ad to appear in one post on the site.

That should have started alarm bells ringing, but it didn’t. I had another advertiser some time ago who bought 10 ads, each on a different post. Targeting, I supposed.

He got back to me the next day with the text of the ad. It was about three sentences, one of which included a link to some kind of mobile Internet service. The ad was written in first person and ended with a the phrase “[Redacted company name] gets a big thumbs up in my book.”

I read the instructions. They wanted me to place the text of the ad, with its link, in the middle of a paragraph of blog post text. As if it were part of the post and I was the one giving the thumbs up.

I wrote back:

I don’t think you understand. I agreed to an advertisement. I didn’t agree to modify my blog post’s text to apparently recommend an organization I know nothing about.

I wouldn’t mind putting similar text — without the recommendation — in a box floating “above the fold” within the post. That box would be titled “Sponsored Link” or something similar. But I will NOT put it into the post itself as if I wrote it.

Obviously, he wasn’t interested in an advertisement. He was interested in a paid endorsement. He wrote back to thank me and let me know he’d remove me from his contact list.

I guess some bloggers will do anything for a few bucks. I won’t.

What’s More Important: Your Beliefs or Your Follower Count?

Should you really be worried about losing followers for voicing your opinion on blogs and social networks?

About two weeks ago, I linked to a story on NPR.org titled “Redefining Empathy in Light of web’s Long Memory.” The basis of the story is the sad fact that people have been losing their jobs or having old personal information resurface publicly because of information posted on the Web. This information isn’t usually damaging when looked at objectively, but when taken out of context or examined through magnifying glasses wielded by small-minded people, they can be embarrassing — or in one instance covered in the story, ruin someone’s life.

I linked to the story on Twitter because a very close Twitter friend, who is new to social networking, had been making foolish comments on Twitter and Facebook — comments far more likely to get her in trouble than the examples in the story. But it was another Twitter friend who replied:

That article is a good reason for not posting politics or religious views online. I’ve had followers drop me for posting religious

The tweet was cut off by Twitter’s 140-character minimum, but you can end it with the word “views” or “articles” and you’ll get the gist of what he was saying.

Indeed, I know exactly what he means. Although he and I share general religious views — that is, we’re non-believers — he had a tendency to link to the more radically inspired content online, content that could be seen as seriously offensive by believers. (Hell, some of it even offended me to the point that I stopped following his links.) While it’s one thing to read and link to logic-based arguments against religion by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, it’s quite another to read and link to “radical atheist” content. It’s one thing to say, “I don’t believe and here’s why;” it’s another to say “You’re a moron for believing.”

I did notice that he’d stopped tweeting so many of those links, but it wasn’t until his response above that I realized why.

And this got me thinking about something else: why we blog or participate in social networks.

Does Follower Count Matter?

Follower count is never something that concerned me — especially on Twitter. The vast majority of people on Twitter don’t actively participate. How can they when some of them are following hundreds or thousands of people? Twitter would become a full-time job if you actually read the tweets of more than 100-200 people.

(This, by the way, is one of the reasons I’ve never followed more than 140 people at a time and am constantly dropping noisemakers in favor of thought-provokers. I actually read the tweets in my timeline. You can read more about my thoughts on the follower count game in “Twitter is NOT a Popularity Contest.”)

So if so few followers actually read and respond to what you say, the overall value of followers is diminished. You’re not networking when the communication is ignored. That leaves me to wonder why people should actually care about how many followers they have.

After all, it’s not the quantity of your followers, it’s the quality. I’d rather have just 10 followers who interact with me daily than 5,000 followers who seem to ignore everything I say. It’s the networking aspect of Twitter that attracts me.

Should Your Social Networking Activities be a Lie?

So that brings up the more serious ramifications of my Twitter friend’s tweet: changing what he tweets to preserve follower count. Even though he reads radical atheist content and obviously feels strongly about it — strong enough to share it, anyway — he stopped sharing it because he doesn’t want to lose followers.

“…a good reason for not posting politics or religious views online…” are his exact words. But I’ll argue this: if your political or religious views are important to you, why should you hide them? They are part of your personal makeup — they’re what make you who you are. To pretend that they’re not is akin to lying about who you are.

To omit them from your social networking activities will prevent you from finding other people who share the same views you have. And isn’t that why we participate in social networks? To meet and interact with people who share similar views?

The Special Case of Bloggers

Bloggers, of course, face this dilemma in a much more magnified way. Our blog posts aren’t limited to 140 characters a pop. We can go on and on about any topic we like, linking to content, quoting content, opining on the values of that content. We can make complex arguments for or against anything we like. Or we can simply share a link and let our readers do their own homework, forming their own opinions about a topic without help from us.

Either way, the blog post is out there and it stays out there. It’s not 140 characters that flit through the Twitter timelines of the people who follow us, disappearing almost as quickly as they appeared. It’s out there, archived, accessible, searchable. There are comments associated with it, RSS feeds that direct to it, other blogs (and even feed-scraped sploggs) that link to it.

Should bloggers be concerned about sharing their opinions on controversial topics such as politics and religion?

It all depends on what they’re trying to achieve with their blogs. If their blogs exist to voice opinions on these topics, being shy would defeat their purpose. If their blogs exist as a personal journal of what’s going on in their lives and minds (like mine does for me), hiding their thoughts about these things — especially when these things are important to them — would be akin to putting up a false front to their readers — and betraying themselves. But if their blogs are intended to showcase a product or service or way of life, adding their opinions on non-related controversial topics is probably not a good idea.

The Importance of Being True to Yourself

And then there are people like me: people who have non-mainstream opinions but, because of their work, should probably present a mainstream face to the public. I’m sure there are a lot of us out there, but it was only recently that I found someone with a situation so similar to mine that I took great comfort in his blog’s existence. (I’m referring to Ted Landau‘s Slanted Viewpoint.)

While I don’t consider my opinions extreme, I know they’re not mainstream. They are shared by quite a few people, but usually not the outspoken ones you see on television. (It’s ironic to me that the “conservatives” are the loudest, most outspoken Americans; what’s that about?) Still, when I write a blog post voicing my opinions about something like religion or politics, I get a lot of nasty, hateful feedback from readers who seem to have gone out of their way to visit my blog and blast me. The most obvious example, which amazes me to this day, is the outrage of “Christians” over my post, “The Bible in the Refrigerator.” These people got so abusive in comments that I had to shut the comments down. (And don’t bother entering a comment about that post here; it won’t appear.)

So what do I do? Betray myself by pretending not to be outraged by the stupidity and ignorance I see in today’s world — just to make the mainstream happy? Pretend that I’m not offended by having someone else’s religion thrust on me every day of my life? Pretend that I’m content with a political system rendered ineffective by partisanship bullshit?

Does the world really need yet another middle-of-the road blogger? I don’t think so.

But what’s more important is this: Do I pretend I’m someone I’m not just to maximize the appeal of my blog to readers? Do I sell myself out just to give all the “fans” of my books a warm and cuddly feeling about me?

The answer, of course, is no. Because just like Twitter follower count, the number of blog readers or subscribers is meaningless to me. What matters is the quality of the readers, not the quantity. I want my blog read by people who are smart, people who can think, people who can comment with their opinions — whether they agree or disagree — in a clear, unoffensive way that furthers the discussion and makes me — and other readers — think.

So I’ll put that question to everyone who participates in social networking: What’s more important, your beliefs or your follower count?