Twitter Spam

Turning a fun thing into more marketing crap.

I’ve been using Twitter for about two months now. It’s part of my daily routine. Unfortunately, other people have also been using it — for their own selfish purposes.

How I Use Twitter

I start up my main Mac and Twitterific automatically appears. I use it to scroll back to see what the folks I’ve been following have been up to for the past few hours. Sometimes, their tweets include links to interesting articles on the Web. Other times, they give me ideas for articles or stories or just things to think about. And other times, they’re just plain boring. Let’s face it — we can’t all be interesting all of the time.

I tweet throughout the day while I’m working. I also have something set up somewhere (I forgot now) that automatically posts a tweet whenever I post a blog entry. That’s all automated, which is a good thing. On a good day, I can put out 5 or more entries.

I like the reassuring tweet and ping sound when a new tweet comes in on Twitterific. I work alone at my desk with only Alex the Bird (in the next room) and Jack the Dog (under my desk) for company. While Alex does plenty of talking, none of it is very meaningful. Getting tweets from people I follow is like hearing from the outside world. I may be physically alone, but there are people out there doing stuff and thinking about things and they’ve made me part of their world by tweeting. Andy’s doing his computer and hacking stuff all over the U.K. Miraz is raising her dogs while working at a desk in New Zealand, not much different from mine, 20 hours into the future. Leanne is practicing her saxophone, doing gigs, and teaching at a college. Mignon is researching and recording podcasts and getting interviewed. Mike, the good dad, is doing stuff with his kid and making plans for the next addition to his family. It’s digital but it’s live and real and it gives me company throughout the day. And, in more than a few instances, I’ve actually learned things from these people, most of whom are complete strangers to me.

I also tweet when I’m out and about. When I invested in my Treo, I also invested, for the first time ever, in a text messaging plan. I get up to 250 text messages a month. That might not seem like a lot to the folks who text to their friends and family members throughout the day, but to me, it’s a ton. So I post tweets via telephone. (I also use my Treo to post photos to my TumbleLog when I happen to see something interesting or funny.) For example, I tweeted whenever possible during my recent Alaska vacation and maybe — just maybe — I gave a few folks some ideas of what to see or do if they ever head up there.

Enter the Opportunists

If you use Twitter regularly, you’ve likely gotten e-mail messages from Twitter telling you that you have a new friend and offering a link to that “friend’s” tweets on the Twitter Web site.

At first, you might feel flattered — here’s a stranger that wants to keep track of what you’re doing. You might decide to thank him or her (or it — sometimes gender is unknown — by making him/her/it your friend.

But stop! Wait! Do your homework.

I’ve discovered that more than a few Twitter users don’t give a damn about anyone else’s tweets. All they want to do is suck other Twitter users into following their tweets. And their tweets are full of self-promotional bull or plain old advertisements.

Take, for example, PersonX. I won’t use this person’s name because, until recently, I was following her tweets and she may still follow mine. I didn’t realize it at the time, but PersonX had at least 3 Twitter accounts. It should have tipped me off when all three became my friends at the same time. Two of the accounts — I’ll call them AccountY and AccountZ — were for informational “services” posted as tweets. One, for example, provided quotes from literature. I can’t remember what the other one did — I didn’t stick with it long. PersonX’s tweets were all about how popular AccountY and AccountZ were getting. Or, if they weren’t getting popular, they were musings about why they were being ignored. It was pretty obvious that this person’s accounts were solely to promote herself and these useless services.

One particularly popular Twitter member tweets throughout the day with the latest on who he’s interviewing and what cool new product he’s been allowed to play with. Then, later in the day, he releases a bunch of @name responses to the people who have tweeted directly to him all day. Reading a dozen of these in a row — especially when you’re not following the tweets of the person he’s responding to — is a real bore. Thank heaven Twitter only allows 140 characters. I could see a person like this filling the bandwidth with one-sided personal conversations that no one else cares about.

A few other people I’ve followed in the past just tweet links to articles they’ve written or promotional material. Someone who’s curious might follow these links and, thus, waste a bunch of time reading ads. There are quite a few of these people out there. More than there should be.

All this, in my opinion, is Twitter spam.

Do Your Homework

It’s easy to prevent yourself from adding self-promotional opportunists as Twitter friends. Just do your homework in advance.

How? Simple. When you get an e-mail message telling you that PersonY has added you as a friend, click the link in the message that displays the person’s most recent tweets. (This will be something like http://twitter.com/username.) Read them. Decide whether this kind of content is something that interests you. If it’s not, ignore him. If it is, add him as a friend.

Removing a Friend

About Me on TwitterIt sounds cruel, but if someone you’ve added as a friend turns out to be someone who posts a lot of crap that you’re not interested in, it’s easy to remove their Tweets from what you see.

There are a few ways to do this. One way is to go to your Twitter home page (http://twitter.com/yourname/) and click the Friends link in the About box on the right side of the page.

This will list all of your friends:

Image

For each friend, you should see at least two links beneath the Friend’s name:

  • Leave username basically ignores the friend for a while by not displaying his links for you.
  • Remove username removes the friend from your list of friends. I’m ruthless, so this is the one I usually pick.

To my knowledge, the friend does not receive an e-mail message saying that you have left or removed him. So you don’t have to worry about insulting him or him bugging you about it.

Oh, and if a Twitter member is obviously using Twitter solely for spam-like communications, do us all a favor and report him. The Twitter team offers a form for assistance; you can use the same form to report a Twitter member’s unacceptable behavior.

I Still Like Twitter, Despite Any Shortcomings

I still like Twitter. It makes me feel as if I’m part of a community, even while I’m sitting alone all day in my office. I’m just very picky about who I follow — I have only 33 Twitter friends as I write this — and I’m quick to turn off the Tweets of the people too quick to promote themselves or their products.

And I think that’s vital for any serious Twitter user.

Using Creative Commons to Stop Scraping

An excellent article on PlagiarismToday.

As a blogger, feed scraping is one of my pet peeves. It irks me to no end that sploggers use automated tools to copy my copyrighted content from my site to sites that exist solely to attract clicks on AdSense and other ads.

Jonathan Bailey likely feels the same way. He writes about the topic regularly in his blog, providing well-researched and insightful commentary to help understand and fight the problem.

His recent article, “Using Creative Commons to Stop Scraping” on PlagiarismToday:

Many sites, including this one , have expressed concerns that CC licenses may be encouraging or enabling scraping.

The problem seems to be straightforward. If a blog licenses all of their content under a CC license, then a scraper that follows the terms of said license is just as protected as a human copying one or two works….

However, after talking with Mike Linksvayer, the Vice President of Creative Commons, I’m relieved to say that is not the case. CC licenses have several built-in mechanisms that can prevent such abuse.

In fact, when one looks at the future of RSS, it is quite possible that using a CC license might provide better protection than using no license at all.

The article then goes on to explain what a Creative Commons license is and what it requires of the licensee. As Jonathan explains, the automation tools that sploggers use simply cannot meet all of the requirements of a CC license, thus putting the sploggers in clear violation of the license terms.

If you’ve been wondering about copyright as it applies to your blog or Web site, be sure to check out this article. While you’re at PlagiarismToday, poke around a bit. I think you’ll find plenty of other good material to help you understand copyright and what you can do when your rights are violated.

eBook Copyright Infringement

An author’s worst nightmare.

I use Google Alerts to get a daily list of posts that match keywords I provide. Among the search phrases I have alerts for is “Maria Langer.” Yes, I’m trying to see if anyone else in the blogosphere is writing about me.

Just back from a 2-week vacation, I started going through the alerts. There usually aren’t many for me, so I did those first. And I came across something that made my blood boil: a blog that includes free download links to copyrighted eBooks. And, as you might imagine, one of them was mine.

My book is being distributed as a Compiled HTML Help File (.chm) file, complete with hypertext TOC and all screenshots. Other books are being distributed as PDFs. Where did these books come from? My publisher has not responded to that question. Could it be that publishers are releasing books in unprotected, easily shared formats? Could they be that stupid?

I immediately went into defense mode. First, I confirmed that the download links gave me a free copy of the book in question. It did. Then, I called and e-mailed my editor to tell her about the problem, providing her with a link to the blog. Then I composed a DMCA notice to Google and faxed it to them and my editor. Next, I contacted some of the other publishers whose books appeared on the page. Finally, I went to the sites hosting the ebook files and reported the file links as abuse.

All this ate up about 2 hours of my day — on a day set aside to catch up after vacation.

Now I’m waiting to see what comes of my actions. At the very least, I want the entire blog and files removed. I think that may happen quickly.

But what I really want is for the people who posted the links to be arrested and tried for copyright infringement. I don’t care if they get off — the legal fees alone for their defense should teach them a lesson. But I don’t think this will happen.

The thing that bothers me most is this: I discovered this one pirate blog. How many others are out there that I haven’t discovered?

And how many authors are having their work ripped off?

Update: 2:55 PM

I discovered soon after writing this post that the blog in question is a pirate blog that’s also got a lot of limited interest software available for download. One of the makers of this pirated software is AT&T. I called their sales staff and told them about their software being listed for free download in an effort to get AT&T involved. They have a lot of clout (as you could imagine). The sales guy said AT&T is very interested in this kind of thing.

One of the sites that was hosting my book file has deleted the file at my request. I’m hoping the other two do so quickly, also.

How to Handle Reciprocal Link Requests

Why you shouldn’t always say yes.

This morning, I got a feedback message from the owner of another Web site:

My name is [omitted] and I have recently visited your site and wondered
whether you might be interested in exchanging a reciprocal link with our site.

If interested, please respond with a reciprocal link to my website.
======= ======== ======== ======================
Here is our website information:
————————————
Home page URL: http://[omitted[
Website Title: [omitted] Directory
Description: A Wholesalers and Dropshippers directory for traders, ebayers and new businesses.
E-mail Address: [omitted]
Category: (wholesale, wholesalers, dropship, dropshippers, suppliers, trade, Business, Business Services)
Keywords: wholesale, wholesalers, dropship, dropshippers, suppliers, trade, wholesaler, wholesales, directory, list, goods, products, uk, usa, Wholesale Products, wholesale directory, jewelry, clothing, product, gift, t shirt, bead furniture, dvd, watches, apparel leather, food, shopping, USA, America, American, Canada

My, that’s quite an informative request for a reciprocal link. I wonder whether he expected me to set up a Web page for him on my site.

I deleted the request without even replying. Why? Let me tell you.

Reciprocal Link, Defined

To make sure we’re all on the same page (no pun intended), let me start by explaining what a reciprocal link is.

A reciprocal link is an arrangement where one Web site owner includes a link to another Web site owner’s site, with the understanding that that other Web site owner will include a link to his site. A links to B and B links back to A.

In general, it seems like a good deal. After all, you’re getting exposure for your site on another site, right? And all it’s costing is the time and effort and page real estate to add the other link — in other words, hardly anything at all.

But Is It a Good Match?

Consider the request I got this morning. The site owner operates a site that’s a directory of wholesalers and dropshippers. Okay. So what does that have to do with my site?

The answer is nothing. There’s no relationship between what I write about here and the information that’s available on his site.

As a result, only a small percentage of my site’s visitors would be remotely interested in the information on his site. And a small percentage of his site’s visitors would be remotely interested in the information on my site.

What’s the Real Cost?

So you might be wondering, what’s the harm of including a link to an unrelated site on your site? After all, it doesn’t really cost anything.

Well, here’s the way I see it. If you included a link to every single site that asked you for a link, you’d soon have a huge link list with little or no value to your site visitors. You’re using up page real estate to clutter up your site with pretty much useless information.

And on the other side of the reciprocating agreement are sites that are doing pretty much the same thing: building long lists of links to unrelated sites, just so they can get your link to theirs. Is anyone really going to find your link — provided they even bother to look — in that long list?

Is it worth degrading your site to get those links? I don’t think so.

And Are These Requests Real?

That brings up the question of whether the requests you receive are real. In other words, did the site owner who contacted you really visit your site and think it would make a good candidate for a reciprocal link?

In this day and age, spam is all too common. It’s possible that your e-mail address got into the hands of someone who is sending the same exact message to thousands of other Web site owners or bloggers.

The message I received is certainly generic enough to go out to anyone. But in my case, I didn’t get it directly by e-mail. Instead, I got it through the use of my Feedback form, which requires either a really smart spambot or a person to create and send the message. So there’s a good chance that this site owner actually did visit my site.

If so, however, what gave him the idea that I’d link to a dropshipper directory?

When to Say Yes

Of course, some reciprocal link requests will be beneficial for both you and the other site owner. But how can you tell? Here are some things to consider:

  • Is it a good match? As I mentioned before, there should be some relationship between the two sites. Would a link to the other site benefit your site’s visitors? If so, it’s worth considering.
  • What is the other site like? Is it a quality site, one you want to send you site’s visitors to? I’ve ignored many link requests to sites that just weren’t up to my standards due to content quality, design, or excessive advertising.
  • How many links are on the other site? Are they links to related sites? Remember, if the other site has hundreds of links to other sites, it’s not likely that anyone looking at the list will find yours.

Of course, once you decide to enter into a reciprocal link agreement with another site, you’ll need to keep tabs on the other site. Has your link to the other site been created as promised? Is it still there, week after week, month after month? This will increase your site management workload a bit. But if the reciprocal link is one worth having, it’s worth the extra effort to keep track of.

Conclusion

If you get a request from another Web site or blog owner for a reciprocal link, don’t just say yes. Do your homework to make sure you really want that link on your site.

A free link isn’t always free.

A Google AdSense Milestone

I break the century mark.

RevenuSenseFor the first time, monthly AdSense earnings from all of my Web sites has passed the $100 mark. That means I actually get a payment for a single month.

Woo hoo!

AdSense is currently covering all costs of hosting and renewing domain names for all of my sites. But that’s about it.

(Obviously, if I was blogging for money, I would have quit a long time ago.)

In case you’re wondering, two thirds of my AdSense revenue comes from wickenburg-az.com, which gets about half as many visitors as this site. That site is a general info site appealing to people interested in the town of Wickenburg. They’re not necessarily techies, so they’re more likely to click ads. This site attracts mostly techies, who are less likely to click (or even see) ads.

I removed all my LinkShare ads from wickenburg-az.com today. I removed them from this site about two months ago. What a waste of code.

Revenue TextLinkAds is just starting to pick up. But I don’t ever expect revenue from that source to surpass AdSense.

And in case you’re wondering, the image shown above is from the RevenuSense widget, which I reviewed here in March.

Keeping Up with the Blogosphere

I’m not the only one struggling.

I use a feed reader (endo) to follow about 30 feeds in a wide range of topics. At least I try to. The trouble is, if I skip a day reading the feeds, no one tells the authors to stop writing. They just keep churning out new material. The result: as I type this, there are 1188 unread blog entries waiting for me in endo.

Sheesh!

Why Don’t I Just Do It?

Why don’t I read them regularly? Well, one of the reasons I subscribe to all these feeds is because they give me food for thought. I’ll read an article and think about it and, in some cases, it’ll get the creative juices flowing so I can write a blog entry based on what I’ve read.

Perfect example is the article I wrote yesterday about notebooks and scratchpads. It wasn’t a good article — I’ll be the first to admit that — primarily because I threw it together without giving it enough thought. (My husband was rushing me. He wanted to go out to dinner. Can you imagine putting food before blogging?) But the seed that became the article came from a blog entry (which I now can’t find) recommending that bloggers keep a notebook beside their computers. I think that’s incredible advice — and it goes against what all the geeks out there recommend — and I realize that I follow it. I wanted to explain why it’s good advice by explaining how I follow it. My post didn’t communicate the story the way I wanted it to, but that’s where the idea came from.

Thinking takes time, which brings up…

…the Other Reason

I simply don’t have the time to read (and think) about them all.

Now you might tell me that I can make the time. And I’d tell you that I really do need to sleep at night and get some paying work done during the day.

I stumbled upon a blog post today, written by Lincoln Adams, who evidently really likes to punish himself with this stuff. From “Can I get back to blogging now??” on Habitation of Justice:

Honestly, I don’t know how some people do it. It took me literally all day just to check out places like Digg, Reddit, MyBlogLog, and so on. Just to read the latest feeds from my newsreader sucked up so much time that before I knew it, it was 3AM and my brain was fried from fatigue and an overload of information. How do people find time not only to sift through the all the crap out there, but also blog 20 posts a day AND work a full time job on top of that? My goodness.

My goodness, too!

Apparently, Lincoln and I have the same problem, only he’s taking it more seriously than I am by actually trying to keep up. I don’t think he writes 20 blog posts a day and I know I don’t. But even two or three can be tough when you’re doing so much other stuff.

Read Less Feeds?

Of course, you might tell me that I should subscribe to fewer feeds. And I’d tell you that I think you’ve got something there.

But which ones to remove? Lately, I’ve been adding more feeds than I’ve been removing.

But I’m starting to think that the ones without full-text feeds will be the ones to go first. Like Slate.com’s feeds. I don’t subscribe to the entire magazine — I did for a while and quickly put an end to that. I subscribe to about 10 different columns. And the problem I have is that all that appears in my feed reader is a tease to get me to the site. While it only takes a few moments to click a link and see if the article is worth reading in full, it would be quicker and easier if I just scanned it in endo. And it would certainly prevent me from being distracted by links to other articles on Slate’s site.

I’m Too Interesting…I Mean Interested

I think my main problem is interests. I have too many of them.

I’m interested in blogging and productivity. I’m interested in writing and traveling. I’m interested in photography and flying. I’m interested in politics and religion — as an observer (rather than a participant) in both. I’m just interested in too much stuff.

And the blogosphere is a great place to find information and viewpoints about all kinds of stuff. So how could I turn up the chance to suck in some fresh new content?

So I subscribe to a bunch of blogs and I wade through all that content when I have time.

I mean find time.

No, I mean make time.

I think I’d better make some time right now. If you’ll excuse me…

Digg and the HD DVD Key

A few thoughts about the recent goings on at Digg and elsewhere.

Last week, the hexadecimal key code that is used for copy protection on HD DVDs appeared in a blog. The key code is a 16-digit string of two-digit numbers and letters — if you spend more than an hour a day on the Web, you must have seen it by now. I won’t repeat it here because, frankly, I don’t have to. It’s easy enough to find online. Just Google HD DVD Key.

And that brings up the main point of this post: the so-called Steisand Effect. In 2002, Barbra Streisand sued a photographer who included a photo of her Malibu estate on the Web. He was doing an aerial photography research project about coastal erosion and the photo was one of hundreds of others that were published on the Web. In the publicity that followed, the photo was copied and reproduced thousands of times all over the Web. If Ms. Streisand had just kept quiet about the whole thing, it probably would have gone unnoticed. Instead, the information she wanted removed spread like a virus and received a huge amount of publicity, thus becoming far more known than she wanted.

And, of course, she had this effect named after her, which further brings up the subject (and photo links) every time someone else tries to suppress information on the Web.

That’s what happened with this HD DVD key. It appeared on a blog and someone dugg it. It soon got lots of diggs. The folks at Digg, acting on a cease and desist order (or rumor that they were about to get one) decided to be proactive and remove the references on Digg. Digg users saw this as censorship and immediately went nuts, posting more blog articles and references to the offensive key code — many of which used the code in the post title. When the Streisand Effect entry was updated on Wikipedia (yesterday, perhaps), the updater noted that there were currently more than 280,000 references to the code, a song, and multiple domain names with variations on the code.

Grant Robertson‘s post on DownloadSquad.com, “HD DVD Key Fiasco is an Example of 21st Century Digital Revolt” said it best:

As Joe Rogan’s character on Newsradio once quite accurately quipped, “Dude, you can’t take something off the Internet.. that’s like trying to take pee out of a swimming pool.” The content providers have attempted to do exactly that, remove pee from the proverbial swimming pool that is the Internet and, as we’ve witnessed so many times before, they’ve failed miserably.

If the AACS Licensing Authority would have kept out of this, the code probably would have come and gone like most material on the Web — within a few days. Instead, the 16-digit number has become “the most famous number on the Web” and is everywhere. What’s worse is that while a week ago, only a few hackers might have known what to do with it to unlock or remove protection from HD DVDs, now it’s likely that someone will go through the bother of writing a software program that does the work for everyone. If that software isn’t already out, I expect it to appear any day now. And I’m sure its location will be dugg so everyone knows about it.

What can we — and others — learn about this? With the Web, nothing is private. If information can be known, it will be known on the Web. But it can remain obscure if — and only if — the owner of the information does nothing to hide it.

What should the AACS Licensing Authority have done? Quietly recall the key code and start using a new one. Or, better yet, just ignore the whole thing. Millions of people would not have known about it at all if AACS had done nothing.

But what this also brings to light is the public’s feelings about DRM. Consumers don’t want it. And now consumers are starting to fight back.