Does Internet advertising work at all?

The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson asks a dangerous question: Does Internet advertising work at all? My gut answer is that it can’t be terribly effective. Thompson sums up my personal instinct about advertising perfectly: “We seek information, so we’re more likely to trust it; marketing seeks us, so we’re more likely to distrust it.”1

Also, online advertising is plagued with problems like misleading stats reporting and the ‘I-was-gonna-buy-it-anyway bias’:

Let’s say I want to buy a pair of glasses. I live in New York, where people like Warby Parker. I’ve shopped for glasses at Warby Parker’s website. Facebook knows both of these things. So no surprise that today I saw a Warby Parker sponsored post on my News Feed.

Now, let’s say I buy glasses from Warby Parker tomorrow. What can we logically conclude? That Facebook successfully converted a sale? Or that the many factors Facebook considered before showing me that ad—e.g.: what my friends like and my past shopping behavior—are the same factors that might persuade anybody to buy a pair of glasses long before they signed into Facebook?

Maybe Facebook has mastered the art of using advertising to convert sales. Or maybe it’s mastered the art of finding people who were going to buy certain items anyway and showing them ads after they already made their decision. My bet is that the answer is (a) somewhere in the middle and (b) devilishly hard to accurately measure.

Nothing in this article was surprising, but it did make me wonder if this might be the most effective way to fight to get our online privacy back? In other words, rather than fighting Google or Facebook et al, why not reveal how ineffective the kind of crappy advertising that has made those companies some of the biggest in the world really is? If that money falls away, so will these corporate surveillance industries.


Dat footnote

  1. However, I do think that ‘brand awareness’ is a powerful side effect of good advertising, but this is hard to achieve with text ads or even flashing banners and annoying popovers.
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What I want from Netflix

Netflix If Netflix is going to be the future of television, they need to try harder.

This was originally posted on Medium on the 27th of February 2014. I’ve posted it here, on my primary blog, a week later for posterity.

Josh Lee wrote a post elsewhere on Medium titled What I want from Netflix. He asked for offline viewing, the ability to hide certain genres, movie playlists to subscribe to (and presumably the ability to create these playlists), a ‘binge mode’ that would skip opening titles, the return of The Cosby Show and he doesn’t much care for SNL.

I’m not going to respond to any of those suggestions in particular, but I want to see much, much more from Netflix.

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My pet monster, by Steven Kraan

Steven Kraan (aka @drawing_daily) has been drawing monsters for people everyone who follows him, and he’s created probably thousands by this point. I followed him a couple of months ago and today I got my pet monster:

I think it looks great! If you want one he’s planning to stop after he reaches 4,444 followers (as I write this he’s at 4,404 followers).

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The internet’s plans for that thing you created

Here’s an example of something I will never understand. A Twitter account called @wallstreetwoif posted this (the ‘i’ in woif is styled in uppercase, as you do) shared this:

And @picpedant (who you should go and follow now) pointed out that this is a copy of a Doghouse Diaries original, with the credit cut off and the captions reformatted:

Doghouse Diaries - Plans

It also looks like it’s been photocopied a few times, had some extra outlines put on. The ponytail on the stick figure has also been removed and the second frame now has a border at the end, weakening the point made in the strip somewhat.

The thing I don’t understand is why any of this?

Why take the effort to remove someone’s credit? Why make their work look like shit? Why edit it to change the meaning? Why share it without giving a thought to who created it?

I find it all very strange.

wales dot tumblr dot com

In 2009 I obtained the tumblr URL wales.tumblr.com and created a site called the ‘Official Tumblelog of Wales’. Here I would post links to irreverent and amusing news stories, curious photographs, memes, odd clippings from the past, pop culture and anything a little offbeat.

“A man who buried a female colleague’s body on farmland put the location of the shallow grave in the “favourites” list on his sat nav, a court has heard”
Grave listed in accused’s sat nav, BBC News

I ran out of steam about two years later after 108 posts. Two years after that, at the end of 2013, I left Wales.

Lately however I’ve noticed a curious uptake in activity around the blog. It’s getting on average one or two new followers per day, and a similar amount of reblogs and likes. As I write this there are 456 followers.

The URL wales.tumblr.com is a good one and it seems a shame to let a blog stagnate when it could be growing instead, therefore I’m hoping someone who find this post will offer to take it over (either via my secret contact page, on Twitter or by leaving a comment below). I’m not going to ask for a resume or anything, but I’m only going to hand it over to someone who clearly gets Tumblr and doesn’t just want the URL for some marketing nonsense.

If that’s you, please get in touch!

UPDATE: I found a taker, so wales.tumblr.com is now under new management!

Some more pictures →

Idea for a read-it-later browser extension

Read it later services are nothing new, with Instapaper and Pocket being the two leaders of this particular niche. Apple’s Safari browser even has a built-in ‘Reading List’ feature.

My personal read-it-later strategy is to (1) drag pages I want to read later into a special folder on my bookmarks bar and (2) proceed to forget about them entirely1. The idea outlined in this blog post develops stage 1 in the hopes of turning stage 2 into actually reading articles when I have time for them.

The idea →

Google has a terrible 404 page

Google's 404 robot On the face of it Google has a perfectly decent 404 page. There’s a cute little robot illustration and an amusing page title (‘Error 404 (Not Found)!!1’). Also on the positive side, the page is very light, using only 11 lines of code and two small images.

However, there is absolutely no functionality beyond the Google logo being a link back to the home page. What I think Google should do instead →

Why people online don’t read to the end

Farhad Manjoo has written a condescending article for Slate about how we have short attention spans online:

You Won't Finish This Article

I’m going to keep this brief, because you’re not going to stick around for long. I’ve already lost a bunch of you. For every 161 people who landed on this page, about 61 of you—38 percent—are already gone. You “bounced” in Web traffic jargon, meaning you spent no time “engaging” with this page at all.

I better get on with it. So here’s the story: Only a small number of you are reading all the way through articles on the Web. I’ve long suspected this, because so many smart-alecks jump in to the comments to make points that get mentioned later in the piece. But now I’ve got proof.

You Won’t Finish This Article – slate.com

The article fails to mention sites – like Slate – that arbitrarily split articles into multiple pages. I have to imagine that a huge percentage drop off after page one, which would have had a massive impact on the findings (whether secondary pages were included or ignored in the stats!) so it’s odd not to mention it.

(The big spike at 100% on the ‘percent of article content viewed’ chart is for photo stories – most visitors will scroll through an entire photo essay.)

It’s also worth pointing out that Slate’s multi-page article design actively encourages readers to leave a comment before reading the whole article by effectively placing them in the middle of the article.

Sites are partly to blame for making their own content the least interesting thing on the page

The blame for the flighty behaviour of readers can also be at least partly attributed to design choices made by Slate and similar blogs. In addition to the main navigation, the top of the page is overloaded with calls to action to other stories, Facebook, videos to watch, distracting ads etc. Later in the article Manjoo complains that people share an article before reading it, but the sharing icons are right there at the start of the article.

Meanwhile, the Slate article itself is visually unappealing. The photograph at the top is both unnecessary and entirely uninteresting while the article is small text, thankfully broken up by colourful charts.

Of course, people are fickle and easily distracted, including myself. I follow many links only to decide when I arrive that I’m not that interested. Perhaps as readers we should be more disciplined – some of these uninteresting stories we click on are important – but these sites are partly to blame too for making their own precious content the least interesting thing on the page.

First look at the new WordPress dashboard

From today WordPress.com users can get a working preview the look and feel of the next admin interface.

New WordPress admin design

Preview the Future Design of the WordPress Dashboard

We’ve drawn new icons, increased contrast and font size, and generally modernized the design from top to bottom. We’re still working on it, but you can preview it starting today! To step into the future, head over to Users → Personal Settings in your blog’s dashboard and check “Enable experimental admin design (MP6),” then Save Changes.

It looks very nice, but so far it’s just a cosmetic change. I reminds me a little of services like Squarespace and Virb, so I fear there’s a slight danger of WordPress losing its character.

Designers and developers can get involved on the Make WordPress UI blog.

New blog: Rapid Notes

Rapid Notes Yesterday I launched a new blog: Rapid Notes. It’s just hosted on a free WordPress.com account for now, and will probably stay that way.

I created this new outlet because I wanted a place to store and share the fascinating things I find online every day. I’m not going to put just any old thing up there, but it’ll be a busier blog than many of my others. Much busier. The idea is to help me identify what my real passions are by looking at the common themes of the items I post. I’ll be spending time getting the tags and categories — the taxonomy — just right. Then as the blog grows I’ll be able to look at my archives determine… well… something hopefully.

Follow the @foobot →

Visibility settings: Make your WordPress widgets context-aware

One of the things I like about using WordPress.com is getting an early look at features destined for the self-hosted version, WordPress.org.

For example, today I noticed new ‘visibility’ button on the bottom of each of my widgets. Clicking it expands these filtering options:

Widget visibility settings

Playing with these settings will make any widget you add determine whether it should be shown or hidden based on the page it appears on. For example, you could create a Recent Posts widget that only appears on posts, or a Top Posts & Pages widget that only appears on archive pages.

Some ideas for context-aware widgets →

Some custom CSS to pimp your WordPress blog

Recently I’ve been taking advantage of the WordPress.com custom design upgrade to pimp my theme, so I thought I would share some of the CSS I have written. Twenty Eleven is the second most popular theme in the WP.com directory, so why not make yours stand out too?

I’m a big fan of Twenty Eleven, however it is starting to show its age. It’s funny how these designs date so quickly. Twenty Ten looked positively cutting edge compared to Kubrick (which was itself a very modern theme back in 2006!). I have been tempted to update to the newer Twenty Twelve, but feel that I have invested too much time and effort into getting the look and feel of my blog just right. Instead I’m pulling some of the future back into the past.

Got custom? Get stylin’ →

Updating @datahole

Datahole's Twitter avatar Datahole is a Twitter account I have been ‘maintaining’ for over four years. In practice I’ve simply been letting it run itself.

It takes RSS feeds from Ars Technica, Wired, The Guardian and Bruce Schneier‘s blog and looks for stories containing words like ‘leak’, ‘phishing’ and ‘password’.

Then it adds in unfiltered posts from The Register’s security news and The Open Rights Group.

Last night I updated the look and feel of the account with a new avatar, header and background image. Besides these cosmetic tweaks I added two feeds from the blog of security expert Brian Krebs, specifically his categories ‘latest warnings’ and ‘the coming storm’.

How? And why? →

As one Posterous closes, another Posthaven opens

posterous In news that must have surprised no-one, Posterous has announced that it will be turning off the lights in a few months.

On April 30th, we will turn off posterous.com and our mobile apps in order to focus 100% of our efforts on Twitter. This means that as of April 30, Posterous Spaces will no longer be available either to view or to edit.

Now two of the original co-founders of Posterous — Garry Tan and Brett Gibson — are soon going to launch a new blogging platform called Posthaven that pledges never to be acquired and to be a home for your blog that will last forever.

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Discourse: The WordPress of forum software

Discourse logo Discourse is a new discussion platform (ie: forum software) from Jeff Atwood, Robin Ward and a host of other smart people who have founded a new company together. As Civilized Discourse Construction Kit, Inc they intend to create ‘the WordPress of forum software’.

Discourse is a product that is badly needed. Most forum software in use today is showing its age1, but forums themselves are still going strong.

Forums are the dark matter of the web, the B-movies of the Internet. But they matter. To this day I regularly get excellent search results on forum pages for stuff I’m interested in. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t end up on some forum, somewhere, looking for some obscure bit of information. And more often than not, I find it there.
Civilized Discourse Construction Kit – codinghorror.com

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