Category Archives: Web/Tech

on the rise of trollblogs

I don’t know Robert Scoble at all, other than meeting him and drooling over his tablet PC at Gnomedex a couple of years ago, but I read his blog pretty faithfully, even though he works for the Borg. He’s a smart, insightful guy, and I read him for the same reason I read Seth Godin and Bruce Schneier: when I’m done with their blogs, I always feel smarter and more enlightened. These guys make me want to have a deeper understanding of the issues that affect all of us who make our livings on the Internets.

Over the weekend, Robert wrote a post about unsubscribing from memeorandum that really resonated with me. In his words:

Reading Dave Winer this morning
made me realize I’m just falling down a dark hole. It’s the same hole I
was in in the 1990s when I posted about 100,000 items on various
newsgroups: in a group the writer is in control, not the reader.

I miss my RSS reading. Reading RSS makes me smarter, not snarkier.
Why? Cause I choose who I’m going to read. Pick smart people to read
and you’ll get smarter.

Hint, the smartest people in my RSS are usually the least snarky. Why? Cause they could give a f**k about all the traffic.

Why is all the snark going on? Cause everyone wants traffic. Why did
I call this the John Dvorakification? Cause he figured out in the 1980s
(yes, he’s been at this so long) that if you attack a community
(particularly the Apple one) that everyone will get all up in arms and
will start talking about the attack. That translates into traffic.
Traffic = advertising dollars.

Trolling online is nothing new, but trolling to drive traffic to your blog and make money is definitely on the rise. I first noticed this new trend a few months ago when this guy obsessively attacked blogging.la for weeks, with copious links back to his own blog, where he did little more than bitch about what other people were doing. I’m sure it was a coincidence that the people he was complaining about all happened to be high-traffic blogs, right? I’ve also noticed a disturbing increase in blogs which try very hard to be sarcastic and acerbic, but just end up being cruel and mean . . . and of course draw a lot of links from the widely-read bloggers they target.

So why do these people do this? In a comment on Scoble’s blog, reader billg said:

Ah, Grasshopper, you have learned the secret of Talk Radio. If you
make half your audience Mad As Hell while the other half wear a
self-congratulatory Ego-Boosting Smirk, then they’ll all tune in
tomorrow.

An awful lot of blogs — especially political blogs — draw traffic
this way. Their comment sections have all the attributes of a bar
fight. Maybe we ought to christen them “Talks Blogs”.

Bloggers should never censor their opinions because they may be controversial; the whole point of this medium is that we all have the ability to express ourselves on a relatively equal footing, and we can learn a lot from each other when we disagree about things. But bloggers who stir up controversy where there is none, or intentionally attack other bloggers for the sake of generating traffic to their blog are just like UseNet trolls and should be plonked accordingly.

Scoble includes a few examples of people who make him feel smarter when he’s done with thier blogs. I just cleaned out my bloglines subs, and I’d like to add a few new blogs. If you’d like to share a blogger who makes you feel smarter (not just someone you always agree with, or who you find entertaining, or who you want everyone to read just because. Try to be honest, please – they challenge you and make you feel smarter) when you’re done reading, please leave it in the comments.

mt with plugins vs. typepad: which do you prefer?

Okay, I’ve rebuilt the entire old WWdN database, and made significant progress on the relaunch of WWdN:2.0. I owe a HUGE debt of gratitude to Mike Pusateri, who pulled the entire WWdN databse, pre-fuck-up-by-wil, including all the comments and everything, and put it into a 38MB text file for me to import back into WWdN. Thanks to some help from Movable Type support, I was able to put the old entries back online, and add the WWdN:iX entries to the pile. (Don’t bother looking at WWdN; they’re not in a public directory, yet.)

So this is a HUGE step toward relaunching WWdN, and now I find myself at a bit of a crossroads. I’d like to solicit some advice, if you don’t mind, from the bloggers who still read me.

 

When I return to WWdN: 2.0, I have a couple of options: I can domain-map WWdN to TypePad, so you’re visiting wilwheaton.net, but I’m managing the content from TypePad, or I can switch back to MT 3.2, and hope to mimic as much of TypePad’s functionality as I can via plug-ins, while duplicating the super-easy WYSIWYG editor with ecto, and something as-yet-undiscovered for Linux.

The thing is, I’ve grown to REALLY like the TypePad interface over the
last several months. The WYSIWYG editor is hawesome, and adding new
sections to the right side of my blog (like the synidcation buttons, the book and music recommendations, advertising, etc.) is as simple as clicking a few
links and pasting a little bit of code. I really like how easy TypePad
has made everything for me; it’s allowed me to put my energy into
creating content that hopefully doesn’t suck, rather than mashing away
at annoying code that never seems to validate, anyway.

And that’s where this post comes in. If you’re an MT 3.2 user, what are your must-have plugins? If you’ve used them both, is MT 3.2 more or less useful for managing enclosures (for the RFB) than TypePad? Have you been able to make MT 3.2 act as sort of a CMS, the way I’ve described above? (Please don’t bother telling me to use WordPress or Drupal or whatever CMS you totally love. I’ve done a lot of research, and I’ve determined that it’s going to be MT 3.2 or TypePad.)

There are some changes coming with the redesign that I think you’ll all like: no more lame fixed-width fonts and cells, a mobile version, better integration of things like flickr and technorati, and some of the really cool things that we’re doing with metroblogging.

I’m still working with my friend on all that stuff, so the re-launch of WWdN isn’t going to happen right away (surprise), but I can at least see the soft glow of a new and super-cool website on a distant horizon.

TiVo presents: a targeted word from our sponsor!

Well, I’d like to claim credit for it, but I’m sure it was already in the works when I posted this idea last night.

TiVo has already decided to give subscribers the option to receive targeted ads:

TiVo will soon offer subscribers a way to customize some of the ads
they receive — and offer advertisers a way to make sure they’re
targeting consumers who want what they’re pitching.

The new
service won’t conflict with ads seen (or fast-forwarded) in live or
on-demand viewing or the "showcases" of longform advertising that
appear in a menu, often purchased by automakers or movie studios.

Instead,
this new feature will work in much the same way TiVo subscribers create
"WishLists" to find programs. But instead of Jimmy Stewart movies or TV
shows about baseball, TiVo users would register a profile with the
company based on their interests. Then, in a section of the TiVo menu
system, they will find ads — short- and longform — based on their
interests.

Someone in the market for a new car would find ads for cars that someone who isn’t would never see, for instance.

"What
we’ve learned is, TiVo customers want to know about new products and
services but on their own time," TiVo vp national advertising sales
Davina Kent said.

I dislike advertising, but it’s a fact of life. Luckily, it’s fairly easy to tune it out, via mute buttons and fast forwarding, but as I said yesterday, I’d be much more inclined to pay attention to advertising for products or services I care about than the bullshit they spew out of the box right now.

What I’d really like to see is some sort of advertising model with TiVo which would allow indie publishers (like Monolith Press, or Vagrant Records) to reach interested viewers at reduced rates. If I could afford it, I would absolutely advertise Monolith products to audiences I think would enjoy them, but there’s no way I can afford to advertise on Family Guy or Alias. And I think that Do You Want Kids With That? would probably do very well with Oprah’s audience, but that would cost me more than I make in ten years.

TiVo presents: a (targeted) word from our sponsor?

This afternoon, I wrote a story for the SG Newswire about TiVo offering a "feature" where subscribers can search for specific commercials:

No, it’s not opposite day, and yes, you read that correctly. Someone at
TiVo thinks that consumers really love commercials so much, they want
to be able to search through their recorded content just to find them.

[TiVo] on Monday said it is working on technology that lets viewers search for specific advertisements.

The technology, which is expected to launch in early 2006, is the
latest sign of the advertising industry’s efforts to reach consumers
who are taking advantage of high-tech products to escape the
traditional ad pitch.

[. . .]

The advertising service will let subscribers search for a product by
category or keyword, then TiVo would deliver matching commercials to
the consumer’s set-top box.

I snarkily (snarkily? Is that a word? minus ten points, Wheaton) concluded that this is a totally lame feature that nobody would ever want to use:

Soooo . . .  TiVo users complain by the tens of thousands that they want to be able to skip commercials, and TiVo gives them the ability to search for specific commercials?! Uh, okay.

TiVo must have done some market research for this feature, which leads
me to wonder, who are the idiots claiming to be technology enthusiasts
that TiVo talked to?

But now that it’s hours later, and I’ve had time to reconsider my snark . . . maybe I can be one of those idiots. I had this idea: what if TiVo subscribers were able to set up some sort of "profile" where they would check off a range of interests, as well as a range of things they are positively not interested in, and advertisers could target ads to the individual subscribers? It sort of longtails advertising, right? For example, I hate car commercials and beer commercials. But I’m interested in outdoor activities, so I respond to ads from places like REI. I am not interested in the latest Tom Cruise crap-o-rama, but I really enjoy the acting styles of Mr. Johnny Depp. I know it’s a long shot, and I know that the service as described (if I understand it correctly) is "client" side rather than "server" side, but wouldn’t it make more sense for advertisers to serve ads to people who were more likely to use the products or services they’re advertising?

I imagine that advertisers would still want to use commercials to inform consumers about new products, or new films, or whatever, and maybe there could be some auto-subscribed advertising channel which would serve anything, regardless of a subscriber’s preferences. But at the end of that commercial, the subscriber could "Thumbs Up" or "Thumbs Down" the product or service, and TiVo could adjust ads served to that subscriber accordingly.

This could even open up advertising to smaller companies who can’t afford to buy prime time slots that reach the entire country, but may be able to afford 50,000 buys for targeted audience members. I imagine that they’d get a better conversion on their ad sales.

There are obvious problems: privacy is the most glaring, but there are also several different demographics living in each house, so something would have to be done to adjust to the primary viewer of, say, CSI and the primary viewer of, say, Desperate Housewives, and the primary viewer of SpongeBob Squarepants.

I know that there are smarter people than me who read my blog. So what do you think? Shoot this full of holes and we’ll see if there’s anything left.

Schneier on Sony’s rootkit DRM

Bruce Schneier’s latest article for Wired is all about Sony’s hyperevil rootkit DRM debacle. It includes a comprehensive timeline, as well as Bruce’s efforts to get to the real story in the whole saga. Bruce says, "It’s a David and Goliath story of the tech blogs defeating a mega-corporation."

It’s a tale of extreme hubris. Sony rolled out this incredibly invasive
copy-protection scheme without ever publicly discussing its details,
confident that its profits were worth modifying its customers’
computers. When its actions were first discovered, Sony offered a "fix" that didn’t remove the rootkit, just the cloaking.

Sony claimed the rootkit didn’t phone home when it did. On Nov. 4,
Thomas Hesse, Sony BMG’s president of global digital business,
demonstrated the company’s disdain for its customers when he said, "Most people don’t even know what a rootkit is, so why should they care about it?" in an NPR interview. Even Sony’s apology
only admits that its rootkit "includes a feature that may make a user’s
computer susceptible to a virus written specifically to target the
software."

However, imperious corporate behavior is not the real story either.

This drama is also about incompetence. Sony’s latest rootkit-removal tool actually leaves a gaping vulnerability. And Sony’s rootkit — designed to stop copyright infringement — itself may have infringed on copyright. As amazing as it might seem, the code seems to include an open-source MP3 encoder in violation of that library’s license agreement. But even that is not the real story.

It’s an epic of class-action lawsuits in California and elsewhere, and the focus of criminal
investigations. The rootkit has even been found on computers run by the
Department of Defense, to the Department of Homeland Security’s displeasure. While Sony could be prosecuted under U.S. cybercrime law, no one thinks it will be. And lawsuits are never the whole story.

This saga is full of weird twists. Some pointed out how this sort of software would degrade the reliability of Windows. Someone created malicious code that used the rootkit to hide itself. A hacker used the rootkit to avoid the spyware of a popular game. And there were even calls for a worldwide Sony boycott.
After all, if you can’t trust Sony not to infect your computer when you
buy its music CDs, can you trust it to sell you an uninfected computer
in the first place? That’s a good question, but — again — not the
real story.

So what is the real story? I’m not going to steal Bruce’s thunder, or deprive Wired of your precious clicks. So if you’re interested, I highly recommend giving it a read.

haloscan fix it guide

A lot of the blogs I read use Haloscan for their comments. Many of them are reporting problems with Haloscan in the last 24 hours or so.

Via Crooks & Liars, I stumbled upon a solution which I reprint here as a public service announcement:

Haloscan Fix it guide

Bloggers, go into Beta features in Haloscan and in
the middle of the column it says Spam filters. Just say "no" and your
comments will come back up. Hat tip Jane
for the info. 

I’m not a Haloscan user, so this doesn’t affect me at all, but I know a lot of bloggers are, so I hope this workaround helps you out.

problems with the iTunes Music Store?

As I noted earlier this week at the SG Newswire, Apple has updated just about everything, including a new version of iTunes, where they’re offering sales of ABC shows like Lost and Desperate Housewives.

Since I upgraded to iTunes 6, I’ve noticed lots of problems with the iTunes Music Store. I’ve purchased three albums this week, and on two of them, I got an error that "We could not complete your request. An unknown error occurred (502)" (thanks for that useful error message, guys!) which stopped my download. Earlier this week, I waited a few minutes, checked for purchased music, and the download picked up where it left off.

However,today I purchased The Mirror Conspiracy from Thievery Corporation (holy shit is it a great album) and the same thing happened . . . but this time, when I checked for purchased music, it said I had everything I’d paid for, which is wrong, because one of the songs is nowhere to be found on my machine. It’s probably due to the insane load on their servers right now, and
I’m going to contact customer support and see if they can help me.

I read at the Unofficial Apple Weblog that an episode of Lost was – har- lost, but when he was able to get his file later on. I have not been so lucky. Has anyone else had problems like this?