Why I dislike Large Blogs

I love blogs. I have been blogging since 2002 when my friend Mugsy emailed me and told me to sign up for LiveJournal. A lot has changed about blogging since then, but the revolutionary idea that if you can type, you can publish easily in a word-processing-like interface on the internet has not. The method of blogging to share knowledge by and for non-programming type people is still spreading to the corners of the globe and helping people’s voices be heard in ways we never thought possible.

At the same time I am growing more frustrated with the technorati and the overload of emails, posts, rss feeds and spam arriving on my accounts daily. I am trying my best to stay on top of the active topics in  the  user generated content world as it has forked into many roads that include blogging, social networking, social ads, microblogging and a whole host of a million little startups with other concepts they want to share with the world. (more than can be kept up with or can survive even if they do all innovate)

I have had to scale back my online content consumption several times over the years when it was in danger of taking over my life and all my time. But lately this getting married thing has taken a large chunk of time out of my life too, (even after the wedding) and as a result I am trying to glean all my updates and news knowledge into smaller and smaller bits of time. (apparently being married means I have to do work around the house and spend a lot of time trying to motivate my husband to stop watching hours of TV and do things around the house. Life just got more complicated and we have to learn how to cook, fix things, do laundry and empty the cat-poop-box with much larger quantities now). My work is also very busy (analytics and metrics seem to go nuts in recessions) and no spare time is to be had anywhere in the schedule.

Therefore, I have gone through many iterations of un-subscribe weeks in my email boxes and cut back drastically on email newsletters, of which once I found very enlightening. Most marketing/advertising/analytics/metrics/SEO/SEM email newsletters  these days aren’t as willing to share any real actionable info without you spending a lot of $ so out they go.

I tried to update myself by trying an RSS reader again (3rd try) and I think its been a few months but I am overwhelmed by that too. Its way to easy to get more than 1,000 unread items in the reader and when it doesn’t tell me the exact number anymore I am less motivated to tackle it because it seems impossible.

I have found Google Reader to be good for sunday afternoon fun feed reading and more personal fun  topics/blogs though. Home design is a great topic in the reader since you really have to see it all to learn.

On the other hand I am re-subscribing to some email newsletters and just un-subscribing altogether to others who insist on posting 30-50 items per day! (assholes!) How is one person supposed to read that many posts per blog per day? It’s impossible and on some level, rude.

I know why they do this. It is partially a play to keep new items being published every few hours to keep the Internet addicts coming back for more traffic and it is also a play for search engine dominance by having more content in the engine for every possible term than anyone else. These teams of writers churn out mostly regurgitated posts about content repurposed from other blogs without much new insight. Some do deliver genuine news and content you can use but scanning through 50 posts is way slower than scanning 5 emails. The content and pics seem to load soooo sloooowly and an email you read, scan and go to what you want quickly. Big offenders of this are ReadWriteWeb (on volume and not separating feeds), Silicon Valley Insider (regurgitating and trying to predict the future even though they’re usually wrong), SEO Roundtable, Apartment Therapy (OMG, holy re-post everyone elses content and fill up with summary posts daily to waste everyones time, generate page views and sell ads), Jalopnik (jebus stop showing us every detail of the 24 hours of Lemons in every city across the country and asking us what our favorite imaginary dream car in a movie with Bruce Willis: waste of space, use summary feeds please! On a cable bandwidth line it takes forever to load all these damn images!) and Media Post (phhbbtt). ALL THESE BLOGS have been banned from my RSS Reader. Some have been demoted to email updates but others are just gone.

Also, I’m not programmed to think to go see my rss feeds yet either so I often forget about them for several days after a good several hour scanning session finally getting the numbers down to below 200 new items. then I return the next time to see 1,000+ again and feel defeated. In contrast I have OCD about keeping a clean email box, and completely forget about facebook until I am completely bored. I guess that is a sign of my age bracket. (34)

I wish that this spammy fluf put out there to fill space could be eliminated. I also wish that these blogs would split their feeds into sections so you would be able to just get the posts you were interested in. Like if new original content and re-purposed other people’s content were separated in 2 feeds, it would be a big help.

I would also recommend that they stop doing summary posts. They piss me off. I wait a minute or 2 for something to load in the darn reader only to see its the same posts from the local editions of the same blog.  Poo, if that happens 15 times in a day I could have spent that time sleeping and then I’m annoyed. 

These blogs also do this because they are in some get-rich-quick rush to make money as a profitable business before Google figures it out and bans them or something. Yes, blogs have an elitism to them that says, duh, if I can make a slice of the money publishing from what the Tribune used to, I am going to do this as fast and as hard as I can. And it over saturates the web with watered down content that is just filler mostly, even if it does increase ad impressions and some adsense revenue if you’re into web-welfare payments.

I also would like to recommend that if you want to start a blog you keep the posts to no more than 2-3 a day and resist the urge to just regurgitate other people’s posts and link to them saying how great they are. Research things you are really interested in and share your own unique experiences. Any web-bot can be an aggregator, what we need more of is real people sharing experiences and knowledge to make social media stick and not die out because of spam/splogs and info-overload. It is these people who become trusted advisors and get the visitors who come back again and again.

And this is also better for the rest of us who have to go clean the cat-poop-box and have a life offline now that they are married.

Update 10/29/09

http://scobleizer.posterous.com/why-i-dont-use-google-reader-anymore

I guess Robert Scoble agrees with me to a point, though he blames Google Reader for a bad format and experience and not the blog owners for copious amounts of useless content hiding the good stuff. I guess there is always room for improvement and certain people discover it before others depending on how they use the info/product.

Update 11/5/09

How much content is too much content? Read Write Web chronicles these mega content sites and their race to populate the web all by themselves by posting 200+ posts per day. We should call it the Answers.com business model.

http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/the_age_of_mega_content_sites.php

Why the Microsoft & Yahoo Search Deal Sucks

I blogged about why I thought that the Microsoft and Yahootalks were not going to yield anything useful last year and was satisfied that they stopped wasting time trying to buy each other out of financial trouble. Now it has been widely reported that Microsoft has gained access to Yahoo in a search partnership deal. This is somewhat better but again, the executives have not listened to the public.

1. This Yahoo-Microsoft deal still sucks for several reasons. One being that Microsoft Ad Center is the ad display engine being used in the partnership and not Yahoo’s Panama. Neither have the depth or ease of use of AdWords. Anyone who has ever placed any pay per click search ads in their life would choose Panama over Microsoft Ad Center as the system to use. Maybe MAC makes more money but there are too many limits on bids, keyword availability and restrictions on running your ads to make it widely accepted.

2. The recent Netflix prize showed how much collaboration benefits organizations rather than competition. The revenue share partnership deal usually shares no information about technology or business strategy at all between companies. Its a you win, I loose, I’ll just pay you for handling this for me-approach to solving a problem, that doesn’t work in the long term.

The Netflix prize was recently awarded when a group of individual competitors and small teams banded together to use all their ideas in combination to finally get above the 10% improvement mark in matching/suggestion technology and submit their top result. In the last day before the time was up, another group of researchers banded together and topped the previous best submission also by combining all their ideas together at once.

Then in the last 12 hours the first team did come back with another submission just slightly better,  to win,  but the overall idea/lesson is still the same. If you really want to improve on consumer products and experience with really complex technical problems like search and suggestions, you have to collaborate rather than compete.

Yahoo and Microsoft would do a whole lot better against Google if they got the Bing folks together with the Yahoo search folks and started collaborating on this daily via videocam rather than doing an affiliate marketing type deal. This deal is evidence that Microsoft is being run by the lowest common denominator these days (and loosing a lot of money that way) and Yahoo’s CEO won’t be around long. She has made a decision that helps her contain and cut costs of running her company in the short term and that decision has sacrificed the long term marketability of her product.

In fact Yahoo was a search company primarily. People only used email, Yahoo news and other functions like Yahoo Answers because of the search engine they knew. If you take that away you don’t have an identity as a company. And they will lose a lot more search market share and preference by outsourcing to Bing even if they get paid a little bit more profitably in the next 2 quarters. This is pretty much the death of Yahoo. It is really sad.

TopGear Weddings and Marketing

Those are three things I seem to be talking about this morning.

1. I am slightly jealous that the TopGear crew already incorporated themselves into someone’s wedding and therefore probably won’t be able to find a way into mine at Cantigny in the suburbs of Chicago. Bummer. Maybe we should rent the corvettes then? As an homage to TopGear and our love of cars? Read the full story here at the Daily Mail from the UK. And the Sun UK. Maybe we can do some kind of challenge in getting from the wedding ceremony to the reception? If any of the TG crew reads this blog thanks for including my ideas if and when that ever has possibly happened.

2. Wedding Planning is arduous and totally consuming of every second of free time you have when you are this close to the final date. I haven’t been updating this blog because there are so many things to manage. Oh and did I mention the I have to move out of my condo in 3 weeks also? It finally sold after 6 months of marketing and price lowering. Maybe moving would be a good TopGear challenge? Just don’t let them plan a wedding, that would be disasterous. No amount of compensation for mucking up would help fix that after the fact.

Between figuring out who will be attending, seating charts, making things like name cards and menu cards, making tiny bows on wedding favors, picking the set lists for the music, meeting with the church minster, and the soloist, seeing a test run of the flowers, getting the gown hemmed, insisting that the groomsmen and fathers to finally go rent their damn tuxes already, and matching the table runners and who knows what the f else, I have no time. It is a bit frustrating already. Now that I think about it, I am about ready to offer to turn it over to the TG folks out of frustration and a lack of sleep. I almost don’t care how it turns out, I just want my life back.

3. It hasn’t helped that I have been swamped with work either during this time, so I haven’t been able to blog about new online marketing trends either which is what I do for a living and should be easy and quick to write about. But I am working 12 hour days for difficult clients right now, so this isn’t happening either.  Anyway, it will be a while until this blog is updated regularly again, but I do plan to be back starting July 12th.

Update; the only TG tie in at my wedding was that we had a TopGear Table and a Nurbergring Nordschlefe Table. We also had a Star Wars table a Les Chats Table and a bunch of others named after our hobbies and interests.

Hallmark Keepsake Christmas Ornaments & Website Issues

I have been a Hallmark Keepsake Christmas Ornament fan since the late 1980’s when we discovered them. I was in Jr high at the time and the thought that a Christmas tree ornament could commemorate anything you want it to was liberating and fun. We ended up buying several ornaments each year until we had a full Christmas tree of just Hallmark Ornaments and white lights. We still buy hallmark keepsake ornaments every Christmas if they continue the series that we like. The classic cars, classic trucks and classic historic airplanes are three that my brother collects. He is determined to have a transportation only tree at some point, and after 15 years he is getting close to that. My mom and I prefer more winter and holiday themed ornaments and have bought some of the light and magic hallmark Christmas ornaments over the years.

This year might be the one exception to the rule, and it is mostly Hallmark’s fault. For some reason they don’t carry hallmark Christmas ornaments at Jewel food stores anymore. Maybe they aren’t as popular anymore? Maybe people have gotten tired of collecting them? Anyway there are also no Hallmark stores in downtown Chicago where I work and none in Oak Park where I live. So, trekking out to get these is getting more complicated. I wanted to order them on the Hallmark Website and in addition to the site being horribly organized and impossible to finding things THEY DON”T EVEN SELL THEM ONLINE!!! (what kind of organization system classifies ornaments by which series is starting and ending when everyone else just knows them by the cars theme? or their subject matter)  WTF? Why wouldn’t a site like Hallmark have an ecommerce site? After all they have done to promote their brand they use the website just to drive people to an offline store? Have they learned nothing about the Internet since 1996??

I am an internet marketer so this is my business to know how people use the internet and what they want, and I can tell you for sure they do not want to have to shut off the computer, find their car keys and drive an hour to a flipping store. It is called point and click buying and last year more than 31 BILLION dollars were projected to get exchanged for goods online at Christmas. Why would Hallmark not want a piece of the pie? I think old people making risk averse decisions like this for a large company (who don’t know how or want to spend money to develop a website) end up screwing the company in the long run as they totally alienate the younger demographic. I can’t see the myspace or facebook generation being lured to a store to buy something when they twitter that they have to go to the bathroom online. I wish Hallmark would wake up and smell the propane and get with the way real people do business and shopping online.

Email management for overloaded email boxes circa 2008

I have noticed I spend a lot of time sifting through email these days. I have several accounts for different purposes and they fill up quickly with both subscriptions I have started and a lot of spam I never requested. I know that spam is just the price we pay right now for an app like email, but I hope that someday the spammers are put out of business because of the awful things they do stealing identities and personal information.

Anyway, my post wasn’t supposed to be about spam. It was about email volume circa 2008. I do get a lot of spam, and because one email address I have dates back to 1996 that one gets about 50% spam.  The spam filter I have does catch about 80% of it but the other 20% is annoying and dangerous.

The other 60% of that old email address mail is a lot of subscriptions since I am more likely to read an email than go find a bookmark of a blog every few days. The web based email is about 25% spam and the work email is maybe 1% spam, they are pretty good at blocking it.

I found this feedblitz and email update technology immensely helpful in the beginning since I check email anyway and it was a way to kill 2 tasks with one stone. Now though, things have gotten out of hand. I estimate that I get about 200 emails per day between 3 accounts. That is a bit more than I intended. True, it may be time to unsubscribe to some newsletters and updates but then it might go down to 150. Knowing this, you might understand why I gave up on RSS feeds in 2004.

Email is just too ingrained into our business and consumer culture as a communication medium. Or at least it is for Gen-Xers like myself. I do feel the pressure of the millennials and Gen-Yers to go to a social networking communication platform and I have profiles on all the major sites with plenty of contacts/friends but it’s just not home base for me. For a while one circle of people I knew were using MySpace as a hub for communication, but they were in the Arts, as many MySpacers are. Now that I no longer have time for extra cirricular activities I have lost touch with them and my MySpace page. I also have an online client email I use for personal stuff and of course the ubiquitous work email. I also have a 4th email that I don’t use because 3 is really enough.

I was reading this article today about how people manage their emails and BAM it was exactly how I managed them without me even really thinking about how I categorize things. Literally things just evolved the way they worked best over the past 10 years. The old old email became a place for all the sign ups you had to complete for one reason or another, login info for registrations and updates and such but not time sensitive stuff because I moved my most critical emails over to the web based email when it got too cluttered and I wanted to be able to access it anywhere rather than just at home on my computer in outlook. The second web based email also became a place to move personal communication off the work email account since in the beginning there was no line between them and then there suddenly was one day in about 2004. The work account also gets some alerts and such but only work related. (yes, that’s a blurry line since its online media and marketing that I work in)

Overall, I was surprised that I fit their archetype “to a tee” and that I evolved this way without even thinking of it. The gen-x and gen-y people have a hard time separating work from personal (especially if you work in onlinemedia, its all online anyway at the click of a mouse, it only takes a second!) and this will only provide harder in the future as more is expected of us as we balance family and work all in less time. I hope this setup satisfies the need for different urgencies, disclosures and personalizations of emails as well as productivity and time management. All this digital overload is consuming in a very empty way really. I feel like I must look through all this and read it every day yet very little is really going to impact my work or my life. I am mostly off email on weekends and I find it not that different but I have more time suddenly. Hmmm…must pare down email newsletters soon.

I have a compulsion to keep my email boxes cleaned out once a day and reply to anything that needs it from work or personal in 24 hours. I wonder if I will be able to keep that up in the future and if I will have to integrate more mandatory social networking at some point to keep up with those 10 years younger than me? 

I also recently started using the rescue time application to log and review where I am in a day and how much is actually spent on email and work. I have since cut my work email time in 1/2 and ditto for the personal email also. It’s a good application for self time management, but I wouldn’t want to use it for work purposes officially. I like that I have control over it and am not evaluated based on it since I have my days where I am not as productive. But the application helps me get back on track and out of the funk quicker.

As a consumer do I like being emailed by companies? Sometimes yes. If I opt in to your email I may be marginally or really interested in hearing from you depending on how much your product fits my life and work. If the emails provide no help or relevance whatsoever, they will get deleted and unsubscribed within a few months. If you send me discounts, new product info or other locally relevant information or content I am really into that helps me do my job, I am happy to read and click to help your ROI. I think email is better than direct mail because of the targeting and the lack of paper it uses. (save the trees) I would much rather an email from most companies than a flyer in the mail box. Plus it gives me the control to turn it off when it’s no longer relevant. Trust me, I will re-subscribe if the situation changes, I am a newsletter nut, that is for sure. And I think my generation is in general. But don’t expect us to buy-buy-buy stuff just because you emailed it to us. If we don’t need or want it we just consider the offer and decide no this time. It’s ok, we will find you when we need it, even if it is a month or two from now. And frequency is an issue. I am annoyed by some weekly emails because how often do you really need to know about the same product over and over again? Monthly is fine, or how about every other week?  

So, all of this is kind of my unwritten rules of email, work and business, and I hope that we continue to figure things out to make communication and information finding more efficient and less time consuming while still productive. Now if I could only find a way to maintain 3 blogs more efficiently too.

Engagement Marketing Metrics, ROI & Open ID

I have been reading a lot about how conversion tracking isn’t enough data to make the best decisions and engagement is the new black. It is frustrating because no one defines engagement in the same way and no one can really tell you what it is.

I do agree though that engagement is the next evolutionary step in tracking onlinemedia for ROI purposes. I think the trouble people will have will be in customizing it rather than standardizing it. I think the meaningful parts of the process will be totally different depending on the company, the media, the process and the product.

What I consider the next thing for my own tracking purposes is prior ad exposures. This is an engagement metric for the ads leading up to conversion rather than site visitors for our own site. I don’t work with analytics usually or determine how to get someone to engage with a process over and over again. I do try and figure out ways to advertise affordably and get people to complete the conversion process. This prior exposures report should provide more insight into how many, where, when and how people come to the conversion site. I am thinking it should provide us information we won’t anticipate as well as show some information we knew would be there.

I am also a bit pissed off with this stupid marketing sherpa execuitive summary report. Pretty much everything written in it is complete bunk since there are a ton of caveats to each graph and I would bet more is according to how people track and assess results than how the media actually performs. If people would track media post impression they would see the value of banners rather than just for clicks. This is so frustrating until you see the data. Then it just makes sense.

People are influenced by banners (branding) and that whole banner blindness thing had to do with the crap companies that were allowed to buy ads with spammy business practices and scams.  They are still out there and as long as they are allowed because of corporate greed, people will keep ignoring some of the good ads for things they really do want and need. Targeting is part of the equation, but as far as targeting goes, we are still in the dark ages.

This brings me to another beef I have with the online ad industry right now. Everyone LOVES behavioral targeting, even if they don’t know what that means. (It has nothing to do with your behavior most of the time by the way.) It is a tracking of people who have been selected as a target by their profile info (Yahoo) or by visiting your site before and the ads follow you around on the web. The latter is the better way to do this (indicating actual interest rather than categorical inclusion) although we don’t know nearly enough about our target customers to really be able to target them online.

I am always asked why someone targeted for one category converts in an opposite one. Why? I have no F-ing clue dude! People are multi-faceted. They can belong to more than one interest or category even if marketers feel it shouldn’t be allowed. People have many aspects to their life and interests and they will always be that way. We won’t know all that data about them or how to process it for a long long long time.

That is what this stupid open ID thing will eventually lead to. A one stop shop for all your profiles and data so marketers can target you on hundreds of variables like what you do for fun, what you do for work and where you shop and live. (they have to sell out sometime) It would take literally hundreds of actual customer profiles to understand the marketability of each of these demographics, and then targeted messages to serve specifically to each profile type. It will take a few years to get there but I think it will get there sooner than I am personally ready for. I don’t know how to collect, assess or value those metrics about customers nor do I really want them targeting me like that.

Oy! Anyway, I am most interested in the overlapping cloud of ads that all influence someone to buy or sign up for something rather than I am in trying to figure out how to track a million personal profiles and target them with individual ads. Also, contrary to that stupid exec summary, pop-ups and unders still suck ass and you know it.