RSS Awareness Day

RSS Awareness Day May 1st has been declared RSS Awareness Day by, uh, some folks who want to raise awareness about RSS. I was actually surprised to learn that only 5.4% of internet users are currently using RSS. I’m pretty vigilant about watching my subscriber numbers, so I would LOVE to increase RSS usage to somewhere closer to 15%…that would theoretically triple my readership.

So for those of you who read this blog regularly and don’t use an RSS reader, let me again emphasize how cool of a technology it is, and how it will change the way you read on the web. For instance, using RSS, one could gain the ability to subscribe to and read a site from work which has been blocked by their company’s IT department, if one were so inclined.

And for those of you who are bloggers and/or webmasters yourself, help spread the word by promoting RSS Awareness Day on your own site. I truly believe that together we can make a difference in the way people surf while looking super-smart in their eyes at the same time. 😛

Speech to Text Software

We’ve been contemplating buying the Dragon NaturallySpeaking software so that The Missus can “write” content for our new project while holding a baby.  It would also be a lot easier for her to dictate everything–she’s an excellent speaker–as fast as she want to go.  I can go back in later and edit if needed, but the reviews I’ve read of NaturallySpeaking say it does a good job of punctuating on its own.

I’m also thinking it would be great for my dad.  He’s losing his eyesight rapidly, and can hardly read a computer screen anymore.  I was wondering if anyone had any experience with this software.  A guy I used to work with swears by it, just because he can’t type.  It says it can handle over 100 words per minute of human speech.  Being from the South, that should be plenty for my family and me.  🙂

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My 2007 Year in Review

Unlike everyone else, I slacked off and waited until 2008 was officially here to do my review. 2007 was my first year of full on blogging. I’d messed around here and there with different blogs before, but 2007 was the year I drank the Kool Aid and went at it for real. I’ll keep this list confined to what occurred on this blog. You’ve probably guessed by now that I’m somewhat guarded about the personal life. Enough about me…here are my thoughts on my 10 most notable posts of 2007:

Ron Paul’s Presidential Run
At times it seemed to me that Ron Paul news was taking over this blog. On one hand I feel like I need to apologize for that, but on the other hand, it’s my blog and that’s what I was interested in. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one who was excited by Dr. Paul’s message, and I hopefully played a small part in helping him get elected. More on that later this year, as I have some thoughts on what is realistic, and what is for the best.

Knox County Scandals
There were more in 2007 than I can even count. That makes you wonder how much stuff is going on that we haven’t even heard about yet. Last week I saw a t-shirt that read, “Miami: A sunny place for shady people.” Knox County seems to have the market cornered on shadiness this year.

Steroids in Sports (and Non-Sports)
My bottom line–WHO CARES? Next topic.

People Getting Nekkid and Almost Nekkid
I got a ton of traffic this year writing articles about Vanessa Hudgens, along with a couple of articles about the Inskip teacher who had arguably inappropriate photos on MySpace. I don’t really care who gets naked and takes photos of it, I just wonder how people can do that and not retain ALL digital copies of the material. Idiots.

Barbie Cummings and the Highway Patrol
This was just a funny local story that ended up causing me to exceed my bandwidth when it went national and I ended up ranking #3 on Google for “Barbie Cummings Blog”. Since then, Ms. Cummings life has apparently changed dramatically, much for the better. How do I know that? I’m resourceful, and it didn’t take much digging anyway. Nevertheless, it seems like she wants to leave that part of her life behind her, so I think it’s time this story finally died and went away, never to be mentioned here again.

Tennessee Smoking Ban
Thank you to our state’s elected leaders for writing and enforcing personal choice laws on private property. If you really want to look out for me and mine, stop wasting our tax dollars on this crap. Next thing you know we’re going to have to provide health care for people who would’ve otherwise died if you’d not spent millions trying to keep them from smoking.

Buddies Blogging
Some people I know IRL also started blogs this year. It’s funny that you can go months or years without talking or emailing with someone, and this medium puts you in the position to “converse” with them every day. Even when it isn’t dialog, you read what they write and they read what you write. Very cool. Not to mention the countless other blogs I’ve begun to read that I never would have learned about if I’d not started blogging for real this year.

The War On Education
Also known as the public school system. I feel like I don’t spend enough time or energy talking about this because I think it’s the number one problem facing our country. Solutions are anything but clear and simple, but one thing I’m very excited about for this coming year is that I’ve got an idea that may help a little, at least for individuals. I’m finishing up some other projects, and then I’m going at it full force.

Blogging About Blogging
As I said, 2007 was my first year blogging full throttle, and boy did I learn a lot. I posted a ton of stuff about monetizing, driving traffic, building networks, linking to other people, and I’m sure lots of other stuff that annoys people. I can’t help it…my interest is peaked. Another project I want to tackle for this year is keeping that stuff off of this site and directing it to a different blog that is dedicated to that subject.

The One I Wish Was More Popular
Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about The Wire. I really wished more people watched this show, especially the season that starts next week which will address the media. I’ve had several great conversations with people who watch The Wire, and I’d love to bring more of them to this venue. In fact, I think I’m going to, despite the fact that most people don’t know about the show. At least I’ll have the bragging rights that a couple of people heard about it from me when they are finally turned on to it.

Webkinz–Who Knew?

It seems like the frenzy may not have fully hit Knoxville/East Tennessee yet, but I think a full blown Webkinz craze may be coming. It may actually already exist here, but I was unaware of it. I am admittedly out of touch with what is “cool” with young kids, and I have been for quite a while. I know of, but am not completely knowledgeable about Thomas the Train and Dora the Explorer, but I had never even heard of Webkinz until this weekend.

My sister in law and her kids, 10 and 7 years old, are visiting from Florida, and they were super excited the other day after they got home from Dollywood. Not because of the rides they rode, but because of the huge selection of Webkinz that were available for purchase there.

I got a quick rundown from them about Webkinz, and it actually sounds like a pretty cool idea. It is a pretty simple concept, and is completely viral in terms of web use and marketing.

First, you buy a Webkinz plush toy. This toy comes with a code that you enter online where you then adopt and name a virtual version of this “pet”. You get to build a room for your virtual pet, then participate in all sorts of activities online that allow you to build up virtual cash to buy more cool things for your pet.

If you are like me and had not heard of Webkinz before, look out. It seems to be the latest thing, and I actually get why.

Ron Paul Blowback?

It was only a matter of time before “Ron Paul Blowback” would happen on the internet. TheWalk.com has this to say about people burying Ron Paul on Digg, just for the sake of burying him:

It’s hard to believe that anyone would actively censor a guy who is already suppressed in every other media. This campaign feels more like Good-versus-Evil every day.

Actually, I don’t think it’s so hard to believe at all, especially at Digg, and I don’t think this is necessarily an anti Ron Paul thing so much as it is a “okay, we get it–you like Ron Paul…STOP!” thing.

While there are definitely some people on Digg who are against Dr. Paul, I think there are a lot of other people who feel like “their” site has been taken over by people with an agenda–that Digg is actually being spammed by Ron Paul supporters.

And honestly, I think they are somewhat justified in feeling this way. Digg (up until the last few months) has mostly been focused and centered on technology, and many of the users there could give a crap about Dr. Paul or any of the other candidates. In my mind, they are somewhat justified in feeling that the site has been overrun by Ron Paul supporters.

Luckily for them (and us), the internet is an example of very efficient and fast moving free market. If Digg gets too cluttered with Ron Paul supporters, the market will move somewhere else. We may be seeing signs that is happening.

Part II (of many) on SEO, Google, and Content–Technology Moves, Build For Change

First of all, I can’t take credit for all of these ideas. Lot’s of them have been borrowed from guys like Steve Pavlina who are basically saying the same thing I am.

One of the more important points Steve makes is that your content should be timeless. What he means by this is that if your content is only pertinent only to what is going on today, there’s not much reason for people to want to look at it tomorrow. This is especially important as you try to build momentum for your site traffic over time.

Early on, your site will not be highly listed on any engines. With Google, you’ll be stuck in the “sandbox” for quite a while. While you may be providing great content that is extremely relevant for the day, week, or month it is published, your potential readers will never find it, at least from a search engine. Down the road, you may be lucky enough to be bumped up to a high ranking for the search terms, but it’s likely that no one will be searching for it.

Of course, there are exceptions. For instance, I maintain a site for my rugby club (www.knoxvillerugby.com) that contains scores and information about the club for the last few years. While the score of last Saturday’s match will get the majority of its traffic in the week following the match, there is a good chance that old guys who want to relive the glory days will one day come back to our site, possibly through a search engine, and read about what happened way back when. But, like I said, the majority of the traffic is going to come in the first week. This traffic is not search engine driven. It is driven by the fact that the site is reliable and updated in a timely manner. Not only do members of our club check our site regularly, but members of other clubs whose place in the league standings are tied to the results of our match check it as well.

So what do I mean by “build for change”? One could take that statement as a call to build in scalability and flexibility. While these are certainly important attributes to consider for your site, this actually isn’t what I’m talking about at all. The basic idea of what I’m saying is, don’t focus your efforts on search engines. Don’t focus on trying to get people to link to you. Don’t focus your energy on driving loads of traffic to your site today.

Focus on providing your customers with exactly what they want–good content that they want to come back for. All the rest will follow.

The biggest problem with relying on technology to drive your traffic is that technology is always changing. In 1999-2000, the .com boom, I was doing some work for a company who was selling its services to European companies to boost their rankings on search engines. Back then, Yahoo! ruled the roost, but they didn’t have nearly the market share that Google has now. People weren’t focused just on getting ranked highly on Yahoo!, but every search engine. We were monitoring rankings on over 100 different search engines as well as checking for links on the highest traffic sites on the web. Our goal was to get our customers rated highly on ALL of these engines. In much the same way that Google’s Page Rank system works now, each customer was assigned an indexed ranking based on their listing in the engines and the number of links to them that existed on high traffic sites.

Not exactly rocket surgery, but useful at the time. What wasn’t foreseen by my employer was the fact that one company was going to come in and basically take over the search industry. I was constantly asking, “what do we do when the situation changes?” I’ve long since parted ways with them, but I can imagine that their customers aren’t very thrilled with their Ask Jeeves rankings being in the top ten if their Google ranking is 97. I’m sure they’ve adjusted their product to account for this, but there are factors they didn’t see coming that I’m not sure they’ve dealt with. I would guess the most difficult problem they had to addres is that not only did the dominant players in the game change, but the technology changed as well.

The way search engines worked has drastically changed since 2000. Search engines are smarter (especially Google). Search engines are better equiped to handle rapidly changing sites. Most importantly, search engines are constantly changing and improving going forward.

Ironically, one of the tasks assigned to me way back then was to develop a “keyword generator”. Literally, those were the specifications I was given–“develop a keyword generator”. Now, my idea of a keyword generator and my boss’s were completely different, and frankly, my idea was a little ahead of its time.

My boss was very disappointed when I proudly showed him my software. He was expecting a tool that prompted the user enter a few keywords, then spat back these same keywords with the <meta> tags around them.

He was actually a little angry when I demonstrated my app that spidered three layers into a site and returned suggestions for keywords based on frequently occurring words and weighted based on the page on which they occurred and their placement on the page.

Which sounds like it more accurately addresses how search engines work nowadays?

The point isn’t that he wanted me to write a tool with very little functionality (and there were a million of these already available). The problem was that he had no inkling that search engines could ever change or evolve and refused to consider it when confronted.

We are facing a movement today that I predict will drastically change the game again. Social networking sites are becoming more popular by the minute as a way to find information. “Rankings” on sites like Digg, Del.icio.us, Reddit, etc. are driven completely by the users. Relevance and quality aren’t being decided by algorithms at all, but by actual people. So when 1,000 people “digg” your site, you better believe that there are thousands of others who are going to sit up and take notice of it.

As more and more people discover these sites and see the value in them, high rankings on these sites will become more and more important. Some people are well aware of this situation and are already coming up with ways to try to “game” these sites by falsifying user recommendations, and they are responding by banning domains that try to beat the system. I think a better approach is to focus on providing good, original content. You will not only increase your chances of finding good, loyal users, but you’ll also have built for the future.

We don’t know for sure what tomorrow will bring in search, social networking, or technologies that are still in their infancy. What we know for sure is that the goal of these technologies is always going to be finding and categorizing the best content out there.

Build quality into your site, and you can rest easy that you’ve also built for change.

Part I (of many) on SEO, Google, and Content

I’ve been reading up a lot lately on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), marketing, monetizing a blog, sandboxes, traffic generation, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

From what I’ve read, what I feel in my gut, and what everything else I’ve done in life has taught me, I’ve come to a pretty simple conclusion–you gotta work for it, at least as far as content driven sites go. And just like everything else, if you put in the hard yards and take care of what you can control, the rest will take care of itself.

I’m doing a little experiment, which I’ll discuss in a seperate post, to determine how much a very targeted SEO strategy can help impact a site that is basically without content. In contrast, I also have this site (not an experiment), with I plan on providing an abundance of relavant, original content that is focused on, well, nothing in particular. As I said, more on that later.

I’m not saying it doesn’t pay to be smart about SEO and to be aware of the existence of search engines. You would be stupid not to use keywords that are relevant (the important word here is relevant) to your site, and it is probably worth your while to do some research into the most common searches that occur for your target market. But in the end, the free market will determine whether or not your site is successful, not Google. Why? Because not only is your site market driven, but Google is market driven itself!

Maybe I’m a simpleton who isn’t looking at all the angles, but here goes…

How Google’s Market Relates to Your Market

Google’s goal is to provide its customers with relevant search results. The reason Google is the top search engine, and the reason everyone wants a high Google ranking, is that it actually does a good job at achieving this goal. People’s trust in Google to give them what they are looking for was brought about by Google’s ability to sort through the junk and provide relavant results. Google’s continued dominance relies on being smart enough to know which sites deliver relevant content and which sites are simply trying to trick the user into visiting the site in hopes of selling them something they aren’t looking for. If Google fails to perform, someone else will jump in and provide this service.

That’s the beauty of the free market–if it is technologically possible, the demand will be met. In fact, the technology actually drives the demand in this case. So Google not only has to worry about providing their users with a quality product right now, but they also have to work to continue to provide a quality product in the future or risk being upended by someone with better technology who does a better job.

In other words, if Google’s search engine is dumb enough for you to trick it placing a crappy, irrelevant, get-rich-quick site high up the rankings, no one will want to use it anymore. If no one uses it anymore, what good is it for you to be ranked highly there? At that point, Google is no longer able to effectively connect you to your market.