WGHubris on August 28th, 2013

At the beginning of this year, I renewed my webhosting arrangement with WestHost and immediately regretted it when my server suffered hours of downtime in February. Since then, I’ve “caught” my server down several times. This is particularly distressing because I don’t monitor it constantly, which means it could have been down numerous times when I just didn’t notice.

Unstable WestHost Shared Hosting

There are multiple tiers of webhosting. The cheapest, and therefore least reliable, is called shared hosting. The way it works is that the webhosting company loads up numerous websites onto a single server. Often, these websites are smaller, low-traffic websites, so it really doesn’t matter if there are a lot of them on one server. However, if one of them experiences an issue, it can affect all of the websites hosted on that server. To worst webhosts load up too many websites on a single sever compromising both the speed of these sites and their integrity. A very full server is more likely to be taken down by a spike in traffic or memory usage since it is running close to capacity.

I don’t know if this is WebHost’s problem or not. I really don’t care. What I do care about is that the WebHost Status page always says the same thing. First, the server “became unresponsive and had to be rebooted.” Then, a file integrity check was forced. If you know anything about computers, you know that they don’t like having the plug pulled. They like to be shut down nicely. If they don’t get shut down properly, they will often launch into a file system check that can take an hour or more. That means with every, “Oops, we had to reboot the server,” comes an hour or more of down time. For months, it seemed like this was a surprise to the WestHost engineers who posted estimated fix times to the webhosting status page of 10 or 20 minutes. Then AFTER the file check started, they changed the fix time.

westhost hosting quality

From 08/28/2013

I understand that shared hosting is the cheapest hosting, and I’ll be moving away from it on WestHost, at least, as soon as possible. However, it is inexcusable that a server just has to be rebooted so frequently. Obviously, there is a problem. Either the server is overloaded, or it’s monitoring is substandard. There is no reason a tech shouldn’t be able to notice that a problem is arising on server and make the necessary adjustments, or if there really is nothing that can be done, at least the server can be rebooted cleanly so that there is no need for over an hour of down time to run a system check.

My next move is to check the internet to see if someone monitors this sort of thing. If not, it should be a trivial task to take a screenshot of the WestHost status page every hour. That would catch most of these server reboots since they come with an hour long file integrity check. Maybe if the company knew that someone noticed just how often they had to reboot a sever and keep it down for a file check, they just might do something to keep it from happening so often.

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WGHubris on August 18th, 2013

There are many different reasons people use Twitter. Depending on why and how you use Twitter, you may have come across an interesting phenomenon where some people are very particular about how you retweet them.

Twitter Retweet Etiquette

When it comes to Twitter, there really aren’t any hard and fast rules. That being said, there are certain things that are frowned upon by users of the system. Spamming, obviously, is both unwelcome and against Twitter’s terms of service. “Stealing” people’s tweets by reposting them without any sort of credit is also universally despised. After that, however, many of the so-called rules of Twitter diverge depending upon who is doing the tweeting and the reading. This variety between types of Twitter users can lead to confusion about whose rules to follow, and when.

why get mad about manual rtThere are many types of Twitter users. Some use Twitter only for promoting their work. Some use Twitter only to read about certain people, events or places. Some use Twitter to keep up only with actual friends and co-workers, and so on.

One particular type of Twitter user likes to engage in posting funny, quirky or personal things. They have no objective beyond Twitter itself. There are no links to follow, no blog posts to promote, no brand to build. They have no objective beyond Twitter itself. For these users, retweets and favorites are a way to keep score, to see just how funny or interesting each tweet is. Instead of a thank you for ensuring that their tweet found a bigger audience among your followers, they’ll be upset that your “manual retweet” stole some of their thunder.

What Is a Manual Retweet Anyway?

Not long ago, the only way to retweet was a manual retweet. Retweeting was actually invented by the users of Twitter, not by the company itself. It started as a way to share something you found interesting, funny, or useful with your followers, while still giving credit to the original poster. To retweet, you copied the original tweet and added RT plus the user’s name, like this:

RT @arcticllama There is a great new post at FinanceGourmet about free online credit scores.

In this way, you can share the information that the user ArcticLlama (that’s me) originally posted while letting everyone know that it wasn’t your original material. This also provided the additional benefit of letting the original poster know that you valued that tweet because the @username resulted in the original user getting that post back on their own timeline. If people retweeted you hundreds or thousands of times, you know you wrote something that people found worthy.

Eventually Twitter incorporated the retweet as part of the official system. In doing so, it changed how a retweet works.

With the original retweet anything that retweeted looked to the people who received the retweet like it came from the person who did the retweet, not the person who did the original tweet. That is, if I retweeted something as ArcticLlama, as you scanned your timeline, it was my little picture that showed up. In a way, this makes sense, you know me, not this other user, and I’m the one sharing what they wrote.

Additionally, if you also found it worth sharing and retweeted it again, then both the original sharer and the person who did the retweet ended up in the next version like this:

RT @financegourmet @arcticllama There is a great new post at FinanceGourmet about free online credit scores.

As you can see, the original link is still there, and if you are a follower of neither FinanceGourmet or ArcticLlama, you have two users you might want to look at, and there is more exposure for the original user’s link, so that should all be fine right?

But when Twitter incorporated retweets directly, they changed up the system. Now instead of RT @username leading the message, the tweet just appears. In addition, the original user’s name and picture accompanies the tweet. On the one hand, this is better and offers more credit to the original poster. On the other hand, you have to pay more attention now to know just how you got this tweet, or more specifically who it came from. If you have no idea who the original tweeter is, but a lot of respect for the retweeter, this is actually worse. Of course, the biggest benefit is that you don’t need to use some of the 140 characters up with the RT and username.

You can, of course, still retweet in the original way if you like. However, in some user’s minds, this also splits the credit for the tweet. Imagine, instead of a link to a webpage that I would like people to read, this was a joke I made. There is no link. There is no exposure. On one hand, there is still no issue. The original poster still gets full credit for being the original joke teller. But, for some users, the retweet count is what matters. It is the score that a tweet gets for originality, humor, or whatever.

When you manually retweet, instead of using the direct retweet button on Twitter, then the retweets would count like this:

When I retweet the message, the original poster’s tweet shows that there has been one retweet.

When someone retweets my retweet, then the original poster still only has one retweet, and my post has one retweet. But, if we all used the retweet button on the Twitter webpage, then the original poster’s tweet would have two retweets, and my retweet would have none. Obviously, if retweet count is what matters to you, then one method is clearly superior.

Who Cares About Manual Retweets?

If all you care about on Twitter is getting the maximum amount of interaction from your tweets and having your posts and links seen by as many people as possible, this is all very moot.

If on the other hand, Twitter is the end game for you, this matters because you want to have tweets with 2387 retweets more than you care about your tweet getting spread across Twitter as far as it can. That high retweet count is what “proves” that your tweets are great. Even more, services like Klout and Favstar count those retweets and then show them off or provide a ranking based on them. Those services don’t necessarily count the second and third retweets from the original toward those rankings. This feels like stealing credit then.

Ironically, how most users retweet has less to do with how they view the different methods than it does with how they use Twitter. I use HootSuite and the autoschedule function to keep all of my tweets and retweets from bunching up in clumps. This functionality generates “manual retweets.” Users who just use the Twitter webpage, do not have any sort of manual retweet option, unless they actually cut and paste.

Should you be upset about manual retweets?

Not if your goal is the maximum possible audience for your ideas. In that case, any tweet, retweet, or whatever is fine. If on the other hand, your goal is to get the biggest number of retweets credited to your account, then you’d probably prefer that people use the direct retweet option.

Either way, Twitter is a medium of the masses. People will do what they do, and how they do it. Be glad when people find your stuff interesting enough to do anything other than keep scrolling.

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A few years ago, Frontier Airlines jumped on the bandwagon with other major airlines to charge customers for checking bags. The justification was that all of those checked bags were making the planes heavier and costing the airline more money in fuel. It just wasn’t fair to lightweight traveling passengers to have free checked bags for flying customers.

More baggage fees for Frontier luggage.

It’s hard to know whether the people who run Frontier Airlines are truly clueless, or if it was all part of a multi-step plan from the beginning, but what happened next is obvious to anyone with more than three brain cells. Passengers, unwilling to pay more money just to take their luggage with them on a trip began to carry-on everything they used to check. Predictably, passengers try and cram too much luggage into bags that are too big and then spend too long trying to jam them into crowded overhead bins.

Instead of a checking a 40 lb. bag and leaving room for other travelers to carry-0n lighter bags, customers just carry on a 40 lb. bag. So, the airlines save no weight and no fuel, and don’t get the highly coveted extra fee. To top it off, frequent travelers often like to carry-on bags, but can’t because there isn’t enough space.

The whole policy is a bust.

Frontier Charges for Carry On Bags – More Fees

The solution, if you are not a price gouging company that, frankly, hates the cash pinatas customers you have to fly from place to place in order to actually make money, is fairly obvious. Change the baggage fees to something that both solves the weight problem, and prevents the delays and overcrowding of carry-on space. Ideally, the airline would charge a fee for heavier bags but allow normal checked bags for free. Then, you charge for carry-on bags instead. This both keeps the weight down, and it makes sure that only savvy, lightweight travelers (typically the highly coveted business travelers) are carrying on bags.

The result?

Lower weight, faster boarding, and uncrowded overhead space.

However, Frontier thinks it can gouge its customers for a little more money by charging them for carry-on bags as well. That way, if you take ANY luggage, you pay more. Ironically, by charging for BOTH carry-on and checked bags, the airline provides no incentive to do either, and considering no one travels with NO luggage, everyone pays the extra fees.

The result?

The same crowded overhead bins and the same weight problem persist.

How To Get Around Frontier Bag Fees

The smartest thing you can do to get around Frontier’s luggage fees is to be smart.

First, add the cost of your baggage charges to the price of your ticket. Frontier is counting on conversations like this one occurring all over the country.

“Hey Ma, Frontier tickets are $15 cheaper than this other airline. Let’s buy them.”

Later, at the ticket counter, “What do you mean I have to pay $20 to check or carry-on my bag?”

Don’t forget Southwest Airlines allows a free checked (and carry-on) bag.

You see, most people buy airline tickets based on price. Since all airlines give flyers the same tiny seats, the same lack of service, and no one offers food or drinks anymore, customers don’t see any reason to treat tickets as anything more than a commodity. By moving the amount paid by the customer to fees, the airline hopes people will be stupid enough to not include them in the price of the ticket. That way, it seems like a lower fare, even though it costs just as much or more than other options.

If Frontier’s double bag charge works, that is customers don’t book other airlines and complain loudly, other airlines will follow.

 

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WGHubris on May 10th, 2013

When I first started writing online for money, I was introduced to Google Analytics. While there is a great deal of information available within Analytics, the key for me, at the time, was the way search keywords were reported. By selecting an overview of the traffic coming to your website, you could see what keywords were driving people to your site, but no more.

Google Search Keywords

In the world of online marketing, a lot of focus happens on keyword research. There are a lot of ways to go about researching keywords. Some publishers like to find the keywords first, and then write articles about those keywords. This is the giving people what they are looking for method. Other publishers, already know what they want to write about, but they want to frame it in a way that allows the maximum number of people to find it. This method is more about properly cataloging your publications.

I fall into the latter camp.

One of my first clients mentioned to me that while they loved my writing, it always seemed to bring in less traffic than the writings of other users. It turns out that my catchy, creative headlines are loathed by Google’s search ranking algorithm which assumes that whatever is in your title is literally what your article is about. So, an article titled, How to Spiff Up Your Home Before Summer, will never, ever, rank highly for people who search for, “spring cleaning.” In fact, the duller, and more keyword filled your title, the better.

keyword not provided from search

Knowing where people land on your website is useful. People landing on that spring cleaning page from organic search results is useful information. It let’s me know that my readers are finding that page. But, without information about the keywords that sent them there, I’ll never know whether my readers are coming after searching for spring cleaning, or for shower cleaning tips.

Keywords in Analytics

For a while now, I’ve just gotten over the annoying metric at the top of every website’s traffic report. The majority of traffic has listed, “Not Provided,” as the keyword used in search for some time now. Fortunately, the remaining information was vaguely accurate if not statistically complete. For example, if a website showed 30% not provided, then one could reasonably assume that the next dozen keywords were the ones providing the majority of the website’s traffic. Unfortunately, those days are ending.

As the number of keywords that are not provided climbs, the remaining keywords are no longer sorted in any meaningful way in many cases. Sure, if a website has something like this:

  • 65% Not Provided
  • 18% Weasel Combing
  • 8% Monkey Wigs
  • 5% Payday Loans to Buy Viagra

Then, you know where your traffic is coming from, and what your important keywords are. But, if your website is big, and not focused on a single keyword, then the traffic reports start to look more like this:

With results like this, one can make educated guesses as to what keyword searches drive someone to their website, but it gets increasingly difficult to see which ones are more used than others. Even when there is a difference, does the variance between 2 percent and 1 percent really represent an accurate picture of traffic, or just how the terms were aggregated for the report?

When it comes to search, it’s Google’s world and we just live in it. Still it’s decisions can make our jobs harder or easier. As a professional writer that makes a living online without spending every waking moment plumbing the mass of SEO tools and keyword research subscriptions out there, this change has tilted the balance of power away from the writers who care about content, and toward the search engine gamers who manufacture the minimum possible value for rankings. Over time, this will actually make Google’s searches less relevant.

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WGHubris on February 14th, 2013

There are a lot of people out there who hate Valentine’s Day. Most of them hate it, not because they actually hate V-Day, but rather because they hate how it reminds them that they don’t have someone special in their life to share it with. Other people hate Valentines Day because it’s too commercial, or because it’s a Hallmark holiday. What they mean, of course, is that they resent having to spend the money to buy something, or don’t like having to come up with something to do for Valentine Day.

valentines day quit graphicFor my wife and I, these are not the reasons we quit Valentine’s Day. We’ve been together now for longer than we were single. My wife has never been the type to sit back and wait for me to come up with something amazing to impress her. She likes to plan, and pitch in and come up with what we are doing. Then, she likes to savor knowing what we are going to be doing in a few days, weeks or months.

We also love holidays. A wise friend once told us, “Never pass up a reason to celebrate.” I think that’s good advice. I’m a 40-year old who seeks out multiple fireworks shows on the 4th of July, insists on a full turkey dinner for Thanksgiving, even if it’s just us, dresses up in green for St. Patrick’s Day even though I’m not the least bit Irish, and I put out a flag for Flag Day. Heck, I even have my own holidays:

  • The CU v CSU football game on Labor Day weekend
  • SuperBowl Sunday
  • The Oscars Night
  • First Day of School
  • and several others.

The Straw That Broke Valentine’s Day Back

For the first decade of our relationship, we went along with Valentine’s Day. There were changes and agreements. She knows about money, and even cares about using it wisely more than I do. After a few years of fifty, sixty, or even seventy dollar bouquets of flowers, we put a stop to that. A smaller grocery store bouquet was allowed, but nothing bigger. After that, we would do special things, dinner, movies, hot air balloons, whatever, and then we’d exchange Valentine’s Day cards.

But, one year, something happened that changed it forever. For years, we had noticed the rampant price gouging that goes along with Valentines Day. Some of it is supply and demand, but much of it is not. Watch the price of a dozen roses at FTD during January, compared with the week before Valentine’s Day to see what I mean. It’s not just florists. Valentines Day cards seem to cost much more than regular cards. We avoided most of that, but it was still there in the back of our minds.

Then, on Valentine’s Day, we made a reservation at one of our favorite restaurants. When we showed up, they told us it was an hour wait. “But, we have a reservation,” we said. It didn’t matter. So did everyone else, or at least we assumed so. We realized that we were trapped. Anywhere else would have as long of wait or longer since we didn’t have a reservation there. We made the best of it and enjoyed each other’s company.

Then, when we were FINALLY seated, we got another rude shock. The menu, that we knew and loved, had been chopped down to just a couple of dishes, not including some of our favorites. Service was slow, the food was mediocre, and our night was far from magical.

Whether the restaurant was trying to make more money or just handle the volume, I don’t know. Either way, Valentine’s Day was not a great day, but rather the worst possible day to try and enjoy the company of your loved one anywhere other than at home. We realized the problem was that everyone was trying to have the same magical night in the same way. We don’t go camping on Memorial Day weekend for the same reason. When everyone is trying to make the same thing happen, no one gets it to happen. Some things are fun with crowds, having an intimate evening with your spouse is not one of them.

As we talked we realized that just going out to a nice restaurant on ANY OTHER DAY of our choosing would have been more fun. Flowers and cards would have been more meaningful on a day when not everyone else gets them. In other words, Valentine’s Day was less fun, more crowded and more expensive, and so we quit.

Every year, we hear people complain about V-Day, both those people who have someone, and those who don’t. We nod sympathetically, and if they ask (and ONLY if they ask) tell them about our arrangement. The ironic thing is that most people, both women and men agree with us, but for some reason they just can’t do what we do. Either they worry the other person won’t understand, or won’t stick to the no pact, or they just can’t stand to not be the only ones without something going on.

So, we quit Valentine’s Day. We’ve been happier on February 14th ever since.

But, tomorrow on the 15th, I’ll wander into the grocery store. I’ll grab a rose or some other small token. I’ll find my wife’s car wherever it is parked downtown, and I’ll leave it along with a little note on the driver’s seat. And, it will mean more than all the high-priced bouquets and limited dinners in crowded restaurants that everyone had the night before.

 

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WGHubris on February 12th, 2013

There is a bit of cloud brewing on Twitter and elsewhere over an email sent by LinkedIn. In the email, the company congratulates the user for having one of the “top 5% most viewed profiles.” The catch is that it is starting to seem like “everyone” got one of these emails.

LinkedIn Top 5 Percent Email Scam

top-five-percent-linkedin-graphicA number of users on Twitter have begun to question whether the top five percent email is a scam. The idea circulating is that by sending out an email about being one of the top profiles on LinkedIn will encourage users to engage with the site more actively, and promote their profiles. In short, the top 5% of all profiles email is just a cynical attempt to gain momentum by providing “everyone” a chance to brag about being a big shot on LinkedIn.

But, is this all a LinkedIn email promotional scam, or is there another explanation?

How Everybody Is in LinkedIn Top 5%

The top viewed profile isn’t so much a marketing trick by LinkedIn as much as ignoring the math. The quick thought that jumps to someone’s brain when they see top five percent is that it is a small, elite club. After all, that means that 95 percent of users did not make the cut. All of that is true, but when you look at the raw numbers, and take a second to think about what other services or websites a top user of LinkedIn might use, and it becomes obvious why so many people seemed to make it into this rarefied club.

In January, LinkedIn announced that it had 200 million users. How, exactly, the company counts those users is not relevant  assuming that it is counting users the same way for its infamous top five percent emails. In that case, five percent of 200 million is 10 million users. That’s right, in order to qualify as a top five percenter on LinkedIn, you need only be in the top 10 million.

In one way, this still seems like an elite club. After all, 190 million users do not qualify. However, there are very big variations in how each LinkedIn user takes part in the network. There are millions of users who setup a profile and then never came back. There are millions of others who haven’t even uploaded a picture. There are millions more still who created a profile, but never promoted it and don’t bother telling anyone about it.

There are two ways one could be one of the top five percent of viewed profiles on LinkedIn. First, is the group of people who are “real-world famous.” In other words, people who have real, live connections and those who are interested in them based upon who they are in the offline-world. Keep in mind that only those with a LinkedIn profile count, however. So, while there are a lot of famous movie stars and politicians out there, many of them don’t have a LinkedIn profile, certainly not enough of them to suck up the 5 million available slots.

The second group of people would be those who might be considered “internet-famous.” These people would tend to be those with popular websites, or web personalities. As a group, people in this group are not just active on LinkedIn. They tend to be active on other social networking sites as well such as Facebook, Google+ and, yes, even Twitter. In fact, one might could easily conclude that out of the 5 million people who qualify as top five percent, well over 4.5 million of them are also active on Twitter. Furthermore, those 4.5 million would be people with a lot of followers, and many of them would follow each other.

In other words, there are somewhere between 4.5 million and 5 million people on Twitter right now who got these emails saying that their profile was one of the top 5 percent of all profiles viewed on LinkedIn. While that might seem like “everyone” got one of these emails, the truth is that a small percentage really got them. For example, as someone who never really finished filling out his LinkedIn profile, I didn’t get the email, although many people in my Twitter timeline did.

It just so happens that the same small percentage that got LinkedIn’s email is the most vocal and followed on social media.

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WGHubris on February 3rd, 2013

Once upon a time, the conventional wisdom was that Google wouldn’t index, and therefore rank, any thing shorter than 300 words. I wrote an article about how 300 words is basically nothing, noting that an introduction and conclusion could take up 100 of those words fairly easily, leaving just 200 words of content. Then, people started saying the minimum was 400 words.

long or short post graphicJust as well known, but perhaps less shared, was that there was a pseudo-maximum length for Google of about 1,000 words (though some said even less) because the search engine company wouldn’t index anything more than 1,000 words. There was a rather famous affiliate marketer who called B.S. on this, but I don’t remember who.

Either way, I’ve noticed two things about myself.

First, I type fast and I think fast. That means that I write fast. 300 words is nothing for me, because by the time my fingers have stopped and I take a sip of coffee, I’ve already dropped 150 words on a page. Second, this also means that I am likely to hit 750 to 1,000 words without even trying. Sometimes, I find myself up over 1,000 words, and then end up adding more as I proofread and clarify. For example, my post today at my freelance writing blog about coworking as a freelance writer versus using a home office. It was about 1,250 words when I reached the end, and it got longer as I expounded on the value of coffee at a coworking place.

In the past, I have split these longer posts up because, “Hey, two posts for one,” and because of the possible 1K barrier from Google. These days, however, I’m not so sure that is the right move. For starters, I hate having to click, Next Page, over and over again. Second, I think Google is indexing further and longer than it used to. As a result, a longer article might benefit from additional keyword matching, or more specifically from alternate keyword matching, while still holding the rank of the primary keyword.

There is a limit, of course. Scrolling down and down and down can be just as annoying as clicking, Next Page, all of the time. So, 10,000 words on a single post is not the way to go. However, I’m starting to think that anything short of 2,000 words probably can stay together, especially if there is not a nature place to break it up into smaller pieces.

If I get more data and flush this idea out a little more, I might go with a more formal piece on ArcticLlama, but for now, it’s just a thought in progress.

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