Monday, October 9, 2017

Google Adwords bans my ad, citing "Revisionist Concepts" and "Anti Content"

Google appears to be getting ready for re-entry into the People's Republic of China or Soviet Russia, judging by the "Revisionist Concepts: Unacceptable Anti Content" notification I received from the Google Adwords team for one of my AdWords ad campaigns for Lean Media.

Here's what the advertisements looked like. I created four simple text ads promoting the book and the Lean Media framework:
Anything seem wrong? These ads are about as milquetoast as you can get. Yet AdWords reviewers or algorithms thought the ad contained extremely offensive ... something. See for yourself: 
The message says "Unacceptable Anti Content ... Google policy does not permit the advertisement of revisionist concepts."

What does that even mean? The email doesn't explain, and Google's support website was no help either. Honestly, it sounds like something a Communist Party official might hand down to a hapless journalist or dissident before sentencing him or her to the gulag.

To be clear: Lean Media is a production framework for people who create media. The 50,000-word book I wrote is apolitical, non-offensive, and encourages media creators to make better media that audiences love. There are tons of real-world examples, from an art-photography publisher in China to global media brands like Minecraft and The Simpsons. Even if the book were related to politics or some other controversial subject, there's no reason Google should ban it ... at least not in this country.

Putting on my tinfoil hat: What I suspect happened is my recent public criticisms of Google AdWords about misleading settings for locations and ad fraud got noticed, and someone flagged it for additional review. "Anti-content" was the only thing they could come up with, and they banned the ad.

Do no evil, indeed.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A startup called "Bodega"

You may have heard the news about "Bodega," a hot Silicon Valley startup that wants to shake up the vending machine space with machine learning and clever placement. They've got two young ex-Google employees as founders, and have attracted lots of funding.

And then there's the name: A pretty shameless appropriation of the term used to describe the small mom-and-pop convenience stores in New York and elsewhere, often serving poor immigrant communities and offering special goods such as home-made sandwiches and services such as international money transfers. The logo is a cat, which in real bodegas is often the mascot. People are up in arms about all of this.

Let's be honest: If the startup were called "Vendoogle" or "Quikbox" I don't think there would be so much outrage.

Local mom & pop stores have been under assault by all kinds of well-funded rivals for decades, including CVS, Target Mini-Stores, gas station franchises, and bottling companies working with vending machine distributors. Nevertheless, the little corner stores still keep ticking in many areas thanks to goods and services not offered by these bigger competitors, including specialty food, extended hours, and money transfer services.

However, if Target were to rebrand their mini-stores as "Red Bodegas" or something similar there would be similar outrage. It's one thing to compete, it's another thing to play dirty by usurping the little guy's brand or throwing your weight around too much in a very obvious or threatening way.

If I were McDonald and Rajan, I would use this opportunity to rebrand to something more acceptable, offer a mea culpa, and maybe even figure out some way to work with real bodegas and local stores (shared distribution for certain items to lower costs? Machine learning for real bodegas' inventory? "Local" goods? Spillover sales?)

Saturday, September 16, 2017

An email from 1995: Impact of VoIP and voice recognition?

I was going through some old photos and computer files this morning, and happened upon the following email. It's from sometime in 1995 (didn't preserve the headers) and was addressed to an op-ed or feature writer for the International Herald Tribune (then owned by the New York Times and Washington Post) who had written something about the Internet. My email to this person touched upon two then-emerging technologies, which didn't seem like a big deal at the time, but are now hugely important: 
I saw the article you wrote on the above in an issue of the International Herald Tribune. My question is this: Now that internet use is multiplying, and people are able to take advnatage of much cheaper LONG DISTANCE CALLS through a PC, a modem, and an internet provider, dont you think the phone companies are going to clamp down on this? I mean, five or ten years down the road people will be able to buy equipment, combo phone/modems with a chip inside that enables the general public to just dial across the world but only pay local rates plus a monthly internet fee. This will take a big chunk out of the phone companies business.

Can the phone cos start making providers pay for this, and pass on the cost to the consumer? Also, why havent they done this already? Who is actually paying for internet phone lines, and at what point will they say "enough is enough"?

One other question: VOICE RECOGNITION: what kind of impact do you see this technology having on the industry? What kind of timeframe? It seems like a major thing to me, but everyone I talk to, plus magazines, all mention two words: "science fiction" and then dismiss it as just that. True?
Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony thing quickly became a big thing, cutting down the cost of international phone calls and then leading to a host of new services (Skype, FaceTime, Google Voice, etc.). Domestic long-distance calls, which used to cost more than 30 cents per minute, are now free with most calling plans, and international calls which used to cost more than a dollar per minute to some countries, are now free or a few cents per minute at most. 

Voice recognition was slower to take off, but 2010 was widely used by automated support lines for banks and airlines. In the past 5 it has exploded, thanks to Siri, "OK Google" and Amazon Echo.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Why are so many indie albums missing from digital and streaming music services?

There is an interesting article on NPR about Bob Seger titled "Where Have All The Bob Seger Albums Gone?" Seger is a singer/songwriter from the 70s and early 80s who dominated classic rock radio for decades with songs like "Night Moves." As you might expect, this is a tale of a dispute over digital revenue and an older artist (and his longtime manager, "Punch") resisting the transition from full-length albums to digital downloads and streaming music:
Punch is aware of the new reality, though to hear him tell it, retailers are the ones to blame for the unavailability of Seger's back catalog. When I ask him why he hasn't kept more of the old titles in print physically, or at least released them as album only downloads online, he explains: "iTunes has a policy of not permitting 'album only' downloads except in some instances. From the very beginning, we were very concerned as to how this policy would affect album oriented rock artists in the long run and certainly there is evidence that this policy has contributed to a decline in the format. At the same time, physical retailers have been reducing the footprint of music in their stores to such a degree where deeper, back catalog titles have a tougher time reaching an audience."

If Punch is right about the state of the industry, Seger is in a pickle: The priorities of iTunes and Spotify might have changed the way people listen in the digital era, but those new priorities make it harder for him to argue for a reversal for the sake of Seger's back catalog. And if shrinking physical retail space means it's harder to market Seger's early LPs, letting them all fall out of print only makes it harder for anyone hear them as the artist intended. In the name of preserving his client's vision as an album artist, compilations have become the default option in both environments, causing the old albums to fade in favor of individual songs.

Aside from major artists like Seger, something I have noticed is many indie artists have not made the transition to digital downloads or streaming. I've seen lots of good stuff missing from Spotify, Amazon Music (streaming), and the old Apple Music (digital downloads) including early albums by the Lemonheads (originally released by TAANG records in the 80s), Kula Shaker's Summer Sun EP from 1997, and Christopher Parkening's Parkening Plays Bach LP from 1990.

What many of these recordings have in common is they were originally released on independent labels. I don't know if the labels are no longer in operation, or whether the rights reverted back to the artist or to another entity during a sale or special distribution deal. Whatever the case, important recordings are no longer accessible unless you have the LP, CD, cassette, or DAT (!) from 20 or 25 years ago ... or can find it on YouTube.

I think moving up the format ladder has always been problematic for smaller labels. I remember when Dischord started selling CDs I got the Minor Threat album which didn't have a barcode on the back of the CD case. It also came with a historical booklet so fat it almost didn't fit in the clear plastic case. They were just kind of flying by the seat of their pants.

One of my neighbors happens to be a former member of the Boston indie band O Positive. When I asked him why I couldn't get their songs on iTunes he said the singer (who now happens to be a lawyer) said it was too troublesome to sort out the paperwork and files (this is before Distrokid came on the scene). I just checked Amazon Music and only one of their albums is there, which happens to be their major label release on Epic/Sony. The indie stuff is still MIA.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A history of clickbait and keyword hijacking, 1750-1999

A friend on Twitter lamented that the shift from printed newspapers to online news has led to a flood of clickbait that wasn’t present before. While it’s true that clickbait—articles whose content and headlines are designed to generate a very high number of pageviews—is a product of the digital media revolution, there is a long tradition in the media world of using attention-grabbing headlines, titles, and graphics to get people to buy a newspaper, magazine, or journal.

In the United States, the tradition goes back to early periodicals of the mid-1700s, which used strongly worded headlines and satire to generate outrage about the British and other issues of the day. The wave of “yellow journalism” in the mid-1800s continued the trend, which saw the establishment of tabloids in the English-speaking world which mastered the art of succinct, irresistible headlines on the front covers of newspapers. The Sun (U.K.) and the New York Post are modern examples of the format. Internationally, the rise of labor nationalism, fascism, anti-semitism, and communism gave rise to hundreds of newspapers and magazines that used bombast and hyperbolic headlines to attract readers and advance their respective causes.

In the 1990s, Jimmy Lai, a Chinese media entrepreneur, brought the tabloid format to Hong Kong with the Apple Daily. When the format was later exported to Taiwan, the boring, conservative Taiwanese newspaper competition didn’t know what hit them. Some newspapers in China tried to follow the format, but with limited success, owing to the Chinese Communist Party’s strict media controls and the power and influence of local politicians and business leaders.

There’s another digital trend that has historical precedence in print journalism: Keyword hijacking. There are a few flavors that pop up in the modern-day world. The first involves marketers exploiting interest in one type of product or service by including related keywords in web pages, advertisements, and social media, even though there is otherwise no direct connection. The second involves a company, organization, or individual taking a trending story on social media and then creating online content such as a post or article that includes keywords related to the trend. The reasoning is, people will be more likely to click the headline or tweet or post because they are interested in following the trending story.

The term “keyword hijacking” has become synonymous with shady marketing. People feel tricked when they click on an ad or a headline or a hashtag and expect to find information about one thing, and instead they are treated to information about something else. In some cases, companies will insert keywords and hashtags to promote themselves even if the issue involves grief, suffering, or something quite serious.

Keyword hijacking is not new. While doing some genealogy research a few years ago, I stumbled upon this advertisement in a Lockport, New York newspaper:

History of keyword hijacking

Some context: This was published in 1904, when tensions between Russia and Japan were heating up and war was anticipated. The store new that putting “war” into the headline would get eyeballs. It was tasteless, but it worked … which is why keyword hijacking is still a thing today.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

How to live-tweet events

Yesterday I had a chance to give an online presentation about using Twitter to cover breaking news or share information about live events. The event was hosted by Mediashift, a media education and training site that used to be part of PBS but is now run as an independent organization.

As I note in the video, I have live-tweeting events since 2008, but I was also able to share some best practices and examples for other scenarios, including breaking news, sports, community events, politics, and more. Many thanks to the staff of the Dallas Morning News for sharing their experiences.

Here's a recording of the presentation. It's about one hour long:

Saturday, March 12, 2016

How much do LinkedIn job ads cost?

How much do LinkedIn job ads cost?
Last fall The New Yorker published an article about LinkedIn's founder, Reid Hoffman. LinkedIn is a huge social network focused on professional connections (see What is LinkedIn?). It is used by more than 400 million people worldwide. It was a puff piece that reflected the arrogance of the Silicon Valley elite, but there were was an interesting reference about the source of LinkedIn's revenue and how LinkedIn recruiters help drive revenue. This post will reveal how much LinkedIn job ads cost, but note rates may vary from location to location and it's also possible to get volume discounts.

First, the quote from the The New Yorker:
For the first two years, Hoffman concentrated on growth, so LinkedIn had no revenues. (Today, most of ​LinkedIn’s $2.2 billion in annual income is from fees paid by recruiters for access to extra information about the site’s users.) 
I can give some insight into the source of this revenue. Part of it comes from premium memberships, for LinkedIn recruiters to access data about promising prospects. But there is another component to this revenue, which doesn't reflect the interest of "recruiters" but rather companies who want to list jobs on LinkedIn. The LinkedIn job ads cost a lot.

How much do LinkedIn job ads cost?

To list a job on LinkedIn, companies pay through the nose. For one of my consulting clients I created its first LinkedIn recruiting campaign. The company was paying something like $325 for a single job listing for one month (purchased in a batches of 10 ads). Multiply that by millions and you get the idea of where LinkedIn’s billions are coming from!

Keep in mind that this basically means matching recruiters/corporate types with the right candidates and charging a hefty fee to do so. Why do LinkedIn job ads cost so much? Mainly, because it's effective and the competition is terrible. It works because most of the alternatives — ads in the paper, Craigslist, online sites like Indeed or Monster, etc. don’t have the reach or the algorithmic smarts to generate results that are as good.

LinkedIn has been able to achieve scale by providing a great place to post online resumes and connect with current/former colleagues, and then building a whole bunch of extra services on top of that - company profiles, job search engines, premium services, etc. I imagine they also increase the value of that data by building (or buying) profiles of the millions of companies associated with LinkedIn members, and then assigning value to them based on various criteria (age of company, number of employees, market value, hiring/turnover trends, etc.) It's very powerful, and it will be very difficult for other companies to catch up with LinkedIn in terms of quality or revenue generated.