Archive for the ‘business’ category


Laying out French articles in HTML takes a long time

05.08.2022


Above: Some French text in Lucire.
 
Regular Lucire readers will have seen a number of articles run in English and French (and one in Japanese) on our main website. Typographically, the French ones are tricky, since we have to distinguish between non-breaking spaces and non-breaking thin spaces, and as far as I know, there is no code for the latter in HTML. Indeed, even with a non-breaking space, a browser can treat it as it would a regular space.

So what’s our solution? Manually, and laboriously, putting in <NOBR> tags around the words that cannot be broken. It’s not efficient but typographically, it makes the text look right and, unless we’ve missed one, we don’t have the problem of guillemets being left on a line by themselves without a word to attach to.

The language is set to fr in the meta tags.

Among our French colleagues, I have seen some go Anglo with their quotation marks and ignoring the traditional French guillemets. Others omit any thin spaces and, consequently, adopt the English spacing rules with punctuation. For some reason, I just can’t bring ourselves to do it, and maybe there is an easier way that we haven’t heard of. I hope nos lecteurs français appreciate the extra effort.

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Rand Fishkin’s ‘Something is Rotten in Online Advertising’

21.07.2022

I’ve been meaning to link Rand Fishkin’s ‘Something is Rotten in Online Advertising’ for some time, so here it is.

He writes, in his second and third paragraphs (links in original):

Where to even begin… Should we start with the upcoming loss of third-party cookies? The bizarre Google & Facebook duopoly teamup against anti-trust action? The rise of online ads as a money laundering & terrorist-funding tactic? Or maybe we should talk about brands’ ever-shrinking ability to attribute ad clicks. Hundreds of millions in provable ad fraudDisturbing privacy issues that remain unaffected by GDPR or other government efforts.

No wonder a lot of savvy people believe adtech and the entire online advertising industry are due for a subprime-mortgage-style reckoning.

It’s a well written piece, covering ad fraud, the incentivization of ad fraud, and real-world examples, including this:

The world’s biggest con continues. The con artists don’t need to do three-card Monte any more. They can just get into ad tech. Rand’s piece is well worth a read.

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Forget Duck Duck Go, Bing, and Google—I’m trying Mojeek

17.07.2022

It was disappointing to note that after switching to HTTPS, and signing on to Bing Webmaster Tools, the search engine results for those sites of ours that made the change are still severely compromised.

I’ve written about searches for my own name earlier, where my personal and company sites lost their first and second positions on all search engines that I knew of after we made the switch. Only Google has my personal site back up top, with the company site on the middle of the second page. Bing has my personal site at number two, and I’d love to tell you where the company site is, but their search engine results’ pages won’t let me advance beyond page 2 (clicking ‘next page’ lands you back on the same page; clicking ‘3’ and above still keeps you on p. 2). Duck Duck Go, which uses Bing results, has it well below that—I gave up looking. And this is after I signed up to Bing Webmaster Tools in the hope I could get the sites properly catalogued.

It’s a real shame because Duck Duck Go has been my default for 12 years this August.

However, it was the loss of search results for Lucire that really bothered me. Here’s a site that’s 25 years old, with plenty of inward links, and c. 5,000 pages. Before the switch to HTTPS, the popular search engines had thousands of pages from our site. These days, Bing and Duck Duck Go tell me they have dozens of pages from Lucire’s website. Again, only Google seems to have spidered everything.

When I check Bing Webmaster Tools, the spidering has been shockingly poor.

The received wisdom that you should have HTTPS instead of HTTP to do better in search engines is BS, and the belief that search engines will eventually catch up has also not been realized. We made the switch in March, and I’m to believe that Bing hasn’t completed the indexing of our sites.

Are they using the same computers New Zealand banks do? (Cheques used to clear overnight in the 1970s, and now banks tell us that even electronic payments can take days. When we last used cheques, they were telling us they would take five to seven days. Ergo, bank computers are slower today than in 1976.)

The real downer is that Lucire’s website search box is powered by Duck Duck Go, so our own site visitors can’t find the things they want to look for. If you believe some of the search engine marketing, over 40 per cent of site visitors use your search function.

What to do?

I began looking at having an internal search again. We used to have a WhatUSeek (later SiteLevel) internal site search, but that site’s search functions appear to be dead (the site is still live). A user on Mastodon recommended Sphinx Search, an open-source internal site search, but the instructions were too complex. I even saw real computer geeks having trouble. The only one that I could understand was called Sphider—I could follow the instructions and knew enough about PHP and MySql—but it was last updated many years ago, and successive projects also looked a bit complex.

A Google internal search was absolutely out of the question, as I have no desire to expose our readers to tracking—which is why so many other Big Tech gadgets have been removed from our site(s). Baidu and Yandex also have very limited indices for our sites.

I am very fortunate to have tried Mojeek again, a British search engine recommended to me by Matias on July 2. What I didn’t know then was Mojeek has its own spider and its own index, so it doesn’t have to license anything from Bing. And, happily, it claims to have 3,535 results from lucire.com, which might not be as good as Google’s 5,830, but it beats Bing’s 50 earlier today—in fact, at the time of writing, it showed a grand total of 10. That’s how bad it’s got. Duck Duck Go now has 48, also down from a few thousand before March.

Like Google, it seems to have coped with the switch to HTTPS without falling to pieces! And guess what? For a search of my own name, my personal site is number one, and our work site is number two. Presumably, Mojeek is the only search engine which coped and behaved exactly as the experts said!

You can imagine my next move. Mojeek has a site search, so now all Lucire searches are done through it. And readers can actually find stuff again instead of coming up nearly empty (or having very irrelevant results) as they have done for months.

Duck Duck Go’s lustre had been wearing off as there were recent allegations that its browser allowed Microsoft to track its users, something which Duck Duck Go boss Gabriel Weinberg personally denied on Reddit, saying that users were still anonymous when loading their search results.

I still have good memories of chatting to Gabriel in the early days and figuring out ways of spreading the word on Duck Duck Go. My contribution was going to hotels and changing the search defaults on business centre computers. Back then I had the impression Duck Duck Go did some of its own spidering, but these days, if Bing has a shitty index for your site, the Duck will follow suit. And with HTTPS not living up to its promise, that’s simply not good enough.

Tonight, Mojeek is very much the site of the day here, and I heartily recommend you try it out. I’ve switched the desktop to Mojeek as a default, and I’ll see how it all progresses. Right now I feel it deserves our support more than Duck Duck Go. Finally, we might truly have an alternative to Google, and it’s run from the UK’s greenest data centre. With our servers now being greener, too, running out of Finland, the technology is starting to match up to our beliefs.
 

Google, the biggest index of them all
 

Mojeek, a creditable second place
 

This is it on Bing: a 25-year-old history on the web, and it says it has 10 pages from lucire.com. Altavista, Excite and Hotbot had more in the 1990s
 

Duck Duck Go is slightly better, with 48 results—down from the thousands it once had
 
After switching to HTTPS
Number of results for lucire.com
Google: 5,830
Mojeek: 3,535 (containing the word Lucire, as term-less searches are not allowed)
Duck Duck Go: 48
Bing: 10
 
Number of results for jackyan.com
Google: 878
Mojeek: 437 (containing the term “Jack Yan”)
Duck Duck Go: 54
Bing: 24
 
Number of results for jyanet.com
Google: 635
Mojeek: 297 (containing the word jyanet)
Duck Duck Go: 46
Bing: 10
 

Presumably the only search engine that could handle a server going from HTTP to HTTPS and preserving the domains’ positions

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Posted in business, internet, publishing, technology, UK | 1 Comment »


If corporate America says it, it’s probably untrue

16.07.2022


Le dernier.
 
I see the Le Snak range has now left us, after its US owner PepsiCo cited a lack of demand. I call bullshit, since during 2021 it was becoming increasingly difficult to find them on the shelves. Throttling distribution is not the same as a lack of demand, something you see time and time again with corporate claptrap.

It’s like the myth that New Zealanders all prefer automatic transmissions. No, not supplying manuals will inevitably force people to change. Has the industry done a survey as I have? Last time I conducted one, in the 2010s, we were still running 50–50, with a lot of people saying, ‘I prefer a manual, but I had no choice but to buy an automatic.’

Ford is a useful example of US companies citing reduced demand but doing things behind the scenes to ensure it. The line that no one was buying big cars saw to the end of the road for the Australian Falcon and the closure of its Broadmeadows plant. Did any of you see any advertising for the Falcon leading up to that? Or see many Falcons on dealer lots? It seems to me that a corporate decision had been made, and steps taken to guarantee an outcome. Throttle the distribution (‘We’re out of stock’) and of course demand falls.

Get your tape measures out, and you’ll find the Falcon was smaller than the Mondeo (which at that point was still selling) on key measures other than overall length and, presumably, boot volume. The two-litre Ecoboost Falcon with its rear-wheel drive was promoted with all the energy of a damp squid, but it had all the ingredients for success as a decent-handling sedan. But Broadmeadows was an inefficient plant, from what I understand (from hearsay), and bringing it up to speed would have cost more than a bunch of Pinto lawsuits. ‘But there’s no demand for what it builds anyway!’ they cry. Then they can justify the closure.

Go back to the 1990s and the same thing happened with Ford’s Contour and Mystique twins in the US. People were buying BMW 3-series in droves, cars the same size as the Contour. But Ford claimed there was no demand, leading to its US cancellation after the 2000 model year. Reality: I say the Dearborn fiefdom didn’t like the fact the Contour was part of a world-car project (which gave us the original Mondeo) led by Ford’s Köln fiefdom. Not-invented-here killed the Contour, and a relative lack of promotion also guaranteed its fate. (Ford would wind up contesting the segment again later in the 2000s with the Fusion and Milan, but put far more effort into promoting them since they were US-led programmes. I actually saw advertising for them in US magazines! I saw a Milan in Manhattan with Mercury encouraging us to try it out!)

If you take the line that anything a big US firm utters is an utter lie, it keeps you in good stead. Use that approach with Facebook, for instance, and you’ll find things make sense more often than not. And of course we all knew what Elon Musk meant when he said he wanted to buy Twitter.

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Kissing that Disqus advertising money goodbye (webmasters beware)

14.07.2022

I’m going to have to write off what Disqus owes us. No response to this thread, and no response to a DM I sent at their request.

I assume it’s a bit like Amazon, where they just ignore you regardless of what you’ve actually earned.

I think the rule is if it’s a big US tech firm, they’re going to BS you—especially when it comes to money.

Maybe it’s time to threaten them as I did with Twitter?

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The next lot to be removed: Disqus

08.07.2022


 
Years ago, we removed the Facebook widgets from Lucire’s pages. Last year, there were Instagram’s and Twitter’s turns, after each of those platforms locked us out (though later we regained access, and in Twitter’s case we issued a veiled threat to their lawyers). Last night, it was Disqus’s turn as we removed the commenting gadget from the Lucire site.

Obviously, not having Disqus’s trackers was a big plus, and speeding up page-load times, but there were two other major considerations: readers seldom comment these days (fashion is less divisive than politics), and, we have no idea where the money for all the Disqus advertising is.

I seem to recall that we were nearing their US$100 payment threshold, and I had in mind that once we hit it, I’d take the ads off. They were pretty ugly anyway.

Logging in yesterday, I was surprised to see Disqus claimed we had earned a little over US$3 now, while there is no record of any payment to us in the last year. Disqus also has nowhere on its site detailing payments made. Nor has it any feedback forms for non-subscribers (though you could argue that we have “paid” them in terms of the space their ads took up on the Lucire website all these years). I posted a question on their forum—the best I could do there. Seventeen hours later, no answers.

Right after that, we removed the Disqus gadget on all of Lucire’s static (HTML) pages, and switched off the Disqus plug-in on the WordPress (news) part of the site for posts going forward. No pay, no stay. I also removed the default comment boxes for the last 100 stories, though I might still change my mind and reinstitute them. If I do, they’ll be native ones, not anything to do with a plug-in that slows things down.

All those years, adding plug-ins that were once far more innocent; as each one became part of the surveillance economy, the detriments began to outweigh the benefits. What’s interesting to me is, other than the Facebook widget, their removal came after they prompted us with something dodgy, not because we suddenly had concerns about their tracking. Till I started investigating, I didn’t even realize how bad the problem was, though with hindsight of course I should have known, given how I’ve banged on about Facebook and Google. Part of me thought wishfully about Twitter, and as for our Instagram gadget, it was being run through another service (which might have been worse since it meant another company knowing stuff), and back when Instagram was a thing, I thought our readers would enjoy it.

I’m not consistent as Autocade’s Disqus forms are still up (at least on desktop), but they don’t have the dreaded Disqus ads, and readers actually comment there. But I will have a look for a good alternative—and I won’t be touching any of those Disqus settings as I don’t wish for the ugly ads to be introduced.

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De-Googling didn’t start in 2013

03.07.2022

Usual funny stuff from Wikipedia, this time on de-Googling.
 

 
If they’re Wikipedia’s “first”, then I beat the lot of them, and I wasn’t even the first to use this term. From 2010:
 

 

There’s a whole series of posts from 2010 where I deal with this—surely it was obvious to anyone in tech that Google posed a real threat with their behaviour back then?

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Pirate sites, content mills and splogs exist because of Google

25.06.2022

In chatting to Alexandra Wolfe on Mastodon about the previous post, I had to draw a sombre conclusion. If it weren’t for Google, there’d be no incentive to do content mills or splogs.

I replied: ‘People really are that stupid, and itʼs all thanks to Google. Google doesn’t care about ad fraud, and anyone can be a Google publisher. So scammers set up fake sites, they have a script trawling Google News for stories, and they have another script that rewrites the stories, replacing words with synonyms. Google then pays them [for the ads they have on their sites]. Every now and then they get someone like me who tries to look after our crew.’

Google is the biggest ad tech operator out there. And over the years, I’ve seen them include splogs in Google News, which once was reserved only for legitimate news websites. And when we were hacked in 2013, the injected code looked to me like Google Adsense code. You could just see this develop in the 2000s with Blogger, and it’s only worsened.

Have a read of this piece, which quotes extensively from Bob Hoffman, and tell me that Google doesn’t know this is happening.

Google is part of the problem but as long as they keep getting rich off it, what motive do they have to change?

Speaking of ad fraud, Bob Hoffman’s last couple of newsletters mentions the Association of National Advertisers, who reported that ad fraud would cost advertisers $120 milliard this year. Conveniently enough for the industry, the ANA’s newsletter has since disappeared.
 
I still haven’t got into programmatic or header bidding or all the new buzzwords in online advertising, because I don’t understand them. And as it’s so murky, and there’s already so much fraud out there, why join in? Better buying simple ads directly with websites the old-fashioned way, since (again from Hoffman, in the link above):

Buying directly from quality publishers increases the productivity of display advertising by at least seven times and perhaps as much as 27 times compared to buying through a programmatic exchange.

Everyone wins.

And:

Ad tech drives money to the worst online publishers. Ad tech’s value proposition is this: we will find you the highest quality eyeballs at the cheapest possible locations. Ad tech can do this because your web browser and mobile platform are vulnerable to a problem called ‘data leakage’ where your activity on a trusted site is revealed to other companies … If you’re a quality online publisher, ad tech is stealing money from you by following your valuable audience to the crappiest website they can be found on, and serving them ads there instead of on your site.

In other words, Google et al have an incentive to give ads to sploggers, who are getting rich off the backs of legitimate, quality publishers. And as to the intermediaries, I give you Bob Hoffman again, here.

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Send out warmth, get it back

14.06.2022

I’ve had a nice resolution after reaching out to FashioNZ over their Instagram tagline and a claim made on their website. There was a delay in their response due to the site being sold to its fifth owners (I must be out of touch, as I never knew who the second and third were!), but they addressed all my points, saying that they cared about journalistic integrity, and wrote to me in as friendly a way as I did to them. The tagline has already been changed, and I understand that they’ll get on to the rest.

To be extra-careful, I had two colleagues in Auckland who knew the (outgoing) publisher read through my email to make sure I was being as collegial as possible, and they gave me the all-clear.

I contrast this to an email I received last year, from a US designer who shall remain nameless.

They had asked for an article to be removed from Lucire but did not explain why. I said I would if we had written something factually wrong, or misrepresented them.

No, it wasn’t that: after some probing, they revealed that they just didn’t like our photo of the designer’s work appearing so high up in Google Images. Reading between the lines, they wanted to dominate the search results and were irritated that we were messing it up.

I noted that we were contacted by their firm’s PR people (and before I made that claim, I looked back through my email archives from the 2000s to confirm this—it was a PR firm in their own state, and yes, it was an item published that long ago), to which they countered that they had never heard of us prior to this and would not have issued us the press release. Folks, I have the email.

The whole thing was combative from the get-go, and after they suggested I was a liar, they earned their whole company a block on our email system.

What a strange way for their marketing person to try to get something they wanted, to call the person you’re asking a favour of a liar. I submit that they don’t know much about marketing. And in this country, we have such a thing as freedom of the press.

They have one of our editors’ phone numbers so they can talk to her if they wish—though I had suggested their boss talk directly to me since I wasn’t going to deal with rude underlings. The boss never called.

I won’t name these folks since I consider the dialogue confidential, but sometimes it’s tempting to say, ‘**** may be a famous designer, but they have really shit people working for them.’

There’s a right way and a wrong way to correspond, and I’m glad that a misspent youth, reading some of my father’s Pitman guides, put me on a better track.

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More evidence that contextual advertising is better than creepy, programmatic behavioural ads

01.06.2022

Cory Doctorow posted a link to his collection of links at Pluralistic for August 5, 2020. The first one’s heading piqued my interest: ‘Contextual ads can save media’.

It’s worth having a read, especially about the BS behind behavioural advertising (i.e. surveillance advertising) and the ‘real-time bidding’ that so many ad networks have been trying to sell to me but which none of them can explain.

If it smells like BS, it probably is.

I tell each one: we sell ads, give us some banner code, and we’ll stick it up. They perform well, we increase their share. They perform badly, we decrease them.

They usually go on about the superiority of their systems but if I don’t understand them, then I’m not going to make the switch.

I won’t cite what Cory says on that as the real gems are later in the entry.

Here’s the one, which agrees fully with something I’ve been saying, though my experience is anecdotal and not backed up by proper, quantitative research: ‘Contextual advertising converts at very nearly the same rate as behavioral advertising, and just as well as behavioral ads for some categories of goods and services’.

He then gives this link.

He notes that in 2019, The New York Times ‘ditched most of its programmatic behavioral ads’ and that the Dutch public broadcaster, NPO, has followed suit, ‘ditching Google Ad Manager for a new custom contextual ad system it commissioned’.

‘They’ve since experimented with major advertisers like Amex and found little to no difference between context ads and behavioral ads when it comes to conversions.’

There’s also greater reach because of GDPR requiring that people opt in to behavioural ads.

My emphasis here: ‘And they’re keeping that money, rather than giving a 50% vig to useless, creepy, spying ad-tech middlemen.’

I knew there was a reason I kept rejecting those people.

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