Kevin: September 4th, 2009. Antique domain symbolics.com is sold; UK shoppers won’t use credit cards online; and the HTML 5 Super Friends state their case. This is the SitePoint Podcast #26: The Power is Yours.
Kevin: And how about that new music? It’s a rocking show here on the SitePoint Podcast. We’ve got to thank Mike Mella, one of our great listeners for coming up with that new music for us and, man, it’s a fresh new sound on the SitePoint Podcast.
Guys, you like it?
Brad: I think it’s awesome. It’s definitely less scary.
Patrick: Let’s praise without taking away from the old one. It’s very good. I like it a lot. Thanks a lot, Mike.
Kevin: Well, the music has changed, but the lineup here is the same as always. We’ve got Stephen Seagraves, Patrick O’Keefe, Brad Williams, and, myself, Kevin Yank, all here to talk about the Web this week.
I thought we’d start off today guys with the story of symbolics.com, which it turns out—I never would have guessed—was the first domain name registered under the commercial registration system that we live with today. There were some earlier domains set up on the Internet as part of the infrastructure, but when domains became available for commercial registration, symbolics.com was the first one.
Brad, I understand it’s changed hands?
Brad: Yeah, it actually was purchased almost 25 years to the date that it was originally registered. It was registered on March 15, 1985, so it’s actually next year we’ll hit the 25 year mark, but it was bought out by a domain investment group for an undisclosed amount, but it has officially changed hands for the first time since it was originally registered.
Kevin: This is a story on TechCrunch they say “Twenty-five years later, the first registered domain name changes hands.”
I was a little disappointed that it was bought by a domain name investment house. On the bright side, they don’t seem to have bought it to exploit it in any particular way. In fact, when you read their story about it, it’s downright sentimental. It seems like they bought it because it was the first and they feel really proud to have the first registered domain name and they seem to be… they’ve already put up a site at symbolics.com. They’ve already put up a site with a fresh new logo, “Symbolics.com – It All Started Here.”
It looks like their planning 25th anniversary celebration for the site. I don’t know what exactly… it’s very strange. It doesn’t look like there’s going to be any actual content on the site, apart from the fact that, “hi, welcome to the first domain name that was ever registered.”
Patrick: The thing about that is … were we visiting Symbolics.com before? Did I have an expectation of what it was? No, not really. I don’t know. It’s not like there was a service associated with the domain name that people are expecting or that people loved. It was a company – Symbolics Inc. that was a computer manufacturer and it’s out of business now, so the domain name was floating out there and they picked it up. If people knew the land rush that would take place for domain names, Symbolics.com wouldn’t have been the first name registered.
Kevin: I did some reading into this and it turns out Symbolics isn’t even out of business. The company, as TechCrunch puts it, “it’s a shadow of its former self.” Like, back in the 80s, it was a powerhouse. They were building and selling computers that were specifically designed to run a particular programming language—Lisp—which is actually a language I learned in university. The idea was that because their computers were specialized just for this language that anything written in this language would run best on those computers.
The days of writing computers for specific languages are pretty much behind us. Certainly, you can still get particular microchips that are designed to run languages very quickly, but designing an entire computer around it, it’s a thing of the past. I don’t know what they’re doing these days, Symbolics, but their logo certainly doesn’t look like it has changed since the mid 80s. It’s total clipart. It’s a blue square, red circle, and an orange triangle arranged in no particular layout and none of it anti-aliased; it’s all very jagged edges. It’s straight out of a crappy clipart catalog.
I don’t know – did they need the money? Is that why they sold it? The site is now hosted at symbolics-dks.com and there is a link to it from the Symbolics.com site. It looks like the people who bought the Symbolics.com site were kind enough to antialias the logo for them because the logo looks better on the Symbolics.com site than it does on symbolicsdks.com … uh, that’s symbolics-dks.com.
Patrick: I would think that that would probably be it because if they’re not out of business— I mean the TechCrunch article says—listed a post—chronicling their “descent towards bankruptcy.” The post is by a former employee, I guess, and his post is titled, “Why Did Symbolics Fail?”
So if that’s to be believed, maybe what it is, is it comes to down to assets. They had an asset…
Kevin: Maybe their last asset was the domain name.
Patrick: They had an asset, somebody wanted it, and there’s an exchange.
Brad: I’m sure they made quite a bit off this domain. Even if it’s not one that you would think to type in everyday and go look, it’s still on any top list of the original domains; it’s always going to be at the top of that list, which is always going to generate traffic of sort. So there’s a nice value attached to this domain, even though it’s not a typical nice, friendly one-word domain.
Patrick: Is it sentimental or is it monetizable though? I mean, is this sentimentality that you could make money from?
Brad: You know what I would love to see on this website is almost like a history of the Web and the Internet, kind of … maybe in a wiki of some sort, but some kind of a history behind it all.
Kevin: Yeah, well it seems that they’ve got something like that planned, although those Google AdSense ads are front and center as well on the site.
Is it just me? I’ll be the first to stay this is completely unrealistic, but wouldn’t it be nice if domain names didn’t change hands like this? It seems to me in 50 years’ time, it would be great to go to symbolics.com and see the same thing that was there the first time the domain was registered. The fact that a domain name can change hands and different companies can be found at the same address over the years, it seems a shame to me that the Web works that way.
Stephan: It’s just like the real world though. I mean, people go out of business and move and another company comes in and granted, they don’t have the same name, but I think it’s applicable.
Kevin: Hmm. Yeah.
Patrick: I agree and, plus, I think it relates to the discussions we had about the cloud and all that fun where there’s an expectation that something will be available but at the end of the day, it still takes money to have a domain name, not much, but money and to host it, and to keep it online. It’s just, in some cases, not feasible, especially when a company is supposedly headed toward bankruptcy and is maybe liquidating their assets.
Kevin: It’s interesting that when symbolics.com would have been registered, it would have really been a shot in the dark as to the value to the company of having this domain. I can’t imagine they cost very much back then, but probably more than they do today because you can buy a domain name for $5 these days. But back then, they would have bought it… the World Wide Web as a mainstream use for the Internet was still 10 years away at the time, or at least 8 years away, and so they would have bought it, planning to use it to host servers on the Internet, which at the time was still a new concept. It’s really interesting that of all the companies out there that could have considered this a good investment at the time, a company building computers to run Lisp are the ones that took the first bet.
Stephan: I think it kind of makes sense. I think it would be interesting to talk to the people who bought the domain and ask them … what made you do it.
Patrick: What were you thinking at the time?
Kevin: Well, maybe we’ll see some interviews like that in the great 25th anniversary celebration, which is planned for March 15, 2010, so be sure to check back March 15th next year at symbolics.com to see what they have in mind.
Our next story is about ecommerce and the SitePoint blogs have this story that on the Web at the moment, it seems a third of web users are too scared to give up their credit card number when shopping online. This is out of the UK’s Office of Fair Trading, and they published a report saying that 30% of Internet users would not hand over their credit card details to buy something online.
Is this a surprising figure, guys?
Brad: I’m not surprised that there’s obviously a lot of people that are scared to do it. I’m surprised it’s so high I mean, one-third, 33% of the people out there are saying they won’t shop online. That seems really high to me. I don’t know anyone actually that doesn’t buy online that has a computer that has access to Internet. I think it’s kind of – at least in my group of friends and family, it’s commonplace to purchase things online. It’s a very high stat.
Patrick: Yeah, I agree. I thought the 70% was actually pretty good. It was pretty optimistic, considering the perception and Craig Buckler touches on this in the article, I think, where if someone gets their credit card stolen by a clerk at the 7-Eleven down the street, it doesn’t make national headlines. If somebody gets their website hacked, it does. I am not saying that’s not without good reason because there’s more people in the database, so to speak, in some cases. But the Internet as a whole pays the price whenever someone’s data gets breached, and fair or not, that’s just the way it is. So even though it may not be anymore risky to place an order online than it is to hand someone your credit card at a store in person, the perception continues to be there and I think it’s pretty good that it’s 70%.
Brad: I wonder if it would be any different in the stats if the survey was done in the US, if the US shoppers feel the same way, if it would still be a third or maybe it would be like a fifth or something.
Kevin: The blog post goes on to point out some of the recent cases of credit card fraud or credit card numbers being compromised on the Internet that may contribute to this fear, the most recent being the systems of Heartland, an online payment provider being compromised. They provide services to sites, among others at the 7-Eleven chain. I didn’t know 7-Eleven did online shopping. Can you buy a slurpee online now?
Patrick: What’s the delivery charge on that?
Kevin: But apparently 130 million credit card numbers were compromised in the event and the press release around it calls it a “sophisticated hacking technique,” but it was a simple SQL injection attack.
I don’t know about you, but if I’m 7-Eleven and I’m finding out my customers’ credit card numbers are being compromised by SQL injections, I’m outta there; I’m looking for another payment provider right away. SQL injection is… if you spend anytime thinking about security in your web applications, that’s the first thing you guard against.
Patrick: Yeah, and where it affects the company, just with 7-Eleven again, is I go onto their website, I cannot see where to buy something, so I’m sure it’s there somewhere, but nothing comes up. Right on their homepage, they have 7-Eleven Visa where you can sign up for a credit card with 7-Eleven on it, and those of us know that it’s not really going to be tied to their credit card, which is through Chase. A lot of average consumers out there will look at that and say well you know what, 7-Eleven just had their web site hacked, I’m not going to go with their credit card. I would definitely look at someone else.
Stephan: I can’t see anything on the web site that you can actually buy besides the credit card, or get the credit card. I wonder if it’s people that used their credit card at the 7-Eleven stores and it was stored by Heartland.
Kevin: Can you tell if these cards are some of these prepaid credit cards that you can get, because some of the commentors on this blog post pointed out that if you’re worried about your credit card being lost online, one of the solutions that’s gaining a lot of popularity is you buy one of these prepaid credit cards and it’s not an unlimited amount. It’s an amount that you buy upfront and then you use that credit card online just like you would a normal credit card, but your losses are limited if the number were ever to be compromised. It’s a disposable credit card basically.
Stephan: Most credit cards protect you from fraud anyway, I mean, by default it’s built into the…
Kevin: That’s true.
Patrick: Right, I was going to say that. Because I actually had it happen one time to me. I don’t know where if it was from online or not, but I got a bill and someone spent like $2000 at the post office, and I was like were they shipping ice to Eskimos? I mean, I don’t know what was going on with that, but they spent $2,000 at the post office and they took care of it pretty quickly. I think that’s the benefit of having good credit. It’s definitely a scary thing.
The credit cards on 7-Eleven are not the prepaid kind. I think there might be some potential to buy gift cards here somewhere and maybe that’s a part of it, but if they have a store front, it’s not readily advertised.
Brad: I really don’t see a difference between buying online in this day and age and actually handing somebody my card at the store. I mean ultimately, my information is being transferred to some server to some merchant account gateway that’s going to either approve or disapprove of that purchase and it’s going to send that back and allow it or not allow it. But the data is still being transmitted, it’s still being stored somewhere, my bank stores it, the merchant service is going to store it, possibly the web site will store it. There are similarities between the two different ways to purchasing. I guess that this one third of web users who are too scared to shop, I don’t think they fully understand what’s all involved in making a credit card purchase in the first place.
Patrick: Plus, hasn’t anyone here seen Prison Break where they had the kid that had like an iPhone-looking device where he walked through the stores and it sucked up all data within like a 10-foot range including credit cards. C’mon, none of it’s safe.
Brad: There’s an app for that, right?
Patrick: Yeah, there’s an app for that.
Stephan: You know where I do avoid purchasing with a credit card is the places where they don’t credit card readers, they use the old style stuff, which I didn’t even knew existed anymore. I didn’t think they still used them unless the power went out. I won’t use those just because I don’t like my numbers sitting around on paper.
Maybe I’m paranoid, I don’t know.
Kevin: Speaking of credit card fraud sagas, I don’t know if he minds me mentioning this, I’ll definitely check with him before we publish this podcast, but, Shayne Tilley, the marketing manager here at SitePoint who has been on the podcast before, just in the past week had his car broken into and his wallet stolen. When he got in touch with his credit card company the next morning, his cards had been used to top up the mobile phone—the cell phone accounts of someone, and he actually called the cell phone company and talked his way into getting the phone number that was topped up using his credit card and he ended up calling the thief on the phone and said, “Hey, are you the person who broke into my car last night?” and he was doing this at his desk at SitePoint with everyone listening in.
Patrick: What didn’t you record that for the podcast! Think! Think!
Kevin: Anyway, it was pretty hilarious. The people did eventually get caught. After he got off the phone with them, Shayne turned over the numbers to the police and they thanked him for his sleuth work and said, “man, we never would have caught them without you.”
Patrick: That’s so stupid. There’s the dumb crook, steal your credit card and then use your personal number and top it off. Good call!
Kevin: He didn’t only top up his own, he topped up his mum’s phone as well.
Stephan: He’s considerate.
Kevin: I don’t know, if you’re so desperate you’re breaking into peoples’ cars, is the first thing that you need to spend your ill gotten gains on topping up your mobile phone? I don’t know, that’s just me.
Patrick: Your mom needs her calls, right?
Kevin: Next up today is something we’ve been talking about a fair bit recently and that’s the Opera Browser. We had an interview not long ago with Jon Hicks, the designer behind the new user interface of Opera 10 and as of yesterday when we were recording this, Opera 10 is now out. You can download it. The Opera website has been struggling under the strain.
I was following it on Twitter, they said they got something like 200,000 downloads in the first hour or so, so they’re off to a great start. They’ve been advertising on YouTube a little bit. It seems like they’re trying to go the viral video route, and there’s the Opera 10 trailer, let me play a bit here.
“The following preview has been approved for restricted audiences only by the Motion Picture Association of Opera.”
It looks like an action movie when you watch this.
(video is played)
Voiceover: A secret kept hidden is now revealed.
Male voice: Someone is trying to access the system. I want all available…
Kevin: It’s got like a command center and we’ve got quick shots of the screen with Håkon Wium Lie and Molly Holzschlag on it.
We’ve got little mini Coopers racing around with Opera Mini written on the side of them.
Voiceover: Opera 10 out now.
Kevin: It ends with a huge fireball.
Patrick: With subtitles by Kevin Yank.
Kevin: I’m not sure really what it says about the browser, but yeah, crazy stuff there.
The Opera website has a great rundown of the features. I think very interestingly, something we talked about a few weeks ago that’s coming to the Opera Browser, the Opera Unite feature is not in Opera 10; they’ve taken it out for the release but everything else is in there. They’ve got Opera Turbo, they’ve got the new design, they’ve got integration with web services, so that like if Gmail is your preferred email service, then clicking on an email link on a web site will actually take you to Gmail to write the email—nice little features like that. Of course, the most obvious thing is the new look and feel that we talked about previously.
And yet, I can’t help but think this still isn’t going to set the world on fire. Maybe I’m wrong, I mean, their servers are stressing under the load of downloads, but I don’t know.
Patrick, what do you think, are you going to switch to Opera?
Patrick: Short answer, no. Long answer is that I downloaded it to look at it because of the show, so there’s another download on there. It’s very nice looking. I think Hicks did a great job on the design, I think it’s really slick. It’s definitely appealing. There are a lot of nice little features, like you said, things like that you might otherwise think would have already been in it or in other browsers like resizable search field or the dragging of the tab where you can drag it and it will show you the screen for the URL. It’s very slick. It loads fast in my experience. I pulled up a number of sites and it was quick loading and it was a good experience.
Will I switch? I don’t know what it offers me over Firefox to be honest, but I’ll keep it in my mind.
Kevin: I’ll tell you where I might use it is if I was on the road and I was surfing through the Internet connection on my mobile phone, which is something I do on the way to and from work in the car. Yeah, over a slow connection like that or where bandwidth usage is expensive, the Opera Turbo thing is really useful. It pipes all the traffic through Opera’s servers and it serves you things like compressed versions of the code, compressed images, that the image quality is noticeably less. So all of the pictures you see on the web sites you surf are grainy and things like Flash movies are not loaded by default and this, on the one hand, makes things load quicker, on the other hand saves bandwidth. I might use Opera on the road for that reason.
Brad: Yeah, I actually downloaded and installed it today as well, and I was really impressed with the speed of the browser and I know that’s one the things that they’re really touting about in version 10 is it’s much quicker – I think they said 40% quicker. It is fast. It’s comparable to Chrome in my opinion, and I’ve been using Chrome quite a bit lately. I think the speed is definitely a draw for me and it seems to be a pretty clean and useful browser. The visual tabs is pretty cool too, how you can kind of expand your tabs to show a little previews of what each tab is.
Kevin: Yeah, I really like that on a widescreen monitor, especially. I put the tab bar either on the left or the right of the window and expand it so that you can see those thumbnails and it makes for really nice experience because not many websites take full advantage of a widescreen monitor, and so using that for your tab bar really makes sense to me.
But what is it about the browsers that we use that keeps us on them? I mean, for me, what’s keeping me on Safari is things like the 1Password plug-in that also works on Firefox and several other Mac-based browsers but it doesn’t work on Opera.
Is Opera lacking on add-on system, the likes of which we have in Firefox, and a lot of people stick to Firefox because of the extensions. Is that what Opera is missing?
Patrick: Maybe. I think there are a couple of add-ons that I’ve come to use and like, that maybe are things that if I liked Opera enough, I’d maybe switch and just open Firefox for those things, like a Firebug or the Diigo toolbar, which I use for bookmarks and highlighting and things like that. I don’t know. I haven’t really looked into Opera that much where I’m familiar with what plug-ins or add-ons it has, but that is the only thing that sticks out to me just in my experience.
Kevin: For web developers, the standards support is a huge step forward in Opera 10. It’s right up there with the other released browsers. It passes the Acid3 Test 100% and has support for web fonts, alpha channels in colors, lots of great little features like that. Of course, there is always more we’ll want and they have mentioned on Twitter that they’ve already got features like multiple background images and border images and all sorts of nice CSS features like that. They’ve already got them running in internal releases and so we can expect those in a future version. So, they’re pretty much up-to-date with what other cutting edge browsers, like Safari, are doing in the standards support area. It’s really hard to fault them for what they’re doing but there’s some … hmm … magical element that they’re missing.
Brad: You need that wow factor, that one feature that’s going to pull you away from what you’re comfortable with.
Kevin: It’s really hard to come up with something like that because browsers are so well defined. I mean, I’ve got to give them credit for things like the tab thumbnails that they’re really pushing the envelope and trying something different from everyone else but maybe they just haven’t found the right different thing that’ll attract me. Maybe this will be enough to convert a bunch of people, just not us.
The last thing that I would point out is as Jon Hicks promised, they did get around to redesigning the Opera logo. The icon you’ll get in your dock on the Mac or in your start menu on Windows is new. It’s a shiny new red “O”. It’s just a little nicer then the old “O”. It looks a little less tired but it’s still very simple and basic as a logo and very recognizable. I think that’s enough about Opera 10.
Let’s move on. We were talking about standards support in Opera and one of the biggest standards that’s being worked on right now is HTML 5, and a group of likeminded … I’m not sure what you would call them … high-profile web designers have gotten together and formed a group they’re calling the HTML 5 Super Friends. They’ve put up a page at zeldman.com/superfriends and they’ve put up a statement about what they think about the direction of HTML5. They say:
“We, the undersigned, wish to declare our support for the direction in which the HTML5 specification is heading. Its introduction of a limited set of additional semantic elements, its instructions on how to handle failure, and its integration of application development tools hold the promise of richer and more consistent user experiences, faster prototyping, and increased human and machine semantics.
“HTML5 is not perfect in our estimation, not that any markup language could be. In particular, we have significant concerns about some aspects of the specification. But we are optimistic that the official channels provided by the working group will offer a sufficient and fair hearing of our concerns.
Signed the HTML5 Super Friends, which are Dan Cederholm, Tantek Çelik, Wendy Chisholm, and Aaron Gustafson, Jeremy Keith, Ethan Marcotte, Eric Meyer, Nicole Sullivan, and Jeffery Zeldman himself.
They end with an animated unicorn.
How does this strike you guys?
Patrick: Do you have the Captain Planet theme song queued up there, Kevin?
Kevin: It is a bit Captain Planet. It’s got the light blue background with white text on it and I’m not sure it’s not Captain Planet blue. What strikes me about this is it’s kind of a backhanded compliment, isn’t it? They start by saying how much they support HTML 5, but then, the one prominent link on the page is the word “significant concerns”, which links to a whole other page with their gripes about HTML 5. I have to wonder, what was their first impulse here? Did they say, “We want to create a web page, a love letter to HTML 5”, or did they say, “Well, we want to highlight these significant concerns and we’ll do that by flattering their egos a little first and then putting a link to our laundry list of demands.”
Brad: One thing that I noticed that I did like about this is not only do they have problems or issues that they see with HTML 5, but they also have proposed solutions for the majority of them. So, it’s not just necessarily pointing out a problem but they’re also saying this is what we think would work best to fix it, which I think is nice. It’s very easy to point out this sucks, this doesn’t work, blah, blah, blah, but to come back and say, okay, here’s a proposed solution or here’s kind of our view on the fix, I think does help get that conversation going.
Kevin: I agree with you. Their language for these concerns and the concerns themselves, I generally agree with, but it just seems a little disingenuous to me to say that “we’re optimistic that the official channels provided by the working group will enable our concerns to be addressed.” But with this site, already, they’re going outside of those channels. So, how can you give a vote of confidence to these channels that they are going outside of to distribute their message? I mean, really if they believed in those channels, they would’ve posted this on the working group mailing list for discussion and rather than lumping them all together in a big message, you know, “here’s what we think is broken and what should be fixed, take it or leave it.” Each of these issues should have been raised individually within the working group and maybe they have and maybe these people aren’t satisfied with how they’re being addressed.
Some of the issues, for our listeners, are things like validation of XHTML syntax. As we spoke about on previous episodes, HTML5 lets you write either with XHTML syntax or old style HTML syntax, so you can have self-closing tags or you can have the looser syntax where things like image tags just don’t need to be closed and the parser handles that. They’re saying that if you choose to use this stricter XHTML syntax, the validator—the official validator—should have a switch on it to say please make sure please make sure my XHTML syntax is right, which is not available right now.
Other things they’re saying are elements like the footer element are badly named because people are going to think it’s supposed to be for the footer of the page, just like the header is the header of the page that people will assume footer is the footer of the page when in fact it’s for sort of footnote information at the end of a section. So, they’re saying it’s badly named and it should be reconsidered and elements like article are unnecessary because they are so much like section that you might as well just make section do everything that article does, optionally.
They’re small gripes but I’m not sure about the way they went about this. As much as I respect the names on that list, why do they have to do it this way?
Patrick: Just one way could be taken as you have a group of influential web developers and they have an opinion and they have the influence and the audience to throw it out there and say, hey, this is what we’d like to happen, what do you think? Again, they have an audience that pays attention and a lot of people that are going to be in their court.
Kevin: There’s a long history of going outside of the standards processes with a list of prominent figures like this. The original one that I can think of is the CSS Samurai group, which was formed within the Web Standards Project to encourage, as I recall, to encourage the browser makers back in the original browser wars around the version 4 Netscape/Internet Explorer competition time. They got together to encourage these browser makers to improve their support for CSS, and more recently, there was the WCAG Samurai, which was a little different in that the list of names was not published. It was a secretive group who got together and posted and extensive errata, a list of things that they thought were wrong with WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) version 1.0. When they thought WCAG 2, the new version of those guidelines was not good enough, their solution was to go back to the previous version and say look, we don’t need a whole new set of guidelines just yet. We can fix the problems in the first one just with this list of errata.
So the HTML 5 Super Friends are the latest in that tradition of prominent web designers getting together and critiquing these standards. So, those other efforts did seem to do some good at the time and maybe this one will too.
Our last story for today is 11 alternatives to Google AdSense and this is a blog post on sitepoint.com, and I’m the wrong person to be talking about this because I’m about building the thing, I’m not about making money out of it.
Patrick, what do you know about these alternatives to AdSense?
Patrick: So, the blog author tackles, like you said, 11 contextual ad alternatives. So, the key there is contextual. It’s not all ad networks or other solutions but just the ones that are contextual and one of the reasons he says that you might not want to use AdSense is because you don’t fit the requirements or you get thrown out. Plenty of people switch from AdSense because the rates are too low for them or because they can get better rates elsewhere and that’s another reason to take a look at this list. It’s a good list. Like you said 11 companies, AdBrite, BidVertiser, Chitika, Clicksor, and others and there were even a couple I wasn’t familiar with, AdToll and eClickZ with a Z. Some of them worked pretty familiarly to AdSense where you get the text based ads, usually for 300 x 250 or the standard ad sizes that are set by the advertising bureau. The best thing they do with this source of ad networks is to test and try them out and see what works. I mean, I personally have experience with AdSense, of course, but from this list also with WidgetBucks and Chitika, and I don’t use them anymore because with WidgetBucks, the pay rate was too low and with Chitika, I found their ads on sites that they were pirating my book and Darren Rowse’s book and they didn’t really do much about it. I decided that I wasn’t going to support them any longer because of that.
But at the end of the day, it’s all about experimentation and you shouldn’t limit yourself just to contextual ad networks because contextual ads, though everyone likes to say, you know, you want your ads to be contextual, you want your visitor to see ads related to your site. They’re only really good if you’re making the same money or more than you’ll make with non-contextual ads.
Kevin: Right. So, if your site is high enough profile that you can attract display ads from particular advertisers, is it safe to say you’ll usually make money that way?
Patrick: It’s not safe to say. I think the key is experimentation and I think most people online who are making a lot of money blogging or with their web sites will probably tell you the same thing if they use networks. It’s all about experimentation. Try this, try another networks, see what works best for you. Maybe AdSense works best, maybe not. There are a lot of displayed networks out there that are reputable and some of them have requirements that are fairly low. Networks like Burst Media and Value Click Media have been around for a long time and they deliver good rates for a lot of publishers and the requirements aren’t that high and then there’s other networks like Tribal Fusion that have really high requirements, at least 2,000 uniques a day or more in some cases depending on what your site’s about. So, I think the key is always experimentation, seeing what works, and then adjusting to benefit that and you can make yourself a lot of extra money by paying attention and not just slapping AdSense up there because if you just take the AdSense code and throw it up there, you’re most likely doing yourself a disservice.
Kevin: AdSense must have something going for it to be the default choice though. I mean, there’s a reason this article is alternatives to Google AdSense not alternatives to AdBrite or AdToll. What is it about AdSense that makes it the first choice that people go for?
Patrick: Well, I think there are a few different reasons. The ones that come to mind for me are first, it’s Google. That goes without saying and the part of that is they have the inventory. So, they have so many people advertising for the most obscure things. If you have a site about most anything, it could be about a specific kind of cookie or, not a browser cookie but a real cookie, it could be about knitting, a type of sewing, it could be about a particular disease even, it could be about an obscure sport. There’s people that are advertising that will match up to that audience and Google has that connection and that’s why, in a lot of cases, they are the default because that’s part of it and also because they have a foothold in the market. I mean, they’ve been around for a long time, they’re seen as a reputable player or maybe some publishers aren’t willing to take a risk on an AdToll or a publisher they haven’t really heard much about.
So, I mean, those cases, you have to do your research and look into other publishers, but like I said, if you’re getting anywhere near any decent traffic, I don’t even want to quantify decent, but let’s say, you’re getting a few hundred page views a day even, you should look at what else is out there rather than just going with AdSense. AdSense is okay to start and part of the reason it’s so popular is because there’s a low barrier of entry. There’s no page view requirement. You sign up, they give you a code, chances are you’ll be okay unless you’re doing something illegal or you’re trying to fool the program. So, that’s why it’s so popular but you have to experiment.
Brad: You know, one thing I noticed looking at this list and it’s not all of them but it’s a few of them, a lot of these ads are styled and designed to look just like Google ads. I mean, there’s no difference between them. They look almost identical to Google ads, and I wonder if there’s psychological reasons behind that and people are used to seeing a Google ad in the sidebar, it might be more likely you’re or assuming it’s more trustworthy to click on that ad.
Patrick: I think part of that is emulating what’s successful. I mean, Google is sort of the gold standard out there for better or worse and they’re the ad company that a lot of new people turn to. Staying familiar helps the other networks grow I guess, and that’s a good point because when Google first launched AdSense, you couldn’t have any contextual programs other than AdSense and still be in the program. Quite a while ago, they took that requirement away, and last I checked, what they ask is that your ads that are contextual must not be styled the same as the Google ads you run on your page, so you have to use different colors, that sort of thing.
A couple of the companies on this list are not the typical AdSense style ads but the actual in-text advertising like Kontera, like Infolinks where you have an automatically— a link is created in your text copy and some people feel very strongly against that, some people like it. It really depends on your audience I would say. Technical audiences like audience of SitePoint, for example, wouldn’t respond well to the in-text advertising but if you had more of a general average consumer audience, they might be more open to it.
Kevin: Well, alright. I think it’s safe to say that if you just need to quickly put up some ads on your site, AdSense is still a good choice but as soon as possible after that, you should take some time to experiment with some of these alternatives and see if they can do better for you.
So, let’s bring this show to a close with our host spotlight as usual. I’ll start out this week for a change.
My host spotlight is the latest episode of This Week in Startups, which is another podcast. If you’re listening to this podcast, keep listening to this podcast, but maybe you want to give this other one a try.
This Week in Startups is a pretty new podcast and it’s by Jason Calacanis whose name you may know. He’s a prominent investor and the latest episode has SitePoint co-founder Matt Mickiewicz on it. I understand he spends a lot of his time talking about 99designs, which is the latest company to spin off of SitePoint, but he does spend some time talking about SitePoint as well and if you’re interested some of the history behind SitePoint, how we got where we are today and one of the main people behind creating it, the original vision for SitePoint, definitely check out this show. It’s available in video format and audio format and it goes for like two and a half hours. I think it’s the longest episode of the show yet.
If you’ve got the time, This Week in Startups, episode 13, with Matt Mickiewicz.
Patrick: My spotlight is a new commercial from Rhapsody, which is from Real, and I found that link on Twitter via Cara Donatto, who works at Altantic Records. She’s @thisisCARA and also through @thisis50. And Jay-Z is a rapper entrepreneur. Most listeners probably know him but he’s prepping his 11th solo album that’s going to be out on September 11th called the Blueprint 3, and he’s teamed up with Real to do a promotional campaign for the album and the new commercial they released is quite a sight, especially if you’re a Jay-Z fan. But even if you’re not, you should be able to appreciate it because what they did was they had him recreate his first 10 solo album covers in the commercial. He walks from one set to the other in the span of a minute and you get the visuals from 10 album covers.
It’s a really cool commercial that’s available on the Rhapsody blog YouTube channel in HD and I’d definitely check that out and also pull up the covers on the side and put them side by side and watch them come up and it’s, like I said, a very neat marketing campaign.
Stephan: My host spotlight for this week is Gizmodo’s list of 15 Snow Leopard tricks. We had to talk about Snow Leopards while it came out. It’s not really tricks, though; they’re more like just features and they’re kind of cool features, my favorite being the preview of file inside its icon. I think that’s pretty sweet.
Kevin: Yeah, it’s cool. You can resize your icons right up to, I think, 512 x 512 is the maximum size, and when they get big enough you can play movies and flip through the pages of PDFs right inside their icons. It’s pretty neat.
Stephan: Yeah, I think that’s awesome.
Brad: My tip this week is actually a URL hack that I just became familiar with and I’m honestly not sure how many people know about this. Maybe it’s real well-known and I’m just completely clueless but it has to do with bit.ly, the popular URL shortener. If you take any bit.ly URL, whether it’s from Twitter or wherever, any shortened URL created by bit.ly, copy and paste it in your web browser and then add a plus sign at the end of it, it will take you directly to the stats page for that particular or URL that was shortened. It will show you historical stats on click throughs. It will show you from different countries, how many clicks came from each, and it will also show you conversations that have used that URL among Twitter and FriendFeed.
So, it’s kind of a really cool way just a quick snapshot of how popular this URL was, whatever it may be. I thought that was a fun one.
Kevin: Yeah, that blew me away when I first found that out. Most of the good… the popular URL shorteners now provide statistics to the owner of the account that was used to create the link but bit.ly’s really impressive and that they open those stats up to everyone, and we were talking about tr.im two weeks ago and how they find it difficult to compete with bit.ly while there’s one place where bit.ly definitely has a leg up. Tr.im has great statistics too but they’re closed and it looks like they’ve learned their lesson because they’re planning to open all that up, but yeah, bit.ly’s one step ahead and just the fact that they’re so easily accessed, you add a plus and you’re done. Very impressive.
Well, that’s it for another SitePoint podcast lets go around the table, guys.
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