SitePoint Podcast #73: Cease and DesoupBy Kevin Yank
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Here are the topics covered in this episode:
- Cookie stuffing officially illegal
- Speedy browser updates an excuse not to upgrade?
- How important is code validity today?
- Content paywalls: dead or just mostly dead?
Browse the full list of links referenced in the show at http://delicious.com/sitepointpodcast/73.
- Brad: What The F%@k Is My Social Media Strategy?
- Kevin: Canto.js
- Patrick: Why the 3/50 Project Can’t Save Small Businesses
- Stephan: Permatime
Kevin: August 6th, 2010. Can browser updates come too frequently? Is code validation still relevant? And paywalls: dead or just mostly dead? I’m Kevin Yank and this is the SitePoint Podcast #73: Cease and Desoup.
And welcome, welcome to the SitePoint Podcast! We’ve got a full house again here today. Hi Stephan, Brad, Patrick.
Stephan: Howdy, howdy.
Patrick: Good day.
Kevin: Patrick, why don’t you kick us off with the first bit of news.
Patrick: Sure, so back in 2008 some listeners may have heard that eBay filed a civil suit against Shawn Hogan, Brian Dunning and Todd Dunning; Hogan is know for being associated with Digital Point. And the suit was about click stuffing, or cookie stuffing I should say, cookie stuffing is more or less if you think of you visit a website, right, and you visit that site, you get the cookies for that site. But maybe there is some code working behind the scenes that is actually logging a visit to another site like eBay through an affiliate link, and all of a sudden that cookie is now on your computer, so if you buy something on eBay in the next whatever period of time until the cookie expires you give credit to that website or that person who set that script up without even knowing it. You didn’t click a link with sites —
Kevin: Right, it’s like an affiliate program fraud, right?
Patrick: Kind of, yeah.
Kevin: You’re claiming responsibility for sending someone to eBay even though you never actually did that really.
Patrick: Yeah, or it wasn’t visible. I mean I don’t know how that would work, but there are scripts out there that will allow you to do it. And I would imagine some sort of iframe thing could go on, but I mean that’s probably a crude way to do it. Anyway, eBay, it became such a big problem with eBay regarding Digital Point and regarding the sites that these three people ran that they actually came out and filed a civil suit, but the stakes have been raised because revenues.com reports that it’s actually an indictment now with the FBI investigation by the Cyber Crimes Department where they were indicted with wire fraud and criminal forfeiture. Hogan was given ten counts of wire fraud and Denning was given five counts of wire fraud. According to the documents they could face a penalty of up to 20 years imprisonment, maximum fine of $250,000.00, or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater, three years of supervised release, and $100.00 special assessment per count. And I don’t have the count number here in front of me, but I would guess that every time that they did this to a visitor it could count as one count, so when you do the math you have a lot of money at stake here and also, of course, your personal freedom. So it’s gone from just a civil matter to an actual serious legal matter. And from what I’ve read there are a lot of people who engage in this, probably much smaller than Digital Point and Hogan and these other people, but still people who rely on this for some income, and I think this is probably a serious wake-up call.
Kevin: Yeah, the story you sent round from ReveNews sort of concludes that the general feeling out there, at least until this case has been tried, was that all’s fair and love and affiliate links. That’s almost an exact quote from the story actually! But yeah, this was a flaw in the technology that if people like eBay wanted to use web technologies in order to run an affiliate program then they had to take the good with the bad; that this technology was flawed, it wasn’t designed necessarily to do this sort of thing, and so if there are loopholes then people can take advantage of it, and that’s eBay’s problem. But I guess wire fraud can mean any form of making money surreptitiously using electronic communication I guess. And so based on this case a lot of people are going to have to change their minds about this stuff.
Patrick: Yeah, and that quote comes from Linda Buquet of fivestarffiliateprograms.com. But I was going to say that, yeah, I think there are a lot of things you can do out there to increase your affiliate conversions that are fine, upfront or white hat or legal or however you want to look at it that you can do, but this just isn’t one of them. And I don’t know; I think that there’s something to this that at least to me would strike me as unethical without needing the law, right? But, of course, if something isn’t in black in white in the public eye and marked as illegal people will still do it until they’re told not to. So maybe this is an opportunity for a lot of people to clean up and cash out before they get caught.
Brad: So, new versions of Google will be flying out of the Googleplex now. Google actually just announced that they plan on releasing a new full version of, or I should say a new major version of Chrome every six weeks, as if they weren’t already releasing new versions fast enough, they’re actually kicking it up a notch. There’s a few different reasons why they plan on doing this, one of the reasons is they’re creating new features so quickly that they don’t want those features to basically become stale, they want to get those features to the users as quickly as possible. They’ll also allow Google to have more firmly set schedules for Chrome, and it will also take the pressure off engineers to finish new features, because if they can’t quite get a feature finished they know they don’t have to wait months and months and months for that feature to show up in Chrome; they’ll only have to wait six weeks to do that. So it’s a pretty interesting take on new releases, and we’ve talked about this a few times; I remember kind of joking around that Chrome version 10 is going to be out before the end of the year, and it’s not too far off, we’ll probably be looking at Chrome version 8 or 9 by the end of the year.
Kevin: Six weeks seems a bit arbitrary and a bit fast. I mean it might be appropriate for the times at the moment, that web technology is moving fast, we’re getting a lot of updates to specs like CSS and HTML, and Chrome, after all, is the browser that was created to experiment with this new stuff and hopefully lead the way for other browsers to follow suit. But I don’t know if it’s reasonable to think that we could, we should even, see our web browsers having major updates every six weeks for the next however many years. If we’re still doing that in ten years time what are these browsers going to be like, and what company will be able to afford to keep up with that pace of innovation.
Patrick: They just want to catch up to AOL 9.5 and soon enough IE9.
Kevin: (Laughs) Yeah, I see that.
Stephan: They’ll be operating systems. (Laughs)
Patrick: But I mean it’s just a testament to how loose version numbers can really be and how different they are from company to company.
Brad: Yeah, Google actually said that they basically stated don’t read too much into the version numbers because they are releasing them so quick. Going from version 5 to 6 isn’t going to be like you would expect when Firefox 3 came out and they had all these new features and this and that. It’s going to have a few new features, but it’s not going to jam-packed with just endless amounts of new things, it’s going to have six weeks’ worth of new features.
Kevin: You’re my poster child as a Chrome fan, Brad, and you yourself were saying that you’ve lost track of the updates that you receive to this browser because they happen transparently. But are you even actively aware anymore of what version of Chrome you’re running? And if not, are version numbers, not only are they completely arbitrary, but are they completely meaningless? I mean does anyone even need to know their version number anymore?
Brad: Yeah, the way Chrome’s doing it you almost don’t need to because, you’re right, the updates happen in the background, there’s no confirmation asking if you want to update, it just happens when a new version comes out, but I believe Chrome’s one of the only browsers actually doing that. And when we compare those graphs on browser usage you could see how when Chrome 5 came out, Chrome 4 browser usage went down to zero within a matter of weeks or months or whatever it may be. But, yeah, I think in the case of Chrome it is almost arbitrary because it’s not so much what version you’re on; the only reason you need to look at what version you’re on is if you’re trying to see if you have maybe a particular new feature that came out or to see what your version supports, but as soon as that new version releases it’s going to update whether you like it or not.
Kevin: So this links in for me with a story from SitePoint blogger Craig Buckler who is updating us on the status of a petition by web developers, well UK web developers, let’s put it that way, who demanded that their government, that the British government, get around to updating and getting all of the government computers off of Internet Explorer 6. Apparently that is the baseline standard within the British government still to run Windows XP with Internet Explorer 6 on it, fully patched of course, but nevertheless this is an old browser in terms of its web standards support if nothing else. And this petition that got 6,223 signatures was demanding that the government upgrade, get itself into the 21st Century. And the petition has failed. But it’s failed in kind of an interesting way, they did get the government to respond to it, which may be a victory in itself, but the response is not the one that they were hoping for. Reading a few snippets here from the official response they’re saying, “Complex software will always have vulnerabilities and motivated adversaries will always work to discover and take advantage of them. There’s no evidence that upgrading away from the latest fully-patched versions of Internet Explorer to other browsers will make users more secure.” Craig contends that one of the reasons this petition may have failed was because it may have engaged in a bit of scaremongering; it tried to get … the main case it put forward for getting off of Internet Explorer was one of security vulnerabilities, when we all know why web developers would really want them to upgrade would be so we’re not stuck supporting the archaic rendering technologies of Internet Explorer 6, but they thought, you know, the case for the government is going to be a security one and so they said you ought to get off IE6 because of the security flaws. It seems that was not convincing. And so they’re deciding to stick with it. Craig goes on to say, though, that maybe we’re expecting too much from this government and that even if we did get our way, even if we got them to switch to Firefox or Chrome, that then we would be demanding that they keep up to date with the release schedules. And this is where it links back to Google Chrome, can we expect an entity the size of a government to be applying browser updates every six weeks?
Stephan: Not if they happen in the background (laughs).
Brad: Well, the main issue is there are so many applications, and it’s obvious they must have some kind of system they use, or multiple systems that require IE6, I mean they must or there wouldn’t be this much of a pushback. But, you know, now with the new browser technologies and the way that people actually all the browsers kind of work and follow the standards, well, they at least try to anyway; applications aren’t built like they used to. They’re not built for one single browser, they’re built to work in as many browsers as possible. So I think once they get past the IE6 hurdle then it will be much easier for them to upgrade going forward because it won’t be stuck into that closed box where everything has to work in IE6 because that’s how it was built.
Stephan: I wonder if it’s really they have these applications that run only in IE6 and they don’t want to lose that functionality, or if it’s a security issue and that they’ve put all this time into making sure that IE6 and Windows XP and their installation is locked down and they don’t want to spend the time where they know it’s going to be time consuming to move forward to Windows 7 and IE8 or Firefox or whatever it is.
Kevin: Hmm, yeah. They say that, well, Craig reports that the departments in the government that are receiving upgrades to newer systems, they are being moved to Internet Explorer 7 at the moment (laughs) even though IE8 is out there and is available for any system where Internet Explorer 7 will run. It’s like the government still is taking a very careful approach to this stuff and will not deploy something that hasn’t been out there and proven for five years, which is tough if the average browser release schedule is a year going on six weeks.
I like that fact that what we’re seeing here with this petition and the response from the government is what’s going on behind the scenes in corporate settings all over the world where web developers who sign on to work — I know my first job as a professional web developer I was working in the Information Department of a company and I was hired to revamp their internal website for that department. And I was asked to develop it without access to the server. They said, yeah, make a bunch of files in a folder and when you’re done email those to the sysadmins and they’ll take care of the rest. And I was supposed to be building a site that would be easily updatable everyday. I ended up writing giant Word documents saying, okay, if you want to update this page you have to go to line 26 and change this tag to that tag; it was silly. But this is the sort of thing that’s going on behind the scenes at corporates all over the world, and now we are seeing it on a grand scale in the public eye with this petition in the British government. It doesn’t seem to be getting us any further, but at least there’s a sense of shared frustration rather than it being something that’s just going on between you and your boss. Craig suggests that if you’re a web developer and this sort of thing frustrates you, you should really be looking for work outside of the corporate juggernauts of the world. Do you think that’s true? Do you think one web developer can’t make a difference?
Stephan: I mean I think, from my personal experience, I think that there are large corporations who have been affected by developers who have said this is not the way we should do things and they’ve eventually made a change. But overall, yeah, I don’t think — well, and I think some places people live in a, they kind of live in a shell in some of these big corporations because they just do their job and they do their 9 to 5 and they go home.
Kevin: More and more the computers that are provided by these companies that are running these ancient software platforms just become that one-purpose tool to access the company’s internal application that relies on IE6, and then people do their personal web browsing on their smartphones, right?
Stephan: No firewall, no things like that to deal with on the corporate level.
Kevin: The times are changing.
Stephan: So then there’s something else new in town, it’s a new validator from the W3C, and it’s called Unicorn. You guys seen this?
Kevin: Yeah! Well, I ran one of the sites I work on through it, and it was —
Kevin: Yeah, it failed. (Laughs) It failed, and I made sure to pick the site that I thought would be least likely to fail, the one that I had gone out of my way to make sure was valid, this validator found a bug in the latest version of the content management system for that site; it was putting an invalid attribute in some of my image tags, and I was kind of crushed. The CSS was valid.
Stephan: What all does it check?
Kevin: It checks HTML, it checks CSS, it checks your RSS and Atom feeds, if your site has any, and it will also reportedly even check the mobile-friendliness of the site. So it runs a check called mobileOK. And, yeah, it does this all at once; you just provide it one URL and it checks the whole thing. Which is nice because I know when I used to do validation I would go to the HTML validator and if it was happy that was enough for me; I can’t say I’ve ever really validated my CSS code with any regularity. But I guess the fact that my site that I thought was valid failed indicates that I don’t validate my code much at all anymore.
Stephan: Do you validate yours Brad?
Brad: No, I don’t. (Laughter) I’ve yet to find a site that can pass this thing. I mean I’ve typed in like some very popular sites, some smaller sites, Google, Twitter, I mean they all fail, everything fails. I don’t think anyone validates anything anymore.
Kevin: It feels like validation was in its heyday five years ago when we were all trying to convince Microsoft that Internet Explorer 6 wasn’t good enough. And it was like we had to make sure that we had crossed our T’s and dotted our I’s before we could demand more of the browsers because otherwise the browsers would go, “Oh, that’s not working? It’s probably just because your code isn’t valid.” So we all made sure to validate our code so that we could prove conclusively that we were all coding to the same standard, and then we could go to the browser developers and say “Look! Look, you don’t have to support 20 ways of doing things, just please support these standards that we are all validating against, and if you just do that everything will be great.” And now they’re kind of doing that mostly; for the most part if you write valid code now you know what to expect. And so still, especially for beginner web developers, when something isn’t working for them I think directing them to a validator like this one is still a great first step because it’s likely to pick up coding mistakes that you’re going to make if you’re not too familiar with HTML and CSS. But maybe it’s not necessary anymore if you know what you’re doing to make sure your code is valid because if it’s invalid then more often than not it will be invalid as a conscious choice, maybe you’re using some new experimental CSS feature that’s only supported by a particular browser and that’s the kind of thing that a validator will baulk at but it is not a bad thing.
Brad: I mean even Google’s come out and basically said that there’s no priority given to sites that validate, I mean it’s not one of the 200 factors or whatever to figure out if a site’s relevant; validation is not one of them. So if Google doesn’t care why should we?
Kevin: (Laughs) I know developers have demanded that of Google. They’re like you know what we should get more because we put more TLC into our code. I think that may just be, you know, they’ve spent all this time validating and they go, oh, okay, I need the green check–
Patrick: I need some value here!
Kevin: Yeah, I got this checkmark, now what?
Patrick: I get the icon, right? I can copy and paste this code and hopefully it still validates.
Kevin: I’m seeing a fair few checkmarks on html5test.com at the moment which is this new site for validating your browser against HTML5 support. And it’s kind of like an Acid test but a little less fancy. So these Acid tests, there’s was Acid, Acid2 and Acid3, that tested cutting edge web technology support in browsers and the idea was you visited this site with a browser and you either saw the picture you were supposed to or you saw some corrupted version of it, and that’s how you could tell how well your browser passed that test. But this is a little more useful, I think, because it doesn’t just display an image, it actually displays a list of all the different features that its testing and whether your browser passed or not, and it does come down to a score which I think some people object to because maybe not all of these things are of equal value, but my Safari 5.0.1 browser is getting 208 and seven bonus points. How are you guys doing?
Brad: The best I could get was on Chrome 5, I got 197, yeah.
Stephan: Yeah, on one Chrome too.
Brad: Yeah, Safari beat Chrome, that’s surprising.
Patrick: On the latest Firefox I got 139 and four bonus points, and then on Opera I got 129 and four, and IE8 got 27 with no bonus points. It’s a route!
Brad: That’s 27 more points than 6.
Kevin: In webmonkey.com’s test the leader was Chrome Developer Channel, so if switch Chrome over to the bleeding edge version so you’re getting their beta versions you get 217 plus 10 bonus points, that seems to be the best performer out there at the moment. And whether it’s fair to be using a beta browser or not is an open question. But just looking down the list some of the things my Safari browser doesn’t support are, well, most of the HTML5 parsing rules; it supports the DOCTYPE, but I thing everything supports the DOCTYPE out there, even Internet Explorer. Canvas is fully supported, that’s great, video is close, it doesn’t support subtitles, Ogg Theora or WebM, WebM being that new open video format from Google, so hopefully that will change soon if we can twist Apple’s arm, but Safari might be the last browser to support that. Audio, similarly it doesn’t support Ogg or WebM, hmm, local devices zero out of 20; you guys getting any love for local device support in your browsers?
Stephan: And what’s weird is I’m in Chrome and they didn’t, it doesn’t have WebM support.
Kevin: That is weird. Pick it up Google, pick it up! Microdata also not supported, WebGL, so 3D graphics not supported; this is no longer part of HTML5, these are related specifications, WebGL, file reading support not at all supported, but that’s about it. You know, it’s further along than I would’ve thought. You hear stories of HTML5 isn’t going to be finalized until 2018 because it requires at least two browsers to fully support it before they can do that, and you think oh, well, HTML5 it must be just one of two features that are supported, and we’re waiting for the rest, but to look at this table its not doing so badly.
Patrick: Well, if we think of this as a letter grade system, right, and let’s say the best one is Chrome with 227 in developer channel mode, what is that, that’s 75 percent, that’s a C. That’s a C. Barely a passing grade, no I’m just kidding.
Kevin: (Laughs) I take your point.
Brad: And the site does not pass the Unicorn validation test either.
Brad: There’s only one error so that’s probably the best I’ve seen so far.
Kevin: What’s the error?
Brad: Unrecognized Link element or XML style sheet, so it’s pretty minor.
Patrick: I found one site that would validate, it’s a site a friend of mine set up, it’s just a vanity site, isjaredsingle.com, and it does validate because it’s very, very simple.
Kevin: Does it say yes or no?
Patrick: Right now it says no because he’s not single (laughs).
Kevin: Well done, Jared, congratulations.
Patrick: That’s @jaredwsmith on Twitter.
So there’s a lot of paywall content going up online these days, content you have to pay to access. Well, The Times, the UK based publication, has been experimenting with their online readership recently, at least for the last three weeks, trying to convert them to a pay model; charging them a few pounds a week to access their online content, and they have some early returns here as reported by The Guardian, and they don’t look good or at least it depends on your perspective, but to most people they don’t look very good because the article is suggesting that according to the data that is out there they have lost about 90 percent of their online readership. There’s a couple numbers bounced around, somewhere between 84 percent and 93 percent. Experian Hitwise is saying that they have managed to convert 25.6 percent of users who they redirect to a special bounce page to sign up, and 25.6 percent are signing up, the rest are just leaving. So what do you make of this?
Kevin: Like you say, there’s a lot of percentage numbers here with decimal points after them that leads you to a sense of accuracy, but the claims that are being made about this story and what it means are — they’re pretty crazy. I’m hearing stories that The Times loses almost 90 percent of online readership, this is from The Guardian, so they may have a horse in this race, but nevertheless, putting all these numbers together and saying, oh, they’re losing 90 percent of this traffic, I’m not sure it’s justifiable because they’re measuring different things like the bounce rate on a particular page that’s asking for money and translating that into overall traffic numbers, which I think they’re making a slight leap here, but I think what we can all agree is that this is definitely having a significant, if not huge, impact on the traffic profile of sites that are trying it; sites that are trying to convert from free content to — and it’s not even very expensive, the paywall page asks someone who is trying to read The Times website to pay either one pound for immediate 24 hour access, so that’s on a bad day $2.50 U.S., probably closer to just $2.00 these days. Or you can pay that same one pound and gets 30 days of access and then it’s two pounds a week. So the most they’re ever going to charge you is about eight bucks a month for access to this site. And that is not an expensive site, especially if you are a regular reader of this content. You compare that to a print subscription for a newspaper, that’s not so bad.
Patrick: Am I the only one that thinks that 25.6 percent of users signing up and proceeding to a Times page is actually a pretty good number?
Kevin: That sounds pretty good to me.
Patrick: I mean I thought that was a pretty high number of people converting when you consider obviously the challenges here are serious with the amount of free content out there, and free news content, to even introduce this sort of model. We’ve seen it kind of, I guess I hate to use the word fail, but fail a lot, with a lot of different publications, and someone’s obviously trying it here, but that doesn’t seem like a bad number at all to me.
Kevin: The 90 percent number I really can’t fathom how The Guardian gets that. Other numbers I’ve seen tossed around is that they’ve lost two-thirds of their readership which seems to make more sense to me because according to those Hitwise stats they’ve dropped from 15 percent of UK browsing, or UK browsing of newspaper sites, down to 4.16 percent, so they’ve lost more than two-thirds of their traffic there. And so that seems to be the sensible number to me. But that’s not so bad if you’ve gone from giving away your content to 100 percent of the people to getting 33 percent of those people to pay for it that seems like a success story on the surface of it, but what you have to consider is that these sites are not just making money from people paying from their content, they’re making money from advertising, and losing two-thirds of your audience when your main revenue stream is advertising is disastrous. I know if SitePoint lost two-thirds of its viewership within the space of three weeks we’d have to go out of business.
Patrick: We’d have no more podcast.
Kevin: Yeah, definitely not.
Patrick: But I think it really depends on how you make your money, right, I think obviously they must not be happy with their ad revenue or at least they want to experiment or they’re not happy enough to just try an experiment. And there is a number that’s being thrown out there; The Guardian article cites a reported beehivecity.com, and they say, and I don’t know exactly where this data is coming from, but this is their analysis of the figures is that 15,000 people have agreed to pay money. Now they upgraded the story to say official sources say that the number is, in fact, is somewhat higher, but if you take that 15,000 number as The Guardian did and you multiply that by the two pounds a week, that’s 120,000 pounds a month or 1.4 million pounds a year. Now, if you cut your viewership by 66 percent I would think they could sell ads for that amount, but then again I’m not in their shoes.
Brad: You know not only are they losing their current readership, but they’re also probably not gaining many new readers because I mean they’re killing themselves in the search engines by what they’re doing. I mean if you look right now they’ve apparently lost their page rank, I’m assuming they had one, and they have a page rank zero right now which a site at this level should be much higher than that. They have just a few thousand links indexed in Google, but if you check the cache they’re all blank, so I would imagine those are going to drop out eventually. So they’re going to go down to having just their home page indexed in Google and essentially kill any kind of search traffic they were getting which would essentially turn into new readership.
Kevin: I didn’t even believe they did that, when I first read this story I thought surely they’re doing what the New York Times, for example, is trying which is that they let Google through the paywall and they ask everyone else to pay. And if you’re smart enough to reconfigure your browser so that it looks like the Google Spider well then good luck to you, you get to read everything for free. But, no, if that’s to be believed, if they’ve got blank pages in Google’s cache, man, they’re just basically taking themselves out of the search engine ranking game, and they’re saying we’re going to find our traffic some other way.
Patrick: And there’s a case to be made on both sides, but Techdirt published a story by imafish, I believe is the name, that’s the author on this article, but basically imafish goes kind of point, counterpoint, in a way, with a story written by someone over at the bigmoney.com, Marion Maneker, talking about why arguments used against pay walls are illogical. I guess his three main points that are cited here, the first point is that even with ad revenues, even if they are coming back, as we’ve heard ad revenues are coming up a little bit, they should still diversify and try charging anyway, try other revenue models. The second point is that charging for content has always been a part of the news outlets’ overall long-term strategy. And the third point in there is that any media strategy should have the idea of charging content as part of it. And, of course, there are rebukes for all three of those points here.
Kevin: They all kind of sound like the same thing. They should charge because they should charge.
Patrick: Right. So the idea of a paywall or pay for content its not all depending on this one case, I guess is what I’m trying to say here, where there’s a lot of cases out there where charging over content is working. It really depends on what you’re charging for, you know, the audience, and then what is out there competition-wise, and how much you’re charging. I mean I would cite an example like ESPN, if you ask the average person, at least in the U.S., who the leader is in free content online for sports, I bet a high percentage would say ESPN. But, ESPN has the ESPN Insider feature where they have a lot of content behind a paywall; they have a lot of content by some of their premium writers, writers that people are coming to the site to see, that is behind this paywall. And they’ve bundled it with their ESPN magazine subscription; they have besides that article access, they also get access to extra tools that people can use, fantasy sports tools, and so on, and then they get the ESPN magazine subscription, they can sign up for $39.95 a year or $59.95 for two years. And they get that Insider access; you can’t visit that content any other way besides having that subscriber access. And they also maintain their print advertising base by doing that because they can sell ads in the newspaper, they sell ads on the website, but they also have that premium content. So that’s a good example of a mix right there, paywall and non-paywall, working very well because ESPN could be seen as a leader in sort of both regards.
Kevin: So there’s a balance to be struck, and it sounds like The Times, as an experiment, they’ve tried one extreme give it all away online, they’re trying the other extreme, don’t give anything away online, and maybe there is a balance to be struck there. Maybe, as you say, the news should be free, the editorial, the stuff that’s written with personality by recognized names that people will seek out maybe that’s what you pay for, and you can pay for that online rather than in print if you want to. I guess I’ve always, I’ve had this certain amount of respect for outfits like The Times who are willing to take the risk and try something out because someone has to. We can’t just, the content producers of the world can’t just allow that expectation that everything that’s online is going to be free to sail through unchallenged, we need to try some alternatives and figure out what’s going to work best, what’s going to produce the best content for the most people, and it’s nice to see experiments like this being tried.
Patrick: I agree. I really agree because, and this is something that I’ve seen Techdirt do before with someone experimenting because, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Common Craft, but they introduced a model where there is a web license for displaying their videos on your website. They’re very high-quality produced videos. So it’s definitely an experiment, but they wrote an article that was just scathing about it, but if no one experiments we never really get better and we’re always stuck just doing what we’re doing now, so I definitely agree with you.
Kevin: Yeah, so The Times, you know, do it for another couple of weeks and then maybe reevaluate (laughs).
Patrick: Thanks for the experiment.
Kevin: Thanks for the experiment; I’m glad it’s not my money.
Patrick: I would compare even the SitePoint courses in a very small way because it wouldn’t be crazy for me to think that at one time SitePoint may have considered, or it may have even published, can’t read every article on the site, basic course material; I mean obviously popular articles have turned into books. I know your article about database driven website stuff did that a long time ago.
So SitePoint’s charging for this course material, charging for paid content on top of offering free content on the same things, and people are clamoring for it as well. So I think that’s the same kind of balance right there, you know, you, Kevin Yank, are the high-profile writer that people want to pay for.
Kevin: They need to master the up-sale, The Times, they need to get their free content out there, and at the end of every single one, “Want to read more? Check out our online video series by noted author such and such.”
Stephan: They need to do what the Wall Street Journal does which is just like what you said, they have free content and then they have articles that are — you get like a little blurb and then down at the bottom it says you can read the entire article by subscribing. And I guess it draws in people because the Wall Street Journal’s been doing it for a while now.
Kevin: Just to put a little button on this story before we go to our host spotlights, speaking of Techdirt, that’s a site that I read pretty much daily because I appreciate their enthusiasm for these things. But they posted an article that has dredged up a letter that was sent to noted pop artist Andy Warhol, who you might remember from his many paintings of Campbell’s Soup cans and Marilyn Monroe, and Marilyn Monroe on Campbell’s Soup cans, and Campbell’s Soup cans on Marilyn Monroe, but the Campbell’s Soup Company on May 19th, 1964 sent this letter, this typewritten letter, to “Mr. A. Warhol” saying, “Dear Mr. Warhol, I have followed your career for some time. Your work has evoked a great deal of interest here at Campbell’s Soup Company for obvious reasons.” And if I was reading this letter today you’d go, alright, the legal threats are about to start, which lawyer’s firm is this from? But, no, it goes on to say “At one time I had hoped to be able to acquire one of your Campbell’s Soup label paintings, but I’m afraid you have gotten much too expensive for me. I did want to tell you, however, that we admired your work, and I have since learned that you like tomato soup. I am taking the liberty of having a couple of cans,” see, I couldn’t even read this without my mouth wanting to say “cease and desist.”
Patrick: Not just cans but cases, cases!
Kevin: Cases! — “cases of our tomato soup delivered to you at this address. We wish you continued success and good fortune. Cordially, William P. MacFarland, Product Marketing Manager.” There you go. That would never happen today.
Patrick: You know, I don’t know, I like to have a positive outlook on things, and I think there are some people out there who would do this. Now maybe they would be a lot less today, but I still think there are people out there who maybe would have this tone and see the value of it. I have hope for humanity.
Stephan: There is actually a really good book about this type of thing, it’s called The Death of Common Sense, it’s by a guy named Philip K. Howard, and he actually gave a TED Talk on this topic as well. But the book is really good; it talks about how law is suffocating America and things, and I’m not going to go into the politics side, but his basic premise is that as we’ve gone forward we’ve gotten lawsuits and people have to protect their trademarks and their copyrights and things, and to do so they have to enforce cease and desists on people.
Patrick: I’m a big fan of common sense enforcement of those things, and that’s probably what the book talks about because that’s in the title, but I use the example of fan groups and fan sites online, and the need to sort of defend the trademark when it comes to different presences and domain names and whatnot, and then having the presence of mind to do a kind of a risk and reward analysis of how valuable this is and what we’re doing. And instead of sending a cease and desist maybe just licensing it, you know, or making it okay rather than just threatening. That’s definitely the way to go these days with a lot of these cases where people just send out a boilerplate.
Kevin: That’s a great point, Patrick. I was reading a story yesterday similar in theme; it was the latest episode of Mad Men, the fourth season of which is hugely popular at the moment. But the latest episode had historical nuts up in arms because the character Don Draper, and I may be setting us up for a cease and desist of our own just by talking about this, but the character Don Draper in a scene was watching TV on a Sunday night, and the sound you could hear of the show he was watching was a football game, and the historical folks were up in arms because Sunday Night Football didn’t start until 1970-something and the story is set in 1964, I believe. And the producers of the show went, yeah, we wanted to have a hockey game on in that scene, but we couldn’t get the rights to use the sound of the hockey match, and so we had to use the football game instead. And some people say, yeah, that’s alright, that’s not actually going to affect the show, what sound was on in the background in any particular scene, but, yeah, where’s the common sense? I think this story was on Boing Boing where I read it, and they said what harm would it actually do to the company that owns the rights to that hockey game to have had their sound played in that scene? Nothing. And so if we could convince these companies instead of sending cease and desists, send free licenses. Say we were made aware that you were using our copyrighted material in this thing, here’s a license just so it’s on the up and up, so that the next time we want to fight a copyright infringement that is actually harmful to us we can say, look, we were aware of that thing, we defended it by licensing it for free.
Stephan: Yep. I’m actually surprised they were able to use the NFL sounds as the background of the game.
Kevin: Yeah. I guess the NFL has more liberal copyright policies on their archives.
Patrick: “Without the express written consent of the National Football League.”
Kevin: Alright, well, yeah, it feels like we’ve been on a mini host spotlight for the last ten minutes, but I enjoyed that. Let’s get around to our actual host spotlights, Brad, what have you got for the fine people today?
Brad: Yeah, I have a fun little website like I always like to have, and it is actually called whatthefudgeismysocialmediastrategy, only I didn’t say “fudge.”
Patrick: So you’re actually spelling the wrong domain name. You’re sending people to a dead link.
Brad: Yes. So, register that and you’ll make millions. (Laughter). But the site’s really funny, it’s clever; it’s basically like three pages big and this guy put this site together and essentially what it does is it mixes words, there’s a column of verbs and a column of nouns, and it takes one word from each to form sentences that make simple things sound more complicated than they are. And voila, you have a fancy sounding strategy that you can put in your presentations. As an example, the first one to load up for me was “Maximize buzz by driving word of mouth from relevant influencers,” which if you read these they ultimately make no sense but they sound very intelligent.
Kevin: (Laughs) I got “Drive breakthrough conversations with an engaging viral.”
Patrick: “Harness social currency to drive buzz.”
Brad: Yeah, you can keep refreshing to get more and more, but it’s pretty clever and I think anyone that has anything to do with social media or social marketing or I guess the Internet in general, has probably come across some of these terms and phrases that really make no sense at all, so you can go to the site and get a quick social media strategy for your next presentation.
Kevin: Nice. My spotlight is Canto.js, and I’ve been waiting for this to come out since I saw Dmitry Baranovskiy who’s the author of the Raphaël Library for doing cross browser vector graphics with SVG. But he did a conference presentation about the
<canvas> tag, it’ll save you some hair pulling.
Patrick what have you got?
Patrick: Well, my spotlight, which I chose a long, long time ago, many days ago, no, I’m kidding, but is a post by Brandon Ely who is SitePoint book co-author and SitePoint Tribune co-writer. He wrote a post on his personal blog titled, Why the 3/50 Project Can’t Save Small Businesses, and this was the first I heard of this. But apparently there’s a project called 3/50, that’s 3/50, aimed at helping local businesses, your local economy. The 3 comes from think about three independently owned stores you’d miss if they were gone, stop in, say hello, buy something, etcetera. The 50 is just if half of the employed population spent $50.00 a month in independently owned stores those purchases would generate over forty-two billion dollars. And then that’s the 3 and the 50, and they have some more numbers from there on, but his post kind of goes over why there are other factors involved in this, how it’s not just good to go to any local business and throw money at them when they don’t offer good service or they don’t try to price their products competitively, and why it’s more complicated than just saying go to the local store because then the money stays here. Obviously companies these days, large companies, have many presences in many areas and the money flows all around. So, anyway, longwinded but it’s a nice post and I thought it was pretty insightful.
Kevin: I like to think that the local businesses worth saving are going to be supported because they’re good businesses, so I kind of agree with him. Stephan?
Stephan: Well, during the last show I was out of the country and I had to get some stuff done with some people and I needed to figure out time zones and stuff, but I was just on my iPhone, it was all I had, and it was much more difficult than it actually seems because you think you can just go into the clock and figure out what time it is in a different place and stuff. But trying to send an email and tell people here’s when we’re going to meet, or whatever, is much harder. And then I get home and I go on to sitepoint.com and there’s a post by, it’s in a dark dungeon part of the forum, by Black Max who’s an advisor, about a service called Permatime. And it’s just a simple website that — it’s permatime.com, and you set your location and you give it a time and it creates a link and it will — you send it out to whoever you want to send it out to and it conforms to their time zone.
Kevin: Oh, so it’s like a permalink, that’s why it’s called Permatime.
Stephan: It’s like a permanent link to a time, and so it’s actually really useful and I could’ve actually really used it while I was overseas and I wish I had known about it, but it’s a neat little service if you have to do stuff across the globe.
Kevin: Are you able to tell what time the time you’ve picked is in another time zone using this?
Kevin: It looks like you can set your location after the fact, so you can pick a time in your own and then change your location, so that would probably work.
Stephan: Yeah, and then I just send you the link and if it’s — yeah, you can move it around and then add another location, and yeah you can see what time it was then.
Kevin: Beautiful. Aw, I dig it. I dig it. This is something you will need if ever you have a podcast of your own listeners. (Laughs) Because it’s always changing and, yeah, especially if you’re dealing with people in the northern and southern hemisphere, the differences between time zones change at different times of the year. So, thank you Permatime, and thank you Stephan.
That’s it for this episode. Our hosts this week, guys, I understand you’ve got some things coming up, so maybe as we go around the table talk about where you’ll be in the next couple months. Patrick?
Patrick: Sure, thanks. Well, I will be at a couple different locations, briefly, September 9th-11th I’m in Atlanta for Modern Media Man Summit, October 1st-2nd in Greensboro North Carolina for Converge South, October 14th-16th in Las Vegas for BlogWorld and New Media Expo, and November 13th in Raleigh for Indieconf; presenting at all those locations, speaking, so if you’re in any of those areas please stop by and say hello. I’m on Twitter @iFroggy, and I run the iFroggy Network, iFroggy.com.
Brad: I’ll actually be at WordCamp Mid-Atlantic on 9/11, and I’m also going to BlogWorld Expo so we’ll all be there to hang out so you can track me and Patrick down.
Patrick: Stephan will be there as well.
Brad: Oh, all three of us, so track us down. And then I’m helping co-organize WordCamp Philly which is October 30th on the day before Halloween so that should be fun, and you can find me on Twitter @williamsba.
Kevin: And I’ll be at Web Directions South again this year in Sydney, so if you are an Australian listener be sure and stop by and say hello. You can follow me on Twitter @sentience, and follow SitePoint @sitepointdotcom. Visit us at the SitePoint Podcast website which is sitepoint.com/podcast or you can just go to sitepoint.com and click the fresh new Podcast tab, we have one at last. Leave comments on the show and be sure to subscribe so you get every show automatically.
The SitePoint podcast is produced by Carl Longnecker and I’m Kevin Yank. Thanks for listening. Bye.
Theme music by Mike Mella.
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