Longwinded lecture

Let me borrow for a minute my PC Magazine columnist and colleague John C. Dvorak‘s Cranky Geek hat while I go off on a rant. (Hey, as PC Magazine Philippines Editor-in-Chief I get to say that for real – he’s got a column in my mag and I’m technically his boss. Heh.)

Firstly, much thanks to everyone who’s been patient with us and reading PWiT as we go through our birth pains. I wouldn’t actually go so far as to say we’re doing great, but I could say we’re doing better than I expected, at least as far as content and fun quotient go. We don’t get even a fraction as many hits as some popular sites, (or even have a page rank yet), but for our niche, I think we’re ok.

More than actual readership, I’m glad the content is substantial, (sometimes) informative and I hope worth reading, despite the different styles and approaches of the PWiT editors. Most of all, we like what we do and are having fun doing it. It’s a function of the fact that most of us are all writers first before anything else, something we’re thankful for.

I had a conversation with a former co-worker the other week, a guy who is a professional blogger of sorts. Indirectly, the topic came up of helping PWiT get more traffic via mentions and links in other blogs and the other tricks you can do to bump up hits using the 21st century arcane art of SEO, or search engine optimization.

SEO includes stuff like using common words in your post subjects that’ll be picked up by search engines and let your stuff show up when people google, or commenting on other, similar blogs so people notice you and track back to your own site, or deliberately creating situations that increase traffic, like starting little intrigues that often get out of hand (like gossip mags like to do).

These problogging tactics are meant not just to increase traffic but to lead towards monetization possibilities – the pro in problogging is professional after all. I have no beef with that. Cool. Go ahead, make some money. My own day job as group editor for a magazine company is similar, although rooted in the traditional print medium; we print using ink on paper, not pixels on monitors.

What I do have a beef with is how some so-called probloggers vigorously and actively use SEO tactics for their blogs to get thousands of unique hits per day and drive their Google pagerank up into the stratosphere – even if their blog content is, for all intents and purposes, crap. You can smell these blogs a mile away.

Their content are just page fillers, stuff written just for the sake of having a new post, posturing, masturbatory, self-indulgent drivel, pointless babbling that parrots the online zeitgeist without contributing anything to it. Some merely regurgitate what they see on the net or, worse, pass it off as theirs. There are lots of blogs like these. And they have ads because they have high pageranks and visit stats in the thousands, despite having vapid, repetitive, redundant and useless content. And they get paid for it. Essentially, like the song goes, it’s money for nothing.

Sure, there is some value in re-mentioning things already available on the net so that more people with less time on their hands can benefit from your endless grazing on the internet. But doing it because you’re either too lazy to write actual original posts or worse yet, can’t? Man.

Do what you want on your blog, that’s what it’s for, but if you start accepting money for it, the rules change.

Instead of thinking up original stuff, going out to find new and useful content for their readers or finding new angles to current issues and discuss them, some just repeat what’s out there. They trawl the net the whole day and just parrot what they find. These blogs are just aggregators of content, no different from a typical feed. It’s just that think they’re blogs. Then again, you can argue that they’re getting advertising for being exactly what they are. Somehow the thought is depressing. But they’re there.

Despite being generally egregious, this isn’t too bad. There are worse; instead of just borrowing, some actually steal.

I am reserving a special suite in hell for the folk who actually grab someone else’s entries and repost them on their own site just to fulfill their blog network’s post quota for the week. Some don’t even have the good manners to ask permission.

This is a special peeve of mine, because it’s happened to me. It’s not quite plagiarism, but it’s close. Sure, they link you up and give you credit in the post, thank you, but that’s about all they do. So-and-so said this on his blog yesterday. It was nice. Let me reprint it here. Click on the link to read it again. Ka-ching! Score! Hey, that’s flattering dude, but you adding to it would be much more flattering. And productive. Damn parasites.

Using SEO techniques is well and good, but if your blog is just a regurgitation of other people’s work, what is the point? It’s like me making a crap mag by ripping off whole pages from other real magazines, binding them together and putting my name on it, then making sure it’s on all the newsstands and bookstores, complete with press releases in the broadsheets, standees and streamers in the malls, billboards on EDSA, and casual mention on TV and radio so people will buy it. Doesn’t change the fact that you’re making money from other people’s work, though.

In my opinion creating good content should be the main tactic in getting better page ranking and increased traffic. A good product will usually get noticed, and if it doesn’t, then that’s the time you turn on the SEO machine and set it to high. It’s easy to buy a domain and some cheap hosting space, get WordPress, load it up, make a blog, then fire up the SEO shtick so you can artificially get ranking and secure some ads. But in the end what do you have, really?

Make a great blog first (or at least something worth reading) – which takes actual work – then use SEO and all the other tricks available today to get more exposure for it. Even if blogs don’t charge for readership, or have regulating bodies or even editors to check the darned grammar, they still have a fundamental responsibility to their readers, to at least justify the revenue they generate from it.

It’s just that the advertisers themselves only look at stats, which in the end are all that really matter for them before they load up the blogger’s paypal accounts every month. And for some of these bloggers getting that pagerank and upping the hit count is the all that’s important.

For our part, PWiT has gotten several offers of advertising already, some from international groups, but we’re hesitant to go on that tangent and compromise our content. We made this blog so we’d be free from commercial responsibilities, and be able to say what we want, but on the other side of the coin there are still expenses to keep up, like buying a domain and paying for hosting and extra bandwidth, and the occasional round of free coffee when we get together. We may be PWiTs, but we’re practical ones. We’re looking into it.

It just gets my goat seeing how this whole problogging thing can be, and is, being abused. Eventually the bottom’ll fall out (or to use the web analogy, the bubble’ll burst), the malcontents, feeders and no-talents will drop out, and revenue will level off. Net Darwinism will prevail. Sigh. Sorry. Been in a foul mood all weekend.

Ok John, you can have your Cranky Geek hat back now.

Tech, tech, tech.

Seems like everyone’s writing about tech these days. And as in any wide-open market, some writers are bound to be good, while others will come across as trying too hard.

There are different kinds of tech writers. Among the best kinds are the insiders. They have access to information that ordinary humans do not get to have, by virtue of their jobs or by their stature, and they’re eager to share it. These include people who work in the IT sector and in the media. They’re the ones who give the breaking news and the inside scoops.

And then there are the gadgeteers. These are the folks who love getting their hands on the latest devices. Gadgeteer bloggers love writing about the stuff with all the blinking lights and the shiny surfaces. Their key contributions come from either (1) getting first looks at the latest devices, or (2) ability to critically assess the stuff. If you’re not good at critiquing devices, then you better have access to the latest trinkets at the least.

But what I want to see more of, especially in the Philippine tech scene, are the analysts. These are the guys who can predict what will happen next, what the next big thing will be, what will work, and what won’t. They may not be good at assessing individual devices, but they can see the big picture.

Sure, any tech-Tom, tech-Dick and tech-Harry can make a forecast (and many do try). Then again, any idiot can open the hood of a car and stare at the insides. The trick is in going beyond gut feel and actually making scientific assessments about the future.

Some training is required, however. And this is what can separate the real futurists from the wannabes. There are some excellent books on technology assessment, such as Rogers’ The Diffusion of Innovations and Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma, and there’s a pretty good program on Technology Management at the University of the Philippines (plug, plug).

Case in point: As recently as three years ago, photo mavens were engaged in heated arguments about whether or not digital will replace film in popular use. But most discussions were unstructured and perhaps even emotional in nature. That’s because the participants had no framework on which to hang their discussions.

Diffusion S-curveThe framework that should have been used, however, is something called a diffusion S-curve. And it states that any emerging technology that has the potential to benefit from economies of scale and has a higher potential performance envelope will eventually replace the older technology. So the answer should have indeed been yes, digital will replace film. And it has.

Ditto for LCD TVs. Just two years ago, during public lectures I was giving for PC Magazine, I told incredulous audiences that LCD TVs would soon be cheaper than regular TV sets. It was impossible to fathom back then because LCD TVs were in the six figures while traditional TV sets can be had for a couple of thousand bucks. But that was what the framework says. And it’s happening: prices for LCD TVs have plummetted dramatically over the Christmas holidays, and sales of LCD TVs are now outstripping traditional sets in the US. Soon, small LCD TVs will be cheaper than small TV sets, and your mom’s TV set will become a quaint conversation piece in your storeroom.

My other prediction was the move towards solid-state storage, which the iPod nano eventually became a harbinger of. It’s still hard to imagine your laptop’s hard drive being replaced by a flash device, but it will happen. Perhaps within the next two years.

I can’t claim credit for these forecasts. It’s simply a matter of having the empirical evidence, theories and the frameworks to build up your arguments with. Give any tech-Tom, tech-Dick and tech-Harry these models and they can make as good a prediction as any ubergeek out there.

For wannabe analysts, just remember that the biggest mistake you can make is to generate predictions based on your emotions and your personal feelings. Just because you love a Mac doesn’t mean you have the authority to say that it will eventually take over the universe (hint, hint, heheh), for instance. Technology forecasting is a science, so the only predictions that ill-informed techies should make are funny ones.