Category Archives: Social Media

Big in the Philippines – Do you trust your blog statistics?

A few days ago, my Bible Blog experienced its busiest day, page view stats peaking dramatically and visitors from all over the world flocking to read my words of wisdom. That little voice that echoes in the mind of every blogger started to take over – look at that! Finally people appreciate my genius! Take that, all the people who laughed at me in high school!

Okay, I confess – that’s pride. It may also be SEO hubris, as a closer look at my statistics told me that the majority of visitors to my blog that day were from the Philippines; in fact, looking at the trends, it seems that the Philippines is currently the third largest source of traffic to my blog, after the UK and USA.

If I can take this at face value, it’s awesome. My blog is big in the Philippines. This is strangely cool – getting traffic from the UK or America is one thing, but the idea that a bunch of netizens in Manila are sitting at their computers reading my musings on the Bible and current affairs and Batman reminds me of just how global the internet is. We self-select and curate the content we read, and I guess that often reflects our own culture, but to get the most out of the net we need to embrace the fact that it’s almost as huge and encompassing and challenging as humanity itself. If my blog is big in the Philippines then I’m humbled that I’m getting traffic from a country and culture about which I know very little. That little peak on my stats page makes me want to learn more.

Maybe this shouldn’t come as a surprise. According to reports, the Philippines is “the Social Media capital of the world”, with a huge proportion of its internet-usiing population engaged with Twitter, Facebook, blogs and the like – apparently this is partly because of good affordability and accessibility. Add to that 90% of the population being Christian and why should I be surprised that a Bible blog attracts a bit of interest from Manila? It’s only my ignorance of the world that makes it appear strange.

Then again, I’m a cynic. I’m not sure I trust my blog statistics all that much. It’s the little things – referrals from link harvesters, ever more advanced spambots that only just fail the Turing Test. A report from Kaspersky Labs recently pointed out that the Philippines was the 7th largest producer of internet spam, responsible for 2.8% of all those unsolicited messages that clog up our inboxes. Am I really big in the Philippines or am I just a victim of some marketing report, like my poor old Livejournal account? And doesn’t that also call into question my stats from the USA, which is actually the biggest producer of spam in the world?

(Incidentally, the meat version of spam became big in the Philippines after American GIs introduced it to the country during World War II. It’s amazing what you learn when you’re writing a post about blog statistics.)

I guess all of this just proves one thing – don’t blog for the statistics, blog because you love it. I hope that I do have readers from across the globe, but that’s pride sneaking in and that’s the moment I end up spending more time worrying about SEO than I do writing. That might be fine for a big business blog, but for me it’s a recipe for disaster and ultimately a distraction. The writing is the main thing.

Still, if you are reading this in Manila… Sweet dreams and have a good night :)

Fear of a Facebook Planet

And so Facebook has been floated on NASDAQ, leading to lots of economic excitement and Mark Zuckerberg become rich beyond the dreams of Luthor. It’s probably the biggest tech story for a long time, mainly because Facebook has become so pervasive. It’s everywhere.

But I’m a sceptic, bordering on techno-dystopian (maybe a lot of us are and that’s why Blade Runner is getting a sequel). I love the internet, don’t get me wrong, but nowadays Facebook leaves me cold.

I think it might be the privacy thing… No, wait, it’s not. It’s the opposite. It’s the publicity thing. Facebook seems to want to know when we do anything – here’s your timeline, here’s what you’ve bought in Farmville, here’s your Words With Friends score, here’s a picture of you with a traffic cone on your head posted by someone you haven’t even thought about in years… It’s not content, it’s noise.

Now, I admit I’m guilty of that, mainly using my FB profile to tout my blog posts. I hope they’re not noise, but some may see it as such. Fair enough. I admit my hypocrisy.

But while that stuff may be noise to you and me, to marketing gnomes working long and hard in the data mines, it’s information. And now FB is going to make mondo amounts of money by hitting the stock market, it’s going to be under pressure from shareholders to keep making more money.

Now, it doesn’t make stuff, it’s reliant on one thing – our data. And when the pressure mounts to keep growing, to dive ever deeper into Scrooge McDuck-like piles of money, it’ll be our data for sale: our likes, dislikes, the people we’re friends with, the words we write in our status updates. People already look at stuff like that and think ‘ka-ching’, it’s going to get worse. In one sense this is the brave new world of the information society, get used to it, but FB may well be ground zero for this sort of thing…

(I wouldn’t be surprised if someone came up with the bright idea of it becoming a pay-to-use service. That’d be interesting. I suspect Google+ would become a lot more popular…)

(And that’s before we get onto the Twitter joke that’s being doing the rounds: the reason Facebook has gone public is because no-one can find the privacy settings.)

I dunno. I sound like someone telling hoodie wearing kids to get of his digital lawn. At least I haven’t got on to how Facebook’s about to mutate into Skynet.

But the world will still be turning tomorrow; some people will be richer and social networking may or may not change into something unrecognisable or unwelcome.

And the sun will still come up.

How I Learned to Start Worrying and Mistrust My Refrigerator

And so I’m reading an article this morning which basically says that one day my fridge is going to kill me.

Oh, it didn’t say that in so many words. It was just referring to the ‘Web of Things’, where domestic appliances will be networked and therefore our fridges will be able to command us to pick up a bottle of milk when we’re driving past the supermarket. Or we’ll be able to read our emails when looking into a bathroom mirror.

Now, call me a Luddite, but this fills me with dread, mainly for two reasons. The first is geek inspired and insanely paranoid, but I can’t help it. It feels like what would happen if major high street retailers got taken over by Skynet. The technopocalypse won’t start when the network sends battle robots after us all, it’ll be more insidious than that. The appliances will wait until we’re totally dependent on them, then start ignoring the sell-by dates on our food, thus wiping us out through e-coli.

Think I’m crazy? It starts with a fridge telling me to get milk. It goes on to the fridge telling my self-driving car to go to the supermarket without asking me. It ends with the self-driving car taking me to the Soylent Green factory. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

That’s the irrational side of things. More realistically, there’s a concern that we’re already too networked. The concept of time off, of vacations from work, heck, the concept of Sabbath, become compromised when we can be contacted wherever we are – phone calls, text messages, emails, everything’s pushed through to a smart phone that we carry with us all the time. We’re so used to being connected that we never switch off – who hasn’t woken up at 4am and had a sneaky look at their emails before falling asleep again?

Then there’s surveillance culture. We keep getting told that the authorities ‘need’ greater access to our emails and social media – what happens when they want greater access to the things we listen to on the radio, or what’s in our kitchen cupboards? While this sounds only marginally less paranoid than Robogeddon, I guarantee that, should this network world come about to this extent, some politician will suggest legislation to monitor our purchases. The excuse will be terrorism.

Terrorism? Yep. Because doesn’t all this raise geo-political issues? If all this high-tech genius requires Rare Earth Elements, and if those elements are often found in places that either have worrying approaches to human rights (China) or are unstable (Afghanistan), what happens when production of these becomes something worth fighting over? Maybe I’m just cynical because of all the “this-war-is-about-freedom-no-it’s-about-oil” rhetoric of the last few decades, but it’s enough to get me twitchy.

Heck, what am I saying? It won’t be the terrorists that get us, it’ll be the spam. I bet that intrusive leviathan Facebook is already trying to figure out how to update our timelines based on things our white goods are saying. “Matt is driving to church.” “Matt is buying milk.” “Matt is line-dancing.” Zuckerberg’s minions will know all and see all.

Now, there’s someone out there saying that if I haven’t got anything to hide then I’ve nothing to fear. Well, I do have something to hide. I don’t give out my cell phone number to telemarketers. I tick the little boxes that tell companies not to send me junk mail. I don’t have to tell people who I vote for or how much money is in my current account. Corporations already have too much data on us, but when they know exactly what’s in my fridge, or when they know my route to work, that’s too much. They might already know this stuff, but nagging fridges will only make it worse.

It could also kill social media. Are you prepared for a hundred status updates a day telling you every time your friends are buying socks. If a friend gets engaged, sure, I want to know about it. I don’t, however, care if my friend is making toast. But his toaster will, oh yes, because making toast is the whole purpose of its existence, and we’re going to give it a voice, we’re going to enable a toaster to hijack our Twitter feed to tell the world that it’s out-and-proud and is making toast!!! Oh brave new world in which we live, in which kettles have more of a voice than some people.

And then you’ll be watching TV, and all the adverts will be tailored to you, because there’s a chip in there telling everyone your viewing habits and streaming commercials based on the data it’s sucking up. I mean, sure, I’ll fast-forward through them like I always do, but I’ll know they’re there. And they’ll annoy me.

And then my washing machine will eat me.

But at least you’ll know, because it’ll confess to it on Facebook.

All Blogged Out?

So here’s a question for my fellow bloggers – do you ever feel all blogged out?

I don’t mean Writer’s Block – that’s fairly normal, I think, and it’s something that has to be defeated to maintain your blogging sanity. I mean that feeling when you approach WordPress and realise that you’ve run out of things to say. It’s not that you couldn’t write anything – do this for long enough and you can probably muster up a post or two even when the muse is taking a city break somewhere – but that you can’t think of anything to write that you believe in. Or rather, it’s all been said before.

I feel a little like this at the moment. I’ve got a few posts lined up, but they’re reposts. I don’t apologise for this – I was pleased with them when I first wrote them, so I’m happy to give them another airing – but it’s not sustainable.

And so the question becomes whether or not blogs have a built in expiry date, forcing them to confront their mortality, Blade Runner style. Do they reach a natural conclusion, not because of time or ability, but because it’s just their time?

To be honest, I hope not. I love blogging. I just wish I had more to say at the moment – there’s nothing worse than boring your subscribers. Sure, my Bible Blog is still doing well (although that’s a key blogging question in itself – what’s better, general or niche?), but that doesn’t give the flexibility to talk about, say, Doctor Who or space exploration.

I’m not saying this is the end of Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth. I just ask these questions sometimes, and I figure that if I’m doing it, so are other denizens of the blogosphere. Maybe you’ve been here, maybe you’ve got some insight into it. Maybe you just think I should stop complaining and talk about comics more (I have sympathy with that view).

So have you ever been all blogged out?

 

Spam, Spam, Blogs and Spam.

I hate spam.

Not the meat product; I have no real opinions there. No, I’m talking about Internet junk mail. I hate it.

This isn’t a unique opinion. Does anyone actually like it? That’s rhetorical of course, because frankly the only sensible response to that question is “KILL IT WITH FIRE!!!”

Most of the time we all ignore it, because that’s the only way to deal with it. In that respect it’s like death asteroids from space, or the situation in North Korea. Today, however, it’s been getting in my face, and therefore I’m prepping my metaphorical flamethrower.

First of all, I wrote a post in honour of Johnny Cash’s birthday. Cash was a legend, he deserves respect. Sadly though, his name attracts accountancy spambots on Twitter. The man was a towering presence in music for decades, and now loan companies and accountants are using references to him to sell us stuff. I swear, if I ever go nuts and personally hunt down the spammers, I’ll be playing The Man Comes Around on my ipod as the police come for me.

Then I take a look at my blog statistics. Look, there’s a spike! Awesome! Have I been retweeted? Freshly Pressed? Has someone discovered the ineffable genius inherent in my writing?

No. No they have not. Some spambotting drones somehow linked to my site for their own nefarious purposes. I’m trying to think of a word to describe this that isn’t quite as pretentious as ‘parasitical’, but I can’t. I’m lost for words.

I probably deserve it, of course, because the whole situation is preying on my ego. Everyone who blogs wants readers – it’s not a pride thing, but it’s just nice to know that people appreciate what you write. So when you get a spike in hits, then realise that this is based purely on some marketing robot… Well, it’s frustrating.

Twitter followers are the worst. I think it’s because so much effort goes into trying to convince us they’re real people. However, they fail on the necessary Turing Test because they say exactly the same things as all the other spambots.

Back when nanotechnology was in its early stages, concerns were raised about the Grey Goo problem – the idea that self-replicating technology could go mad and eat everything. Experts say this scenario is unlikely to occur; I would argue it already has, just in a different medium. How much spam gets generated a day? The whole reason I’m blogging with WordPress and cross-posting to my original LiveJournal account is that the ratio of spam to real comments over at LJ ended up being something like 95%. And I know I should just ignore this as an inevitable part of Internet life, but…

But why should we?! If people push mountains of junk mail through our doors, there are things we can do about that. Same goes for telemarketing. With the internet, we all just sit here and take it. And it’s not quite as it used to be, when your email junk folder used to end up with a hundred messages a day, but it’s more insidious. The Grey Goo is developing a human face, and it’s looking at us and what we write and then sending us messages. It’s like that scene in The Abyss. And while the majority of spam seems to be coming from dodgy retail outlets and porn barons, it’s pretty much what massive corporations want to do – read us, target us, aggressively market to us, and as the internet becomes increasingly pervasive, on our phones and in our appliances and in our socks, this will get worse. Our fridges will be spamming us. And we’ll sit there and take us, as we put a bag of Swedish meatballs in the freezer and get twenty adverts for IKEA appearing the next time we turn on the TV. And probably another from IEKA, featuring a woman in her undercrackers looking to hook up for the weekend. Oh, brave new world. Google are developing augmented reality glasses. Just wait until you can’t even look at something without being spammed.

It’ll fundamentally rewrite how we relate to the world around us. One day we’ll all be wearing augmented reality contact lenses, and we’ll look at our friends and colleagues, and little tags will pop up based on the labels in their clothes, and we’ll all know how much they’ve been spending on personal grooming, and…

Okay, I’m going to stop, because I’ve gone from ‘annoyed’ to ‘despair’ via ‘rage’. But this is the sort of thing that fills me with a philosophical dread about the future – not the idea that technology will achieve sentience and blow us all up, but the idea that something as fundamentally life-altering and magnificent as the internet will become just a billboard with the ability to think, with some artificial lizard brain, about how to sell me stuff. I don’t want the greatest communication and information development of the last century to become a cheap and nasty flyer thrust at me by someone I can’t avoid. It just seems so… Crass.

And you know the irony?

This post is going to get spammed like crazy.