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Monday, July 17, 2017

Nits and Brickbats

Here’s a little collection of those tiny things that just bother me.  In the big picture, all is well.  I’m having fun.  But, again, sometimes you just get frustrated by the little things – the toothpaste caps in your life.

Help desks.  Phone “help desk” service that makes you enter your account and other relevant information to get to a live person only to have them ask for your account number and other relevant information.

Lower-third promos that never disappear and ruin a low-key scene.  As Kelly rolls on the bed with her new spouse, whispering sweet nothings and a confession to a murder in a barely visible scene, I really don't want to see a "Kong vs Zork" promo flying around in the lower third at full brightness.

Ads that take control of my device.  Site hosts and app makers:  You're on notice.  I'm fed up with a page that takes over my tablet and does not allow control of it until the ad has played completely.  That is just plain wrong.  Sure.  Play the ad.  But when I "X" it out or tap the "Back" icon or the "Home" icon, my device should be able to head there instantly.  Yeah.  You gotta make money...but it's MY machine.  I'm allowing you in. 

If I open my front door and invite you into my home, would you go raid the refrigerator without asking?  You know what, I bet you would.  But while you had the door open, if I told you to stop, would you at least do that?  If my good ole "TV" wouldn't allow me to change channels until a commercial had played, it'd have a 10½D right through it.  So...cut it out.  Oh, and when I "X" out a screen, it should close out right then and there.  And it shouldn't launch another page with another X; it should just close out.

Professionalism on the air.  I've had a long-running bet with myself.  Just seeing how long it will be before a radio newscaster makes it through an entire newscast without an error...even a 5 minute one (which is about two-and-a-half without commercials)  Since I entered into this self-wager a few months ago, I've listened to scores of newscasts on at least 20 different stations.  I've heard blundered words, wrong pronunciations, wrong actualities and the terms, "make that," "rather," "that should be," and "let me try that again" a multitude of times.  Not one has made it through without a mistake. 

All I can figure is the good ones left for the mountains to look for John Galt.  Note to the rest of you: c'mon.  No on-the-fly (we used to call it rip and read) casts. For the short length of most newscasts, you can read the thing at five-of and play it out straight up.  And if you flub, then go live.  Wait.  Are you already doing that?  Then you need to be in another business.

Long running scripts.  It's kind of funny.  With early computers, RAM and storage were at a premium.  Coders wrote tight, compact code.  You can make a lot happen with a few lines.  Then everything began growing - processing power and speed, available RAM and memory storage.  Along with that came demand for more features.  That took more coders.  But look at the landscape - more coders, like more MLB teams means the average coder (player) isn't as good as the average coder of earlier years.  Combine that with cheaper RAM and storage and you get bloated code. 

Same thing happened to smartphones.  Apps of 9 or 10k back in the buggy whip days.  Now a 50MB app is no big deal.    And what's that have to do with long running scripts?  Well, the same thing happened with bandwidth.  Sorta like widening a road.  Make the trip twice as fast and people will move twice as far away.  With broad bandwidth, page scripters (or their marketing bosses) feel it's OK to stuff everything down the Internet pipe that will fit, and then some.  So a JavaScript or other piece of bloatware gets sent down with the page request.  And, if that's not bad enough, the page won't finish loading till they deliver that wondrous piece of commercial information, whatever it is.  Cut it out.

The CALM  Act.   Note to Congress, the commission, the private corporations and stations involved in passage of - and enforcement of - the CALM act.  Do you think you've made things better?  The problem is still there.  So is it A.) Faulty algorithms, B.) Improper deployment and operation of the audio management hardware and software, C.) A bad idea because, once again, laws of physics don't take into account the human mind where, in this case, psychoacoustics plays games.  Regardless, I’m still cranking audio levels up and down.  More on the CALM Act here.

Another political thought:

Donald Trump is taking a lot of heat from the media while, at the same time, delighting many of his followers.  It's shaping up as a real mess for the 2020 election.  However, there is one thing that he could do to ensure his re-election:


DONALD TRUMP

Good morning, ladies, gentlemen, other.  I'll make this short. 

This morning at four AM, the FBI, under the direction of the Justice Department arrested Heather and Rachael from Credit Card Services. 

They have been transported to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where they are being held without bail, charged with 450 million counts of violation of the do-not-call regulations and the same number of attempts to defraud



Followup, 08/04/17:  The FCC is on the move.  They haven't found Heather or Rachael but this particular fine may wake some people up.  https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-346059A1.pdf




Friday, June 30, 2017

Facebook®: It’s Not a Website

Over the past few weeks, I worked on developing a web contest.  The client had asked for something that would drive visitor returns and would address some specific prospects he was trying to sell as advertisers.

We built the pages, incorporating the ads submitted by the advertisers who had bought in to the contest.  I called the local ad manager and asked for the links, where each ad needed to point.  When I got it back, I called again and said that I needed the actual website URLs, not the advertisers’ Facebook pages.

“Those where I put Facebook addresses don’t have websites.  They just use Facebook.”

I had heard of this but no one I’ve been doing work for exists with Facebook as their door to the world.  So all of you who have companies or businesses relying on Facebook, stop it!  I can’t be more clear than that.  Just stop it.

The Internet does provide a door to your business.  It’s a great one.  It’s one that should
  • Be welcoming to prospects
  • Tell visitors what you do or what you make
  • Allow you to offer multiple screens of information, promotion and user feedback
     
Bottom line is that you want to invite people in, show them around, tell them what you do and show them how you and your products can help them.  Your business is unique so you want to have the freedom and flexibility to tell your story your way.
Facebook isn’t the place for that.
  • You’re stuffed into their format.  The layout is the same for everyone, you have little control of placement on or design of a page
  • You have no real branding – Facebook is their brand.  Proof?  “Your” URL will end in facebook.com.
  • Load times can be unforgiveable on Facebook
  • Feedback is great but it shouldn’t be the focal point of your site.  Hateful consumers can post some pretty nasty comments.  I’m a proponent of entertaining those comments and dealing with them on line but to put them front and center defeats the purpose of your site.
  • Adding a back room for sales is difficult.  Yet just about any web developer has an ecommerce bolt-on that would work with a website.
  • You are at their mercy regarding actual content
  • Linking to other pages or other sites is almost as difficult as the sales bolt-on.  What if you have 5 products.  You want to develop pages or arenas around each product where people can link from your home/front page to whichever one they want to find out more about.  Not gonna happen in Facebook.
  • Visitors will be distracted by Facebook items including the “People Also Like” where competitors’ messages can appear.  C’mon!  If that doesn’t convince you, what will?  Maybe the text ad that runs right below that promoting competitive stores?
So you have the opportunity to stand at your virtual front door and greet prospects as they approach.  You can decide what you’re wearing, what’s in the window, what offers might be posted, and where the shopper can go once he or she has entered.  And you want to turn that over to a third party?  One who could not care less about your business?  

The Internet does provide a door to your business.  Facebook ain’t it.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Check your Updates! You may be getting scammed – or watched.

Howdy.  I’m here from the American Paranoia Foundation.  My job today is to make you worry about the updates to all those apps on your phone or tablet. 
 
If you’re a younger reader (oxymoron) you’ve probably set your phone or tablet to automatically update all apps.  Maybe you set the options so they only update on wifi or during certain hours, but you’re letting it happen automatically.  Why not.  Saves a lot of tapping.
 
For starters, it means you don’t get to see the access any given app is asking for…the access you’re giving it without question.  To be fair, some phones will pop up a warning but many don’t.  If you told it to update automatically it goes right ahead. 
 
Depending on the app, it may “need” access to read and write capabilities, in-app purchases, photos, music, files, device ID and information, device history, wifi information, and the biggies, your location and identity.  A new photo-posting app definitely needs access to your media and maybe your camera.  An audio player surely needs access to your music.  Of course, “friend finders” need your location.1

Now, think about it.  I know I’ve mentioned it before, but this is serious.  If you’re trying to protect your privacy, well, forget that.  Ordinary – otherwise benign – apps can find out all about you.  They can capture your emails and texts and send them back to the app designer.  Ever deposit a check with your phone?  Might as well call all those apps to make sure they got the data.

And think about passwords.  If you keep any of them on your phone, you gave those apps access to them.  Ah, smarter than that, are you.  You don’t keep any passwords on your phone.  You keep them in your noggin.  Fine.  But if you’ve used any passwords on line (checked your bank balance?) it’s out there.

Update (6/19/17):  A good friend sent a note pointing out another huge issue.  Your contacts.  If the app has access to your contacts, it can find out everything about them in addition to you.  So if you keep meta information about friends on your phone, maybe address, private email info, other "secret" info, well, in addition to leaving yourself vulnerable, you're giving away their information, too.  That's pretty nasty and irresponsible.  End of update.

I tried to check out a few, sending emails to app developers requiring access that, to me, they didn’t need.   Seriously, why does a chess game need to know my identity?  Or my phone’s history?  I sent emails to those that I could, eight in total.  Got one response and that referenced only my question about location.  "In order to efficiently deliver ads...", they needed to know my location.  Also told me that I could avoid that by paying for the ad-free version.  I didn’t but I want to buy it and see if it still asks for location.  Bet it does.

If you’re an Eric Schmidt fan, you’re also a believer in “…if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide…” as he said in defense of Google policies.  Go ahead.  Let it all hang out there. 
 
However, if you’re more like I am, shut down the apps or add identity, location, and IP blockers.2  Better still, just dump those apps.  But know this:  some apps leave breadcrumbs.  They may be orphaned files but they also could be operational elements, left there to keep a lookout on your wellbeing.  There are other apps that will remove these files – but they require access to your identity, location, wifi, history, and device.  I’m just sayin’.
 
1 If you’re using a “friend finder” paint a big bullseye on your back.  Seriously.  If they’re your friend, call them up.  Text them.  Send a telegram, try smoke signals or a Cessna towing a sign.  But axe the friend finders.
 
2 I downloaded an app that purported to encrypt texts.  99¢ to find out that it wanted my location and identity.  It didn’t get installed.  Told you I was from the American Paranoia Foundation.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

They Thought They Had Us By The Antenna


Seriously, squatters…now you want to sell? You bought a bunch of URL’s.  Now you want to sell them.

It was a dark and stormy night sometime in 1995.  My entry into the Internet world was thanks to a terrific VP of Marketing for a major pharmaceutical company.  We had given a presentation to her on pay-per-view and video on demand as we placed them in a test with one of the then baby-Bells.  After the meeting she asked, “Guys, do you think this Internet thing will ever amount to anything commercially?”

On the flight home (no angry passengers, no TSA, no service ponies) the guys I was with decided we needed to get some religion.  We studied a number of areas – designing, distributing, monitoring, including “naming.”  Network Solutions was the only game in town managing URLs…they tied site names (xyz.com) to actual DNSs.  In other words, when someone went looking for a web page using a URL like xyz.com, Network Solutions managed the relationship list that told Mae East and Mae West and all their friends, “Oh, looking for that?  Well, go to 253.254.255.256 (Yes, it’s an intentionally impossible address.  But then, go dial 555 1212).

A few folks got a bright idea – register a bunch of URLs using companies' names then squat on them.  When the companies come knocking, bump that $70 registration fee up to a few – or many – thousand dollars.  You got it, they want it, supply and demand, eh?

Well, the law caught up with these squatters.  In effect, it said that the .com extension really was to be applied to commercial entities and declared that unless you had a reasonable right to use a URL, you had to give it up.  Said another way, McDonald’s Excavating could have registered and kept mcdonalds.com but others, with no connection to the name could not.

Seemed pretty simple.  You can breathe now, the backstory is over.

It got complicated for broadcasters.  Smart squatters registered hundreds of call letters – letters which, by and large, are gibberish and would be available to anyone and, therefore, not totally protected by UPC rules.  And they sat on them while they called or snail mailed stations offering to sell at anywhere from 10 to one thousand times the registration cost.

A few stations paid.  Most balked and went another direction…and it was the best thing they could have done.  The squatters forced stations to look for other names and in doing so, they incorporated (OMG) branding into their URLs.  So we saw wabcradio.com, wlsam.com, wor710.com, 103.5KISSFM.com, or abc7chicago.com   The URLs actually clued prospective visitors in about the site and bolstered the stations’ brands.

So the Internet grew, more stations jumped aboard, started streaming and were able to cross promote between the web and over the air.  And stations succeeded because in their URLs, they had a catch phrase – mnemonic, if you will , in most cases – that would resonate with their audiences.

I think just about everyone I know listens to streams of broadcast stations.  And of them, I’d wager that most, if not all, know the URL of the station.  Some have set bookmarks and don’t remember.  Others rely on recognizing the station logo in the iHeartRadio listings or on tunein.com and its derivatives.
Well the payoff to this rambling story is that about a week ago I got an email from a company acknowledging that I was the website manager (not webmaster…big difference) for a number of stations. 

They went on to say that they had recently acquired the URLs for the stations’ call letters.  It was quite well laid out and correctly listed the stations and their owners.

And after that, they laid out the sales pitch and why these stations needed their call letter URLs – just the plain 3 or 4 letter URLs.  They also said that it would be good marketing for the station as we could promote multiple URLs.  Oh, and that the offer included wouldn’t last long.  That offer, by the way, varied by market size so they did do some homework..

If you know me, you know that I jumped at the chance – No, no!  I was polite.  I simply laid out history and offered my condolences for their having purchased a pig in a poke.  It was fun.

Sadly, someone spent their (or worse, someone else’s) money to buy those URL’s.  Sitting at lunch, a couple of beers and they start talking and realize – falsely – that if they can get their hands on these dormant URLs, they can score big.

There was an episode of Twilight Zone (yes the original) where some guys stole a bunch of gold.  They put themselves into suspended animation for a number of years so that when they emerged, the robbery would be long forgotten and they would be rich beyond belief.  When they did actually awaken, scientists had discovered how to create gold artificially and their haul was worthless.  Not an exact parallel but close enough. 

Guys, enjoy your URLs.  You own ‘em.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Distribution without a Network? Be your OWN Network! Here’s the Secret.


Content.  Easy Access.  Promotion.  No burying the lede here. 
 
I wrote about “channels” before.  It’s a word that’s outlived its time, unless you’re trying to talk to your great, great grandmother.  Now let’s discuss “networks.”  It’s funny.  Everyone wants to be one.  No one wants to be part of one.  That sort of makes sense…what they’re really saying is that they want to control the distribution of their content and don’t want to relinquish control of it to others.
 
It’s consistent with the evolution of media distribution from bicycling 16mm film around to local stations to “ordering” of content directly from the producer over the web.  That early method worked but there really was no control over the airing except the trust built into the contract.  Even so, a show could get multiple runs, be copied, or get lost in the rotation.  Today anyone with uncensored Internet can watch just about anything when they want.  It’s truly “what you want when you want it” (WYWWYWI or WhyWhyWhy.)
 
Which begs the question, “Why?”  Why a network?  Well, the agencies and the existing networks will argue,
  • Networks are the largest aggregator of eyeballs
  • They are efficient
  • They are easily measured (accurately? Well, that’s another story)
  • They are cheap - goes with efficient
  • People are used to networks (whatever that means)
  • They’re easy to buy (they’ll never tell you that but think about it – about buying time in a few networks rather than tens of thousands of individual pieces of content.  What else would you expect from an agency!  Ask me how I know.  As an early proponent of cable, I got thrown out of my share of offices for suggesting taking positions in cable programming.)
I would counter that with
  • People feel their own time is valuable.  Patience went west when the remote control came on the scene.
  • It’s become a world of instant gratification.  The WYWWYWI mindset applies to entertainment as well as everything else.  People want it now.
  • Viewers are fickle.  The era of someone tuning a specific network and spending their entire night there is gone.  If the show’s bad, they’re outta here.  (Remember hammocking?)  I see broadcast networks still having at it, hoping the lead-in will help sampling of a new show.  I usually see it in a promo as I’m on my way to the Roku.
  • Measured?  You want measured?  I can find out who, when, how long…with at least as much reliability as network numbers
  • Sure, largest aggregators…but really only on big, live events.  And (you heard it here) when the NFL gets a little more fortitude, they’ll put the Super Bowl on NFL Network as a $50 PPV.  BTW – that won’t be a network.  It’ll be a direct link to their servers.
  • Repeating myself from a statement made years ago, No one cares what kind of car brings the pizza.  It’s the pizza – the content – they want.  And just like that pizza, they want it now.
 
By now, you’re screaming back at the screen, “OK, so what’s the secret?” Well, I told you right off.  The secret is you don’t need to be a network. There it is. You surely don’t want to yield control to one but you don’t need to be one, either.  There are 3 simple steps to distribution
 
  1. Create content people want
  2. Make it easy to access it
  3. Tell people about it, including where it is
 
I’m wondering if you’re laughing, maybe shouting, “Duh!” or breaking your knuckles trying to stick your arm into the monitor to grab my neck (you can’t, I’m back about 3 feet from this thing) but, it’s that simple.
 
The devil is in the details, of course.  But he ain’t that mean.
 
First, as far as content people want, you don’t have to appeal to the whole world.  If you want to offer fishing videos, there are plenty of fisherpeople you can offer your wares to.  In fact there are plenty of folks in the “I just want to fish for bass” school (pun intended) to whom some of your content should appeal.
 
Second, make it easy to access.  Devil’s back and he/she thinks he/she’s tightening the screws.  Thing is he/she’s easily defeated here, too, though way too many locations make it so difficult that it isn’t worth it. It’s just that if you have the content, make sure that people can get to it.

  • Yeah, your marketing and advertising person said you can put the program 3 clicks, 2 prerolls and an overlay away and people will still come to it.  Is that your guy?  If so, pop him/her with a 2x4.  Wanna cut your views in half, quarter or even by 90 percent?  Put up those barriers.  Go ahead try it.  Or try it with a restaurant – put some “Police Line” barricades in front of the door or do a chalk outline of a body on the sidewalk in front.  Make the door really hard to open.  Lemme know how it works out with customer traffic.
  • Get the video playing in one click.  You can add overlays – heck, networks have pretty much abandoned the lower third of the screen anyway – or even some complete commercial interruptions but get viewers to the content NOW.
  • Don’t make anyone wade through a bad search engine to find their content.  If you have a few pieces, put them right there on the home page.  Yep.  Thumbnail, description and direct link.  If you have a lot, consider using subdomains to divide your content.  Your prospects go directly to the subdomain and then to the content.  Special bonus:  On the landing page of the subdomain, you can promote all sorts of other content you have.
  • Don’t choose some convoluted player.  HTML5 has its own and there are others which can be used easily without forcing the prospective visitor to download one.  A.) Given today’s malware, you’ll lose prospective viewers to the paranoia of a cryptolocker, and, B.) It’s that WYWWYWI thing.  If they have to go through the trouble of downloading a player, they’ll go on to another site.  And be careful with Flash.  How many times do you get angry because you get the, “You’re hosed.  Your version of FLASH cannot play this video.  Please click here for the nightmare of downloading and installing a new version, including having to close this very browser?”
 
So that’s the second point.  Now, number 3.  If you don’t tell the world where your great content is, nobody knows about it.  This is the only place where current networks have an edge.  They can cross promote including full promos and lower-third supers, the ones we love to hate.  But, today, even that isn’t enough.  Some of you may remember doing specials and getting a guarantee of 125 or 150 GRPs on air promotion for it.  But back then, that meant 10 to 20 promos (yeah some were voice over crawl but the promos were there).  Today, it would have to be, well, maybe a hundred or more.  And, as always with networks, you don’t know who you’re really getting.
 
But you can get around that with your own promotion.  Just stop and think how you can reach prospects.  This is Advertising 101, OK?

  • You can buy time/space elsewhere.  If you do and you don’t link that directly back to your promoted content, you’re wasting a lot of money.  By “directly,” I mean they click and the content starts playing.
    • “Buying” can be in the form of cross promotion.  You promote other content on your site and those folks promote content on yours.
    • “Buying” can also mean trading.  You can put ads/promos on your advertisers’ sites.  They help drive people to your content where they see ads for the advertiser.
  • Use public relations.  Get PR out there about your site, what you’re doing, what the content is, and, include the link.
  • Do interviews, make calls.  “Oh yeah? Where?”  You’d be surprised how many people will take your calls/emails and follow up with you.  Putting it kindly, there are plenty of lazy reporters out there who will schedule you for an interview or will take your talking points and build a story.  Saves them work.
  • Spend some money.  If you don’t have a promotion budget, set one up.  It’s all the rage.  If your content really is good, the expense will be small to get it found.  If you do it right, you can turn that promotional investment into a lot of visitors.  And if they return or tell others, well, you know that story.  I can’t go through determining where or how because it varies with content.  But if you don’t know who your target is, please, figure that out first.  From there, you can get to the right promotional places.
 
Finally, direct distribution means no intermediary.  Your viewer sees what you want them to see and when they want it.  It’s the ultimate cord cut.  No cable, no antenna needed.  A good web connection and viewers are off to the races – if that’s what they want to watch.  And if you have the content, make it easily accessible, and make sure to tell the world it’s there, you’re going to be part of their viewing mix.