Marketing Gimmicks Often Destroy Websites

Marketing GimmicksWhen you clicked over to this page, were you unnerved by the lack of a popup advertisement that you had to hunt around to find where the × was hidden to close? Did it make you uncomfortable that the top thing on page is the site’s name and logo and not an ad? Are you terrified at the thought that if you move your mouse out of the window that you will not be offered the chance to sign up for our newsletter? If so, you are suffering from the “Marketing Gimmicks Fad” syndrome.

Don’t worry. It isn’t a disease that you have; it’s a disease that website owners have. The problem is that you and all the rest of us suffer from it. But it’s hard to blame website owners. The truth is that advertising rates on the internet have always been too low and they have only gotten worse. So people are trying to stay in business. I just think that the use of such marketing gimmicks isn’t an effective approach.

Most Marketing Gimmicks Are Fads

What’s more, these things go in waves. You’ll notice almost overnight, a large percentage of websites will start using a new technique. But eventually they go away. I suspect that all of these tricks work at first. But then people get used to them and just close them. They are just one of many of life’s annoyances like the guy next door who plays his television loud enough for people in the parking lot to hear. But I can’t help but think that they do damage to the website’s brand.

My best example of this is Washington Monthly that I slowly stopped reading because there were so many ads that the pages took forever to load. It’s a great compliment to the site that I stayed with it so long. But there’s something more that should terrify website owners. Since that time, the site has been totally redesigned. I wouldn’t exactly call it a fast site, but it’s reasonable: in the middle of the pack. It has been for a while. I know this. Yet I almost never visit the site.

It’s Hard to Regain a Reader

Once you lose a reader, it’s hard to win them back. The truth is that there are damned few websites that are so great that you will go no matter what. I read Greg Sargent’s The Plum Line every day. It’s mostly because I have a vague fondness for him. And it’s good to get a rundown of the news from a liberal perspective. But it isn’t that great. I could certainly find the same thing elsewhere.

What every website owner wants is to have a site that is so good that people will put up with anything just to get its amazing content. But we all need to understand that we are unlikely to attain that. (We should all strive, though.) And so we should do our best to not annoy our readers. If they are in the habit of visiting, let them keep up the habit. A short-term boost in profit is not worth a long-term loss of traffic.

Two Kinds of Websites

Of course, I’m writing from the Frankly Curious perspective. For websites that depend upon ad revenue, regular readers aren’t that great. They are actually less likely to click on the Google ads that litter the page, because they are focused on the content. It’s the people who just showed up via Google who are more likely to click on a shiny advertisement. And annoying them is not such a big deal. If your regulars (who aren’t making you any money) disappear, so what? Well, for a blog like this, so a lot.

I’ve begun to see the internet as being divided in two: the commercial and the non-commercial sides. And even though Frankly Curious is certainly not the Electronic Frontier Foundation, it falls much closer to the non-commercial side of the internet. I think website owners should decide on this when they start a site. Because I see a lot of sites that clearly aren’t meant to make (much) money that follow along with annoying trends.

Marketing Gimmicks Won’t Make You Rich

But if I’m so smart, why aren’t I rich? Part of it is my overall negativity. But I think there is much too much talk of making money on the internet anyway. A much smarter approach is to use the internet to leverage something else that you can make money off of. But I know that many of these marketing gimmicks are a bad idea because they come and go. If people are serious about making money from their websites, there are tried and true things that can be done. The smartest website owners work on them and don’t worry about these marketing gimmicks.

It’s of note, however, that it is often well established websites that use such marketing gimmicks. And that may be because they are being conned by consultants. That’s a topic for another day. But my advice to website owners is to focus your front-end on being user friendly. And grow your site by getting more people to visit by using the standard techniques of creating good content and developing backlinks. Or you can be like Neil Patel and help make the internet a progressively less useful place.

So Many Changes on Psychotronic Review

Psychotronic Review - Running Multiple WebsitesJust yesterday, I wrote A Much Darker Take on Barton Fink. Now that was an article that I really could have put on Psychotronic Review. But it seemed like it went more here because it is more of an art film than a psychotronic film. Just the same, it would have worked — especially when you consider just how wide-open the definition of of the term is. And who knows: I may end up transferring it over there at some point. As it is, the new website is not going without love. Let me tell you what I did just over the weekend.

Omega Doom

The main thing is that I created a page for the film Omega Doom and wrote an article for it, The Post-Apocalyptic Yojimbo. Omega Doom is quite an interesting film starring Rutger Hauer.

I’m almost to the point of saying that anything that Hauer stars in must be psychotronic. He has had an uncanny tendency to pick odd films. He really has the stature to have starred in more traditional films, but instead, he’s spent most of his career starring in what most people would call trash. It’s probably a matter more than he’d rather star in second tier films than to have a second tier role in a first tier film. But it’s nice to think that he’s just really into unusual material.

Omega Doom is hardly a great film, but I think you’ll be interested in checking it out after reading my article. There is much to like about it. And if you know Yojimbo, well… There’s been a cowboy version and a gangster version. So why not a robot version?

Other Changes to Psychotronic Review

As a result of this, I moved a couple of articles from Frankly Curious to Psychotronic Review. Whenever I do this, I end up making some changes. In many cases, I make really big changes. One where I didn’t make much of a change was in my new page on Turbo Kid. It is based on an article I wrote pretty recently, Gory Post-Apocalyptic Nostalgia.

The main thing I did in adding the film to the site was putting together the credits for the film. I’m sure I knew this before, but it’s still remarkable: Turbo Kid was written and directed by three guys. I wonder how that was all done. The truth is that the film is fairly standard. You wouldn’t get the idea that it was such a group effort. It makes me want to get the DVD just to see if there’s any information about how they worked together. I suspect there wasn’t much to it: just three friends who decided to make a film.

How I Rate a Film

I also managed to publish my third blog post for Psychotronic Review: How I Rate a Film: Yojimbo Edition. Now that’s an old article — one I wrote almost exactly five years ago. But it’s also one that I changed a lot. It’s interesting, however, to see that my thinking on film rating hasn’t changed that much. But the article did end up about twice as long as it was.

More to Do

There’s still lots more to do. The problem is that nothing is easy. It isn’t just a matter of moving material over. I always do at least some rewriting. And then links and images have to be dealt with. And then there is the whole issue of making sure that the articles here (and for the older articles, the ones still on the Nucleus site) get redirected correctly to Psychotronic Review. Also involved in this is getting rid of them on Frankly Curious.

The reason for this last part is that this is a blog. So even though an article might get redirected, it will still show up in the blog roll. And in searches. For example, if I hadn’t removed the article on Turbo Kid and you searched for “turbo kid,” it would have displayed here. Now that’s not a problem for you, the reader. But Google would see that as duplicate content and penalize me. I’m not exactly sure how that works, but it does mean that people would be less likely to find my Turbo Kid page through Google.

I’ve Made Website Management Harder

It’s amazing. There’s so much to do running a website. It’s no wonder that so many blogs are done so poorly. Of course, some of this is my own damned fault. It would have been smart to just start my blogging career using by far the most popular blogging software — or even something close. Instead, I started with something almost no one used that was literally discontinued. (Some users of it started their own replacement project, but who knows how long that will continue on.)

Also, I could have started a more focused blog. Frankly Curious has almost 500 articles on film. That works out to somewhat more than one film article per week for seven and a half years. That alone represents a fairly successful personal blog. But I’m too interested in too many things. So I get myself into this trouble. That’s part of what Psychotronic Review is all about: me trying to do something structured. And really, at this point, it would be so much easier to spend all my free time working on that.

I Just Need Four Websites!

But I know I would come back here. Because I’m not a single-issue person. But I do think that film and politics is it. Oh, and grammar/writing. Maybe I will do that. I’ve got my film writing on Psychotronic Review. And I’m thinking of moving my political writing to Frankly Furious. I could put all my grammar writing on Frankly Curious Media. (Something needs to be done about it. It’s been in maintenance mode for over a year.) And then my random thoughts would go here.

And with the remaining hour per day, I could sleep!

A Website Versus a Blog: Psychotronic Review Edition

Psychotronic Review - Do You Have a VCR?! Of Course I Do!I just wrote the second blog post over at Psychotronic Review, Do You Have a VCR?! Of Course I Do! But this article isn’t about that. You should go over there and read the article, though. It’s weird to be creating a website from scratch, knowing that the content is really good, yet getting next to no traffic. But I know that will eventually change. The people who visit this site are mostly interested in politics.

But the whole thing has been interesting to me because Pyschotronic Review is a website and not a blog. Of course, it has a blog. But the vast majority of the content is outside of the blog. And that’s why, despite lots of work done on the site, this is just the second blog post. It’s fascinating because the management of Frankly Curious and Psychotronic Review are really quite different.

Frankly Curious is used exactly the way that WordPress was designed to be used. It has a handful of pages for things like the About Us page. And then it has thousands of blog posts. And as a result, when you come to the site, you come to the blog. The first thing you see is the most recent thing that I’ve published (even if it is written by someone else).

Psychotronic Review is a good example of why WordPress is so popular: you can do anything with it. It’s my hope to one day have enough people visiting the site that I can add a forum for it. Here’s an article that’s written by a writer who I work with a lot, 13 Ways to Add a Forum to WordPress With Minimal Fuss. Basically, it’s like everything else on WordPress: there’s a plugin for that.

But Psychotronic Review isn’t that exotic (yet). Still, it’s kind of the opposite of Frankly Curious. While it has only 2 posts, it has 18 pages. And it only has that few because I haven’t given it the love that it deserves. Since there are a couple of hundred blog posts here that I want to turn into pages there, I could probably get the page total up to 100 if I worked at it this weekend.

Of course, given that posts here can become pages there, you may wonder what the difference is. Basically, I’m creating a kind of encyclopedia of film at Psychotronic Review. The idea is that one day, it will be the go-to place for odd films. Kind of like Wikipedia and IMDb, but for and by people who love these films. Also: reasonably well written. I love both IMDb and Wikipedia, but both are deadly dull to read.

Currently, we have only 12 film pages. But one of those page, The Roger Corman Poe Cycle, features eight films. And another, Night Gallery, features two, or five, depending on how you count.

In addition to the film section, there’s a section on heroes of psychotronic film — or more simply: people. That means the blog is left just with articles that don’t deal with the films or the people and companies who make them. Thus far, that’s left me with a discussion of Mystery Science Theater 3000′s mixed legacy in the history of psychotronic film. And this newest article, which is about how important it is to own a VCR. It’s sad that one needs one, but that’s life.

I’ve been thinking of moving all of my political writing to Frankly Furious. I bought the domain name a few weeks ago with the idea of doing that. Now that would be something of a technical nightmare. Not only would I have to transfer over 3,400 articles to the new site, I’d have to create 301 redirects for all of them on the WordPress site, and almost as many 301 redirects from the old Nucleus site. Yikes!

There’s a reason people pay me to do this kind of stuff for sites that actually make money.

CGI: an Interface Not a Programming Language

CGI - Black BoxCGI is not a computer language, and you can date me by the fact that I’m going to rant about it for a few hundred words. That’s because I set up my first web server in 1993. It was on an IBM RS/6000 named Eeyore which sat right on the internet. It was a time when the internet was basically Usenet (eg, rec.arts.startrek) and annonymous FTP for people who knew anything and AOL for their parents. The funny thing is, for most people not much has changed. Then the internet was AOL and now the internet is Facebook. At least it is for most people.

In 1993, there wasn’t much you could do with web pages. It was cool. You could put pictures on pages. You could have section headers and paragraphs. Text could be bold and italics. And there were lists and forms. But there was no interactive content — except with CGI. CGI stands for Common Gateway Interface. And it was a way to run programs remotely through your web browser. In theory, you could create a content management system using CGI.

But what was really cool about CGI was that it was, as its name indicates, an interface. I wrote a bunch of CGI programs. Some of them were compiled C programs, other were shell scripts, and still others were Perl scripts. It didn’t matter. As long as the web server could run the programs, and the programs were written to receive and transmit data correctly, you were golden.

CGI: Time Waster

Now you might wonder why I was writing these things. There’s a simple answer: I was a graduate student. And unless you are less than six months from defending your dissertation, finding ways to not do your work is critically important. I did many other things along these lines: I wrote a graphic program for X-Windows, I wrote an editor in 8086 assembly language, and I did a lot of really destructive things what I will say with complete humility was due to my genius for digital electronics.

I didn’t know anyone who was running a web server for a few months. So messing around with CGI was just play for me. Truthfully, at the time, GNU/Linux seemed like a much more serious thing. And by the time Netscape came around and made the web a much more serious thing, I was finishing my dissertation and then teaching pre-meds physics. (That was a scarring experience because I now know that doctors are (1) mentally insignificant; and (2) soulless.)

People Don’t Know Anything

The world can be forgiven for thinking that CGI is a programming language. Because what we used to do with CGI we now do with programming languages like PHP. But it still annoys me. Most things about computers annoy me. What cars were to my father’s generation, computers are for mine. As simple tools, they’re fine. It doesn’t matter. I remember one time I was an undergraduate doing some work for a research faculty member. I couldn’t leave a note because I didn’t have a word processor, so I wrote a really rudimentary one that allowed me to output to the printer. It’s better to just have a word processor.

Just the same, if you’re into computers on a deeper level, it seems to me that you ought to know how a CPU works. You should know what the difference is between a heap and a stack. You should know what a line of Pascal code would look like in assembly language. But I know that’s asking too much. Almost no one knows why the moon has phases. We’ve all become so specialized that should there ever be even the smallest tremor in our social networks, we’d be doomed.

Meaning Requires Knowledge

It’s no wonder people struggle to find meaning in their lives. Every thing in their lives is a black box.

But I’m grumpy enough. Don’t tell me CGI is a programming language.

No One Even Notices Your Clever Facebook Nickname

What's Your Facebook Nickname?One of the best things about Facebook is that it allows you to enter a nickname for yourself. So if your real name is “Lil,” but everyone knows you as “Nancy,” you could add “Nancy” as a nickname.

I don’t use the function that way, of course. Facebook allows you to have many nicknames, and it lists your top nickname right under your real name on your header. So I can’t resist adding nicknames of obscure people just to jazz things up. I use it as a kind of barometer of how I feel. But I figured it would work as a kind of conversation starter. But it’s Facebook, so of course no one cares.

Just the same, since I took the time to create them, I thought I would go through them here and explain them. I really should add a category on Frankly Curious called, “Since You’ll Never Ask…”

The Dixie Flatline

Science fiction fans should know this. In the novel Neuromancer, The Dixie Flatline is the moniker of McCoy Pauly. Pauly was a legendary “console cowboy” (hacker). Doing so could kill you, if you, for example, interacted with the wrong kind of encryption. Pauly had died a number of times as a result of this — mostly to be revived.

What’s interesting about him is that he is dead when Neuromancer takes place. But his consciousness was saved on disk. So Molly and Case steal the construct to help them as a hacker in the job that they are doing. Pauly is not happy to learn that he isn’t alive and asks Case to see that he is deleted once the job is over.

I’ve always found that to be really interesting. Why would you mind being a computer program? Well, in Pauly’s case, it’s a problem in that he is a ROM. That is to say that he can’t change — grow and evolve. And if you can’t do that, there really is no point to “life” — regardless of how “real” it might seem.

I generally use “The Dixie Flatline” as my nickname when I’m feeling particularly existential.

Red Grin Grumble

I’m not even sure if it’s spelled correctly. It comes from the first episode of the second season of Rick and Morty. In it, Rick tells Morty and Summer that their father is the “Red Grin Grumble of pretending he knows what’s going on.” Both Morty and Summer laugh, and Rick slams them because he just made up the word — indicating that the two kids were pretending they knew what’s going on. He says, “Think for yourself!”

It’s mostly on my list because it’s an obscure reference to a television show that is attractive to the sort of people who would love obscure references. I put it up when I hate humanity more than usual. You’d think it would be up all the time, but my misanthropy is pretty constant, so I don’t get the option to use it all that much.

Not Terry Pratchett

This is simply a statement of fact. And although I’ve never really wanted to be Terry Pratchett, I use it to express my general feelings of failure as an artist. It might also be something of a comment about my fear of Alzheimer’s disease and mental decline in general. If we don’t know who we are, who are we?

Nick Danger

Nick Danger comes from “The Further Adventures of Nick Danger Third Eye” from The Firesign Theatre album, How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All. The skit is a parody of old radio dramas. I think I put it up just as an act of advocacy. Everyone should listen to it.

Johann Gambolputty

This is an annoying one. It’s from a Monty Python skit where the filmmakers are trying to figure out why a great Baroque composer is not better known. It might have something to do with the composer’s full name, “Johann Gambolputty-de-von-Ausfern-schplenden-schlitter-crass-cren-bon-fried-digger-dangle-dungle-burstein-von-knacker-thrasher-apple-banger-horowitz-ticolensic-grander-knotty-spelltinkle-grandlich-grumblemeyer-spelter-wasser-kurstlich-himble-eisen-bahnwagen-guten-abend-bitte-ein-nürnburger-bratwürstel-gespurten-mitz-weimache-luber-hundsfut-gumberaber-schönendanker-kalbsfleisch-mittleraucher-von-Hautkopft of Ulm.” Unfortunately, Facebook has a very short maximum on the number of characters in a nickname. Apparently, 420 is too many.

Jude Fawley

You know I’m not feeling too good if I’m using this nickname Jude Fawley. That is the name of the title character in Jude the Obscure. To me, Jude is a modern hero. But being “modern,” he is destroyed by the system itself. As we all are. I feel it every day — more on days I use this nickname.

Giuseppe Bottazzi

Giuseppe Bottazzi — also known as Peppone — is the communist mayor in the Don Camillo films. They are a series of Italian comedic films starting in 1952 (based on novels) about a catholic priest in a small Italian town after Word War II. His conflict with Bottzaai is not political, but theological: communists are, by definition, atheists. At the same time, the two are a lot alike and kind of friends.

I don’t know why he’s on the list. I do like the films. But it is probably more about it being a very obscure reference. Like Don Camillo wouldn’t be obscure enough. (But seriously, if I saw “Don Camillo” on someone else’s list, I would think it kind of obvious. I spend a lot of time playing to an audience of me.)

Sancho Panza

Well, this one isn’t a surprise. Sancho is the most important character in Don Quixote. The title character himself isn’t that interesting. But it isn’t surprising I think that. I do have certain uncomfortably shared characteristics with the great knight. If I have Sancho up as my nickname, it means I’m feeling pretty good.

Professor and Mary Ann

The two undervalued members of the Gilligan’s Island, they were just “and the rest” in the original theme song. In my family, they used to all call me “Gilligan,” because they thought I looked like him. That was before I put on all this weight. I thought I should have something for the prols.

Queequeg

Just as Don Quixote had to show up on the list, so too did Mobby Dick. Queequeg is probably the most interesting character in the novel. And I’ve long found it a major problem that he disappears for so much of the novel.

I use Queequeg to indicate that I’m feeling like an outsider. But the truth is that Queequeg is so self-assured that he never feels like an outsider. Good for him! It’s one of the things that makes him such a great character. It’s not something I really understand.

My Nickname, My Mood

It’s fun to use nicknames in this way. But no one notices. Probably the reason for this is because people just look at their feeds, not other people’s accounts. But since when has screaming into a vacuum been a problem for me?

Ideas Versus Products

Frank MoraesA guy I work with a lot wrote an article years ago with a title something like, “Nobody Cares About Your Great Website Idea.” I remember liking it, but I can’t find it now. It doesn’t matter. It just occurred to me because I was thinking of the difference between having an idea and producing a product. In my case, a blog post.

Every profession has its little annoyances. In writing, it is having to listen to people tell you their idea for a novel or a screenplay. It doesn’t even matter if you are a writer. You might just want to be a writer and people will offer you ideas. It’s annoying for a couple of reasons.

Why Ideas Don’t Matter

First, there’s kind of an implied insult that you need ideas. I’ve never known a writer to not have vastly more ideas than time. I remember reading an interview with Charles Schulz where he said, if you couldn’t just sit down at your desk and think of something funny to draw, you weren’t a cartoonist. I think he overstated, but there is much to that.

The second problem with being offered ideas is related to the first. People think they are giving you something valuable, but they aren’t. If you took their idea, they would be giving you (almost certainly unpaid) work. Because it is taking an idea and turning it into a story or whatever that matters, not the idea itself. Usually, the final product has little relationship to the starting idea.

Think of the great film Chinatown. What scene does everyone remember? “She’s my sister and my daughter!” But Robert Towne’s original idea was to write about water rights in southern California. Now, that is ultimately what the story is about. But it’s not what people take away from the film.

Blog Post Ideas

Anyway, this is all about fiction. Blog posts are rather a different thing. And I do remember when I was writing a lot more, it could be difficult to come up with stuff to write about — at least when I had other writing work. Now I have the opposite problem.

Recently, I’ve had all these ideas for articles that I find hard to get entered into the computer. It’s mostly other work that is getting in the way — but not as you might think. I’ve been so stressed out that the idea of sitting down to write for pleasure has been impossible.

That’s true of the work here and Psychotronic Review, as well as my plays. In fact, I think I have had a breakthrough with my folklore play. But I don’t know if its going to work. Most ideas turn to ashes when presented with the stark sunlight of implementation.

(For the record, the new idea is to have two choruses who gradually disagree on how the play should be performed dividing the cast and crew into full-scale war. I know I can use that somewhere, but not necessarily in this play. Note that I don’t care that someone is going to steal this idea. Anyone good enough will have their own ideas on how to rip off Luigi Pirandello.)

But right now, I’m keen to sit in front of the screen and write for fun. So I hope that continues and I can maintain my minimal output on the consistent schedule I used to have. That is: the new consistent schedule, not the old one. I don’t have anything close to the amount of time to do six posts per day!

Afterword

I would like to say in my defense that for a personal blog, this one still grinds out an enormous amount of content. What I’m more bothered by is not being very active with the comments. I’ll work on that too. But now I’m going to write an article for tomorrow that I’ve been meaning to write for at least a week. It should be fun: I get to go after libertarians again. That’s what passes for fun around here. That and the serial comma.

Smartphones Have Reduced Us to Goldfish

GoldfishThe average human’s attention span is… oh look, a bird!

According to scientists, the age of smartphones has left humans with such a short attention span even a goldfish can hold a thought for longer.

Researchers surveyed 2,000 participants in Canada and studied the brain activity of 112 others using electroencephalograms.

The results showed the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000, or around the time the mobile revolution began, to eight seconds.

Goldfish, meanwhile, are believed to have an attention span of nine seconds.

–Leon Watson
Humans Have Shorter Attention Span Than Goldfish, Thanks to Smartphones

Dealing With Copyright in WordPress

Copyright NoticeAs many of you know (or have noticed), over the past two years, I’ve gotten very serious about copyright on this site. It’s not just a question of the law. I want to do right by people. I don’t like them taking my stuff and I don’t want to take their stuff. The whole issue was very big to me, but it became very personally one year ago when I got some email from the great photojournalist Leif Skoogfors. The moral and legal aspects of using other people’s work are very clear. The practical aspects are, well, a nightmare.

The biggest problem that I have is that there are almost 8,000 articles on Frankly Curious — the vast majority of them with images. And of those, at last 6,500 of them were published before I had my copyright awakening. Now even in those early days, I did my best to use what I thought were public domain images. And when using images that I knew were commercial, I did my best to do so in a way that would fall under the vague notion of Fair Use.

But it turns out that I was badly mistaken about what represented public domain. I think I was better on the Fair Use issue. But regardless, I have several thousand images that really need to be inventoried and dealt with. And I’m doing this: slowly and in a totally haphazard way. But I’ve come up with some ways to avoid these problems in the future.

Image Copyright

Most of the images that I use on this site are licensed under one of the Creative Commons licenses. In these cases, it’s fine to use the images, but I have to provide attribution. As a result, at the bottom of new pages, there is a horizontal rule with small, italicized text explaining what I’ve done. A good example is what I did for Conservative Mum: Portrait of a Serial Troll:

That’s just what’s required. But what I’m doing to make my life easier in the future is using WordPress’ Description field in the ATTACHMENT DETAILS form. For this image, I added “PD,” for public domain, to the field. (Given that I altered it, the image may not technically be in the public domain. But from my perspective it is.) I then copy all the licensing text above, so that if I use the image again, I can just copy and paste it into any article where I use it.

Copyright Display

In order to get the licensing information to display in this way, I’ve created a CSS class called copyright. I then attach it to a div tag and the rest works like magic.

The CSS is very simple:

.copyright
{
  margin-top: 1em;
  border-top: 1px #999 solid;
  font-style: italic;
  font-size: 0.8em;
  margin-bottom: 1em;
}

That all makes my life a lot easier. Normally, I add the copyright text before I add the image itself. It’s something I enjoy doing. This may be because of all my misdeeds in the past. I feel good doing what is right. This is doubtless why I document public domain images, even though I am not legally required.

Video Copyright

With video, things are different. I don’t actually publish video; I just embed it. But copyright still plays a major role. I am constantly dealing with pages that include some bit of embedded video that disappears — usually because of a copyright issue. Sometimes, I have to replace them — or, in rare cases, delete them altogether. (See, for example, A Pair of Pliers and a Blowtorch.)

A problem I run into a lot, however, is figuring out what the video was. Generally, I don’t want to read the whole article. And that’s often what’s required so I can conjure what I was thinking when I wrote it. And sometimes I can’t even manage that. So I’ve decided to provide captions for my videos. Like this:


From DailyMotion: Porky’s Duck Hunt.

Documenting Videos

When I first used that video, it was in Anniversary Post: Daffy Duck Is Born! And there is really nothing to go on regarding what the video is except for, “Daffy Duck V 1.0: Anyway, here is the short that started it all…” Okay, so I would know to find the first Daffy Duck cartoon. But you get the idea.

This is accomplished in much the same way:

.youtube-center
{
  margin-top: 1em;
  text-align: center;
  font-style: italic;
  font-size: 0.8em;
  margin-bottom: 1em;
}

The only problem with this is that if the text is long enough, it won’t wrap at the same width as the video. This would be trivial if all the videos were the same width. But they aren’t. I’m sure I could work this out, but I don’t feel up to spending the time on it. Plus, because of server-side caching, I’m having enough problems. And I don’t think this is going to be an issue in the vast majority of circumstances.

So there you have it: my solutions to the practical problems that result from trying to do copyright correctly. It’s all a bit of a pain. But images add so much to the experience of visiting the website. I know that I’d be bored looking at the site if it didn’t have the images that it does.

Afterword

Because of server-side caching and my content delivery network, it is possible that the video above will be display incorrectly. I’m still trying to figure out how to do caching correctly. Maybe when I do, I’ll write about it here. I do know that I don’t have my caching set up properly here. It’s just a question of time.

My First Google Featured Snippet!

Don Quixote Translations Featured Snippet

What you see above is a screen capture of a Google featured snippet for the search “Don Quixote translations.” I’m presenting it because it is taken from my webpage, Don Quixote in English Language Translation. It is the first time that I’ve ever been so honored, and I’m thrilled about it. I’m pleased both because it has to do with my pet subject — Don Quixote — and also because I’ve been working on getting more attention for my writing on this subject.

A Featured Snippet? Me?!

But I never even thought that my work might be used in a featured snippet. For one thing, they are usually found in searches that are more question-based. For example, “Who wrote Finnegans Wake?” But I suppose that “Don Quixote translations” is an implied question.

Regardless, I learned something about having this featured snippet: it’s great for traffic! The webpage that it links to has gone a little crazy the past couple of weeks. It’s now in my top five most visited pages. And that’s saying a lot when you consider that there are almost 8,000 pages on Frankly Curious. I’m nothing if not a writing fanatic. But over the last couple of years, I’ve learned that creating a lot of content — even reasonably good content — isn’t enough to rock Google’s world.

What Google Wants

John Rutherford Don QuixoteGoogle claims to love people like me: people who just create content without worrying about search engine optimization (SEO) and all that. But there are things that Google likes. It is, after all, just a computer algorithm. One thing it likes is old stuff. Just being around for a long time says to Google, “This is a website that is worth paying attention to.” And that makes sense. For every active blog, there are probably a hundred that people started for a short period of time and then abandoned. Frankly Curious is in its eighth year of active (and often hyperactive) publication. It does say something positive of a site that it continues on.

Of course, that has nothing to do with Google rewarding the site with this featured snippet. In fact, you can forget all about the featured snippet. The real issue is ranking. About six months ago, this page only ranked about 50th for the search term “Don Quixote translations.” Now it ranks 4th. I owe this increase in search rank to a WordPress plugin called Yoast SEO. It does things like tell you if what you’ve written is long enough, if you have enough mentions of your focus keyword (or too many — which seems to be a bigger sin), and whether you have images. It’s really kind of a nag.

Yoast to the Rescue!

But one thing it does is check to see if you’ve written about a subject before. And it will report, “You’ve used this focus keyword X times before, it’s probably a good idea to read this post on cornerstone content and improve your keyword strategy.” The idea is that Google is much more interested in you writing one long article about Don Quixote than 40 short articles about it.

This idea took a long time to get into my head. But finally it started to make sense. Anyway, I had wanted to write a long article about Don Quixite for a while: a single page where people could get a basic introduction to the the book, along with information about which version they should read. In other words: I wanted to write the article that I wish had been around when I first decided to read the book. And the material was there; it was just scattered over about 40 articles. I could see why Google wanted me to do things differently.

Combining Content

The truth is that I haven’t even finished the article. I’ve only managed to take three articles and combine them. (Note: when I say combine them, I don’t mean copy them; I mean address the same material as I see it today (which is somewhat different than it was at the time). Doing this alone made the page increase its ranking substantially. But the new page was still competing for Google’s love with the other pages.

Nowhere was that as true as with my first article, “About to Read Don Quixote.” And that was particularly embarrassing, given that it was a cheeky article that shows off just how little I knew. It also only featured six of the translations — not the 13 major translations that I now discuss. And to make matters even worse, those original translations did not include my far more informed favorite by John Rutherford.

Power of the 301 Redirect

Don QuixoteLuckily, Google allows websites to use a really powerful tool: the 301 redirect. A 301 redirect tells anyone going to a particular page that it has moved permanently. I’ve known about these since at least 2000. But I always thought that the redirects had to be the same page. Of course, that makes no sense. I’m constantly rewriting pages and they remain the same page. So I was able to redirect that old, cheeky article to my new, far more knowledgeable page. (Because I can’t bear to throw anything away, the entire original article is in a footnote in the new article.) And in the process, I applied all the link “juice” of that old article to the new one.

Before I did that, the two articles were always ranking at 11 and 12 (more or less) for this search term. But when the 301 finally went through (it seems to take a month or more for Google to really figure it out), suddenly I found myself at position 4 with my very own featured snippet. And the sites that beat me out are behemoths: online-literature.com (Alexa ranking: 35,153), GoodReads.com (Alexa ranking: 328), and Amazon (Alexa ranking: 8). So I’m very pleased. Now I’d like to go after “best Don Quixote translation,” where I’m ranked at number 7.

So I’ll Worry About SEO — A Little

What I figure is that if I continue adding to the page (there’s lots more to say), and put in 301 redirects for the roughly 40 other pages, I might be able to get to the top of the list for both searches. And why not? The truth is, I don’t think there is anyone who knows more than I do about Don Quixote in English — at least not anyone who is writing about it on the web.

The whole thing makes me think that if I took this approach to all of my random articles on Frankly Curious, I could probably increase the site traffic by an order of magnitude. I have lots of articles about old blues. Maybe I should synthesize that. I’ve written a lot about Looney Tunes. Same thing — although I already rank number one for “Bugs Bunny hare” for my article, Bugs Bunny: Rabbit or Hare? (the single most popular page on Frankly Curious). And I’ve written a lot about idiosyncratic or psychotronic film. But in that case, I’ve decided to start a whole new website. I just purchased PsychotronicReview.com. I’ll be updating you on that in the coming months.

This is all very cool. I still care most about the ideas and the writing. But it’s nice to know that just a little bit of SEO work can greatly increase your audience. Or at least you can if you’ve been writing like a madman for the last decade.

I Apologize

Frank Moraes - I ApologizeIt’s 8:05 am. Normally, there would be some quotation here. But instead, I thought I would take a moment to apologize to you all. I’ve always seen this blog as a community. And a big part of that is interacting with you all in the comments. But I haven’t been doing that. In a sense, I don’t need to. James is an amazingly good simulacrum of me. I often find that I respond to a comment only to find that James has already responded as I did — but more thoughtfully. Also: in a nicer way. James is a much nicer guy than I am.

But I do miss all the interaction. And I am making my way back to the way things used to be. I’m back on a regular publishing scheduling, which is the first step. But really, this last month and a half has been hard on me. And when I’m under stress, I do what all reasonable people should do: I withdraw. I really can’t believe the world I’m living in. Just yesterday morning, as I was coming into consciousness, I realized, “Donald Trump is going to be our next president!” How the hell did that happen?

Of course, when I’m more awake, I think, “Of course Donald Trump is going to be our president!” Really, as terrible as I think it will be, I have to admit: Donald Trump is the president that America deserves. And I only say this because America really is the country built on chattel slavery and native genocide. So people who are members of “minority” groups feel most of the time like I do now. And members of the “majority” feel that every problem in their lives is due to “minority” groups — and not sleazy capitalists like Donald Trump.

But most of the time I see myself as those very cultured Germans who thought that the land that spawned Beethoven could never give rise to Hitler. I know that’s a joke. The land that spawned John Steinbeck is very much the land that brought us President Donald Trump and Republican control of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the state legislatures.

I just want you to know that I apologize for pulling back. But that’s what I do. I’m not a good commiserator. But I’ll try to be better. Once Trump is inaugurated, it will help. Then I can count down the eight years of his presidency. Of course, I believe it will be eight years. That’s because I have a well earned low opinion of the people of this country.

I apologize.

It’s Not Hard to Get Your Copyright Notice Right

Copyright NoticeI’ve become something of an addict of Current Affairs. It’s not that I agree with it all the time. But I like the style. I am clearly a member of its demographic. It’s for educated people with a focus on politics. But it is also a magazine of culture. And the two things mix. When they write about culture, they bring in politics; and their political writing always touches on culture. They do a great job. What they can’t seem to do is put a proper copyright notice on the bottom of their pages.

This bugs me. They are smart people. Their website is written with the Bootstrap framework, so they aren’t total neophytes. If you are going to hand-code a site, it’s a good way to go. I’m a big believer in WordPress, but that’s more an indication of my age. I’m just not interested in the technical side of things anymore. (Yes, I know: it’s what I do for a living; but I get paid for caring about it then.) So it makes no sense that at the bottom of every page, we get this:

Current Affairs - 2015 Copyright Notice

Let Computers Do What They Do Well

It’s almost 2017. What’s more, the site started at the end of 2015 (29 November is the first time that Archive.org noticed it). So they put in the copyright notice and never looked back.

I know: putting the copyright notice on the bottom of webpages is a pain. Many sites wait well into January before they finally get around to moving to the new year. And some take a good deal longer than that. There is no reason for this! Computers are great at doing really boring stuff like displaying the current year in your copyright notice.

There is an endless number of ways to solve the problem. If you look, you will see that at the bottom of every page on Frankly Curious is this:

Frankly Curious - 2016 Copyright Notice

And the wonderful thing is that at 0:00 on 1 January 2017, that will say, “© 2009-2017 Frank Moraes.” I never have to think about the issue except when I go to otherwise well designed websites that claim that fine articles published on 19 November 2016 have a 2015 copyright.

Automating Your Copyright Notice

There are a lot of ways to do this. It’s a single line of PHP code for instance. (WordPress is written primarily in PHP)

<?php
echo "&copy; 2009-" . date("Y") . " Frank Moraes";
?>

That has the advantage of not requiring that the web browser be running JavaScript. Of course, there are very few people who have JavaScript turned off in their browsers. But if you want to create a website that doesn’t require JavaScript, that’s one way to do it. It can be done with any other backend language like Ruby or C# or whatever.

The JavaScript Solution

It’s very easy to do in JavaScript. And you can even set it up so that it works without JavaScript, but those users will have to wait for you to update the year before they see things correctly.

&copy; 2009 -
<script>
<!--
document.write(" " + new Date().getFullYear());
//-->
</script>
<noscript>
2016
</noscript>
Frank Moraes

Now this has the disadvantage that it does have to be maintained. It’s just automatic for the vast majority of your visitors. It’s also the case that it doesn’t work with my WordPress theme. The <noscript> tag is just stripped out and I end up with two “2016” strings. So I use the much simpler solution:

&copy; 2009-<script>document.write(new Date().getFullYear());</script> Frank Moraes

If JavaScript is enabled, the visitor sees the normal thing, “© 2009-2016 Frank Moraes.” But if they don’t, they see “© 2009- Frank Moraes.” Since the copyright notice isn’t necessary as a legal matter, this actually works just fine. Constructions such as “2009-” tend to be interpreted as “2009 to the present.”

Given this, one wouldn’t necessarily need to do anything but to put in “&copy; 2009- Frank Moraes.” But I think having the current year is clearer and gives the reader the impression that the website owner takes copyright more seriously.

Regardless, none of this is difficult. All anyone has to do is copy and paste some code. I’ll even provide it for the folks at Current Affairs:

<span id="copyright">&copy; 2015-<script>document.write(new Date().getFullYear());</script> Current Affairs</span>

Now they have no excuse. Not that they did before…

North Korea and the Nature of Democracy

Kim Jong-un - North Korea - InternetLast week at the website I edit for, we published, Everything We Know About North Korea’s Bizarre Internet. It was written by Claire Broadley who is kind of the co-editor with me of the blog at WhoIsHostingThis.com. It’s one of the best things we’ve done. In one way, it is hilarious. In another, it is extremely sad. Even though it is about the internet and technology, it provides a great insight into North Korea itself.

My favorite part of it is, “On the majority of North Korean websites, the names of all three Supreme Leaders are displayed larger than the text that surrounds them.” This is actually what led me to add “bizarre” to the title of the article. To give you some idea of this, consider the Kim Il-Sung University. Since “Kim Il-Sung” is one of the supreme leaders, the name is in a larger font. So when “Kim Il-Sung University” is written, it doesn’t come off as a single unit. It’s silly.

Pettiness of Authoritarians

I was so interested in this that I went looking through their HTML and CSS. What I found was that every time “Kim Il-Sung” was mentioned, it was put inside a “span” tag with the class “august.” The “august” class was then defined in the CSS file to be bold and 10 percent larger than the text it was around. It was fun to find this out. But it’s pathetic for three reasons:

  1. Those in power are so insecure that they must deify their current and previous leaders.
  2. They used the word “august.”
  3. It was hand coded so it had to be put in the HTML every time one of the names was mentioned.

But this is hardly surprising. This is the nature of authoritarians. And you don’t even have to go to that level. Look at the state of the aristocracy in England two hundred years ago. Or even the way people treat the royal family today. Or remember when Wall Street banks got their feelings all hurt when Obama talked about “fat cat bankers”? Entitled people are amazingly petty.

It’s hard not to see this all in the context of the recent American presidential election. He seems genuinely ignorant of what a president is. He seems to imagine that he’s going to be Supreme Leader.

What was so sad preparing the article on the North Korean internet is thinking about the millions of people who all have horrible lives just so that one man can feel like he is a god. And it’s all for nothing. Kim Jong-un isn’t the supreme leader of North Korea because he keeps most of the country living near starvation; he’s leader because China backs him. Without China, he would be executed and that would be the end of it.

North Korea vs America

The irony is, of course, that if he allowed as much freedom as the Chinese despots do, not only would the people of North Korea be better off, so would Kim Jong-un. Or he would be in all but one way: he wouldn’t be allowed the delusion that he is a god. He would just be an incredibly powerful man with more money than anyone could ever spend.

It’s hard not to see this all in the context of the recent American presidential election. The president-elect ran for office because he already had everything else. And that’s one of the reasons why he’s so dangerous. He seems genuinely ignorant of what a president is. He seems to imagine that he’s going to be Supreme Leader. And during my life, I’ve seen one political norm after another fall. So in addition to the Republicans getting all that they want — stripping away much of what is left of the New Deal and the Great Society — we will take another giant step toward kleptocracy.

Democracy is about a lot more than voting. In the coming years, we will see just how how much different we are from North Korea.

Afterword

I highly recommend reading the whole article, Everything We Know About North Korea’s Bizarre Internet. I’ve barely touched on it. The article is fascinating — and probably the best work any of us has done over at WhoIsHostingThis.com.