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Fri, Jun 27th - 3:12PM

Capt. Janeway On Coffee
"I beat the Borg with it."
— Captain Kathryn Janeway in response to Commander Chakotay's concern that she might drink too much coffee. Star Trek Voyager Season 4 Episode 15 "Hunters"
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Thu, Jun 19th - 10:30AM

Review of the Amazon Kindle

Here's a post that I believe some of you WebRing bloggers might find controversial for different reasons...

Amazon offers a wireless reader device that they call the Amazon Kindle. This device can download books from Amazon and newspapers/ magazines for reading in under a minute. It weighs a mere 10.3 ounces, which is less than most paperbacks. Supposedly, it has a screen that looks like paper, instead of a computer monitor. It sells for $359.

Now, for the controversy...

The Self-publishing Conspiracy
A few months back, AF Stewart reported about Amazon's decision to only allow self-published books that use their self-publishing / print-on-demand service, BookSurge,  to be sold on the site. (Click here to "sign" a petition to block this move by Amazon.) This, of course, was a major blow to the huge variety of self-publishing services out there. After learning about their reading device, I'm now certain that the Kindle may have had some heavy influence on the decision. It may be less malevolent than appears on the surface though. Maybe Amazon was more concerned that all the digital books they offer are compatible with the Kindle. You don't have this assurance when using multiple third-party offerings. Yet, I can't shake the suspicion that Amazon's decision is much more profit-oriented. After all, the average price they tout for books is "as little as $9.95." If you've ever shopped for books on Amazon, you know that this price is bit higher than the much lower average.

A Boost to Newspaper Sales?
On the news front, though, perhaps the Kindle may just revive the newsprint industry. The Kindle can subscribe to major newspapers, having your "paper delivered before you wake." In theory, this could prove a major shot in the arm for the newsprint industry, which continues to report plummeting profits, subscriptions, and ad sales. Certainly, material costs are removed with going digital, but news sites without RSS feeds and pay-to-read fees have witnessed drops in their readership also. So, although this might work in theory, the fact is that people consume their news much differently these days. Those likely to subscribe to "The New York Times" already are not likely to flock to a digital reader, and those who are even remotely tech savvy know how to get their news for free.

Wikipedia Reigns Supreme
And for all you Wikipedia haters out there, the Kindle promises "free wireless connection to Wikipedia." Do you need the controversial nature of this spelled out? Due to the nature of how Wikipedia knowledge is established, via user-contributions, this is sure to stab at the heart of the academic or literati who have dubbed the fluid online encyclopedia "Crapapedia." I won't debate the qualities and pitfalls of Wikipedia here, but the fact that the world's largest bookseller has included Wikipedia as THE source of reference material is sure to receive some heavy criticism.

The Kindle's Lack-Luster Look
Okay, I'm not sure how well the look of this device will go over with hardcore readers. Despite Amazon's claim that the screen has the look of paper, it is still one flat screen with no pages to fiddle with. It looks like little more than a PalmPilot or Blackberry. Based on the video that I saw of it in action, the Kindle has chosen to display everything in black and white. Hey, Amazon! It takes more than displaying something monochromatically or choosing to use Times New Roman to make something appear more like printed material. Newspapers don't print in black-and-white because they prefer it; they print black-and-white because of cost. Give the pages some color, for crying out loud. I could, however, see how Trekkies would love this device.

How I Rate the Kindle
Without having used the Kindle, I can't speak first hand for its functionality. However, based on the video I watched, the Kindle is destined never to take off fully. It fails in gapping the tactile difference between printed books and digital ones. The pricing is not competitive with standard Amazon book prices. The lack of color is an unnecessary limitation on a device with so much more potential. Looking from the outside-in, I give the Kindle a mere 2 out of 5 stars.

Some Questions for Kindle Users
  • Have you used the Kindle?
  • If so, how would you rate it?
  • What merits have I neglected to see in this potentially progressive tool?

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Thu, Jun 5th - 2:06PM

Links No Longer Create Authority

Google PageRank used to be the be-all-beat-all gauge of how well a site does. Well, that and Alexa ratings. Back in October, I announced that my next post was to explore how links create authority. Back in October, that proved quite true. Then Google changed its algorithm, effectively changing the search experience forever. But first some background...

How PageRank Used to Work
When Larry Page and Sergey Brin first launched the now-leading search engine Google, they built it to produce results based on PageRank. The patented PageRank looked to hyperlinks as a source of authority. The concept was simple: The site with the most links pointing to it had the greatest authority. The site with the greatest authority appeared highest on the search results listing.

You can think of "authority" as the same as in the academic world. The more that people reference your essays, the greater of an authority you are on the subject. The thought was that if many people link to a particular site, then that site's content must be authoritative.

How PageRank Lost Its Power
It doesn't usually take web marketers long to figure out how to trick the system. The most prevalent abuse of creating authority to generate high PageRank was the massive amounts of link farms that popped up all over the internet. A link farm is nothing more than a page with loads of links pointing off to other sites. For some time, these type of sites ranked pretty high, but they certainly created serious aggravation for the average searcher.

Of course, not everyone abused the power of link authority in increasing their site traffic. Used correctly, site owners could use reciprocal links to create more than just authority, but reputation as well. Yet, it took the equivalent of moving mountains to keep up their PageRanks.

How Google Changed PageRank
Although not publicly stated, it's pretty clear that Google started to worry about their rapidly deteriorating reputation. In their first few years, no one rivaled them for satisfaction of search results. Then link farms and stealthy SEO keywords took over the system. Recognizing the weakness of their algorithm, the folks at Google decided it was time to catch up with the times.

Blogs! They are the hot ticket right now. You might think that social networks like Facebook and MySpace are the top dogs, and you'd be partially right. Think about those sites, though, and what they all have included, a blog or journal. No matter what you call them, these little pearls of software create a sense of immediacy.

Blogs are the easiest way for anyone or any organizations to provide updates. What's more, the comment section gives a blog a life of its own. Generally, most people looking for information are seeking for the most recent thing written on the subject.

Recognizing this trend, Google changed PageRank to no longer rank a site based on link authority (although, it does still play into the equation on a small level). All of a sudden, directories and link farms fell out and blogs and wikis moved up. 

The Effects of Changing PageRank

Long-time web marketers instantly freaked. Sites that had high PageRank dropped by at 1-2 points minimum. The site owners freaked, until they checked their search rankings. Upon closer examination, their site only dropped an average of 5-10 places in the search results despite the major drop in their PageRank.

My own blog, which does not engage in link building but instead provides quips and commentary, actually rose 2 points during that switch over. I didn't post on the blog for over a month, and my PageRank dropped back down to a mere 1. Another blog that I hadn't touched in months had absolutely no PageRank, not even a zero. So, I ran a little experiment. When I made a new post, my PageRank went up automatically. When I posted everyday, it rose even more. Then I took a break for a couple weeks and sure enough, the PageRank dropped again.

What the Change Exposed
After facing this major algorithm change, marketers discovered something quite intriguing: PageRank is NOT a clear reflection of search ranking. In fact, PageRank doesn't seem to mean much anymore.

The site demographics giant Alexa also recently made a major change to the way it tracks traffic and collects data. Alexa ratings have been used to negotiate some extremely large buyouts of websites.

Most of us have heard all about how high such-and-such site ranks on Alexa, but did you know that Alexa only collected data via their toolbar? That means that the data they collected was really only representative of the activity of programmers and online marketers. Recognizing this limitation to their approach, Alexa will now analyze a much wider segment of the general internet audience.

How to Boost Your PageRank
If you're a blogger, you don't have any need to worry about raising your PageRank. Links do still have some weight, so write compelling copy that others will link to, hopefully within running text. Then there's social bookmarking. Make your content and diggable and you'll increase your PageRank. The more people that socially bookmark your site, the more they are telling the world that your content bears authoritative weight.

If you run a business site or e-commerce site, either update your site copy regularly or add a blog to the site. Whatever you do, make sure your site appears active to Google.

Next: What in the World Is a Blogroll?

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Thu, Jun 5th - 12:23PM

The Rogue Writer Returns!

After several months, I'm back! Week after week, I've meant to continue my series on how to effectively blog. Day after day, the words "write the next post" have reverberated through my skull. Here it is, one more business week set to close and, yet again, no next post. No more procastination from this cat.

Starting today, I will post one new column per week. As I believe I've addressed nearly every major way to effectively blog, I'm going to explore this WebRing blog system for a few posts - see how I can optimize it.

Other ideas for this blog include the following:

  • Web 2.0 Babble - A list and review of some of the chatter on the web about the current Web 2.0 styles, culture, and marketing techniques.
  • Disobey Giant - An exploration of techniques that help you and your site by breaking all the "rules."
  • Really Rad Rings - Reviews of exemplary rings and/or the managers who tend to them. (Okay, so I stole this idea from WebRing's proposed "Forum Fridays.")

I also welcome any questions you might have about blogging, marketing on the web, writing, or any other off-the-wall subject.

But before changing course, I will write my long overdue post about how "Links Create Authority," where you can read about how quickly the rules of the internet change.

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