Category Archives: technology

Ad Removal Tool Makes Ad Bigger

I’ve been putting a lot of work into Law School Discussion lately to fix minor user problems. Last night I noticed that a computer I don’t usually use was showing a huge advertisement on the top of the page. The advertisement pushed all the useable content off the screen (“below the fold” as they say). I kept checking my code and everything looked just fine. I went to sleep frustrated over not knowing why this was happening or how many users might be affected.
It turns out that Norton Internet Security was trying to block a small ad on the top of the page. As the page is downloaded to the user’s computer, Norton takes part of the code out. The problem was that Norton only took the part of the code that controls the shape and size of the ad, leaving a giant default ad in its place.
Until now I haven’t had a strong position on ad removal tools. To the extent that Norton actually modifies my code so that the viewer sees a different version of the page than the one I spent hours perfecting, this software makes me really mad.

Blawg Republic Launches

Their description:
Blawg Republic is a real-time search engine that monitors the legal blogging community every hour.”
My technical description:
Blawg Republic gathers RSS feeds from legal-related blogs, aggregates them, and renders them as html for your reading enjoyment.
My business description:
It takes content from lots of people and compiles it on one website. People come to read all the content in one place, and occasionally click ads that make money for the site.
The idea of aggregating content is nothing new. Moreover was doing this with news sources at the same time blogs were being invented. Now aggregators are everywhere. Even I’ve made one. By creating a destination where all the content comes together (with advertisements) the web marketer benefits from the all-important great content, but avoids the nasty work of having to create it. It works like a radio station: the station plays music to get people to listen to the ads, and the musicians don’t mind because it promotes awareness (and thus sales) of their music.
So why not make a whole bunch of these aggregators and brand them for each industry? I suspect that’s exactly what Condensa has planned. Their website reveals nothing about law but focuses on web marketing. Kinja could do the same thing by picking up some additional domain names and changing the style sheets (the code that controls the looks of a webpage) to look completely new.
In the end though, if you don’t have original content, you better make a very useful tool. Think of all the failed search engines and link pages. Actually, think of the successful search engines. Yahoo is all about games, news, stocks, discussion boards. Google is fast developing all kinds of ways to keep you looking at their pages.

dot org versus dot com

Lessig reports that Cheney used the wrong TLD (that’s “top level domain” of course) when referring to the factcheck website. The real site is factcheck.org, which points outs inconsistencies on both sides of the political spectrum. Cheney mentioned factcheck.com, which redirects to the home page for George Soros, a wealthy investor and adamant anti-Bush crusader. Haha!
I think it’s unreasonable to expect perfection in a live debate, and I don’t expect everyone to remember the difference between .org and .com either. “dot com” is one step short of habitual – requiring almost no thought to produce. It’s almost synonymous with the internet (.net just couldn’t compete).
This site is andrewsinclair.org because andrewsinclair.com wasn’t available, but I like the .org. It’s a personal site, and I think, as a person, I’m closer to an organization than a commercial entity. Unfortunately, andrewsinclair.com is now lost in domain name purgatory (my thoughts on that here) and will only surface again when a squatter and buyer agree on a value (which will only happen when someone sharing my name becomes famous – or, less likely, when I become famous).
Law School Discussion is a .org too. That one was by choice (I saved .com from it’s paid-link fate). A discussion board is more of an organization (ie community) than a commercial enterprise – even though it is a commercial enterprise. tortfeasor is unquestionably a commercial enterprise, and thus a .com. A law student is trying to use tortfeasor.org, but tortfeasor.net is a paid-link site owned by the good folks at KenyaTech.
You have to expect that people will get confused, but politicians and brand owners should be extra careful about where their opponents live on the internet. Even the presidential abode has been hijacked by TLD confusion: whitehouse.com.

Wonkette NYT Traffic Analysis

Anne Marie Cox, the writer for Wonkette, was featured in the cover story of this weekend’s New York Times Magazine. I’ve always been curious about the impact of these things on a web site’s traffic. Thanks to Nick Denton’s policy of keeping stats public, it takes just a few clicks to find the answer. Wonkette’s September traffic:
wonkette traffic
Wonkette’s traffic has a familiar and consistent pattern: slightly stronger at the beginning of the week, peaking on Tuesdays, a little lighter on Fridays before plunging into the weekend (notice the weekend-like traffic on Labor Day).
The article came out in Sunday’s paper, and there was a significant increase in traffic that day: about 35,000 more Sunday visitors than usual. The increase is much more noticeable on Monday, when the NYT traffic is added to a weekly high-point. It looks like there were about 40,000 more visitors than usual yesterday.
An interesting phenomenon from all of this is that the increases are probably absolute. I suspect that if Wonkette didn’t have any readers, it would have received about 35,000 visitors on Sunday and 40,000 on Monday, so the percentage increase is a factor of previous popularity. Because Wonkette is already so popular, it doesn’t benefit as much from a big NYT article.

Half.com to Remain Open

Half.com was the best thing to happen to text books since the invention of the college copy-center reader, and eBay has just announced that Half is here to stay. eBay acquired Half.com in 2000 after Half essentially beat them to the fixed-price market, and they’ve been slowly integrating the two together ever since.
Half was scheduled to be completely absorbed into eBay this summer, but pressure from text book sellers kept Half going for another “text book season”. It seems eBay finally realized that Half.com really works, and those of us that can sell an $80 case book for $60 don’t want to slowly transition over to anything.
Now please buy some of my stuff.

Happy Birthday Google and eBay

Two of the internet companies I most admire, Google and eBay, each celebrated birthdays this week. Google turned six. eBay turned nine.
Both companies have excelled because they took an innovative idea and proved its value. Google’s idea was a search algorithm that relied on link popularity rather than page content, and they followed that up with another innovation: an intelligent advertising network that leveraged the Google brand and the technical power of the Google network. eBay’s innovation was creating a single auction-based economy. They overcame the skepticism of internet and peer to peer sales and implemented a simple auction system that, combined with a critical mass of users, created a perfect market.
I’m not sure exactly what event these company equate to ‘birth’ (the idea? the site launch? the first transaction? the incorporation?), but I thought it was interesting that they both celebrate their origins during the same week. What is it about the first week of September that spawns innovation?

The Amazing Growth of Craigslist

I first heard about Craigslist when I moved to San Francisco in 2000. I tried to use it to find an apartment but it was a time when the demand far exceeded the supply. One household invited twenty potential roommates, of seventy applicants, to meet and be considered for an 8 foot by 10 foot room in Pacific Heights.
I moved to Boston in 2001 and again tried using Craigslist to find a place. The Boston version of Craigslist was tiny in comparison to the original San Francisco version. There were only about 300 total apartments listed at that time (archive.org cache).
There have been at least 1500 apartments listed on the Boston Craigslist today, and it’s only 4:30.
Craigslist is one of many successful network technology sites (where the network relies on, and is made better by, users). In the words of 90’s Alterna-Rock band Soul Asylum, “nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd.” This is surely the reason eBay (the network success story) has had their eye on Craig and his list, acquiring a 25% share last week.
The strange by-product of network success is that the closer a service gets to a monopoly, the better it performs (and thus the better it serves the users). These ideas converge on 100% dominance for optimal effectiveness. (Notice that there’s only one internet.) Both eBay and Craigslist have enormous power in their markets, and I can’t say that it has been anything but a good thing. I just bought a $25 phone battery for $3 on eBay, and I several Craigslist visitors have come by apartment this week to purchase my old furniture. Amazing.

Comment Spam Works

I’m getting several comment spam messages per day on this site despite my use of mt-blacklist. (“Comment spam” is the posting of irrelevant comments with links to increase one’s Google rank.) I’ve never actually checked out any of these online-poker-viagra-mortgage-pills, but today I did a Google search for the latest spam attack (“online-poker”) and was dismayed to see that my spammer has made it into the top ten for one of the most competitive search terms.
There are a couple proposed solutions to this problem which employ technical methods of stopping comment spam. How about a social method: competition. Instead of trying to delete comment spam (I’m too slow to react, and Google to fast to find the links) or prevent it (too burdensome), what if people changed the links to point to competing sites?
For example, removing my comment spam links to “online-poker” won’t hurt the spammers ranking as much as linking “online-poker” to Gambler’s Anonymous. Now the Gambler’s Anonymous site gets a boost, and my spammer gets pushed down to the second page of the Google results. Under the current methods, spammers have nothing to lose. We’re trying to prevent when we should be trying to deter.

Good Ol’ Organization is Still Pretty Good

I think the search engine is an amazing invention that has progressed to be so useful as to change the way society uses facts and knowledge. That said, no matter how amazing the search engine becomes, I’ll always be a fan of good old fashioned organization.
The new Mac operating system will be able to search your entire computer in moments and Microsoft is not far behind. Gmail thinks that nothing should ever be discarded, it’s too easy to search it later. Amazon prefers that you just search for something instead of using a menu hierarchy to browse.
Search is very useful, but let’s not get carried away (it’s not going to help you find your shoes). Organization is still a great way to keep things findable, and it only complements search.