Back to Livejournal

I did a bit of posting in Livejournal’s community related to my hometown and received more comments that I accumulated at deadprogrammer.com in a couple of years. The posts are in Russian, but I believe they will be interesting to a significant portion of my readers, especially the comment part where I debate merits (or lack thereof) of speedos, man purses, and other things.

Одесские наблюдения

Возвращение

Монета

Два вопроса

Привоз

The rest of you please enjoy these two pictures from one of the posts:

Facebook Cookbook: Build Your Facebook Empire

Now you can build Facebook applications that truly stand out among the thousands already available on the platform. This book’s easy-to-follow recipes not only give you useful ways to design and build scalable applications using Facebook’s development platform, they also provide you with strategies for successfully marketing your application in this highly competitive environment. With plenty of examples and practical solutions, Facebook Cookbook answers some of the hardest questions Facebook application developers contend with — including how and where to get started.

  • Learn to build an application architecture that scales to accommodate a sudden influx of users
  • Get tips for designing applications with hosting and deployment costs in mind
  • Find out how to use Facebook’s various integration points
  • Discover which widgets and controls to use for building the most attractive user interface design
  • Understand the differences between standard HTML, JavaScript, and SQL, and the versions used on the Facebook Platform
  • Learn how to target large defined groups on Facebook, including those who want to find jobs, hire employees, market a business, advertise, and more

If you have experience building simple web applications with HTML, Facebook Cookbook will guide you though Facebook’s toolkit, so you can build applications with the potential to reach millions of users around the globe. Learn what it takes to design applications that stand above the rest.

Facebook Marketing: 25 Most Effective, Unknown, Black-Op Marketing Techniques for Bands and Businesses

The much anticipated Facebook Marketing Book by Nick Jag ( NickJag.com ).

Everyone has been talking about Facebook – it’s the next MySpace! The problem is, how to do you, as a band or business, take advantage of this opportunity?

Whether you’re just getting started on Facebook or have been on the site for years, this book is going to show you how to promote your band or business effectively and efficiently!

There are so many marketing channels in Facebook, many of the ineffective. Some will even get your profile deleted very easily. Don’t worry about any of it, because with this book you will learn…

– Which promotion channels to avoid, hitting limits, and being reported as spam.

– Which main promotion channels are most effective for your brand and how to get the most out of them.

– Hidden marketing techniques that will sky rocket your brand expansion, having the Facebook site do all the work for you!

– Top secret mass messaging and marketing techniques that will leave you in awe ( NickJag.com )

The Russian Tea Room Syndrome

 

“Man told me,” He said, “that these here elevators was Mayan architecture. I never knew that till today. An I says to him, ‘What’s that make me– mayonnaise?’ Yes, yes! And while he was thinking that over, I hit him with a question that straightened him up and made him think twice as hard! Yes, yes!”

“Could we please go down, Mr. Knowles?” begged Miss Faust.

“I said to him,” said Knowles, ” ‘This here’s a research laboratory. Re-search means look again, don’t it? Means they’re looking for something they found once and it got away somehow, and now they got to re-search for it? How come they got to build a building like this, with mayonnaise elevators and all, and fill it with all these crazy people? What is it they’re trying to find again? Who lost what?’ Yes, yes!”

“That’s very interesting,” sighed Miss Faust. “Now, could we go down?”

Kurt Vonnegut, “Cat’s Cradle

The Russian Tea Room, once a popular restaurant created by ballerinas and danseurs (aka male ballerinas) of the Russian Imperial Ballet for themselves and their friends. Later it became an expensive restaurant for the Manhattan high society. In 1996 the new owners closed it down for 4 year and $36 million renovations. In 2002 the restaurant closed, and the owners were bankrupt. In the aftermath, one of the chefs, M.D. Rahman, can be found on 6th avenue and 45th street selling some of the tastiest street food in Manhattan. I bet he’s making more than he did back at the Russian Tea Room now with his little cart.

In the parlance of the Internet this is known as a “redesign” or a “relaunch.” If you are making a living out of web development, like I do, chances are that you participated in a vicious cycle of web site redesigns. They usually happen like this: managers decide to do it and get funding, a lot of meetings follow, specifications are written (or not), arbitrary deadlines are set, designers create graphical mock-ups, then coders swarm and engage in what’s referred to as “death-march.” Managers change their minds about the look and feel a few times during the death-march for an extra morale boost. Finally, a redesigned website launches. Managers start planning the next redesign right away.

In the olden times the CEO’s nephew often got the web design job. Well, these days the nephew grew up, he has a consulting agency. “This is old and busted, let me redesign this mess and you’ll get new hotness” – he says. Pointy-haired bosses everywhere nod and say – “yes, yes, new hotness”, and the cycle keeps on going, redesign after a redesign.

There are a few different types of redesigns. Firs of all, there’s changing the look. In the simplest and best form, this is a very quick deal, especially if the site is properly architected for quick changes. It’s like taking your plain vanilla cellphone, buying a snazzy faceplate, one click – instant new hotness. I have nothing against this sort of redesigns.

The only thing you have to look out for here is what I call the “Felicity effect.” A television show Felicity had a famous redesign failure – the actress Keri Russell cut her trademark long hair. One might argue that she is hot no matter what, but the show suffered a huge drop in ratings. You have to keep in mind that a new look rarely attracts new customers, but often upsets the old ones. For instance, I like Keri’s new look, but I would not start watching that show.

The second type of a redesign involves changing the underlying technology of the site. One might change the content management engine, database engine, rewrite the site in a different language, make it run on a different web server, different operating system, etc. These usually turn out to be the most disastrous and costly of redesigns.

Joel Spolsky wrote about “… the single worst strategic mistake that any software company can make: … rewrit[ing] the code from scratch.” In the web publishing world these kinds of rewrites cause a lot of grief and devastation. A huge technology change always requires a lot of debugging and fixing afterwards, and as soon as most of the bugs are fixed, a new redesign comes around, because, see, ASP.NET 2.0 C# is “old and busted” and Vista Cruiser Mega Platform D## is “new hotness.”

I am not talking here about replacing a technology simply because it does not work or is dangerous. But redesigns are rarely aimed at fixing things – they are done in search of hot technologies and hot looks. By the way, amongst pointy-haired web execs fixing things is less glamorous than perusing new technologies, and that is less glamorous than changing the looks.

A building superintendent I know was in a middle of a huge project – repairing three old and unsafe elevators as well as fixing the crumbling facade of the building. Although the repairs were crucial, they did not earn him the love of the tenants that the old superintendent enjoyed. The old super, instead of fixing broken things, engaged in an almost constant painting projects, changing the color of the paint every time just a little bit. And when he wasn’t repainting, he would leave out the paint bucket and a brush on some rugs in the lobby.

The web execs often go for the best of both worlds – equivalent to changing the foundation of the building (and not the old one was sagging), as well as painting it a new color at the same time. The full Monty web redesign is what the pointy-haired want.

Let’s take a look at the sense that such redesigns make from a capitalist point of view in an area that I know well — web publishing. Web publishing businesses work just like any other. You take some money (aka capital), you spend that money to produce something and you hope that that something makes you even more money one way or another. In economics this is known as Marx’s general formula for capital: Money-Commodity-Money.

Another thing that I faintly remember from my economics class is a rather disturbing concept called “opportunity cost“. See, when you invest money in something you instantly incur this cost. Why? because you can’t invest your money twice, and there always seems to be something you could have invested in that would give you a better return. Let’s say it’s 1995 and you are an editor in, oh, Random House or HarperCollins. You have a budget to publish some children’s books and there’s a pile of proposals on your table. You pick a few. They make money, win awards, etc. Yet, the opportunity cost on every one of those books is about a kajillion dollars, as in that pile there was a certain book by a woman named Joanne Rowling.

In theory, any web executive’s first objective should be to make, and not lose money. Also they should look to minimize the opportunity cost whenever possible. This is of course not the case for many of them. They are thinking: hey I have this fat budget – I can do a big redesign, or …. hmm, what else can I do with that money so it will make me more money?

So how would one go about increasing profits? In the web publishing today content is once again king because of the maturing web advertising, vast improvements in hosting costs and google-inspired web indexing and searching. This was not the case in the earlier days of the web, but now you can directly convert “eyeballs” into profits. The process is rather simple: you create web pages, users visit them, you show users ads (for which you are paid). The relationship is linear – more users = more ad impressions = more money.

So, first of all, you might produce more pages. With search engines like Google, even pages that are hidden in archives of your website will still produce pageviews. The more pages you add, the more revenue you’ll get. In fact, pages with useful information, once placed online become something very dear to a capitalist’s heart – an income generating asset, the very thing that the author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad is so excited about. They are like the geese that lay golden eggs.

The cost of producing more pages comes from three sources: the cost of content – you need to pay someone to write, take pictures, etc; the cost of placing it online – “web producers”, the people who write html, create hyperlinks and optimize images draw a salary; and the cost of hosting/bandwidth – if you are hosting huge videos you costs might be more than what you can get from advertising, but if it’s just text and pictures you are golden. As you surely don’t expect the Spanish Inquisition, there’s the fourth cost: the opportunity cost of showing this content for free, instead of asking for subscription money. The main thing to remember, once the content/feature is created, the costs to keep it online and generating money is trivial.

Besides producing more content, there are other ways of making more money. One might improve the relevance of ads on your pages. If you have a third party ad system, you are pretty much can’t do that. But if you have your own, you might create mechanisms for serving super-relevant ads. Sometimes you might add e-commerce capability to your content website. For instance, if you have a gadget review site, injecting opportunities to easily and cheaply buy the gadgets that you are writing about will likely bring in more more money than machine generated dumb ads.

One might create content that is more valuable to advertisers. For instance, keywords such as “mesothelioma lawyers”, “what is mesothelioma” and “peritoneal mesothelioma” generate ridiculous costs per click on Google’s AdSense. If creating content about “form of cancer that is almost always caused by previous exposure to asbestos” that is so popular with lawyers is not your piece of cake, you can create content about loans, mortgages, registering domain names, etc.

Then we enter the murky waters of web marketing, and especially “SEO” – search engine optimization. In short, if you get other websites to link to your pages, you will get more vistits, partially from those links, and even more importantly, because search engines will place your pages higher in their results. The hard, but honest way to do this is to produce unique, interesting and timely content. No body’s interested in that. Encouraging the readers to link by providing urls that never change and even “link to us” buttons is not in vogue: most web execs prefer non-linkable flash pages. Another way is to pay for links – in the best case for straight up advertising, in the worst case – to unscrupulous “link farm” owners that sell PageRank. Then comes the deep SEO voodoo – changing the file names, adding meta tags, creating your own link farms and hidden keyword pages. At the worst, there’s straight up link and comment spamming. Unethical methods of promoting your business work: Vardan Kushnir who spammed the entire world to promote his “Center for American English” had enough money for booze and hookers, but not many people shed a tear for him when he was brutally murdered (maybe even for spamming). In corporate world the equivalent is the PageRank ban from Google.

So, you could spend your money on all of these things that I described, and hopefully make more money. On the other hand, redesigning a website from top to bottom to make it “look good” or “more usable” will not bring in more “eyeballs”. A redesign of a large site takes several months for the entire web staff. The possible positive aspects of the redesign are these:

1) Faster loading pages
2) Easier to read text
3) More straightforward navigation
4) Cleaner look
6) Bug fixes
7) Switching from a more expensive software and hardware to cheaper

Existing users will probably like you better, but will new ones all of a sudden descend onto the redesigned site? Not likely. In fact, some think that the ugliness of MySpace design is an asset rather than a drawback. People want something from websites. Be it news, funny links, videos, naked pictures, savings coupons or product reviews, design does not matter too much to them. If they can click it, read it and (for the valuable geeks with blogs and websites) link to it – users are generally satisfied.

Here’s an example of a well executed major redesign of a high profile website, the New York Times. NYT always had a well designed website, and the new one is pretty nice too. But is there a lot of new traffic? Here’s an Alexa graph.

At the worst redesigns bring:

1) Broken links (sometimes every single url changes and all links from outside break)
2) Heavier graphics, proliferation of Macromedia Flash
3) Slower loading pages
4) Loss of features and content
5) New bugs
6) New software and licensing costs, more expensive servers

Often this is all that they bring. Broken links hurt the search engine positioning. New software costs money. It takes a long while to work out the bugs.

Here’s an Alexa graph of another major redesign on a website, which name I’d like to omit. Just as the traffic recovered after a big redesign in 2000, a new one hit in 2003. It seems to be recovering again.

The thing is, many businesses are very robust and the disastrous effects of web redesigns do not kill them. Pointy-haired bosses make their buddies rich, while getting kudos for the redesigns. Everyone stays busy, and software companies get to sell a lot of server software.

Deadprogrammer.com is Moving

Once again instead of writing something good for you to read I am changing my blogging software. Movable Type was a little better than Livejournal, but looks like WordPress is the right tool for me.

It will take some time for me to fix the feeds, lins, etc, so bear with me for a while.

Deadprogrammer.com Update

Last couple of weeks were rather stressful for me, thus no posts lately. I would like to break that non-posting streak and work on my site a bit as well.

First order of business – following antonme’s suggestion I installed MTLJPost plugin which will duplicate my posts in my Livejournal making dprogrammer_rss unnecessary. I will be turning off MT’s commenting feature and directing all commenters to Livejournal. I am too lazy to install the threaded comments hack in MT, and there seems to be almost no comment spam in Livejournal. I still need to do a lot of work on MT templates – the layout I have right now is rather ugly and not very usable.

I pretty much achieved what I wanted on the ad front – in about 30 days I’ve earned $7.99 with 1.8% clicthrough rate and $2.49 CPM. That’s a Fair und Balanced newspaper for every weekday! CPM by the way is a mysterious marketing term which means Cost Per Mil, where Mil (or Roman numeral M) stands not for Million but for for 10^3.

This cornucopia of revenue should be of course offset by my hosting costs, taxes and a purchase of $227.00 (+$5 s&h) Gretag McBeth Eye-One (aka i1) monitor color calibration thingy from an advertiser that google ads showed in my post. This might actually be the first time I ever bought anything from an online ad. Oh, Eye-One is outstanding. I will write a review sometime, but it’s definitely the way to go.

Top 10 Reasons Why Deadprogrammer Left Livejournal

1) Old entries are hard to get to: “back n entries” works only for a while, after that you need to go day by day. Which makes paging through a blog that is not updated daily a nightmare.

2) Can’t run ads.

3) The degenerate “friends” system with it’s stupid add/remove politics. It’s better to read stuff in an aggregator.

4) Livejournal is widely known for drama and teenage angst. Having a Livejournal blog is similar to having an AOL email – it doesn’t matter that the famous hacker JWZ has one. People will still think that you are a loser.

5) No categories. You have to keep a separate journal if you want to give your readers an ability to read only stuff that interests them. I want to write some entries in Russian, but do not want to have a separate journal for that. Also some of my readers might be interested in my photos, but not in what I think about Livejournal.

6) Constant outages, lost posts, slowness and other technical fun. What else can you expect if you share your servers with a million teenagers frantically refreshing their “friends lists”.

7) No trackback.

8) Image hosting that is still in beta, but a fully released “phonepost” system that instead of using MP3 format uses OGG. I spent a couple of hours trying to find a player that would actually play these files when I click on them, but for the most part miserably failed. Those are a couple of hours of my life that I’ll never get back. I mean, what the hell is wrong? You click on a file, the player opens, but doesn’t play anything. You click play button – nothing. You click again…. Arrrgh, it’s driving me nuts!

9) No web logs – you have no idea how many people actually read your stuff. The only indicators that you might have are how many “friends” you have and how many comments you get (both of which are poor indicators). Since you can’t run JavaScript, you can’t have a reliable third party tracker either. I’ve had a visitor from northropgrumman.com at my new shiny (well, not so shiny yet) MT based site, and I would not have know that if it was still at Livejournal. Hey, Northrop Grumman reader, who are you?

10) If you set an article with a future date in Livejournal, instead of showing up if your readers lists normally, it sometimes disappears. There’s a bug there somewhere.

Livejournal does have a superior comment system, but since I don’t get too many comments it doesn’t matter that much.

Did you expect the Spanish Inquisition? No? Well, nobody does. But it brings you 11th reason:

11) No integrated search.

First Post!

I finally installed MovableType, converted my Livejournal entries and created a very rough preliminary design featuring a graphic made for me on commission by the very talented Jesse Reklaw of Slow Wave fame.

The masthead, secondary pages, xml feeds and all the shiny features like categories, pings, trackback, etc still need a lot of work. This is why I suggest you don’t subscribe to XML feeds yet – there likely to be a lot of change in them.

MovableType has a feature for timing the release of entries that actually works well (unlike Livejournal’s) and since I write posts in bursts on weekends, I’ll try to time them so that they will spread through the week, making Deadprogrammer.com an almost daily blog.

I have a few dozen topics for posts right now, but I am also working on lostindication.com (my photography portfolio), organizing my notes (of which I have a few notebooks), finishing deadprogrammer.com, working on a few other interesting projects. Since I have a day job, the progress is slow.