On Facebook Advertising

Two things happened recently: Facebook’s IPO fizzled and there was a slew of articles and blog posts about how Facebook ads are ineffective. The majority of the articles follow the same song and dance: we spent $250, got some likes from random people and nothing changed. The one standout it GM dropping Facebook ads. GM’s budget was 10 million dollars, and the way I understand it, this is their equivalent of $250 for a small business.

While I personally dislike Facebook tremendously and want it to fail, I think that the FB ad-bashing articles are off base. Facebook ads are a great deal. I am not an advertising professional, but I drank with a lot of them and I think picked up a reasonable amount of knowledge about the industry. I also stayed at … hmm, can’t remember the name of the hotel, but this is a reference to the TV ads where people say “well, I’m not a [professional that has to be very smart and skilled] but I stayed at [name of the hotel]”.

There are many, many bad deals in advertising. There are big-name websites that have “respectability” plus a huge saleseforce. These guys can charge $15, $20, $30, sometimes even $50 per 1000 banner impressions. cost for 1000 impressions is called CPM: cost per M where M is the Roman numeral 100. At the higher price you get gigantic custom ads known by a variety of names: browser crashers, godzillas, superskyscrapers, page fuckers, etc. There are also “sponsorships” where dumb companies buy little badges on new sites with next to no traffic.

How do these things get sold? Well, the agency people who control how the ad budget is spent are often young and get a lot of free drinks. Also, ad sales people are very good at what they do.

Then there are cut rate ad networks that have 5-20 cents CPM. The traffic for these comes from all kind of low quality sites: lyrics websites, guitar tab sites, all kinds of web farms, dating sites, porn and near-porn sites and the like. Big sites sometimes buy traffic from these sources when they don’t have enough “inventory”, but they’ve already sold a lot of high CPM ads. These are a pretty bad deal, and I suspect much of the traffic is simulated by bots. It is cheap and there’s a lot of it though. Targeting options are pretty weak with the exception of plentyoffish.com: POF allows for very detailed targeting. If you want to target only Canadian redheads between the ages of 18-22 – you can.

Google ads are a better deal: you are targeting people that are searching for something. Google has pretty sophisticated algorithms for detecting fraud, but I suspect click fraud is still rampant. Google’s predominant model is charging per click instead of per 1K impressions, and you have to compete with other people for hot search keywords. For instance, ambulance chasers pay ridiculous money for “mesothelioma” keyword. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer caused by asbestos, and layers apparently can make crazy money suing on behalf of people who have it. A click on an ad can fetch as much as $10 or more. There are many other expensive keywords where even a single click is worth paying actual humans to click on them from time to time. There are also pity clicks and punitive clicks: sometimes people click ads to support sites that they like and to punish ones advertisers they don’t like.

Facebook ads by my estimation cost about 1/10th of Google’s, almost in the low quality network territory. The targeting is amazing though: Facebook knows a lot about what people are interested in and lets you have a sniper-like precision of putting your ad in front of them. Do you want New Yorkers who are into planted aquariums, fishing and knife sharpening? If there are 10 people like that you can reach them on Facebook for a few bucks. Unlike Google users who are searching for something, Facebookers are there for ogling hot people and playing Farmville. They tend to ignore the ads, but you can get an even better deal by buying CPC ads. Massive click fraud is difficult on Facebook, most of these clicks are real.

There are many things about advertising in general that are mysterious: starting with the “if I almost never click on ads then who does” to “do tv and magazine ads actually make me buy anything”. Are funny ads where you remember the joke but not what was advertised worth the money? Are people swayed by car commercials? How about those Coca Cola billboards? How about those ads in New York taxi cabs and ads that annoy in general – are they effective? QR codes ( http://wtfqrcodes.com/ ) – are they the advertising equivalent of “free public wifi” zombies? I have a hunch, but I don’t really know.

What I do know is that compared to other options FB advertising is a pretty good deal at current pricing.

How To Speed Up the Web (And Gain A little Privacy)

Let’s face it: Facebook “like buttons” are dragging the pageload speeds down. They are just the pits, and they are slow mostly because the Great Zuck want to know what you are up to. Screw that – install WidgetBlock for Chrome, your pages will load faster, your browser will crash less, and Zuck will know less about you.

This has been a public service announcement. Also, don’t forget to back up – hard drives only live for a few years.

[update] I seem to be singling out Facebook buttons. And I do – they are the worst offenders in terms of performance. On the other hand Widgetblock works for all kinds of widgets.

Love,
Deadprogrammer

I, for one, welcome our new social overlords

Disclamer: I thought that Google Wave was an excellent idea, so you can safely disregard my blathering here.

Here’s what I’m picturing in my head: Google has approached Facebook and Twitter on the playground. Twitter stole a piece of Facebooks lunch, but can’t really hold onto it. After a few threats and a bit of running around and a few ineptly thrown punches Google got itself into position to really clean Facebook’s clock and take its lunch. Foursquare and Groupon which earlier evaded Google’s punches in the most ebarracing for Google way possible are likely to be lunchless later. It is rather strange that Google does not go after scrawny TV Guide and White Pages – it looks like their lunches are not that tasty.

Yes, it’s just another social network. Yes, Google has a track record of failing fast and frequently (which if I remember correctly is a “good thing”). But remember, a bunch of incompetent coders received such an applause, press coverage and a whole evem some money to build a Facebook alternative. And finally mighty Skynet is doing the same thing. I think the company behind the mighty Skynet and the future parent of our robotic overlords has a chance against a bunch of compiled spaghetty PHP.

P.S. Zuckerberg and his approach to privacy creeps me out, so I have deleted my Facebook account and turned it into a blank account used only for work (writing Facebook apps, testing and such). I’m completely fed up with the character limit on Twitter – it’s nothing more than a feed from my blog. But I do want to share photos, and I do want to post shorter, non-blog-worthy thoughts. I’m really rooting for Skynet here.

The New Blogging Manifesto – Or a 3 Ways (4 Ways) To Make Blogging Easier

I noticed that twitter sapped much of my blogging mojo, and I am not happy about that. Wasting a perfectly good photo from my iphone on a twitpic feels painful: it takes an extra effort to view it, and a triple effort to annotate. Here’s my message to Twitter: images should be seen but link urls should not. It’s the other way around, you wildly successful jerks.

Castrating my thoughts with a character limit is unpleasant as well. How much information do I need to sacrifice for the ease of posting? Twitter is like Procrustes, a Greek mythological dude who would chop off the legs of his guests to fit the length of his bed. Twitter’s procrustean limits mess with my procrastination. See, a painful pun like this is impossible on Twitter.

Facebook has much saner character limit and link/image handling, but I really don’t want to place my junk in the “walled garden” of “a host of a party who goes through the pockets of the coats his guest hang up” (I don’t remember the source of the second metaphor, but I like it a lot). I got tired of twiddling settings every time Zuck’s army decided to opt me into yet another privacy nightmare. I dumped my old account and created a new one that I only use for work-related testing and development.

So, over the weekend I redesigned deadprogrammer.com. Here are my new rules for blogging:

1) The blog post input form goes on the front page. I’m basically aping WordPress’ P2 theme. Having a post form staring you in the face instead of being a few clicks away is amazing. It changed the way WordPress developers blog, and I’m hoping it will do the same for me (it seems to be working).

2) Big images. I’m tired of small images. The screens are big, the bandwidth is cheap, almost everybody has a fast connection, my camera takes amazing pictures that lose much of their life when squeezed into 600 pixel width. Then New standard width is 1000 pixels.

3) The P2-style post form is the first step on removing friction out of posting. But that’s a topic for another post – I need to keep my missives manageable. I’ll break things up: there will be pithy posts, and medium length ones, and then there will be long David Foster Wallacian ones (I just need to figure out the best way to do footnotes).

4) Facebook and Twitter will get posts from my RSS feed. That’s all they are good for.

Hunting Heads and Developing Back Ends

I’d like to share with you a few thoughts about tech recruiting. This is not a post about how to write resumes, read resumes, ask or answer tech interview questions. Enough is written on the subject by people who are better at all of this than me. No, it’s about that email that arrives in almost every developer’s inbox about “a full-time, permanent position with a very competitive salary” for “a very prestigious company located in mid/down/up-town” which is looking for “an alphabet soup of technologies”. Half the time it’s a phone call. These happen during the times of boom and bust in the tech sector, although with varying frequency.

Now, people who are not programmers would probably think that this is spammers or scammers who will ask for a fee. Well, there is a fee involved, but this is not scammers: every time there’s a reasonably well paying job involved. A huge number of programming positions gets filled this way.

There’s always a shortage of decent software developers, project managers, system administrators and allied tradespeople. This was true back when I was starting my career, in 1997, but it only got worse. First of all the cost of running a startup came down from hundreds of thousands of dollars to thousands, and many talented programmers with ideas, tolerance of Ramen-heavy diet, slumming, and a little risk exited the corporate workforce to build url shorteners and travel sites for hipsters. Top notch people with kids and/or love of brightly colored furniture and fridges stocked with fancy sodas were vacuumed up by Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and other modern Xerox Parc-wannabees. The hedge funds sucked in all those who are good at implementing complicated formulas and algorithms in code that can make a Kessel run in 12 parsecs or less.

The biggies look for a healthy mix of specialists, but they can easily afford to hire jack-of-all trades hackers. Everybody else usually looks for a person who has proven experience with a certain “stack” – an alphabet soup of languages, operating systems, and servers. Sometimes stacks are ageless like COBOL, CICS, DB2 – even today typing it into dice.com brings up 155 results. Some come out of favor: LISP – only 16 results though. Somer are old standbys: Php MySQL Apache – 370 results: C# SQL Server IIS – 439 results. Some, like RoR are up and coming – 93 results.

If you are relatively young(cheaper that way) and have done some work with a fashionable stack your phone will be ringing weekly with recruiter calls in the dreariest days of a tech bubble burst. If you are a specialist who deals with a particularly gnarly piece of hot tech – it will ring a few times a week.

Now here we come to a somewhat interesting phenomenon. Most of the time the person calling is a “headhunter”. Here’s what’s happening:

Web department in company Webco Enterprises has an opening. It could be caused by a number of things, but most commonly

1) after gettig tired of incessant complaining of the VP of Web Things, the Bean Counter finally agreed to budget in Y dollars for another headcount.

2) an experienced headcount who was making Y dollars accepted an offer of Y + $30,000 + an office with a door from company iWeb 2.0 and left.

So here is VP of Web Things with a budget of Y dollars. She’s swamped with work. In the next team meeting she tells her nerds to ask all of their friends if they know somebody and offers a referral bonus. Next she puts together a typical job ad complete with technological alphabet soup and takes it to the Master of HR. The Master of HR posts it on the company intranet, on the corporate site and on monster.com, dice.com, etc. Next VPoWT goes to the same sites and looks for candidates who posted their resumes there. It’s mostly drek, and the one person who might be ok wastes a lot of her time because he has another offer for Y + $10,000 from another company.

Now more desperate, she starts using “headhunters”. They send a couple of somewhat crappy candidates, followed by one barely ok one, followed by one who’s good enough. After a little song and dance the good one accepts Y dollars per year minus – 15% that silently go to the recruiter. The next few years he’ll be getting modest raises and maybe even a bonus or two that will not break the budget: the Bean Counter approved Y dollars, and it stays in the budget like that, and the headhunter only gets paid once.

Now, here’s what was happening on the other end: headhunters start pounding searches into their computers. LinkedIn, all recruiting sites, internal databases, etc. They might not understand what those letters in the alphabet soup mean, but they sure can try to match them up with what comes back from searches. Then they start shooting in the dark – it’s easier to get people who are currently looking for jobs, but it’s the shallow end of the pool that VP of Web Things already explored somewhat. They start pinging people who are working at the moment – this is where the good heads are.

Finally someone hunts up the the right head for VPoWT’s headcount and pockets the 15% of a yearly salary of that head.

Now, here comes the interesting part: most of these headhunters who are calling are trying to line up publicly available job listings with people on LinkedIn. For instance, I recently received two emails about a rather awkwardly named position “Director of Back End Development” (second recruiter spelled it “Backend”).

I looked it up on one of the recruiting sites (I think dice.com), and it was an old and infamous pre-dot-com-boom company that chose such a unique job title for what I do for a living. It was literally the only one with that creative title. I could have applied directly, bypassing the 15% headhunter’s fee. This is the reason why headhunters rarely name the company name.

In the past, through my random and numerous connections I’ve heard stories about what the setup is like at that place, and it’s a doozy. I’m pretty sure that the person who will take that job will take a lot of development up his or her back end.

The moral of the story is this: it’s easy enough to bypass recruiters – they are just engaged in arbitrage: the hiring manager is busy, the potential headcount is not even looking. That 15% is OPM (other people’s money) to the hiring managers, but not so much to the headcounts.

Cognitive Filtering and Bayesian RSS

I hope one thing from the future will become popular in 2009: cognitive filtering. If the Internet was Dr. Dorian from the hit tv show “Scrubs”, I would be Dr. Cox with his list of things he cares very little about.

I got this idea from a science fiction book. In John C. Wright’s Golden Age Trilogy the singularity happened and people can upgrade and back up their wetware in any way they can afford. They still had the same problem that Henry Kuttner described in his short story “Year Day” – an overbearing amount of very innovative ads that masquerade as information and other spam. The trick in Golden Age was cognitive filtering: configurable software that removed any manifestations of anything an owner considered unpleasant: ads, sounds, pictures, symbols, and even people.

I like Twitter, and I like Robert Scoble. But I am tired of Robert’s relentless posts about friendfeed (sometimes I’m not even sure if he works with me at Fast Company or at friendfeed). Filtering this out would not be too hard – I could just ignore any post that has “friendfeed” in it. In fact, a Bayesian filter for Google reader, Facebook, and Twitter after a bit of training could do this automatically: I’d just flag posts that annoy me and the filter would analyze the words in the post, figure out which ones occur together more frequently in the posts that annoy me and hide future annoying posts based on that.

To take this a bit further, I would also like a Bayesian filter that would find me good posts from the firehydrant rss flow based on the ones I already like. There seem to be a few of these out there, but I find it hard leaving Google Reader.

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.

Inside Facebook: Life, Work and Visions of Greatness

As an early engineer, I was on the inside during Facebook’s explosive growth. In Inside Facebook, I’ll give you the scoop on the company as it became the premiere online environment for U.S. college students, including how and by whom the products were made, how you can use them best, views on what makes social networks so valuable, and where the industry is headed. You, too, can achieve startup success and attain your greatest dream; I hope to inspire you toward fulfilling your potential.

“Love the book. It captures the ethos of the place and a substantial degree of the vision and drive which is a secret to success.”
-David Kopp, Sr. Director, Community at Yahoo!

“Inside Facebook is a compelling look inside at a fascinating moment. It’s a riveting read. Karel may be an Engineer, but after reading Inside Facebook you’ll see he’s a great storyteller. I couldn’t get myself to stop reading and wanting more.”
-Ariel McNichol, CEO of mEgo.

“I love the style. It’s made for college students, like Facebook. Karel takes you into the personalities and minds behind Facebook. A must read for young entrepreneurs, and anyone into online social networking.”
-Mohammad Naqvi, UCR, creator of Facebook Notifier at fbQuick.com

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 )