Archive for February, 2016

February 25, 2016

My Ad Policy

There’s been a bit of an arms race between ad blocking users, content providers and advertisers. As ad blockers rise in popularity, revenue goes down for content providers. Content providers tend to resort to more obtrusive ads, hoping to garner more clicks from those users not utilizing blockers. They may put clickable content (like a next button) too close to the ad so misclicks turn to ad clicks. Or they do growing interstitial ads that block the content until the user is forced to interact with the ad. From the advertisers prospective, misclicks are worse than no clicks. They cost the advertiser money for little gain as the user wasn’t actually interested in the ad in the first place. As a result, the advertiser offers lower rates, reducing the content provider’s revenue further. The more annoying the ads, the more likely users are to turn to ad blockers in the first place. Things have gotten out of hand, and no one wins in this scenarios. The user has a terrible experience. The advertiser gets the wrong king of visitors. While the content provider may make money initially, over time he or she makes less and less as he or she drives more people to use adblockers.

I am not a fan of adblockers, but I recognize why some users are. In my world view, it’s the content owner’s responsibility to ensure a reasonable user experience, and that includes the ads the user sees. I intend to do my part to stay out of the arms race, even if that means less revenue.

With that in mind I’ve been thinking about my own ad policy:

No Misclicks and no Trick Clicks

I used to love the game Robot Unicorn Attack on my phone. I played it daily. Nicki loved it too, referring to it as “the horsie game.”

Aside: A great way for a scrupleless developer to make a quick buck? Write a ad supported toddler game app with ads on the screen the toddler sees. If there’s a button the’ll find it and click on it. You don’t even need to be sneaky with ad placement.

When you inevitably died the game gave you the option of using a fairy tear to continue your life. You clicked “yes” to continue, “no” to move on to the next life. At some point they moved the “no” button to the bottom of the screen and put a “watch a 30 second ad clip instead” option in it’s place. After one too many misclicks I uninstalled the game from my phone and quit cold turkey. Since my terms of service disallow adblockers, I certainly can’t fault anyone from quitting me cold turkey if I tried something similar!

As a content provider I promise to make all advertisements obvious, and will design my apps in such a way that any ad click is more than likely an intentional ad click.

Limited Ads

In order to test my ad blocking detection script, I needed to download an install an adblocker. By default I turned it off, but every time my browser restarted the ad blocker also restarted. This particular ad blocker would show how many ads it blocked on each page. The record was 49 on a news website. Forty-nine. I had no idea.

Of course there’s a big difference between news websites and my apps. Lengthy articles have more space for ads. I try and keep my apps contained within a single screen, so I couldn’t fit that many ads in, evening ignoring my first pledge.

Right now I’m limiting myself to just one or two banner ads.

Possible Revenue Alternatives

A common defense of adblocking users is that they weren’t going to click on ads anyway, so what difference does it make? This argument is based on the inaccurate assumption that adviews don’t earn revenue. They do! To be fair it’s rather small.

Some websites allow for users to donate money instead of viewing ads. Others allow other currency in lue of ads; such as a share of social media or subscribing. When I get larger I may consider the former option. If you want to speed up the process, you can consider Google Contributor. You pay a small monthly fee to contributor. Contributor blocks some of the google adsense ads you would have seen, and uses your monthly fee to pay the content provider as though you had seen the ad.

February 24, 2016

My Niche

As a lowly grad student, toiling away in my single core computer I was often intimidated knowing that when I submitted a paper to conferences, it would be put up against those from the likes of Microsoft Research, Google and Yahoo! Labs. How could I ever think to compete against all those collective years of experience and seemingly endless computer resources? My adviser’s advice was not to go up against their strength, but to find my own. Big corporations that answer to share holders and consumers are not as free to tackle every idea. Her advice was to find something I could differentiate myself with, and focus on that. Find my niche.

It’s good advice that’s as applicable to starting one’s own business as it is to research.

I have been intimidated from doing the financial apps for many of the same reasons. Need a mortgage? Type in “Mortgage Calculator” (or even just “Mortgage Calc”) into Google and you get one on the search results page. How could I ever compete against Quicken and Mint?

Find my niche.

There’s a reason most mortgage and loan calculators are designed to only handle fixed rates, besides just simpler math. I imagine most people who are calculating how much a mortgage will cost them over the long haul are at least a little risk adverse, and those who are at least a little risk adverse are probably more likely to prefer fixed rates. But as any good financial person knows, stability can be more costly than risk and there are times that an adjustable rate might make more financial sense. I can either go after a small percentage of a large market, or a large percentage of a small market. I choose the latter.

So here are the ways I’m trying to differentiate myself from everyone else:

Smart Input Parsing

I’ve always found it mildly irritating when online forms choke on input that isn’t exactly as expected. Ever have to re-fill the whole form because you forgot to put dashes in a telephone number? Or because you only filled out two digits of your birth year instead of all four? It should be obvious to the computer what you meant. If a human can guess what you likely meant, I want my apps to as well.

One of the recent ways I incorporated this philosophy is with the interest rate on my loan form. Whether you type in 3%, 3, or 0.03, the form assumes you meant a 3% interest rate. That’s because a 300% or 3 hundredths of a percent are both rather unlikely interest rats. Possible, (I’ve seen some pretty predatory payday loan rates) but unlikely. It’s also unlikely that someone typing ‘3’ meant ‘300%’ given the way we humans tend to express percents.

More than Just a Formula

I love math. When I first started thinking about creating a webapp business I wanted to focus my efforts on bringing math to problems where math was traditionally not applied, such as the Labor Prediction Calculator. I’m especially proud of the math that went into the Image Color Palette, a mixture of machine learning, color theory and vector space math.

If all my app is is a implementation of formula, especially a standard well-known formula, there’s nothing to separate me from anyone else. Users have no reason to choose my app over the competition.

I especially like it when I can add a human touch to it. Sadly, not everyone shares my love of numbers. Numbers can even be a bit off putting. I like the way my Miscarriage Odds Reassurer tries to put abstract probabilities into perspective.

Data, Data and more Data

Data is definitely my thing, and one of my strengths that’s rare to come by. The more data I’m able to incorporate into my apps, and distill into meaningful results, the more I will differentiate myself from all the others out there.

Lately the data I’ve been munging has been my web traffic patterns. I hope to create some more data driven apps in the near future.

Now I just need to turn these disjoint niches into a single philosophy I can incorporate into my business. A task for tomorrow.

February 19, 2016

Anti Ad Blocker

As I try to make my way in the world as a ad supported content provider, ad blockers are a bit of a thorn in my side. Recently I’ve been pondering the ethics of ad blockers with a few friends. I’ve noticed that those people firmly in the “pro” ad blocker camp tend to view websites more as public property, such as a town library. In their view, as ‘net citizens they are entitled to the content of each webpage, should they so choose to consume it. They’ll quickly point out that ads are not just annoying, but can run a muck, crashing browsers and, in rare instances, install viruses on the web surfer’s computer. As they see it, sometimes blocking ads is necessary tool for navigating the web.

I tend to view websites more as private property, closer to a book store rather than a public library. Sure, you’re often free to browse the content at your leisure in your local Barns and Noble, but that’s more of a store policy than a requirement. After all, there’s no rule that says content providers cannot use pay walls, or restrict content by requiring registration.

The book store owner typically encourages the leisurely browsing, by providing comfy chairs and sometimes offering a coffee shop or nice music. The hope is that the additional browsing time turns into collateral purchases. There’s no requirement for patrons to purchase, of course, and not all customers do. Enough customers do buy extra books to make it worth the store owner’s while. The display advertisement model is rather similar. Content providers attempt to provide enough interesting content to keep web surfers on their websites, in hopes for a few advertisement clicks.

In the-website-as-book-store view, it’s the responsibility of the content provider to ensure his or her ads are not overly burdensome. You might not like the music playing over the loud speakers in a traditional brick and mortar store. Perhaps it’s just the lyrics you object to, but it’s playing at obnoxiously loud decibels. You still wouldn’t take it upon yourself to rip out the speakers. No jury would accept “potential hearing loss” as justification when you’re free to leave the store at any time. If your experience at the store was unpleasant you may complain, and you’d probably leave. That’s what I do. When ads get too annoying, I leave the website.

It’s not a perfect analogy – (ad blockers are not destruction of another’s physical property) – but it’s the analogy I got.

Many of my favorite techie news sources have been reporting ad blocker use has been on the rise in recent months. As someone trying to make a business with ad supported content, that’s a scary proposition. I decided I couldn’t live in the dark anymore, not knowing how many of my users are utilizing an ad blocker. In a few days I’ll have a good idea whether and how big a problem ad blockers are on my site.

February 16, 2016

The Deep Freeze

Domingo and I finally went ahead and bought a second freezer for the garage. We were primarily thinking of it as a time savor, so we could reduce our trips to the grocery store. The more we think about it, the more a second freezer appears to be a money saver as well.

Unlike Mommy, who could subsist a month off of PB&J, the kids will get bored with and stop eating even their favorite meals if we make them too often. This necessitates having a wide variety of meats and vegetables at the ready. We prefer not to repeat a dish twice in a week if we can help it. As for the leftovers that don’t freeze well, they become Mommy lunches.

Our current refrigerator/freezer combo is better than anything we’ve had so far, but we still can’t stock up from Costco (or any other store) the way we’d like to. Inevitably, we sometimes realize we’re approaching 5 o’clock and don’t have a dinner option. That means a quick run to the closest, but sadly not cheapest grocery store. It’s marginally more expensive for vegetables, and much more expensive for meats. Fish runs us nearly double. Meats are not only cheaper at Costco, but they come individually wrapped so it’s easier to just make the amount you want and save the rest. It’ll also save us some eating out dollars (and calories). Just last week I was going to make salmon for our dinner once the kids were asleep when I discovered we were completely out. I could muster the energy to cook, or go out, but not both.

After looking around I settled on the 10.6 Cubic foot GE Chest Freezer. It’s on sale ($359, down from $399) just about everywhere, which pushed the price below the “free shipping” threshold at a few different places. Of course the shipping cost was nearly double the sale discount. Of course. I ended up contacting BestBuy, and Home Depot to see if I could get the non sale and thus free shipping price before realizing Lowes had both the sale price and free shipping.

Initial Cost: $389.52 after taxes.
Ongoing Yearly Costs: $39.68 (218 kWh at 18.2 cents per kWh)

Assuming a super conservative estimate of $10 a week savings on food (equivalent of saving on just 1 dinner a week), we’d save ($10 – $39.68/52), or $9.24 a week. After 43 weeks the freezer will have paid for itself. A more optimistic guestimate savings of $20 a week on food means the freezer will have paid for itself in just 4 & 1/2 months.

February 15, 2016

Updating Playground Bag

Disclosure: This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links. I may earn a small commission with each affiliate link click. For more details please see my full disclosure about blog profit.

Nicole took a misstep today at the park playground. She lost her footing, fell two feet and hit her chin. Hard. Fortunately one of the other parents offers us some of their ice.

Nicole hasn’t been most adventurous climber. She was always more of a slides and swing type of girl. It’s only been the past few months that she’s really gotten into play structures, and this was her first real tumble. It never occurred to us to bring ice. It’s time to update the “diaper bag” to be a “playground bag”

Here’s what we’re Packing:

Icey We bring water to the park anyway. Now we’re packing them into a small insulated lunch bag with an icey. On days we don’t need the icey, it will keep the water bottles nice and chilled. Given that it’s February and almost 80 degrees here, that should come in handy!

Travel First Aid Kid. I love upcycling. (Who doesn’t?) When we put together the First Aid Kit I ended up getting the SBR-10 10 Compartmented Box as well. It makes a great travel first-aid kit. I doubt we’d ever need anything other than the band-aids, but I’ve found sometimes making a big production of tending to the owie helps distract us from the actual discomfort.

Other things I’ve included
– Target brand antibiotic cream (comparable to Neosporin)
– Target brand topical anti itch cream.
– Non perishable treats. You know, for the really bad owies. (Mostly because there was extra space in the box and nothing else seemed necessary.)

The box fits nicely under the passenger seat in my car which means all I need to pack for the park is that lunch bag with the icy.

February 9, 2016

Love

lovelove

When Nicole was born, I made refrigerator magnets out of her footprints. When Alexis was born, I took her handprints with the hopes of transferring them to a cookie plate for Santa. The end result was passable, but not great so I never posted a picture.

I really don’t like the idea of having something with Nicole’s newborn prints and not something with Alexis’. It messes with my sense of balance. I thought about making another refrigerator magnet with Alexis’ hand print but wasn’t overly excited with the idea. Since the move our refrigerator has been bare, and I kind of like it that way.

When this idea to incorporate both kids’ prints popped into my head I knew I just had to do it. It’s a image, created from scans of both prints, and then printed to scale on canvas. I just love, love, love how it turned out! The canvas does an excellent job of discussing the fact that those hand and footprints weren’t stamped directly onto it.

nicolefeet
Nicole’s newborn foot prints taken in July 2012, with the other letters (poorly) cloned out.

alexishand
Alexis’ newborn hand prints taken in December 2014.

For this canvas print I used MPix. I’ve always thought of them as “pricier”, but with the 25% off sale they were having at the beginning of the month, they were only slightly more expensive then the competitors. Totally worth it as the quality appears to be better. The canvas itself appears to be of higher quality, and it has silicon feet on the back to prevent scuffing on the wall. I can’t be more definitive on the print quality, other then to say I have no complaints. There’s no skin ton in this print, and that’s where I was disappointed with Shutterfly, and then again with Cafepress in the past.

loveprint

The canvas print measures 14 x 11. I used Segoe Script for the L & e, and Katheleen font for the girls names.

Now I just need to figure out where to hang it.

February 6, 2016

No Longer a Subscriber

I still like Amazon, but I am no longer a Subscribe and Saver.

On the 2nd (Tuesday) I was looking at my past orders dealing with another issue when I chanced upon a $20 place holder charge on my account for Lil Crunchies. (What is it with those?). The crunchies were supposed to come in my February shipment, and not due until the middle of the month. I immediately went to the “Your Subscribe & Save Items” view to manage my subscriptions and cancel those darn crunchies. Low and Behold under my February shipment Lil Chrunchies was listed for just $9, a much more reasonable price. I still had until the 7th (tomorrow) to cancel the order so I decided to see what would happen. When the price I was being charged still hadn’t change as of yesterday, I emailed customer support to ask what was going on. Basically, once the order shows up on your account, that’s the price you’ll pay, regardless of any price fluctuations or what the “Your Subscribe & Save Items” view says.

I admit I’m not a huge fan of Dynamic pricing. I do my best to use it to my advantage with price watching and have it work in my favor so it’s just a mild dislike. I take a significant issue with bait-and-switch. For the past couple of years that I’ve been using Subscribe and Save I always assumed the price listed on the current month’s shipment, the page that’s billed for “managing subscriptions”, is the price I was paying. What indication is there that this isn’t the case? I’d log in the day before or the day of to make sure the price hadn’t changed. It never occurred to be to double check my order history as well.

I hope I’ve never drastically over paid. I’m afraid to look, to be honest. I will be so frustrated to learn that I have.

This discovery also creates a considerable hurtle for my new app idea. The place holder orders are not guaranteed to be done on any one day. The Lil crunches order was placed at the start of the week. The paper towels order only showed up yesterday. In order to get an accurate idea of how much one would be charged, I’d need to know which day he or she was going to be charged for each individual item. That either means access to their order history, or putting a considerable burden on them to supply the information.

I’m not giving up on the app idea, but it definitely needs more time to germinate. In the mean time, I’m canceling all my Amazon subscriptions. Amazon’s prices are usually good, but not always. I find the few extra dollars I save per month is not worth the risk of drastically over paying. Not when I have other options like Target and Costco that are just as convenient.

February 5, 2016

A New Look

It finally happened. I got bored with my blog layout. I have never really liked the narrow format, but stuck with it because I enjoyed the header photo. Nearly two years have passed since I had taken that photo and it was filling me with more guilt than joy. I felt guilty that I was using one child’s photo and not the other, even though the time stamp of the image was the only way anyone would ever know which child the photo was of. It felt beyond time for a change.

The new layout isn’t much different from the old. I traded in the blue theme for a mostly black and white one, and adapted my blog tag line to reflect changes in lifestyle. For now I’m header photo-less, but I intend to change that with a self portrait as soon as I’m able to find the time to play with my camera and get a halfway decent photo I don’t hate.

I’ve been experimenting more and more with my camera phone. The end goal for my business is to move beyond webapps and into photography apps for the phone. I’m sure that when that happens I’ll want to share photos more publicly than I’ve been doing. At the same time it didn’t really feel right to open up my personal Instagram account, with all those kid photos, to the public. I post kid photos publicly here, sure, but there far more selective and curated. And small. I never upload anything beyond a 400px dimension photo. No accidentally readable street signs in my photos! I decided to create a second instagram account.

Since I don’t have a business identity yet, the new account is sarahktyler. I pledge that all photos uploaded on that account will be taken from my phone. Hopefully some time in the not too terribly distant future they’ll have been taken from my app, rather than the native camera app.

The numbers are in, January’s total income was $21.63. On the surface that’s a pretty average number, but the month started out at a crawl and ended with a bang. For the last nine days in January I earned $9.40 cents. That’s a per day rate of $1.04. I reached the dollar-a-day target and sustained it for over a week! I’d love to say it was something I did, but it appears I just got lucky.

I had two nice bumps in traffic, one from Reddit and another from Facebook. Both refers directed new visitors to my labor predictor. Overall 67% of my traffic was for the labor predictor, with another 24% on the Reading Ease Analyzer, leaving just 10% of the traffic for the rest of the apps. The Readability Ease Analyzer’s traffic is still down about 8%. At this point I think I have to assume it’s the new normal.

This month I wrote five new Apps:

Image Color Pallet – The tool finds the colors in an image using k-means clustering, and then applies color theory to find additional colors that complement the image. I plan to use it for my design projects. My Christmas cards tend to be monochromatic because I’m not very good at pairing colors. Now I can generate a color palette that complements of family photo. I hope it will also be useful from anything from everything scrapbooking to web design.

Name Blender – Take two names and combine it to find your celebrity couple name, or a unique name for a child. I came up with this idea when a friend told me he loved seeing what the Name Generator came up with because some of the names were clear combinations of two existing names. Like the Name Generator, the Name Blender uses a language model to generate natural flowing names. My personal favorite in Jenjamine (Benjamine + Jennifer.) Take that, Bennifer.

Name Explorer – A table view of the baby names from any past year. Each name is given a gender score (based on the number of males and females with the name), and popularity score. You can search for any manor of names: mostly feminine, truly gender neutral, pseudo-common, etc. You can even specify a substring to match names against if you have a specific sequence of characters you want in the name.

Personalized Savings Motivator – You give it a target amount, a save by date and it comes up with a plan for you to help you reach your target. It also tries to give you some personalized motivation (such as how much interest you could earn) to help motivate you to save.

Debt Repayment Accelerator – Enter the debt you have and you can calculate precisely how much a prepayment can save in terms of interest and time. It also shows you how much a refinance will save you over the course of a loan so you can decide if it’s worth the refinance fee.

Of the new apps, the Name blender is currently the most popular.

I also updated my writing assistant tools. You can now upload a plain text document, save, and resize the text window. If you click on another writing tool the text in the text window will be ported automatically. Thank you Brian for your suggestions!

My plan for February is to focus on new apps in new genres. Diversifying my app portfolio is the best way to guard against sudden dips in traffic. That way if one app, or one category of apps, become less popular I have others to generate revenue.