Archive for the ‘Internet & Technology’ Category

September 12, 2017

Going Private

The bigger the growth I have with datayze.com, the more I start thinking about privacy, and my current lack thereof. ICANN rules require domain contact information be public and accurate. Failure to abide by these rules could result in forfeiture of your domain which is not ideal for someone whose sole revenue is ad dollars generated from their website! But the bigger an audience my site draws, the greater the probability that it will draw someone who is a little too interested in me, personally, or my family. Do I really want my address and all my contact information public?

To combat this problem most registrars provide a proxy service for registration*, usually referred to as whois protection. Sometimes it’s free, sometimes it’s a nominal fee. Basically, the proxy acts as an intermediary. Instead of listing your personal contact information, you list the proxy service and they forward any communications they receive on your behalf to you. The contact information is still considered accurate, because inquires can reach you, but your specific details are never listed.

(*Side note, some top-level domains disallow the use of whois proxy services.)

There’s a bit of an online debate about whether whois protection is worth it.

A corporate address in the contact information is often viewed as more legitimate than a non-corporate address. For some, a proxy address is the least legitimate of all. A P.O. box could substitute for a corporate address, but then I’d have to remember and exert the physical energy to check it. There are some online services that will convert a physical address to an email one by scanning mail into PDFs and mailing it to you. That would be a preferred option, but the price is currently a bit high for me.

I use a google voice to hide my phone number, which is like a proxy, but does nothing to help obscure my physical address which I’m most concerned about. Datayze has used the services of a whois proxy since it was first registered. If it’s negatively affecting me, it’s not enough to prohibit growth. I decided I’m earning enough now that the nominal price of the whois protection across all my sites is a reasonable price to pay for the peace of mind it brings.

Maybe someday I’ll grow large enough to warrant an actual office space. Until then, this will do.

February 15, 2017

Soft Focus Phone Troubles

While artistic, that soft focus in the above photo was not intentional. That’s what the front camera on my phone was able to capture of my standing still child.

I started noticing problems with my front camera back around Thanksgiving. I waited downstairs for the girls to come see the trees all lit up the morning after Thanksgiving, eager to capture the expressions on their faces when they first caught sight of the trees. Most of the photos turned out blurry, as though there was a film on the camera lens. I chalked it up to poor lighting. Since then, the photos on my front camera continue to be hit or miss. Even in full daylight. Even when the subject is standing still.

I’m currently using an iPhone 6, which is a couple months older than Alexis. I went with an upgraded memory hoping to get more than the standard two years out of my phone. (Or at least, not have to delete stuff in a mad panic because I wanted to take more photos with my phone and was out of space.) It may have been optimistic on my part to think the memory limitations was the only thing holding me back.

In any case, I now find myself with a dilemma. To upgrade, or not to upgrade?

I’m about half way though the upgrade cycle. On the one hand, the iPhone 8 will likely be one heck of an upgrade, to mark the 10 year anniversary, and that includes a substantial upgrade to the camera equipment. If I replace my iphone now, it’ll already be outdated in just 7ish short months. On the other, do I really need a $1,000 phone? And that would mean another 7ish months of bury kid photos.

My inclination is to wait. Maybe they’ll be a good sale on a 7 if the 8 does prove to be $1,000, and too rich for my blood. In the mean time, I’ll have to use my big girl camera a little more. It’s also overdue for an upgrade, as I’m 170,985 shutter actions on a body that’s only rated for 100,000 shutter actions. So far though, no loss in image quality that I can detect.


Same outfit as above. Background photo on my phone taken with my big girl camera.
December 6, 2016

Let’s Talk Metrics

The monthly progress and income reports have proven to be a great motivational tool over the past year. There have been times that I get too focused in the minutia, and minor dips can feel like major back steps. By keeping monthly totals it’s been easier to see the true progress I’ve been making. Not all metrics are created equal, and some are better at showing the current progress and potential growth.

By far, the best metric I’ve found for tracking growth is Weekly Search Result Clicks, the number of times someone has found my website by clicking on a search result. One of the advantages to Search Results Clicks is that it’s largely independent. What one user clicks on has minimal effect on what another will do1. That makes it easier to see trends. Referral and Social Media Traffic can spike depending on who is sharing the URL and when. I’ve found that if Weekly Search Result Clicks is on the rise, referral and social media traffic will likely follow suit, but that spikes in Social or Referral Traffic generally don’t lead to changes in Weekly Search Result Clicks.

In general I favor tracking users over revenue as revenue is highly dependent on revenue strategy. For example, in November I had twice as many mobile users as desktop users. Almost no mobile users used an ad blocker, where 20% of desktop users did. Despite that, mobile users accounted for 53% of my monthly revenue. Said another way, mobile users are generating approximately 40% less than comparable desktop users. My mobile ad strategy is not working! Changing ad networks could, in theory at least, generate vastly different amounts of revenue. No users means no revenue regardless of strategy.

The other drawback to relying on the revenue metric, especially if you rely on advertising dollars, is that revenue is likely influenced by macro factors that may not be visible to you. Advertisers tend to pay more in the the final quarter of the year then they do initially. They pay more when the economy is strong and consumer spending is high, than when the economy is weak and consumer spending is low. If you’re using an ad network, the cut and quality of the network can fluctuate. If you’re relying on revenue as an indicator of success it may be hard to see the signal in the noise.

Revenue is still an important metric, to be sure. I wish I had had more insight into how much revenue I could realistically expect to make before taking the self-employment plunge. I probably would devoted a little more of my free time, slept a little less, and neglected my household chores a little more than I already do.

Here’s hoping revenue increases before I run out of revenue. The search result click metric is strong, so hopeful a new mobile revenue model will give me a much needed revenue jolt.

1. User behavior can influence search result rankings. If more users click on your website in the search results the search engine may view their behavior that your website is a good result and may boost it’s ranking for future queries.

July 20, 2016

SEO Initial Steps

Once or twice a week for the past several years I get the same spam email. They usually start out with a bit of flattery “We found that you have excellent services and products and your business has a great potential” before diving into the point “The issue on which I would like to bring your attention to is, the inadequate traffic and visitors on your website which is affecting your ranking and in turn the revenue.” They then list a couple of reasons why my site might not be ranking well in the search engine.

Being a believer in focusing on good content first (if you build it they will come), I’ve never really been on board with the whole search engine optimization concept. To me, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) always felt like a shady short cut. I realize now that that’s a pre-2000s way of thinking about it. Content is still king, but with trillions of pages out there, there’s a lot of good content out there to get lost in. (And really, the importance of SEO should have been obvious to me given my issues with search result descriptions, but I digress.) Here’s what I’ve been working on.

Validation

The easy first step was HTML Validation which probably doesn’t matter much, but is a good practice anyway.

To WWW or not to WWW

Some search engine experts recommending choosing to express all your links with the www (e.g. “http://www.datayze.com”) or without (e.g. “http://datayze.com”). The theory goes that using both forms of the URL can make a domain appear to have twice as many pages, and consequently, half as many backlinks to any one page. I am not sure how much I buy this argument. While it’s true that “http://www.domain.com” and “http://domain.com” page contents could be different, it’s standard practice that they are the same, and an easy enough for a search engine to verify. Anything that is common practice really shouldn’t hurt you much when it comes to ranking. Google’s stated goal is to serve you the best content, after all, not the most technically correct sites.

Then again, what do I know? I’m the one with the site not ranking well. It’s a simple fix, and “http://datayze.com” looks cleaner and more modern to me.

Sitemaps

This one ended up being a non-necessary headache. I expected Google to find the new pages relatively quickly since there was a 1-to-1 correspondence with the pages on the previous domain that google already knew about. When google didn’t index the new pages after a week, I decided a site map couldn’t hurt. Only I forgot about my ‘www’ prefix choice. My site map included the ‘www’ prefix on all URLs, which meant it was including only URLs that were 301 redirecting.

It appears that as google detects a 301 redirects it removed the redirected URLs from its index in favor of the new target URL. On the webmaster portal it showed me the ratio of indexed pages from the site map to the number submitted. As the URLs with the ‘www’ prefix got pulled from the index, that ratio of submitted to indexed pages grew more and more unbalanced. It wasn’t until the sitemap view showed 0 pages indexed that I finally realized the error of my ways, adjusted my sitemap to include the non-www URLs instead and everything returned to normal.

At least This mistake doesn’t appear to have negatively impact my rankings.

As I checking the google index for my domain, I noticed that google had opted to index more than just the pages I had requested. It was also indexing some paramaterized URLs.

nameuniqueness

The above search results are for the paramatertized Name Uniqueness Analyzer where the name is set to Carolynn and Lydiah. Most likely google discovered those paramatertized URLs through the Name Generator, which, when generating rare names, creates a link to the Name Uniqueness Analyzer. Carolynn and Lydiah were given to 46 and 16 babies respectively.

Google can’t discover a URL it’s never seen. Thus google does not know Carolyn is also a valid parameter to the Name Uniqueness Analyzer, because there is no link to it anywhere on my site.

I updated my sitemap to include common parameters to the more popular apps. Maybe this will generate some more traffic for me.

Next Steps

One of the things I need to work on is a responsive, mobile friendly design. It’s good timing. Along with my viewpoint on SEO, I think my splash page is also looking a bit dated.

Well that didn’t take too long. After dwelling on it, and dwelling on it, and dwelling on it, I think I’ve finally found the a name and it’s perfect.

Actually I came up with a few. Over the past month whenever I came up with a name I thought would be a possible solution I went ahead and registered it. I didn’t want to get burned like I did when I wanted to purchase my own name as a dotcom. Back in 2004 “styler.com” was the only form of my name that wasn’t available. Since I was so used to using my middle initial I decided to go with “sktyler.com”. By the time I realized I wanted “sarahtyler.com” someone had already registered it. Lesson learned: grab a possible domain name when it’s available!

Now that I’ve picked which name I’m going to go with, it’s time to release the others.

The first name I came up with was Dattaticks.com. My niche right now is all about data, and data munging to get interesting results. “Data Ticks” to me invokes an image of processing and graphing data. It fit well. The name DataTicks.com was registered only last November but currently points no where. All things being equal I would have gone with DataTicks.com if it were available.

DataLemma.com. Lemma is a mathematical term and linguistics term so it appealed to both my Math Geek and Word Nerd sides. In Math it’s a intermediate theorem or “helping” theorem. The phrase invokes to me the image of mathematical “helping” apps. The only drawback I see to this name is it’s highly geeky and not very approachable for every day users.

Since I’m not currently planning on using those names I decided to put them up on the NameCheap marketplace for $20 and $50 respectively. The price reflects what I think the name is worth. (Hey, it took me a ridiculous number of hours to come up with those! I am saving someone that time.) If by the time you’re reading this the auction is over but you still want the name and it’s still avaliable, message me and I’ll put it back up.

The third name I registered but never intended to make my company name is DataLies.com. One of the names I fell in love with was Datalyze.com, the combination of Data + Analyze. The DotCom was already registered, as was the Org, Net and the British spelling variants Datalize. The only name available was the .cc. I strongly considered it, but when test marketing it to none technical people they kept hearing “data lies”. I was shocked that DataLies was still available. This is an excellent blog name for disputing pseudo science people! I’m not sure when I’ll have time for another blog, but I couldn’t resist and snapped it up.

As for the name I did go with, that will be revealed soon. It’s probably a safe bet that it has the word “Data” in it though.

June 11, 2016

Thwarting Adblockers

When I started tracking adblockers on my site I didn’t have much of an intuition how common adblockers were, or how much it was affecting my bottom line. As a one person company, I have limited time to throw at any one problem so these types of questions always warrant an investigation to see if it’s worth my time and effort. If ad blockers were used by a small enough percentage of my audience, I would ignore the issue and focus on writing new apps.

Initially I came up with an arbitrary threshold of an acceptable amount of ad blocking. As long as adblocking was less than 15% of my traffic, my bottom line would remain mostly intact. Actually, the first number in my head was 10%, but I bumped it up after it appeared 12% of my ads were being blocked. There was no real reason behind either number, just intuition. The first time the percentage of blocked ads rose above 15% I decided to look the other way. Maybe 17% was a more reasonable number. Than I had my first 20% ads blocked day, followed by my first 40% day, and finally a day over 50%. The bandwidth I was paying for to host the webapps was costing me more than the money I was earning from them. Forget earning money, it was costing me money! Ignoring the problem was no longer an option.

Thankfully my Ad blocking detection script was generating a fair amount of data. I had replaced those “console.log” calls with google analytics event recordings, so I could generate a fairly extensive profile of just who was using adblockers.

I wasn’t surprised to see that adblocking was more common on desktop than mobile browsers. I think that’s pretty common knowledge these days. What caught me off guard was the stark divide between weekend behavior and weekday behavior. Even accounting for browser type, adblocking was nearly non existent on the weekends. Digging further I learned some corporate networks block ads as a matter of policy.

Penalize the user for their network administrator’s policy didn’t seem like the right course of action. Yes, blocking ads are against my terms of service, but what choice did they have? They have no control over their coprorate’s network policy and I’m more likely to incure their ire than get any positive benefit from blocking them. I opted to go a different route.

I opted to show different, unblockable ads that address many concerns that advocates of adblocking raise.

When google adsense is blocked, I now serve static image & text ads to Amazon. Because the only javascript running is javascript I wrote, rather than a third party script, there is no additional security concern. Nor is their an extra strain on resources beyond what running my apps would cause anyway. No third party involvement also means no additional privacy concerns. The new ad policy that addresses the objections of most people who use ad blockeres. That sounds like a win-win in my book!

If you want to see the Amazon ads used, but don’t have an adblocker, you can always check them out here. As always, I welcome feedback.

One of the things that I think is holding my business back is the lack of a good name/corporate identity. I track my incoming links pretty closely, and I’ve noticed a tendency for users to be more trusting for websites that look corporate rather than personal. That’s bad news for me as my business name is my name.

Frustration is finding a perfect name, and discovering it had been registered just days before you came with it.

When my search was coming up incredibly short, I started thinking about branching out from the standard dotcom/commercial names. The past couple of years has seen an Explosion in new top level domain names. These are corporate sponsored (application prices started at $185,000). The expansion of new domain names was build as good to companies as they could have greater control over their brand, and good for consumers since there would be more choices. I’ve always been a little skeptical of additional top level domain (gTLD) names – (how often can two corporate identities succeed while have the same name?) – but I now have a new reason to be skeptical. There may be more domain names technically available, but that doesn’t mean there are more functionally available.

As I was thinking about the domain names, I came across the .space extension. How cool would data.space be? And it wasn’t already registered! To my dismay I realized that even though it was unclaimed, it would cost me at least $5,000-$6,5000 A Year.

To back track a little, the price for a new dotcom domain (if you can find one) is relatively low at around $10. That’s because there are thousands of registrars who can offer dotcom names and competition is a consumer’s best friend. Competition puts pressure on registrars to keep their prices low. Some registrars will register what they consider premium domains so they can resell them for a higher fee, but there’s nothing from keeping a customer from transferring between registers once they acquire the domain to keep the future years’ pricing down.

Registrars who wish to sell dotspace domains need to be accredited through Radix. Radix, a for profit entity, can set the price as they see fit, and has decided to set the price relative to what they think a domain is worth. Sarah.space would also be 5k/year. Piano.space would be $1k/year. The much less cool Datam.space would only be $10 a year. As the company who applied for the dotspace gTLD from ICANN, Radix has full control.

This discovery has me a little nervous about trusting new (gTLD). While the expectation is for the price of these domains to come down, there’s no guarantee. There’s no guarantee the price wouldn’t rise in the future. It’s a risk I’m not willing to take when it’s already so difficult to build a brand.

It’s back to the drawing board for me. I’m currently considering a phonetic spelling of a dotcom name I like, but is registered and unused. At least there will be some cost certainty.

I recently came across this new camera roll app for IOS that not only clusters photos based on subject matter, but computes an “ascetic score” and can show you your most ascetically pleasing photos. As someone who has 4,939 photos on her phone, and a love of machine learning, I had to give it a try.

My most aesthetically pleasing photo this month is… drumroll

nail
A nail sticking out of the floor which I have caught my foot on way too many times. I took this photo so I could show the kind folks at home depot what I was talking about. It just will not stay down no matter how many times I hammer it!

I disagree. I mean it’s a fine nail and all, but my most aesthetically pleasing photo? Adding insult to injury, the nail in the floor board photo only received an ascetic score of 71%.

The clustering results were mixed. Most of the time I’d get a several clusters of what I’d consider to be the same subject matter. Admittedly, it’s more handy to scroll through effectively ten photos rather than hundreds. In scrolling through the curated roll I found cute photos I had forgotten I had taken. But the other kind of fail, when photos are clustered that shouldn’t be, is much less forgivable. When the app fails, it fails big time.

Take the following example:

ac

bd

In the above photos, photo A was in a cluster with similar photos, while B, C, and D were clustered together. B & C I can understand; their different children but the same general framing, although A & C are closer in framing. I would prefer A & B to be a cluster, but wouldn’t mind A, B & C. And D? What the heck happened there? Also the respective image ascetic scores are 38%, 38%, 36% and 24%. While I wouldn’t use them to showcase my work, I do think they beat nail-in-floor-board. Except maybe photo D. I have no idea what I was going for there.

Me being me, I set out to reverse engineer the algorithm and see if I could figure out what is happening.

It appears that photos are being clustered based primarily on the timestamp. Cluster B, C and D’s photos were taken from 9:16 – 9:17, where as Cluster A’s photos were taken at 9:18. It appears that a photo is added to the current cluster if it’s tags are similar to the photos in that cluster, otherwise a new cluster is formed. There’s no interleaving. As a result, visually similar photos are sometimes buried distributed in different clusters. “Buried” might be a better term, if visually different photos have a higher ascetic score and are used as the key example from the cluster. For example, the top photo in B, C and D’s cluster is another photo of Alexis. This an undesirable feature is made extra bad by the fact that the app offers to delete “visually similar” (i.e. the less ascetically pleasing photos in the cluster.) That would mean all photos of Nicole by the flowers.

I can’t help but wonder how I would have clustered the photos. My first instinct was also to use the timestamp, however, I would allow for clusters to interleave. When taking photos I don’t decide to take photos of one child in the swing, switch to the other child on the slide, and then call it done. I usually go back and forth between the girls with my attention. Clearly Photos B & A should be in the same cluster, even though D was taken after B but before A.

My next instinct was to cluster photos based on color similarity. Putting the above four photos through my Image Color Pallet app I get the following pallets:

colorcomparephotos

Photos A & B have identical color pallets. Photo C is very similar, but has a blue cluster in place of the pink cluster, as the two girls are wearing different color jackets. Photo D, on the other hand, is very different. Clustering based on color pallets would put A & B in the same cluster, and possibly add photo C depending on the sensitivity threshold.

While aesthetics can be a bit subjective, I was delighted to find a few research papers on the topic of creating an algorithmic base approach to predicting how aesthetically pleasing an image is. This knowledge will come in handy for the photograph apps I’m working on!

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 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.

Older Posts »