John Andrews is a Competitive Webmaster and Search Engine Optimization Consultant in Seattle, Washington. This is John Andrews blog on issues of interest to the SEO community and competitive webmasters. Want to know more?

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January 27th, 2008 by john andrews

Internet Activity Data: What’s it Worth?

I followed a link to RescueTime.com, a Web 2 ot Doh! application that keeps track of your time. You install a piece of spyware toolbar widget timer app, and RescueTime keeps an accounting of how long you are using a particular desktop application (like Word or Excel or Outlook) or web site (like Sphinn). I’m not sure I want to know how much time I spend on some web sites, but I do like the idea of capturing time (that is why I used Timeslips before I started to hate it).

This is what I clipped from the Privacy Policy assurance statement, which directs you to read the privacy policy:

“…the only thing we track is the names of the apps and sites you use and the times that you use them”

Um… is there anything else they could track? I mean, shy of taking screen shots of what I do or logging every keystroke I type (which reminds me, eBlaster  has been upgraded), they are recording a lot of personal activity data. What is that worth to you? A free time usage data logger?

It would take a lot more than a free time accounting widget for me to hand over tracking of every website I visit and when and for how long, every desktop application I use and when I use them, and perhaps most importantly how often, when, and how I use my computer and Internet connection. Using Skype? Vonage wants to know! Visiting Vonage.com via https? Skype wants you to know it’s cheaper! An active eBayer? Never use eBay?  Good to know! Downloading IRS forms? Spending time of PlentyOfFish? All good to know.

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November 28th, 2007 by john andrews

Rose Colored Glasses and Rose Colored Kool-Aide

Someone emailed me today and called me curmudgeon-y. So I looked it up. Grumpy old man. Hah. I am not that old, and I am not grumpy. And I dislike that SearchEngineLand has labeled it’s hard-core SEO blog roll as “Old Fart SEOs”. I like appearing there, but I don’t like the label. Yeah yeah, all in fun. I also go this email today after my last post:

Looks like you’re doing everything possible not to get invited to the “select” PubCon parties

I suppose my blog is not as “SEOMozy” as many search industry blogs. I read this comment on SEOMoz today :

Showering love on a community is one of the best ways to generate a reaction – it’s a win-win proposition for the author and the readers!

followed by this:

linking out and praising the community is a great way to generate buzz! Some quality links there too – everyone should check out the whole list.

and this:

As to this being one of the best communities – I’m totally in agreement. Particularly as far as the signal to noise ratio goes – this community has the highest signal and the least noise in the industry. Both in the blogposts and commentaries.

Really? Let’s all just praise each other and everything will be win-win for all of us, eh?

Well I come from a background in real research and hard core Engineering (Big E, not little “e” like all those Google “engineers” and “software engineers”). Accountability is built-in, not optional. And when everyone just says “everything’s positive”, it sets that stage for complacency, laziness, and other tools of deception. If in fact SEOMoz is the highest signal to noise ratio search industry community alive today (a claim I do not make), it is surely not because of a stellar signal to noise ratio. It might be because the politics of the search industry prevent a truly high signal to noise ratio community from thriving. Is that win-win?

What happens when everyone is rosy and everything is great and we all pat each other on the back and say “good job!” and nobody is curmudgeon-y? Well, in the news this week we see :

Last week, the UK government announced the biggest loss of personal information in the UK’s history. Two unencrypted computer disks containing the personal records of all families in the UK with a child under the age of 16 went missing en route from the Revenue and Customs department to the National Audit Office. UK’s Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, stated that, “[t]his is an extremely serious and disturbing security breach.”

The disks comprised Revenue and Customs’ entire collection child benefit payment data. The disks were being sent to the National Audit Office using an internal courier system, but documentation of the transmission was not recorded or registered. The child benefit data listed on the disks includes name, address, date of birth, National Insurance number and, where relevant, bank details of 25 million people. Revenue and Customs chairman Paul Gray resigned after the announcement of the breach.

That’s financial and personal data on every family in the UK with a child under 16, lost to accountability. Over 25 million people were legally required to hand over personal information and bank account information to their government, and that government shipped the data around unencrypted, unscheduled, untracked, and lost it. Based on the comments made by the government officials, including the one that resigned immediately, that same government assumes it is the hands of criminals. And the follow up is they plan to limit what they collect next time, but include your biometrics. Let me ask you this — can you revoke your biometric? Is it physically possible for you to get a re-issue of your biometric if it is stolen? And this will be better?

What’s going on? We can assume that if criminals wanted that data, it is valuable. The system keeps going, and you lose.

Complacency. Things are ok. It’s win-win. Everything’s good. That curmudgeon-y guy who was complaining  last year about having to hand over personal data for central archiving, with no legal assurances for protection? Just an old fart, probably.

A few years ago every complaint about Google was labeled a conspiracy theory. Posters who cautioned of trusting Google were labeled “contrarians” and said to wear “tin foil hats”. AdSense was buying webmaster loyalty for pennies on the dollar. Now, in 2007, things have changed. I won’t point to some of the available information sources I have now, because they are ridiculously irresponsible. Want to know every domain ever registered by PUT-YOUR-FAVORITE-SEO-HERE? It comes cheap today. Want to find out the affiliate tiering of PUT-YOUR-FAVORITE-AFF-MARKETER-HERE, with her upline and downline? It can be had for pennies on the dollar compared to its value. The public tools for competitive intelligence are a joke compared to what can be had through “channels”, and what Google has because you all give it to Google for pennies on the dollar.

But this is the competitive SEO/Search marketing industry. What about us?

Is it possible to knock someone’s web site down in the SERPs without their involvement? No, of course not, right? Everything’s good, everything’s ok. Good job all around. And when a business is knocked out and loses 65% of the traffic it had, what then? That loser should have diversified, right? Big mistake keeping all the eggs in one basket, right? And of course no accountability for why Google dropped the site. If your search marketing contract is worth $100k per year, and generates $1million in client revenue, is it worth $25k to knock you out?  That’s $100k in Chinese money, and much more in other currencies in locations where very talented people operate computers attached to the Internet. Services can be procured.

The majority of my professional work involves working with corporations that hired advertising and marketing and SEO agencies but soon found themselves stuck with unexpected dependencies, large bills, ill-defined contracts, and Internet performance below expectations. My work is very positive — identify the fluff, trim the fat, help the corporation find the loopholes and hold the providers accountable for the initial goals and objectives. It is interesting and challenging work, to say the least. If you are a search marketer or SEO chances are good that I am on the other side of one of your contracts, helping your client to help you do your best work, while they adapt to help provide you with what you need to do your best work. The goal is success, as it was supposed to be when you were hired.

So keep doing good work and working hard. In the mean time keep asking the hard questions, and reconsider how quickly you might be “rewarding” those in our community who “showering love on the community”. Word on the street is, there’s an agenda being played. Did you know?

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March 29th, 2007 by john andrews

Google Finds Unregistered Whois Data

A few weeks back I was Matt Cutts Watching when I noticed he was participating in a Law Bloggers meeting. Mental note made; move on. Now I see Matt report from his blog about the Bay Area Blawgers meeting. Best bit: Matt notes how the US Copyright Office houses a database of domain names associated with registrations for Online Service provider status. In order to technically qualify for the Safe Harbor provisions of the DMCA, a company or web site must register with the copyright office. That registration costs $80, and includes a place to name the business and list alternative names for the business. In other words, it’s a self-registered list of domain names owned/operated by a legal entity, identified in the public records.

Now Matt didn’t identify it as such… that’s what you need me for :-) Matt simply commented on how Kurt Opsahl of the Electronic Frontier Foundation polled the table about DMCA takedown notices, and pointed out how easy it was to register as an Online Service Provider. But if I were Matt, and that was news to me, I would take a look at that US Copyright web site and when I saw page after page of webmasters listing all of their “other domains” I would say aaaahhhhh…. and fire off an email to a junior Googler to “organize this information”.

If you look around the US Copyright filings for Online Service Provider you will see many, many webmasters listing dozens or more domains under one registration. Some of the big boys also list domains together, while others seem to register single domains. Warner Bros Entertainment for example listed entertaindom.com and conspiracytheory.com, which have WHois records assigned to Warner Entertainment, but they also included orgymusic.com on the same registration form, which has a Whois registrant of Astro America, LLC in San Francisco. Nice find for Google, as this allows Google to associate orgymusic.com with Warner Brothers when, based on Whois alone, that was not obvious public knowledge. That’s just one example for you.

I am sure it would be fun to dig around the site further, but I don’t have time. Besides, Google can make it searchable and cross-reference-able, which would be MUCH easier the scanned PDFs. I am sure Google could ask for this information direct from the copyright office in electronic form,or perhaps make a trade of indexing for access. In many cases this makes a nice addendum to Google’s efforts to associate web sites to each other and webmasters to web sites (via email address at the very least, names and legal representatives, etc). Right now it looks like mostly big corps and adult web sites, but it seems clear that this is a likely addition to the legal requirements for web publishers and so … another tool for Matt’s Top Secret Spam Fighting VPN-connected laptop computer!

I just hope that when Google organizes this part of the world’s information, it makes it accessible to all of us and not just the competitive teams inside Google. Maybe that’s a good idea for the Copyright office… if you give away our data, require that the indexed form also be freely available to the public? Maybe a Taxpayers Content License or something?

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John Andrews is a mobile web professional and competitive search engine optimzer (SEO). He's been quietly earning top rank for websites since 1997. About John

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