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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August 7th, 2008 by john andrews

Geek Alert: Gotta Love this Industry

Sometimes it’s the small things in life that matter. A few months ago my favorite hacker Dan Kaminsky discovered a fundamental flaw in the design of the Internet. it can be exploited by almost any hacker out there, and he made the effort to manage the politics of cooperation behind the scenes with major corporations and institutions, hoping to come up with a fix before word got out. Oh and it was not that easy, because any patch would by definition highlight the flaw. As Dan acknowledges, this flaw was known previously to be a weakness… but warnings were not given adequate respect. Probably the biggest news about the flaw was the concept of the top technical IT people in the world having to quickly work together, in a-political stealth mode, to come up with a fix. This was probably the largest scale problem the Internet has seen to date.

Even more geekly interesting is the way the “birthday paradox” rears it’s ugly head with the fix, meaning even if everyone executes the fix, we still have a problem that needs to be designed out of the system in the future. The Birthday Paradox is that wierd statistical fact that, in any room of 23 people, statistically speaking, it is likely that two people will have the same birthday. It always seems like a remarkable coincidence to our human minds that 2 people have the exact same birthday, but it just takes 23 people to make the odds better than chance. In this case, the fix for the DNS flaw Kaminsky highlighted relies on the random selection of a number. Since there is a finite pool of numbers to pick from, if a hacker also guesses and does it enough times at the same time, she ends up running 50/50 odds of landing on the correct number. Not too shabby, if the prize is control of the Internet.

Cool, geeky, and relevant stuff. But that’s not the “little thing” that made me spit my coffee across the Starbucks table this morning. It was the second comment posted to the IT news website where Dan Kaminsky’s work addressing this major Internet flaw was reported. A link to the Youtube video of Kaminsky explaining the ever-so-techy topic, in front of a small typically-geeky tech audience, which is visible to the camera. The commenter had this to add to the conversation:

Geek Alert: Dan Kaminsky on the DNS Bug of 2008…Would you bang the chick on the front row?

You gotta love this world we live, work, and play in. Video below… you can check out the chick for yourself.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0dHDD9fFM4]
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August 5th, 2008 by john andrews

Another Security Breech – CLEAR

Another example of the fast and loose behavior of today’s wanna be businesses comes with the CLEAR program’s misplaced laptop computer. CLEAR is a security program sanctioned by the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). You may have seen the CLEAR people at airports, pitching their program as a fast-track through airport security. Similar to expedited border crossing programs like Nexus (US-Canadian border) and SENTRI (US-Mexican border) Trusted traveler programs, only owned and operated by a private company, CLEAR is supposed to be as secure as the normal border patrol process. Last week CLEAR “lost” a laptop with the personal information of 33,000 applicants to the security program. Several days later, the missing laptop was “found” in the same office where it was “lost”. The CEO said this:

“We don’t believe the security or privacy of these would-be members will be compromised in any way.”

but he didn’t elaborate on how that could be, address whether or not the data was encrypted, how the data is protected, etc. No audit trail, no explanation of where that laptop was for several days, and apparently no concern beyond getting past this ugly public relations incident. It seems obvious that someone with access to that office knows something about where the laptop went and how it came back, right? We can only hope that someone in our government will look into this breech of security and figue out why it happened and how it can be prevented in the future.

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August 4th, 2008 by john andrews

What is “Social Media Optimization” ?

For over a year maybe two I’ve seen “social media” highlighted in search marketing land, as if it were the next stage of SEO or SEM. Some called themselves “social media optimizers” and some tried to coin the term “SMO” for “Social Media Optimization”. Lately my impression is those selling their services as social media experts are simply calling themselves “social media consultants” and “social media experts” these days. Fine enough, but what exactly do they do for a living?

A long time ago we called such people “social butterflies”, because they flittered from place to place trying to basically know everyone and have everyone know them. They relied upon a base of social support for their success. “It’s not what you know, but who you know” applied, but so did the old adage that you would could replace 200 of these people with one person who actually knew how to do something and had the attention span required to actually do it. Sometimes I think that is the fuel of the disruptive technology startup – displace the slow incumbents, who not coincidentally employ most of the social butterfly employees. More than one person has pointed out that social media traffic has little value.

Opinion aside, what exactly is it that Social Media Experts do? Today, courtesy of TheNextWeb, we see that some sly trickery exploits a flaw in Feedburner, and enables you to inflate your subscriber counts quickly and easily for free. People are reporting going from 43 to 2500 subscribers overnight via this cheat. Is this a service offered by Social Media Optimizers? Is this what was behind the veil of secrecy for SMO… pay my fee and I’ll get you subscribers? Obviously subscriber counts are success metrics for online marketers. How many companies have paid for such services, and admired the resulting “success” as reflected by Feedburner subscriber counts which were actually scammed?

The cool part of this story is that … you got it… this can be checked retroactively. Companies that paid for such trickery without a clear stated understanding that it was a scam, can expect to see those inflated subscriber counts vanish as Google fixes the loophole. Will lawsuits ensue? I don’t see why not… a scam is a scam. If a consultant hacked a service to achieve metrics which she then sold as performance metrics to justify a client fee, she’s..well… a thief, basically. I suppose terms of engagement included disclaimers and acknowledgements that the web is fluid and backlinks (and subscribers) are not glued in place and can change at any time, but since this exploit is traceable I doubt those are valid excuses for scamming the client.

Good luck collecting a judgement, however. From what I have seen, many of these “social media experts” openly acknowledge they can’t afford $1000 registration fees for industry conferences, pimp their websites in the brokered paid links marketplace, and monetize their pages with aggressively plastered Google ads — arguably the lowest paying monetization plan on the planet. If they are willing to do so much for so little, they obviously don’t have deep pockets.

It’s not all bad for social media people. I think this is an excellent time for the real social media experts to state their value propositions… demonstrate their true value as consultants by responding to this industry event with details of what they actually do besides exploiting loopholes and gaming popularity rating systems like Digg. I have no doubt the good guys will shine once they present their valid cases for engagement. I’m also pretty sure we’re going to see a whole bunch of “experts” go back to their nanny jobs, their real estate associate positions, and their work-at-home article writing enterprises.

If you feel this post of mine was a call to action, please defend your position in the comments. I’d love to hear some quality discussion from people in the social media space. If you do, please remember I already know you can write well and are good at participating in “the conversation”, so please refrain from just responding for the sake of responding and try to actually say something meaningful, ok?

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