The Problem With Promoted Tweets

Twitter logoPromoted Tweets are Twitter’s way of raising revenue. I cannot really fault them for creating a way to make money on a service that everyone can use for free. However, it seems like I’m getting more Promoted Tweets that do not match my interests than ones that do.

One very clear example of Promoted Tweets gone wrong involves a religious online university. The first Promoted Tweet I saw from them seemed to be trying to point out where I could get more information about their upcoming courses.

I replied to their Promoted Tweet to tell them that I was not their target audience. I noted that I was not the religion they were connected with. I said I had no children (so wouldn’t be putting them through college). I even told them that I had finished college and wasn’t intending to go back. Of course, I shortened my tweet so as to fit it within Twitter’s 140 character limit.

A couple of days later, there was another Promoted Tweet in my stream from the exact same religious online university. I found this to be annoying. This is when I realized that there is no “opt-out” button to prevent unwanted Promoted Tweets. I replied to the religious online university again. This time, I made it clear that I had already told them that I was not interested, and that I had no other choice now except to block them.

The information on Twitter’s Promoted Tweets page says that it is possible to target which accounts will see your Promoted Tweet based on geography, interests, gender, or by what mobile device the person uses to access Twitter. Maybe the university decided to just “spam” all of Twitter, instead of refining their target?

It also says that people who buy a Promoted Tweet only pay for engagement:

Since you only pay when people click on, favorite, reply, or retweet your Promoted Tweets, your budget gets used efficiently on Twitter.

This means that the university is paying for the two negative replies I sent to its Promoted Tweets. I’ve also gotten a Promoted Tweet from the governor of a state that I do not live in (and whose political views I don’t happen to agree with). I got another from a Senator who doesn’t represent my state or my political viewpoints. I’m certainly not following any of those accounts, so I cannot imagine why I’ve been targeted to see their Promoted Tweets.

So, that’s four Promoted Tweets that do not seem to be for me. Compare that to the one Promoted Tweet I got from a company that makes gluten free foods (and whom I am following). To me, it seems that Promoted Tweets are ineffective.

Oh Apple, Splendid Acephalous

We’ve all seen the pattern and can recognize it. Successful organization has successful charismatic leader. Something happens to remove successful charismatic leader from organization. Then, organization looses coherence and suffers, or worse. This seems to be a very common pattern that occurs with most leaders and most organizations.

Even Mom and Pop restaurants suffer this fate. Restaurant does great as long as Mom and Pop are directly involved. Once Mom and Pop are removed (or remove themselves) from the picture, the business is never the same and may well fail.

When Sam Walton died back in 1992, I was certain that Walmart as an organization would probably either suffer some sort of meltdown or even outright failure. I turned out to be wrong. The thing that Sam Walton was highly effective at was that he was able to inspire as many of his employees as possible to make his dream of Walmart their own dream and put something of themselves into making that dream happen. With this structure, the organization did not depend on Sam Walton as its motivating identity force. Sam Walton inspired his employees to make their own success of Walmart.

Steve Jobs did exactly the opposite. Steve Jobs set himself up as THE motivating entity at Apple, with everything revolving around him. He not only was the primary motivating force for his employees, but incredibly this sense of identity also extended to customers. Steve was able to take Apple to heretofore unknown heights.

Unfortunately, it all depended on his continued existence.

Oh Apple, Splendid Acephalous

Corpulence Unmatched, Clinging To Dysfunction

Best Of Everything

Alas, No One Now To Point The Way

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7” Inch Widescreen Tablet

Over the Christmas holiday my nephew showed up at my house with an Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7” Inch tablet. My Mom, who just turned 88, ended up playing with it and decided she wanted one. So, we stopped by Best Buy and picked one up.

I spent some time adding free apps from the Amazon Android Market that I knew my parents would like, such as Accuweather, News Hog, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox News Channel, recipe apps, etc.

What followed over the next few days was surprising. Of course my Mom started using it right away, but what surprised me was that my 79-year-old Dad started using the Kindle as much as my Mom uses it. Mom has used a computer for a number of years. Dad has played around with computers but never did much with them. Dad made the observation that the Kindle was a lot easier to use than a regular computer.

I have had an iPad for a long while now and my parents have been around it, but they’ve never used it much. The Kindle is a different story. Perhaps they felt more at ease since they own the Kindle, but I think there’s more to it than that. I believe the Amazon Kindle Fire HD has a better, friendlier user interface than the iPad has. The Kindle Fire HD presents app icons in a very large format on a revolving carousel that the user simply swipes through. It didn’t take long at all for them to begin to remember which of these large icons start which apps.

Another advantage the Kindle Fire HD has over the iPad is better, much louder sound. My parents are a bit hard of hearing, yet the Kindle Fire HD is able to get plenty loud enough for them to be able to easily hear, even in a noisy environment. The iPad isn’t capable of getting nearly as loud.

The $199 Kindle Fire HD 16 gigabyte (as well as the larger 8.9” inch version) comes bundled with a free month of Amazon Prime, which includes Amazon Prime streaming videos. Mom ended up easily figuring out how to stream videos and liked it so well she went ahead and subscribed.

The 7” inch widescreen seems to be just the right size for them. It is easy for them to handle, yet large enough for them to be able to see and manipulate the multi-touch screen.

The Kindle Fire HD has a dual core processor and gives great battery life. The apps are very responsive and there is never any lag.

If I were going to buy a tablet today, I would give strong consideration to a Kindle Fire HD. For $199 for the 7” inch and $299 for the 8.9” inch, Amazon is giving a tremendous amount of value and performance for the money.

The only downside that I can see is that the Kindle Fire HD doesn’t have a built-in GPS chip, nor any native mapping apps, so mapping on it is currently limited. However, for $199, it’s easy to overlook the lack of GPS. The WiFi-only versions of the iPad don’t have built-in GPS either.

The Kindle Fire HD has a forward facing camera for use with apps such as Skype, but no rear-facing camera. That’s not much of an issue for me since I rarely use the rear-facing camera in my iPad, but it might be for other people.

Now, if I can just get my parents to give up their flip-phone for a smartphone…

Zynga is Doomed

Zynga recently released a “preliminary financial results” report that isn’t a happy one. In short, the company said it is expecting to earn quite a bit less this quarter than it did last quarter. That’s never good news for a company, and is the opposite of what investors want to hear. I’m not actually surprised by this news, though, because I’ve been of the belief that Zynga is doomed for quite some time now.

In my opinion, Zynga made a fatal mistake by connecting their games so intrinsically to Facebook. Want to play that Farmville game you have heard so much about? You can’t, unless you have a Facebook account. People who do not have a Facebook account cannot play any Zynga games at all, even if they go to Zynga.com. No Facebook account means no Zynga games for you. This limits their potential market to only the people who currently have an account on Facebook.

Yes, there are thousands of people who use Facebook. Not all of them are gamers, though. There are plenty of people who use Facebook to connect with family, or to chat with friends from high school, and who have zero interest in playing games. This limits Zynga’s potential market even further.

What about the people who are on Facebook and who do like playing games? This brings up another problem. You cannot advance in any of Zynga’s games without posting something on your Facebook page that asks your friends to send you virtual goods. This dynamic tends to cause a lot of frustration in gamers who cannot get enough of their Facebook friends to participate. In my experience, this is one of the biggest reasons why people stop playing Zynga games.

Post too many of those requests, and you will annoy your Facebook friends with what I have referred to as “Zynga Spam”. Seeing a wall of Spam, day after day, is an effective way to make a person who had a small interest in playing Zynga’s games lose all appetite for it – before they even start playing. There goes more of Zynga’s potential market.

There is a feature in Facebook that allows people to filter what they see from their Facebook friends. It isn’t difficult to select a particular friend and filter out all of their game related posts. Just like that, Zynga loses the ability to reach people who might, one day, want to try Farmville.

What’s left is a group of loyal players. The next problem with Zynga’s marketing strategy involves a series of “nag screens”. You can play Farmville for free, but you won’t get to play it until after you click through a series of pop-ups asking for money.

Buy a special item, that will only be around for a limited time! Not everyone wants to spend real world money on virtual goods. Those that do have to stop playing the game long enough to get out their credit card and put in their information. This dramatically drops the chance that people will make an impulse buy, because Zynga has given them three or four clicks to think about whether or not it is worth spending money on. Zynga shot itself in the foot when it connected with Facebook, and has since continued to take aim at each of its toes.

Facebook Could Do Better

It isn’t unusual for Facebook to change things around. In general, these changes tend to annoy users of Facebook for a while, and we all complain, and then eventually adjust to the new look. An example of this phenomena happened when Facebook changed everyone’s pages to the new Timeline format.

A rash of blogs hit the internet warning people that they really should go delete old photos, posts, and even comments that they put on Facebook several years ago, (and now would find embarrassing), before Timeline went into affect. The fear, I suppose, was that Timeline would make it a lot easier for people to scroll through your Facebook page and read and view things that you had long since forgotten about.

Recently, it appears that Facebook has started preventing some comments from being posted. A box pops up titled: “This Comment Can’t Be Posted”.

Why not? It is because the comment is considered to be “irrelevant or inappropriate” by the automated system that Facebook is using to prevent spam. Some people feel that this is a form of censorship. Others have gone to different social media websites, such as Google + to make comments about their comment being denied on Facebook.

Facebook recently updated its mobile Messenger app to include something else that might make some users feel uncomfortable. When you use the updated version of the app to send a message as part of a chat, it will automatically put a little mobile icon underneath your text. This will allow everyone who participated in the chat conversation to see exactly where you were at, “in real life”, when you posted that comment.

The same update is going to add a “read receipts” feature. After you participate in a chat conversation on Facebook, this feature will display who actually read what you wrote. It also will let you know if the chat message you sent to your friend through Facebook actually got to them. In other words, it will tell you if your Facebook friends are ignoring you, and it will make it clear when you are ignoring what your friend chats to you about on Facebook. Imagine the amount of additional Facebook drama this little feature will create!

I would think that companies that make social media websites would strive to make their lovely website as fun and comfortable as possible for people to use. Facebook could do a bit better at that. These new changes make me feel uncomfortable, and I suspect that I am not the only one who feels like these new features are creepy.

Image: Facebook Social Media by BigStock

Why Cable TV Subscribers Are Making It Miserable To Cut The Cord

This is what I look like waiting for TV shows to be released on Netflix. Not really – this is what I look like all the time. Image Credit – BigStock

There’s a new report out this week (to be filed in the “Duh” folder…right next to “No Kidding”) showing that some 2.6 million cable television subscribers cancelled their service in favor of Internet-based streaming services between 2008 and 2011.

Reported by Slashdot, Yahoo and others this morning, Canadian research firm Convergence Consulting Group summarized the following from their…well, research:

“We estimate 112,000 TV subscribers were added in 2011, down from 272,000 in 2010, and forecast 185,000 TV sub additions for 2012. 2000-2009 annual TV sub additions averaged 2 million. Based on our TV Cord Cutting Model (takes into account economic conditions, annual subscriber additions, digital transition), we estimate 2.65 million (2.6%) US TV subscribers cut their TV subscriptions 2008-11 to rely solely on Online, Netflix, OTA, etc, 1.05 million (1%) in 2011 alone. We forecast cord cutters will reach 3.58 million year end (3.6%) 2012.”

So, essentially, folks are fleeing traditional television for streaming services in decent numbers, but those numbers seem to be slowing. News reports on this are rounding up the typical line-up of culprits for this dialing-back on the rush to streaming – content limitations of streaming services (a.k.a. ‘ I can’t believe Netflix doesn’t have so-and-so) based on sluggish deals being struck by Netflix and others with studios and networks; and the ultimate price-tag of achieving a more robust catalogue of content will break the cost model for places like Netflix and their service will become prohibitively expensive. [Read more...]

Paying for Content on the Web

Third Party Cookies Google got in trouble recently when they were caught circumventing Safari’s third-party cookies blocking apparatus. This article isn’t about third-party cookies or what Google did. If you want to learn more about how third-party cookies and how they work, there are a couple of good article the first is Third-party cookies and another is E-Junkie How Does Tracking Work and what I use it for. This article is about how web sites are supported. If everyone starts blocking third-party cookies then sites that we go to daily may either disappear or change dramatically, because most sites depend on ads to support them. Sites like this one and Revision3 and Twit cost money to maintain. They have to pay for bandwidth, hosting cost, freelance writers, equipment and that’s just the beginning. Last month this Web site Geek News Central covered CES 2012 and post over 225 videos, I don’t know how much money it cost, but I am sure that cost a lot. My point is that nothing is free on the Internet and we have to agree on a way to pay for it.

There are a couple of options that various Web sites have tried to avoid ads, voluntary payments, subscriptions with special benefits, and paywalls. The first option voluntary payments can work in rare cases, but it takes a lot of time and effort. It also means constantly asking the reader for money, which can be a turn off. Subscriptions with benefit is where you get some content for free, if you pay you get more content.  I am not sure if this would work on most Web sites and it also forces the Web sites to produce extra content.  Although the first two do raise some money, they don’t raise nearly enough to be a viable option for many Web sites especially if they produce videos. Paywalls is another method that some websites like the New York Times and the Boston Globe use. Users hate paywall and it’s not clear how effective they are in raising money. This leads most Web sites to go with the ad-based method. In order for the ad base method to be successful they have to know how many people have visited the site which is where third-party cookies come in. What many people are upset about is that if you visit multiple sites that have the same third-party cookie on them, then that ad company can track you and start to build a profile about you.  They use this to send ads that are relevant to  you when you visit Web sites they services.  Also because they know what ads you have already seen, they will try to show a different ad.

I personally don’t have a problem with third-party cookies, but I understand that other people have a different view of them. Should consumers have the right to block third-party cookies and was Google wrong to try to circumvent them, the answer to both questions is yes. However before we start bring out the fire and pitchfork against 3rd party cookies we need to understand they do serve a purpose and it’s not all bad.

Cobra 7750 Platinum Trucker’s GPS

After my recent unacceptable experience with the TomTom GO 2535M Live with two separate units spontaneously falling into an endless reboot loop, I decided it was time to try another brand of GPS.

After getting a refund in full from Best Buy, I decided to try a GPS that’s specifically aimed at truck drivers. Trucker-specific GPS units tend to carry significantly higher price tags. My question was, do they deliver extra value?

So, I made my way to a Pilot truck stop and purchased a Cobra 7750 Platinum 7” widescreen trucker GPS. Pretty much every Pilot truck stop has a GPS display set up with various brands of trucker-specific GPS units. On the Cobra unit they have a very slick, highly produced sales video playing on the unit itself that really puts the model 7750 in a very good light. I was impressed, so I purchased one. In Pilot the Cobra 7750 sells for $399 plus tax. It can be purchased from Amazon.Com for about $340 if one has time to wait for shipping.

The Cobra brand has long been associated with CB radios sold at truck stops marketed specifically to truck drivers, so a trucker-specific GPS would seem to be a natural product extension.

The best part of the 7750 was the large, bright 7” widescreen display. Unfortunately, the 7750’s pressure-sensitive touch screen left a bit to be desired, producing a higher-than-average number of errors compared to similar pressure-sensitive touch screens. Pressure-sensitive touch screen technology has been around for years, so this may reflect build-quality issues.

The 7750 seems to be using some variation of TomTom software, since it displays an event horizon near the top of the screen with blue sky and clouds in the daytime mode and a black sky with moving stars in the night display mode just like TomTom units do.

The menu screens gave me the impression they were perhaps scaled for smaller screens. It could have been that they were trying to make the menu icons large and easy to select in a bouncing truck, but they gave me the impression of lack of refinement.

To be perfectly honest, I found the 7750 to be hugely disappointing. Entering addresses proved to be a clunky, somewhat confusing, time-consuming experience. Pilot Truck Stops have a 7 day money back return policy on GPS items, with a 14 day exchange policy. I was within the 7 days and I realized I would never be happy with the 7750, so I took it back and exchanged it for a Garmin DEZL 560LT.

Is Snow Leopard The New XP?

Like a lot of people, I purchased the Lion upgrade on the first day of availability from the Apple App store.

I upgraded two late-model Mac Minis along with an older 17” MacBook Pro. The Lion upgrade solved a freezing problem on the Mac Mini I use as an HD-DVR. However, it created a number of serious problems on the MacBook Pro – Lion would not work with my Verizon USB aircard, it would not back up to my HP Windows Home Server, and it would not work properly with the Ubercaster podcast recording application.

After living with these Lion-induced problems for more than a month on the MacBook Pro, I downgraded it back to a prior (and fully functional) Snow Leopard backup image. Everything is now back to normal, with everything once again functioning the way it should.

My MacBook Pro is no slouch, yet it seemed a bit sluggish running Lion compared to Snow Leopard.

If you have a Mac that’s more than a couple of years old, and/or you are running a variety of software and hardware that Lion likely won’t support and/or that may never be updated to run properly on Lion, I would strongly suggest skipping the Lion upgrade.

I found the Lion interface changes mostly annoying. On a computer (as opposed to an iPod), I prefer normal scroll bars. In Lion you can turn the scroll bars so that they remain on, but they are thin little gray lines that I have a hard time seeing and grabbing with the mouse. I don’t like the changes Apple made to the Finder in Lion, nor do I like the changes they made to the Spotlight Search functionality. I found the changes to the Mail program to be of dubious value, as well as the cosmetic changes to the Address Book adding no functionality.

Snow Leopard runs perfectly well and just might be the new XP.

Are We All Thieves?

The history of advancing technology is long littered with accusations of copyright infringement along with charges of outright thievery.

The problem seems to stem from ever-changing definitions of what comprises a song, a performance, or a book. Back in the days when the player piano was invented, musicians themselves seemed to define a song as a live performance. Hence, the spreading invention of mechanical player pianos and reproduced sheet music would somehow destroy music itself.

Of course, what actually happened was that rather than being destroyed, music was promoted and ultimately became more popular.

Music is not the piano rolls, nor is it vinyl records, audiocassettes, or CD’s. These are simply physical transmission mediums. It could also be equally argued that MP3 or other digital file formats are not the actual music either, though they are heavily intertwined.

Can’t we as consumers be honest? How is it that so many of us can think nothing of illegally downloading media, yet wouldn’t think of stealing a physical object without paying for it?

Those who continue to rationalize that it’s “okay” to illegally download copyrighted music, movies and other copyrighted materials are thieves. Would you enjoy having your stuff stolen? Are excuses popping up in your mind why wrong is right and right is wrong? If so, you failed the test. If you have to make an excuse to yourself or anyone else to justify your behavior, you are wrong. If you find yourself the victim of a thief, how can you then turn around and complain? Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?

The solution to the problem is easy. Get what you want by legitimately paying for it. If you don’t want to pay for it, don’t be a thief by stealing it.

On the other hand, if you don’t like the less-than-stellar behavior of certain media-production organizations, the solution is equally easy. Don’t consume their products. Turn them off. Pull the plug. The world won’t come to an end. You will survive. The age we live in is filled to the brim with alternative entertainment and information sources that make it possible to reduce or completely eliminate the need to consume copyrighted material, if that is your wish.