Lame Pixel Ads

This whole pixel ad thing is getting lame pretty quickly. Pixel ads, for those who haven’t been following, are web pages where each pixel of the screen is sold as ad space. It worked well for UK student Alex Tew, who made $1 million from his aptly named  MillionDollarHomepage.com. As with all things involving money, people quickly saw a quick buck. The only problem is: Tew didn’t make his money because he sold pixel space, he made money because of the buzz he created about his new idea.

This hasn’t stopped folks. Google Pixel ads and you get 8 sponsored ads and nearly 900,000 hits, including BuckAPixel.com, MillionPixelClick.com and ChistrianPixelAds.com. Here’s the latest “twist”: Mosaicpixelads.com., which claims to have an edge by creating a, er, work of art from all the pixels it sells. “We took the original pixel ads concept and made it in to a mosaic art form, in the process creating the first internet work of art,” co-site creator Martin Westwood says in a press release. The idea is that the resulting pixel picture will be a mosaic, according to the FAQ.

Lame, lame, lame. The original worked because it was, well, original. People wanted to go visit the page because it was a new idea. The rest will just die slowly, and, hopefully, quietly. BuckAPixel, for example, which tops the Google hits, has had 25 visitors today and has so far sold 11,300 out of 1 million pixels. You do the math. It’ll be interesting to see just how short a lifespan these kind of ideas have. It’s because they’re novelties. Repeat after me: Novelty does not a good business model make.

My Favorite Email Program Is Now Free

The email program I have been using for the past seven years is now free (for the moment): Courier Email from Rose City Software.

Special Offer: For a limited time, Courier Email can be registered for FREE for unlimited use. Your free registration for Version 3.5 will never expire.

This registration won’t expire, but they’re working on version 4 (in fact they’re looking for a C++ programmer to help them finish it.

Courier used to be Calypso and I still think it’s the best email program around. Of course I’m biased, since I’ve been using it so long, but it has too many useful features for me to walk away from it. Check it out.

Directory Of Clipping Savers

Update Nov 7 2006: A new kid on the block for Firefox 2.0 users: Zotero. (Thanks, Charles)

I recently wrote in WSJ.com (subscription required) about how to save snippets of information while you’re browsing. I didn’t have space to mention all the options I — or readers — came across, so here’s the beginnings of a list. Please feel free to let me know about more: The basic criterion is that the service lets the user easily capture material they’ve found on the Internet (for stuff that’s more socially oriented, check out my Directory of Social Annotation Tools).

  • Zotero. It not only does a great job of storing globs of web pages or the whole thing but it has an academic bent too, allowing you to store bibiographic information too.
  • ContentSaver:   is both a browser add-in and an Office-style application at the same time: With the additional toolbar and the extended shortcut menus in the browser, you can easily gather material during your Internet research. 35 EUR (Thanks, Ganesh)
  • eSnips:    Save real web content not just links: relevant paragraphs and images you find on any web site….oh yes, and links too. 1GB free
  • wists.com: The idea is to bridge the gap between blogging and bookmarking. It aims to make simple list blogging as easy as bookmarking and make bookmarking take advantages of weblog publishing, with automatic thumbnail image creation etc. (David Galbraith)
  • Net Snippets: The friendly, intuitive way to maximize the effective use of information from the Internet and online research
  • Jeteye: enables users to create, send, view and share any type of online content, add notes and annotations and save it all in user organized Jetpaks™ through an easy drag and drop interface.
  • Google Notebook: makes web research of all kinds – from planning a vacation to researching a school paper to buying a car – easier and more efficient by enabling you to clip and gather information even while you’re browsing the web.
  • ClipMate: ClipMate saves time and makes you more productive by adding clipboard functions that the Windows clipboard leaves out – starting with the ability to hold thousands of “clips”, instead of just one. ($35)
  • Clipmarks: Clip and tag anything on the web
  • Onfolio: a PC application for collection, organizing and sharing information you find online. ($30 to $150)
  • EverNoteQuickly create, organize and find any type of notes on an endless, digital roll of paper. (from free to $35)
  • ScrapBook: a Firefox extension which helps you to save Web pages and easily manage collections. Key features are lightness, speed, accuracy and multi-language support.
  • Omea Reader: Free and easy to use RSS reader, NNTP news reader, and web bookmark manager. It’s fast, it aggregates, and it keeps you organized.

My personal favorites? I love ScrapBook because it lets me save stuff in folders on my own computer. Clipmarks is great for online stuff, and the tagging/folder mix is powerful. EverNote has its moments but for all its interface ingenuity, it’s not easy to organise stuff.

An Opera whinge:

Some readers have pointed to Opera’s ‘Notes’ (Flash Demo) function which is neat, but doesn’t do as much as ScrapBook (there’s also a Firefox extension called QuickNote which performs more or less the same tricks as the Opera Notes. And besides, I’m still mad at Opera for not supporting drag and drop. What is it with them?  (Sad to say that, because I think Opera have been great in improving interface design. But I think they’ve dropped the ball. Back in February 2003 I was wowed (WSJ.com link; subscription only, I’m afraid) I wrote:

Just when I thought software had become as innovative as a bacon sandwich, something came along to prove me wrong. There is software out there that is innovative and that actually makes things easier. It’s a Web browser made by a Norwegian company called Opera Software ASA and its latest incarnation, released last month, is a real gem.

Of course, that was before Firefox came along and stole my heart.

Podcast: The Joy of Monitors

The joy of having more than one screen, and controlling other computers from one keyboard. It’s less nerdy than it sounds. This is podcast version of my BBC World Service column, which runs on the World Business Report

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

and/or subscribe to the podcast feed here. For more on extra monitors, check out my resource page here.

(This link should work. Thanks Syd, for pointing out the error.)

Asia, the World’s Spam Factory

A new list from Sophos shows that spam is far from dying, thanks largely to Asia:

While the U.S. still tops the chart, for the first time it accounts for less than a quarter of all spam relayed. (Compare this to more than 50% two years ago.) But that’s not the problem anymore. The problem is a rise in non-English spam “with the vast majority now being relayed by ‘zombie’ computers hijacked by Trojan horses, worms and viruses under the control of hackers.”

Much of this is coming from China and South Korea, which together accounts for 32% of the world’s spam. Add Taiwan’s 2.1% to that and Asia is the world’s biggest relayer of spam. But lumping them together doesn’t do justice to the rise of China as a spam relayer: in the past two years it was responsible for less than 10% of the world’s spam; this year that figure has more than doubled, much of that rise in the last few months.

Of course by using percentages Sophos is able to avoid actually quantifying the problem — how much spam are we actually talking about here, and is it getting bigger or smaller? — saying only that “the level of non-English language spam is continuing to increase”, without offering any figures. But there’s no question of the trend: Crackdowns on spam in countries like the U.S. is only contributing to this, as “zombie computers – responsible for relaying more than 60% of the world’s spam – can allow spammers to escape country-specific legislation, as they no longer have to be located in the same country as the spamming machines they operate.”

Unconscious Bandit Suspect Scratches Self

This news is not new, it’s not technology related, and it’s not particularly nice, but I like the way it’s written (thanks, Johnny). From The Post Online (Cameroon): Mob Justice In Bali:Three Suspects Lynched:

Mob Justice In Bali:Three Suspects Lynched

By Peterkins Manyong

The third of the four suspect bandits dragged out of the police cell in Bali and beaten by a mob, has died. Eric Che Zama, of Mankon extraction, died on Saturday, April 23, four days after he received his own share of the beatings. Sources at the hospital told The Post that Zama, an ex-convict at the Bamenda Central Prison, was suspected to be the biological father of the baby recently brought forth by Caroline Lambif, the woman sentenced to death by firing squad in connection with the murder of Alkali Garoua, former GMI Bamenda Commissioner.

A nurse at the male casualty ward told The Post that Crispus Tetuh, the last of the four bandits still alive, is very conscious but pretends to be in a comma. [sic]

During the day, he pretends to be unconscious, but late at night he eats his meals with an appetite quite unbecoming of a sick man, the nurse said.

Our source was convinced that Tetuh is feigning consciousness hoping that hospital staff and the police would comply with his mother’s request that he be evacuated to Batibo, his area of origin for better medical attention.

But the police are reported to have rejected the request to have him evacuated. Patients sharing the same ward with Tetuh said he demonstrates visible signs of consciousness by scratching himself where he feels itches but refuses to respond when spoken to.

Sounds a bit like a few people I know in the office.

Needless to say this is not Bali, Indonesia, but Bali in the West African state of Cameroon.

The Etiquette of Instant Messaging

I put all my IM contacts on my blog because I think we bloggers should be reachable; and, besides, sometimes interesting people get in touch. But I’m starting to get a bit disillusioned. Most folks don’t introduce themselves — they just start with “hello”, and then, usually “I want help”, or “I am new to this. I want a friend” without giving me any idea whether they’re a scammer, an ordinary person, a friend or a bot.

Most assume that I’m there to help them without having the faintest clue who I am; if they’ve read a blog entry they seem to assume I work for one of the companies I mention on the blog. How hard is it to read the About page? Most are not really very polite, I have to say. When I ask for more details about who they are before engaging in a conversation with someone called “hfak_7832”, they usually go quiet. Whatever happened to IM etiquette? Is it so hard to say, “Hi, I’m Bob from Nebraska, could I trouble you for some help?” or something similar?

So, here are my rules of engagement for any future cold call IMmers:

  • Read my blog a bit before you start pinging me. I don’t work for Nokia. I am not a help center, I’m a journalist.
  • Tell me a little bit about who you are — such as a name — and where you got my IM profile before you start asking for help;
  • Please write in vaguely decent English. It may not be your native language but I need to understand what you’re saying.
  • Be patient if I’m in the middle of something and don’t answer immediately. IM is like that.
  • If you’re using Skype, do not try to call me without chatting first (in fact you can’t but occasionally Skype seems to default all its settings, so sometimes you can even when I think you can’t.) And all the above rules apply.

I love hearing from people, especially people who have actually read some of my stuff, and even PR types are welcome (they’re always the polite ones, interestingly). But please, keep it civil.

What Early Groomers Used For Hair Gel

I don’t use hair gel anymore — no, really — but I do remember wandering around war-torn Kabul trying to find some when my stash ran out during an unexpectedly long stint there shortly after the Taleban takeover. Needless to say I felt somewhat superficial about it, given all the suffering around me, and was worried it was frowned upon by the puritanical Taleban. I shouldn’t have worried: most of them wore eyeliner, took way too much interest in my babyish features and in any case, there’s a long history of wearing hair gel, as National Geographic News reports:

Male grooming has an ancient history in Ireland, if the savagely murdered bodies of two ancient “bog men” are anything to go by. One shows the first known example of Iron Age hair gel, experts say. The other wore manicured nails and stood 6 feet 6 inches tall.

Disappointingly, you have to look elsewhere to find out what kind of hair gel. I personally like Slick from Body Shop, but it might not have been available then, namely between about 400 BC and 200 BC. Another piece from National Geographic, suitably titled ‘Iron Age “Bog Man” Used Imported Hair Gel’ details the product he was using:

The man’s hair contains a substance made from vegetable oil mixed with resin from pine trees found in Spain and southwest France. The man might have used the product, researchers say, to make himself appear taller.

Sounds like my friend John.

Buzz Spam

Anyone else getting spammed by craigslist, or rather its PR company? This in my blog mail inbox:

hi there Jeremy,
quick note to let you in on all the chitchat happening on the electronics forum over on craigslist.org
http://forums.craigslist.org/?forumID=74
it’s the new year and in the spirit of giving and resolutions, people are helping people…with their electronic needs.
what’s up for discussion today??
“When is HCTV going to kick in? No more bunny ears?” “What’s the best cellphone provider for my city?” “What”s the average battery life of the Nano??” “Best deals on digital cameras??” “LCD, Plasma, Rear-projection, DLP projection – what’s your favorite?” “I’m upset. I can’t get reception to hear Howard!!”
and lots more…
want to test out some new ideas with consumers at hand? hear what the people think about the latest gadget? or simply tech chat?
craigslist is in 190 cities and 35 countries so people everywhere will enjoy this one.
let me know what you think! cheers, [name deleted]
[line deleted]
Publicists for Astro Studios, Citizen Cake, *craigslist, Diabetes Adventure Tours, Esurance, Lulu.com and Smugmug

I’m deleting the name of the agency because I got some poor trainee flack into trouble some time back for getting hot under the collar about being spammed in this way. But I have a feeling this is not just a rookie mistake: The same agency sent me an email two hours later trumpeting the Blooker Prize, sponsored by another client of the same agency. I’m not going to say who, because I don’t want to give either of them unnecessary publicity.

Why is this spam, and not just a savvy approach (or two) by a PR company? Well, let me count the ways:

  • it’s clearly from a database harvested from blogs (the second one, more obviously so, since it doesn’t even bother addressing me by name — ‘Blogging folks, Take note!’ it begins).
  • I’ve not heard from these people before — or at least I have no record of it. No introduction, no effort to establish a dialog, except a rather naff and insincere-sounding ‘let me know what you think!’.
  • There’s no real pitch, or even story, involved. No information to work with, other than an invitation to come on over and build some traffic and Google rank. It manages to both assume I know all the background about craigslist, and yet know nothing at the same time. It manages, in short, to both insult my intelligence and assume too much simultaneously.
  • Why are they doing this anyway? It’s not as if craigslist is some backwater of a website. Three billion pageviews per month, Craig himself says. Why hire a PR agency?
  • The subject fields of both emails are naff and faux personal (craigslist and electronics. the first one, with the period included. The second is ‘you blogger, you!’) How more spammy can you get?
  • The second email does include a press release, but it’s three months old. This might make some sense as background for the new development being cited in the email, but without any real new information beyond some poorly phrased faux-familiarity (‘2006 is here, get that book published. And so early on in the year, your friends and cohorts will find your smugness a tad much.‘) I’m left wondering, simply, huh?

I suppose a better term for this is buzz-spam. It’s an effort to create a bit of buzz, without actually doing the hard work a PR agency should be doing, which is to check out the background of the bloggers it’s spamming and see whether they could actually build a relationship with them. Laziness, dumbness or trying to stretch a meager budget? Clearly, from the PR company’s website, they’re happy to trumpet their achievements in the mainstream media, when one of the companies they work with gets a mention. Ten seconds to read my About page would reveal they could have scored a bigger splash had they pitched me rather than spammed me.

And if I wasn’t a mainstream journalist, there’s still a way to pitch bloggers without spamming them. Explain why you’re contacting them, show them you know a little about them, suggest it may be of interest to them, make yourself available for more information if they need it. It’s a conversation, and a real one. Not a fake one.

More if I hear back from them.