Category Archive: Public Service

Why Edward Snowden Is a Hero

I can’t stand the overused and ridiculous use of the word “hero” in the US media.  With that said, Edward Snowden is a hero that has done the US and the world an incredible service.  Will it matter?  I sure hope so.  If you haven’t seen it, watch this interview he gave the Guardian.

I’ve been a big proponent of freedom and privacy for a long time, and it’s often disappointing to me that many others just don’t seem to care.  But the reason they don’t is understandable.  They don’t get it because they don’t see it.  Although I’ve never worked for the US government, I have seen (better than most) what big organizations with massive spying capability and data collection can and will do.  I’ve watched as Google has wiped out countless businesses without even a shred of caring.  In their fight against “spammers” they actively penalize websites and small businesses for past actions, actions that are beyond the control of the website/business owners.  The businesses that get destroyed are simply “collateral damage”.

(Before anyone objects that there is no other way for them to fight this fight, there is.  The difference between rewarding sites for positive signals and punishing sites for negative signals, particularly when those signals can be provided by less ethical competitors, is the difference between being responsible and careless, if not pathological.  And additionally, business owners who don’t have cutting edge information can inadvertently run afoul of Google, or can get nailed when Google changes their standards for what is and was acceptable.)

Where does this tie in with Edward Snowden and what the US government has been doing?  The US government is similarly (but on a far greater scale and with far more potential for much worse “collateral damage”) collecting comprehensive data on everyone.  As Snowden said, it’s not only what is being done now, but everything you’ve ever done in the past.  What you’ve bought, who you’ve talked to on the phone, who you’ve emailed, what you’ve said.  It’s all being stored.

But you’re not doing anything bad, so you don’t have to worry, right?  Tell that to the small businesses that have been wiped out by Google for going against guidelines or algorithmic mumbo jumbo they’ve never even heard of.  How about the Jews in Europe?  They weren’t doing anything bad until the Nazis decided they were.  What happens if or when Google, Apple, or the US government decides that you or someone you know is connected to someone who is “bad”?  And what happens if they’re just wrong?  You may just be acceptable collateral damage.

Combine that with secret courts, renditions, secret prisons, and unmanned drones blowing people (and anyone that happens to be near them) into minced meat, and you’ve got a pretty nasty picture forming.  In the west we often hear about the surveillance state in countries like China.  Is the US really all that different?  Or, are we just so addicted to the technology, so brainwashed by the propaganda, that we don’t realize that our government is no different?

Hopefully, people will listen to what Edward Snowden has to say, broadcast it to all their friends via their constantly monitored social networks and smart devices, where Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Google, and countless others will log and save your communications in case they want to punish you later.  Is this really the world we want to live in?

Edward Snowden is a fucking hero.  Sign the WhiteHouse.gov petition to have him pardoned, here.

Markets Are Brutal

My degree is in marketing, but I took a number of economics courses in college as part of the curriculum. We were taught that free markets are characterized by level playing fields, equal opportunity, and that people make rational choices based on their own best interest. Even then, I wondered if economists had ever actually run a business, participated in the free market, or associated with real human beings. Now that I’ve been running businesses of my own for the last 15 years, I know that most have not.

There’s one thing you need to know about markets, above all else, if you’re going to start a business (online or off): markets are brutal. Free markets aren’t characterized by level playing fields or equal opportunity. They’re characterized by survival of the fittest. In the free market, advantage almost always goes to those with the most money and power. There is opportunity for all, and ideas do matter. But it’s very heavily skewed in favor of entrenched players. For the little guy, an uphill battle is often fought against the big guy running downhill.

Markets vs. Government

I was having an email conversation with someone who said the choice between Obama and Romney is a choice based on one’s faith in either government or the market. He said more or less, if you’ve got more faith in government, Obama is your man. If you’ve got more faith in the free market, Romney is your man.

I don’t have faith in anything, much less government or the free market. But I do know that markets don’t care. Markets don’t care if a kid’s parents don’t have enough money to buy him an education. Markets don’t care if you get sick and don’t have money or insurance. And they don’t care if you were born in a poor, uneducated family. In the survival-of-the-fittest nature of markets, if you’re not born in the right family, right place, and right time, the odds are against you. Markets don’t give a shit.

In the free market, money and power rule. Those with the most money and power control the game and how it’s played. At least in theory, in a democratic society, government is controlled equally by all people, regardless of money or power. One person, one vote. Of course that’s not exactly how it works in reality. Those with money and power buy control of government, too. But governments are different. Governments do care. They do provide education (poor as it often may be) that the markets will not…for those with little to no money. They do provide health care and food for those where markets would not. And so on.

The free market is brutally competitive. People and companies will step on you, steel your ideas, and rip you off. If you list your products for sale on Amazon for example, they’ll use your data to see what’s selling, go direct to the source and sell as your competitor, then undercut your prices and sell at a loss just to drive you out of business. And when you’re gone, they’ll bring the prices right back up to where you were selling.

I’ve got a GoPro Camera and love it. What a great idea. The other day I went to an electronics store and saw two knock offs that looked exactly the same other than having one button in a different place and a different brand name. The free market doesn’t give a shit.

Only a person who has never actually participated in the market would want society to be governed by market forces. Survival of the fittest is anarchy.

David vs. Goliath

There is a way for small players to win in a market often dominated by big brands. The tagline for this site, “nibble your way to the top”, hints at it. Small players are more mobile, can usually move quicker, and adapt quicker. Small players can keep their expenses down and minimize risk in a way that big players can’t. With low expenses and high flexibility, we can move from one thing to the next as doors open and close around us. But most people won’t do this. Most small businesses will fail quickly.

Sun Tzu says you need to know your enemy and yourself, and you need to know the terrain. The playing field isn’t level. It’s massively slanted. But there are some paths that aren’t blocked by the big guys, and those are the paths you need to find. It’s easier to run past Goliath and let some other David fight him while you continue running further and further towards the top.

If you work hard and get lucky you may be able to get so far up that field that you end up in a rich-get-richer re-enforcing circle. Just remember what it took to get there, the people that helped you along the way, and those who can’t get there, too. If you do get to the point of massive scale and riches, you won’t be earning your money anymore. Others will be helping to earn it for you. No one does it alone.

An Open Letter to Google’s Matt Cutts: On Penalties & the New Link Disavow Tool

Dear Matt,

Thank you for launching the new Link Disavow Tool. Hopefully it will allow a number of high quality sites and businesses that were hit by penalties like Penguin to recover. My concern however is that it will create more confusion than already exists, as impossible as that may be. I doubt you’ll be keen to remove this tool just after launching it, but either way I’d like to propose a much simpler alternative.

First, The Problem:

Many high quality sites and businesses have been hit by massive penalties since Panda. I’ll refrain from talking about Panda from here on out since it’s not primarily related to links, but it was around that time that you guys (Google) seemed to shift from smaller, more targeted penalties and algo adjustments to massive penalties and devaluations with a great deal of ‘collateral damage’. I realize there have always been changes, but I’ve been working online full time since 2005 and have never seen anything like what’s been going on since February 2011.

I’m sure you know the SEO game a lot better than I do. Since I started out on the web, you needed links in order to rank in competitive niches. In my primary business niche, if you didn’t get links, you didn’t rank. All of us bought links, because we needed to in order to rank. I know this. You know this. Aside from buying links to rank among our real competitors, we also needed them to rank above spammers with low quality affiliate and made-for-Adsense sites. We did have a choice, but as a real business there was only one good one at the time. Buy links and rank, or don’t buy links and be outranked by competitors and spammers. Surely you already know that.

I understand you want to get rid of low quality sites in your search results. I’m all for that. I want to see quality results as much as the next guy. I’m a searcher too. But when you guys started applying negative factors to spammers and low quality sites that bought links, you also wiped out scores of high quality sites that were forced to buy links in order to outrank the spammers for the last several years. It’s not only spammers that buy links. I’m sure you know that, too.

So why are you decimating these high quality sites and businesses? For a while, I thought you were just evil people acting in your own self interest with no concern for others. But I had a conversation with a programer the other day who had another theory: It’s not that you guys are evil, careless people. You’re just so focused on fighting spam that you don’t even see the ‘collateral damage’. You see the low quality, spam sites that get taken out, and you see the big brands that continue to rank no matter what they do, and all looks ok. You don’t see the diversity that your updates are wiping out, the specialty sites that offer a better user experience than the big brands…the sites that previously needed to buy links in order to rank. In fact, regardless how good your intentions are, these small sites likely still have to buy links in order to beat the slew of big brands who are now able to rank blank pages with keywords in their title tags due to their massive authority and head start in the race.

The Link Disavow Tool

Enter the new Link Disavow Tool. Now, quality sites have a way to remove those links they used to need in order to rank…those links that you guys attached a negative ranking factor to, or used to trigger a site wide devaluation like Penguin. So if a business owner is lucky enough to have heard about Google Webmaster Tools and read about this new tool, they might have a chance at ranking their penalized site again.

But Which Links Are Problematic?

I’ve got a blog that I unfortunately haven’t posted on in over a year. It’s a real blog with no ads or affiliate links. A couple of years ago someone contacted me about doing a guest post, a completely legitimate guest post that was on topic and written by a topical expert. A few months ago I received an email from an SEO company requesting I remove the link to help their client recover from a Google penalty. How many people will use your new tool in such a way, to remove legitimate links that are helping them rank? How many sites will look to you like ‘bad’ sites, because people mistakenly request that links on them be disavowed?

I know you offer some guidance on that subject. But you and I both know that many people won’t even know your tool exists, others won’t read your guidance, and plenty people who do read it still won’t know which links to disavow.

A Much Simpler, More Ethical Solution

The current penalties are applied according to a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach. That might be ok if we were discussing hobby sites. But I talked to a guy two days ago with an awesome, incredibly useful site that fulfills an important need, especially in today’s economy. He’s about to sell his house, move his family, and begin looking for a new job due to his business being decimated by these penalties. He’s been labeled as guilty for doing what it took to compete. There are thousands of similar cases. I can only hope you guys aren’t thinking about them because you’re so focused on the spammers.

So rather than applying a negative value to links you don’t want to count, how about simply not counting them? At least you wouldn’t be penalizing high quality sites and businesses. If they were ranking solely on the basis of those paid or otherwise low quality links, then they’re going to have some work to do. But that’s unlikely. If they are a high quality site, they’ll have some high quality links too. The spammers will have less. So by simply discounting the spammy or low quality links, you’ll be ensuring that the quality sites rank above the spam sites.

Spammers will keep trying to game your algorithm. They’re going to do that anyway. They’re going to keep sending me loads of junk mail, bombard my blog with stupid comments, and even hack my sites with links cloaked for only Googlebot to see. None of that is going to change. Adding a negative factor to paid and spammy links might cut down on attempted manipulation. But it’s also decimating high quality sites and businesses.

So I understand you’re waging a war on spammers. I’m glad you are, as I don’t want to find spam when I search, and I don’t want to see spam sites outranking high quality, informative, useful sites. But the way you’re doing this now…penalizing sites that only did what they needed to do in order to compete under the system you built, using a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach, and then requiring them to use your link removal tool…is both unlikely to work well and unethical.

With all due respect, for the the sake of all humanity, please simply don’t count links you don’t like!

Big Brands Suck: Help Small Businesses, Help Yourself

Our communities are under attack, and it’s time we take them back.

Big brands suck, literally. They suck the money, resources, and life out of our communities in exchange for what appears to be convenience and cost savings. Long term, they’re anything but convenient. They wipe out small businesses and replace a greater number of higher paying jobs with a smaller number of lower paying jobs, and the cost savings are eventually offset by lower income for most. Big brands suck money from the bottom and pool it at the top, increasing income disparity and making the world a worse place to live in.

Why Small Business Is Better

  • When you buy from a small, local business, more of your money stays in your community. It’s good for the local employees and owners, and it’s good for you.
  • Small businesses offer a better customer service experience with employees who are more likely to care. Big brands are staffed largely by low paid employees and outsourced customer service.
  • Unique, small businesses make your community more interesting.
  • Big brand executives don’t care about your community, but small business owners do. It’s their community too.
  • Small businesses are more social. It’s more likely you’ll get to know the owners and employees of a small business, and the experience of shopping will be more enjoyable.
  • Small businesses are specialists in the products they carry, and both online and offline the shopping experience is likely to be better as a result.

With Big Brands, You Pay More Than You Think

Big brands like Walmart take out physical businesses around the world by offering cheap prices enabled by paying wages so low that many employees can’t survive without food stamps to supplement their income. Walmart prices only seem cheap when you don’t consider you’re paying many of their underpaid employees with your tax dollars.

And these big brands aren’t satisfied with monster profits and the destruction of small physical businesses. Now with the help of Google, one of the worst big brands of all, they’re going after small businesses online too. In a previous post I highlighted how Walmart was selling products online that they don’t even carry, getting a cut of sales dollars by using their authority to rank above the company that actually sells the products.

Amazon: The New Walmart

Amazon is the online equivalent to Walmart, only worse. The shopping experience on Amazon for many product categories is seriously inferior to small online businesses that specialize in those products. But by having businesses compete in a price race to the bottom or undercutting businesses by selling at a loss to wipe them out, Amazon is often able to offer lower prices. However, these come at the cost of real jobs and income for small business owners, not to mention an expert level of knowledge and customer service. Due to Google’s massive big brand bias combined with their immunity to penalties like Panda and Penguin, many searchers these days don’t even find the specialty e-commerce stores since the first page of results is loaded with Amazon and other big brand sites.

The Big Banks Are the Worst

And the big brand retail stores are nothing compared to the big banks. If it isn’t enough that Goldman Sachs and others knowingly sold junk products to investors, cities, and pension funds…products they created in order to bet against to profit when retirees lost their savings…the same big banks have been caught rigging the prices of municipal bonds (stealing money from retirement accounts, hospitals, police and fire departments, etc.) and rigging LIBOR rates to the tune of trillions of dollars.

Because all of these big brands control the political process and write the laws, no matter who we elect it’s only going to get worse. Unless we do something about it.

Shop Small Business

Avoid the big brands as much as possible. If you can buy something at a local store or a privately owned e-commerce site, do that over buying from the big brands. It may cost a bit more on the surface, but in the long run it will make your community a better place by keeping the money local, improving prosperity, and maintaining or increasing quality customer service.

Drive a little further or put up with parking issues to shop local instead of at the big box stores. Use a small local bank instead of a monstrous national or international one. Skip all the big brands in the search results even if you have to go to page 2 or 3, and check out the specialist sites. Tweet and email this post to friends, and recommend it on Facebook. The more people you can get using small businesses instead of big brands, the better it will be for us all…especially those of us with small businesses ourselves!