Blog spammer roundup!

Blog spammers are fascinating critters. Their idea, as near as I can tell, is that if they post a comment on your blog, you may click their name to follow them back to their own blog where you will, hopefully, buy whatever product or service it is they’re peddling. WordPress uses Akismet to shunt most all of these directly to my spam can, yet the practice continues. Presumably it works in some cases, or else they wouldn’t be doing it. Right?

Although the practice may be reprehensible, the idea behind it does have a basis in reality. I posted a while back about my own dawning realization that blogging is a conversation, not a pulpit. Done right, your post is a continuation of some worldwide discussion. Through the act of linking, you give due diligence to what sparked your ideas; others, in turn, link to you and further that conversation; and all the while, you pay comments both back and forward to the ancestors and descendents of your ideas.

But linking doesn’t end with the link itself, and here’s where the blog spammers miss the sense of linking even while practicing the letter. When you blog, you’re a stepping stone in the path, which is both great and insignificant: Without your particular pebble, the path would still exist, but it wouldn’t be the same. My friends from Mizzou – Jeremy Littau, Hans Meyer, and Carrie Brown – all run some great (and far more focused) journalism blogs. We’ve fed on each other’s ideas, and we share space on each other’s blogrolls. When they comment on my blog, they say things that are, you know, relevant. When the blog spammers comment … well, you get this [all links removed]:

Attili Sattibabu: Thank you for giving such a informative blog. Your website happens to be not just useful but also very creative too. There are very few people who can think to write not so easy content that creatively. Keep posting !!

Sofia Ahr: Great post. I gained some very valuable information from it. I have been struggling with an addiction myself for most of my life, so what you wrote really meant a lot to me. Visit my blog if you’d like to read more. Thanks again for this blog – it is really informative.

Nigeria Forum: Hi. I needed to drop you a quick note to impart my thanks. I’ve been following your blog for a month or so and have plucked up a heap of good information as well as relished the way you’ve structured your site. I am seeking to run my own blog however I think its too general and I would like to focus more on smaller topics.

As you can see, generalized flattery is a popular tactic. Here’s a short-and-sweet one in response to my post against a Dislike button on Facebook:

templerel: Bravo, what necessary phrase…, a brilliant idea

I only wish I knew what phrase this was in reference to. I would use it more often to better display my brilliance. Some REALLY make with the gushing:

Sau Kaylor: Only want to say your article is striking. The clearness in your post is simply striking and i can assume you are an expert on this field. Well with your permission allow me to grab your rss feed to keep up to date with succeeding post. Thanks a million and please keep up the delightful work

This came in response to a post about drinking two beers in a Morgantown bar on a Friday when my wife was out of town. Clearly I am an expert in … what? Bars? Solitude? Lindsay Robertson has a great list of do’s and don’ts for online PR folks (I’m being polite in using that label), not that any of these guys would ever deign to read it.

Others do a marginally better job of targeting their fakery [asterisks added to avoid giving these guys any free traffic]:

Luther Blisset: Hey. I have launched a new Farmville site. If you want the latest hints, tips and cheats then have a look at http://www.ultimate%5B*%5Dfarmville.com

This post came in response to a post on Farmville’s holiday trees. The robots are becoming sentient! Or at least capable of recognizing keywords. Here’s another one in response to my post on the outcome of our baby shower:

Dustin: I laud the valuable post you provide in your articles. I will bookmark your blog and have my baby check up here recurrently. I am quite sure they will study lots of new stuff here than anybody else!

You just been lauded! It is humbling to know that my writing is inspiring fathers to direct their babies to my site. Be warned, though – I do occasionally use profanity.

Similar to the blog spammer is an animal you may have noticed on Twitter, where the “follow me and I’ll follow you” idea is even more streamlined. I don’t have many followers, so when I do get ’em, it’s interesting to see where they come from (Caesar’s Palace? Huh?). Most are my friends, or friends of friends, or people who started following me because I responded to their tweets (see?). Some are religious (@bryanthewitt), which I suppose it taking the “follower” idea in a literal sense. I’ve got at least one (@buddaway) that is entirely in Chinese, which I don’t speak or read. What is the thinking here?

The remainder are fairly often some would-be entrepreneur (currently I’m being followed by a holiday gift guide and a Cyprus jewelry dealer). Ever click on these profiles? They nigh-always will take you to some get-rich-quick site, or, even better, a get-rich-by-using-twitter-to-gain-followers site. I often wonder: When you pay these guys for their wisdom, how often is the first tip “Start following a crapload of people and hope a few will follow you back and pay you to tell them this tip.” Or maybe you don’t get that tip until the top tier.

If you’re on Twitter, try this sometime: Scroll back through your follower list. Your followers are listed in last-in, first-out format, so the top listing is the most recent. The farther back you go, the more legitimate followers you’ll find. For some reason, the Twitspammers drop you after a while. What, I wonder, is the metric they use for deciding that their following you won’t be fruitful? At what time do they decide to hang it up on you? And how can I make them do it sooner?

The “follow me and I’ll follow you” approach is key to social media. It helps us connect with others. People we don’t know can introduce themselves and their ideas to us via following, or linking, or commenting; we, in turn, can do the same. I follow Ethan Watrall, an assistant prof at Michigan State who teaches some awesome comics-oriented classes. We’ve never met. I started following after some other comics-oriented folks retweeted him, and after I responded to some of these, he started following me too. We’re part of a conversation now, which is terrific.

The link is a kind of sign – a sign of shared interest, of community. Like any sign, though, if it can be used to signify, it can be used to lie. Lying – false representation of interest to draw business – is the business of the blog spammer, and that’s not going to stop any time soon. But do they have to be so dumb about it?

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Here’s who Facebook thinks I am

We’re on baby watch here at Comics and Beer – the January 3 due date is now officially blown – so blogging will be light and airy. I apologize for the absence of beer posts – I just learned my Missouri driver’s license expired on October 19, 2009, so was shut out of my last purchase attempt. Granted, I’ve got a fridgefull of all kinds of stuff, but like I said, I’m a little preoccupied (although more than willing to start drinking).

So while we wait, I Facebook (and design syllabi). And while I Facebook, I notice what Facebook knows, or thinks it knows, about us. For example, I AM indeed an English major:

As well as a member of the (high school) class of 1996:

So yeah, the Facebook ads hit from time to time. But, like a lot of social media marketing attempts, they often just miss the mark, and this turns out to be even more distracting. Think of it as a kind of uncanny valley – in movies, we can easily accept a character that is clearly cartooned or unhuman, but the closer we get to almost human, the creepier it gets.

The same thing goes for advertising, only swap “creepy” with “annoying.” Consider this:

While it’s true I’m a journalist and am a fan of learning more, I’ve got a PhD in Journalism, so their MA probably isn’t something I’m in the market for.

Location is another near-miss I see a lot of:

Close, but I live in West Virginia; it’s like Ohio, only with more mountains and poverty.

Now I realize that these ads are designed as a balancing act between the general and the specific. The creators want to identify niche markets to serve while at the same time not wanting to get so specific as to overly limit their potential customers. But the targeted nature of the ads (I get a LOT of Ohio ads, yet few for WV or PA) suggests that they’ve got access to some of my information. If they know I’m a father-to-be (and the ads suggest they do), is it too much to expect they’d get my state right?

Understand, I’m not ASKING advertisers to delve more deeply into my info – I hate that these places know anything about me – but I’m fascinated by the errors. If they’re trying to sell to specific audiences, why not try to get it right?

On the other hand, sometimes the ones that are really off are kinda refreshing:

Ho. Lee. Crap. Is this who the Facebook advertisers think I am? Who I can relate to? Who I aspire to be? While I am a dad-to-be, who in god’s name chose this refugee from the Oak Ridge Boys as the face of their chintzy grant-awarding service? Up until last year, I did make less than $45,000 – far, FAR less – and while I’ve had my share of bad haircuts, at no time did I approach looking like this guy, so which of my posts indicate that I am a roadie or roustabout?

But this one’s really my favorite:

Boyyyyy do you not know who you’re dealing with.

No, Kermit the Frog was never in your beloved Christmas movies. Stop asking.

I realized this morning that I have not seen either Emmett Otter’s Jug-band Christmas or The Christmas Toy in many, many years. Mentioning this sad fact to my wife, I was informed that she has NEVER seen either of these movies. People: Ask the important questions before committing to the engagement.

For some reason, ABC Family does not include these fine films in their annual 25 Days of Christmas rota (with 800 airings of Harry Potter, maybe there’s not room). In a fit of Christmas pique, I turned to the Internet to tell me if they exist in DVD format. They DO. Emmett came out in 2006, and The Christmas Toy was just released this year. What’s more, you can get ’em in a two-pack. Hooray, right?

Here’s the other thing I’ve found, however: The Kermit the Frog scenes that bookend both movies? Erased from existence. They are not there. What’s more, it’s difficult to find specific information on exactly why this is. The best I’ve been able to dig up is the nebulous “legal reasons.” The website Muppet Newsflash suggested in 2008 that the excision has to do with Disney now owning Kermit and the Muppets.

This is where I’m confused. Both movies were made by Jim Henson Entertainment. The DVDs are both released by HiT Entertainment (which is also responsible for Barney, but don’t hold that against them). I now read the HiT was once Henson International Television. Is this company different from the Muppets proper? From Wikipedia:

On May 7, 2003, the Henson family repurchased the Henson Company for $78 million. Nine months later they sold the rights to the classic Muppets and to Bear in the Big Blue House to The Walt Disney Company (15 years after the announcement of the first Disney-Muppet deal).

Kermit the Frog served as the mascot for The Jim Henson Company until the sale of the Muppet characters to Disney.

There’s more on that Wikipedia page, but I don’t feel comfortable referencing it considering it DOES NOT CITE A SINGLE DAMN SOURCE. Seriously Wikipedia? And you wonder why people have issues with you?

Regardless, I guess that would explain why a movie that stars muppets could not include scenes with, well, THE Muppet. Maybe these are just muppety puppets. Further, I suppose it may explain why the movies themselves are absent from the (Disney-owned) ABC Family playlist (but the 800 Harry Potter movies they show each year are pretty damn Christmassy, right?). Beyond this, the Internet eight-ball is not forthcoming with more detailed answers.

So I’ve got my DVDs, and the main stories are all there for me to annoy my wife with. But it’s frustrating that an entire element of the movie that I remember fondly has been erased, Stalin-style, from existence due to corporate shenanigans about which I care not a whit. That includes the big song at the finish (jump to 8:11 in the clip). My fourth-grade self is furious.

It does, however, please me that the Wikipedia page for The Christmas Toy is emblazoned with the original, Kermit-centric VHS cover. Strike against the corporations, Internet citizenry!

Loving Facebook (or leaving it)

Yesterday was my first no-blog day in more than a month and a half. I’m a little annoyed – I was hoping to clear December – but it’s a good reminder too. I was feeling stressed about getting up a post, even after we came back from dinner at 8:30 p.m. “There’s gotta be something I can say about that steak!”

The thing about blogging, though, is that it shouldn’t be stressful. That’s not to say it’s not useful to keep up a routine and set deadlines, but it’s okay to give it a miss once in a while. Just like it’s a good feeling to realize you can post every day, it’s a good feeling to realize you can not post every day.

Shifting gears, I read a Facebook update today dealing with another of Facebook’s new privacy and information management changes. Have you noticed you don’t seem to hear from certain friends, and wonder why either 1) they’re so quiet, or 2) they’ve defriended you? Maybe neither.

Facebook defaults to only displaying posts from a set number of your friend list (the friend who tipped me to this said it was set at 200, but mine was 250). To change it:

  1. Scroll to the bottom of your news feed
  2. Click “Edit Options” (on the right side)
  3. Under “Number of Friends,” update the number (I chose a number larger than my current number of friends)

I also noticed the option to “View Recommended Friends.” I clicked it but it seemed to include everyone. Wonder what the criteria for being a “recommended friend” is?

Here are a few more Facebook pearls for your consideration:

My Year in Status: I haven’t done one of these yet, but it essentially aggregates your status updates from the past year. It’s not exactly a word cloud because words aren’t larger/smaller by frequency, but kind of a neat retrospective.

(If you’re looking for word clouds, try wordle.net. I plugged my entire dissertation in to this, and the result was probably more interesting than the dissertation itself.)

Starting over on Facebook: Jedi Master Dan Gillmor took the nuclear approach to Facebook’s new privacy regulations: Tear it down and start over. Gillmor deleted his account and started fresh. Also notable is that he ACTUALLY was able to the account – if you’ve ever ragequit Facebook, you’ve probably discovered that your account was only deactivated.

This is probably a good thing, both for them and for you. Deleting an entire identity is something you’ll possibly think better on at a later date. But it also brings us to …

Defriending Facebook: Maybe you’ve just had it with your Facebook obsession, or with the obsessives who populate it (see next point). What (if any) are the drawbacks of cutting the cord? Some of you who are considering the option may have been motivated in part by …

Eighteen People You’re Scared of on Facebook: Surprisingly thorough. There’ve been a number of these lists, but what I like about this one is its style (well, it IS from GQ) – rather than lengthy descriptions, each one is just a representative post by that person. Clear and simple.

UPDATE (316p 12/22): Facebook will get you divorced! Well, that’s hyperbole – you’ve actually got a one-in-five chance. Get a load of this:

Conference organiser Emma Brady was distraught to read that her marriage was over when he updated his status on the site to read: “Neil Brady has ended his marriage to Emma Brady.”

When it comes to status updates, sharing isn’t always caring.

If she won’t talk, why can I hear her?

So Sarah Palin was on Good Morning America today …

Wait, scratch that. First, a story. I presented a paper a while back about a 2007 bomb scare in Boston that turned out to be a promotional stunt. The two perpetrators were performance artists who hung LED signs around the city in advance of the Cartoon Network’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie. People saw the signs and thought “bomb,” which is more reasonable when you consider Boston was the source of some of the 9/11 planes.

Kind of appropriate, huh?

After the men were arraigned, they approached the podium for the standard, expected press conference. Instead, they informed the members of the press that they would only talk about hairstyles of the 1970s. And they stuck to their guns throughout – here’s the clip.

The reporters present reacted in several ways. Some doggedly tried to ask their normal raft of questions anyway (this failed). Others took the actors to task for not taking the conference seriously (they didn’t care). Some stormed off in a huff (see ya!). And a few tried playing the new game. Of these, some asked specific (and worthless) questions about hair, which were answered, and others used hair questions to ask about the case – “Are you afraid that if you go to prison you’ll get your hair cut?” These questions met some very mild success, but the conference was really just a big “no comment” on the actors’ terms that flipped the bird to those trying to milk it for information.

So there’s that. Back to the post.

Palin was on Good Morning America with Barbara Walters today, talking about her new book and not talking about whether she’ll run in 2012. She’s coy like that. Monday she was on Oprah.  The Walters interview will extend over five days and several ABC programs, and the Hollywood Reporter says she’ll be showing up on a few Fox News shows later on.

So what? People and politicians go on these shows to flog their books all the time. Bill Clinton made the rounds, as have many others. I’m no Sarah Palin fan, but there’s hardly anything remarkable about this on its own.

Here’s the thing: Palin loves to talk about how she hates the media, but only when it’s convenient to do so. Communication she’s a fan of: She’s on Facebook and is a well-known fan of Twitter – although her Alaska Gov. account went dormant in July, she’s recently revived her presence there just in time for the book tour (curiously, there are no posts yet, and the account is unverified – is this a hoax?). So lots of information there. On the other hand, she’s just announced there will be no reporters permitted at an upcoming speech in Missouri.

Once again, so what? As we’re finding out, with the variety of ways now available to access the media marketplace, even public figures can exercise some control over the channels and the messages that get sent (at least initially). Celebrities like Twitter because it gives them an unfiltered stream in which to publish their thoughts without media middlepersons interfering. The barriers to entry are getting so low that virtually anyone (With a computer. And online access … oops, sorry rural America!) can be a publisher. This is a good thing, and Palin’s on top of it.

What’s not so good is the way Old Media are allowing Palin to have her cake and eat it too. She doesn’t want to answer questions that aren’t convenient? Argues the news media have an agenda and can’t be trusted? Doesn’t want to participate in the way you do things? Fine. Don’t have her on.

Believe it or not, this isn’t an anti-Palin screed. I don’t know if it deserves to be called a trend, but there’ve been several high-profile cases in the last year of a celebrity eagerly seeking promotion via the mass media, only to springboard off that promotion by attacking the privileged coverage that they asked for.

I miss the quiet dignity of Britney.

Miley Cyrus is a great example. Remember that Vanity Fair cover by Annie Leibovitz? The Cyrus clan was fine with the allegedly racy image at the time, then decided it didn’t jive with their image, so they attacked. Or perhaps the attack is PART of the image, an image of the innocent cruelly used by the media. It’s not a coincidence that Palin is running a similar game.

Maybe we can blame Britney Spears (and can’t we always?), the prototype for the “Aw shucks, I just pose real pretty for the pictures” crowd. On the other hand, Britney didn’t then turn around and attack the people who tarted her up for her magazine and album covers (now the paparazzi, on the other hand …).

I don’t mean to take a cheap shot at Britney, but rather to use her as an example of how the game may have changed. NYU’s Jay Rosen (who would surely enjoy knowing he shares a paragraph with Britney Spears), described George W. Bush’s handling of the press as rejecting an age-old premise. The Bush Thesis, he writes, rejects the idea of the press as a vital, quasi-Constitutional check on power: “You’re assuming that you represent the public. I don’t accept that.” The result is a de-legitimization of the Media, an argument that, yeah, the beast wants to be fed, but we can decide when and what we feed it. And we’re fine representing ourselves, thanks.

Today, we’re seeing Bush Doctrine trickle-down (it had to work eventually). “Whoever can speak to the whole nation becomes a power,” Rosen writes, and that’s evident in the resilience of both Palin and VH1’s Celebreality programming (Antonio Sabato Jr.? Really?). Both go to suggest that the Bush Thesis is a communication phenomenon of the era, not merely of the former president.

After all that, there’s something to be said for a refreshing of the system, one where the press (old and new) needs to earn its privileges and where individuals hold the power to produce. That Senate bill that defines reporters by what they do, not who they work for, is a sign of the times. Communication can create power, and that ability is shared by both old and new media. What’s puzzling is the press’ comfort with being a passive tool of that power-making rather than an active one.

Registering your dislike

Edit (1131a, Nov. 6): Hey, guess what? Now you can. Thanks, Internet, for making it even easier to be a jerk.

A few of my Facebook friends have joined the screamily titled group “PETITION FOR FACEBOOK TO INSTALL A DISLIKE BUTTON…NEED 4,000,000 MEMBERS ASAP..INVITE EVERYONE YOU KNOW TO JOIN.” Facebook, as you probably know, has the option not only to post a status update and to comment on those updates (and other comments), but to “like” an update. There’s a little thumbs up icon underneath any update, and you can click the adorable little hand (it’s even got a cuff!) to visibly “like” what you see.

friendfeed

No hard feelings here.

Facebook added the “like” button in early 2009. I dimly remembered this but wasn’t certain, and a quick search not only confirmed this (via cnet.com) but revealed  that the feature was actually pillaged from FriendFeed. I have never heard of FriendFeed, but a bug on their site advertises its ability to connect with Facebook, so they seem like good sports.

When you “like” something on Facebook, the site name checks your likingness – “Abe Vigoda likes this,” for example – so there’s none of that questionable anonymous liking going on that you see in Third World countries. You can also “unlike” something, which allows you to retract that previously granted approval (“You know, now that I think of it, I’m not so crazy about your kid’s birthday after all.”) This is reasonable – people’s minds change.

To “dislike,” however, is potentially a very different thing. Some people currently rock a jury-rigged dislike, posting “dislike” as a comment like in the olden days. This has largely taken civil, even supportive, form. A friend recently posted that her daughter may have picked up Swine Flu, and several people “disliked” away – “No, I do not like your child’s illness!” Fine. A few Sundays back, I posted that it looked like the Steelers were gonna blow it, and received several “dislikes.” Also fine, considering the casual level of talk (but for the record, they DID blow it).

dislike

So sure, “disliking” exists in a DIY form already. Make it a button, though, and I think you’re asking for trouble. On Facebook, like all social media, we’ve got a choice of who we associate with. I still haven’t friended one guy who was a particular jackass in high school – and that’s my damn prerogative – but generally I keep the door open. And it turns out, not all the people I’ve ever known agree with me about everything! Now here, I’ve got three choices: I can defriend these people and never have to hear their opinions again; I can read, roll my eyes, and move on; or I can engage and discuss.

Notice those options don’t include going “Thbbbpt!” Even if that’s what I’m thinking. Right now, offended users have to react using actual words, and even if those words are irrational, stupid, or ALL IN CAPS, the user needs to choose ’em. I’m not saying Internet discourse is the pinnacle of human communication, but do we really need to de-brain the process farther? Is our time so valuable that we need a way to register our dislike without words, however incoherent those words might be?

A “dislike” button isn’t going to shatter civilization, but subtracting a level of thought from the act of disagreement isn’t doing anyone any favors. You SHOULD be held to a higher standard when you criticize or disagree with another. We automate a lot of communication today, and there’s a lot of potential there for streamlining and sharpening thought. But don’t let’s give up the responsibility to explain where we’re coming from.

It’s not always a social indicator

notamusedHere’s a story forwarded to me due to my unpleasant Farmville habit http://tinyurl.com/yz6yjtq. It’s true – I’m one of them. Those jackasses that overload your Facebook with stupid updates from their stupid game. The freaks that rank harvesting yesterday’s soybeans along with checking email and the news feed in their morning activities. The nuts that think you care that they just bought a Big Ol’ Harvester. What the hell is wrong with these people?

I’d like to think I’ve become a more savvy Farmville user in my old age. I decline most of the game’s notification requests, which range from the trivial to the truly pathetic (“Bob just bought a flamingo topiary!” Hell, I’D want to kill myself…), but certain of them are actually part of playing the game. Find a lost sheep, and you put it up for others to adopt (and hope they’ll do the same so you can win the adopt-an-animal ribbon); advance a level, you can post it so that others can get bonus points from your good fortune. It’s a decision every time, and I’ve learned to come down on the side of not posting, but this is Facebook – if you want everything everyone posts to be relevant to you, you’ve come in with the wrong set of expectations.

Life in Farmville

The duck and the horse haven't been on speaking terms since the 2008 election.

Anyway, back to the story. Late in the article, the author points to an argument by some game (no pun intended) academics that Farmville may reflect “a widespread yearning for the pastoral life,” to leave behind the hubbub of modernity (you know, while using a social networking site) and run off to farm country. I know this is the Fashion & Style section, and I know Douglas Quenqua is just doing his job, but these NYT “trend” stories always ring a little false to me, and this one hits that spot. Must there always be a bright line between A and B?

Not only that, the argument suggests a lack of familiarity with gaming and gaming culture. You know what Farmville likely reflects? A desire to collect widgets. The Pokemon people have known this for years. Gamers have been collecting meaningless jinjoes for a long time. One author (whose name I am feverishly trying to remember Edit 148p, 11/6: Found it! Everything Bad is Good for You, by Steven Johnson) even argues that a Legend of Zelda style of learning is ingrained in this generation: To get into the cave, you need to blow up the boulder at the entrance; to do this, you need bombs; for bombs, you have to find the merchant’s cat; the cat is on a pirate ship, and you’ll need a mask to get aboard; and so on. The object is simple – you could get into Death Mountain almost immediately in the first Zelda – but it’s the path that makes the game engaging.

What once was a gamer mindset, though, now pervades culture. Blogs like this one collect links in their posts and their blogrolls, and create something new out of those ingredients. Facebook itself is in many ways a person-collecting application – find old friends, throw out or relish the ones that don’t agree with you, and synthesize a conversation via aggregation. Twitter, which I’ve just joined, distills this collector mentality even farther, stripping away some of Facebook’s Me-orientation in favor of an individual identities that aren’t so much created as coalesced.

So no, I don’t think I’m playing Farmville because I want to escape to the country, anymore than I’m playing Castle Age because I want to be an orc. Why is it the most popular app on Facebook, above fellow Zynga games Mafia Wars (#2) and Cafe World (#3)? Maybe it’s because you can make sheep look cuter than mobsters and parfaits, drawing in a larger market. For me, though, I’m harvesting 400 eggplants at 8 a.m. because I have a weird compulsion to collect trifles, not because I covet the agrarian lifestyle. They could as easily be squid, bent nails or kitten heads, and my hardwired upbringing wouldn’t think twice about trying to catch ’em all.

Well, maybe not the kitten heads.