Freaky Friday – What it Takes to Censor the Chinese Twitter

It’s no secret that the Chinese government is not a fan of free and unencumbered access to the Web. But unlike North Korea, which restricts Internet access to all but a privileged handful of citizens, China recognizes that you can’t maintain your status as a rising power without you know, email.

So you can actually get on a computer and surf the Web in China, albeit one that is heavily censored. In fact, unlike repressive regimes in say, Syria or Egypt, China has done a fairly good job keeping the conversation under control – i.e. no criticism of the government – even using the Web to boost its legitimacy.

But while it’s well known that the Chinese Internet is heavily policed, we actually don’t know much about how it’s done. Rice University professor Dan Wallach and several colleagues recently set out to measure how censors keep non-approved content from appearing on Weibo – essentially the Chinese version of Twitter.

You can and should check out the entire story here at MIT’s Technology Review. The results are equally fascinating and freaky. Wallach and his team measured the volume of messages as well as the time and frequency of deletions to make conclusions about how Weibo is censored.

To keep tabs on Weibo’s 300 million users, who send 100 million messages per day and 70,000 per minute, Wallach figured that it takes 1,400 censors at any given moment and likely 4,200 each day to scan and delete messages. And roughly 12 percent of all messages are deleted.

I try not to get too political on this copywriting blog. But at least to me, this is very important work if for no other reason than it highlights the fact that a free and open Internet isn’t a given.

And it can’t be taken for granted.

Monday Must-Reads

Happy Monday, iCopyInsiders. Ready for another week at the office?

Of course, I use the term “office” loosely. I imagine that – for many of our writers and clients – the office is wherever we make it. I like cafés as much as the next blogger, but I tend to stick to the nook in my apartment where I’ve set up shop.

I’ve got my headset, French press, WiFi, plenty of peace and quiet to write and a decent sixth-story view of Brooklyn, complete with a giant tree so I can tell the season. When the leaves turn green, I will finally go outside.

I bring all this up because telecommuting is suddenly the subject of surprisingly intense debate, with Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, axing work-from-home as an option for the tech company’s employees.

Which brings us to Item No. 1 on the weekly reading list.

  1. Where do you stand on telecommuting? Slate offers both sides of the debate. Tech columnist Farhad Manjoo writes that work-from-home is awesome. Katie Roiphe begs to differ.
  2. On to a topic only slightly less controversial: social media and ROI. eMarketer reports on a recent study showing that Twitter generates the most leads for small to mid-sized businesses, while Facebook generates more traffic. Social media itself only accounted for 5 percent of sales leads in the survey of 500 businesses.
  3. In other social news, this via The New York Times, Facebook is set to display targeted ads around the Web with its acquisition of Microsoft’s Atlas Advertising Suite.
  4. Of course, our passion here at iCopywriter is organic search, so if you need a refresher, this column in Entrepreneur has five simple strategies that just about anyone can use to improve their SEO. It’s a good primer for SEO newbies.
  5. And, finally, the Girl Scouts of America has pulled the plug on the ecommerce ambitions of reality television star Alana Thompson – known as Honey Boo Boo – saying she can’t sell the cookies over Facebook because it defeats the purpose of selling the cookies.

Other than dispensing tasty treats, the cookie program is meant to help young women gain confidence and business skills. I’m sold. Now, where can I find some Tagalongs?

That might be worth leaving the office for.

 

FreakyFriday: Weird of the Day – Battletoads as Business Metaphor

Struggling daily deal site Groupon fired CEO Andrew Mason on Thursday. It wasn’t exactly a surprise. The company posted a terrible fourth quarter and the conventional wisdom has taken a dim view of Groupon’s business model for a while now.

Instead, the chatter focused on Mason’s epic farewell message. In it was found one of the surest signs yet that the Nintendo Generation has truly come of age: a reference to the ‘90s video game Battletoads.

Specifically, Mason compared his journey to the heights of entrepreneurial success – and subsequent fall – to making it to the infamous Terra Tubes level without dying. Wired unpacks the semiotics of Battletoads – and just what Mason meant – pretty well in this article. You can also check out Terra Tubes in their unedited glory on YouTube.

I never imagined I’d think about Terra Tubes again. Actually, that’s not true, because I’ve never even thought to think that I’d never think of Terra Tubes again.

But now that the memories are rushing back to me, I can’t come up with a better example of struggling against impossible odds in a ruthless digital world. My seven-year-old self aspired to defeat Battletoads above all other games. I even cleared Terra Tubes (although not without losing many, many lives first). But hey, the next level is called Rat Race (another great metaphor) and I never did beat Battletoads.

If the self-esteem movement brought us participation trophies and scoreless soccer, ‘90s video games were still there to teach children what it’s like to strive in the face of perpetual failure.

Not a bad lesson for budding entrepreneurs.

Monday Must-Reads

Happy Monday, iCopyInsiders. I attempted to avoid the Oscars last night by catching the Nets game at a local sports bar, but, lo and behold, I ended up un-ironically watching them anyway. Which brings us to our first pick of the week.

The envelope, please …

  1. Google, it turns out, did better at predicting the Oscars than this year’s flu season, calling it for Argo. Slightly less interestingly, Google also tracked the search patterns during last night’s awards ceremony and, lo and behold, the winners got the most search traffic.

    Now, on to the serious stuff.

  2. Copyblogger continues to beat the drum for Google+ and Google Authorship with a very comprehensive guide on using the service to improve your online authority.
  3. Have you signed up for Mailbox yet? CBS MoneyWatch has a preview of the app, which is supposed to solve all of our inbox problems.
  4. We’re two years into Google Panda. The blog Search Engine Land breaks down the legacy of Google’s infamous algorithm update.
  5. Here’s an inside look at what it’s like to actually use Google’s new wearable display, Google Glass. Like what you see? All you need to do is round up $1,500 for a pair. Oh, and get on Google’s exclusive distribution list.

FreakyFriday: Weird of the Day – The Web Predicts the Future

The sum total of digital links, text, data, images and everything else you touch online everyday may just be the closest thing we ever get to a crystal ball.

Yes, there is a serious move afoot – led by very serious people – to mine the Web in order to predict future events. Don’t believe me? Just check out this paper by Microsoft Research and the Israel Institute of Technology.

Their idea: Software can recognize undetectable patterns in the mass of real-time and archived news and other information online – and analyze it in an unbiased way – to forecast future events. H/T to tech blog GigaOM for the link, as well as a great post about how the paper’s authors will be digging into two decades of New York Times articles and seeing what kind of forecasts they can extrapolate.

This idea isn’t so crazy – witness last week’s post about Google’s uneven efforts to predict the spread of the flu – and there are a number of startups in this area, including Recorded Future, which is already being marketed to the defense and financial sectors. You can even try a very limited version of Recorded Future for yourself – although the corporate plans and are going to cost you, big time.

But I encourage anybody to give the demo a spin to get a taste of predictive analytics. The focus of the research is on large, worldwide events, but we’re already seeing plenty of predictive analytics in the business world, including behavioral targeting and even algorithms that attempt to predict what will trend on Twitter.

Just imagine how hard it’s going to be to stay ahead of the curve when everyone knows where the curve is going.

Monday Must-Reads

Happy Presidents’ Day, iCopyInsiders.

I guess the foremost question on my mind is what Sasha and Malia Obama got their dad for his special day. In this case, a quick Web search wasn’t much help in digging up a good answer. Let me know if you find anything; I feel like somebody at least got him a tie.

However, I did find this interesting slideshow of Presidential gifts by The New Yorker.

The second thing on my mind this very Presidential Monday is the importance of social media and search rankings, which is how we’re starting off this week’s edition of Monday Must-Reads.

  1. AdAge charts how Facebook Graph Search will make it easier to measure ROI on social media, with some tips for optimization. No cheats here. As the Web gets smarter, every search engine will attempt to measure and reward genuine engagement with business-created content.
  2. VentureBeat breaks down ComScore’s Digital Future report. Among the key takeaways: Google still dominates search, but Bing is making slow but sure progress. LinkedIn and Twitter are neck and neck for unique visitors.
  3. TechCrunch picks this up from the ComScore report: 3 in 10 paid advertisements are never seen by customers. Considering that 5.3 trillion ads were shown in 2012, that’s a lot of ads that never saw the whites of a customer’s eyes. Don’t neglect your organic search marketing, folks! Connect with the people who are actually trying to find you.
  4. I have a few blogs I try to keep regularly updated – not to mention my workload as a freelancer – so trust me, I get that keeping content updated is a daily struggle. MarketingProfs has some helpful tips on how to build content marketing into a business routine. Routine, I would say, is the keyword.
  5. Also on the content side, Reputation Capital presents an interesting roundup of startup founders talking about the value of blogging. They ask a good question: Is it right for every business.
  6. Props to CNET for finding this: Harlem Shake Roulette. You’re welcome.

 

Monday Must-Reads

OK, iCopyInsiders, it’s all business this Monday. We’ve pulled together some pretty serious SEO reads for you to dig into this week.

Ah, who am I kidding? Before we begin, here is a cat watching the snowfall during the big blizzard the Northeast had over the weekend. And here is a snowy pup. Hat tip to Buzzfeed (who else?).

Also, watch a cool time-lapse video of the snowfall in Connecticut.

With that out of the way, we can move on to the weekly avalanche of search and marketing resources.

  1. Auto blog Jalopnik reports that the big car dealers are turning to SEO to move vehicles off their lots. But not everybody agrees on whether this is a good strategy or not, at least in terms of the specifics of the auto industry.
  2. Only 2 percent of Web users have signed up for a Vine account, but that doesn’t mean brands aren’t rushing to make use of the micro-video sharing site. SmartBlog has a handy guide for using Vine for content marketing. On a personal note, I enjoy Vine – and I’ve written as much on this site – but I would like to see a more robust user base. My gut says that Vine will continue to grow, but it may take some time.
  3. Via Search Engine Watch, online newsrooms are finally getting savvy to SEO, but the secret is in synergy between the PR types and the SEO team. Not to belabor the point, but good content leads to hits.
  4. Seems like I’m seeing more of these mega tip sheets on the blog circuit these days. Here is one from HubSpot: 101 ways to make people hate your marketing. Worth a skim. Don’t annoy people, basically.
  5. Lest you forget that Google Author Rank is shaking up the online search scene, here is CopyBlogger arguing that the late, great gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson would have been a huge fan.

Monday Must-Reads: Super Bowl Hangover Edition

How are we feeling today, iCopyInsiders? Super Bowl Sunday may be an unofficial national holiday, but it’s no three-day weekend. Not that we don’t treat it like one. So let’s get Monday started with some postgame brain food.

First, let’s deal with that headache.

  • If you’re looking for ways to motivate your hungover employees, Inc.com has put together the ultimate guide. For good reason, too; Jacksonville Business Journal reports that up to $850 million will be lost in worker productivity today.
  • The International Business Times has a roundup of hangover cures.
  • If you’re feeling extra motivated, you can petition the White House to just go ahead and give us all the day off.

Feeling better? Now, onto the business end of things. We’ll start with more football, because, hey, the Super Bowl is also the championship of marketing.

  1. USA Today breaks down how the big game played out on the Web and social media. Not surprisingly, Beyoncé and the Superdome blackout ate up most of the social bandwidth.
  2. Major events like the Super Bowl rarely go off script – except, of course, for the game itself – but when the power went out in half the Superdome, socially savvy marketers were quick to shine the light on their own brands. Oreo takes the prize here, with a blackout-themed advertisement that quickly went viral. Well played, Oreo.
  3. In non-Beyoncé, non-cookie related news, here is an article from Ad Age about how Facebook plans to take on Google’s dominance in the search market with its social graph. I’m not sold on social graph, but marketers should keep an eye on this.
  4. Search Engine Journal advises businesses on how to improve a website’s bounce rate. Remember, your website isn’t much good if users don’t stick around.
  5. This one is via the ClickZ marketing blog. Google has been plugging its universal analytics that aim to give marketers an accurate picture of site performance across platforms.

 

FreakyFriday: Weird of the Day – Vine Gets Freaky

 

I guess this was to be expected; every emerging Web technology goes through its, uh, wild and irresponsible period.

Witness Twitter’s new video-sharing app, Vine, which allows users to post six-second videos for streaming. Naturally, the service found that most of the first week of its big launch was spent figuring out how to crack down on users posting porn and deal with the ensuing media attention.

Then the app experienced its first major outage within five days of going live.

That being said, I’m not ready to give up on Vine so easily. The service is already spawning third-party apps and extensions that allow users to embed videos into Tumblr feeds or search for cool content. And even in a few short days, users have embraced the medium in creative ways.

As any entrepreneur knows, things can get freaky fast when launching a new product. Here are my three takeaways when it comes to the weirdness that was Vine this week.

1. Give Vine time to grow.

Twitter seemed ridiculous too, at first. And while the micro-blogging site isn’t the right content delivery system for every business, few would question the cultural impact it has had since it first launched. Content platforms – and how people use and interact with them – evolve over time.

2. Vine can be used to make interesting business content.

The beautiful thing about Twitter is how it forces users to focus on their message. Now, this doesn’t work for all content, but you don’t have to be a marketing genius to recognize the potential of a memorable six-second video pitch. Vine will force marketers to be ruthlessly efficient – not to mention extremely creative – in how they deliver their message.

So, what’s your six-second pitch?

3. It’s OK if Vine isn’t for you.

I tend not to be a fan of social overload. A business doesn’t have to be delivering content on every single platform available. Not every business is built for, say, Pinterest, and that’s just fine. Actually, spreading content efforts too thin more often leads to weak or duplicate content.

Rather, it’s a good idea to focus on doing the best job possible on the social networks where you are active, and these should be the ones your customers are using. If video fits into that equation, by all means, start cutting some six-second clips.

Monday Must-Reads

It’s Monday, iCopyInsiders. And not the awesome, federal holiday kind. As you shake off the cobwebs and welcome an actual five-day workweek, here are some good reads to get your brain going.

  1. Freaked out by changes to Google’s search algorithms? MediaPost says, “Don’t be.” Check out this rundown on what recent changes mean for marketers in terms of search engine optimization.
  2. Because we’re all about search, here’s a smart post from SmartBlog that breaks down how social media affects search rankings. There’s a lot of debate about social media ROI, but don’t forget that it ties into your broader Web presence in surprising ways. Don’t neglect it.
  3. For our freelance and indie workforce friends looking to improve their business, here is a neat list of must-read books from FreelanceSwitch, including several Web marketing resources.
  4. For Google geeks, here’s an interesting profile of Jeff Dean, one of the company’s tech wunderkinds, on Slate. It’s part of Slate’s new series called Doers: People who accomplish great things, and how they do it.
  5. You Only Live Once, or at least that’s what Instagram and Twitter tell me. If you’re not familiar with the #yolo meme – and even if you are – check out this awesome primer from Know Your Meme and then watch the latest SNL Digital Short.