May 27, 2005

May 25, 2005

The big problem with ads in RSS feeds

Filed under: — 6:00 am

Matt Haughey writes about why he thinks ads in RSS are a bad idea, and brings up an objection I haven’t heard much of in the endless debates about RSS ads. He divides his visitors into two categories: daily, devoted readers and random searchers, with the random visitors accounting for over 75% of traffic. RSS subscribers tend to be in the first category—devoted readers who don’t want to miss a single post—and he’d rather not annoy this group with ads.

I agree, and this is half the reason I don’t run any ads in RSS feeds. The other half of the reason: as I wrote about in Making Money from Content Sites last month, the devoted readers are far less likely to click on ads than the random searchers. And clicking on ads is all that matters, since the current options for RSS advertising (i.e. AdSense for Feeds) pay strictly by the click.

In short: it seems to me that ads in feeds not only annoy the last people you’d want to annoy, they also make little to no money due to lack of clicks. That last part’s just a theory, so I’d love to hear from anyone who has made money using ads in RSS.

Since I make my living from web advertising, I certainly have nothing ethically against RSS ads, and I personally don’t find them terribly annoying—I just doubt they’re a viable profit source right now, and I’m not sure they’ll ever be.

May 23, 2005

May 20, 2005

May 19, 2005

Personalized Google

Filed under: — 8:01 pm

Google has a new personalized home page feature that displays content you choose on a Google search page suitable for use as a home page. You can include things like Google News and BBC news on the page, and your GMail inbox if you have one. A nice JavaScript UI lets you drag the boxes around the page. Here’s the announcement at Google Blog, and a reaction from Jeremy Zawodny at Yahoo, who finds the whole thing eerily familiar.

They seem to be planning full RSS (or Atom?) support, but for now there are only about 10 feeds you can select from. Along with the BBC, Wired News, and Slashdot, I’m very pleased to report that they’ve chosen my Quotes of the Day as one of the feeds. It is using RSS, as you might have guessed, and someone at Google was nice enough to email me to let me know they’re using my feed and warn me that it might bring me some traffic (bring it on!)

As Jeremy pointed out, Google has taken a tiny step toward becoming a “portal” rather than a mere search engine. It will be interesting to see where they go from here.

May 17, 2005

New weblog: Sequenced Notes

Filed under: — 10:40 am

Sequenced NotesWhen I’m not working on websites, one of my favorite hobbies is making electronic music with computers and synthesizers. I’ve been thinking for a while that I’d like to write about making music, but this isn’t the place for it—first of all, I like to keep this weblog somewhat focused on web development and computers, and second, music can be an obsession at times, and it would take over this site for months at a time if I allowed it.

Besides, another of my obsessions is starting new websites.

Sequenced Notes is my new electronic music weblog, where I’ll be writing regularly about synthesizers, sequencers, and other aspects of digital music production. I think it will be fun to write about something a bit more “right brain” than anything else I do, and I’m hoping it will convince me to spend more time actually working on music. It will also be an outlet for another of my hobbies—building my own synthesizers.

I had a bit of fun with this site’s design, which is inspired by the “piano roll” editor used in sequencers. It uses a CSS layout loosely based on the one I did for Starling Fitness. It’s a bold, kind of intentionally geeky look—believe it or not, I toned it down a bit before finalizing the design. I’m particularly happy with the way the top graphic merges seamlessly with the background grid.

The logo font is Jason Kottke’s Silkscreen. I used this font directly for the tagline, and built the logo text in the sequencer grid one giant pixel at a time based on the letters in the font. I’ll probably use Silkscreen column headers in the sidebar too, but I haven’t done that yet.

This site is my first experience using WordPress 1.5, and the source of my earlier post about WP 1.5. I’ll be upgrading my other sites soon.

Let me know what you think, and I hope I have a few readers who are musicians and will find it worth a read. Stay tuned for next week, when I further expand my portfolio of multiple personalities weblogs with an additional unrelated site.

[The name of the site is a pun: “sequenced notes” could describe a weblog, as well as the primary component of electronic music. Get it? No? Congratulations, you’re not as much of a nerd as I am.]

May 13, 2005

May 12, 2005

First Impressions: Yahoo Music

Filed under: — 10:05 am

Yahoo just launched Yahoo Music Engine, their answer to iTunes. Like iTunes, it’s a music player and library organizer, and includes its own music store—Yahoo Music Unlimited. Unlike iTunes, it’s for Windows only, although I imagine a Mac version is in the works. Here are my first impressions of the software and the subscription music service.

Let’s start with the software: YME has a clean user interface that is clearly inspired by iTunes, but doesn’t try too hard to duplicate it. It has some nice touches, like showing pictures of album covers instead of a simple list of albums when you select an artist. Its playlist support is basic, with no automatic formula-based playlists, and the application is a bit slow to start, so it’s not likely to replace WinAmp as my primary music player until it improves. I am intrigued by its list of plug-ins, which include everything from mini-players to a command-line shell and a version of FreeCell that runs inside YME.

As for buying music, you have two choices: you can buy tracks for 99 cents each, iTunes style, or subscribe to the Unlimited service for $4.99 (if you pay for a year) or $6.99 a month, which allows you to stream or download (but not burn to CD) anything in their catalog. Burnable tracks are only .79 for Unlimited subscribers.

The .79/.99 deal does not excite me. The DRM prevents me from doing everything I want (like playing the tracks on my iBook or putting them on my iPod) and the price isn’t amazing, so I’m better off buying a real CD or buying it from iTunes.

The subscription service, on the other hand, has me excited. I paid for a year, so for $4.99 a month I can download any album in their catalog. The music selection seems great so far, although not quite as diverse as iTunes. Yes, the DRM is annoying here too—the tracks don’t work on the iPod or on the Mac, and I can’t even burn them to CD—but at this price point, I don’t care.

Assuming I download five albums a month, I’m paying $1 per album. I listen to most of my music on the PC, so for $1 it’s almost as good as owning the album, and I can listen to the whole thing a couple of times before I decide to buy it from iTunes or the local CD shop. I can play the subscription tracks in the software of my choice—WinAmp and MusicMatch Jukebox both handle them just fine—and I can authorize up to 3 PCs to play them. I could even play them on a portable device, as long as it was one of these and not my iPod or my Treo. Sigh.

In short, I see this service as a nice way to preview and shop for music. At this price I don’t really feel like I’m paying for the music at all—I’m just paying $5 a month to preview it. By contrast, iTunes charges me $9.99 for each album, leaving me feeling like I paid for the album but still can’t do what I want with it.

Nice work, Yahoo!

May 11, 2005

Making RSS more visible

Filed under: — 1:35 pm

The Quotations Page has supported RSS for several years—in fact, our Quotes of the Day RSS feed is currently #10 on Bloglines’ list of most popular feeds, and it appears as a default in a number of news readers. Nonetheless, people have been emailing me asking if we have an RSS feed. This isn’t surprising, since the details about the feeds were buried at the bottom of this page.

So, I’ve finally made a few changes in an effort to make the feeds for Quotes of the Day and our lesser-known Motivational Quotes of the Day a bit more visible. I added the ever-popular orange XML icon and subscription buttons for Bloglines, Yahoo, etc. below the current day’s quotations on each page, and added the appropriate <link> tags for RSS autodiscovery.

I’m also experimenting with Feedburner to take some of the RSS load off of our server and produce some useful statistics. Another benefit of Feedburner is that it provides a nicely-styled RSS page to browsers, so if you click on the XML icon you get some useful instructions instead of raw XML code. I’ll post more about Feedburner after I’ve tried it for a few days.

May 7, 2005

May 6, 2005

May 4, 2005

Google Web Accelerator

Filed under: — 3:42 pm

The new and enigmatic Google Web Accelerator has just been announced. It’s an application that “uses the power of Google’s global computer network to make web pages load faster,” according to the FAQ. Reading a bit further, it appears to be a combination of a caching proxy and prefetching. It works for IE and Firefox, though only on Windows.

This is interesting and a bit spooky: the Google toolbar tracks every URL you visit, but this goes one step further by passing everything you view through Google’s servers. When I installed it, I had to agree to some lengthy legal language to that effect.

Experimenting briefly with the Accelerator turned on, Internet Explorer and Firefox do seem a bit faster, but with a broadband connection it’s nothing to write home about. Beyond the obvious privacy implications and the marginal speed increase, the main reasons I won’t use this long term have to do with prefetching:

  • As a web user, I don’t want my browser filling my bandwidth with requests for pages it hopes I’m going to click on. I don’t always click on the obvious things, and I’d rather keep some bandwidth open for background downloads, other browser sessions, and streaming audio.
  • As a webmaster, I’m concerned about the effect of widespread use of prefetching. For example, if my site is the first result on Google for a term, thousands of browsers are going to be loading my site in the background even when the user clicks on a different result. This costs me bandwidth, confuses my statistics, and could cause trouble with advertisers who are paying for real pageviews, not automated ones.

Regardless, this is very interesting and I can’t wait to see what becomes of Google’s latest “beta”. Google is getting dangerously close to becoming the world’s largest ISP.

May 3, 2005

May 2, 2005

May 1, 2005

(c) 2001-2007 Michael Moncur. All rights reserved, but feel free to quote me.
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