Skip to content

Rage for Science

07-Sep-11

They asked me at work to encourage the scientists to promote themselves on the school website. This is what they received.

Rage for Science

Why Google Should Learn to Love Black Hat SEO

05-Dec-10

Google should learn to love black hat SEO.  In fact – they should embrace it.  They should make it a central pillar of their entire strategy.  Shock horror gasp!  I know.  Let me present my case.  I think it’s a pretty good one.  But first, let me tell you my yarn as to how I got started thinking about this issue.

It all started around March of this year when I decided that it was about time I learnt to code.  To encourage this pursuit I decided to pick web development (django/python style) – and I thought I might as well try to turn a coin at it while I do it.  So I’ve been working at writing an application which adds some value in the affiliate space.  It’s not very high minded, and I certainly don’t think I’ve contributed anything yet that is worthwhile (hence I haven’t turned any coin yet) – but that’s okay.  I’m just trying to learn to code.

But although it’s okay if I don’t actually turn a coin in this endeavour, since my primary aim here is learning, still I was a bit dismayed to learn of some of the forces arrayed against me.  The most upsetting of these are the blackhat seo marketers.   After noticing some funny looking websites appearing in the search results for some of my targeted keywords, I began to peer into their strange, dark world.

I should note at this point that I’m not going to link to any of the sites that I found, nor name that particular black-hat seo marketer that I’ll primarily be talking about. Ultimately my reason for this is that I don’t believe in trial by internet.  This alone would be enough to prevent me from releasing the information about who I was talking about.  But of course, I actually believe these people shouldn’t be vilified – and that it’s in all our interests NOT to vilify them.  But before I explain myself on this point, we need to go deeper into the rabbit hole.

The Black Hat SEO Rabbit Hole

So – I noticed a somewhat odd site ranking higher than my site for a particular set of keywords in my chosen niche.  As you’d expect, it was a spammy looking wordpress blog with about five or so poorly written articles – the sort of articles you can find on ezine, but slightly worse.  They are the sort of articles you could write in ten or fifteen minutes by just googling the topic and paraphrasing the most basic information that you find.  They involve the absolute minimum amount of human intelligence required to satisfy a robot that this isn’t algorithmically produced spam.  (Of course, it is just algorithmically produced spam – it’s just that this algorithm still requires people for its execution.)

There were two things I couldn’t understand about this website.  Firstly, I couldn’t understand how it was ranking so well.  It had only been registered a couple of months and had no backlinks that I could discern in google.  Secondly, I couldn’t understand the point of the website.  It had no advertising on it.  It had no links to other websites – so it wasn’t trying to funnel traffic.  So what was the angle here?

The answer to the first question proved to be straightforward.  Google will place any site on the front page of results for a particular set of keywords if it meets the following criteria:

1) The targeted keywords are not particularly competitive (for the given market/country)’ i.e. there are not many strong sites targeting those keywords.

2) The site follows basic on-page optimisation rules which include:

  • Having the keywords in the domain name
  • Having the keywords in the meta title tag
  • Having the keywords in the meta description tag

Astonishingly, that’s it.  I’ve tested this extensively, and it is undeniably a fact.  It works because a) there is an astonishing amount of ignorance out there about on-page optimisation, b) because most legitimate sites use branding keywords in their title that don’t exactly match the keywords people use to search (e.g. “Yolanda’s Jewellery” – as opposed to “Cheap Jewellery for Sale” ), c) SEO folk devote their time to deploying hundreds of these sites to find those keywords that have high traffic and low competition.  This is a specialised endeavour in which individual vendors can’t afford to engage.

Finding out the purpose of this site took a little more legwork – but not much.  Luckily, it turns out that this particular internet marketer has one particular flaw – vanity.  Within minutes of looking up the owner of the domain, I had just about everything I needed.  I had his facebook page.  I had a list of articles he had written for various crummy seo blogs.  I had a list of the other spammy domains that he owned.  It was now just a matter of sifting through it all.  The vanity comes into it because this guy was making a lot of money and of course had to tell all these sites about it.  It seems to me to be the kind of tragic flaw of the black hat SEO.  What they really want is respect and acclaim, but don’t seem to realise that ultimately what they’ll receive is derision.

Anyway – the paydirt of this long and tedious exercise was an hour long interview that I found between our hero and a pretty low-brow SEO blog.  In it he revealed everything I wanted to know.  The whole genesis and purpose of his site breaks down like this:

1) Throw up a wordpress blog for the chosen keywords

2) Outsource the article writing to cheap labour in Malaysia, India etc… (I believe he quoted a dollar or so per article.

3) Outsource link building (if required) to the same cheap labour.

4) Contact legitimate site owners.  Point out to them that their site is not ranking as well as it could be for the given keyword set.  (Of course it wouldn’t be because they’ve just been bumped down by black hat spam).

5) Offer your SEO services at some ridiculous price rate.  If they accept – you can give them a near instant bump by removing your spammy websites.

6) If they refuse SEO, try selling them your spammy domains.

7) If all of the above fails… then you can whack some adsense on the blog and let the recalcitrant website owners suffer the inflated marketing costs this produces.

8) Rinse and repeat… always repeat.

This blew my mind when I first learned of it.   On the face of it, these people exist only to suck value out of the market and make everyone’s life (but their own) harder.  It becomes harder for consumers to find real websites that provide value.  It becomes harder for real websites of value to rank for keywords for which they would have ordinarily ranked well if not for the black hats.  Effectively, the black hats extort money from legitimate website owners as a payoff for not making life shitty.

There are two main ways I think one can try to fight this phenomenon – the wrong way and the right way.  Let’s look at both.

The Wrong Way – Deny and Vilify

This seems to be the default view of both Google and the community as a whole.  Ultimately the aim of such an approach is to increase the costs for the black hats in their endeavours so that it effectively becomes cheaper for them to produce sites with real value.  The main ways in which such costs are to be exacted involve largely trying to improve the algorithms which can select for quality.

News flash – it’s not working!  It is always going to cost disproportionately more to build an algorithmic measure of quality than it will to circumvent said algorithm.  I’m not going to argue at length for this claim – but current evidence seems to be on my side.

But there is another significant way in which the costs of the black hat seo are increased – through vilification.  The idea is that we ostracise these people from the inner fold of the internet community.  We tell everyone to be on the lookout for spammers so we can de-index them and level large big wads of shame in their general direction.

This approach is probably more effective than the algorithmic one – but it’s still not very effective.  These people generally do want esteem.  But there are enough of them around that they have their own communities and will ultimately be happy with the esteem they can garnish in that small pond if they are locked out from getting what they need from the wider community.

The Right Way – Legitimise Them

This is going to sound radical – but the best way to deal with these people is to legitimise what they do.  Hear me out.

Ultimately – the problem is caused by perverse incentives.    Improve the incentives and you’ll get a better result.   First of all, you need to recognise the value that these guys do bring to the table.    These guys uncover low cost, high value keywords that quality businesses could leverage if they knew about them.  This is real value – and it takes work to uncover.  It deserves to be remunerated  But think about how hard it actually is to leverage payment for this information.  As soon as you reveal it – you’ve lost a large measure of your edge, unless you’re willing to engage in shady practices like those I just described.  And you end up with a search engine where these great keywords are getting mapped to complete shit.

But imagine if you could transform these guys into an army of go-getters that work FOR Google and not against?  So rather than encouraging to map great keywords to shitty domains – encourage them to map good keywords to good domains – and find a way to ensure they get remunerated for this job.

Here’s one way you might do it:

  1. First of all, you need to continue to let these guys test for good keywords.  So you need to let them continue to throw up their spammy websites.  They need to be able to see how well these spammy websites will do – how much traffic they get etc… (even see what sort of adsense income they get).
  2. Encourage them to register these website on Google webmaster – and encourage them to identify these sites as the spammy sites they are.  (but give it a better name so they don’t feel so horrible about it – call them “Funnel Sites” – because that’s what these sites will be, as I’ll show in a moment).
  3. Once registered as a funnel site – google will allow that site a grace period in the index of say 3-6 months… wherein that site will be allowed to gather the data that the SEO guy will need to make his pitch.  After that – the site will be de-indexed.
  4. Allow SEO guys to sell a mapping from this domain to another domain.  This mapping can count toward a site’s page rank for those particular keywords.  The data collected in the grace period could be used for a website owner to be able to determine the value in purchasing a mapping from a particular funnel site.
  5. Setup a section for this within adwords so as to allow for an efficient marketplace for this sort of exchange.  (But not anonymous bidding – SEOs ultimately must choose who to sell to.  Otherwise you are not leveraging their knowledge of the marketplace for a given set of keywords).  Google can scoop cream off the top.
  6. Provide an incentive for SEOs to sell their mappings to high quality websites.  You can do this by making it so that they can charge a higher price for a mapping if and only if they have a reputation for selling mappings to high quality sites.  So if a person with a high quality website (as determined by page rank etc) asks to buy a mapping from you, and you allow them, then this improves the value of your account and it therefore becomes more expensive to purchase from you.
  7. SEOs that don’t play by the rules run the risk of reduced revenues, sites delisted – etc…  same as before really – but now ostracisation actually means something.

Now there would have to be lots of little bits and pieces that would have to be added to this to make it airtight.  (e.g. how many funnel sites can there be for a particular keyword, what should the weighting be, how to establish a reputation metric for SEOs… difficult questions – but that’s google’s job).   Nevertheless I think the gist is solid because it gets the incentives right.  At the very least, this is the sort of general direction in which Google needs to be thinking.  Consider some of its advantages:

  1. It encourages funnel sites out into the open so google can more easily see them and understand how they are being used.
  2. It provides a way in which to encourage SEO spammers to have their own spammy sites de-listed.
  3. Google has created it’s own perverse incentive structure insofar as its adwords system incentivises them to have a shitty results page so that people either click on the ads or end up clicking an adsense ad.  This mitigates that problem.  Lost revenue from promoting quality in the index will likely show up by leveraging a commission off the transactions for funnel sites.
  4. Users of the search index get to where they actually want to go quicker (without having to pass through multiple layers of spam).
  5. Since they’ll be part of the internet family – black hat SEOs will be more likely to share their discoveries with the wider community because they will have reason to think that Google will incorporate future discoveries in a way that will positively benefit them.
  6. Black Hat SEOs will be encouraged to invest in the future of search.  If search fails then they fail with it.  And they’ll have to figure out how to do business with Facebook – or some god awful analogue.
  7. A good deal of the power in this scenario rests with the owners of quality websites – insofar as they can choose who to buy mappings from.
  8. Link building for such domains will become irrelevant (so no more incentives to build even MORE spammy sites just to link to another spammy site).

And probably more I haven’t thought of.  No doubt there are some weaknesses in this idea.  But I’m currently in the honeymoon phase with it and am so enamoured that I can’t see them – please offer your criticisms in the comments.

The core of the idea is one that really works for just about all things in life.  If someone is working against your interests and you try to vilify and ostracise them – you’ll most likely just provide further incentives for them to work harder against you.  Instead, you should try to figure out how to bring them into the fold – and they might just become your most powerful allies.

Life With a SmartPhone

14-Mar-10
Six Smartphones

Smartphones Smartphones everywhere and not a drop to drink

What’s in a smartphone?  They all have their different features and varying functionalities.  Many of you looking for a review of a smartphone will want to know how long the battery lasts and whether or not it multi-tasks.  How many apps are to be found in the app store and what is their average cost?  All very pertinent questions and I certainly recommend you find your answers before purchasing your chosen brand.  But you won’t find them answered here.  A specific review of a particular brand is a somewhat pedestrian task that I’ll leave to the tech blogs.  In this review I’ll be looking at the smartphone as a singular genus.  Most people don’t have one and may be wondering whether its time to step up.  Well, I’m going to go deep into the questions inspired by the rise of the smartphone.  Is it a must have tool?  Or another chain to the modern world?  Time to find out.

Click the link to continue reading this smartphone review over at Reviews In Depth.

Pitch Black (2000) A Neglected Classic

28-Feb-10

I thought I might try my hand at a review site – so this is a sample of what you’ll find there.

Pitch Black (2000), directed by David Twohy, is almost the perfect subject of review for InDepth - a movie widely dismissed as derivative sci-fi, schlock horror. Looking at the "top reviews" on Rotten Tomatoes reveals an establishment totally incapable of engaging with this film.  Robert Ebert is off put by the fighting crew and the implausibility of the existence of the aliens; Kevin Thomas from the LA Times complains that the movie gives us what we've seen a thousand times before.  Usually when a deeply subversive movie like this is misunderstood by the many, it is carried aloft by the cognoscenti few and branded cult. But this never quite happened with Pitch Black. Even those who express a liking for it often do so in the way one might confess to going off one's diet of green leafy salads, or high brow sophistication of an accepted sort.   In actual fact, Pitch Black is one of the best movies in its genre.  If it exposes the total inability of contemporary audiences to go beyond the conventions of genre and engage critically with a text, it humiliates the professional reviewer class whose job it is to elevate our understanding.  InDepth takes pride in rescuing such films from the dust and putting them on the pedestal where they belong.

To read the rest of this pitch black review - just click the link.

Sydney Dust Storm Photos

23-Sep-09

I took some photos this morning of the view outside my house and a couple from within. The dust storm that hit Sydney this morning is the most extraordinary weather I’ve ever seen. You can smell the dust too… mmmm earthy. Hi res images:

null

null

null

null

null

Nugget and the Boat

30-Jun-09

I wrote a children’s story for fun. Enjoy!

——————————–

Little Nugget stood shivering in the water. The boys in the other lanes looked perched with eagerness – ready to swim. But Nugget wasn’t so eager. Today they had to swim backstroke. He hated backstroke the most.

He was a short for his age and of stocky build. It was as though the same amount of boy had been poured into a smaller mould. Poking him was like poking rock. He was THAT dense. It was terrible for swimming. He just sank like a stone. That’s why they called him nugget.

The only thing that Nugget liked about swimming was that in between laps he would play with his little, yellow boat. He liked to push it against the waves and pretend that it was lost in a great, stormy ocean.
The swimming instructor was pacing up and down the pool, inspecting each boy as he passed. When he came to Nugget he began to shout.

‘I told you not to bring that silly toy!’ he said.

‘But it helps me swim,’ Nugget replied.

‘Nonsense,’ shouted the instructor. ‘It hasn’t helped yet!’

All the other boys laughed. Nugget felt terrible.

‘This time I don’t want to hear you swim,’ the instructor said. ‘I don’t want to hear those grunting noises you make. You always make grunting noises!’

‘I get water up my nose,’ Nugget replied.

‘Nonsense! I do not allow grunting little nuggets in my pool. If I hear you grunt once, I’ll take away your toy. Understand?’

‘Yes,’ Nugget replied.

‘Alright then,’ the instructor said. ‘Now everyone get ready to swim and wait for the whistle.’

And when the whistle blew, the boys pushed off from the wall with a flurry of fists and feet. Nugget swam as hard he could, but soon felt himself sinking below the surface. The water splashed about his mouth and into his nose. He couldn’t breathe. When he gasped for air, it caught in his throat and instead made a little, grunting sound.

‘Captain overboard,’ he heard from somewhere, but couldn’t tell where.

The waves felt like they were getting higher and higher around him. The water had turned a dark, inky black. From nowhere came a howling wind, a piercing gale. He could see his little boat behind him. The waves tossed it back and forward like the little toy it was. But it was closer than he thought it should be, and it looked like it was getting closer!

‘Captain overboard,’ he heard again. This time it was louder. It was coming from the boat! He looked again and it was closer than before. Little figures ran up and down the deck hurriedly.

Nugget couldn’t stand it. The waves were monstrous now. Everything had gone dark. He felt so tired.

‘Cap’n ahoy,’ someone shouted. ‘Someone throw him a rope.’

Something splashed next to him and he grabbed onto to for dear life. Slowly he was pulled toward the boat. But the boat was huge! Rough bearded men peered at him over the stern. He was lifted to the deck but he fell to his knees. The men crowded around.

‘Give him space, give him space,’ a man said. He extended a hand and helped Nugget to his feet.

‘First mate Barley reporting Cap’n’

‘Captain?’ Nugget asked.

‘You took quite a spill,’ Barley said. ‘Worst sea faring weather I’ve ever seen. Not to mention the giant squid that came at us. I thought we’d lost you for good when it hit you. It’s gone now, but I fear it’ll be back before we make land.’

‘I was swimming backstroke,’ Nugget explained.

‘You were swimming for your life!’ Barely said. ‘Me, I would have swum freestyle. But no one knows the ocean like you do. Now, we need a plan. My advice is for us to push forward against the storm. No point giving up now.’

‘But what if the squid comes back?’ Nugget asked.

‘Then you’ll just have to kill it,’ Barely replied. ‘I see you lost your cutlass. Here, take mine.’

‘But I don’t know how to kill a giant squid,’ Nugget said.

‘Ah Cap’n,’ Barely said. He knelt down beside Nugget and placed a hand on his shoulder. ‘I aint seen a finer swordsman than you. Aint known a finer Cap’n neither. You’ll slay the beast if anyone can. She’s your ship and we’re your crew. We’ll go forward if you order it and we’ll make it to land I’m sure of it.’

‘Then let’s do it,’ Nugget ordered.

‘A har!’ the crew shouted and the dispersed about the deck, tending to rigging and pulling at the sails. The boat heaved against the storm, but they pushed forward nonetheless. Every now and again Barley shot Nugget a wink that gave him hope.

Just then there was an almighty crash. A huge tentacle had risen out of the water and snapped a mast. The sound of wood and rigging collapsing to the deck was deafening.

‘Squid!’ shouted the crewman and they dashed about in panic. The head of the beast could be seen at the bow. Tentacles were flying everywhere. A great, yellow eye scrutinised the vessel.

‘Now’s your chance,’ shouted Barley.

Nugget nodded and rushed to the bow of the ship. He swung his cutlass at the great eye but his reach was too short. He climbed to the tip of the prow, but still could not reach. There was nothing for it. He would have to meet the beast in the water. He let go the prow and fell into the water.

The beast was just in front of him. He thrust the sword into its belly and heard a thunderous cry of pain. The tentacles rose up in the air all at once and then disappeared beneath the waves. The beast was gone.

‘You did it,’ shouted Barley from the boat. ‘Now swim for land. Our mast is broken, but you can still make it. Swim now before you lose your strength. We’ll catch up when we can.’

Nugget smiled and waved goodbye. He swam as hard as he could against the waves. It wasn’t long before he felt the wall of the swimming pool against his palm. He looked around. The great ocean was gone, the waves had returned to their normal size. His little yellow boat bobbed in the water beside him. He was the first to reach the other side. The other boys gasped when they saw what he had accomplished.

‘So, it seems you know how to swim after all,’ the instructor said. ‘And you didn’t even grunt!’

Nugget didn’t say anything. He was feeling too pleased.

‘But what was all this nonsense you were shouting. Ahoy this, and matey that. You sounded like a pirate. I won’t have any nuggetty little pirates in my pool.’

‘No sir,’ Nugget replied. But he no longer cared what the instructor said.

Ubuntu Hardy + Compiz + Dual Desktop = True Nerdom

29-May-08

Again, have had little time to write a post. Have all sort of interesting things to write too. Hopefully events will permit soon.

I do want to announce however, that I have made it into the ranks of the truly nerdy. I have recently setup a dual boot ubuntu/xp on my main pute – and I gotta say Ubuntu looks absolutely fantastic on it. I’ve also recently acquired another monitor from my good friend Hamish. Here’s to you old friend. Enjoy it up in Paris for me.

Anyway – here’s a poor quality video of the setup with some of the compiz effects. Swish!

Save the Kitty

21-Apr-08

Haven’t had time to write anything particularly profound on this blog of late – way too much to do thesis wise. But I do have a cute kitty story.

One of my neighbors started feeding a feral cat that had been skulking around. It got used to the idea of free food and started hanging around more frequently. One day it brought this little kitten – left it in the garden in the pouring rain. My neighbor cleaned it up and gave it residence in an unused toilet out the back of our building. Mama cat liked the idea and now that’s where they both hang out.

Problem is – none of us wants a cat (well I want one – but am unable to take on the responsibility right now), and so kitty is going to have to be taken down to the cat protection society. Problem is that not all cats can find a home and they get put down when they can’t. Poor Kitty! But it’s young and cute – so maybe it has a chance. If anyone wants a kitty – then feel free to contact me via the contact form on this site.

Things are probably more dire for mama kitty. She’ll keep breeding – and so something will have to be done. She’s feral and isn’t approachable by humans – as you’ll see in the video. It’s unlikely someone will adopt her – as she’ll be quite a bit of work to tame.

Anyway – here’s a video of the cute little kitty.

Response From Anonymous

06-Feb-08

Just a short post – as I’m at an internet cafe on holiday.

I just wanted to say that the response from Anonymous to my post on their movement has been fantastic. Their ability to address the criticism contianed in the article and respond positively to it gives their movement credibility and I believe – strength. I wish them the very best for their day of protest on the 10th of Feb – and urge all to join in on the legitimate peaceful protests.

I was contacted by a member of anonymous and asked to post their email to my blog. So I now post this email in full:

Anonymous <***@***.com> wrote:
I’d just like to infrom you that “Call us many, for we are legion.” Is actually
from the bible, I forget what book and chapter. My now Atheist views have
somewhat dimmed my previous knowledge of the bible.
I would also like to comment on the astounding accuracy, bar the legion
reference, of your article. We have now moved on to Peaceful protesting and, as
The wise beard man calls it, Ghandi-tech. The support and advice of people like
you is much appreciated by anon and has been taken into account.
We will remove any anon who disrupt the proceedings on the 10th of February and
provide the police with evidence, thus hopefully discouraging anon from illegal
activities. The same tactic will also be helpful for uncovering $cientology
spies and eliminating them legally.
Anon would appreciate it very much if you posted this on your blog.
Many thanks, Anon.

A couple of problems…

01-Feb-08

The guy I was sharing a server with freaked out about my piece on Anonymous – and has insisted that I get off ‘his’ server before it got hacked. I was critical of anonymous to some degree – but am of the opinion that they are more reasonable than that, given especially that many of them have left positive and constructive comments. My friend did not share this view.

So I have had to change hosting. This has led to some problems – with the links to posts not working. Am working on the problem – but not sure when it will be fixed.

—-

Update – just turned out to be the permalinks.

Referrer Plugin made by Open Office.