Ryan Jones Blog – dotCULT.com Ryan Jones Blogs About Internet Culture, Marketing, SEO, & Social Media

August 25, 2009

Identity Theft Is a Lie

Filed under: Main — Ryan Jones @ 10:44 pm

Part of me always cringes when I read stories or hear reports about identity theft. Sure I worked at a company whose goal was to try and help consumers protect their identity, but that’s not why I cringe. I cringe because I’ve always had a problem with the term “identity theft.” It seems like an impossibility. An Identity can’t be stolen, can it?

Before I go into my rant, let’s look at exactly what an identity is. Princeton defines Kedungwuni identity as such:

the individual characteristics by which a thing or person is recognized or known.

That’s a pretty good definition so we’ll stick with that.

If I’m a “victim” of identity theft, does that mean somebody stole my characteristics? That doesn’t seem possible. In fact, it’s all more likely that somebody else just did a piss poor job of verifying my identity or defining those characteristics.

Techdirt points to a british comedy routine that can explain it much better than I can. Please listen to the following audio – it’s quite funny in that special British way.

(look, I just resisted linking to my british translator. Crap, no I didn’t.)

The comedy routine above hits the nail right on the head: the whole concept of identity theft is merely a piss poor attempt for companies to shift the blame from themselves onto their customers. It’s all so clear now.

The problem here isn’t that somebody actually had there identity stolen, it’s simply that the company did a terrible job of verifying the characteristics of that person’s identity.

Your identity online should consist of more than just a username and password. Requiring only a password is the offline equivalent of only listing hair color on a drivers license. It’s just not sufficient anymore.

Think about those old TV shows (get smart comes to mind) where there’s 2 people both pretending to be one. They look exactly alike and hilarity ensues, but what do they always do to solve the problem? they ask them questions that only the real person would know.

And, since we programmers love to re use as much as possible, that’s why you’re seeing so many of those “security questions” show up on all your favorite websites. Sadly, most websites fail at security questions. They’ve got the right idea, but they just choose crappy questions that aren’t really “secret”. If the answer can be found on a Facebook page, it’s not a good security question.

There’s other things that can be done too. Give users an option of 5 or 6 images on the login page and ask them to choose one. A picture is easy to remember for logging in (and instantly pops back into your mind when doing so.) Not only that, but the user isn’t very likely to write it down either and it’s not something likely to be shared with another website or found in the public domain.

Since most “identity thieves” simply brute force passwords, steal passwords with key loggers, or try passwords from other accounts, any creative login requirements can easily stop them dead in their tracks. It doesn’t really matter what extra step you take, so long as you help the user define their identity with something non-public that consists of more than just their hair color password.

Stopping “identity theft” starts with re-defining a user’s online identity, and ends with shifting responsibility back onto the companies who don’t do an adequate job of verifying that you’re really you.

August 19, 2009

Unlock Franchise Mode In Madden 2010 Wii

Filed under: Main — Ryan Jones @ 2:08 pm

If you’re like me and bought Madden 2010 for the Wii, you probably anxiously fired it up only to be severely disappointed when you weren’t able to find your beloved franchise mode. It’s not there! But don’t panic – franchise mode is there, but it’s hidden. When looking for other fun games to try, go to the next link and play the new aloha christmas slot game.

To unlock franchise mode, you have to go to the extras option and enter the cheat code: TEAMPLAYER

After that, you’ll see the franchise mode back where it belongs – on the menu.

I’m not sure why EA decided that Wii fans only like mini games (perhaps it has to do with the Wii play marketing mistake but either way it was a bad decision. It’s just going to turn Wii fans away from the Madden franchise.

Hopefully, one day the video game companies will learn that we care more about game play than how the graphics look. Hopefully that day comes soon.

August 13, 2009

Black Hat SEO Facts

Filed under: Main — Ryan Jones @ 11:50 pm

I always laugh when I hear SEOs talk about so called “black hat” techniques. It’s amazing what some people consider “black hat” and “spammy” and what others consider “white hat” and perfectly fine. When it comes down to it there are tons of black hat type tricks out there, but they’re not the ones you’re thinking of. I had one of these style conversations earlier, so I figured I’d rant for a little bit about what is and isn’t black hat SEO.

  1. You can’t be a great SEO and only wear a white hat. Part of what makes SEOs good at what we do is our constant desire to tinker and test things. Occasionally, testing stuff involves crossing the line and seeing how much we can get away with. The big difference though is that good, ethical SEOs don’t do this type of tinkering and testing with client accounts. We create small test sites (that may or may not be monetized or contain affiliate links) to do our tinkering on. It’s only by knowing what works and what doesn’t can we truly offer best in class advice to clients while still maintaining our in-depth knowledge of the search landscape.
  2. Black Hats don’t talk about their techniques. There’s a whole industry cropping up in SEO blogging – SEOs who travel the country speaking about SEO and blogging about it, but who don’t actually have a personal stake in the game. Sure, they may take on some clients or have had clients in the past, but they don’t have any personal gains or losses on their own sites at stake. The black hat SEO tricks these people talk about aren’t really black hat – by the time they get blogged about they’re old hat.

    Let me give an example. Last week there was a blog post talking about how you could get do-follow links from Twitter by creating your own application using their OAuth and a fake Twitter appilcation. Basically it let you get a nice link with whatever text you wanted at the bottom of every tweet. The day after this blog post got mentioned in the SEO blogs Twitter slapped a rel=nofollow tag on those links. That’s the difference between real black hat SEOs and people who just blog about SEO. Real black hats use the tricks to their advantage without feeling the desire to share them on a blog. Many of us were using that technique long before it was announced. In fact, a few of us had even forgotten about the tactic because it didn’t really work that well. Most Twitter profiles didn’t pass enough link juice for it to be worthwhile, and we figured it wouldn’t be long before Twitter got out their link condoms.

    The same holds true for the stuff like hidden keywords, text way off the scrollable part of a page, noscripts, cloaking, etc. These things aren’t black hat, they’re old hat. Sure a lot of people are still using them, but not many actual SEOs. Google has long learned to protect against this stuff and we’ve long stopped testing it. Only idiots still do this stuff.

  3. The black hat mentality isn’t just about search. The black hat mentality is about doing whatever you can to drive revenue. That could mean getting temporary rankings in Google or stuffing cookies to gain extra affiliate program revenues. The goal of a black hat isn’t to rank well, it’s to sell well. In fact, most black hat SEOs know they’re going to get banned for what they do – and that’s fine. The goal is to get the ranking (even for 1 day) and then sign those people up for affiliate programs or mailing lists (where we can continue to market to them.) Which brings me to my next point
  4. Many black hat techniques aren’t applicable to legit businesses. Since black hats go into their project knowing they’re going to get banned, they don’t care what they do. The goal is to drive as much short term sales as possible and move on to something else. Minimum work, maximum payout. That’s not the model your brick and mortar business is in, so applying these techniques is akin to shooting yourself in the leg at a nightclub during football season. It’s not something you want to do.
  5. Most SEOs don’t understand black hat vs white hat.At least once a month I talk to somebody who brags about having some “secret black hat seo success formula” that turns out to be nothing more than an actual best practice or good recommendation. They bring up things like alt and title tags, or using noscript tags to show text versions of javascript content. These are things most good SEOs suggest to do anyway. Of course, you also get the ones who say stuff like “use the keyword in the first sentence, last word of first paragraph, first word of 3rd paragraph, and 4th word from the end.” These people are just idiots. So is anybody who talks about keyword density.
  6. Most black hats use their own tools. Sure, there’s a ton of tools out there that claim they’re for black hat SEO. You’ll see things like SEOnuke and Xrumer out there, but they’re not as effective as you’d think. Since most black hats don’t discuss their methods, they certainly don’t make tools for other black hats to use. In my experiments, I’ve always made my own custom tools to do what I want – or I’ve abused other tools out there in ways they weren’t meant to be used. Sure, you can buy stuff like Bookmark Demon and AutoPligg, but these tools really aren’t worth any money. The sites they submit to offer little to no value in links.
  7. Black hat SEO isn’t just about search engines. Huh? How can it be SEO if it doesn’t involve search engines? That’s because black hat isn’t just SEO, it’s about making money. In many cases the black hat can be more successful by spamming Twitter or Myspace than he can by trying to rank high on search engines. Sending tweets and bulletins to idiots who’ve auto re-followed you takes a lot less work and is often times more profitable than trying to game the search engines.

I know this sounds like a rant, but I hope it helps people understand the world of black hat SEO as compared to what people think of it as. There’s really no true distinction between the color of any SEO’s hat – I like to think that we all wear a shade of gray. There certainly are some black hat techniques out there in use, but I wouldn’t recommend doing them for any clients or actual businesses that want to sustain long term viability on the web. I would, however, recommend grabbing a few domain names and testing your own hunches and theories. While some of them may be “black hat” or unethical, they can certainly be valuable in helping you understand how the search engines work and think.

When it comes to your business though, you should probably worry more about what your customers think and what they find useful. If you let that principle guide you, you really can’t go wrong – no matter what color hat you’re wearing.

August 9, 2009

The Wii Play Marketing Mistake

Filed under: Main — Ryan Jones @ 1:11 pm

I was talking with Brett the other day about marketing and web analytics and we got to the topic of correlation and causation among data and trends. Any web analyst can tell you that the data always tells a story. The good analysts can tell you whether or not that story makes sense, or if there’s some other underlying reason that the data says what it says.

The example I gave to Brett in this conversation was that of Wii Play and the mistake that many video game manufacturers made when looking at its sales data. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Wii Play, it was a series of mini games similar to Wii Sports. When Wii Play came out, 2 things were happening in the market. The Wii was at the peak of its popularity – but more importantly, retailers were finally just starting to get Wiis back in stock and be able to keep up with the demand.

Anyway, Wii Play flew off the shelves. Retailers had a hard time keeping it in stock, and almost everybody who bought a Wii also purchased Wii Play. Video game manufacturers looked at the sales numbers and started screaming “MOAR MINI GAMES” at the top of their lungs. All of a sudden most of the new games were all in the style of Wii Play – but they didn’t sell. Go into your local GameStop and you’ll see the shelves fully stocked with used copies of mini games.

Was Wil Play just that much better than the rest of the mini games? Did the market suddenly shift? NO!

What the sales numbers didn’t show is that Wii Play also included an extra Wii controller, and only cost around $10 more than buying the controller by itself. Add in the fact that this was a high sales time for the Wii system and the story becomes clear: People had just bought Wiis and needed an extra controller. Seeing that they could spend $10 more and get a game as well, many of them opted to get Wii Play instead of a controller by itself.

That’s a story that the numbers alone didn’t tell, and it’s a mistake that many internet marketers and analysts tend to make.

The way to avoid this is to un-silo yourself from one discipline and start looking at the bigger picture. If your company sells cell phones, then all of your marketers, analysts, SEOs, PMs, etc should not only be sharing data with each other, but they should be reading the cell phone blogs and magazines out there. They should take trips to the store and shop the cell phone departments. In other words, it pays to think like a customer and get the whole picture of what’s happening in the marketplace. Then, combined with the data, you can make a very well educated business decision.

Don’t be a victim of the “Wii Play Mistake.”

August 3, 2009

How The Stimulus Works

Filed under: Main — Ryan Jones @ 4:56 pm

I can’t take credit for the following, as it came my way through a chain email. I’ve tried searching for it on the web, but can’t find an original author. All the results I can find reference finding it through email or from a reader. Anyway, it’s a good description of how the government today works. Enjoy:

It is the month of August, a resort town sits next to the shores of a lake. It is raining, and the little town looks totally deserted. It is tough times, everybody is in debt, and everybody lives on credit.

Suddenly, a rich tourist comes to town. He enters the only hotel, lays a 100 dollar bill on the reception counter, and goes to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to pick one.

The hotel proprietor takes the 100 dollar bill and runs to pay his debt to the butcher.

The Butcher takes the 100 dollar bill, and runs to pay his debt to the pig raiser.

The pig raiser takes the 100 dollar bill, and runs to pay his debt to the supplier of his feed and fuel.

The supplier of feed and fuel takes the 100 dollar bill and runs to pay his debt to the town’s prostitute that in these hard times, gave her “services” on credit.

The hooker runs to the hotel, and pays off her debt with the 100 dollar bill to the hotel proprietor to pay for the rooms that she rented when she brought her clients there.

The hotel proprietor then lays the 100 dollar bill back on the Counter so that the rich tourist will not suspect anything.

At that moment, the rich tourist comes down after inspecting the rooms, and takes his 100 dollar bill, after saying that he did not like any of the rooms, and leaves town.

No one earned anything. However, the whole town is now without debt, and looks to the future with a lot of optimism.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the United States Government is doing business today.

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