Webmasters Lose Internet Innocence

Written On Day: 89
innocent youth smoking

In my twenties I really enjoyed reading.  Especially fiction.  One of my favorite activities was going to the book store and spending half a day there.  Browsing through the fiction section.  Looking at covers and skimming the back.  After a few hours of drinking my coffee and flipping through 20 books, I would pick one.  Pay the cashier and head home.

The next couple weeks were spent in a new world.  Early in the morning, before work, I would stop at the local coffee shop, order a large coffee and read.  An hour later, coffee gone, and 20 pages later my body and mind are ready for the day.  I could not imagine starting a day any other way.  Each chapter ends wanting more, and each chapter begins with promise of more to come.   I would wake up anticipating what will happen next, and then spend the day thinking about what had happened.

Everything was going great until I made a terrible mistake.  One that can never be undone.  An misstep that changed me forever.  I decided that I would try to write a story.  At first this does not seem like something horrible – what is the harm in trying?

The problem was not that I wanted to write a story, or that I tried.  The problem is that I purchased a book about how to write a book.  After reading the ‘how to book’ a bit of beauty left my soul forever.  I felt like a small kid who peeks around a dark corner in Disneyland and sees Micky Mouse without his mouse head.  Instead he sees a man with the head of the costume dangling from his hand and smoking a cigarette.  Mickey mouse will never be the same.

The ‘how to write’ book reduced fiction writing into a science.  It turned the author into somebody who’s job is to entertain me.  He has to create a story that I want to read.  Make strange and wacky characters, create unusual situations, build suspense.  Do what ever he can to interest the reader.

I use to think that an author was somebody who had a special connection to another world.  A world that only he has access to.  A world that he shows me with words.  I felt like I was peering at a privileged place.  I was not able to figure out why I enjoyed reading so much – I just assumed that it was magic.

But then the truth was revealed.  I was being played for a fool.  The author does not have a special connection to the universe.  He simply knows my weakness.  My need to be entertained.  The story does not come out of him through some special medium – he simple thinks to himself, “what can I do to make this character different, what can I do to surprise the reader.” 

So now when I read a fictional book the magic is gone.  When I come across some character with a odd trait I simply think, ‘great job Mr. Author at conjuring that up’, or when something unexpected happens in the story I think, ‘you must be really proud of your self for coming up with that twist’.  I use to think of an author as somebody who, late at night sits in his candle lit den, a quill in hand, putting to paper words sent to him from above.  Now I see him as a guy in a sweaty business suit, sitting in an office behind a computer, under florescent lighting, thinking, ‘what twist should I throw in now to keep the idiot reading.’  I had to stop reading fiction because it made me bitter. 

Warning To New Webmasters

Before I became a webmaster I was the innocent kid at Disneyland.  Mickey was a mouse that stood on two legs, magic mountain a place where the king and queen live. 

The Internet was a place where people exchanged ideas freely.  If someone had something to say they would create a website and tell the world.  Their only intent was to share.  To exchange ideas.

But now I know better.  Most websites are created to sell things.  Sites are optimized to get Google to notice them.  Words are chosen not because they tell the best story, or give the most accurate information, but because they bring the most visitors to the websites.  And the more visitors to the website, the more money is made.  Webmasters are spending a lot of their time figuring out where to place ads, how to best deceive the reader into clicking them.  They are constantly checking their stats, what page generates the most money, which page is under performing, what can be done to increase revenue.  Mickey Mouse is not baking chocolate chip cookies for Minnie Mouse – he is thinking about how the hell he is going to make next month’s rent.

Now when I arrive at a website, the first thing I notice is how it is being monetized.  Where are the ads?    What are they selling?  Why do they want me to click on that?  Are they telling me this because its true or because they are using keywords for Google’s sake?  I notice that a specific word is being used over and over again.  It is hard to read, but I know why they are doing it.  They want that page to be at the top of Google search results.

Members on forums are not simply being friendly by answering your questions and giving you advise.  They are hoping that you click on their signature link – visit their website – and buy whatever they are selling.  Like the guy who rings on your door, comes in and begins to vacuum your carpet.  He is not doing it because he wants you to have a dirt free floor, he is doing it hoping that you buy the vacuum. 

The Internet has turned from a place of wonder and mystery, into just another place to sell things.  So this is a word of warning to anybody wanting to become a webmaster.  Be prepared to loose your Internet innocence.  Be prepared to loose something that you will never get back.  Like my ability to sit in my favorite chair, sip on hot chocolate, and be taken away by a good tale.

Successful Website Advice – Avoid It

Written On Day: 83
medieval market

Lets assume that you just started a site, or are planning to.  You are looking for advice and ideas.  The first instinct is to do a search on Google for your niche.  Click on the top results and have a look at what others are doing.

This website’s niche is making money online.  There are about 5 big players for this niche.  Websites and blogs that get thousands of visitors a day.  They are an outstanding success.  Make lots of money.  The Walmart, Mircrosoft, and Kellogs of the make money online niche.

All of them give advice on how to make money online.  They give tips about website design, what to sell, how to write, basically they answer the question: how to have a successful website.  They can do this because they have authority – their website is successful.  Do what they do, follow their advice.  It worked for them so it will work for you.

Wrong.

True – they know what they are doing.  They did all the right things.  The proof is their success.  If your goal is to have a website exactly like theirs then follow their advice.  Design it like their website, write like they write, post when they post.  Follow their advice and end up with a website very similar to theirs.  It will identical in all aspects except for one – the most important one.  Your website  will not be a success. 

The fundamental flaw in doing what the successful websites do is that you are setting yourself up to compete against the best.

Following Advice Of The Successful Leads To Failure

Lets say its the year 1300.  You live in a bustling medieval city.  And you are sick and tired of your day job – there is no point in plowing the local prince’s field.  You want to go into business for yourself.

You wander around town in your woolen tunic with hands clasped behind back, looking for business ideas.  You come across the city market.  Little stalls selling assortments of goods.  Mmmmm, maybe I should open up a stall.  But what would I sell, how will I sell it?  You look around for the busiest stall. 

Careful not to step in donkey shit, you make your way through the maze of stalls.  Most of them have one or two people haggling over trinkets.  No big money there.  Then suddenly you see it.  A stall with a lineup.  At least 20 people waiting in line, all of them happy and waiting eagerly to make a purchase.  The owner is gleaming as the money moves from the customer’s hand to his.  You have found a successful stall.  The sign above the stall reads, “Prowalkers – The best and biggest walking sticks in the city”.  The plan is to wait for the end of the day and seek advise from this great business man.

Hello, my name is Fergus.  I am tired of my day job.  I want to be successful like you.  What advise can you give me.  Being a kind and patient man the business man goes into a long lecture about what makes his business successful.    He tells you how to build the stall, how the merchandise should be arranged, how to advertise, and most importantly  – always smile at the customer and ask them to come back.  You thank the man for all the great advise.  Skipping home your main concern is whether to have the house re mudded or to buy a new apple cart once the silver coins start rolling in.

The next few weeks are busy.  Following the advise of the business man you set up your stall.  You are very pleased.  It looks almost identical.  The design is the same, the layout is exactly how he recommended.  He sells 9 foot tall walking sticks, you sell 9 foot tall walking sticks. 

Monday morning…the grand opening.  You wake up early and rush to the market, setup your stall, and wait eagerly for the masses.  The only worry is whether there will be enough room in front of the stall for all the hordes of people lining up.  Probably not.  But you console yourself by realizing that if they squish together then at least 30 people can stand in line.   The church bell dongs and the market opens.

By the end of the day you are in tears.  You sold only one walking stick and that was to the village idiot.  Weeks pass with little change.  Your stall receives very little traffic.  And the few that do visit already have a 9 foot tall walking stick.  Where did you get that you ask.  Proudly the man looks at his walking stick and replies, from Prowalkers of course.  He has been around for years, has the best walking sticks – everybody buys their sticks from him.

Two weeks later you are back in the fields digging up the princes potatoes. 

Do Not Follow The Successful

When your are starting off, it is very tempting to look at the successful site and do as they do.  This is a mistake.  By doing what they are doing, by following their advice, your site will be similar to theirs.  And that puts you at a major disadvantage.  Because then you have to compete against them.

The best way to use the successful sites is to try to find something that they are not doing.  Do something that they never mention.  Or best yet, do something that they recommend against doing.  Since everybody will follow the advice and not do it,  you will be the only one doing it.  While everybody is thinking about how to improve the horse carriage you will be creating the Model T.

The greatest opportunities and surprises are down paths least traveled.  Paths which start with a warning sign, “Danger, path unexplored – enter at own risk”.