March 26, 2009

Fruit Picking

Fruit picking was my first job out of high school. My friend Stuart and I wanted to go see the world. I asked my parents: "Stuart and I want to go see the world. You don't mind do you?" I'm not sure if they thought I was being serious or not. "No, that's fine. Have fun." As was (and still is) typical in my family, there was no other real discussion of the topic. They listened graciously to any information I volunteered, but steadfastly offered no advice. A kind of parenting zen. I didn't ask my parents for money, because I knew they didn't have any to spare. Stuart's family was a little better off, but they had made it clear that he was to raise his own money if he wanted to go traipsing about the planet. Luckily for us, a family friend owned a small citrus orchard and needed a couple of worthies to help bring in the harvest. So for the first half of that Summer, we went fruit picking.

You can make good money fruit picking, although it doesn't seem like it at first. We picked oranges at first. They're the easiest for beginners, because it's harder to damage the fruit. You have a ladder, and an apron with a pouch. You put the ladder against the tree, climb until the fruit is all around you, and fill the pouch. Then it's down the ladder with a full pouch, and unstrap the pouch from the bottom to let the oranges fall into a large wooden crate. Rinse and repeat from first light until it's too dark to see.

At first, you think it'll take all day to fill the wooden crate. You could easily lie down inside the crate, any way you chose. It takes half a dozen trips up and down the ladder just to cover the bottom of the crate. And, at first, it does take you until lunchtime to fill your first crate of the day, and Mr. Carmano, the grandfatherly guy who has hired you, shakes his head and wonders out loud about your prospects as a fruit picker. And Mike, who's been fruit picking for years, and has already filled four crates this morning, is smiling because it looks like there's going to be plenty of work for him this year. Because you don't get paid by the hour, you get paid by the crate. And right now, you're not even breaking minimum wage.

But soon, you start to get the rhythm of fruit picking. You angle the ladder so that you can climb and descend without using your hands. You acquire that peculiar twist-snap wrist movement that separates the fruit cleanly from the stem without wasted movement. You're surprised when the occasional orange doesn't seem to want to leave the tree. A second twist-snap does the job. Like all fruit pickers, you devise elaborate schemes for increasing the fruit holding capacity of your apron. None of them are even remotely sensible. Soon you can fill two crates before lunch, then three. Instead of wondering just how full the crate has to be to count, you add a couple of pouch-loads for good measure.

We probably could have earned more fruit picking that Summer, Stuart and I, but every time we went to the river to swim, we came back with an invitation to a party, and the flashing eyes of the local farmer's daughters were too much for us to resist. It didn't matter in the end. Those first earnings were a fortune to us, and the coming of the New Year turned both of our thoughts to the road. It wasn't long before we were on a bus, and then a plane.

March 21, 2009

Entrecard Blogs with Dofollow Top Commenter Lists

It is one of the goals of many a blogger that their blog to become a hub of community activity in areas related to the blog's topic. That readers go beyond merely reading and take action. Today, this usually means opening up the blog to various forms of reader participation. Community requires personal investment to weather the inevitable personality clashes, and what better way to foster personal investment than giving the reader a voice?

It should not be surprising that this is a difficult decision for many bloggers. Despite its public nature, a blog is often one of the few personal spaces that a blogger truly owns. A place to shelter a battered ego. Reader participation threatens even this small space. Post comments are a nice compromise to the dilemma. Comments are firmly separated from the post, but carry an obligation to be somewhat related to the post. They are an acknowledgment of the blogger. Ego affirming rather than ego threatening. It is no wonder they have become such a popular format for reader participation.

However, participation requires effort. This is a blessing and a curse. A curse because "0 comments" can itself become an ego blow. Why am I being ignored!? A blessing because new readers use the number of comments to judge whether to spend time reading - the first barrier to overcome in our ADHD world. A dozen comments says "other's thought that this post was worth reading." It is social proof of time well spent.

How then to encourage comments? The best way to encourage comments is to respond to them. Open a dialog with your readers. Let your readers know that you appreciate the time they took to make the comment. But there is still the bootstrap problem. No one will comment unless there are already comments. Mariuca's First Commenter Club is a great way to get that first comment. Why? Because you promise to link to the blog of the first commenter.

When someone links to you, you have acquired a backlink (as opposed to a forward link from your blog to someone else). Why are backlinks important? Search engines like Google use them to calculate how popular a particular site is. The more popular, the higher in the rankings, and the more traffic the search engine will send you. Backlinks are a form of voting for your blog.

But not all votes are equal. Back in 2005, Google introduced the nofollow attribute for links. If you look at the HTML for a nofollow link it will look something like this:

<a href="" rel="nofollow">Google</a>

In essence, the nofollow attribute tells Google (and most other search engines) not to count the link as a vote for the page being linked to. Why would you do that? The problem is that without the attribute, you may be automatically voting for your commenters. You can probably imagine that comment spammers took advantage of that. Once you have so many commenters that you can't effectively police the spam, it is just easier to discourage the spammers by adding nofollow to every link.

For many bloggers, it'd be nice to get to that point. When you want to encourage comments, providing automatic dofollow backlinks is an easy way to do it. Dofollow links are just links without the nofollow attribute, also called "nofollow free." This is enough for most blogs, but if you really want to rev up the number of comments, you can use a dofollow Top Commenter list. A Top Commenter list rewards the readers that comment most by providing a dofollow link to the commenter from the sidebar. That means the commenter receives a sitewide dofollow link, that is, a dofollow link from every page of the blog. For some blogs, this can mean hundreds or even thousands of dofollow backlinks. A big incentive for loyal commenters.

Well obviously blogs with dofollow Top Commenter lists are interested in your comments. But, as a reader, how to find them? I'm currently enjoying participating in the Entrecard community, and I couldn't find a list of such blogs for Entrecard, so I've started one below. The list was a little tricky to put together, because many Top Commenter lists that purport to be dofollow are constructed with javascript. Why does that matter? Because the search engine robots generally don't execute javascript - they see only the javascript code, and not what it produces. Basically, Top Commenter lists built with javascript (which includes most blogger blogs) don't count.

The following list should help some Entrecarders get more comments. The sites are listed in order of current Google pagerank (PR). I stopped at PR3, but I'll go through the PR1 and PR2 sites if there is interest. Sites with a '+' sign after them also provide dofollow links from each comment.



PR4 + + + +

PR3 + + +


If you'd to be added to this list, removed from this list, or have something other than your domain name as the link text, just let me know.

March 15, 2009

Eccles to The Dollar: The Entrecard Credit Exchange Rate

Speaking of adventures, Entrecard has decided to take the plunge and attempt to establish the long promised ability to exchange Entrecard Credits (hereinafter eccles) for your local currency, presumably via PayPal. The details are still being worked out, in classic Web 2.0 fashion, via great outpourings of angst over issues both real and imaginary, but the central question "How much per eccle?" has yet to be answered. Let's see if we can't make an educated guess.

In an earlier post on PTC sites, I mentioned that clickworkers were paid an average of $0.0025 per click, and that earning $30 per month was an achievable goal - although at $1/hour, not a particularly interesting one. Now Entrecard isn't directly comparable to your typical advertiser-funded traffic exchange, it really is it's own beast, but I think these rates do set something of a floor. The very fact that Entrecard is a unique hybrid is a strong motivation to both charge superior rates and make superior payouts.

Well I just mentioned the key to unlocking the exchange rate mystery. The exchange rate is going to be advertiser funded, so the exchange rate value will depend strongly on the price Entrecard can charge for ad views, i.e., on the cost per thousand impressions, or CPM, that Entrecard can charge advertisers. So what sort of price can Entrecard charge? Social networks, as a category (Facebook, MySpace, etc), sell most of their ad inventory at a price under $0.25 CPM, or rather that was the rule of thumb for the 4th quarter of 2008. You've probably noticed that global economy has taken a hit of late, and advertising spending is no exception. With more ad inventory seeking fewer dollars, the rates have been pushed even lower. On the other hand, the megatrend of advertising budgets shifting from traditional media to the internet is still in full force. Advertisers love the demographic targeting and immediate feedback they get from the web.

So $0.20 CPM? Maybe in some categories, but I don't think that is initially achievable across the board, for a couple of reasons. First, that's the sort of rate that Adbrite is achieving with its similarly disparate network, and Adbrite has a very sophisticated pricing system that pays publishers anywhere from $0.01 - $0.20 CPM depending on the quality of their traffic (in particular, the click-through rate or CTR). Entrecard doesn't have that sophisticated pricing system in place and won't for a while yet. In addition, a good chuck of Entrecard traffic comes from in-network power droppers who are generally ad-blind. Not quality traffic, as far as advertisers are concerned. So I think $0.10 CPM is a fairer average estimate, particularly since it is difficult for new ad networks to sell 100% of their inventory for the first few quarters at least.

So then at $0.10 CPM, and the quoted 40,000,000 ad views per month, that's $4000/month, with a promised 75%, $3000/month or $100/day allocated to eccle purchase. To clear 1-2 million eccles per day from the Entrecard economy (another stated goal), an exchange rate of 10,000-20,000 eccles to the dollar is required.

Hmmm, something's gone wrong here. A power dropper can earn 600 eccles an hour in drops plus 400-600 eccles in reciprocal drops. At 10,000 eccles to the dollar, that yields just 10% of the baseline $1/hr, $30/month clickworker wage. This is comparable to, say, Adgitize, but earnings of $3/month for a 125x125 ad space is strong motivation to investigate alternative networks like Performancing Ads, Project Wonderful, CMF Ads, and so on. A common expectation for the exchange rate seems to be around 1000 eccles to the dollar, but this would require an average CPM of $1.00, which doesn't seem realistic to me - even those obnoxious pop-up ads don't pay $1.00 CPM. So even if the opening exchange rate is 1000 eccles per dollar, I can't see it being sustainable. I'll certainly be happy to be proved wrong.

Regardless of the sustainable exchange rate, these are exciting times at Entrecard, and I for one wish them the best of luck to them as they try to make the transition to a going concern.