Say it Softly

The Internet has often been observed as being a double-edged sword in regards to content publication. Yes, it has reduced the barriers to entry and allowed more people than ever the ability to get their work to The People, whoever and wherever they might be. This egalitarian spirit has ensured that every voice can be heard, provided that voice has a compy and a connection, or at least a local public library, and this is a Good Thing.

Unfortunately, this also means that anyone and everyone can publish, which increases the volume. Because there’s so much out there, finding the good stuff can be difficult–it’s like taking one of Beethoven’s symphonies and turning up the noise on all channels. Finding the melody becomes impossible, and just the same, it is hard to find all the content on the ‘Net that’s worth finding. What’s more, it is hard to get your voice heard. Yes, it was difficult to get published in The Past, but once you were published, you were there. You were assured of getting noticed. The status quo has been flipped on its head, so now you can get published but no one will even care.

So people shout. They send spam emails and mass Facebook messages, get Twitter accounts to update voraciously, and climb to the tippy top of Babylon to make sure they can project as far as possible. If the noise has been turned up, it seems reasonable that one must overcome the noise to be noticed.

This logic isn’t necessarily flawed, but it must be moderated. The problem is twofold: 1) people shout too much and that’s a turn-off, and 2) they’re often shouting for no reason.

Volume is important, as both a quantity of space and in regards to sound, and it’s true that if the noise drowns you out then you’re simply drowned. You’ve got to find a way to rise above that noise, like a fish leaping from the water, so someone will notice and follow you (if I might borrow Twitter’s chosen word, which has grown on me quite a bit). However, if you keep shouting, getting louder and louder, chances are you’ll be tuned out. People will only take so much of it before they turn away.

Regardless of your volume though, you’ve got to have something to say or none of it matters. If what you’re trying to get people to notice sucks, then shouting won’t do a bit of good. They’ll come and look, yeah, but then they’ll leave. What’s more, they’ll tell others, and eventually even your first-visits will decline. There’s not much to gain from shouting about nothing, so you’ve got to make sure you have something at least decent to offer if you’re going to draw people’s attention to it.

Hulu makes commercials quiet, and it forces me to sit up and listen. This is an old trick used by public speakers, one that is proven to work well, and I similarly recommend it for web communication. You’ve got to say something, and you’ve got to say it loud enough to be heard, but don’t go beyond that. I send out Facebook mass messages, but only to people who have joined the SilverPen Publishing group, so they’ve essentially opted-in to that service. And even to those people who have agreed to receive such messages, I try to keep the quantity as low as possible (so far this year, I think I’ve sent three). I post on Twitter, but not generally to drive people to my site–I prefer to use that as a way to communicate with people I find interesting, and to post things I similarly think are interesting (though I’m probably mistaken). I make sure my site is optimized for search engines and that I write interesting and somewhat unique things so they show up high in search rankings. The trick is first to be heard, and then to get people coming back.

In public speaking, if you’ve got your audience’s attention, even just a little bit, and you lower the volume of your voice, it will cause them to unconsciously lean forward to hear you better. Then you’ve got them hooked–their eyes are on you, their chins are up, and they’re rapt. They want to know what will happen next.

Be loud when you need to get attention, but don’t shout all the time. Respect your fans, even the ones who haven’t heard of you yet, and the rest will take care of itself.

Safeguarding your content: Digital Fingerprint vs. Pingbacks

If you’re a regular here at SilverPen Publishing, you’re probably already aware that I license everything under Creative Commons, so I’m not necessarily against other people using my work. There are, of course, some restrictions, namely that they can’t make money off it, they can’t change my writing, and they have to attribute the work to me. If a person wants to take an entire article and put it on their blog, so long as they aren’t running advertising, have my name on there, and link back to this site, I don’t really care.

However, I have a deep and abiding hatred for spam blogs, or splogs as they are called, that scrape my content automagically and repost it on their site. Usually, these splogs are running advertising, but what’s worse to me is that there’s no real person behind the posting. Of course, someone had to set the blog up and put the scripts into motion, but after that it’s just an automatic scanning of the blogosphere to find content, copy it, and post it on the splog as if the owner had something to do with the process. What I work hard to create and maintain, they steal with no effort at all.

Usually, splogs have a wide variety of content, though when mine gets stolen it’s often about a specific topic. If I write about World of Warcraft, my content might end up on a WoW splog that aggregates a ton of the WoW-related news on the web. Technology stuff often ends up on splogs as well. What’s nice is that they copy everything out to put on their site, and that makes it easy to track.

A tool I have used extensively is called Digital Fingerprint, which allows you to put some unique text into your RSS feed which you can then search for via Google, et. al. and see if people are reposting your feed elsewhere. I like the concept of this plugin, and I continue to use it because I feel like it’s a decent deterrent, but the truth is that it offers false security. Every time I use Digital Fingerprint to see if my content is appearing anywhere other than where it should, it turns up nothing. If DF is to be believed, my content has never been stolen.

The plugin that does inform me that my blog has been scraped is the one not directly made for this purpose, and that is Akismet. Really, though, Akismet is just how I view the notification, because what really alerts me are pingbacks. A pingback is recorded by WordPress anytime someone links to one of your blog posts or pages, provided you leave pingbacks on when you publish something (they are on by default). Since Akismet maintains a vast database of spammers, when it picks up a pingback and keeps it from being posted on my site (usually pingbacks, or trackbacks, are posted below comments on a blog entry), I know that a splog has probably scraped my content. And my content, specifically the title of every blog entry, just happens to link back to my site.

By using Akismet, I can go out to the site to verify that it’s really a splog, and at the same time I click on the IP recorded by Akismet, which runs a quick whois check. If it’s a splog, I contact their web host asking that the account be terminated because the owner is stealing content and violating copyright. In my experience, the site is usually shut down within a couple of hours.

I’ve only had about half a dozen articles stolen so far, but it’s enough to keep me on my toes and checking Akismet regularly. Thankfully, it’s not hard to tell when your content has been stolen by using this method, but I would never have known if I just relied on Digital Fingerprint. The moral of the story is to always have more than one tool in your toolbox; if you rely on just a single method, chances are that someone will find a way around that method and you’ll be left in the dark.