Misadventures in Online Marketing

Over the course of the more than three years of blogging I’ve received a number of solicitations. Usually people just want me to link back to some site promoting their product or service. These I typically ignore. A couple of times I’ve helped out – or tried to – with product marketing campaigns, and in both instances I’ve been left with a bad taste in my mouth. This leaves me wondering if there is any good way for marketers to utilize blogs and social networks to advertise. Let me give my two examples, and then I invite you to share your own in the comments.

First, from time to time a marketing firm based out of California contacted me, inviting me to post a video or share a link about their client’s cell phone offerings. Sometimes I did share the video or link in the context of a post, and other times I ignored their request. Then, last Fall I was contacted by a fellow from this same firm with an offer of flash memory sticks in return for a post about a new product being rolled out. At that time I was still interested in the topic, so I easily wrote up a post and shared the link and video. I wasn’t trying particularly hard to “sell” the item. I just shared the info about its upcoming release and asked for feedback from readers. The guy from the firm checked my blog and e-mailed me saying the post was great and that he’d be dropping the memory sticks in the mail soon. A few months passed with no USB sticks. I sent several e-mails over the course of these months and finally, in January, sent an angry e-mail telling them I’d be blogging about the experience with them, naming names. To this the marketing guy responded immediately with a quick apology. A few days later the sticks came in the mail.

Second, on June 11 of this year I discovered that an evangelical publisher was offering review copies of a novel to bloggers. This author is one who had impressed me years ago with her non-fiction work about her departure from a particular religious group and transition into evangelical Christianity. I was excited to volunteer to read and review her new book. Everyone was expected to read the book and post a review on their blogs on June 30 (today, sadly), at which time the author would do a “blog tour” to comment on reviews. The shame of it all is that my review copy of the book didn’t arrive until June 27 (postmarked June 23), three days before the review was due. A working family man like myself can’t just sit down and read a 368 page book in that time frame.

Now, in the case of the marketing firm, I am convinced they had no intention of ever sending me the USB sticks. Considering that I had a history of blogging “for free” about products they were promoting, it’s difficult to understand why they made an offer of material compensation in the first place. As for the evangelical publisher, I’ve been given to understand that they believe there was some problem with the mail. This is entirely possible, as I have noticed that the postal service where I live is incredibly unreliable. Still, it points out a weakness in that online marketing campaigns may depend on traditional delivery systems that are untrustworthy.

As marketers and publishers seek an effective online model, it seems clear that banner ads and ad links don’t pay off as well as previously hoped. Social networking makes word-of-mouth possible, but there are drawbacks and risks. What do you think? Have you seen effective/ineffective marketing come your way? If you are a blogger, have you been misled, ripped off or just plain disappointed with marketers who have contacted you? Any good experiences in reviewing products? What can companies do to use emerging technologies and social networks to inform the public of their products, without annoying or offending? Any ideas?


Note:
Oddly enough, someone sent me an e-mail overnight with a link to “50 Lectures for Understanding Iran” in response to my post yesterday as part of the Bloggers Unite: Free Iran campaign. Another solicitation? I don’t see any harm in it, so I’ve included the link here.

Bloggers Unite: Free Iran

“For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same” (Romans 13:3 KJV).

Several years ago in an online discussion list about political activism for Christians, Romans 13 was cited. It invariably comes up any time Christians talk about their role in politics, often as a method used by some to cut conversation short. The standard interpretation of this passage runs along the lines of saying that disciples of Jesus should stay out of politics entirely, and especially should never oppose those in power. In the discussion I mentioned above, this strategy for stifling useful thought failed. Someone mentioned that this passage was obviously a profoundly “tongue-in-cheek” statement on the part of the apostle Paul. It is readily obvious that the government and authorities of his day were profoundly corrupt and did not truly uphold justice. if anything, this is an indictment of fallen government, and a mandate for responsible and just government. It took me a while to see the point, but it’s right.

The “Good News” that the Christian faith proclaimed originally, before the gnostics came along with their individualized, private faith, and before Constantine’s family made the church the State’s pet, was that the crucified and resurrected Jesus of Nazareth is the true Messiah of Israel and the Lord of the nations. As such, he and his reign were far superior to any earthly reign. He is to be obeyed now, and earthly authorities are called not to create theocracies, but to practice and encourage justice.

“Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing [that is] not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Hebrews 2:8-9).

It’s been nearly 2000 years since this message began to be proclaimed, and I see only pockets of God’s peace and justice on earth. Recently I’ve read books by and about people who, though not espousing any particular faith, are working to build schools and libraries around the world so that hundreds of thousands of children will have the opportunity to learn and rise out of the difficult circumstances into which they were born. The work of these people is truly admirable, as is the work done by people of faith – Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and others – to feed the hungry, cloth the naked and give shelter to the homeless. These efforts are vitally necessary to the well-being of people around the world and also terribly unequal to the task.

Governments are systems created by humans, and according to the Christian understanding of our species, we are fallen. This means that we have fallen short, individually and collectively, of the high calling we received as image-bearers of God. That we are sinful can be seen in far-off wars and in the domestic disputes in our own homes. Children are abused, the rights of minorities are trampled on and supposedly democratic governments engage in torture under the guise of defending freedom. We are sick.

Iran recently held elections for the office of prime minister. This is a farce. That nation is truly governed by a Shia Muslim theocracy combined with much of the trappings of a republic. The prime minster, for all intents and purposes, is a mere figurehead of authority. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is the true decision maker, together with a body of Islamic clergy that backs him.

Peaceful protests in Iran have come to violence as the government, clearly unsettled by the threat to its power, has acted to suppress peaceful protesters. Although I have no idea who really won the election, and it’s entirely possible that there were some protesters who were less than peaceful, the violence, terror and bloodshed unleashed on the people of Iran is unacceptable.

Disciples of Jesus have the assurance of resurrection to give us support and courage as we face non-violently, the corrupt powers and authorities of this world.

“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage(Hebrews 2:14-15).

The heart of the Christian faith beats with a strongly subversive message of justice, one that drives those who have ears to hear and eyes to see to speak truth to power. I don’t know what comparable resources Shia Muslims and others of minority faiths in Iran might have to draw on, but all who believe that human rights are more than a fiction we’ve created for convenience sake must hope, pray and act for the free choice of Iranians in how they’ll be governed. If the form of government is to be in some way religious in nature…so be it. Let that decision be made peacefully through the polls, and let the outcome not be to the detriment or restriction of freedoms of dissenters. Freedom for Iran doesn’t mean that it must abandon its culture, traditions and long-held beliefs in favor of Western-style secular government. What it would mean would be the dream of good people everywhere: a land abiding in peace and living in accordance with the precepts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:13-14).

Jesus, through his cross, exposed the weakness of fallen human government. The last, greatest weapon of the tyrant is death. The powers that were did their worst, succeeding only in exposing their own shame. The death of protesters like Neda have a similar impact, demonstrating the fragility and failure of oppressive regimes.

For the freedom of Iran, and all nations.

Eyesight, Evolution and Community

“Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).

Sometimes, rarely, it bothers me that I wear glasses. I’m not interested in contact lenses, though, and laser eye surgery holds even less appeal for me. There have been less charitable moments in my life when I’ve poked fun at faith-healers who themselves wear glasses (physician, heal thyself?). Just the other day I was wondering how it is that the human species got to this point in evolutionary history with so many of its individuals suffering from poor vision. The answer came to me immediately: love and community.

If you think about it, homo sapiens suffer from a number of natural disadvantages. We are born virtually hairless and helpless. We take quite a while, when compared to the rest of the animal kingdom, to reach maturity and independence. Even when we reach adulthood we are limited. No claws, fangs, capacity for winged flight or high velocity sprinting leave us weak. Drop a skilled survivalist in the middle of the African savanna with no clothing or ready-made tools and he may survive, but it wouldn’t be easy. It would most certainly be exceptional. Individually, humans are not fit for survival. As a community, on the other hand, we thrive.

Our natural advantages include higher thought, advanced verbal communication and hands equipped with opposable thumbs. Our “big brains” allow us to work out survival strategies that would be useless if we lacked the ability to speak and make tools. As it is, we are able to think things through, discuss plans and created tools that enable us to overcome our other natural limitations.

What does all this have to do with poor eyesight? Reflect on it briefly and it should come to you. The communities we form through personal emotional attachments (what we call “love,” in particular) and a shared history tend to protect weak members. The strong take care of the weak. There have been exceptions in history, such as the Spartans leaving their “defective” infants out to die of exposure. These cases are labeled “infanticide” and receive the just condemnation of history and many people.

It is interesting to me that the very qualities that likely both made the human species so successful and which has preserved traits (such as poor eyesight) that are less than desirable are the same that mainstream Christianity has long cherished. The first members of the church were largely the poor and disenfranchised, including women and slaves. Despite its sometimes dark history, including crusades and inquisitions, in the better parts of its existence the church has protected the weak and defended the rights of the oppressed. This runs contrary to what may seem best from an evolutionary perspective, but it’s the very thing that’s gotten us this far.

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

[Bible verses taken from the King James Version]

Dragon Wars: Missing Land

Although I’ve been active on Facebook for a while now, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I actually tried some games there. The one I play most often (daily, but only for five minutes at a time) is Farm Town. As I’m into fantasy RPGs, I found and tried out Kingdom Wars. I enjoyed it for a while, but found the level progression past a certain point (around level 10, I think) to be too slow. I believed I’d hit the jackpot when I ran across Dragon Wars, a game developed by Zynga, the same folks who gave us Mafia Wars (which, thus far, I have been able to avoid, despite numerous and repeated invites from friends).

Dragon Wars has better graphics than Kingdom Wars, and even incorporates live action (they call them “3D”) components where you fight monsters for treasure. Most of the quests are still non-3D, but it’s nice just that they have the option. There is also an option to battle other players, the sort of thing you also find in Kingdom Wars.

Another interesting part of Dragon Wars that appealed to me was the option to buy land and build houses. This provides the adventurer with a steady source of income (presumably from rent) and encourages “putting down roots” in the game. In other words, virtual real estate may improve the stickiness factor of the game. Unfortunately, game functionality wasn’t entirely clear to me, and customer service was somewhat lacking in trying to explain it. Here’s what happened to me.

About a week into playing Dragon Wars I had enough coinage to buy a plot of meadowland. Not long after that I had enough to build a farmhouse, so I went into “Land” to buy one and found that my meadowland was missing. I looked all over the place until I realized it, and the gold coins I paid for it, were gone. Annoyed, I went ahead and bought land again and put a house on it. I thought I’d learned my lesson: always build houses as soon as you buy land.

Sometime later I decided I should invest in urban real estate, so I bought a town lot and build a house on it. A day or so later I went back and discovered I owned a house, but no lot in town. Again, the money I’d paid for the lot was gone. Click the following image to see a screenshot of what I’m talking about.

Now remember, I was new to this game and didn’t know how to interpret what I was seeing. Had someone actually looked at what I was talking about, they might have realized what you probably already figured out from looking at the screenshot above. Before I get to that, take a look at the reply I received a few weeks later to my initial complaint:

Hello Adam,

Thanks for contacting Zynga.

Please download the latest flash player, if you are not currently using it:
http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/?promoid=BUIGP

In addition, please try these steps:

1. Remove the application
2. Log out of your Social Network
3. Clear your browser’s cache
4. Remove the application and log out
5. Restart your computer
6. Log back in and add the app again-launch, log back in, and add the application again.

Be sure to clear your cache entirely. If you need instructions, please let us know which browser you are using.

If you are still experiencing this issue, please let us know which operating system you’re using, and whether you’ve been able to play previously from the same computer. Also include your location, and whether you are trying to play from work, home, or school.

If you are using our apps on Facebook, please refrain from using the “contact” button at the bottom of the page, as it will significantly increase our response time. Instead, please go to www.zynga.com/support, register an account, and do a search for articles on your issue. Be sure to click on at least one article. Then click the Ask a Question button at the top of that page. We will respond soon.

Best,

Vinoth Kumar .K.S
Zynga Customer Support

Pretty generic, right? Rather than actually look into it or think about it at all, they threw it back to me and suggested a series of steps that had nothing to do with the problem. In fact my flash player is current, I clear cache often and it makes no sense for me to have to “remove the application” after I’ve signed out of the “social network.” Restarting my Linux box makes even less sense (as though I were a Windows user!).

Take a look at the screenshot again. Did you notice how, after “Farm House” and “Townhouse” it mentioned the land requirement? See how it says “Consumed” after each? Apparently that means (and now it’s obvious) that I do own the lots in question, but since there are structures built on them they are no longer counted separately.

A simple answer about standard functionality would have gone a long way.

Now that I have figured out that I’m apparently not losing coins on land that disappears, I may start playing Dragon Wars again. If I do, maybe I can come up with a real review of it, rather than a post about several weeks of misguided frustration.


See Also:
Dragon Wars Rulesfrom a Facebook forum

O Pastor e Seu Computador

João se converteu numa igreja que ensinava o evangelho da prosperidade. Foi a mensagem de perdão e vida nova em Jesus que o convenceu, e não a mensagem falsa de riqueza. Durante o primeiro ano de sua jornada com Cristo, João participou nas reuniões e nos cultos de sua igreja, mas também estou a Bíblia sozinho e com amigos na casa dele. Descobriu a falsidade da pregação de prosperidade. Com tantos amigos reunindo semanalmente na casa dele para orar estudar a Bíblia e adorar a Deus, e depois de muito oração e jejum, resolveu iniciar uma obra nova. Uma igreja formou do grupo na casa dele.

Por algum tempo João continuou no seu trabalho como gerente de loja. Ele procurou fazer tudo reto diante de Deus. A oferta da igreja foi contada toda semana por três pessoas eleitas pela congregação, e qualquer um podia assistir a contagem. A quantidade foi divulgada toda semana no boletim de noticias da igreja, junto com os gastos. Depois de três anos, Pastor João passou a receber um salário da igreja. Não foi muito, mas deu para ele parar de trabalhar como gerente e se dedicar completamente à obra de Deus. Ele também recebeu um valor para ajudar com combustível, uma vez que ele deu carona para tantas pessoas ir ao culto, foi evangelizar de porta em porta e visitar os membros enfermos ou afastados da igreja toda semana.

Uma noite o conselho da igreja estava reunido para conversar sobre alguns assuntos, inclusive uma reforma no site da igreja na Internet. O Pastor João comentou que ele dificilmente viu o site, uma vez que não tinha Internet em casa e estava muito ocupado no dia dia para ir pagar para usar a Internet. Geralmente fez isso somente uma vez na semana, e só para ver o e-mail. O conselho achou esta situação inaceitável, e contra os protestos do pastor, votou para dedicar um certo valor para o pastor comprar um microcomputador.

Na próxima semana o pastor foi em algumas lojas e verificou os preços e as configurações. Resolveu que gostou mais de um certo sistema fornecido por uma certa loja, e voltou ali para fechar a compra. Ao longo de receber as informações para montar o micro, o vendedor comentou que o sistema operacional Windows acrescentaria algo ao preço. Quando o pastor ficou sabendo quanto, ele ficou perplexo. O vendador explicou para ele que era assim em todo lugar, e que o Windows tem este preço para pagar a licença. “Não tem problema, pastor. Podemos instalar o sistema sem registro para o senhor.” Continuou a explicar que fazer assim não permitiria atualizações. Não comentou do fato disso ser pirataria, ilegal e – no minimo – questionável por um lado ético.

O pastor não sabia o que fazer. Ele sempre procurou ser um homem reto, dedicado em toda parte de sua vida a Cristo. Mas o preço do Windows acrescentou tanto ao valor total que não daria para pagar com o dinheiro alocado pela igreja. Como discípulo de Cristo, ele também precisava pensar em como melhor usar os recursos confiados a ele.

O que fazer? Cristão, você sabe qual é a solução?

Já ouviu falar de “software livre”? É software criado principalmente por voluntários e oferecido de graça ao publico. Ao contrario de qualquer noção que você tem, por ser “livre” este software não é “tabajaras.” O maior exemplo hoje em dia, e a solução ética e pratica para o Pastor João, é Linux. Especificamente recomendaria a distribuição de Linux chamada Ubuntu. Uma atualização desta “distro” está disponível de seis em seis meses, mas você não precisa atualizar a sua edição.

Vai para o site do Ubuntu no Brasil e verifique. Pastor, evangelista ou outro obreiro da igreja: você está usando software pirata no seu micro? Nos computadores da igreja? Se sua resposta é “sim,” então pergunto: “Por que”?


Verifique também:
Uma Cidade, Duas Padarias
A Vida Nova em Cristo e o Linux
Epidemic: Linux Indústria Brasileira

Her Majesty’s Wizard: Not What I Expected


This book took me completely by surprise. When I bought it over a year ago at a used book store in Kirksville, Missouri I believed I was getting a comedy. It was a fantasy novel, but the cover illustration showed a woman in a green dress using a small tree branch to knight (apparently) a man in modern clothing while a green dragon in the background looked on. Between that and the description from the back describing a man from our world being magically transported to a world of myth and magic, one can understand why I’d expect a lark. What I got instead was a meaty, full-blooded and intelligent fantasy novel.

Rather than take the Tolkien route of a world elves, dwarves and hobbits/halflings, author Christopher Stasheff created a medieval realm of knights, wizards and divine right. Saints intervene and sacraments have value in this world. Magic is sustained by a power that seems to flow through the universe, and which can be channeled by rhyme, gestures and sometimes a material component. The newly-minted wizard further learns the true depth of symbolic power in the world to which he was drawn as the story progresses.

If religion in general and the Catholic faith in particular offend you, you might feel somewhat uneasy with this book. Then again, you can remind yourself that it’s just fiction describing some other place, a world where other rules apply. I found the connection between symbols, magic and faith fascinating, and the study of human nature was far superior to what we find in most fantasy novels. The “evil races” of this narrative are actually corrupted humankind (something that makes quite a bit more sense that the naturally evil orcs and goblins of other fantasy worlds), and no human is depicted as being utterly beyond redemption in this life.

There were a few minor flows in the story. One might be how the protagonist never really seemed to miss family and friends. When he thought back on life in his home universe, what came to mind was his college and his messy apartment. Also, the love interest aspect of the story felt a little forced.

Still, this is a clever and well-developed story. If you read it, you may be as surprised by it as I was…even though I’ve already told you so much.

Python Workshop: General Discussion (6/23/09)

Although I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it to this meeting tomorrow, information (taken from a notice provided through the NYC Python e-mail list) about the regular meeting of the Python Workshop is below. If you are in or near NYC and have an interest in Python, it’s worth checking out.


PYTHON WORKSHOP
Date: Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Time: 6:00pm
Duration: 2 hours
Location: NY Public Library Hudson Park Branch, 66 Leroy St., NY NY 10014

Topics:
General discussion about Python, and working through example code. Bring something to discuss! There’s a blackboard, chalk, and Internet access. Notebook computers are helpful but not required. All levels of Python experience from totally new to experienced welcome!

Description:
We will continue meeting on a bi-weekly basis at the Hudson Library at 66 Leroy St New York, NY 10014.

It is helpful, but not necessary to have a notebook computer. The WiFi at the library works now.

Map & Directions:
http://nylug.org/pythoncalendar

We meet in the basement. Enter the library and head to the back. If the door is closed when you arrive you can ask the manager of the library for the keys to the room if you’re comfortable opening up the basement, or you can wait for some of the others to arrive.

Mailing List:
We have a mailing list! Join it here:
http://nylug.org/mailman/listinfo/nylug-workshop

or send mail to: nylug-workshop-request@nylug.org
with a Subject: subscribe

There is also an RSS feed for the workshop mailing list at:
http://nylug.org/mlist/nylug-python.rss

IRC Channel:
On Freenode, in #nylug-python . Stop by #nylug also.

The Next Meeting After This Meeting:
The following Python Workshop will be held on: Tuesday, July 07, 2009
at 6:00 PM