I remember back in 2001 when we had relaunched Just Laugh, it was a big deal for us to finally get listed under the humor section in Yahoo’s directory.

Like, I got a big packet of information about Yahoo in the mail and everything – it was kind of cool!

Looking back at estimates, there were around 30 million websites on the Internet in 2001, whereas nowadays some 15 years later there are closer to one billion websites and the number of users has increased by a factor of six to nearly represent half of the planet now being online and connected.

In a lot of ways, the growth is absolutely amazing to see what the Internet has become and how people now have access to wealths of information that no one person could consume in their entire lifetime.

On the other hand, however, a lot of it is crap and it seems like at least with regards to news and the search for reliable, factual information, often times there’s more to mislead people than information that they can actually count on … if they can even find it in the first place…

Case in point is a quick search that I wanted to do this evening about last week’s shooting of Alton Sterling because a lot of rumors have surfaced that maybe he wasn’t allowed to be carrying a gun in the first place because he was a convicted felon. Here are the top results of my search:

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As you can see, the top result – with its loaded headline and all – is from BearingArms.com, which is a pro-gun blog with ties to the NRA’s lobbying division. Not exactly the fair and unbiased resource that I was hoping for! The other sites aren’t much better, regurgitating reports from other publications with a bevy of linkbait stories on both sides. Of the two most reputable hits, USA Today and New Orleans’ Times-Picayune, neither story actually cites whether Sterling was legally within his rights to carry a firearm on the night he was killed by police.

Whenever we talk about web filtering software, we always think about protecting children from adult websites, but what about protecting any users from misleading and unreliable ones? Not so much as a form of censorship, but in the second wave of a digital age where websites are a dime a dozen and literally anyone can publish on the Internet now, maybe there’s some value to being able to say, “Only give me news content from vetted, accredited sources that I know I can trust.”

Granted, one could argue that social media already filters the modern web in a lot of ways – not all of them positive – but I don’t necessarily want to only view the articles that other people I follow have decided to share socially. In a way it’s kind of funny that the Internet would one day evolve to in fact having too much information, but it’s a good problem to have. I always laugh when people criticize Wikipedia as a source for information that the hardbound encyclopedias at the library still have their flaws, too, so maybe this is just the next challenge of the information age – figuring out how to connect people with the right information in a sea of clickbait and negligibly sourced garbage.

Don’t tell Marissa Mayer now after just shuttering the directory service that Yahoo was once famous for, but maybe they were on to something with curating the best links of the web after all!

A Reason for Garbage Comments

July 9, 2016 5:28pm
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I have a theory about why social media sites like Facebook garner such terrible discussion in their comment sections based on something that I’ve observed from some of my own writing that I’ve published recently.

I’d love to see some actual statistics on how many users actually click through links on Facebook vs how many leave comments because when I compare the pageviews that I’m seeing on some of my more “lively” posts, the numbers aren’t even close! I suppose it doesn’t really surprise me, though it’s disappointing in a way to think that so much of social media commentary is reactions and agendas pushed solely on reading the headlines and not actually delving into the content that myself or another writer took the time to put down on the page…

It’s a relatively new phenomena with digital media because it’s not like print or television or radio really give their viewers the opportunity to only consume the lead without also hearing the actual story. I mean, you could turn the TV off or only read the front page headlines and then walk away to go about your typical, everyday rants, but social media is really the first platform to give that live commenting option where readers have an up front venue where they can speak his mind without actually considering his source material whatsoever.

Does that need to change?

I eluded to some of my greater concerns about Internet comments in my Thing-a-Day post yesterday with why I specifically don’t allow comments on many of my own websites, but what if sites like Facebook took an extra step to lock down the comment box until a user at least clicked on the link that the comments referred to?

It wouldn’t be a perfect solution because you could easily get around it by instinctively clicking the link and then immediately closing it, but the majority of users probably aren’t likely to do that anyways.

Then again, you’d have to look at the stats to see if it’s even the majority of users who comment without reading or if it’s really just an issue with that increasingly vocal minority that’s likely to cause headaches no matter what type of restrictions you opt to put in place.

So this happened today… 😀

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Now I know that I’ve told the story many times before, so here’s the highlight version:

  • Just Laugh, my humor site, was established in 1999 using the domain justlaugh.net because somebody else owned the .com and wanted $3,000 for it.
  • A couple years later, that guy let it lapse, so then I owned both justlaugh.net AND justlaugh.com!
  • In a twisted case of cruel irony, I let justlaugh.net lapse when I moved to Florida in 2003 and somehow forgot to renew it.
  • After a squatter scooped it up almost immediately, it proceeded to bounce from one reseller to another, usually with overseas registrars, leaving me almost no legal recourse to bother trying to reclaim it even if I did have the $1,000 fee or whatever.

So I’ve had backorder monitoring setup with GoDaddy on this thing for years – I seriously don’t even remember when I did it, but it was like $18 and came with a year of hosting, so I figured why not … maybe they’d catch it one of these years if the squatter fell off his game, even though it always seemed to magically renew a week or two before the expiration date rolled around.

The notification emails from GoDaddy were kind of torture, watching that happen year after year…

…until this year when surprisingly the expiration came and went without renewal, and the registrar threw the domain into pending status!

Even then I tried not to get too excited about it because I know that there are companies that do nothing but stalk the expiring domains list to scoop up anything that could be of value to them. In fact, I even got a curious email about it last week asking “if I was interested in the domain” … which made me wonder if he was either the guy deciding whether to renew it again or just another stalker fishing leads to see if it was worth picking up. So I didn’t respond, and I also tried to avoid any of those backorder sites that might accidentally trigger a notification to the owner that someone was poking around about it.

And then this afternoon, I unexpectedly got this email from GoDaddy saying that the backorder had been successful!!!

Mind you, I don’t really have much use for it – after all of these years, it’s purely a nostalgia grab, primarily fueled by the poster on the wall in my office that all of our contributors signed for me back in our heyday that just happens to still bear the justlaugh.net address…

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I’ll pretty much just redirect it to justlaugh.com and 99.999% of visitors will never even know that it exists … but I’m a nostalgic guy, so that doesn’t really matter to me. It’s just neat to have finally reclaimed the name that I’d originally bought fresh out of high school when I started this whole thing in the first place, back when the website was entirely hand-coded in PHP and looked a little something like this…

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Good god, St. Patrick’s Day and the Christmas menu buttons were still up?! Well, that was 2003 for you… 😉

I like pizza, but I don’t need coupons for it every single day.

I noted the other day how it kind of bugs me to get promotional emails from likes of Pizza Hut and Domino’s several times a week when in reality I don’t order out quite that often, and even if I do it’s certainly not from all of the places at once!

Sure, I could go to RetailMeNot and look for deals there, which works for some eateries, but you’ve also got rewards programs – particularly Red Robin comes to mind – who actually require you to be on their mailing list in order to participate and get free stuff from their rewards programs.

So after mulling it over for a couple of days, I finally sat down and setup a couple of filters in Gmail to do exactly what I wanted to do – route my preselected ad emails to a separate folder (or label in Gmail), and then when anything gets older than 45 days, automatically delete it. The idea is that now my promo codes will be there when I want them, but I don’t have to waste any time sorting through them when I don’t.

Here’s what they look like:

Filter #1 routes any emails from the specified addresses to my new Ads label so I’ll never see them in my regular inbox…

(note: use curly brackets {} around multiple addresses to specify OR instead of AND)

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Filter #2 then does the dirty work and cleans up afterwards, monitoring for any old emails and deleting them once they’re 45 days old because more than likely any promo codes within will have expired by then anyways…

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PROBLEM SOLVED – that’s one less thing cluttering my inbox without actually unsubscribing from any lists!  8)

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This is actually kind of surprising because I tend to swear a lot on Twitter, yet I guess Santa only analyzed my last couple of dozen tweets which at the time happen to be relatively tame!

Mind y0u, we may have to have a little talk about language the next time I sit upon his knee because while I’ll give that the likes of fuck, bitch, shit, and asshole are definitely swear words, I would still contest that dildo, slut, and most of all WTF are certainly not!

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Do acronyms of swear words still count as swear words???

Also, when did I tweet about dildos in the last couple of days?!

Oh yeah – that’s right… 😛

I’m really frustrated with Verizon right now, which is tough because I’m absolutely a huge fan of my FiOS Internet service.

We’ve been customers since 2012 and without a doubt they provide the best Internet service available in the Tampa Bay area. I’ve done the research, I’ve priced out the competition, but between their pricing and the symmetrical download & upload speeds that are pretty much unheard of elsewhere, Verizon FiOS is the best.

So why have I spent the last couple of weeks feeling like an inferior customer over one that they could have sometime in the future???

I’ve talked a lot about upgrading my Internet speed lately – right now I’m at 75 Mbps, but I’ve really been eyeing their 150 Mbps package … it’s just that until recently, it was a bit out of my reach at an extra $50/month. So needless to say, I was really excited when I noticed one day when browsing my upgrade options and saw that they had a new promotion where I could not only go from 75 to 150 Mbps for only an extra $20/month, but they’d also throw in the $200 router upgrade for free!!!

It sounds too good to be true, and apparently it was because a couple of weeks ago when I was finally ready to pull the trigger, the 150 Mbps tier was mysteriously nowhere to be found…

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My first instinct was understanding enough – there must just be something wrong with Verizon’s website, so I got on the phone and called to place the order manually instead, but the rep who answered my call saw the same thing and was pretty clueless as to why there was a hole in my tiers where the missing 150 Mbps option used to be! It was frustrating to hear her shrug it off, not even giving me an option to escalate the issue for someone else to take another look.

It just wasn’t there, and she was ready to move on to her next call, but that’s not even where the story takes a dark turn.

So I hung up and instead tried reaching out via Twitter, where I got a slightly different, but equally misleading explanation…

This time they told me it was a “technical limitation” and that the tier must simply be “filled up,” so it was no longer available. Here I started to call bullshit because things really weren’t adding up … namely, they had the capacity to upgrade me to 4x or 6.5x my 75 Mbps speed, but not to only 2x my speed! 

And granted, I’m not a fiber technician, but I know a little about how math works – I even gave them the benefit of the doubt here and asked if it was really a technical limitation or if Verizon was artificially limiting availability of certain tiers to encourage the higher sales, but from there the tech just doubled down on that speed is popular, so it fills up and isn’t available anymore.

That didn’t make any sense, but in between waiting for responses I did a little more research and found what I thought was the missing key that would finally make somebody say, “Crap – that’s not right! We need to look into that!!!”

Opening up a separate browser and going to getfios.com, I was able to bring up a brand new order – even at this same address – for a new bundle including 150 Mbps Internet service…

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Huh???

So clearly there must be something wrong with their ordering system if a new order will offer me that tier, but when logged into my Verizon account it was nowhere to be found!

Well, after waiting a couple of days for a response from the social media team that never came, I decided to send an email to customer service to see what answer they’d be able to come up with for my issue. And at first it seemed promising because I was told that they needed to research it more before they could respond, but eventually they sent me this…

Thank you for choosing Verizon. I have received your email dated 10/29/2015 regarding that  want to know why a new customer would be able to get Fios Internet speeds of 100 and/or 150 Mbps while existing customers can not. I apologize for any frustration or inconvenience this has caused. My name is Karen, and I will be happy to assist you. I will also review the account to make sure you are getting the best value.

Thank ou [sic] for your interest in our products and service.

We apologize for the delay in our response and regret any inconvenience to you.

Unfortunately the connection speeds of 100 and 150 Mbps are not availble [sic] to you.

The decision to only offer the connection speeds of 100 and 150 Mbps was made at corporate management level. Unfortunately it has not been advised to us of why the decision was made to only offer the 100/150 Mbps to new customers and not to existing customers other than that there is technical limitation of upgrading the equipment for existing customers who already have Fios working at their location.

I’m very sorry for the inconvenience and frustration this will cause you and your family.

This after Verizon “added more versatility to its industry-leading service” by apparently adding a 100 Mbps tier in between 75 and 150 Mbps, according to this swell press release boasting about their latest promotions in my specific market a month before I was unable to order them myself!

According to this release, “Verizon is the only communications provider to offer a symmetrical speed tier of 100/100 Mbps, or any Internet services offering the same fast download and upload speeds, in the Florida market” … but only if you’re a brand new customer for them because if you’ve already got an account, your business isn’t worth the effort.

Seriously, how insulting is that?!

Here I am, a long-standing customer and very much a fan of the service, and I want to give Verizon more money, and if I had submitted my order two weeks earlier before this asinine decision was made, I could’ve! But now my extra $20/month isn’t good enough for Verizon. They’d be happy to sell me 300 Mbps service at an additional $110/month, but sorry, the next logical upgrade that makes sense for my account isn’t available because they’ve arbitrarily dog-eared that speed for new customers only.

What sense does that make? My next door neighbor could call and get 150 Mbps service installed tomorrow, or hell, my wife could call and apparently get it installed at our same address … as long as she sets up a new account because this account – the one that’s 3 years old and has earned Verizon upwards of $7,000 over the life of our service – isn’t eligible for an upgrade.

Sorry / not sorry.

You wouldn’t do that with HBO or Cinemax – “I’m sorry, I know that you’ve had an account for 3 years, but we’ve reserved those premium movie channels to entice potential sales from our new customers only. We regret any inconvenience that this causes you…”

Traditionally it’s a poor business practice when one of your loyal customers wants to give you more money and you arbitrarily refuse to take it, but apparently a fiber customer in the hand isn’t worth two in the bush when you’re Verizon.

But it’s not too hard to fix this! We schedule an appointment, you send out the technician who makes my dog bark for hours on end while he tinkers around outside, he installs a new ONT on the side of my house and gives me my sweet, new Quantum router, I start paying you an extra $20/month for the service I’ve quite literally been salivating for all summer long, and in the end we all win!

You get some extra money without having to sell me on the upgrade I already want and I get an even faster Internet speed to rub in the faces of everyone I know who isn’t lucky enough to live in a FiOS market … which admittedly is almost everybody I know.

Verizon, I love FiOS and I don’t want to fight with you. I just think it’s bullshit that you’re offering better deals to the new customers you don’t even have yet than you’ll give me who’s been here this whole time. I’ve come to accept that your best promotional pricing is for new customers and my bill jumped up a ways after my contract renewed, but this is service – to tell me that I can have one Internet speed but not another is just cruel. 

We can get through this, you and me, but honey, right now you’re being kind of an asshole. Please call me when you’re ready to grow up.

Smart Explanations of Complicated Matters

October 23, 2015 10:40pm
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A big reason why I’ve always been a fan of Hank and John Green isn’t merely for the entertainment factor, but even more so because they’re both great at giving thoughtful explanations of the things that they talk about – particularly when it comes to complicated subject matters that are often prone to misinformation and viral rage.

Hank’s latest video about Benghazi brought this back to the forefront for me because I’ll admit that I didn’t really know that much about Benghazi, either! I knew that there was some sort of riot in Libya and extremists stormed the U.S. embassy there … presumably kind of like what happened with the Iran hostage crisis back in 1979…

…and admittedly I didn’t really even know much about that until I watched the movie Argo and was curious enough to research a little online afterwards to see how much of it was true! Spoiler: There were some significant inaccuracies

Anyways, especially with complex and passionate issues such as what happened on Sept. 11, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya, it’s important to look at the facts of both sides – because politics stripped aside, both sides do have facts – and I think in this video in particular, Hank does a really good job of doing that.

I also think with regards to Benghazi, it’s a frank reminder for folks in the USA in particular to keep in mind that Benghazi, Libya is actually a city about 600,000 people that’s lost thousands of people amid the country’s ongoing civil war and not only the much more brief span of time when four Americans overseas lost their lives in a terrorist attack on 9/11/12…

If you enjoyed this video, here are a few others informative ones from Hank & John that I thought were really well done if you’re interested in a rational dissemination of facts and whatnot…

One Box or Another…

May 3, 2015 6:41pm
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Contrary to the popular opinion, sometimes it actually can be fun to read comments on the Internet, as proven in some random comment thread on Facebook where I found the image above. Needless to say, it gave me a grin when by far the most popular comment was along the lines of, “Ummmm – those are Playstation controllers, not Xbox…” 😉

My personal favorite, though? This is a PS1 – no fish can compete with today’s consoles.

Personally, I responded with a suggestion that we enjoy the best of both worlds – virtual and that other one with all of the bears and mosquitos…

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Then again, both the Xbox One and PS4 each have an 8-core CPU and 8 GB of RAM … how many cores does your average trout have???

It’s time to step up your game, nature.

Now that I’ve started being a bit more public about Just Laugh’s return, the other big focus that I have right now besides just making good content is also in trying to rebuild an audience to enjoy said content, as well as also help to promote other humorists as well as eventually hopefully driving some ad sales so that I can pay a few other people to write funny stuff along with me.

Marketing is honestly something that I’ve never really been good at before, which explains why I still have stacks of humor books sitting on the shelves behind me! When I first started Just Laugh more than a decade ago, there really wasn’t much we could do for online marketing at the time. We submitted our site to Yahoo!, which was a surprisingly big deal when it got added (I actually got something in the mail!). We tried to build linking relationships with other sites, and when that didn’t work we manage to trick a few of them into linking to us via the Just Laugh Weenie Awards… 😉

But a lot has changed since then … a lot, and so as I’ve sat here contemplating new ways to build traffic when I don’t really have much to offer just yet in return, I stumbled across the advertising options on Facebook the other day and it turned out that they were just simple enough that I decided to give them a try!

I created a new campaign that’s just shooting for new Likes to Just Laugh’s Facebook page, though apparently you can advertise all sorts of stuff with them. In fact, for about an hour and a half I had an ad running specifically to promote this post, but soon after I killed it when I saw that it cost me $1.28 for a single click through to the article.

That said, so far I think I’m pretty happy with how the original ad campaign is going, though admittedly it’s a little weird to watch as the Likes slowly creep in as my ad budget decreases in unison. It kind of feels like I’m buying Likes, which I guess is technically true to an extent, although not really. It’s not like one of those scam sites where you pay a guy $50 for 10,000 Likes – most of which aren’t even real people. That’s one thing that I have to remind myself – that these are real people who are seeing an ad for Just Laugh, and because of that ad they’ve decided to Like the page because they’re into funny stuff!

It’s something that the stats Facebook makes available helps to reinforce, to the point where I couldn’t even imagine buying ads from something like TV or newspapers that are based on market surveys instead of the real data about its users that Facebook is unique to be able to offer to help tailor the experience for both the user and the advertiser!

For example, one of the things that I had to pick for my add was Interests, so instead of just giving typical demographic info like Males age 25-39 who live in the US, I can also tack on there who also like pages such as The Onion and CollegeHumor because those types are more likely to enjoy Just Laugh as well.

Anyways, I’m a very data-driven kind of guy, so it’s neat to be able to see statistics more or less on the fly that tell me things like…

  • My ad has been served to about 3,700 people, and of those impressions I’ve had a success rate of a little over 5%.
  • In the last two and a half days that’s translated to almost 200 new Likes for Just Laugh (I think we were only around 25 of my friends and family before that?).
  • 99% of my ad impressions were on mobile devices, and 100% of the new Likes received came from there as well.
  • Ads were split fairly evenly between men and women, however women were about 25% more likely to respond to the ad.
  • 75% of the new Likes came from people ages 25-34, with the remaining 25% being 35-44 (for true transparency’s sake, the age demo I picked was 25 – 38 … honestly just as a guess because I figured people around my age are more likely to enjoy my jokes!).

It’s definitely interesting to watch develop, to say the least, and the idea that maybe a few more eyeballs will be on my posts in the future is certainly encouraging. Of course, that’ll be the real test because at this point I have no real idea what a realistic conversion rate is for fans clicking through posts over to the actual website where I get to run ads of my own. At this point I’m not entirely sure how long I’m going to run them, or even how long I can afford to run them, though I’ve got some numbers in my head that aren’t too crazy to give myself some things to experiment with.

I really want to make Just Laugh BIG this time, and I know that most of that really rides on having a respectable volume of web traffic, so as long as I can reasonably fund it I’m ok with making some investments to try and help things along. In a way, it’s neat just that we have a system that even makes that possible here in 2015 – where I could tinker with some settings for 20 minutes, enter a credit card number, and another 10 minutes later random strangers were viewing my ads and clicking on them to boot!

Granted, the next chapter of our advertising lesson will be The True Value of a Facebook Fan where we’ll get to see if the $0.20/Like was a worthwhile investment for Just Laugh or not… 😛

P.S. Go Like Just Laugh on Facebook if you read this post and haven’t already … mainly because I don’t have to pay for those Likes if they happen organically!

Words of Wisdom – On Arguing…

February 25, 2015 11:17pm
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And while we’re on the subject – I stumbled across this the other day and I really liked it, even though it didn’t exactly stop me from engaging in another argument literally hours after posting it! 😉

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