On posting for keeps…

My last post reminded me of something else that I’ve been thinking about lately, and it’s also a reason for keeping a blog: Stuff on Twitter disappears.

I’ve been using Twitter for a while now, and I’ve discovered there’s a catch. Old posts are not accessible. The older they are, the less accessible they become.

Well, if what you say has value (and it almost certainly does) it might actually be worth using a blog like WordPress to post your thoughts. You can easily get your blog to tweet links to the posts you write, and that way, if what you say starts a conversation, it can easily happen on Twitter. Best of all though, when all is said and done, weeks, months, years from now, it’ll still be there — you’ll truly own it.

What Can You Do With An EC2 Micro Instance?

Warning: This post contains some factual inaccuracies. I’ll fix it asap. I’m just trying a few things out on my EC2 servers and measuring the results…

The EC2 Micro instance is very reasonably priced. For about $40/month you effectively get a virtual private server with 1 small CPU worth of processing power, 680MB RAM and the benefits of EC2 storage (easily expandable to terabytes, can be moved between servers etc). That price is very competitive with any shared host’s VPC pricing.

So what can you do with one small CPU and 680MB RAM? Well, here are my very unscientific findings: You can run one WordPress blog, and two mid-sized Rails apps, and a good number of HTML-and-static-content-only sites. When I added a third Rails site, I started getting out-of-memory errors and MySQL would crash.

I think a very crude rule of thumb is 80MB for a minimally used MySQL service, 80MB for a WordPress site and about 160MB for a Rails site, and about 200MB for the system to do its thing. If some of those values seem big, don’t forget that a typical web site will create 10 instances to serve up to 10 simultaneous requests (that might not seem like many, but 10 simultaneous requests is actually enough to service hundreds, maybe thousands of concurrent users — they don’t take long, and when needed they just queue up).

My Blog Traffic

One thing that nobody tells you when you start a blog is how much traffic you’ll get. Or rather, how much traffic you won’t get. Maybe it’s just me, but I kind of hoped that when I started a blog I’d be writing for a loyal and vibrant readership from day one. Of course, that was a stupid thing to think, and I didn’t seriously believe it, but I was still disappointed when I added Google Analytics after a few months and watched the tumble weeds go rolling past.

I’ll quickly add that I am writing for pleasure (and practice), not traffic, but there is no denying that it is very nice to see some kind of tangible result. The only tangible result you can really see with a blog is traffic. Increased traffic hopefully means improved writing style (or more relevant at least), and that makes you feel good.

Anyway, if you’re a tech person, and you’re thinking of starting some vague, general and rambling blog (like mine), here are my figures for you to compare/compete against. I’ll just add that I started blogging properly about 5 years ago, but I deleted that blog and started this one in 2010. My old blog had lots of very technical posts (with plenty of sample source code and useful commands), and I got a disproportionate amount of traffic to one or two specific posts (80% or so of traffic went to a post about resetting passwords in Oracle — it lives at another blog I reposted it to). Those posts still get great traffic, mainly from good Google ranking, but they aren’t a useful measure. I just happened to answer a question that lots of people ask, and aside from their immediate pain they had zero interest in my blog. Bounce rate was something like 98%.

This blog is different. I so far have one or two disproportionately high-traffic posts (like this summary of the best things about OS X, and the corresponding list of great features in Windows), but the rest are pretty evenly split. For the month of January 2012, I got 629 unique visitors, 1,169 page views and a bounce rate of 75%. Not great, but it’s roughly a three-fold improvement over a year ago when I had just over 200 unique visitors.

So there are my numbers. After two years I have 629 unique visitors a month for the last full month. I’ll re-post my updated figures whenever they jump significantly — it’ll hopefully be interesting to plot over time and see how things change at least (especially if I can keep up the renewed pace since my re-design). If you want to get in touch, either to commiserate or gloat, feel free :) I’m mostly on Twitter these days. I turned comments off due to spam :|

Grabbing images of websites is easy with WebSnapper

Here’s a useful little link to an app that I use on Mac OS X to grab screens from the web. It’s useful for your own sites when you’re creating documentation or sales materials, and it’s also great when you want to take snapshots of sites that inspire you. One major bonus is that it works with pages that you need to be logged in for, and it lets you grab the whole page (not just the visible bit).

Anyway, it’s called WebSnapper, and it costs about £10/$15 in the Mac app store. It’s worth having in your toolkit…

Homepage for Tasty Apps (creators of WebSnapper)

SEO Advice For Bootstrapped Startups

This is an excellent post: http://sharkseo.com/nohat/startups/.

If you’re launching a new product, you need to understand SEO. These days, the SEO experts all seem to agree that it all comes down to two things: Original Content and Links. Obviously buying links is a no-no, you’ll end up blacklisted, so this post suggests building links in to your product offering. DropBox do this REALLY well with their ‘free space for recommending a friend’ offer. You send links out, in the hope your friends sign up and get you more free space, they get links.

Anyway, I just wanted to share this link because I found it interesting, and I’m sure you will too.

Something different

So in addition to posting links occasionally, I’m now testing out a new service that lets you remix tweets and repost them to your blog. Here are a couple of tweets that caught my eye over the past couple of days:
Twitter profile image for HackerNewsYC
@HackerNewsYC How I Made My First 100 Sales http://goo.gl/fb/2BY5F
Favorited by @adrianoconnor on Monday 03 January 2011
Twitter profile image for ironshay
@ironshay A great resource! RT @Meligy: Pro #Git – Table of Contents http://goo.gl/fb/MuxJm
Favorited by @adrianoconnor on Monday 03 January 2011
I love git. It’s different to SVN, and if you’re windows-based you’ll have some hurdles to overcome (it’s just much easier to get it running on Mac/Linux), but I love it. I love the fact it’s so robust (no problems moving folders here!) but most of all I love the fact it works when I’m offline. That’s awesome, and it has saved my ass at least once…

The end of Delicous?

Former Yahoo! employee Eric Marcoullier (he’s the one who sold MyBlogLog to them) has posted a slide from a Yahoo! all-hands meeting that appears to show that Yahoo! plan to retire Delicious sometime soon. I just learned about this over on searchengineland.com.

This would be really unfortunate, if they go ahead and shut it down. I love Delicious, because it just does what it needs and no more. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. I do see that it probably doesn’t make much money, and believe it or not I didn’t actually realize Yahoo! owned it. It seems odd that they wouldn’t put their logo on there somewhere. It’d certainly have improved the Yahoo! image in my eyes.

Anyway, this is a promise I will make right now: if Yahoo! close Delicious, I’ll write a functionally comparable alternative (complete with Javascript bookmark links and a Firefox plugin, and maybe an iOS app), and I’ll release the source code for free (under GPL). I’ll host it on my Amazon EC2 server and, assuming it doesn’t consume too much bandwidth, I’ll run it as a free service.

I hope it doesn’t happen, but as soon as Yahoo! officially announce it, I’ll get coding.

Interesting Links

Here are a few interesting links I’ve stumbled across in the past few weeks. They mostly deal with the same subject matter that I talk about on here — building a start-up.

The first link is to a blog post by Matt Mullenweg: 1.0 is the loneliest place, . If you’re building (or have built a product) it’s pretty relevant. The gist mostly boils down to this: get it released asap!

This also caught my eye: Five Reasons You Haven’t Launched. It explores the common excuses for not launching yet. We all know that we should release early and often, so why do we so often do the exact wrong thing?

Finally, Failure By Design talks about how making mistakes and getting things wrong is absolutely crucial to learning anything, and that you should plan for it. I’m actually a big believer in this, and one of my favourite quotes of all time is: “An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.” — Niels Bohr. That sums it up nicely, I think.

Also, I’ll mention a open-source product that I’ve used in one of my projects this week: ImageFlow. It’s an HTML/JS image carousel, similar to the iTunes coverflow browser. It works really well, is easy to integrate and is remarkably cheap to license for non-opensource projects.

The most stupid idea I heard today

This is a really dumb idea. It’s from some corporate-monkey exec at Microsoft – Scott Charney, the “VP of Trustworthy Computing”, whatever that means. Here’s his blog post on Technet. It’s almost unreadable, but give it a go. I haven’t tried to read the paper that Microsoft publish to go with this post (and his speech).

OK, so why am I using such angry language? I don’t often call people’s ideas outright stupid, and I definitely don’t usually call people I don’t know ‘corporate monkeys’, but there you go. I feel quite strongly about this.

Microsoft are suggesting that ISPs should require people to have a certificate to prove that their computer is vaccinated before they’re allowed to use the internet..

Look, Microsoft, Symantec, Norton et al have been ‘protecting’ us for years, at our great expense… YET IT HASN’T WORKED. So, what this fool seems to be suggesting is this: we allow these same companies to become the gatekeepers of our internet access. No thanks.

And what about Linux, Mac OS X, iOS, Android, etc. If this ever got any traction I can’t help but think that maybe, at the back of MS’ plan is the idea that they can make non-Microsoft OSes that little bit les accessible to the general population — after all, I can’t certify that my Mac runs Norton AV because it doesn’t.

I don’t know. I guess I’m over-reacting — people publish wacky research all the time, it doesn’t mean it’ll happen, and crazy ideas often spark interesting discussions. It’s Microsoft though, and they have a certain amount of history, which I guess raises my hackles.

Addendum: Until now I didn’t actually know what hackles were, but I just looked it up — it’s the hair on the back of an animal’s neck that stand up when the animal is angry or afraid.

Feel-Bad Spam

It has been a while since I last had a blog. Back them, I turned all comments off because evil spam robots posted endless comments with links to casino websites mostly. It was impossible to manage.

Interestingly, the spam has changed somewhat in the years since I shut that blog down. I’ve noticed on this blog that I’m seeing no robot spam (maybe because of the anti-spam hidden-field that WordPress has), but I’m getting a lot of real-human spam. My guess is that it’s mechanical-turk style stuff – 1c for each post or whatever. The quality of the English in the posts is generally awful, so I’m guessing it’s an example of off-shoring your spam, but maybe spammers just have bad English. What is clear is that they’re trying very hard to write generic comments that might feasibly apply to any blog post, with the obvious goal that you’ll not notice it’s spam, click approve, and their ‘website’ link will end up in your comments.

Most of the comments are pretty bland: “I found your post very informative, thank you for this useful information. I will bookmark your blog for future reference.” These are clearly taking the approach that most people enjoy a bit of ego stroking — wouldn’t you rather believe that somebody genuinely finds your thoughts interesting, as opposed to the obvious reality that somebody doesn’t care less and they’re just trying to con you? I suspect this method started out working quite well, until the sheer volume of copy-cat messages made it clear to even the most naive person that this is, in fact, spam.

There is another approach that I’ve seen a couple of examples of. At first it seemed really odd — almost amusing in fact, but in a sea of ego stroking, I suppose it makes perfect sense. Here’s an example an argumentative feel-BAD spam comment:

Why have you taken out my post? It was very beneficial information and i assure atleast one person found it helpful unlike the rest of the comments on this web site. I’ll post it again. Sick of obtaining low amounts of useless traffic for your site? … [continues in typical spamvertisement fashion]

The spammer starts out by chastising me for removing a supposed comment of theirs. Then they insult me (‘it was helpful, unlike the rest of the comments on this site!’). At first I thought this was very odd — I didn’t see how it could ever work — but then it struck me that this is quite celver. They’re trying to make the blog owner feel bad — nobody generally likes to offend or upset people — in the hope that they’ll want to make amends and will do so by clicking approve. Obviously it’s spam, there is no genuine grievance, but it’s interesting to see how they switched tack by going to the extreme opposite of the usual ego-stroking method. I’ve not seen many of these comments around, so I guess most blog owners are too savvy to fall for it.

As I write this, it occurs to me that there is one way these people could spam blogs — they could write meaningful and insightful posts that are in genuine response to the article they’re posting under, with no copy and paste, and the chances are they’d get through. I guess the cost of doing that (both in terms of required skill and time) is too great. Or maybe then they’d be called ‘marketing’, rather than spammers ;)

I’m going to try akismet. Hopefully that will stop the mechanical-turk spam too. If not, I’ll just turn comments off again, but that’d be a shame. I guess with Twitter it’s less of a black-out that it used to be.

I’d also like to get rid of the website box from the comments on my WordPress bloh and disable all links in the posts — anybody know if that’s possible?