Saturday, 8 December 2007

Slovakia's Best Barman a barwoman. I was pleased to read the results of the 2007 Slovak Bar Awards at the eTrend website.

This is old news (cleaning up my Drafts folder). Her name is Alexandra Lipcakova, she works at Jerry's Bar in Zilina, which I will not link to, because their website is crap.

I presume she is one of the three women in the photo (from Jerry's site) but I am not sure.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Why good domains cost much and for how long?

Diamonds never lose value, the guy at the jewellery shop tells you. He would say that, wouldn't he, with shelf-fulls of diamonds on his hands.

Slovak realtors always tell the newspapers Slovak real estate is going to keep rising, it's still the right time to buy. They would say that, wouldn't they making a living from commissions on actual sales.

Quality "meaningful, powerful or generic" domains are going to keep rising in value, Frank Schilling, a star domainer tells us.

They give you free type-in traffic - in some cases "millions of yearly visitors forever; for nothing more than the price of the renewal fees", there are only 5-10 million good generic domains so they are bound to be scarce. "That shortage of supply and global demand keeps prices high… and will for years to come. In fact if the examples above show anything, it’s that great domain names are “still” cheap."

I believe Frank's prediction, especially as long as he keeps a sizable collection of domains. But I do also recognise that when a guy sitting on a load of domains says they will only get more expensive, it is something he would say, isn't it.

Ultimately I would expect the Coase Theorem to hold in the domain market (Freakonomics explains the details): when transaction costs become sufficiently low each asset will end up with the party that stands to make the most with it - an efficient outcome.

I don't believe this will be the big domain holding guys with Google for Domains, Sedo ads or one of the 'nameless' domain advertising platforms on generic domains. The pages they serve are often of low relevance and poor quality.

For these sites there is often someone who could develop them and make a lot more money. What do you really smart people with eye for persuasion architecture reckon would happen to the clickthrough rates on this guy's website if he actually showed a few photos of glass cabinets (the way these people do)?

The reason he doesn't bother is probably that he registered numbers of sites like this. Many of them could be developed and monetised at multiples of what he makes per site and the day will come when he will simply be better off selling or leasing the site for someone to develop.

It is easy to compare domains to real estate - you have property in a prime location so you're better off building an apartment building than using it as a parking lot. If you have loads of properties in a prime location you will develop them, sell them, or at least rent them for someone to develop. After all a prime location is made prime by the development.

So if you fail to develop, people learn to go elsewhere to shop. Maybe to a market or library? You will be left with the passers by looking for, sometimes finding rubbish. Meanwhile someone like this who is aparently a domainer (landlord) is not so much different from a normal jeweler (although he doesn't make the jewelry onsite).

But if you develop a prime location you have an advantage over your competitors doing the same (or better) in a less prime neighbourhood. Your generic domain name will give you a search engine placement boost through the keywords it contains. If developed it can help collect natural links, help build customer trust by sounding 'official' and of course make it easy for customers to find their way back later. That is where to me lies the value of a domain.

There will come a time when domains as a piece of real estate (call it a storefront) will be obsolete. I can not tell what the replacement will be and how soon it will come but it needn't be too long. The longer some guys sit on undeveloped domain estate the more risk of a paradigm shift take place and render domains worth less:
  • search engines taking place of direct navigation
  • social network sites/communities taking that place
  • browsers taking place by capturing certain user actions
  • new internet rules (new top level domains? perhaps a new extra layer?
  • new technology (thought-navigation? you think of a site and your browser takes you there without any typing)
or something completely different.

But before that happens there may be serious cash to be made for people who but low and sell high.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Predictions of 2008 trends start rushing in

The 2008 predictions are gathering speed and it's only going to get worse.

My view of the global economy is limited from my ground floor apartment but a private equity insider predicts we have just seen the "lull at the top of asset prices, and stomach lifting hump before the first roller-coaster drop."

Trendwatching landed in my mailbox today with as many as EIGHT cleverly identified consumer trends for 2008. Status spheres will segment the market and Evian is by far not expensive enough for some people (who now apparently buy a $20 version - how cheap of me to have turned down the $3 option yesterday offered to me as the only non-carbonated mineral water at the crappy Notax restaurant).

Meanwhile someone predicts professionally produced content will beat home made videos next year.

I have so far only made a single prediction: Kosice real estate will rise dramatically in 2008 but I hope to make a few more just to see if I get to say I told you so later. Oh yeah, and (via the brilliant Frank Schilling) US real estate prices are going down in 2008:

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Shut up when the anthem plays!

The Slovak Police drew enemy fire from Slovak media after forcibly removing a protester who shouted through a megaphone about undemocratic practices in Kazakhstan within earshot of where the Slovak Presidential Guards saluted Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbajev.

There is a special provision in the Kazakh constitution allowing Nursultan Nazarbajev (him and only him) to stand for reelection an unlimited number of times. Well no surprise he received regal treatment, especially since Kazakhstan has so much oil and is the World's No. 1 exporter of potassium.

Police dragged the Kazakh emigre activist Balli Marzec, a Polish citizen, kicking and screaming and detained her at the police station for 12 hours.

Sadly this was but one in a string of incidents with blatant violations of free speech, freedom of movement and other basic constitutional rights. In some the police were subject of provocation and mistakenly took it as a sign they can suppress human rights.

More often police were the perpetrators of harassment and abuse - beating people up, shutting up demonstrators, harassing the poor and homeless.

This of course permeates the police culture at all levels: corruption is rampant at many levels and certainly the attitude is more often "abuse and exploit" rather than "serve and protect".

Old advice on doing better with charity

If you've ever given to a poor person unwillingly, you should know there are seven higher degrees of charity Jewish philosopher Maimonides inferred from the Torah.

To do better next time try giving a poor person gladly, with a smile.

Even better, give to those in need when you are asked.

If that doesn't feel charitable enough try giving before you are asked.

Next level up means giving without knowing who receives your help but they will know you were the benefactor. In Maimonides's times the custom was for "greatest sages" to pack coins in a scarf, sling it over their shoulder and let poor people pick out coins not seeing who they were and thus avoiding embarrassing them.

When the roles are reversed you can move up a level: you know who you are helping without them knowing who you are. There were righteous men who would put coins in poor people's doorways secretly.

When neither side knows the other you are almost at the top. A guy or gal recently gave $100 million to a town in Pennsylvania this way.

There is but one level left, the greatest: when you help someone get on their feet so that they no longer need the help of the community. A Silicon Valley geek taught a whole Stanford class how to make Facebook Apps although these are presumably paying students and this would not classify as an act of charity. It may just be good teaching.

Oh and read this article mainly as an effort to connect those two interesting stories into one entry.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Landline over mobile

Although the number of landlines in Slovak households is declining I still maintain mine. I pay some 400 Slovak crowns per month to Slovak Telecom, mainly for the sake of older members of my family who feel a lot more comfortable calling my landline than calling my mobile.

While there are financial considerations (i.e. calling mobile phone numbers from a land line phone in Slovakia remains pretty expensive) there are also some privacy considerations: calling someone's home telephone and reaching them means you will not be catching them in the supermarket checkout line, at a busy traffic intersection or in a cinema.

For me another advantage is that I know only very few people have my landline number and I can be pretty sure that it is the family calling (and the occasional telemarketer who I simply hang up on).

Many new businesses these days do not bother to install landlines - probably to save the money and hassle they provide a mobile phone number as their primary contact number. I would argue that this may be shortsighted for some, especially those who interact with an older clientele. There are lots of mainly older people who remain distinctly uncomfortable both calling a mobile phone in general (perhaps because they are used to the anonymity of landline calling from the time landlines did not have caller ID) and especially calling a mobile from their land line telephone.

If I were to operate a business that expects customer calls I would probably try to offer at least a mobile and landline contact number and perhaps even consider having a separate mobile contact with the several mobile operators. From a practical perspective having a contract with each operator allows to economise on outgoing calls. But also this maximises the chance that customers wishing to reach you by phone will be comfortable doing so.

What prompted this short writeup was my recent experience trying to make a hairdresser appointment. On the website the only phone number provided was a mobile, I phoned and said I would like to make an appointment. The lady on the other end surprised me a little: "Could you call back in about 10 minutes? I am away from the salon right now." Now that would ever happen with a landline...

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

2008: Anyone can make predictions!

I made a prediction earlier, saying that the city of Košice will blossom in 2008. The prediction brought me search engine traffic because people are starting to look for predictions for next year. Even Adwords advertisers have woken up with their predictions for 2008 (led by horoscopes and such).

Google Trends shows that the demand for new-year 2008 predictions online has grown over the last few years. Every year it starts earlier and peaks a little higher. The order of searches by countries is stable over time - Indians search for predictions the most.

A classmate of mine in primary school, Alexander, told me in 1988 that in 1999 we would be able to travel to neighbouring Austria on bicycle. To me that was unimaginable at the time: we were living in the depth of a Soviet-satellite Communist regime. In November 1989 suddenly we were walking across the border. His prediction simply turned out to be correct.

Now I feel like it may be fun to make a few predictions for 2008 - if I make 10 or 20 oredictions on random events there is a good chance a half of them may turn out right and having 5 or 10 correct prediction can be packaged as pretty good predictive success.

Anyway the purpose of this article is to motivate myself to make up a few predictions, write them up and drum them up.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Filling out the facebook profile for a UWC classmate

I've been adding a lot of my fellow UWCers to my facebook, it's been somewhat of a fad. The circle enlarges and more people who touched my life but fell of my radar screen appear. Today Agnieszka, the first UWCer I met became a Facebook friend.

Facebook offered for me to fill in how I knew Agnieszka and honesty about my AHUWC experience made me check that we:
lived together (we did, in Lanham house),
were in a group together (an outdoor orientation group, I think), took a course together (the IB although that may be a slight stretch as Agnieszka was my second-year), attended a program (numerous, for sure), traveled together (she and Demet from Turkey were the first UWCers I actually met, while changing planes at the Dallas Fort Worth Airport), went to high school with Agnieszka, met randomly (in an airport), are Facebook friends (as of today) and finally, I know Agnieszka through a friend (or several friends).


Saturday, 8 September 2007

My Prediction: 2008 will be the year of Kosice

I am extremely bullish on Kosice - have been for years. The Google Trends screenshot shows clearly what's going on - more and more people are looking for info on Kosice on Google.

If I had the cash to spare or goodwill to borrow I would buy a nice place in the centre of Kosice, banking on its finiteness and the Skyeurope flight from London. My guess would be about 50% appreciation over the next two years.

There are real estate investment opportunities galore right now. The market is somewhat illiquid, I believe, but that may open opportunities for a buyer ready to pay in cash.

It wasn't easy to find English-language blogs in Kosice but in the end I came across a fellow internet entrepreneur, a Peter Soltes.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Are you clever enough to pull a 419?

I don't know if Nigerian scammers read blogs but if they do I have an idea for a scenario for them:
1. send one of the usual spam letters (late widow of Sani Abacha, wife of Rwandan farmer),
2. send another letter signed by a Nigerian official (or even a UN official of another nationality) requesting cooperation with the authorities in uncovering the scammer from no. 1 above, earning a hefty reward in the process,
3. if anyone catches on, make them actually send money to no. 1 while delaying payment from no. 2.

Or maybe I can send the idea to this guy although he obviously does not need it.

My feeling is that if the other things reaching my mailbox work this one would, too.

$10 Threadless sale rocks!

I love Threadless. Threadless has rocking great t-shirts and they ship to Slovakia.
Threadless T-Shirt We're Not Savages by Philip Tseng
One of the most frustrating things about many US-based e-commerce websites is that they do not ship to Europe. There is no directory of US internet stores that ship internationally, that I would be aware of. Even at this day and age in a lot of websites you have to dig deep for info whether they will ship to you or not.

I am surprised the math doesn't work out favourably at least for the big stores that do not bother to ship throughout the EU (J. Crew, to name a few). They must have sufficient ability to learn on the internet that Poland, Slovakia or Estonia let alone Austria or Sweden are not Nigeria (not to mention the fact that there must be lots of nice, regular people in Nigeria who cannot order anything at all from anyone because noone will ship to them).

The flipside is that any parcel worth more than EUR 22 must clear customs and in my case is subject to 19% VAT and 10 or so % customs duty. But that's a whole another story (and a sad one of utter ignorance of essential civic dignity).

Anyway, what spurred this post was the current $10 Threadless sale. Needless to say that because they are among the few who will ship to me (and without extorting me with incredible postage just for not being from the US of A) I am a loyal repeat customer.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Acupressure point for nausea, anyone?

Not as easy to find as I would have expected. I was confident there was one and I did find a nice diagram in the end on a site on a New Zealand site on nausea during labour. It is a point a bit (2-3 inches) above the wrists, between the two veins on both arms.

You can massage it gently or even apply a wristband with a plastic button available through New Zealand chemists.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Who ranks who with Personalized Pagerank?

San Jose is pretty far from Bratislava so there is no way for me to make it to search engine strategies this year. Instead, I have been reading the amazingly useful live coverage at the Search Engine Roundtable.

In the coverage of Personalised Search this assertion attributed to Dave Davies of Beanstalk Search Engine Positioning genuinely surprised me:
Google will be assigning a value to you as a search user. This value will be used to grade your activities on web sites. This will affect the rankings of sites based on an individuals activities on that site. Users who are trusted by Google will affect the results to a greater degree than those who are not trusted.

I had thought of personal pagerank as individualised pagerank assigned to a website just for you (and people like you). E.g. Google knows I get annoyed with Web 2.0 social sites and love all things Russian. Therefore if I searched for dating sites something like Consumating would have a low personal pagerank for me. would on the other hand appear pretty high up.

The Davies interpretation would mean something quite different: his peronalised pagerank would rank my personal worth as a searcher whose search behaviour is, I guess, generic enough to be useful to influence the general pagerank for other. Goofy people, who surf all over the web, would be discounted, while systematic, savvy searchers would carry more influence.

I think if you juxtapose the two ideas, it is clear which one makes more sense: since everyone's results will behighly personalised there is not so much point in finding trusted users to watch their behaviour. Rather, in a fashion similar to how Amazon works in recommending CDs you may like, search engines can group users according to a variety of characteristics: "If you liked Consumating and Digg, you will love Sphinn."

Goofy users won't have low personal pagerank. Rather, if Google knows you are goofy, it will modify your personalised pagerank algorithm to rank highly sites other goofy people like.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Do you pay when Google employees click on ads?

I am wondering, would it be possible to geotarget an Adwords campaign to Googleplex? The land area is almost 1 sq. km so it should be enough to meet the Adwords minimum area requirements. That way you could see whether and how clicks by Google employees count.

It would be worthwhile to check with Google PR people whether there is a "Google policy on employees clicking Adsense and Adwords ads". Do these clicks get filtered? Google CEO Eric Schmidt let it slip at an August 2006 Search Engine Strategies that he clicks ads 'all the time'. This may seem like a questionable practice, especially if Schmidt's 10,000+ employees follow suit...

Several people replied in Comments that Google supposedly filtered out all clicks from its offices, and from the whole Google network (employees on laptops connecting through VPNs).

It would also be interesting to know whether Google employees are allowed to click ads outside of work. This could be a conflict of interest for some: it may be tempting to do some late night clickin' and boost ad revenues after a quarter when a hiring binge dented profits in Q2 2007.

But seriously. I deal with various Google ads a lot in my day job. Generally, I try to avoid clicking on them both on my own sites and other sites. When I search on Google, in the ads displayed you can select the URL, copy it and visit the site without incurring its owner costs.

With Adsense ads Google places on other people's sites, the standards seem somewhat looser: on many sites if you tried to click to select the URL you actually click the ad. The clickable area is much larger and often invisible when the color matches the surrounding box. It's curious why reduction of the clickable area of ads on Google's search results pages wasn't followed in ads on Adsense and Google's other advertising properties.

But no doubt this will be self-regulating: when advertising on Google becomes crap and advertisers see lower returns other networks will grow. People learn and at the tip of the pyramid stats are being scrutinised closely.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Košice Rejoice - Londoners Are Coming

Kosice is Slovakia's second city. Located near the country's far east end, over 5 hours by car from the capital of Bratislava, Kosice often got the short schrift over recent years.

I have long believed that what Kosice needed was a direct flight to London and now, SkyEurope is giving it to us later in 2007. Seeing what SkyEurope has done for the development of tourism in Bratislava and for our freedom to travel, I fully expect to see the magic again.

Young people from Kosice are a migratory lot, often bypassing Bratislava for Prague and London. This will make migration easier but also facilitate contact with the home. Hopefully, the positive effects of what Kosice residents bring back (in material terms and know-how) outweigh the greater ease of departure.

Tourists are coming too, no doubt and in great numbers. It will drive development in the hospitality industry - both for lodging and services. The hotel market in Kosice has been stale to say the least and this should shake it up a little. I would not be surprised if English stag parties discover Kosice - the bear is cheaper than in Bratislava and residents will be friendlier before they find out what stag tourism is all about.

Investment both in business ventures and real estate will very likely increase too, with the added ease of flying from London to Kosice direct in a few hours.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Like Putting on a Ski Mask to Rob Google Blind

I've been eager to see who gets to advertise on my blog. At the moment for obvious reasons I don't get any visitors or anyone clicking my ads, so I guess Google is reaching into the dark corners of its advertisers' database in the rotation.

I have seen and felt Google Adwords guidelines on all sorts of advertising copy - spelling, punctuation, use of superlatives. I have also read extensively about the death of MFA.
Anyway, in true Andy Beal style, WELCOME NEW ADVERTISER, Project Black Mask:
For an incredible RRP of $97, promises to reveal Google's Dirty Little Secret to "wealthbuilders".

I did not click (so I do not have to email Google), I typed in the URL directly. And I learned the the Project Black Mask has nothing to do with affiliate marketing but everything to do with

...gaming the search engines for thousands of FREE clicks in a completely automated way. Black Mask is about milking a loophole in the Google algorithm that was open in 2006... is still open in 2007... but it might not be in 2008...

"Like Putting On A
Ski Mask To Rob
Google Blind!"

More Project Black Mask ads (and respectable organic exposure) can be found if you search Google: a Squidoo lense, Digg entry and 11 ads, all pretty targetted:

Black Mask Blindfold

Project Black Mask is outdated
Learn why here

Project Black Mask LAUNCH
Massive $50 Discount. Only Here.
_Everything_ will be revealed!

In fact, you can see a whole bunch here.

Whatever people say about Google and democracy in China, Google proves its democratic nature here: you can pooh-pooh Google and advertise here no problem! :)

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

A socialite's priorities unmasked

Fabiola Beracasa* is a socialite - I would be too if I were the daughter of banking magnate Alfredo Beracasa. She runs a business called Circa, buying jewelery of other socialites in distress - an uberdiscreet business according to a Gotham Magazine article on her busy daily schedule (hattip to Wealth Report).

I found one thing in Fabiola's schedule fascinating:
Meet my trainer, Reily, and go for a four- to five-mile run outside, followed by a half hour of weight training. (Next entry 9:15 a.m.)
4:30 p.m. Review the donation requests that have been sent to us and decide which events and charities Circa will commit to this year. (Next entry 5:30 p.m.)

This woman actually proudly admits to spending more time on her morning workout than her annual decision on charitable giving? ;)

* photo by's Sherly Rabbani and Josephine Solimene featuring the fabulous Fabiola with a Carlos Mota at a dance in February 2006

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Finally - Witricity puts us on our way to transmit electricity wirelessly...

I think everyone has some future inventions they are waiting for eagerly - something out of a science fiction but feasible with our current knowledge. Perhaps just a tad to costly to manufacture or simply not a priority.
For me, I've had a few such dreams and am proud to report that another one seems well on its way to fruition.
Specifically, I've often though about wireless transfer of electricity. My limited knowledge of physis did not allow me to gauge whether this is realistic, but apparently it is (via Virginia Postrel): MIT's team led by Professor Marin Soljacic (in an MIT-released photo via AP/Washington Post) transmitted electricity to light up a 60 w light-bulb about 2 m between the two coils, calling the result Witricity.
This is much cooler than the earlier attempts I had read about (pads, where you would place your mobile phone to recharge it).
What is my next goal you ask? The personal jet packs, of course (I imagine they will be attached to a chair to keep your legs from getting burnt by the flames...).

Friday, 15 June 2007

Where the hell is my ATM?

Me: There used to be an ATM here, now there is just some cable sticking out from a hole in the tiles. So I thought I would let you know. I mean maybe someone stole it or something?

Tatra Banka Dialog Call Center Lady: I don't thinks so [with a 'I am not really hired to deal with silly jokes tone].

Anyway, my Tatra Banka bankomat at the Bratislava Radisson (I don't live AT the Radisson, just near it) has disappeared. No sign, just a hole in the floor tiles with some cable sticking out. The call centre lady had no idea about the ATM, she was simply able to list where ATM's are available at present.

If the bank were to act somewhat sensibly they could:
1. mine the data for customers who were repeat users of that bankomat,
2. notify them of why this one is disappearing, whether and when it will be back and where the nearest one is,
3. put up a little note,
4. inform their call centre.

Now this would be too customer focused even for what in my view is Slovakia's most customer-focused bank.

UPDATE: Having blogged this, I decided to pursue it further, even at the risk of acting slightly ridiculous. I sent off a question through a contact form at Tatra Banka's website and received an automated reply promising that I will be contacted ASAP. As an interesting aside, the www address in the signature of the automated message pointed to an advertising feature of Tatra Banka's Bank+Coffee, rather than the bank's main website.

UPDATE 2: Not too many days later I have heard back from an ATM business specialista:
"With regrets we must inform you that the bankomat has been deinstalled permanently from these premises. At the same time we want to assure you that we plan to replace the deinstalled bankomat, in a nearby object. If we have caused you any problems please accept our apology."

Next time I will translate my response to the ATM business specialista.

Long Time no Blog - and not because I was enjoying Sunset on the Hokianga Harbour

Sunset on the Hokianga Harbour
I have not blogged for over two weeks now, not due to a lack of material but due to its abundance (at least in proportion to discretionary time usable for blogging). ;) I have a few topics to cover:
1. Bank usability
2. DaveN's new car and the mean looking 5.6l 7 seater (EUR 35,000 for export outside the EU only)
3. Optimising for image search (how do you imagine "Sunset on the Hokianga Harbour"?)*
4. Like DaveN I will try to do these posts in seven minutes each, or maybe 14

* No, sorry, This is definitely not a sunset at the Hokianga harbor, it is a sunset at an Irish Harnour from Webmink to investigate a point.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Watching a Ponzi-scheme implode

Over and over again, people get involved in Ponzi schemes (most likely since before Ponzi's time). The ones who get in early on can profit - sometimes handsomely, if they get their exit timing right.

In Slovakia, we are currently seeing what looks dangerously like a Ponzi scheme unravel and it seems fur is gonna fly...

In November 2006 a company called Duna-Trade, s.r.o. based in Galanta, a small town some 50 km from Bratislava, changed its name to Auto-Reklama, s.r.o (which means "car advertising"). The seat of the firm changed from a run-down Galanta prefab block of flats to an attractive address in the historical centre of Bratislava.

Soon an offer that sounded too good to be true but good enough for those who wanted to fall for it came to light: if you own a car, pay SKK 25,000 (about USD 1,000) upfront, Auto-Reklama will plaster advertising all over your car and pay you SKK 7,000 every month. Or lease a new car through the company and they will pay the same amount towards your leasing. All you have to do is show up once a month so the company can check you are driving the required amount (900 km).

Cars of all makes and ages with aggressive Auto-Reklama stickers proliferated around Bratislava and Slovakia and people started to get paid. More people signed up. The media did a little sniffing - the owner of the company turned out to have debts vis-a-vis the state Social Insurance Agency from other companies. More interestingly, all the ads were always for Auto-Reklama itself. After all, whoever would pay over SKK 100,000 per year (assuming a VAT tax and some minimum fee for the middle-man's transaction costs) to put a sticker on someone's ugly car? Perhaps one of the Miss Auto-Reklama candidates? Or the 82 Bratislava cars featured on the website (notice the licence plates, readable on most cars)?

In May Auto-Reklama missed its monthly payments, the owner disappeared (a spokesman for the company explained only the owner had the right to release payments and the owner was abroad). Auto-Reklama offices in some towns stayed closed, with employees reportedly fearing an angry mob.

Two big questions remain:
1. Where is THE MAN behind all this now (a Mr. Porozsnyák)?
2. Do those butt-ugly stickers come off without trace?

Swimming in the fountain nude

I saw a stag do yesterday in the centre of Bratislava, right in front of the heavily guarded US Embassy. The guys stripped one of them (presumably the stag). He jumped into the rather shallow fountain, swam a little and then rolled around in the grass by the fountain.

People, mainly Bratislava locals, watched on, many somewhat bemused, but nobody looked too upset by the whole 'nude swimming' antics.

Minutes later the police came - in total there were about six men in two cars. We saw them standing around with the group and eventually the now dressed man was led away to a car.

The British Embassy in Bratislava along with the city authorities have been looking for ways to curb excesses of the hundreds of stag visitors for years now. Several leaflets have been published and the overall atmosphere facing the stag groups has changed. A few years ago they were welcome with open arms by businesses throughout the city centre. A few broken statues and naked parades later they are banned from many major bars and most clubs.

Like in other cities with stag tourism most semi-decent hotels will not accept larger all male groups. Now the question is how long till the Brits (and some Irishmen):
a. learn that they are not as welcome,
b. will have 'been there, done that' and move on eastward.

Like Bratislava a few years ago, there are many cities further east, that would both welcome stag tourism (because they hardly get any tourism) and provide stag parties with a great experience (my birthplace Kosice in Eastern Slovakia comes to mind - I believe that with the first direct flight from London, which cannot be that far away, stag party goers will learn that Kosice is cheaper and friendlier than Bratislava).

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Who's gonna cry when the MFA bonanza ends?

Not so long ago it was common to search Google and find pay-per-click ads in the results pointing to sites with nothing but more ads. You would search for something like 'Ohio insurance' and find a number of results with ads such as

Top sites on Ohio insurance
See top web results
on Ohio insurance!

You would click through to a site filled with little but more Google ads - with numerous Adsense blocks throughout. The sites were usually optimised for maximum click-through on ads.

A case of arbitrage - webmasters tried to find cheap terms to advertise on and then have advertisements, which pay more on their own website. While this worked, and it did for a long time, there were apparently people out there making as much as tens of thousand dollars per month (UPS Club, anyone?).

But like with any untapped opportunity, the news spread and ranks of arbitrage and made-for-adsense (MFA) webmasters swelled. Automated software appeared to simplify the task of finding 'untapped niches'. Webmasters would find various ways to obtain cheap traffic (Adwords, organic, other cpc ad systems) and turn into into more expensive traffic by displaying higher quality ads.

What were the effects?
1. for Google, the additional ad-clicking meant the appearance of extra revenue, but not extra profit, since this was simply a transfer from some its advertisers to some of its publishers. In fact, MFA arbitrageurs were taking away money that could have been Google's profit,
2. for regular advertisers an increase in cost and decrease in effectiveness (conversion rates, ROI) of their ads on Google Adwords, likely pushing a segment of potential advertisers outside of the network completely,
3. for clever MFA webmasters, often huge profits with a small initial time investment,
4. for the searcher a decrease in quality of the search engine results pages (SERPs) - they click on ads, which rather than showing the expected content show more ads.

There were calls from the advertiser and searcher communities for Google to stop this practice. In the long term, by souring the quality of results (especially in the content network - ads published on people's blogs and other sites) the MFS arbitrage was probably hurting Google itself. Many CPC experts recommended that advertisers opt out of the content network (ads displayed on sites of publishers outside of Google itself)

According to Andy Beal at, self-admitted MFA webmasters at WebmasterWorld have been discussing notices they received from Google that their Adsense accounts will be suspended as of June 1, 2007. Google apparently deemed their business model unfit (albeit after tolerating it for years).

And for MFA webmasters out there - lucky you, if you have made enough this way to make getting into a new business model easy, start learning about defensible traffic now. Also, there must be a market for your skills in writing those high click-through adwords ads and placing the adsense boxes just right.

In China, all interest rates must be divisible by 9...

A "divisible-by-nine rule was enshrined in accounting standards issued jointly by the central bank and the Ministry of Finance [of China] in 1993," according to Bloomberg (via Harvard professor Greg Mankiw).

Hence the People's Bank of China's raised its benchmark landing rate by 18 basis points (0.18%) on Friday, May 18, 2007. Central banks in most countries would, of course, deal in quarters or tenths of percents.

Interestingly, on the same day the bank decided that
"Reserve requirements on funds held by banks will be hiked by 50 basis points."
The trading band for the yuan, the Chinese currency, was widened by 50 points on that day as well. Perhaps the rule only applies to the rates for consumers?

The Bloomberg story mentions several motivations for the 'divisible-by-nine rule' (I tried to find nine in the story but only counted six):
- Chinese calendar
- a 360-day financial year
- long considered lucky number
- makes calculation with Abakus counting device easier
- avoid rounding of interest
- nine sounds the same as 'longevity'

Now if so many people believe in this, maybe there is something to it?

Saturday, 19 May 2007

May I call you 'Madam', Sir?

Viet Le, a dear friend from my UWC times whose blog I follow (and borrowed the word 'miscellany' in the name of my blog from) has a great entry about doing a double-take after being "Sir'd" by some congresswoman's press spokesman.

'Apparently, my telephone voice has a feminine lilt so it's always "Miss" or "Mam" or even "Veet",' Viet blogs. Got me started thinking about the whole phone voice thing.

I remember in my early teens the frustration, when I answered the phone and everyone thought I was my mother speaking. I also remember the genuine indignation I felt when correcting people. On the other hand, I could make funny calls to people and pretend I am an adult woman, rather than a child of 12.

I remember a few more men whose high-pitched voices were subject to discussion: my male friend working at a travel agency who is always referred to by callers as a Ms. and sometimes doesn't bother explaining and a former classmate of my mother, who she said everyone though was gay due to his high pitched voice until he got married and fathered two kids.

There is evidence (reference, anyone?) that people with deeper voices appear more trustworthy and I think I came across someone mentioning a study of effects of a deep voice on earnings.

Click here, if this text is blue or purple!

Usability consultant and founder Kim Krause Berg points out usability guru Jakob Nielsen’s retraction of an earlier recommendation that for usability purposes hyperlinks should be shown in blue font with an underline for unvisited links and purple for visited.

Kim quotes Nielsen saying in an interview that links can essentially be any colour different from the surrounding text since people have become more experienced in browsing.

Like Kim I've had a personal preference for ignoring this rule with some limited exceptions. I've sometimes viewed the semi-formalised rule as a useful shortcut in arguing for a usable link identification scheme on a site. Also, sites serving markets where users have less experience, older computers or smaller bandwith may sometimes benefit from such a straightforward colour-coding.

The distribution of experience, equipment and bandwith among internet users varies greatly with different internet user demographics. For the sake of maximizing accessibility and improving user experience sometimes sticking to the very standard link identification scheme may be advisable - it may work very well for a site with a less proficient target group.

I showed a website to a friend who is a long-time internet user, a middle-aged proprietor in the hospitality industry. He mainly emails and only browses rarely. He told me the website did not work. When we checked the site together, it turned out he was unable to identify links which used green rather than blue colour.

In most circumstances I feel free to deviate from the now-revoked recommendation, keeping in mind its underlying motivation - that visitors need to be able to see where to click for your site to be a nice place and to accomplish its goals.

As far as other ‘rules’ or 'recommendations' for usability in the area of link identification that I would subscribe to, I would generally argue in favour of 1. consistency (across the site and even related sites), 2. simplicity (avoiding fancy mouseover/javascript weirdness) although I can think of a number of reasonable exceptions.

A proprietary link identification scheme is probably ok for sites working with experienced web users. On sites where you are a return visitor a proprietary link identification scheme may even make your experience more enjoyable, regardless of what colour the links are.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

How to perform problem tree analysis

I worked with students today on creating Problem trees as part of using the Logical Framework (log frame) methodology in my Policy Evaluation class. This was our final class and I was happy to get something quite interactive going for students - they seem to enjoy this and a few even yearn actually doing something.

The technique is a simple one but rewarding (genuine hat-tip to Dagmar of Slovak Evaluation specialist D&D Consulting, who has used it in a training session we did for local policy makers): you use little cards to write down problems you wish to adress with a public policy intervention (this works reasonably well at any level - strategy, policy, programme, project). You tease out additional cards by asking the WHY question - i.e. why does this problem happen.

Now the trick part: on the back of each card you write an objective associated with resolving the problem - often is as simple as turning a "Too little of XY" into "More XY".

You then work hard to arrange problems according to causality - working from an effect at the top through a focal problem somewhere in the middle all the way to problems, which are the underlying causes.

You then simply flip the card over and voila you have a Goals analysis - a hierarchic ordering of goals you can transfer into a logical framework matrix. Neat.

I have (and I imagine my senior colleagues do as well) a few hangups about using interactive methods in teaching. In my Economics MSc. in Scotland we NEVER did anything remotely interactive - no group work, no in-class presentations and believe it or not, not a single essay (other than the dissertation, of course). But then the university gave the world Adam Smith so maybe they knew what they were doing. Our econ programme shared the building (or rather was a guest) of the Edinburgh MBA Programme and the management students were all about interactive methods while seemingly not so much into "substance".

Apparently, despite a lack of organisation to my Policy Evaluation course, the practical bits were very well received by students. Every time I teach or train I relearn the same lesson: students (at least Slovaks) of all ages love interactive teaching. We have been exposed to so little of it in our school system that we are grateful to learn anything practical and get to actually do and say things in class rather than have to listen to lectures and repeat them back in oral exams.

Adwords pet peeves

Wrote an email to Adwords Support regarding my pet peeve - the fact that it is not easy to find out through AdWords and even Google Analytics what actual phrases the people who clicked your ads searched for. I have doubt there is a reasonably easy way of doing this but Google does not seem to promote thins functionality.

On a related note, Google allows all sorts of keyword match types (i.e. you can say you want your ads displayed on searches for Slovakia SEO exact-matched, broad-matched, phrase-matched, as well as negative). There is even an option for all matches together with the exception of exact match - phrase match for [Slovakia SEO] along with broadmatch but with the exact match as a negative.

With this match type, you would be displayed for "shitty Slovakia SEO", "Slovakia SEO cheaply", "Slovakia search engine optimization" but not for the exact match of "Slovakia SEO". Confusing, huh?

Anyway, to make a long story short, a match type that is NOT on offer is something like [Slovakia] SEO, where the word Slovakia would be required, while SEO would be broad-matched. This would allow you to display ads for all searches that contain the word Slovakia and any variation on the words SEO, while not displaying for something unrelated such as Hungary SEO.

Borrowed content

We found someone seemingly planning to use our copyrighted content - a site planning to offer reservations at Bratislava apartments, currently hosted on its Liptovsky Hradok web design company server has a whole bunch of our content - a painstakingly made list of galleries or info on the Bratislava Opera. They also have stuff from some of our friends and clients.

We have seen our unique Bratislava content borrowed over and over again by ignorant and sometimes unscupulous webmasters. I know that most of the time the energy that goes into trying to notify webmasters of copyright violations is a waste of my time - in the same amount of time we could simply write more new content. But sometimes it feels really painful to see your work displayed on god knows who's pages without any credit.

Pizza enjoys Tropical SEO

Andy Hagans pledges convincingly to a lazy SEO lifestyle - if not the whole then a few details definitely spoke to me such as having a personal assistant to take care of pesky details, give his phone number only to very close associates. And some parts I arrived at independently, e.g. taking up to a week to answer emails, "especially if the reply requires effort on my part."

I have enjoyed Andy's writing on Tropical and have definitely taken several points he has made to heart. My favourite points/quotes:
1. "...[I]ndustries with poor underlying economics can make even genius managers seem average,", which leads Andy to conclude that "Managing your career is like investing–the degree of difficulty does not count. So you can save yourself money and pain by getting on the right train," in Warren Buffet's Advice to SEOs.
2. Working as a SEO consultant makes for a poor business model, as your time is much better spent on your own projects in high-yielding lead-generating affiliate areas such as real estate, mortgages, insurance.
3. Once you get into the right area, "[i]t takes strategy, tactics, balls, elbow grease, money, and smart planning" but mostly simply working hard everyday, in tips on building a site you can sell for a million dollars

Andy was a professional link-baiter, and as you can see, he got me. I love the blog and the style, as well as the surrounding "blogscape". I've discovered and enjoyed following a little blogring with Andy Hagans at TropicalSEO, Brad Geddes of, Brian Provost's ScoreboardMediaGroup and several others with a focus on "competitive webmastering".

Slovak real estate sites suck

Seriously, one day I am gonna get just slightly more angry with Slovak real estate sites and I am going to put in the money and effort into building a usable server. The existing sites suck because they are overrun by repeat advertising. I will put in a sensible descriptive database structure and work hard to build a usable search interface.

Meanwhile, I will look at international examples, and there are definitely interesting examples abound. From C2C portals to social real estate, possibilities are endless and a good concept may even scale.

For all your creature comforts

On Joost, I came across an amazingly funny video from the Aardman Animations studios. It's called Creature Comforts and features dead serious sounding interviews with animals in different settings. Really sweet and funny (and I Googled a few more from Youtube) not least because it reminded me of a dear friend, Radda from New York, who I haven't been in touch with for a while.

I watched a few clips and found them hilarious. I also found notable that some of them came from the late 80s - I mean we were still living in the Communist regime here in Slovakia, then.

Joost Blogging

Joost - Dusoft forced-fed me an "invite" to the peer-to-peer internet TV by Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis (of Skype and Kazaa fame). We watched a few car reviews including some pretty neat shows about almost mass market cars such as the BMW 130i and VW R32. Of course, the Porsche shows were neat too.

After troubleshooting an issue around logging off Dusoft's account and creating mine in the downloaded player we made Joost fullscreen. The broadcast was split in the middle by the frames of my two 19'' screens. Seeing the unused potentially monetisable real estate - the dark sides around the image, made me gulp at the though of the advertising potential.

Of course, the Joosters possibly gulped in a similar fashion some two years ago, began development with 150 programmers (or rather software developers in New York, London, Leiden and Toulouse - no word on Tallinn or Bratislava).