The Barnum Perversion

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…or, “What Fresh Hell is This? On my Discovery of Whois Spam.”

A year or so ago I first encountered user agent spam, and was nonplussed: did someone really think that an admin (i.e. someone who might actually be running through server logs) would react positively to spamvertising “an interest free line of credit of upto [sic] 100,000,000.00″ in server logs? Even for spammers the logic behind this approach to “advertising” seemed highly suspect.

And now we have another development in the world of bizarrely spamtastic advertising: whois spam. For reasons too boring to explain, I ran a whois on google.com last night, and the listing seemed curiously long to me, so I piped it through less to take a closer look. And here’s what I saw:

Whois Server Version 2.0

Domain names in the .com and .net domains can now be registered
with many different competing registrars. Go to http://www.internic.net
for detailed information.

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.ZZZZZ.GET.LAID.AT.WWW.SWINGINGCOMMUNITY.COM
   IP Address: 69.41.185.195
   Registrar: INNERWISE, INC. D/B/A ITSYOURDOMAIN.COM
   Whois Server: whois.itsyourdomain.com
   Referral URL: http://www.itsyourdomain.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.ZOMBIED.AND.HACKED.BY.WWW.WEB-HACK.COM
   IP Address: 217.107.217.167
   Registrar: ONLINENIC, INC.
   Whois Server: whois.OnlineNIC.com
   Referral URL: http://www.OnlineNIC.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.WORDT.DOOR.VEEL.WHTERS.GEBRUIKT.SERVERTJE.NET
   IP Address: 62.41.27.144
   Registrar: KEY-SYSTEMS GMBH
   Whois Server: whois.rrpproxy.net
   Referral URL: http://www.key-systems.net

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.VN
   Registrar: ONLINENIC, INC.
   Whois Server: whois.OnlineNIC.com
   Referral URL: http://www.OnlineNIC.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.UA
   Registrar: DIRECT INFORMATION PVT LTD D/B/A PUBLICDOMAINREGISTRY.COM
   Whois Server: whois.PublicDomainRegistry.com
   Referral URL: http://www.PublicDomainRegistry.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.SUCKS.FIND.CRACKZ.WITH.SEARCH.GULLI.COM
   IP Address: 80.190.192.24
   Registrar: KEY-SYSTEMS GMBH
   Whois Server: whois.rrpproxy.net
   Referral URL: http://www.key-systems.net

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.SPROSIUYANDEKSA.RU
   Registrar: MELBOURNE IT, LTD. D/B/A INTERNET NAMES WORLDWIDE
   Whois Server: whois.melbourneit.com
   Referral URL: http://www.melbourneit.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.SA
   Registrar: OMNIS NETWORK, LLC
   Whois Server: whois.omnis.com
   Referral URL: http://domains.omnis.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.PLZ.GIVE.A.PR8.TO.AUDIOTRACKER.NET
   IP Address: 213.251.184.30
   Registrar: OVH
   Whois Server: whois.ovh.com
   Referral URL: http://www.ovh.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.MX
   Registrar: DIRECT INFORMATION PVT LTD D/B/A PUBLICDOMAINREGISTRY.COM
   Whois Server: whois.PublicDomainRegistry.com
   Referral URL: http://www.PublicDomainRegistry.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.IS.NOT.HOSTED.BY.ACTIVEDOMAINDNS.NET
   IP Address: 217.148.161.5
   Registrar: ENOM, INC.
   Whois Server: whois.enom.com
   Referral URL: http://www.enom.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.IS.APPROVED.BY.NUMEA.COM
   IP Address: 213.228.0.43
   Registrar: GANDI
   Whois Server: whois.gandi.net
   Referral URL: http://www.gandi.net

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.HAS.LESS.FREE.PORN.IN.ITS.SEARCH.ENGINE.THAN.SECZY.COM
   IP Address: 209.187.114.130
   Registrar: INNERWISE, INC. D/B/A ITSYOURDOMAIN.COM
   Whois Server: whois.itsyourdomain.com
   Referral URL: http://www.itsyourdomain.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.DO
   Registrar: GO DADDY SOFTWARE, INC.
   Whois Server: whois.godaddy.com
   Referral URL: http://registrar.godaddy.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.BR
   Registrar: ENOM, INC.
   Whois Server: whois.enom.com
   Referral URL: http://www.enom.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.AU
   Registrar: PRIMUS TELCO PTY LTD DBA PRIMUSDOMAIN/PLANETDOMAIN
   Whois Server: whois.planetdomain.com
   Referral URL: http://www.planetdomain.com

   Domain Name: GOOGLE.COM
   Registrar: MARKMONITOR, INC.
   Whois Server: whois.markmonitor.com
   Referral URL: http://www.markmonitor.com
   Name Server: NS1.GOOGLE.COM
   Name Server: NS2.GOOGLE.COM
   Name Server: NS3.GOOGLE.COM
   Name Server: NS4.GOOGLE.COM
   Status: clientDeleteProhibited
   Status: clientTransferProhibited
   Status: clientUpdateProhibited
   Updated Date: 10-apr-2006
   Creation Date: 15-sep-1997
   Expiration Date: 14-sep-2011

  [...]

Holy crap. Checking yahoo.com, aol.com, hotmail.com, myspace.com, flickr.com, and pretty much any other big domain that came to mind I found the same thing. What the fuck is the objective here?

It’s definitely time for a new coinage — this sort of crap is the reference implementation of the Barnum perversion:

The Barnum Perversion
An attempt at marketing or advertising that takes the maxim “I don’t care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right” (attributed to P.T Barnum, among others) to its absurd and illogical extreme; the belief that getting the name of one’s company or product “out there” is an end that justifies any and all means, commonly paired with an inability to understand why others (such as potential customers) might take a different view of these actions.

Zune: words fail me

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Administrative note: I know you feed subscribers are getting a double dose from my earlier del.icio.us link, but this is so sad that it bears repeating: Zune marketing continues its unhinged, erratic lurching towards absurdity.

Microsoft note: Look, make me a reasonable offer and I’ll take on Zune marketing. Come on, it could be fun — and could I do any worse?

You can get all the details here at wakeupmicrosoft.com, but the basic story appears to be that at 3AM this past Sunday, a Zune-branded truck stopped outside of 178 Ludlow Street on Manhattan’s lower east side and blasted the area with club music Justin Timberlake over its “competition grade stereo system.”

Oy. Whose idea was this? Microsoft does have employees in New York City, right?

  1. Manhattan? Not so big on the dB Drag Racing circuit. There are many areas of the United States where this “shiny SUV with loud stereo” thing would be well received. Ludlow Street, still largely residential, is not one of them.
  2. The jukebox at Max Fish (the bar at 178 Ludlow) has been well-respected since the early ’90s. While I haven’t been there in years, bass-thumping club music was not well represented on the playlist the last time I checked. You do the math.
  3. Based on the hipsterrific flavor of the Zune’s branding thus far, you actually wanted to be in Williamsburg, or possibly even Bed-Stuy, not the lower east side, anyway. Your music scene intel appears to be a wee bit out of date.
  4. If the Zunemobile isn’t already on its way back to CA, think Daytona Beach. Please.

Now, before the video, I’ll present an exercise for the student: which marketing project makes you sadder…the Zune truck blasting Justin Timberlake at 3AM in an effort to attract indie hipsters, or the Zune sponsorship of a UPenn frat party? 250 words or less, please.

And if you’re actually interested, here’s the video:

No, no — what’s wrong with U, Microsoft?

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…or…Just stop whining and buy the fucking XBox, bitches.

Maybe there’s just some cultural subtlety that I don’t get, but it seems a little weird to me that Microsoft is running a site that’s apparently supposed to help them figure out why the Asian market isn’t buying Xboxes hand over fist, with a marketing spin of “what’s wrong with you?”

Yes, whatswrongwithu.com is the site and the (english version) text of the site — in its entirety — is: Xbox has got it all! What more are you looking for? (Well, okay, there’s also a marketing-department generated list of things that the Xbox already offers that people can ask for. While providing their email address.)

I just don’t know what to say. Please, somebody tell me that the Xbox is marketed in Asia as the Ubox, or that “what’s wrong with u” somehow conveys a message of “please help us offer you a more appealing product” in a way that my North American perspective doesn’t grasp. Seriously, unless I’m missing something here, this is Howard Hughes-level unhinged.

Thanks to Blackfriars for the pointer.

More on Mayfly Content

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Ars Technica, Battelle’s Searchblog, TechCrunch, GigaOm, and Techdirt have all weighed in on Yahoo’s “brand universes” — a topic that I touched on back in November as The Internet called: it wants its pageviews back.

Other than my (well, PaidContent’s) two-month jump on the story, the big news here is the reading of this move. Where my response was “hey, this could be something interesting,” the folks linked above don’t seem to share very much of my optimism.

So why are these “brand universes” interesting? In the seamonkeyrodeo post linked above, I characterized Yahoo’s project (and MTV’s similar undertaking) as “mayfly content” efforts: attempts to focus on quick creation of Webspace about the topics that are getting traffic on the Web right now. Rather than building big, complex sites and then trying to drive traffic to them after the fact, you get the content up there quickly, using the smallest possible amount of your own resources — and you build knowing full well that traffic is likely to drop off precipitously as the target topic falls out of fashion.

While this would clearly be a supplement to, not a replacement for, longer-term Web strategies, it’s an interesting mindset: we know that traffic on the web is highly volatile, so what happens if we try to monitor and respond to those changes, rather than trying so hard to direct the traffic?

The list of brands that’s been released so far does give me some pause, though. A big part of what’s interesting about this approach is that it’s explicitly reactive: with del.icio.us, flickr, and its other components, Yahoo has access to a lot of information about what’s getting traffic now, and success for this sort of approach depends more on using that information to decide what to focus on right now than on the actual “user generated content” that flickr et al provide. A brand site based on Lost? Feels to me like the elapsed time between deciding what to build and actually building it is far too long here.

As Techdirt pointed out, this approach shares some of the DNA of splogs; this is true, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing…exactly. With Yahoo using content to which it has legitimate access, the biggest shared attribute is the goal: to track what’s popular now and provide content on those topics as quickly and easily as possible. Where the Web (including and especially blogs) largely takes the puritan approach (work hard, build an audience, profit), this mayfly content approach explicitly seeks to eliminate step one of that process. That may or may not be “right,” but it’s interesting, and I still believe that it has the potential to make money for Yahoo.

And whether I’m right or wrong on this, the “mayfly content” coinage grabbed at least one other person, so I can’t argue with that…though you did snake the top Google spot for mayfly content from me, Eric.

Clever Title About Communication and Advertising

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An interesting convergence of press in the past couple of days. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal (and a number of other outlets) noted that Microsoft is getting more interested in behavioral targeting:

Here’s how it works: If someone types in “compare car prices” on Live Search, Microsoft’s computers note that the person is probably considering buying a vehicle. The computers then check with the list of Hotmail accounts to see if they have any information on the person. If they do, and an auto maker has paid Microsoft to target this type of person, the computer will automatically send a car ad when she next looks at a Microsoft Web page. As a result, people should see more ads that are of interest to them.

On latimes.com today, we get Steve Ballmer’s thoughts on what will be happening with technology in 2007 and beyond, which included this thought:

In 2007, I believe that phone numbers and e-mail addresses will begin to give way to a single identity, and the desktop phone will merge with the PC and mobile phone. Messages will be routed to you on a device that will be smart enough to know whether you can be interrupted based on what you are doing and who the message is from. Instead of being ruled by e-mail and cellphones, we’ll have control over when and how we can be reached, and by whom. [emphasis mine]

Now just to make it clear, I don’t have any problems with behavioral targeting — as long as it’s done well and in a way that allows me to see and manage the data being used, I’d much rather have someone trying to show me ads that I’ll find interesting than someone just throwing totally random crap in front of me.

What strikes me as strange, though, is the implicit suggestion here that people should “have control over when and how we can be reached, and by whom,” but that companies should decide what advertising is most appropriate for those people. The tacit assumption that advertising is somehow qualitatively different from all other communication.

I’m probably reading too much into the correlation in time for these two articles, but it’s still interesting. And it’s also why I find VRM such an interesting idea right now…the “R” is for “relationship,” after all.

Blaming the Messenger: Brand Presence in Explicitly Social Software

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The link is a little dated now, but (via the Social Customer Manifesto) I just came across Wade Roush’s Technology Review piece: Fakesters – On MySpace, you can be friends with Burger King. This is social networking? Raush notes:

What’s sad about MySpace, though, is that the large supply of fake “friends,” together with the cornucopia of ready-made songs, videos, and other marketing materials that can be directly embedded in profiles, encourages members to define themselves and their relationships almost solely in terms of media and consumption.

This can’t be all that social computing has to offer.

While I’ll agree that it’s a little sad, I’m not convinced that it has a whole lot to do with social computing. Over the past fifty years a huge amount of time, money, and effort have been dedicated to the explicit goal of getting people to define themselves and their relationships in terms of media and consumption.

The design of explicitly social software plays a meaningful part in determining how its users will interact, but for better or worse, ESS mostly gives back what users put into it. If mySpace users didn’t want to be associated with that creepy-ass BK King guy, he would be alone and friendless; the fact, then, that a quick search of mySpace finds at least fifteen competing versions of the King, with thousands of “friends” between them, seems to say more about the human end of the equation than the software end. [And note that I only checked the first few pages of search results.]

Roush points to LinkedIn, Flickr, and Meetup as ESS with “missions” or “high ideals,” and that’s a key observation. All three are objective-focused systems: you manage your business contact network, manage photographs (your own and others’), or you manage social events. If you want to do something different on one of these platforms…well, you don’t. mySpace, in contrast, is objective-free: you aren’t expected to do anything in particular. (Sure, accumulating lots of friends might be considered an implicit goal on mySpace, but really just in the same sense in which that’s a goal in the offline world.)

mySpace shows what people do when you give them a social forum and nothing specific to do. And one of the things that people do, apparently, is make friends with corporate mascots. Fucked up? Sure, but I don’t see how that’s something that we can blame on mySpace.

Two Posts for the Price of One:
%s/mySpace/Second Life/g
In light of recent events and press interested readers should reread this post, substituting “Second Life” anywhere that “mySpace” appears above.

The Internet called: it wants its pageviews back

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Over the last couple of days, PaidContent has noted that both MTV and Yahoo have announced oddly similar-sounding projects. MTV plans to release at least 20 “hyper-programmed experiences” (that’s small, themed, targeted Web sites to you and me), and Yahoo will be building about 100 “brand universes” around specific products or properties (that’s small, themed, targeted Web sites to you and me).

In the Yahoo post Rafat Ali made the insightful observation that “small, themed, targeted Web sites” could also be read as “new inventory for targeted ad serving.”

It’s an interesting point. At least some definitions of Web 2.0 include a lot of elements that are steadily grinding away at our old familiar pageviews = revenue equation: the rise of RSS as a distribution mechanism, explicitly social software as a mechanism for aggregation and discovery of content out of its original context…even ajax does its little part to chip away at on-site page views.

How do you compete when people are spending less time navigating through your site structure (mmmm…ad impressions) to find the information they want, because they have ever better tools to let them know exactly where to find what’s interesting to them?

It sounds to me like some of the big guys are taking a very interesting approach and trying out mayfly content: it’s small, it’s of the moment, it’s out there quickly, and it’s expected to die soon. This certainly won’t replace building out their core Web properties based on longer-term stragegies, but it’s a reasonable approach to taking advantage of the increasingly volatile nature of traffic on the internet: gather ye pageviews while ye may.