The Inkwell

A belated Christmas thanks
— 12:46 AM on April 12, 2007

While painting my bathroom yesterday evening I was listening to Jars of Clay, and realized that we had some unfinished business related to our Christmas Charity Raffle. First off, let me say that you guys were great. As mentioned when we announced the winner, TR readers donated $6363.75 for Blood:Water Mission. Simply put: that rocks.

Blood:Water Mission is a "boots-on-the-ground" charity that helps meet a couple of the most critical needs in impoverished areas of Africa. They build wells to supply communities with clean drinking water and they help local hospitals obtain clean blood supplies to treat infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS.

Several years ago Scott and I spent the better part of a summer in Uganda and came face-to-face with the dire need for basics such as clean water and decent health services. Most Ugandan people live with the day-to-day reality of severe illness and death. The day we arrived we attended the funeral of a young boy who died of tetanus, which he contracted after cutting his foot while playing. What would be unthinkable in our country, was a regular occurrence there. Since that summer, we've stayed involved with the region in several ways. Hopefully we have helped raise awareness among some of our readers.

So to put a final punctuation on the Christmas celebration and benevolence, we wanted to share this thank-you note.

Blood:Water Mission, The Tech Report, I personally, and, especially, hundreds of people in Africa who are benefiting from this effort, all say "Thank you."

Of course, the raffle would not have been as successful without the help of our sponsors. Thanks again to Corsair, XFX, NCIX, Intel and eVGA.

8 comments — Last by Vrock at 3:34 PM on 04/26/07

— 11:31 PM on March 21, 2007

So it turns out I was part of a trend and didn't know it. I find it amusing when trendies or popular media inform me that I'm up to date when I'm not even trying. Hey, accidents happen.

"Infosnacking" was anointed the word of the year for 2005 by the folks at Webster's. I missed that declaration, but had certainly become a practitioner of the concept. In the past few weeks, though, I've heard it used numerous times, so I'm now enlightened.

As I understand it, infosnacking has a negative connotation, at least from an employer's perspective. It means "checking e-mail, Googling sports scores, shopping online and surfing the latest headlines" while at work, according to Webster's. But I regarded those frequent diversions as - at various times - research, stretching my mind, staying abreast of current events, mining for conversation tidbits useful in chats with clients -- or at least something more productive than crossword or sudoku puzzles, which is what many colleagues were doing. When done on company time it's apparently infosnacking, but when on your own time it's, well, surfing. (which was probably a word-of-the-year a few years back, or at least a new-usage-of-an-existing-word of the year) So did surfing become infosnacking at the same time that streaming media became podcasts? Whereas I used to surf for streaming sportscasts, now I infosnack on sports podcasts.

In my mind, however, infosnacking has another connotation: it's light and shallow, er, junk-food reading. Not that the content is necessarily of poor quality or lacking in substance, but the degree to which I take it in, or the priority I give it is rather cursory. And I'm constantly tempted to click that link found in the middle of the page just to see if the evidence was taken out of context or maybe to peruse another article which may be more cleverly written. I'll hop from Drudge to the WSJ to CNET to CNN to Nature to Bloomberg to Google to Newsbusters to MyDD to Digg to Foxnews to MSN to Slashdot to a realtor's site to Woot to... well, you get the picture.

This is one of those posts that seems to go nowhere and can exemplify what I dislike about most Blogs. So much of what bloggers put up is about nothing and really shouldn't be regarded as worthy of anyone's time, other than maybe the blogger's family or the political candidate who's hiring them to work for his campaign.

So, to get something productive from the four people still reading this... tell me, do you infosnack? And if so, would that apply to your consumption here at The Tech Report? Are you easily distracted from our reviews by those links to other articles, evidence, price searches, sites of hardware manufacturers and the like? Or do you really invest yourself in our feature articles, taking time to pore over the research and analysis? Do you read carefully enough to get the dry and cynical cultural references and our not-so-subtle hints directed at manufacturers? Or do you skim the intro, jump to a specific benchmark and maybe grab the conclusion before chasing the rabbit that ran through your mind and hopped on the left mouse button as the pointer hovered over that fifth tab in your browser? And how did you get here? By taste-testing a link on another site? Are multiple links between sites a good thing because they facilitate this mass consumption of new and different data, or would we be better off with less cross-pollination and more reliance on search engines or the development of a loyal audience that visits daily?

...still there?

29 comments — Last by warhead at 10:37 PM on 05/20/07

Win free gear from XFX or Abit
— 12:09 AM on October 27, 2006

Yes, you read that right: XFX and Abit have given The Tech Report some goodies to share with our readers. Come Monday morning you'll get the whole scoop on the reason for our revelry, the list of loot up for grabs, and all the ways you can win.

But for starters, we need more nominations in our hunt for creative and witty reader contributions. Anybody who's been around here long knows that we have several talented writers sharing stories, ideas and retorts - and I'm not just talking about the staff. This is a chance for at least one of you to get a little recompense for your notable contributions to this community.

So let me make this plain. Dig up what you consider to be the best writing in an article comment or forum thread, quote it or link to it in a comment to this post (or my last one), and stay tuned to see whose nomination catches the eye of our "trained professionals."

As I've mentioned before, XFX and Abit have been simply great in their support of the PC enthusiast community. We thank them for putting their marketing resources where it matters.

11 comments — Last by jlh at 10:42 AM on 12/11/06

Open call for wit, humor and clever subtleties
— 12:54 AM on October 23, 2006

We're cookin' up a bit of joviality to provide a little diversion in the midst of all this new silicon. And the pending convivialities necessitate some gerbil participation.

For starters, let's ascertain what caliber of writers we have around here. So we need nominations for the cleverest, wittiest, most humorous, or otherwise noteworthy forum posts or comments. Go seek out the best content you can find within our pages and post it hither (contributions by paid staff excluded). Kindly include a link to the post. You may draw from both the forums and the article comments, and you are welcome to nominate your own work. The more the merrier, so feel free to submit multiple entries.

And lest you take this lightly, there's loot to be allotted, so hop to it.

26 comments — Last by Greylandra at 4:32 AM on 11/10/06

Web marketing 101
— 4:04 PM on October 19, 2006

I was in Best Buy last week checking out those TV/DVD/VCR combos. Yes, I know that they're impractical, feature-deficient and poorly built. But I had my reasons and, trust me, they were noble. I'd been to the discount mega-store and found one with a 20" screen for about $200 (price and screen size were the only specs that really mattered in this hunt). So all I needed to do was 1) find the product, 2) look for the lowest price, 3) confirm they had some in stock, and 4) leave.

Maybe it was because it was early afternoon on a Wednesday, but, good-friggin-night, I have never in my life been so accosted by blue shirts. I honestly started to wonder if this was some kind of put-on. I could not believe that so many employees could have nothing better to do than ask one of the 5 customers in the store if they could "help [me] find anything." I'd seen this kind of thing done, and I began to wonder if there were cameras somewhere filming my reaction to be posted for millions of YouTubians to enjoy. Could this lady in blue and khaki truly have not heard or seen no less than seven of her colleagues ask me the very same thing in the past four minutes?!

"NO! There is nothing you can help me with today! Unless you're willing to buy me a cheap TV with your employee discount, okay?"

So, when I sat down to write about internet ads, I wondered if my experience at Best Buy is how people occasionally feel when they're assailed by the most obnoxious forms of web marketing that's out there. Now don't get me wrong; I'm not suggesting that the kind of ads running on The Tech Report rise - er, sink - to the level of the suffocating "customer service" I endured. But maybe those of you who occasionally gripe about our ad banners are just sick and tired of all the marketing noise that's thrown up across the web. Although you never have to search for a hidden ([x] close) button or sit through a mini-commercial just to read our content, sometimes even standard ad banners can blend in with and come to represent what we don't like about the internet.

But take a moment to consider the ads you see on The Tech Report, as compared to what you find at many other sites. We truly strive to seek out advertisers whose products and services are as relevant to our audience as possible. And then we ensure that the format of their marketing campaigns will not offend the average reader's sensibilities. Yes, we have refused well-paying campaigns from specific companies. And we regularly turn down formats that we know would annoy many of you (and us).

Nevertheless, many still tire of the cycling graphics intended to attract you to some deal of the month or internet special. Maybe you're quite happy with your wireless phone provider and simply don't care if Verizon will give you a free phone when you buy one for $49.99. Or you don't really need "The Crucial System Scanner" to take the mystery out of finding the right RAM, because, frankly, all RAM is priced a bit high right now... and even when you do buy some, you already know what kind of RAM your system needs... cause you built the dang thing!! And why would you sign up for free PC magazines, when you get technology news online? That's why you're here, isn't it?

The fact is, though, that a retailer as large as Best Buy has the resources to do serious research on sales and marketing techniques. And, whether we DIYers like it or not, their research indicates that sales, specifically cross sells and up sells, increase significantly when their blue shirts are trained to ask customers if they need help. For every self-confident, educated and savvy tech consumer who gets turned off by the aggressive CSR directing them to the featured notebook of the week, there are apparently several green shoppers who are more than willing to see what blue can do for them.

Ditto with web marketing. You'd really think that companies who market their wares to readers of The Tech Report would understand that they probably don't need to hold your hand and provide aid and comfort for a commodity tech purchase. But you know what? These guys run a wide variety of marketing creative, carefully track performance of the campaigns, and then specifically target and weight the banners for maximum impact.

Although I've mentioned this in several Forum threads, I'll say it again. Yes, we understand that you'd prefer to see unobtrusive text-only ad banners in barely-visible low-contrast boxes at the bottom of the content well. But those just can't pay the bills, no matter how you slice it. Even a large, prominent Google AdSense banner that's strategically placed at the top of the far right column or smack dab in the middle of an article will pay, at best, one sixth of what an animated ad will fetch in the same spot. The reality is that readers do click the eye-catching (distracting?) ads, believe it or not. Our own ad-server stats verify that an animated GIF or Flash banner will perform overwhelmingly better than a static GIF or a text ad. Yes, I do request banners that are not animated, but rarely are advertisers willing to pay an acceptable rate for them because they don't usually perform as well. Furthermore, page-takeovers, interstitials and expand-on-mouseovers apparently perform even better than your run-of-the-mill Flash banners, because they pay substantially more than the fixed-dimension banners. (I can't personally verify this because The Tech Report refuses these formats.)

That brings me to the question of how exactly the ads pay. Per Click, per impression, commission on sales, or something else? Yes, yes, yes and yes. Depending on the company, their marketing agenda and other factors, advertisers seek to place marketing campaigns that pay in a variety of ways. Generally, their preference is the "affiliate" approach, with a commission-style pay-out. As a publisher, that model is our least favorite, because it has no guaranteed return and puts us in the awkward position of hoping our readers click on the ads instead of reading our content. We have experimented with a few of these affiliate relationships, with mixed results. I can discuss those more later.

The model we prefer is what's commonly called "CPM" pricing, which pays based upon the number of ad impressions served, regardless of whether readers click on the ads or purchase the featured products or services. When I can sell advertisers long-term ad space under this model, it makes me very happy. This approach allows me to accurately project revenue into the future without fretting over whether readers click on ads -- and if they do, whether they come back to TR to finish reading the article or not. Before going further, let me thank companies like OCZ, VIA, BFG Tech, Corsair, XFX, ECS, NCIX and ABIT for having marketing policies that seem more focused on supporting the enthusiast community and "brand building" than categorizing every click and sale. Obviously, though, we still hope people click their ads, because we'd like to see this model prove successful for them.

This is supposed to be a blog post, not a feature article, so I'll cut if off for now. There's more we could cover on this subject, like performance tracking, who hosts the ads, more about interstitials and expandables mentioned above, intelliTXT and ContentLink keyword ads, and the effect of ad-blocking on The Tech Report and the enthusiast community as a whole. If after slogging through this post anyone's still interested in these subjects or others related to the advertising side of this publication, let me know and I'll continue on this topic down this road.

Cheers for now!

19 comments — Last by Flying Fox at 12:02 PM on 10/23/06

Introducing... Steve
— 12:24 PM on October 4, 2006

In my first post I said I'd take requests for the content on my next one, but I've got a little business to take care of here. Sometime soon I will write about policies and experiences related to advertising on the site. However, since a huge part of my role around here is working on relationships between all the people with whom The Tech Report intersects, I've got an introduction to make.

Working in a business role within a tech-oriented publishing organization, I get the privilege of meeting and working with all sorts of fascinating people. Steve Lautenschlager, however, I met at a pool party, of all places. When I heard he'd worked at CERN and Raytheon and had left Microsoft to start his own development business, I figured I should get to know him. I'll spare you further personal details, but the diversity of our interaction since that initial meeting is fascinating. It probably speaks to the varied and, well, nomadic nature of each of our endeavors.

Steve studied physics, mathematics and English at the University of Missouri and went to Duke University for graduate work in particle physics. In pursuit of his Ph.D., he studied bottom quarks at the European Center for Particle Physics, or CERN, where he developed web-based systems for automating the collection, management, analysis and display of test data. He created software to automatically generate 3-D profiles of phototube sensitivities, and his work was profiled in CERN Courier magazine. Using data collected at the OPAL detector at CERN, he and his thesis advisor, Dr. Alfred Lee, extracted the world's best measurement of inclusive b-baryon to lambda decays.

So, what does all that mean? I haven't a clue. What I do think is cool is what Steve has done with such abstract interests. Following graduate school he helped analyze, design and develop software for the Joint Strike Fighter's RADAR ground mapping systems as a Sr. Systems Engineer for Raytheon Corporation. Then he went to the Internet Hosting division of Microsoft, where he researched wide area load balancing of web traffic and implemented the primary hardware and software infrastructure for the MSNBC Streaming Video Solution.

I got to work with him some when he created a complex Learning Management System for a training and consulting firm where I used to work. He has also produced several commercial websites, appeared on CNN, and takes every opportunity to speak in academic settings on grid computing. The Tech Report has requested proposals from his company for some behind-the-scenes development work, although his .NET evangelism hasn't produced any converts around here just yet.

Despite the fact that the majority of us are hardware geeks, we figured it might not hurt to invite a software developer to write a bit and give some perspective from the other side of the aisle. So, yeah, he's got true blue Microsoft credentials; but he claims to be open-minded and seems willing to take the abuse that could be coming his way if he tries to lecture.

Without further ado, hop over to his blog, Nodal Dynamics, see what Steve has to say, and give him some grief about your most recent .NET headache.

3 comments — Last by mm7916 at 4:29 PM on 10/27/06

The off-topic blog
— 10:21 PM on September 21, 2006

Gee, I sure hope you didn’t check out this post expecting a discussion of new hardware or a commentary on the latest news in the tech industry. If so, you’ll probably be disappointed. In case you forgot, or just haven’t been around here long enough to figure it out, I’m the biz guy. I don’t test or benchmark new PC hardware; in fact it's probably a stretch to claim that I even tinker with it. I don’t write reviews and I rarely have access to insider industry information. Proofreading everyone else's articles is about the closest I get.

I’m the one who works to make sure all the reviews, news and analysis generated around here translate into revenue. You know how it works: hardware, tools, servers, rack space, bandwidth – and most importantly, our time – all cost money. Thus the need for a guy like me to get sponsors and advertisers and to represent The Tech Report at trade shows and industry events. Of course all this has to be done without selling TR’s soul by allowing business relationships to affect content or editorial integrity. And, just as difficult, I have to keep from alienating our readers with ads that are too numerous, obtrusive, distracting or insulting. It’s a balancing act that I actually find enjoyable at times. You all are the reason we can continue doing what we like to do. Not only do we enjoy the interaction with everyone, we need you guys!

In case you hadn’t noticed, this post is a bit aimless. The deadline for getting it done crept up on me and really couldn’t have come at much worse of a time. My family has been sick, a big trade show is right around the corner, the beginning of the 4th quarter – when ad campaigns get re-worked – is upon us, and several other issues demand my attention this week. However, I voted for the staff blogs and have been anxious to get new features implemented here at TR; therefore, I couldn’t really say, “Oh wait, I haven’t had time to write anything yet!”

So, because I kind of whiffed this one, I’ll try to make it up to you guys on my next post. Here’s how: you get the chance to tell me what you’d like to read about... and I might even follow your suggestion. Within reason, of course; I’m not going to wax eloquent about pipelines, pixel-shaders, transistor counts or caches. That’s just not my schtick. But if you all come up with something that piques your interest and pertains to my role here at TR or an angle on this operation with which I have some expertise, I’ll do my best to comply. A few ideas, in case you’re clueless as to what is in my purview: gerbil demographics (remember that study we did last year?), balancing advertiser requests with audience demands (I’m sure several of you have some opinions on that one), journeys with Scott (college, worldwide travel, Wichita, canoeing, discovering Indian food…), my two home-built PCs (nothing complex, but I could give specs and experience), or something else that you’d like to read.

Of course, this is my blog. (who else hates that word?) So, just like Scott, Geoff, Cyril, Ron and Andy insist on editorial control in their articles, I reserve the right to discuss what I want here. But give me some ideas and we’ll see if we can agree where to go next.

9 comments — Last by Inkling at 10:42 PM on 09/22/06