Retirement Information at Retire USA


Retire USA is growing as a helpful source of retirement information for the USA.    As always the challenges of creating and maintaining a large website were underestimated, but I think the final product is starting to come together nicely thanks to excellent city profiles on over 200 US cities, some great bloggers at our excellent Retirement Blog, and many thousands of individual retirement records in city by city categories of Health Care, Financial Services, Retirement Communities, and Real Estate.

As always any criticism or comments are very welcome.    One of the challenges is the sheer size of this topic – there are thousands of cities of interest and tens of thousands of potentially relevant listings so we are struggling a bit to decide whether to filter all that content or try to be very comprehensive and find ways to include everything we can find.    Thankfully, our Google “retirement search” (see top of page) allows folks to search both our site and the greater Google universe of content for more information.      We also have one of the most followed Twitter Account for Retirement information:   Twitter Retirement

We’ve got some good city by city coverage of all states now, so check it out and let me know what you think!

Alabama Alaska Arizona Arkansas California Retirement
Colorado Retirement  Connecticut Delaware District of Columbia Retirement Information
Florida Retirement Georgia Hawaii Idaho Indiana Illinois Iowa Retirement
Kansas Kentucky Louisiana Maine Maryland Massachusetts Michigan Mississippi Retirement
Missouri  Minnesota  Montana Nebraska New Hampshire New Jersey New Mexico Retirement
New York Retirement Nevada North Carolina
North Dakota Ohio Oklahoma Oregon Retirement

Pennsylvania Rhode Island South Carolina South Dakota
Tennessee TexasUtah Vermont Virginia Retirement
 Washington  West Virginia Wisconsin Wyoming Retirement

Google Custom Seach Engine = Brilliant! CSE Troubleshooting Tips


The Google Custom Search allows a simple addition of code to your site that creates a customized search engine run by Google.   This is often added via your adsense account (under ads / search) and it is a brilliant way to add search to you site that helps monetize your peeps with google advertising placed next to a list of your web pages.

HOWEVER I just spent a bit too much time fixing a simple problem so I thought I’d start a list of Google Custom Search Troubleshooting tips:

ONE:  It’ll only show indexed content so be sure to create a sitemap for Google. Also a good idea to place some links to your pages from other sites  so Google can find them more easily.

TWO:

be sure to add  *.*  to the specific URLs you want to custom search.     For our RetireUSA retirement custom search I needed to add this to the URLs box to make sure it picked up all of our indexed content:

http://www.retireusa.net/*.*

http://blog.retireusa.net/*.*

Check out our Retirement Search tomorrow at RetireUSA.net

Affiliate West Summit Contest from Shoemoney


Dear Staff of Shoemoney (SOSs), Shoemoney, and fellow Affiliate Americans –

Honestly you probably will not  and probably should not  choose me for the Shoemoney Affiliate Summit West Contest.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a pretty good guy, fun to hang out with, and fairly well informed.   Heck, I might even have a few tricks of the trade you haven’t heard about, although I’ve always been impressed with Shoemoney’s well informed, no-nonsense, experimental approaches to internet marketing, particularly his very clever experiments with Facebook advertising a few years back that were very cleverly written up in a powerpoint for, I think, an Affiliate Summit conference.

I also appreciate how Shoemoney and other world class search marketing fellows like Aaron WallDave Naylor, and Todd Malicoat will share a lot of valuable insight and information both at conferences and online, even to those who don’t buy their stuff.    These are smart and clever guys and prospective internet marketing folks should listen to what they have to say, though they should also be aware that “hype” is very much a part of that business and very few people are able to make a good online living regardless of their approaches.   Most of the folks who do have been around a long, long time and benefit from old websites with high authority and the free Google traffic this provides to them.   Before you spend much money on advice you should read the free stuff, especially the single best source for search optimization and search penalties – Matt Cutts blog.   Matt is a great guy and is Google’s spam cop.   You  cross his search optimizing advice at your own peril.  Believe me, I know this from a lot of experience with many sites  over many years.

So even though I’m well aware of Shoe’s great personal success I’m generally skeptical that his good advice will transfers well to the degree others need to make enough money online to drop the day job.    You’ll be hard pressed to convince me otherwise which is probably the main reason I should NOT win this contest – however it shakes out I’ll blog the results honestly.

Another reason is that I’m already scheduled to fly to Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show – CES 2012 – on the 9th.   I’ll be reporting that conference for my tech blog ” Technology Report ” as I have been for several years.  Of course since I’ve never been to an Affiliate Summit I would change my flight to a bit earlier to hang with the Shoemoney Man.   I have a lot of questions for him about my modestly successful internet projects and some upcoming ones and how affilations (vs Google Adsense) might help improve our bottom line.

Another reason I’m a bad choice is that I’m already doing pretty well with my online ventures.  Nothing amazing yet, but we do OK with a US History website, US Travel site, and a really neat new Retirement planning project I’m finishing up right now.    As much as I’d like more advice from Shoe and his clever staff, it might be better used on somebody who is just starting out.

Oh, there is ONE reason you SHOULD choose me for the contest.  If I win I will consider Shoemoney’s expert advice enough reward for me and I will donate *all* the proceeds to my favorite charity “Room to Read“.  They build libraries and schools in poor countries and are simply an awesome way for those of us lucky enough to live here to give back a little and help make the world a better and safer place.

This donation will include any blackjack winnings.   All I’d ask from Shoe and the great Shoemoney gang would be to help me promote Room to Read however he sees fit.

So, there you have it!    Good luck to everybody with the Affiliate Summit Shoemoney contest and, win or lose, I hope to see you in Vegas baby!

Joe Duck / Joe Hunkins

Tweets in Space from Nasa


I’ve been writing a lot lately about Twitter for many reasons, but I think two very good examples of why Twitter represents a key social media breakthrough are the upcoming Twitter tweets from space by NASA astronaut Mark Polansky and last month’s contest for followers between celebrity Ashton Kutcher and CNN news.   (Kutcher won by topping a million Twitter followers first).      Note that NASA and Kutcher – arguably two of the more technically adept big name brands, are not using Facebook to push content and interact with fans, they are using Twitter.

Unlike Facebook, Twitter is a very open, interactive, public venue.    It’s almost ideally suited to superficial yet “somewhat intimate”  interaction with both a small and large audience, and I think this is the key brilliancy of Twitter.    It serves both as a messaging system with friends  or business associates but also as a kind of community public square that allows you to interact with millions of other people in an informal yet direct way.    Pushing out a note to the world via Twitter, especially if you have a lot of people following you, is likely to result in fast, often rewarding feedback.

For well over a decade  it has been clear that the internet is about *people* much more than it is  about technology or computers.   However it’s only in the last few years that the barriers to entry, the familiarity with the tools, widespread access to broadband, mobile phones, and more of the human components of the internet have come together in the necessary ways to push people ahead of technology as the key online consideration.   Twitter remains at the same time superficial and profound and is the culmination of that online socialization paradigm.    With only tens of millions using Twitter and over 200 million on Facebook there is clearly  plenty of  room for Facebook success, but I believe we’ll see Twitter continue to grow more rapidly and become the key global messaging tool – primarily because it’s so simple to use and much friendlier for mobile applications.

Yes, you should be on Twitter too and let me know so I can follow you!    Joe Duck on Twitter

KFC Coupon from Oprah


Update:   Yes, the KFC Coupon story is growing in complexity, nuance, and good old KFC chicken tastiness.

OK, so this KFC Chicken post is partly an  examination of the rise of Oprah’s Online  Omnipresence, partly a helper for my fellow KFC chicken loving blog readers, and partly a search ranking experiment.   The KFC Coupon for free chicken, referenced on Oprah today, is here .   The KFC Coupon above is NOT linked to my words “KFC Coupon” because that would mess up the experiment!   The only problem is that the site appears to be totally overwhelmed with requests for this offer which is pretty generous:  Free two pieces and sides for up to four people.    Feed your family free on KFC!

You want to click here – probably later this evening – for the free KFC chicken coupons.   Print out four and take the family, but NOT GOOD on mother’s day and SHAME ON YOU for even contemplating that cheapskate option!

I’m torn between thinking this is a genius move to swing millions of people back into the KFC fold and thinking it’s an idiot move for costing KFC a fortune (as in a real fortune.  Let’s assume a coupon print level of 10 million and use level of 20%.  They are giving away 2 million meals that would normally run about $5.   At a food cost of 20% and other non-fixed costs of about 20% the product cost alone will run KFC 4 million.)  This  for an offer that will bring in almost no immediate revenues.    As a branding play I want to follow this closely because my working hypothesis has always been that brand advertising generally fails but the failures are covered up by the very clever (and often very attractive) marketing firm sales reps.    At the KFC level the metrics are probably internal and less biased though so this one will be fun to watch.

Of course the value of the social media  may wind up putting this campaign into the “positive ROI” territory as  thousands of bloggers and Twitter folks like me are sucked into the greasy (wait, I mean grilled) chicken action.   KFC will soon the top trending topic on Twitter.    Chickens all over America have a  lot to fear today.

I’m a fan of their chicken but haven’t eaten there in some time – probably because deli chicken at supermarkets keeps me happy when I go into a frenzy for a fried chix fix.

Oprah apparently likes the new KFC Grilled Chicken and on the show offered a coupon for a free meal to *every person in the world* via an online website.   This appears to have created what I predict may be the biggest online feeding frenzy of all time since printing out the coupons requires some software that is loaded during the process.  So far I’ve tried about 5 times and each time get error messages I assume are related to massive server loads.

Oprah’s newfound Twitter enthusiasm notwithstanding, I’m guessing that the demand for this failed to recognize that the coupon story would spread like wildfire online to people who don’t watch the show (I learned about it from a Twitter person).

Wow, the fried plot is thickening.  Some stores are not honoring some coupons? Baltimore  Chicken Coupon News

Google’s Amoral Greatness?


Update:  A Googley View of the matter:   Google speaketh o Copyrights

Often the weekend brings the best internet philosophy discussions and one is brewing today about whether Google is the good or bad guy in the content equation.    The answer in my opinion is that it is pretty nuanced and best seen as a series of  inevitabilities rather than points about fairness or best practices or who is doing what for whom.

Over at the Guardian the argument is that Google’s gotten out of hand and is running roughshod over anybody who stands in their profitable path:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/apr/05/google-internet-piracy

…. one detects in Google something that is delinquent and sociopathic, perhaps the character of a nightmarish 11-year-old. This particular 11-year-old has known nothing but success and does not understand the risks, skill and failure involved in the creation of original content, nor the delicate relationships that exist outside its own desires and experience. There is a brattish, clever amorality about Google that allows it to censor the pages on its Chinese service without the slightest self doubt, store vast quantities of unnecessary information about every Google search, and menace the delicate instruments of democratic scrutiny. And, naturally, it did not exercise Google executives that Street View not only invaded the privacy of millions and made the job of burglars easier …

Meanwhile Mike Arrington disagrees – more accurately lashes out at the Google detractors,  suggesting:

Let’s all be clear here. What Porter and Bragg want is a subsidy from Google. A sort of welfare tax on a profitable company so that they can continue to draw the paychecks they’ve become accustomed to. That isn’t going to happen, and all this hand wringing isn’t helping to move their respective industries toward a successful business model. They either need to adapt or die. And they’re choosing a very noisy and annoying death.

Some truth to this but also pretty harsh given how disruptive Google’s been to the whole show.    Mike overlooks that the *single most disruptive act* in internet history was Google’s launch of Adsense, which monetizes content for all websites and more than any other single factor has led to an explosion of the spam, mediocre content, and some excellent content that has accelerated (though I think has not caused) the demise of legacy content providers like newspapers.

I said over at TechCrunch that:

Mike I’m not sure I agree with the analysis but here you’ve pulled together the “Google Goodness” argument about as cleverly and succinctly as it can be done.

I think a bigger perspective on this is far more nuanced.   The rise of Google search aggregation has in most cases diminished the average profitability of premium content.   It has slightly (but only ever so slightly) *raised* the tiny profitability of non-premium content such as the ocean of mediocre blog posts, stupid pet trick websites, and made for adsense efforts.    Something is gained as we move to a very democratic global publishing paradigm but also something significant is lost in this equation.   David Brooks of the NYT writes some brilliant stuff we need to hear in these challenged times.   He refuses to use Twitter.   Like hundreds of other bloggers  I write some political stuff too but few of my pieces are as informed as Brooks’ analyses.

However I’m happy to use Twitter and work for free.   I may win, but we all may lose something after the blogging and Twittering and Adsense dust settles.

Twitter’s Discovery Engine: The End of Civilization As We Know It.


Sure it’s too early to know how the advent of “Social Media” will revolutionize the internet landscape but it will *certainly* revolutionize the online experience dramatically.     It’s been slowly happening for some time – perhaps 2 years or so – but I think we’re now at something of a tipping point where we’ll see widespread mainstream adoption of social media  – I predict Twitter will be the big winner in this space though there is plenty of room for Facebook to maintain the huge presence it now has online.

One of the most provocative upcoming items is the Twitter Discovery Engine, which will be Twitter’s attempt to allow users to  mine the information from the massive Twitter community.    They may not get it right at first but eventually we’ll see that unlike Google search – which is great for static information – Twitter will be able to connect you to a “human expert” about as  fast as you can Tweet out a 140 character note or click on their  “Follow” button.

This is very important because despite many foolish reports suggesting that Google has “solved” the problem of internet search they have done nothing of the kind.   Google’s very good at finding a lot of material about issues that stay the same over the years such as historical events.  Yet Google’s regular search generally fails – and miserably – when you are trying to find real time information on current events.    Their blog search and news search are better for information that changes regularly or has changed recently, but with a robust Twitter search you’ll soon be able to interact with newsmakers and news events in real time, asking questions and offering your own input.

The internet has always been about people much more than it is about technology.   Google is a brilliant company but I’d suggest that Google will be seen in the future as being the *last* of the major internet players to rely primarily on their technological prowess rather than their social architectures.     The new game will be the integration of human experience and expertise with the blossoming online information landscape, and this game will dominate until we have very powerful and direct integration of human brains with online information sources – probably in about 10 years.  This brain/machine integration has already begun at a rudimentary level with Braingate and mainstream devices like the Emotiv headsets coming soon.

This social media revolution  is not just a profound new development in the history of human communication, it is a social evolution of biblical proportions, and the beginning of a redefinition of social interaction that will both enhance and undermine our tribal history of human socializing that goes back tens of thousands of years and tended to favor smaller groups, less democratic social heirarchies, and simpler forms of “friend or foe” interactions.   These social mechanisms served our evolutionary needs at the time, but are becoming outmoded as the global population and global interests  come together, and fast.

Welcome to the new age new media revolution.    It’s going to be neat but be sure to fasten your mental seatbelts because there will be  some Twitter turbulence ahead.

Google & Facebook & Twitter, oh my!


Silicon Alley Insider is discussing an interesting analysis suggesting that Facebook could be a “Google Killer” thanks to Facebook’s greater rate of growth and the suggestion that Facebook now accounts for 19% of incoming Google unique user traffic, up from 9% a year ago.

My intuitive take on this is that the analysis is misleading and seriously flawed for several reasons:

1) Rates of growth will tend to be vastly larger as sites approach the market saturation levels we have with Google and I think we may soon have with Facebook.      The new 800 pound Gorilla on the social scene is  Twitter which is growing at over 1000% last year.   You can’t 10x your current traffic for long without exhausting all people on earth, so all these rates must slow, and soon.     e.g. at 1000% annual growth with 5,000,000 unique users you’ll exhaust earth’s population in about 3 years, 2 months.

2) Twitter will chip away at Facebook user’s time online, and fast.    No major application has grown at the rate we see now at Twitter.    For many reasons we’ll see Twitter continue to grow explosively for at least a few years and I’ll be surprised if it does not rival Facebook within 3 years in terms of use.    Most high tech early adopters are tending to move away from time on Facebook and towards time on Twitter, and major media is showing a huge enthusiasm for promoting Twitter feedback on TV to mainstream America.   Twitter, not Facebook, is the application with the most disruptive potential.

3) Monetization of Social Media sucks, and will continue to suck.    Google can easily monetize searches for things where Facebook continues to struggle to find ways to turn the vast numbers of views into big money.   Although they are likely to make modest progress,  I do not see social networking as potentially all that lucrative where keyword search, almost by definition, remains the best high value internet monetizing framework.

4) The claim that 19% of Google uniques from Facebook  seems very, very dubious.    This number appears to be from Comscore and does not even make sense.   Facebook searches do not generally direct people to Google, so presumably this is suggesting that a staggering number of people leave Facebook to go do a  search at Google?    I’m trying to find more detail about this but it does not pass the sniff test even if they are simply stating that people tend to jump to Google after visiting Facebook, which is correlation and probably not causation.
This suggests that Facebook’s 236m uniques drive  (.19 x 772m) =     146m uniques to Google?         Something is  Facebook fishy here.

I am confident that all three of these applications will continue to thrive because each is filling a different online need and doing the job well.   There is no need to converge online activity more than has already been done.   For example it’s not inconvenient to switch to your banking or travel booking website for those tasks, and many probably prefer this to having a single “one stop shop” for all online activity.     Ironically Facebook’s attempts to imitate Twitter may actually accelerate the growth of Twitter which seems to be a better way to communicate quickly and effectively and superficially with many contacts.      Facebook, however, has been making good progress with their “open social” efforts that allow users to log in to other sites easily and then post blog comments and other activity to their Facebook account.     Facebook will thrive but as the recent revaluations / downward valuations suggest Facebook is no Google and will never be Google.    Search trumps social in terms of making money, and the mother’s milk of internet growth and to some extent  innovation is …. money   (though I’d say innovation is fueled by the lure of wealth as much as real wealth).

The Man Who Sued Google – and won $731


The following fun item came up today from Aaron, who managed to sue Google in small claims court over a Google Adwords / Adsense dispute and actually ….. won the case.  Here’s the story.

Adsense expert Jennifer Slegg suggests Aaron may have been violating the terms and I think most advertisers would agree that we want Google to police Adsense very carefully to avoid the many problems that come when publishers’ material is unlikely to generate business for the advertiser.

However I’m also very sympathetic to Aaron’s criticisms of Google’s failure to bring enough transparency to the adsense and ranking processes despite very noble individual activity by guys like Matt Cutts, Adam Lasnick, Brian White, and pretty much all the engineers I’ve talked to in person. My beef is with Google’s company policy of sharing too little information and having “too weak” diagnostics that don’t allow webmasters to fix common problems or challenge fairly subjective ranking decisions, especially when what Google sees as questionable linking activity is involved.

Google suggests that ranking opacity prevents spam where I’d argue that on balance it would help avoid many common practices that now penalize people without them even knowing. Just last week, for example, Matt pointed to a very expensive Forrester business report on “legitimate” SEO approaches that suggested a “paid blog posting” tactic that could get both the blogger and the referenced site in ranking trouble with Google. Although Matt is one of the last people at Google I’d accuse of being “too secretive”, the overall policy is too opaque to reasonable let legitimate webmasters make the best decisions for their sites and clients. The Webmaster Console has helped but it’s too little too late in my view. Google owes every webmaster a clear answer to the simple question: Why is my site ranked below clearly inferior sites? Usually this answer would involve a downranking from link manipulations, selling links to other sites, or other things Google finds offensive and lists vaguely in the Webmaster Guidelines.

I do complement Google on the fairly new webmaster forums feature which can be very helpful in diagnosing problems with websites:
http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Webmasters?hl=en

Google Social Search Wiki Launches


Today’s tech blogOsphere buzz is about Google’s new wiki search feature that allows users to rank their own results.     This appears to me to be a splendid idea although I agree with some who say it won’t get used much.

However, for those who use this it may eventually allow a kind of search ranking we have never seen, where user defined preferences trump the mysterious algorithmic magic mistakes, gradually giving the user a great set of results well optimized to their needs.

I’d suggest that “perfect individualized search” may only require two basic steps – the first is a *discovery* part where you surface content relevant to your particular query and then plow through that manually to determine which sites best fit your needs.   Google does a pretty good job of facilitating that right now. However a second piece would allow you to build on those “personally filtered” results in various ways – some as simple as just listing them in rough order of relevance to you as Google is now doing.

Is this a good Google idea?    Yes!     Will anybody much use this?   Nope, because our habits as humans don’t incline us to be this organized.     I had a great conversation a few days ago with the developer of Reuters Calais semantic search – a brilliant tool designed to surface relevancy and meaning from massive document archives.    We were noting how difficult is is to simply break the habit of using Google search, even when it’s not the most appropriate tool for the job at hand.

Funny primates we !

Google Blog reports on the new search wiki