Monday, 14 February 2011

influential web articles that have never been been seen on the web

Something which may surprise you is that many of the articles I've written about the SSD and storage markets for my main publication have never made it to the web - even though I edit that publication (which means they would easily meet my  standards).

It's not that they weren't good enough to publish  - but if they  took too long to write  then short term daily pressures for fresh content  bumped them off my to-do list - and maybe a few days or weeks later they just got abandoned.

The strange thing is  that the  analysis and thought processes that went into constructing those unseen  articles  has had an  impact on rewiring the synapses and assumptions  in my brain. And very often when I'm writing about about a related subject I start the process of linking to an article which no one else has read but me.

I can still find them on my notebook - and because they're in the same directory as live www  files  (they just never got completed and uploaded)  there's  a  strange feeling of loss and panic  when I can't find them online.

Oh yeah - I remember now - it never got that far.

Many of these articles are 95% complete - and even years later seem to fill  much needed gaps  in the analysis of the market.

The curious thing for me is that I do have the benefit of having written them - even if no one else has yet seen them.

In the thousands of years of writing - before the online world - this must have been a much more common experience. And even though my educational background was electronics, physics and maths (and not literature and all that stuff) even as an ignorant  technocrat barbarian  I am aware that during the course of history there have been many writers who are popular today - but who never got published in their lifetimes.

I'm not saying that a blog about some ephemeral aspect of a transient market like solid state storage  (which no one will care too much  about in 50 years time) can be compared to a novel or collection of poetry. (Which reminds me -  I do have  some novels I've finished which aren't online too. And I reread them when I'm in the right mood and have run out of anything else to read. My wife and I have over 4,000 books in our house - and  I've read  most of them - except  I confees I have skipped several hundred marketing books - because  I'm not the one in our household who runs product management master classes.)

 I'm just saying that going through the process of writing  articles which analyze some aspect of a high tech market helps to improve the quality of thought in later  articles  even if the original articles were never published. I guess it's like winning a track event. No one sees you training. But you are more likely to do better in public  if you have trained.

Shame about the links though.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

what's the life of a web page?

Does a web page have a life?

What about after it's deleted?

What about return on investment?

Why would anyone even ask these questions?

Does Google calculate ROI on the cost of indexing different web pages?

Most people who create web pages don't think about any of the issues I've listed above - but if you're in the business or making money from publishing on the web then they are questions you should ask - even if you can't find any good answers.

When I started publishing on the web in 1996 - it wasn't my first job. I had previously worked in R&D  in the  electronics  market - so I was familiar with the concepts of  "life cycles" for software   development. I did think about the life cycle of a web page in simple terms which went something like this.

How much is it going to cost me to create a web version of my print publicatuion? Is what I get back going to pay me and make my efforts worthwile? Back then in 1996 the commercial web was little more than a year old. It would have been impossible for me to find any good answers to my questions - because web advertising itself was still a new concept - and we just made the rules up as we went along.

If we guessed wrong - we tried another approach with another customer. It was hard not to make money in those days on the web.

15 years later - I still make my living entirely from selling web ads in my own publications. So the few  things I did  right must have outweighed the many things I did wrong. And luck plays its part too.

Let's go back to the questions I asked at the start.

Does a web page have a life?

Yes. But the concept of an "average life" for a web page isn't very helpful.

Some web pages - which are created by software- may only last for a fraction of a second. Those Google searches for example which flash up just before you click on something.

Other web pages - which are  created by humans - may last for days, weeks, months or years.

What about after it's deleted?

It's comforting to think that after you've deleted a web page - that it's gone. Especially if you said something in that web page which is embarrassing now - or which expresses a business view which is the exact opposite of the view you now hold. For example in 1995 I couldn't understand how anyone could create a business model which made money from web content (rather than selling something via the web). As it happens - because of my strong belief (in 1995) that a print publisher like me  couldn't make money out of the web by putting my content online - you can't find a web page  designed by me at that time which makes that statement.  In retrospect - it was a prejudiced view based on fear of the unknown and the risk of getting things wrong. Within a few months I was kicking myself and wishing that I'd started sooner.

Anyway - your old deleted web pages can often be found in 3 different places for various lengths of time.

1 - on the internet archive -  - upto 15 years later (and still counting)

2 - in cached versions of Google search - for a week or month or so (depending how often Google scans that page)

3 - on 3rd party blogger sites which comment on your content (or steal all of it)

So deletion is not a permanent cure. A better solution is to put a note on the old page saying something like "this was a subject which I used to be interested in - but now my interests have moved elsewhere - plesae click here to see what I'm doing now." I say that - knowing I've still got thousands of web pages which are showing exactly the same as they did 10 years ago. It doesn't really matter if your web stats say that no one is seeing those older obsolete pages.

When it does matter though - is when something you wrote  a long time ago  becomes a search spike. If you really care about your reputation as an industry guru or blogger you can monitor those random spikes and decide if it's worth redirecting  readers to your current projects. There are no hard and fast rules about this.

What about return on investment?

If you look at this from the philosophic point of view you could say - I don't care about the value of my web postings in  monetary  amounts. If I care about an issue I'm going to create web pages because they satisfy some other needs I have - such as communicating better with my friends and family, educating others to help them learn from my experience, lobbying for a special interest group which I want to support etc etc.

But back to the readers who wondered why I didn't just write ROI....

Here's something to think about. Which of these  is worth more?

A single human created web page?

10 software assisted social networking web pages? or

1,000 software created pages?

The numbers I used above are arbitrary - but you probably get my drift. The value of a web page in economic terms is not directly related to the cost of its creation - but rather to the difference between what money you can make from each page (on average) versus the cost.

For example:- if you can create 100 million web pages (using software)  for 1 cent each - but can earn 2 cents from each of those pages in a year - even if those pages only live for less than 1 second  (average) - you might earn more money than the guy who can earn maybe $3,000 a year from a single  hand crafted article - but only has the time to write a limited number of such articles in a year.

The first model - is the one the venture capitalists like - because it's scalable, got big  numbers in it and looks like a real business.

The second model is more difficult to assess. It's more like the book or  movie business. Everyone knows it's hard to make money as a living  author - and the Harry Potter books are the  business exceptions rather than the rules.

My answer to the web ROI question is that the founders of  Google  did think about the cost of a web page -  when they made the special effort to make their  search software scalable. (Because they were well aware of the costs and performance pitfalls of not doing so - which they could see in the examples of other search companies operating at the time.)

But you don't have to be on the scale of Google or Facebook to have an ROI which makes sense for you.

Maybe your website is  collecting money so your local library can buy new books or pay a contractor to mend the fence in your local church cemetary. The ROI is different for everyone.

If your web pages are your CEO's blog then it's probably a bad return on the investment of their time compared to the value of their time spent instead  on web advertising. But it could be a good investment if the blog is the main way that people in your company get to hear about the direction your organization is heading.

Why would anyone even ask these questions?

I think about questions related to the value of web pages a lot - because the answers dictate how I prioritize my time. I allocate scores to web pages on my site which have built into them value indicators - like who's going to see this web page today? this week? this year? or in 3 years time?

Getting the right answers to those questions is important for me - because the web pages do have a life - and often a web page I created several years ago earns  more money  now than a new web page I created yesterday. That's  because the old page has more links going to it - and because the topic in the old article has now moved into the mainstream instead of just being of interest to a advanced niche.

 Does Google calculate ROI on the cost of indexing different web pages?

I don't know this for a fact - but I would be surprised if they didn't - because the decison of whether it's worth indexing any particular new web page - and how often to go back to it - is at the heart of their cost models.

When making the decision to index a page - the search engine is making an investment in that page. How many times will knowing the contents of that page benefit the advertising model?

What are the risks of skipping a page this time - and maybe redeciding whether to have a look next week or next month instead?

Prebuilt into those value judgements (done by algorithms at the core of web search) are assumptions about the lifetime of a web page.

If it's a new page - a lot of people might be interested in it today. Maybe less tomorrow - maybe nobody at all in 6 months. When the historians   come to have a look 10 years later  - will the web versions of those news pages still be there?

What if  the page is   a blog about the life of a web page?

Why would anybody -  even a robot be interested in that?

If you are. Or if you were. Thanks for reading.