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Apple is advertising the iPads. Great. Maybe try “hotels” as a negative keyword in the Adwords campaign.

Apple is advertising the iPads. Great. Maybe try “hotels” as a negative keyword in the Adwords campaign.

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How We Will Read: Clive Thompson

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This post is part of “How We Will Read,” a Findings interview series exploring the future of books from the perspectives of publishers, writers, and intellectuals. Read our kickoff post with Steven Johnson here.

This week we sat down with Clive Thompson, contributing writer for WIRED and the New York Times Magazine, perennial blogger, and maybe the most energetic person to ever grace our offices. Enthusiastic and hilarious, Clive is actually bursting with ideas about what the future looks like — and what seem like insane ideas or improbable projections are often backed up by a surprising amount of on-the-fly statistical citations. Clive has done his homework, it seems, for every subject on the planet. In our conversation, he seemed to effortlessly switch gears from publishing to literacy, to education, to demographics, and then on to networked societies and television shows.

Clive is currently working on his first book, about the future of thought in the age of machines. He is a prolific Tweeter and Instagrammer, and you can also find him at his blog, Collision Detection. He’s written about the future of reading before, here and here. Below, he explores some of his ideas for where he think the written word is heading. His conclusions? In the future, we might be “ass-deep in books,” and he’ll need a T-shirt that says, “Piss off, I’m reading War and Peace on my iPhone!”

How do you do most of your reading these days?

I do about half in print and half on various screens. I ended up reading all of War and Peace on my iPhone. I have Stanza, which is this app that lets you download books directly from the Gutenberg project. It turned out the iPhone was a really great way to read longform fiction. I found the idea of approaching a very big book less intimidating because you only approach it page-by-page.

How do you annotate, and why?

I annotate aggressively. If I’m reading a piece of really long fiction, I often find that there are these fabulous things I want to remember. I want to take notes on it, so I highlight it, and if I have a thought about it, I’ll type it out quickly. Then I dump all these clippings into a format that I can look at later. In the case of War and Peace, I actually had 16,000 words worth of notes and clippings at the end of it. So I printed it out as a print-on-demand book. In short, I have a physical copy of all of my favorite parts of War and Peace that I can flip through, with my notes, but I don’t actually own a physical copy of War and Peace.

Why are you taking notes? What are you doing with that stuff?

If you look at the memory athletics competitions, where the memory athletes are given something written and they have to repeat it, they’re really good at lists of random information, they’re really good at information about people — and they hate the poetry event. It’s almost impossible to listen to a poem once, to read it once, and then remember it. There’s something about literature that’s just too complex. What does work for remembering literature is repeating. That’s why I like having these little printed books, or these little files of my notes, because I can literally pull up anything I want to remember from Moby Dick, and in repeating it, remember it. Annotating becomes a way to re-encounter things I’ve read for pleasure.

We forget most of what we read, right? The only way to fight that is to write it down, and consult it. So I frequently will almost randomly pick up an old book and look at my notes, because it refreshes you as to what you find interesting about that book. Recently I re-looked at a book and I was delighted to discover that even though I’d read the book 22 years ago, I’d highlighted a bunch of stuff and written notes to myself, and some of the things I remembered about the book were things that I’d highlighted and written about. It was proof that the act of highlighting and thinking about it and writing that little note does that little extra of cognitive work that means you’re more likely to remember something about the book. This is called the generation effect — when you generate something yourself, you’re more likely to remember it. This is one of the wonderful things for me about a world in which people are writing in books and talking about them more: This fantastic generation effect means we’re going to internalize and remember and understand more deeply the books that we’re reading.

It sounds like you’re having a conversation with the text, and maybe also with your future self.

Yeah. It’s a conversation with the author, with yourself, and in a weird way, if you take it along as a lifelong project, you are having a conversation with your future self.

Is the end game of writing creating these conversations?

Yes, absolutely. Whether it’s internal conversation in your head or socially. I’ve always regarded the endpoint of my writing to get people talking to me, to each other, to themselves about this stuff.

I actually strongly believe that social sharing of this marginalia is going to unlock unbelievable amounts of conversation. But I’m embarrassed at the quality of a lot of my notes — they’ll literally be me going like “hahaha” or “lol.” I look like a 12-year-old. But I’m assured that when you import them into Findings, they’re all private. So I’m going to import them, because I love going through Findings and seeing what people have clipped.

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A company, at its core, is a set of beliefs united by a vision. When we founded Rapportive, we had one simple belief: we would build software that you don’t have to remember to use. Our software would be an intrinsic part of the tools you use every day. It would be there when you want it, and out of the way when you don’t.

You can convey this idea in so few words; it is so deceptively easy to describe, but it is so vitally important. Because when you do this — when you build software into the very fabric of the world around us, when you remove friction from the things that people want to do — something magical happens.

You enable people to change their own behaviour. You empower people to become better at what they do. And if you get enough people to do that, you might just change the world.

Rahul Vora

Filed under vision software user experience

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A review of Trada from PPC Expert As Optimizer User

Earlier last week, I signed up for Trada, a crowd sourcing PPC management service as an Optimizer. Basically, PPC Experts can work on various campaigns, and make money if they meet, or beat advertiser targets.

If I were to sum up my impression from the few days that I’ve used it, I can tell you I hate it. And that impression may be enough for most of you who trust my opinion and recommendations. There’s such an overwhelming number of reasons why I think Trada doesn’t work for both Optimizers & Advertisers that I almost can’t be bothered. It’s that bad. Shawn Livengood points out a few reasons why Trada fails as a PPC management service nicely. There are small and big concerns, nitty gritty user experience problems, to larger management/concept issues.

Generally what bothers me the most is how annoyingly inefficient the Trada interface is to use as an Optimizer. Given the choice between an Adwords interface or Trada, there’s no match. Setting up and managing campaigns is painfully slow, and time consuming. The optimization tools are also severely lacking. The Adwords interface gives me so many options to control how/where/when/on what my ads show up, while Trada does not. PPC managers not using device or geo-targeting are doing a disservice to their clients. Same goes for heavy and constant negative keyword diving and management. Using the Trada tools literally takes the joy out of my passion for PPC management. Makes me wonder if Trada has any User Experience designers (who do not code), because it seems that the inmates are running the asylum (somewhat).

imageSpeaking again of control, as a PPC manager it’s important to have either total control over the landing pages, or at least a moderate amount of influence. This greatly affects both the cost of the clicks and the conversion rates. Landing page copy/content will affect the Quality Score, and even the smallest changes to the call to actions can make or break a PPC campaign. Trada does not allow the Optimizers to access this in any way. How then can I be truly successful as a PPC Optimizer, and how is the Client getting the most out of her campaigns? 

Now let’s talk about Client expectations and interaction: As an SEM I can’t imagine NOT having access to the Client. The Client’s descriptions or campaign details on Trada aren’t always enough to craft a great campaign. Sometimes, when I check out the Client’s desires and research their opportunities, I wish I could tell them to NOT spend their limited budget on Google or MSN PPC! Sometimes, their money is best spent elsewhere, and a good SEM expert will say this when it’s in the best interest of the Client’s ROI. (eg. A fresh website and well designed call to actions can do wonders.) Then there are other Client campaigns, where the expectations are unrealistic, or their setup is actually sabotaging their own success. 

In concept, the idea of dozens of optimizers on one campaign sounds amazing. But it seems Trada has set it up so that the Optimizers are competing against each other, instead of working together. How is that crowdsourcing? I think part of the concept behind crowdsourcing is that ALL the data, opinions and decisions are transparent and readily available, and can be utilized/merged and crafted together to create a brilliant campaign for the Client. The current setup, simply put, is stupid. If you can’t taste the current soup, you could ruin it by adding the wrong ingredient. Optimizers have no idea what has already been tried, or what markets or keywords are untapped.

There’s so many specific issues with Trada that don’t make sense either. When I’m joining a campaign with 9 or 10 other optimizers and I don’t have insight into the historical data, it’s like flying a plane blindfolded and with my arms tied behind my back. This is frustrating, because as an optimizer I want to be able to drive great results. Of the campaigns that do get good results, it seems that they are accidental, and taking advantage of the fact that PPC is still somewhat the “wild wild west” and an immature market with cheap, untapped opportunities.

Last but not least, compensation for the optimizers, and campaign performance management. Payments and the structure aren’t clear, and I feel like Trada isn’t at all interested in helping the Optimizers do well. And nor is it always fair. On one campaign where I saw the most opportunity and spent a chunk of time on it, the campaign was immediately paused by the Client. Well that was a waste of time. On another one, my best performing keywords with the highest conversions were suspended  and pending Client review. Three days later and they are still paused. Why? The suspension reasons should be made clear. In what universe does it make sense to suspend the best performing keywords? In the interim you’ve irritated me as the optimizer (because I’m losing money), and if the Client understood what just happened he’d be annoyed too because he’s lost out on some good conversions. And counting on the Client to diligently and regularly monitor his campaigns kind of defeats the purpose of having your campaigns managed by experts. [Hmm, Trada product development team, it might be valuable for you to study and perhaps mimic the patterns of post-trade risk algorithms of financial trading of highly leveraged instruments. They have the most mature and carefully developed ways to suspend trading, or in this case spending.]

Overall, like I said earlier, Trada is inefficient and I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s a so-so product. I give it a C minus. In concept a crowdsourced PPC management service sounds enticing, but Trada hasn’t done a good enough job with its execution. I hope Trada has some serious push on the development, and also some other company comes along and sees the opportunity at hand, and gives Trada a run for their money.

Update 02/01/12: I’ve been contacted by a few of you considering PPC wondering about alternatives to Trada. This is shameless self promotion: check out my PPC services at PPCPlans.com.

Filed under adwords crowdsourcing google paid ppc search search engine marketing sem trada