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The Seven Deadly Sins of Blogging

In Uncategorized on February 24, 2013 at 3:52 am

The Seven Deadly Sins of Blogging

Now, it would be lovely to think – and quite easy to believe, from some of the location independent crap currently floating around the blogosphere – that bloggers just sit in a little fluffy cloud writing nice stories and taking pretty pics in between trips to marvellously exotic locations.

Y’know. Blogging. It’s like a holiday, right?

You just write stuff. Then people come and read it. EASY!

Unfortunately, it isn’t necessarily that easy.

And what’s becoming increasingly popular in the travel blogosphere of late is to spend one’s time on a depressing continuum of activities that run all the way from “dishonest” to “soul-destroying” with stops at “absolutely pointless” and “recipe for RSI”.

A depressing continuum of activities that run all the way from “dishonest” to “soul-destroying” with stops at “absolutely pointless” and “recipe for RSI”

The reasons vary. Some people want to make money, or gain “free travel” (although, as I’ve heard of travel bloggers promising as many as 30 blog posts plus rights to all their photos in exchange for a week’s press trip, I wouldn’t necessarily describe that as “free”).

Some, bewilderingly, just want to feed their monstrous egos.

Fundamentally, though, it’s all about “influence”. PRs and marketers invest considerable time and energy in identifying “influencers”.

So prospective influencers invest almost as much that time and energy in faking influence.

Bored yet? Here’s some pretty pictures of a town in China.

And, if you’re not bored, here are the Seven Deadly Sins of Blogging.

1: We Game the Ratings

Want to impress advertisers and PRs? Or work your way up the myriad top blog lists?

You can either install one of the visitor counters that include visits from robots and page crawlers – though even the most naïve of junior PRs is unlikely to fall for your Statcounter trickery, it might impress your readers – or you can game Alexa.

What’s Alexa? Well, it’s a bewilderingly popular tool for measuring traffic on blogs.

It does this by measuring clicks on sites by users with its toolbar installed, and extrapolating total visits to the site from that.

How many users have the Alexa toolbar? Nobody knows.

But from the ease with which a hundred clicks from folk with the toolbar installed can shift your ranking, not very many.

Each time you spark up the interwebz, Alexa counts this as a visit to your site, and extrapolates a large number of other interested visitors.

The first, entry-level step to gaming Alexa is to install Alexa on your own browser, and set your site as your home page.That means that each time you spark up the interwebz, Alexa counts this as a visit to your site, and extrapolates it to a number of other interested visitors.

Then, depending on how much shame you have, you can ask your mum, dad, siblings and close friends to do likewise.

Or, if you have lots of blogger friends, or belong to the bewildering number of blogger Facebook groups, you can join a secret group to exchange clicks.

Yes, that’s right. You dutifully click onto each other’s sites every day.

Or, of course, you can build up a cult following among fellow bloggers. Because even if no one in the general public actually reads your site, each of those bloggers will count for at least ten normal readers.

How accurate is Alexa?

Well, there’s another visitor measurement system called Quantcast, which installs code on your site so it can actually read who visits it, relatively accurately.

I compared one profitable, popular resource site, to one extremely high profile travel blogger. Both have Alexa scores in the 20,000 range, putting them, according to Alexa, in the top 30,000 blogs worldwide, and pretty much neck and neck in terms of visitors.

Look on Quantcast? One sees over a quarter of a million visitors per month. The other sees around a tenth of that. I will leave you to guess which one is which.

2: We Game Social Media

People typically find blogs in one of four ways. By word of mouth. By search, most often Google. By links from other sites. And by social media.

Getting Google search traffic takes a lot of work. You need to have a lot of useful, authoritative content that people are actually looking for, and that isn’t blatantly plagiarised from elsewhere on the interwebz. And you might need to understand some basic SEO as well.

(FREE blog tip: if you get all your info on a topic from the first page of Google, you are unlikely to find yourself on that first page of Google. Why? Because you didn’t know anything about the topic in the first place and you’re NOT ADDING ANYTHING NEW.)

Word of mouth is really hard. And the sort of links from the sort of sites that actually send more than a couple of visitors your way are also hard to get.

So, unsurprisingly, the aspirant pro blogger’s mind rapidly turns to gaming social media.

Some bloggers invest 10 or 12 hours a week – the equivalent of a long working day – clicking Like on StumbleUpon, and a growing trend is to use unpaid intern labour to achieve this.

The most gameable of social media is, almost certainly, StumbleUpon, a site for folk with a really short attention span. On StumbleUpon you click through pages, click stuff you like, click stuff you dislike, and eventually it delivers you pages that you like.

Or like enough to spend 10 seconds on, which is about all the time that StumbleUpon users typically spend.

The art of gaming StumbleUpon? Spend hours upon hours following other users (usually other bloggers), getting them to follow you back, and clicking like on interesting pages, and pages that the folk you follow send you – and, believe you me, they will send you pages! Lots, and lots, and lots of pages!

Then you start sending them pages, which can’t all be yours – StumbleUpon is wise to that sort of ploy – and “discovering” pages (if other people like pages that you add to StumbleUpon, the system shows the pages to more people).

Sound like hard work? Mind-numbing, tedious, hard work?

Well, in addition to clicking you also need to add reviews.

Well, yeah.

Some bloggers invest 10 or 12 hours a week – the equivalent of a long working day – clicking Like on StumbleUpon, and a growing trend is to use unpaid intern labour to achieve this.

Yes, seriously. You too could pay £9000 a year to go to university and your first post-college gig, your entry to the world of work – albeit unpaid – could be clicking Like on StumbleUpon. And clicking Like on StumbleUpon some more. And then some more.

Although that’s probably your fault for choosing Media Studies.

Why? Well, it doesn’t just do wonders for your Alexa (all those bloggers! Clicking on your pages! For five seconds.). Sometimes it can result in a page going viral on StumbleUpon, generating thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of views in a day.

And that IS really exciting, the first time it happens. Woo! Look! 200 people visited my site in the last minute!

But when you notice that 199 of them clicked off in under 20 seconds, the magic begins to pall. And, as this lady currently feels, in the end it’s not an effect worth courting.

3: We Buy Followers

Want to get a cushty press trip? Or a fantabulous social media deal?

Well, you can either build up a Twitter following the hard way, by posting interesting, unique and topical content (for an example of this, follow @legalnomads).

Or you can just go and buy yourself some Twitter and Facebook followers.

It’s the numbers, you see. They function as social proof. “Wow! 10,000 people follow this guy! He must be really important/interesting.”

So fake followers, at least for the moment, breed real followers. Because, sadly, people are sheeple.

These are not real people, mind. They are bot accounts set up specifically for people to fake their numbers.

Where can you buy Twitter and Facebook followers? Well, (the site where everything costs five dollars) is a good place to start.

These are not real people, mind. They are bot accounts set up specifically for people to fake their numbers. And, at least when it comes to Twitter, there’s now a programme that identifies which of your followers are fake (although, let’s face it, if they’re called @htyiphadfkpui56 or @BartimaeusFlood, it should be pretty darn obvious).

On Facebook, there isn’t one. Yet. Although these guys are probably working on it.

4: We Share Things We Haven’t Read

Now, the art of maintaining status in the global Twitterati is to tweet constantly. Which can be difficult. You might be, you know, travelling. In a bad mood. Hungover. Not at your computer. Not in the mood.

Any of a range of things can interfere with one’s ability to tweet (or, in my case, lead to a stream-of-consciousness borderline obscene wibble that loses me followers by the gallon).

But enough about drunk-tweeting. You keep up your influence, if you’re a Twitterato (or Twitterata), by scheduling tweets, using software like

More sophisticated is a system called Triberr, which describes itself as a “reach amplifier”. You join up with a group of other likeminded bloggers, and your Twitter account robotweets their new blog posts. You don’t have to read them! Or anything!

When you know you’re going to be offline for a while, you set up a bunch of tweets to go out in your absence. Or, if you’re in a certain time zone, and your followers are in another, you set your new posts up to Tweet while you sleep and they’re awake.

Or, of course, you can spam the system with 10 or 20 of your own blog posts, every single day, mixing it up with other people’s (ain’t that always the rule, in social media?) so as not to set off Twitter’s spam alerts.

More sophisticated is a system called Triberr, which describes itself as a “reach amplifier”. You join up with a group of other likeminded bloggers, and your Twitter account robotweets their new blog posts.

You don’t have to read them! Or anything! (You can, if you like, read posts before they go out. But most people find this time consuming.)

And the more Triberr tribes you join, the more you robotweet, and the more your tribe members robotweet you. (You can typically spot a Triberr retweet by its use of the Google URL shortener, should you wish to avoid them.)

Then come the auto feed Tweeters. You decide you like a blog. No matter what they publish. Even if it’s a guest post about cruises custom-written in a Bangalore sweatshop, you’re going to like it. And you’re going to share it.

So you tweet every single post they put up, when they put it up. (And, yes, you can also spam Facebook with the same method.)

5: We Massage Our Audience

Well, this one should go without saying, really, given the above. I mean, once you’ve added a few thousand bots to your Twitter followers, and a few thousand more to your Facebook fan page, what’s a little bit of lying about who visits your site going to do?

If our typical visitor comes through from Stumbleupon and views one page for 4 seconds, perhaps clicking through to the home page to bring the time on site up to 8 seconds, we will talk in terms of total page views.

This is particularly handy if we have, say, one post that brings in a million visitors a year. It’s also handy if we just bought 100,000 “real human visitors” on (And, no, they’re not real human visitors, folks. They’re a botnet operating out of Russia or Korea on a hundred thousand hacked and zombied computers.)

If our typical visitor likes to spend a while looking around, because they like our site, and views a lot of pages, we’ll talk about audience engagement.

If our visitors don’t spend much time on site, we will also explain that traffic measurement systems such as Google Analytics ignore the single viewer who reads one page for a long time and takes no action.

Which it does. It also ignores the time that you clicked on some piece of crap by mistake, it opened a new window in your browser, and you didn’t close that browser window until you switched off your computer.

It’s also handy if we just bought 100,000 “real human visitors” on (And, no, they’re not real human visitors, folks. They’re a botnet operating out of Russia or Korea on a hundred thousand hacked and zombied computers.)

And, if we don’t have many readers, we’ll talk about demographics. You know. Our visitors are cultured. 35-44, median income of $100,000 US, active travellers, SO TOTALLY GAGGING to buy your product you will have to HOLD THEM BACK, I tell you, HOLD THEM BACK, and did I mention THEY’RE LOADED?!

But… Did you tell the interwebz what your income is? Or whether you own a pet?

Unless a site’s traffic runs into the millions, or they have somehow managed to get a statistically relevant sample of readers to fill out a customer survey form, demographics are about as accurate as Alexa (which, not entirely coincidentally, also offers demographics).

6: We Pyramid Sell

Oh dear god. I’ve been guilty of thinking that blogging is an easy way to earn a living, that anyone can do it, and selling a product based on that.

No, blogging is not an easy way to earn a living. It’s certainly preferable to many other ways of earning a living, but it isn’t easy.

Because, without whining overly much about the difficulties of working location independently (jabbing at the reload button in an internet cafe full of teenage gamers, grappling with power outages, trying to put up a perky blog post when you’ve just travelled for 24 hours straight, etc), this is not a bed of roses.

And every single blogger who is selling you how to make money travel blogging ebooks (or how to change your life ebooks – or ecourses) is participating in a pyramid scam almost as toxic as those “hearts” clubs that were going around in simpler times.

Because, like any other “creative” (and I use the term loosely) “career” (and I use this term even more loosely), there are many, many more people who’d like to make a living blogging than there are who actually will.

7: We Get Stuff Wrong. Like, Really Wrong

God knows, I get stuff wrong. (Just check the comments on my Bulgarian restaurant piece.)

But – and I know this is old-fashioned of me – I do TRY not to get stuff wrong.

I have not knowingly recommended staring at the sun or stealing taxis, or promoted Cairo as a safe, fascinating and hassle-free starter destination for the solo female traveler.I only write language guides to languages in which I have a basic competence.

You know.

I try to spell the name of the town I’m in correctly. Yes, even when it’s a funny foreign one with lots of strange letters. Even when they’re funny foreign letters that can be transliterated in a range of acceptable ways.

I have not knowingly recommended staring at the sun or stealing taxis, or promoted Cairo as a safe, fascinating and hassle-free starter destination for the solo female traveler.

I only write language guides to languages in which I have a basic competence.

Further, I can (I believe) reliably distinguish “it’s” from “its” and “there” from “their” and “they’re”.

Yeah. A low bar, I know. But you’d be amazed how many people fail to rise above it.

And, no, prefacing a blog post about a destination with something along the lines of “I don’t know anything about this” or “Wikipedia tells me” is not a substitute for research. Unless it’s funny as fuck.

Or should that be “its”? Let me ask a blogger…


Cut off fake people

In Uncategorized on February 24, 2013 at 3:35 am


The Unspeakable Horror of Chinese Bathrooms

In Uncategorized on February 24, 2013 at 3:11 am

The Unspeakable Horror of Chinese Bathrooms


Before we came to China, I thought we had bathroom chops enough to cope with anything the world had to offer. And then…

Well, then we came to China.

Sign in a Kunming bar advising people not to poo in the toilet or face a fine.


This is the sign that greeted me in my first Chinese toilet.

I’m not joking. And nor were they.

In fact, they had even placed a grill over the hole in their squat to prevent anyone attempting to, umm, pass solids. (Not that that stops folk in changing room showers, believe you me.)

Anywise, I went down the road to the public toilet. No grilles there. Also, no paper.

But plenty of used sanitary towels, scattered confetti style. Something of a theme in Chinese ladies rooms.

Pottery toilet cum pig sty from the Xi'an museum.


Now, Chinese bathrooms have improved a little over the last couple of thousand years — they’re not placed over pig pens, for starters.

But not much. In serene yet urban Kunming, we explored the toilets in various local malls.

All of them squats. All of them stinking.

Many of them with a flush so under-powered that any deposit that didn’t hit the hole just stayed there, waiting for you.

Even in a really expensive mall.

Where folk continued to do their business, trousers round their ankles, while chatting loudly with the door wide open. Why?

Chinese row of toilets with no doors.


This was what greeted me when heading for a pee in a small Chinese railway station.

The most obvious confounding factor was the absence of doors. Now, I can deal with that. I’m not shy.

On closer inspection, however, matters became considerably worse. What lies behind the non-doors is a long, communal trench, over which you hover to do your business.

How do you flush? Well, some have a flush in the cubicle at the top of the trench that sweeps all leavings down — UNDERNEATH anyone who’s unfortunate enough to be using one of the lower positions.

Others have a bucket that the attendant chucks down there occasionally.

Others, as one I used in Beijing, go for a REALLY long drop and let it all mound up.

Toilet paper sign in Chinese hostel.


I liked the passive-aggressive nature of this sign in a hostel bathroom.

But Chinese bathrooms get a hell of a lot worse than these.

There are the ones with no partitions at all. Just the communal trench.

The ones with a partition for every two squats, so that you and a friend can defecate together. (These are particularly unnerving in Beijing, where every sentence seems to end with a piratical “arrr”.)

The ones with what appears to be a flush mechanism that actually floods the floor through a tube on the other side of the room.

But the most mystifying thing of all?

Chinese cities are at least as clean as European cities. And you could eat your dinner off the bathroom floor in the average family home…

Go figure.

China’s Pollution Is So Bad You Can See Smog From Space

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2013 at 3:35 am

China’s Pollution Is So Bad You Can See Smog From Space


Less food waste, more profit; a guide to – Carlow Local Authorities

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2013 at 3:21 am

Less food waste, more profit; a guide to – Carlow Local Authorities

U.S. falls 27 places in worldwide freedom of the press rankingsl

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2013 at 3:05 am

U.S. falls 27 places in worldwide freedom of the press rankings

The United States has been downgraded. Reporters Without Borders has released its annual World Press Freedom Index and the United States fell 27 points to No. 47 on the list.
(Reporters Without Borders)

We now tie with Argentina, Romania and Latvia at “satisfactory” levels of freedom. The reason for the plummet? “The many arrests of journalists covering Occupy Wall Street protests.”

pressThe United States was not alone in the falling grades: Bahrain fell 29 points because of the crackdown in that country. Egypt and Syria also fell a few points to languish near the bottom of the pack (166) and (176) respectively. Others in the Arab world fared better. Tunisia jumped 30 points thanks to its revolution.

Pakistan was the world’s deadliest country for journalists, and Eritrea came in last in the list of overall press freedom.

Why are citizens from Japan and China fighting over East China Sea islands?

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2013 at 2:56 am

Why are citizens from Japan and China fighting over East China Sea islands?

August 20, 2012 13:51

OSAKA, Japan — So much for the dog days of summer providing momentary respite for senior politicians. For leaders in China, Japan and South Korea, festering territorial disputes threaten to spiral into a full-blown crisis.

That much was apparent this weekend, when 10 Japanese nationalists landed on a group of islands at the center of a dispute with China, four days after pro-China activists from Hong Kong elicited a furious response from Tokyo by landing on the same tiny outcrop.

That earlier landing on the Senkaku islands, known as the Diaoyu in China, presented Japan with a second diplomatic headache, coming less than a week after the South Korean president Lee Myung-bak, made a high profile visit to Takeshima — a disputed island chain known as Dokdo in South Korea.

Japan briskly deported the activists in an attempt to avoid a diplomatic showdown of the kind that damaged relations in 2010. That spat was sparked by a clash between a Chinese fishing trawler and two Japan coast guard vessels near the Senkakus. It ended a fortnight later with the release of the trawler’s skipper, but only after damage was inflicted on trade and people-to-people exchanges.

Why have the Takeshima and Senkaku disputes come to a head now?

It is no accident that the latest provocative gestures came in as countries in the region were marking Japan’s defeat in the Pacific War.

Japan’s territorial claims are inextricably linked with its military adventures in parts of the China and on the Korean peninsula in the first half of the last century.

South Korea’s decision to stage a coast guard battalion on Takeshima in 1952 was its way of “taking back” territory it had lost shortly before Japan began its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula.

More from GlobalPost: Senkaku Islands spark territory dispute between China and Japan

The San Francisco peace treaty made no reference to the islands’ fate when it was signed in 1952, the same year the government in Seoul dispatched coast guards and, to lend legitimacy to its claims, a fisherman and his wife who remain Takeshima’s only civilian residents.

According to China, the Senkakus were Chinese until they were annexed by Tokyo after the 1894-95 Sino-Japanese War. In Beijing, as in Seoul, Japan’s defiant retention of these rocky outcrops is simply a hangover from its militarist past.

History is a powerful catalyst in rallying public sentiment, but it is not the only factor at play. Both sets of islands are surrounded by potentially vast oil and natural gas deposits that could go some way towards satisfying the region’s insatiable appetite for new energy sources.

But any potential economic benefits are less important in the short-term than the islands’ role as a rallying point for the region’s increasingly vocal nationalists.

In this video, Chinese nationalists overturn Japanese cars and shout, “Return our Diaoyu Islands.”

The Senkaku dispute only started to approach boiling point after Tokyo’s rightwing governor, and unashamed China baiter, Shintaro Ishihara, announced plans in April to buy three of the five islands from their private Japanese owners. Within months, Ishihara’s project had attracted more than $18 million in donations.

Under pressure to remove the sting from Ishihara’s provocation, the prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, unveiled a rival bid by the national government that, if successful, will effectively nationalize the islands.

Ishihara has an unlikely bedfellow in Lee Myung Bak. Lee — faced with myriad problems at home, and determined to secure a positive legacy before he is replaced as president in December — has transformed himself from a relatively Japan-friendly leader into one of its most forthright critics.

He followed up his surprise visit to Takeshima, made under the guise of promoting its ecological riches, by demanding that Japan’s emperor apologize for Japan’s brutal occupation of the Korean peninsula, should he ever wish to pay a visit.

Lee also reopened the controversy over Japan’s sexual enslavement of Korean women before and during the war, demanding that it issue an apology and compensate the “comfort women” to demonstrate its sense of “responsibility.”

His rhetoric was reflected in a particularly intemperate editorial in the Korea Herald: Japan, it said, had “never really repented, at least in the eyes of its victims for the wrongdoings and focused only on economic revival under the patronage of its former conqueror, the United States.

“It’s no surprise that Japan, led by rightist politicians, the most vocal group in Japanese politics, has turned around to deny and even justify its wartime atrocities. ”

The causes of the squabbles over tiny, isolated dots of land are clear, if complicated. What is less certain is how far the three sides involved will allow them to escalate.

A military confrontation is unlikely, but there are signs that the uncomfortable diplomatic truce that has been in place for decades could be about to break.

Japan has called for the Takeshima row to go before the International Court of Justice, although the court won’t adjudicate unless South Korea agrees to cooperate. Seoul’s line has been consistent and unequivocal: why discuss sovereignty when the islands, occupied by its own citizens, are demonstrably Korean?

In China, thousands of people joined anti-Japanese demonstrations in several cities over the weekend – the kind of street protest Beijing is happy to tolerate as it prepares for a once-in-a-decade change in the Communist party’s hierarchy.

In Japan, too, the appetite for action is growing. The conservative Yomiuri Shimbun called on the coast guard to “beef up” its equipment and personnel, and described the recent landing by activists from Hong Kong “an act of defiance against Japanese sovereignty.”

And in a poll conducted last week, the Japanese Nihon Keizai Shimbun found that 90 percent of respondents found Lee’s visit to Takeshima “intolerable,” while a third called for economic retaliation, possibly to include the cancellation of a currency-swap deal that many see as more advantageous to South Korea.

An escalation in tensions between Japan and South Korea would be unsightly, but would probably do little to derail the close economic and cultural ties that see 5 million citizens flying between the two countries every year.

More worrying is the possibility of a trade spat between China and Japan, Asia‘s two biggest economies. That said, they have pulled back from comprehensive sanctions and naval standoffs before, and there is no reason to believe this time will be any different, even if the stakes are slightly higher.

But with activists from both countries reportedly planning more visits to the Senkakus in the coming weeks, there is still scope for the unexpected to happen before the summer is out.