Hashemian Blog
Web, Finance, Technology, Running

Mexican Coca-Cola

by @ 10:01 pm
Filed under: marketing,social — Tags: , ,

When I was a kid growing up in Iran, one of my favorite places to go was to my grandparents' on weekends. Sometimes they'd would order out Chelo-Kabab (lamb kebab with rice), and while many Iranians like their yoghurt drinks, for us no soft drink could complement Chelo-Kabab quite like an ice-cold Coke, or Koka, as we used to call it there.

Years have passed, both of my grandparents have passed away and I haven't had the taste of that Coke ever since. The Coke we have here in America is nothing like that. It comes in plastic bottles or metal cans, as opposed to glass bottles, and it's made with high fructose corn syrup, instead of real sugar.

A while back someone mentioned to me that Costco sells Mexican Coke that uses real sugar, and last week I finally bought a case from a nearby Costco. The bottles looked like the ones I remember from my past. But how about the taste? I stuck a bottle in the freezer, allowing it to chill for a while before getting a taste. It didn't disappoint. At first swig, I was transported to my grandparents' home.

If you ever have the chance, try the Mexican Coke. It's not a myth, it really does taste better than the American Coke.

 

Amazon Associates Account Suspension

by @ 8:29 pm
Filed under: hacking,marketing,web — Tags: , , ,

The email came at night, but it wasn't completely unexpected. In a terse missive, Amazon accused me of violating their Terms of Service (TOS) and terminated my account. Reasons given: copying pages and links to other sites and search engines. In other words spamming other sites with specific Amazon links tagged with my id to collect commissions.

I have operated my two sites (hashemian.com and padfly.com) for over a decade with a couple of different associate and affiliate programs. I probably have too many ads on my pages, but I have been careful to stay on the ethical and moral side of the fence. Fairness and respect to my visitors have always trumped making a quick buck or a large sum for that matter. Good reputation is worth way more to me than money.

I have never copied a page nor parts nor links containing my Amazon account data anywhere outside of my own sites - never, not even once. There have also been no schemes to push any links onto search engines. My sites are crawled and pages are indexed normally by search engines. But Amazon simply accused me of being unethical and took punitive steps.

So how did I know that I'd be receiving a termination notice from Amazon at some point? This past Christmas season there was a marked increase in sales and therefore higher commissions in my Amazon account. I attributed that to the season, luck and some validation after years of being online. As months rolled on, the sales continued to stay positive and I became certain that Amazon would not be pleased and they would eventually pull the plug.

For a long time I have suspected that Amazon disapproves of any associate who wields too much selling power. Such an associate can materially influence sales numbers and that's not welcome news to Amazon. So Amazon has created a clever TOS for its associates program that allows them to terminate anyone at anytime. Why even have a TOS when the program is free? That protects Amazon against possible lawsuits such as those for discriminatory practices. The TOS rules are nitpicky enough that at no time any of their associates are in complete compliance. One link appearing on another site is enough to violate the TOS. I'm certain that I was in violation since day one. But it took them 6 years to suspend my account.

As long as the associates make a paltry earnings from the program, Amazon is willing to let the violations slide. But when an associate surpasses certain figures, then a quick notice of TOS violation is given and the associate is terminated. No one but Amazon knows what those figures are and how they are applied, but they do exist and they are applied. And that's how I was terminated from Amazon associates.

The most damaging part of the notice to me was the accusation of being unethical, just a simple and cold assault on my reputation. Now, I realize that no one cares about my situation and people would just dismiss this as a another scammer's rant. I don't mind. People don't know me, so why should they believe my story?

But people should at least believe this part. As a part of my account termination, Amazon also seized all commissions earned. They would also continue to keep future commissions from any sales related to my links. It's not much money, but if these were indeed ill-gotten gains, then a responsible company and an ethical corporate citizen would not keep them nor would they keep any profits from the sales. They would at the least donate them to a good cause. A charity for fighting hunger and poverty, educational programs for under-privileged children, or organizations combating diseases such as cancer. Instead, Amazon simply and silently pockets the money for itself.

If cops busted a suspected drug dealer, is it right for them to kill him and pocket whatever money they found on him? Is it OK if they sold the rest of his stash on the streets and kept the profits? It's an exaggerated comparison, but I don't think that would be right. i don't know, maybe I have a warped perception of ethics.

eBay Classifieds

by @ 6:23 pm
Filed under: business,marketing,web

eBay ClassifiedsI just happened to do a drive-by eBay's homepage today and noticed a promotion for their new eBay Classifieds. The first thing that popped into my head was Craigslist competition.

I'm not much of an eBayer and I've never used Craigslist, but I do know about the on-going feud between the two companies. eBay has always been interested in acquiring Craigslist, only to be rebuffed by the company founder. I actually admire Craig Newmark for his way of running his business and his lackadaisical attitude towards money. Also I love the fact that despite Craigslist's 90-ish style (no flashy Web 2.0 or RIA stuff) it still manages to attract millions of users. That's a testimony to its effectiveness through simplicity.

So now with eBay entering the online classifieds market, with a minimalist site, it remains to be seen whether it can unseat the uber-popular Craigslist. It's not an impossible task for the well-heeled eBay, but it'll be a long and hard battle with no guarantees of success.

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Yahoo Publisher Network Ends

by @ 10:11 pm
Filed under: google,marketing,web

Can't say I was surprised when today I received an email from Yahoo announcing the end of the Yahoo Publisher Network (YPN). Yahoo introduced YPN a few years ago as a competitive product to Google Adsense. Those are the text and graphic banners you see on many sites (including this page) with a small type "Ads by Google".

The reaction to YPN was initially mixed. Some sites even claimed better earnings with YPN, ditching Adsense. YPN was also a good alternative for sites that found themselves banned from Adsense because of certain rules or abuse. Apparently YPN was more forgiving. I did try YPN on this site for a couple of months but in the end returned to Adsense. Yahoo just couldn't compete with the relevancy power and thus the earning potential of Google's platform.

A couple of years ago Yahoo did embark on an ambitious project, dubbed Panama, to revamp and strengthen its advertising platform, but obviously the results weren't as favorable as they had hoped.

In the end it appears that, like me, many publishers abandoned YPN and returned to Adsense or joined other competing networks. I can imagine Google's glee upon learning of YPN's demise, although this may not have a material effect on their operations. As for consumers, While the effect on the online advertising market will likely be minimal, having fewer competitors in any market is usually not a good thing.

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Microsoft Office on Google Adsense

by @ 11:23 pm
Filed under: marketing,web

Microsoft Office on Google AdsenseHard to believe but sometimes even fierce adversaries use each other's services to promote their own products.

I was a little incredulous when I saw the banner ad shown on the right on the homepage of this very site. It's from Microsoft advertising its Office 2007 suite on Google Adsense network. Who would have thought?

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Sales, Politics, and Religion

by @ 11:09 pm
Filed under: marketing,politics,religion

For a brief period in my career I was encouraged to try my hand at sales. I was ok at it and made decent commissions but in the end I knew that sales wasn't my calling and I returned to my passion, technology, mainly programming. That brief stint taught me one lesson in salesmanship. When on a sales call, steer away from passionate topics, specially when you don't know which way the prospect is leaning. References to religion and politics should be avoided in favor of more neutral topics, unless the product is geared towards a certain persuasion.

Today I was shown an online demo of a Web product. The salesman had worked hard to secure a slice of my time to showcase his product. The part I found curious was the demo Web pages I was being shown. They included news articles about the Pope's Visit with Bush, Christianity, and the Church. Now I have no problem with these topics when used in the context of product demonstration, but I wondered if the salesperson knew about my liberal, religion-free mindset, would he have still picked these topics for his product demo.

The salesman never lead the conversation towards politics or religion, and we kept the conversation on-topic, centered around the features of the product and the cost of implementation. But I could imagine that another liberal person might have reacted negatively to all this and written the whole thing off.

The point is that avoiding emotionally charged topics such as religion and politics, however indirect, is a prudent policy when making a sales pitch to someone you don't know. This salesman may experience much higher success if he picks safer, more neutral examples for his demonstrations. For example, I'm not interested in team sports, but I doubt anyone would have a negative reaction to samples depicting baseball bats . Why take a chance on distracting or alienating your prospects when your goal is to secure their business?

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Face Cream Gimmick

by @ 12:26 am
Filed under: health,marketing,microsoft,web

Microsoft's $45 billion offer to buy Yahoo has certainly intensified the online advertising scrutiny. No doubt the entire advertising industry is going through turbulent times. At $20 billion per year, online advertising is still a small fraction of the entire advertising market, but that figure is estimated to rise sharply as more people turn to the Internet for their news, entertainment, and other personal and business matters.

Indeed the cyberspace is no more immune to false advertising than other traditional methods. There are plenty of these online gimmicks around, many appearing on even reputable sites. From cars, to mortgages, to medical and beauty products, they make claims that are nothing short of miracles. And I suppose they sell well, because they seem to be everywhere.

For example, this is a before and after shot of a woman's face on an ad banner touting some miracle cream to recapture youth. I keep seeing this over and over on msnbc.com. Is this an instance of false advertising? You decide.


Face Cream Gimmick

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High-Tech Sales Pitches

by @ 12:16 am
Filed under: business,marketing

So today I'm at my desk in the office fiddling with a new Web accelerator toy, er appliance, and I get the dreaded call transfer from the front desk. The Web caching box must've had fried my common sense and I took the call. It was a sales pitch. People who call my number at the office usually dial my extension directly. Even then, they get a call-screening message asking them to identify themselves. If I am at my desk and if it's urgent, I pick up the call, otherwise they go into the voicemail and I get back to them later.

Generally, the only times calls are transferred to my extension via the front desk are when someone calls up the office and asks for the Web guy or the programmer or the developer and those are typically salespeople pushing a new and exciting product or a service or the survey guys asking for 5 minutes that last a good half hour. The sales guy was peddling Microsoft and Cisco training courses.

With my mind still on Web caching, I half-heartedly listened to the man drone on effusively about their courses and their various membership levels. He had me browse to their Web site and took me through some of their marketing pages. Not wanting to be discourteous, I obliged, but he must've realized that I wasn't exactly the type of ready and willing customer he was hoping for. Undaunted, he pushed on buttering me up with compliments that I was a part of an exclusive group chosen to receive the course material at a substantial discount. I finally had to cut him off and asked the inevitable question, "How much?"

Sensing slippage, he promptly handed the call over to one of their professional and cheerful salespeople with the hopes that the new guy would close the deal. When I resisted, the cheers suddenly gave way to a quick thank-you and a phone number to call back and that was the end of it.

I don't understand this. I mean I know techies are eccentric and lack some social skills, but are we taken for easy prey? I could almost hear the salesman's thoughts through all the pleasantries, "Buy it, you dumb ass. Take the bait. Buy the stupid course." I suppose there are some of us out there who would succumb to the art of persuasion. I've had my weak moments too, but not today. If only he was peddling a Web caching courseware today.

,,,

Microsoft's bCentral LinkExchange Banner Network Shuts Down

by @ 6:40 pm
Filed under: marketing,microsoft,web

bCentral LinkExchangeI Received the inevitable email from Microsoft today. It was inevitable because in the face of all the acquisitions, consolidations, and new technologies to deliver ads on the web, it was a miracle that LinkExchange even lasted as long as it did.

LinkExchange opened its operations in 1996. It created a banner exchange marketplace where sites could get their banner ads displayed on other members' sites in exchange for participating in the program and displaying banners from others. The company made money by selling a percentage of the banner placements to paid advertisers.

In 1998 (fortuitously before the dotcom implosion) Microsoft acquired LinkExchange for $265 million and rolled it into its small business services initiative, dubbed bCentral. Eventually newer players (read Google) and newer technologies made the old boring banner exchanges obsolete but LinkExchange soldiered on, until now.

Now that Microsoft is shifting its bCentral operations to live.com and adCenter has been positioned to compete with google's AdWords and Yahoo's Panama, it was time to decommission the old banner exchange. Microsoft stopped taking new LinkExchange applications on Nov. 15th, 2006 and as of June 4th, 2007 will stop serving banners.

So as LinkExchange takes its final bow, scroll to the bottom of this page to say your farewells. Soon there will be an empty spot in its place.

,,,,,

Microsoft's bCentral LinkExchange Banner Network Shuts Down

by @ 6:40 pm
Filed under: marketing,microsoft,web

bCentral LinkExchangeI Received the inevitable email from Microsoft today. It was inevitable because in the face of all the acquisitions, consolidations, and new technologies to deliver ads on the web, it was a miracle that LinkExchange even lasted as long as it did.

LinkExchange opened its operations in 1996. It created a banner exchange marketplace where sites could get their banner ads displayed on other members' sites in exchange for participating in the program and displaying banners from others. The company made money by selling a percentage of the banner placements to paid advertisers.

In 1998 (fortuitously before the dotcom implosion) Microsoft acquired LinkExchange for $265 million and rolled it into its small business services initiative, dubbed bCentral. Eventually newer players (read Google) and newer technologies made the old boring banner exchanges obsolete but LinkExchange soldiered on, until now.

Now that Microsoft is shifting its bCentral operations to live.com and adCenter has been positioned to compete with google's AdWords and Yahoo's Panama, it was time to decommission the old banner exchange. Microsoft stopped taking new LinkExchange applications on Nov. 15th, 2006 and as of June 4th, 2007 will stop serving banners.

So as LinkExchange takes its final bow, scroll to the bottom of this page to say your farewells. Soon there will be an empty spot in its place.

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