Sunday, January 06, 2013

developing backwards

At the moment I'm typing this while flicking back and forth to the tab containing emusic, where I'm previewing a random pile of notes, recommendations and more. I have to keep flicking back and forth because unless you have their overly needy tab at the front, the volume of their preview player reduces to an irritating whisper. So, in order to multitask, I have to keep on flipping back to it, each click-back accompanied by a little stab of complex disappointment, which ranges from irritation at how dark and gloomy the site is since the redesign, to musings on how bugs get sold to site owners as features, to a slight sadness at how this is a literal performance of the myth of multitasking. I'm  very fond of emusic (and frequently recommend it -- their long tail is very long, and they have a great selection of rarities, and most labels remember to put their singles up on it, but if you are signing up be aware that their album releases run a little later than other providers and there's typically no album discounts) but...

Music sites in particular seem to be prone to developing backwards. As legitimacy and commercial interest catch up with the bleeding edge the sites get more strewn with logos and disclaimers, the supply of downloads dries up, and sweet deals (that are perhaps more sweet for the owners than the customers) begin to clutter the original offer.

I'm currently wavering over RCRDLBL, for example, originally a hot daily download that has mutated over a few years, sometimes offering more, sometimes less (the buggy Bing-branded music player a particular nadir) but often the place to find sweet remixes that for some reason were not making commercial release. They've shaken off Bing, but recently it's gone a bit streamy (enabled by Spotify and Soudcloud) and expanded their recommendations. But other people's lists of things they like are not that much more exciting than your own, and the more third-party systems involved and the longer the list, the bigger the administrative task. On the other hand, they have lead me to treasures and precious jewels in the past, and still do with a bit of careful trawling - if I ever find the time.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

your brand says spam to me

In common with many other webmasters I got back from my Christmas break to find a Bad Thing. Someone had hacked a server somewhere and for three days over Christmas it had fired off a steady stream of commentspam into my filters before one of my counterparts toiling on the dataface came back from their Christmas break to discover their Bad Thing, and fix it. In the meantime, I set to clearing the gakk from my filters, speculating the while on why people spam. Mostly it ends up in filters, not marketing to anyone other than the person who has the aggravating task of clearing out the comments, for whom it is largely a negative experience. Although, in line with old-school attack, a proportion of the comments also had wordsalad subject lines, some of which were quite beautiful:
  • vault owllike whiterump minginess
  • indiscriminate negotiation dirtying pumple
  • outstandingly semiprofessional flirting ellipse
(As an aside, I am not interested in advice about how to stop this problem (either my problem, or the site whose server got hacked) from happening using technical means. If you are interested in this as a technical problem, user maintained social networking sites like Livejournal and Dreamwidth are great places to try out your ideas and meet other people interested in solving the same problems.)

Although as a - what's the Yougov term? Dissatisfied Customer - of the aforementioned Livejournal, I do delete commentspam on a pretty regular basis, this was the first time in a while it had been a big enough job to include reflection on how the spam environment has changed in recent years. Wind back a year or two, and the Canadian Pharmacy crowd with their exotic lists of drugs were leading the field. In 2012, although there is a smattering of viagra, cialis, tramadol, tylenol, ativan and their ilk, the overwhelming majority is brandspam. Working through the comment pile for anything I needed to reply to or report, I realised I was using brand names to identify comments as spam. In fact, there were some brand names that I already associated with spam. Ugg? Spam. Christian Laboutin? Spam. Louis Vuitton? Spam, beyond a doubt.

Why does this happen? Is it popularity? The intensity with which a brand is ripped off and faked? Or is it just chance, that brand caught up in the roll of the black-marketing dice? Is it damaging for them, or do they feel (as some celebrities do) that all publicity is good publicity? Is there complicity?

Whatever the truth of the matter, I'd been given a snapshot. The state of spam, Christmas 2012. And here are the brands under the spammer's Christmas tree:
  • Christmas Top of the Pops: Uggs, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Christian Laboutin, Lasix, Tom's Clogs, Mulberry, Michael Kors, Chanel, Pandora Charms, Dr Dre Beats, GHD hair straighteners
  • Christmas classics: Viagra, Canadian Pharmacy, Cialis, Ativan, Zoloft, Flomax, Tylenol, iPod, Ativan, Clomol, Flagyl, Nike
  • Contemporary Christmas Gifts:  Chilliwack, Tiffany's, North Face,  Canada Goose, G-Star, Thomas Sabo, Hunter Wellies, Zithromax, Adirondack
Thanks all, for the unexpected Christmas gifts in spam filters and inboxes across the world. Thanks for the thought, and the lack of thought. Thanks for the endlessly sapping process of overengineering and upgrading filtering systems and the sites down and broken and the information pollution and all of the Christmas messages lost in the seasonal spamfall. It's nice to know exactly how much you care.