Centripetal 2

As some of you are aware, I created a little game called Centripetal and had it up on the iPhone/iPad app store. Wait, don’t go trying to download it now. My former company, Phoenix Networking Group, who had rights to the game, has transferred those rights over to me. As a result, the game has been taken off of the app store.

“So what’s this about Centripetal 2, then?” you ask. Well put. I’m rebuilding Centripetal.

For starters, I’m going to be using the Unity Engine this time around. When I first developed Centripetal, I made use of cocos2d for iPhone for sprite management and object handling and box2d for the physics. I was focusing on iPhone (and eventually iPad) development so the fact that this arrangement tied me to these platforms wasn’t a showstopper. And to be clear they are very useful frameworks. But it did mean that some of my friends who do not use iOS devices were unable to play Centripetal.

I had discovered the Unity Engine some time ago and grabbed one of their free copies to tinker with but never really got into it. Recently I took the plunge, grabbed a tutorial, went through it and came out the other side not only impressed with Unity but also confident that I could make good use of it myself. I created a really simple game to become more comfortable with the editor, which I’ll have to post about some time, and then started working on concepts for other games I might pursue. In the back of my mind, I wondered about converting Centripetal but for a number of reasons I put that aside.

That has changed though. I’ve started rebuilding it for Unity, with the goal of making it available for more folks to play (yes Kris, I’m hoping you and the wife and kids will finally get a turn :). I also want to add more to it. Inasmuch as Centripetal represents my first polished and completed game, I know there was more that could have been done. I hope to do that with Centripetal 2.

I don’t imagine the new revision will make much more money, if any, than its predecessor but that’s not really the point. I want to make something fun and keep building on something that began as my own creative endeavour. I’m glad I’m getting that chance.

Animation and Modeling are Non-Trivial

I want to tip my hat to those of you who have taken the time to learn modeling and animation. As a game developer (I suppose I get to call myself that by now) with an emphasis on the coding side of things, I have tended to try to “make do” when it came to visuals and sounds. When I finally splurged and involved an actual artist for the 2-d artwork, it was like night and day. I’ve always known at an abstract level that visuals and music are very important to a successful game. But until recently, I didn’t realize just how much goes into the modeling and animation for 3-d assets.

Some background: thus far, my games have been 2-d, the most recent involving use of cocos2d, an excellent 2-d game framework which I highly recommend. My games have been limited to iPhone development thus far, thus the link to the iPhone specific port of cocos2d. There are others. In any event, they have primarily been sprite based and honestly not terribly complex.

I have known about Unity for some time now, having downloaded and played with it a few times in the past but never really “getting” it. This was before I had tackled cocos2d, so perhaps at the time I felt daunted by jumping straight into 3-d game development. Maybe the concepts didn’t have time to settle. Whatever it was, it wasn’t until this most recent bout with Unity that it finally clicked. As a result, I’ve now created a game (which I haven’t yet released) with Unity and am laying the groundwork for another.

The first game is a simple arcade style game; one of those little time wasters you play when you are standing in line at the grocery store. It was sufficient to use the simple spheres, boxes and cylinders which you can create directly within Unity. The next game is a bit more ambitious and part of the reason is to do with the fact that I plan to use actual models imported for various objects. I want the visuals to take a step up. However, I don’t know anyone with the modeling skills, the time and the inclination to create the models I’m looking for. At least not right now. I knew that Unity can import models from Blender, a free (and powerful) modeling application, however I lacked the knowledge of how to make Blender work for me. Still, I decided that what I could do is learn enough about Blender to create some simple prototype models, import those into Unity and do my development and put off finding someone to make proper models to a later date.

I’m coming to the conclusion here, bear with me.

I’ve since been going through tutorials on Blender. Honestly, I suspect I’m already at the point where I could create the simple prototypes I need to get started on working further on my game concept, but I plan to finish the tutorials out. What I’m finding is that modeling is more approachable than I first feared and more complex than I first imagined. Much like drafting, once you learn the basics of how to accomplish certain tasks (creating a solid from a series of points on a Bezier curve, concepts of box modeling, etc.), there is as much science as there is art to building your model. To be sure, some things will require an artist’s appreciation to achieve certain effects, but getting from point A to point B isn’t quite the boogeyman I first expected it to be.

At the same time, modeling and animation are also more complex than I first thought they would be. I’m not sure what exactly it is that I expected, but seeing how different parts interact, seeing how one minor change in dimension can adversely affect an entire model, how losing track of one key frame in an animation sequence can suddenly cause a smooth animation to break all known laws of physics and require you to start over… there is a lot more going on behind the scenes.

While I never dismissed modeling and animation as being simple, I think in some ways I gave them short shrift, thinking that the amount of time and effort put into such things wouldn’t likely be on the same level as, say, the time spent coding the game. Well, no more. This one’s for you Mr. (or Miss) Modeling-and-Animation-Guy (or Gal)!

Interviewing for Your Next Tech Job

For those unaware of such trivialities, I recently found myself needing to find a new employer. This weekend caps my first week with my new employer, Resource Data, Inc. As was recently (minutes ago!) pointed out to me, “You never quite know if you’ve made the right decision until the first few days have passed.” I am happy to report that after my first few days, I’m content in the choice I’ve made. Everyone has been very welcoming and I’m looking forward to becoming a productive member of a good group of people doing quality work. That said, as I’ve discussed the process of bringing me aboard with my project manager, it was stressed to me how important interviewing is and how frequently it seems that tech candidates have problems with the interview step. I want to share my approach to interviewing for anyone who may find it helpful.

[Read the rest of this entry…]

Data Access with .NET Framework 4 (Exam 70-516)

I passed my 70-516 exam yesterday with a score of 860. Not as great as I would have liked but not nearly as bad as I had feared. Overall I’m pleased. For what it’s worth, I followed the same route many others have followed in preparing for the exam. I started with the MCTS Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-516): Accessing Data with Microsoft .NET Framework 4 which I obtained through the O’Reilly Safari Books Online. The nice thing is you also get access to the CD contents which includes a copy of the MeasureUp testing software so you can take practice exams. I imagine it isn’t as up to date as what you would get if you went straight to MeasureUp or if perhaps the included copy of the software has a smaller question pool, but it was still helpful.

In any event, once I had finished going through the book and making sure to actually run through the examples and make an effort to answer the questions at the end of each chapter without looking back, I started going through the links from this blog post by ondrejsv. For each link, I would read through the linked article and then either follow relevant links in a new tab or open a new tab and search for a topic that seemed to be potentially of interest. Think of it as doing a depth-first-traversal of the MSDN articles. What I found was that there were interesting bits of information that were uncovered in the MSDN articles, especially in those containing sample code, which dealt with some topics in greater detail than the material covered in the book. In that way, the book was a good baseline for preparation but the MSDN links fleshed things out a bit more.

In conjunction with this, I continued to go through the sample tests. I kept a text file open and jotted down items that I was having difficulty with and would then spend time doing searches online for additional material covering that topic, both within and outside of MSDN. Additionally, I started creating mini-projects. Initially the projects would be very straightforward, switching back and forth between thick clients and web clients. Then I expanded to web services with various clients, splitting the EF entities into their own assembly, and so on.

I’m now considering which I should pursue next, 70-513 (covering WCF), 70-515 (Web apps) or 70-511 (Windows apps). If I’m going to shoot for MCPD, I will definitely need 513, but would need to choose which I would specialize in, Web apps or Windows apps. Still, not every project will involve WCF so perhaps for the short term I would be better off picking 515 or 511.

In any event, I’ve been told that 516 is considered to be more difficult than the other exams. Not having taken the others nor even studied them, I can’t say. For those who have, I’m curious what your opinion is.

Building Buzz for your iOS App

I recently received the following email:

Hi Lynn,

I hope you are doing well and that this holiday season isn’t keeping you too busy.

The reason for my e-mail is because I have a friend from College who just finished an iOS game and is looking to get some press for it. I wanted to know if there are any tips that you could share with him to help his game out there. If you could help him get in contact with any iOS websites, I’m sure he would be very grateful too.

What I responded with is more or less what I wish I had done with Centripetal and would do if I had it all to do over again. To begin with, this is premised on the notion that you are a small time developer, have virtually no reputation beyond your circle of friends and are planning to release your app with the hopes of making some money on it.

What I found is that timing is very important. When an app is first released on the app store, it will show up on lists all over the web. Ask anyone who has released a small app with little exposure what their sales looked like and they will tell you sales were highest within the first 24-48 hours of app store availability. So if you do absolutely nothing else, you will see a bump in sales and therefore in eyes on your app during that period. You want to make the most of that.

My suggestion then is to try to focus on driving your marketing and buzz building on that moment when your app first arrives on the app store. Granted, I haven’t tested this since as I said this is what I would like to have done, but work with me here. :)

Let’s assume for now that your app is not now nor has it ever been available for sale on the app store. You can make it available for review when it is done, but put the release date out into the future. This won’t affect the review cycle but will keep it from being up for sale immediately after approval. Once it is approved, you can push the release date back to a current date and have control over the actual release time within a 24-48 hour window.

Next, start building buzz NOW! Don’t wait for the game to be complete. Got a blog? Blog about your game. Hint at what features you’re going to have. Hold a poll about which feature to include or how to implement it. Get feedback. Drum up interest. Have people anticipating the game’s release. The more people get your game and at this state, the idea of the game, put in front of them the more likely they are to mention it to friends or at least share the link.

Can you create a gameplay or app usage video? If your app can be simulated on your Mac without any loss of features, then use something like Screenflick to record on your Mac. If that isn’t an option, you can use a separate recording device to view a physical handheld in action. Of course that’s not going to look as good, but what can you do? The point is, you want folks to see what the game is like. During development you can release videos of beta builds if you think they will be enticing. As you approach release you can snazz it up with music and such. For actual release, you definitely want to have a high quality app video available for your users to see.

You also want to have a webpage or website devoted to your app. It should make people want your game. To do this, list things people will look for in an app like yours. If it’s a game, tell them how fun it will be, how many levels it has, what groundbreaking new playstyle it involves. And link to the reviews for you app.

Ah yes, reviews. I used O.A.T.S. to get a list of sites that do reviews without accepting money to create or promote your review. It’s less expensive and more honest. Of course it is possible to get an honest review that you’ve paid for, but there is always the likelihood of a bias. If that doesn’t bother you, you can of course find many sites which are willing to take your money in exchange for a review and a little extra to move yours to the top of the pile. I leave that choice to you.

To get your app into a reviewer’s hands you will either have to release your app and provide promo codes, which all review sites accept but which blows the whole “control your launch date” idea out of the water, or you will need to provide them beta access through something like TestFlightApp. TestFlightApp is free and while it requires some extra fiddling on the part of the reviewer and the developer, it’s pretty easy to use. I imagine a number of review sites would be willing to meet you half way and make use of this. Regardless, no reviewer is going to want to have to pay for your app in order to review it, especially if you are requesting the review. At this point, you have to wait for the review. This could take awhile. Weeks. Perhaps even a month or so. Technically there’s no guarantee (unless you bought it) that you will even get a review. It’s up to you how long you wait.

Once you have a satisfactory number of positive reviews you can link to, set them up on your site and in your iTunes app store description. Make the app available. Once you see it on the app store, make additional announcements about its availability anywhere you can. Ask friends to spread the word. If you’re willing to spend money, you could consider advertising on sites you would expect users of your app to frequent. Advertising options vary greatly across websites. If you wish to do this, contact the webmasters of those sites directly for details.

Now, why all this fuss over timing everything to hit all at once? As I said, you get a free bump when your app is first listed on the store, especially if it is free or $0.99 because there are a number of sites and services that exist solely to scrape the iTunes App Store and list all new apps in those price ranges. It is my belief that if you can build enough buzz such that a large number of people are discussing and playing your app at the same time, it increases the odds that your app will then be mentioned to others, i.e. that it will become a hot item. And that’s what this is about, increasing your odds. As I said to begin with, the premise here is that you are an indie developer with no name, no buzz and nothing to build on. If you already have established credentials, you can build on that and you’ll see more success on average with the same app than if you had nothing to start with.

Of course, that’s not the end of it. You should never consider your app ‘finished’. Always consider things you could do to expand on it, build on it. When you release updates that provide more features or more fun or more playtime to users, it increases the perceived value and provides an opportunity for more buzz. Keep making the announcements, keep interest up.

And if your app is already on the store or if you simply disagree with this notion of opening day timing, then you can of course bust the sequence up. Release sooner, don’t hold back. But the rest of it still makes sense. You still want that app use or gameplay video. You want that website. You want to build interest before you ever release anything. You want the reviews. Of course if the app is already up, you can use promo codes.

Whichever way you go, however you choose to market your app, the important thing is to give the user something they want to use and something they want to share with their friends. There’s no marketing with higher quality than simple word of mouth. Hopefully, you’ll be able to build your own Angry Birds. If you do follow my advice here, particularly if it’s not what you were originally planning to do, I’d appreciate it if you drop me a line and let me know how it goes.

Facebook Page Tab and WordPress

Previously I discussed what I went through to use the generic SSL certificate that came with my ICDSoft hosting service with the Facebook application I set up for my Facebook Page tab. I mentioned at the end that I also had to do a little rejiggering to use a WordPress page for the Facebook app. It’s actually pretty simple and I’m going to share that, too. You may want to review the setup steps for a Facebook app as a Facebook Page tab. Got it? Good, let’s move on.

As you saw, when setting up a Facebook app for use as a Page tab, Facebook asks you to give them a secure (https) URL to point to, which they embed into an iframe on the page. The URL will be sent to the browser to be loaded by the client. Whatever is served up will be viewed in an iframe with a max width of 520 pixels. It is critical to understand that much. If you don’t pay attention to the 520 pixel width limitation, your FB page will look rather ugly and likely have horizontal scrollbars and only partially revealed assets.

You’ll want to make sure that your WordPress site will work when invoked from the https URL. I imagine this will typically be the case. I know for me, simply changing the URL to https was sufficient and I could easily traverse my WordPress driven site via SSL. If this isn’t the case for you and you want to use WordPress to handle your Facebook Page tab content, you are going to have to find some means of getting your WordPress site to respond to https URLs.

Let’s assume for a moment that you do manage to get SSL working for your WordPress site. Next you are going to need to create a page which you want to hit via your FB app. That much is easy, but there are two issues you will likely need to resolve. One is that your new FB app page is going to show up in any list of pages for your WP site which you have and the other is that your new FB WP page is not going to be styled optimally for inclusion as an FB app page.

Starting with the first point, why would it matter that your FB app page on your WP site is going to show up in the list of pages? Frankly, because of the second point, optimizing it for FB app usage. It’s likely going to look quite different because of how it will be used, and so it would be good not to have it navigable under normal browsing situations.  To eliminate this, for starters if you are using the ‘Pages’ widget in your sidebar, go to your WP dashboard and open ‘Appearance->Widgets’ and click to expand the ‘Pages’ widget. By default, WP allows an ‘Exclude’ area which you can enter the page ID of each page, separated by commas, which you do not want to have show up in the ‘Pages’ widget. More tricky are themes which include the pages in the header or other areas. Unless the theme provides the option to not list certain pages, you will find yourself in a bit of pickle, perhaps having to go so far as to custom edit your header in order to not list them. Because that is going to depend on which theme you have installed, it’s beyond the scope of this article to discuss code customization.

The second point, however, will involve some customization in the form of a custom page template. Here is what the WordPress Codex has to say on creating your own page template. It’s a bit barebones, so let me help you out a bit. First, create a new file in your theme’s folder called ‘customfbpage.php’. The contents of the file should look like this:

<?php
/*
Template Name: Facebook Page
*/
?>

You can upload this via FTP or your website’s control panel or whatever other means you have of pushing new files up to your template folder. Now, go to your WordPress console and go to the Appearance->Editor link:

On the right you will see a list of files which can be edited for your template. You can see in my snippet I have only a scant few because I’m using a child template. YMMV. Now you need to find the ‘page.php’ for your template. If you are using a child template, you will need to open the parent template’s copy of page.php if you haven’t already overridden it in your child. Otherwise click the child copy. Regardless, just copy all of the text within by highlighting all of it, right clicking, and choosing ‘Copy’. Now go back to the customfbpage.php and edit that. Click below the comment block and paste the contents in by right clicking and choosing ‘Paste’. I’m using the NotesIL theme as my parent theme, so this is what I see:


<?php
/*
Template Name: Facebook Page
*/
?>

<?php get_header(); ?>

	<div id="container">
		<div id="content">
			<?php while ( have_posts() ) : the_post(); ?>
			<div id="post-<?php the_ID(); ?>" class="<?php notesil_post_class(); ?>">
				<h2 class="entry-title"><?php the_title(); ?></h2>
				<div class="entry-content">
					<?php the_content(); ?>
					<?php wp_link_pages( 'before=<div class="page-link">' . __( 'Pages:', 'notesil' ) . '&after=</div>' ); ?>
					<?php edit_post_link( __( 'Edit', 'notesil' ), '<p class="edit-link">', '</p>' ); ?>
				</div>
			</div><!-- .post -->
			<?php comments_template(); ?>
			<?php endwhile; // end of the loop. ?>
		</div><!-- #content -->
		<?php get_sidebar(); ?>
	</div><!-- #container -->
<?php get_footer(); ?>

Click on ‘Update File’ to save your changes to customfbpage.php then click on ‘Pages’ over on the left to list all of the pages including your Facebook app page. Click the ‘Quick Edit’ option for the FB app page and make sure it looks similar to this:

There are several key points here. First, make sure you pay attention to the ‘slug’ field. If you told Facebook to look for your Facebook app content at https://www.joeswebsite.com/fbpage/, then your slug should likely be ‘fbpage’ because that is where WordPress will display that page’s content. Next, make sure the ‘Template’ is set to the ‘Facebook Page’ template which you just saved. Of course, the name will be different if you opted for a different template name. Finally, you probably don’t want to allow comments. Maybe you do. I didn’t, so I have that turned off. Once you are happy with your settings, click ‘Update’. Now go back to the ‘Appearance->Editor’ panel and click on customfbpage.php again. Time to get nitty-gritty!

First, I’ll just say that for my case, using a NotesIL based theme, my choices were simple. I removed the lines in the template which contained the following:

  • the_title()
  • wp_link_pages()
  • edit_post_link()
  • comments_template()
  • get_sidebar()
  • get_footer()

The title line wasn’t necessary because the embedded content was going to be embedded within a Facebook page, so what was the point in including space to say “By the way, this content is for a Facebook page”? The wp_link_pages() line would have shown links to other pages which I didn’t want to do. The edit_post_link() line would, if I were logged in and an admin, have displayed an ‘Edit’ link allowing me to start editing the content. It wouldn’t have been visible to other users, but I would have seen it and I didn’t want to, so I removed it. I can still edit the page by going through the ‘Pages’ section in the dashboard. The comments_template() shows any attached comments, but I have comments disabled, so that got removed. get_sidebar() and get_footer() show the sidebar and footer respectively, both things I wanted gone to save space. What you have in your page.php is going to determine what you need to remove from your customfbpage.php file.

But that wasn’t it. I still needed to do some CSS customization. I also edited the style.css for my child theme and added the following:

.page-template-customfbpage-php div#header h1 {
width:520px;
}
.page-template-customfbpage-php div#blog-description {
width:520px;
}
.page-template-customfbpage-php div#container {
width:520px;
margin:0; padding:0; border:0;
}
.page-template-customfbpage-php div#content {
width:520px;
margin:0; padding:0; border:0;
}

This sets pertinent content blocks to a 520 pixel width with no margins, padding or border, something we need in order to make our FB page look alright. Once I had this in place, I was able to load my Facebook page up and load the tab and my content looked right as rain.

Now, there are some other pitfalls. One example is a link I included in the content of the FB page to our contact page. This caused the contact page to load in the embedded iframe, with all of the default look and nasty horizontal scrolling. To fix this, I altered the link to have a target of _top, which caused the link to load into the page as a whole, not just the iframe. So keep in mind that what your content is loading into is an iframe and be cognizant of  all that entails.

I hope you find this helpful. Let me know in the comments below or drop me a line by email.

Facebook Page Tab, SSL and Hosted Websites

Here’s the setup. My company, PNG Support, has a Facebook page and we wanted to be able to set up custom content there rather than just rely on using the wall to post links back to the main site. If you are unfamiliar with how to do this, there is an excellent write up here on setting up an iFrame Application on your Facebook Page. While that page provides some nifty details, for the purposes of our discussion here I will point out that it involves the following:

  • Have a website hosted somewhere
  • Make sure it has SSL enabled
  • Tell Facebook the URL to create the Facebook application
  • Link the application to your Facebook Page

What happens is that when someone visits your Facebook Page, specifically the tab you created for the custom content, Facebook sees it is an app and embeds an iframe linked to your secure (https) URL. At that point, the behavior is entirely determined by the client’s browser. And that is where things can fall down if you are using the default SSL certificate that likely came with your hosted website.

If you are unfamiliar with SSL or https or secure webpages, think of it as a means of determining trust. When you visit a secure webpage, an SSL certificate is given to your browser. Like an actual certificate, it states who you are (e.g. PNG Support or Lynn Pye or Barack Obama or…) but it also states what domain the certificate was issued for. In other words, it not only says who you are supposed to be, but where the content is supposed to be coming from. In addition, these certificates have an expiration date. So the browser checks to see if the certificate is expired or is coming from a website which it is not issued for and alerts you to this. What does that mean? Suppose I get a certificate issued for www.pyehouse.com but I install it on www.pngsupport.com. When you visit www.pngsupport.com, your browser can, and should, complain bitterly that the certificate is not valid because of the domain mismatch. In most cases you are given the option of continuing anyway.

This can also come into play on the bulk hosted services. These services have multiple servers with each server configured to host many websites, sometimes several hundred or more. If the hosting provider offers SSL as a default freebie, it means they have a certificate for their server to provide basic SSL encryption when someone uses the https handler for your website. You see, that’s the other part to SSL. Once the certificate is accepted, the browser can have an encrypted conversation with the server, making it far more difficult for someone to snoop on what you are browsing for.

In the case of my company, we use ICDSoft for our hosting provider, whom I highly recommend. In our particular case, we happen to be hosted on server261. This means that if you visit https://www.pngsupport.com (note the https) you will get a certificate for server261.com, your browser will gripe, you will likely be given the option of proceeding anyway and, if you do, you will see the site as it normally looks. That’s because the certificate is issued for server261.com but you visited pngsupport.com.

Now what does this have to do with Facebook Pages and custom iframe apps? Well, for security reasons Facebook requires you to use https links. Like I said, it embeds your link in an iframe on the page. So if the security doesn’t match up, your audience is going to get some nasty security warning embedded in your Facebook page instead of the luscious layout you perfected last night. At this point, you’d be tempted to start investigating purchasing options for your SSL certificate. I know I did. And when I started looking at the price tag (over $100/yr for the cheaper options), I realized I didn’t like that option. Then I had a thought. The certificate covers anything hosted on server261.com. Was there a way to use the server261.com domain to reach our content and therefore get a certificate match and have everything play nice.

As it turns out, there is, at least with ICDSoft. Keep in mind this may not always work if the server is not configured for this. But for ICDSoft, if you have, for example, the pngsupport.com domain hosted on their server261.com server, you can reach your content at http://pngsupport.server261.com. Even better, you can get an encrypted link with https://pngsupport.server261.com with zero complaints from your browser. So then I went into the Facebook application’s settings and replaced www.pngsupport.com with pngsupport.server261.com and everything worked flawlessly. The certificate was matching, the content was coming up as desired and all was right with the world.

Of course, then I decided I wanted to link to a WordPress page instead of a hand written bit of PHP. More on that another time.

SEO Marketing – Read the Label

My company has only recently started to pay attention to SEO and online marketing in general. Given that we are an IT based firm (albeit small) and have been in business for going on 10 years, that ought to be a shock. It is to me. I think it’s because it wasn’t until recently that advertising was really given the importance that it is due. Regardless, as a result of our efforts our site is slowly moving up the search results for what we do. I want to point out that this progression is slow and that is expected, almost intentional. I mean sure, if we could see our site shoot up to #1 on Google and Bing through some legitimate means, I’m all for it. But the fact is there is no legitimate means to do that. And anyone who tells you otherwise is selling snake oil.

When we started working on promoting our site, one of the things we did was submit our business information to various local search engines. These indices are usually free to add your business information, allow you a little bit of extra free advertising and just generally help get your name out there. Like many things in presence building, it’s free and doesn’t hurt and ultimately it all adds up. Anyway, while we were hitting these sites, we also ended up hitting the radar of the advertising staff of a local major newspaper. We received a call probably two months after we had been revving up our presence building strategy and so had already been developing a plan for organic growth and seeing it to execution. Therefore, when the advertiser called they had their work cut out for them. What, after all, could they offer us that we weren’t already tackling?

Now, if I am already telling you this, then why even write the post? Well, like any sales job, the pitch prettied up what they offered. Phrases like “you’ll have the power of our 17 million pageviews” were used. To the layman, it might seem like you’d be getting a hell of a lot of a traffic. What local business wouldn’t want 17 million pageviews, all of them local? Sign me up! But of course, that wasn’t the point. What they were selling were basically a handful of links to your website, hosted on what amounts to a very deep page on their own site. There were a few additional things on offer including some print advertising and a Facebook fan page tab which they would administer on your behalf, but nothing really earth shattering. In essence, they were providing a metered number of backlinks to the website. Granted, those 17 million pageviews they get make their site very authoritative, so when they link to you, it helps. But then too, those links are deep within their site and the search engines know this. It can help the organic growth of your site (i.e. move you closer to the #1 spot for a plain old search as opposed to paid advertising and the like), but it’s not going to make your site go gangbusters.

And that’s the point. When I specifically brought this up, to his credit the salesperson said that absolutely, they were simply increasing the weight of the site. They were not able to promise a specific number of new hits or calls or jobs. Naturally, it was what they want you to be thinking when you sign the contract. But there is no silver bullet. There is no magical slingshot to vault you to the top of the search results. It is a slow process. And it’s all about building trust. Just like it takes time for a person to come to trust you, so to does it take time for search engines and the web in general to trust that you are authoritative on the subjects you write about. Just keep providing meaningful content, avoid the obvious errors and make an effort to let people know you exist. Eventually they will come. Or in the words of Matt Gemmell, “Good SEO is a by-product of not being a dick.”

Occupying the Occupation

I’ve been reading the Occupy Wall Street movement for awhile now. I’m sure many have. I’m interested for several reasons; I believe there is an inequity though I don’t know that I’ve managed to put my finger on the precise nature of it, there is potential for a great deal of change which may be good or bad, plus change is just exciting. One common complaint is that there is no single message other than expressions of fiscal inequity among the occupiers and that there is no one single voice to represent this growing movement. I believe that if the movement goes on for very much longer, someone is going to make an attempt to scoop up these people and try to wield them like a big heavy club. I only hope that when that happens that person is the right person doing the right thing.

The first observation I had about all of this was that I hadn’t noticed it at first. Here was this group of people protesting, making a lot of noise in one of the most populous and newsworthy cities on the planet, in my own country, and there was virtually no news coverage of it. I have watched as it gained more traction among blogs and indie news sites but still heard nothing coming from the standard media outlets. Then when that coverage did come, there was a definite bias against the occupiers with very little by way of attempts to glean what it was they were there to protest.

Now as I hear news reports come in, many times the protests and the reactions to same are peaceful. Sometimes they are not. Perhaps there is bias because of the news sources I had to rely on early on but it seems to me that the police reaction has been over the top in a handful of cases. Unacceptably so. There is fear everywhere. Protesters who fear for their livelihood which has driven them to protest, and who fear for their lives because they don’t know what the official response will be. Police who fear that riots will ensue. Politicians and powerbrokers who see this emotion and power, chaotic and untamed but present, and fear that they will not be able to combat it or control it.

Emotions are running high and as interactions escalate into more violence, as fears are realized, more will be drawn into this movement. An opportunity will be made visible. Someone will step forward who seems to “get it”. Who knows how to talk, how to charm, how to cajole the crowd. They will become the leader, not because they were elected but because the protesters will see them as someone who represents them well, who can be the front man or woman to present their needs to the powers that be. To get things done. And things will get done. There is a power here, deep, hidden but there. It’s possible it will disperse, though that will still leave the undercurrent of frustration and anger and fear to latch onto. It is also possible it will be harnessed. They say nature abhors a vacuum. And historically we see that this sort of movement, this sort of power, rarely goes unclaimed for very long. I only hope that we don’t regret who takes the reins.

Yahoo and Apple, A Study In Contrasts

I’m not going to discuss differences between how the companies have been run, the dramatically different arcs each has taken in recent years, or the products each has gotten into. I am instead going to talk about something many might find a bit odd on my blog. I’m going to talk about stock prices. More specifically, stock valuations in relation to quarterly earnings reports. Large companies typically provide “guidance” on quarterly revenues. This represents their estimate on what revenue will be in a subsequent quarter. It is supposed to be used to gauge the possible performance of the company for investors. Wall Street analysts, however, typically offer their own guidance. So depending on who you listen to and how different the analyst expectations are from the business’ expectations, investors may have quite a different reaction to results.

Rewarding Success With Disdain

By any measure, Apple’s Q4 2011 results are spectacular. They posted their second best quarter ever at $28.27 billion in revenue, which was second only to the quarter immediately prior which clocked in at $28.57 billion. This in spite of the fact that this past quarter would have included the lull leading up to the release of the iPhone 4S, a period of time where users considering a new device typically hold off until the latest gadget is out and available. Apple also mentioned this was their first $100+ billion fiscal year in terms of revenue. In fact, so sure is Apple that they’re doing well, they have indicated they expect to have $30 billion in the next quarter, which would include the holiday season. You would expect, therefore, that this sort of performance, something any company would be absolutely pleased by, would warrant an increase in stock price, wouldn’t you? Not so fast. Apple typically sandbags their estimates, indicating lower revenue guidance on a quarterly basis and always exceeding the mark. This time around Wall Street apparently took this into account and pushed their expectations higher than Apple’s. Apple’s guidance had been $25 billion. Wall Street expected $29 billion. The final total of $28.27 billion was well over the Apple numbers but didn’t quite reach Wall Street’s much loftier mark. The result? Apple was trading 6% lower in after hours trading last night.

So let’s recap. Apple says they expect to make $25 billion. Wall Street figures they are wrong and expects $29 which is technically higher than any quarter in the company’s history. Apple almost makes the mark but misses, coming in at $28.27 and posting the second best quarterly results in the company’s history, but still exceeding their own guidance. Wall Street responds to this sort of success by trading at reduced prices.

Rewarding Failure With Interest

Now let’s consider Yahoo. Yahoo also posted their results yesterday. Their earnings fell 26%. Their ad business is in decline. They have had a turbulent time at the executive level, with questionable leadership moves. Their search share is diminishing. I’ve written on Yahoo’s decline and missteps on multiple occasions. Analyst predictions, however, were lower than the announced results. You would expect that perhaps with Yahoo not doing so well, in spite of what the analysts predicted, the share price might still be on the decline. (I think you know where this is going) Nope. Yahoo traded up in after hours activity.

I imagine that analysts would say they are doing the public a service by trying to see through the manipulation that companies attempt by announcing estimates that are too high or too low in an attempt to alter public perception. The problem is that the analysts have almost as much to gain by altering what people expect. What’s worse is that you end up with real results which are ignored in favor of propped up numbers which have no bearing on what is actually happening.

What about the future of Yahoo visible to the trading public warrants an increase in stock price, especially based on the numbers they released? What about the future of Apple visible to the trading public warrants a decrease? The answer to both is “nothing”.

I suppose I should be thankful though. As should anyone who believes Apple is a strong healthy company with plenty to look forward to. It seems like Wall Street salivates over the notion of Apple falling on their faces. The more that view becomes pervasive, the more buying opportunities become available to those who see the numbers for what they are.