Wednesday, May 3, 2017

On Not Going Viral

This is very weird. Not too long ago, you may remember, I put together a blog post featuring old postcards from my erstwhile collection. Almost immediately, I began getting spam e-mail from people trying to sell collectable postcards.

Then, a few days ago, I wrote about our burglar alarm going off -- and now I'm getting spam e-mail trying to sell me a burglar alarm!

I wouldn't think anything of it except that my e-mail address is nowhere on my blog or my Google profile -- at least not that I'm aware. So how do these people have my e-mail address?! Or am I simply experiencing attentional bias, noticing spam e-mails that seem to relate to blog posts, but that I've actually been getting all along and would otherwise have deleted without batting an eye?

Very weird. Like I said.

I consider myself fairly comfortable with online life, but sometimes the way information spreads is a bit mystifying to me. I don't think I would want my blog to go truly "viral," with millions of people reading my posts. (Not that there's any danger of that!) From my days as a newspaper reporter, I know a bit about how to "promote content" via social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and I don't promote my own at all. I'd really rather not. I like my little corner of blogland with my 100 or so daily hits.

I know what I post is public, and anything can happen. But most of my Facebook friends probably have no idea I write a blog. It's not that I wouldn't want them to see it -- I don't mind -- but I'd feel weird trying to drag them here. Does that make sense?

Alas, I will never be wealthy and popular.

The New Yorker published an interesting article a few weeks ago about people who wander the country in vans, living on the road (a childhood fantasy of mine, in fact). The writer followed a couple who've become Instagram celebrities by posting about their "#vanlife." (An aside: I think that's the first time I've used a hashtag on this blog.) She chronicled the ways in which their social media presence has actually altered their "authentic" on-the-road experience, as they make decisions about what pictures to post and where to go to win the most attention from their audience, and from corporate sponsors who pay them to write about or depict their products as an aspect of "#vanlife."

It was a fascinating description of how something that begins as a quest for authenticity can gradually be consumed by commercialization.

Probably won't happen here. Advertisers and viral audiences don't care about 50-year-old men sitting in their bathrobes writing about their postcard collections! Which is fine with me.

(Photo: Outside the Holborn branch library, London.)


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  2. Interesting paragraph about the people in the van. I hear quite a bit about The-Eye-On-Our-Screens, which apparently is very interested in our where-abouts. Talk about Big Brother is watching you - every minute of the day it seems...


  3. Well, obviously someone did care that you were writing on certain topics enough to target you for advertising. I now see ads on some blogs when I visit them...very annoying. Big Brother is definitely out there.

  4. Blogger and Gmail are under the Google umbrella, and they sell ad space, so ... it's a pretty straight line.

    Tomorrow you will be getting van ads! If I do a search for anything that possibly already exists and is for sale anywhere on earth, within twenty-four hours I get ads all over my screen. Even emails for the free email providers (hotmail/outlook, gmail) are scanned for ad-worthy topics; it's the price we pay for getting them "free."

    You may not be wealthy and popular (debatable), but you ARE talented and appreciated. (I'd rather be the second two, by far. Excessive money seems to be followed by problems everywhere it goes :))

  5. Wait, is the email address (at which you're getting the ad emails) a free email account or a paid provider account?? Maybe that's what you were saying, that it's not a Gmail account? ...

    It's late, I'm tired, sorry :)

  6. YP: I would buy BOTH of those! You missed your true calling! :)

    Alphie: As they say, don't do anything online you wouldn't do in real life!

    E: I think bloggers have to choose to have ads placed on their blogs. You shouldn't be getting ads on mine, for example, because it's not "monetized."

    Jenny: Well, thank you for the compliments. :) I hadn't heard about the e-mail scanning thing -- maybe that's what's going on. The account I have is with AOL, which is free. Maybe my e-mails were scanned, which picked up my blog posts (which are automatically e-mailed back to me), which resulted in the spam e-mail? Weird.

  7. I share your sense of wanting to hang out in the non viral virtual space. And that happens with me too--whatever I write about or search becomes my targeted ad feed. There is no privacy. When I think too hard on it, I'm unsettled. But not enough to disengage with the electronic life.

  8. I wouldn't feel too bad for #vanlife. I think they intended to create a media opportunity and the requirements of sponsorship and self promotion are just sidebars and a bit of inevitability. The VW Bus, ADV motorcycle touring and Land Rover message boards are alive with these types of story lines and many with heavy social media self promotion pretty much follow the same serial formula. "Lets give up the hustle and bustle and the tediousness of our suburban lives and see the world! we will travel to where we want to go and surf/ski/bike/booze/etc and just be free! Then we will post it on the internet and see if we can make some money at it."

    One of the worst was, which followed two well off kids as they ditched their upper middle class corporate lives in California for upper middle class corporate lives in Costa Rica. After prostituting themselves for a year to every 4x4 part and accessory manufacturer on the planet for free crap in preparation for their trip, and after only about 9 days on the road or something ridiculous they "stumble" upon Costa Rica and set up house in a swanky oceanside home and almost immediately start hocking home made jewelry and, oh yeah...real estate.

    On the other hand, a more genuine and honest "travel by/live in vehicle blogs" is Two English guys strike off to central and south america in an ex military Land Rover in search of booze, "wicked travels" and women. They were pretty "frat" about their intentions, but they at least didn't shill t-shirts online or stump for sponsors. They just went.

    No matter good or bad. The story is almost always the same. "Please give me free stuff so I can go on a long vacation on somebody else's dime!"

    Self promotion or not, it doesn't always end well...

  9. I'm sorry I missed your postcard post as I've always found them fascinating. I have a small collection that I picked up at a charity shop all from someone's grand tour of Europe around 1910. I should perhaps think of posting them on my blog.

    I can't say I've noticed any connection between my posts and my spam emails but it wouldn't surprise me. The interweb is powered by black magic you know!

  10. I don't recall getting spam in my email based on what I write about but if I search for any kind of product I will see ads for that on FB. I've had several people want me to do reviews for their product in exchange for free product which I always decline. I'll have to start paying attention to my spamblocker to see if I notice any correlation.

  11. Maybe the "free" life becomes difficult and the inch by inch seduction into the sales life offers more stability. I have seen a few blogs go this way into the dark side.

    I so enjoy your photos and observations of life around you without the ads

  12. Finding an timely ad is weird... Happens to me regularly even though I have abandoned my blog. Could be from google search or from FB. I am no longer uncomfortable with being spied on all the time, I think it is a given , and so, whenever I comment on the dangerous clown show in the WH, I am aware that some one is taking note. You need not worry, I think. probably click "delete" immediately, without opening, which is likely what you do anyway. Now I am trying to use ECOSIA SEARCH rather than google, and when an AD shows up on FB, I report it as spam. As interest goes regarding a guy in a bathrobe who is ONLY Fifty- Your life is awesome and highly interesting, I LOVE your blog everyday! Thank you for every post! AND OLGA, delightful pooch!

  13. One wonders from time to time about things going astray. Like you the odd weird thing shows up. I know that we are tracked by every site we visit. Ads show up almost instantly if I look at TVs for example.

  14. They will find us all eventually whereever we all hide..... Thats the scary nature of the net

  15. I loved this post! Covers a lot of ground. I read that article about the van people and it sounds to me as if those two folks are working harder at their nomadic lifestyle than most 9-5'ers I know. Good Lord! Anyway, I'm glad you do blog. I mean... who would have thought that we would meet on the internet and then in Lloyd and THEN IN Mexico?

  16. I'm pretty tired, so after I read your post & then YP's comment I was thinking, "what the HECK is YP talking about?" Yes, I'm slow today. Ha! I don't really care that much about the ad thing (except if I've purchased something & then see ads for it all over the place - do they think I'm going to be ANOTHER one? Just stop already!).

  17. Here's an article to confirm that Gmail emails are scanned for the purpose of targeting advertising. It's from 2014 but I don't recall seeing that there has been any change since then.

    Big Brother, as e said!

  18. 37P: Unsettling is a good word for it. It doesn't bother me too much, but it's a little strange!

    Utah: Oh, I don't feel BAD for #vanlife, exactly. I think they knew what they were doing from the start. But reading the descriptions, seeing how much time they invest in taking just the right photo and posting it in just the right way to get maximum effect on Instagram, well, it just made me tired. They kept preaching authenticity and freedom but don't they see they have neither? Haven't read the links yet, but I will!

    SP: Yes! Blog your postcards! You're not on the Blogger platform, are you? Maybe you're less susceptible to the Google ad machine...

    Ellen: I don't think I've ever had anyone approach me to write about their products. Not that I remember anyway! I must not hit some critical threshold of blog popularity. :)

    MaryAnn: You will never see ads here, as long as I'm in control of whether they appear or not. That is a promise. This is ad-free territory.

    Linda Sue: Yeah, I delete everything. If I get 25 e-mails overnight, chances are I can delete 24 of them.

    Red: It's just a fact of modern life. Sometimes I don't mind targeted ads -- I've bought things from ads on Facebook, for example. But e-mailing them to me seems a bit weird.

    John: The tentacles reach everywhere!

    Ms Moon: I'm glad you blog, too! I'm so glad our little group of bloggers connected this way.

    Bug: Sometimes YP is just too clever for the rest of us. :) Yeah, after-the-fact advertising helps nobody, does it?!

    Jenny-O: Thanks for the link! I bet that's exactly what's going on. Even though I use AOL, I'm sure they have similar policies. I wonder if they turn around and give my e-mail address to potential advertisers, or do they somehow forward the ad content themselves? In other words, does my e-mail address remain within AOL or is it sold to the outside world? Hmmm...

  19. My understanding is that the email provider does not sell the addresses but is the conduit, for lack of a more precise term, for the key words within the emails to attract the relevant advertising, using technology ... stuff ... to keep the emails private. Well, private is clearly a relative term, but, you know.

    But I'm on shaky ground and getting worse by the minute, knowledge-wise, as I'm pretty sure you've noticed :)

  20. And I could be completely, utterly, horribly wrong about it. So there's that.