Categories
blogging Perl

Coder as Translator, or the glory that was Perl

Right now most of my work is in Python. It’s a neat language, but not as fun as Ruby is IMHO. I don’t want to get into a flame war. I prefer Ruby, often say it to someone with a math or data science background, get some eye rolling, and then say, “I work in Python.”

During the 1990s and early 2000s, one language reined supreme as the “Duct Tape of the Internet,” Perl. There are so many reasons Perl isn’t used today. One has to do with its philosophy, TIMTOWTDI. “There Is More Than One Way To Do It.” Such a philosophy, works with language, and is even encouraged in poetry where a poet is asked to use metaphors and similes to poetize. However, today, it is one of the central dogmas of computer science that the most efficient algorithm is the best algorithm. A merge sort is always to be preferred over a quick sort because a quick sort is slower in the case of almost-sorted data. God forbid you suggest an insertion sort!

Why would a programming language encourage inefficiency in algorithm design? The answer to this is a good and empowering one. Larry Wall, the creator of Perl, saw Moore’s Law as creating cheaper and quicker computing power every year, such that during the 1990s, it felt like there was a surplus of computing power. If a query took 9 seconds instead of 3 seconds because the algorithm was exponentially inefficient that was ok, because the main point was:

Great technology empowers everyone.

Larry Wall saw his creation literally as a human language which can be spoken by 5 year olds or Shakespearean actors. The range of expression is what allows natural language and by extension Perl to do so much.

My first paid programming job was in Perl. It involved making changes to a web form for a dentist website. Easy stuff, and it was great getting paid and being able to point to my work online. This dentist and his website have long since retired.

My first project where I saw the magic of Perl had to do with parsing random documents for mailing addresses to create a holiday mailing list. Parsing text is where Perl really shines through. The secretary cried tears of joy when she found out her task could all be done automatically.

My second project where once again Perl proved itself to be a workhorse that made impossible tasks possible had to do with updating spreadsheets for different managers tracking photographs for the NBC Olympics Website. The Perl code would check the state of the photographs from request to publishing, and update spreadsheets accordingly. Yeah, this sounds like a stupid process, but we still haven’t gotten rid of stupid processes to this day.

Much of the work felt like translation from human, natural language to what felt like Perl’s natural language. Today, someone speaking Perl learnt out in the wild wouldn’t really pass any of the tech interviews where there’s only one way to do it.

As time went on folks saw that Perl only empowered individual programmers. Much of the Perl that has been written is unreadable, since everyone makes up their own dialect, and tries to be as terse as possible in the many ways that you can be. Inheriting a Perl project can be a nightmare unless it’s properly documented (more so than say an inherited Ruby project). Also, today, Internet Duct Tape is an anti-pattern. No more using Perl or language of your choice to be a hero and integrate 2 disparate systems on the fly. But for a nice stretch of time, one coder could make a difference through the glory that was Perl.

I still do stuff with Perl like this to check if Twitter is down:

lynx -source https://twitter.com | perl -ne ‘print “$1 on Twitter\n” if /(Something is technically wrong)./’

Categories
blogging Mobile Apps Social Media

A Brief History of Instagram Growth Hacking

In Episode 83 of the now defunct Hashtagged Podcast, Jordan Powers interviews Tyson Wheat, who talked about the early days of Instagram. Back then (2011), he says, “You just needed 10 or so likes within 5 minutes to get onto the popular page.”  When I heard this, I realized Instagram was gamed from the beginning. This isn’t saying that without enough hard work, luck and skill you couldn’t use Instagram in 2011 to launch a career. It’s just that already in 2011, you’re competing in the Tour de France with somebody that’s doping, or you’re in a sport where you’re competing with somebody on steroids. Instagram was never fair. The superb photos that ended up on the popular page back then sure had me fooled, though.

The first screenshot I have of Instagram from October of 2011
The first screenshot I have of Instagram from October of 2011


Hey, spamming likes to gain follows worked back then in 2011


By 2012, you could see that something was wrong in all social photo apps. People were gaming the system.


Hardwork and talent were still wonderfully rewarded on Insta back in 2011/2012.

In 2010, Sean Ellis coined the term growth hacking. Andrew Chen goes on at length in this classic article on what it means to be a growth hacker. For me though, growth hacking is finding flaws in the system and exploiting them in ways very similar to how the Russians tipped the 2016 election using hacking. So how did folks take advantage of the growth hacks on the popular page? In a similar way that diggs got monetized (Remember Digg?) the popular page on Instagram got monetized. According to Phil Gonzalez, a consortium of shady Turkish marketers would report a photo that naturally got to the popular page so it would get taken down, and then replace it with a post that got 100s of artificial likes from fake accounts within minutes.

But the popular page really didn’t help that much. I got on it once by posting around 8pm at my silent reading book club back in 2012. A few hundred likes and a score of follows rolled in finally pushing me above 100 followers. I had been stuck at below 100 for a year which is laughable now, but I’d have to say those first 100 followers were all awesome people and really great photographers. Eventually, Instagram would replace the popular page with the explore page, and basically had the algorithm dictate which photos got shown to whom on that page. But crappy photos selling the scam of the week (pills or bitcoin depending on the year) always seemed to find a way there every now and then.

What really helped grow accounts was becoming a suggested user. Instagram could choose anyone and let them be suggested for at least two weeks to years. This meant that when people first signed up, the UI would strongly suggest that they follow the suggested user. You could grow at a rate of 10,000 followers a week as a suggested user.


How’d this dude get suggested on the bottom? His photos are so so.

The second way to grow would be to get a suggested user to follow you. This is where some shady paying for follows came in.

The 3rd way was doing a free for all where you gave photos to people, asked them to do their best edit, and you would choose photos to feature as long as they tagged you in the photo of yours that they posted.

The 4th way, way back in 2012 was botting by using follow and unfollow. Companies like Massplanner which Instagram has now shutdown would sell these services for around 50 to 100 a month depending on how many followers you wanted. It’s not as shady as fake accounts since all you’re doing is suckering someone by following them, and then unfollowing them. Lots of folks have used this strategy from 2012 to 2016 to grow from 0 to 100,000 in a year. The downside is that your engagement is real low, and now that everybody is clued into it, your account just looks fake. The problem is folks who got suggested user back in the day, or coat-tailed off of them look just as fake. What’s even worse is that the algorithm for awhile gave the advantage to folks that botted. Here’s a chart showing that.


In blue @kingy_kings legit working hard to grow; in orange, @jackson.groves doing follow/unfollow by botting. The algorithm has them neck and neck, but then eventually the algorithm fails and rewards the cheater.

However by 2018, the algorithm would actually take away followers for botting, and it did this by feeding the botters to the botters as you can see in the chart below:


@teresa_ on Instagram is the worst. She’s botting and losing followers. lol

From 2016 to 2018 people would try the following to grow:

  • power likes, getting a like from a large account
  • paid features on huge accounts (1 million real followers or more)
  • DM groups – these really help lots with engagement, but sentiment analysis can reveal who uses fake comments. This is true if you don’t shoot bangers. I’ve seen accounts with 1000s of cake photos, and each cake photo is the best cake photo that someone’s ever seen. The idea behind this is similar to the hack Tyson mentioned above. Get 5 or so comments in 15 minutes to get way more likes than if you didn’t get the comments.
  • contests where you have to follow 20 to 40 people in order to enter
  • contests that offered a free camera if you followed them
  • follower networks where people grow multiple accounts to like and follow each other
  • The Gary Vee 2 cent hack; this got killed when the algorithm detects this and just makes sure the Top Page you see is the same as the Recent Page
  • getting a free feature from a large account
  • I’d say that the only strategy that works now is the last one which is just another way of saying “going viral.” Someone prove me wrong here, please.

    The result of all this is that:

    1. people take the same photos as everyone else, i.e. InstaRepeat
    2. people take crappier photos than before
    3. people are taught by Instagram to game the system and society

    This means Instagram is contributing to the downfall of society.

    What should you do if you care about photography? Delete the app. Go back to making zines like I have. If you can’t bear to delete the app, just use it for the DMs.

Categories
blogging How-To Mobile Apps TechBiz Webalytics

How to Get More Instagram Followers Free Honestly

We now know that you can get fake followers and brands won’t know the difference. These brands give tons of money to fakers. We also know that Googling “autolikers” will show us a bunch of apps that can be used to game around 200 followers per day. What does honest engagement look like?

A network graph visualization will easily show fake followers. In Gilad Lotan’s article linked above, more purple means more fake, i.e. accounts that follow exactly 2000 and are followed by less than 20.

Honest engagement *cough* might look something like this chart below which you should please click:

account_growth_3

1. If you drop followers are dropped, if you have good content you shouldn’t have mass un-followings. I dropped 449 followers and only lost 30.

2. If you stop adding followers, like I did around November and December, and just focused on engagement through adding photos, about 25 per month, then you can get follower growth.

3. Do you have to post almost everyday? It turns out that if you add 5 followers per day, spend 15 minutes in the morning and evening liking every good photo in your feed, and do 15 photos per month, you can get about 75 followers per week.

These stats aren’t hard and fast rules, but seem to be true for my account.

I’m going to dig in more and get better stats via the API in an upcoming post.

Categories
blogging

A week without coffee and Facebook

I’ve quit 2 things that I really love, coffee and Facebook.

I thought about my life and how much my imagination outstrips my pocketbook. What I’ve found is that I’ve gotta stop giving Mark my data.

Here’s what I learned about quitting Facebook, and coffee.

  • There’s a bit of a hangover the first few days.
  • On Facebook some folks thought I killed myself or was in jail.
  • Unlike coffee, Facebook has ever more subtle ways of tempting you back.

Here’s how Facebook tempts you back:

  • E-mails saying that your friends miss you. And they highlight “friends” you only met once at a conference in 2006.
  • If you subscribed to mobile updates, you are not unsubscribed. You still get status updates. You have to shut this off.
  • In real life, very few friends will tolerate having to send you a “special invite,” to events.

The last bit is the real temptation here, and the real crux of the matter. Do you really want to not get invited to parties anymore. If you are a 23 year old partier who gets 20 to 30 invites per week, this is an issue. If you are wanting to purify yourself in a spiritual wilderness called an urban city of 1.2 million; ya – just cut the facebook.

Personally, I’ve found the benefits to be:

  • Better and stable mood. I don’t get trolled in IRL as much as in Facebook.
  • I don’t have to see what I don’t have all the time.
  • I use the app called “Phone” on my smartphone more.
  • I don’t worry about having to get my next fix.
Categories
blogging How-To TechBiz

4 Things I learned from blogging 11 days straight

I said I was going to blog for 6 months straight but last night after a streak of 11 days I stopped.

I was at home, and after I moved my things into my new flat, I just passed out. I’ve been plain tired with the start-up, planning for the CSS meet up, an early and long drive from SF to LA, and a touch of jet lag from returning back from NYC.

But even though the project is a fail, here is what I learned:

  • I learned that you can blog from your smartphone using the WordPress App. This really helped while I was in Brooklyn and didn’t have my laptop.
  • Weekends really suck for a tech blog. My traffic just dropped.
  • Keyword focused-posts and quality posts grow traffic. There is no way around this.
  • A really good blog post can take up 4 hours of your day.
Categories
AdSense blogging Social Media TechBiz

How to Triple Your Site Traffic with the 3 Keys of an SEO Blog Post

My website traffic tripled yesterday!

Once again the 3 keys are:
1. Use adwords to tell you which words are expensive.
2. Use the expensive adwords in your post. In this case, “make money with adsense,” is worth $1.50 per click.
3. Blast your social network using something like ping.fm .

Categories
blogging iphone Social Media Webalytics

4 Tools For Blogging on the Go

Great blogging tools make you more efficient. They can also help you drive more traffic to your site.

1 Camera+ brightens up your photos and makes them look so much better. You can share your photos on major social networks.

2 WordPress for the iPhone is a must. I’ve written posts on my iPhone and it’s a great tool. Whatever blogging software you use, make sure you find the one that works with your smart phone!

3 Seesmic for the iPhone allows you to share your blog post created on the go. If you use ping.fm you can share one blog post on linkedin.com, facebook, myspace, friendster, flickr, tumblr, twitter, and bebo in one status update!

4 Once you’ve posted your message, it’s time to study your Google Analytics. The only iPhone app that does this for me is Analytics Apps. At $6.99 it is pricy, but if you’re on the road lots, it’ll start paying for itself.

Categories
blogging Social Media TechBiz

The 3 Keys to a Blog Post with SEO

Most SEO people rip you off because they never admit they’re business blog virgins, or are experimenting with your money.

This is just an SEO experiment on how to make money with adsense.

I created a google ad words campaign focusing on what one does to start a blog and make money:

You do not need to know how to create blog software.

The three keys are:

  1. Sign up for AdWords and create an adwords campaign. Do not run the campaign unless you really want to drive traffic to your site and pay for that. You only want to know which adwords are expensive which means those adwords get searched lots.
  2. Use all the adwords in your blog post. If you look above you’ll see that I did as close to that as I could
  3. Use ping.fm to blast your entire social network with your blog post.

Does it work?

Stay tuned for tomorrow when I publish the results here.

These 3 keys are the reason I don’t need SEO experts anymore. I dare someone to prove me wrong.

Update on August 20, 2010: I tripled my site traffic just by doing those 3 things above yesterday!

Categories
blogging

Blogging Every Day For Six Months Starts Now

I’ve decided to blog every day for 6 months starting now to see if it will get me 10,000 uniques a month. That’s blogging everyday until February 18, 2011.

In this blog post, I just want to share a few things that make blogging different from writing.

I want to share these things because of this piece of wisdom: Blogging is not writing.

  • Each sentence must have a popular Google Ad Word, like blogging or Google. 🙂
  • Keep things between 50 and 150 key words.
  • Engage folks via social media.

Writing is really about engaging people, really moving them. Blogging is a subset of writing that has to take into account search engines and making words and the code that underlies them very friendly to the search engines.