Category Archives for Information Marketing

ClearVoice helps freelance writers show off their portfolios

ClearVoice recently launched a new feature to give freelancers a better way to show off their work and get new jobs.

CV Portfolios offer an easier alternative to personal websites that are often sparsely populated, out-of-date or otherwise neglected.

Thanks a technology that the company is calling VoiceGraph, writers no longer have to keep the pages updated themselves. Instead, co-founder and CEO Joe Griffin said VoiceGraph indexes stories from the top publishers online (about 250,000 currently) and matches them to their authors. It also aggregates metrics around social sharing and connecting to the authors’ own social media accounts.

“At the end of the day, what we want to do here is give freelancers very robust tools that make it as simple as possible to address one of the biggest hurdles freelancers were having: creating a portfolio and maintaining it,” Griffin said.

So for example, you can visit my CV Portfolio to see many of my latest TechCrunch articles. Granted, that’s not that so exciting, since you can do the same thing on my TechCrunch author page, but this could be pretty useful if I was a freelancer with a variety of publishers, or if I wanted to highlight articles I wrote for past employers.

There were around 400,000 automatically generated CV Portfolios at launch. Authors can claim their profiles, then edit them by creating new sections, moving articles around, deleting work that they’re not proud of, adding links or uploading files. And again, it’s a lot easier because they’re starting with a portfolio that’s already populated and automatically updated with new stories.

(And yes, if you’re a freelancer with an automatically generated portfolio that you don’t want on ClearVoice, Griffin said you can just delete it.)

The product is free. Sure, you can can use your CV Portfolio to promote yourself on ClearVoice’s talent marketplace, where freelancers get hired by companies to help with content marketing. But Griffin said he’s perfectly fine if people just want to create CV Portfolios and don’t participate in the market at all.

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5 Awesome Acts Of Revenge That Qualify As Creative Genius

Revenge is a dish best served cold. For most of us, that saying simply means that you shouldn’t punch a dude the second he mocks your Animorphs T-shirt; you should wait about a week and then punch him when he least suspects it. It’s funnier that way. But, some folks put a hell of a lot more thought into revenge than we do. Like …

#5. A Man Drives His Roommate To Paranoia Using Targeted Facebook Ads

Brian Swichkow found his roommate, Roderick Russell, on Craigslist, and the two became fast friends. Not long after moving in, Russell pulled what Swichkow only describes as “a rather elaborate prank” on his roommate. Swichkow was sure to warn him that he had made a big mistake this day, and Russell had left him no choice but to escalate the situation.

Now, Russell was a man with a very obscure and unique weakness. Though a professional sword swallower by trade, he was ironically unable to swallow pills without gagging. Swichkow, a marketing expert, had a specific, Liam Neeson-esque set of skills to exploit this, and so the game was set.

The mission: to slowly drive Russell out of his mind with a bombardment of incredibly specific Facebook ads.

Using Facebook’s marketing algorithms, Swichkow was able to set himself up as an advertiser and launch ads targeted to an “audience” of just one person. Then, he began a series of ad campaigns with targeted questions such as “Does it seem ironic that swallowing swords is easy and then small pills make you gag?” and an ad for dildos that said “So you like swallowing things?”

“You certainly managed to swallow this crock of shit.”

Swichkow rolled the ads out slowly and discontinued them shortly after discovery in an effort to keep the prank going as long as possible. Compounded with the fact that the Snowden surveillance scandal had just broken in the media, it only took a few weeks for Russell to become deeply paranoid and stop using his phone.

Eventually, Swichkow sent Russell an ad containing information that Russell had only ever told Swichkow and his girlfriend, which is when he finally started to catch on to what was really happening. Swichkow decided now was the time to end it, partly because he was afraid he was actually going to send his roommate to an asylum. So, he sent one final ad:

“That’s right, I was responsible for most of those dildo ads!”

The next day, Swichkow found a message on the kitchen whiteboard simply reading: “VERY VERY VERY WELL PLAYED,” which is basically the written equivalent of the slow clap. The story later went viral on business websites as a lesson in niche marketing, though we’re not exactly sure what that lesson is. “You could potentially destroy a man with the right ads?”

#4. Paying Fines With Mounds Of Pennies

In July 2009, Tallahassee college student Jordan Renken emerged from a bar to discover that his car had been towed, resulting in a 15-mile walk home. He needed to pay $88 to release his impounded car, so Renken decided to exact his revenge on the towing company by delivering the fine … in the form of 8,800 pennies.

The ordeal was recorded in a video that quickly went viral. Initially, the cashier refused to take the money, telling Renken and his friends that they were out of their minds. She then relented slightly by telling them that she would take the pennies only if they were rolled. Renken, who had read up on the law beforehand, knew that they were required to accept the money as long as it was legal tender. And although pennies are the redheaded stepchild of legal tender that you can go your whole life without using, they are still money.

“Just be glad I’m paying in clean ones.”

Renken refused to back down to the point that she called the police, and the cops found it pretty hilarious. After several back-and-forth exchanges between Renken and the cashier, the police maintained that the cashier must accept the pennies, rolled or not, and the only restriction being that they had to fit through the tender window. After almost an hour of debate and the threat of getting the feds involved, Renken managed to both retrieve his car and give a certain towing company employee the worst day she’s ever had.

This isn’t the only time someone has gotten away with paying a large sum of money in couch cushion leavings. In 2012, Thomas Daigle of Milford, Massachusetts, hauled more than 62,000 pennies, weighing in at about 427 pounds, to his local bank to make the final payment of the mortgage loan on his first home.

Frankly, we’re more impressed by a $620 mortgage payment.

He made the payment on the couple’s 35th wedding anniversary, making these arguably the most romantic and inconvenient 62,000 pennies on the planet. At least he rolled them. Even though, we stress again, he totally didn’t have to. You don’t, either. Not even if you’re paying Comcast. We mention that for no particular reason.

#3. Man Gets Revenge On eBay Scammer By Setting Up A Fake Blog For Him

In 2005, Thomas Sawyer purchased a laptop on eBay for 375 pounds from seller Amir Tofangsazan. The laptop took two months to arrive and, when it did, Sawyer discovered that it did not work. Tofangsazan brushed off all requests for a refund, so Sawyer took matters into his own hands. After some fancy technological footwork, Sawyer recovered enough of the hard drive to enact a creative, albeit humiliating, revenge.

The buyer found more than 90 voyeuristic photos of women’s legs, shot on the London subway, in addition to several kinds of porn and tons of personal information — including Tofangsazan’s CV, passport, and selfies. So, Sawyer used what he had gathered from the hard drive to set up a mock blog written from Tofangsazan’s perspective.

“If only I had washed that huge pile of laundry so I could take a selfie with a damn shirt on.”

The blog, called The Broken Laptop I Sold On Ebay, includes photos of Tofangsazan as well as embarrassing items from his voyeuristic and porn collections. Speaking as Tofangsazan, Sawyer jokes nonchalantly about not issuing a refund and the justification for using the blog to put Tofangsazan in the spotlight.

“The buyer of my laptop was understandably miffed at being ripped off but highly amused at finding this wide selection of information so easily accessible,” Sawyer says. “What else could he do but publish this information on the Internet for the whole world to see what a sad man I really am!”

“Sad man” being a nice way of saying “Seriously creepy fucking voyeur.”

In case you feel even remotely sorry for Tofangsazan, it was later discovered that he was a serial con artist who was eventually arrested for defrauding women in an online dating scheme. He was caught, in part, because one of the women he scammed Googled his name and found the blog. Let this be one of two lessons to you: either don’t con people or remember to wipe your hard drive.

Revenge is a dish best served cold. For most of us, that saying simply means that you shouldn’t punch a dude the second he mocks your Animorphs T-shirt; you should wait about a week and then punch him when he least suspects it. It’s funnier that way. But, some folks put a hell of a lot more thought into revenge than we do. Like …

#5. A Man Drives His Roommate To Paranoia Using Targeted Facebook Ads

Brian Swichkow found his roommate, Roderick Russell, on Craigslist, and the two became fast friends. Not long after moving in, Russell pulled what Swichkow only describes as “a rather elaborate prank” on his roommate. Swichkow was sure to warn him that he had made a big mistake this day, and Russell had left him no choice but to escalate the situation.

Now, Russell was a man with a very obscure and unique weakness. Though a professional sword swallower by trade, he was ironically unable to swallow pills without gagging. Swichkow, a marketing expert, had a specific, Liam Neeson-esque set of skills to exploit this, and so the game was set.

The mission: to slowly drive Russell out of his mind with a bombardment of incredibly specific Facebook ads.

Using Facebook’s marketing algorithms, Swichkow was able to set himself up as an advertiser and launch ads targeted to an “audience” of just one person. Then, he began a series of ad campaigns with targeted questions such as “Does it seem ironic that swallowing swords is easy and then small pills make you gag?” and an ad for dildos that said “So you like swallowing things?”

“You certainly managed to swallow this crock of shit.”

Swichkow rolled the ads out slowly and discontinued them shortly after discovery in an effort to keep the prank going as long as possible. Compounded with the fact that the Snowden surveillance scandal had just broken in the media, it only took a few weeks for Russell to become deeply paranoid and stop using his phone.

Eventually, Swichkow sent Russell an ad containing information that Russell had only ever told Swichkow and his girlfriend, which is when he finally started to catch on to what was really happening. Swichkow decided now was the time to end it, partly because he was afraid he was actually going to send his roommate to an asylum. So, he sent one final ad:

“That’s right, I was responsible for most of those dildo ads!”

The next day, Swichkow found a message on the kitchen whiteboard simply reading: “VERY VERY VERY WELL PLAYED,” which is basically the written equivalent of the slow clap. The story later went viral on business websites as a lesson in niche marketing, though we’re not exactly sure what that lesson is. “You could potentially destroy a man with the right ads?”

#4. Paying Fines With Mounds Of Pennies

In July 2009, Tallahassee college student Jordan Renken emerged from a bar to discover that his car had been towed, resulting in a 15-mile walk home. He needed to pay $88 to release his impounded car, so Renken decided to exact his revenge on the towing company by delivering the fine … in the form of 8,800 pennies.

The ordeal was recorded in a video that quickly went viral. Initially, the cashier refused to take the money, telling Renken and his friends that they were out of their minds. She then relented slightly by telling them that she would take the pennies only if they were rolled. Renken, who had read up on the law beforehand, knew that they were required to accept the money as long as it was legal tender. And although pennies are the redheaded stepchild of legal tender that you can go your whole life without using, they are still money.

“Just be glad I’m paying in clean ones.”

Renken refused to back down to the point that she called the police, and the cops found it pretty hilarious. After several back-and-forth exchanges between Renken and the cashier, the police maintained that the cashier must accept the pennies, rolled or not, and the only restriction being that they had to fit through the tender window. After almost an hour of debate and the threat of getting the feds involved, Renken managed to both retrieve his car and give a certain towing company employee the worst day she’s ever had.

This isn’t the only time someone has gotten away with paying a large sum of money in couch cushion leavings. In 2012, Thomas Daigle of Milford, Massachusetts, hauled more than 62,000 pennies, weighing in at about 427 pounds, to his local bank to make the final payment of the mortgage loan on his first home.

Frankly, we’re more impressed by a $620 mortgage payment.

He made the payment on the couple’s 35th wedding anniversary, making these arguably the most romantic and inconvenient 62,000 pennies on the planet. At least he rolled them. Even though, we stress again, he totally didn’t have to. You don’t, either. Not even if you’re paying Comcast. We mention that for no particular reason.

#3. Man Gets Revenge On eBay Scammer By Setting Up A Fake Blog For Him

In 2005, Thomas Sawyer purchased a laptop on eBay for 375 pounds from seller Amir Tofangsazan. The laptop took two months to arrive and, when it did, Sawyer discovered that it did not work. Tofangsazan brushed off all requests for a refund, so Sawyer took matters into his own hands. After some fancy technological footwork, Sawyer recovered enough of the hard drive to enact a creative, albeit humiliating, revenge.

The buyer found more than 90 voyeuristic photos of women’s legs, shot on the London subway, in addition to several kinds of porn and tons of personal information — including Tofangsazan’s CV, passport, and selfies. So, Sawyer used what he had gathered from the hard drive to set up a mock blog written from Tofangsazan’s perspective.

“If only I had washed that huge pile of laundry so I could take a selfie with a damn shirt on.”

The blog, called The Broken Laptop I Sold On Ebay, includes photos of Tofangsazan as well as embarrassing items from his voyeuristic and porn collections. Speaking as Tofangsazan, Sawyer jokes nonchalantly about not issuing a refund and the justification for using the blog to put Tofangsazan in the spotlight.

“The buyer of my laptop was understandably miffed at being ripped off but highly amused at finding this wide selection of information so easily accessible,” Sawyer says. “What else could he do but publish this information on the Internet for the whole world to see what a sad man I really am!”

“Sad man” being a nice way of saying “Seriously creepy fucking voyeur.”

In case you feel even remotely sorry for Tofangsazan, it was later discovered that he was a serial con artist who was eventually arrested for defrauding women in an online dating scheme. He was caught, in part, because one of the women he scammed Googled his name and found the blog. Let this be one of two lessons to you: either don’t con people or remember to wipe your hard drive.

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Netflix’s algorithms are more limiting than they are liberating

Ive wasted hundreds of hours browsing Netflixno, not watching, but browsingscavenging through it, like a hungry animal on the prowl, hunting for something worthy of my attention and dedication. My eyes graze over the surface of that familiar plane of posters, seeing each storyline trapped within its own tiny thumbnail, jutting out from the page at the touch of my cursor, they beg: Watch me! Choose me! But, in the age of the internet, choice is more a hindrance than a help, and among the dozens of possible options, nothing stands out. Is this why I pay subscription fees every monthto spend more time in search of something to watch than watching the thing itself?

Dont get me wrong, Netflix is filled to the brim with great content, and whether its critically-acclaimed, comedic, or simply compelling, just about anyone can find something worth streaming on the website. Still, most nights, I browse in vain, faced with the problem of deciding, time and time again, what should I watch?

On Netflix, familiarity masquerades as something new, and the streaming service presents us with a whole range of choices that, upon closer inspection, are revealed to be a lot more of the same old thing.

At a glance, the choices seem infinite: hilarious chronicles of yuppie New Yorkers living in their so-shabby-its-chic apartments, Oscar-winning biopics about inspirational figures from the 20th century, edgy sci-fi flicks with premises that are as far-fetched as they are fascinating. Do these suggestions sound familiar? Its probably because they are. Netflix uses a complex system of algorithms to tailor selections to each users particular intereststhat is, it shows us more of what we like, and less of what we dont. Its the Silicon Valley companys updated version of a classic boutique sales strategy, and, more often than not, it works like a charm.

Are you a fan of Mad Men? Well then, probably, youll love House of Cards, Suits and Downton Abbey too! Or maybe The Breakfast Club is more your thing, so check out Clueless, Skins and How I Met Your Mother! Let yourself fall down the rabbit hole of craveable content, with every new suggestion seeming to offer the same delights as what you love already. On Netflix, familiarity masquerades as something new, and the streaming service presents us with a whole range of choices that, upon closer inspection, are revealed to be a lot more of the same old thing.


Lately, theres been a lot of chatter online about the brilliance and innovation of Netflixs approach to media. As it turns out, Netflix content is categorized within one (or more) of its 76,897 hidden subgenres, and an intricate system of algorithms determines what a user wants to watch, even when they might not be too sure themselves. According to Netflix officials, an estimated 75 percent of viewing activity is driven by recommendations, a staggering number that demonstrates the companys ability to keep us watching, autoplaying our way deep into the abyss of on-demand content. Its niche marketing at its finest, so successful because it recommends content that appeals to a users unique passions and peculiaritiesenticing them to sit back, relax, and set their sights on the subgenres with the most allure.

For the most part, this is a good thing. Netflix encourages its viewers to watch more of what they love, inviting them to indulge in their personal obsessions for hours on endall while they navigate the sites landscape of content with either a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, honing-in on their sense of selves in the process. Nowadays, a persons viewing habits are a reflection of their unique interests and investments, and a watchlist might very well have more to say about someones character than any resum or twitter bio ever could.

Watching Netflix has become a private and isolated experience of self-indulgence, and, despite the prevalence of Netflix and Chill jokes circling the web, for most of us, its an entirely solitary endeavour. Netflix creates a niche to perfectly accommodate each persons unique needs, and once settled there, it seems unfathomable for any of us to step outside our pre-set comfort zones. Even if we dont admit it, most of us are reluctant to experiment with a show or film whose unique equation of actors, writers and story dont add up to equal the predetermined outcome of, well, me.

This is the problem at the heart of niche viewershipone that almost no one is talking about. The word niche originates from the Latin word for nest, and Ill be the first to confess that Ive become far too passive and complaisant in the one that Netflix has fashioned for me.


When it comes to decision-making, the algorithmically-driven platform suppresses my choices more than it supports them, distancing me from content that doesnt match-up with my existing preferences. Often, Im desperate to escape the rows and rows of selections that the system assigns to me, as if Netflix were the nagging coworker who insists on me watching a show that, frankly, is of no interest.

If only there were a way to reorient oneself towards the platforms offerings, washing-away the expectation of fulfilling personal desires, and diving deep into those pools of content in search of new experiences instead. Unfortunately, in the lingo of Netflixs niche cultures, the word new so rarely describes innovation or experimentation, instead, its just more similarity in the form of something you havent seen before. No wonder it seems like theres nothing to watch!

Unfortunately, in the lingo of Netflixs niche cultures, the word new so rarely describes innovation or experimentation, instead, its just more similarity in the form of something you havent seen before.

The problem is that within the apparent plentitude of Netflixs offerings, there is actually a real povertyone that is the direct consequence of an interface that tells you what to watch, rather than the other way around. As Netflix users, were trapped by an algorithm of imprisonment, held captive within a system that predetermines what is worth watching and what isnt. If film and television have the unique ability to break down the boundaries that exist between people, then Netflixs niche categories work to solidify the divides between themmaking it more and more difficult for viewers to see the world through the eyes of the other.

Let me urge you to ditch your existing loyalties and become more promiscuous with your viewing habits, trespassing the borders of Netflixs preset recommendations to seek out content from across the spectrum. After all, culture shouldnt be thought of as a mirror, but as a window insteadone that looks bravely into unfamiliar worlds of difference and diversity. That is, so long as you have the will to open it up.

Quinn O’Gallagher studies pop culture and media at McGill University in Montreal. He writes about the collision between personal experiences and mass communications, unpacking the politics of our everyday digital lives. Follow him on Twitter @quinnogallagher.

A version of this storyoriginally appearedon Medium and has been reprinted with permission.

Image viaBrian Cantoni/ Flickr (CC 2.0)

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My Shop: How business rates are hitting home – BBC News

Image caption Which of these shopkeepers are the winners and losers with the business rate changes?

There is growing unease in the business community as it braces itself for England’s first rate revaluation since 2010.

The government is promising help in the Budget, but critics are calling the rates system itself “unfit for purpose in the 21st century”.

As the commercial rental value of business premises are brought up to date, there will inevitably be some big losers. (You can learn more about the process here.)

To get a snapshot ‘rate reaction’, we asked six shopkeepers we have previously profiled for our My Shop video series to reveal how they will be affected in April. Some are angry, some pleasantly surprised – and one thinks he knows a better way.


‘How will I survive?’

Image caption Mike Wells runs his self-proclaimed “bloke’s paradise” in Essex

“Trying to find the extra cash is going to be close to impossible,” complains Mike Wells.

His shop Uptomen in Leigh-on-Sea is devoted to male products, from shaving foam to belt buckles. Surprisingly, it attracts a mainly female clientele, looking for gifts for the men in their lives.

He is one of the unlucky shopkeepers who will pay more when new business rates kick in. 1,000 more a year to be exact.

This is because the ‘rateable value’ of his shop, which he runs alone, has gone up 2,000 to 17,250.

“My own personal wage is way below minimum wage,” he explains, “and has been at the same level for almost five years, just 4 per hour. How will I survive?”

“Landlords are generally a greedy bunch and whilst they are happy to raise rents when times are good, they (in my experience) never reduce them when times are hard.”

“A tax based on a business’s ability to pay would be much fairerOh yes, one of those already exists. Corporation tax.”


‘Pips are squeaking’

Image caption Former naval officer Andrew Gadsden runs All About Tea in Portsmouth

Spare a thought for tea-importer Andrew Gadsden in Portsmouth.

He made a Brexit bonus by stocking up on lots of tea in dollars before the referendum – but much of those savings will now be needed to pay his rates bill.

He is looking at a 44% rise, as the rateable value of his warehouse-cum-cafe goes up from 18,997 to 27,346.

“To stand still I must sell 20,000 more tea or reduce staffing – that’s the reality,” he says.

The high value of his large premises means that he has never qualified for any relief – which the government offers to small businesses in lower property bands.

“Effectively this [rate rise] will come out of my pocket, a pay cut for me.”

“Mrs May says ‘Britain is open for business’. Well the pips are squeaking.”


Crates and rates

Image caption Catch Steve Everitt on the right day and you will find him dressed as his beloved Bilko

Not all our shopkeepers are losing out.

When he turned 50, Steve Everitt decided to follow his dream and build a Phil Silvers-themed memorabilia shop in Coventry.

In his first year of business, 2015, he was based in an old shipping container in the FarGo Village mall. He did all his paperwork and was pleased to find his crate generated zero rates.

However, when he graduated to a more conventional retail space in the mall last year he had to pay 565. It would have been free but retail relief was abolished that year, he recalls sadly.

The latest revaluation has returned his rates to zero for 2017.

In the new system business properties rated at up to 12,000 pay zero rates (the threshold used to be 6,000).

It’s good news for a shop that runs on passion and niche marketing.


‘I’m not sure it’s fair’

Image caption Carin Mansfield’s clothes take inspiration from centuries-old English worker styles

Clothes maker Carin Mansfield also benefits from the threshold change.

She makes ‘new vintage’, hand-made clothes that are expensive, but she says will last for 50 years – long enough to survive around seven business rate revaluations.

Her small shop IN-KU is near Warren Street in central London – but it’s tiny and actually doesn’t get a huge amount of footfall.

When it was rated back in 2010, her value was set at 6,500. She paid around 50 per month to Camden Council, she says.

Her new rateable value is 9,000. Despite the rise, she now doesn’t have to pay anything.

“I am not sure if it is fair to use the square footage as a calculation [for business rates],” she says.

“IN-KU has very small square footage, but it works for my purpose.”


‘Don’t complain’

Image caption Cheaper, larger commercial lets in the north have allowed Colin Shenton’s business model to expand

Ziferblat is a small franchise of “pay per minute” cafes that are thriving since expanding outside of London, where commercial rents are cheaper.

In these innovative cafes, you can consume as much food, drink and wi-fi as you like – on the clock.

“The effect on us is neutral,” explains owner Colin Shenton.

“Our rates in Manchester rise by 15%, in Liverpool it stays the same and in Leeds it drops by a third.”

Having a geographical spread has protected them, as commercial property prices vary across the country.

“It must be fair that a small retailer in a market town pays less than a multinational on Bond Street,” says Mr Shenton.

“Retailers should not complain,” he reckons. “In theory, higher rents should mean higher turnover from their more desirable location.”

What really matters is the multiplier that local councils apply to the valuations, he adds.


‘If I won the lottery…’

Image caption Jon Sharky also plays in a progressive metal band at night on Liverpool’s eclectic music scene

Jon Sharky’s music t-shirt business in Liverpool’s St. Quiggins centre is barely big enough to park a van in – in fact it doesn’t even have solid walls.

He’s chuffed that he’s been nominated for ‘Best New Business’ at this year’s Liverpool Retail Awards – alongside well-known names such as Victoria’s Secret.

Though business-savvy, he is not entirely sure how his business rates have changed. His significant outgoings are streamlined into one payment he makes to the people who run the shopping mall. It’s an arrangement he prefers.

“When I was researching potential sites for my business, the cheapest high street units I could find in the city centre started at more than seven times my current annual rent,” he says.

And many of those units still lie empty, he points out.

“If it were up to me, every major city would have a building like ours, filled with small starter units, rented out to young independent entrepreneurs with all major bills included in the rent and then handled by the building owners.

“If I won the lottery, I’d do it myself!”

To see the video about Jon Sharkey’s shop and all the others mentioned here, visit the My Shop page. The series by the BBC Business Unit focuses on distinctive, independent shops and is filmed on a smartphone. To suggest a shop email us. For the latest updates about the series follow video journalist Dougal Shaw on Twitter or Facebook.

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WeWork acquires SEO and marketing company Conductor

WeWork is acquiring Conductor.

The two businesses might not seem like an obvious fit. Why would a coworking giant buy a company that’s best known for search engine optimization?

Well, Conductor co-founder and CEO Seth Besmertnik said that he and WeWork CEO Adam Neumann went to college together, and they’ve “kept reconnecting and reconnecting over the years.” More importantly, the companies are already customers of each other’s services.

WeWork President & Chief Financial Officer Artie Minson elaborated on that idea in an emailed statement:

There’s a lot that make WeWork and Conductor a natural fit. Seth and his team built Conductor to provide the insights, education, and resources their customers need to succeed — in other words, Conductor helps their customers do what they love, and do it better. Conductor has made it easier for us to reach potential WeWork members who are looking for workspace. It’s also helped us get the word out about the services and amenities that we offer to companies of all sizes.

And now that Conductor is part of WeWork, Besmertnik said, “We’re going to be building a marketing cloud to go after the enterprise market.”

Besmertnik argued that “search data is human data,” so it makes sense to use that data to power content creation — and the company was already adding content marketing tools to its core SEO product.  Moving forward, Conductor plans to expand into other types of marketing and advertising.

He added that this shouldn’t change anything for existing Conductor customers.

“It’s only going to be better,” Besmertnik said. “We’re going to be investing in the product even more aggressively.”

Conductor will continue to operate as an independent business, with its own clients, and Besmertnik will continue to serve as CEO. At the same time, it will be looking for ways to bundle up its services for WeWork’s Enterprise customers. (And these are genuinely huge businesses — WeWork says its Enterprise members include 22 percent of the Fortune 500.)

WeWork’s two most recent acquisitions were Flatiron School and Meetup, which also continue to operate as independent businesses.

According to Crunchbase, Conductor had raised more than $60 million in total funding from investors including Matrix Partners, Firstmark, Investor Growth Capital, Blue Cloud Ventures and Catalyst Investors. The financial terms of the acquisition weren’t disclosed, but Besmertnik described the deal as “a great outcome for everybody.”

Both companies also discuss the deal in their own blog posts

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Want to be a founder? Go get a job, says venture capitalist Joe Kraus of GV

Yesterday, at Startup Grind, an event series that’s aimed at new founders and people contemplating becoming entrepreneurs, we sat down with Joe Kraus, a partner for the last eight years with Google’s early-stage investing arm, GV.

Kraus, who’d earlier co-founded two companies — Excite and Jotspot — shared a range of founder-friendly advice, including what GV and Kraus in particular look for in founding teams (“irrational persistence”), along with some of the missteps that Kraus sees founders make, including “wanting to do everything at once.”

In fact, Kraus said there are three very specific steps that founders should do and in sequential order if they expect to raise seed, then Series A and Series B funding, beginning with “finding a product that serves a need in a market that matters.”

By “matters,” Kraus really meant “big.”

It may sound like a no-brainer, but Kraus suggested the GV sees plenty of founders who think they can win by dominating smaller markets. The problem, in his view: a mistake in a smaller market often means certain death, “whereas with a big market, you can make a mistake and the market carries you along.”

Kraus also advised focusing a lot less on “top-line growth” and instead on positive unit economics. (Despite the “obsession” of many founders to sell more to more people, often by throwing more product features into the mix, he proposed that VCs right now are far more interested in startups that make money off the sale of their products.)

And Kraus stressed the importance of  squeezing returns out of customer acquisition spend, be it through search engine optimization or content marketing or some other channel. Luckier startups that don’t figure out a winning strategy can “get caught in the tailwind of a market that’s growing and they grow with the market.” But you can guess what happens to the rest, he suggested.

More contrarian, perhaps, was Kraus’s advice to those who buy into the adage that founders learn from their mistakes. While Silicon Valley is known for embracing failure as a means to an end, Kraus pretty much called bullshit on the idea. The “story we tell ourselves,” that “you’ve learned more from your failures than your successes” is “dumb,” he said, explaining that while failure might build character, founders can’t learn much from failure other than what specific path not to take again.

For people looking to start a company, Kraus had this advice instead: Get a job at a successful company. While it might sound boring and corporate and like the last thing an aspiring founder might want to do, Kraus told the audience that you can learn a lot by making 10 minor decisions a day over a series of years — and observing the decisions of co-workers — if “combinatorially” they are part of a path that “yields success.”

Logging time first at a company that knows what it’s doing “gives you a pattern that you can follow in the future,” he said. Staring at the sea of young faces, he added: “It’s a far better path to learning [how to be successful] than shooting off on your own, trying something out and it not working.”

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How Email Open Tracking Quietly Took Over the Web

"I just came across this email," began the message, a long overdue reply. But I knew the sender was lying. He’d opened my email nearly six months ago. On a Mac. In Palo Alto. At night.

I knew this because I was running the email tracking service Streak, which notified me as soon as my message had been opened. It told me where, when, and on what kind of device it was read. With Streak enabled, I felt like an inside trader whenever I glanced at my inbox, privy to details that gave me maybe a little too much information. And I certainly wasn’t alone.

There are some 269 billion emails sent and received daily. That’s roughly 35 emails for every person on the planet, every day. Over 40 percent of those emails are tracked, according to a study published last June by OMC, an “email intelligence” company that also builds anti-tracking tools.

The tech is pretty simple. Tracking clients embed a line of code in the body of an email—usually in a 1×1 pixel image, so tiny it's invisible, but also in elements like hyperlinks and custom fonts. When a recipient opens the email, the tracking client recognizes that pixel has been downloaded, as well as where and on what device. Newsletter services, marketers, and advertisers have used the technique for years, to collect data about their open rates; major tech companies like Facebook and Twitter followed suit in their ongoing quest to profile and predict our behavior online.

But lately, a surprising—and growing—number of tracked emails are being sent not from corporations, but acquaintances. “We have been in touch with users that were tracked by their spouses, business partners, competitors,” says Florian Seroussi, the founder of OMC. “It's the wild, wild west out there.”

According to OMC's data, a full 19 percent of all “conversational” email is now tracked. That’s one in five of the emails you get from your friends. And you probably never noticed.

“Surprisingly, while there is a vast literature on web tracking, email tracking has seen little research,” noted an October 2017 paper published by three Princeton computer scientists. All of this means that billions of emails are sent every day to millions of people who have never consented in any way to be tracked, but are being tracked nonetheless. And Seroussi believes that some, at least, are in serious danger as a result.

As recently as the mid-2000s, email tracking was almost entirely unknown to the mainstream public. Then in 2006, an early tracking service called ReadNotify made waves when a lawsuit revealed that HP had used the product to trace the origins of a scandalous email that had leaked to the press. The intrusiveness (and simplicity) of the tactic came as something of a shock, even though newsletter services, salespeople, and marketers had long used email tracking to gather data.

Seroussi says that Gmail was the ice breaker here—he points back to the days when sponsored links first started showing up in our inboxes, based on tracked data. At the time it seemed invasive, even unsettling. “Now," he says, "it’s common knowledge and everyone’s fine with it.” Gmail’s foray was the signal flare; when advertisers and salespeople realized they too could send targeted ads based on tracked data, with little lasting pushback, the practice grew more pervasive.

“I do not know of a single established sales team in [the online sales industry] that does not use some form of email open tracking,” says John-Henry Scherck, a content marketing pro and the principal consultant at Growth Plays. “I think it will be a matter of time before either everyone uses them,” Scherck says, “or major email providers block them entirely.”

That's partly to do with spam. "Competent spammers will track any activity on your email because they tend to buy entire lists of addresses and will actively try to rule out spam traps or unused emails,” says Andrei Afloarei, a spam researcher with Bitdefender. “If you click on any link in one of their messages they will know your address is being used and might actually cause them to send more spam your way.”

But marketing and online sales—even spammers—are no longer responsible for the bulk of the tracking. "Now, it’s the major tech companies," Seroussi says. "Amazon has been using them a lot, Facebook has been using them. Facebook is the number one tracker besides MailChimp." When Facebook sends you an email notifying you about new activity on your account, "it opens an app in background, and now Facebook knows where you are, the device you’re using, the last picture you’ve taken—they get everything."

Both Amazon and Facebook "deeplink all of the clickable links within the email to trigger actions on their app running on your device," Seroussi says. "Depending on permissions set by the user, Facebook will have access to almost everything from Camera Roll, location, and many other logs that are hidden. But even if a user has disabled location permission on his device, email tracking will bypass this restriction and still provide Facebook with the user's location."

I stumbled upon the world of email tracking last year, while working on a book about the iPhone and the notoriously secretive company that produces it. I’d reached out to Apple to request some interviews, and the PR team had initially seemed polite and receptive. We exchanged a few emails. Then they went radio silent. Months went by, and my unanswered emails piled up. I started to wonder if anyone was reading them at all.

That’s when, inspired by another journalist who’d been stonewalled by Apple, I installed the email tracker Streak. It was free, and took about 30 seconds. Then, I sent another email to my press contact. A notification popped up on my screen: My email had been opened almost immediately, inside Cupertino, on an iPhone. Then it was opened again, on an iMac, and again, and again. My messages were not only being read, but widely disseminated. It was maddening, watching the grey little notification box—“Someone just viewed ‘Regarding book interviews’—pop up over and over and over, without a reply.

So I decided to go straight to the top. If Apple’s PR team was reading my emails, maybe Tim Cook would, too.

I wrote Cook a lengthy email detailing the reasons he should join me for an interview. When I didn’t hear back, I drafted a brief follow-up, enabled Streak, hit send. Hours later, I got the notification: My email had been read. Yet one glaring detail looked off. According to Streak, the email had been read on a Windows Desktop computer.

Maybe it was a fluke. But after a few weeks, I sent another follow up, and the email was read again. On a Windows machine.

That seemed crazy, so I emailed Streak to ask about the accuracy of its service, disclosing that I was a journalist. In the confusing email exchange with Andrew from Support that followed, I was told that Streak is “very accurate,” as it can let you know what time zone or state your lead is in—but only if you’re a salesperson. Andrew stressed that “if you’re a reporter and wanted to track someone's whereabouts, [it’s] not at all accurate.” It quickly became clear that Andrew had the unenviable task of threading a razor thin needle: maintaining that Streak both supplied very precise data but was also a friendly and non-intrusive product. After all, Streak users want the most accurate information possible, but the public might chafe if it knew just how accurate that data was—and considered what it could be used for besides honing sales pitches. This is the paradox that threatens to pop the email tracking bubble as it grows into ubiquity. No wonder Andrew got Orwellian: “Accuracy is entirely subjective,” he insisted, at one point.

Andrew did, however, unequivocally say that if Streak listed the kind of device used—as opposed to listing unknown—then that info was also “very accurate.” Even if pertained to the CEO of Apple.

If Tim Cook is a closet Windows user (who knows! Maybe his Compaq days never fully rubbed off) or even if he outsources his email correspondence to a firm that does, then it’s a fine example of the sort of private data email tracking can dredge up even on our most powerful public figures.

"Look, everybody opens emails, even if they don’t respond to them," Seroussi says. "If you can learn where a celebrity is—or anyone—just by emailing them, it’s a security threat.” It could be used as a tool for stalkers, harassers, even thieves who might be sending you spam emails just to see if you’re home.

"During the 2016 election, we sent a tracked email out to the US senators, and the people running for the presidency," Seroussi says. "We wanted to know, were they doing anything about tracking? Obviously, the answer was no. We typically got the location of their devices, the IP addresses; you could pinpoint almost exactly where they were, which hotels they were staying at."

This is what worries Bitdefender's Afloarei about malicious spammers who use trackers, too. “As for the dangers of being tracked in spam, one must keep in mind the kind of people that do the tracking, and the fact that they can find out your IP address and therefore your location or workplace,” he says. Just by watching you open your email, Afloarei says spammers can learn your schedule (“based on the time you check your email”), your itinerary (based on how you check mail at home, on the bus, or so on), and personal preferences (based on where they harvested the email; say, a sports forum, or a music fansite).

Because so many people can be looked up on social media based on email addresses, or their jobs and locations, Afloarei says it’s "pretty easy" to correlate all the data and track someone down in person. "Granted, most spammers are only interested in getting your credit card or simply getting you infected and part of their botnet, but the truly devious ones can deduct so much information besides all that."

"I always wonder when a big story is going to come out and say that people broke into a house because they used email trackers to know the victims were out of town." – Florian Seroussi, founder of OMC

There’s one more reason to be wary: Email tracking is evolving. Research from October looked at emails from newsletter and mailing list services from the 14,000 most popular websites on the web, and found that 85 percent contained trackers—and 30 percent leak your email addresses to outside corporations, without your consent.

So, if you sign up for a newsletter, even from a trusted source, there’s a one in three chance that the email that newsletter service sends you will be loaded with a tracking image hosted on an outside server, that contains your email address in its code and can then share your email address with a “large network of third parties.” Your email address, in other words, is apt to be shared with tracking companies, marketing firms, and data brokers like Axiom, if you as much as open an email with a tracker, or click on a link inside.

“You can have tens of parties receive your email address,” says Steven Englehart, one of the computer scientists behind the study. “Your email hash is really your identity, right? If you go to a store, make a purchase or sign up for something—everything we do today is associated with your email.” Data brokers have long stockpiled information on consumers through web tracking: browsing habits, personal bios, and location data. But adding an email address into the mix, Englehart says, is even more reason for alarm.

“This kind of tracking creates a big dataset. If a dataset leaks with email hashes, then it’d be trivial for anyone to go see that person’s data, and people would have no idea that data even existed,” he says. “You can compare it to the Experian data leak, which exposed people’s social security numbers, and could cause fraud. In my mind, this leak would be even worse. Because it’s not just financial fraud, but intimate details of people’s lives.”

Given the risks, perhaps what’s most striking about the rise of ubiquitous email tracking is how relatively quietly it’s happened—even in a moment marked by increased awareness of security issues.

"It’s shifted. It’s more and more used in conversational threads. In business emails. This is what scares us the most," Seroussi says. "One out of six people that emails you is sending a tracker, and it’s real life"—not marketing, not spammers. “It could be your friend, your wife, your boss, this number is really mind boggling—you give up a lot of privacy just opening emails."

After the Great Tim Cook Email Tracking Incident, I left Streak on. I’d found, grudgingly, that it was useful; it was sometimes more efficient to know when sources had read my email and when I might need to nudge them again. But because I was using the same Gmail account for personal and professional use, I ended up tracking friends and family, too. That’s when I saw how starkly tracking violates the lightly-coded social norms of email etiquette. I watched close friends read an email and not respond for days. I saw right through every white lie about email (about not receiving it, or it getting stuck in the spam folder). Sure, it’s occasionally nice; you can get a rough sense of how many people read the latest update to the weekend plans on a thread, and you can feel confident that your brother isn’t blowing you off, he’s just really bad at reading email. But it mostly serves to add yet another unnecessary layer of expectation onto our already notification-addled lives, another social metric to fret over, and another box to click on feverishly whenever it arrives. Not to mention a tinge of surreptitious digital voyeurism.

"Most consumers don’t understand just how much information they are giving up." — marketing consultant John-Henry Scherck

Clearly, this is a situation that the tracking outfits want to avoid. They’ve kept mostly to the shadows, harvesting useful sales data and email open rate info without causing too many ripples; the last thing they want is for their products to be deemed invasive or spyware. This, however, puts them in a deeply awkward position: In order to stand out amongst a burgeoning field of email tracking services, they need to tout their accuracy and ease of use—while somehow giving the public the impression the data they’re soaking up isn’t a threat.

As the number of easy-to-use, free tracking products proliferates—some email clients are beginning to simply ship with tracking features, as Airmail did in 2016—we’re going to have to contend with a digital social landscape where there’s an insurgent mix of trackers and trackees. And, increasingly—anti-trackers.

If you don’t want people to know your precise whereabouts whenever you glance at a specially priced offer for a cruise featuring your favorite 90s alt rock bands; if you’d rather Facebook not harvest your device data every time a former high school classmate inveighs against Trump in a comment on one of your vacation pics; if you’re the CEO of one of the top technology companies in the world and you’d rather not be associated with using a rival’s product—you have options.

A host of anti-tracking services have sprung up to combat the rising tide of inbox tracers—from Ugly Mail, to PixelBlock, to Senders. Ugly Mail notifies you when an email is carrying a tracking pixel, and PixelBlock prevents it from opening. Senders makes use of a similar product formerly known as Trackbuster, as part of service that displays info (Twitter, LinkedIn account, etc) about the sender of the email you’re reading. Using these services, I spotted more than a few acquaintances and even some contacts I consider friends using tracking in their correspondence.

But even those methods aren't foolproof. Tracking methods are always evolving and improving, and finding ways around the current crop of track-blockers. “It’s a fight we’re having over the last couple of years,” Seroussi says. “They can’t counter all the methods that we know—so they get around the block by setting up new infrastructures. It’s a chase, they’re doing a job.”

To prevent third-parties from leaking your email, meanwhile, Princeton’s Englehart says “the only surefire solution right now is to block images by default.” That is, turn on image-blocking in your email client, so you can’t receive any images at all.

OMC has found dozens of novel methods that newfangled trackers are using to get your email open info. “We found 70 different ways where they use tracking,” Seroussi says, “Sometimes it’s a color, sometimes it’s a font, sometimes it’s a pixel, and sometimes it’s a link.” It’s an arms race, and one side has an immense advantage.

When Seroussi debuted Trackbuster in 2014, he was expecting a few hundred downloads. Within hours, he’d had 12,000. People who knew about email tracking—often trackers themselves, ironically—were eager for a way to quash it. Still, other trackers are furious with what the track-blockers are doing. “We receive death threats,” he says, more agitated than angered. It’s the wild west, after all. “They’ve been trying to destroy us for two years.”

Scherck, the marketing consultant, thinks that Google could up and kill email tracking altogether. “I do think public opinion could turn on email tracking, especially if Gmail started alerting users to tracking by default inside of Gmail with pop ups, or some native version of Ugly Email,” he says. “Just look at how consumers have turned on Facebook for their advertising. People absolutely hated that Uber was buying data on who was using Lyft from Unroll.me.” It would only take a strong enough nudge. “Most consumers don’t understand just how much information they are giving up,” he says.

If Google and the other big tech firms won’t budge, though, Seroussi believes the problem is serious enough to warrant government intervention. “If the big companies don’t want to do something about it, there should be a law defining certain kinds of tracking,” he says. And if nothing is done at all, Seroussi thinks it’s only a matter of time before email tracking is used for malign purposes, potentially in a very public way. “I always wonder when a big story is going to come out and say that people broke into a house because they used email trackers to know the victims were out of town,” he says. “It’s probably already happened.”

As for me, I was tired of all the tracking. After a couple months of ambiguous insights, I didn’t want to know who was opening my emails and not replying anymore. I didn’t want to wait, strung-out-like, for a notification to ring in a response from a crucial source. I didn’t want to feel like I was breaking the rules of whatever slipshod digital social compact we’ve got; my semi-spying days were done. I deleted Streak, and left Senders running—and kept a screenshot of Tim Cook’s Windows on my desktop as a souvenir.

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How I Used Fake Reviews For Tons Of Free Crap

Hey, did you know that you can get your stuff published online, where millions can view it? Good god, you might even be paid for it. And what’s more, the feedback you get may propel you to even greater heights as a writer! Well, maybe you did know that. But maybe that’s not for you. Maybe you’re looking for a bunch of free crap that involves zero work and a whole lot of deception. Good news: That’s an option as well, because the internet is both the greatest tool for communication and an endless source of villainy. As we found out when Brian Penny told us about how …

6

Unpaid Bloggers And Uncurated Work Are A Recipe For Disaster

When my personal blog got some attention in 2013 and The Huffington Post invited me to write for them, I felt really proud at first. Wasn’t this the outlet that had just won a Pulitzer? (It was!) And wasn’t this one of the most read sites in the world? (Sort of!)

Truly, this was an honor.

Then you really take a look at the site and realize how little of it is of any substance. Go to the front page and you’ll get a story taken straight from Reuters — which is a legitimate way of spreading the news, sure, but HuffPost doesn’t deserve credit for that. Then you get a political report that’s a direct rewording of someone else’s linked article, which in turn just reports a single line from a CNN interview. Another article, credited to a “HuffPost reporter,” is 60 words introducing a GIF someone else made, then embedding various reaction tweets. And then come the various pieces that do nothing but summarize late-night comedy videos.

And that’s the sort of high-quality content HuffPost values most — that is to say, the stuff produced by the staff, whom the site pays. In addition to all that, the site uses bloggers (9,000 when I was there), and they aren’t paid at all. They’re just supposed to be thankful for the privilege of writing for such a platform, and for the exposure they’ll receive. HuffPost laughs off criticism that they’re exploiting these bloggers — “when John Kerry writes an op-ed for us, he’s not angling to make $50,” they say. But these bloggers very much do want to be compensated, as hinted at when they put together a class-action lawsuit.

So I had a prestigious position, but no money. Hence, I was eager to monetize my HuffPost platform …

5

Any Given Blog Post Might Be Written By A Marketing Company

Along with writing for Huffington Post, I was also trying to make a living. So every morning, I would wake up and check the job boards at sites like Mediabistro, Freelance Writing Gigs, Craigslist, and Indeed, trying to find anyone to pay me to write. I used my HuffPost links to show proof of my abilities. And while I didn’t get many offers of the kind I wanted, it wasn’t long before SEO and content marketing firms offered to pay me to post articles on the site.

At first I was insulted. I wanted to be a journalist, not some schmuck selling links to the highest bidder. Having no experience in media or marketing, I didn’t understand how blurred the lines really were to these people. But one day, struggling to make ends meet, I threw out what I thought was an impossible number, having only been paid $15-$50 per article for writing up to that point. I responded to a handful of offers explaining that I would happily post an article on HuffPost, but it had to be written for me, and I wouldn’t do it for less than $150.

To my surprise, one very eager SEO consultant responded with several articles written and ready to post. I ran with it and put out feelers for more, gradually increasing my asking price each time to $200, $250, $300. By the end of one month, I was making $500 a pop to post articles I had nothing to do with. I did about a dozen of these articles in total, and made about $4,000 in 90 days. The articles were well-written, so the interns on the blog team had no reason to question why a guy who’d previously blogged about whistleblowing was writing articles about Blake Shelton’s Pepsi concert series, artificial grass, or VOIP phone services.

4

Bloggers Make A Killing Leeching Off The Convention Circuit

It didn’t last long. By the end of the year, the editors had caught on. I was banned from HuffPost, because posting affiliate links and promotional material violated their terms of service. But then came the next phase of my “career.”

By February 2014, I had another paying gig and was offered a free ticket to the Denver Cannabis Cup and Snoop Dogg’s accompanying concert. Unfortunately, the deal fell through, but I wasn’t about to give up. I ended up sneaking into the Cannabis Cup and BIG Industry Show, and was given a free press pass (which was actually a vendor pass, as even High Times was still figuring things out back then). Realizing I’d stumbled on something, I pulled up the Trade Show News Network and hunted down trade shows for every industry I was interested in, sending my Main Street and Huffington Post articles as proof that I was a “legitimate journalist.” Soon, I was registered as media for E3, CES, CTIA’s Super Mobility Week, GDC, Outdoor Retailer, and a dozen more.

At shows like E3 or the Cannabis Cup, media is nothing, but at a show like CES, a press pass made me someone every single booth wanted to talk to. And my first thought was to use this attention in a relatively honest, aimless, and (to be perfectly frank) pathetic way. Since I had no journalistic experience, I told any interested parties that I was a blogger, and asked them for a job. No one offered me one, but some did hand me swag. For example, although video game companies treated the media like garbage at E3, I still managed to get enough free game codes to feel good about the expense of the trip to Los Angeles.

At Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2014, I was finally bored enough to keep a few appointments, and began to notice how hard the PR reps were trying to get products into my hands. I’d be there sipping champagne and eating lobster rolls (that’s what convention planners hand out when they want people to feel fancy) at sponsored events held by c-suite marketing reps for REI and LL Bean, while they pitched me what I first assumed was some type of timeshare pyramid scheme. “Take a look at these binoculars!” one would say, trying to give me a pair, even though I had no free hand. “You want to review these? You get to keep ’em, no problem.” My instinct was to ask them if LL Bean HQ had any positions open for “staff blogger,” but then I realized how I could be really using these companies.

3

Many Product Reviews Are Just For Free Stuff

On a whim, in June 2016, I decided to log back into HuffPost to see if enough time had passed that I could get away with publishing another article. In their back end was an invite to use the new posting platform. I entered my email, and to my delight, I was granted posting access once again, this time without any editor checking my work before it went live. I quickly copied and pasted a couple of articles from my blog to test the waters.

In mid-October 2016, while everyone else in this country was engaged in heated debates over Hillary or Donald, I was contacting every PR agency and marketing department on the planet with this request:

PR reps responded. As soon as they saw “Huffington Post” in the email, they knew it was their opportunity for free media. Everyone wanted to have their products featured with anchor links in the largest blog online. It was the holy grail of SEO.

I published over 100 of these “articles.” They started out as poor man’s reviews, but as more and more products were coming in, it became a full-time job just receiving and tracking them, much less using them and creating, formatting, and publishing the blogs. I continued pushing the boundaries and skipped the “review” process entirely, simply collecting products into “gift guides” and other listicles. HuffPost loves listicles, and the PR people couldn’t have cared less how they were featured, as long as they got that anchor link.

From October 2016 through March 2017, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a brand or product I hadn’t reached. For six straight months, FedEx, UPS, USPS, and even DHL were dropping off between five and ten packages a day from all over the world. I was given the latest phones, laptops, speakers, IoT tech, headphones, the finest whiskies, wines, and rums, music instruments, baby gear, jewelry, vape pens, cameras, appliances, collectibles, home furnishings, camping gear, drones, clothes, even food. Overall, I was able to sell over $3,000 worth of merchandise on eBay, and made another $2,000 on Craigslist. (Which didn’t nearly cover all of it … read on to find out what happened to the rest.)


“17 Products That I Guess Are Good. I Did Ask For Them.”

Some companies even sent me stuff that money couldn’t buy. I’ve always been a pirate and file-sharing enthusiast, so I signed up for the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show as news media, and found my way into movie and TV studio mailing lists. A Fox PR person sent me a screener for an upcoming movie as though I, random internet guy, were some critic of great influence. Did I enjoy watching this forgettable James Franco comedy? God no — I didn’t even last ten minutes through it. But I sure got off on seeing my name added as an official watermark, and you better believe my web developer friend and I dissected this private website.


This is the exact sort of ethical breach Bryan Cranston warned us about.

2

Don’t Worry, I Did Get My Comeuppance

I had to write blogs about the products I was receiving, and I had to promote it all on social media. I also had to use the products to write anything about them, so I was multitasking by walking around with a new phone, outfit, headphones, bike, etc. every other day. On top of this, if I wasn’t home in time for the deliveries, boxes would pile up out front very quickly.

Everyone who knew me personally was asking for free goodies — everyone knew I was self-employed and doing this on my own, and they wanted my stuff. And I did give plenty away, because really, what was I supposed to do with three different juicers? I gave away over $10,000 in merchandise like mesh networks, power tools, essential oils/colognes/perfumes, winter gear, speakers, headphones, and security cameras to friends, family, and general hangers-on.

I was subletting a room, and seeing a man go from living in a van to working from home and being showered in free stuff was too much for my roommates to handle, no matter how much I shared with them. Pretty soon, they started helping themselves to the lot and selling items on Craigslist and eBay themselves. My three roommates walked away with over $2,000 each in fitness trackers, Bluetooth accessories, VR gear, food, and liquor.

By March, I had lost a clear majority of the products that came in. I moved to get away from the house of thieves, but too many packages were coming in from too many senders using too many services, and I couldn’t contact everyone to reroute it, so a lot of it just disappeared. In the midst of everything, my van broke down and had to be towed to the junkyard, as I couldn’t afford the repairs. I may have been drinking $400 whiskey, but I’d still neglected to make any actual money out of all these shenanigans. I moved in with someone else, and less than two months later, he pulled the same stunt. I found myself sleeping on the streets for two days before finding a ride to Phoenix with a real friend to crash on his floor and figure things out.

1

I Might Just Do It All Again

HuffPost’s blog team finally noticed what I was using their site for and removed my access once again, even going so far as to delete my posts. But the blogs that predated their new system — even the ad ones, the ones I was originally banned for — are still live, because they don’t know what they’re doing.

I now don’t own a couch — couches are expensive — but I rotate between three $300 hammocks. Realizing that I don’t have the ethics to be a journalist, I looked for something new, and became the ultimate sellout: a spin doctor for a marketing agency. But it turned out neither media nor marketing aligns with my ethical boundaries, so I quit that as well.

Still, if I’m being honest with myself, I’d do it all again. In fact, I probably will. The tech editor at Time connected with me on Facebook during her search for a tech product reviewer. I also got an email inviting me into HuffPost’s Canada CMS system while writing this, so here we go again.

Brian Penny is a former business analyst and operations manager at Countrywide and Bank of America turned whistleblower and freelance writer. Here’s his blog. Ryan Menezes is an editor and interviewer here at Cracked. Follow him on Twitter for bits cut from this article and other stuff no one should see.

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This venture-backed company just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to resolve a patent dispute

In the world of venture-funded companies, not much surprises industry observers. Yet anew strategy employed by one privately held companymight have founders and venture investors wondering if its a maneuverworth replicating.

What happened: The U.S. subsidiary of aventure-backed Berlin-based search optimization company called Searchmetrics just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Delaware.

What its interesting: Sources close to Searchmetrics say the company was forced to file to escape a longstanding battle with venture-backedcompetitor BrightEdge, based in Menlo Park. Specifically, Searchmetrics allegesthat BrightEdge stole itsintellectual property, then filed for patents around it. (Searchmetrics says it had patents on its technology in Europe but failed to secure similar patents in the U.S., which created an opening for BrightEdge to exploit.)

Heres how Searchmetricsschief restructuring officer, Wayne Weitz, describes the companies rivalry in a letter he submitted to the court today: One of the [Searchmetricss] primary competitors in the U.S. market is BrightEdge Technologies [which] sought to acquire or merge with Searchmetrics in or about October of 2013. During acquisition discussions, BrightEdge became privy to Searchmetrics confidential, proprietary, competitive information and business practices, including its business model and growth plans. Ultimately, Searchmetrics and BrightEdge could not agree on terms and the acquisition discussions fell apart.

Unbeknownst to Searchmetrics, whilst in the midst of the acquisition discussions, BrightEdge developed a campaign to eliminate [Searchmetricss]presence in the U.S. market. BrightEdge started by engaging in a smear campaign designed to lure the Debtors customers and prospective customers to BrightEdge by making false and disparaging statements about Searchmetricss products, and then initiated vexatious, baseless, and prolonged litigation against [Searchmetrics] on two fronts. This Chapter 11 Case was initiated to bring [this litigation]to an expeditious and cost-effective end to permit the Debtor to reorganize, failing which, [Searchmetrics]will be liquidated.

Searchmetrics employees 250 people altogether; its U.S. subsidiary employs 40, mostly marketing and sales staff whoare located primarily in San Mateo, Ca.

One source tells us that with the exception of one or two people, the companys U.S.-based employees are paid on salary and commissions, so arent at risk of seeing their equity impacted by the filing. (Typically, in such a proceeding, theres little to nothing left for shareholders oncemore senior creditors are paid. In this case, BrightEdge would be considered a creditor, though Searchmetrics is hoping to pay it a whole lot less than BrightEdge might win in a patent suit.)

Themove is far from certain to work. Richard Kanowitz, a New York attorney who specializes in bankruptcies on behalf of Cooley, notes that, With bankruptcy, theres an automatic stay, but whether that stay holds is another story. (We should add we merely asked Kanowitz whether he thought it was unusual for a venture-backed company to file for bankruptcy protection to spare itself from a patent lawsuit. He wasnt aware of the companies involved at the time.)

Stephen Lubben, an expert on bankruptcy who teaches corporate governance and business ethics at Seton Hall Law School, meanwhile observes that yes, bankruptcy filings by venture capital-backed companies are rare, particularly in California, where thestrong preference is to do an assignment for the benefit of creditors that allowsbackers more say in howtosave their investments.

But also speaking generally and not specifically about these two companies, Lubben says thatbankruptcy filings solely to address a single piece of litigation are dicey. The court might dismiss the filing as being in bad faith. The company will have to show some other reason for needing to reorganize, and that its not just trying to stiff a single creditor.

Asked for a comment about its Chapter 11 strategy, a Searchmetrics spokesman wrote in an email to usthat the U.S. subsidiary cannot invest properly in growing its business despite longstanding customer approval of our Searchmetrics products, a deep pipeline that brings new innovations in online content marketing, and a great relationship with our parent company, while trying to fend off BrightEdge.

Meanwhile, asked for his reaction, BrightEdge founder and CEO Jim Yu saidvia email:BrightEdge does not comment on the substance of pending litigation.

Ten-year-old Searchmetrics has raised roughly $32 million from investors, shows Crunchbase. Its backers include Holtzbrinck Digital, Iris Capital and Kreos Capital, among others.

BrightEdge, also founded 10 years ago, has raised around $62 million, according to Crunchbase. Its investors include Illuminate Ventures, Insight Venture Partners, Intel Capital, Altos Partners and Battery Ventures.

You can read through Searchmetricss court filings here.

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