Exploring Linkedin

LinkedIn

I am starting to investigate Linkedin. Or is it LinkedIn? Like the freelance sites (internal link), it is another odd world to explore, with its own navigation and features. I say odd because there are so many people there that I don’t know, and have really no connection to. But perhaps I do know them. Perhaps they have been a reader of privateline.com, which at its height attracted two million hits in 2003. Or perhaps they read my hardcopy magazine. In any case, I continue to add information to my Linkedin profile, which I hope will not take people away from this site, which is really my best connection to the writing world. Let me know if you have had any good experiences with Linkedin: thomasguyfarley@gmail.com

private line magazine covers

Are we writing for readers or search engines?

This is from a recent job posting on a freelance site. I think it explains itself:

“I am interested in having 30 pages created ranging between 300 – 800 words per page, containing the various keywords and phrases identified by me. The content can be found / borrowed / and compiled from other web sources (but MUST pass Copyscape) and does not have to be grammatically or structurally perfect – just have keywords in the headlines and throughout the articles.”

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Random thoughts on internet writing

I’m getting more used to the rushed pace of internet writing. From scratch, an original 500 to 750 word article now takes me about two hours to write. That’s if there are plenty of resources on the net to aid with the research. Mind you, the quality won’t be that of The New Yorker or Harpers Magazine. But that’s not what you are getting on the net. What you are getting are workmanlike articles, stuff that’s sturdy enough to be useful to most readers and something the search engines will recognize as worthy of ranking. You are not getting Dostoevsky or Thoreau nor is there a need for that. Increasingly, the net is consumed in bite sized chunks, small paragraphs, often scanned and not read for its literary value. It is delightful when we do find fine writing, but that is not what most web site owners are paying for. And its not what we writers can hope to achieve in the time given us. Which brings me to another point.

I think that one reason the internet pays so little is because the writing only has to be average. And there are tens of millions of average writers. Many writers in Pakistan, India, and the Philippines have a good grasp of English and can write competent articles with just a little direction. Instead of competing against other writers in the English speaking world, we authors now contest against all those who know English as a second language. And there is no way we can compete on price against someone in the developing world. Where native English speakers can find a market are employers like law firms and other high-end services which demand that the wording on their sites be exact. I think it is within this niche that I will be successful. Now, some self promotion.

My brother Dave says that freelancers and independent contractors would go broke if they had only one client. Even though I am now working primarily for one company, I am still soliciting work from other firms. I would be happy to draft an article for you, gratis, based on your requirements. If that trial article seems acceptable then we could talk about further work. I’ve added a gmail account to my contact choices. Feel free to write me at thomasguyfarley@gmail.com. Thank you.

snoop

Learning collaborative software

As a freelance article writer I worked on one project at a time with a single person in mind, the editor. (And, of course, too, my readers.) Now, working as an independent contractor, I am part of a multi-national team with a manager, many writers, and a website designer. Each of us are in different time zones, each of us trying to create the best possible web work for clients scattered across two countries. How do we keep things straight? The answer is collaborative software. And while we’re not yet masters of the program, we have a goal and we’re steadily working toward it.

The program we’re using is called Wrike (external link), and eventually we hope to bring together all of our complex tasks within its secure framework. Every e-mail, file edit, brainstorming session, and task assignment will be coordinated using Wrike’s eco-system. If it’s not done in Wrike it won’t exist.

Like any new program, there is a learning curve. To me, Wrike’s interface is daunting at first because of all the similarly shaped rectangles it employs to present information. Within those shapes are photos and icons of people and folder trees and different colors competing for attention. I sometime feel like I am a novice pilot looking over the dashboard or control surfaces of a 747. Sure, the plane is capable of flying halfway around the world. But where is the on switch?

Workspace_in_Wrike

One thing Wrike is already helping with is tracking files. You don’t have to wonder who has the current document. Wrike keeps track of that and leaves a well documented trail of where it was and who has it now. Better yet, with Microsoft Office documents you can edit a file on-line.  A lock icon notes if someone is working on the file, thus preventing one person from overwriting another’s work. Multiple versions are kept along the way, so you can always go back to previous versions. The original file is always safely stored at the beginning of the task process. A system of privileges allow clients to view their projects and to make comments.

I think the efficiencies gained by the program are going to be well worth the time spent learning it. We may use just a tiny percentage of its capabilities, but the benefits will be huge. I welcome any comments you may have in working with Wrike.

Copyscape, Google search, and Unique Pages

I’m learning about Copyscape (external link) and I am confused. I have many questions, but are they the right ones?

Copyscape is a web service that detects plagiarism on the net. It also reports on whether submitted content is unique. First things first.

Let’s say you have a web page that’s been on-line for a while. You want to know if people are copying its content. You enter your URL into Copyscape’s interface and it will return, if you are unlucky, a list of pages that are plagiarizing your writing.

Copyscape’s Premium service goes further. Submit content into its search field and it will tell you if that writing already exists on web pages and to what degree. It’s a good checker for a teacher to validate the originality of an essay, or a web site builder to check on whether a freelance has provided their own work. Using methods I don’t completely understand, it will return a percentage rating. “Your content is 32% unique.” Or 7%. Or whatever. To demonstrate that rating, Copyscape will show you the pages where copied work appears and it will highlight the exact words and phrases it has problems with. What’s my problem? Let me give you a typical example, and, again, I am only slowly understanding this technology.

If you are a dentist in Sacramento, California, you probably already have a website with the usual pages. You have an “About” page, a “Home” page, a “FAQ” and so on. To make your site more appealing to the search engines, you might have some pages on the general practice of dentistry, original content, written for your site to add value to your readers. Now we get tricky.

Your practice has grown and you are expanding to three more cities. Naturally you’d like to port the content that you’ve paid for to the new websites you’re building for each new office. Apparently that won’t make the search engines happy. They don’t like to see copied text and will rank the new sites much lower than they should be. Google will run a Copyscape like search across the web, see what it thinks is plagiarized or copied content, and whoosh, down goes your ranking.

Despite Google’s supposed super-sophistication, it can’t see that your websites are all run by the same group. Or perhaps it sees that they are but still insists that each page be individual. What it considers, as does Copyscape, “Unique.” What, then is “Unique?” Is 60% unique good enough for Google? Or does it have to be 90% unique? Does one have to rewrite every single duplicate page for every website? Can I just rearrange the sentence structure or do I have to build each page anew? Good questions. All I can find out is that it all depends. Good grief.

I’ll have more on this in future posts as I struggle to understand it more. It appears that rephrasing and rewording are not good enough. In those cases you are not adding anything to something that has already been written. You are not bringing anything new. And, no, it can’t be just fluff or padding. One forum had this quote, which is pointing me in the direction I will continue investigating. “There is no content on the web, not even peer reviewed articles, that are 100% unique. The uniqueness or the originality of content lies in your ability to add some information or value to what others have done.”

Resources:

An excellent page on search and the quality of unique: http://brandongaille.com/unique-content-seo-techniques/

Update: April 6, 2015. Does the word unique mean the same thing to Google and Copyscape? I don’t know. I will be looking into that.

Crafting a proposal to a Freelance site

On rare occasion I get invited to bid on a job at one of the freelance sites (internal link). I hesitate to put much time in responding because one rarely gets work through these venues, never-the-less, an invitation means that the employer is already interested. So, why not? The following was a proposal I sent in for a blog on Amish furniture. I think I brought up the right amount of questions and concerns and I also think I made some good suggestions. I never heard back from these people so, once again, I am unable to tell you why the proposal was rejected. What would you have added or taken away?

Thanks for the invitation to bid on your work.

Generating compelling text shouldn’t be a problem, as the Amish and their furniture could produce a long line of stories. What are you looking for in a typical post? Two hundred and fifty to three hundred words? That might be a nice, bite-sized length for small features on everything from dove-tail joints, Amish furniture history, furniture styles, the different woods used, and so on. As you mentioned in your invite, a questionnaire about your company would also generate stories, as perhaps some profiles of your best customers. What do they collect and why? Everyone likes to be interviewed. Profiles of individual workers or communities would provide human interest stories if such contact were allowed. Which brings me to my real question: what can be provided to the blog?

You mention videos, photographs, and animations. I’ve worked in all three. But based in California such as I am, how would I have access to take such photographs and videos? Or to interview individual craftsman, such as would be permitted? They don’t use the telephone, do they? Or are some of your makers Mennonites? I understand they may make a more liberal use of technology. If our contract was for a long time, say a year or so, it is possible I could come out to Iowa City, or wherever you are based, to take a great deal of photographs and shoot a quantity of video, all to be banked for further use.

One more thing. Cost. I assume you are talking about $500 to $1000 a month, correct? Or are you suggesting a fixed price contract? Let me know and let’s consider this current message to you as an opening to a larger discussion. Best regards and again thanks for the invitation. Thomas Farley

amishchair

Another query letter

Here’s another query letter that didn’t find acceptance. It’s about weather balloons, a story I thought Smithsonian Magazine (external link) would be interested in. They weren’t. Still, at least you can tell what one writer’s approach is. How would you go about it?

They’ve been accused of spying, mistaken for UFOs, and their contents can be returned by mail, postage paid. What are they? Weather balloons. Twice a day, every day, 92 National Weather Service stations send these balloons skyward, some 70,000 launches a year. The radiosonde dangling beneath the balloon relays basic, vital forecasting elements: wind speed, barometric pressure, temperature, and relative humidity. Information from these balloons is currently woven into nearly every weather forecast. NOAA states that weather balloons and their payloads will be used for years to come. Since everyone has an interest in the weather, I think this subject would make for a fascinating feature article. One treatise puts it this way:

” The contributions of this relatively simple device [the radiosonde] to the late twentieth-century way of life can hardly be exaggerated. No other factor contributed more to the systematization of weather observations, which is beneficial to all who depend upon meteorological prediction. The . . . radiosonde directly affected agriculture and aeronautics, and its more sophisticated offspring made possible many of the marvels of the space age.”

The last Smithsonian article on weather balloons and their payloads appears to be “How’s the Weather Up There?” in Air and Space Smithsonian in 1999. The Invention and Development of the Radiosonde, published in 2002 by Smithsonian Institution Press, and quoted above, is the definitive work on weather balloon technology; I would greatly rely on it for its authoritative, accurate history. Along with a technology review, I would include weather balloon news stories; many colorful tales exist, from the Khrushchev administration’s spy accusations to the Roswell incident. I could also attend a live launch and report on it. E-mail me for a more complete query. Thank you!