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Getting Back at Those Annoying Calls (Kitboga)

Your phone rings.

It looks like a local number, so you pick it up. A robocall begins.

Uh-oh. Turns out you didn’t pay your taxes, and the CRA is after you! In fact, if you don’t pay within the next couple hours, the police will come and arrest you! Well, no one wants that of course.

Oh, but don’t worry. If you simply go to your nearest Walmart and buy $500 in Google Play cards, that’ll settle the debt.

Oops, looks like they’re all out. Good thing the CRA takes iTunes gift cards as payment as well.

Really?

It’s hard to imagine that people still fall these kinds of scams in this day and age, but the reason that these calls keep coming is obviously because people do. In fact, scam calls across Canada have been on the rise lately, particularly after the introduction of all these pandemic benefits, and the general confusion about eligibility.

The sad thing is that even though most people can spot these scams from a mile away, it’s the ones that are least able to that get ripped off the hardest.

Sometimes they’re kids that don’t know any better and are easily frightened by these threatening messages. Or they’re older people that are suffering from some level of mental decline. Scammers take advantage of these groups, and even if just a fraction of those get scammed, it still makes them millions.

There’s something that’s incredibly wrong about this, not just the fact that it’s a crime. Some people have lost their entire life’s savings in an instant, and they’re typically the people that are already struggling to feed themselves. And yet the fact they continue, many of them without remorse, is abhorrent.

However, it turns out that there’s quite a few people on the internet that are trying to turn the tables, to some extent.

Kitboga is a streamer that also posts material on YouTube, and his entire platform is dedicated to wasting scammers’ time. He purposely calls these scammers and plays along with their scams, but in a way that drags out the scenario. Whether he pretends to be a granny that has absolutely no idea what’s going on, or a clueless grandpa with an attitude, it’s funny the different kinds of personas that he puts on.

He’s got the perfect sound effects to go along with his stories, and sometimes even special guests that play other characters on the call. It’s also pretty amazing how smoothly he can play different characters and have them all talk to each other so naturally.

He gets them to stay on the phone for hours, and I mean hours. There was one where he managed to get half a call centre on the phone for several days, desperately trying to get him to part with his money (which they were obviously unsuccessful at doing).

Here’s one that I really enjoyed, it’s a long one but it’s funny throughout, especially at the end when they finally realize they’re not getting their money after spending a ridiculous amount of time on the phone. I want to feel sorry for the guy, but at the same time, not really.

I obviously wouldn’t recommend that you try something like this at home, because he’s a professional at this. He’s got equipment that changes his voice and makes sure that no real data is being lost or recorded on his computer when he does these videos. In fact, the recommendation from experts is simply to not pick up these calls and hang up immediately if you do.

There’s also a thing called the national Do-Not-Call registry, which in theory is supposed to stop telemarketers from contacting you. But I’ve heard of people that end up getting called anyway, so it’s hard to say how effective that is, especially if they are spoofing phone numbers.

But as an honourable mention, Jim Browning is another YouTuber aims to scam the scammers. His videos are not comedic, but rather focused more on the technical aspects, like locking the scammers out of their own computers remotely or running malware on their systems. I would also recommend his channel; he’s been doing great work, and even got a call centre busted by authorities.

Anyway, I’ve had enough with these scam calls, and I hope law enforcement will finally find a way to take them down more efficiently.

But for once, it’s nice to see that the scammers are the ones getting frustrated.

Link to channel here.

How People Read Online

This week’s discussion is something that I actually remember thinking about in the past.

Although I can’t recall specifically, I believe that the first time I heard of this discussion was in another writing course, which was again, for the purposes of teaching us about proper design of documents – because it’s something that content creators are aware of, but most of us don’t realize.

At the end of the day, people are human. People can get tired or distracted, and certainly there isn’t always an incentive for people to read word for word. In a sense, it’s almost understandable, since most people are able to get a good idea of a piece by using certain shortcuts, and any method that can save time people are bound to do it.

For example, I wasn’t overly surprised to learn in lecture that we apparently only spend 10 seconds scanning the title and the headline, because I can certainly see myself doing that. Before I even begin reading an article, I skim through the entire thing quickly just to get a sense of what it’s about. The reason is obvious: you don’t want to invest a ton of time on something that may more may not pique your interest.

However, I’ll admit that sometimes I miss out on good content/commentary, simply because the site was not designed in a way that is intuitive or gave a good indication of what it’s about.

Another interesting thing that Suzanne mentioned was the F reading pattern, particularly how people may read in a spotted pattern. That describes when people skip over big chunks of text, as though they’re looking for something specific.

Again, this is something that I often do, especially if I don’t have enough time to go over something. My eyes might skip over certain words that I feel are fluff, so that I can get a general sense of what something is about.

This heatmap is pretty clear at showing that people don’t read entire pieces consistently. I’ve definitely thought about design a little more now, although sometimes it’s difficult. Although I want to make sure to cater to readers using “shortcuts”, at the same time, I don’t want to cut out content that I want to include, just for that purpose.

Multiple Media

In a related discussion, we highlighted the importance of integrating other forms of media into my site. This is something that I’ve definitely been thinking about over the past few weeks as the infrastructure and content of the site became more settled.

In terms of what channel I would focus on, I think a video-based source, like YouTube, would be a good compliment to my blog. I’ve considered social media like Instagram, but I find that it’s more helpful for spotlighting certain things over others. For example, if this blog was more about my personal life, or something more related to my hobbies, then I feel that platform would be ideal. It’s a great way to share photos and short stories to keep readers up to date about you.

However, for what I’m producing, which focuses more on in-depth reviews of content, I think that a video medium would be most helpful. It can let me explore methods that I’m not currently able to do in a 2 dimensional platform, and also allow me to add more commentary than I normally would be able to (for the sake of keeping things relatively concise).

Part of why I want to integrate multiple platforms is demonstrated through the readings this week. Although my blog/platform is unlikely to get the same level of attention as Pokémon, the level of integration is certainly something that I would like to aspire to. It almost “locks in” visitors to your ecosystem of media, which encourages them to further engage and share the content that you produce.

Therefore, this is definitely one channel that I would like to include, particularly in my spare time even after the end of the semester.

Primitive Technology

Do you remember watching the Flintstones as a kid? It was always fun to see how they managed to live without technology, and yet somehow be able to do it in their unique way.

For example, using a small elephant to spit water out of their trunk in place of a sink. Or of course, the famous foot-powered cars, which I always thought was weird – they only needed to do that running thing at the beginning when accelerating, but when the car was in motion, they didn’t seem to need to do anything and drive it normally. If that were the case, then we definitely need some of that tech today, it would definitely save me a ton on gas.

The worst part must be stopping the car, Fred always uses his heels so his foot must be completely raw. Couldn’t they just clamp a stone to the wheels or something? Actually, that’s basically how disk brakes work…

Nonetheless, it’s safe to say that the Flintstones-style technology probably wasn’t around in the early days of humanity.

But people got around somehow, and must’ve been able to build shelters, or tools, or basic goods to survive. Even if they weren’t able to produce the same type of intricate goods that we have today, surely, we can crudely recreate some of them just by using natural materials and today’s knowledge?

I came across a channel called Primitive Technology, which delves into many of these topics. He’s been putting out videos for a couple of years now, and each of them features a different project. The unique thing about his videos is that he accomplishes all of these projects only by using natural materials – dirt, wood, straw, rocks, and that’s about it.

Just using those resources, he’s managed to create some fantastic work. For example, here’s a video of him building a small hut from scratch.

Over time he’s created weapons, tools, huts, resources, and many other things. It’s actually quite incredible how he manages to do it, to not only have the time and patience to dedicate to such a project, but to also come up with new ideas for builds.

It also raises a question: how well would you be able to survive in the wilderness with little to no resources?

Typically, this question is asked in the context of what would you do if you got lost. Most of us would probably learn how to maximize chances of getting rescued, for example, staying with your vehicle (if you were driving), or by wearing high-visibility clothing.

However, that’s always the assumption that you will need to be rescued. It makes sense since it’s practically impossible to survive on your own nowadays outside of civilization.

But what if help never comes, or that you need to live on your own for an extended period of time? It’s interesting that we’ve lived that way for thousands upon thousands of years, yet very few of us today would probably be able to survive without modern amenities.

There’s actually a sad story about a fellow who tried to live out in the wilderness by himself in Alaska, who ended up getting slowly poisoned by mushrooms. It’s definitely not easy, and there’s a good reason that not many people have tried something like that.

Do you think you would be able to manage living out in the woods? If the lights went out, and the apocalypse came, do you think that you would be able to find your way around the wilderness?

I probably won’t but I sure know what I’m going to do: I’m bringing this guy along with me.

Link to channel here.

Analytics, SEO, and Audience Growth

Today’s look at the backend of our site was particularly useful. Especially as a content creator, Google Analytics provides some interesting information breakdown that’s really helpful for our site. Even though I understood that there was some degree of information that websites were able to keep track of, it was still surprising to know how detailed the information could be.

For example, within the Audience menu in Google Analytics, there’s a report that shows how traffic flows through your site. It starts off with users’ origins, with visual links between the initial landing pages and subsequent pages that the users go to, as well as what pages they dropped off on.

That’s helpful, for example, when I’m designing my site to know where people are going. If there’s a large number of people visiting a certain page after another, I might design it so that there are more handy links available, and/or feature them more prominently. On the flip side, if there are pages that are not leading to clicks, I’ll be able to investigate and see why (ex. Are people not aware that it exists?).

The data on the time of day and sessions by device are also important information.

Right now, my site shows users accessing the site at random times, probably due to search engine bots that are scouring the site. However, even with the limited information that I have, I can tell that traffic typically peaks around the early afternoon. That information would definitely help me when I schedule posts or make changes to the site. I might do so ahead of time, in preparation of when the traffic flow will be heavier.

In terms of devices, I’ve accessed the site mostly via desktop, so of course, my design choices catered to this perspective. However, there is a significant minority of users on my site that access via mobile, which has definitely led me to reconsider how this site functions on that platform. I’ve spent more time adjusting small things to make sure that everything still flows relatively well on different platforms, which is certainly something that’ll help the overall user experience.

SEO, or search engine optimization, was another useful discussion. Most people find sites via search engines, making this an important factor if content creators want to grow their audience.

Words and titles are something that they rely on quite a bit to get the right results, particularly by identifying key words. However, the most essential part is also having more links to your site. The more that you have, the higher the reputation is considered, and the higher the placement on the search results.

As a small content creator, that’s probably the hardest hurdle to get past in the beginning. It’s like a chicken and egg situation; how do we get more links and mentions before we develop an audience? But what I’ve done is at least try to focus on those first aspects, making sure I’m putting out content that engages the audience and also clearly identifiable aspects, for example, keywords and headers, if Google tries to index my site.

In a related discussion from our readings about the Dark Web vs the Deep Web, I found it to be an interesting little read. I remember first hearing about the ‘Dark Web’ years ago, and I knew that it was often a haven for illicit transactions. But that term was often used interchangeably with ‘Deep Web’ which turns out to be something totally different.

To recap the readings, the ‘Deep Web’ is simply something that major search engines are unable to index, for example, the archives within government agencies. I’ve looked through old maps from the City of Vancouver’s site, which definitely would be very difficult for a search engine to find. The ‘Dark’ Web’ are sites that are not even accessible to users with conventional browsers.

Knowing this difference I think is useful for content creators. People might think that their sites are perfectly accessible because of how much we’re typically able to find on Google, but in some instances, that’s clearly not the case. While government archives are not expected to go viral, certainly if creators want to grow their audience, they need to closely monitor their sites and not simply expect that Google will do the work for them.

Peer Review Three

A review of the blog: http://slayerwillow.com/

This week we’ll be taking a look at the blog Slayer Willow, which is about all things bookish and queer. I think this is a great concept, especially since I’ll admit, I haven’t sat down to read a good book in a while. I’m always looking for good suggestions, particularly ones that are not as mainstream, and there’s a lot of potential with this format.

Design

Overall, my first impressions of the design are very good. The colours and the tones are consistent throughout the blog, and there isn’t too much excess white space, which are all points that we discussed during our lecture about web design. I particularly like the prominence of images throughout the site – it makes it very appealing to look at and attracts the attention of readers. It also strikes a good balance between the visual aspects and maintaining readability for users.

I also like the additional widgets that were added at the bottom of the homepage that featured books from Goodreads. If I wanted to follow up and investigate further one of the titles that were reviewed, it gives me an easy way to do so without having to navigate elsewhere (which is useful for audience retention).

I didn’t have much difficulty navigating the website either, since the layout was consistent, and the menus were clear. In terms of the user experience that we discussed a couple of weeks ago, it flows well and is inviting to readers.

Based on all these factors, I feel the site’s design choices have been very good so far, although of course, there are many different formats and tools that can still be added to the site.

Content

Reading through some of the blog posts, I found them to be engaging, and it’s clear that a lot of time and thought was put into them. I found that they offered the right amount of detail, for example providing a little background into the book and a bit of a link to her personal life, like in this post. I find that makes the narrator more genuine to the reader, and more relatable as well.

The book reviews are also relatively consistent with the theme of the blog, which is helpful in establishing the tone and direction, as well as messaging.

Along with good social media integration, this is particularly the type of ‘new public’ creation that has the potential to grow. It’s fairly clear the specific type of ‘public’ that the blog is aimed at, and the value that this blog can add to that dialogue.

I think that is particularly important given the discussion about monetization last week. The first key step is the build out a following through social media (which I also discussed in this week’s process post). Monetization will only truly be effective at those top levels of the ladder, after the difficult task of growing a base of users. They need to be consistently engaged in order to respond to the call for action, as Trevor mentioned.

However, I think that with a clear sense of a public, this blog does have the potential for monetization. The only deciding factor will be whether the author will choose to continue working on the site after the end of the semester.

Overall, I would say that this site is in good shape, and monetization will largely depend on whether the author wants to continue putting out content for the long term. As a reader, the advice that I would give is to add more content to the site to encourage readers to stay as long as possible. As we read in last week’s readings, even well-established sites often find it difficult to raise funds, through things like ad revenue.

Nonetheless, I look forward to seeing how this site continues to grow in the future, as well as what direction they want to go in!

CBC Marketplace

Hidden camera investigations are always my favourite. They reveal a lot about what people do when they think that no one is watching, whether they end up being honest, whether they will take advantage of the situation.

Sometimes it’s funny how seriously local news stations in the US take their hidden camera investigations, sometimes over small issues like dumpster pickup schedules. The Onion did a hilarious piece on this making fun of these local news reports, which you should definitely watch.

It’s also very satisfying to see when the news does a final reveal at the end, and the sleazy business owner or whoever the report was about tries to hide from the cameras (even though we already saw everything).

As I was looking into these videos, I found a series that CBC produces, called CBC marketplace. It’s a show that is almost all about hidden camera investigations, and they’ve done some great work. In fact, the show has been influential in getting some toxic elements banned in Canada, and one of the stories they covered even ended up entering the discourse during the 2015 election.

Ever been concerned about calling an appliance repairman and getting ripped off on a quote? Or how about being worried about being taken advantage of after getting into a vehicle accident?

They cover all sorts of interesting topics, like this one, about how retailers design their stores and product placement to get you to spend more of your money:

Even though I know that there are complicated marketing gimmicks that stores try to pull to get you to spend more money, it’s still quite interesting to see how far they go, and see some of these tricks in action.

Even when I’m shopping, sometimes I end up buying more than I went in for, typically either because it’s on sale, or it’s something that I just thought about after seeing it on the shelves.

These tricks have been around since the 1970s, but of course, they’ve only gotten more sophisticated since then.

One that hit closer to home was this video on hospital parking fees:

Recently I had to visit the hospital with one of my family members, and I did get a ticket for parking on a side street. Apparently, a permit was required which was very annoying, since the sign had a gigantic green P, and the sign above it said that it was public parking on weekdays.

But this got me thinking of this video again. For me, it really seems unfair that people should have to pay to park at a hospital. At least give patients the opportunity to redeem a certain number of hours for free.

It’s not like people are there for fun, like the PNE or something.

People are there with sick or injured family members or friends, and they’ve already got a ton on their minds. We were already worried about what the doctor would say, and what kind of medication we may have to buy; parking is something that honestly, we should NOT be worried about at all in this situation.

Frankly I think it’s a kind of money grab; they know that you often have to stay for hours, and I doubt anyone is going to be taking public transit to a hospital.

Anyway, I would highly recommend this show and encourage you to watch some of these videos. I definitely learned many new things through their investigations, and I’m sure you will too.

Monetization

This week’s discussion about monetization was an interesting topic to me. Even last week when we were discussing the issue of copyright, I touched briefly on the impact of monetization and ad revenue on content creators.

We constantly hear from content creators for example, on YouTube, complaining about ad revenue, or trying to get their viewers to subscribe to some sort of premium content. It makes sense from their perspective; a lot of them have devoted their lives towards putting out content, and without proper financial support, it really is difficult to keep putting out content on a regular basis.

Trevor Bayette certainly raised some good points about monetization, in particular his illustrated diagram of how donations and subscriptions are at the top of the ladder, only after well establishing social media and keeping readers on your site.

I think that’s the area that a lot of content creators should be aware of. A lot of the benefits of monetization come about through growing your platform, especially with things like ad revenues. YouTube creators, for example, typically only get around 1-3 cents per ad view, which is only around $5 per 1,000 views. Random clicks will only go so far – it’s important to build out a loyal base and offer some sort of monetizing action.

The lengths that people will go to in order to monetize their platforms, like the example that Suzanne showed us about the sponsored content was quite surprising. The way it was created made it look like it was part of the newspaper itself, fully formatted and written like a regular story. Personally, I wouldn’t want to run something like that on my site.

Although you’re making a buck for now, your readers are certainly not going to appreciate being duped into thinking an advertisement was a real story. In the worst-case scenario, they may even choose to stop visiting your site altogether, concerned that they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between real content and sponsored content.

I feel that it’s always important to level with your audience and let them know clearly whether something is sponsored content or not. That way you can monetize your platform without turning off those who aren’t interested, and without potentially damaging your brand. This goes back to the initial point, which is that monetization is not about squeezing every last dollar out of visitors, it’s the outcome of audience growth and reach of your site.

In a related discussion, I was reading Suzanne’s post about her trip to an Amazon store and data trails, which raises some good questions about the digitization of our economies. In her post, she talked about the concern about leaving digital breadcrumbs, which is actually a real problem. In fact, as I was doing a review of CBC marketplace, it turns out they also did a story about how online retailers keep track on individual shoppers and discriminate based on their spending habits.

Some of the price differences were actually quite significant. One test of a hotel booking site found the price dropped from $734 down to $712 on the same posting, but viewed from a different user’s perspective. Sometimes prices were lower even when simply using a different device, like your phone instead of your computer.

Things like this is what makes people concerned about the level of information that online retailers collect about us. Just as they boast about the revenues that they can offer sites that rely on this type of tracking information, on the flip side, it’s troubling the extent for users the level of tracking and personal information they try to collect.

I do almost everything I can to limit the amount of personal information that sites collect about me. For starters, I always explore the settings menu to see what’s there – often there are toggles for all kinds of information that the app or site is collecting, which requires you to turn them off manually. I’m also careful not to keep clicking next when you’re installing something, because sometimes they opt you in for extras that you don’t necessarily want.

Although I do my best, there are certainly lots of information that you can’t prevent from being collected. Major social media sites, for example, often have written into their terms of service the ability to collect quite substantial amounts of information, and something like that is unavoidable.

That’s the way it is on the internet – people are increasingly less willing to pay for services, so sites try to make up the difference some other way. And if it’s through subtle ad placement or tracking, some site administrators will do it. The key for me is to not emulate that kind of bad behaviour should I decide to monetize my site, and try to do it in an honest way.

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