Tag Archives: Google

Framing problems with ow.ly: Why I won’t click, RT or use your links

I’ve had it. I see ow.ly links all over Twitter and I’m not going to take it anymore.

What’s the issue? Framing and search engine optimization (SEO).

I just read through a comment thread on “The Day I Decided to be Evil [URL Shorteners]” at SiliconAngle.com on whether we should use URL shorteners at all.

I’m on the “yes” side of this argument, both because I would be horrifically hypocritical (I’ve shared thousands of shortened links on Twitter) and because microblogging virtually requires the use of shorteners to work as a means to share and spread data, links, pictures and other forms of media.

So there’s that, in the interests of disclosure.

My post comes late to the SEO debate and, to be frank, there are others who are much better equipped to argue the point. Fortunately, since this is the Web, I can point you in the right direction:

The authority on the subject is absolutely Danny Sullivan, who posted Which URL shortening service should you use? last month. What’s the nut of the SEO issue? The kind of redirect used. As Sullivan writes:

”A top issue to me, and many others, is that a URL shortening service does a “301 redirect” to the full URL. That number stands for the code a web server issues to a browser (or search engine) when a URL is requested.

A 301 redirect says that the URL requested (the short URL) has “permanently” moved to the long address. Since it’s a permanent redirect, search engines finding links to the short URLs will credit all those links to the long URL (see the SEO: Redirects & Moving Sites section of the Search Engine Land members library for more about redirection).

In contrast, a 302 redirect is a “temporary” one. If that’s issued, search engines assume that the short URL is the “real” URL and just temporarily being pointed elsewhere. That means link credit does not get passed on to the long URL.

In short, if you’re hoping that links you tweet will generate link credit for your web site, you want a service that issues a 301 redirect. Also keep in mind that while 301s might be issued today, a shortening service could shift to 302 directs at any time (and if they do, I hope scorn gets poured upon them).

Ok, so there’s the SEO background and issues at hand. So which does ow.ly use? I tried Rex Swain’s “Rex Swain’s HTTP Viewer” tool, linked to from Danny’s post, on the following link: http://ow.ly/cB3E

Here’s what I received:


Sure looks like a 200, not a 301 redirect, right? That would imply that A.J. Ghergich of AuthorityDomains was wrong when he wrote that ow.ly uses 301 redirects. When I tried the HTTP Status Codes Checker tool provided by SEOConsultants.com, however, I received two different server responses:

#1 Server Response: http://ow.ly/cB3E
HTTP Status Code: HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently


#2 Server Response: http://www.engadget.com/2009/06/06/40-second-toothbrush-complicates-horrifies/
HTTP Status Code: HTTP/1.1 200 OK

So that looks like both! Ah, confusion. Hootsuite certainly thinks that it’s doing it right, as evidenced by the following statement on their blog:

”Ow.ly links won’t harm SEO because they’re designed to allow Google and other search engine spiders access to the content without stealing any Google juice.”

Color me unconvinced. I think I’ll stick with bit.ly, which I know uses the correct redirect every time.

UPDATE: I asked Danny Sullivan in October (on Twitter, no less) what he thought of ow.ly. Sullivan tweeted that “any shortener that frames is bad for SEO as you don’t get credit [link to his URL shortener post] standalones doing this feel more evil to me.” Further, he replied that “su.pr, diggbar & facebook all frame. not so bad as designed to do from within their systems. not that i like it much still.”

As Jennifer Van Grove (@jbruin) points out on Mashable in “HootSuite 2.0: Get More Twitter Tabs, Columns and Stats,” the HootSuite platform itself has continued to improve and offer easier management of everything from “profile feed options (like mentions, DMs, pending tweets), multiple keyword tracking (up to 3 keywords per column), search terms, and groups.” That’s a compelling offering. As she writes, “ow.ly links via HootSuite to track click-throughs will also love that stats are more detailed. So, summary stats on links are supplemented with individual tweet statistics showing total clicks and user rating.”

That’s long been one of the more attractive features of ow.ly for publishers, given the need for them to prove ROI, measure audience feedback and test different compositions of microcontent. That said, bit.ly offers similar features without the burden of that bar.

In other words, I think Web publishers who use Hootsuite are getting good value, especially considering that the cost is precisely zero.

I do, however, think they risk damaging their brand equity and irking users with the social bar – and that there’s a larger ethical issue around the framing that the ow.ly bar creates, including potential violations to terms of service and copyright. If you read Malcolm Coles, “Ow.ly and Hootsuite are in widespread breach of newspaper and other sites’ TOCs,” you’ll gather that he does as well.

Hootsuite itself writes the following:

“Generate money from your tweets! Add your Google Adsense code to enable ads on your ow.ly links. We’ll show your ads half the time, and our ads half the time.”

Also of note: when I clicked the “Learn more” link below the Adsense copy, I ended up at a 404 page with the following URL: http://blog.hootsuite.com/monetized-twitter-yes-we-did

Of course, thanks to Google, you can still view the page in cache:

Following is a quote from the post, entitled in a decidedly Yoda-esque fashion: “Monetized Twitter: Yes We Did.”

“Got a link that prompts a re-tweet? As your ow.ly link gets passed from person to person, so does the featured ad! If your link is retweeted by enough people, it can continue to make you money.

Ever wonder how Twitter’s getting monetized? We’ve just shown you. It’s easy to configure, it’s easy to share, and it easily integrates with Twitter.

Note: So that we can keep HootSuite as a free service for our users, there is a 50% chance that your ad will appear in a link, and a 50% chance that one of our ads will appear.

Got that? As the link to the third party’s content is passed along – content that the user (who shortened it) and Hootsuite (the shortener) did not create – both of those parties will earn money by framing it with ads.

It’s worth observing that Hootsuite does provides an option NOT to include Adsense in Settings, simply by leaving the field unoccupied: “(leave empty to disable AdSense)”

Also crucial to note is that the updated, slimmer version of Hootsuite’s social bar does not appear to play well with Google Adsense, though the precise reason for the issue isn’t clear.

According to Hootsuite, “We are currently experiencing issues with AdSense integration. Your ads may not be displayed. We are in communication with Google about this issue, and we will keep our users updated.”

I should note that I’m not a lawyer, but a quick read of Google’s Adsense policies would seem to put ow.ly in violation:

Copyrighted Material: AdSense publishers may not display Google ads on webpages with content protected by copyright law unless they have the necessary legal rights to display that content. Please see our DMCA policy for more information.”

Framing another site’s content with a bar that contains advertising to other parties would appear to do precisely that.

It could be a formatting issue, it could be something else entirely – I wonder whether Google’s notoriously savvy legal team has seen this issue.

If any publishers do decide to use ow.ly, I believe they would be well-advised to do so.

At least one lawyer shares that view. In the comments section of Greg Lambert’s post on GeekLawBlog, Product Review: HootSuite & OW.LY – Do The Benefits Outweigh The Problems?, Doug Cornelius posted a strong opinion, albeit one filtered by his standard lawyerly disclaimer:

Incarnation of Satan may be a bit much, but definitely a spawn of Satan.

I am not a copyright expert, but it seems to me that framing is a copyright violation. (There was the TotalNews case, but it was settled before we could could get some law on this. Infer what you want from TotalNew stopping the framing as part of the undisclosed settlement.) I expect that this feature of Ow.ly won’t last long, once the lawyers start sniffing around.

Even if it is not illegal, it robs websites of traffic. You, like me, put up blog posts because we feel like saying something. We don’t sell ads, we don’t have sponsors and nobody pays us to write. All I (and I assume you) want in return is some page hits and the occasional comment. We want to know that someone is listening and that we are not just talking to ourselves.

Ow.ly seems to rob us the page hits so I would not know that you viewed my page or where you came from. I don’t ask for much, but it is nice to know that you stopped by and who sent you. Ow.ly takes that away.

Don’t get me started on the adsense feature of ow.ly. If I wanted ads associated with my site, I would put them there. I don’t want someone framing my content with a Viagra ad.

Lambert himself expresses considerable reservation:

The Whole “OW.LY” Thing….

Alright, this is the big one. I barely got my first test Tweet out on HootSuite when someone called me out for “annoying” if not “illegal” framing of web content. Now, I confess that I didn’t realize what OW.LY was doing until after I had sent out the Tweet, so I was pretty ignorant of the drawbacks of using OW.LY as my URL shrinker. At first glance, the frame is a little annoying, but also a little useful. So, I had a nice little discussion with Doug Cornelius about the benefits. Whereas I thought HootSuite’s ability to gather statistics and feedback could be a benefit to the person Tweeting the link — Doug thought it was something close to the incarnation of Satan himself (okay, I’m being a little over dramatic on Doug’s response… but, not that far off!)

After looking at the positives and the negatives, I decided that framing of other people’s content really isn’t a great idea. It is annoying for one, and it borders on the unethical for another. I would ask the folks at HootSuite to give the users of their product an option to use a non-framing version of OW.LY that would still gather the metrics of who did the click-thru, without annoying the hell out of them!!

As for the putting Google Adsense code on OW.LY to generate revenue from your Tweets, I’d have to say that would not be something that I would do, or recommend. Some may argue that people would not have gone to these websites if it were not for your Tweets, but I’d have to say that there seems to be a certain sliminess about that type of revenue generating that I do not like.

There are other reasons to be concerned, as content publisher. As Espen Antonsen writes on cloudave.com in “The Problem with URL Shorteners: Ow.ly server errors,” your audience may be confronted with a server error by the shortener, even if the end resource is live. I should note that has nothing to do with SEO or framing issues, but it’s worth considering:

“If you currently click on a ow.ly shortened URL you will be shown a server error page at ow.ly – not the URL you or the publisher intended you to see. Proponents of these services have so far ignored the main problem; trusting a third party. I guess they see the problem now when potential visitors to their site are stopped by a server error on someone else’s site.

The question of trust in this regard is especially important because these services has no working business model. Also any developer can create such a service in less than an hour making the barriers of entry for this service extremely low. Expect to see URL shortener services changing their tactics: Digg launched their already much hated DiggBar last week. This service unlike most other url shortener services wraps the actual landing page in a frame and adds a top-frame bar with Digg information. Ow.ly is also now doing this (unsure if this feature is new to this service). The problem for site owners is that they have no control over how these services will change. DiggBar is already “stealing” link-juice by having a digg-shortened link on Delicious instead of the original url. Also DiggBar and Ow.ly responds with a frameset (200 http status code) instead of a redirect (301 http status code). This can result in a lower pagerank as Google will not see the link from “Site X” to “Site Y” but instead from Digg.com to “Site Y”. In my view URL shorteners are just plain evil. They add an extra unnecessary layer on the web.”

Angie Haggstrom, of ProfessionalWebContent.com, expressed similar reservations to Cornelius in the comments of that post:

“After one of my readers complained about me using HootSuite’s ow.ly links (he thought the framing raised some copyright issues), I asked HootSuite about giving me the option to remove it.

They responded that the ability to move the frame will be an option in their “premium” account, meaning that you will have to pay for it.

By the way, the HootSuite tool bar has been in place as long as I have been using it, which is for 3 months.”

“The other beef with services such as Ow.ly that many haven’t mentioned is the fact that they are making money off content that doesn’t belong to them. Google Adsense for example. Shouldn’t web owners get a cut? At least those who do not want to share their content?”

So where does this leave me?

The Hootsuite blog states that it offers an opt-out, that doesn’t fix the ad framing issue:

“One click opt-out. We recognize everyone is different. So, if you or your users happen not to like it? Not a problem. One click and anyone can opt-out of ever seeing an Ow.ly social bar again.”

That doesn’t do it for me: I won’t be using ow.ly.

As I’ve previously stated, I will not share or retweet ow.ly links.

I’ll look for another provider that is sharing the same news.

If it’s original content from that publisher, I’ll navigate to the source and re-shorten the link, if the story is compelling enough to do so.

Thankfully, I can shorten URLs using http://bit.ly and Twittelator Pro, simply replacing “http” with “twit” in mobile Safari on my iPhone, though it’s obviously onerous to do so.

I hope that Hootsuite will simply permanently remove the Adsense feature. After all, it’s not working now.

And I hope that I’m wrong about the SEO issue – though as I wrote, it appears ow.ly has a 200, not a 301 redirect. That’s something Hootsuite can and should fix soon.

The social bar isn’t likely to go away, just like the social bars from LinkedIn, Facebook and Digg. It’s not hard to anticipate scenarios where content publishers raise copyright concerns should third-party advertising end up in those bars as well, a future that may well be coming given the considerable pressures to monetize these platforms and social networks.

In the meantime, we as users and publishers can choose not to use them and encourage reforms in their technical underpinnings.

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Twitter, Google, Meetup, AT&T and Howcast go to Iraq for IraqTech

Early this morning, tweets became coming in from Baghdad from @Jack Dorsey. Here’s the picture of Jack that he tweeted on a C-130, well-equipped in body armor.

@Jack in flak

@Jack in flak

The snap was taken by Scott @Heif, Chief Organizer at Meetup.com. Jack and Scott are part of a small delegation of tech executives that were invited to visit Iraq by State.gov. Representatives from Google, Meetup, AT&T, Howcast and other tech companies will be spending the week in Baghdad. The delegation also includes JasonLiebman, (Co-founder and CEO of Howcast Media), Richard Robbins (rar624) (Director, Social Innovation at AT&T).

You can follow their trip and discussion by searching for the hashtag #IraqTech on Twitter and view their photostream on Flickr. It’s worth searching for #IraqTech at Twazzup.com at too, a new real-time search engine for Twitter. A search there show results aggregated from both of those streams.

Dorsey, is the founder and chairman of Twitter, the red hot tech company whose wildly popular microblogging social network has become the virtual water cooler of the moment. @Oprah joined Twitter on Friday. 1.5 million more people have joined since, urged on by Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk), who raced CNN (@CNNBrk) and Larry King to be the first Twitter accounts to gain one million followers.

@Jack tweeted that a press release will be coming later today that will explain more about the goals of the delegation…

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When shouldn’t an organization use social media?

My social Network on Flickr, Facebook, Twitter...
Image by luc legay via Flickr

Facebook broke 200 million users this month. Wikipedia is one of the most well-known websites in the world. Blogs affect stock prices. NPR is all over podcasting. Celebrities talk about Twitter on late night TV. The POTUS even used Twitter to announce he’d be taking questions for his livestreamed townhall at the White House with Google Moderator and blogged about it. Heck, President Barack Obama’s Open Government Directive will encourage Federal agencies to tweet and use other social media tools to achieve greater transparency.

Paul Gillin made some excellent points in a recent BtoB Magazine article, “When to avoid social media,” that I think Sarah Peres undersells in her recent post on ReadWriteWeb, When NOT to use Social Media, without perhaps giving full weight to his experiences talking to large enterprises about how they use technology.

I find Gillin’s last point most compelling, given that privacy and regulatory concerns that pertain to social media are an area I’m paying close attention to right now — and not just because I work at a public company myself:

Privacy and regulatory concerns. While a few health care companies have started blogs and social networks, most are proceeding with justifiable caution. If you’re in an industry where people can go to jail for what they say in public, you should be careful. Much as I hate to say it, you should probably get the lawyers closely involved.

Most large enterprises and governmental agencies have protected, proprietary or personally identifiable information that they can face considerable liability for disclosing or failing to protect against a data breach.

In those environments — and let’s be clear here, we’re not talking about a “handful of examples,” given the proportion of the economy constituted by big business, government, law and healthcare — jumping in to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other public-facing social media tools may hold much more risk than reward if it’s not done carefully. For attorneys, for instance, individual features like “Recommendations” on LinkedIn may pose ethical issues. Paul’s right; if such an organization doesn’t have a strategic vision or buy-in from upper management, they’re likely better off staying out of actively — and be clear with staff that that is the expectation for them as well. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be doing active brand management; just that posting publicly may not be optimal.

All of this pertains to social media as it exists on the public Internet. Once the various tools, including blogs, wikis and microblogging platforms, move behind the firewall, however, many of the issues posed by corporate communications and data leaks are addressed. That is, if the software is secured like rest of the enterprise’s systems. Adoption of social media tools in the form of collaborative social software at enterprises, or “Enterprise 2.0,” provides an entirely different value proposition and list of considerations that I’ll leave to folks like Professor McAfee to pose. I would note that if the CIA could create, extend and maintain an Intellipedia, there’s hope for even the most hidebound, hierarchical organizations to follow suit.

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10 Delicious links to remember on Twitter, Google and Newspapers

Google in 1998
Image via Wikipedia

When I scrolled down this blog this afternoon, I noticed that my list of Delicious social bookmarks was a succinct, useful snapshot of the resources or ideas I’d found worth saving over the past week. As the platform and tools that I can use to tag, share or store information online has expanded, Delicious has remained an important tool for leaving useful digital breadcrumbs I can use to retrace my travels later on. This list struck me as particularly meaningful, both because of how useful the links are and what they reflect in the moment of my life when I saved them.

For instance, I saved the Google AdWords: Keyword Tool link after I enjoyed quick workshop with my SEO guru. I use it whenever I blog or write. The link needed to be in my bookmarks.

I’ve been exploring new ways to syndicate and share digital content for years. The Top 20 Ways to Share a Great Blog Post at Mashable put most of them in the same place. Score.

I found Classroom 2.0 looking for information about how collaborative software is being use in education. Classroom 2.0 is a social network for “those interested in Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies in education.” Perfect.

I came across an anonymous blogging guide provided by Global Voices, “Global Voices Advocacy » Anonymous Blogging with WordPress & Tor,” through an email from the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School. It’s an important resource for any journalist or citizen in repressive regimes that need to get information out but can’t risk being identified. Given the enormous risks to life, liberty and family dissidents face for  in many parts of the globe, I wanted to make sure I saved it to review again later. Flash drive + Tor + WordPress = Anonyblogging. Smart.

I’d come across Tweet Congress before. It’s a visible element of an online movement to get Congress on Twitter. As the site notes, “Twitter enables real conversation between lawmakers and voters, in real time.” We’re all seeing it already, as Congressional staffs, Senators and Representatives adjust to the new dynamic. There’s no need for a TweetWhitehouse, as @BarackObama is already back in use again.

I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about the future of online news, newspapers and digital journalism. One of the thinkers I read the most and certainly use as a hub for information is Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU. His list of 12 essays to read, a “Flying Seminar In The Future of News,” is a must-read on the topic.

I tagged Utimaco’s compliance and regulation portal after I attended on a seminar they hosted on the new MA data protection law. I wrote about what I learned there on SearchCompliance.com: Panels reveal risks of noncompliance with Mass. laws.

I saved Bostonist’s post @ Boston’s First Official Google Meetup because Tom Lewis recorded a short interview with me at the event. I embedded it below.

One of the starkest, clearest headlines I’ve read recently was on Washington Post.com: Daily Red Meat Raises Chances Of Dying Early. The link text really says it all.

Google Moderator rounds out this “top 10” because of its use by the WhiteHouse in soliciting questions before  the recent online town hall. I’d tweeted about the TipJar before,  where users can rate “money saving tips submitted and ranked by the Web community.” I learned at the Google Meetup in Boston that Google itself uses the moderation tool every Friday internally.

I don’t usually reblog Delicous links — this was just a helluva good week for ’em. If you use delicious, share similar interests and would like to extend your network, you can find me at delicious at http://delicious.com/alexanderbhoward.

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Happy April Fools Day online! #AprilFools is fun in 2009.

Organic Air!

Organic Air!

I had a fun time last night watching websites roll out April Fools jokes.

This morning, I saw many more go live. Fun stuff, for the most part. You can see the hoaxes, pranks and faux sites go up , more or less in real-time, by watching the AprilFools hashtag on Twitter. Here’s what I found:

I stopped tracking once I arrived in the office. I didn’t need to: @TechCrunch posted an EPIC list of 2009 #AprilFools hoaxes: http://is.gd/q24M | Stellar work, Michael.

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@Google visits Boston at Cambridge Meetup

Google Mug | Chrome color?

Google Mug | Chrome color?

I stumbled into Adam Lasnik in Harvest Coop in Central Square in Cambridge, Mass. last night on my way to Google’s first official Boston Meetup and asked him if he knew where Enormous Room might. I knew I was in the right general spot but hadn’t been there in a while. Plus, his fleece read “Google” on it.

I think asking Adam where something was may actually count as “googling” something in person.

And, true to his role as Google’s Search Evangelist, Adam was quite helpful.

I walked over and up to Enormous Room with him as his two other Google compatriots finished a snack.

Since I followed him, that may count as using a human version of Google Maps.

After a snagged a tasty “Blue Bear” at the bar, I started circulating and meeting the crowd of local entrepreneurs, webmasters, analysts, marketers, writers, IT pros and other Cambridge tech mavens. Good times.

Eventually, the Google organizer for the event, Nate Tyler, welcomed the packed room to the evening and then turned it over to Adam. He took questions submitted online using Google’s own moderator tool. (See all the archived questions here). Adam mentioned that Google itself uses the tool every Friday to collect questions internally. Great insight into corporate culture.

I tweeted the following posts during the presentation:

When the Q&A ended, the Google guys unexpected asked “Who is digiphile?” and noted I’d been busy on Twitter. They offered me a t-shirt or a mug. I went with the latter (above.

I met many new people, caught up with the local social media crowd that had traveled out west at SXSW in Austin and generally enjoyed the turnout.

Tom Lewis (@tomdog) was on-hand recording videos. He and I have been following one another on Twitter for many months but this was our first meetup “IRL” (in real life) — always satisfying to put a face to a name.

Tom recorded the following video from the event:
Bostonist @ Boston's First Official Google Meetup from Tom Lewis on Vimeo.

Note to self: As I mentioned to him earlier today, I need to remove the word “value” from my personal spoken lexicon and look into the lens more. The light on the HD video camera he brought was, unfortunately, bright enough to make that uncomfortable.

Tom blogged about the Google Meetup much more extensively at Bostonist:
Bostonist @ Google’s Boston Meetup

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