The Secret Of Systems

Information In The Information Age.

So, is this a poem or an image… or what, precisely?
This is all a computer gets, and the algorithm has to do the rest.

We live in a world that is knee deep in information. Just walking to the supermarket in our village would add a few details to the log of my mobile phone’s activity.

Well, it would if I carried it about. Information of this kind can never be perfect, and that is on account of the nature of the computer itself. A computer can’t do anything without being told to do it – this can come from another machine, but that machine will have had to be programmed. There’s a problem with programming that I’ll address at another date; suffice it to say that the programmers act out of their comfort zones. What they see is all they can see. This post will take a look at a different angle of what people want that satisfies their comfort zone. That is to say, what people want to see, where the reality is a whole lot simpler.

The point of this post is to explore the explosion in information that started a few years ago. It all began with the so-called ‘Web 2.0’ that saw browsers that could operate Javascript. This meant a whole new experience for the viewer, videos became easier to load and online shopping became much, much easier. And all because your own computer shared in the task of processing the information – information that, on account of its being your computer and you’re also logged into a website’s secure server, this information is extremely sensitive. (1)

To get over this, regulations were put in place to ensure that the kind of information that could be gained from a person’s browser was kept anonymous.

Wait a moment!

“The kind of information that could be gained from a person’s browser.”

Doesn’t that ring a few alarm bells? Because if it doesn’t, it jolly well should! You see, the danger here is that people can exploit a browser’s ability to process javascript. One of these is called ‘Google Analytics’ and is as complex as they come. Facebook is another, and exploits your browser to give them all manner of information about your online habits.

Oh, they cry! It’s anonymous, and we respect your anonymity.

Well, if you believe that, you’ll believe anything. There are people out there who have no qualms about exploiting personal information. Google and Facebook will probably keep everything anonymous, there are people who can force these companies to share information that ought not be shared. It’s called the Patriot Act and allows the US government to access sensitive and very personal information held on any server in the USA. This is the world we live in.

And it’s not the real world. Not by a long stretch. In another post, I described how the US security services have made a mountain out of a molehill because they are keen on getting information – but lack the intelligence to know what information is important and which isn’t (2).

Intelligence will dig through the morass of useless drivel that the likes of Google and the NSA collect – and uncover the important stuff. Actually, you don’t even need to uncover it, you can just throw that information away. There’s literally nothing of worth in it. It’s what stands outside the system which is important.

The problem here is that this takes the kind of thinking that people aren’t trained in any longer. People are trained to believe in evidence, and since information is evidence, they believe it’s useful. This is key to understanding ‘inside the box’ thinking.

Not that they’re willing to pay for it of course.

That’s the downside of information: if you don’t know what’s useful and what’s not, you aren’t going to want to pay good money – YOUR MONEY – for stuff that isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Not that either seller or purchaser understand this, and that is why the information becomes worthless. When you’re selling something that you don’t properly understand, all you can do is offer it at a cheaper price. If you did understand it, you’d not want it – but you would be able to offer something genuinely valuable. I tried that as a marketer and failed miserably. Everybody was looking the wrong way, it was as if they wanted to crush their business.

Cookies.

It was in 2011 that I saw my statcounter hits crash. In the space of a week my visits went from around 200 to 10. I was puzzled by this, and a swift check of my server stats showed me that there was no change. It is important to realize that a computer can’t do anything without being told to do it, and the internet is no different. A server will sit there and do nothing until a request comes in.

That can be logged, and there is no getting around it. What the user can do is to stop their browser from accepting cookies – the sort of thing that javascript uses to perform its duties. Cookie blockers went viral in 2011 and I saw it happen. Not that it ‘happened’ – noticing something that didn’t happen is far less easy than noticing something that did happen. Today the situation’s even worse in that it’s now possible to stop javascript altogether. It means functionality is less, but for those who don’t mind missing out on dancing bikini-clad girls advertising a fast motorcar, life can continue as normal.

What To Do About The Problem.

With so many people jamming javascript, a solution needed to be organized. Given that every time a link to a website is clicked, a signal has to be sent to the appropriate server in order that it can be sent back. The server can’t send out stuff without anywhere to send it, can it?

So the numpties at Facebook worked out a method whereby everything that could be achieved through javascript is now done using an intermediary server. Facebook has a warehouse filled with servers whose only job is to re-direct a request to the appropriate website. The point here is that Facebook has a record of every click that happens on its website, whether javascript is enabled or not.

Here’s an example of the web address they use in this procedure:

https://lm.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.telegraph.co.uknews%2F2017%2F06%2F27%2Fukraine-hit-massive-cyber-attack1%2F&h=ATOVaxnz_vGhsA4o87FMfpqjsXZfEWwOChXCF6pSXrYls7RBdiP5AMB7wbWo7yxQvOGOTyzQd-USuYctUSSNON8lReV1hX9OAqg5aWsHDK_fMH-FhxaVrPAWslddoMpnYK52YH29quGrug&enc=AZPVQWI6fRgeIe6GrderzHgCX5pBP4eS-9KcLgroCouc3McmrtC0Mt-dcXkCN1tfLZHwIXcsj2dwnnwz_ezxxIpsi93FbCFwxj4oq—omN1U_YQtyqAz7keb7VTpOgacAB2CtbKpJ9LeKX_SRs4yXOi8bXH-Q2Ak4OL6Xdx4r7FhG8FB74VFnhm9NKba3NtCRU4x-o5DoBezSpKrBxqlytwxqUBnH-X8Yht3A8By-Z_rzhs4QAhw-U9m4Lbw4gATJNAYNONgZbvbV8Q9WDk9h45-OfqwmnPP7z7sQZg0ES7uo04TmdgdmvH4wdvfUkka8p-Ns5PTrRWHsqMKFHFPu&s=1 (3)

As you can see, it’s quick and easy to read.

If you’re a server, that is. A server will just click through the various bits and process them irrespective of what they are. Having done that, it will refer the signal to the appropriate website, and it’ll only take a tenth of a second to do so. In fact, in the middle of all these crazy numbers is the bit the humans are interested in, can understand. The rest is pure gobble-de-gook.

Now imagine doing that by hand, working out where that person came from, where they went… with a string of two hundred characters each of which can be sixty different characters, it’s very easy to make a mistake. The computer software has to be extremely good too, and that means it’s as easy to make a mistake there, too.

So it is that Facebook can amass information about its users’ online habits. This is important as it can sell this information – albeit it’s less valuable if it’s been made anonymous.

The problem here is that there is a huge amount of this dross. A million people clicking links every minute (it’s considerably more than that, by the way) and you have a situation where the information balloons at an extraordinary rate. All the while, it becomes less valuable because it’s practically meaningless. The valuable stuff isn’t even in these ‘referring calls’…

… the really valuable information is when someone logs in and buys something.

To the expert marketer, this is practically all they need in order to work out where they’re coming from and why.

To the numpty marketer, they need information to tell them this, and that information will come as a heap of statistics that needs a computer to unravel. If they’ve chosen to look at the wrong metric – as is so often the case with marketers who don’t know what they’re doing – they’re going to wind up with yet more crap. That the businessman is pleased to know his website is getting more traffic and that his Facebook campaign is the cause of this will please him even more.

What he’s missed is that whilst his visitor levels have increased, the number of people buying from his website has actually gone down. After all, he changed his website to please his visitors.

… And not his buyers.

Simplicity Itself.

If you focus on your business instead of on your whims, you are going to make more money. Business really is that simple. The problem here is that you can’t do what most businessmen want, and that is to please themselves.

That most marketers don’t know this and most businessmen don’t know this means there is a very real problem. They’re all speaking to the wrong people! It’s like the superbowl ads that cost such a fortune – yet they are showing at the very moment that the US sewerage system is put under most pressure. I’ll let you work out how effective that kind of marketing is… the kind that pleases the rich boss who really ought know better. (And, truth be told, needs a good spanking – but in public, not from his favourite prostitute where nobody gets to see them).

In my time as an Adwords Jockey (4) I focussed on who was buying and why. The algorithm, whilst powerful and directed, would only yield so much by way of improvement when tweaked. What did improve my results was a good advertisement and a good website. Two things that stand outside the system. My customer’s response was, however, something I had literally no control over. But then, you can’t go around controlling your customers, because if you do, you’ll start losing money. It’s why America is bankrupt and has been for two decades.

Using The System.

If you realize that a computer is a system, it’s not the computer that has any value: it’s the information it stores that is valuable. In advertising, the system is all but irrelevant: the advert itself is what sells and the reception the buyer gets when buying is what will improve sales. It’s like the German bureaucracy: it’s beyond complex. But ask a German bureaucrat some sensible and pointed questions and all the useless dross is cleared away and a sensible, easy path emerges. If the Americans knew this, they’d start learning German very quickly… but they don’t, so this will remain a secret between me and you.

If one thinks in this way, the mountains of complex information are divided in the way Moses divided the Red Sea. Millions, billions – trillions? – of useless bits of information are thrust to one side and the simplicity of the system is laid bare. As mentioned, the things that make a person click on a link and the things that encourage the genuine buyer to make a purchase are the essentials here.

Because the secret of marketing isn’t to generate traffic. It’s to encourage those who have already bought to buy again. If you’ve duped them, as so many people do, they aren’t going to come back, are they? So keep it honest, keep it simple and even if you see fewer visitors, you can rest assured that you’ll have a steady stream of buyers.

That’s when the poor, harassed businessman can start to get some decent sleep at night. If only they knew the secret to their system!

Notes:

(1) Servers are a type of computer that doesn’t have the usual ‘peripherals’ of a screen or keyboard. They’re controlled from another computer in one way or another. That computer must have these peripherals or the programmer wouldn’t be able to do his job!! A server is only of any use to a human if they have a computer that can ‘speak’ to them through the screen and the loudspeakers. A server is to a human, nothing more than a black box. It doesn’t matter to a computer because a computer can’t see nor can it think.
(2) I describe this in my post, “How To Make Problems For Yourself.” Click Here.
(3) I messed around with the address and the code so that it’ll piss off the Facebook people because it’ll throw up a wild card. But then, with so much information piling in every billionth of a second, would they even notice???
(4) You can read about my experiences here, “Confessions Of A Lapsed Adwords Jockey.” Click here.

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