The sincerest form of flattery

Two years ago, I was asked to answer this question on Quora:

How is SEO not a racket?

I’ve spent the last few years researching SEO companies and trying to learn how everything works. My company used a firm for a full year and here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. There’s no standardized certification process to become a ‘specialist’. From what I understand anyone can learn the tricks of the trade relatively quickly from a mentor after being hired.
  2. Virtually every company uses the same strategy to get your ranking up: keyword research + link building. So basically, companies charge 100 – 150 (or what a lawyer charges on average) an hour to write copy with keywords on relative sites that link back yours.
  3. The results of having our site ‘optimized’ were barely noticeable, or could easily attributed to other factors, and the cost for a year of the service was 20k+.

There are virtually zero independent sources that I can find that have investigated this industry, which is enormous.

Can anyone tell me what is so specialized about the field that they are able to charge $150 an hour?

Here’s what I wrote:

I’m afraid the few years you spent researching SEO companies was not a wise investment, because there’s a lot you haven’t learned.

You’re right that there’s no “standardized certification process.” Some people see that as a good thing, because it allows SEOs to be judged by the value that they contribute instead of by a set of credentials that may or may not mean anything. But some people see it as a bad thing, because it allows charlatans to operate quite openly.

There have been several attempts to create some kind of certification, but until now it’s been difficult because the field is changing too rapidly (necessitating constant re-learning and discarding old techniques) and because the opacity of search engines’ ranking algorithms leaves open a lot of room for debate and discussion among SEOs about why or why not anything works. Moreover, who’s going to certify the certifiers? Who’s going to approach the top SEOs in the business and suggest that they take some classes and a test to get certified so they can continue doing their jobs? Search engines don’t want to get involved in this either, because it would involve either a test that’s super basic or giving away their trade secrets.

Can “anyone … learn the tricks of the trade relatively quickly from a mentor after being hired”? Kind of, but not really. A smart, motivated person with some skills will be able to pick up the basics of SEO quickly. But, as with many things in life, it takes hard work and a long time to get really good. I’ve been in SEO for years already and I can say that no two days are ever alike and that I face different and new types of challenges pretty regularly. And amassing the experience to be able to identify every SEO issue under the sun remains elusive because there are always new kinds of issues… because search engine algorithms evolve constantly… which is kind of the point of why SEOs are often (but by no means all the time) necessary.

Keyword research and link-building are, indeed, two of the cornerstones of a sound SEO strategy, though keyword research is ever more sophisticated (and difficult, with less data being passed by Google), while link-building is about 95% different from how it was five years ago. Trying to sum up all of SEO as “keyword research + link building” misses the point, though, and would be a bit like saying that being a doctor is just, “listen to the sick people + prescribe them medicine.” Ok, but what do you listen for, and how does that tell you which medicines to prescribe? And is there nothing else that a doctor does?

As far as your own site, I’m sorry to hear that you weren’t satisfied…

  • Maybe you got ripped off by a scammer. Did your SEO company make any guarantees to you about ranking for certain keywords? Did they show you some of their successful clients’ sites? Did you talk to any of their clients to gauge their satisfaction?
  • Maybe your SEO firm did shoddy keyword research or spammy link-building. Or maybe both, since they often go together.
  • Maybe your product sucked and nobody wanted it.
  • Maybe all the SEO work done on your site was perfect… but perfect for three years ago, not for this year.
  • Maybe SEO just wasn’t a good fit for your site and some other form of online marketing would have been better suited.
  • Maybe SEO is about a million times more complex than keyword research and link-building, and maybe there were any number of SEO issues that prevented your site from succeeding. Were there crawling or indexation problems? Duplication? Thin content? Uninformative title tags? Was your site ridiculously slow? Were crass commercial advertisements covering the whole thing?
  • Maybe your competitors were hiring SEOs at the same time, and all the sites in your niche improved dramatically, but the gains canceled each other out.
  • Maybe you have no conversion funnel. Maybe the SEO firm you hired never asked you what a “conversion” on your site would actually be.

The rates SEOs charge are based on supply and demand (lawyers, however, are members of a guild that restricts supply to raise hourly rates artificially). The range of income for SEOs is pretty vast. Good ones who can demonstrate their value can consequently earn a lot of money. Lousy ones don’t last very long, moving along from the spammy version of SEO to the spammy version of some other legitimate strategy, like affiliate marketing.

I encourage you to share your site here and let SEOs publicly dissect it and tell you what’s wrong with it. You should easily be able to tell who’s full of shit from who knows his shit. Or read the answers that professional SEOs have written on Quora and message one of them privately.

Now I see that somebody has paid me the ultimate compliment: my complete Quora answer has been ripped off, word for word, for the purpose of selling an extremely crappy (and possibly nonexistent) service on a website called “The Art of Service,” which bills itself as “a cutting edge IT Service Framework Company.”

Gerard Blokdyk plagiarized my Quora answer for his shitty website

The domain THEARTOFSERVICE.COM is registered to one Gerard Blokdyk of Samford, Queensland, Australia, whose email address is and whose telephone number is 07328-97690 (+61 7328-97690 when dialing internationally).

Complain to Quora? I might consider it, except that Quora actually allows this sort of bullshit.

I’ve frequently seen people’s excellent Quora answers copied verbatim and published in online publications like Business Week and Slate with only something like “This article originally appeared in Quora” as attribution (shame, shame).

Of course, Gerard Blokdyk has given the same extraordinarily shitty attribution to me, without bothering to mention my name. It just seems worse in this case because, while Business Week and Slate are pageview mills, a business model that leads them perpetually to scramble for more eyeballs to view their pages to get more money from advertisers, Gerard Blokdyk’s business seems to provide nothing whatsoever of any value to anybody.

In-line knowledge graph

Normally google’s knowledge graph information appears in the upper right corner of a search results page:

I also frequently see it appearing at the very top of search results, pushing all the organic information down:

But here’s a new version of knowledge graph information appearing in search results that I had never seen until now:

I searched for original fairway to find out where my beloved local supermarket chain got its start. And I was surprised to see this information included directly in search results, in-line with the first result:

Headquarters: New York City Revenue: $810 million

While I assume this data comes from the knowledge graph, it’s also possible that this is a “smart answer” with information scraped from the ranking page, which is Wikipedia and which does include this information. I tend to suspect it’s not a smart answer, however, because the information was not relevant to my query.

Bad SERP: Definition List

Remember the definition list? Like its much more popular friends, ordered list and unordered list, definition list was an HTML element that allowed us to organize information within a document. When it came up in conversation recently, I decided to see if it was still around, so I searched in Google for definition list.

The top ten search results are all about the HTML definition list, answering my question adequately:

  1. HTML dl tag – W3Schools
  2. Lists in HTML documents
  3. <dl> – HTML | MDN
  4. Definition List – CSS-Tricks
  5. Definition lists – misused or misunderstood? | Max Design
  6. The dl element | HTML5 Doctor
  7. Definition Lists | HTML Dog
  8. Definition Lists. <DL>, <DT> and <DD> – BenMeadowcroft
  9. Definition Lists Extension — Python Markdown
  10. Learn How to Use and Style HTML Definition List

But instead of just letting their organic search result, which was very good, stand on its own, Google ruined it by inserting a totally irrelevant and incorrect scraped result before all the others:

I wanted information on the HTML element called “definition list.” I did not want a “definition” of the word “list.” Google understood this well enough for their organic search results, so there’s no reason they should have bungled it by including this awful thing ahead of them.

What if the iWatch is actually just a battery?

Late last year, I started wearing a Pebble smartwatch every day, and I love it1. There are a bunch of things it can do, like help me find things on Yelp, but mostly I just use it as a display of notifications from my telephone (iPhone 5S) and, of course, to tell the time.

People love talking to me about my Pebble, and I frequently get asked what sort of wearable device (smartwatch, “iWatch”) I expect Apple to release, and when. The truth is that I don’t know what Apple is going to do, even though I worked at CNET and even though I follow the internet, mobile and broader tech scene with some interest.

For a long time, I expected that an Apple wearable probably wouldn’t happen. That was because I’d seen the wristbands that people used to turn an iPod Nano into something like a watch. It just didn’t make a lot of sense to me that this was the direction Apple would choose for a (hypothetical) wearable product. I felt like it failed as fashion (you wouldn’t wear it most places if you wanted to look nice) and as technology (battery life, battery life, battery life) and as a functional product that solves a problem (we’ve already got smartphones, so…).

My take was that Apple saw the “iPod Nano as iWatch” approach and said No! and they saw the Pebble approach and said No! and that they couldn’t easily see another approach, so they put their focus in other directions.

Then a few months ago, a man named Craig Hockenberry wrote a post on his blog about Apple wearables, suggesting that Apple won’t make an iWatch. His ideas were circulated widely in the tech blogging and podcasting communities. You should go read that piece. I’ll wait for you to come back.

Ok, welcome back. Hockenberry made a few excellent points, and these points weren’t necessarily new. Unlike others before and after him, however, he didn’t start by asking about a watch, decide that Apple wouldn’t create a watch, and then drop the discussion. He still thought there was an important product market justification and technological ability for an Apple wearable device that was not a watch.

To make it brief, he contended that Apple’s wearable would be an iRing.

I’ve been turning this idea around in my head for a while, and I think it’s really strong. To support it, Hockenberry says a smartring could have a very limited display, vibration for notifications, small size and weight, appeal to fashion-conscious customers, sensors for what he called Healthbook and what we now know is called Healthkit and the Health app, very low power use and charging via Lightning cable, no competition from companies like Samsung who are rushing to make smartwatches because that’s what they think Apple is going to do, a relatively low cost, and iBeacon support.

There are just a couple of areas where I’m inclined not to agree with Hockenberry.

Smart wearables and fashion

I’ve never worn a ring, and there are a bunch of good reasons for that: I’m not married2; I’m not a woman; I’m not a varsity athlete or graduate of any academic institution for which wearing rings is common; I’m not particularly fashionable in that weird European sense. It would be kind of odd for me to wear a ring.

And even if I were married and wore a wedding ring, it would still be odd of me to wear a second ring. Western men basically expect that men who wear rings are doing it because they’re married.

Whereas Apple didn’t have to convince anybody that carrying around a mobile phone is a terrific idea, they’d have a much harder time with rings. They’ve been successful before at getting people to do things that they otherwise wouldn’t have done (Macintosh, iTunes store, &c.) but these tended to be wide open product categories (nobody was selling personal computers with a GUI, nobody had come up with a good way to buy music online, &c.), rather than redefining an existing category by making it “smart” or “digital.”

Now let’s say Apple did make an iRing, and let’s say they did manage to sell it to a lot of people. Would you wear your iRing on a job interview? What about to a wedding? Would it be waterproof and sandproof enough to wear it to the beach? If you worked in construction, would your iRing be able to withstand the stress and rigors of your job? If you were in the military and the amount and type of jewelry you could wear was highly proscribed, would the iRing pass muster? I don’t know, but in at least some of these cases, I doubt it. Apple makes some beautiful looking gadgets, and the iPhone is a wonder of industrial design, but even if the iRing looks as good as that and better, and even if the iRing is as strong as that and stronger, there are going to be a lot of situations for which it just won’t be appropriate.

So what’s the big deal if people have to take their iRings off sometimes? The big deal is that the whole point of the iRing is that you’re wearing it all the time.

Charging your smart wearable

My iPhone 5S doesn’t last a day without being charged3; my iPad needs to be charged every day or two; I’ve worked on my MacBook Air for many hours without charging it, but I doubt it could go a whole day. But my Pebble watch regularly goes a full week without a charge. When its battery finally dies, just a 30 minute charge can give it enough juice to last most of a day. Pebble is a rock.

But still. The value of a connected wearable device is in constantly wearing it. Taking it off to charge it doesn’t just mean that I’m not benefiting from it in the time that it’s charging; it means that its overall benefit to me is diminished.

Moreover, the makers of Pebble wanted to make their watch fully waterproof so that I could wear it in the shower. To do this, they needed to use a special type of magnetic charging connector that is quite awkward to use, much more expensive and takes up a ton of space on the side of the watch.

If Apple creates an iRing, there are going to be a lot of unanswered questions about battery life and charging. Rings are much smaller than watches, which means much less space for batteries inside, which means shorter battery life, which means more taking it off to charge. And if it’s going to get charged at all, it will need to have some kind of connecter that will take up a ton of space.

Introducing iBattery

The fashion problem and the charging problem are why I think there’s a chance that Apple might not create an iWatch or an iRing, but rather something like an iBattery.

What, then, is an iBattery? Well, it’s a watch battery and more. Watch batteries come in standard sizes, and Apple’s iBattery would come in those same sizes. Watch batteries are pretty inexpensive and get changed every couple of years; iBatteries might be three to five times as expensive and get changed twice a year. Watch batteries do only one thing: keep your watch running. iBatteries would do a lot more things: they’d vibrate for notifications from your iPhone, contain sensors for Healthkit (at least a motion sensor, and probably others) and recognize iBeacon.

Most importantly, an iBattery would be functionally invisible, thereby completely obviating the entire fashion discussion: you’d be able to wear it inside almost any watch of your choice. Also, rather than worry about battery life, the whole thing would be a battery. And it would also keep your watch running.

There are a lot of reasons to believe that Apple won’t do an iBattery. For one, they’ve hired a lot of fashion executives and a lot of people believe that this is to help them navigate the launch of their wearable. John Gruber, who is in the business of being right about Apple where others are wrong, writes that Apple will release a wrist wearable thing in September 2014.

iBattery is an unlikely approach, but in a way, very elegant. I think it would be an intriguing idea, both totally Apple-like and totally un-Apple-like in really interesting ways.

  1. The Pebble was one of those rare gifts that was totally unexpected, since I had only heard of it in the vaguest way, despite having just worked for CNET for two years, and totally fitting, since who would enjoy a smart-anything more than I would? 

  2. Jewish men don’t traditionally wear wedding rings anyway, though I suppose they can if they want. 

  3. My iPhone could go a day without charging, but I opt to jailbreak it and install a tweak that lets me run certain apps in the background all the time, which drains battery life considerably. 

Improving Football

Football season is about to begin, and since my beloved Redskins are poised to win it all this year, I thought that now would be a great time to offer some suggestions for how I think the game can be improved at the professional level. These suggestions are meant to accomplish a few things:

  • Make the game more strategic, and thereby more interesting to fans.
  • Make the game safer for players.
  • Make the game more sportsmanlike and professional.

I’ve been working on this list for a long time, accumulating ideas, discussing them with friends and coworkers and modifying them or discarding them when they haven’t made sense.

So without further ado, and in no particular order, here is my list:

1. Stop using yardage for penalties in most situations.

As a rule, penalties in football result in yardage, and sometimes downs, awarded to the opposing team. I think this makes sense in a ton of circumstances, but in some it doesn’t. For example, the personal foul / unnecessary roughness / roughing the passer type play can dramatically impact sportsmanship in a negative way, and can cause extreme risk to the victimized players. There is also a bad incentive introduced whereby some players may choose to do things that are clearly wrong because the maximum penalty is 15 yards and a first down to the other team.

I propose instead that players who break certain rules, or who break the rules in certain ways, or who repeatedly break the same rules, should be ejected from the game for certain amounts of time. This would create a power play type situation, as commonly happens in hockey1.

Anticipated effects: encouraging cleaner play by players (and coaches); smoother and faster games; and improved player safety.

2. Limit the number of players on the roster to 30.

Currently NFL teams are allowed 53 men on their rosters, with five players on their practice squads. How could this possibly be reduced?!? After all, the positions and their players are so highly specialized in the XXI century game!

Precisely the point. Hyper-specialization has led to an unfortunate and bizarre situation in which phenomenally excellent players suddenly begin to suck if they need to play a slightly different position, or even the same position when lining up a slightly different way. If you’re a great right guard and you fail miserably at right tackle or left guard, then you are not a great football player.

I’d like to see a lot of players who can play multiple offensive or defensive positions. I’d like to see a lot of players who can play either offensive or defensive positions. I’d like to see ten times as much creativity in play-calling by coaches who suddenly realize that their players can do a lot more than they’ve been asked to do so far.

Anticipated effects: making the game more strategic and interesting to fans.

3. Restrict the amount of padding, helmets and other protective gear that players can use.

Football and its players are routinely mocked by fans of inferior sports like rugby, whose players do not wear protective gear. The criticism is false and stupid, since football is far more dangerous than rugby, due to the way that football players line up separately, then crash into each other at full speed and force, many times in a row.

But rugby fans do have a point, in a way: the protective gear that football players wear has evolved along with the style of the game to protect players more as the game gets rougher and more dangerous; if the gear that players used in 2014 was like what they used in 1944, or even in 1974, there’s no way that they’d be playing today like they do. So I propose that helmets, pads and other gear should be restricted to the kind that was in use during football’s golden age (hard to say, but I think it was the 1960s).

Anticipated effects: making the game far safer for players, because they’d be compelled to do things like blocking and tackling in a smarter way.

4. Put motion sensors in everything.

This is already starting to happen so I’m optimistic. When it’s implemented properly across the league and at a much deeper level, everyone – coaches, players, fans, announcers – is going to get a far more accurate understanding of what’s happening on the field. Data will suddenly become available in quantities and kinds that previously weren’t imaginable, in perfect precision.

Anticipated effects: reducing the relevance of the frequently inane, often irrelevant and sometimes ignorant announcers and commenters whose job it is to try to figure out what just happened and explain it to people watching on television. Coaching will also improve, and the quality of play will follow. Get ready to witness a revolution in technique for passing, kicking, blocking, &c. with the attendant excitement for fans and safety improvement for players.

5. Expand the season to twenty four weeks, with twenty games and four bye weeks.

Yes, I love football and I believe that it’s the superior sport, so of course I want more of it. The season is limited to seventeen weeks now, including one bye week, plus four preseason games, primarily because football is so rough that everyone involved is convinced that player injuries would get far worse if the season were any longer. But I disagree: if the league made the season longer, players would be compelled to play smarter, taking care of themselves to be able to make it to the end.

There are also some concerns that expanding the season could compel players to overheat in the hottest summer days, or freeze in the coldest winter days. I don’t give a damn about this, and suggest that the season be extended into the winter, because football in the snow is way more interesting that football in the dog days of summer.

Fans of other sports would also object, but it’s a fact that the NFL season is currently very short, and other sports aren’t fun to watch anyway.

Anticipated effects: improved player safety, more games to watch, less reliance on inferior sports’ seasons for things to watch on Sunday afternoons.

6. Eliminate domed stadiums.

Domed stadiums, along with all varieties of fake grass, are an abomination, and any team that uses one should be kicked out of the NFL. There’s an entirely different league for that, anyway.

Anticipated effects: more games played in bad weather conditions, which for football are actually good weather conditions.

7. Penalize teams for “taking a knee.”

Imagine how your boss would feel if, instead of working until the end of the day, you just decided to stop working and take things easy. Your boss might talk to you about this. He might want to know how you can justify this behavior when you’re being paid millions and millions of dollars for 16 performances every year. Surely he’d be right to be a little frustrated if you persisted in “taking a knee” because things were close to ending.

“Taking a knee” at the end of a half to run out the clock is unprofessional and reflects extremely poorly on the players who do it; on their coaches who let them do it; on their teams’ owners who tolerate it; on their fans who don’t boo and curse them for it; and on the league for not preventing it. The NFL should, on behalf of us fans at least who tune in to watch every game because we love the sport, fine teams whose players “take a knee.” The fines should be symbolic at first, but if the behavior doesn’t improve, they should increase to an extremely punishing level.

Anticipated effects: eliminating this horrid practice and causing a 60 minute football game to last the full 60 minutes.

8. Relegation.

In European soccer leagues, successful teams move up into better leagues to compete against better teams, while failing teams are moved down (relegated) to compete against other teams that aren’t as good in less challenging leagues. The point of relegation is to maintain a kind of parity, with the best teams relatively consistently finding themselves in the best leagues, playing against the rest of the best teams most of the time. It appears to work fairly well.

It also gives fans of a perennially mediocre team a lot of reasons to get excited every season: instead of going 1-24 every year and never having a shot at winning a title, that team could be better than the other mediocre teams in that league, and advance to a higher league.

In the NFL, relegation could be by team, like in European soccer, but I think it might be more interesting for relegation to work by division.

Right now the NFL is divided into two conferences, NFC and AFC, with North, Central, East and West divisions in each conference. The conferences and their divisions are roughly equivalent. I propose that one conference be made higher and one be made lower, and then entire divisions could be relegated or advanced depending on how well their teams perform as an overall group. This would maintain the excellent intra-division rivalries that make the NFL so special. It would be a softer form of relegation because, at only two levels, there would only be a binary up-down instead of the possibility of down-down-down-down-down into the basement leagues for teams that are truly awful.

Anticipated effects: huge benefits for fans, as chronically miserable teams’ performance will actually matter.

9. Don’t punish players for using marijuana.

Besides being harmless, marijuana certainly can not make anybody a better football player. Consequently, the NFL should not punish players who are caught using it.

Anticipated effects: treating professional football players like sentient adults, and also possibly some reggae vibes or very long halftime performances by jam bands.

10. Take players’ names off their jerseys.

When I played sports in the county recreation league as a child, my name wasn’t on my jersey. The game was only a little bit about me; mainly it was about the team. Wouldn’t it be great if, even at the professional level, some symbolic steps could be taken to remind everyone that this game is supposed to be about the team as well?

I urge NFL teams to remove their players names’ from their jerseys – not to tell the players that they don’t matter at all, but to remind them that what really matters is the team.

Anticipated effects: more professionalism.

By the way, the Yankees are the only team in professional baseball not to put their players’ names on their jerseys, and it does not appear to have had any negative impact on player recognition or anything else.

11. Require teams to put their stadiums in the cities for which they claim to play.

Professional sports teams prefer to locate themselves in distant exurban waste areas for a lot of reasons: it’s cheaper for them; it’s easier to coordinate parking and transportation; it’s more isolated, which means they can be in more control of the surrounding area; they don’t have to comply with as many pesky rent-seeking politicians.

But putting a football stadium in Landover, East Rutherford or Santa Clara just isn’t anywhere near as good for fans as putting it in Washington DC, New York or San Francisco: public transportation is miserable; the surrounding infrastructure is uniformly oriented toward the team; there’s nothing to do before or after games; it’s impossible to go to a game easily from work or church or any other activity.

The NFL should force every team to play in a stadium that’s located in its own city – or to change the name of the team to the city where the stadium is located.

Anticipated effects: teams will identify with their cities more; city residents will identify with their teams more; attending games will be something that far more people can do with much shorter notice.

12. Aggressively penalize any gloating, celebrating, dancing or other shenanigans.

When I’m extremely successful at my job2, I may occasionally be congratulated with a companywide email, though I discourage it. The email would always stress that it was the team and the company that was successful, due to hard work and coordination, rather than an individual. More likely, someone might say “Congratulations,” to which I’d say in response, “Thank you.” Perhaps there would be handshakes and somebody might buy me a beer. This is plenty.

The fact that professional football players are on television, their successes watched by millions of people, does not mean that they need to be millions of times more flamboyant in celebrating when they do something right. In fact, life would go on and everybody would be perfectly happy if football players would just help each other up and shake each other’s hands while hurrying to return to the huddle or to the bench after an excellent play.

Currently there are some penalties for some types of celebration, and the NFL has made moves to increase these penalties, but I think they aren’t going anywhere near far enough. I believe that players who can’t control themselves and who can’t behave in a sportsmanlike manner should get fined for a first offense, suspended for a second offense, and banned from the league for a third offense.

Anticipated effects: more professionalism; fans will identify with players more.

13. Goalposts should have a top bar.

Nearly every extra point attempt is successful, which is boring. Field goals are slightly more risky because the distance for them is variable, but they are still overwhelmingly successful, and considered a “safe” option from a certain distance for a team whose drive can’t reach the end zone. Safe options are lame and don’t belong in professional sports.

The ease of kicking extra points and field goals has gotten so extreme that the NFL has had to make the goalposts taller for the 2014 season because so many kickers were kicking the ball so powerfully.3 This is a sign that extra points and field goals are currently too easy, but the league is going in the wrong direction by just making detection clearer. They should instead make extra points and field goals more difficult.

Putting a top bar across the goalposts, and requiring kickers to aim both vertically and horizontally, will make that seventh point after a touchdown, as well as those three points that a team picks up instead of a touchdown, well earned.

Anticipated effects: tougher strategic decisions about when to go for a two point conversion or an extra point, and about when to go for a field goal on fourth down.

14. Don’t let announcers refer to players by their first names.

It’s a pet peeve of mine that announcers commonly refer to players by their first names and all kinds of nicknames, some of which are far too ridiculous ever to be uttered on national television. I believe that professional football players, as grown men, deserve and ought to be referred to by the word Mister, followed by their last names, and that any of them who’s earned a Phd or an MD ought to be called Doctor, and so forth.

Think about how great it will be. Instead of “RGIII” or “Robert,” he’ll be “Mister Griffin”; instead of “Ocho Cinco” he’ll be “Mister Johnson.”

Anticipated effects: more professionalism.

15. Reduce the number of players involved in kickoffs.

During kickoff plays, the players run downfield towards each other at full speed, and slam into each other with full force. Because someone is typically returning the kickoff, the opposing team’s players will all be charging at him from every direction. He may have nobody blocking for him. If he intends to signal a fair catch but forgets, he’ll get pummeled. Kickoff returns, while exciting, are pretty dangerous.

I propose that kickoffs should consist of just one kicker and one tackler on the kicking team, and one receiver and one defender on the receiving team. This should practically eliminate the confusion during a kickoff that is the main cause of its danger, but I also hope there will still be a ton of excitement during 2-on-2 kickoffs, as the receiver will have a better chance at returning the ball further.

Anticipated effects: safety.

16. Limit the number of times per half that a team can punt.

The most boring kind of football game and the worst kind to watch is a three hour long puntfest. Punting surely has its place in the game, but too many coaches are too quick to punt on fourth and two at midfield. The league should limit punting in exactly the same way that it limits timeouts: by putting a numerical cap on them. In fact, I wouldn’t mind at all if punts and timeouts were part of the same cap: let’s say, eight punts and timeouts per half, to be used at the coach’s discretion.

Anticipated effects: more exciting games, more risks, more strategy.

17. Get rid of the stupid chains.

During a normal set of downs, referees use their eyeballs after the first few downs to estimate where the play ended, and then to walk over and roughly place the ball in that approximate spot. This is perfectly good enough for players, coaches, fans and the league in 99.9% of cases, and it’s exceedingly rare for a coach to challenge a spot.

Somehow this all changes when the ball is placed within a yard or so of making a first down. In this case, with great and elaborate ceremony, a team of referees takes a set of ten-yard chains that mark the previous first down spot and use it to measure the distance to see if the ball has made it another ten yards. This is foolishly and utterly dumb, since the ball has just been placed in a totally imprecise way. We need to accept that referees are only human and just get over this insanity and throw away chain system.

As an added benefit, once there are sensors in the ball, the ground and all along the sidelines, spotting where a play ended and whether a team made the first down will no longer be necessary: it will already be on everybody’s screens before the referees get a chance to run over there.

Anticipated effects: more accuracy; faster and smoother games.

18. Ban players from giving any media interviews during the season.

It’s a fact that football players usually have nothing interesting or intelligent to say about the way they play the game of football, how they performed in the past games or their teams’ prospects for winning the upcoming games. In the rare event that a player does have truly useful or unique insights, he’d never be allowed to share them with the general public.

The NFL should acknowledge this and restrict its players from giving any interviews to media during the season. This will drastically reduce the amount of football “news” on television but it will drastically increase the amount of times that players can connect with fans after games.

Anticipated effects: more professionalism.

Bonus: end the salary cap and free agency.

Salary cap and free agency go together and they’re one way that the NFL enforces parity among its teams. I think that parity is a noble goal (which is why I’ve suggested a form of relegation above), but I think the negative effects caused by the salary cap and free agency outweigh the positive.

In short, these policies result in teams regularly releasing players whom they might otherwise have kept, due to salary cap hits caused by backloaded deals; and in players leaving teams to go elsewhere for more money. While the teams and the players have reached a kind of compromise, limiting the amount that coaches may spend (and are expected to spend) while allowing players to sell themselves to other teams with few restrictions, the fans are the ones who lose the most from this arrangement.

Anticipated effects: more fan loyalty.

  1. I’m told that this also happens in soccer, though I can’t confirm it as I’ve never seen a soccer game. 

  2. Extreme success for me may mean millions of extra dollars in revenue or savings for my employer. 

  3. Note: that article also has some interesting points about new rules, as well as policies for enforcing existing rules, such as not allowing players to call each other “nigger.” I support enforcement of this rule, but I also think that players who use racial epithets towards other players during a game should be banned from the league without any warning. 

WordCamp NYC is August 2-3

This is a badge to indicate that I’m attending WordCamp NYC next month:

If you’re in the New York area and have any interest in WordPress, you should come. It will be fun.

This is a test.

Google plus is unreachable

I just went to a Google Plus page1 and saw this message:

The app is currently unreachable.

Someone in Google’s search quality team should tell their Plus team about how terrible soft 404s can be.

Don’t be evil.

  1. I sometimes have to use Google plus for work. 

URL Length Limit

Usually, when Google scrapes a content website to provide its content to users in search results ahead of the actual search results, they’re looking for premium editorial content. Sometimes I also see Google scraping structured data, especially when it’s marked up carefully. But here’s something I don’t recall ever having seen:

In this case, I searched for [url length limit] to get information on best practices, and Google scraped part of an answer to a question on Stack Overflow.

Here’s the question: What is the maximum length of a URL in different browsers?. The winning answer was ignored. The answer that Google scraped was the sixth most popular answer, out of 11, and directly referred to the second most popular answer.

This seems like a mistake to me. I’ve occasionally had terrible experiences with Stack Exchange in the past and, while I do consider that a great resource, would not consider any site in the network a good candidate for white-listed inclusion in an answer scraping program.

Calories in a Krispy Kreme donut

Google tries to scrape content websites and deliver their content to users directly in search results, and then sell advertisements against the content, which is evil. Fortunately for users of the web, Google still isn’t very good at this. Here’s a SERP where they failed miserably:

I searched for “calories in a krispy kreme donut” and, instead of answering my question, Google gave me the following information:

To burn 190 calories, you could do any of the following:

  • 53 mins walking.
  • 22 mins jogging.
  • 16 mins swimming.
  • 29 mins cycling.