Vectorizing Barack Obama

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Yes we can (use the pen tool). I’ve been busy drawing a follow to the Summer 2008 State of the Web, and for the Winter 2009 version I’m going to have a slide featuring Barack Obama. I just finished turning him into a vector illustration and I’m really pleased with how it turned out. still feel very clunky using Adobe Illustrator, but it’s getting much easier.

Barack Obama Vector

Click for a larger version

Download (just the vectors)

One last thing: like I said I’m drawing the followup to the State of the Web, so I’m looking for any ideas on what to draw. I’ve already got a pretty good list going, including adultfriendfinder filing for IPO, sad [something] is sad, and a bunch of zunes crashing when the clock rolled over to 2009. If you have any additional items, feel free to let me know. I’m looking for popular memes (such as rickrolling), but stuff that’s a bit more recent.

January 29th 2009 Uncategorized

eComXpo 2009 – The Virtual Tradeshow for Internet Marketers – Now Open

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Currently going on at eComXpo.com is the latest installment of the eComXpo virtual tradeshow for internet marketers, which happens entirely online in the realms of cyberspace. No travelling required,  no hotel room to book… none of those hassles.

Today is the first day of the show and it will be continued tomorrow. Admission for attendees is absolutely free for all of the 8,000+ expected attendees.

The virtual trade show has all the elements of a real-life event, except for the meeting people face to face, the parties and the hangovers the next day :) . Exhibitors have virtual booth, you have a virtual bag to collect contact information and virtual schwag. You can chat with people at the booths, not just with the folks who run it, but also with the folks who visit it… you can even chat with anybody who runs around on the exhibit hall floors or any of the lounges.

Like a regular trade show, eComXpo has educational sessions, with the difference, that attending them at this virtual conference is free, no “FULL PASS” to access them is required. Just go to eComXpo.com and register and off you go.

If you missed any of the educational sessions already, no worries, because all of the presentations and panel discussions will become available on the eComXpo web site after the show is over. You have to have an account though, which is another good reason to check it out. The session recordings will be available for 90 days, before they will be taken down.

eComXpo is a good training exercise, if you never attended a conference before.

Let me quote a post of my own that I wrote in October 2006 for ReveNews.com.

The eComXpo has a lot of advantages to attract affiliates of all levels:

  • The free admission makes it possible for any affiliate to attend regardless of available budget, newbie and super affiliate.
  • There is no need to travel to get to the show, you just go to your computer and you are there. You can attend as long as you want, 5 minutes or 5 hours or every hour for 15 minutes. It’s up to you or the time available, especially for affiliates that still have a day job.
  • Affiliates that can afford to spend the time and money for the trade show pass, flight, hotel, taxi etc. (which is not cheap) have a hard time to believe and see for themselves that the investment is worth it. eComXpo is a good introduction of those Affiliates to the principle of those tradeshows and the opportunities that can come from it.

Entirely virtual Tradeshows like eComXpo will never replace the real live human contact of tradeshows in the real world, not to mention the socializing and networking opportunities at the parties that are organized by show organizer itself and various sponsors.

I used to be one of those affiliates and eComXpo (among other things) made me attend real-life conferences afterwords.
I will be one of the presenters at the event, among many other known figures in this industry. My session will be at the end of Day 1, Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 8:20 pm EST. It is a ca. 50 minutes long presentation titled “What Makes a Good Datafeed? Tips for Merchants” and as the title already says… it’s about product data feeds.

My presentation slides are already available at my Slideshare.net net account. In order to hear what I have to say to those slides, you have to come to my session on Wednesday when every attendee will get the information that my slides are up on Slideshare.net. So if you are reading this before the coming Wednesday, you have already the advantage that you can check out the presentation before everybody else. :)

If you are a Merchant or Network and interested in the subject of affiliate data feeds, make sure that you also check out my data feed related resources at my website at Cumbrowski.com/datafeeds and my data feeds primer article at Cumbrowski.com/datafeeds101.

Cheers and see you soon in Cyberspace!

Carsten Cumbrowski
Internet Marketer and Blogger
http://www.cumbrowski.com/

January 29th 2009 affiliate marketing

Credit where it’s due, part II

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Truth as I know it: this design would not be what it is — nor would I be the designer I am nor care as much about what I do — without the inspiration, critiques, guidance, mentorship, contributions, camaraderie, encouragement, and support of certain people with whom I have crossed paths in my lifetime.

Influences

The previous version of this site, designed five years ago, went stale to me a year or two after I created it. After enjoying the spotlight for a few years after the launch of Stopdesign, I slowly faded back, where I continued to watch from the sidelines and admire the work of talented peers around me. Current and recent designs from the hands of Dan, Jason, Jina, Jon, Khoi, Mark, and Shaun have all influenced and inspired this version of Stopdesign in one form or another. Be it a palette, a grid, a type treatment, or a date format… Each of these designers sweat the details, and it shows in their craft. I’m humbled to have met and exchanged ideas with each one of these people in person.

I sometimes think of him as my alter ego, but I could never be him. Malarkey gets his own paragraph, because he is to web design what all four of The Beatles were to Rock and Roll. He is cool and hip and original and compendious at once. His personality, design sensibilities, and instincts around code make him a threat I’d rather be working with than against. His thoughts on HTML5 and standard naming conventions have been taken to task on this new site, with the exceptions of a few abbreviations and shortcuts for which I opted along the way.

Heroes

  • Eric Spiekermann, for FF Meta and Stop Stealing Sheep (the first book I ever read about typography). I’ve beaten Meta to death, and it still looks good no matter where I use it. For the many who have asked over the years, the Stopdesign logo is my own bastardization of Eric’s pure, immortal version of Meta.
  • Paul Rand, for his infinite wisdom and bitch-slapping avoidance of mediocrity in design.
  • Jeffrey Zeldman for being the Godfather of Webstandards, and Eric Meyer for being the Jedi Master of CSS.
  • Arthur Counts (junior high and high school art teacher, the one that saw potential talent in me when I was 11 years old; yes, Art Counts is really his name), Eugene Harris and Michelle Shoemaker (college art professors who helped me discover Design, the perfect mix for me of art and logic), Tracy Mitsunaga & Dennis Dimos (first creative director and design director I worked for, and my first professional mentors), Barbara Kuhr & Jonathan Louie (creative and design directors at Wired, and the ones who prevented me from giving up and leaving San Francisco when I thought I couldn’t sustain a career there).

Saint

Lastly, and most importantly, I am indebted to my wife, Cam. Her love and encouragement have pulled me though tough times and lots of self-doubt over the past few years. She’s my biggest fan, and my most helpful 2am critic. She also brought our first child into this world — an event that forever will inspire me and ground my sense of priorities in life. Finally, she’s also the one to thank for allowing me to work on this site after our daughter was put to bed each night, and through every long weekend for the past month.

I owe you all.

January 27th 2009 Design, personal

New year, new design

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With a bit of humility and even a little nervousness, it’s time to take the wraps off a new design I’ve been working on for nearly a month. My hesitation comes not from revealing the new design, but from my decision early on to make the site more personal, and feel less like an “agency”. I also hesitate because of the elephant in the room: the fact that, up until now, my writing here trickled down to a few entries a year.

Why now?

The new design was brought on by multiple factors. I’ve been wanting to write more. But the few times I pulled up the site last year, I felt uninspired to write, knowing the design was feeling stale and dated. I wanted a new design, but never knew when I’d have time to undertake the seemingly huge, uphill task. The past few years have been filled with major personal changes for me. Getting married, working for Google, buying a house, and our latest adventure, the birth of our first child. All of these replaced the time I spent previously on my own projects. It’s difficult to crank out a new design when I only get a few hours at night after everyone but the dog goes to sleep, or in the morning before they wake.

The kicker that finally got the new design going: my server was hacked toward the end of last year, causing Media Temple to lock down everything, including any scripts or admin access. Malicious files were spread throughout my server, in random locations. The reps at Media Temple blamed it on an old version of MovableType that I hadn’t ever taken the time to upgrade. Oops. (Here’s a plug to update any old software you’re using, if only for security reasons.)

Because there were so many files in so many locations, and not all of them could be easily found, Media Temple provisioned a brand new server for me. They asked that I not copy everything over wholesale, for fear of unintentionally copying over files that were not mine. So I had a clean slate, albeit a forced one.

Grids rule

This design is way overdue. The last big redesign here was in 2004, a time when many of us were still designing for 800×600 resolutions. Time to move forward with a cleaner, simpler design, a wider width, more white space, and an obsessive attention to small details that most people will never notice. Like using a baseline grid (more on that in a future entry). The layout is based on a fixed-unit 12-column elastic grid, sized in ems. It creates just enough restraint, but still provides flexibility for today’s simple layout configurations, plus a few more future variations. I can check the grid on any page by simply adding ?g=1 to the URL, like so.

Stopdesign homepage showing the 12-column grid
 

My type

I’ve always liked Helvetica as a typeface, and chose to use it for everything (with exception of the logo). The restraint of one typeface, along with a limited selection of type sizes, placed extra burden on spacing and arrangement to convey hierarchy. I tried to stick to the absolute minimum amount of content and navigation necessary to find one’s way around. More could be added later, but I liked the stripped down nature for most of the templates.

All colors, together as one

Never content with a single color throughout the site, I modified a few headers to give each section a slightly different feel. I’ve done this for the last few versions of Stopdesign, and I wasn’t about to skip that for this one. I get different headers simply by hooking on to already-existing body ids with a few additional CSS rules.

headers

Technical nerdery

Some who read the footer will notice I switched to WordPress. This wasn’t so much prompted by the MovableType exploit of my previous server, as much as it was due to the difficulty and frustrations I had trying to upgrade MT after the compromise. Plus, I started using WordPress a little over a year ago for another personal site at dougandcam.com. In fact, if you visit that site, you’ll see a lot of design and content similarities to this one. This design was a chance to elaborate on what I had done at D&C D&C was the proving ground for WordPress, and where I learned how its template system and syntax works. Ultimately, I switched to WordPress because I was familiar with it, and had lost all my familiarity with MovableType. With no offense to my friends at Six Apart, development on WordPress seems to be happening at a faster pace. And it just fits more in line with what I want to do for now.

The particulars of which CMS I use aside, it was a lot of work to start over from scratch, rather than just modifying existing templates. So not only did I create a new design, I also completely switched template languages, plugin capabilities, and even a bit of my site structure. Previous versions of this site already relied on PHP extensively. So it was a welcome change to be able to interact directly with WordPress via PHP. (I never tried MovableType’s PHP templates–seemed like too much work at the time.)

IE6: the new Netscape4

This version of the site is also my first opportunity to give IE6 the proverbial finger. It was liberating to develop this site without checking my work in IE. Time for everyone to say I dropped IE6. Hello :before and :after pseudo-selectors, attribute selectors, adjacent-sibling selectors, and all kinds of other simple selector tricks that should have worked years ago in every browser.

I didn’t even check any version of IE until last night, when I figured I should at least take a peek to see how gloriously IE6 barfed all over a 10-year old CSS2 specification. Impressive, it was. For now, I’m using conditional comments to serve a custom stylesheet for IE6 just to turn off most of the styles. This seemed like the lesser evil, and at least ensures the poor souls still using IE6 can at least read my content. IE6 gets a stripped down, single-column view that will get no more attention of love after this. I’ll be able to yank those conditional comments and the entire stylesheet anytime I want. I noticed IE7 had one major problem with a negative margin, so IE7 gets its own little stylesheet too.

Getting personal

I mentioned above that I wanted a more personal feel to the site. Since I’m working in-house at Google, I’m not hustling contract work, so there’s no need to market Stopdesign like an agency or firm right now. Because of that, I decided to focus much more on the text of the site, downplay most of the imagery, and go with a very subdued, minimal presence. I chose to display recent Twitter status messages, Flickr images, and my current reading list on the home page to make the site even more personal. Forgive me if you’re not into baby pics–my daughter occupies the majority of my non-working and waking hours, so she’s the subject of almost all photos for the time being. That will change over time. Just ignore the cuteness in the sidebar if babies aren’t your bag.

Watch for sharp edges

Some of you may have already seen the new design a few nights ago when a slight gaffe of my own doing broadcast the new server’s IP address in a feed aggregated by Hot Links. That’ll teach me not to change Feedburner settings before I’m actually ready to pull the trigger.

I haven’t had time to polish every last little detail. But if I keep worrying about that, I’ll never get this design out there. There are still a few glitches in the site here and there. And there may be a few broken links or some missing pages now and then. I’ve done my best to prevent link rot by being diligent with mod_rewrite rules. But you may encounter some oddities or inconsistencies, especially if you dig back through older entry and archive pages.

I’ll do more explaining in future entries. I already have 5 drafts started.

So here’s to a new year. To our new President and the hope he brings. To many more ideas to share. And to a brand new design.

January 23rd 2009 Design, personal

By: Eric Werner

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Wil,

I would be interested in helping with this.

SEO is a value add for my company so we are pretty strict about who we take. If there is not potential for work in our other practice areas we usually can’t take them on as clients.

I always try to point these people in the right direction and offer to review and explain proposals that they get from other “SEO companies”.

Thanks,
Eric

January 20th 2009 Uncategorized

Affiliate Summit West 2009 Recap and the Issues Ahead for the Year 2009 and Beyond

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Affiliate Summit West 2009 in Las Vegas came to an end this Tuesday. I am always fascinated by the fact that I get something out of it, which I had no idea about when I entered the airplane in Fresno last weekend to go to the conference. Sure, I always like to get back in touch personally with the friends and business partners who I more often than I’d like to, neglected during the past months.

A large part of the year 2008 was again sucked away by some invisible force, which cannot be explained with any know law of physics. I just had the feeling that the year was by no means anything as close to 365 days in length. 120 days is probably much closer to the “felt” length of the previous year. No computer will change this feeling of mine. I know it were 365 days, but try to get this message to my intuition and my guts.

Getting Efficiency Back into Performance Marketing

I stumbled across an interesting article by Jeff Molander, CEO of Molander and Associates, which was published in May 2008 at the UK marketing research company blog by eConsultancy (like a Brit version of MarketingSherpa / MarketingExperiments).

I didn’t see this one when it was published it last year. As I mentioned already, it was written in May 2008. Now it’s January 2009. I suggest that you are going to read Jeff’s article, it is most certainly worth your time.

Where are we today? Did things change? … I don’t think that they did very much… a little bit, true, I have to be fair with that one.

The holistic approach should be taken beyond affiliate marketing and applied to all marketing activities that can be tracked somehow, online and offline (pay-per-call is getting more and more mature these days)

eBay Seems to be Leading the Pack once more

I attended this Tuesday at the summit a session by Steve Hartmann and William Martin-Gill from the auction giant eBay.com. The affiliate manager(s) from eBay were giving a presentation that I found pretty interesting. I did not follow the eBay program during the last year very much, I have to admit to my discredit, so what they were talking about was all news to me.

eBay does pay affiliates based on the value and quality of the business that they refer. This is not in beta, they doing this across the board today already.

This shift that eBay underwent after they moved their program away from Commission Junction and brought the whole program in-house was also causing a shift within their programs list of top 100 affiliate partners (they said that, not me). They were basically able to clean up the house. Sure, they lost some publishers over this, but why bother, those publishers were the ones that only sent low quality traffic along their way. The publishers who send great traffic on the other hand, saw their commission double and quadruple instead.

Affiliate Marketing Worldwide

Affiliate Marketing in Europe being behind the U.S.? Look again!

I also touch-based with some European affiliate networks and German OPMs, specifically with Deputy Managing Director Torben Heimann from TradeDoubler Germany (which does not have a presence in the United States … YET), Markus Kellermann Head of Affiliate Marketing and some of his colleagues from eXplido Web Marketing.

They actually implemented already tracking technology that is capable to provide analytics and commission structures attached to that data, which goes beyond the mere “last click” and “banner impression” of how U.S. Networks track stuff since the day when Amazon.com launched their partner program soon to be 15 years ago. They basically do some crude multiple-touch-point tracking of clicks and content views (e.g. video watches). Nothing as sophisticated as some of the top web analytics solution providers is capable of, but hey, it’s going into the right direction.

Nothing new from our old, big and fat networks here in the States. It seems that they try to ignore the changes around them for the greater part, hoping that things will be as good (for them) as they always were. I get the feeling that some executives at those networks (I won’t mention names) live in some state of denial of the realities of this industry.

Europe did not only catch up; they surpassed us already!

In 2003, Germany and the rest of Europe seemed to live in the affiliate marketing stone age. Over the years, this huge gap got smaller. After I learned at ASW about what they are already doing today, I’d say that there is no sign of this old gap anymore at all, quite the opposite… A gap is opening again, but this time the other way around.

U.S. based networks who continue to live in their bubble, will one day go down together with it, if they don’t start getting their act together soon and do some catching up with the rest of the people on this planet.

My Personal Affiliate Summit West 2009 Session and Panel Highlights

What was in my opinion the most Disappointing Session at ASW 2009?
Believe it or not, I was actually able to manage seeing a bunch of the educational sessions at the Summit. The picks that I made were pretty diverse. The first session where I was able to make it to on Sunday was the session/panel about “Ethical Issues in Affiliate Marketing“. It was moderated by Haiko de Poel Jr. from ABestWeb.com and included the panelists Brian Littleton, CEO of the affiliate network ShareASale, old-school super affiliate Connie Berg, founder and owner of the top-coupon web site FlamingoWorld.com, among other successful affiliate projects, OPM Chuck Hamrick from Affiliate Crew and last but not least a guy from a toolbar development company and subsidiary of Rakuten, who owns the LinkShare affiliate Network. (I am sorry, I cannot remember the guy’s name. He jumped in last minute for Paul Nichols from eBates.com)

The session was a bit of a disappointment for me. I don’t think that it was the fault of Haiko or any other panelist in the room that the session pretty much fell flat on its face and was over after 40 minutes already (20 minutes too short), because nobody had anything to comment, ask or say at the end.

I think that biggest problem was that right from the start more than just one major industry problem became the herd of elephants in the room. It was impossible to tackle all of them at the same time, because it takes much more than the time available for average comments and questions to even scratch the surface of just one of the issues that filled up the room like smog the L.A. city limits during rush hour in summer.

Maybe we should try one issue at a time the next time around. I don’t know. It’s tough and my suggestion to the approach of the subjects might falls as flat on its face as the approach last Sunday.

What was the IMO most Productive Session at ABW 2009?
I would say that is title has to go to the panel “Super Affiliate PPC Marketing Strategies” moderated by Anik Singal of Affiliate Classroom and panelists Rosalind Gardner, author of the Super Affiliate Handbook and CEO of WebVista, Inc., Colin McDougall, author of the VEO Report and CEO or the VEO 2.0 Elite Certification Course and last but not least, super affiliate and fellow blogger Amit Mehta, CEO of Performance Marketing Worldwide and author of the blog Super Affiliate Mindset.

The panel was very well moderated and thought through by moderator Anik Singal (hey, it’s the experience from teaching at Affiliate Classroom and PPC Classroom I guess). The panelists themselves were also top of the crop, long time affiliate marketing professional with hands on and real as reality gets experience in various different areas and niches of this industry.

It was demonstrating nicely to the audience that there is simply no silver bullet in this business. There are numerous different (and sometimes even conflicting) ways to be successful as an affiliate marketer.

Why I think that this session was the most productive? Very simple answer: All of the panelists were speaking  honestly about everything they did right and where they screwed up. No panelist was holding back any secrets and answered any of the many asked questions as good as humanly possible. I don’t think that anybody who was asking a question walked away without an answer or at least with a sack full of ideas and things to check, measure, verify or test.

After the session was officially over, all panelists remained where they were and did not leave until they responded to/answered the questions that people who approached them personally, were asking them. I stood next to a visitor who was getting a crash course in PPC campaign creation and initial testing by Amit. The tips were not vague at all… real figures and numbers were given. Tools mentioned by name and URL, even the personal unknown favorites, which might provide a cutting edge over competitors, while you know about them and they do not.

Very refreshing!

What was IMO the most Enjoyable Session at ABW 2009?
The session that was one hour long, but felt like 30 minutes or less, while getting a ton of specific tips and information, the none-specific, but bloody honest truth (test-test-test-test, don’t guess or assume = work), mixed in with some humorous, interactive and engaging segments to get the crowds full attention while at the same time help the listeners to relax a bit to be able to suck in more facts about a somewhat dry and boring subject. Well, a subject that involves hands on the job work, and separates facts from fiction. What I am talking about? “Landing Page Testing to increase Conversion“, presented all by its lonely self, Tim Ash, CEO of SiteTurner.com and author of the book “Landing Page Optimization“, which I can also highly recommend buying by the way. I wrote a short review about it on Search Engine Journal when it came out.

Tim knows his stuff and is not kidding around. At the same time he knows how to present structure and perform a presentation that is never boring for even a second and where you walk away from with the feeling and knowledge, that you learned something new, that you did not know or even thought about before the session.

What Else is New?

I did a video interview with Angel Djambazov, Marketing Manager at PopShops.com and Kellie Stevens from Affiliate Fairplay at Affiliate Summit West 2009 at the Rio all-suites hotel and casino, January 11-13, 2009, in Las Vegas, Nevada on January 13, 2009. The interview is about ReveNews.com where Angel is Editor in Chief and about Kellie’s commitment to write some posts for ReveNews.com, if Angel will send her some premium coffee from his home in Seattle, Washington. Kellie’s posts are something that is worth looking forward to. Kellie did win Affiliate Summit Pinnacle Award for Affiliate Marketing Legend the day prior to this interview for some good reasons. Billy Kay also made a commitment I got told by Angel, but unfortunately I was unable to get this commitment on camera by Billy himself.

Here is the video interview. Also mentioned in the Video were Wayne Porter and Pat Grady.

Click here to view the embedded video.

More ReveNews.com Bloggers Wanted
Furthermore, Angel mentioned that despite the various new ReveNews.com bloggers he was able to get to write and contribute to this blog, especially experts in the social media space; RN still needs some expert voice and opinions to other relevant and important subjects, such as Net Neutrality and/or Internet Security. Those subject used to be covered well in the past, by another Affiliate Marketing Legend (the first one actually) and co-founder of this web site, Wayne Porter.

Unfortunately does Wayne not write as much (and long, longer than mine, seriously hehe) as he used to not too long ago. This is sad, but nothing Angel or I can do much about it, except for hunting down some experienced security experts with some writing skills to fill the huge void that the absence of Wayne created here.

Some Fun at the End to Loosen Up a Little Bit
I published a second video, which is only one minute in length about the Affiliate Summit Triathlon. It’s actually a funny video. I hope you will enjoy it, but do not forget the serious issues that I was pointing out in this post over all this fun and excitement.

Affiliate Summit West 2009 Triathlon Best of – Crashes

Click here to view the embedded video.

Okay, that is enough now!

I can already see Shawn Collin’s face, when he looks at this post of mine and thinking to himself  “Gee, again one of Carsten’s overly long blog posts that I am not able to read entirely, because my attention span doesn’t exceed 500 words at one time“.  Sorry Shawn, but I hope that my paragraph headings will help that you are not missing too much of the facts and details of my post hehe.

Bonus: Full Video – Gary Vaynerchuk Keynote at Affiliate Summit West 2009

Cheers!

Carsten Cumbrowski

Check out my free collection of useful internet and affiliate marketing resources at Cumbrowski.com. All the hard research work done for you already, that you don’t have to. You’re welcome!

Affiliate Marketing Census Report 2009 – Your Help is Needed!

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Okay, here is a quick one with a long quote of Jessica Luthi from AffiliateProgramAdvice.com before I am heading off for Las Vegas to Affiliate Summit 2009 West. The quote summarizes everything pretty nicely. I could not have it said better myself. I filled out the survey a couple minutes ago and suggest that other affiliate marketers will do the same.

Shawn Collin’s AffStat reports provide interesting insights into the affiliate marketing space from an advertiser’s perspective.

Peter Figueredo from NETexponent released last November their first AffiliateBenchmark research report, which already provided some interesting insights into the affiliate marketing space.

I was yelling two years ago in January 2007 “Where is the Affiliate Benchmark Guide 2006“. Now I am hoping to get what I was asking for back then. The survey only takes a few minutes and you will get a free copy of the results, two more reasons why you should do it.

AffiliateProgramAdvice.com and E-Consultancy.com both companies are independent and impartial and trusted.

Last year e-consultancy.com (largest independent UK Data Research company) and in association with AffiliateProgramadvice.com made UK Affiliate Marketing History by producing the first ever UK Affiliate Census which can be downloaded here http://econsultancy.com/reports/uk-affiliate-census-report .

The UK Census came about due to the lack of transparency for Advertiser and Affiliate Networks in terms of who are “affiliates” Very little is known about the very people who contribute billions to our online economy. Affiliates/publishers also have little or no information about each other in terms of what is the average revenue an affiliate makes, what do affiliates see as a threat to the industry, what is the best method of promoting a merchant/Advertiser, how many networks does an affiliate belong to?.

This year it’s now time to turn our attention to the USA too. This census will be a first for the USA so a bit of USA Affiliate Marketing history is in the making, all too exciting and for the UK we already have historical data so we can now plot changes/trends. We intend to do a US an UK comparison too, is the US any different to the UK? Does the UK do it better? (cheeky grin)

We believe this Affiliate Census will be the biggest piece of research in understanding “who are the affiliates and what do they do and how do they do it”? But… we can’t do this without the entire industry getting behind this and pushing this out so here is what we need for you to do.

For Affiliates
The survey is for affiliates and takes less then ten minutes to complete by way of thanks to all those who complete the survey, we will send you the results, there is an option at the end for you to add your email address for when the report is published, this is optional. Please be aware this survey is 100% confidential, we do not ask for any personal information and the questions are fairly generic, by all means walk through it first.

We have a US survey (aimed at US Affiliates) can be seen here http://bit.ly/VG5N

We have a UK survey (aimed at UK affiliates) can be seen here http://bit.ly/pNPQ

So if you are a US affiliate please follow the US link and if you are a UK affiliate please follow the UK link.

For affiliates who are neither UK or US, you can still participate, example if I live in Germany but promote UK Advertisers, you would follow the UK survey link.

Cut off is 27th January 2009

Thank you so much in advance and if I could be a little pushy, when you have completed the survey, pass this on to anyone you think would be interested. You rock!

For Agencies
Please grab any information from the above and just email anyone you think would be interested in this as you will want to see the published results too.

For Affiliate Networks
You know you want to see the published results and if you email your entire network of affiliates by way of thanks, drop me your logo Jessica at affiliateprogramadvice.com and we will add this to the published report with a link to your network.

For Merchants/Advertisers
We know you will want to see the results of this survey, so any direct partnerships you have in place with any one in the affiliate marketing industry, please point them to the survey.

See you in Vegas!

Carsten

January 11th 2009 affiliate marketing

Affiliate Data Feed Delivery via HTTP

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I was updating and expanding my affiliate product data feeds and APIs resources at Cumbrowski.com, in particular the resources to the product feeds and store builder feature provided by the PepperJam affiliate network, which was launched about one year ago.

I liked what I saw overall, although some items were, in my opinion a great idea, but then implemented half way only, probably without intending it.

Free? Hurray!

Product data are available to any affiliate without any cost directly via the PepperJam Network web interface. There is also a coupon feed available, in delimited format and RSS format (using some custom tags outside the RSS definition). They also have a tool called “store builder” (product show-case creator), which is similar to the tools available through third party tools providers like PopShops.com, GoldenCan.com, DataFeedFile.com or FeedShare.com.

Data Delivery via HTTP

Providing the feeds directly via HTTP, accessible via any web browser is a smart, efficient and cost effective solution. There is no need to charge any fee for setup or maintenance, because there is really nothing to setup. Via a, what you could call, “special page” are the product data rendered into the web browser in simple delimited text format, without HTML tags or anything like that. This is close to the format how the networks developer gets the same information out of their product catalog database, without the need for the developer to write a fancy, functional and error free user interface to browse the products.

The product information can be pulled and rendered into the browser in real-time.

Large Feeds

Since no FTP account needs to be created and no static product feed files created to be picked up by the affiliate via FTP client software, a whole new set of options become available and possible. No disk space is wasted on files that are not being picked up and no server CPU is spending a single cycle of processing power on it, until the affiliate publisher actually requests it.

True, there are some challenges, if you use HTTP as delivery method, if the amount of product s requested and downloaded is very large. However, 99% of all merchant product feeds do not fall into this category and even the merchants who have such large feeds (e.g. Buy.com, Overstock.com or Walmart.com) learned that it makes sense to break up their huge 1 million+ products big data feeds into smaller chunks, because it is never an easy undertaking to process over 1 million product records all at once, regardless if you download them via FTP or not.

Since HTTP requests can be handled and processed in real-time, the option to provide filters to reduce the amount of data returned, is now suddenly also (or should be) of the interest of the network.

It used to be an interest of the affiliates only (for the most part). I remember the time when I downloaded gigabytes of junk data every day, because there was only the choice between “everything” and “nothing”. Well, nothing was really an option, so you had to deal with all the overhead that you did not need.

Imagine the Possibilities

The real-time factor does allow the setup of virtually an unlimited number of filters. It is sad that affiliate networks who utilize HTTP for product data delivery are not making much use of this. A filter by product category, advertiser and keyword should only be the very least at the beginning.

When I was an affiliate manager in 2003 for a retailer who had the affiliate program with Commission Junction, the first thing I did was the creation of an affiliate intranet where publishers could create an account and pull product information and more. The intranet was initially created to solve the issues of not having contact information of any publisher (a CJ “feature”) , avoiding the $750 setup fee for the product catalog at CJ itself and the up to $250 setup fee for each publisher in our program that did not qualify for the free access to product feeds through CJ.

The intranet required a second registration, which is tough. We had to offer an incentive to do this. That was when we came up with features that were impossible to provide via the traditional network and the way how they did (and to some degree still do) things. For example it was possible to pull the top XXX number of best-selling products for the whole site or specific categories only and also the time-frame of the sales, ranging from “this month” to “all-time”. This enables the discovery of seasonal trends or sudden “hot” items that are new in the product catalog.

Those are only a few examples. Use your imagination and I am sure that the possible opportunities that come out as a consequence of it would be great, if at least some of the ideas will be implemented.

Web Services instead of Delimited Text via HTTP?

You might say that all this is what the new hot feature “web services” is supposed to be doing.

Yes and No. The border between web services and delimited feeds with several filter options provided via HTTP gets blurry, no doubt about that, but the technical details how similar they might appear are still different. The question whether to use a delimited feed or a web service (if available) still remains to be answered on a case-by-case basis. In some cases a combination of both does make sense.

As with web services, providing other data via HTTP beyond product and coupon data makes sense also, including reporting data or general program information about active or possible merchant/advertising partners.

One thing that PepperJam forgot over the nice and easy access to the product data via HTTP is the need for automated access to the data. HTTP is great and the link provided, updated based on my selections even better, but all this is of no use for many affiliates, if they have to be logged-in to the networks web interface in order to use the URL provided to them.

If I log-off and try the feed URL, no records are returned. Not good!

Automated Access without Login

PepperJam were not the first nor last who made this mistake. I remember LinkConnector.com having the same problem. I contacted them a while ago, suggesting to them to remedy this short-coming. I need to check, if they actually did anything or not. I could not send them sample source code as I did with Kolimbo (MyAffiliateProgram), where I could tell that they are using Microsoft Active Server Pages, where I am familiar with.

The affiliate network AvantLink.com did it right from the start. I wrote about it, when they launched, what they called their “AvantLink API Module“. Well, AvantLink had and has the reputation to be very knowledgeable about the subject of feeds and APIs.

You can have a look at their solution to see how they made it possible to provide access to the data in an automated fashion but at the same time doing it in a controlled manner without the option for anonymous access to the content.

If you do not want or like to see what another affiliate network is doing, fine, how about Google?

If you used the Google Calendar, you probably noticed the feature to pull your private events as a feed via an obscure URL provided by Google with the note that you must not give the URL to anybody, because it would give that person access to your feed as well. The protection is the obscure code in the URL that is virtually impossible to guess by anybody.

In the case that you think that the URL did leak out somehow, the option is available to render that URL invalid and generate a new unique and private URL for the same content.

I think you got the idea behind this.

PepperJam Sample Source Codes

Oh, by the way, the coupon feed provided by PepperJam Network does not require to be logged in to pull it. The lack of tags for start and end date of a promotion in the RSS version of the feed limits its possible uses, but I provided an example with source code for how to use it.

I also put the source code of a Visual Basic Script on my website that works around the problem of the need to be logged in to the web interface in order to pull the product feeds. I added a bunch of command line options to make it as flexible as possible for the use by affiliates to automate the pickup of product data from PepperJam.

Documentation? Configuration?

Last but not least. Is it really that hard to provide some notes about the general structure of the delimited feed (column and row separators, first row having column names or not, escaping of content that contains column or row delimiter) and to each column in the file about its use, possible values and format, which columns are required and always must have appropriate data provided by the merchant (and verified by you, the network)? Since the output data are generated on the fly, how about letting the publisher choose the format himself? We did that at our affiliate intranet too. The feed format preferences were simply stored with the affiliates intranet account. Some folks prefer tab-delimited, others pipe and there are even folks who like to deal with the mess that a CSV feed can create, if created improperly. The Linux guys prefer a simple Line-Feed after each record, the Windows guys a carriage-return plus a line-feed and the Mac guys just a carriage-return. Let each have it the way they like it.

I did as in almost every case educated guesses again by looking at actual product feed data from various selected merchants. But why should I do the guessing, if you are in the know and just forgot to write it down and share with your publisher base? “Should” and “Seems Obvious” is not good enough here. Once you automated the download, import, processing and publishing of a feed, having guessed wrong becomes more than a minor inconvenience, especially if it would have been easily avoidable early on.

Cheers

Carsten Cumbrowski
Internet Marketer, Blogger and Entrepreneur

Cumbrowski.com, the resources portal for internet marketers. The content is free, no strings attached.

January 5th 2009 affiliate marketing, RSS