Observations and thoughts


13 June 2016

Improving performance of Jekyll with Cloudflare and Google App Engine

The thoughts and links I share here are brief. Similarly, I like to keep page load time brief. No one likes to wait for pages to load.

In an experiment to learn more about HTTP/2 Server Push and Google App Engine I moved my blog generated using Jekyll from Github Pages to Google App Engine with Cloudflare in front. A feature of Github Pages is that it ‘just works’ at the cost of customisation. Google App Engine is a cloud computing platform for web applications and offers complete customisation at the cost of greater complexity, and Cloudflare supports HTTP/2 Server Push via the Link header which is easily specified for static assets served by Google App Engine.

If you’re using Chrome 53 or later, the resource inspector shows resources which have been pushed.

Inspector: blog.jramsay.com.au

While setting up Google App Engine I encountered some challenges using regex url handlers and preferred generating the url handlers as part of the Jekyll build step. After all, Jekyll knows the URL of every page it generates. To do this I wrote a simple Jekyll plugin: jekyll-app-engine.

Interestingly while writing the plugin, I discovered Ruby’s YAML implementation automatically uses anchors and aliases when writing objects to a YAML string. I quickly discovered this was problematic for my purposes because support for anchors and aliases is not implemented in the Google App Engine SDK. This quickly turned my simple adventures in Ruby into a more complex exploration of both the SDK and Ruby’s YAML library Psych. In the end I settled for sub-classing Psych’s YAMLTree and setting the alias lookup object to a new empty object. If any Rubyists have ideas for a better solution, please let me know.

27 April 2016

Marketing Malpractice: The Cause and the Cure

From the HBR archives, this is one of the classic papers behind Jobs To Be Done (JTBD):

In other words, the job, not the customer, is the fundamental unit of analysis for a marketer who hopes to develop products that customers will buy.

I’ve recently been reading the The Clayton M. Christensen Reader and am enjoying the time spent thinking through the ideas behind the processes and tools of JTBD.

If you’ve never read any of Clayton Christensen’s papers but find JTBD interesting, reading this paper would be time well spent.

5 March 2016

Widespread XSS Vulnerabilities in Ad Network Code Affecting Top Tier Publishers, Retailers

Randy Westergren writes:

Any time we allow 3rd party scripts to run on our sites, we effectively relinquish control of the code that executes on the client. This is particularly important when integrating ad network scripts since they are inherently more dynamic than most other types of integrations, the cause of which is the ad industry’s general fragmented nature.

Randy details the vulnerability and lists high profile vulnerable sites including The Telegraph, NYPost, CBS News, NBC News, NYTimes, MSN, Washington Post and the BBC.

It’s always surprised me that publishers are so willing for third-party scripts to be served to their customers over the RTB exchanges without any real quality control tools. Even guaranteed advertising presents quality control challenges for publishers who are limited to sampling the responses of agency ad tags, rather than being able to examine the underlying creative or tracking scripts directly or be notified of changes being made by the buyer.

Given vast coverage of advertising across the web and their vulnerability to XSS attacks, it is surprising so few have attacks have been documented. Yet another reason to run an ad blocker, despite the financial hurt they cause to publishers.

Advertising is becoming a tax that only poor people pay

Scott Galloway, Professor of Marketing and Brand Strategy at NYU Stern and Founder of L2 said at DLD:

The advertising industrial complex is about to come to an end and the downstream service providers–the conglomerates–are about to take their turn at the woodshed.

The house that advertising built was consumer packaged goods. They taught us that detergents and soaps could be wrapped in emotion. You were a better mum, you were more American, you were a more elegant European if you used a certain type of hand soap. This is the house that advertising built.

Last year the house that advertising built, almost 90% of all CPG brands lost share, and two-thirds lost revenue. Why? Because advertising sucks! And if you’re wealthy you can opt-out of advertising. We are now downloading Modern Family and paying two-bucks [$2] for it on iTunes solely so we can avoid the advertising. Advertising is becoming a tax only poor people pay.

Scott follows the money and describes my individual experience precisely. I pay for content on iTunes and Netflix, and subscribe to the few publications I read regularly to avoid advertising.

Most advertising is irrelevant and low quality and I’d rather not give up yet more of my privacy in the hope of seeing more relevant advertising. Those with the means are going to opt-out by paying for content or install an ad blocker to bypass advertising all together.

24 February 2016

RTB Is Anti-Publisher At Its Core

Todd Garland of Buy Sell Ads writes for MediaPost:

When did it become acceptable for advertisers to allocate a perceived value to a publisher’s inventory? If we’re looking for examples to help us define the concept of onerous terms, look no further than the ecosystem built, and continually propped up by, RTB advocates.

I’d like to say that it’s insane.

Imagine walking into a car dealership and then simply telling the salesperson what you will be purchasing a car for. Do you think a dealership would let you walk out with the keys? That’s exactly how RTB exchanges work today.

Only a few days prior, Todd wrote on LinkedIn:

The IAB and the house it built is a mess, and it’s dangerously close to catching fire and burning to the ground. The IAB still continues to ignore the simple fact that people have voted with their Chrome, Firefox, and Safari plugins. The market reality we’re all facing is something the ad tech industry has created and end-users don’t give two “merdes” about what that means for publishers.

Todd doesn’t pull any punches and says publicly what many have been thinking. More frequent critical appraisals like these would benefit the advertising industry.

22 February 2016

The Most Powerful Lesson I’ve Ever Learned In Business

Mike McCue writes on Medium:

If you seek out and uphold the first principles you will not only make a good decision, you’ll do it in way which strengthens your team rather than splintering it.

Mike writes about using first principles when making tough decisions and provides a practical example from his own experiences.

After all, integrity is all about upholding principles… And principles only matter when they’re hard to keep.

Good advice, but hard to follow when it counts.