Thursday, 17 December 2009

Writing online content: update

Had a little bit of good news a couple of days ago - my first article has been accepted by Constant Content! It was in response to a public request, so the client has first dibs on it and if they don't like it, it will go in my general portfolio. The article in question is about the Northern Lights. I must say I really enjoyed writing it - the process of taking the scientific information from several sources and distilling it down into a readable morsel about 550 words long was nice and challenging.

I like the Constant Content way of doing things much better than Elance. I haven't pursued Elance because I suspect that most of the clients on there are the sort who give you an extremely vague brief to start with, and then constantly move the goalposts so you end up doing a lot of work for a very low hourly rate.

I really need to sign up for some more online content sites, because in the short term, this is the only thing that is going to add more ££ to my coffers. It's going to be some months before Hub Pages starts to kick in earnings-wise, if it ever does.

Current Hub Pages Adsense earnings: £4.21. Woohoo!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Fans, followers and twubbers

Having mentioned the subject of "fanning" on Hub Pages in yesterday's post, I logged into my HP account this morning and found that instead of "fans", I now had "followers"! Several heated debates on this subject were already underway on HP's forums, with a large contingent of people bemoaning the change, partly because Twitter also uses the word "followers".

Personally, I think both terms suck. In fact, the idea of fanning, following or "friending" on the Internet really makes me squirm. I am happy (delighted, even) for people to bookmark or subscribe to my stuff... because that's all they're doing: showing an interest in what I write or sell. But if you're someone's "fan", it implies a whole-person endorsement that just isn't appropriate on the Internet. After all, you don't really know someone on the web - you just get a carefully-chosen segment of their personality. Sometimes you don't even get that, but an online illusion that doesn't correspond to the real life person at all.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Money is the root of all evil? I don't think so

I've been a member of Hub Pages for four months. I originally joined in order to revitalise my interest in writing, and to a large extent this objective has been met, which is great! Hub Pages is in fact strangely addictive, to the point where not only have I written 35 hubs to date, but I've also been spending quite a lot of time on its forums, which are a great source of ideas on stuff to write about and give a good insight into how people in other parts of the world think. (OK, perhaps I should change that last part: they give a good insight into how Americans think, because Americans make up by far the majority of HP members.)

However, I'm bemused by a lot of the threads/topics on HP. For a start, there are many, many threads on religion. A lot of the posters are either hardcore fundamentalist Christians, or they're equally hard line atheists. Flame wars are commonplace, as you can imagine. I don't participate in the religious threads, although I have dipped in occasionally, taken a look round and backed away quickly. Life is just too short. I'm actually tempted to publish a hub on creationism versus evolution, but I'm very wary of the idea because of the avalanche of ill-informed comments that might come its way. I think that's one article I might want to sell/promote via other means.

Then there are the "So and so has xxxx fans. Woooo-hooo!!!" type threads. If you've never been on Hub Pages, the "fan" thing is like having friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter. Many people on HP misuse the fan system by fanning scores of people at a time in the hope that people will fan them back. (This phenomenon is so common on HP that the site's old hands have come up with a word for it: "famming".) As if famming weren't stupid enough, serial fammers will often post forum threads begging for more fans. This mindset is so alien to my way of thinking that I can't get my head around it at all. Surely you should become someone's fan when you really like their writing, and not otherwise? Given that HP sends you an email every time one of the people you've fanned publishes a new hub, there must be an awful lot of HP members with very full inboxes. Obviously they can't have thought that one through, which is hardly surprising perhaps.

The political threads are another big component of forum life at HP. Sad to say, they're a lot like the religion threads in that they very quickly become polarised - at one end, you have the "liberals" and at the other, the "conservatives" (using the American definitions of each here). Sometimes issues do get discussed on their own merits, but often the whole thing just becomes a pissing contest. Really, if I want to sniff a latrine, I'll go to my local public toilets.

However, there is one strand of threads which stands head and shoulders above the rest, both in terms of actual content and the all-round decency/urbanity of the people posting there. It's the "How do I make money on HubPages?" type threads. If you're not familiar with HP, the ways to make money there are by garnering Google Adsense revenue from your hubs (HP takes 40%, and the hubber takes 60%), or by becoming an Amazon and/or eBay affiliate. You can also post links to your other web sites (blogs, business sites or whatever) on your profile page, and some people have even had offers of freelance writing work via their hubs. As I'm discovering, the road to real earnings is a long, hard one - at the time of writing, after four months' HP membership, my Adsense account has just £3.94 in it. The people on HP who do really well (as opposed to making a bit of regular extra dosh which is my goal) are those who treat it as a 6-day week full time job; moreover, they don't use HP as their only source of revenue, but also post to other, similar sites and promote/backlink their work via other means such as blogs and sites like or They're very savvy about SEO and what today's consumer actually wants. But these same people take the time to help newcomers find their way about and give them advice. People swap information gladly. This is a huge step up from the religion threads!

I've always been rather suspicious of the idea that money is the root of all evil, and now I've got real evidence to back up my suspicion. I suppose it helps that Hub Pages isn't a zero-sum game. In other words, if I earn more money through Adsense, it's not at the expense of other hubbers. In fact, the bigger HP gets, the higher its Google PageRank and the higher people's hubs come in search engine results, which means more Adsense clicks, not fewer. Provided of course that the overall quality of HP's output doesn't go down. That is a real danger, because there are a lot of crap hubs on HP - poorly written, spammy and keyword stuffed to the nines. And don't get me started on the "sweaty Indian aunties" photo hubs LOL. They're just incredible, and I don't mean that in a good way!

Monday, 16 November 2009

Jerusalem (artichokes), the golden

Last autumn I went to a local boot fair and bought a bag of Jerusalem artichokes off a man who had grown them in his own garden and was selling them for 20p a bag. I peeled a few of them and used them in a pasta sauce, which I found very much to my liking. The rest I stored in our shed over winter, and in February of this year I planted them in the small raised bed in our back garden. Nothing happened for ages and I forgot about them, until finally they sprouted and grew up into these tall, sunflower-like plants. (Apparently Jerusalem artichoke is a member of the sunflower family, so that's not entirely surprising.) Today I dug up the first of the plants. My OH blanched the artichokes and roasted them in goose fat, and they were gorgeous. Tomorrow I will be taking over the reins in the kitchen - I plan to make a Greek dish, pasticchio, with a little extra something... a layer of Jerusalem artichoke slices.

Update: I made the pasticchio, complete with slices of blanched Jerusalem artichoke. It was gorgeous - the artichoke added a subtle extra something, without being overpowering or out of place. In case you didn't know, pasticchio is a pasta bake flavoured with a pinch of cinnamon. You cook some pasta quills, you make a cheese sauce using a roux, and you make a bolognaise sauce (minus bacon but with that pinch of cinnamon). Then you mix the pasta quills and bolognaise-type sauce, add a layer of blanched Jerusalem artichoke slices, and finally a layer of cheese sauce, plus grated cheese on the top. Bake in the oven at about gas mark 6/200 deg.C for half an hour. As I said, gorgeous.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Are You Free, Mr Humphries?

I came across this question recently on an Internet forum: "What's better - a regulated society for the benefit of the whole, or a society free of regulations so individuals can do as they please?"

As a person living in today's Britain, it's a subject that's often uppermost in my mind. We have a lot of regulations in this country - thanks partly to our membership of the EU, partly to vociferous lobby groups and partly to (some) people's belief that if you only pass enough legislation, then every one of our problems can be regulated away.

Of course, it doesn't actually work like that. The law of unforseen consequences applies here, just as it does in other aspects of life. An example is the recent case of two policewomen who worked at the same police station, and looked after each other's children while the other was on shift. In Britain you have to be registered to be a childminder, so even though no money was involved, the two women had actually broken the law. A neighbour reported the two women, and they were told they would have to make alternative arrangements or face prosecution.

It's incidents like this which make me believe that Britain is no longer a free society. Or put it this way, we are well on the way to that unhappy state although thankfully, we haven't reached the nadir experienced by people in - say - Hitler's Germany or Stalinist Russia. But what is it about these regimes that is absent in Britain, and could we end up going the same way?

Hard-line totalitarian regimes like the Third Reich or the Soviet Union relied on a relentless surveillance culture and a willingness on the part of ordinary citizens to report their neighbours for real or imagined infractions. If the story about the policewomen is anything to go by, it sounds as though British society already has that box well and truly ticked.

Another feature of totalitarian regimes is the "need" for a scapegoat (the Jews, the bourgeoisie) that the regime can use as a focus for people's discontent. If all the blame can be placed on the scapegoat, then it provides a handy distraction and absolves individuals (and governments) from any responsibility for their own actions. Thankfully, I don't think the UK has reached that point yet, and I hope we never do.

Is that the whole story though? Or are there other elements which are present in the hard line regimes, but not (as yet) in Britain? Well, I think I've nailed one. In a totalitarian set-up, you lose the right NOT to have to subscribe to whatever ideology the regime is peddling: not to sing the party song, not to go to rallies, not to send your kids to Hitler Youth meetings (or their equivalent) and not to join the Party in order to get a place at university or a good job. If this sounds like an interesting concept, read more here.