Saturday, February 28, 2009

How to Search Twitter for What's Hot

One of the things that was notable about last week's plane crash in Amsterdam was the use of Twitter by nearby witnesses. I heard about it in the media as I madly updated with accident information, but I was frustrated because I didn't have an easy way to search Twitter. Actually, I had a way, I just didn't know about it. allows you to search Twitter for up to the minute messages. It is such a good service, that Twitter acquired it. You can find it either at or

By the way, here is another shameless plug for Often after a several plane crashes in a short period of time, someone would ask me if "plane crashes happened in threes." I used to dismiss this kind of question as nonsense, at least until I actually analyzed the concept behind the question. I no longer dismiss the question. In fact, not only do I think that crashes can happen in threes, I know that they can happen in fours and fives as well. Check out for details.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Is it Legal to Advertise Online Gambling?

Recently, I was debating with a site owner about whether a link to a gambling site was legal where he lived in Washington State. He pointed out that online gambling was illegal in that state, and he didn't want to take a chance to be accused of promoting online gambling, so the owner would not place any gambling links.

I didn't know about Washington State laws, so I did a quick Google search and came up with an interesting fact sheet from the Washington State Gambling Commission at The first line is pretty ominous. It says "Internet gambling has always been illegal in Washington State and in the United States." I don't know about gambling having always been illegal, but I am aware that transferring funds to pay for online gambling are not allowed in the US, and that banks, credit card services, and PayPal can't transfer money from US customers to online gambling sites. These money transfer laws were made at the federal level, so they applied to every part of the United States.

The Washington state gambling commission also didn't like advertising for gambling. On the second page of their fact sheet, it says that "It is illegal to solicit Washington State citizens to gamble on the Internet when a fee is involved to play the games."

In the state of Washington, and perhaps other states, would a mere link to a gambling web site constitute soliciting someone to do something illegal? As I said before, I'm no lawyer, but I'll give you my opinion anyway. In my opinion, if the web site is not promoting illegal activity, and if it is legal in the location where it resides, then providing a link to it should not be a problem.

Any site owner should review the destination URL of any outgoing link you currently have, and any external link that you are thinking about adding. If you already have a link to a site, and then you find out that the site is not obeying the law, specifically the law where you reside or where your web site is hosted, then the sensible thing to do is remove the link. If you are still deciding to place a link, and you have even a little bit of hesitation, then don't add the link.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Choosing and Rejecting Text Link Advertising Offers

For the average web site owner who has developed a web site to serve a specialized audience, making money from advertising is usually not a high priority. There are many programs that offer affiliate marketing opportunities where a web site owner may get paid if someone buys a product or service, or if a visitor does some other specific action. In most cases, the site owner has to go out and find these opportunities. But sometimes opportunities come looking for the owner.

There are also a number of companies that offer to pay to have specific links placed on a site. These may be plain text links, text links embedded in surrounding text, or even a rotating banner with a changing set of links. For most owners, getting an unsolicited offer like this is usually unexpected, and in most cases accepting such offers won't cause a problem. However, a site owner should still be careful and be prepared to say no.

You might ask, "Why should I say no to easy money?" The simple answer is that placing a link on your site may mean easy money, but this easy money isn't free from risk. In a previous post, I discussed how search engines may penalize some web sites that may violate their policies regarding advertising.

While search engine policies may differ, common sense dictates that anyone considering placing such links should at least check where the link is going. A sensible policy would be to avoid any link that is associated with one or more of the following:

Illegal activity: To be safe, this would include any activity, product, or service that is illegal in the location where your web site's server is located, or the location where the site owner or the business that owns or runs the site is located.

Unethical activity: Specifically, activities that your target audience would consider unethical. One example is an educational site aimed at high school students running ads from a company that sells customized term papers.

Immoral activity: Deciding what is moral or not could be an easy process or a hard one. One morality indicator I like to use is the 12-year-old rule. If I wouldn't want the average twelve-year-old to be exposed to it, it doesn't show up in the site or the blog.

Sites with no value to your audience: If you don't give your audience what it wants, they'll go elsewhere. Offering links that go to sites with no real benefit to them isn't worth the money.

Adult sites: Unless your site is adult-oriented, avoid any link to sites that have material that is not safe for work, or appropriate for children.

Sites that look suspicious: If you don't feel right about the site, don't link to it.

The most important thing about placing any links on your site is that the final decision is up to you. No matter how good the money looks right now, think twice before you do anything that might drive your audience away or lower your site's search engine rankings.