Jan 22, 2010

Much Ado About AdSense

In Ye Merrye Olde World of Translation Workhouses, there has been renewed debate lately regarding immodest and professionally unacceptable Google Advertisement in the kingdom. This was noted, along with a few examples, in my Facebook commentary "Get your mail order brides through ProZ!". After I wrote my comments, the original debate thread (in German and English) continued and has not yet been locked, though my post (see below) took more than 24 hours for vetting (yes, I'm on probation again - God only knows why), and even Ralf Lemster's posts must now be individually approved, because the management is concerned about his "tone" in the matter. I find it rich that a person who was one of the longest-serving moderators on ProZ, who helped establish the brand in Europe and handled its payments here for years, who is respected by everyone who knows him for his competence and absolute straight arrow ethics as well as his helpfulness to those who are serious about the business of translation be treated like a naughty teenager because he thinks that fraudulent diet ads and offers of mail order brides do not project an image that will help translators in their business. His calls for action and accountability - and those of others - have been brushed off with platitutes about "two ecosystems" and other irrelevancies. There is a problem, however, when sewage from one ecosystem - the advertising system that constitutes the bulk of revenue at ProZ - pollutes the ecosystem in which translators try to do business. I commented:

Durchaus bedenklich. Altogether worrisome.

Imageschaden sind bei solcher Werbung vorprogrammiert. Für uns, auch für ProZ allgemein.

Es ist klar, dass Werbung wohl einen notwendige Beitrag zum Betrieb leistet und auch leisten muß, und ich finde den angemessenen Einsatz von Werbung in Ordnung, sogar positiv. Diese muß auch nicht rein sprachdienstleistungsbezoge sein - die Reisebranche ist lukrativ und auch passend zu einem internationalen Image. GermanWings- oder EasyJet-Werbung würde sogar ich von Zeit zu Zeit anklicken. Aber der aktuelle Ansatz ist einfach nicht akzeptabel, und ich finde, es gibt akuten Handlungsbedarf.


With such advertisement, damage to image and reputation is inevitable, for us and for ProZ in general.

It is clear that ads probably make a necessary contribution to operations and that this must also be. I find the appropriate use of advertisement OK, positive even. It also need not be strictly related to language services; the travel sector is lucrative and fits an international image. Even I would click on GermanWings or EasyJet advertisement occasionally. However, the current approach is simply not acceptable. I find there is an urgent need to take action.

Time and again ProZ staff have claimed that it isn't possible to filter properly for languages other than English. However, information from other colleagues contradicts this. I won't speculate about this discrepancy, and in this case I'm not sure if all parties are really talking about the same thing. I'm not comfortable with this lack of reliable information, so I'm contemplating doing what any trained scientist would do: design and run an appropriate experiment. I have an AdSense account which I had to set up for purpose unrelated to any blog (and which I have never used, so I know next to nothing about it). I am considering immersing myself in the cesspit of Google ads and experimenting with them on this blog so that I can understand myself how these filters work, what the options are and who is giving the real story in the whole argument on ProZ.

If I do this, I will tweak the filters in various ways, then sit back and watch the results. I'm sure that not all of them will be good, so I apologize in advance for anything offensive. And then I'll take those ads off, because I don't want this space polluted with them for the long term. I have nothing against stuff like the AIT partner program, because I like their products for the most part and feel that they play a useful role in a freelance translator's business, and if SDL wants to sponsor a square centimeter of space at the bottom for fifty million euros a year, I might not say no, but I can't imagine allowing Google to determine what is relevant and helpful for someone who takes the time to read what I have to say. And *if* I do this, I will report the results, of course.



  1. Very funny! Most of the German ads I see with the initial default AdSense settings are about blogs or pizza. Slithering along has ads all about legal advice :-) I'll browse around old posts & tweak the settings as I have time and figure it out. It would interest me to know what others see, particularly those in other countries.

  2. Kevin, I experimented with Google Adsense on my blog a few years back, and I seem to remember having excellent control over what ads were and weren't allowed to appear... I look forward to seeing the results of your experiment.

  3. Viewed from New Zealand the front page is all about blogs, pizza, legal advice, and Bollywood (photos, videos etc)

  4. Great idea Kevin!

    It's too bad I don't speak German, I would love to be able to understand what people are saying a little better.

  5. Fooled you, Damian :-) Most of what you see are screen shots I made. Only the banner at the top of the page is "real, live" Google adstuff. The cursor is live on mouseover for the other stuff, because this blog platform opens pictures in the browser window if you click them.

    @Paula: Like I said, only stuff at the top is real. Do you see Spanish there?

    @Celine: The controls in Google's Blogger seem rather primitive. I haven't found where I can filter content, but that is probably done elsewhere. Still learning the ropes here. I thought all the legal links were pretty funny when they showed up.

  6. From what I remember about AdSense, there was some sort of control on what ads were displayed or not. But eventually I gave up because this would have taken me a lot of time to monitor what ads were actually shown. I figured that was not worth the effort, and ditched AdSense altogether. I think you have to log into your AdSense account directly; blogger offers just a few options on setting it up and managing where ads are displayed. The finetuning stuff is to be found elsewhere.

    And regarding Ralf's comments about this issue on Proz, I was really shocked to see that his opinion has so dramatically changed. I thought that his resignation as a moderator was a sad step for Proz, but never thought it could get any worse than that. Obviously I was wrong.

  7. @Sonja: I don't think Ralf's opinion has changed at all. To me he seems rather consistent in expecting certain things of a professional environment. I don't think mail order brides and diet ads have ever fit his business model, as I doubt they fit yours :-)

  8. Kevin,

    I don't think the discussion about AdSense in the German forum at ProZ would lead to any effective results. ProZ.com is a business with translation and translators. The objective is to make money out of translation and especially out of translators. They don't care about "professional image."

    Up to now, they refrain themselves from locking the thread. Still, some posts are removed quietly from public view, some under vetting. Steffen and Ralf know more about it, since they were part of the system.

    Quick response upon support tickets - abwimmeln! Vetting - Mund totmachen! And someday people will notice that some of them just disappeared - rausschmeissen!

    Disappointed with a "professional" translator website? As a dubious figure in the Chinese forum puts it, "If you are disappointed, just get out." Aniello's switching over to non-pay user is not the final solution. An Internet presence with a blog like yours would be the right way to get out of such disappointing community.

    - Sylvia

  9. @Sylvia: That some posts are being removed quietly is obvious from the shifting of certain contributions upward in the chain (one that started about in the middle of a full page is now at the top, so that tells me about 7 were cut at that point).
    I disagree that it is pointless to protest the regime. Doing so accomplishes quite a lot, actually, though not necessarily the obvious, and some parties may not realize the effects in some quarters now or ever. But they are real and they are of benefit to some at least. Aurora's organization with a focus on ethics, Stridonium, possibly Andy Bell's Watercooler - all these and others have their roots in a "professional forum" gone to the dogs, as professionals look for venues for a serious exchange of ideas. Ah, but how can they compete with the Behemoth that is ProZ? Well, for one they don't need to. A meaningful discussion with half a dozen competent colleagues with similar interests is more valuable to me than swimming in a pool that has been peed in by 400,000. The numbers at ProZ were achieved with the strong support of people like Ralf, Steffen, Uldis and a cast of dozens more I could name, and while some of the current mods are decent people, they will never be as effective as those in the past, because of the straightjackets they are forced to wear now.
    And the reported numbers hide the important numbers. According to my informal, logged out observation, at any given time, there are usually less than 300 users logged in users, often fewer than 200. Less than 1000 visitors, typically 700-850. For a site with the diverse offerings of ProZ and so many registrations, that isn't much. Especially give that there are people like me who log in to a session on a browser tab that remains open and is ignored most of the day. I estimate the total paid membership to be under 10,000, probably 7,000-8,000. A respectable number surely, but (1) it's obvious that ad revenue is needed to keep overhead covered and (2) while a certain critical mass of content will ensure that the crowds will keep coming and clicking a number of diet ads, as the content creators - the serious professionals - go elsewhere, H&Co. may find that SEO and pay-per-click are not the Elixir of Life needed for the site.

  10. No, Kevin, I am not saying that it is pointless to protest the regime. "Aber mieselsüchtige Grantler ergötzen sich lieber am Anblick der Abgründe, in die sie ihre selbstgerechten Beiträge erbrechen. Weisen schadenfroh auf brüchige Brücken und verhöhnen die Leute, die Werkzeuge in die Hand nehmen, um die Verbindungen für alle wieder herzustellen. Mit vielen von den Leuten, die sich hier im Strang einsetzen, verbindet mich weit mehr, als nur die gemeinsame Angst Kunden scheu zu machen. " I agree fully with this view.

    And yes, I was talking about the efficiency of protest. So long the site can boast a great figure of crowds, they earn with clicks and they will not realize the problems. The more discussion at theirs, the more innocent Möchte-Gerns attracted into the pool. The Möchte-Gerns are even illusioned that they would have a workplace while it isn´t a workplace for them at all. And that helps the site stay in life while competent professional translators must find their own ways. So, people open their own blogs or come to yours or go to IAPTI, Stridonium and others, because, as you said, they would rather discuss with half a dozen competent colleagues with similar interests than swim in a crowded pool.

    While ProZ´s objective is to keep crowds streaming in, providing them contents for free and helping them earn click money, real translators are interested in something else. "Aber ganz ehrlich, wenn unpaßende Werbung das einzige Problem bei Proz.com wäre, würde ich mir sogar überlegen mein Abonnement zu erneurn." There is a natural discrepancy of interests between professional translators and ProZ Dotcom. I don´t think professional translators can tell H&Co. how to run their business, as Uldis once said. Those competent moderators are gone and the staying ones cannot do anything about it in their tight jackets.

    However, I must say that the effort of German colleagues in trying to building up a critical mass is admirable. Chinese colleagues are easily intimidated and thus no such discussions visible in their forum, because the fighters are already mobbed out (entweder rausgeschmiessen oder rausgeekelt). I´ve learned 9 of those critical minds in the Chinese forum, but they are gone. Though ProZ lowers the membership fee for Chinese translators to almost the half of European ones pay, quality/professional Chinese translators just don´t show up. It is neither because of the blocking of KudoZ by the Chinese Great Firewall, nor because of the improper AdSense. Some people would say, "Servile people deserve tyranny." But I know that Chinese are just smart enough to avoid confrontations and find their own ways, as a Chinese saying goes, "Sweep the snow from your own front door, don't bother about the frost on your neighbor´s roof." It is H&Co.´s business after all.

    I would like to see Aniello´s effort achieving something.

    Have a nice weekend!

    - Sylvia

  11. @Sylvia: I thought that quote rather appropriate too. And yes, it's obvious that in the end H. Rex & court will administer the Translation Workhouse as He sees fit. (A mixed metaphor of eras, I know, but I thought the term workhouse nicely captures the Dickensonian misery which some seem to wallow in as they complain about three cent per word jobs.) I for one don't begrudge the kingdom its click revenues. KudoZ is a polluted swamp of errors and incompetence that I seldom feel inclined to wade through these days, and if it's riddled with ads for toilet bowl cleaners, I think eve Aniello should find that appropriate. But the "ecosystem" of profiles, forums (which in many cases serve as useful "how to" information and demonstrate competence), translator search and messaging to translators (via that button on profiles) quickly becomes poisoned and unusable to those professional seeking good direct customer contacts. My passive profile there has brought in decent business in the past, but I question whether this will last with current practices. Or whether the platform will be a good support for the direction in which I plan to take my business now. Despite what many say about the ProZ job systems, etc. I have actually found it rather easy to pick up projects there and make money, but there are certain natural limits there. I can find an agency doing project for a maker of fine watches there, but the watch makers themselves will be at trade shows or perhaps in a Xing forum. Patent attorneys seldom use the search engines o ProZ I think. In this sort of business, which I enjoy very much, a middleman has little to contribute except saving me time in acquisition (important, certainly, but as I discover new efficiencies such as OTM I am changing my priorities a little). All these are things to think about this year.

    I wish the kingdom no ill and hope it prospers. But if it wants to trade with me and some others, there are certain terms to be worked out to ensure that our images are protected and we will prosper as well.

  12. One is reminded of the words of Pastor Niemoeller.

  13. @Rod: You know something, Rod? So long there are people who believe that they can profit from the system, there will be some of them helping to strengthen and reinforce the system, disregarding their knowledge of what actually is going on.

    The best way in my eye would be to get out of there as soon as possible. Because there are enough alternatives and because, as Bert Brecht said, "Everything can be changed, save human beings."

    There was the first moderator excommunicated overnight and nobody said anything. The others were still operating to get in more crowds. I happen to know the story because that moderator works with one of my clients and we need to communicate from time to time. Both she and I are doing well without that system. We just wait to see how far the system can go.

    Pastor Niemoeller´s words do not help when people see their interests in the system or be intimidated and scared to do anything. NS regime was not the first one, is not the only one and will not be the last one. I am sorry to tell the truth.

    - Sylvia

  14. Hi, Kevin!

    This is one of the ads I see on top: Spanish Translators
    English to Latin American Spanish. Comprehensive translation services.
    www.mcsolutions.com.ar On the left margin (bottom) I see ads for stuff in Pinamar (a beach in the Buenos Aires province).

  15. I don't believe that they cannot control what kind of ad is published in Proz. Come on!

    Where is the "power" of Proz...

    Thanks, Kevin!

  16. Hope this is the right place to post this. Did you catch this security "alert" about malicious banner ads at proz? http://www.proz.com/about/security

    It was on the main homepage very briefly, sandwiched between some PR about volunteering with Translators without Borders and some other crap, and now it's gone. Funny they didn't send out an announcement or mention it in a newsletter (although I think it was too late for the Feb. newsletter - let's see if it shows up in the March one). If you don't mind, I'm going to quote it here because stuff like this tends to disappear. Could be interesting for a new blog post on a slow news day ;)

    Note: too many characters, will quote it separately.

  17. Quoting from proz.com security alert:

    The ProZ.com site team takes its responsibility to protect the private data of site users very seriously. Should there be any incident involving a breach of security, details will be posted here.

    Potentially malicious JavaScript run via banner ads on February 23, 2011

    Note: the incident described below could potentially have affected up to 8000 site users. Chances are you were not affected, but please read the following and take the precautions described if you feel you meet the description of one of the potentially affected users.

    On February 23, 2011, banner ads which may have included malicious JavaScript code were displayed on ProZ.com.

    In at least one instance, a user who viewed the banner ads received an intrusion alert from her Norton Internet Security software, reporting an "MSIE Java Deployment Toolkit Input Invalidation" attack. This type of exploit could allow an attacker to install a Java application on computers with vulnerable versions of Java.

    ProZ.com staff have not been able to reproduce such an attack from viewing these banner ads. However, the conditions in which the ads were displayed made such an exploit possible, and given the report from an affected user the decision was made to take down the banner ads and issue this announcement.

    ProZ.com has updated its advertising policy to disallow third-party advertisements from containing scripting or active content that might pose a similar threat in the future.

    Many thanks to member Alison MacG for bringing this issue to the attention of ProZ.com staff.

    Frequently asked questions about this incident

    Who was affected?

    Any user who viewed a ProZ.com page containing these banner ads between 12:30 and 22:30 GMT on 23 Feb 2011 could have been affected. The banner ads in question were for "24-Hour Fitness". They were displayed to users who appeared to be in the United States, Canada, or the United Kingdom. Though the ads were shown to only a small percentage of users, if you accessed ProZ.com during this time it is possible that you may have been affected.

    Email notification has been sent to users who appear to have viewed pages containing the ads in question.

    Of the users who viewed pages containing the ads, those running affected versions of Java were vulnerable to the reported attack. The vulnerability was introduced in Java 6 Update 10, and fixed in Java 6 Update 20.

    What was the affect of running the potentially malicious code?

    Because ProZ.com staff have not been able to reproduce the exploit, it is not known what the potentially malicious code would do if it had been allowed to run.

    The "MSIE Java Deployment Toolkit Input Invalidation" attack reported by the Norton Internet Security software could have allowed an attacker to install a Java application on vulnerable computers.

    More information about this type of exploit can be found at the following links:

    * Description of the vulnerability by Norton Internet Security / Symantec
    * Description of the vulnerability by CERT
    * Post announcing discovery of the vulnerability on the Full Disclosure mailing list

    What should I do if I may have been affected?

    Users who may have been affected by this incident are encouraged to scan their computers for malicious software using a tool such as the free MalwareBytes Anti-Malware utility. If any malicious software is found, follow the utility's instructions to quarantine or remove it.

    If you think you were affected by this incident, please notify ProZ.com staff by submitting a support request.


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