The sheer power Instagram wields over its users

Instagram is currently in the midst of an experiment: hiding the number of likes on users’ shared posts. In seven countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan, and New Zealand), you’re only able to see the number of likes on your own posts. No one else can see them.

Thus far, the effects of Instagram’s tinkering appear to be dramatic and impactful.

  • Influencers are complaining that not being able to see the number of likes has led to a substantial decline in attracting likes and comments on their content.
  • On the other hand, influencer marketers seem more favorable in that they can now better assess organic engagement and click-through activity – as opposed to likes as a vanity metric that doesn’t truly indicate product / brand appeal.

Instagram’s stated intention with hiding likes is to reduce the addictive behaviors and psychological pressures that have negatively stained social media’s reputation.

It’s not known whether Instagram will roll this out worldwide, but this trial only further exemplifies the absolute power it possesses over all its users.

It’s important to remember that social media platforms aren’t public entities, but privately owned. And those who run them have the absolute discretion to make any modification as they see fit.

Web scraping may be perfectly legal

LinkedIn has been at the forefront of fighting the practice of entities collecting public user profile data from its platform. They’ve been at odds with a startup scraping such info from LinkedIn’s website, and have just lost an appeal against a preliminary junction protecting the right to web scraping publicly accessible data.

All this means that despite all the controversy and criticisms of collecting and possibly exploiting public website info, web scraping may in fact turn out to be OK from a legal standpoint.

I’ve been among the critics of web scraping, primarily because the data collected seems primarily for self-serving intentions, at the expense of user privacy. The company in the legal case against LinkedIn is a startup called hiQ, said to be using LinkedIn’s public user profile data to provide info to employers about the possible behaviors of their employees (whether or not they’re job searching).

If the right to web scraping ultimately does prevail, we may all have to re-evaluate how much of ourselves we want to make public on social media and other platforms. And that could include our very own web presences.

On the heels of Apple’s recent announcement of strict privacy controls for its Safari browser, Google has now formally proposed its own measures to safeguard user identity. While both companies are taking similar approaches by restricting user tracking through cookies and device / browser fingerprinting, Apple is taking a no-compromise stance, while Google is trying to strike a balance between ensuring individual privacy, while accommodating content publishers dependent on ads.

Google’s announcement seems like a formalization of their plans revealed earlier this year to implement more stringent anti-tracking controls, but it appears that Apple’s dramatic positioning forced their hand into publicly clarifying their intentions to respect individual privacy.

Perhaps nothing is more worrisome than a looming threat to a critically important revenue stream.

WebKit, the web browsing engine behind Apple’s Safari, has indicated openly that it’s taking the nefarious practices of unauthorized user tracking seriously, a lot more seriously.

In a recently published policy statement on its website and reported by TechCrunch, WebKit has laid out its “no-exceptions” initiative to root out all forms of unauthorized user tracking while browsing on Safari – not just the well-known practices of cross-site tracking and browser / device fingerprinting, but several other forms of covert tracking.

It’s worth noting that WebKit credited Mozilla with their efforts to fight against tracking users without their consent.

Our policy was inspired by and derived from Mozilla’s anti tracking policy.

Furthermore, WebKit intends to continually review and update their anti-tracking policy as necessary, to help adequately ensure user privacy.

A new beginning for Tumblr

In case you haven’t already heard, Automattic, known for and the key contributor to the greater WordPress ecosystem, has agreed to acquire Tumblr, the once prominent blogging and social engagement platform.

The price of the acquisition is said to have been $3 million, basically a giveaway from Verizon given that Yahoo has originally purchased it for $1.1 billion. Tumblr, though having greatly retreated from its glory days, is still humming along with a very loyal community.

The incorporation of Tumblr into a company known for open source access and sharing with community is really intriguing. In a podcast interview the day following the announcement, Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg shared some of his initial intentions and they seem very promising.

Here are the three most important takeaways from that interview, from my perspective as a WordPress and open source fan:

  1. The general desire is to help make Tumblr thriving again as a premier content sharing and social platform. Automattic isn’t looking to incorporate bits and pieces of Tumblr’s core technologies, and then shut it down.
  2. Matt hinted at bringing Tumblr into the open web and open source workings that underpin the non-centralized, freely accessible nature of WordPress. A social alternative that isn’t a closed platform controlled by a single entity.
  3. Along these lines, Matt suggested that Tumblr could support open web initiatives that allow decentralized, cross-platform content sharing and communication, notably those associated with IndieWeb.

Could Tumblr finally liberate us from the dominance of the tech giants, along with the privacy invasions and personal data collection?

Here’s to hoping for a bright future in content sharing and social engagement.

My web technology stack

I really love to engage the web as a medium for creating content, whether for pure personal enjoyment or as part of my professional capacity in marketing technology products. For the former, I’ve been maintaining a personal website, self-designed and built from the ground up.

I use my site as an opportunity for personal branding, but also as my own “playground” to learn new web development skills, and experiment with various ideas for crafting visually appealing layouts.

Below is a graphic that shows the specific resources I use on a daily basis with my personal website.

Perry Sun personal web technology stack

Because I’m not a full-time web developer, I choose to stick with the basics. Keep it simple and don’t over-complicate things.

Hand-coding webpages

I made the decision early on to code purely with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, because of the simplicity of my site. Today, web developers heavily rely on frameworks and other resources, primarily because the scale and scope of their projects require them. But for a simple website like mine, it’s just not necessary. A basic website structure also means less JavaScript-intensive resources, which translates to faster speed and better performance.


I use WordPress as the foundation for my blog because of its reliability, massive popularity, ease of use, customization capabilities, and the continual support of a incredibly large and resourceful community around the world. I’ve done quite a bit of customization for my WordPress blog, using my own child theme and several bits of PHP coding to create custom page templates, and deliver specific functions to my needs.

Web hosting

My site is hosted by a virtual private server and a standard technology stack for serving up web content to a browser. Basically, VPS is a small virtual machine running in the cloud. I chose to go the VPS route for a combination of low cost and predictably fast performance and reliability. Most of us will opt for an inexpensive shared web hosting service, but I’ve found website access speeds highly variable and often unacceptably slow.

Going to a VPS requires quite a bit of manual installation and configuration, but you do get to learn interesting stuff along the way about web servers and how to set them up.

Web development

When creating your web content and functionality, you’ll want to do this on your local computer before deploying to your live web server. For code editing, I use the extremely popular Visual Studio Code from Microsoft. It’s awesome, free, and also includes a wealth of great third-party extensions to complement its very good lineup of features. On my computers (Mac, PC, and Linux), I’ll use a local instance of the Apache web server for testing and debugging. For the blog, I use MAMP on my Mac which easily provides the necessary web stack for WordPress, without having to build it from scratch.

Uber to chop a third of its marketing team

Truthfully, it’s hard for me to be more astounded by the fact that a whopping one-third of a marketing staff is being eliminated, or that Uber had about 1,200 in their marketing operations. Maybe it’s both.

As a public company, Uber is of course is facing the reality that it can’t go on burning through money as freely as it did before its IPO earlier this year. As with so many other corporate restructurings, marketing traditionally is among the lines of business to face significant cuts.

In an internal email to its staff, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi emphasized the continued importance of marketing…

we are not making these changes because Marketing has become less important to Uber. The exact opposite is true: we are making these changes because presenting a powerful, unified, and dynamic vision to the world has never been more important.

Uber internal email obtained by CNN Business

…but also mentioned that things had gotten too bloated, and needed to be trimmed back for greater effectiveness.

Many of our teams are too big, which creates overlapping work, makes for unclear decision owners, and can lead to mediocre results… As a company, we can do more to keep the bar high, and expect more of ourselves and each other…  Put simply, we need to get our edge back.

Bloated marketing operations may not be unique to Uber

Uber may well be far from the only young tech company with an oversized marketing team.

It’s no secret that the tech startup economy has created an incredible number of jobs in marketing. Much of this has to with the fever pitch of spending big on digital marketing, growth marketing, and demand generation, along with bulking up an army of salespeople to put as many boots on the ground as possible.

Startups have the atypical luxury of generous amounts of capital to spend on marketing, and the ability to go back to the well for more investor cash whenever needed. But this cycle generally doesn’t last forever.

And when it stops, cutbacks and job eliminations normally ensue. The digital marketing economy, itself largely a byproduct of the tech startup economy, could end up with a tidal wave of unemployed marketers streaming into the job market. The likelihood is fierce competition for the relatively few available opportunities associated with traditional companies.

Digital marketing is often far more complicated than it really needs to be. This is particularly true for SEO. Today, basically all you need to do for SEO is this: just create relevant content on your website that speaks to your subject matter, and the search engines will find it. It’s really not much more than that.

Still, the massive SEO marketing economy continues to thrive, often with reckless abandon. Dubious, self-proclaimed experts “guarantee” first-page search results with Google, preach that hiring an army of SEO consultants is absolutely indispensable, and encourage an array of less-than-ethical content creation hacks to try and game the system.

Search engine providers have devoted years of technological development to make their products friendly and beneficial to us, so that we can focus on creating content of value, and they can help us better reach out to our customers. Trust them, take a little time to familiarize yourself with the basics of SEO, and you should be just fine. Don’t let anyone scare you into believing otherwise.

Behavioral ad targeting may be ineffective

Behavioral ad targeting has been widely hailed by the digital ad economy as the holy grail for advertising – the ability to serve ads based on personal actions and inclinations with precision – something simply not possible with advertising in traditional media. For publishers, this would result in a higher rate of clicks compared to non-targeted ads, and therefore, more money earned.

However, a study reported in The Wall Street Journal suggests that personalized ads based on user targeting may only result in a negligible revenue increase for publishers.

According to the findings, a publisher may only see a 4% incremental increase in revenue from ads delivered to users targeted through cookies placed in their browsers, over advertisements without the use of cookies. The study was based on tracking “millions of ad transactions at a large U.S. media company over the course of one week.”

Targeted ads also cost significantly more for advertisers, likely because of the significant premium charged by middlemen in the digital ad economy based on their perceived value. For advertisers and publishers alike, the general expectation is that a personalized ad should yield much greater ROI, on the presumption that users are far more likely to click on them. But the study suggests otherwise, and may confirm the longstanding skepticism of many. As someone quoted in the article stated:

Behavioral targeting has been completely overhyped in its value for publishers from the day it was first invented.

So, with this in mind, what are the potential implications?

  • With user privacy on the forefront, these findings, if broadly accepted, could only add more to the mounting pressure to crack down on user data collection and tracking.
  • An end to charging a premium for targeted ads could be highly disruptive to the digital ad industry, significantly impacting everyone in the food chain, from advertising salespeople to ad tech companies.
  • While the study suggests possibly good news for publishers, this would be still be far overshadowed by the disturbingly downward trend in digital ad revenues.
  • For Facebook, Google, and the other corporate giants, it’s unclear as to their dependency on behavioral ad targeting, or whether this study bears any relevance to their operations.

Migrating from Google: a progress report

I previously wrote about my pent-up disdain for being tracked by Google and social media services, deciding that it’s no longer worth the free access and associated conveniences in exchange for sacrificing privacy.

In response, I declared my intentions to greatly reduce my reliance on some Google products. Here’s what I’ve accomplished so far.

Web browser

  • I’ve followed the guidelines in this very informative article on moving away from Chrome as my go-to browser.
  • I now use Firefox with privacy settings activated, particularly to prevent cross-site tracking. Firefox is only used to directly access sites for which I have a login account, and never for casual web usage. It’s the browser I’ll turn to for my bank and investment accounts, online news subscriptions, and other sites requiring a login. Websites are generally accessed via bookmarks to avoid doing a web search. And speaking of…
  • Firefox is not to be used for web searches – in order to minimize the possibility of being tracked. Just in case that ever happens, I’ve set the default search engine to the privacy-focused DuckDuckGo (which supposedly does not track you like Google).
  • For “everyday” web browsing, including search engine usage, I turn to Brave, known for its strong privacy measures to prevent unauthorized data collection. Additionally, I’ll only use Brave in its private mode, preventing websites from placing cookies in my browser. It is only under these circumstances that I feel reasonably comfortable with freely accessing Google search.
Screen of Brave browser in private mode
Brave browser in private mode

Now, it’s important to note that completely abandoning Chrome is difficult, especially if you do web development. Therefore, I continue to use Chrome for the following:

  • Local testing of my web content creations
  • Using the Chrome developer tools to debug web development issues (admittedly, this is a fabulous resource)
  • Experimenting with the latest web features and capabilities – since Chrome tends to be at the forefront of supporting them, well before other browsers
  • Continual refinements and improvements to my blog, via a local instance of WordPress on my computer
  • Certain websites do not function properly on other browsers

Here’s the kicker: if I need to so some research around the web in relation to HTML, CSS, WordPress, etc., I do this using Brave in private mode, and NOT within Chrome! Otherwise, what’s the point in taking all these measures?

But wait! Isn’t Google about to add more privacy features to Chrome?

It’s true – Google did recently make a pretty stunning announcement that it was going to prevent unauthorized cross-site user tracking through cookies and what’s known as fingerprinting (tracking you through your browser and/or device’s identity information). This would put Chrome on par with Brave and Safari, among others.

But really, we’re not fools. They’re intending for this to prevent third parties from tracking us, but there’s still nothing to prevent Google themselves from collecting data and following Chrome users across the web (and potentially into other Google platforms).


The next step for me is to transition from Gmail to a private email provider. The process is going to be somewhat more involved, and unlike the browser mirgration, there will be a monthly or yearly monetary cost.

I’ve decided to sign up with Fastmail. I’ll have to go through the procedure to register my domain with them for email. Then, I will bring over my archived folders and messages from Gmail. The final step will be to create forwarding instructions on Gmail to send over to my Fastmail account.

Fastmail email service can be a viable alternative to Gmail.

Did you know that with Gmail, you cannot create a folder named Purchases? I found out the reason, and it’s pretty sneaky: Unbeknownst to us, Google keeps track of your emails relating to purchase transactions, and they’re kept within a specific repository called Purchases. It’s also not easy to delete this information, unfortunately.

Yet another validation for my rationale to take control over my services – and a stark reminder that free stuff can come at an undesirable cost.