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Using Website Visitor Statistics As An Early Warning System

Like the canary in the coal mine, warning of the presence of deadly gases, or the seismograph warning of an impending tsunami, website (or blog) visitor statistics provide a valuable early warning system of current events, breaking news stories, and things that will be making news in the days ahead.

Google has known this for quite a while. Google’s Zeitgeist provides statistics that show the latest search trends. You can even go back and see what searches were hot on a previous date.

Like many bloggers and Webmasters, we keep tabs on Routing By Rumor’s traffic statistics. In the past 24 hours, we’ve seen a spike in visits that are related to several of the articles we’ve written in the past. An unusually high number of visitors have landed at our doorstep after doing searches for “Walmart” (or “Wal-Mart” or “Wal Mart”), “Ashley Alexandra Dupre” and “Blackrock layoffs”. We welcome the “business”, but we’re always curious as to why people end up here.

Searches for “Walmart” have always been a top search engine source of traffic to our blog. We’re guessing that a few items related to Walmart that have been in the news in the past few days have a lot to do with the sudden spike in traffic related to Walmart. Perhaps the news coverage of Walmart’s (and other retailers) day-after-Thanksgiving “Black Friday” sales have a lot to do with the increase in search engine traffic.

Ashley Alexandra Dupre is the alleged prostitute allegedly associated with the (alleged former New York Governor) Eliot Spitzer scandal, who received some coverage in this alleged blog a few months back. But why is she suddenly a top search engine topic once again? A bit of research gave us the answer. It seems that Ms. “Dupre” will be interviewed by Diane Sawyer, in a piece that will air on ABC’s 20/20 broadcast this Friday. Who ever said that crime doesn’t pay ?

We were scratching our head on the “Blackrock layoffs” searches that were bringing visitors to our blog. We wrote a piece last winter about layoffs at WCBS-AM, which we titled “Bad Day At Black Rock”. Black Rock is the nickname for CBS’s New York City headquarters building, owing to the dark granite facade of the skyscraper. But we had not heard of any new layoffs at CBS, so why the sudden interest in layoffs at “Black Rock” ?

A bit of digging yielded the answer. There are rumors floating that a round of layoffs are about to be announced at investment company Blackrock, Inc., the largest publicly traded asset management firm in the United States. Nothing to do with CBS, but close enough that it created a spike in visitors to my blog !

So, Webmasters and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) experts take note. If you see unexpected increases in traffic to your site that you can’t explain, dig deeper to find the source. Search engines rarely lie. It may be a case of mistaken identity, as with our “Black Rock” visitors. Then again, it may be an early warning of something you should know about, possibly relating to your website, your company, or a competitor.

We wonder whether mainstream media has caught on to this as a news gathering tool. It is no secret that journalists often “find” stories because they have already been covered by another newspaper, TV or radio station. Search engine statistics should be able to scoop other sources of news. The statistics are real-time, not requiring the printing of a newspaper, or the taping and editing of a television or radio news report. We would like to think that if the Internet existed back in the days of The Daily Planet, that cub reporter Jimmy Olsen would be using his computer and Google to scoop the other reporters.

We were wondering if we would get credit for coining the term “zeitgeist journalism“, so we decided to Google the phrase. Edward Rothstein, for one, used the term in this New York Times article about trend-spotting a dozen years ago, although obviously not in reference to Google, so we probably can’t claim ownership. Maybe we’ll just call it “Google journalism“.

Great Caesar’s ghost !

– Routing By Rumor

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Filed under Blogging, Business, CBS Radio, Entertainment, Google, Journalism, Life, Movies, New York City, News, Retail, Retailers, Routing by Rumor, Science Fiction, Stock Markets, TV Shows, Uncategorized, Walmart, WCBS-AM

Bloomberg Hits The Nail On The Head Regarding Economic Stimulus Plan

NYC mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

NYC mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

There was a piece on the radio this morning which discussed New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s comments about any future economic stimulus plans. Unfortunately, our searches for his comments have come up empty, but we’re guessing that he made these remarks yesterday. If we’ve misquoted Mr. Bloomberg, our apologies. We are going on our recollection of what we heard on the radio this morning.

Mr. Bloomberg (his middle name is “Rubens” – how many of you knew that?) said that the first round of economic stimulus checks the government mailed out amounted to a program that allowed Americans to go buy Chinese-made widescreen TVs at Circuit City. We couldn’t agree more. In fact, if you’ve followed RoutingByRumor, you know that we have said that the first round of economic stimulus checks amounted to little more than a subsidy for Middle East Oil producing countries, big oil and China, Inc. (You can rest assured that no matter how low the price of oil goes, no matter how much demand drops, that ExxonMobil will continue to post record profits in the quarters and years ahead.)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Mr. Bloomberg said that any future economic stimulus program should fund infrastructure projects, which would be similar to what the United States undertook to help lift the country out of The Great Depression. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s Works Progress Administration (WPA) created almost eight million jobs between 1935 and 1943. Just as importantly, this New Deal agency built highways, bridges, schools and other public works projects across America that still serve our nation today. New York City has more than it’s share of crumbling infrastructure, and like other American cities, would benefit greatly from a modern-day WPA.

Mr. Bloomberg has been critical of the Federal government’s economic stimulus plan in the past. In fact, he’s been against it all along. Last February, he said the then-proposed first round of economic stimulus checks were “like giving a drink to an alcoholic”.

Athough not in relation to the current debate on future economic stimulus spending, Mr. Bloomberg appeared before lawmakers on Capitol Hill this past June, in his capacity as co-chair of Building America’s Future.   He gave this testimony about the need to invest in infrastructure projects.

At a time when there’s more layoffs in the news every day, and the scope of those job cuts are getting wider and wider (today’s news brought word of Citibank planning 10,000 job cuts worldwide), we desperately need a government program that will give American families more than fleeting relief. We need a program that will keep the economic stimulus money the government spends here at home, instead of it being an indirect subsidy for China, which doesn’t benefit American families one bit. Walmart is doing very well, thanks to American families desperate to stretch their income. There is no need to provide Americans with stimulus checks they can take to Walmart, to buy more Chinese made goods. We’ve read that something on the order of 80% of the goods on the shelves at Walmart are made in China.

There’s slim chance that outgoing President George W. Bush will try to implement a program that will put Americans to work while also rebuilding America’s infrastructure. Our hope is that President-elect Barack Obama will seize the opportunity to lift America out of hard times by proposing a program styled on Roosevelt’s WPA. If Washington is going to spend billions of more dollars in an attempt to prevent an economic collapse, doesn’t it make sense to spend it on projects that will benefit America for generations to come, while keeping our money here at home ?

– Routing By Rumor

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Philip Schoonover Learns That What Goes Around, Comes Around.

Philip Schoonover, former Circuit City CEO (photo on circuitcity.com)

Philip Schoonover, former Circuit City CEO (photo on circuitcity.com)

We’ve raked the management of Circuit City Stores over the coals in the past, because of the way they have treated their employees, and for what seems to us, to be some of the worst business decisions in the history of the World.

Circuit City Stores announced on Monday that board member James Marcum has replaced Philip Schoonover as CEO (see “Circuit City CEO Gets Unplugged“, Businessweek, September 22). They did not say whether Mr. Schoonover plans on reapplying for his former job in ten weeks, at a market-based salary.

As they say, “what goes around, comes around”.

It would be no surprise if the Board finally staged a mutiny (although published reports indicate that Mr. Schoonover tendered his resignation). The scooner Schoonover has been on the rocks since Circuit City announced in March, 2007 that they were firing 3400 employees immediately, because they earned too much. Those employees were told that they could reapply for their former jobs in ten weeks, at a market-based (meaning lower) salary, but there was no guarantee a job would be available for them. We do not know if any of those employees were stupid enough to reapply for employment at Circuit City, or if any that might have done so were eventually rehired. We’re sure those 3400 former Circuit City employees feel just awful for Mr. Schoonover.

Now, in addition to the strong headwinds that Circuit City is encountering because of the U.S. economic slump, and stiff competition from retailers such as Best Buy, they also have the benefit of consumer backlash towards a company that would treat their employees as poorly as they have. And it’s not just the mass layoff that we’ve just mentioned. Look at Circuit City’s wikipedia page, and read about some of the court cases they’ve been involved in, particularly regarding their employment practices.

It’s truly amazing that their ship, while listing heavily, is still afloat.

Circuit City has searched the seven seas looking for a suitor, but has been unsuccessful. Would YOU buy a company with as much bad karma or as much red ink as Circuit City ? But hey, there’s so much bailout money coming out of Washington these days, maybe they’ll tack a Circuit City rescue plan onto the $70 billion financial system bailout plan they’re debating right now.

To say that Mr. Marcum has his work cut out for him is an understatement. But then, perhaps his plan, assuming he has one, is not to rebuild the company. Mr. Marcum was elected to the Board in June, having been nominated by Circuit City shareholder Mark Wattles. Wattles has indicated in the past that he wants to find a buyer for Circuit City. It would certainly make sense to think that Mr. Marcum’s role will be that of caretaker, while they continue to look for a buyer.

We’ve mentioned previously that the best thing Circuit City could do to stem their losses is to liquidate the company. With dire predictions for this Christmas season for the nation’s retailers, as well as a bleak outlook for the economy in general, it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense for a company in the sad shape that Circuit City finds itself to drag things out any longer.

– Routing By Rumor

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Driving South At General Motors

We just came across a post at the blog “The Truth About Cars” (TTAC) that is spreading a rumor (could you imagine that… RUMOR mongering !) that Rick Wagoner, the CEO at General Motors, will be taking a much needed vacation within the next couple of days. A permanent vacation.

According to this profile at forbes.com, Mr. Wagoner’s compensation for FY 2007 was just shy of $5 million. And that’s despite shareholder value that is melting away faster than an ice cube on a hot August day. Not a bad gig if you can get it, in our opinion.

We have no idea whether the story posted at TTAC has any basis in fact. It will be interesting to see if Rick Wagoner gets to take his “vacation”… whether he resigns, is dismissed, or takes a different position within GM (he’s been there for the past 30 years). If the rumor is true, it shouldn’t surprise anyone, especially the motorheads here at Routing By Rumor. In the past, we have written about why we are one GM customer that will never buy another vehicle from this company. And since we are a die-hard proponent of that quaint notion of “Buy American”, and we were a loyal GM customer for nearly our entire driving career, you know that something is very wrong with this company. We feel that if they couldn’t hold on to us as a customer, they have little chance of holding on to anyone else.

Those poor GM shareholders. Back in January, 1999, GM’s share price was sitting pretty at $90. When we checked it this morning, it was below $10 (view the current GM share price). That equals a loss of shareholder value of almost 89% from it’s all-time high. GM shares are also more than 76% off their 52-week high of $43.20. If you’re invested heavily in GM, chances are you can’t afford to buy one of the gas guzzling GM SUVs piling up in dealer’s lots, no matter how worthless they become. Thanks to $4.00 a gallon gasoline and an economy that is on life support, the only thing dropping faster than GM’s share price is it’s SUV and pickup sales.

This is probably just a cruel coincidence, but the TTAC blog runs ads on their site, and the ads that appeared on the article we cited above happened to be for a vehicle from KIA. How fitting.

So Rick, if it turns out you’re looking for work, and you have any writing experience, send us your resume. Blogging experience, a familiarity with WordPress, and some Internet savvy will all be helpful. Please include a cover letter with your salary requirements.

– Routing By Rumor

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What’s Unilever’s Secret Ingredient in Breyers Ice Cream ?

Mmmm, Mmmm, Mmmm. Natural Tara Gum.

We don’t know about you, but we salivate at the mere mention of the stuff.

Maybe it’s the “natural” qualifier that does it for us. I mean, if Unilever used artificial Tara Gum in their Breyers Ice Cream, we wouldn’t have nearly the same hankering for the stuff. It’s sort of like the ingredient list on some foods that have water as their main ingredient. Don’t just call it water. Call it “Natural spring water”, “Triple filtered, sparkling well water” or something similar.

After posting our recent article about Unilever again shrinking the container size of Breyers Ice Cream, we found other postings on the Web which pointed out that Unilever had also recently changed their Breyers recipe to include the ingredient “tara gum”, which is used as a food thickener, similar to guar gum and locust bean gum.

Of course, you do have to wonder why Breyers, a brand of ice cream that was always so proud of its ingredients, would suddenly find it necessary to add this delectable vegetable gum to their product. We suspect that they have cheapened the recipe, probably cutting down on the dairy cream content.

We also have to wonder about Unilever. Isn’t anything sacred to this food industry behemoth? They’re messing with a brand that has always been held up as being pure and simple. They obviously have little respect for the intelligence of their customers. Do they honestly believe that prefixing “tara gum” with the adjective “natural” is going to convince consumers that this is a desirable ingredient? Why not add “natural crude oil” or “natural snake venom” to the ingredient list while you’re at it? In fact, Breyers’ very own advertisements used to poke fun at competitors who used ingredients like “guar gum” or “vegetable mono- and diglycerides” in their ice cream. Sounds like the pot is calling the kettle black, if you know what we mean. Hypocrites !

If you can stop salivating long enough to finish reading this article, we’ll fill you in on Tara gum. Until we saw the other postings about Unilever using it in Breyers Ice Cream, and then reading it on the ingredient list on a Breyers 1.5 quart carton on our most recent excursion to the supermarket, we had never heard of tara gum.

Does tara gum have anything to do with the 1939 movie “Gone With The Wind” …or is it a reference to a Hindu goddess or a character from the soap opera “All My Children?

No, No and No.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (fao.org) defines tara gum as follows…

Obtained by grinding the endosperm of the seeds of Caesalpinia spinosa (Fam. Leguminosae); consists chiefly of polysaccharides of high molecular weight composed mainly of galactomannans. The principal component consists of a linear chain of (1,4)-beta-D-mannopyranose units with alpha-D-galacto-pyranose units attached by (1 6) linkages; the ratio of mannose to galactose in tara gum is 3:1.

Caesalpinia Spinosa? Endosperm? Polysaccharides? Glactomannans? Mannopyranose?

Sounds yummy, doesn’t it? No wonder Breyers Ice Cream tastes so good. It must be the endosperm.

Oh… and what else are the seeds of this native Peruvian plant useful for? According to this article on wikipedia, “Water from boiled dried pods is also used to kill fleas and other insects“. Maybe feeding Breyers Ice Cream to your dog will take care of that flea problem.

– Routing By Rumor

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