Caution: Beware of Fireballs

are there any regular readers out there?  anyone who might know about the whole upstart blogger and twitter/genesis rocket debacle?  a few?  well, good.  if not, check the archives for a refresher.

the short story is that over the last year i followed, became entangled with, and then uncovered all sorts of unsavory things about mister ashley morgan and his blog upstart blogger, about which i’m writing a book.  the sad thing is that i actually learned a lot about blogging in the process, but the downside is that he’s a scam artist and one of his cons is/was Twitter/Genesis Rocket, about which i wrote, then purchased, then exposed as a scam and a recipe for how to create a twitter spam account.  the good news is, i can’t imagine this new thing works anymore given twitter’s increasing crackdown on spammers, but the bad news is, no one’s told mister morgan, and he’s back at it again.

it came to my attention today when i suddenly saw two incoming links from comments i’d posted on upstart blogger from august and september 2009 on my wp-stats page.  given they weren’t there yesterday (and they weren’t, i’ve been checking since my traffic suddenly peaked with my post about the “test it and keep it” ipad scam).  i scanned the post for any link to me and saw that it was just my old comments.  but something else had changed on the posts.  he’s gone through, more than once, all the posts on upstart blogger replacing “twitter rocket” with “genesis rocket” and then “twitter rockstar” and then some other crap i can’t even remember, but this time he’s done the switcheroo again and the new name is “twitter fireball.”  (anyone following his blog will know there’s been a fire theme of late.)

let me make this as plain as possible:

Twitter Fireball is nothing more than a rebranded version of Twitter Rocket.

this is obvious when you consider that the promotional copy written about Twitter Fireball is almost identical to the copy for Twitter Rocket, then Genesis Rocket, with a few minor modifications here and there.

Twitter Rocket is a scam.  the method itself is not a scam, it works fine — it works fine, that is, if your goal is to build a zombie following of marketers and other spammers and add no value whatsoever to twitter or the blind hordes of followers you’ve raked up from the depths of twitter sludge.  no, the scam is the air of legitimacy that Twitter Rocket, and then Genesis Rocket given to it by the author and his untouchable PageRank 7.

Twitter Fireball is the latest attempt at reaching the success and level of income (at the expense of hundreds, if not thousands of marks — myself included) that he tasted briefly at the height of Twitter Rocket (before he got hit by EMI lawyers by posting about Lilly Allen and, simultaneously, have several of his own twitter accounts suspended for suspicious activity).

run far and fast.

after posting a half-hearted apology for some of what he had been caught doing the first time around, he’s trying to build up the empire again.  scrolling down to the bottom of the Twitter Fireball page, you’ll see that it’s an “upstart fireball” product.  (sound familiar?)  a google search for “upstart fireball” brought a wordpress site running the default theme on sonicfireball.com (his twitter name du jour is @morgansonic).  sonicfireball.com currently has all the content from upstartblogger.com that has to do with making money, and — as far as i can tell from a brief scan — not much else.  the tagline is “making money since 2009.”  the intent is fairly obvious.  this is going to be the hub.  he’s setting it up and he hasn’t launched it yet.

upstartfireball.com itself is being parked currently, but, having dug up all kinds of dirt on him back in december and january (that being the pretext to my book), i recognize the parking page as being a domain registrar he’s used in the past.

let me say it again: Twitter Fireball is a scam.  Do not purchase Twitter Fireball.  If you want to be a spammer, fine, whatever, by all means give ashley your $97.  twitter will deal with you eventually.  if you have any intention of using twitter for what it is — a social network and communication platform — run far, far away.

and, ashley, i know you’re reading this.  don’t think i’ve stopped working on the book.  i would just like to say thank you — this adds more fuel to the fire with which i can complete it.  fireball indeed.

twitter schoolbus: some tricks i’ve found

since i first started the twitter schoolbus experiment, the goal was to create a system that compared with twitter rocket for getting followers.  eventually, i discovered that my method was slow and took a lot of time to build a steady following. at least in theory, twitter rocket could build that following in about half the time.  in particular, it took me about 2 weeks to gain 500 followers on twitter — which was no small feat for me — but it was a time-consuming process.  there had to be a better way.  there is, twitter rocket is a better way.

without revealing all the methodology, i will say that it’s a multi-pronged system that builds your followers using a unique approach each day, to gain followers both in your niche, as well as slightly out of it, to create a well-rounded following.  if you want to use twitter to read people’s updates, and tweet off your own musings, twitter rocket is not for you.  if you want to use it to grow and promote your business, it is.

for myself, twitter rocket has made the process i go through each day much shorter, and automated (yes, i realize that that’s a bad word, but i’ll get to that later) a lot of the stuff i was doing manually.  and the result?  exponentially more followers.  just check out this graph pulled from a screencap from TweetCounter:

twitter-schoolbus1you can see, that, especially in the last few days after building up momentum, my following has increased by multitudes.  i’ve been seriously impressed — the only remaining question is how many of these people really care about what i have to say and how many are just following back.  i don’t know.   but i do know that page hits to this site have gotten a major bump, too, and so have my recent posts, so, that says something.

but this isn’t an advertisement for twitter rocket (it isn’t?).  it’s an addendum, and some tricks for those peeps that haven’t bought it.  see, i haven’t entirely abandoned the twitter schoolbus experiment, and there are some things i’ve found that i like a lot better than some of the things prescribed in twitter rocket.  so here are some of my tweaks and tricks:

finding people to follow

the key to getting followers is to follow people.  a lot of them will follow back.  as long as you find people who may be interested in stuff you are actually interested in, they will actually benefit from what you have to offer and share your tweets and links.

twitterholic sucks for finding people.  unless you’re looking for the top-ranked twitter users, which are essentially useless to follow.  as are their followers.  saying you follow @theellenshow is like saying you breathe.  i’ve been using wefollow.  you have to list yourself in wefollow (you have to list yourself in just about any other directory), but it’s fairly commonly accepted by most tweeps, and does let you search by tag.

then there’s geofollow.  that’s a great tool for finding people in your geographic location.  the interface is slow, however.  you can pull up people in your geographic location in twitterholic because it pulls the top ranking accounts (in which you’ll find me!), so it can be good for that.

another tool i just discovered is klout.  it’s slow to update their stats (about once a week), and it doesn’t index everyone automatically, but when it does, there’s a multitude of information available to you, including you it thinks you’re influenced by (fairly accurate), and, if you’re a major player, who you influence.  there’s also a stats page that ranks how you’re doing, in what areas you’ve been improving, and what you can do to be more of a twitter “persona”.  you can also compare twitter accounts.  check out my profile on klout for an example.  i really like it.  by going into the profiles of people that influence you, and the people who influence them, you can build your following list outward by checking out who follows them and who they follow.  it’s a great way to find new people and see where they are in relation to you and your favorite twitter moguls.

then there’s what started the twitter schoolbus experiment — twitter search.  i still maintain that using twitter search to find tweets in your area of interest is a great way to find people interested in the same things you are.  just be careful if your area of interest is “wordpress” — because of wordpress.com, and some people don’t know about url shorteners, you get a lot of results to people’s wordpress.com blogs.  that may be fine if you’re just looking for people who like and/or use wordpress, but less so if you’re looking for wordpress developers or designers (in which case, possibly following @hashwp or @hashwordpress may be better, or checking those results on hashtags.org.

so you want to automate your tweets

besides the obvious, why would you want to automate your tweets? it takes a lot of the work (searching for relevant articles or tweets) out of sharing links that are relevant to your topic.  and there are tools (like twitterfeed) that will take an rss feed and pump it into your twitter stream.  a common method for creating a good feed for twitterfeed is google alerts.  but i’ve found that, for me, google alerts sucks.  it pulls random crap from all over the internet that i find uninteresting and…random.  probably with the perfect combination of search terms i could make things more relevant, but i really don’t care.  i would rather use specific sources i trust anyway.

so, my method is to build a single rss feed for a collection of similar types of sites, and the way i do this is through feedweaver.  feedweaver takes disparate rss feeds that you define and mashes them up into a single rss feed.  you can even filter each feed individually by tag or topic.  this way, i know that not only are my automated tweets coming from sources i trust, but also, they are things that i’m genuinely interested in.  and because twitterfeed is sending out new tweets as the articles appear, the content is always fresh — you won’t get old links that everyone’s seen already.

obviously (unless you want to look like a news-streaming robot), you still want to tweet your own stuff as well, and it always looks better to continue to RT other people’s tweets and links.  also, i don’t like to post a whole bunch of stuff at the same time, so i stagger my links in twitterfeed so that they don’t tweet on the same schedule.  another way to build in some automation (to a point) is using socialoomph (formerly tweetlater).  at first, i felt like tweetlater had a bad rep for being solely responsible for the auto-dm spam i get, and other junk, spam twitter accounts.  the truth is, after using it, that there’s a lot of useful features in there if there’s a human behind the wheel.  and i don’t use the auto-dm feature.  mostly i use it to tweet things…later.  you can schedule tweets for an hour, a week, a month, or any day you want.  this way you can still post something that you want to tweet, but don’t want to tweet right after you just tweeted something else.

that’s what i’ve got so far.  hopefully these tricks help you, too.  and remember to follow me on twitter!

the secret to making money online is there is no secret

seriously, there is no secret.  it’s just critical mass.

why is upstart blogger doing so well? because he has traffic.  lots of it.  and he has minions.  far-reaching minions that sell his product for him.  it’s great, almost unheard-of, that his affiliates make 50% commission off each sale of Twitter Rocket — that puts each minion in a great position to make a lot of money fast if they’re a good salesperson.  but as much as each individual minion makes, ashley morgan makes more — because he gets the other 50% from each sale every one of his minions make.  and that’s what pisses everyone who’s not in the club off.  he’s perceived to be sitting on his ass, doing nothing, meanwhile he’s making a killing because he has people doing his selling for him.

well, i doubt he’s actually just sitting on his ass, no matter how great the hardware that his ass is encased in may be.  if he stopped blogging today, the Twitter Rocket sales would taper off and die.  the timeline for that is probably pretty long, but eventually, no one would know what Twitter Rocket was anymore, what Upstart Blogger was, and it would fade away like every other internet flash mob.  and it’s true — every one of his most bitter critics are embittered because they want to be where he is.  i include myself in this category.

i just spent the last 2 weeks working my ass off, without taking a single day off (something we vowed never to do after i left WF), to get a huge project done by its deadline for two grand.  now, granted our prices are much lower than they should be — but we’re still trying to establish ourselves in a specific niche and in so doing, can’t charge $10k for a site like this one.  yet.  hannah says she can make that in one day?  yeah, i want to be right there.  i’ll be blunt — i have very little respect for hannah as a blogger.  but i’ll give her one thing — if she’s not a fictional character (fairly unlikely), if she’s not lying (possible, but probably not the case) or exaggerating (even more possible, especially for a teenager), and she can make that kind of cash, she’s right: her a levels are kind of pointless.

(note to those of us not in the UK: a levels are half the equivalent of SAT/ACT/AP tests, and half like high school exit exams or college entrance exams — doing well on your A Levels means you are guaranteed a spot in a good school.  doing badly means you’re not, and a lot of people who do badly on their A Levels end up not going to college at all, and instead take on more remedial or manual jobs.  it’s almost like an enforced intellectual caste system where the A Level exams determine what caste you will be in.  “caste system” may be a bit harsh, but you get the idea — if you do badly on your SATs, you can still get into a pretty good school if your grades and other stuff are in place.  I got an 1150, which, while not horrible, wasn’t anywhere near what my friends in my AP English class were getting, and yet i went to a private university and a highly specialized program that let me develop my own major.  of course, the other side of the coin in the uk is that not everyone goes to college like they do here — it’s not nearly as expected, which may be related to the fact that college education — up until a few years ago — was free.  anyway, i’m getting off on a tangent — these are things i learned when i studied abroad for a semester at the university of east anglia.)

i don’t particularly credit hannah with an overabundance of brains.  it’s mostly to do with her age — i was stupid, too at 17.  at 17, i was trying to find my writing voice, and more than likely i, too, would start a verbal war over the internet with an arch-nemesis.  what hannah has is a huge following, everything else falls along the wayside.  reading her twitter stream is like watching an 8 hour infomercial, but it doesn’t matter — because she has 10,000 followers.  let’s do some math:  if 1% of her followers clicked on one of her links to Twitter Rocket and bought a copy, that would be 100 sales — $4,700.  the actual results are more like 0.1% if she’s getting 10 sales a day.  and you know what? part of the reason i am willing to believe that Twitter Rocket does what it says is because i have little respect for hannah.  because if she can do it — a young, occasionally volatile, inexperienced and untrained neophyte blogger with no formal education past high school — and make that much cash reselling it, then anyone can.  and so i’m leaning back on the Twitter Rocket side of the camp.  except…

it’s one thing to say microsoft is evil.  microsoft makes a ton of money.  they spend a ton of money on making their products so ubiquitous that they are household names.  they’ve done some potentially ruthless things to become the single most recognized name in technology (at least for a while). ask any schmoe to name a single company in IT and it’s probably 50/50 between microsoft and google.  but microsoft is also a large company, with a lot of employees.  all that cash doesn’t go into bill gates’ pockets and it never did.  and i doubt there are as many people talking about microsoft right now as twitter rocket.  now, one may say that you could look at twitter rocket affiliates as employees paid on a commission basis — a very good commission.  but twitter rocket has just crowdsourced its’ advertising.  even salespeople on commission still make hourly wages.  it’s as if, rather than spend a penny on marketing, microsoft put all that money directly into one person’s pocket (and, look it up — microsoft spends a ton of money on marketing, especially now that they are still trying to re-legitimize their name since their antitrust case in the 90s and with Windows 7) and they gave their customers to opportunity to make a bit of cash by doing all the marketing for them. the amount of cash would need to be lucrative enough to give enough incentive to enough customers to support the production and development costs of the product, but in the case of twitter rocket — there are no production costs, there are no development costs.  there is one architect and he sits on top of the food chain.  no matter how not-a-pyramid-scheme twitter rocket is, there is still, irrevocably, one guy sitting on top.  and he knows it.  and he knows that you can’t touch him.  even critique of twitter rocket could still amount to a potential sale for twitter rocket, and at the very least people are talking about twitter rocket.  the more times i say twitter rocket, the more traffic he gets for twitter rocket.  he said so himself in his letter to his critics.  it doesn’t matter what anyone says.

i’ve had some great feedback recently from both people who are skeptics like me, and people who use twitter rocket, and defend ashley and hannah.  by all accounts, ashley is a great guy.  my own personal experience has been that, yes, he does respond to people.  even, unimaginably, to direct messages on twitter.  and if you can make the money you paid for twitter rocket back on just 2 affiliate sales, even if you never go the infomercial route, it could be said that he’s just giving something away.  except.  he’s not.  hannah’s arch-nemesis’ most valid and resonating criticism is how much actual work do you do to make that money? granted, working for cash is the opposite of passive income, which is what ashley morgan blogs about.  but if you actually read the horrible, evil vegan‘s blog (and just overlook, for a minute, the places where she makes mistaken assumptions about how twitter rocket and the affiliate program work), you will see a recurring theme: she wants to work for her money and get paid for a job well done.  it’s not a crime, or an affront to all twitter rocket users and affiliates to want to feel like you earned the money you make.  (and, also, guys, it’s not a crime to be mistaken either.  there’s plenty of bad information on the internet, and like ashley himself says, anyone smart enough to matter will take the time to get the facts straight — so there’s really no point in flaming her…) but again, that’s the opposite of passive income.  i would love money for nothing (though i’ll pass on the “chicks for free” — i’m taken, thanks), but i’m ambitious — if i’m making money for nothing, i want it to be part of my own empire, and not be a pawn on the chessboard of someone else’s empire.

so no twitter rocket for me.

yet.

and how am i doing on that topic?  well, i updated my graph:

graph

as you can see, my twitter following has grown at a regular rate.  now, i’m one week in, and i don’t yet have 1000 followers, so i can’t claim the success rate that twitter rocket does.  and this aggravates me to no end, and again, makes me want to just shell out the $97 bucks and get a copy. (actually, at this point, i’m waiting until he does another special offer and since i’m on his brand-spanking-new newsletter, i’m assuming there will be something for his subscribers eventually.)  but what’s most interesting to me is that i slacked the last two days in trying to get this project i was working on finished and didn’t follow anyone new, just followed back new followers for @teh_s3quence.  and yet my following remained self-sustaining, getting 40 new followers each day.  that’s not bad.  they’re probably all marketers, but whatever.  because it doesn’t matter, the only thing that matters is the traffic.  and tweeting your own links drives traffic to your site.  and the more followers you have, the more traffic you generate.  that’s it.  that’s the secret.  it’s really not a secret, it’s just common sense.

i’m giving the schoolbus a month.  we’ll see where i am at the end of the month, and then, maybe i’ll get my own copy of twitter rocket.

postscript: yes, i do realize there are 23 references to twitter rocket — oops, 24 — and that almost all of them links to, that’s right, twitt–er, the home page for the product.  yes, i realize this is absolutely ridiculous.  but it’s intentional.  i’m making a point about how spammy it ends up sounding when every single one of your links and posts is about one thing.  when everything is a marketing ploy, everything else loses credibility.

twitter schoolbus, day 3 and 4

i’ve really enjoyed the discussion that my experiment has generated.  this has always been a really low traffic blog, although i’ve always felt like it could do better.  in the last few days i’ve somehow attracted the attention of people who would never have come here before, and i credit that, largely, to twitter.  so it’s true, you can use twitter to increase your site’s traffic (presuming you have stuff on your site that’s always being updated).

here are my twitter schoolbus notes from the weekend:

day 3

today i tried something different. i tried another trick that other people do which is follow who your friends are following. since this whole experiment came out of the twitter rocket thing, i decided to start with the source: @morganzero. except, @morganzero is following over 10,000 people, and has said that he follows everyone back (excluding, i assume, the spambots). how do i find anything relevant in that mess? i’m sure not going to go through all 10,000 (although, i’m also sure that if i did, i’d have a straight shot to a massive following). so instead, i went through his twitter stream and found anyone he @mentioned and followed them. the people he deems worthy of having a conversation with are probably worthwhile and fairly relevant. i went all the way through his feed back before twitter rocket existed.

then i had another idea.

after reading a couple posts on glorybug’s blog, i was inspired to to a twitter search for “twitter rocket.” as expected, most of the results were affiliates. a few were folks annoyed by all the twitter rocket spam. since that’s still topical (at least to my current topic), i followed all of them, too, again, going 5 pages deep into the search results (granted, as a rule, twitter rocket affiliates post multiple times about twitter rocket, so there were some repeats in there). that bumped my following count to 462. at the end of the day (midnight, MST), i had 204 followers.

day 4

today i searched for “indie art”. this was my favorite search yet as i saw a LOT of awesome twitter backgrounds. i got a few design inspirations for making twitter backgrounds for arcane palette in the process. this tells me that this is really the type of thing i should be doing, not only for my own blog, but for arcane palette, too. it would be easy to find followers in our niche by doing searches like this.

again i went 5 pages deep into the search results, although this time, if i noticed they @mentioned someone in the last tweet or two, i followed them, too. at the end of that process, i was following 524 people. i decided it was time to chart my progress. since it was too early for twitterholic to start showing stuff (since i hadn’t indexed teh_s3quence yet), i googled for a graph-making tool and found this.

graph
following depicted by the triangle, followers depicted by the diamond

as you can see from the graph, though there’s a big gap between how many people i’m following vs. being followed by, the progression is pretty much equal (except for day 4, where the followers tapered off. i blame this either on it being the weekend, lower user activity and older tweets from the search results, or possibly twitter rocket users who don’t appreciate my skepticism). this is all i ask for, in fact, this means that everything is working perfectly.

from this point on, i’ll be tracking the data but reporting on the progress less often. it’s boring blogging about stats and i can’t imagine it makes a good read. and anyway, you get the idea: do a search for something you’re interested in or is in your niche, and follow people who are talking about it. it’s not rocket science. (pun intended.)

a little argument with myself

image from Wikipedia
image from Wikipedia

[audio:littleargumentwithmyself.mp3]

this is the argument i have in my head:

upstart blogger has been around for a while. he’s established trust with his honest representation of things. he approaches topics reasonably. he’s also exposed a few twitter scams and pyramid schemes. he’s built a good reputation. also, he makes a lot of money blogging: a lot more than i do (which is none). the only money-making links he has on his site are his affiliate program with AN hosting and, now, Twitter Rocket. Twitter Rocket, therefore, must be like a gift from god, given all the reviews…

really? what’s so special about it that’s different than the scams he’s exposed? the language he (and his following) uses about it make it sound exactly like other twitter scams.

surely you can’t fault someone who’s discovered something worthwhile for trying to profit from it. that’s what any product is. you’re paying for something that someone (multiple someones) finds valuable. that’s not a scam.

the self-perpetuating cycle of twitter rocket -> affiliate links -> twitter rocket sales feels pretty scammy.

that’s just using the system.

seems to me that @blogginghannah abuses the system. her twitter stream is littered with twitter rocket aggrandizement, and she’s purportedly the top seller. as glorybug posed the question: is it possible to make money with anything else?

sure it is….in theory. but if it’s a great product, and you’re using it, and you think it’s great, you become the perfect salesperson. it’s just part of the system.

that kind of system will break, won’t it? i mean, if it was really so awesome, everyone would eventually either be using it, or refusing to use it.

we’ll see, i guess.  however, there are enough twitter users that that won’t happen for a very long time.

what about all the upstart blogger wannabe’s? luke davis’ (aka @sixfigureluke‘s) comment over here uses almost the same language as upstart blogger when dealing with people who haven’t used twitter rocket but make claims against it. even @blogginghannah occasionally uses the same voice in her blogmondo dynamo is no different. and they both use wordpress themes that are based on ashley’s own (or at least an older version of upstart blogger). could it be that they’re all just characters ashley morgan has created to sell his product?

occam’s razor: it’s easier to believe that they are actual people than to believe the web of intricacies necessary for them to be fictional. plus, it would sell his product a lot better if it actually worked.

that doesn’t mean it’s not true…

no. just highly, highly unlikely.

it would appear than that twitter rocket is without fail. so, what’s the holdup?

i can’t see it.

excuse me?

i can’t see it. when i go to best buy and buy a game, i’ve read reviews of it. the reviews talk about what the game is like, who it was made by, what the gameplay is like, what other games it resembles, and rates it accordingly. when i go to the store, i look at it, check out the graphics, read the description, and then decide if i want to shell out fifty bucks for it. since i don’t know the details of how twitter rocket is so great, and so much better than everything else, and completely NOT like those other twitter scams (although we’re not sure exactly why), i distrust it. it feels scammy. moreover, it feels exactly like all those other money-making schemes where there’s this great thing, but we can’t tell you what it is until you buy it:

what i have in this box is the most remarkable thing you’ve ever seen. once you see it, you’ll wonder how you lived without it.
what’s in the box?
i will reveal it to you after you pay me $97.
i just want to know what’s in the box.
i can’t tell you what’s in the box. i can only tell you that it is so very valuable, that you could potentially make that $97 back in a matter of hours.
um. great. what’s in the box?

that’s true. but what if it is true? what if i really can make that money back quickly? if it pays for itself, and then some, isn’t it worth the investment?

it depends. i hate being a salesperson. if using twitter rocket means all i ever do is tweet about how great twitter rocket it like hannah does, i would hate myself, passive income or no.

but twitter rocket claims that it can support any kind of revenue. and anyway, it’s just the method to get followers, it’s not a money-making tactic in itself.

no, but i’ve yet to see much evidence to the contrary.

…and so on. it drives me completely nuts. or at least, was driving me completely nuts until i decided to just try to figure out my own method. and that’s the thing: since revealing (sort of) twitter rocket, ashley morgan has polarized his followers. they’re either in the “yay twitter rocket yay” camp, or they’re in the “you self-centered hypocrite — you’re selling the same crap that you just revealed as a scam” camp. and i’m smack in the middle, swinging from one pole to the other.

that’s why i’m revealing my process. and that’s why, if my process results in enough sales (through my two, count them, two affiliate links on my blog — twitter rocket and 1and1 hosting), then i will check out twitter rocket myself and see how it works. and maybe i’ll become one of the people shouting to the masses what a wonderful tool it is. or maybe i’ll just be a tool for having spent money on something i could have figured out on my own.

(p.s. you can help “sponsor” the project by buying something, you know.  just click on the link and sign up for one of those two things.  i wouldn’t put them there if i didn’t think they were worthwhile.)