Why Google Search Sucks And A Tribute To Neil Gaiman

Searching, “who is Neil Gaiman”, or “list of the endless in the Neil Gaiman series” will likely give searchers the answers they seek. But ask with less specificity, incorrect information, and synonyms.

Google grants access to information kings didn’t have 50 years before. I have consumed so much content, books, podcasts, movies, articles, songs, and possibly the Ph.D. thesis of a woman from Chesapeake. I cannot remember it all.

Like most, I’ll occasionally use Google to find a specific but only half-recalled crumb of content. Increasingly I use services other than Google because Google sucks as a search engine. No, Grammarly, I don’t mean “Google search could be better.” Google search is worse than it was three years ago. [1]

People Google Search In Two Ways

People use Google to find general information where any credible source is acceptable. Or they use Google looking for specific results.

Searching, “who is Neil Gaiman”, or “list of the endless in the Neil Gaiman series” will likely give searchers the answers they seek. 

But ask with less specificity, incorrect information, and synonyms, “list of the eternals from the Marvel comics books by Neil Gaiman” and Google fails to return an answer about the DC Comics series The Sandman. 

A human could justifiably struggle to answer the same question. This is a fundamental limitation of indexing an evolving glob of information.

Complexities Of Indexing Growing Information

You don’t need to keep an index for a few books on a nightstand. If you have no memory of one or more books, just read the dust jackets. This solution doesn’t scale.

At libraries with rooms of shelves crammed with books, indexing them is a process. Library classification is complex, but every book has its place. Staff spend their days’ shelf reading, looking for out-of-place books, and putting them where they belong.

Google is the shop with an index of the web. Per a Google help page, “that index is similar to an index in a library, which lists information about all the books the library has available.” Instead of books, Google indexes webpages.

Google was the first search engine to use bibliometrics as part of an algorithm to sort and rank results based on quality and relevance to a search. People used this index of webpages to find the specific in the everything. The web has grown exponentially, shifting as pages are changed, deleted, replaced, and moved. 

Few Attempt To Manipulate Libraries

Ranking at the top of a highly searched term on Google can mean millions of dollars. It’s like a high-profit marathon that never ends, and only pays out while you’re winning. The incentives mean Google has been playing cat and mouse with marketers trying to beat the algorithm since the early days.

For a few years now, Google, the Kleenex of online search, has been observed as worse than it once was. Marissa Mayer, a former Google and Yahoo executive, implied in an interview with Freakonomics Radio that Google’s rapid quality decline is the result of a larger, and lower average quality internet.

Between the volume of information on the internet and those who seek to manipulate the results, Google has an uphill battle. Bing, and Duck Duck Go, face the same challenges, but only Google is currently terribleas a search engine. 

Google Isn’t Focused On Improving Search

Google is the entrenched behemoth. [2] The company really can’t capture more search market share. Google owns the largest mobile operating system, and the largest web browser. Revenue for at least the next several years is likely to increase almost by default.

Google has economic incentives not to worry about being the best search engine. Any publicly traded company with a money printing machine guaranteed to work predictably for the next few years would focus on reducing cost, and finding the next honey pot.

Google and many other players seem to view AI as the next disruptive tech, and they are all focused on winning the arms race for the best dumb AI. That means testing and training the machine. Google, first with RankBrain, and later with BERT (names of search algorithm updates) incorporates far more machine learning into search than the competition.

Google executives who, again, want to make money seem willing to turn a dial that lowers search quality in the present for a profitable future. Ideally without distracting headlines about how they are promoting bleach as a covid19 cure. Slightly worse search results may even raise Google’s ad revenues. [3]

Not the only issues plaguing Google, but the search results are biased towards larger websites, especially for controversial topics. Even when searching for specific content, like a blog post’s title, Google tends not to show small websites. [4]

Needle In A Haystack

All search engines have to prioritize ranking multiple web pages with similar keywords somehow. Even the most advanced machine learning is abysmal at processing natural language. With enough competing results a non-fungible piece of content can be berried.

I ran into this problem looking for a quote from Neil Gaiman for use in a forthcoming article. I vividly remember not just reading but hearing Gaiman read the story of sending his publisher the pitch for American Gods and receiving a mockup of a book cover in response.

Google, and Bing both failed me. I searched in vain for a semi-specific bit of content mentioning the words “Neil Gaiman” and “American Gods” and “Email” or possibly “letter” and “publisher” or perhaps “agent” or maybe “editor” and about the word “cover”. That sentence’s chaotic grammatical mess is a window into the Google search results pages. 

Measured by volume of articles online, American Gods is Gaiman’s most successful work. [5] Thousands of pages containing all of those words or synonyms exist. A blog post teasing Robert McGinnis creating artwork for the covers of the novel’s paperback rerelease has all these keywords, but is a different story.

I finally asked everyone’s favorite oracle, the generative pre-trained transformer AI, ChatGPT. Its answer,

Neil Gaiman discussed the idea for American Gods in his blog post “American Gods and the Hugo Awards” which was posted on his website on May 14th, 2001. In the post, he mentioned that he had emailed the idea for the book to his publisher.

AI Is Flawed

Problem is the blog post seemingly no longer exists on the live web. [6] ChatGPT has yet to become a reliable source for citations. Researching for the same article ChatGPT told me that Billy McFarland was listed on the Forbes ’30 Under 30′ for “Technology” in 2017 and also on the list for “Finance” in 2013.

These are both untrue. Barring a conspiracy that Forbes removed the embarrassing Fyre Festival guy from online archives but did not remove Martin Shkreli, Chat GPT is wrong.

After hours of searching, I found the quote. Not from a search engine, or ChatGPT, but from remembering where a I once saw it. Three sentences, from the novel’s intro.

And then, during a stopover in Iceland, I stared at a tourist diorama of the travels of Leif Erickson, and it all came together. I wrote a letter to my agent and my editor that explained what the book would be. I wrote “American Gods” at the top of the letter, certain I could come up with a better title. A couple of weeks later, my editor sent me a mock-up of the book cover.

AI powered Search Is Problematic AF

As mentioned Google doesn’t like SEOs, has financial incentive for both slightly worse search results and for prioritizing building Wensleydale over all else. [7] AI in every current iteration, is bad at natural language processing. Google’s over reliance on poor natural language can be seen across the search results pages.

Search “natural remedy” even with quotation marks in Google and you’ll see results for “home remedy” and “herbal medicine”. Google even boldfaces “home remedies” in the search engine results as if it what was searched, but these are not at all the same thing.

People take many drugs at home, that are not natural. I can buy RAD 140 legally as a research chemical and use it at home to treat a muscle wasting disease (I’m not recommending you do that). But RAD 140 is fully created in a lab. It’s a home remedy, not a natural one.

In fairness to Google, Bing and other search engines do treat “natural remedy” and “home remedy” as the same thing. Google is just far and away the worst offender.

Google’s attempt at understanding what humans mean from a search is poor. I assume the company is leveraging user behavior, like relative click-thru rate, time on site and return to the search results page as training data for it’s AI projects.

Google Crowns Kings From Many Versions

Intellectual properties existence contrasts between the physical and digital worlds. Online the enforcement for copyrighted work can be (with some exemptions in law) that the work lives on one webpage, that can be viewed by millions of people at once. Corporeally millions of people reading a book at once, requires millions of copies of the book.

Online, the same article may appear many places, perhaps with slight differences in formatting, title, links on the page, or user comments. The broad internet tends to work best with a sort of syndication model that generates copies of the same content on various platforms. But the article is not entirely different, any more than different printings of a book are different books. [8]

Cory Doctorow uses POSSE (post own site, share everywhere). As Doctorow said in a Tweet “[POSSE] allows me to maintain control over my work while still meeting my audience where they are, on platforms whose scale makes them hard to rely on.” I lifted from his approach when I opted for a syndication heavy model to distribute my writing.

Google (unlike the non Google internet and the real world) generally wants a single best source of anything raining as canonical. I won’t get deep into the technical explanation of canonicalization, but suffice it to say, Google wants a single page to be the source of any given article. Creating problems for searchers.

For searchers, being unable to find the content they are seeking can be an issue. Example looking for a specific website using screenshots instead of embedded content, or the option to join the mailing list. Other reasons include, the website with the fewest ads, without a paywall, the one that isn’t on Medium because you dated a developer at the company and they were an asshole. Someone may also want to see how many places syndicated the article.

Perhaps they may not even care about the article at all and they want to find a user comment. Or just want to find a website again, and are searching for it the best way they know how. Bing, and Duck Duck Go, are both usable for these purposes, Google is no longer.

Article by Mason Pelt of Push ROI. First published in MasonPelt.com on January 31, 2023. Photo generated by an AI, no joke.

1 It’s not just me, or a few people on the internet saying Google search is worse. Media sources even some that cover search engines specifically have been commenting on Google’s decline for a few years. Toronto Star, Fast Company, Freakonomics Radio, Search Engine Journal, The Atlantic, Washington Post, ITPro, The Telegraph, The New Daily to name a few sources.

2 According to Statista from 2015-2022 Google has had between 83-91% of world wide desktop search engine market share, with greater dominance for mobile search. Even with minor drops in total market share, Google holds approximately 92% of the growing search engine market.

3 Adapting note this from a Twitter thread I posted last year.

Google doesn’t like SEOs; they will say because they game the search results. While that is undoubtedly at least a half-truth, most of Google’s revenue comes from search ads. Organic traffic as an alternative to advertising is bad for Google’s revenue.

Making search results slightly worse, and at the same time, hurting SEO as a service alternative to paid search ads is in Google’s best interest for at least the next few years. Hitting websites for being too search optimized accomplishes both tasks.

At least in my experience, search ads perform better when organic results are worse. I think Google’s goal is to ensure that most commercial pages are confined to the ads and Google My Business sections.

4 I wrote a post on my small personal website titled “The 1xftrv9efs of Covid19 – Google Test“. The site is a reasonable example of a small occasionally updated personal blog. The post was published on March 11, 2022.

The page ranks in Google if you search “1xftrv9efs”, a completely random ten-character alphanumeric code that appears no place on the internet not referring to that article. Curiously the page appears in Google for various permutations of the title, but at the time of writing, the page doesn’t appear in Google’s search results for the full article title without quotation marks.

5 Initial reviews and promotion for American Gods from 2001 were hidden by more coverage when the book won Hugo, Locus, and Nebula Awards. The Book’s tenth-anniversary edition, including a fantastic radio drama audiobook created more reviews.

The American Gods TV adaptation lead to reviews of each episode. Media coverage of production mishaps. Interviews of famous actors on press junkets, Emmy predictions, and articles about where the show is available on streaming.

6 Assuming Gaiman’s blog post did once exist, my best guess is that the post got adapted into the introduction of the American Gods’ tenth-anniversary edition. The copyright belonging to HarperCollins may have necessitated the removal of the blog post.

7 In The Good Omens novel Wensleydale is the AI computer that administers operations for of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

8 With minor differences in editing between printings, and superficially different covers and ink smudges the content of all the physical books are the same. They are one book.

With minor differences in editing between printings, and superficially different covers and ink smudges the content of all the physical books are the same. They are one book.

Even the often highlighted final chapter difference between the US and UK versions of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange doesn’t make those versions entirely different books. Burgess himself often argued one was a novel the other a fable, but didn’t always feel so strongly.

AI-Generated Articles: A Party Trick With Dangerous Consequences

AI is far from the science fiction vision. But generative pre-trained transformer (GPT) AIs like ChatGPT are now mainstream. GPT processes a tremendous amount of existing text, essentially reading millions of articles and books, “learning” how to generate human-like writing.

For an example of how it works and how far into general awareness the tech has come, watch this ad for Mint Mobile, read by Ryan Reynolds. The chat app was asked to “Write a commercial for Mint Mobil in the voice of Ryan Reynolds. Use a joke, a curse word, and [marketing messaging the company wanted in the ad no matter what the AI generated].”

The above is an ad that uses a gimmicky tech tool to tie into a news cycle because a celebrity is involved. Reynolds’ description of how ChatGPT works from the end user’s perspective is spot on, despite the normal advertising behind the scenes that is not described.

My digi-pal, Brandi D. Addison, asked ChatGPT to write an article in her style. It was an incredibly good impression. Addison is a professional reporter, and ChatGPT likely had been trained with hundreds of articles under her byline.

While she’s a better writer than an AI’. I’m also not an executive at a media company trying to raise revenue and cut costs. Meaning, I don’t have my dollar sign beer goggles on.

The folks at Red Ventures, who took ownership of CNET in 2020, seem to have the dollar sign beer goggles on because they are dancing on an AI table.

Without writing the history of CNET from 1994 to now, let’s just say that CNET was about as credible as you could get in the tech media for a long time. Since 2020 when Red Ventures took ownership of the brand, CNET has published entire articles generated by AI.

To my knowledge, no one has stated that CNET was using ChatGPT. According to The Verge, CNET used at least one AI called Wordsmith. But what content is AI written and how it is generated is largely unknown to most CNET editorial staff. One thing that is almost guaranteed the AI’s CNET is using are generative pre-trained transformers.

Current generation GPT technology is a party trick, like juggling. Like juggling, most of your friends will be slightly impressed the first time they see it but less so each subsequent time. Trust me on this.

My friend and fellow Juggler Christopher Gronlund recently pointed out that when prompted to write fiction AI repeats a lot of the same ideas. Saying it’s like a five-year-old kid who plays certain music well but without much feeling.

With fiction, at least AI cannot be wrong, as it often is when answering non-fiction questions.

CNETs AI-generated articles, as with so many GPT articles, are subject to being confidently wrong. Some of CNET’s AI-generated articles were clearly and irresponsibly wrong. The errors were obvious but also appeared in articles targeting less topically savvy people attempting to learn.

I’ve long held that human reliance on AI is creating something godlike and incredibly stupid. AI’s are used to approve loans, determine what content people see online, and who gets bail.

AI from Google is already ranking AI-generated CNET articles linking to credit card applications that use AI to decide who is approved. Without a user needing to know, AI is involved at all.

Removing the obfuscation and asking an AI questions feels like asking an oracle. It creates an expectation of something definitive and correct that a search engine doesn’t. A search engine feels like searching. AI feels like an answer.

The AI’s answers, even to factual questions, can be wrong. Can Duruk from Margins pointed out of ChatGPT, It will tell you Ankara is the capital of Turkey if you ask for the capital. But the AI will confirm that Istanbul is the capital if you ask.

I was going to make a joke here about asking Alex Cranz to comment for an article titled ‘I Sent The Verges Managing Editor a Pitch for AI Writing Software’. But in light of the layoffs at Vox Media, I’d rather not joke about an editor at The Verge using AI to replace writers at all.

So I asked an AI to write an article in the style of VOX with the title: We asked six journalism professors how to follow up on freelancer pitches with editors who got laid off. Here’s what the AI said:

Write an article in the style of VOX with the title: We asked six journalism professors how to follow up on freelancer pitches with editors who got laid off. In today's rapidly changing media landscape, newsrooms are constantly evolving and adapting to new challenges. One of the most significant changes that has occurred in recent years is the loss of jobs for many journalists, editors, and other members of the newsroom. This has led to a growing number of freelance journalists pitching their stories to publications, but with fewer editors to review and assign those pitches, it can be difficult for freelancers to know how to follow up and ensure their pitches are being considered.  To get a better understanding of how freelancers can navigate this challenging environment, we asked six journalism professors for their advice on how to follow up on pitches with editors who have been laid off.  Professor 1:

The AI was happy to advise as if it were six journalism professors. The problem is the advice is for pitching editors who got laid off; you don’t pitch them at all. But ChatGPT wrote a neat little conclusion that completely ignores that.

In conclusion, freelancers are facing a challenging environment when it comes to following up on pitches with editors who have been laid off. However, by being patient, understanding, and persistent, freelancers can increase the chances of their pitches being accepted. By building a relationship with the publication and the editor, personalizing your message, offering multiple story ideas, being flexible and willing to negotiate, offering additional resources or support and following up persistence will help freelancers navigate this challenging environment.

Let me conclude by saying don’t harass recently laid off editors with pitches for the publication they once worked.

Article by Mason Pelt of Push ROI. First published in MasonPelt.com on January 23, 2023. Photo by Andrea De Santis on Unsplash.

What Is A Tank And When Is It Pedantic

Update 1/19/23 fixed a duplicated portion of the story.

I’m not a tank expert. But I am capable of both levels of pedanticism, and passive indifference few mortals can ever reach. Context determines when each personality trait comes out.

An apartment isn’t a house, but if someone invites you over “to the house” for dinner, quibbling about names of building structures is needlessly pedantic. In most day-to-day contexts being a little imprecise with language is unproblematic. An SUV can be a “car”, a thumbtack can be a “small nail,” and so on. In most conversations, those labels don’t matter. 

If someone is giving you directions, trying to buy a vehicle, or sending you to a store with a shopping list, calling things what they are matters.

If a kid gets under the kitchen sink and drinks from a bottle of something poisonous, what they drank matters to the medical providers a great deal. But telling the story to grandma after the fact, the difference between Windex and Stoner Invisible Glass cleaning solution is negligible. A reporter focused on accuracy would probably lean generically, saying simply “household cleaner” in their story.

To reporters covering hawt military on military action, correctly describing equipment matters. And when a reporter doesn’t know the name of the equipment, it’s safest to lean generically, as I will do with the following story.

A friend of mine is a hardcore military geek. My understanding of his resume is he started as a grunt in a light-heavy artillery unit that saw a fair amount of combat and later ended up as an officer in a larger logistics context. 

Early in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he saw a cable news program use TikTok video of a Russian plane while talking about Chernihiv. His face changed. What he had seen was a Russian tanker aircraft flying near Kyiv. 

Tankers fly low and slow, making them relatively easy targets. Tankers are also expensive and harder to replace than nearly any other aircraft. To him, the video showed that Russian intel believed the air defenses for Ukraine were gone.

The video apparently showing a Lyushin-78 variation was almost certainly not taken near Chernihiv. I didn’t immediately find any reporting on this moment in cable news with a quick search, but b-roll issues happen. An Australian TV broadcast used a video of ivermectin boxes when talking about Queen Elizabeth’s COVID-19 infection and created an international incident.

Back to tanks and being pedantic or not based on context. Forces News and Forbes have articles about the difference between tanks and other armored vehicles. I’ll synthesize those articles as follows:

  1. All tanks are armored vehicles, but not all armored vehicles are tanks.
  2. Tanks are built and used to support infantry and break enemy lines on a battlefield.
  3. Armored vehicles, such as personnel carriers or armored bulldozers, may sometimes be used tactically similarly to a tank.
  4. Self-propelled artillery weapons cannot be used tactically like a tank in a non-suicidal context. 

If you’re describing any armored military vehicle doing something like running over unarmed civilians, it is generally pedantic to argue if it’s a tank. Unarmed humans are soft and weak. I don’t think I’d get along with the person who argues protesters weren’t run over with a “tank” because it was just an armored vehicle. 

In other contexts, it’s not pedantic; the correct name matters.

Showing a photo of a line of howitzers ready to meet the onslaught of infantry closing in would be reassuring to those who think, “Howitzer look like tank. Howitzer is tank.”. Those who know what a howitzer is for would be more likely to bet on the onslaught.

Label things correctly if you’re reporting on battles fought by even semi-organized militaries. Because in that context it matters.

Article by Mason Pelt of Push ROI. First published in MasonPelt.com on January 19, 2023. Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash.

Media Literacy: The Musk Emerald Mine & Andrew Tate’s Arrest

We will discuss Andrew Tate’s arrest and Elon Musk’s father’s emerald mine. But those are ancillary to the real story about how to navigate mainstream media. I’m Mason Pelt, and I’ll be your soyfaced-cuck or guide; I don’t care how you think of me.

My travels in the weird corners of cyberspace have shown over and over that those most skeptical of “the media” are often the least media literate. In this context, “the media” is shorthand for any mainstream or quasi-mainstream news source. Some of the more extreme media skeptics disregard all of it as false.

If you contradict certain figures, like Andrew Tate or Elon Musk, using “the media,” legions of accounts will appear to disregard the reporting. I cannot defend all those working under the auspices of journalism as pure of intention. But the sentiment anything the media says is made up upgrades the reliability.

Media Gets Things Wrong

Think of the riddle where you must ask directions from two men, one who always tells the truth, the other who always lies. The solution is only possible because both men are 100% consistent and know the correct answer. If the liar fully believed the correct path was the wrong path, the riddle loses all simple solutions.

The media is sometimes misleading and other times dead wrong, but not always. Certainly, the media is not always so deceptive or factually inaccurate as to be fully disregarded. But it’s easier to ignore than to critically examine, so that’s what people do.

Sometimes, a story will take off despite being untrue, especially when the reporting is in near real-time. We saw this with reporting that CNN aired porn, that a pizza box led to Andrew Tate’s arrest, and many more. Normally those records are corrected after the frenzy.

Exceptions exist to the norm, MSN was syndicating news about mermaids, and in 2022 the Google News syndicated BroBible ran a story that Snopes debunked in 2016. Even in 2016, any level of due diligence would have shown the video clip was a joke from a YouTube video. Sorry for those who considered BroBibble a reliable source of news until just now. But if the entire media is BroBible, we are truly in the end times.

Overall, I think Astral Codex Ten got it right by saying “[…] people – including the very worst perpetrators of misinformation – very rarely say false facts. Instead, they say true things without enough context.”

The Musk Family Emerald Mine

A narrative surrounding Elon Musk is that his dad owned an emerald mine in apartheid South Africa and that money from that mine was used to fund Elon Musk as he built up his business empire. Since 2018ish, Elon Musk has disputed this claim, normally, by denying that any emerald mine existed.

Elon, and Errol Musk have given interviews talking about an emerald mine in the past. Both Musk’s talked about the mine located in Zambia is if it were real.

“In South Africa, my father had a private plane we’d fly in incredibly dangerous weather and barely make it back. This is going to sound slightly crazy, but my father also had a share in an Emerald mine in Zambia. I was 15 and really wanted to go with him but didn’t realize how dangerous it was. I couldn’t find my passport so I ended up grabbing my brother’s – which turned out to be six months overdue! So we had this planeload of contraband and an overdue passport from another person. There were AK-47s all over the place and I’m thinking, “Man, this could really go bad.”

Elon Musk speaking in a 2014 article for Forbes, titled “Elon Musk Tells Me His Secret Of Success (Hint: It Ain’t About The Money).” View on Internet Archive

“So we went to this guy’s prefab and he opened his safe and there was just stacks of money and he paid me out, £80,000, it was a huge amount of money,” he said.

Standing with the cash in his hand, Errol was made another offer he couldn’t refuse: Would he like to buy half an emerald mine for half of his new riches?

“I said, ‘Oh, all right’. So I became a half owner of the mine, and we got emeralds for the next six years.”

From an article in Business Insider South Africa, the part in quotation marks is said by Errol Musk (father of Elon Musk).

Snopes has a great aggregation of media reports regarding the Musk family emerald mine for those interested.

If I had to make a bet, I’d bet that an emerald mine existed in Zambia. I expect that a pilot based in South Africa with a job involving travel was critical to the venture. And that involved parties wanted to document the ownership of the mine, or gemstones produced by the mine, in the same way people want to document ownership of kilos of cocaine.

After a few minutes of searching, I wasn’t able to find an example of a mainstream media article stating as fact that Errol Musk owned an emerald mine in South Africa. The myth Elon Musk seemingly disputes doesn’t seem to have been perpetuated much if at all by mainstream sources. But citing Business Insider, Forbes, Esquire or Snopes to prove that something referred to as an emerald mine existed will likely summon a stream of people saying “the media literally just makes things up.”

Andrew Tate’s Arrest

I’ve written about Andrew Tate’s arrest already. This is going to talk about the reaction to that reporting and make a few more points about media literacy. In response to my article I received, without exaggeration over one hundred replies on Twitter saying that Andrew Tate was not in jail.

Tate was arrested on December 29, 2022 Romanian law enforcement sent out a press release. The next day multiple media outlets (BBC, Reuters, CNN ) reported quotes from both spokespersons for Romania’s investigation and Eugen Vidineac, a lawyer for Tate, confirming that Tate, his brother and two others would be held for 30 days.

Responding to anyone with a link to a webpage quoting Tate’s own lawyer, was met with disregard for mainstream media.

Supposing the objection was to the word “jail”. In that case, I’m sorry for referring to the Romanian detention centers that an April 2022 report issued by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment found kept most people in cells for 23 hours a day as “jail”.

Would Media Lie About This?

You cannot assume everything any or every media outlet tells you is true. But you don’t have to believe, BBC, CNN, Reuters, Business Insider, Forbes, Esquire, or Snopes blindly or even believe the entire article. Just think about how unlikely it is that dozens of media outlets made up quotes from thin air for public figures, their lawyers, and law enforcement bodies.

Article by Mason Pelt of Push ROI. First published in MasonPelt.com on January 9, 2023. Photo by Birger Strahl on Unsplash.

How Companies Scare Away Job Seekers

Ed Note: This article was written by Push ROI’Mason Pelt, and first published in Business 2 Community on February 1, 2017.

Most articles about hiring or getting hired are from the perspective of the business. These articles will either advise job seekers how to apply or will attempt to mentor a crop of inexperienced hiring managers and HR minions on how to screen for the best candidates. This post is from the perspective of job seekers to companies looking to hire amazing candidates, but for one reason or another can’t find them. If you’ve been looking for a while and your candidate just isn’t to be found, you’re seeking a unicorn, or you’re scaring applicants away.

For my research, I asked over 50 people who will be seeking jobs in 2017. These are the top reasons why your job posting may be running off the cream of the crop.

Buzzword-laden Job Descriptions

This is from a real Marketing Manager job description someone shared:

“We’re a fast growing and innovative company seeking an energetic, go-getter who loves to rise to a challenge. The ideal applicant will thrive in the fast pace of our company’s collaborative environment. Applicant should have experience managing budgets for conversion marketing of disruptive products.”

First, as a rule, don’t say you’re innovative, be innovative. Second, say more about the role and the company. What are the “disruptive products”? Who are the customers of this “fast growing and innovative company”?

Also for any job where the hire will manage a budget you should list the budget range. Are you talking 3 million a month in paid media spend or is the annual marketing budget 20k? Knowing those numbers will tell an applicant a lot about the role.

Too Many Listed Requirements

A detailed list of all the qualifications candidates should have is excellent! But when a description is so specific that only the person who left the job could meet all the criteria you’ve gone too far. People won’t apply for the role if they feel they can’t fit the specifications of the prince charming candidate who likely only exists in the job description.

If you’re seeking a CTO for a social network, listing “MBA preferred bachelor’s degree required” would rule out Mark Zuckerberg. On the flip side, listing obvious qualifications is a waste of space. If you’re hiring a copywriter with five years of experience, you can probably leave “proficiency with Microsoft Word” or “fluency in English” off the description. For a rule of thumb if as an employer, a particular skillset would seem odd to list on a resume it likely doesn’t need to be in the job description.

As one person pointed out; “In many cases, HR is not qualified to screen candidates. A job description with many obvious qualifications increases the lack of faith in the ability of human resources to accurately assess my skill set.”

Not Posting a Salary Range

Over half of respondents said this was the number one reason they wouldn’t apply for a job they otherwise wanted. Most people have expenses and a lifestyle they’d like to maintain. So why would they apply for a job without knowing it has the potential to pay the amount they need to earn.

I understand the company’s perspective is not wanting to hire people who are motivated only by money. And while salary is almost always a negotiation, your business has an upper limit and a preferred amount you can pay. Not sharing that information in advance with job seekers will run away great candidates.

Making it Bizarrely Hard to Apply

Most job seekers understand HR wants to weed out the uninterested applicants, but if you make people jump through hoops, you’ll run off more than just duds. Qualified people will get scared off too.

A personal story for me that one-upped even the most ridiculous stories from those surveyed was being called by a staff recruiter and asked to apply for a job…. Make that tried to apply for a job. These were the steps that I was supposed to take. Keep in mind a recruiter called me and asked me if I’d be interested in interviewing. I was then emailed a link to fill out an intake form for HR. My commentary is in brackets.

  1. Connect your LinkedIn profile. [Great! They now have all my job history, relevant certifications, references and a bunch of publications]
  2. Upload your resume. [Alright, It has less info than Linkedin, so maybe you want a concise summary]
  3. Fill out this job history form [I’ve given you this information twice now, but I can copy and paste into the form.]
  4. Provide contact info for the last four companies you’ve worked. [First 4 is a lot, second I’ve owned the last two companies I’ve worked in, This is pretty clear if you view my LinkedIn, resume or job history]
  5. Provide at least four personal references. [4 is still a lot, but okay I will add them]
  6. Provide at least four professional references. [Here are four more people, if you look on LinkedIn you will see 15+ references and one of them was the founder of this particular company]
  7. Provide at least two education references. (These can be a teacher, professor or classmate.) [Are you kidding me? Thanks for telling me what these are because I had no idea]
  8. Please provide your last three residential addresses. [Are you trying to steal my identity? Because it’s starting to feel like you plan on stealing my identity]

By step 8 I had spent over 40 minutes, and I stopped… I didn’t want to work for a company that valued my time so little that they would have expected this from any applicant this early in the process. I’m sure someone in HR would say that I didn’t want the job badly enough and that I, therefore, wasn’t a fit. But as a job seeker, it looked like the company was unorganized and lacked respect for me as an applicant.

Did I mention that this was a job in user experience and conversion rate optimization? My perception was that everything in this company would be misguided bureaucracy and that I would never be able to optimize systems without pushback.

A Bad Company Reputation

Just like a company will research an applicant, the job seeker will research the company. Negative online reviews from former employees on Glassdoor or suspiciously frequent openings are huge red flags. A bad BBB rating, bad online reviews, high-pressure sales tactics (pyramid scheme for example) or an industry that is sketchy and known for high turnover easily turns a potentially great looking job into something that no good candidate would want.

Even if everything else within the application process is perfect, overcoming an F rating with the BBB or a perception that your product is a scam is hard. While there are companies with less than stellar reputations through no fault of their own, most of the time if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.

Moving Forward

Based on my experiences and the feedback of others I know these are things that can quickly turn off a potential applicant before they apply. In many companies, bureaucratic and often misguided processes exist. One person may not have the control to fix the procedures a company uses to attract, entice, screen and hire the best staff.

But as a growing number of skilled freelance workers can help attest, something has to change. If companies want to attract top tier talent, they will have to do more than preaching about how that talent should consider themselves lucky to get an interview.

Mason Pelt is the managing director of Push ROI, the post is not canonicalized here. Photo by George Pagan III on Unsplash

Andrew Tate And The Woke Mind Virus

Andrew Tate, and the woke mind virus sounds like a children’s mystery book title. So let’s investigate how woke the mind virus is and Tate’s alleged crimes. 

It’s gotten so woke out here you cannot even move to Romania to start a crime syndicate for human trafficking without people trying to cancel you. Tate, who I will describe as anti-woke, is not yet convicted of any crime. Still, Tate is being detained for 30 days by order of a Romanian court as prosecutors pursue claims of human trafficking, organized crime, and rape.

For those who want a primer on Andrew Tate, I recommend watching this video from Stephen of Coffeezilla. I’ve followed Stephen’s work for years, and used him as a source in my writing. This isn’t a random Youtuber making a hit piece. It’s a detailed report from the best watchdog in the space.

With the background that Tate is a venerable professor at Hustler University, offering courses including Ph.D’s (Pimping Hoes Degree), here’s what’s happening. 

On December 30, 2022, Andrew, his brother Tristin Tate, and two Romanian nationals, are being held as part of an investigation into the group for human trafficking. In April Tate was briefly taken into custody after a raid on his home, something he later claimed was swatting. In reality, the April raid was part of a months-long investigation by Romania’s Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT).

Update: 1/11/23: According to the Associated Press, “The Bucharest Court of Appeal late Tuesday rejected all four appeals against a judge’s Dec. 30 decision to grant prosecutors’ request to extend the arrest period.” the judge stated that the brothers are at risk of evading investigations and that they could “leave Romania and settle in countries that do not allow extradition.” / end update.

Update 1/4/23: After receiving questions about the exact claims made by DIICOT, the below is a screenshot of a Google translated DIICOT press release.

Follow a communiqué no. 1 of 12.04.2022 and the interest shown by media representatives, The Bureau of Information and Public Relations within the Directorate for the Investigation of Organized Crime and Terrorism is empowered to bring to the attention of the public the following: On 29.12.2022, prosecutors of the Directorate for the Investigation of Organized Crime and Terrorism – Central Structure together with police officers from the Bucharest Organized Crime Brigade have implemented 5 home search warrants in a case where research is carried out in respect of the commission of offenses of setting up an organized criminal group, trafficking in human beings and rape. In this case, it was noted that, at the beginning of 2021, 4 suspects ( two British citizens and two Romanian citizens ) constituted a criminal group organized in order to commit on the Romanian territory, but also of other states, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, of the crime of human trafficking. Injured persons were recruited by British citizens by misleading the intention to establish a marriage / concubine relationship and the existence of real feelings of love ( the loverboy method ). They were subsequently transported and housed in buildings in Ilfov County where, by exercising acts of physical violence and mental coercion ( by intimidation, constant surveillance, control and invocation of alleged debts ), were sexually exploited by group members by forcing pornographic events to be produced and broadcast through social media platforms of such a character and by subjecting them to execution work, forcibly,in order to obtain significant financial benefits consisting of the amounts of money obtained as a result of access to the materials by users. To date, 6 injured persons have been identified who have been sexually exploited by the organized criminal group. The rape offense was noted that in March 2022, an injured person was forced on two different occasions, by a suspect through the exercise of physical violence and psychological pressure to have sex. At the headquarters of the Directorate for the Investigation of Organized Crime and Terrorism – The Central Structure were led, for hearing, 4 people about whom there is a reasonable suspicion that they are involved in the criminal activity. Following the hearings, the prosecutors of the Directorate for the Investigation of Organized Crime and Terrorism – The Central Structure ordered the detention measure for a period of 24 hours compared to the 4 persons. The activities were also attended by police officers from the Ilfov Organized Crime Service and the Anti-Trafficking Service, as well as gendarmes from the Special Gendarmerie Intervention Brigade. We specify that during the entire criminal process, the investigated persons benefit from the procedural rights and guarantees provided by the Code of Criminal Procedure, as well as the presumption of innocence.

I’d call your attention to the portion translated as,

Injured persons were recruited by British citizens by misleading the intention to establish a marriage / concubine relationship and the existence of real feelings of love ( the loverboy method ). They were subsequently transported and housed in buildings in Ilfov County where, by exercising acts of physical violence and mental coercion ( by intimidation, constant surveillance, control and invocation of alleged debts ), were sexually exploited by group members by forcing pornographic events to be produced and broadcast through social media platforms of such a character and by subjecting them to execution work, forcibly, in order to obtain significant financial benefits consisting of the amounts of money obtained as a result of access to the materials by users.

To date, 6 injured persons have been identified who have been sexually exploited by the organized criminal group.
The rape offense was noted that in March 2022, an injured person was forced on two different occasions, by a suspect through the exercise of physical violence and psychological pressure to have sex.

/ end update.

A now-deleted page on Tate’s website describes at least some elements of the sex trafficking crimes DIICOT alleges. h/t Jon Christian.


Literally, that was my job. My job was to meet a girl, go on a few dates, sleep with her, test if she’s quality, get her to fall in love with me to where she’d do anything I say, and then get her on webcam so we could become rich together. Whether you agree or disagree with what I did with their loyalty, submission, and love for me doesn’t matter. You cannot reject the results, and the results are simple. My girlfriends would do more for me than 99.9% of men’s wives would do for them.”

Reads one section. Another says,

“I’ve been running a webcam studio for nearly a decade, I’ve had over 75 girls work for me, and my business model is different than 99% of webcam studio owners. Over 50% of my employees were actually my girlfriend at the time and, of all my girlfriends, NONE were in the adult entertainment industry before they met me.”

The idea of webcam modeling, nonmonogamy, or BDSM (if you’ve done more research on Tate) will viscerally upset some people. These may be outside of your morality or individual experience, but they are not proof of coercion and force. It’s important to understand that sex workers are not automatically victims, and based on evidence and the real-life experience of sex workers, Amnesty International advocates decriminalizing all aspects of consensual adult sex

In the case of the Tate brothers and crew, the allegations are of force or coercion. According to Reuters, prosecutors said they had found six women who the suspects had sexually exploited. That last sentence sounds damning.

Tate is just accused and not convicted. I add that disclaimer with the same conviction that I’d say, Sam Bankman-Fried hasn’t been convicted, or that O.J. Simpson was acquitted. The best-case scenario for Tate is that he’s a weirdo grifter who bragged about picking his girlfriends based on who he could manipulate.

Update 1/2/23: This video by Bruce Rivers, breaks down some of Andrew Tate’s other statements that seem rather incriminating. The statements include Tate admitting to the use of violence and coercive control and a claim that he was prepared to evade law enforcement if needed.

/ end update.
To play devil’s advocate, I’m unfamiliar with Romanian law, and Google translate is limited. So the term “sexually exploited” is vague, at least with my limited contextual knowledge. I know kink and nontraditional relationships are often shamed, and people famous for acting like moronic assholes are sometimes targets of law enforcement. 

Update 1/4/23: Ramona Bolla, a spokesperson for DIICOT, confirmed the seizure of 11 cars from Andrew Tate and his brother Tristan since their arrest to Insider. The cars have been being held to cover cost of the investigation, and could also be used to fund any payments awards to their alleged victims. / end update.

Tate is an asshole, and the evidence that he’s a criminal seems high. While he’s not yet proven guilty, his guilt has far more evidence than the many conspiracies surrounding his case. Including the idea that he’s being setup by the CIA.

Sure, it’s possible Tate et al. are being set up due to fame, sensationalism and stigma around sex work. Law enforcement spent years going after Backpage, a classified ads platform used by sex workers, with claims that prosecutors seemed aware were false

The cases for child sex trafficking multiple U.S. law enforcement agencies built against Backpage were impeded because the company kept trying to help stop sex trafficking. When the Department of Justice shut down Backpage, sex workers said it removed safeguards that protected them

Tate may not be found guilty, but it’s unlikely he was a positive force. Memos from Romanian prosecutors saying, “Even without a subpoena, in exigent circumstances such as a child rescue situation, Backpage will provide the maximum information and assistance permitted under the law” won’t surface. Something U.S. federal prosecutors wrote about Backpage.

Tate and the others, were arrested following a well-publicized Twitter interaction between Tate and Greta Thunberg. Thunberg’s Tweet clapping back at Tate is now one of the most-liked of all time. The media coverage of said Tweet was incredible.

People at DIICOT, just like those in every law enforcement agency on the planet, get a career boost from handling a high-profile case. I don’t find it far-fetched that someone with power would rush a raid a little bit to hit a media high.

The sequence of events fueled incorrect reporting that a pizza box seen in Tates response video to Thunberg allowed police to find him.

Ben Dreyfuss first debunked that narrative, and DIICOT later confirmed the Jerry’s Pizza box wasn’t used in the investigation, but will always have the memes. 

So far as the Romanian sexual exploitation case against Tate & Co., the worst management consulting company ever, goes, the woke mind virus had no involvement. Well apart from people with woke mind virus loving the idea that a pizza box shown in the Tate’s video response to a 19 year old climate activist allowed Romanian authorities to confirm he was in the country, and arrest him in a human trafficking investigation.

Article by Mason Pelt of Push ROI. First published in MasonPelt.com on January 1, 2023.

5 Pieces of Etiquette for Startups Approaching Advisors

Ed Note: This article by Mason Pelt of Push ROI was first published in Business 2 Community on December 12, 2015. Photo by Nadir sYzYgY on Unsplash

We’re coming upon the end of the year and a lot of people are planning to take the next steps toward starting a company. I can’t back that with statistics, but as a guy running a marketing agency, I’ve been having a lot of meetings with startup founders who would like help and advice. I rarely have a problem taking a little time to talk with someone about an idea, but there are a few pieces of etiquette you should adhere to when approaching any potential partners or advisors.

Don’t have an NDA waiting

Startups asking everyone they come in contact with to sign an NDA has been covered to excess, by everyone from VC’s to developers, but I’m going to say it again:  DO. NOT. ASK. ANYONE. TO. SIGN. AN. NDA. BEFORE. YOU. MEET.

Non disclosure agreements have a time and a place. When you have money, trade secrets, or information that, if released, could reasonably cause your business harm, that makes sense. When your idea is barely past the scribbles on a napkin stage, it’s not time to ask everyone to sign an NDA.

If a company has revenue and legitimate trade secrets, I’ll sign. If you’re asking me to meet with you to talk about an idea that isn’t new, has no technology, no legal structure, no revenue and no ip other than a simple idea, I will not take the meeting unless your name is Prince.

To rephrase: Your concept for a search engine for real estate is not the time to ask someone to sign an NDA. I don’t want to rant about this further, because it’s been covered pretty extensively. Just Google, “Why I won’t sign your NDA”.

Only wanting your idea / product validated

Most companies I work with already have market validation. For example: a moving company, a plumber, an online clothing retailer, a chain of spas, and a car dealership have all been clients of mine within the last year. These are products that fit into an existing market and already had traction (i.e sales and revenue). As a side note, I signed NDA’s for all of these companies because they had validation and were past the idea concept stage.

I know I can improve a PPC campaign for a plumber because I know that other plumbers are making money using PPC. Most pre-money of seed startups have no track record I can draw from, so you probably don’t need someone to suggest only “tweaks”. You have to acknowledge a very real possibility that your product or idea may need to pivot, or at least change to fit a market.

When I’m approached by someone who wants marketing, but isn’t willing to test potential product changes, I try to politely excuse myself from the conversation. I can’t market a bad product, and testing ideas is pretty easy. You can do an online survey, put together a focus group, or simply strike up a polite conversation with someone in a coffee shop or bar. Check out Brandon Mendelson’s post Why you should go offline and buy your customers a beer to get an idea of how easily user testing can get started, But back on topic… If all you want is a safe space for someone to say you have a perfect idea or a perfect product, you shouldn’t waste the time of good advisors, because nothing is perfect.

Understand their skill set

If you call someone and ask to meet with him or her for advice, you should already know something about what that person could bring to your table. This means you should, at the very least, bother to Google the people you’re calling. Read over their LinkedIn profiles and understand what they can do for your startup. This especially applies when you get a friend of a friend introduction.

If you have someone who is an expert in conducting user research and designing product based on that research, you shouldn’t waste your time, or theirs, by asking how you should handle your taxes. And whatever you do, don’t ask them to pitch themselves. Instead, you should focus on problems you have, which their skill set can help you solve.

Give your elevator pitch, answer follow-up questions, and ask the expert you’re meeting with how he would handle A or B problems. If  you built an app that is confusing to the point users can’t figure it out, try asking the UX guru I described above how to fix the problem. He will probably tell you user testing should have started before you built the product, but still they are an expert to help you find a solution.

Expect nothing for free

If someone is meeting you for coffee to talk over your project, he is already giving you more than most people will. We all understand startups have limited budgets, but if you expect to meet with someone for advice more than once, you should have something to offer beyond just your charming smile.

A lot of super talented and knowledgeable people will happily talk to you and give you a cup of coffee’s worth of advice. Beyond that, you need to have something to offer. We live in a world where money is currency. That’s why I work with most clients. It stems from my addiction to food and shelter. I understand that startups have limited budgets. What you can offer is equity.

Not everyone’s advice is worth equity and not every startup is worth investing time into. But, if you have nothing else to offer and you’ve found someone who believes in your idea and provides value, it’s worth talking about coughing up some equity. Simply ask if he would be willing to become an advisor and talk over terms.

Don’t ask someone to work for free and then place so little value on their time that you wouldn’t consider giving them equity. Equity isn’t the most valuable thing you have; the multiple on your equity is the most valuable thing. Try to bring on people who increase that multiple.

Understand your value

The idea isn’t half the battle. I understand that you’re excited about your idea, but if you can’t pay real currency that can be exchanged for goods and services, you had better have a darn compelling reason as to why someone should work with you. In all likelihood, your idea will need to change and evolve. Having the idea doesn’t get to be the reason you work 5 hours a month and own half of the pre money company.

I can think of so many people who approached me by pitching the product idea then asked me to pitch myself as a marketer for said idea. Often, I’m asked to work for free or some small amount of equity (5-10% for a three year commitment is common). These same people also tend to make similar offers to designers and developers, as if under the belief that the idea is worth 50% of the company.

I’m a marketing advisor for BlackCert, an SSL company founded by John McAfee. He has a negotiation point that most of you don’t. Between his last name and his knowledge of cyber security and business, he adds a tremendous amount of value. If you add less value than John McAfee, don’t ask for more of the pie.

I’m not saying you should give away all of your equity foolishly. But don’t overestimate your own value.  Ideas are a dime a dozen. Good ideas that have a path to revenue, a team capable of implementing it and attracting investment & users are rare. As the “idea guy,” you must also have a skill set and relationships that helps add as much value as the people building the product, if you want comparable equity.

My Writing About Musk Isn’t About Musk

It seems like I’ve been writing a lot about Musk. Objectively I, and most other writers have been. I cannot speak for others, but for me Musk is just an object lesson in the bad part of startup land.

I’ve been around startups since I was a teenager. I’ve seen so many gallons of toxic startup BS. Musk embodies all of it, in a neatly name-recognizable package. But he’s just a repeating story of the same old nonsense.

My digipal Ranee Soundara shared a draft of something she’d written about a particularly absurd requirement in many companies hiring processes. It’s an excellent article and she’s since published it on LinkedIn. Reading her draft caused me to rerun an article from October with my takeaways from a bad startupish job listing.

Read: A Business Lesson From A Bad Job Listing

To sum the article up in bullet points:

  • Founder/CEOs often scale way past their capacity to manage but stay super protective of the company.
  • The skills and approach that allow founder’s to build, often complemented by delusional confidence and dumb luck, rarely scale with the organization.
  • When someone doesn’t know what they don’t know, the human tendency is to develop irrational proxies to evaluate.

Last month I had a job interview with a startup that was so bad I’ve written three articles about how not to conduct a job interview. The articles will likely end up published on my own channels because startup media has basically vanished. It seems like most startup coverage now begins with $100 million and 200 employees.

In August I wrote that Musk’s flippant disregard for his contracts to acquire Twitter showed that smart contracts aren’t really possible. I didn’t have to search for an example of a startup that owed money to my company. I just used the example where A Twitter cofounder was an investor.

Read: Elon Musk Shows the Limits of Smart Contracts

I have many other stories. I’m still pissed off about being stiffed on petty amounts of money from startups back when I was 17. My friend Cullen has his own stories of nonpayment as a teenager working with startups. We are not alone, Musk embodies the startup world.

In the context of a long and personal essay about how the behavior of those in entrepreneurship often mirror those with substance use disorders Musk’s name didn’t come up once. And yet, I shared this article with people because it explains much of Musk’s behavior.

Read: Examining Entrepreneurial Addiction (To The Ghost Of A Friend)

The startup space overlaps with the fake guru space heavily. The personalities are often hard to differentiate. But small scale is uninteresting to readers, or worse institutional support is extended to pay the bills.

Read: Fake Gurus: Welcome to the Online Business Guru Grifter Industrial Complex

In that article from 2020, I talked about the Forbes 30 under 30 lists and Forbes Councils as shams.

“In 2017, the aforementioned Sam Ovens made the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia: Industry, Manufacturing & Energy list. What does a man from New Zealand, selling the secrets to earning six figures, with offices in Dublin and New York City, have to do with manufacturing or Asia?

I’m not saying Ovens bought his way onto the list. But Forbes props up fake guru types with credibility. In fact, undeserved endowment of their trusted brand is built into the business model. Even now, Forbes takes money from people to become members of one of the Forbes Councils. With that nearly $2,000 membership, someone can write for the Forbes site and use the trusted logo on marketing material in perpetuity.”

My attack on Forbes was part of why that article ran in the independent Arc Digital, and not mainstream or quasi mainstream tech press.

At the moment I have three articles being pitched to editors about the startup world. All mention Elon Musk. Heck, I got a very polite rejection from one editor, because they had too many Musk stories.

Fair, Musk, Holmes, and SBF all generate a lot of think pieces, because mainstream news will cover them. The articles are often just a repeating story of the same old nonsense. Only this way, people will care.

This article was first published in MasonPelt.com on 12/21/22 and is adapted from social media posts. Photo by Shapelined on Unsplash