What’s really behind those Facebook quizzes


Here’s what’s really behind these quizzes on Facebook.

1) First of all, the “92% of people can’t…” line is total BS. There’s nobody keeping track of scores. That “92%” line is designed to entice you into taking the challenge. It’s not based on any collected data at all, and has that “92%” number on it from the moment it’s released on Facebook.

2) The quizzes are designed to be easy so that you will do better than the “92%” and will share the quiz and brag about it, thereby enticing others to take the quiz.

3) You’ll notice that every question in the quiz is on a separate page. That’s not because there are slick web designers or usability experts behind the page; it’s because every time you go to a new question you load a whole new set of ads, thereby generating loads of ad revenue for the people who made the quiz. (There can easily be 12-20 ads per page.)

4) For quizzes that are designed to tell you something about your personality — what Star Wars character you are, or some other personal quality — know that the results are based on total BS. Some person spent half an hour in a cubicle drawing up a matrix based on nothing more than what kind of mood they were in that day, and that’s it.

5) By going through the quiz and then sharing it, the people making the quiz are gathering data about the things you like. (Car quizzes label you as a car fan; geography quizzes label you as a person who likes to travel, etc.) They sell this data back to Facebook (or perhaps a third-party ad manager) who uses it to build your Facebook advertising profile, which in turn determines what ads and “sponsored posts” you see.

So please do not think that these quizzes tell you anything about yourself, or that the results have any research or scientific thinking behind them. Go ahead and keep doing them if you like — after all, they can be fun — but remember that you’re a bit of a sucker every time you do so, and the results mean nothing.

The only purpose behind these quizzes is to keep you clicking and sharing so that other people can make money from it. But hey, people have to make a living, right? Fair enough. But for Pete’s sake just be aware of the level of BS you’re engaging in when you do it, and don’t bother bragging that you’re better than “the 92%” and don’t even bother questioning the veracity of that figure, because now you know it’s all just made up to suck you in.

(Published simultaneously on Facebook.)

Taglines from Hell

Because I am a masochist at heart, I sometimes spend my lunch break eating at my desk and reading discussion threads on Linked In. In a recent thread, some poor sap was asking for help coming up with a promotional tagline that connected the idea of volunteering with the concept of “winners” or “winning.”

Having been charged with creating taglines in a previous job, I have a special appreciation for the challenges involved. It’s way harder to come up with a good one than you might think, and one of the biggest hurdles is deflecting the tin-eared suggestions that come from your co-workers and colleagues. It’s an especially big hurdle if the sour notes come from your boss (or client, if you’re a freelancer).

I knew what to expect when I saw that person asking for help in a Linked In discussion. I knew it would be bad, but the part of me that loves a good train wreck had to click through and read the suggestions.

Below are a few of them, verbatim. Imagine any of these painted on a tall banner at a flashy trade show, presented as the cornerstone to a volunteer recruitment campaign:

  • You can’t win, if you don’t volunteer to do so!
  • Winners say no to drags
  • Winners join us because here is where cream always rises to the top!
  • There aren’t any winners without losers. Choose your side. (Ed. note: the guy who came up with that one is a CEO.)
  • Winners have volunteers on their team
  • Premiere as a Volunteer – Begin and Win
  • Oh I wish I were an Oscar Meyer Winner, that is what I’d truly like to volunteer!
  • Let the other person win, volunteer.
  • Winners…..get up one more time than they fall down!

And the Pièce de résistance:

  • Winners do not compromise the position, Leaders fo not compromise the goals adn Volunterrs do not compromise the causes. (sic)

Sxy Jns, Google, and Me

Quick, what’s the connection between my trip to Italy in 2006, the promotion for “Sxy Jns” currently on in Mexico City, and my mixed feelings for Google?

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The answer begins with this blog post.

Let me explain. A few years ago I tried running Google ads on the Blork Blog. After about a year I had accumulated about $95 in revenue, which isn’t much, so I was thinking about removing the ads.

Part of the Google Adsense terms of service is this:

You are not permitted to encourage users to click on Google ads or bring excessive attention to ad units.

Regardless, soon after starting to run the ads I did exactly that, one time, and ironically. It was in a post where I was lamenting the commercialization of “alternative” journalism. I concluded with the joke “Alternative journalism at its finest. Now please click on one of my Google ads…” Given my (then) 1400 or so blog posts that never mentioned ads, I did not think that was bringing “excessive attention to ad units.”

Google spotted that while I was on vacation in Italy, a year after I made the post. They sent me an email demanding I remove the post within 72 hours or they would withhold my revenue.


It was one ironic line in a blog that at that time had over 400,000 published words not mentioning the ads. Can Google not differentiate between persistent click solicitation and a one-time joke? Of course they could if they wanted to, but our friend Google, whom everyone knows and loves, showed its real self that day. When it comes to money and service agreements, Google is as short sighted and greedy as Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and all the other technology “heroes” of our day.


Fortunately I had stopped into an Internet cafe in Rome and had read the email. So I had to log into my account and change the post – all the while paying extortionate usage fees to the cafe. I was severely pissed off. A few weeks later I hit the $100 mark (the threshold below which Google will make no payments). I cashed in and immediately removed the Google ads from my blog. Incidentally, I also restored the offending post to its original state.

But what does that have to do with Sxy Jns? (“Sexy Jeans,” for the uninitiated.) A year after the Google fiasco I made a blog post in which I presented a nice photo of a bunch of wet mint leaves; a photo I had taken in my back yard. I thought it would make a nice background for something, such as a desktop wallpaper, so I decided to share it. I joked that there was no need to thank me, to just click on an ad (followed by “oh wait, I no longer have ads”). Thus is the connection between these minty leaves, my trip to Italy, and Google. But where does Sxy Jns fit in?

In that blog post with the wet leaves photo I also suggested that if you want to use the photo as your wallpaper you could toss me a nickel next time you see me. Little did I know that a year and a half later someone at an advertising agency in Mexico would be scouring Google Images looking for a nice photo of fresh spring leaves to use as the background for a spring promotion of Sxy Jns. The rest of the story is self evident; he found my image and requested a high resolution version that could be used in the campaign. And he didn’t just toss me a nickel; we agreed on a reasonable price (that was, incidentally, more than I got from Google for a whole year’s worth of ads).

It is interesting that Google plays a role in all chapters of this story. I remain severely pissed off at Google although I am grateful for its service – which I use on an hourly basis and have even made money from (this is not the first time I’ve sold usage rights to an image that someone found on Google).

When I was running the Google ads, I respected the terms of use, but allowed one minor exception, which I thought would be OK because it was clearly a joke and was not excessive. What pissed me off was Google’s Draconian response. Not only did they come down on me hard for that one reference, they gave me very little time to respond.

In the end, I feel a bit like one of those captive trophy wives; someone who is grateful for the lifestyle but really hates the source of it.

Come on, Google, grow the Hell up and use some of that awesome power you have to put a reasonable threshold on usage terms before you call in the storm troopers!

Now That’s Marketing!

I received these two pieces of mail yesterday: a complimentary issue of MacLean’s magazine along with a pitch to subscribe; and a pitch from Maisonneuve magazine, a way cooler rag that promises it is “definitely not MacLean’s.”

McLeans and Maisonneuve magazines

I don’t know if the people at Maisonneuve were aware of the MacLean’s campaign, or if this was just a coincidence. I hope they were aware, because if so this is a pretty cool marketing trick.