Peter J Thomson Labs

Peter J Thomson Labs

Life hacks and experiments from Peter Thomson

By using the mindset of business design, you can see metrics and KPIs as levers for innovation rather than just things to measure after the fact. For example, knowing the lifetime-value of a customer and the cost of acquisition might suggest that more innovation is needed to decrease customer churn.

For example, cellphone providers are obsessed with decreasing churn and will often offer amazing discounts if you threaten to move to another provider. This is because they know that the cost of keeping a customer is cheaper than the cost of acquiring a new one.


(via Design Principles for Wireframing)


Client: I want us to be in the top three on Google Searches for x.

Me: I can’t guarantee it, but I’ll rewrite the text to feature the right keywords and start building incoming links.

I do the work and three weeks later:

Client: We’re not in the top three. In fact, we’re worse off than…

Dreampress Review

I’ve gotten sick of managing the load on my Dreamhost virtual private server for so I’m going to try out the managed hosting from Dreamhost which is called Dreampress.

My main concern is speed (I’ve been plagued by slowdowns whenever I get a traffic spike). So I’ll see if the Dreampress varnish caching is better than the manual caching plugins and Cloudflare I was already using.

So far, my review of dreampress is that the site speed hasn’t increased but it’s nice having the floating ram allocation in the vps so the site can cope with traffic spikes.

You can test the speed of my site (or your own) at

Social media isn’t something you do. You have to be social. - Tickle: Digital marketing for tech companies

Social media isn’t something you do. You have to be social. - Tickle: Digital marketing for tech companies

How to deal with a hate blog

A hate blog is a website that has been created to deliberately attack someone. It’s hard to know what to do about it if one is created to attack you. This post covers a series of countermeasures and counterattacks. Some of them are contradictory so don’t try and do them all at once. Just read through and equip yourself to deal with the attacker. 


There is plenty of advice online about how to deal with trolls, disgruntled customers and flame wars. These types of attacks usually happen on social media platforms where the best course of action is to ignore them and let them drop out of the day-to-day conversation. But there is very little information on how to deal hate blogs which persist and show up in search results next to (or even ahead of) your official page. 

Hate blogs are rare because they require dedication, persistence and technical knowledge to set up and maintain. I refer to the creators of hate sites as “trolls” because the fundamental motivations are similar to a social networking troll. They want attention and to hurt the object of their hate. 

1. Legal countermeasures

Legal threats against the troll themselves just tend to encourage them. But they can still be useful if you manage to bog the troll down in legal proceedings (and force them to spend money on a lawyer). On balance, it tends to drag both sides down and fuel the troll so I don’t recommend a direct legal attack. 

Instead, you can use legal proceedings (or the threat thereof) against third parties who are hosting or helping the hate site. Cease and desist letters can be grounded in any number of legal claims. But a good start would be DCMA, copyright, defamation, slander, libel, and misleading & deceiving conduct in the course of trade. None of these would win in court but they can be a strong enough threat to make a third party take something down. 

The threat of different causes of action are more or less effective against third parties. For example, Tumblr and Pinterest tend to ignore copyright claims because otherwise they’d spend all day dealing with them since having users posting other people’s stuff is their core business. 

Examples of third parties to counterattack which will help neutralise the hate site:

  • Google: Ask to have the site removed (copyright infringement is the best here).
  • Facebook: Ask to have their page/profile removed (registered trademark is best here).
  • YouTube: Have their videos taken down (use copyright infringement)
  • Domain registrar: Ask to have their website taken down (use trademark and/or aiding and abetting defamation)
  • Web host (e.g. or Ask to have the website taken down (use trademark and/or aiding and abetting defamation)

The best way to deal with a hate site is to bury it on the second or third page of Google. That way it gets a lot less traffic and impacts your reputation a lot less. One part of burying a site is to attack the site itself. The other side is to raise up other content to replace it. 

2. Increase the ranking of positive sites 

Google abhors a vacuum. The average Google search results page has ten slots on it. If you only have one web page, then that one page is all that will appear and Google will fill the other slots with results that you can’t control or influence.  To displace a hate site you can try a range of things:

  • Create lots of social media profiles using your brand name. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest all rank well and may help drown out the hate site.
  • Create blogs or website sites that are semi-independent. Industry commentary and news syndication sites with the keywords of the hate site in the URL may help displace the hate site.
  • Create lots of content and interesting conversations that displaces the hate site in social media (which Google now uses as a ranking indicator).
  • Get positive coverage in the media and high profile blogs. This will rank well (and fast).
  • Encourage your community to blog about you and talk about you in social media.

Engage a good PR, SEO and Social Media expert (these are separate people, not one person) to run a proper, well rounded reputation building campaign. This will help displace the hate site. 

3. Decrease the ranking of the hate site 

While increasing the ranking of positive content, you can also try to decrease the ranking of the negative content. Given that hate sites can be pretty dark, you might be willing to fight fire with fire. Techniques to attack the hate site fall into white, grey and black  categories. White hat is morally (and legally) positive whereas grey hat is ambiguous and black hat techniques are illegal and/or morally dodgy.  

A. White hat counterattacks:

  • Remove any links to the hate site from your own site to avoid accidentally increasing their ranking.
  • Ask your community to not link to the hate site or discuss it on social media.

B. Grey hat counterattacks:

  • Identify any SEO wrongdoing on their part and report it to Google. You can file a spam report that will penalise them if they’ve done anything wrong.
  • Use a backlink checker to identify their most valuable links from third parties. Then write to the third parties and ask them to remove the links (using a DMCA or legal notice can be useful here).
  • Increase the rank of a harmless page on their website to displace the harmful ones. Choose a less harmful page on their site and use normal modern SEO techniques to raise the ranking of their less bad sub-page.

C. Black hat counterattacks:

  • Commission a hacker to break into the site. This is fastest countermeasure (and the most effective in the short term) because the hackers can make the site redirect to your own site and the problem simply goes away. But it’s also the least effective in the long run because the troll will just create another hate site and protect it with better passwords.
  • Commission a hacker to break into their site and place bad things on the site that the troll won’t notice (and therefore won’t fix). These include hidden text in the HTML with “bad” keywords like viagra, porn, etc. This is the “secretly sew anchovies into their curtain hems” attack because it causes a slow and silent decline that the troll won’t be able to detect.
  • Commission a group of hackers to run denial of service attacks and/or repeated ping attacks to slow their site down. Google penalises slow sites so their search ranking would gradually decrease.
  • Purchase links bad links on spam sites and point them towards the hate site. Google will see the bad links and penalise the hate site because they think the hate site has been buying the links for advertising purposes  This is complicated to set up and can backfire if the links are seen as valid links. But it is very effective and a very popular technique.
  • Purchase fake reviews of the site or business on a review site. It’s more effective to “review bomb” the hate site with five star reviews (which look fake ones they have purchased) than one star reviews (which look like a malicious attack). 
  • Scrape their site and duplicate it on your site (or a patsy fake version) before Google can index it. This might decrease the ranking by making your patsy site rank higher, but it perpetuates the content of the hate site so it’s not ideal.

4. Psychological countermeasures

  • Direct the troll’s anger elsewhere. Hate sites take time and effort to maintain. Google likes fresh content so you can make the troll bored by getting them to hate something else. One way to do this is to transfer your most controversial activities into a single discrete entity (separate from your main operation) and use that small operation to distract, enrage and divert the troll.
  • Have a third party angel befriend the troll. A hate site is usually the creation of one person. A charm offensive can be effective if it’s from a genuinely nice person who can gently turn the troll around. The angel may not be able to have the site removed but they might gradually be able to soften the troll and have the volume of the hate turned down.
  • Co-opt and absorb the troll. Debate, discussion and critique is a healthy part of public life. One option is to use your own sites to link to the hate site and refer to them as your “outsourced conscience”. You can comment on their posts (thanking them for keeping you honest). The hate site can be used as proof that what you are doing in the world is controversial because you are making a real difference.

The best defence is to be proud of your work (yet humble about your ego) and have a sense of humour. Your audience are smart enough to make their own decisions and you can win on your merits.


C.F. Payne"Social media isn’t something that you "do", instead you have to "be" social."- Peter Thomson


C.F. Payne
"Social media isn’t something that you "do", instead you have to "be" social."
- Peter Thomson


Management Consultants vs. Creative Agencies Peter Thomson,
Management consulting firms want to move into creative thinking and creative agencies want to move into management consulting. It seems that everyone wants to swim upstream to the boardroom and consult on innovation, customer experience,…

Consider IBMs new design lab in this context.


Management Consultants vs. Creative Agencies
Peter Thomson,

Management consulting firms want to move into creative thinking and creative agencies want to move into management consulting. It seems that everyone wants to swim upstream to the boardroom and consult on innovation, customer experience,…

Consider IBMs new design lab in this context.


I hit the title on this pop-up every time. Previous version had 3 self-explanatory buttons and no title. Grrr.


I hit the title on this pop-up every time. Previous version had 3 self-explanatory buttons and no title. Grrr.


Air New Zealand: Love is in the air

Air New Zealand has celebrated the change to New Zealand’s same-sex marriage laws by facilitating a wedding ceremony 30,000 feet above the ground. Auckland-based couple Lynley Bendall and Ally Wanikau were wed on board a special flight from Queenstown to Auckland.

The ceremony was complete with a Hollywood celebrity guest.Modern Family actor and marriage-equality campaigner Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who recently married his long-term partner Justin Mikita, attended as guest.

“It’s been an absolute pleasure to be able to celebrate this historic and joyous moment with Lynley and Ally. Marriage equality is something very dear to both Justin and me,” Ferguson says about the ceremony.

Following the in-flight ceremony a pop-up choir surprised the couple and their guests, performing the Maori love song Pokarekare Ana which was sung in the New Zealand Parliament following the legalisation of same sex marriage in April.

(Source: rubbishcorp)


How much caffeine is actually in your coffee

How I made the front page of Hacker News which crashed W3Total Cache and Dreamhost VPS

You may be sitting on a goldmine of old content

I’ve been experimenting with a new social media technique recently. I’ve been tweeting out new links to my old blog posts. I’ve only done this with chunky and in-depth pieces, that should still be relevant, even though they were written a couple of years ago.


Twitter has a short memory so your older posts can be relevant to a new audience. I use Buffer to queue up my favourite posts (that I think still stand out as useful material). One of my old favs is my post about How to Choose a Tagline. Generally, I’ll tart up the post with some new photos and some updated links. This is also good for SEO so it’s time well spent. I went through a move from Blogger to Wordpress last year so a manual tidy up helps keep things looking good.

  • Lesson: Old content is never too old to be interesting to a new audience.
  • Action: Tweet out links to your old (and good) blogs posts. (Hint: Focus on ones that have catchy titles.)

Strong ties make for strong shares

On 25 December 2012 my friend Alessandro from the Good For Nothing (a Social Hackathon) posted a link to my article How to Choose a Tagline on the yCombinator Hacker News site.


Hacker News allows entrepreneurs in the tech scene to share, vote and comment on links that they find. Alessandro’s post with my site only received about 24 “upvotes” but it was featured briefly on Hacker News front page.


This bought in just over 3,000 views in 24 hours. The traffic spike was huge and was larger than I would have expected. Hacker News bought in more than three months average traffic in only one day.

  • Lesson: Your friends are the best sources of links. A single link in the right place can make a huge difference.
  • Action: Ask your friends (nicely) to “plus one my shiz”. (Note: I didn’t actually ask Alessandro to share my post, it was just a lovely coincidence.

How did Dreamhost do?

I had gotten so frustrated with Dreamhost shared hosting (crashes, downtime and instability) that I had upgraded to a Virtual Private Server. The VPS is much faster under normal load but under a traffic spike the VPS hit its memory limit and reset itself leading to downtime at the worst possible moment. I kind of wish that I was still on shared hosting (which might have scaled to a peak better) or on Media Temple VPS which promises to allow for a traffic spike by autoscaling the server. This seems like a fatal flaw in the Dreamhost VPS and I’d like to hear their opinion on how a VPS should handle traffic spikes.

  • Lesson: A virtual private server might not cope with a traffic spike.
  • Action: Check how your site host deals with sudden memory increases.

How did W3Total Cache do?

I use W3Total Cache with basic page caching to serve a static version of mot pages to new users. This is supposed to make a blog “Stephen Fry Proof” meaning that if a famous celebrity mentions your blog on twitter that the site can handle the traffic spike. So W3TC should have been my saviour when I hit the front page of Hacker News. I’m sure that W3Total cache saved my site and that things would have been worse without it. Unfortunately, W3TC didn’t play as nicely with the Dreamhost VPS as I would have liked. The main page that visitors were hitting seemed to survive but a couple of the related blog posts crashed on Dreamhost and then W3TC stupidly went off and cached the 404 Error message so that when the page came back online it still presented the error message to users. - Not good.

  • Lesson: W3Total cache isn’t perfect.
  • Action: Check your cache settings and make sure they are optimised to deal with a spike.

What else could I have done?

I used to use the Cloudfront CDN until it started crashing the Wordpress admin dashboard after the upgrade to Wordpress 3.5. If I had still had Cloudfront active then it would have provided a layer of safety and continuity when Dreamhost reset the VPN.

  • Lesson: Multiple layers of caching are annoying day-to-day but can save your ass in a crisis.
  • Action: Reevaluate Cloudfront.

With a traffic spike, users will usually arrive on an individual blog post page, not on the homepage so double check what is happening design wise and user flow wise at the bottom of each blog post. People will tweet and share specific posts, not just your homepage.

Did the traffic convert?

I could have had better related posts suggestions. I’ve found that most related post plugins for Wordpress put secret links to the author on every page (e.g. Linkwithin actually links to itself not to your content). Those plugins are fine for the user experience but deadly for SEO so I use a more streamlined plugin that makes suggestions based on categories. I wish that I had a few better posts in the same category to attract users that had just read my post.


I didn’t get as many repeat visitors or click-throughs as I would have liked. My bounce rate (users that didn’t click through to another post) was too high for my liking. I want to convert new readers into commenters on the post, followers on Twitter and email subscribers to the blog. Not enough of this happened.

  • Lesson: Clear calls to action at the end of each of your posts.
  • Action: Review my theme layout and post footer.

Did I react fast enough?

You need to actively get involved in the conversation. I could have reacted faster. Admittedly, it was Christmas day and I was on the slopes in France so there wasn’t a lot I could have done. But I wish I had a traffic spike notification set up in Google Analytics as an “event”. Google Analytics can be set to email (or even SMS message) you when your traffic hits a certain threshold. I’ve now set it to send me an email any time that any of my sites gets 200% more traffic than normal for that day of the week.

  • Lesson: Reaction speed is critical to manage problems and capitalise on a win.
  • Action: Create email alerts for “events” in Google Analytics.

I’m super grateful to the Hacker News community for checking out my blog post and I hope that I can contribute more to the entrepreneurial community in terms of lean marketing, agile branding and how to grow a user base quickly. 

Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs

Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs

Back in the day you owned your books and your records and your tapes; why you even owned your old newspapers and magazines. They stacked up in piles in the garage until you could not stand it anymore and joined the neighbors in that social ritual known as a garage sale, followed by a trip to the recycler or the goodwill truck for the less fortunate, those without a garage. In a later time all those sights and sounds ended up on little plastic disks, strips of plastic tape, and spinning wildly on the Mad Hatter’s saucer in your very own computer hard drive. All that was yours, you owned it all.

The old owning days are over, and the garage sale will have to find other things to sell. Those new eBooks on the little electric window you peer through to all those other amazing worlds are only rented, like those tapes from the video store. Anytime the store wants them back they push a button somewhere and your magic window closes.