Meet the Staff! An Interview with Simone Smith

Aya Katz was recently interviewed for the HubPages newsletter and suggested that we give a bit of a behind the scenes perspective every now and then by sharing interviews with HubPages staff members. I’ll agree that the folks at HubPages headquarters are a smart, fun, and colorful group, so we’re kicking off a series of staff interviews!

Aya Katz is launching the series by asking me some interview questions. I’ll continue the tradition by interviewing a fellow staff member next week. If you have any questions you would like me to ask specific staff members, send me a message through my profile or tweet @harukosama.

Q&A With Aya Katz and Simone Smith


Aya: Ever since you joined the HubPages team, I’ve been curious about two things. One, why the big bow in your hair? Two: how did “Haruko” become part of your name? What is the provenance of this name? Is it your middle name, your maiden name or a name you gave yourself? What does it mean?

Simone: Over the years, I’ve developed a reputation for wearing (and loving) bows. I have a collection of over 40 hair accessories, most of which incorporate bows, and if I go out without a bow, folks will give me a hard time (or not even recognize me!). One of my favorite bows is a giant black bow which has ended up in various photos and profile images. Whenever I feel irritable or stressed, putting that crazy thing on my head gets me back on track. Silly accessories are a great way to add perspective and humor to one’s life.

Haruko is my middle name- I was born in Japan and my parents thought it would be fun to commemorate the logistical curiosity by giving me a Japanese middle name. Haruko means “spring child.” My parents chose it because they found out they were pregnant just as the cherry blossoms were blooming.

I noticed that you have a book out on Blurb: Trend Photography. Tell me a little about the book, what it’s about, what prompted you to write it, and how you chose to publish it on Blurb, rather than some other site, such as CreateSpace or Lulu.

That book was created as part of a photo book class I took in college. At the time, Blurb was known for having the best paper quality and user experience for people out to make custom-formatted photo books. Creating that book was a deliciously fun experience, and it gives me a much better idea of what Hubbers are going through when they self-publish. It’s a lot of work!

You describe yourself as an extremely driven generalist with a strong desire to learn what makes people tick. How do you approach the task of finding out what makes people tick? How do you avoid being sucked into a specialty? Are there good job prospects for generalists?

I ask a lot of questions and love observing small details- the way people move, react, blink, dress, talk, and react. As much as I would love to have the ability to develop a specialty, it seems to be my curse in life to feel like I can never really “belong” to any one cause, following, person, or group, so while I love to discover new things and people, I always do so from the perspective of a polite visitor looking from the outside in and never hang around long enough to completely fall down the rabbit hole.

There are many good job prospects for generalists, because these types can quickly adapt to new situations and social dynamics. I’ve found that it’s passion, persistence, and a willingness to learn that lands people jobs- not expertise. That is, unless you’re working in a training/education-heavy field!

You mention international travel as one of your interests. How many countries have you visited? How long did you stay? What languages do you speak?

I’ve visited (for longer than three days), China, Japan, Mexico, England, France, Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic, and have spent (collectively) at least a month each in China, Japan, and Mexico across multiple trips. Alas, I only speak a bit of Spanish and enough broken Japanese to be able to travel through the country without any serious trouble. Someday I’d love to learn Japanese properly.

You’ve written some Hubs about the benefits of playing dumb and of not being too attractive. Do these strategies for appearing less competitive in order to get along with others work equally well for men as for women?

Good question! Though women seem to be more likely to leverage those heuristics, men can use them equally well. It’s all a matter of honing in one’s personal style of playing dumb- a style that plays in to the (often inaccurate) judgments placed on oneself by others. Perhaps women are better at doing this because they’re more likely to be misjudged by people who assume they’re less aggressive, weaker, and dumber.

What is it like to work at HubPages? Did the aftermath of panda create a lot of changes? Do you feel that traffic to HubPages is equally strong now as it was before the panda update?

It’s a dream come true! The people here are cool, smart, creative, and passionate about making HubPages the best possible place to write online. It’s fantastic to work with a company whose employees care so much about the product. It’s also great fun to work with people that I genuinely feel happy to see every day. I’m a somewhat reclusive person, so when I began hunting for post-grad jobs I was looking as much for a social set as I was for a steady income and occupation. When I interviewed at HubPages, I knew I was home!

When Panda hit, the office was obviously an intense place as everyone worked extremely hard to figure out how to help the site recover. If anything, my respect for the company and the people working here grew after that traffic kerfuffle because it became perfectly apparent just how dedicated everyone was to remaining true to Hubbers and the site’s integrity.

What one thing would you like people to know about you that you feel most people overlook?

While I love things like skydiving and intentionally getting lost in remote regions of foreign countries, I’m horrified by very mundane things like going to parties and grabbing a meal with friends. If you see me smiling and laughing at a party, keep in mind that I AM SCREAMING IN ABJECT TERROR ON THE INSIDE.

How to Deal with Online Drama

As HubPages staff, we get a lot of questions, and a surprising number of them have to do with online drama. Unfortunately, if you write online or are active on one or more social networks, it is likely that at some point you will become caught up in some sort of drama. In this week’s podcast (How to Deal with Online Drama), we share some advice on dealing with it in the most classy and effective manner possible.

Here are our basic tips:

  • In general, be careful how you word things online. If you are not very kind and courteous, people may misinterpret your behavior as hostile and lash back with a full out attack.
  • If someone insults, attacks, or criticizes you online in a way that bothers you, do not respond.
  • If someone leaves a comment on your writing that you find to be insulting or hurtful, feel free to delete it.
  • If you feel as though you MUST respond to someone who attacks or insults you online, kill them with kindness. Only say nice and mature things. That said, in the vast majority of cases (especially personal cases) any response at all is a very bad idea.
  • If someone insults, attacks, or criticizes someone very close to you, do not engage, and encourage that person to not respond, either.
  • Keep in mind that unkind words that someone says only have as much power as you give them.
  • The vast, vast majority of people (even very active ones) within a given online community will not give any credence to mean things someone else says about you. Try to remember that nobody cares.
  • When you feel yourself getting emotional, walk away from your computer, go for a walk, finish some chores, or do something nice for a friend. This will help you put everything into perspective.

Just remember this, Hubbers: Don’t feed the trolls!

A New Improved Slideshow

The best of Hubs feature gorgeous, interesting, useful photos. We would like to make it as easy as possible for readers to enjoy them more thoroughly. For this reason, Edward Zhang has been working hard on improving slideshows on HubPages. The original feature allowed readers to view a slideshow of images on a separate page so long as:

  1. There were more than five images in that Hub
  2. The author did not have the slideshow feature turned off

While this was a nice option, it did not provide readers with the best experience because they were taken away from the original Hub.  If you can’t remember what the original slideshow looked like, here’s a snapshot (minus the ads posted to the side of the page) of a slideshow  from a beautiful Hub on making decorated Easter eggs by Sherry Hewins: Great photo, less-than-ideal slideshow! The new and improved slideshow has several benefits:

  • It appears in an overlay, so readers are not taken away from Hubs
  • It has an improved, streamlined appearance
  • It has built-in social sharing options, encouraging readers to share your Hub with their friends
  • It keeps readers on your Hub longer by not only giving them a peek at your photos, but by enabling them to look at slideshows from other Hubs- all in the same overlay

The new slideshow also appears by default on all Hubs with more than two images. There is no longer an option to disable the feature because it no longer involves directing readers away from the actual Hub.

Have a look at how it appears on Stephhicks68’s magnificent photo Hub on autumn foliage: We hope you like the improvement!

Testing a New Hub Design on Technology Hubs

A couple weeks back, we rolled out a new Hub design on Fashion and Beauty Hubs and have been monitoring its performance while making small tweaks. Before we settle on a new site-wide Hub design, we have decided to test out another new Hub design that adopts a radically different approach.

The new Hub design that we are rolling out as a test on Hubs within the Technology Topic is a clear departure from the Fashion and Beauty design. In this case, we have stripped away all but the most essential features on the page, leaving the look as streamlined as possible. This is done in an effort to reduce the time it takes for the page to load, eliminate distractions, and allow the content of the Hub itself to truly shine.

While we have removed all unnecessary components from this experimental design, we have also made some attempts to make the page more attractive. Notice the new background, which has been given a tech-related treatment. Should this new look be adopted site-wide, each Topic on HubPages would have its own distinctive but subtle background image.

As we experiment with this new design, we will slowly add back elements to the page to see what mixture of features leads to optimal performance. Because there are fewer ads in this initial test, you may see a slight drop in the ad revenue you earn from your Technology Hubs. Then again, you may see an increase in earnings as fewer distractions may lead to higher clickthrough rates. Keep in mind that this is a test, and that in the end, we will settle on whatever design leads to the best user experience- both for readers and Hubbers.

Big thanks to MickiS for championing this test, props to Fawntia for quickly executing the change, and a hearty hat tip to Amy Liu, who created the new Hub’s design!

How to Create a Deliciously Good Online Recipe

Recipes are extremely popular on HubPages and the new Special Layout Options we offer can make these mouthwatering guides better than ever! As you give the new Recipe Capsules a try, we would like to share some best practices with you when it comes to crafting and sharing online recipes. Listen in to this week’s podcast (How to Write Great Recipes) for our expert advice on creating successful recipe Hubs.

Our top tips:

  • Only make a Recipe Hub if you have made that particular dish. The more you can convey the fact that you’ve actually made a dish, the better.
  • Make your instructions as original and detailed as possible. It is very difficult to defend the copyright of things like ingredients lists, however you can easily defend original, detailed instructions.
  • When you prepare a dish at home, photograph it! Original photos make a big difference, and it is much easier to get them before you start your Recipe Hub.
  • When taking photos for recipe Hubs, opt for natural light, avoid flash, and take photos of the preparation process as well as the finished dish.
  • Make sure that the first photo you display in a recipe Hub shows the finished dish.
  • When using the Recipe Capsules on HubPages, be sure to use the Ratings Capsule (set to a Recipe Rating). That part is mandatory if you want your Hub to enjoy special treatment in search engine results.
  • If you are writing a complicated recipe, use the Recipe Capsules to summarize ingredients and basic instructions at the top of your Hub, then go into detail below using Text Capsules (Special Layout Options capsules are best for short summaries).
  • Only use the Nutrition Capsule on HubPages if you can create an accurate calculation.

To learn more about using our dedicated tools for recipe Hubs, check out our Learning Center guides on Special Layout Options, the Recipe Capsules, and writing successful recipe Hubs. If you’re interested in writing recipe Hubs with a more social, kid-friendly skew to them, you might be interested in Kids Cook Monday. To join in on the fun, have a look at Maddie’s blog post with guidelines on participation.

Is there another specific type of other online article that you would like some tips on writing? Tell us about it! Send questions, suggestions, and comments to podcast-at-HubPages-dot-com.

Comments on Answers

Ari Lamstein has been working on a new feature for the past couple of days and it is nearly finished. Here are the soon-to-come developments in his words:

We will soon be rolling out a feature where you can comment on Answers to Questions.  Many Hubbers have said that they would like to have a deeper level of interaction on the Q&A portion of the site.  You will be able to use the commenting feature to thank a user for a particularly good Answer, as well as to ask for further clarification.Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 12.02.41 PM

The commenting feature will work very similarly to how comments on Hubs work: you will have a short window where you can edit your comment, and the person who asked the question will be able to moderate comments.  While you will be able to leave multiple comments on a single answer, to prevent spam you will not be able to leave multiple comments in a row.

Here is a close-up look at the new and improved options below each Answer:

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 12.04.35 PM

Additionally, you will be able to see the number of comments associated with each of your Questions on the stats page for Q&A under My Account.

This feature will roll out within the next day, so keep a lookout! You will be able to thank Hubbers for good Answers, ask follow up questions, and build upon Answers left by others very soon.

Thanks, Ari!

You Can Now Convert Hubs to Videos

Great news, Hubbers! It is now possible to convert Hubs into Videos.

Up to this point, Videos had to be started from scratch, but now, by clicking “edit” on any of your existing Hubs, you can turn them into Videos.

The process is simple:

  1. Click the “Convert to Video” button under Special Layout Options in the HubTool
  2. Select the video you would like to meld with your existing Hub
  3. Click OK when prompted with the warning pop-up window


What exactly does making this conversion mean?

  • What was once a Hub will now have a HubPages-hosted video featured at the top
  • The video cannot be moved, but the original Hub will remain unchanged below the new HubPages Video Capsule that has been added to the top
  • You can always switch out videos and edit the other capsules below
  • Your Video will get special treatment in search engine results (which is to say that searchers will see a pretty thumbnail instead of just a title and summary)
  • The video will play automatically when people visit that page
  • You will be able to earn additional revenue from advertisements featured on/before the video

Keep in mind that this change is irreversible. Once you have made the conversion, you will not be able to change your Video back into a Hub- it will always have to have a HubPages Video Capsule floated to the top, and while you will be able to switch out the videos you feature in that capsule, you will never be able to remove the capsule itself. We therefore urge you to think carefully before making this permanent conversion. This change is irreversible because the URL and class of your page has been physically altered and it would be detrimental to your page’s success if you changed its class back and forth.

Though the conversion should not be taken lightly, there are some major benefits that come with converting existing Hubs into Videos. Videos stand to make a significantly higher amount of money in ad revenue, which means that you can earn even more from highly performing Hubs by turning them into Videos (provided, of course, that whatever Videos you add to the Hubs are just as high quality as the Hubs themselves).

We hope this change encourages you to think about Hubs of yours which might make good Videos! This update is a great opportunity to turn many of your established articles into even richer resources.

Big thanks to Edward Zhang for the update. It’s great to have the ability to do this!

Easy Hub Fixes & Common Blunders

Several times a day, I’ll run across a useful, interesting, well-written article that is shooting itself in the foot because of one or two small blunders. In an effort to rescue Hubs that are hindering their own success, we’ve decided to share an overview of common blunders that can be easily avoided. The small changes we outline in this week’s podcast (Common Blunders to Avoid) can make a big difference.

Here’s a summary of the top small tweaks you can apply to your Hubs that will vastly improve your readers’ experience

  • Make sure your titles are search-friendly
  • Don’t title Hubs with parts (e.g. Part 1, Part 2)
  • Don’t assume that your readers are familiar with your previous work when referencing related articles
  • Hyperlink to your references as you reference them (e.g. On our Facebook page, we share great Hubs and important updates, not On on our Facebook page, we share great Hubs and important updates. You can visit it by clicking here.)
  • Avoid putting extensive lists links at the end of the Hub
  • Make sure that the images you include in your Hub  are not pixelated
  • Break your text up (into different Text Capsules with sub headers, paragraphs, bullets, and lists)
  • Read through each Hub at least once before publishing

What are your pet peeves with online articles? Did we miss something important? Tell us about it! Send an email to podcast-at-HubPages-dot-com.

HubPages Know It All Contest Winners

The HubPages Know it All Contest

Last Friday, we announced the final winners in the HubPages Know It All contest. Choosing the top Answers was difficult, but you’ll have to agree that the following Videos and Hubs are amazing!


Our $500 Grand Prize-winning Answer is How to Make “Play Do”-Homemade Playdough Recipes by cardelean. This Video Answer wins $100 for dingong, who asked How learning could be fun for kids? Check out the Video!

The $250 Second Place-winning Answer, Music Lessons: The Importance of Music Education for Children by leahlefler, is also a Video, and GoodLady wins $50 for asking How important do you think it is to learn a musical instrument when you are a child?

Finally, the $100 Third Place-winning Answer, A Guide to the Perfect Family Vacation in the Pucon Area of Chile by Melovy, which was made in response to a Weekly Topic Inspiration Question, is also an incredible guide.

Way to go cardelean, leahlefler, and Melovy!

We also want to give a warm shout out to the weekly winners in the contest. If you have not yet had a chance to read the following Hub Answers, check them out now!

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

I hope you have enjoyed this contest as much as we did. We’ve learned a ton, and think that many of the Hub Answers you’ve published will continue to see traffic and interest for months and years to come.

Creating Successful Questions: Tips and Tricks from Ngureco

After we made it possible to earn ad revenue from Questions (by moving them to one’s personal subdomain), there was some discussion in the Forums about which Questions are more likely to drive traffic and earn money for the Hubbers who asked them.

One of the best observations came from ngureco:

This is my observation, repeat, just my observation, which may be very wrong:

1.Questions with less than 5 answers had a tendency of not performing well.

2.Questions with at least 5 answers had a tendency of performing fairly well.

3.Questions that got more than 20 answers performed even better.

4.Questions with more than 20 answers had a very long column of answers for your readers to make use of ads on that page.

5.It would seem like its better to close your question once it gets past 20 answers. Sometimes you would get just one good hubber who would answer the question explicitly well with sufficient enough content that you would close it and sing, hallelujah. You certainly would vote up such an answer and go to his/her profile to learn more about such a person because it’s always a good thing to be associated with such a hubber.

6.It should be about time to make a hub of your own, if you can, on a question making at least 5 answers.

7.Pay special attention to the choice of your titles just as you would when you make hubs. And this seems to be the most difficult one since a long title that may attract more answers from your fellow hubbers is unlikely to attract good external traffic, and vice versa.

8.Generally, hubs had a higher tendency of performing far much better than questions.

As it happens, ngureco is pretty spot on with his estimations, even when it comes to numbers. From a report Ari Lamstein ran (which you can see below), it is quite clear that Questions with more Answers perform better and that Questions with more than 20 Answers do significantly better than those with fewer… so perhaps it woud be worth it to keep Questions open once they have more than 20 Answers, as tempting as it might be to simply highlight an excellent Hub Answer someone submitted.

Ngureco also makes an excellent point about carefully choosing succinct, polished titles for Questions and Hub Answers. As with all online titles, that which is polished, properly capitalized, clear, and coupled with words directly associated with its subject, is ideal. The more a Question or Hub’s title reflects words people would use when consulting search engines about the subject at hand, the better.

We also agree that Hubs are more likely to perform well and earn their authors money than Questions. Questions with a good list of Answers can make for great online resources, but nothing beats a well-formatted, well-written, media-rich Hub.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, ngureco!