Samer Kurdi (Freeware Genius) Interview
If you like Windows freeware, chance is that you stumbled upon Samer Kurdi's website Freeware Genius before.
He is been in hiatus for the most part in the past two or so years, and I wanted to know what he is up to these days, and why Freeware Genius is not being updated anymore.
If you have any questions for Samer feel free to ask them in the comment section below. I'm sure he is monitoring the article closely and will respond to questions that come up.
Without further ado, lets get started right away.
Samer Kurdi Interview
Tell us about yourself
My name is Samer Kurdi. Iâ€™m an artist and a writer. You may have heard of my on-again off-again tech blog that I published, Freewaregenius.com. I used to live in Seattle but am now living in Amman, Jordan, where my wife Amanda runs a humanitarian organization that helps urban refugees.
Describe your workspace
These days I work mainly off of my dining room table, which is in a bright and sunny room. My favorite places to work, however, are busy cafes where thereâ€™s a lot happening and lots of people walking in and out. The background din somehow helps me focus.
Android or iPhone? What's your preference and why?
Android, for sure. I switched to Android after buying every iPhone from the very first one through the 4S. I made the break because I didnâ€™t like that everything with the iPhone had to be done through iTunes and that most of my media that I had accumulated over the years had to be converted and imported into it. I donâ€™t know if things have changed now -- I imagine not -- but at the time iTunes was this massive, unresponsive, clunky piece of software that despite the flashy cover-art carousels provided a a terrible user experience when it came to interacting with the iPhone.
There was this one time when my wife was taking a plane with the kids she asked me to upload some of their favorite cartoons to her iPhone before she headed to the airport. I realized I had to convert all of the videos first and didnâ€™t have the time. On Android it would have been as simple as dragging and dropping the files onto a USB drive, and thatâ€™s when I made the switch.
But generally speaking and despite all the enthusiasm many people have for Apple and the iPhone, I prefer the openness and flexibility that an open source OS such as Android provides. I recently watched the movie â€œSteve Jobsâ€ and his whole â€œend to endâ€ concept was being presented as this visionary idea of taking care of the entirety of the customerâ€™s experience from A to Z, or something like that.
In the real world, though, where someone has an iPhone, a Mac, an Apple printer, and an Apple watch, the whole thing seems to be less about taking care of customers than crowding out the competition and killing diversity. Iâ€™ve had the same thought that I think many people have, that Apple has turned into the dictator image of their 1984 commercial, sadly; and while I understand that Google and Android arenâ€™t quite a young upstart challenger, I prefer Android for sure.
Windows, Linux or Mac? What's your preference and why?
I have a soft spot in my heart for Linux. Sometimes I get into discussions with people who donâ€™t think itâ€™s lived up to itâ€™s promise, and I will point out that Linux pretty much powers 80% of the internet. I try to imagine just how much more expensive and constrictive it would have been to publish websites without Linux servers â€“ it would have been a completely different world!
The emergence of Linux is of course also at the heart of the rise of open source in general, and so therefore much of the serious free software used on Windows and Mac computers owe a debt to Linux (e.g. titles such as GIMP, VLC, Audacity, Open Office, etc.) What I am driving at is that Linux has almost become itâ€™s own meta-platform used daily by everyone without them even being necessarily aware of it.
But I will say that as an OS strictly speaking Iâ€™m most comfortable with Windows, which I know best and feel like I can write about with some authority.
Any gadget you cannot live without that is not a computer or mobile?
My Aftershockz Blues 2 headphones. In the past year Iâ€™ve become completely addicted to audiobooks, which I consume voraciously, and as a consequence Iâ€™m always running around doing stuff while listening at the same time.
These headphones were my first introduction to â€œbone conductionâ€ technology, which is to say that the headphones do not cover your ears but vibrate on the cheekbone right underneath them.
I like these headphones because they work fairly well and I can be listening to my audiobooks and podcasts and not feel like Iâ€™m cut off from the outside world,Â and can hear my kids and my wife interacting with me, etc. Itâ€™s funny because I never really bought into the idea of â€˜wearable technologyâ€™ (e.g. Google Glass or Smart watches etc.) until I realized that I am wearing these headphones all the time.
Do you listen to music when you work? If so, what's your favorite genre?
I like alternative rock and my favorite band is Radiohead, but I find I canâ€™t work while listening to anything with lyrics. I will listen to all sorts of instrumental music while working, from classical to electronic, and it will generally help me focus.
But I am intrigued by the promise that music can be a designed to deliver specific kinds of sound waves that help the brain focus or sleep or relax. I recently subscribed to a service called Brain.fm which promises to do exactly that. I like it quite a bit, but canâ€™t help but wonder about the soundness (forgive the pun) of the science behind it and whether the effects can be measured somehow.
Tell us about Freeware Genius, how did it all start?
It started by chance. Before I started publishing I was the kind of guy who would download software and cracks for stress release, without ever actually installing and using any of it.Â Then one day my wife was away and I was formatting her laptop and re-installing Windows on it, and I realized that aside from the OS, every single software that I installed for her was free.
The next thing I did was buy the Freewaregenius URL and start publishing. This was in 2006. In retrospect I think that there was a writer in me that had been eager to write about any topic of interest, so it was a convenient joining of two aspects of myself (techie and writer).
How was the site received on the Internet?
For weeks my goal that I was focused on was to get to 100 visitors in a day. It seemed like such a distant, unachievable goal, until one day â€“ boom â€“ something happened and I got several thousands all at once.
I canâ€™t remember now if I was linked to by Lifehacker or another site (back then you could expect this sort of thing to happen fairly easily). After that traffic kept growing and growing at a much larger rate than I had ever anticipated, which required that I put more and more effort into it, which I was happy to do at the time.
What happened to the site?
As the site grew it started to claim more and more of my time, so I decided to make a go out of going at it full time, esp. after we left Seattle in 2010. It seemed to be working out for a couple of years until mid 2013, when it was hit with one of the â€˜Pandaâ€™ Google algorithm changes.
To explain this in plain English: without warning and for no apparent reason the site stopped appearing in the first page of relevant Google search results and was pushed off to the bottom or the second page in many instances.Â This wiped off 75% of my readership (and income) overnight, and made it impossible to continue publishing as before.
It has been more or less dormant for two years, although I do get a stable level of readership and a passive income on the strength of existing articles.
What did you try to turn things around?
For a year and a half after being hit I tried to figure out what had went wrong and how to â€œfixâ€ the situation. I updated some of my best and most popular articles, cut down on the the not-very-important brief posts and reviews that didnâ€™t have a lot of value added in them, audited all the outbound links from my site, and did a lot of the recommended SEO interventions with the help of a paid consultant (which I wonâ€™t list here because it gives me a headache just to think about this).
SEO is largely voodoo and the whole field should not even exist in my opinion. I was just one guy who wanted to write software reviews and value added content, but Google was forcing me to become an SEO expert and an A/B tester of something that was opaque and unknowable and a closely guarded secret.
Itâ€™s like Google says: you have to be a quality site publishing quality content; and youâ€™re like: OK great, what do you consider quality content?, and theyâ€™re like: sorry, itâ€™s a secret.
The whole thing is ludicrous and a joke. And unlike my little imaginary dialogue here, there is NO ONE from Google that you can actually talk to; youâ€™re on your own.
In retrospect I think many of the Panda/Penguin updates were simply about giving more prominence to more established sites (and brands) at the expense of smaller sites, which Google viewed as more statistically likely to be spammy.
My site was just collateral damage, nothing personal. In my mindâ€™s eye I imagine a tipping point, a threshold for how large and popular a site would have had to be to survive Panda, and sadly Freewaregenius was smaller than it needed to be to survive. If the algorithm changes came just a year after I think we would have been big enough to pull through.
In retrospect one thing I think I should have done is to band with other tech bloggers similarly hit and with sites of roughly the same size as mine, to create a kind of superblog where each writer would publish their best articles and would have their own ad tags in their posts.Â At the time it didnâ€™t seem like letting go of all the SEO â€œgoodwillâ€ that had accumulated around our domains was a good idea, so I never took the initiative to contact anyone.
What about a comeback?
I still find myself reading up on materials that would help me write up all these posts in my head that I want to write. Iâ€™ve also told many people over the past couple of years that a comeback is in the works; this comeback might happen but honestly I doubt that it will.
For one thing, it was too much work and too much stress to be coming up with well written and value added posts all the time, which at least was the goal if not the reality, and I donâ€™t know that I want to go back to the pressure and stress of it. Another reason is: I think a part of me would love to write, but write about something else other than software and the web. Weâ€™ll see.
Thereâ€™s a quote by Stephen King: â€œkill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribblerâ€™s heart, kill your darlings.â€ It refers to parts of a writerâ€™s manuscript that he/she has fallen in love with, but need to be removed to create a better book. In my case I wonder if letting go of Freewaregenius is the right thing to do in order for me to figure out what to do next.
Are you working on other projects right now?
I just finished writing a travel guide to Amman Jordan which is published on Kindle. Iâ€™ve also been off again on again working on the concept for a web app/research tool, which is intellectually interesting, but which seems like it is not going anywhere unfortunately. Iâ€™ve been doing a lot of art (you can see my art at samerkurdi.com) and volunteering my time to help my wife with her organization that assists urban refugees.
Do you have advice for starting webmasters/bloggers?
I would tell them that that it is very hard work, and that it is not easy to develop an audience. However, the reward, of having a global audience reading your stuff from every country can be really worth it.
What are your must have applications?
There are many many. I will mention a handful: Listary (a relatively unknown must have GEM), Everything desktop search, FileMenu Tools (opencandy or no opencandy), Find and Run Robot, and Screenshot Captor.
Actually, I am preparing a big post to be entitled something like â€œMy 100 must have freewareâ€ to be published â€œsoonâ€.
Are there any blogs that you follow regularly?
Not so much,Â no. I developed a habit to NOT follow any tech blogs early on in order not to be influenced by what other bloggers like myself write, and in order not to worry about overlapping content. The habit has ingrained itself well. But I will check on some sites, including Ghacks, from time to time.
I tend to read â€œThe Economistâ€ fairly regularly and follow the political stories in Fivethirtyeight.com. I do listen to a lot of Podcasts though, including Radiolab, This American Life, Freakonomics, On Being, Planet money, The Business (Harvard Business), Surprisingly Awesome, Hardcore History (love it!), and Snap Judgment â€¦. to name the main ones!
Interesting interview! Thanks!
I followed Freeware Genius for several years & and remember picking up some excellent freeware tips through the reviews. Was sorry to see Samer run into troubles with Google’s algorithms as he wrote a very good blog. Good luck with whatever the future brings, & thanks for the blog list – I’m checking some out now.
Such an interesting interview, thanks!
I witched to iPhone to Android just like Samer and for the same reasons.
He’s a very eclectic person, I like that fact that he spans from writing to art to tech.
What version of Windows and what desktop browser do you use, and why?
@ All Things Firefox. I am using Windows 10 and Chrome. Win 10 because if there’s something interesting to be said about it in potential post, then I need to be familiar with it. I actually do like it so far. As to browsers, I will use either Chrome or Firefox because of the plugins/extensions available on these that other browsers don’t. Using mostly Chrome these days.
Freewaregenius was an excellent blog for the techie crowd, and very well written. I would love to see it resurrected and restored to life!
Freewaregenius used to be one of my favorites. First-grade content. I really missed it when it was gone.
My own Google ranking experiences (when running two blog sites, for just about three years) were like what Samer related here, even though my blogs were more small-fry niche ones. I’ve even posted a few times about Google’s SEO requirements being some kind of black box, and how I could actually demonstrate from a result analysis how they sometimes were using shockingly dumb, primitive, erroneous ranking algorithms. I don’t know to what degree Google’s favoring of the status-quo (established websites) and their suppression of more innovative initiatives (truly original content) is a matter of intentional policy, but it looks like it is. In my own case, having a small but enthusiast user base, content that even was quoted in Wikipedia articles, and getting a reasonable number of page visits didn’t help much. In the end, out of pure frustration (also over matters like frequent plagiarism etc), I completely wiped all my blogging content.
I want to wish Samer Kurdi a very bright, creative, satisfying and happy future! And l also hope that right here, Martin Brinkmann with his Ghacks blog will be able to survive without being forced to badly compromise the integrity of his content – like we sadly see happening right before our eyes on several other blog sites now.
Followed Freewaregenuis for quite some time; very good articles and useful no doubt. I went through pretty much the same thing unfortunately. I had an arcade site, and a couple blogs, all just basically started bombing after the Panda shenanigans.
Those changes that google made almost killed MetaFilter.com. Like this man, the owner of MetaFilter tried to find the way out of that mess but it seems that once on whatever black list it is that you get on, you don’t get to get removed from it.
A real shame — it has cost MetaFilter a ton of dough, lost them their top moderator, forced some other cutbacks also.
Google is just too big. The fact that to so many people a web search is “Oh, let’s google it!” has given them way too large a hand in who gets hits and who doesn’t. It’d be great for some sort of internet intervention, such as when the US govt broke up various monopolies in the 1900s — google surely does have a monopoly, a throttle-hold — maybe a choke hold? — on the ‘net.
If this mans blog — which was relevant, popular, and contained good information — if it was dumped to the bottom of page two, no one is going to find him. It’d be great if google were forced through intervention to shake up their searches, with maybe ten differing criteria that would be used — this search uses criteria 1, the next uses criteria 2, etc and etc.
Never happen I know — I can only imagine the storm of lawyers that google would send pounding on every door they thought need pounding upon.
It seems so quaint now — Don’t Be Evil. Now it seems more Be Evil Any Old Time We Want To.
EDIT: I’m on his page now, I found two interesting, relevant links in less than one minute. A great site. We’ve lost out by Samer no longer being able to make a living off of it.
So now I’ve been nosing around Samer’s site, and it is absolutely out of date.
Martin, what are good current sites that you visit that have stepped up ; stepped in to fill the void left when Samer’s site quit being update? Obviously, I read ghacks, but what are some others that fill the bill? What else do you read?
I don’t think there are many “free software review” sites left out there.
I was a daily visitor to Freeware Genius from the time it started. I hated what happened to Samer. It was the beginning of my dislike and mistrust of Google, and also the beginning of the demise of many other tech sites. I miss my morning internet jaunt. It just isn’t the same any more.
Good article, Martin, about a nice guy and a sorely missed info resource, *stolen* from its beneficiaries by the hubris and monopolistic powers of the quasi-governmental Google. It also makes me admire even more your personal resolve and toughness in keeping Ghacks alive.
@Samer Kurdi – I just purchased “The Three Day Guide To Amman…” on Amazon and sincerely hope that, in addition to the cultural, political and geographical informationm to be found in your attractive book, it also informs me where in Amman I will find the best FOOD. :) All the best to you and your Family.
@jmjsquared: would love to know what you think about the guide. I do have restaurant recommendations of course. If you like it can you do me a favor and give it a star rating? I would really appreciate it.
@Samer – Just as soon as I’ve read a few of what undoubtedly are some great pages, it will be my pleasure… especially since you took care of my stomach.
Great interview. Samer is a cool guy who can really write. It’s sad to see a site like FreewareGenius with great content went down like this. Wish him all the best for whatever he plans to do in the future.
Wow. This was one of my goto websites for so long until Samer stopped updating it. He had those most thorough articles and great software reviews. I understand why he stopped. Wish he would come back one day. Going to read the interview now!
Samer got me into freeware in a big way. I still remember a system information program SysExporter that he highlighted that opened the door.
Thanks for the interview. Good to hear he’s doing okay.
Hey guys — I’d like to thank everyone for your kind words and positive comments. You guys are the best!
Great article, I really hope freewaregenius doesn’t disappear!
Thanks for the interview. It was good to read about Freeware Genius as it was one of the sites I used to follow through RSS for many years. Its sad that Google literally killed this site.
I would also like to point out that Samer Kurdi is an awesome guy. I had read one of his articles and installed an amazing piece of software which became very integral part of my daily PC usage, but on a later date after a format I could not longer remember the name of the software. I searched his site as well as google but to no avail. I emailed him and requested the name with very brief obscure descriptions. He (surprisingly) replied back within a few day/s with the name of the software. This was a long time ago and I still remember and am thankful to him for that act.
A bit too late here but same as many of the people who have replied, Freeware Genius is one of my favorite sites to visit just like Ghacks. They contain really good articles and you can find some freeware gems you never heard of. Maybe Samer and Martin should team up and create a single site. Who knows maybe other awesome writers will join as well like Gina Trapani, former lead of Lifehacker when that site was more about software. I could easily see a site like this really take off, provided it’s got community tools, like your own account so you can save your favorites articles, reply to other people messages and maybe even contribute with articles of your own. Just throwing the idea out.
Thanks Samer and Martin for the great articles. I’ve learned so much from both of you guys.
wow Thanks for reminding us about Samer. Yes I remember visiting freewaregenius daily without fail and improved my PC experience.
Please come back Samer. We are all with you and we are always grateful to what you have done for our great computer experience.
Please write more about Android and I am going to try that bone conduction headphones too.
Thrilled to see your name after some years