[UPDATE: Due to the subject matter of this post, many comments submitted seem to have been eaten up by Akismet. I’ve also received over 200 spam comments in the 8 hrs since I wrote this post, so you’ll understand that I have to keep Akismet on I’m afraid. I’ll manually de-spam comments as they come in.]
I guess I must be a blog puritan. A naive, day-dreaming, quasi-utopian blog puritan at that.
There’s been a lot of discussion about Jason Calacanis calling bullshit on the SEO industry (I’m not going to get into that echo chamber, go read Danny Sullivan at SearchEngineLand if you’re not across it already).
But I just get so disappointed that every day there seems to be more and more gaming of the blogosphere and subversion of the social mechanisms within it. It’s a beef that’s been boiling up inside of me for sometime, and this is perhaps a good a time as any to vent it.
Rigging the peer-recommendation nature of the blogosphere
Back in Sep 2005 I called out Hugh MacLeod for ‘pimping his crappy wine‘ on the blogosphere back. I actually hold a lot of respect for Hugh and sure, what he was doing was not the end of the world. But I made as big a stink about it as I could because I could see that the perceived ‘successes’ of such a project would evolve into the abomination that is PayPerPost.
Perversely, at the time I actually ended up privately bouncing ideas off of friends about the way such a company could work – mainly to legitimize my concern. In the end I decided not to blog about at the time as I didn’t want to give anyone ideas. However I alluded to this in my comment on his post which ended with:
“I just think this is the slim end of the wedge, and wonder where this is all going?”
Even today most people don’t realize how terrible PayPerPost is. Forget the individual reviews that might as well be a load of bull in return for the payola, the carefully orchestrated linking policies instructed to “Posties” has an amplification effect that dilutes and devalues aggregation sites such as TailRank. You can’t just link to the random front page of the company, oh no. They want a specific, agreed url so that link clustering can occur in these aggregation sites.
I wonder whether Hugh realized his project would be a major foundation to the business plan of PayPerPost?
Linkbaiting – diluting social media
Last week I read a fairly lengthy blog post tutorial on SearchEngineLand on how to perform ‘viral link building’ (which I guess is the gentleman’s term for linkbaiting) for your clients with ‘unsexy’ products such as pesticides and other agricultural chemicals. I kid you not.
In it the author, Nick Wilson, wrote proudly how one could
linkbait sorry, viral-link-build around anything given a little lateral thought and of course his “2007 guide to linkbaiting” (précis: “let’s bait widgets!”).
(BTW yes, I know I’m kinda falling for the very linkbaiting of his work now, too)
It was the kind of crap that makes by blood boil — it’s insulting to me, the user/consumer/reader — to shove this disingenuous crap under my nose purely to gain linkshare and hopefully market your product to me. If I want to buy agricultural chemicals my decision on which ones to buy is certainly not going to be influenced by whether I read about your product during, of all things in this example, a list of tips on helping the environment. Even more proof of the level of disingenuousness of it all – since when did pesticides offer positive benefits to the environment?
Blackhat SEO’ing – diluting search engines
OK this is just me being naive but the whole SEO business simply disappoints me beyond belief. And Blackhat SEO – subverting the search engines and social media mechanisms such as Digg – must be called out, not congratulated as it seems to be in some quarters.
As consumers we use Google, Digg (and other services) because we assume it will return the most relevant pages based on proven quantitative measures such as keyword analysis and the quantity & quality of pages linking in. I call that ‘innocent use’.
But the concept of ‘optimizing’ a given site to perform better against another purely through the creation of faux sites, link bombing, disingenuous lists, astroturfing, etc is simply disgusting.
Where is this all going?
All of these practices are actually putting the legitimacy and usefulness of the tools we love and rely on at risk. The search engines, I’m less bothered about. They’re big enough to create some tollerance against these practices,
But it’s social media I feel is at most risk. It’s decentralized, it ultimately relies on the principles of honesty and integrity, and because it’s a grass-roots thing it doesn’t have the backing of a few large companies to coordinate counter-measures. That’s why we need to rally together to call this stuff out – and soon before it’s too late.
At the end of the day, don’t people realize we’re ultimately shitting in our own nest? Can’t people see there’ll come a point when there’s just too much shit?
Theoretically if we all SEO then the effect is simply drowned out. But that’s not going to happen. Instead, it merely makes the challenge of legitimate sites to get noticed naturally steeper and steeper. As users that manifests itself as search engines and social recommendation tools becoming less and less relevant to us.
It’s no different to spam – email would simply be unmanageable for most of us if it wasn’t for the fact we can employ anti-spam techniques on our incoming mail. Sadly in the SEO world that’s a lot hard to circumvent.
Ultimately do we really want our experience of social media to become as painful as using an email account without any spam protection?