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This is an interesting article from the Wall Street Journal, about the “original content” industry. It confirms something I have long suspected, but hoped I was wrong about. (A recurring theme in my experience of the Internet.)

Google, the search engine, operates by scoring web pages using a methodology they originally called PageRank, though the actual system in use today is more complex and confidential. It provides search results based on many factors, including the uniqueness and ubiquity of references to the topic you’re searching on. It is subject to intense scrutiny by “Search Engine Optimizers”, a nascent business model that already has the abbreviation SEO.

I’ve missed out on most of this, because the kinds of things offered by scammers are not the things I ever search Google for, to put it bluntly. If I ever thought I could find Viagra(TM) or other drugs by searching Google, I would be quickly disabused of that notion; years of fighting spam email have given me a good idea of what the scams are. SEO, in my opinion, is merely an extension of spam email to search engines.

Comment Spam, Link Blogs, and so on – the tools of SEO – are ways of increasing the ubiquity of links to those “businesses”: a way to get links to your site from thousands of other sites. This site has been mostly resistant to those, because of the filters I put on comments – allowing only a couple of links, and none of the blacklisted scam keywords. I now use WordPress 2, which builds in the Akismet spamcatcher, to good effect.

The WSJ article is about the other issue, of uniqueness. As the author found, there is a sub-industry dedicated to “content creation”, where all the “author” is expected to do is make their work unique enough to pass Google’s filters. It doesn’t pay well, has no respect for copyright, and is generally an insult to any author worthy of the title.

Once again I’m reminded of the Tragedy of the Commons. Google is providing its search results at no (direct) cost to either its users or those whose pages it searches and ranks. For example, this site has been searched repeatedly, and is highly ranked for certain specialities, such as the Akai MPC1000 that I wrote a FAQ on. There is not much competition in this area, but in areas where there is, it seems that anything goes.

It might not be related to scams, exclusively – and the SEO businesses would have you believe there are legitimate applications – but I have to ask what the point is. After all, any modern business model relies on differentiation: what are you offering that someone else is not? SEOs are selling a shortcut to differentiation by putting you, and not someone else with an identical offering, at the top of the results returned by Google. Yet: if your business model is valid, by the standards imposed by e.g. a bank loan committee, you do not really need SEO, do you? Conclusion: it is not a tool for a legitimate business, yet legitimate businesses have already been caught in the act. (Why did BMW think it necessary, for example?)

In the field of internet search, where we are bombarded with Information yet starved of Knowledge, where Attention is the most limited and valuable commodity… SEO still appears, to me, incredibly shortsighted and counterproductive. I’ll stop writing and post this, before I start swearing about bottomfeeders…

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Written by brian t

March 15, 2006 at 6:27 pm

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