One of the parts of Nick Carr's book, The Big Switch, that I read with close interest refers to the unbundling of media. In the chapter, Carr mentions that at least one major newspaper, The Times of London, admits that it has already begun training its reporters to craft their stories in ways that lead to higher placements in search engines.
As long as algorithms determine the distribution of profits, they seem to also determine what gets published. Or do they? Enter a key word or phrase into your favorite search engine and results pop up in order of -- importance, relevance, popularity, age? How do stories get ranked on search engines? Rank depends on:
- the age of your URL
- the number of inbound links to the site
- the number of links to the article (and the authority of the linking sites), and
- the "hotness" of the articles keywords
TechCrunch reported recently on a study by the University of Southern California's Center for the Digital Future. The finding uncovered that a growing number of people believe that search results are unreliable and inaccurate. In fact (emphasis mine):
51% of people trust information provided by search engines, down from 62% in 2006. Google, as the most popular search engine in the United States, isn’t trusted by nearly half (49%) of the people who use it, an interesting result.
After seven years of studying online behavior and attitudes, the Digital Future Report “found that the Internet is perceived by users to be a more important source of information for them — this over all other principal media, including television, radio, newspapers, and books.”
An outstanding result, however the trust levels for all media aren’t particularly high, with only 46 percent of Internet users saying that most or all of the information online is generally reliable.
Could that have something to do with everyone following very closely search engine optimization (SEO) advice? Could it be about the unbundling of content in new media? Getting feeds to just one writer, or one type of content provides you great flexibility and freedom to make portable only what you wish to read. However, that may come at a cost -- that of context. Stay with me here as we explore one possibility.
Clearly stories always stood on their own, you bought the paper and leafed through it focusing on those headlines that caught your fancy. And yet, there is something about layout and placement that can bundle groups of stories or highlight content in a way that provides context to it.
As I'm writing this I am reminded of the very low tech reason why Melanie Griffith decided to put forth the idea for a supposedly lucrative merger in Working Girl. Remember that scene when the tycoon from Trask Industries, one of the firm's clients, asks Tess/Melanie's boss where she got the idea to suggest his company invest in radio instead of television? The boss could not explain. It turns out, the idea came from an apparently unrelated story in the newspaper -- the tycoon's daughter's wedding announcement. On the reverse of that story Melanie/Tess read information that lead her to think how the investment in radio would allow the company to gain more of a foothold on the market.
Those things never happen in real life, right?
I came across a post by Laurent Haug where he talks about things he is thinking about. One of them is how:
Google rank will become a political argument. Instead of saying “this is why I am right” political leaders will say “type ‘Iraq war’ in Google and look at how my speech comes up first”. Google will be perceived as the ultimate organizer of relevance, and as nobody can control it it will provide the needed crowdibility (that’s a new word I just made up) politicians have lost. If you are on top of Google you are right, and you are right because the population put you there.
That's an interesting take. Is it plausible? If everyone is following advice on SEO, including the media, the search results might be just more than a little muddled. What do you think?