Research, Scraps, Ordered Lists, & Social Structures

I am still busy busy busy redrafting SEO Book and other content, but a couple recent comments made me want to make a quick post. On my post about why I thought it was alright to mention politics in work blogs Andrew Goodman came buy and left a gem of a comment

Been thinking this over. I don't often post on politics in spite of having an extensive background in political studies. Maybe that's because I learned you need to have eight chapters of literature review, history, and facts, and three chapters of case study, before you get to write the two chapters with the conclusions. It's easy to dump on obvious miserable failures -- much harder to imagine and/or implement a better or perfect world, at any level.

And given that the web encourages lousy content, having to throw away or leave unused a large amount of research is brutal if you are looking at content production on a ROI basis. To do so, you almost have to be certain that your research is going to be so outstanding that others notice it, or you have to be creating it out of passion without much regard to finance.

One of the reasons you see so many lists of items on popular blogs and social news sites is that they allow you to collect these random scraps, slap them together, format it, and GIVE THE IMPRESSION that the work is well researched and comprehensive, even if it was not. Little to no waste in the formatting, and rather than doing a lot of work that doesn't show you look like you did far more work than you did.

And the reason factiod posts do so well is not only that impression that they are a lot of hard work, but also:

  • they are at a low enough level that most people can understand them

  • people are attention starved, and the ideas are usually broken into small bits easy to digest
  • at least one of the ideas in the list will be easy to identify with (as an example, I once told a story of how I was an idiot and accidentally dialed 911...most people had no comment or interest. the only person who expressed interest later revealed that the did the same thing)

Right now I have roughly 50 or so draft posts saved, and whenever I want to I can finish one up or use chunks of it to help create content for another related post.

These scraps of knowledge (or factoids, if you will) are not only big on blogs and meta news sites, but also are largely what most any user generated content sites and what the Wikipedia consist of. I used to be (and maybe still am) so anti authoritarian that I view most everything that starts from bottoms up as being better than things that are top down, but in many spheres it probably does make sense to have human editors, human aggregators, and trusted topical authorities that exist somewhere in the middle.

Search isn't successful because the technology is so great, it works well because they do have human editors, and they use your and my links as signs of trust.

When you look at the Wikipedia page on SEO and read through the talk archives you will see that they ran off both Bill Slawski and Danny Sullivan. Is there another topical expert that could possibly be more qualified to talk about search than Danny Sullivan? Not that I know of.

Some of the best topical experts have no distribution because people can not understand them or identify with them. Other topical experts may be good at communicating their ideas, but still can only reach certain audiences due to the errors of authority structures. For example, imagine if everyone followed the law, would we still need police officers, or would the laws change to create the need for the job and creat some criminal class to control the remainder of the populous?

People who just reach a bit of authority often like to feel a self-aggrandizing level of importance, and use a mob mentality to express it. Self preservation and a sense of purpose are probably the two key goals to any social structure or any person heavily committed to one. The more you try to convince them they are wrong the more you get flamed to bits, even if all they are protecting are their rights to remain ignorant and feel important.
And wherever there is conflict and/or brainwashing the all knowing experts of all topical domains are not going to be able to see past their own biases and brainwashing, and I doubt people can create rule sets or software which does a good job of avoiding that. Thus anything with significant reach and a bottoms up approach is typically going to be biased toward conventional wisdom, perhaps offset with a few outside fanatical voices.

Marketing works (and will never go away) because humans have inherent flaws, limited attention spans, and the market for something to believe in is infinite. But any structure that becomes authoritative is going to need to fire some of its top users if it is to stay relevant.

Larry Sanger, a co-founder of Wikipedia, recently announced Citizendium, which is sorta going to be like Wikipedia, but it will also have content verified by topical experts. I think I was the first donor to the project, and I would love to see it take off.

But I wonder if authority is the enemy of any social project. You want the authority because you get the distribution, but after you start to gain it you get gamed to bits and people start letting your content and software represent a large part of their identities or worldviews and it all goes to crap fast.

One of the more important reasons to try to grow out slowly and not force it too much is that you get to react many times before you get big. People who get rich fast often get poor fast. Sites that have their authority grow beyond their programming skills will have their flaws exposed so heavily that it presents a great marketing opportunity for others aiming to enter the same market.

Published: September 20, 2006 by Aaron Wall in marketing publishing & media


September 24, 2006 - 5:47pm

One of the most disheartening aspects of Wikipedia is that a huge amount of effort can be put into writing an article, only for someone else to come along and wipe it out either immediately, or in league with a clique of like-minded dry souls, by death through a thousand cuts.

And there is a clique - an unspoken mindset reflecting the personalities of those who find contributing to Wikepeda exciting. What sort of person hangs around Wikipedia day after day editting their favourite topic? Certainly not someone with a real life. Life is for living.

And if you are at all artistically inclined - a dancer, a painter, a writer - you're going to find something better to do pretty quickly since your passion isn't going to fit into the dry world view that Wikipedia prefers.

If you've got a family, you're also going to find something better to do pretty quicly.

And so the viewpoints that rise to the top tend to be 'factual', as befits the personalities that edit them.

I reckon there should be five viewpoints allowed on any one article - one in the 'middle', one on either side that's failry moderate, and then the 'extremist' views. Five viewpoints would probably cover the whole gamut of worldviews on any one subject.

But the dry 'neutral' viewpoint is insanity. The very premise of Wikipedia is insane. There is no such thing as neutrality in real life and never will be.

September 20, 2006 - 7:51pm

"People who get rich fast often get poor fast. "

I could not agree more, only if my wife would take that advice. I was telling her the same exact thing lastnight and she did not care to hear that at all..

great post

I also like the idea of citizendium because it would be a similar concept to Wikipedia, but have verification. I am going to have to look into that more because while i like wikipedia, I like the concept of topical experts verifying that what we read is kind of accurate.

September 20, 2006 - 11:25pm

Hi Aaron,

I did express some dissatisfaction there with some of the editing done by people who had no idea what they were talking about, but also had many more edits than I did, or by folks who couldn't be bothered to even create a user name.

But I didn't disappear. Instead, I started doing some edits to smaller and less traveled topics related to SEO. I haven't done much recently, but I'll probably get back to doing some more when the weather gets a little colder. I also made edits and contributions to categories that I was interested in that didn't have as much traffic or controversy.

Is the wikipedia an example of the wisdom of crowds, or the wisdom of fools? I'm not sure, though I have started to agree with Jaron Lanier in his essay on Digital Maoism, and the lack of personality in a group endeavor like the wikipedia.

There are plenty of places and opportunities on the web where you can share your thoughts and ideas with others and still have your personality shine through in your contributions. The wikipedia disdains experts, controversial and minority opinions, and "biased points of view."

If you want an unbiased point of view, write a phone book. If you want a usable compendium of human knowledge, allow for the introduction and discussion of differing and contrasting points of view. Knowledge doesn't exist in tidy little noncontroversial and unbiased packages. Great content doesn't come from every agreeing to the same definition for something, but rather in the disagreements. The talk section of the SEO entry of the wikipedia is a lot more interesting than the entry itself.

Gus Farrah
September 21, 2006 - 5:29pm

Hi Aaron,

One of the reasons I read you is because you give us the chance to grow not only as web marketers but as persons.

When I read you and the documents you reference, I go through a lot of reflection, and it gives me a more broad knowledge of Online Marketing.

BTW, you mentioned that you are "busy busy busy redrafting SEO Book", please check the links, some of them don't work anymore, like the one's at:

Thanks for making online marketing a different experience.

September 21, 2006 - 5:35pm

Ye wanted to mention that the Search Bistro link is broken.. Gus you beat me 2 it!

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