Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent

Aug 15th

Some people call Noam a conspiracy theorist, but I tend to think that just a label used to discourage institutional analysis, which is exactly something Noam states in Manufacturing Consent, an institutional analysis film about mainstream media bias. He also wrote a book by the same name that I still need to read.
Some of the underlying ideas that Noam frequently conveys in many of his interviews are:

  • Creativity is a fundamental need for humans.

  • The military (among other purposes) is in many ways an extension of technological institutions.
  • Authority should be challenged as to its necessity. If it does not prove useful it should be discarded as a source of power. Self regulating positive and negative market forces will keep most market aspects range bound and organized. This line of thinking is mentioned many times in A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History.
  • Power sources which are largely funded by a small group of people will be biased toward promoting the interests of that small group of people. Self preservation is a key goal of any institution.

He then goes into a bit of information about thought control

  • In a totalitarian government you do not need much public support to do whatever you want. In societies with more freedom you must set up a framework for controlling thought which makes it easier to control the people.

  • "Democracy requires free access to ideas, information, and opinion." When you hear politicians pushing laws to regulate the web to save the children make no mistake that first and foremost they are pushing to create a fragmented, filtered, and imperfect information source and network which keeps power in the hands of those who are already powerful.
  • Controlling people requires "necessary illusions and emotionally potent oversimplifications." This is part of the reason there is a left and right side to a story. Create these arbitrary pigeonholes for ways people should think and attach their identities to and hopefully they will not think beyond the categorization that already speaks and thinks for them.

Media shapes public opinion via

  • selection of topics

  • distribution of concerns
  • emphasis
  • framing of issues
  • filtering of information
  • bounding of debate within certain limits

He then talks about the concentration of power and bias of interest toward businesses associated with some publishing formats:

  • Most large distribution news publishing formats are owned by a small group of elites who are tied to other large business interests.

  • The AP and a couple other traditional news sources have an oligopoly over the mainstream news market. Some newspapers, like the New York Times, distribute a brief of the contents of their next day's paper to other newspapers to help set the daily agenda.
  • Many (perhaps most) newspapers consist more of ad space than news (and thus in many ways the advertiser is more of a customer than the reader). While the web and search allow individuals more opportunity (you would never be reading anything I write without them), search engines struggle with balancing this same issue, and are favoring old media by doing things like trusting certain sources to seed vertical search and overemphasize core domain authority in their algorithms. Google has also recently started paying large traditional content providers, including News Corp., MTV, and the Associated Press. They also purchased a portion of Time Warner's AOL. The WSJ recently published an article highlighting that Google believes content partnerships are a key to longterm growth.

Some types of information are created or promoted because they teach people not to think or to not question authority, or to rally behind a common pointless cause.

  • Sports and many other forms of news and entertainment are useful to help drive the masses away from
    issues of importance to their life and help build "irrational attitudes of submission to authority."

Some publishing formats (like 30 minute television shows) work great because they segment audiences and require answers to fit in a 20 second window.

  • Distribution via channels segmented via concision require you to convey thoughts quickly.

  • In limited time slots, it is hard to break new ground or get beyond conventional thought patterns previously formed by others. If you say things outside of the normal realm of thought you do not have enough time to state your reasoning behind your words, and thus can be misquoted or taken out of context and made to look like an idiot.
  • If you say something outside of the norm, like "education is a system of imposed ignorance" then you have no time to explain what that means, and end up sounding like you heavily bought into education. ;)

Noam Chomsky then went through a startling example of clear and overwhelming media bias.

In 1975 Indonesia invaded East Timor. The story of East Timor got a bit of press because the business community was interested what it meant for the Portuguese empire. As the killing reached genocide level in 1978 the US mainstream media coverage of the story dropped to zero. The US provided Indonesia most of their arms for the mass human rights violations and mass murders.

A declassified memorandum of a July 1975 conversation between President Gerald Ford and then-Indonesian President Suharto demonstrates clearly the extent of US support: Ford asks Suharto bluntly, "How big a Navy do you have and how big a Navy do you need?"

Around the same time the US heavily bombed Cambodia. The civilian deaths were not given strict numbers in the media until the Khmer Rouge gained power, at which point the US mainstream media started throwing out words like genocide and numbers like 2 million dead within a couple weeks.

People manipulate systems (as an SEO that is sorta what I do). In much the same way that most people are kept in the dark about SEO or public relations the same is true for just about any type of publishing or marketing business model. But, as Upton Sinclair would say:

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

I like learning about power, authority, and publishing business models because

  • if you know flaws in other business models it is easy to build business models that eat at their flaws or revolve around markets they would never want to be in

  • on the web everything is so scalable that if you have a really great idea it can go far, especially as people learn to trust software programs and other consumers to help them make decisions which once relied on friends or traditional intermediaries.

Manuel De Landa's A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History - Cool Book

Jul 4th

These are my opinions and ideas gelled with notes form the contents of A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History by Manuel De Landa. Keep in mind I may have misinterpreted some of his points and interjected my bias into the points. If something looks like a rational well thought out point I am probably syndicating Manuel De Landa's point. If something looks like a point of anger being expressed that is probably me adding one of my related views to further why and how I believe that portion of the book relates to my life or the world as I have experienced it. I believe the underlying points of the book are

  • progress is a misguided notion
  • reality and consciousness (and everything around us) are just states of energy and biomass hardened by history
  • our own history biases how we evaluate history
  • many things are not linear even if we have traditionally been lead to think of them in that way

Where applicable the book may also appear biased toward heterogeneous over homogenous systems due largely to the great blinding support of homogenous systems in the business community (homogenized systems are easier to extract profit from due to the lowered costs of mass production). This quote really states how he looks at the true cost of homogenization and discipline:

As with all disciplinary institutions, a true accounting must include those forces that increase (in economic terms of utility) and those that decrease (in political terms of obedience).

I think one of the biggest things I got out of the book was a fresh reminder from a different perspective that some of the scummiest aspects of capitalism are not intentional, but are just un cared for side effects of other business processes.

I was talking to a reporter about some tech companies recently when I stated that I thought that certain companies would do this or that and why. He asked if I got that from talking to those companies. I said no, that my knowledge was from thinking about economic theory and business theory stuff.

Many of those ideas came from reading this book.

Almost any book you read is going to be in some ways biased, but I would say this book was biased toward reality without so much propaganda or hidden agenda (ie: I think this book was written out of passion and interest more than to mislead me into trying to buy into something). This is really the most mind opening book I have ever read. As a marketer participating in a somewhat new network it is amazingly fascinating reading about how economics, biology, and linguistics have evolved over the last 1,000 years.

Below is a point by point Aaron Notes type review of the various sections of the book. I initially took the notes for myself, but thought it would be worth posting them anyhow.

From the introduction

  • reality and consciousness are just a state of energy
  • evolution or other 'improvement' to the state of living does not mean things are inherently better...just that they are different.
  • when a new state of being comes into existence it can co-exist with prior states...the new state does not necessarily have to supersede the old state.
  • when we look back at history we are biased by the path it has took and the narrative current society tells us about the past. to understand social dynamics you have to try to build things up from the bottom as well as break them down instead of just relying on breaking things down.

part 1

  • the creation of agriculture allowed an abundance of non human energy to by synthesized and stored for consumption, and lead to the creation of many cities. fishing or other energy sources could have also lead to the creation of cities.
  • trade winds were another important force of energy that were easy to capitalize on due largely to the inefficiency offered by limited competition and market separation
  • fossil fuels lead to the next major growth (again because they made it easy to store and synthesize non human energy)
  • cities act as parasites that suck off the surrounding area
  • currency was first created as a political means to collect excise taxes, but eventually enabled commerce with less friction
  • large parts of the reason why Western culture advanced quicker than eastern culture were competition and a lack of a large inefficient homogenized religious and political bureaucracy
  • The role of the isolated individual in society is typically largely overrated and over simplified when isolated down to the individual level.

  • Adam Smith's invisible hand theory is a bit too idealistic for real world application. The market friction which it ignores is largely what drives many business models and large socioeconomic changes.
  • Virtually any manufactured profit is created in cascading sets of quality with people further from the source valuing things of lower quality and emulating the original to raise the quality of their products and local skill level.
  • the establishment of reliable credit sources allowed powerful organizations, cities, and nations to sap the resources of surrounding areas
  • Many of the most profitable merchants gained freedom of motion, allowing their businesses to capitalize on whatever is high profit at that given time. ie: how Google does not do much in the physical world, but plays a large role in controlling human interaction with information and commerce. As new keyword develop they quickly are able to monetize them. As old markets die off due to political, cultural, economic or other forces they are not tied to them.
  • as companies grow in international power they create forces that attack government norms.
  • the lack of centralization within Europe caused increased investment in arms races that required societies to be more efficient and innovative to survive (when compared with the inward focused monopolistic stronghold on power in Eastern cultures)
  • most markets are range bound rather than actually reaching a single state of equality or equilibrium.

part 2

  • social class stratification via genetics and other aspects is a natural part of life, however it does not need to occur as aggressively as it does.

  • largely social stratification is driven by people who set up moral, ethical, religious or legal guidelines for others to follow. (which is a large part of the reason why I <3 civil disobedience, as undermines the abuse of such power).
  • if some of those systems lost power many social and economic markets would remain self organized by other positive and negative feedback loops.
  • many people prefer to view things through a hierarchical lens because it is much harder to understand and visualize the world through thinking of effects of positive and negative feedback and reciprocal causality. Even at a young age we are generally taught to develop our thinking patterns in terms of concrete causes and effects.

part 3

  • the military required interchangeable parts, and the US military bred a system which provided quality assurance over the railroads. after the government created systems to make railroads a functional business it handed over the reigns of profit to private enterprise
  • import-substitution dynamics and crafting of individual items gave way to automation and homogenation, such that interchangeable parts were cheap and easy to make.
  • many small businesses of similar trade exist near one another as being near one another improves their social circumstances, market mind share, and creates an environment where ideas can more easily flourish
  • most innovation comes from the smallest companies and individuals, as they are less confined by their business models.
  • after smaller businesses prove the profit of a business model larger businesses based on economies of scales either replicate and automate those business models or consume those companies
  • companies buy other companies to control them via internal rules instead of buying their obedience and productivity
  • with shareholders existing external to corporations there is a bias in management not to just make the business as efficient as possible, but to make pieces of it complex enough to not be comprehensible to outsiders, such that they justify executives continuing to receive (and increasing) their compensation level for running the company.
  • electrical energy made it easier to miniaturize machines, and thus increased productivity by making automation easier, quicker, cheaper, and more decentralized.

part 4

  • every non plant is a parasite

  • heterogeneous systems are more resilient than homogenous systems
  • humans make many pieces of the food chain more homogenous
  • genetic diversity is required to evolve new species

  • the genetic code within one animal type is quite homogenous
  • most human gene variations are superficial in nature

  • immigration is probably the single largest factor which causes a mixing of human genes
  • the dense population of cities made it easy for disease to spread
  • disease (local or imported) was a heavy factor in successful or unsuccessful colonization
  • richer individuals tend to allot for fewer children since they perceive a higher cost of living
  • whenever population declined (typically due to poor crop yield or disease) animals took back land

part 5

  • changes in the genetic code of one species changes the genetic make up of other species (this is especially true in predator pray relationships).
  • the definition of optimal is relative (strengthening any part of a system may make some other parts of it weaker)
  • extreme energy flows can shift equilibriums
  • social darwinism is quite bogus, as it fosters racism and ethnic cleansing. earlier this month an SEO I know who describes himself as a Jew explained to me how he viewed all muslims as terrorists and that he did not think ethnic cleansing was a bad thing. He objected to giving me his address when I offered to send him a 'Hitler was right' t-shirt.
  • genetic change is glacial compared to the speed of cultural change
  • while different cultures and linguistic backgrounds have a varying number of color labels the order of accumulation tends to be well aligned (typically starting with black, white, primary colors in certain orders). In Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution Brent Berlin and Paul Kay stated there are genetic constraints on perception guiding accumulation of cultural replicators.
  • while it is much harder to detect than the other way around, cultural materials may influence the accumulation of genes. an example of this might be how some people are lactose intolerant.
  • cultural policies can eventually become institutional, which can have both good and bad effects. an example of a good effect would be the curbing of incest. a few bad examples would include medication replacing nutrition and land erosion due to poor cultural farming policies.

part 6

  • when times are good humans outgrow their own good

  • the new world (the americas, australia, etc.) created supply zones and gave a place to put the excess growth of humans
  • many old world plants and animals spread to the frontiers of the new world ahead of civilization
  • military and trade ports host many people, animals, plants and goods in a wide array of states which are conducive the spreading disease.
  • because medical facilities in these locations saw people in a wide array of states it was important to make a clear distinction between that which is illegal and the concept of evil
  • the use of observation and binary systems improved medical care. he mentions how Michel Foucault stated they "treat lepers as plague victims"
  • discipline and homogenization are required to create economies of scale
  • when applied to the food supply (typically by big business) it comes in the form of gene control
  • some corporations create seeds that die if not used that year, and also introduce other genetic defects which require the use of excessive fertilizer or other (often monopoly controlled) inputs
  • this genetic control can be described as "etching entry points for antimarkets into the crops' very genes"
  • the gene makeup of many seeds are protected as trade secrets
  • short term homogenization may increase quality, but in many cases give enough time natural selection will perform better than over homogenized artificial selection. a hidden wealth stored in some poor countries is their food supply genetic diversity capital.
  • homogenized systems are more susceptible to epidemics
  • the genetic control applied to plants has also been applied to animals and some states went so far as trying to apply them to people.
  • eugenics is the belief that by studying hereditary and deploying selective breeding techniques you can improve the human race. alternate eugenics definitions here
  • While the immigration laws did not clearly state eugenics in them, some portions of the US believed that Northern Europe humans provided the highest quality genetic stock source.
  • starting in Indiana in 1907 over 20 US states started sterilizing thousands of people for things like being absent minded.
  • Those who still believe in ethnic cleansing after Hitler probably do not deserve to be alive and should cleanse themselves from the populous.
  • There are also non-traditional ways to control human reproductive cycles.
  • Some wars intentionally underequipped types of soldiers to allow them to be cleansed from the gene pool.
  • To this day the military recruiters pray on the young, poor, and those of below average intelligence. While that may sound ultra biased my thesis for that statement are based on my own experiences. I grew up in a poor town and joined the military when I was 17. While I am quite economically successful I have not yet decided where I wanted to move to, and still live in a mobile home (I moved into it with a friend a few years ago to cut my living costs back when I was just learning about the web and only making a couple hundred dollars a month). Earlier this month yet another military recruiter knocked on my door again. While being of about an average intelligence level I literally scored off the charts high on most of the military tests I took when I was 17 (even the nuclear power test) which should have been a strong indication that the test scales were scaled toward people who are of below average intelligence.
  • Early obstetricians and gynecologists screwed up much worse than midwives by making it easier to spread disease and also by excessively using forceps at birth.
  • Private enterprise also took other choices from mothers by sneaking in berthing formula while the mother did not know it was being given to the baby.
  • To this day tryptophan is common in birthing formulas but is illegal to buy as a supplement. around 15 million Americans were using tryptophan but it became illegal roughly around the same time that Prozac was launched as a wonder drug of the future. Few people questioned how shady that was
  • large public outrage is often required to get special interests to yield authority. It was 1892 before Hamburg improved sanitation of its water supply. They only did so after a cholera epidemic hit.
  • biotechnology allows us to fight microbes more efficiently by doing things like gene-splicing and gene-gluing enzymes from one creature to inject that information into other creatures. this creates the ability to produce large quantities of affordable microbe fighting cells.
  • while biotechnology makes it easier to fight micro parasites it makes it easier for macro parasites to be injected into a large portion of the food chain and form monopolies
  • In some instances totally useless and potentially cancer causing chemicals are created to help increase yield. In many cases consumers are not even informed of which food products are contaminated with the garbage.

    Do you really want trust the people who manufacture agent orange when they talk about the effects of chemicals they inject into the food supply? rBGH, which is illegal in many countries, is injected into many US cows to produce more milk. Fox News fired multiple reporters for wanting to air a report about how shady rBGH is. The Meatrix also provides a clip on rBGH.

  • efficiency of extraction and processing (including homogenized size and shape as well as predictable homogenized maturation dates) now are more important criteria than biomass value in many crops. The nutritional value of a crop is largely ignored in favor of the other "more important" (read as more profitable) genetic traits. Improving some of those other genetic traits also comes at the direct cost of lowered nutritional value.
  • when you buy food from outlets that sell on low price you are voting against genetic diversity in the food supply. and are voting against nutritional value of the food your children and their grand children will eat.
  • As nutrition is removed from the food supply drug companies hook people on garbage prescriptions that treat symptoms of an unbalanced lifestyle with poor nutritional input. Of course it will not be the fault of drug companies when things go astray. In reference to some of these drugs some FDA members have went as far as to claim:

    they don't feel that _______ is addictive because it doesn't carry the behavior of a person that is dependent on a drug. A person that will go out and steal to obtain their drug of choice or cause harm to another

  • At the same time children are medicated with these pills that (IMHO) wrongfully replace or cover up natural human emotions. Some of these things are blatantly over prescribed by doctors who learned from text books and journals sponsored or funded by self interested drug companies.

    “Journals have devolved into information laundering operations for the pharmaceutical industry”, wrote Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, in March 2004. In the same year, Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, lambasted the industry for becoming “primarily a marketing machine” and co-opting “every institution that might stand in its way”.

  • There are reports of things like

    Jeff Weise, the 16 year old who killed seven and then himself this week at his high school, had been taking ________.

  • In the above two _____'s they were two different drugs. But they were both in the same drug family. And the same drug family as the drugs associated with a kid in the Columbine shooting.
  • That drug family was born with the original drug being announced as a wonder drug of the future.
  • Around the time of the release of that drug family a natural supplement that about 15 million people were taking which worked on the same neurotransmitter was banned from the United States

    On March 22, 1990, the FDA banned the public sale dietary of L-Tryptophan completely. This ban continues today. On March 26, 1990, Newsweek featured a lead article praising the virtues of the anti-depressant drug Prozac. Its multi-color cover displayed a floating, gigantic green and white capsule of Prozac with the caption: “Prozac: A Breakthrough Drug for Depression.”



    The fact that the FDA ban of L-Tryptophan and the Newsweek Prozac cover story occurred within four days of each other went unnoticed by both the media and the public. Yet, to those who understand the effective properties of L-Tryptophan and Prozac, the concurrence seems “unbelievably coincidental.” The link here is the brain neurotransmitter serotonin — a biochemical nerve signal conductor. The action of Prozac and L-Tryptophan are both involved with serotonin, but in totally different ways.

  • L-Tryptophan, the allegedly harmful supplement, is still added to baby formula in the United States to this very day. To quote the federal government:

    "At the present time, an import alert remains in force which limits the importation of L-tryptophan into the United States, except if it is intended for an exempted use. FDA has provided for the use of manufactured L-tryptophan for special dietary purposes. Manufactured L-tryptophan is a lawful and essential component of foods, such as infant formulas, enteral products and approved parenteral drug products..."

  • Instead of exercising, dieting properly, and/or taking natural supplements now hundreds of thousands of people are hooked on (ie: recurring subscription based expense) addictive drugs that in some cases ruin their social relationships and have widely been reported to have HORRIFIC withdrawal related side effects.
  • Some doctor even offered my unemployed brother a free trial of one of these drugs even though he had no way to afford buying more.
  • systems highly focused on maximal yield efficiency often require external inputs. that reliance on external sources makes it easier for monopolies to corrupt or influence the chain for short term profits.
  • While mentioning the DuPont and Monsanto corporations De Landa stated "rather than transferring pest-resistant genes into new crop plants, these corporations are permanently fixing dependence on chemicals into the crops' genetic base."

Part 7

Before reading this book my only exposure to the concept of linguistics was from reading George Lakoff's rather introductory level Don't Think of an Elephant, so this next section might be a bit hosed.

  • dialects exist in a continuum of overlapping forms
  • linguistic patterns develop based on geographic and socioeconomic conditions
  • communication isolation leads to new languages
  • while people in different regions may speak different dialects it is also possible that many are not self aware of the differences in dialect
  • the further one moves from established prestige and power the more likely they are to find new emerging dialects
  • new dialects are standardized at seats of economic and political power to make it easier to govern or extract profit
  • the influence and standardization from the seats of power spread to the surrounding regions
  • Gottlob Frege's philosophy (as explained by De Landa) "The connection between a given name and its referent in the real world is effected through a mental entity (or psychological state) that we call 'the meaning' of the word."
  • Saul Kripke and Hillary Putnam stress linguistic inheritance by placing more emphasis on the historical and social aspects of language over the "inside the head" concept. Based on this theory "only certain experts can confirm the accuracy of usage."
  • one's ability to define a term is directly related to their ability to manipulate the items or systems being referenced (or their audience they are introducing the term to)
  • language related to survival is less likely to change than less common language
  • informal social networks act as enforcement mechanisms. dense networks are exceptionally self-reinforcing and quite stable in nature (and can thus withstand great pressures from societal norms from larger social networks)
  • middle class dialects change far quicker than local dialects or elite dialects (since the middle class is much more transitory than either of the edges)
  • the upper class can leverage their authority to influence governmental, religious, or other bodies with large reach to push their lens and linguistic frame of reference through to ambitious members of the middle class who soak up this information hoping to increase their own status
  • language or words do not mean anything until a group of people use them to communicate. the ability to introduce words (or word meanings) to a community and have them stick is proportional to your prestige and your number of contacts within the community
  • synthetic language has inflections, which are used to show things like verb tense
  • analytic languages express grammatical functions through word ordering (subject-verb-object)
  • the trade of objects and experiences with nearby cultures influences linguistic patterns in the local language
  • pidgins occur "wherever contact between alien cultures has been institutionalized" like slave trading ports. pidgins simplify the linguistic norms of their source language.
  • a creole is born out of recomplication of pidgins into a more complex language
  • language usually goes from conqueror to conquered
  • words usually travels from more complex language to a less complex ones
  • J.L. Austin's speech acts "Involve a conventional procedure that has a certain conventional effect, and the procedure itself must be executed correctly, completely, and by the correct persons under the right circumstances."
  • attempts at defining formal languages have generally failed since most people have many influences that are far more influential on their lives than a formal linguistic rule set.
  • the printing press helped harden languages.
  • The Protestant Reformation helped boost local languages and undermine Latin's role in religion and education and thus power
  • "The usefulness of a given set of sounds is guaranteed by the more or less systematic contrast that they have with one another."
  • all languages are in a state of constant change. not only with the addition of new words, but also large variants in word meaning and/or structural purpose.
  • even within a single core language most people speak multiple different dialects, with the dialect depending on their audience and speaking circumstance (ie: professional, technical, family, informal, formal)
  • cities contain both large impersonal environments and hyper focused subcultures with private lives that cause them to be the source for a wide diversity of language.

part 8

  • Noam Chomsky believes the diagram for the structure of language is an abstract robot
    • language consists of a dictionary and a set of rules
    • we can automatically check if a sentence makes sense
      • generative rules = universal across languages
      • transformational rules = not universal, language specific rules
  • Deleuze and Guattari
    • Chomsky not abstract enough
    • there is no universal language. there is always some overlap
    • need to look at history of social interaction and language to understand linguistic development
  • George Zipf
    • believed in "combinational constraints"
    • by looking at word co-occurance patterns you could predict what other words might appear
  • Zellig Harris
    • introduced "transformation" into linguistics
    • linguistic constraints come from "the gradual standardization (or conventionalization) of customary usage."
    • 3 main constraints guiding language
      • "likelihood constraints" - statistically modeled probability of co-occurance
        • "selection" - the set of the most common words grouped with a word. Words are defined by the words they commonly occur with.
      • operator-argument constraints
        • works on word classes (not individual words)
        • inclusion of a certain class of word demands that other word types occur
      • reduction
        • exceptionally common word pairs may morph into a single word, being reduced without losing meaning
  • Mary Douglas
    • also considers social elements of language in her model
    • "collective assemblage" - "intensity with which individuals are attached to a group"
    • breaks connection down into group and grid, indicating who we interact with and how
    • can create 4 quadrants using group and grid. many social forces drive people to one of the edges
    • "The fourth corner, the fully regulated individuals unaffiliated to any group, is plentifully inhabited in any complex society, but not necessarily by people who have chosen to be there. The groups [bureaucracies or sects] expel and downgrade dissenters; the competition of individualists...pushes those who are weak into the more regulated areas where their options are restricted and they end up doing what they are told."
    • the biggest limitations to her model is that they only work from within a social group or organization

part 9

  • in the 18th century language underwent strong unification and uniformation forces
  • unification - driven largely by the formation of nation states and disciplinary institutions
  • uniformation - due largely to testing, training, and observing people to create an obedient populous
  • linguistic unity is necessary for tapping patriotism to drive men toward war or peace
  • large energy flows in and around capitals and major cities made it easy for their local standards to spread
  • dictionaries and grammar guides solidify language. Dr Johnson's dictionary was viewed as so important to English that in the 1880's a bill was thrown out of the parliament because it used a word that was not in his dictionary
  • the increasing speed of global communications makes linguistic isolation harder
  • "The very idea of massified advertising meant that large-circulation newspapers were not in the business of selling information to people, but rather of selling the attention of their readers to commercial interests."
  • Following many other industries mass media quickly became largely driven by antimarket forces.
    • As noted in:
    • Examples of antimarket behavior:
      • "The formation of a cartel by six New York papers, which resulted in the formation of the Associated Press in the 1860s."
      • Reuters, AP, UPI, and French AFP still exert significant control over the global markets, operating as oligopolies
  • "Rather than aiming for objectivity [newspapers] aimed for widely acceptable neutrality."
  • "Although news agencies are not engaged in a conspiracy to promote 'capitalistic values' around the world, they do have a strong homogenizing effect arising from the routinization and standardization of point of view (with the concomitant distorting simplification) and, ultimately, from the very form of the flow, that is, a flow emanating from very few places to a large number of subscribers."
  • To appear authentic in nature newspapers widely distribute linguistically incorrect information (especially when quoting people).
  • Linguistic differences of lower classes were seen as a thing of barbarians, until those linguistically incorrect people were cherished as conscripts needed to fight in WWI
  • At the end of WWI French was seen as the most prestigious language in the world. By the end of WWII it was displaced by English.
  • As a contrast to traditional news organization the web is more of a community based many to many framework. The web allows communities separated by great distances to come together to discuss a topic.
  • "Computer meshworks have created a bridge to a stable state of social life which existed before massification and continues to coexist alongside it." The Cluetrain Manifesto is a great book to read about that reformation of communities and marketplaces brought about by the web. They have 95 thesis statements. My favorite is Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.
  • The destiny of the web is still of course largely undecided. While it may allow communities to form easily it is also leveraged by many communities with misguided belief sets.

part 10

  • "The flows of lava, biomass, genes, memes, norms, money (and other 'stuff') are the source of just about every stable structure that we cherish and value (or, on the contrary, that oppresses or enslaves us)."
  • The Earth , institutional norms, social structures, and language can be viewed as bodies without organs that exist at various levels of stratification driven by the intensities of their catalysts and energy flows.
  • Different histories with different stratification levels and rates of change are constantly co-occuring.
  • Our history, language, and science have generally been viewed through an arbitrarily linear lens. "Western societies transformed the objective world (or some areas of it) into the type of structure that would 'correspond' to their theories, so that the latter became, in a sense, self-fulfilling prophecies."
  • While there has been significant homogenization over the last 300 to 400 years artificially becoming more heterogeneous does not guarantee a better state of humanity and blindly pushing toward heterogeneous structures is not a good idea since likely "the most destratified element in a mix effects the most rigid restratification" later on.
  • Rather than pushing hard for change without being certain of its effects we should "call for a more experimental attitude toward reality and for an increased awareness of the potential for self-organization inherent in even the humblest forms of matter-energy.

How does this relate to SEO, the web, and marketing?

The current fight over net neutrality is a fight for the belief in heterogeneous systems over monopolized homogenous systems. As noted in this book, antimarket institutions do not always add as much value as they extract from their market position. Network operators (and pocked padded politicians) assume they know what is best for everyone, but if you listen to Ted Stevens speak you will realize just how misguided many of them are.

Ad agencies like Saachi are trying to push brands to go after owning mind share for individual words, which could become self reinforcing if they did it early enough or well enough. Companies sue search engines because they don't rank where they feel they should.

Who controls language? Will search engines and authoritative websites act as our new dictionaries and encyclopedias that harden language?

The web and search engines providing new social dynamic in coding language.

In some ways search engines make the set norms more self reinforcing (via ease of access to the current status, search personalization reinforcing our current world view, reinforcement of citation data that led to the development of the current status, and running search business models that are more profitable if they limit their trust of new definitions and new statuses).

In other ways they make the set norms less self reinforcing (especially where language is loosely defined and/or a market has limited depth) since they make many opinions accessible and place many results near one another on equal footing it becomes easier for people of traditionally limited authority and reach to help redefine the meaning of a word.

Some vertical engines also put your or my words alongside or above the New York Times in importance. This changes the media bias from being a rather homogenized bias controlled by similar large business structures to a more diverse set of biases.

The web and search engines not only provide new social dynamics to coding language, but also in coding our status. Currently if you have a lot of trust in a popular topic search engines allow you to leverage that across to other topics.

Not only do our status levels rise and fall with the importance of the language we play a role in defining, but also search engines look at social bonds and social interactions that were likely hard to measure for past authority systems.

Search engines also have a way of trying to understand a universal personal identity. For example, our search history may manipulate the results of other searchers, and the level of trust on that search history data may depend on our ties to the search systems (financial ties due to being large ad buyers or large ad sellers, financial ties due to being a large source of content or in need of search referrals, length of time and volume of activity - search, publishing, or advertising).

In addition to controlling how we find content search engines also control the payout levels from the largest distributed ad networks, which in part determine:

  • What content is profitable? (Ad sales automation makes content production more efficient for smaller groups at the expense of many larger groups. Many web based business models revolve around amateurs working for free for other companies.)
  • How we structure content to be maximally profitable (in terms of money or in terms of reach and influence).
  • What topics people will focus on. (Smaller niches are now more profitable).
  • The type of bias they may be interested in writing the content from.
  • How evergreen versus fresh content is.
  • How topics will merge together or drift apart. (Hyperlinks will create new links where there never were links before, and many established trusted businesses will quickly consume new markets by quickly recognizing those connections and drifting toward those markets at a quicker rate).
  • How people will format content (ie: if I went with a traditional book publisher I would have been lucky to make 10% of what I make selling my ebook, and this factor also controls how much information people will typically put on a page and how frequently they publish)

Then there is the question of will the mass amateurization of content change the way citizens perceive content vs advertising and will people become more isolated or more involved in building a world that was more like the world they want to see?

Review of Andrew Goodman's Winning Results with Google AdWords Book

Apr 28th

I have been doing way too little book reading, but was recently able to finish Andrew Goodman's print book on Google AdWords. It only costs about $16 on Amazon. Well worth splashing out if you are interested in PPC and don't want to spend the $50 to $100 most PPC ebooks cost.

On to the review... Google AdWords changes rapidly, so some of the features since publication have already significantly changed. For example, instead of disabling ads with a low clickthrough rate now Google increases the price if the relevancy of an ad is considered to be low (and apparently Andrew has already updated this in his ebook). Even today Google announced that they are trying to kill off even more of the bottom feeding market by showing less ads on search results that are not deemed to be exceptionally commercial. Andrew has long insisted that Google believes advertising to be a type of information, and in his book he predicted they would continue to innovate to focus on relevancy. Instead of focusing on tricks that work right now his advice is grounded in techniques that should yield long term success.

He also pointed to the fact that Google's organic search results tend to have an informational bias to them, which typically is true. Beyond the aging factor associated with print books the only other downside I would say there is to Andrew's print book would be the heavy bias toward PPC marketing over organic search. But I suspect that makes sense since that is Andrew's bread and butter. I probably am equally biased (or maybe more biased) toward organic search (because that is where I have done well thusfar).

At around 350 pages his print book is pretty beefy. It takes a while to work through, but Andrew worked hard to not just write the hows of the ads but also explain why he felt certain things work well and certain things would prove ineffective long term. His book also touches on many important online issues, such as brand credibility and conversion. He points heavily at viewing the process as an ongoing process that you continue to work at from end to end.

I think I learned much more from his ebook than this book, but that most likely consists as a sum of the following:

  • I read his ebook when I was totally new to the market

  • I read every post on his blog and his occasional newsletters
  • I read his Google Groups posts
  • I had already read his ebook before reading the print book

I just looked at the sales letter for his $69 ebook and saw that he gives you a free copy of this print book with it. My recommendation is to buy his ebook, read it first, and then if you want a bit more of the background and history information give the print book a read.

Anoother nice compliment I would like to dish Andrew's way is that many books or ebooks try to hook you on hiring the author, buying junk through affiliate links, or subscribing to an "informational" newsletter that hits you up with junk product offers weekly.

When you buy off Andrew you get good information, and you pay for honest advice without the upsell upsell upsell mentality that is all too common with most internet marketing informational products.

It's Not Just What You Read, but Also How You Read It

Dec 1st

Oilman was recently contacted by Anthony Noto, the world renowned stock analyst and phone spammer.

A while ago Randy Ray pointed at a post called The Ultimate Secret to Winning Poker, where Bill Rini posted about how he failed at being a stock broker because he did not cold call enough people. He spent too much time trying to study the market and perfect the craft. He did not read or understand that just calling calling calling was the most important step until it was too late.

That post also mentions that if people read many books on a subject and still do not understand the subject then the answer does not necessarily rest in some obscure passage they will one day cross, but more likely in a book they already read, but did not read closely with enough attention and an open mind.

Free Excerpt of The Google Story by David Bias

Nov 14th

Free excerpt from the book (about space race, biotech, etc.)

I am sure NickW will love this bit:

"Why not improve the brain?" Brin asked. "You would want a lot of compute power. Perhaps in the future, we can attach a little version of Google that you just plug into your brain. We'll have to develop stylish versions, but then you'd have all of the world's knowledge immediately available, which is pretty exciting."

Review of Ambient Findability by Peter Morville

Oct 11th

Peter Morville is a well known information architect, who co-wrote Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. He recently wrote Ambient Findability, which is an O'Reilly book related to search, so I had to read it.

I was a bit uncertain exactly what the book would be about when I bought it. Ambient Findability is primarily about how people interact with the web & information, and I was well pleased to find that the book looked at search from a some perspectives I have not read before.

Most the time I look at search I am thinking rank rank rank. I find how people interact with information to be a fairly interesting topic, and Peter went in great detail about a number of things I don't usually think about.

Peter talks about:

  • tying the web & real world together

  • the history of wayfinding
  • how we interact with information
  • the limits of language
  • push vs pull
  • sharing & tagging information & the semantic web
  • some of the reasons for bad information consumption habbits
  • and one of my favorite subjects: how our views on authority change as we are able to solve more of our own problems

In the push vs pull chapter he talked about striking the balance with marketing, and I think this quote is useful to marketers:

Markets are conversations. People exchange goods, services, ideas, and values in an intricate dance of push and pull. And as technology disrupts and transforms the marketplace, only those who listen carefully will profit from this persistent disequilibrium between supply and demand. - p. 117

In SEO it is common for people to want to rank #1 at any cost and then have a site that wastes the traffic it gets. Peter does not talk about marketing as a stand alone product, but mentions how it should be integrated holistically into the site.

This User Experience Design article on his website has a picture of what he calls The User Experience Honeycomb, which shows how he believes value is strung together through the combination of assets.

Ambient Findability is a cool read.

Toot Toot, etc

Sep 26th

Sorry for tooting my own horn here, but Brendon Sinclair, of The Web Design Business Kit & Tailored Consulting fame just reviewed my ebook.

As an SEO it is fairly hard to get recognition from people well known in the web design field, and few voices are more credible than Brendon's, so that review has got me pretty stoked.

Review of John Battelle's The Search

Sep 14th

The Search is a book by John Battelle about the history of search, and how search will interface with and change society. If you are a search geek it's a great read and there is a zero percent chance for you to dislike the book.

Although the book does not focus on SEO, reading it helps you see search through it's history and think about many SEO concepts. John believes clickstream data & user feedback will eventually replace modern link based search relevancy algorithms. There are a number of great quotes and fun parts to the book, such as:

  • When Larry met Sergey (p. 68)

  • When they both told Eric Schmidt he was totally hosed (p. 135)
  • Where "don't be evil" came from (p. 138)

The Search talks about the underlying business models driving search (where it began, where Overture went wrong, & how Google trumped them) right up to some of the deep political and social concerns associated with search.

While the book's logo looks similar to Google's trademark dress it was refreshing to see that John did not hesitative to talk about some of the negative (or evil) sides of search, including:

I think it would have been cool if John would have talked to a few more SEOs, but the book is killer. Well worth a read.

Seth Godin Medley

Sep 8th

The Big Moo:
The Big Moo is sorta like a follow up to Purple Cow, but from a variety of authors.

33 different writers tell short stories about different concepts related to starting or running a business, balancing life and business, & being remarkable. It also emphasizes not trying to be perfect but to do stuff & get customer feedback. The short nature of each story makes it easy to read like 20 to 50 of them in one sitting. The diversity of voices means there is probably some useful stuff in there for just about anyone.

The stories do not have who wrote each one underneath them. You can sorta guess some of them, but others are not so easy.

I have a bunch of these. If you want one please email me your address and I will try to send one to you if I can. I am going away for a bit soon, so it will be about a week before I mail these out. If you get one and you like it you must review it on your website, in the comments below, or tell at least two friends about it.

Knock Knock:
Knock Knock [PDF] is a free ebook which seems like it has many tips about websites better that are similar to the tips in The Big Red Fez. It is a quick and short read, talking primarily about website conversion. Not bad for free, but I think I liked The Big Red Fez a good bit more.

The few areas where I thought this book fell short:

  • some of the math with the percentages sounds a bit confusing. Like 1 times 50% is 0.5, not 2. I think he should throw the added step in there to say 50% conversion means you need two visitors. Most of Seth's writing is an easy read and I am good at math, but his math parts did not flow well.

  • He has a number of adverts for his other books in there, but thats what you get for the price of free (although I liked many of his other books a bunch more than this ebook). His other books seemed more like he was writing to get a specific point across (be remarkable, go for the edges, tell good stories, etc etc etc) but this one seemed more like he had a bit of time on his hands and wanted to put something out in between publishing full books.
  • He says you can & should show repeat visitors a different page...but sometimes that could be a bad thing. How can you be sure that they were not interested in something specifically on that page?
  • Some pages without apparent reason to the author at the time of writing do have other purposes that the writer may not have realized. For example some pages can be great link bait. Just by having honest and original sounding content that ranks for random stuff you can get some killer links. (I have an .edu link from a random professor who is the completely morally opposite of me pointing into a site that had casino related content on it). I believe some of the best content that was ever created was created on accident or without motive, and then was later reshaped into a profitable format & business model after readers or friends gave feedback about it.

The cool bit about Knock Knock is that Seth says if you can think up a part two to his Knock Knock book and he likes it then he will plug it. It might be a good opportunity for a few SEMs / SEOs to get a bit of exposure and open up a relationship with a smart viral marketer. Seth's testimonials are priceless because he is well known not to promote crap and is good with words. In the past I think he left a good testimonial for Andrew Goodman.

Who's There:
Who's There [PDF] is a free ebook by Seth Godin about blogging, mainly about viral blogging.

If you look at his blog, PageRank, and the fact that it is uncommon for any of his posts to go without a trackback, you would see that Seth is good at the blog thing :)

Some of his tips in Who's There were also on his blog in the past, but I think he is right on the money with them. His blog along with SearchEngineBlog have always been two of my favorites since I started reading blogs.

A few things I don't fully agree with

  • He said every post should get you new subscription. I think if you write specifically for that purpose all the time you may be setting the bar too high, and your writing will eventually clearly show that goal if it is first and foremost your goal, and some people may take that negatively.

  • Seth said the hygine of the comments and trackbacks are not important. I don't think Seth has been reading Threadwatch much if he believes that. On many blog sites the comments end up driving the content.
  • Seth was a best selling author before he started blogging, and was naturally pretty good at blogging right out of the gate I think. Some people new to blogging could really benefit from leaving relevant comments on other related sites, and I don't think he really mentioned that much. Reading and commenting on related sites is a good way to help get started if you are new to blogging.

Seth is one of my favorite bloggers, and it was really cool of him to make those ebooks available free.

Review of John T Reed's How to Write, Publish, & Sell Your Own How-To Book

Aug 18th

I recently read John T Reed’s How to Write, Publish, and Sell Your Own How-To Book.

His website is not pretty, but his writing is great. I suspect he can only get away with such a non-pretty looking site design because he was well established long before the web, & he does not use words like non-pretty. He would just say disgustingly ugly or something like that.

Onto the book review:

  • He says to sell a book you need market for the idea (although it is hard to test the absolute demand) and a desire or interest in the topic. You also need enough credibility or experience with the topic to write a book on it, and an anger toward the books on the market in said topic…either they are dated, biased, or incomplete.

  • Many people are bad writers because they water down their voice.
  • John says you do not need much skill to write how to books, so long as you can write like you would talk.
  • He talks about writing making you a member of the press and talking to people as member of press…don’t be afraid to try to contact the right people.
  • He goes in exceptional depth about why it is best to sell books direct via your own website (sell a branded product instead of competing against yourself as a commodity in an unneeded arbitrary long supply chain).
  • He goes into great depth about customer service and why he stopped accommodating problem customers. One area I do not fully agree with him on is that he says higher prices lead to more complaints, which seems to be an inverse of my experience thusfar.

His book is only 128 pages, but is fairly information dense. He whinges on about a few things, but most of it is great useful information from many years of experience. Well worth it's cost of about $35 after shipping.

Criticisms:

  • Presents an overly simplistic view of how search engines work based on his own experience. He had about 20 years writing experience building up his personal brand before he took to the web. He also has many shady guru review / hate articles on his site which act as great link bait to improve the overall authority of his website. His site is well established, as is his reader base, so his experiences probably are not going to match Joe average publisher if they are new to the publishing process. He would do well to also research or also mention [cough] books on SEO.

  • He states search is his primary means of driving new sales, and openly admits that he has little understanding of how search engines work (a claim which may have something to do with an associated lawsuit for him outranking someone for their name in Google). While normally rather in depth information he states rather lacking stuff in this area.
  • He fails to mention pay per click marketing at all, which is huge for how to book publishing, and may even prove useful to find the right topics to write on or how much demand there is for a topic BEFORE you even write the first word. If he is recommending that search drives the bulk of your sales surely he should mention how to research market volume?
  • He does not mention the social aspects of the web, and probably does not realize that link popularity from his review articles helps pull up his site rankings for other terms as well. Those review articles also drive sales as well. I only found out about his name because his Rich Dad Poor Dad review was mentioned in a WebmasterWorld thread. I like John's writings well though, and I bet he would sell 2 or 3 times as many books as he does if he also ran an associated whingeblog. He has the perfect writing style to pull it off.
  • While his blunt this-is-me language probably helps convey his message well and is the voice of his writing you can’t help but be offended by at least one thing if you read through a whole book of his. He makes fun of the Spanish language, the French, and presumes guilt on the part of all people in jail, which is either a strong display of ignorance or arrogance. I suppose I can’t fault him for his voice, but I think sometimes he goes over the top with it to get his point across. His points are in many cases valid though. For example, he is not a fan of special consideration customers. I have grown that way too, as most of the people who ask me to special accomidate them are the people who never pay, bounce checks, or reverse charge. There is no reason to give people better customer service for being bad customers.
  • He also has a rather plain website, which can work. He also mentions that some people may need more graphics, but I think most people could not pull off a site as "non pretty" as his unless their writing is of an exceptional caliber. Put another way, I think I would only have about 5 to 10% of my current income if I created my website around his design and structure

In spite of the negatives I just mentioned I still think his book is a great book. If you add his book to a web savvy person with a deep interest in a topic you should be able to do really well.

Pages






    Email Address
    Pick a Username
    Yes, please send me "7 Days to SEO Success" mini-course (a $57 value) for free.

    Learn More

    We value your privacy. We will not rent or sell your email address.