The Next Break in the Web

Webmasters currently face link rot as a major website maintenance problem. As we rely more on Google and other third parties for features such as hosting, ads, and content syndication what happens when some of the business relationships that are opening up content fall away or search engines reorganize and rebrand their offerings?

A few weeks back I made a post about the book being a dying format, and in that post I have a Google book snippet. Within a week that snippet was broken. I had a Google CPA ad integrated into one of my major websites and the ad went away, breaking 10% of a large site and making it look like spam.

Even some of the services that are not broke will likely be drastically different in a few years. Google maps is really open because they need marketshare, but after they become the clear market leader will they stay fairly open? How long until we have ads in everything?

A good webmaster service that would be exceptionally useful is something that scours websites and looks for broken stuff. Think a Xenu Link Sleuth for multimedia. Another would be how to guides on how we can enable interactivity without becoming too reliant on any third parties that break our sites.

Death of the Book: Publishers Will Become Interactive Media Artists

Books Are Losing Relevancy

Google and Amazon are both pushing to sell ebooks directly aggressively. An article in the NYT mentions a new device Amazon will offer for reading ebooks, but I don't think the problem with books and ebooks is that they need a better reader.

Google now allows you to embed book pasages directly in web pages.

The big problem is that the web is quickly becoming more interactive and diverse and useful, making books irrelevant for all but true enthusiasts, desperate people seeking a manifesto for life change, or those who read as an escape.

Personal Relevancy

The larger a book becomes, the less likely it is to be relevant to any individual, and the less value each word has. People who may disagree with some concepts in your book may agree with pieces that they would be willing to cite if they could only find it. But they will never cite your information unless they can find it.

No matter what people believe, in almost every case someone has already shared the same belief. Format it in small sharable chunks with good findability and people will cite it.

A while ago I wrote a post about making information easy to consume. Recently Thomas Crampton interviewed Cory Doctorow about how to build blog readership, and that 6 minute interview is far more useful than my article was. See for yourself:

Attention Deficit Disorder

Most people with significant social and/or economic influence have (an equivalent of) attention deficit disorder, caused by an interruption-driven life cluttered with too much content and too little time.

People may want to consume relevant bits. Cognitive dissidents. Summaries that let us dive deeper if we want to. Little chunks of information that change how we perceive the world around us.

Rarely is something that is fully polished, comprehensive, and dated what we need. More likely it is easier to learn by stepping into a process and learning one piece at a time, starting with your interests, then expanding as we run into additional problems. Even with blog posts, people justifiably complain about my writing blog posts in spurts, and using links that are not descriptive enough to merit a click-through.

Leveraging the Web

Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. Writers should use the web for what it is worth. Break books into pieces, read and write daily, cite sources, go back and polish the best pieces and package them, but try to keep each idea as sharp as possible.

Knowing how to create a useful information product is not enough to maximize profits. A big flaw with my ebook is that it has soooo much information in it, but it is hard to show the value of it because it is a single item. You can't tell how much stuff was waded through to write it, that it is mentally and emotionally draining to revise, and it doesn't help that most Internet marketing ebooks are lead generation devices or affiliate marketing tools. Someone could sell much less and look like they were selling more, just by using better packaging.

The Inevitable Death of No & Low Value Networks

Just like chunks of content are getting broken down into smaller bits, so will content creation companies. Choice and technology are disintermediating most of the gatekeepers. You and I don't need publishers for distribution, and the fear associated with that is the real reason why the US DoJ recently whored itself out to telecom companies. Many people in positions of power abuse copyright and are afraid of open markets. From the Fake Steve blog:

[TV] was a wonderful system. For you [TV Networks] anyway. Except that it had one huge flaw. Which is that for you guys, the middlemen, to get rich, you needed to fuck over the people at both ends of the value chain -- the consumers who had no choice in what they watched and spent years being fed mountains of dog shit, and the producers of content who were at your mercy and had to negotiate with this tiny number of networks who operated, let's be honest here, as a kind of cartel.

Artists Become Publishers

If I target an idea to a market and people tell me it is garbage then so much for that idea. If early feedback looks promising then it is time to dig deeper, do more research, read more, and write more. Invest where your interests align with the interest of others.

John Andrews recently made another brilliant post talking about how artists need to become publishers:

You “artists” out there generating content will have to learn to publish if you want to participate in the Internet economy. Maybe that’s why Google spends so much trying to help the Internet advance… because it helps Google disintermediate the middlemen. When will Google bring us fast quantities of ISP-free, wireless bandwidth?

One day there will be no more middlemen. And then, Google will squeeze you for more profits. After all, growth needs to come from somewhere, right? When all the middlemen are gone, what’s left? You are. For every producer there are hundreds of consumers hungry for more. Will Google offer rewards for you to procreate? Of course it will. It has to. It’s Google’s destiny to manage the creative class.

Everyone is Selling

Bob Massa recently shot short videos of a thousand year old marketplace, showing locals in India trying to sell him a donkey

Contrary to popular belief, selling is not about tricking people into buying what they don't want. Yes, there are liars and thieves but that is not selling. That is lying and stealing.

Selling is about getting people to trust you enough to tell you their needs or desires and you satisfying those needs or desires. It is not always easy but it’s certainly not complicated.

The Key is to Not Look Like You are Selling

If markets keep getting more competitive and artists become publishers then I think publishers need to start becoming artists. Almost anything you want to consume has free samples available online. Some are copyright violations, others are free marketing, and some are both.

Here is Dane Cook on why it is so hard to win an argument against a woman:

Humor is one of the easiest ways to build links and recommendations.

You don't need to leave your computer to go to a concert, so if you do go you are going for the energy and the experience.

Even purely online things can look much richer than plain text. Here is Dan Thies's example of how to implement dynamic linking. Notice it includes graphics, and how those graphics enhance the value of his post. Want free research on how personalization and universal search change how we interact with search results? If people are giving away that kind of value for free how do you compete?

Becoming an Artist

I think publishers have to stop being publishers and start becoming artists, marketing their product as art, hitting the same touchpoints art hit.

When breaking news from a friend (or a friend of a friend) is freely available in real time and virtually everything is a commodity people buy

  • the buying experience and sense of connection the buyer has with the artist, including any sense of community or empathy offered
  • recommendations from friends or other trusted sources
  • the story behind the product or service
  • your experience and expertise
  • the trust and goodwill you built up through sharing information, personal interaction, and the above points

Even when we are not buying we are still paying with attention. Familiarity and attention are early steps in sales. The WSJ wrote about how Disney kept a low-fi feel to Marié Digby's YouTube videos. She mixes in a few of her own original songs with old classics that have been viewed MILLIONS of times prior to dropping her first album. It is much easier to launch if you start off with a large fanbase.

Why it Helps to View Marketing as an Art

People are lazy and selfish. Especially anonymous people. If you try to replicate the links of an older competitor using the same techniques, many of the webmasters who linked at them will ignore you, even if your content is better than the stuff they are already linking at.

In all honesty, profit margins come more from perception than reality. If you are going to stay profitable you have to see the wave coming in and stay out in front of it, especially because as marketing techniques get abused they stop working. I am doing things today that I know I would not be profitable in a few years if I didn't go out of my way to lay the foundation to make them look and feel exceptionally legitimate today. The only differences between legitimacy and illegitimacy are trust, familiarity, and perception.

The Short Side of Web Publishing

This post is not to suggest that the web is a utopia that is better than all other sources of information, but more that it is cheaper, faster, easier, and provides something that is good enough to satisfy most demands for free.

The web has downsides to it, like promoting hyped up information pollution as a form of marketing. But the reality of it is that everyone is short on time. And few deeply understand the publishing dynamics of search, so when people get screwed by finding bad information on the web or make bad decisions because of ideas they discovered over the web they will likely blame themselves for it.

How Being a Spam Cop Would Melt Your Mind

Imagine if virtually everything you chose to trust eventually betrayed you. You try to create shifting rules and push your worldview to try to make it manageable, but even in your attempts to do so people call out the self serving nature of your suggestions. Every day thousands of people share free information about how to take advantage of you, and in return you wade through garbage and do everything you can to suppress it, but work for a company with policies that encourage information pollution. Even when you try to stop something, your company will still spread that message to anyone willing to look for it for a dollar or two a click, and affiliates quickly race to fill in the hole your hand edit created. You can't suppress them. You hand edited one company, but is it fair to leave their largest competitor? Will someone call you out on that today? Will it matter when they do?

As it gets less manageable your rule sets are disengaged with reality, and if you look close enough at just about anything you find what you would (or at least could) call spam. Everyone is a cheat. Or is that only in my mind?

Should you hand edit this result? Will anyone care if you do or do not? What does the legal team look like at the company behind this website? How large is their ad budget? How bad is this exploit? Should you write an algorithm that will close off this hole? If you do, what other holes does that open up?

How much longer can we trust links until we move on to usage data? Can we ever really trust usage data? Do our policies actually promote creating and sharing good content? How can we improve them without hurting our revenue numbers? Now the web is filling up with stupid garbage reminiscent of Idiocracy. How much of that am I responsible for? Would the web be cleaner if I just quit my job and let free market forces do as they may?

Running Threadwatch for a little over a year took me from being a fairly positive person to being cynical about everything. Could you imagine how bad it would be if your job was to fight spam day in and day out, especially if your employer sponsored the creation of most of it? Some days at SEO conferences Matt Cutts appears as a star, but could you imagine how demoralizing that job would be to do, looking at the worst parts of the web every day? No matter what you do tomorrow there is more spam waiting just for you.

Web Design Scholarship

CollegeScholarships.org recently launched a web design scholarship, offering students interested in web design a chance to win $5,000 for designing a Wordpress template for a scholarship site.

I wasn't going to mention it here (figuring I have mentioned that site too many times recently with covering the 301 redirect from the old site, eh?), but I know many designers read this site, and so far there are only 2 entrants. The scholarship was going to close on the 13th of August, but I asked Daniel to extend the submission deadline to the 18th, and he was up for that, so there is about a week left before the submission deadline. The winner will still be announced on August 20th.

If you are a student into web design please apply! If you know people who may be interested in it please pass the word on.

Using Organic Ranking Profits to Subsidize Paid Search Ads

Alan Rimm-Kaufmanhttp://www.rimmkaufman.com/ recently wrote an article about allowing your most profitable keywords to subsidize your less profitable ones. This strategy is obviously needed if you want to grow your business via search because you first have to create awareness before you create sales.

Paid search can also be used effectively as a branding and link building mechanism, and help reinforce your organic search rankings.

As the web gets more efficient, companies doing well in organic search will plow more of their organic search profits into paid search even if it loses money, so that they may lock out competition, maintain momentum and exposure, build a strong relationship with Google, minimize business risks, and support the ecosystem which provides their profit.

In after hours trading today Amazon eclipsed Yahoo in market capitalization! Seeing Amazon add more editorial content, extend into new markets, and have expanding margins while Yahoo! has went nowhere in the last year shows Google is still gaining marketshare, and that the search ecosystem is going to become more self reinforcing as time passes.

Ad Networks as Spyware Providers

I recently posted about the online security wars, a trend which will continue to grow as spam filtering improves. The WSJ recently ran an interesting article about ad networks distributing spyware:

In May, a virus in a banner ad on tomshardware.com automatically switched visitors to a Web site that downloaded "malware" -- malicious software designed to attack a computer -- onto the visitor's computer. ScanSafe Inc., one of the first security firms to discover the virus, estimates the banner ad was on the site for at least 24 hours and infected 50,000 to 100,000 computers before Tom's Hardware removed it.

As traffic streams consolidate and ad networks improve in efficiency many people who get marginalized are going to get more insidious in their attempts to make money. This fear will further consolidate web traffic toward trusted brands and place a premium on central ad networks.

I Am Looking for a Link Builder

I have a partner who runs some older authority domains who is looking for a full time link builder. The job is a work from home position, available immediately, and pays $2500 a month. We are looking for someone who is self disciplined, creative, and aggressive.

If you are interested please email capelton@gmail.com

Closed Platforms & Proprietary Formats Kill Market Opportunity

This is a free flowing post based on interesting links of interest I recently came across. It compares online markets to offline markets. Those who preach free market virtues rarely follow through on them:

The misfortune, of course, is ours since the Fed also sold gold. We have to guess at that of course because transparency in capital markets, preached from on high, is merely pretence. ...

The answer to market direction lies with the Fed, which today reports on their decision and statement as to policy. The policy statement is, for the most part, useless as a guide to the market, and something I call a sham. Regretably, the Fed is not required to release their strategy and tactical plan, which is released to the banks via buy and sell orders from the FOMC trading desk.

The public is not privy to this Fed-HB&B insider trading, and so we have to wait for (i) the market action, and (ii) the spin from the bankers, to try to figure out for ourselves what’s happening. This juvenile process makes for difficult decision-making by the independent owners and managers of capital, and leads to accusations that the system is rigged.

Countries (and their laws) act as walled gardens around markets, representing and protecting those currently in a position of power. One day everything is fine then the next fish is bad. You should eat more cow. Mooooooooo.

I am guessing the prices of drugs in the legal drug market are nearly as divergent as they are in illegal markets, where cocaine has a 350X differential.

Search marketing in even some of the largest markets is behind the curve. Arbitrage opportunities that died in leading markets still might be wide open in lagging markets. Why else would Google kill Answers in November of last year and then open up a Russian version 7 months later.

On the web some platforms act as walled gardens while others pay developers for marketshare. New devices, new software, and new distribution channels open daily. Develop around the idea of an open and liquid market and go with the natural trends of the web.

Steer clear of the proprietary crap that loses money on every user if you want to build something lasting of value. Rely too heavily on any single partner, format, or platform and die.

How Interactive Media is Changing Marketing

Language has historically been butchered by politicians pushing their own agenda, but as networks get better at spreading information quickly, we are immersed in more information than we know what to do with, and more people are voting for ideas / spreading messages without even thinking through what they are voting for. I can't count how many times I have felt duped by supporting things that I later found out to be pure crap.
In a blog post Google tells us why they are buying DoubleClick:

In short, Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick will benefit all parties in the online advertising business, including advertisers, publishers, agencies and, most importantly, consumers.

Wow! The world is going to be better for EVERYONE!!! Gee those guys really are out to make the world a better place.

Corporate drivel has been around far longer than I have, but the fundamental changes that are occurring right now are due to people voting for causes without even thinking what their votes mean. Of course that has always happened, but now we have quick direct measurable feedback of how people reacted, searchable databases of past successful marketing campaigns, and a network quickly willing to go wherever potential revenue exists.

Networks are trying to capture and spread passion in ways that have never been possible before. Consider Google Earth Outreach, which allows non-profits to spread their messages on Google Earth. Every non-profit using this builds the Google brand, which helps Google make more money selling ads for Ponzi schemes, among other things.

Was that unfair? Perhaps, but the point is that even if we are a good judge of character it is hard to understand the full affect of our actions on a network so complex. Worse yet, marketers realize that people vote for many ideas without even thinking them through or reading them. Good headline...wow. So then people package information to cater to the hollow voting systems.

Marketers (like me) are creating more and more elegantly wrapped and packaged informational research studies that starts with the end goal, and collects whatever facts are necessary to justify them. Consider The Progressive Majority: Why a Conservative America Is a Myth, a study which came up with results like Nearly 58 percent said government should be doing more, not less. What should the government be doing more of? What question did they ask to get that result? Worse yet, even by calling that study crap (and linking to it) I just voted for it and gave it further credibility.

The endless drive toward efficiency by ad networks is hollowing out the viability of profitable content creation, while increasing the profit margins for those spreading remarkably biased misinformation.

It really doesn't matter what compartment we put ourselves in. Someone is willing to act as a leader, tell us what we want to hear, and display targeted ads. Should information agents look beyond popularity when considering the value of information? Will the web end up further fracturing society by making it too easy to find like-minded people who have little care for truth?

Was MySpace an Overnight Success?

Brad Greenspan, the CEO of eUniverse, posted about the history of his company leading up to MySpace. His company survived the dot com meltdown (while profiting the whole time). By the time they created MySpace in 2003 they had a top 20 (US web traffic) network of community driven sites. When they launched MySpace they were able to leverage their other content sites and traffic streams to help MySpace spread quickly. MySpace may have appeared as an overnight success, but it didn't hurt that eUniverse had years of experience launching numerous high growth community sites.

Almost all high growth web businesses start out with an idea that works but a model that does not, but that is why the evolve, and why experience is worth so much. Paul Kedrosky recently shared this Niklas Zennstrom video:

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