Profitable Publishing in the Digital Age: the Archivist vs the Anarchist

The Archivist

When I was about 1 year into the field of SEO my friend brought me over to his parent's house for a winter break for a few days. His dad is a genius (in about every way possible) and worked at the time as an archivist that digitized old content collections for media companies. I told him of what I did (SEO) and he told that I should learn XSLT, and that Google would soon kill the field of SEO.

The Anarchist

I believed just the opposite...that SEO was an extension of marketing (which will only increase in demand as the web grows older), and that as Google's profits grew, they would use them to forge partnerships with content creators and build their own mini-web to supplement the greater web and give themselves a second bite at monetizing searchers. In the past few years Google added news results to their organic search results, bought YouTube, digitized a ton of books, settled a publisher and author lawsuit with books, created a books API, created Google Maps (and local), created Google Earth, created Google Maps, created Google Local, and Google just purchased 20 million digitized historical newspaper pages from

So far I am winning that bet, but only because I view SEO as an extension of marketing and have aggressively re-invested profits toward growth...which got me to thinking of publishing trends that will grow in the years to come.

Publishing truths for the digital age

  • Many forms of scams and spam will look so much like real information that most people will not be able to distinguish between them.
  • The web has a deep and rich memory. But most people's use of it will remain shallow.
  • As the world gets more complex, we will increasingly question authority and seek out experts to turn to for alternative view points and advice.
  • We will subscribe to niche channels that largely match our biases and worldview. Information retrieval tools (search engines), information consumption tools (feed readers), and the social structure of the web (links, comments, how we use language) will further create a self-fulfilling prophecy on this front.
  • Curiosity and the ease of publishing will turn a half billion people into experts connected to a passionate audience.
  • Amongst that competition, there will always be an unquenchable demand for marketing, branding, and public relations.
  • If you sell information, accessibility and marketing will matter much more than being deep and/or factually correct.
  • Piracy is a cheap distribution channel.
  • The tightness of a social network will be far more important than its raw size.
  • It is easier to build a large profitable revenue stream selling what is new rather than selling what is old.
  • Information without personalization and context will increasingly become commoditized. The average web page will be worth less than a cent unless there is a strong editorial voice associated with it and/or there are explicit votes for it.

Your Turn

What do you see changing as the web ages and grows?

Published: December 3, 2008 by Aaron Wall in internet


December 3, 2008 - 3:30pm

We bought our daughter a 'smartphone' as an advanced Christmas gift. Her use of the phone deviates greatly from my use of my blackberry. She could care less about email and calendars. She wants text messaging, games, networking with friends and 'cool' websites to check out.

Any longer term (2 years?) view of the web must contain at least a partial focus on mobile devices. That aspect of the web will carry some specialized requirements:

  • Content - a lightweight subset will be required
  • Delivery - optimized and stripped down for the smaller screens, with built in social networking capabilities
  • Marketing - can you say 'geolocation'?

And SEO for mobile content? It's going to be a brave new world, as where you're currently standing is going to be just as important as what you're looking for.

I can tell you this. I'm very concerned that some of us (myself included) are so far into the trees that we've lost a view of the forest. We may be about to be blindsided by a fundamental shift in something in which we've come to be quite comfortable with.

This site does not have a mobile content version, although I can see from your login screen that it's built on Drupal, so there's hope. My sites don't either, but I'm working on them. I just hope I can figure it out before it's too late...

December 4, 2008 - 12:17am

Hi David
Great comment :)

I am not too worried about mobile for this particular site. Why? Because we offer a feed that can be read on iGoogle or Google Reader or Google Bloglines...the RSS feed in and of itself makes you ready for mobile if you are a blogger. And, as you said, Drupal is a sweet if there is a ton of value in mobile for this type of site it will either be built as an extension or baked into the core. Really all one needs to do is add a CSS stylesheet for mobile devices.

For other businesses we work on I see mobile as more of an opportunity than a challenge. It is going to slice and dice generic search phrases into pieces of higher relevancy traffic for local the leads that matter to local businesses should only become more accessible. Rather than saying "you can't rank for that keyword because it is too broad for your business" we will be able to say "sure, we should be able to rank you locally for the keywords that matter, even if they are kinda broad, because Google shows local people local results."

I already see this happening with the global search results on my desktop. Sometimes when I search for a generic service I am automatically shifted to seeing the San Francisco bay area view of the topic.

December 3, 2008 - 9:30pm

>>If you sell information, accessibility and marketing will matter much more than being deep and/or factually correct.

Certainly in a world where speed is of the essence and you can outsource research to India, China, and Romania. On the flip side, people will likely pay a premium for "correct" or "truth-y" data--which isn't necessarily all that different from Forrester research or other research white paper distribution.

December 4, 2008 - 12:20am

The problems (or opportunities, depending on one's views) are that...

  • the truth is often discounted until it is claimed as fact by the very people that discounted it
  • people like to feel like they know what is going on rather than challenging themselves to really learn
  • in most profitable industries (perhaps in all industries that are still relevant and growing?) there will always be more people at the beginning of the learning curve than near the top of it
December 3, 2008 - 10:23pm

I agree with DavidC - it is all going to be about mobile. Watching my 16 year old son use the web, I see his generation being faster yet more impatient than ever before. And as David also points out, geo-locators are going to further obscure the point of more generalized SEO...which is going to have a definitive effect on big business (losing marketshare) and smaller businesses (locally able to outrank bigger businesses more easily). Mobile phones are going to get better and better, and the web will eventually bow to it...websites will get smaller and more simplified, or offer 2 distinctly different versions as some do now. Look for some unifying technology that makes mobile marketing easier and consistent.

I also see Google using data to "think" more and more for users rather than simply serving up what is asked they already do with suggested search, customized SERPs, etc. Like was discussed last week, their data empire is scary-huge, and will likely be used for evil...which is simply good business for Google. But Google's data will have an increasing impact on how the web develops in the next 5 years...whether or not it is true data, or simply what Google wants us to believe.

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