Unintended Consequences

Jul 20th

Edward Lewis runs SEOConsultants.com, one of the more well known and trusted directories in the SEO space. When I first started learning SEO about 5 years back Edward sent me an email letting me know that something I wrote was incorrect. He was right and I made sure I fixed the issue, but he was also quite abrasive.

When Traffic Power was spreading their slime through the SEO industry, Edward Lewis was one of the main people helping to fight them off...so much so that Traffic Power even created a hate site about him. Edward cares a lot, but sometimes a bit too much. Recently he documented his experiences at Sphinn, where he was largely outraged by some inaccuracies he saw. In less than a week he was banned from the site for being too curt, abrasive, and disrespectful.

The problem with trying to clean up everything on the web is that conversations are controlled by power laws...for every person in the know, there are 100 people new to the field. Plus many of the people who know what they are talking about eventually exit the conversation. Given that trend (and how companies like Google profit from spreading misinformation) the goal of killing misinformation is equally painful and self-defeating.

Being correct is not enough to ensure success. You also have to package your message in a format that people find appealing. Which is part of the reason why blogs are so popular. Someone slicker than you is going to take your ideas and repackage them in a profitable format...may as well be you doing the repackaging rather than letting others take credit for your work.

We all get invested in what we know, and to hear something from a different perspective challenges our identities. Easier for people to buy off on changing their opinions if they learn from a trusted messager, especially if they do not have to admit that they are wrong to do so. An easier way to create change is to share your side of the story on your home turf using good formatting, clear language, and logic. Some people will listen and follow, others will not.

Allowing people to self-select is a much more efficient marketing strategy than trying to force change upon others. It allows network effects to work for you, rather than against you. You pretty-much need legal or military might (government) or a monopoly (Microsoft or Google) to get away with forcing change, and even then it usually ends up creating unexpected consequences (just look at Iraq).

Published: July 20, 2008

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Comments

July 20, 2008 - 1:46am

I have been banned from forums before for trying to explain that something was either incorrect or misleading. The problem with forums' is that a lot of the time, they are not run fairly and people are banned just for pissing off the moderator.

Your last paragraph sums up my approach to trying to portray my opinions now. On my blog, people can choose to agree or not. Freedom of choice is extremely important and if people choose not to believe/listen/whatever to you, then thats their right to do that.

Great post Aaron, I was definitely able to relate to it.

July 20, 2008 - 2:26am

I can relate to this as well. I know some mods on forums that are gruff and tick me off but I move on. That's the way some people are on that personality shows through. I've also corrected statements or even just made a personal opinion on things and then take surprising heat from some old time expert that blows it way out of proportion. Sometimes we in the industry (and I've been doing this stuff since 1994) take heat for just sharing a real experience that doesn't jive with someone else's view. Even when it's become "just the facts, ma'am" with me, I'll still get some heated irrelevant comeback.

July 20, 2008 - 3:00am

I think we all get invested in what we know, and to hear something from a different perspective challenges our identities. Easier for people to buy off on changing their opinions if they learn from a trusted messager, especially if they do not have to admit that they are wrong to do so. I just added this to the above blog post too, as I thought it sorta fit in there. :)

July 20, 2008 - 5:30am

How in the world do you write such thoughtful, incisive material and so concisely? How does your brain go from reading about [another] sphinn pissing match to thinking about having people self-select etc.??

July 20, 2008 - 10:24am

When I had a root canal about 2 years ago the dentist asked if I was in my 50s. I think via my experience in school, in the military, as a mid-level manager at a large corporation, as a consultant for huge companies, and as an unknown to a person that big companies want to hire gives me lots of perspectives on how stuff works.

And I was isolated quite heavily for a few years. In my 5 years online I have done more learning than most people that have been online 2 or 3 times as long.

Plus when I was young my eyes were quite bad and never got fixed until half way through high school (and I never knew how blind I was until they got fixed...that was another lense on life).

July 20, 2008 - 6:55am

This is what I needed to hear especially allowing change to happen instead of forcing the issue. This is something I had to take some hurt to realize. Things are going to be the way they are and knowledge for what it is and wisdom to recognize when it changes!

Thanks for the excellent post!

July 20, 2008 - 7:59am

I kind of wish he was banned earlier, but the end result wasn't my call.

Edward may be your friend and you respect him, Aaron, but your wording is absolutely right - he was "too curt, abrasive, and disrespectful." And he also doesn't get social media - at all.

July 21, 2008 - 2:14pm

"And he also doesn't get social media - at all." (Tamar)

Isn't that interesting. I believe Ed's been social online since before "social media" was coined. He was one of the first moderators I encountered when I took an interest in web development and encountered him as "Pageoneresults", the moderator, at Outfront.net, a MS Frontpage forum. That was 1999 or 2000. So, to say Ed "doesn't get social media - at all" is condescending - at best.

I don't know Ed well enough to say I know his inner workings but from observing his interactions for nearly a decade I believe Ed is very concerned about the consequences of misinformation or, as in the case of Sphinn, mal-formed perception. Ed is about of editorial or information integrity. Given the abundance of misinformation on the Web, for people who are moved to respond to the Web's "information problem" - people like Ed - a socially sensitive response may be too high a price to pay.

Thinking back on Ed's long social media history as a moderator at Outfront.net and then at WebmasterWorld, I'll say that Ed is 99.9% a genuinely decent and very helpful netizen. That's a better than most, me included. I can live with his occassional curtness - his whatever - if that's the price I have to pay for his often very helpful free guidance.

I also agree with Aaron's proposition that it is better that folks grow by enlightenment than by bludgeoning, but - Aaron - is there any truth to the reports that (Zen) masters or senior monks - sometimes - would whack their neophytes across the back of their skulls?

Regarding whatever happen at Sphinn, was Ed untrue? Was it that he spoke untruth or did he speak a truth in a manner that was the problem? One of the unspoken cardinal rules of most "social organizations" I've belonged to has been "don't make us look bad", be that the Scouts, local politics, my profession . . even "family". What is that called, that neat "packaging of the bad news"?

Spin?

Sphinn?

Tamar, I have no question that Ed "gets social media", but do you really "get Ed"? I really don't mind folks that some might call "curt" or "abrasive" so long as what they are speaking is the truth. From what little I know about this "tempest in a teapot" Ed had the temerity to publicly - "within the thing - the social media - itself" to say "this thing is flawed", and others may be relying upon false impressions.

Heaven forbid a man enters some temple or other, some sacred social grounds, and pointedly says "there be falsities herein". He just might find himself . . what?

Terminated?

July 20, 2008 - 5:19pm

I couldn't have said it much better than webwork.

But then again, as I have also been forced to acknowledge..there must be more tact used in debate. I have suffered many spankings from Sphinn mods as a direct result of their distaste for my voice. If it is too 'spot on', with controversial topics, they have been well known for closing off commentary so the conversation cannot be continued. They recently removed a post of mine that was sitting on the hot page (with approx 50 Sphinns from well known/respected participants). They stifle voices when things get 'touchy', no matter what the community vote is. Although, they'll claim that they go WITH the community vote. Hmmm..

The more people that see this, the more people that will blog poorly about them and they will begin to damage themselves as a result.

Removing Ed was in poor judgment I think. Ed's a good dude, has been respectful to me and many others, and is the kind of person to be the first to help someone it seems. His voice is loud, but knowledgeable.

When people place themselves in haughty assumptive positions, people like Ed are damaged without thought of concern for anyone as a human being.

Can we do anything about that now? Not likely.

Can we encourage newer ones to see things they way they really are and hope they learn from it and go against the grain? I'd like to think so.

July 20, 2008 - 8:06pm

"Edward Lewis runs SEOConsultants.com, one of the more well known and trusted directories in the SEO space."

Thank you Aaron, its nice to be recognized in that sense. ;)

"When I first started learning SEO about 5 years back Edward sent me an email letting me know that something I wrote was incorrect. He was right and I made sure I fixed the issue, but he was also quite abrasive."

Me? Abrasive? Come on now, you know me better than that. ;)

"In less than a week he was banned from the site for being too curt, abrasive, and disrespectful."

I'm not too certain that I was "disrespectful" but I will agree with the curt and abrasive. That is how "I get things done" when being nice doesn't work.

"Plus many of the people who know what they are talking about eventually exit the conversation."

Ever look at the Sphinn Members listing? Look at all those "Who's Who in the Industry" that no longer participate there. I wonder what happened?

"Being correct is not enough to ensure success. You also have to package your message in a format that people find appealing. Which is part of the reason why blogs are so popular. Someone slicker than you is going to take your ideas and repackage them in a profitable format."

Hehehe, they are welcome to take all that information and repackage it if they like, I'll even give them free license as long as they provide credit to the author.

"Easier for people to buy off on changing their opinions if they learn from a trusted messager, especially if they do not have to admit that they are wrong to do so."

That's where I made me mistake. I didn't realize how many of the "old school" Sphinners had left, these were people that would have been in my "Friends Network" and still are. So my message fell on deaf ears. Actually, it went in one and out the other while a new message from Friends took over. :)

"I have been banned from forums before for trying to explain that something was either incorrect or misleading."

I've only been banned twice in my tenure. Once at High Rankings for getting involved in a similar situation where after eight pages of "official documentation" and a confirmation from Bill Slawski at the end that I might have been on to something, I got nuked. Haven't even clicked into that forum since then, their loss, not mine.

And then this Sphinn Termination. Oh, I can't forget a few bans by Google and other SEs back in the day. If you've not been banned at least once, then you were not experimenting enough!

"I know some mods on forums that are gruff and tick me off but I move on."

For some, that would be me and I have "ticked off" more than a few in my tenure. But, I don't think I am too gruff a majority of the time. I get gruff when something isn't right and others continue to perpetuate the myth(s).

"How in the world do you write such thoughtful, incisive material and so concisely? How does your brain go from reading about [another] sphinn pissing match to thinking about having people self-select etc.?"

I've always enjoyed reading Aaron, a seasoned writer for sure. And, when SEO Book launched, it was well ahead of its time in both concept and design, kudos to you Aaron! I've made mention of that in public a few times at various fora. I use your site as an example when designing for the Baby Boomers. You know, those of us who may have failing eyesight and can't read that 10px fixed font size? ;)

"I kind of wish he was banned earlier, but the end result wasn't my call."

Tamar, I've been biting my tongue in reference to your replies at Sphinn and now here and it is bleeding profusely. You are welcome to continue this Social Media Suicide mission you are on and I'll be happy to assist. I believe they call that "Assisted Social Media Suicide". I really can help too! In 12 easy steps...

"He was "too curt, abrasive, and disrespectful." And he also doesn't get social media - at all."

If Sphinn is what Social Media is, I don't need to get it, I really don't. That is not Social Media. That is a Social Media Brothel and one of many that plague the Internet. I take it no one has read my "The Smoking Gunn" document? If not, now would be the time to do so. Come Monday morning, I believe there will be some wakeup calls in the industry.

http://www.seoconsultants.com/sphinn/ccc/#TheSmokingGunn

"I don't know Ed well enough to say I know his inner workings intimately, but from what I've observed from almost a decade of seeing him interact online I'm prepared to say "I believe" Ed has a keen sense of the immediate consequences of online misinformation, of people being mislead and acting upon innacuracies."

Webwork, I love ya!

"I'll say that Edward is 99.9% a genuinely nice guy online. That's a better than most, me included."

Oh come on, you are being too nice, me got goosebumps! I love ya!

"Terminated?"

That word just sends shivers down me spine. It really did hurt to receive that Termination notice. I'm over it now. It actually turned out for the good I believe. ;)

"They recently removed a post of mine that was sitting on the hot page (with approx 50 Sphinns from well known/respected participants). They stifle voices when things get 'touchy', no matter what the community vote is. Although, they'll claim that they go WITH the community vote. Hmmm."

I watched that one progress. All the Sphinning and Desphinning, you guys were wreaking havoc on the Pligg platform with that topic. In the true sense of the word.

"Removing Edward was in poor judgment I think."

Truthfully? They did the best thing at the time. The way the discussions were going and the amount of counter attack from the Sphinn Staff, my stay was coming to an end a bit more quickly than I expected. I did have enough time to complete my research.

I'd like for everyone to read the last article I posted in regards to all of this. My findings will negate every single reply being made by Sphinn Staff in regards to the damage and integrity of the Community and the platform it is being built on.

http://www.seoconsultants.com/sphinn/ccc/

P.S. I really needed to see this on a Sunday morning! It made my day and it also made the 50+ hours of research all worth it. Ya'll are the bomb. Even you Tamar as you are feeding the frenzy and in the process committing Social Media Suicide.

July 20, 2008 - 10:54pm

As an observer (and ONLY as an observer), I wasn't fond of Ed's approach to Sphinn or its users. That is all I wanted to emphasize, and that's all I've said this entire time.

I didn't ban him, but sadly, when he was removed, his comments were removed as well so nobody can really see what he added to (or detracted from) the conversation. Aaron (and others), I really wish you read the content before acting upon a hat tip from a friend. This is an incredibly one-sided blog post.

I've no desire to discuss this anymore.

July 21, 2008 - 2:00am

This is an incredibly one-sided blog post.

Mainly all I spoke of was marketplace interactions and marketing techniques, trying my best not to part sides with anyone.

July 21, 2008 - 2:38am

I think that you presented an unbiased post. Unfortunately, some will be swayed because you chose to give Edward a fairly mainstream platform (your site) from which to continue his assault on Sphinn.

July 21, 2008 - 1:41am

I'll add my two cents for what it's worth:

I came across Edward a few times over at Sphinn, and I must admit, he seemed overly abrasive and prone to getting into nasty off-topic confrontations.

And mind you, I'm not part of the Sphinn inner circle, so I have no reason to be biased.

Also, as someone that has managed a relatively large community outside of the SEO realm for nearly 5 years, I can tell you that without a doubt that it's that kind of repeated exchange that leads to folks being banned.

I'm not going to comment on Edward's experience or expertise in terms of SEO. What I will say is that online - just as in the real world - respect comes first and foremost in my book.

It didn't seem as if Edward was capable of confronting other's thoughts and beliefs without resorting to some sort of disrespect, and that's no good in my book.

Again, just my humble two cents...

P.S. I can cite many examples of web pages with poorly or completely non-optimized descriptions that rank extremely well for very competitive terms. Take that for what it's worth as well.

July 21, 2008 - 5:31am

I missed the event at Sphinn, and since they deleted parts of it, I'll never know the truth. And that demonstrates how Sphinn is wrong.

I, too, "encountered" pageone many times going way back... and my memory is that he often overreacted to what was literally stated, but that sensible debate led to sensible outcomes. I lost patience a few times... but that's not at all unusual. That my memory of him at WMW is not entirely negative could be a badge of honor.

Passion is important for fields like SEO where things are never truly certain.

As for "social media", you will be hanged by your peers when the rope swings your way, if you rely on social media to prop you up in search marketing. I can point to an eerily large percentage of participants and note how they went from technical writer or graphic artist or office coordinator or student to King-of-the-hill in under a year. The present skillsets don't get you far when social media fails to pull the cart, nor do they outfit you to survive should the herd come trampling your way. If you've cashed in and are now holding bank more power to you. Those are the ones who will survive.

When I encounter sandpaper personalities or huge egos I Google and look at backgrounds. Former adult webmasters now in their mid twenties and still working very hard... former second string copywriters still listing part time commitments on their professonal profile websites...I see that stuff and back away. It's not worth the hassle to argue. You're feeding the trolls and keeping them employed.

I think that's the part you missed, Aaron. You always need to look at the purpose of a forum to understand its moderation. If it exists to generate page views or get attention, it will be moderated differently than if it exists to sell a service or effect change through education etc.

By the way, the smoking gun PDF won't open for me... ?

July 21, 2008 - 7:52am

I think the password requires two n's in gunn.

July 21, 2008 - 4:12pm

I guess Ed is rewriting how to use Sphinn these days, isn't he?

I'm sure many of you are wondering how someone with only seven (07) days of Social Media Boot Camp (at Sphinn no less) could even begin to offer advice to all the professional Social Media Marketers. I have to wonder that myself, I really do. I was hoping to learn from you guys and gals, not the other way around.

There is something special about people who call it for what it is while being truthful to their principles. So, why to kill the messenger when the mass is not over yet and is full of surprises?

July 21, 2008 - 4:22pm

I think the whole thing is rather laughable.

1. No one had any problem with him emailing in problems he found or talking about them on the site. In fact we were actually quite happy about it, or I was.

What got him in trouble is he was spam marking things that he didnt like or felt was not of high quality personally.. that is against the rules. Spam reports or to identify spam..

In addition Ed spoke out at some moderators saying they were marked and kind of threatened them.

2. I don't care where you are... Sphinn, WMW, SERountable, or a real life SMX conference. There is a way to go about providing your thoughts and information.

Coming in the door and blasting everyone while at the same time breaking rules, threatening mods, and being a jerk about it... That would get you pretty much booted from any forum or group.

Ed might be a great guy who gets all kinds of respect and blah blah.. so what. The guy came in with an attitude, arrogance, and decided he was going to be the sheriff in a "so-called" lawless city. The problem is that he just shot and killed everyone that looked suspicious.. Including the people that worked there.

I really don't get what his report is so special for anyhow..

THERE IS GAMING IN SOCIAL MEDIA>.... OMG!

people auto vote and help promote their friends... They actually use weaknesses in platforms to get their results. Amazing.. !

Look the final bit on the whole thing is, sarcasm aside, Ed came to sphinn and broke rules. He was sent numerous emails about the rules he was breaking, which he completed ignored.

Ignore rules and mods on any community and you will get banned.

July 21, 2008 - 4:35pm

Interesting to hear about your personal experiences there Aaron ... I remember when I bought your book and read the personal stuff I found it fascinating and really easy to relate to. Very humanizing, which is huge considering our industry. As to the substance, that makes sense that those varied experiences give you perspectives like that. You have any books to recommend on network effects etc.?

July 21, 2008 - 5:08pm

Most my knowledge from that comes from just observing the web, but the Tipping Point is very good, and I like the NYT article by Duncan J. Watts on Jusin Timberlake/Cumulative Advantage.

I still need to read up on small world theory stuff.

July 21, 2008 - 5:11pm

At WMW, I have found him pretty helpful.

July 22, 2008 - 3:23am

Someone slicker than you is going to take your ideas and repackage them in a profitable format...may as well be you doing the repackaging rather than letting others take credit for your work.

A bigger entity can always take credit for your work no matter how well you've packaged it. Example: Google stealing your Website Health Check tool.

What would you have done differently to prevent that from being stolen?

July 22, 2008 - 8:33am

To be fair, my tool also scraped their data, which made it easy for them to block it. In response I created a version that is hard to block and upgraded it as a members only tool so they would be less likely to block it.

July 22, 2008 - 5:08am

Tamar mind pointing out the bias points of this post? i thought it was quite neutral to be honest

July 23, 2008 - 6:54pm

If he was sending in spam reports on everything he disagreed with as well as making threats he should have gotten the boot.

Maybe he should learn how to debate and not fight and try it again.

July 24, 2008 - 12:05am

Sitting on the fence is probably a cowards way out, but being neither a veteran, nor actually a n00b, I want to point out that it may b worth balancing this with the original comments by Edward. This will allow people to see what the reaction was about, and some of the responses to Edward that may have fueled the argument further.

The cache exists at http://64.233.183.104/search?q=cache:5dwvQuet3LkJ:sphinn.com/story/59261...

Failing that I do have a screenshot if you would like Aaron.

July 24, 2008 - 10:24am

..and sometimes you can be wrong, but if you are nice about it can get your view accepted.

July 27, 2008 - 4:21am

I never really got Sphinn and some other social media sites as it always seemed like a childish waste of time and this is just another reinforcement of it. Some people act like they are still in high school and have for years, even in comments here criticizing Aaron's post, that just have no grounds in reality.

I've been working on the web since 1995 and in places like WMW since near their beginnings and have never seen the personal crap so high. Edward may not be trying to run a Mr. Manners column at all times but he certainly deserves more credit and respect than 99.9% of Sphinn people.

July 27, 2008 - 7:08am

OK call me a lurker, but this subject finally woke me out of my blissful wandering..

I've been "doing" SEO since the late 90's most of that time I was working for a company and guiding their efforts, of course along with my own personal endeavors, but just to be clear I wasn't doing SEO for personal profit.

That changed a little over a year ago, and while I had been "lurking" most of the top SEO / WebDev forums for 10 + years (I still do) I have always kept up with the "top" figures in the industry. Edward is definitely one of those guys, along with a handful (10 or so, including you too Aaron ;) )that I read on a fairly regular basis.

After opening our firm, I contacted him about getting listed in his directory. I too was met with the gruff, slightly impersonal, I might even describe it as arrogant attitude. Nevertheless his information was accurate, albeit opinionated in delivery, and helpful. I of course was "scolded" for the size of the text on our site (Not an SEO accuracy issue but a personal design preference IMHO) But I digress..

Edward is one of the old guard in my view.. A trail blazer that stands for accuracy and decency in this industry (Not to mention large text size .

The fact is I can't stand the number of Hacks we run into, the clients that are fed up with SEO companies that did them no good and sometimes even harm. The spread of misinformation and inaccurate advice gives the industry a bad name. He rails against it. Perhaps more tact is necessary in a "social" environment, but reading the threads at sphinn made me realize that's he's just as fed up as I am. He just didn't sugar coat it or sit on the sidelines (like I have for years).

While Edward's Delivery could use improvement from some people's point of view, His message should be heard loud and clear in this industry. Factual accurate information is a requirement.

We now have just about 20 employees. We work each and EVERY day to train train train. Sales Consultants, Account Managers, PPC Managers, SEO Consultants all need to know what is fact and what's fiction. They need to use proper nomenclature to ensure that we all are "on the same page" and speaking about the same thing. While it may seem nit picky in a technical industry it's a must.

Go Ed, carry the banner, you're speaking for more of us than I think you realize.

Sorry for the long post.. I'll go back to my lurking now...

July 27, 2008 - 7:21am

Thanks for the great comments Adam and Sunbaked :)

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