Monday, March 21, 2011

Cultural Curation On A Chaotic Web: SEO and World-wide Content Strategy

By James Curcio
Over the past few years, I've noticed that it is increasingly difficult to find what you're looking for online. Of course there are (or were? wow) services like delicious. But the issue I'm talking about is signal to noise. There's a ton of information on the net. As Carl Sagan would say in his Kermit-the-frog voice, "billions and billions of" interwubs. How can we parse it, and find what we need? What about when we don't even know what we need?  

This problem is of course how Google has built its empire, especially when it paired this with the concept of ad placement. (Though advertisers themselves are still primarily thinking in non-interactive ways, even when they call it "interactive." subject for another post.) Every time Google puts out a product/service that helps with that, it seems to do well, and whenever they try to enter the social media sphere... well, that's yet again a subject for another post.

Here's the situation. Maybe you can relate: I'm talking to a friend and want to find a video I saw the other night to show them. It takes thirty minutes trying to track down a video that I know is there. Kind of slows down the pace of the discussion, you know?

He says, "yeah, one day they will create algorithms that will make all of this easier."

I think this is precisely the issue: this idea that we should just rely on machines to sort through the noise and somehow know what we're looking for. That the entire brunt of the responsibility falls on our search devices. It's a simplistic view of how information is structured, organized, and how we can deal with it in an increasingly complex, chaotic environment.  

The problem is not a "lack of the right algorithms." 

The problem is manifold. Let's look at it.
Part of it is that there are no widely accepted standards for tagging or archiving content. I say "widely accepted" because many content strategists and SEO's have proposed such standards. It's just that, you know. Joe H Smith in Madison isn't going to follow best practices. Despite this, there is an enormous amount of information out there on information archival, including a variety of arcane systems designed to perform this task. (One problem being that they don't necessarily line up with each other. I know about this in part because of my exploration of content strategy, but also because my wife has a Master's in library and information science.)

So that's out. We can't trust the public to archive or curate their content in a consistent way, it's hard enough to get librarians to agree. And it is true, there is no algorithm yet developed that can parse human stupidity. Nor will there be. 

Also, it's worth mentioning that if there was a widely accepted standard, it would be easy enough to game that system, and you can be sure that people would do so. 

So what are we left with? An increasingly disorganized and chaotic web of information where you kind of just "get what you get" and roll with it?

Maybe. But I think that instead we are also seeing the "Mountain come to Mohammed," as they say. There is, and has been, an increasing need for cultural curators that sift through the noise for you and, as a human being, not an algorithm, says: "hey, check this out!" That's essentially what any given "blog" type site is, although it is also a monologue that has the potential to become a dialog, and many other things. 

Of course, this won't help you find that youtube video you were looking for. We obviously haven't figured that one out yet. 

But knowing who to "follow" might help you find the video, the book, the piece of information or entertainment you were looking for, and didn't even know it yet

A valued cultural curator is a powerful thing. That's what this site is. We are all sifting, parsing, analyzing, narrating, and creating modern myths. I appreciate those who have come through for the ride or just popped in for a moment, and hope that the platform continues to grow. Many people likely won't appreciate how time and energy consuming it is, and still others won't care, but I know (because some of you have told me) there are others of you out there that have been given just what you needed, at that cryptically right time. So long as that remains the case, we'll keep at it. Or I will, at any rate. 

Not actually a book I've written.
A commenter a few posts back made some sort of kind of vague accusation that any "real SEO" would focus on "top terms" like internet gambling and pharma and whatnot. It makes me want to cry, the stupidity behind this statement. "True" SEO is providing the content people are looking for. (Don't you love how "Search Engine Optimization" has become not only relevant to practices that are only vaguely related to making a site easy to search for, but have also now become an entire class of people? "An SEO" has become a person who works in this vaguely defined field, I suppose.)

When people come to this site, they can expect a certain irreverent spin, or a potentially new angle on something even if it is a mainstream subject. That's what people come here for, if they don't just stumble here by happenstance. That is very similar to what people have come to Alterati for, by the way - they are now focused exclusively on podcasts, which is why I have stayed away from them on this site. Want alt and indie podcasts? Go there. Want cultural commentary and indie media focusing on the angle of "modern mythology"? Come here. That's how it works. 

Business is risk. Business is the solving of common problems. We've yet to deal with the uncommon ones. I guess that's where I've always come in. Maybe there's a method to that madness. The game of being an author, for instance, is more becoming a cultural curator, as I've explained, a "trusted source," than even the still-necessary task of putting one word before another. Or maybe I'm just mad. 

Time will tell.

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.

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