Ever get the feeling that there’s something unwholesome about the Web?
I do, all the time.
Sometimes it seems like a midway at some ghastly midnight carnival, with millions of screaming hucksters selling everything from soup to sodomy.
I’m reminded of Newton Minnow’s famous description of television as a vast wasteland.
Boy. Old Newt had no idea how vast “vast” could get.
And now my own cranky voice has been added to the din.
I had no choice.
Last month, my boss urged me to attend a Stanford seminar about publishing on the web because she said that she’d like me to be employable down the road. And as I devoutly wish the same for myself, I agreed, even though I hate flying, hate hotels and in general hate doing anything that takes me out of my cozy daily rut.
To my surprise, the seminar was fun. I met lots of nice people, all trying to figure out how best to utilize the Web for their enterprises and/or publications. And some very nice, very smart people were there trying to help us do just that.
And then there was Rand Fishkin, self-proclaimed blogging expert and CEO of SEOMoz, a search engine optimization outfit.
What Rand was talking about, it seemed to me, was how to game the system. That is, how to sleaze and wheedle as many clicks as possible out of as many suckers as possible.
And there we all were—journalists, businesspeople—taking notes.
Rand advised us to label all our articles either “How to . . .” or “The Secrets Behind . . .” or “Top 10 Ways to . . .” or “Best Strategies For . . .”
He urged us to do keyword research in order to mold our stories to demand, rewrite copy to appeal to Google’s algorithms and put buttons all over the site so that people could send the stories to Digg, Del.icio.us, and Slashdot.
He wanted us to add links to everyone we could think of—sort of like those guys who hang out at conferences forcing their business card on anyone who has the misfortune to make eye contact with them.
All of which is not to say that this young Fishkin didn’t have some good, if not exactly original ideas. But there was something of the snake oil salesman about him and, in what he said, an unsettling absence of a moral center or identifiable values.
In his whole talk there wasn’t a single mention of quality, no reference to the common good, nothing about reader value.
I guess that kind of stuff is just old-fashioned.
For Rand, publishing seems to be a game where whoever gets the most clicks wins.
Nothing wrong with that, I guess, unless you think that games are not an appropriate full-time occupation for anyone over the age of 12.
Of course, I’m a crank, and I suppose that if I want to secure a place in the brave new Webby world I’d better toss aside these reservations and get with the program.
And I’m sure Rand won’t mind my implication that what he does smacks of a con because, after all, I’ve linked to him and it is, again, all about the clicks.