Saturday, February 19

Traffic Jamming

I wrote a blog called The Hairy Eyeball for a couple of years, chronicling my freelance existence and travels in Brazil, venting my post-9/11 spleen, and experimenting recklessly with a tabloid-inspired prose style. I stopped updating the Eyeball when I started a one-topic blog project called Blogalization, focused on my work as a freelance translator and freelance reporter on globalization and i18n issues, which I still maintain, although I have little time for it anymore.

The crazy thing is that The Hairy Eyeball is more popular now that I don't update it than it was when I did:

750,000 visitors in a little over a year, an average of 50,000 a month. No fresh content. A back catalog full of completely unreadable nonsense and, I think, some nice pictures, like our official wedding photo. And by far the largest number of visitors come from search engines, discover that my site has nothing to with pornography featuring hairy women, and click off elsewhere in search of relevance. Top keywords:

What better proof that blogs, as the comment spammers like to say, disdainfully, are "network spammers"? By far the most popular post I ever did was a one-off mad lib on the Fantanas--a Spice Girls-inspired promotional gimmick of Coca-Cola for a fruit-flavored soda pop that comes in some very nice flavors in Brazil that you can't get here. The apple is especially good. You don't really appreciate soda pop until you've lived in the tropics.

I've been the No. 1 search result on this search string, or near it, for a long time, and I still get e-mails from time to time asking me if I've ever seen this Fantana and that Fantana naked, or do I know their telephone number?

This is a prime example of what I call "the fallacy of authority." People assume with no justification whatsoever that Google results are relevant, that Google is like a person who observes the Gricean maxims of conversational pragmatics:

  1. Quantity: Include as much information as you need to, but no more than that.
  2. Quality: Don't say anything that you think is false, and don't claim anything more than you have evidence for.
  3. Relation: Be relevant.
  4. Manner: Be clear and to the point.

This awful thing is that my blog's performance is so far out in front of what my work Web site gets that it ain't funny. But it's completely meaningless. My site draws traffic precisely by flouting the Gricean maxims at every turn in its conversation with the stupid spider bot run by Google. I used to experiment a little with meme-hacking. For example, I would regularly post all the funny search keywords that people had used to get to my site, so that when Google crawled it again, those keywords would be reinforced in the rankings, driving more irrelevant traffic to my site.

To take another example, when an idle gripe I'd posted about Citibank had become a front-page result for the joking phrase "citiwank" and "shitibank," I started receiving a lot of really anguished comments by people who felt they had been shafted. I started researching other instances of the phrases and writing post that tried to reinforce their presence to Google. It became rather clear to me that the company has put some time and effort into making sure that positive references to its brand far outweigh the negative in its Google results.

This is the basic technique of the noise machine: pseudo-relevance and hacking search weightings. If a pundit network distributes the phrase "we know he has weapons of mass destruction" widely enough, it starts to look like common sense.

My site at work, on the other hand, observes the maxims to the nth degree: the principles for good communication are basically the same as the principles for good journalism, and good journalism is what we try to do every day. People who visit our site must be relevant visitors, because we do no meme-hacking, and who else but securities operations nerds would visit us? We hardly ever use the words an idiot VP of marketing once told us are optimal for magazine cover lines: "free" and "sex." There's a joke here somewhere about how working in a corporate server farm does not tend to get you much free sex, or something.

In theory, though, my dumbass blog is a more valuable Web property than my employer's Web site, isn't it? Volume = revenue opportunity? But only because the fallacy of relevance tends to work in favor of network hacks like what the Editors Weblog calls "click fraud."

I say it again: you can click all over the blogosphere and MSM to gather at second-hand SOME of the news we aggregate and analyze, or you can click once and get everything tied up into a neat package and supported with fact-checked reporting that comes from primary sources.

The moral of the story: Links in and referrers do not measure authority, but as long as these and similar metrics are used to value interactive social networks in the same way broadcast networks are valued, this blogging phenomenon is going to be utter nonsense and empty hype.

My friends, if you really believe that I have pistols for sale or that I am bonking a Fantana, I have a really nice real estate investment opportunity I'd like to let you in on:

2 Comments:

Blogger jiri said...

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Keep it up. I'll check back later im sure.

10/01/2005 11:41:00 am  
Blogger sihrnguwhe0rh said...

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1/31/2006 04:47:00 am  

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