Almost the instant Google
unfurled Google Instant
, some were surmising that the era of search engine optimization was over --- that, in effect, the technique many publishers tried to master to please Google's algorithm was killed by the company that made everyone master the technique.
It has been interesting to watch the trajectory of the discussion on this. Google introduced Instant in mid-week as a way of anticipating what you're searching for and (like Apple's anticipatory spelling program for its iPhone and iPad) getting you to that search term more quickly --- or, arraying some nearby options to choose out of a drop-down list. It's a sort of result-before-you-type-it mentality.
But some saw it as Google predicting the outcome based on your previous activities and, in Steve Rubel's words,
no two people ever getting the same result. The feedback from Google Instant would make you tweak your search in midstream, he (who deserves great respect for his investment in this field) and others argued.
Obviously, SEO isn't dead. Nor is the Web, as Wired
provocatively stated last month. Nor are newspapers, as more than a few have been stating for years. But the challenge is to understand how something like Google Instant changes the game and contributes evolution. In playing with it a bit this week --- I'm not a big personal searcher, but I'm a big professional searcher --- I found its intuitive function good, but not as efficient as my own typing for the term I originally wanted. The real-time feedback isn't swift enough, I found, to move me off my first plan.
It's going to take more time to understand the consequences, though. Those early impressions may shift as Google weedles into my searches more often and understands my patterns. For many it will be a welcome addition to the massive reference volume of the Internet. Whether it makes irrelevant the effort to optimize content to get search results that drive traffic is an open question.
The Wall Street Journal extracted pretty much everything
there is to extract from Eric Schmidt, the Google CEO, on the direction and challenges of media. Holman W. Jenkins Jr.'s extensive feature gives over much:
1. Google's focus is ensuring it doesn't lose its strangehold on Web advertising when searching is no longer as necessary.
2. It doesn't mind giving away the operating systems for Android --- if you get a billion people using a device, Schmidt notes, you can do something with it.
3. Brands will matter in the time ahead, which is good news for an otherwise lamentable situation for U.S. newspapers.
4. Targeted ads are the only way Schmidt sees salvation in what ails media economically.
5. Serendipity, that great surprise factor for the media consumer, now can be replicated electronically.
Today Yahoo unveiled its latest approach to journalism, a blog featuring writers who are partly directed by the most popular search queries.The Upshot
was released from beta today
(it had been called The Newsroom for some months) and its team of eight (six reporters, two editors) appear, for the time being (in their photos, anyway), like they aren't being run off their feet. Chronicling all they seemingly intend to should be a draining process, though. It's early days but you can already see the demands are enormous.
They'll break news, blog, add analysis, dig through documents, keep on top of stories and presumably cover enough of the landscape to make readers feel that the right notes have been struck. Eight people always on.
Apart from the metaphysical challenge, the interesting part of the operation is how they'll be directed. As the blog says today, "our responsiblity is to you." But it's also a matter of its direction coming from you, in how you determine what you want to read through search. That'll help them gauge what to pursue.
Although The New York Times yesterday
suggested it's a pure play of algorithm-leading-the-journalist, the blog for The Upshot today doesn't convey that. There appears to be much more human initiative in the mix.
"Our goal is to be blunt narrators of the day's news, to cut through the noise and misinformation and get to the heart of what's important and why. We'll be fast, getting information to you as a story breaks and then sticking with it until the end," it says.
Eric Schmidt is not the first one to say it, but the Google CEO's view is meaningful when he pronounces the smartphone as the future --- indeed, the equivalent of the arrival of the television in terms of elevating the knowledge base of parts of the world.
Web search, smartphones and translation software are the keys to that knowledge-building, Schmidt says in an interview with The Guardian
in advance of a speech he's delivering this week.
At the moment, he believes the best engineering work is being conducted on developing applications and systems to deliver content across mobile devices.
"That's a big news thing – that's equivalent to the arrival of television," he says.
Apple's recent acquisition of Siri, a voice-activated iPhone application, leads Jemima Kiss of The Guardian to speculate that
the company is aiming for small-scale, voice-commanded devices in the near future.
As she sees it, a voice-activated phone could shed the screen and place the technology in a device smaller than an iPod Shuffle, with commands unfettered by menus.
As she notes, though, Apple CEO Steve Jobs has repeatedly denied his company is moving into the search engine business, which a device as she describes surely comprises. Mobile, though, is the next major scramble.
In his latest MediaWatch post
, Tom Foremski cites media watcher Sam Whitmore on the changed journalistic approach online --- as in, only traffic-driving stories are created.
"It's now a luxury for a reporter to write a story about an obscure but important topic. That used to be a job requirement. Now it's a career risk," Whitmore wrote in ITMemos
Whitmore believes that startup companies aren't being profiled as much because journalists need to ensure their stories catch Googlejuice
and have tags like Facebook
and other notable tech-related brands (as I just did) to maximize traffic.
"Page view journalism will make our society poorer because less popular but important topics will be crowded out," Foremski notes, adding that page-view journalism is becoming less effective because of the competition for views.
In his new Media Equations column
, David Carr writes in The New York Times about a practice well-known to most modernized newsrooms: Headlines that position stories well for search engine results.
These days search engine optimization might be more valuable than the newsroom stylebook on spelling.
A generation ago journalists were taught that a clever first paragraph attracted the audience and editors were taught that a clever headline attracted the audience to the attractive lede.
These days the clever headline and paragraph are loaded with keywords to generate PageRank on Google and be among the first results on any personal search for topics or names. Thus, you'll see full names not surnames online, among other things, to work within the algorithm.
Carr finds some major Web operators demurring about the ruthless traffic-chasing with keywords, but it's clear every successful operation knows how to optimize content to succeed in that climate. His column simply states what we know to be true.
In his latest weekly post
for Online Journalism Review, Robert Niles muses about the latent recognition by Associated Press of the term website (formerly Web site), then argues students shouldn't be focusing on AP style.
Instead, he suggests, search engine optimization would be far more useful. It would help link content to an audience, so it would be ultimately more important than understanding intricacies of news agency language and grammar style.
To those who suggest students learn both, Niles correctly points out that the two aren't always compatible. SEO is better with full names and phrasing that often prefers brevity over full-fledged passages.
The post explores one of the tensions in today's newsrooms: How to publish across platforms without reworking content extensively. A newspaper story isn't necessarily SEO-friendly, and the SEO-friendly Web file
Niles notes that algorithms are bending over time to be more reader-friendly, so the notion that it's a matter of writing for machines isn't apt.
Niles is right about another point: There are no SEO textbooks out there. Lots of tips, but no books.
We have been waiting and waiting for the pronouncements from Twitter about its next stage, the one in which the fun and frolick of freely publishing 140 characters and sharing content would reveal like magic something approaching a business model.
The idea isn't just that Twitter will identify how it will generate profit but that countless businesses and individuals will draft in behind it and reap the benefits.
Looming is a mid-April conference held by Twitter, Chirp, at which the industry largely expects (it has been wrong before) Twitter to roll out something more definitive than its vaguely worded notions for premium accounts.
The paidContent folks believe there could be announcements
in five categories: advertising, e-commerce, premium accounts, mobile and search. It writes that deals have been done or are pending in many of these areas (although it notes almost nothing has been done to create an advertising model and truly nothing done on e-commerce).
Whatever the plans, they appear imminent.
Eric Ulken, the visiting Canwest Global scholar at the University of British Columbia's graduate school of journalism (where I teach part-time), led a session Sunday on new tools and techniques for the digital journalist.
Ulken, most recently the interactive digital editor at the Los Angeles Times, scripted a clear presentation on the particular necessity now of involvement in social media and data visualization.
He steered through filter-strengthening, search engine-optimizing, Twitter-seizing and such platforms as Google Docs and Manyeyes in presenting information in a new, visually literate way.
His workshop presentations is laid out here
. In the days ahead a video podcast of the three-hour seminar will be up at www.journalism.ubc.ca.