Update: This post has been nominated for a SEMMY award – vote today!
I started this project a couple months ago, researching "Web 2.0" and SEO. Let me begin by confessing that I have no good definition for "Web 2.0" – but there do seem to be some things that everyone agrees fit the Web 2.0 label.
This post is going to ramble all over the place, and if you’re looking for SEO instruction, wait for the newsletter. I did come up with some positive ways that we can use social networks and other "Web 2.0" stuff for marketing and SEO. That will be published next Friday.
For now, my research uncovered a lot more trash than treasure, and I have to vent a little first.
There was an Internet before the web…
In the beginning, there was Usenet, and it was good. Today, everyone calls it "Google Groups," and people think Google invented it. They didn’t invent it, but at least they saved a whole lot of it from vanishing.
Usenet was an amazing thing. All discussion, all in one place, for the entire Internet. One big global community. Part moderated, part unmoderated. But the ‘net got too big, AOL invaded Usenet, and we had to run somewhere else. So we had email discussion lists, and when the web got big enough to support it, discussion forums.
Email discussion lists are still alive and well. So are forums. But compared to the "worldwide community" of Usenet, they split us apart. Conversations at Cre8, WMW, IHY, HR, SEW, WPW took all kinds of directions. Forums became tools for personal agendas. Barry Schwartz created the SERoundtable blog as an attempt to bring the forums back together. We’ll never know if this could have worked, because it was overtaken by a bigger wave.
Bloggers started blogging like mad, and the conversations got even more spread out and harder to follow… but at least we knew whose personal agenda the blog served.
The blogosphere needed glue, and social networking was (re)invented…
"Social network" is another one of those weird terms that means too much, and therefore means very little without context. When I look at Digg, I see Slashdot. Was Slashdot the beginning of Web 2.0 (the beta?), is Digg really Web 1.0, or am I missing something? (probably the latter…)
Now that I’ve decided that Web 2.0 and Social Networking mean nothing, I still need to come up with something to talk about. So I’m going to broadly classify Web 2.0 into a few categories:
- Actual social networking sites, like Facebook, LinkedIn, Orkut, and MySpace. Individual users have their own profile, everyone makes friends with everyone, and there are "groups" that look a lot like discussion forums. However, because we can explicitly tag someone as a friend, as opposed to having actual friends that we actually know, it’s Web 2.0.
- Social bookmarking sites, like Delicious (sorry I’m not in the mood to remember where the dots go), Digg, and Sphinn. Everybody can tag stuff. Everybody can push links into the system. Users "vote" or don’t. Links that get added at the right time get seen by more people and get more votes.
- Socially created content, like Wikipedia. I like Wikipedia, so to me, Wikipedia is Web 2.0. If you ask me what Web 3.0 should be, it would be a version of the web where everyone can edit every website. That would be way cool, but difficult to build, so we may have to push the release date back a little.
- The blogs themselves, which seem to separate the cool Web 2.0 kids from the Web 1.0 dorks. You know, the dorks who are just busy running a web site and a business. Much of Web 2.0 is only relevant inside the blogosphere, which is not the web.
- Personal "publishing" platforms, like Blogger, Squidoo and Twitter. Now you can make "social" noise on the web without figuring out how to install WordPress. Maybe this is Web 1.5. Which would mean that Geocities "sites" were Web 0.5.
What do all of these have in common? There’s one thing I can think of. They’re all really cool and useful (with the possible exception of Twitter), and they’re all forced to deal with spam. Nofollow wasn’t invented in a vacuum. It was invented to help Web 2.0 deal with Spam 2.0.
Wikipedia, Nofollow, & The Tragedy of the Commons
PJ O’Rourke defined the "tragedy of the commons" perfectly, by giving one example: public restrooms. I’m going to go with a slightly different example.
Imagine that you live in a village. The villagers need water. It’s a long walk to the river. So some of the village leaders get together and decide to dig a well. They create a public fountain, and everyone can get water from it. It’s a wonderful thing, until the village drunk starts pissing in the fountain.
Now replace the fountain with Wikipedia, and the village drunk with SEOs… and you have a perfect picture of why Wikipedia had to nofollow outbound links. I knew prominent SEOs who actually bragged about how easy it was to spam Wikipedia, by having their employees create accounts, do enough minor edits (fix spelling, add citations) to become trusted editors, and then pepper the community encyclopedia with links to their clients. Nice.
Not a week passes without another invitation to join a "Digg Ring," requests to vote up a worthless article on Netscape, and even sillier stuff. Hey Dan, we’re all going to go piss in the public fountain, you wanna come?
Unfortunately, far too many people think that if they can just add a little more noise to the channel, they can gain a competitive advantage. It’s a shame that so many people can’t find truly creative ways to market their web sites. It’s a shame that there are so many who don’t want to add value to the web, or can’t figure out how… and it’s a shame that search engines can’t find better ways to filter the noise out. It’s a shame that so much of this spam actually works.
Web 2.0 needs work. I still think that social websites can become more spam-resistant, as Wikipedia has, by making some users more equal than others. I don’t know how you can do this without turning Digg or Wikipedia into another DMOZ, but I have to believe that it can be done. A lot of social sites let users "vote" on each others’ contributions, but as far as I can tell, none of them makes productive use of this feedback.
Anyway, if you want to learn how to spam Web 2.0, I’m not the one to teach you. Just because you can do it, that doesn’t mean you should. There are better ways.
We’ll talk more soon. In the meantime, if you must spam, do it on Twitter. That thing is a waste of electrons.