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Meaning Is The New Search, One More Time

The gray zone of SEO has been brought into high relief by David Segal’s exposé of JC Penney’s link scheme, apparently managed by SearchDex.

David Segal, Search Optimization and Its Dirty Little Secrets

When you read the enormous list of sites with Penney links, the landscape of the Internet acquires a whole new topography. It starts to seem like a city with a few familiar, well-kept buildings, surrounded by millions of hovels kept upright for no purpose other than the ads that are painted on their walls.

And the relationship between paid advertising and black hat link spamming?

Here’s another hypothesis, this one for the conspiracy-minded. Last year, Advertising Age obtained a Google document that listed some of its largest advertisers, including AT&T, eBay and yes, J. C. Penney. The company, this document said, spent $2.46 million a month on paid Google search ads — the kind you see next to organic results.

Is it possible that Google was willing to countenance an extensive black-hat campaign because it helped one of its larger advertisers? It’s the sort of question that European Union officials are now studying in an investigation of possible antitrust abuses by Google.

This is a great negative example making the case for social search. It will certainly prove possible to spam social networks, but it will also prove to be much more easy to discover and delete such spam.

We’ve moved out of scarcity-based search, where there were few results for searches. In a time of super-abundant information, the problem becomes ‘who do you want filtering for you?’ Google’s foundational method is counting incoming links, weighted by a reputation, derived again on incoming links. From this it derives a position in search results.

But in an era where we can connect directly to others in social networks, we can rely directly on our connections to filter the immense web, so meaning is the new search:

Increasingly, we will switch to a social connection mode to filter and find for us. Our networks will become engines of meaning, as Bruce Sterling said.

Everything we want to find has been found, and will find us through our social connections. Like head colds and happiness.

We will find everything through social relationships: what washing machine to buy, or the best Thai restaurant in Beacon NY, or the company that makes the horizontal corduroys. people that care about these issues, and to who we matter, will share meaning with us: they have beliefs that they can justify, also called knowledge.

Google is only the echo of our linking behavior, a second-order derivative of our combined gestures. But generally, we would be happier with fewer results from trusted sources, and the rise of social tools makes that almost as fast as Google search.

Google must plan to adapt to the social revolution or fall into the spam darkness.

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