The Cantankerous Old Coots evolve.
Expose three ordinary guys to the internet and you don’t know what might happen. They might just reject it outright as an irrelevant and irresponsible time waster. Then again, they might just decide that it is a way out of a drab and mundane existence- a path from ordinary to extraordinary. Well what I see looking back over our journey is chaos and confusion. There is no path through the web, just a tangle of conflicting threads. What seemed simple in the beginning has become a maze- a sideshow carnival with a multitude of barkers hawking miracle cures, not to mention fame and fortune if you take their ride. We are as susceptible as the next guy and each of us has been down a few rabbit holes since embracing the internet. We certainly haven’t reached the pot of gold yet and each time we attempt to retrace our steps from the last dead end we find ourselves in yet another strange new world full of promise and impending doom but we persist. Today as I appraise the landscape and the state of the Cantankerous Old Coot, I find that Justin is Twitterpated, Bob is a Facebook Fool and I am in a Googlephobic funk. How’s that for diversification?
Understanding my own mind is a serious enough challenge. I don’t have a clue what, if anything, is going on upstairs for Justin and Bob. For me the boundless opportunities of the web are beginning to look like a mirage. The freedom of opportunity and access which seemed to mean that the best man would win is starting to look like a con job. It’s like this.
It seemed so simple!
When we started Cantankerous Old Coots back in the dark ages of the internet, we were innocent babes. The internet was a simple place- at least so we believed. Somebody (I personally never believed Al Gore) created the place and out of the goodness of their hearts they let common folk like us publish whatever we wanted. What could be better? Some folks got the knack of it right away and became so popular that they were considered authorities, developed a big following and after a while started making money with their blogs.
The secret, as the story went back then, was all in creating ‘killer’ content. The details about how that ‘killer’ content actually found readers was even less clear than the definition of ‘killer’ content. It was always my belief that ‘killer’ content was what I turned out. I thought that ‘killer’ content meant good writing (like you used to learn in school), logical construction and original insights. I thought that web publishing was like old fashioned publishing- quality ultimately wins. I’m a pig headed cuss unimpressed by signals to the contrary. The fact that my ‘killer’ content was not finding an audience sailed right over my head. To my mind, I needed more time and more exposure.
As I said before we were naive in those days. We thought that Google was a search engine- something to help us find information on the web. It never crossed our minds that a dumb search engine could possibly have anything to do with defining ‘killer’ content. I remember wondering to myself how Google made any money because I never paid them anything.
It took several years before I began to understand. First I noticed that there were ads on Google but I have to confess that for years I couldn’t tell an ad from a search result. As a result, I must have clicked on the ads before moving down the page to the search results. I no doubt bought some products, innocently unaware that Google received money for that placement. Who knows how many second rate products I bought just because Google shoved them in my face by displacing the ‘killer’ content sites recovered in the search.
Ultimately I found out about the ads and became more sophisticated in using Google to find information. I became more suspicious about the prominently placed ads and no longer assumed that they were high quality. But I still had a long way to go because I didn’t yet understand the definition of ‘killer’ content.
That came later.
I should have caught on when I learned about SEO (Search Engine Optimization). If you aren’t getting the attention you want, I was told, it’s because you aren’t writing for the Search Engines. “Duh,” I thought, “Of course.”
I began checking for keywords. Was I using the right keywords? Was I using them enough times? Did I need ‘long-tail’ keywords or were regular ones good enough. Did I have back links? Was I ‘black hat’ or ‘white hat’? It was so strange, complicated and magical that I never stopped to think about what this all meant. It never occurred to me that search engines can’t comprehend grammar or syntax. They have no way to evaluate good writing. The truth is that ‘killer’ content on the web has nothing to do with literature, good writing or even communication. ‘Killer’ content is simply whatever Google says it is and Google isn’t a person. Google is a computer program.
So, it turns out that ‘killer’ content (and success on the web) is determined by a computer algorithm not by real human beings. Google makes money the old fashioned way that the government has mastered- regulation. You never see Google charge you for anything if you are a normal person. You just enjoy all the free services and never see the real cost.
The legacy of the Google dominated internet today is the death of literacy. Nobody reads newspapers anymore. Nobody has the patience or time to actually read a carefully crafted news story when they can get a titillating headline while they check Facebook or a snarky comment on Twitter. Magazines used to publish creative writing. Ordinary people used to read literature, savor beautifully constructed prose and emulate what they discovered in their speech. These days ‘Killer’ content has nothing to do with beautiful writing. ‘Killer’ content means nothing more than using enough keywords and in the proper number.
No wonder Justin worships Twitter and Bob sucks up to Facebook. Why waste your time crafting deathless prose when Google- the overlord of the internet- deems it irrelevant.
This leaves me in a quandary. Now that I see the truth how to I proceed with my life? Do I accept reality and embrace Google’s new order or take a stand on principle and tilt at windmills? Maybe I should Google it.