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The Dawn of the Disinformation Age

We can haggle about the exact month or quarter later, when we have historical hindsight, but as of right now I’m calling it: the Information Age has ended, and we are now in the Disinformation Age.

Fake News is not the Reason

Chris Hedges did a good job describing the Fake News phenomenon:

The object of fake news is to shape public opinion by creating fictional personalities and emotional responses that overwhelm reality. Hillary Clinton, contrary to how she often was portrayed during the recent presidential campaign, never fought on behalf of women and children—she was an advocate for the destruction of a welfare system in which 70 percent of the recipients were children. She is a tool of the big banks, Wall Street and the war industry. Pseudo-events were created to maintain the fiction of her concern for women and children, her compassion and her connections to ordinary people. Trump never has been a great businessman. He has a long history of bankruptcies and shady business practices. But he played the fictional role of a titan of finance on his reality television show, “The Apprentice.”

The rise of Fake News isn’t responsible for the Dawn of the Disinformaiton Age. It’s just one very obvious symptom of the establishment of the new age. Fake News has been around forever. When I was a kid, it was gossip, and rumor. The internet has amplified it, and made it more powerful. The corrupt press has adopted it as a tool.

We all saw that part coming… the rise of the “television Anchor Man” who wasn’t a real journalist. The dawn of “cable news”. The embedding of media and elimination of field journalists & photojournalists. The consolidation of newspapers. The success of tabloids in Britain, as newspapers struggled. The firing of news staff, replaced with new people charitably described as early-career “writers”. The move from professional photography to “hey wanna-be celebrity news correspondant, don’t forget to bring your iphone to get some pics“.

Corrupted Information Distribution

Now we also have the corruption of information distribution, via agendas pursued behind the scenes by Facebook, Google, and Twitter, and others. Google has long hidden its manipulations behind a secret “algorithm”. Facebook hid its manipulations behind the Timeline interfacess. And Twitter..well, I guess poor Twitter couldn’t come up with anything better than the outright censorship they’ve implemented.

The Blogging Revolution didn’t last long. The corrupt entities worked to kill it technically, while simultaneously shifting incentives away from independent reporting.

Google manipulated commenting, compartmentalized indexation & ranking of blog-published content, and killed non-Google distribution efforts. It raided the RSS world for virtually all the leadership talent, and then aggregating the feed users via its subsequent virtual monopoly on RSS feed reading and distribution. Then Google killed off its own popular feed reader abruptly.

Facebook’s core agenda competes directly with blogging, so simply advancing with billions of IPO dollars worked to kill blogging.

Similarly, Twitter’s parasitic “microblogging platform” eagerly sickened the host.

Group Think and In-Group Preference

Probably the biggest colluding factor aiding the rise of the Age of Disinformation seems to be Group Think, also known as “in group preference“. That part is YOU, dear reader. When you echo only sentiments you agree with, whether or not they are based in fact or even reasonable, you contribute to the group think that appears to be reality to so many who know even less than you.

All the Trump comments are perfect evidence of this. I won’t go there in this article, but if you have a firm stance pro or against President Donald Trump, you are likely part of the problem.

Self-Medicating

In America, the common man has been abandoned by the press. As individuals permit their livelihoods and lives to be placed at risk, as a consequence of they themselves choosing not to investigate or reason through often inaccessible facts, they feel the vulnerability. In response, they are forced to cope with fear and uncertainty, even as they go about their regular business.

Fear and Loathing in America

Ambient fear and uncertainty takes a significant toll of the psyche.

Operating under fear, individuals do not think more reasonably, act more rationally, or listen more astutely. Nor do they react more appropriately.

On the contrary, manipulated by fear they over-react, shut down, deny threats, take drugs to manage anxiety, and sometimes scream out in anger, resentment, or despair.

Have you ever tried to console a 3 year old whose ballooon has escape and is visibly soaring away, high in the sky? Nothing will ease the pain, except a promise of immediate attention to the task of getting another one, right now. And sometimes it needs to be a bigger, better one.

That promise is often a lie… unless the little tyrant has previously proven he really means to wreck the world unless he gets his balloon back, right, now.

Reference: I don’t agree with a lot Chris Hedges writes these days. I see him as biased; swayed by disgust with his journalism peers, and perhaps disappointed to the point of depression, if not actually crippled, by his loss of access to quality information. But, within this essay I found the above commentary on Fake News http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/46075.htm

Hate the Player

Here’s another post for the “I’ve seen this alot while an SEO consultant” category.

In discussions yesterday, a young guy lamented his lack of serious success, even though he was very good at what he does, and even though he worked very hard. I listened, and yawned. A lot. It’s the same old stories.

Yesterday Hacker News ran a thread about how developers could make “passive income” with their skills. The declarative answer citing profit levels for games, ebooks, courses, etc was full of guesses and errors, but sounded authoritative to the readers. The comments stream was funny… I don’t think a single commenter sounded credible to me.

Same old same old, for a new crop of inquisitors. “We (developers) are awesome. Businesses make profits because we are awesome. How can I get more of that awesomeness for myself?

The truth is, independent success is not always about being good at what you do. Sorry.

SEO is not just Keywords or Optimizations

The Hacker News folks concluded that developers aren’t very good at business, which they have to be in order to achieve independent success. And they probably won’t find “passive” success much… it usually requires a lot of ongoing work. Go figure?

Yesterday on Twitter someone noted that a dental marketing company had a sub-par website, yet reportedly cleared $4M / year in revenues. That confused him… how “with a website like that” they could achieve what he considered outstanding success, with what looked like a small operation.

A quick look at that website revealed they claim an average of 60 new customers per month for their clients. A modern, professional, effective website means very little when compared to word of mouth testimonial that a hired agency will add 60 new customers to your dental practice each month. However they do it doesn’t matter…and whether that is visible from their website or not, doesn’t matter.

Those self-proclaimed experts offering SEO audits do the same thing every day… they come in from outside, make detached, specific judgments of “what’s wrong” with a web business, or what could be better, add some soft promises of success that could be obtained by listening to their advice, and then walk away with their (often hefty) fee.

It is usually clear that they know very little about how a specific business achieves actual success… they merely track this or that metric which they believe is correlated with business success, and rely on oft-repeated claims of how seo and web marketing support business success.

Players, Every One

These are all players. They are in the game to play, not to win.

There is a saying “don’t hate the player; hate the game” which is usually uttered as a defense against being scolded for playing. I think that defense also reveals the truth about players — they need the game to continue, in order to survive.

An SEO consultant survives by winning at the consulting game, not by playing. Just like everyone else, playing is a time-consuming activity, so being paid to play is just having a job. You work, you get paid.

True success (for anyone… a consultant, or a company) involves revenue generation separate from active participation. The Hacker News developer sought the secret recipe for “passive income” probably because he’s tired of playing the game… or he knows that he will only get paid as much as he participates. He wants a side gig that pays dividends without requiring continuing hours of effort.

Don’t we all want that?

The successful consultant wants to earn enough with N hours of effort, to afford a lifestyle that includes N+X hours of leisure of other activity (more time off work than at work).

If you smartly earn $2 Million in 6 months, you can live like a millionaire for the whole year. Scale that up or down according to your lifestyle goals, but the point is you don’t have to work the 9x5x5x50 (9-5 job, 5 days per week, 2 weeks vacation) to enjoy a well-funded life.

See One, Do One, Teach One?

In medical school there was a saying “see one, do one, teach one”. A medical person would not attempt any new procedure, because that was forbidden (they were not “qualified”). Yet oddly, the qualification required was as minimal as possible — often as little as having witnessed the procedure done by someone else.

See one, do one. Visit with a cooperating mentor, be shown how to do it, and then go and do it.

Equally surprising was the way this cascaded down the food chain, from Sr. Surgeon to attending surgeon to surgical resident etc… That is the “teach one” part.

Educators know that teaching is a great way of reinforcing learning… so the medical school culture of “see one, do one, teach one” supported practical supervised learning and training… throughout the system. A young Doc would seek out a chance to participate in a surgery, and then a chance to do one, and later teach others the same way.

In SEO consulting, THIS — DOESN’T — WORK. Yet, I see it tried all the time. It works for players, but it doesn’t lead to serious success in the game. And I can tie idea this back to the original “real success” issue raised by my Jr. SEO Consultant friend.

They Try This All The Time

If you succeed at SEO consulting, you will develop a reputation for being someone who can actually “move the needle“, meaning you have proven yourself by developing real, meaningful ranking websites or increasing business revenues significantly relative to your fee.

Once that happens, you will be approached by winners, not just those seeking to play the game. Real business winners don’t chase uncertain or unproven consultants. They wait… and approach the winners.

This should be part of success for your SEO consulting business — good clients coming to you — but actually, it is another of the many traps awaiting those who succeed at life.

Remember the wise old saying… “as you grow stronger, the world gets more dangerous”.

The winners are not better clients, although they do bring bigger opportunities for success.

I have this Friend

Time and again I am approached by a winner who is seeking help with his business, while behind the scenes that guy is actually one member of a group of winners, running multiple businesses. While Guy #1 approaches me to attempt to engage me into consulting for his successful business, he is really working on behalf of Guy #2, Guy #3, and others, who have much bigger plans if what I can do for Guy #1 actually works.

This is usually obvious to me, because I do background work on any serious client prospect. Before meeting, I usually know where their success comes from, and it is (usually) clear when a private network of businessmen support each other. And that is very often the case.

Independent success is not always about being good at what you do.

Humans form tribes. Tribe members help each other. Relatives, cousins, college floor mates, buddies from an older funding round, etc. Chances are very good that Guy #1’s successful business was helped by his mates, or his club membership, or is not-exactly-as-it-seems (such as backed by a family funder, or owned by a partnership). During an interview, it’s pretty easy for me to learn when someone is seriously engaged into hiring me, vs. attempting to check me out using a less-meaningful project.

I don’t take those jobs. I don’t have to, and I know they are not “winners” for me.

Another fun fact: the typical “much bigger project” potentially undertaken by that larger club, tribe, or group is not usually a very good idea.

Guy #1 is, however, the one who usually believes it is. The other guys are usually “see one… do one” types. If they don’t support the plan of trying out an SEO consultant with a starter project, they are going along because they expect to learn whatever they can about how that SEO consultant operates, so they can attempt to do the same, themselves, and their own projects.

There is No Substitute for Success

The bottom line for any SEO is that success is defined by the project. If it’s yours, you know what matters, and what doesn’t. There is never any debate about SEO because you are constantly adapting to a real business climate, with all of your skills and resources. This is where people like me have the most fun and the most success, and where our work deviates the most of the seo “players” selling SEO services and tools. That’s just not how real business works.

When doing SEO work for a client, the client must declare the success metrics for your work, or you can’t proceed efficiently, and you cannot expect real success of your own. If they can’t define the success metrics, offer to work with them (as a paid consultant) to develop the project into one that you can help them win.

SEO consulting is a type of consulting. As with any consulting, success is based on client satisfaction, delivery in according with expectations, and success in the game, as defined by the client-consultant agreement.

All of the rest of SEO and “consulting” is just playing the game, and keeping busy (employed).

While it’s fine to choose to be a player if you want to, you are not playing to win, so you can’t complain when you finally realize you can never win. In that case do indeed “hate the player”,  because that’s the player’s fault.

COTS was a Mistake : Get America Working & Winning Again with Open Source Firmware

COTS stands for “commercial, off-the-shelf” and our nation moved away from custom development to COTS back in the early 1990s, as I recall. Of course my own perspective is quite biased (as is yours). If someone researches the true facts, they can gain more accurate insights into what I suggest here (and please do).

Prior to the COTS initiative, our government and military paid very high costs to develop just about everything custom, for their use. Commercial software was not a common thing, and certainly not at current incredibly low prices. Government systems ran on software developed for the government. There were many reasons, and many of those reasons persist today.

Yet here we are, suffering the consequences of COTS, while not yet recognizing the value of custom development (again). Our systems and solutions are not great, and not getting much better, fast enough. Our competitors around the world are advancing without us, often using the products of our development efforts to out-implement us on the product and systems/solutions fronts. And in many cases, as they innovate to advance from the status-quo, they don’t share those innovations back to us or the rest of the world.

By stopping proprietary development, which as I said we did for good reasons, we have painted ourselves into a corner, where we must compete on implementation, not innovation. Yet, unlike many of our competitors, we simultaneously desire (and therefore require) stewardship of our ecological environment. How can we compete on implementation, if we are constrained by rules and regulations, while our competitors are not?

Here in Seattle we are discovering that China’s independent decision to pollute its air while it advances its economy has very real impact on us : increasingly, Seattle is breathing polluted air from China. Just one of many, many very real examples of how nation decisions impact us globally, while our own enlightenment seems to be holding us back (relatively).

I am suggesting here that a revival of commitment to open source firmware is likely to be THE THING that enables us to put our people to work, on projects that push society forward, while simultaneously supporting a leadership position in the world, including world economies and technological development.

COTS was Essential, Then

Back when Microsoft Windows started, the idea of switching from expensive custom software (and hardware) development to commercially-available products was a solution to a big problem. As tech advanced rapidly, we could not afford to “keep up” with custom everything. A switch to “COTS when prudent” made sense. In fact, it was probably essential for survival and success.

Soon government and military were re-engineering systems around commercially available parts and solutions. Hell, even our tanks were running a version of Windows at one point. There were arguments about whether or not Microsoft should reveal its source code to the military, or not. Hint : they didn’t…. and we used Windows to operate tanks, including weapons systems that included nuclear materials.

There are many, many people more qualified than I to discuss COTS and the history… but I simply want to make a point here. Switching to custom firmware, using open source, may be our future as an advancing technological and humanist society.

Firmware is the Key to Progress Now

Firmware is the software that runs on systems and hardware, through which we (and application software) interface to the system or hardware. Firmware is unique to a device or configuration. If a feature or service is possible, it is possible because the firmware supports or enables it.

If you conceptually consider the advances of the “space age” as firmware, our (United States) technological advances have enabled much of the world to advance. Certainly the Internet, integrated circuits, and Engineering associated with technological deployment have enabled the entire world to advance, while providing a basis for further innovation.

Of course it’s not just the United States… when I was in graduate school I researched math techniques back to the sources, which were primarily out of the USSR at that time. Much of the digital math that enabled the tech revolution was a product of Russian advances which we learned and advanced on the practical fronts, closely connected to hardware.

Firmware is Needed

Today, if the US focused on firmware instead of social networks and advertising, we might advance the stage for implementation on platforms we developed and initiated. The Internet of Things, the communications networks, the data storage and retrieval… all of it essential for applications and implementations… could be based on standards we initiate, define, and refine.

Instead of learning to code web apps (the application layer), our youth could be learning to code at the firmware level. The hardware abstractions are already there… why can’t we encourage innovation at the next level up, where hardware meets application layer?

APIs are cool but they are not innovative beyond the degree to which they are enabled by firmware and the lower level interface code… shouldn’t we be encouraging serious innovation there, such that new methods and standards evolve, for innovating at the application layers?

Shouldn’t we be working to “own” that interface layer, as a means of advancing technology while retaining a strategic degree of “control” that would be best exploited commercially by our startups, engineers, and innovators?

Why not let the whole world choose to innovate at whatever layer they choose? The easiest and most immediately rewarding will be the application layers, which results in reduced competition for us, while we achieve a firm foundational basis in the parts that enable every one else to innovate and advance?

It just seems to me that COTS is a mistake, and we have so much talent and interest in innovation, that a focus on the lower levels and firmware would be a strong move for America’s future.