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John Dvorak loves Google but Hates the Side Effects

Hey John D., it’s not so hard to understand really.

First the disclaimer: I haven’t read John Dvorak for many, many years (since the 350 page per issue PC Magazine days). That said, I did come across this article of his and it is relevant to my current observations on Google and the press.

in “Web Site Entropy” Dvorak notes that his favorite websites have “evolved” into complicated messes that don’t serve his needs nearly as well as their former designs. He cites college sports teams switching from home-grown sites to platforms like CSTV, and wonders why colleges don’t make use of their computer science departments to build websites. A sample of his frustration:

…my local university football team’s site, UC Berkeley… At one time it was quite usable, and you could actually find what you were looking for on the site. Now it’s a slick, unnavigable mess. If you want to find player profiles, the scores from last year, or the coach’s bio, you can forget it. You can’t find crap anymore because the site has been outsourced to an operation owned by CBS TV called Can I put this bluntly? As far as I’m concerned, the Cal CSTV Web site stinks.

When I read this I first thought “wow, Dvorak is getting OLD!” But then I was distracted by this:

Curiously, what I am looking for is often there, as I’ve found it using Google, but it’s usually buried quite deep. Even worse is the fact that I am finding more and more colleges using CSTV for their outsourced “official” site. It’s also apparent to me as a football fan that nobody doing this site actually likes football. At least, they do not like what we call football. And because of the sweet deal someone must have sold to these colleges, ALL of the colleges’ sports are consolidated into one miserable site.

You see, John? It’s not that hard to understand. You just need to read between the lines of your own prose.

The information you wanted is there on the site, but not apparent to the user, so the user (you) goes to Google and find it. Do you think that is sans consequences? Of course their are consequences, and they have been unfolding before our eyes for 5 years as Google has grown into a bijillion dollar monopoly. Bad site design may come out of bad decisions on how to accommodate growth (not everyone’s favorite summary data can appear on the front page of the site).But once bad design takes hold, users jump to Google, and search referrals pile up. If the home grown site isn’t of SEO quality, other web pages from other sites rank for those searches, and that search traffic goes elsewhere. So the business side of the web ownership decides they want a search friendly solution.

See the consequence of your impatience with the user interface of that website? I could hunt, or I could call Google. As for the reason why the site got to be bad in the first place, business is business and education is business. As an SEO, I almost never find SEO awareness among college students. They are all about AJAX and other acronyms unrelated to today’s commerce. They chose to NOT make money right now, but go to school instead. That is why the teams don’t have the college students develop their websites anymore. That is why they outsource to those “specialists” — those specialty platforms are well indexed in search engines, and “ready to be accountable” as publishing platforms.

Yes yes yes you are correct in pointing out that search traffic is not everything. I’m with you there, John. But business people make mistakes all the time, often at the expense of their customers. And competitive web technologists step in (often with SEO solutions) to satisfy those business people with one solution,while selling another to those aliented customers.

Getting back to your bewilderment regarding outsourcing:

The question on my mind is how any large university with a computer science department can let this happen in the first place. Developing a modern Web site should be a function of the student body, and especially the computer science department. At least I think so. How humiliating it is that the athletic department thinks so little of the computer science department at Berkeley as to outsource to CSTV.

As an SEO consultant I can tell you that the sales pitch from those “specialty website” people brings a new carrot that many administrators find irrestible. They note that the web site, which has historically been a cost center, could actually become a profit center when their content-and-ad-serving-platform is utilized. Sponsored ads and placements can actually bring in revenue (imagine that!). So the administrators toss out the fans for the chance to earn money… Again, what’s new there? Of course the dollars aren’t as expected, but the contracted deal allows the platform to optimize as needed to extract their share of the “profits”… ostensibly to recover development costs. Would you call that entropification?

What I do see as interesting about your rant, John, is that you recognized the potential for student involvement but didn’t suggest that the college students (from the marketing department, not CIS) jump on these opportunities and build out unofficial University team fan sites as entrepreneurial adventures. Unimpressed by slick sales pitches and aware of the hidden costs of giving away the farm, the B-school freshmen do indeed recognize the potential of social media and the ease of startup these days. Ten grand would get you a good start… and you won’t have to split those ad dollars with the middleman or pass your traffic logs (business data) through their filters. As for SEO, Google tells us what to do to earn search referrals. I can plainly see a few promising search startegies in the examples you noted, and I haven’t even tried. Of course such endeavors would disrupt the (business) plans of those university administrators… but as you say, they aren’t doing a very good job of it now, are they?

There is beauty in what Google is doing. By playing both sides of the transaction, they can encourage disruption, reward creativity, and simultaneously sympathize with the losers as their business models fall apart, offering them hope with pay per click. It’s ingenious. Smartest guys in the room? Enron had nothing on Google.


  1. Dan wrote:



    My prediction…

    In the future…after a couple of smart SEO experts and domainers get together and take away a HUGE chunk of the online search market from Google and the rest…then a big portion of SEO’ers job description today… will change. (Or maybe a whole new industry will be born…just like the SEO industry was born).

    It will change in this one basic and fundamental way…

    SEO’ers will become WSO’ers (Web Site Optimization’ers) using their skills…to optimize websites for ‘function and SEARCH’…yes search functions have to evolve in a big way on the websites themselves… along with better ‘site map’ functions… along with cleaner, easier to navigate websites.

    Its ALL going to become about the ‘website optimization’ to satisfy the visitor(s)…NOT search optimization to keep Google’s ‘algorithm’ happy.

    Thanks for a very ‘timely’ article and commentary.


    Thursday, November 1, 2007 at 12:35 pm | Permalink
  2. Dan Perry wrote:

    Dvorak? He’s still around? Talk about falling off the map. What EXACTLY is he a professional of, and where does his opinion hold weight? Puhleaze.

    I used to manage about 20 EDU domains (for a for-profit school system), and I can think of a dozen reasons not to involve CIS (CIS and not Marketing; again, finger on the pulse JD). Truth is that the students will eventually build their own stuff anyway. The hard part is policing it.

    Keep up the great posts.

    Friday, November 2, 2007 at 9:18 am | Permalink
  3. SEO by the Hour wrote:

    Yes google is really just changing their algorythms to try to humanise search results for a better user search experience.

    Monday, February 18, 2008 at 11:59 pm | Permalink