John Andrews is a Competitive Webmaster and Search Engine Optimization Consultant in Seattle, Washington. This is John Andrews blog on issues of interest to the SEO community and competitive webmasters. Want to know more?  Competitive Web & SEO
January 28th, 2010 by john andrews

Amtrak “Creative Class” and High Speed Rail

The US Government says it will spend big money to build “high speed rail” connecting cities in Ohio, California, Florida, and possibly other states. In the fine print we see that “high speed rail” means a maximum of 200mph (only in one part of California) and more typically, not much faster than Amtrak travels now.Nothing like the “high speed rail” in Europe and Japan, by the way.

I hate to think that this is another stimulus to big corporations. We’ll be buying new rail cars and hiring shovel leaners of course, which is all good, but will enough of the money actually stimulate the local economies in the areas served? That doesn’t happen until the projects are finished. The initial boon will go to the real estate holders, developers, and those connected enough with the Oblama administration (that’s not a typo) to get the sweet contracts.

My vote is that Amtrak immediately get a tiny fraction of the stimulus pot to create something new called a “Creative Class”. Amtrak already provides trays and power outlets, so laptop use is possible during your ride. What we need now is high quality wireless Internet during the ride, and seating that encourages co-working.

I live in a small city with a “captured economy”. It’s beautiful here, but difficult to find work. Despite having a relatively high concentration of writers, artists, and web technologists, the city doesn’t have corporate residents willing to hire them. The Internet makes telecommuting a reality, of course, which is why they are able to live here, but some face to face is always important. Most of us fly out frequently to meet with clients, customers, and associates. Seattle is 2 hours away by rail, 1.5 hours minimum by car, but only a 25 minute flight.

Put a coworking car on Amtrak between cities and watch as we co-work on the train, happy to spend 2 hours on “slow speed rail”. I bet it would stimulate the economy, and do so in a green way.

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January 24th, 2010 by john andrews

Google’s Legacy – the Internet Cesspool

Google makes a market in freely copying and redistributing other publisher’s products. They do not make a deal with the publisher, and they don’t disclose the details of their activities. They don’t respect copyright in the traditional, accepted form, but rather argued for (and apparently won) a special consideration that treats search “snippets” differently than any other excerpt published by anyone else. They have since extended that “permission” over the years. It can be argued that Google has been given a “free pass” by governments, since it is innovating and governments are unsure of the total cost of resisting Google at this time.

Google assumes that publishers will accept referred search traffic from Google as remuneration for the copying and redistribution.

A publisher who does not want to “be in Google” cannot opt out of Google’s program, despite some claims that technical machinations like noindex and robots exclusions are available as options. Each of the published methods to manage your Google appearance has loopholes which Google freely and admittedly exploits whenever the marketplace signals that your content is important. If you mark your content as “off limits” to Google, for example, but others link to it, Google will still show it in the Google index and allow it to be clicked through. Ask any experienced SEO expert how to properly and reliably prevent Google from showing one of your pages to Google’s customers, and you will either be told not to publish it at all, or you will get a convoluted, conditional response that will most likely be very costly to implement at best. The only true way to remove yourself is to block the entire public world from seeing your content, or to engage in spy/counterspy maneuvers with Google’s bots. Why is Google able to get away with that?

Google also, simultaneously, makes a market in advertising on the Internet. Despite the obvious conflict of interest that creates, Google dominates as a profitable company solely because it plays both sides. Virtually all of Google’s revenues come from the advertising side, which is enabled by the scrape, search and display side.  But the conflict is troublesome even for Google. Advocating for what used to be illegal copying and republishing of copyrighted content without permission, while incentivizing publishers who put Google’s ads on such scraped or illegally copied content, Google has created a commercial force that even Google can’t control. Google’s CEO has referred to the post-Google Internet as a “cesspool”, full of junk content. It has become clear during the past year that our public cesspool of junk content is largely funded by Google’s ads.

Google is the hungry snake that has started eating it’s own tail. It can’t stop eating or it will die of malnourishment. But as it eats and eats, the head knows that one day, there will be no more snake to eat.

It sure seems that 2010 will be the year of reckoning for Google. A week doesn’t pass without at least one venture capitalist or entrepreneur showing me a new web strategy designed to exploit Google’s reliance on the cesspool of junk content. Systems are in place to auto-generate massive amounts of junk content with little to no overhead cost nor publishing burden. Dozens to hundreds of “companies” will launch such projects in January alone. Some are capable of achieving a massive scale. All are driven by visions of the millions of dollars in cash their junk sausage grinders will spit out, courtesy of Google’s ads. How can this continue? How can even Google survive such a gold rush?

A few questions the investors in these projects should be asking of the so-called entrepreneurs planning to cash in on the post-Google cesspool we call the Internet:

  • If the revenues are expected to come from Google’s advertising, then wouldn’t it be wise to document some sort of business relationship with Google before betting the farm? Obviously Mahalo and Demand Media have formal business relationships with Google to ensure the success of their projects as they scale. Shouldn’t you have similar assurances before stepping in to compete in the cesspool?
  • Why has Google worked so hard to prevent the development of cottage industries around Google’s index and search engine, if not to protect its search engine as a stand-alone entity? Won’t such junk content projects similarly threaten Google’s search engine integrity, and thus face a similar resistance from Google?
  • What is Google’s hold-back policy for all of these Google Guideline-breaking content plays? It’s one thing to expect Google to continue to allow junk content, but the Google guidelines still prohibit it. Would it not be wise from a risk management point of view, to know if Google can withhold payment for 90 days or whatever, or shut the account and keep the earned revenue without any notice?
  • What is the downside risk to building a platform based solely on publishing low-value content monetized with low-value ads? Will the domain get blacklisted in Google one day? Will the company behind the domain be black listed? Will the CEO behind the strategy be blacklisted? Will the venture capital firm, angel investors, or named investors and advisors be blacklisted by Google for future projects?
  • How much do other owned businesses rely on the integrity of Google’s search engine and search traffic for revenues? In other words, is poisoning the well with an exploitative fast-money web venture a good idea for the long term?
  • What is Google’s personality? How has it traditionally reacted, as an organization, to attempts to exploit its business model on a massive scale? perhaps it would be wise to consider the nature of the shark in the water before jumping in for a swim?

I sense desperation in the hearts of many involved in these ventures. I don’t mean the “we need revenues” desperation of a venture, but a true failure in the creativity and innovation department. A crisis of confidence in entrepreneuring. Maybe that’s an age thing.. is it time for a return to under-30 passionate CEO’s?

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John Andrews is a mobile web professional and competitive search engine optimzer (SEO). He's been quietly earning top rank for websites since 1997. About John




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