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A Few Words
      

Category:
Technology

Search Engines
And The Inadvertent Gentrification Of The Internet

Somebody pulled the plug on Internet.

The days of democratic clicking, searching, reading and researching are over. Internet presence, via search engines, is owned and operated by media conglomerates, Fortune 500s and Blue Chip institutions. As more users plugged in, more corporations took over the ether-waves and unplugged users' voices.

Google's Page Rank system appears to be based on democratic principles and fair representation. If a site has a wide presence on the web, and if that presence is connected to other sites with wider presences, then ranking goes up. The widely discussed calculation algorithm totals up "votes" and weighs the significance of those votes based a variety of parameters. Those parameters include the popularity of sites to which one is linked.

For example, theBlueSmokeBand.com has a google Page Rank of 3, as of this writing. We are linked to www.BuddyAndHopkins.com, which has a Page Ranking of 5. This is probably what gets us up to a 3, in the grand scheme of things. BuddyAndHopkins has a 5 because they are linked to a huge number of sites, some of which are similarly highly ranked.

But that's not the whole story. Simply having a link on a site more highly ranked than yours does not immediately boost your Google ranking. The weight of the "vote" cast by the link is spread over all the links on the same page. Hence, a link to BuddyAndHopkins on a page with a hundred other links does not significantly increase theBlueSmokeBand.com's Google ranking. (However, we do appear on a page with only a few other links, so hats off to Jay for his help.)

Democratic, for sure. If someone really likes my site and dedicates a whole page to it, then certainly I should get more credit for that whole page than someone linked with a thousand other sites in a web ring, for example.

Let's assume that this is how Google works. Specifically, let's assume that there is no way to buy into Google ranking via Google. That is, we can't send Google a payment of $X,000 to make us the first hit for a search on "music".

Assuming this to be the case does not necessarily mean that Google's Page Rank algorithms are even close to democratic. In fact, the issue of vote weight essentially bars entry to those without extensive capital or a strong marketing presence behind them.

Imagine if I had a link on Yahoo!'s home page. Wow. My ranking would skyrocket, because the weight of that vote is enormous. Imagine if I had a link on kickwriting.com, which I do. My ranking did not exactly skyrocket.

If I want a link on Yahoo!, I can buy one. For example, I can use their "Advertise with us" link and specify my marketing budget, which will in turn help them determine how much of a search boost they can give me. It starts at $3,000. It doesn't stop.

It is a similar story for links elsewhere. The point is that the places that would help your ranking the most cost money to get in. Hence, by extension, it costs money to get to the top of a Google search. Hence, Google's Utopian-democratic process is, essentially, self-defeating.

What is a poor web administrator to do?

As I see it, the problem with how Search Engine Optimization and the like works is that is all very incestuous. Searching the web depends on the web in a weird yet obvious way. But the goal for the little guy, like me, is simply to get people involved in a creative process. My solution is to scrap web-based marketing in favor of guerilla marketing.

Guerilla marketing is something like traditional, or grassroots marketing. The idea is to leave evidence of your site or product or what-have-you around the world in an effort to raise public awareness of what you offer. In my case, I leave flyers at local coffee shops and other places that I think cater to the demographic who would appreciate my site. I have t-shirts. I have CDs. I have business cards — that's the fun one: legions of fans leave them all over the place and give them to people in an effort to promote the site. I have even heard tell of "put-pocketing" —, you never know where a blue card will show up.

The point is, the way for me to advertise my site is to break free of the inbrededness of the Internet. This is important: there is a way in which the Internet is a really tight circle and it's quite difficult to break into that circle from within the Internet. That's the thing — getting in from within is far less than likely for a regular guy with a regular site.

This is the way in which influence on the Internet via the Internet has been gentrified. The democracy of google's PageRank is, in practice, a myth. In reality, the control is in the hands of the Yahoo!s and the MSNs and the AOLs of the world, insofar as they pick the links — for a fee — that get the most traffic. It is no longer a free-for-all, idealized market where the best ideas and creations float to the top, though its value remains as a medium through which artists and thinkers can create and communicate. The best that the Internet has to offer, ironically, is not something that you will find by looking on the Internet.

© 2004 Sorrell
October