“This is so back ass backwards, it defies conniption.”
-- Better Bad News audience member
Just how fast does bad news travel? We live in a time when most consumers know little about how technology affects them beyond what appears in random blog postings. If some technological marvel of innovation appears in enough blogs, the world wakes up and the next thing you know, our beloved news enters the information game.
That’s exactly what happened with Google’s controversial new AutoLink feature. In case you missed Steve Rubel’s commentary last week -- along with articles in Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine and about a dozen other news outlets -- the search giant is facing extreme negative backlash on a feature contained in the Google Toolbar that places links on websites within the context of search activity.
Regardless of what you might think of the practice or related technology, trying to stay informed about the goings on at Google or anywhere else has become complicated. Bloggers have blogged about other blogs and each blog has built its own character resulting in a cacophony of information. If you don’t have time to wade through all the postings, you may want to try a video blog mash to entertain your way through the noise.
Not quite the news
Ironically, I came across the "Better Bad News" site via the search engine marketing agency Reprise Media’s search blog last week. The website offered a comedic, satirical, and (in its own right) controversial Video Blog mash of the blogging public’s opinion on the Google’s AutoLink feature.
The “mash” is an amalgamation of thoughts and ideas from bloggers all over the web. The “panel discussion” in this video offers a collection of opinions from sources such as the Opt-Out Petition, Dan Gillmor, Scobleizer, Dave Winer, Cory Doctorow, Mark Jen (a former Google employee) and Steve Rubel.
One iMedia reader who viewed the blog mash argued that representing others' thoughts in this way itself bears a striking resemblance to autolinking, an idea that Better Bad News stands so boldly against. The transfer of opinions into a pseudo panel discussion might not clearly represent the original author’s opinions -- or worse change the original message -- without the author’s permission and without an opt-out.
Is this Video blog mash as evil as AutoLink is perceived to be? Probably not.
Be bold, be brief, be user friendly
Whether you think this format is evil or not, Better Bad News does a great job of capitalizing on possibly the most impactful form of communication: watching other human beings talk. While reading tons of information on blogs might be a neat way to spend your day, I found the Better Bad News site not only entertaining and informative, but also the thing that moved me to go and sign the “Opt-Out Petition.”
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the 12-minute video:
- “AutoLink corrupts the metric by which Google itself is valued.”
- “We don’t need AutoLink; we already have the greenhouse effect.”
- “Once you let people do this, you open the floodgates for nightmare scenarios.”
- “Please, I want to opt-out. Rescue me from this madness.”
- “When did the downturn begin, was it AutoLink, or was it the blind arrogance that created AutoLink in the first place?”
- “And then there was the 'Do no evil' company motto. That always struck me as very Nixonian, don’t you think?”
- “What if Google sweetened the deal by cutting us publishers in on the deal? I mean if Google would share the proceeds with me, would I think differently about it? Maybe.”
- “There’s no factual journalism anymore; you can’t shame me with my police record; that’s just the district attorney’s opinion.”
- “Thank God there’s no controlling authority for determining who has the better link stream. I link my clients to take you where I think you need to go. Isn’t that great? My links can be just as misleading as anyone else’s, including Google’s”
- “I want the freedom to mislead visitors to my page the way I want to mislead them, not the way Google wants to do it.”
The overwhelming message in this satirical approach to letting us know what everyone is saying is clear: If Google does not listen to its constituency, if the searching public begins to lose faith in Google -- or other search sites or tech providers who follow in practices like this -- search as an institution will suffer the consequences.
At least one blogger, James Robertson, came out against the blog mash in a ranting response that then prompted a new six-minute video mash on Better Bad News. Robertson’s blog is called "Smalltalk Tidbits, Industry Rants." In his post, Robertson suggested the Better Bad News video was a bit over the top because users can simply uninstall the Google toolbar or bypass it with the Firefox browser.
Robertson has a point, but I am not sure arguing or belittling a video blog mash panel is the best way to make that point.
Presumably, the intention of any video like this is to get people’s attention. The idea, again, is to aggregate existing thoughts and opinions and place them in a format that will have more impact than the original text. It’s supposed to be funny (I think Better Bad News pulls it off) and informative (as informative as a mash of blogs can be).
Whether they realize it or not, the video and source blogs touch on a number of issues surrounding search today, including the need for standardization as well as regulations in search to determine who can do what and how. We are now entering an age of consumer control in which, most of the time, consumers have no idea what they are controlling or how much control they have.
Of course, there is trust. Time and time again the media, along with special interest groups, have sought to impose on search engines the idea that they are the keepers of trusted information resources. Google may even have acknowledged this around the time of its IPO (does that stand for Instigated Public Optimization?). In today’s world of information overflow, that is a big burden to accept, even for Google.
This is the end of the beginning
Placing links on appropriate pages while simultaneously defying the very nature of a search engine as a trusted source of data might be a nice side-step toward integrating search technology in to our lives on a much larger scale, in a way that we can only begin to understand.
I often use the example of watching your favorite television show while being able to link into purchase points for items seen in the show. Would I like a way to link instantly into the latest fashions seen on “The O.C.”? Maybe. Would advertisers who position products in those broadcasts like a way to sell more of them directly? Most likely. However, the whole process should be optional, right? Or perhaps advertisers should bid for these positions?
The bottom line: We are still in the beginning, but the proverbial gloves have come off. Integrated content convergence has yet to happen and these little hiccups we experience along the way might just provide us with the means or insights to learn from our mistakes, be less evil, or possibly enhance our interactive lives.
Get the Better Bad News
Steve Rubel’s column
James Robertson’s "Smalltalk Tidbits, Industry Rants" blog
SearchTHIS: A Four Point Cautionary Tale
Google’s Instigated Public Optimization
iMedia Search Editor Kevin Ryan’s current and former client roster reads like a “who’s who” in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, and several regional non-profit organizations.