It's not often that I bookmark something just because it's awesome—most of my bookmarks here at the office are applications and login pages that I need for work. Dull, I know. But this week I found a resource that has nothing to do with work and that I know I'll want to return to again and again: a list of "The Best Magazine Articles Ever."
It's a long list of articles that date back as far as the '40s, so naturally it's full of things I haven't read. But I was happy to see a few of my favorites on the list—like "Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars Over Usage" by David Foster Wallace, an article about the politics of dictionary-making. I read this in college and, as a budding linguist, just loved it to death—I still have that copy of Harper's filed away somewhere, almost 10 years later. (Alas, my other all-time favorite, a "Junk Food Taste-Off" from the much lamented teen rag Sassy, didn't make the list.)
There is much, much more to explore in the list, from John Updike's seminal baseball piece "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu" to Chris Anderson's "The Long Tail," one of a handful of articles directly related to our industry. (Anderson makes the list twice, with another Wired contribution called "The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete.") You'll find articles on politics, sports, celebrities, medical science, blogging, and supercomputers. Basically, you've got your leisure/self-improvement reading cut out for you for a while.
This got me thinking—what are the best online marketing articles of all time? Unfortunately, though my work has involved varying degrees of search marketing for the past five years or so, I've only been faithfully reading new material on the subject for the past year and a half. To boot, my reading has slanted heavily toward blogs as opposed to magazines. So compiling a list of the best online marketing articles ever would require a lot of catch-up time.
I can, however, point you to some of my favorite blogs posts about online marketing from the past year. These are the ones that stick out in my memory—usually if I remember a post or an article ten minutes after I read it, much less ten weeks or ten months, it's because it has a new idea or perspective I haven't thought about before. So my favorites tend to be commentary, analysis, and even satire more than nitty-gritty how-to guides. If you're good at spotting trends, patterns, new business models, or hypocrisies, you can probably count me as a reader.
Without further "adieu," as my brother would say, here they are:
The New York Times Algorithm & Why It Needs Government Regulation: I read this piece by Danny Sullivan, published just a few weeks ago, before I read the NYT piece it refers to, making it all the more effective. It's a brilliant satire of the New York Times' inane suggestion that we "give some government commission the power to look at [Google's algorithm] tweaks." Danny writes:
The New York Times is the number one newspaper web site. Analysts reckon it ranks first in reach among US opinion leaders. When the New York Times editorial staff tweaks its supersecret algorithm behind what to cover and exactly how to cover a story — as it does hundreds of times a day — it can break a business that is pushed down in coverage or not covered at all.
When the New York Times was a pure newspaper, it was easy to appear agnostic about its editorial coverage, with no reason to play favorites with one business or another. But as the New York Times has branched out, making investments in external companies, it has acquired pecuniary incentives to favor those over rivals.
The New York Times argues that its behavior is kept in check by competitors like The Wall Street Journal or the Tribune Company. But the New York Times has become the default newspaper for many internet and print readers, with home delivery in over 340 markets and is, in fact, the nation’s largest seven day newspaper. Competitors are a click away, but a case is building for some sort of oversight of the gatekeeper of news.
I just love when people stick it to the NYT.
The Answer Factory: Demand Media and the Fast, Disposable, and Profitable as Hell Media Model: Another favorite, which I blogged about in October, is this Wired article on Demand Media, which paints a cold picture of the future of content creation as 100% data-driven:
The process is automatic, random, and endless, a Stirling engine fueled by the world’s unceasing desire to know how to grow avocado trees from pits or how to throw an Atlanta Braves-themed birthday party. It is a database of human needs, and if you haven’t stumbled on a Demand video or article yet, you soon will. By next summer, according to founder and CEO Richard Rosenblatt, Demand will be publishing 1 million items a month, the equivalent of four English-language Wikipedias a year. Demand is already one of the largest suppliers of content to YouTube, where its 170,000 videos make up more than twice the content of CBS, the Associated Press, Al Jazeera English, Universal Music Group, CollegeHumor, and Soulja Boy combined. Demand also posts its material to its network of 45 B-list sites — ranging from eHow and Livestrong.com to the little-known doggy-photo site TheDailyPuppy.com — that manage to pull in more traffic than ESPN, NBC Universal, and Time Warner’s online properties (excluding AOL) put together. To appreciate the impact Demand is poised to have on the Web, imagine a classroom where one kid raises his hand after every question and screams out the answer. He may not be smart or even right, but he makes it difficult to hear anybody else.
It's Only a Clique If You're Not In It: This SEOMoz post by Dr. Pete examines the nepotism and back-rubbing of SEO industry awards and honors and the way we react to it. It's a favorite because it addresses one of my pet topics, bias, and is applicable to life in general, not just our insulated little marketing world:
This post started as a reaction to accusations in the SEO industry that Top X lists, awards, etc. are only going to people's friends. As I was writing it over what ended up being 2 weeks, I realized just how broad this issue really is, from personal to professional to political. I hope you'll indulge me as I try to do justice to a topic that goes well beyond SEO.
We all know how it feels to be on the outside looking in. You start out feeling awkward and a little envious, but slowly it turns into something worse – depression, resentment, even rage. Eventually, we find a group to belong to, and the tables turn. No matter how often we were excluded (and maybe because of it), we eventually start to exclude others. It's a vicious, if all too human, cycle, and it extends to every corner of our social interactions.
So true—we despise favoritism in search marketing (or any system we insist should be a "fair" meritocracy), until we begin to benefit from it ourselves.
Tie: Google Enables Real Time Spam and Ignore Robert Scoble, SEO Still Matters For SMBs: I knew I wanted to include something by Rae Hoffman or Lisa Barone—as their company name suggests, they're both quite outspoken, and I gravitate toward outspoken people. Rae's post illustrates just how little planning seemingly went into Google's hasty launch of real-time search results by spamming the results for "Miley Cyrus" with tweets like "I can make you pretty like Miley Cyrus… are your parents not understanding you? email me at spam at spam dot com." Lisa's post takes the Scobleizer to task for another tiresome anti-SEO rant:
It’s the end of the year which means, prepare yourself, we’re about to see lots of bold claims and posts written as pure linkbait attention attempts. It’s the Internet. It’s adorable. However, bad information left uncorrected is simply dangerous.
Robert Scoble must be bored because he’s back causing trouble heralding that 2010 may be the year that SEO isn’t important anymore for small business owners. Sigh. Really? We’re doing this? Fine. Let’s go there.
What would you put on a list of all-time favorites?
Online Marketing Highlights This Week
I was surprised when I got to the penultimate paragraph of this interesting article on Internet addiction by Paul Graham (emphases mine):
Most people I know have problems with Internet addiction. We're all trying to figure out our own customs for getting free of it. That's why I don't have an iPhone, for example; the last thing I want is for the Internet to follow me out into the world. My latest trick is taking long hikes. I used to think running was a better form of exercise than hiking because it took less time. Now the slowness of hiking seems an advantage, because the longer I spend on the trail, the longer I have to think without interruption.
Why was I surprised? Because it so closely echoes my own quote in a column published earlier this week, written by my friend Kathleen Rooney, about poetry in the age of Facebook:
Elisa Gabbert […] said that when she wants to write her solo poetry, "I literally have to force myself to step away from the Internet. That's why I won't buy an iPhone. I sit in front of a computer all day, so brief interludes without Internet access (on the train, on a walk) are necessary breaks. They give me the empty space, the lack of stimulus I need to be able to think."
I guess we're kindred spirits.
In "Facebook: Can't love it, can't live without it," Ivor Tossell explores the reason Facebook is so pervasive despite its user satisfaction level down there with cable companies and airlines (ouch!)—because "it's useful": "Every moral panic about the nature of friendship and the loss of privacy distracts from the real reason Facebook persists. It’s not that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg owns the social graph – the master list of who’s friends with whom. It’s that he owns the phone book."
What is tunnel vision?
People don’t think of the online experience the same way web professionals spend their time thinking about them
People focus on completing their goal and little else
If elements of relevance are not in the context of focus they are likely invisible
People pay attention to detail only when they have found what they are looking for -- even then it is only detail related to what they want to see
Tunnel vision in the flow is why 62% of people still cannot distinguish between Paid and Organic Search results. Tunnel vision in the flow is why no one clicks on banner ads. Tunnel vision in the flow is the reason online marketing can be so powerful when you design ads, pages and campaigns with the customer goals in mind, not your business goals.
Aaron Bradley on what to do when an algorithm change "eats your lunch," i.e., sends all your rankings rocketing floorward.
Chris Brogan says reading your RSS feeds is not a job ... unless it is. He says it's "part of [his] job to be in the know and to share useful information." Hey! Me too!
Have a great weekend, all.