Thursday, July 31, 2008

Content? I’m Cuil With That…

There’s a new search engine in town, and it’s generating a lot of buzz, both good and bad. It can be found at (pronounced like: “cool”)

Up to now, almost all search engines had adopted, to some degree, the Google model. That was that the biggest chunk of your search engine effectiveness was determined by your link popularity. If a lot of other websites “showed you love” by linking to you, then your site ranked higher. You became “important”, and “popular”.

The assumption is that sites with a lot of inbound links are going to be better quality sites, and therefore, more deserving of a #1 ranking. Generally speaking, that works. If I’m out searching, and there’s a big list of possible sites that could match what I’m looking for, it would be helpful to see the best ones first, right?

Is there a problem with that? Of course! Several problems, actually.

First of all, we’ve all been to little, out-of-the-way restaurants where the food and the service are absolutely incredible, right? Popularity isn’t always the best gauge of quality. McDonalds is extremely popular, but not many people (outside of their own marketing department) would claim that their food is “the best ever”.

Second, a site might be popular, and important. It might even be a great quality site. But if it’s not what I’m looking for, I don’t care. If it’s not relevant, then what does it matter how many links it has or who’s recommending it?

Third, it does open lots of opportunities to “game” the system, by creating links on your own, or even going out and buying links. A popular activity is, for example, writing articles with links back to your website and dotting them all over the web. On the one hand, that’s a legitimate activity, and a good way to establish inbound links. But if, in order to promote one website, you’re writing 20-30 articles, then aren’t you really just adding to the glut of information on the web? Are you really adding value?

But then again, as an avid blogger, I don’t have much room to talk, eh?

So, along comes a search engine, with a new model. It’s claiming a number of differences when compared to the current big boys.

First of all, they claim to index many, many more sites. Google is actually getting selective of the sites it includes in its index. Cuil claims to have indexed more than three times the number of documents that Google has. That means more opportunities to be included, but it also means much more competition for the top slots.

Second, their ranking criteria are based on a complex formula of analyzing the content of the pages in their database. They don’t just look at keyword matches, but also the context of the match, the location, the surrounding words. They look at alternative meanings and interpretations. Their goal is really to find the most relevant site, the site you’re probably looking for, instead of the “best”, or the “most popular”. What that means then, is that as a webmaster, to rank well on, you’ll want your site’s content to be well crafted. You'll want lots of good information, peppered with good, relevant keywords.

Finally, they also say that, unlike Google, they don’t keep track of user statistics. There has been a lot of fuss lately over privacy among Googlers. “Cuil analyzes the Web, not its users,” they say. While I applaud this strategy from the perspective of freedom, I think they’ll have problems getting and staying competitive that way.

Will they have the impact they want on the search engine world? Who knows? I’m intrigued by their approach, and I’d love to see someone challenge the big boys. The bottom line, in my mind, is that it will take some time to dethrone Google, or even compete with Yahoo. If they can simply survive that long, they might do it.

Mark is the co-director of, the search marketing consulting arm of Clickincome ( Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Social Networking for the Anti-Social

Not too long ago, I was working with a student, and after a few of our meetings about social networking, he admitted to me that he just didn’t like it. He wasn’t interested. He didn’t like having to interact with people, and he thought that blogging in general and reading blogs especially was a complete waste of time. He didn’t see any benefit in it at all.

Well, there are, of course, lots of benefits to social networking as an internet entrepreneur. You get to interact with your customers, and you get to find and draw in new customers. You get to see what’s happening in your industry on a constant basis, and you get to put your finger on that pulse. You establish yourself as an expert, an authority, a name that people respect and will come to for answers.

But what I think was really bugging him was that he was probably more the loner type, who enjoys being quiet by himself.

But that got me to thinking. How would a person engage in the activity of social networking if they fundamentally don’t like being social? To disconnect from it isn’t an option. It’s becoming more and more a core part of internet marketing. If you don’t do it, you miss out on the incredible amounts of traffic, links, and ranking that it can bring you. Running an online business without it is very much like trying to run a marathon with a limp. You can do it, but it’ll hurt, and you definitely won’t win.

Here are some thoughts:

1. If You Think it’s Boring, You Just Haven’t Found Your Good Bits.

A story: A few years ago, my brother-in-law came over. At the time, he was a card-carrying technophobe. His passion, for example, was playing authentic roots folk music on the banjo and the concertina. He barely tolerated the technology of the CD, as long as it was playing his favorite string band. He thought the internet was a stupid waste of time. Even though it was hard for me to argue against that point, considering much of my own vapid browsing, I kind of took it on myself as a challenge to bring him into the 21rst century. I knew that dragging him kicking and screaming to the ‘net wouldn’t help. I had to tease him to it.

So, this one particular day he came over, and I said, “Hey, come look at this.” I had done a Google search for “concertina”. That caught his interest. He had never seen a website about concertinas before.

“Can you search for…” and he told me the name of some concertina maker. “Of course!” The long story short is that he spent the next hour and a half in front of my computer clicking around folk music websites that he’d never known had existed. Finally, my sister had to pry him away from the chair to get him to go home.

Now, he’s an expert on youtube, and fills his iPod with folk music from iTunes.

My point is that I’ve learned that most people who think the internet is dull and pointless do so simply because they’ve never found anything they consider interesting on it. Once you find what grabs you, then it has value. So, if you think that blogging is a waste of time, it might be because you haven’t found the right blogs yet.

Which leads me to my next point:

2. 99% of the Internet is Irrelevant. Focus on the Relevant.

Some folks worry that they are missing out on something if they don’t look at everything that appears to them. If they miss one email or spam, or if they don’t check out that website that someone told them about, their life will be somehow diminished.

Not so.

If it doesn’t have anything to do with your interests, your life, or especially your business, it’s OK to ignore it. Sometimes it’s good to have a general awareness of life beyond your circle, it’s true. Read the news, stay aware. But don’t drown yourself in a vast ocean of meaningless information, either.

It’s OK to click away, and the Delete button is there for a reason.

3. Words is Where it’s At

There are many who say they don’t like to read or write. Unfortunately, that’s just a part of life on the ‘net. Yes, it’s full of cool visuals, graphics, and video. Still, however, it’s a text-driven medium. You read your emails, you read web pages and blogs. You communicate with your customers via the written word. It’s vital.

Some people still struggle with typing and the keyboard. This can be a real obstacle. While there are good type tutor programs, the best way to learn is simply practicing. Write something at the keyboard every day, and you’ll surprise yourself how little time it takes to learn.

4. Social Networking is a Tool to Bring Traffic and Links

Some guys like to go shopping in hardware stores. I don’t. Some guys look at a saw or a wrench and see a way to have fun and relax. I see a growing list of projects that I have yet to finish. It’s not relaxing to me, it’s more stressful.

The hammer isn’t what stresses me, it’s the project that I don’t like. But I also realize that I want the project done. So, I can either take the hammer and use it to complete the project, or I can hire someone to use his hammer and finish it for me. Either way, someone’s gonna use a hammer.

Social networking is the same way. If you don’t like to use it, I hope you realize that it’s important that it be done. While it IS possible to hire someone else to do it for you, it’s also very likely that most internet startups don’t have that kind of budget. So, because I don’t have the money to hire someone to build my deck, I have to pick up the hammer. In the same way, a beginning internet entrepreneur still needs to learn how to use the social networking sites.

5. The Internet is the Most Social Place for Anti-Socials

Finally, when you think about it, is there a better place for loners than the internet? All of the social interaction is via your internet connection. You don’t have to worry about being judged face-to-face. You can relax in your own space, your own home office, and just interact. You can set up links, set up connections, and all on your own terms, at your own pace. It’s a more safe way to break out of your shell.

Remember that it’s critical that visitors come to your site, and the best way to do that is to go out and invite them.

Mark is the co-director of, the search marketing consulting arm of Clickincome ( Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Government 2.0

With all the talk about how social networking is changing the ‘net, and the advent of the truly interactive web 2.0, there’s a lot of talk about how to take our government social as well. As we become more and more electronically connected to each other, we can use this technology to better shape our democracy.

All this came to mind after finding out about a presidential debate that was brought about using Twitter. The theme of the debate was Government and Tech. The debate was carried out by a New York Times editor, and tech-related staffers from both McCain’s and Obama’s camps.

I read the transcripts of the “debate” which was really more of a “conversation”. It had a lot in common with face-to-face debates, in that it was mostly rhetorical, full of promises, and nothing was really resolved. A big difference was that each posting, being on Twitter, was limited to 140 characters, so at least the political blathering didn’t go on and on. Still, reducing the commentary to little text bites like that didn’t really allow anyone to go into any detail.

It did get me excited, however, that the two parties had considered the possibility of discourse over the ‘net, and were embracing it. It got me thinking about the plusses and minuses of interacting with our governments online.


1. Automation of the Mundane – There are a lot of day-to-day things that could be and should be run off of websites. In many states, for example, you can long into your state’s website and apply for a business license. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could just pay our traffic tickets online? Not that I get traffic tickets, of course…

2. Better Access to Real Information – Along with the mundane tasks of the day, there are often a lot of government interactions that are strictly informative. Suppose you need to check the zoning of a particular address. It would sure be cool to be able to just look it up online. Want to know which roads are slated to be fixed this year? Go to your city’s website!

3. Interaction Among Voters – One of the real benefits of Government 2.0 that we’re already seeing is that voters are connecting up with each other, sharing ideas and opinions. We are discussing politics more and more online, as opposed to only face-to-face. As I consider the positions of other voters around me, it allows me to not just vote for my own situation, but to consider the needs and lives of others.

4. Breaking News – Often the internet community is privy to information before even the traditional news media. People that are connected to the right sites online can get information on government goings on, often as it happens. For example, you can track the progress of bills that could impact your life as they move through the legislative process.

5. More Ongoing Documentation for Historians – As we generate more and more information and opinion, these years will be much better documented than in our early history. There will be much more fact and discussion to draw from when the books are being written. The challenge will be, of course, to separate the opinion from the fact.


1. Haves and Have-Nots – We’re already dealing with this issue in other areas of society. We need to be careful not to disenfranchise those that either don’t have access to the technology, or don’t know how to use it.

2. Doesn’t overcome apathy – All of this information is well and good, assuming that people care enough to look it up. All the blogs in the world won’t impact anyone that doesn’t read them!

3. Spreading Rumors – Often because of the immediacy of the net, but also because of its anonymity, it’s a great medium for spreading rumors or even outright lies. Sorting the clear truth from the murk can be a challenging task. We all need to develop some good critical thinking skills to be able to analyze what’s being said.

4. Security Issues – As we’ve seen with electronic voting, as more and more actual governmental tasks go online, the need to keep that secure is stronger and stronger.

5. Regulation Issues – When we talk about the ‘net, we like to talk about freedom and the ability to say and do what we want. But even as we walk the streets there are police. Will there need to be laws and regulations governing the ‘net? If so, how will they be enforced? How will they be monitored? How will that effect our freedom to say what we want?

6. Taxation and Infrastructure – Along with issues of freedom, another issue that gets netizens rabid is the thought of taxation. While I don’t want to pay any more for the net than I have to, just like everyone else, someone’s gotta build the infrastructure, and someone’s gotta pay for that. Who will it be? And how will all of those issues impact the look and feel of the net in the future?

And always remember, as you’re out there celebrating your freedom of speech on the ‘net: Just because we have better ways to talk doesn’t always mean we have better things to say.

Mark is the co-director of, the search marketing consulting arm of Clickincome ( Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.