Prepare For a World In Which Personal Brand is Currency

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 05/10/2012

Okay, and a new day begins. I just got out of a morning meeting. I can almost see and feel and smell how social media and SEO are coming together, with SEO as we know it being the part that’s under attack and undergoing a crisis of identity. It used to be that everything led with search, because with information overload, search was the only reasonable way to sort things out, and online habits were not really formed. There was not absolute regular go-to place. Some things like Yahoo and MN were pretty compelling, but over time, people’s attention got yanked this-way and that, until apps so sticky came along that they became the new homepages… Facebook and Twitter, because they fed the basic human need of feeling connected, which the Internet so tantalizingly promised and failed to deliver upon until these killer apps came along. And since then, search has been increasingly relegated to it’s roots, as a research tool. Not many people went to libraries before Google, and what Google did was to bring “research” into peoples’ lives—important, but probably for the bulk of people, very secondary in their lives to “staying connected”. And of course, the word-of-mouth of social is just a fundamentally more powerful way for information to spread than information land-mines waiting to be stepped upon in search.

This daily work journal is going to have to be where I solve the giant simultaneous equation of remaining cutting-edge in my field (which in itself is gradually transforming), doing a great day-to-day job for my employers, working towards my life’s mission of helping to define and champion a righteous and timeless open source development platform (or at least, methodology), and being a great daddy and husband on top of all that. Because my time is really focused on the things immediately at-hand when I get home, my best time for thinking about this grand unified approach to life and living is right here in my daily work journal—the nature of the work, actually being intertwined with everything. And so, you get paragraphs like this at the beginning of what’s inevitably going to devolve into a very technical discussion. But before it does, I have to put a few words in about what I’m doing on the social front. I am an SEO guy, having focused most of my time on “what I know” rather than “who I know”… and more broadly, how I network. And so, it’s time for me to start putting tension in the machinery on the social-front, because in the long-run, social (because of word-of-mouth) is simply more powerful than search. While search may be a great starting point, planting a sort of land-mine of ideas for ideally pre-qualified folks who are searching on the topic, social just provides much more explosive idea-spreading vectors. It’s the old discovery-device vs. amplification-device discussion, where search is discovery and social is amplification.

And just as with search in which not all websites are equal, not all social user profiles are equal. Social has its Oprah’s—its big idea promoters that loan power to budding memes, and unfortunately, no matter how much I might prefer living in the “what you know” search-world of carefully constructed experiments and invisible hand projects, you simply have to start being a player in the “who you know” social-world of knowing people, and being known. And being known takes the form of a very well-connected profile of like-minded individuals whom, given the right message at the right time, you can motivate to pick up and repeat that message. Without having this ability, you’re nothing. Or rather, not nothing, but relegated to that position-of-weakness of only being able to plant idea land-mines, hoping that your target audience will search on just the right keywords, click just the right result, end up on your site, get the message you intend them to get, and hope that they are themselves influential and capable of picking up your message and starting to spread it by word-of-mouth. No, I’m not willing to be relegated into that world. I have to be one of the powerful idea promoters. I have no delusions of being an Oprah, but in my niche space, I think I have a pretty good chance. The biggest thing working against me is my extreme technical, unedited rambling raw writing style. But I’m also gambling that’s part of my charm and appeal, albeit for an incredibly small audience, but persistent over the long-haul I may be able to reach that entire potential audience.

And so that’s the premise I’m proceeding on, typing away in vim, polluting up the Tiger version control system with all this stuff. But that’s okay, because it puts my mind into the right place and forces me to have the code loaded all the time. In fact today, I’m finally taking advantage of my new dual wide-screen monitors for the first time, making it so that I have 3 80-column by 64-row Linux terminal windows open on one monitor, and the browser on the other. I’m finally settling into a work setup that removes as much friction as possible. Every time I hit something that stifles or trips me up, like accidental screen shots in Ubuntu, I’ll stop and take a moment to both fix it for myself, and slam out a little bit of web content on the topic, usually in the form of an FAQ. I’m hoping to build up a critical mass of such content on topics of interest for my intended audience for my eventual mission-in-life timeless dev platform thing. I’m being very careful to “ask for the like” and the Twitter follow, as these are becoming the social signal king-makers of the world we’re moving into. There’s an irony here in that no one owns Twitter, and the big guys rely on the “firehose” deal to get the motherload of Twitter data as a relevancy factor, and Google lost the firehose deal to Microsoft Bing. The other storehouse of data is Facebook, which is not primarily a search engine, but again deals with Microsoft/Bing due to M$’s equity stake in Facebook. So again, the true activation of social signals is stifled. I’m waiting for Google to just spend $50 billion to buy Twitter and get it over with. Facebook is another story… maybe they’ll buy Microsoft after the IPO… ha ha ha.

Okay, so point being that you have to start building up the social signals today that you know are going to be important tomorrow, whether or not they’re fully activated as relevancy signals in the engines today. You have to expect a day of sudden liquefaction to occur, whereby all the solid foundations that us SEO’s lived by for the better part of fifteen years suddenly disappears. Things are just changing so much, between social and mobile that the old Google way of thinking and working just can’t hold up. They certainly are responding to this with all their social endeavors, and against that backdrop, Bing itself is getting back to basics, adopting that simple “top-10” design of Google ages past, gambling that people long for those simpler days. I expect the real innovation to be something we just haven’t seen yet today—not Siri voice recognition. Not duckduckgo or Blekko or “Your World” or any of the other little experiments we’ve seen lately. Rather, I believe it will be something that somehow ties together the social grid and the Internet content and API, unified with real-time and small-world theory so that every time you perform a search, it may come back different with a very strong visual representation of what just happened. In this way, search becomes a much more social, tweakable, dynamic, and nuanced experience that is both entertaining to the layman, and endlessly improvable and optimize-able for professionals. Google small world theory to get an idea of what I’m talking about.

Ahhhh, anyway, all this leads up to a few conclusions. The first is that as human beings with unique identities that are more constant than websites, companies, and all these other conceptual constructs that come and go, we are going to be the main “nodes” in tomorrow’s search/social landscape. By that, I mean that our identities are going to become the master records against which everything else (websites, resources, information, etc.) are hanging off of in less important and optional records. The online graph of greatest importance starts to look a lot like the family tree of humanity. The data of Ancestry.com and such companies merges with the Facebook database, merges with genetics research, and you start to get the only true immutable (unchangeable) data structure in the information-age—the actual objective snapshot of who exists. Sure, there’s tons of privacy ramifications here, but every generation has their own expectations of privacy, and they evolve with each generation, with much privacy being given up for much benefit. And the benefit of being on the grid in this case will be the ability to convert your social currency into actual resources. Artists and musicians with actual talent will be able to become millionaires 25-cents at-a-time over the course of a few years. Personal brand become currency. Writing and programming ability becomes currency. And so the bottom-line is you have to start preparing for that world today, which is precisely what I’m doing. Time for a journal-cut before I dive deep into the technical stuff today.