Prospering as an SEO During The Rise of The Full Lifestyle Ecosystem Company

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 07/31/2012

If you have any doubts that it’s a lifestyle near religion sort of thing that the big ecosystem-crafting companies are selling—or are at least preparing to sell—cast them aside. These now-familiar faces are the first wave of business tycoon geeks in the new information economy. They’ve got plenty of ability to become the Mad Men of the new economy. Go read Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and Frederik Pohl’s Venus, Inc, and come back to this article.

Okay, see? That’s why Bill Gates is a pussycat who got some nice little pieces of the puzzle correct, but couldn’t see the whole game. We’ll be looking back at Uncle Bill as a mostly benign cuddly old grand-dad who left his work at the office. Sure, he did some forays into hardware with mice, then XBoxes, and finally the Surface. But too little too late. Larry, Sergey, Mark and Mr. Bezos on the other hand are in a different class of rapidly evolving shark. Steve Jobs of course has himself become the quintessential, iconic, prototypical archetype standard to be marvelled at and measured against.

Now don’t get me wrong with my “evolved shark” language. I love what these guys are doing, and I certainly like the “I’ve waited long enough for my flying car” attitude of Google who’s probably planning it’s moon-base—and the “make it work right” attitude of Apple—who appears to be building its moon-base here on Earth. The things going on around us now just needs a little clarity painted around it so you don’t have to read scifi books for context.

A person’s life-span is not very long. The 80-or-so years on this planet are plenty for radical new world-changing views to set-in. In the past, an extra 50 or 100 years was necessary for word to spread and people to reflect before anything like a religion could move past its tribal cult-phase and get its act together. Things get written slow. Idea-laden dead tree carcass moves around the planet slow. People absorb new information slow, and get persuaded slow, and join together into groups slow.

Not so anymore, thanks to mass media and technology. For just about a 50-year post-World War 2 TV boom, we all moved as a single flock there for awhile, with 3 big networks. This single-mindedness was used to drive the sort of consumerism necessary to fuel that post-war economy, and keep everyone working. It was kinda like a religion—or at least a secular world-view—optimistic, but fearful of nuclear annihilation. The American Dream. Communism and Apocalypse. Heaven and hell. Carrot and stick. At this time, it made sense for GE to own NBC in order to close the loop of a full birth-to-death customer. GE built everything from the scary nukes to the TV show where you learned about them.

But along then comes this out-of-control stepchild network of the US defense department designed built on point-to-point adaptive routing, designed to survive nuclear blasts, but ends up being a cheap consumer service, spreading ideas and information around without gatekeeping, regulation, censorship, or even much curating. I don’t think that Jack Welsh planned on the Internet happening. With its point-to-point narrowcasting and everyone’s ability to just tune-in the parts they like, human attention fragments over countless channels, and suddenly there’s nowhere an advertiser can efficiently drop their penny to reach everyone anymore. Maybe Super Bowl ads, but how much other opportunities like that are there anymore?

Left to its own devices, no advertiser could realistically reach everyone with blanket ads—or even highly targeted ads, because of lack-of-control over the network and devices. Even as companies assert themselves by consolidating ownership over many of the layers in the new communication-chain (Disney for example), you still fundamentally can’t control the end-user experience if you don’t pre-configure the device the way you like, to at least stack the odds in your favor. And then you try to make it illegal to “root” the device. Basically, your best chance as a media company these days trying to reach EVERYONE so you can build the best products for advertisers, is to control the end-user device, and heavily predispose them to a way of thinking, searching… being. You control the boot-process, you control the life. Because these devices are so useful in education, you even get to educate the next generation of children a little bit.

And so, the plan is to not leave this process to its own devices, but rather to equip you with radically cool devices, generously provided at a ridiculously low price. The razor/razor blade business model comes to home electronics. And I’m not just talking the 7” tablet of Amazon Kindle and Google Nexus 7 here. I’m talking TVs, phones, laptops, and of course the tablets too scattered about the house. They are your feed—your connection—your tie to the information world. The more equipment of theirs that you use, the more they lock you in. It’s old-fashioned vendor lock-in of the sort that Microsoft mastered in the office, now applied to your homelife. Of course, not all homelife is digital. Not all goods are digital. But you can order most non-digital goods through these portals. That’s why Amazon keeps popping up in this discussion.

Did I say portal? Yep, it’s the rise of the portal again. But this time, we’re not on the Internet honeymoon—in which each of us was actually willing to become adept googlers, compensating for Google’s own shortcomings by adding our own intelligence to the search process. We did this because of the winning value-prop of doing so: master Google and always have the answer! Always have the answer, and be better, stronger, faster. But now the trend is to virtually read your mind from your history, connections and location. Well now because near artificial intelligence is going into producing the right answers fast, the search honeymoon is over… and the next big thing is percolating… just about ready to pour.

Everything old is new again. It’s portal-time again! ABC, NBC and CBS become Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook… Microsoft? Yahoo? There’s a little consolidation that still needs doing, but the process is irreversible now. The only difference is that companies that could have been gotten for $500 million a few years ago are going to take $20 billion now—but the war chests will allow it (if the many governments do too). So, we’re seeing the rise of the new “networks”. The familiar geek tycoons each saw their piece and direction to go at it from—Google through search, Apple through iPhones, Amazon through hardgoods, Facebook through social addiction.

But it’s trickier today to build an everyone-reaching network than it was in the 50’s with the rise of TV, when the simple trick of bringing moving pictures inside your house creates unified mass media overnight. Mass media becomes more of a pop culture thing than with newspapers before it, because work and thought are no longer required to access media. So for about 50 years there, we could tune in and veg-out. Game over! Google hopping over into Apple turf with the $200 Nexus 7 made that fact hit me in the face like a cream pie.

And I’m at a point in a career that needs navigating. SEO isn’t going to stay SEO for very long, because the traditional desktop form factor just is no longer practical if you are not a white collar desk information jockey, you’ll be using tablets and phones, virtually forgetting that old fashioned desktop computer form factors that us old foggies used to kickstarter the industry. Microsoft will breath a little life into the coolness of the old-foggie platform with Surface, but its future is unsure.

The big consumer trend is towards media players for video and video games and socializing. Who cares how if it works, if it just works. Big bulky PCs get replaced by svelt monitors that hang in the air and generic keyboards that all hook up when you move your cloud-key near it—most likely, your phone’s near field communication (NFC). Googling? Search? Wading through results? That old-school Top-10 best answers view of search that I invested my career in for about 15 years is either winding down, or becoming marginalized… crammed into the “overflow” results, with advertisements coming first, deal-driven API data coming second, the structured semantic easy-to-parse microdata of HTML5 coming third. And then finally, the old-school crawl-and-index stuff that needs to be sorted, sifted, and de-spammed comes FOURTH… if at all.

Well, that’s where your basic split in the social classes is going to come from. There’s really no undoing now the vast social good that the Internet has brought… but there is setting it back a few years by peddling some highly curated walled gardens in Nexus 7’s, iPhones and stuff where all research and investigation leads to your products, or your advertisers’ products. 9 out of 10 of the population won’t be able to… or won’t be incentivized to… peek over the fence of the garden. The products are just much less slick, less promoted, and less profitable over there. All the fat-head ultra-popular pop culture socially affirmed stuff is right here in the lovely, curated garden… unless you find the clues, see the puzzle, have the interest… were brought up right by your parents.

This is also, unfortunately, where one person becomes more likely to be the boss and the other lower on the literacy scale become part of a service-class, or perhaps some sort of information technician that doesn’t require intense creativity. There will be a rich market for robot technicians, for example. You can diagnose and fix anything, but can’t create a new product to save your life (me?). So in actuality, people get sorted into one of 3 castes: technician, entrepreneurial creative or pizza delivery guy. If you’ve got a moment for another scifi book, go read This Perfect World by Ira Levin. He envisioned a system where the programmer class leaves clues to recruit out of the dumb but happy masses… until running into a smart psychopath.

And so now today we are experiencing the most interesting time in computing since the 80’s. It can once again become anyone’s game, just as it could have in the early 80’s before Microsoft’s rise to dominance. But more likely, there will be two or three big corporate winners with waring lifestyles, economies, and worldviews. We are seeing the back and forth blows in the first parrying of moves. It’s going to get MUCH more interesting very quickly, and THAT’S where I need to invest my career. And I’ll be a self-appointed commentator and historian, with no better credentials than I lived on the periphery of some minor action in the suburbs of Philadelphia during the Commodore days.

I’m a punk who joined the scene too late and missed all the good stuff. I only got there soon enough to see a love destroyed (the Amiga computer) by the numbing mediocrity of the suburbs seeping in at every opening. I’m not wholly beloved by my old Commodore buddies, because I refuse to take the group-think position that it was all Irving and Medhi’s fault, and not in part or whole due to just outright bad product decisions that Medhi and Irving were too clueless to override.

That’s where Steve Job’s brilliance came in. He could separate adequate from great. He focused on great, and killed tons of products that were only adequate. Commodore did not have that ability since Irving ousted Jack… so yeah, I guess ultimately it was Irving’s fault. But I’m big on fixing things from the trenches. Sure, autoconfig was great—but so would have the true next generation Amiga that broke compatibility, got a 24-bit blitter chip and morphed into what NVidia became today… a graphics chip manufacturer that wiggled its way into being a major player in the tablet space by seeing what others didn’t and taking the lead. The NVidia system-on-a-chip and tablet reference product called Kai (based on ARM, not Intel), made the Nexus 7 possible (or at least so cool), by the way.

And THAT is the paragraph that I finally end on in this long rambling post. If you actually got down to this point in the article, congratulations. You’re the one. My site will never be that popular, because it’s stream of consciousness thinking out loud work journal shit. But as you can see, if you got down to here, I’ve got to do it to navigate my career. Others are delving into the tiny nuances of what Google did today with Panda. What percentage of monitored results changed? What’s the MozCast? But no… not me. I’ll keep tuned into that the best I can. But I feel the soil eroding under my feet, and sudden liquefaction of an industry coming. I don’t plan on keeping standing here to get swept away in an Atlantis.

I’m going to be a savvy API programmer and ecosystem observer and commentator. I’m going to reposition myself (does that ever really stop in SEO) to greatest career advantage in the company that I currently work for, because it’s insanely great and provides me the freedom I need for precisely this sort of thinking. If not at 360i proper, then at Dentsu. It’s a marketing company with a Japanese long-term view of the world. It thinks about the future. It invests. My work is very “Dentsu” in nature. But even so, I drive forward in my current capacity, ultimately answering to clients.

I will do this by pushing 360iTiger forward with a sort of thought-leadership public performance, precisely like I did HitTail, but updated for the times. I’m going to transition that whole experience to having some sort of product of my own that I can just keep selling without limits, and without driving myself insane and dying young. That thing is going to let me travel with my family and educate my daughter, using the whole wide world as my school. The product will be formulaic, so I can walk away with it in the hands of trusted expert employees.

And finally, in my Paul Grahm pulsing brain alien moment, the system will be meta in nature, so it improves over time based on how much of “yourself” you keep putting into it over time. That’s why I’ll still be valuable when I walk back to the system after my long traveling hiatuses. I simply use distributed version control to fork an instance of my work, infuse into it whatever special-ness my most recently learnings have provided, and hopefully therefore reignite excitement in the tribe of the product. If the new work I just infused turns out to be good, it gets merged back into the main codebase. If not, roll it back, rinse and repeat.

Yes, this is fundamental worldview literacy education shaping-the-future stuff. Be alert for those dots. See them, and come join me in watching them connect—and perchance to participate! Not all the opportunities are monopolized yet. There’s plenty of room for those who can play this game.