Monday, August 03, 2009

People, Prophets and Publishing

Twice last week I learned about developments that sent me into frantic, obsessive pondering about the future of B2B media.
Odds are you saw those same stories. Odds are you too have contemplated their significance.

Both of these developments are about the technology of how news makes it way to us. And these particular stories made their way to me through other people using technology -- just as is often the case these days. Technology flagged the news. A person then used technology to notify me directly. And I used technology to discuss what I'd heard.

But somehow the experience left me feeling disconnected from both people and technology.

Allow me to explain.

The pull of search

Early one morning last week a friend sent an Instant Message to say that he'd received a news alert that Microsoft and Yahoo had reached a deal to combine their search assets. The core of the news was that Microsoft's search function, called Bing, would now power Yahoo search.
Instantly I started wondering what, if any, effect this would have on how B2B editors optimize their content for search.
Most of us now create content that works with the Google algorithm. We've learned to post meta data that pleases the Google gods. And Google has rewarded us. When people search for news and information in our space, Google sends those people to us.
But most of us have paid considerably less attention to the needs of Yahoo and Microsoft. Those search engines didn't merit the same level of devotion we gave to Google.
But something was changing.
So, I wondered: will we need to do anything different to please Bing?

In recent years, I'd have sought the answer to such a question by searching for an answer. I'd have typed "SEO for Bing" into the Google search box and started reading.
But this time I went instead to Twitter and asked people for help by typing "Looking for the definitive article on article-level SEO for Bing. Anyone got a recommendation?"
(If you're curious, the most interesting article anyone sent was this one. The best new-to-me site anyone told me about was this one.)

The push of context
The next day I came across another interesting tidbit. Scrolling through Twitter I found that B2B leader Rory Brown had retweeted something by publishing-platform executive Andrew Davies about how the New York Times was now delivering content based on a reader's LinkedIn profile.
So I logged into LinkedIn and then visited NYTimes to check it out.
The result was disappointing. The system seemed to think I worked in technology, rather than publishing or media. So I shared the news and my reaction with folks on Twitter: "LinkedIn and NYTimes think I work in tech: RT @rorybrown RT @andjdavies NYT using LinkedIn profile data to target news -"

But as much as the execution of the Times/LinkedIn deal fell short, the concept was intriguing.
And within minutes I was chatting online about what B2B publishers might learn from it.

People, who need people, are the luckiest people, in the World Wide Web
If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that I'm growing bored with Twitter and the rest of the newest media even as I grow more dependent upon them.
The way that I heard about, and then talked about, the Bing and NYTimes/LinkedIn news is just the latest example of the conflict I'm feeling -- the technology that dominates my information consumption/distribution is both wondrous and unsatisfying.
Search functions find information for me.
Contextual engines find me for information.
LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and instant messaging find people for me to talk to about subjects that matter to me.
Things are faster. News is more relevant; data is more useful.
Everything about how I consume and process information in my business life is better than it was years ago.
Yet, in the end, I feel unconnected and shortchanged.

Alone at the drive-in movie
My brother David is an actor. His latest role is as "Miller" in the sci-fi thriller "The Surrogates," staring Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames. The movie is set in a future where everyone stays at home, logs on, and then lives life through surrogate robots.
David's character is the henchman and follower of a character called "the Prophet," who wants people to abandon the surrogates and return to the real world. In one scene David punches Bruce Willis, who represents the status quo.

I'm not saying I want to punch anyone.
If anything, I want to punch things up.
I'm not saying I want to go backward. I'm not calling for less of what we are now and more of what we once were.
I'm hoping for -- longing for -- the next stage.
But there's a small voice in my head that warns that the next stage will disappoint me as well. It's a voice that suggests I've become less of the real me
in my business life than I ever was before.
It's a voice that says I've become a surrogate me trading information with a surrogate you.
I'm not sure what to do about this. But I find it very unlikely I'll find a technological solution to my Web 2.0 ennui.
(Note: I recognize there's something absurd about feeling bored with Web 2.0 and then blogging about it. Even sillier is the fact that I'm about to tweet about this blog post.)