The Pitchosphere

February 16th, 2004  |  Published in Uncategorized

Doc Searls

href=”http://doc.weblogs.com/2004/02/16#awayBombs”>commented on

“Technorati Bombing,” the point of which, according to the person

who suggested the practice to Doc, “is to do the equivalent of

Google-bombing on the Technorati product list. It’s a bit of guerilla

promotion, trying to get this book to rise up that list in hopes of

people noticing it.”

“Google

Bombing” is the practice of linking to something enough that it

rises in the search engine’s results. It can be used as an attempt to

give something more notoriety, or it can be used to associate a

certain phrase with

href=”http://www.newsday.com/business/ny-bzgoog1206,0,2339508.story?coll=ny-business-headlines”>an

unexpected result.

Says Doc:

“I think it’s harmless at worst and helpful at best. Why not push good books that aren’t bestsellers? There’s also a difference between bombing Technorati and bombing Google, just due to the differing natures of what they search and how they search it.”

Initially, I was irritated.

For starters, Doc, it’s only a “good book” to a finite group

unless, like Plato’s philosopher, you’ve shrugged off some sort of

perceptual collar on your literary taste and you’re calling back to us

poor blinkered fools in the cave because you’ve discovered the pure

form of “good book.”

I doubt that has happened, but that’s nitpicking and it’s mostly beside the point.

Doc comes at things from a marketer’s perspective, though. He’s

comfortable and conversant with the clutter of marketplaces. Like

most marketing people, he’s got an extrovert’s view of the world or

he’s mastered the art of adopting one to get on with his day. To

these people, multiple and loud inputs are all part of a day’s work.

Given any commons, be it virtual or physical, marketers devote

themselves to trafficking in noise, ensuring they’re heard above other

marketer’s noise, and making sure you think their noise

is virtuous. Some of them even tell themselves that they’re playing a

vital role by ensuring that you hear this very important

message from their sponsors.

So here’s less of an answer than a perspective for Doc to consider:

People asked me if a new baby was going to make me feel confined

or crowded. After all, infants don’t really make it easy to get out

much. The answer has been a consistent “nope.”

It’s true that going very far is a bit more of a production than it

used to be. Things have to be timed with feeding schedules and the

overall state of preparedness on the part of the parents. Some days

an attempt to push the stroller down to the Mexican place on Hawthorne

to grab something to go devolves into Alison rocking Ben in his bouncy

chair while I pour reheated alfredo sauce over some tortellini I

grabbed on a quick trip out. But to someone who’s comfortable in his

own home and less comfortable with cluttered sidewalks, a half-mile

stretch of street where every corner has a gaggle of Greenpeace

petitioners, panhandlers, or people hawking bead jewelry from a

blanket, being inside isn’t bad. Less inputs to deal with, less noise,

less clutter.

To someone who’s

href=”http://www.puddingbowl.org/archives/misc/000597.php”>a

functioning introvert, the noise and clamor of a commons filled

with people making a pitch isn’t invigorating. It’s uncomfortable and

even seems a little hostile. “Out there,” everyone’s making a pitch:

They might be trying to sell stuff for money, they might be trying to

enlist support for their cause, they might just be holding out a hand

for spare change with a story they’ve used three times in the past

week, or they might be wearing flashy clothes and bad cologne because

they’re selling themselves to potential mates. But it’s all

intrusive, and it all involves a demand to be noticed at least

momentarily. I’m not as bad off as people who have anxiety attacks

when confronted with the overload, but “going out” involves a

conscious effort to put aside feelings of being hassled by loud

cell-phone talkers, stinky cologne wearers, sales people, and

canvassers, all of whom have in common one thing: Selling something,

even if it’s just themselves.

A quick study in pop psychology might peg me as a latent

agoraphobe, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the public spaces that are

bothering me. I like being out along Portland’s waterfront, for

instance, and I enjoy walks through nearby parks. It’s Pitch Culture

that irritates me. I get itchy when someone tries to make me their

mark. And when you go out in public, someone’s trying to make you

their mark as soon as your feet hit the sidewalk.

Assorted *-bombing is another sales job, another pitch, another

come-on. The author’s well-intentioned friend is making a pitch (with

the best of intentions, but it’s still a pitch) and the people who

think it’s fun to pile on and harmlessly push a book up are pitching

themselves as being people of influence, even if it’s in a vanishingly

small microcosm. The only response from people less willing to turn

their backs on yet another part of the world handed over to the cult

of marketing is to pitch back. Up goes the noise level, and yet

another commons is turned into a place that can be about anything at

all but happens to be about people selling stuff. The small chance

you had of “just hearing about something” is out the window because

someone’s making a concerted effort to “generate buzz.”

If you want some evidence of this dynamic in action, there’s a

recent

href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2004/02/14/technology/14AMAZ.html”>NYT article

about authors pseudonymously reviewing their own books and enlisting

friends to review their books on Amazon. It’s definitely

tempting. My co-author on my one and only book admitted that one of

our more scurrilous Amazon reviews probably came from someone he’d

been bickering with. The negative review stands out (it’s the one

thing the last person I pointed to Amazon noticed in a small group of

generally positive reviews), and it’s tempting to come up with a

pseudonym and try to balance him out. So far I’ve avoided the

temptation.

Months and months ago, I wrote of Google-bombers and others “[..]

they’ve subverted a search engine people liked because it was

meritocratic about information, and made it about themselves and their

narcissism.”

Doc’s behavior, and the behavior of people like him, hasn’t really

changed since then. Doc thinks the book he and others are

Technorati-bombing is a good book, so naturally it’s fine to game a

system to make sure you know about it, too.

Doc says the practice is different from Googlebombing, and I’ll go

along with that. It’s more like when spammers exploit your trust with

seemingly friendly subject lines like “Hi!” and “About that

conversation we had…” Only instead of making you leery of what you

read in your inbox, his behavior should make you leery of whatever you

come across on Technorati. It wasn’t the result of conversations on a

parkbench between friends. It got there because someone went out and

rounded up a gang to make a lot of noise and make damn good and sure

you noticed it.

Like I said, initially I was irritated. More reflection has led me to feel resigned. As Ed commented the last time I took this up:

“It’s much easier to hope that people link honestly and responsibly than to actually check which pages are worthwhile and which aren’t. But that ease comes with a price. Fallibility. Hackability. Gameability.”

And we continue to pay.

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