Ask Slashdot: Can Quality Writing Live Beside SEO?
As a writer, I have a crucial question which needs input from geeks, and I hear a few of them hang out here. It's about SEO, which usually stands for Search Engine Optimization; but I call it Strange Eerie Orwellian. I use the Yoast plugin on WordPress and find that it's always sniping at me about omissions and flaws. The gold keyword must be in the title, in the first paragraph, and a dozen other places amid the content. The Flesch score is always yapping at me to make shorter sentences, as if the children out there reading their cell phones can't follow dependent clauses. Bottom line is that all this can turn a 1,200 word essay into a barrel of tripe. Search Engine Obsession appears to be making a mockery of quality; content is not king, it isn't even the prince's lapdog. Therefore, geeks, my questions: does SEO really matter for anyone but the owners of content farms? What rational options exist that may put prosody ahead of these draconian search rules? Or is it time for us writers to buckle down and accept the new reality, that we are no longer slaves to publishers and editors but to algorithms?
The Device is Not Your God
I walk nearly every day, and I see them everywhere I go: the young, strong, potentially vibrant bodies, shuffling along the street like broken old men in a nursing home, staring blankly into the Device.
I want to call out to them, to warn them: do not become slaves to Connectivity so that you forget how to communicate. Learn to connect with yourself, and the Device will find its small and proper place in your life. Remember the words of Krishnamurti:
Technical knowledge, however necessary, will in no way resolve our inner, psychological pressures and conflicts; and it is because we have acquired technical knowledge without understanding the total process of life that technical knowledge has become a means of destroying ourselves. The man who knows how to split the atom but has no love in his heart becomes a monster...
IE6: Still Crazy, After All These Years
So I had to spend a little time yesterday re-familiarizing myself with Microsoft's Sharepoint product, as I was preparing for a phone interview with a company that uses it. I was watching a video demo from a MS geek when I noticed a funny looking icon on his screen: that's Firefox (bottom of image, beside the IE icon), the open-source web browser that is MS Internet Explorer's chief competition in the web browser market. And it appears to be that geek's default browser on his machine (see the icon for the web page link on his desktop at the upper left).
Geeks don't really care about their corporate affiliations. They behave essentially the way the rest of us do, or should, or once did, in America -- they choose what works best (when you work in the IT sector of a big company, you can sometimes get away with receiving local installations of alt-software for the purposes of "testing"). Corporations are slowly, but inexorably catching on: Google has decided to stop supporting IE6 on its Youtube site, beginning in about ten days. Many geeks blame IE6 for the Chinese cyber-attack on Google's and some 30 other corporate web servers that we covered earlier this year, details of which are still emerging.
For years, I messed around with the HTML of this site to keep it displaying properly in IE6, and finally gave it up as a bad job this year. Every single web browser out there, from Safari to Firefox to Opera to the lowly KDE Linux Konqueror, effortlessly and correctly displays our content, images, videos, and sidebar material. Only IE, especially IE6, has trouble with it. It is an insecure, outdated, abysmal application that consistently fails where others succeed. Yet, when I was pushed off the sinking ship of AIG last year, their corporate standard web browser was still...IE6. Stupidity and stubbornness are usually very happily, or at least inseparably, married.
But you're running XP, Vista, or some other version of Windows and have had IE6 for a long time and don't feel like leaving the devil you know -- what to do? Well, the simple answer is exactly what MS wants you to do: upgrade to IE7 or IE8. It's not the worst answer -- IE8 performs considerably more reliably and smoothly than 6. But it's still IE, with the same old antiquated Trident engine running it. My recommendation would be Google Chrome, because it's fast, safe, and user-friendly on its interface. Firefox is also an excellent option, and I think you'd be pleasantly surprised by the performance of Opera as well. And if you're working for a company that still is in the IE6 swamp, I'd ask why. By this time, given the seriousness of the Chinese attacks, it's a very good question to ask the government, via your local Congressman or Senator. How is it that the world's most advanced and wealthiest nation can only deliver barely half of the broadband Internet access to its citizens of, say, Denmark or Canada or Switzerland, and is still technologically and politically in the pocket of a corporation that perpetually churns out unsafe and dysfunctional product (MS)? If America is so great, how come it is so damned slow and stupid on the uptake of the simplest, clearest issues of fact and experience?
When even a geek paid by MS goes public with his implicit disdain for his boss's own product, that should send a message to the rest of us.
Ballmer and the Window 7 Teen Test
About 14 years ago, an editor at Bloomsbury took home a manuscript for a children's novel that had come in that day. She gave the thing to her daughter to read. The kid really liked it, and the rest is history. That novel was from an unknown and unpublished welfare mom named J.K. Rowling, and it was called Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.
Today, we learn that Steve Ballmer is personally supervising user previews of Windows 7; and he's including his own teenage son in the test group. It's probably the smartest thing he's done in all his years at MS, maybe the only smart thing he's done. This is not to say that Win 7 will be anything approaching Harry Potter for impact and success, but you have to give the man credit for going to the right sources for some honest feedback. Kids, unlike tech bloggers and columnists, don't care about shilling for a new piece of software because it might come with a brand new PC or some other gift or perk. If your product ain't fun and easy to use, they'll get bored and complain. And if Dad thinks it's really cool, the suspicion factor is magnified. If Win 7 passes the teen test, Ballmer might be safe in hoping for a better outcome than he had with Vista.
The Search for Dark Matter
Claims to have spotted dark matter have so far rested mostly on evidence gathered by looking at collisions between clusters of galaxies. Some of these appear to have separated dark matter from its visible counterpart. Three months ago, however, a team of physicists reported subatomic evidence. They think they have seen an abundance of high-energy positrons, the antimatter versions of electrons, coming from space, and they speculate that this, too, is a sign of dark matter.
Now, if the Economist could only find the dark matter of the global economy...
Apple: So Advanced, and Yet So Retro
Dan Frommer of Silicon Alley obviously agrees. I would only add that Apple puts its customers into a double-bind with this bad habit: they sell software that takes advantage of a networking service that itself must be paid for. If Apple really wishes to ramp up its market share on the software side, they will have to cease with this dual-charging.