Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Recognizing Self-Promotion When you Read It

Ever since Andrew Keen raised the problem (which I called the problem of "the cult of the professional" when I discussed in August) of how, in the Internet world, creative individuals run the risk of spending more time promoting themselves than they do realizing their creative pursuits, I have been more aware of how I have tried to cultivate my own reading strategies to filter the noise of deceptive promotion out of the signal of more substantive content. I am far from naive when it comes to recognizing the need to attract eyeballs on the Internet. pays me by the number of page views I receive; and, when I first started writing for them, I was encouraged to read background material offering a variety of tips for enhancing that page-view count. For better or worse, this is the life of those of us who write on the Internet; but, like much of the world the Internet has made, it is a life of unpleasant consequences.

I have even gone so far as to suggest that those consequences extend beyond the usual boundaries of the Internet itself. Only a month ago I was considering the case of Sigrid Olsen, who once could have been presented as a model case study of the entrepreneurial spirit at its best. Olsen developed her own line of clothing and worked up to a point where her offerings had no problem attracting eyeballs, not only among viable customers but also within "the trade" itself. Unfortunately, some of those latter eyeballs belonged to Liz Claiborne Inc., which basically acquired and then destroyed her business. What were their grounds for destroying it? Basically, the numbers for Olsen products were not keeping up with the overall corporate numbers of their "parent." The bottom line was that Liz Claiborne Inc. was now responsible for the Olsen line; but Olsen herself was responsible for promoting it to a performance level consistent with other "parent" offerings. Olsen had never tried to do this when she was on her own. She was more interested in designing what she wanted to design while living within the means that her numbers supported. In other words she was never interested in playing the corporate "growth game;" but that did not prevent her being victimized by it.

Fortunately, the signal-to-noise-ratio problem seldom has an impact on how we provide ourselves with clothing. On the other hand, at the beginning of this month, I found myself confronted with a problem of noise from a source that I had previously trusted for signal quality: Yahoo! News. Basically, Yahoo! News ran a story about public opinion on health care reform which was basically duplicated from the Rasmussen™ Reports Web site. The problem was that the story did not present a particularly convincing argument because it was pretty vague about the underlying data. This led me to conclude that Scott Rasmussen, the "man behind the Web site," so to speak, was using a free version of a news story to build up his subscriber base. In other words Yahoo! News had passed off as news material that may have served no purpose other than to market Rasmussen's polling results.

Today I encountered another instance of such marketing, somewhat more innocuous but also more pervasive. It emerged because, once again, I was attracted by one of Chris Matyszczyk's headlines for his Technically Incorrect blog on the CNET Blog Network:

UK divorce lawyers: A fifth of cases Facebook-related

It was an enjoyable piece on a potentially dark side of the whole obsession with social software, and it was certainly worth the read. More interesting, however, was a comment from WHPHW, which I shall reproduce now that I have set readers up for the dangers of self-promotion:

Its funny because I recently purchased a book entitled 'is: The Phenomenon of the Facebook Status' were it presents an insight into everyday life in the 21st century through the medium of Facebook status updates, highlighting the joys and pressures of today's world, giving a 'warts 'n' all' look into what we have become, as a society.

Each individual status update listed within 'is' allows the watching world to look into the updating person's soul as they share their thoughts and feelings of the day in a manner that has never before existed, giving a glance of what the person is made of, if not the image they are attempting to portray!

It is one of my favourite books this year, and has been getting rave reviews online.

If you are reading this article then you will love this book.

Thank me later

This struck me as sitting right on the threshold of relevance, and then I realized that the last three letters of the handle were the initials of the author of the book being cited! I then clicked on that handle and discovered that this comment had been submitted to six separate CNET articles! This led me to check out the URL to see just how legitimate the product was. It turns out that the product was "real" enough; but there were only two reviews, neither of which could be described as a "rave." The more informative of the two is worth reproducing:

CrazyFunnyCrude Book, June 16, 2009
Man this book is crazy!

It is not like a 'normal' book that is designed for reading straight through, it seems to be designed as more of a book to flick through whilst browsing on Facebook, but I am a huge Facebook fan, that loves knowing what people are up to, and once I started reading I just could'nt stop! It had me laughing out loud so many times, but also cringing and gasping at the contents! My flatmate is now reading it and making the same outbursts I did!

It is a bit rude and crude in some chapters so I dont think it would be suitable for readers under 18, but I think the rest of us can appreciate someone going against the PC brigade.

This book will be huge this Christmas.

I'm giving it 4* based on the emotional rollercoaster it put me through, but deducting a star for the layout and some of the crudness.

The other review seemed like pretty faint praise, even if it also awarded the book four stars:

The book has many creative ideas, but..., October 24, 2009
you can find tons of free ideas on the web without buying a book. It will be a great gift for friends of mine who pride themselves on how witty their Facebook Status is for any given day.

This was sufficient to convince me that I have better things to read, including the data sources that Matyszczyk cited, which I figured I could accept as far more authoritative by a long shot. All this simply reinforces a principle by which I have tried to live ever since the Internet opened its floodgates: "the primary rule for reading any text on the Internet" is caveat lector. The Internet reader must assume that, from the writer's point of view, (s)he is as likely to be a victim as a seeker of information. Thus, every one of us who reads from the screen is personally responsible for developing strategies to avoid that victimization; and, like it or not, we have no reason to assume that any "higher power" will apply those strategies on our behalf.

No comments: