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Honey, Put Down Your Flamethrower, You Know I’ve Always Loved You

03/10/2009

That’s the last line from a Lawrence Raab poem I love, Attack of the Crab Monsters.

I’m a poet. I went about 10 years between poems, having just finished one recently. I’m not really sure why that gap yawns across the last decade. I could say it’s because we’ve been raising two kids, working our asses off, watching in disbelief as George Bush took this country down a few notches, losing everything due to my disability, and starting all over out here in Rural upstate New York. But it’s really because I just didn’t have much to say.

I was always wordy. When we edited my poems in workshops, including one with the great Beat poet (and author of the Novel Go) John Clellon Holmes, I was always encouraged to say it with less. I had to learn to condense my writing to fit the ever-shortening attention span of the reader. Another poetry professor, Jim Whitehead, once asked me what the hell I was babbling on about and it took me a week to answer.

Writing for the internet, then, came naturally to me. For years, search engines rewarded people who could write long, intricate, and wordy copy, to better help the bots understand what your site was about, increase keyword density in creative ways, and include as many keywords as possible on the page. As a reader and writer, I’m happy to see that change. For the last year or so now, I’ve noticed a vast improvement in web copy, due mostly to bloggers who don’t really care about search engine optimization.

The media often speak of bloggers as if they were some alien race that suddenly appeared in our midst, having until the very moment the first blog was invented, never exercised their right to free speech in any other published forum. This open-source thought, free of the old media gatekeepers, must have been scary to the Oracles of Importance, just as cable was to networks. For here we have a meritocracy, in which writing that sucks is ignored, and writing that is good is rewarded.

I notice that when I read any of my favorite blogs, I go for long periods without using a search engine. I follow links from what I’m reading. Each author is the gatekeeper of his links, and a whole story can be told using them. In my recent essay, Suffering, Police State, and the Ditching of Unhappiness, the links shape a sense of location and context that would be impossible otherwise.

The blogosphere has became it’s own authority, passing out rewards for good behavior (links) and punishing bad (flames). The best blog writers link to the sources that support their case, or to information that leads to a better understanding of the topic at hand. The hypertext as footnote quality of many great blog writers offers credibility to the writer that the readers can discern for themselves.

I’m sure Holmes and Whitehead would tell me to get to the point now.

As traditional media pipes rust and collapse under the weight of a neglected infrastructure, the new media is quickly filling the gaps. The benefit to the reader is to recognize that in a more open-source world, we can still get the intelligent reporting and well-written essays that we’ve gotten used to, they just come to us in a way that’s easier for us to control. It’s information on demand, with millions of choices, and it means we can be more intelligent consumers of that information. The job of any content producer out there now is to deserve to be viewed, and the process by which we determine that merit is much more democratic now than ever.

Our problem is to convince the scared partners, the consumers of our product, that we are still the same creator as we were before the transformation. It’s still just writing. We still love our readers. They still love us. We just have to make sure they recognize us. Many of them are also writers, and we are their readers. We don’t have to walk a mile in their shoes, because we already have. We know what we like, and that’s what we should produce. Write about what you know.

In yesterday’s post, I showed a graph that showed that long-string keyword searches were increasing, while searches for one or two words was decreasing over the last year. In very general terms, this tells me that people are getting more specific about what they want. Perhaps this is partly because Web 2.0 has increased awareness of the power of the internet to be the small “d” democratic change that information needed in an age named for it.

The people are now shrugging off another tyranny, that of constant input from a fixed source that determined what you saw and heard, told you what to want and buy, who was cool, and where to go to meet them. Rather than suffering a few powerful corporate bosses determining their informational input, people are free to read, watch, and say what they want when they want.

A lot of people from the corporate entertainment/information tyranny are good at what they do, but are constrained by the format, producers, or censors. Those people deserve to be heard and will be, if they figure out how to put what they have to say out there for people to hear it. They need to learn that everyone on the internet has a flamethrower. My job as an internet marketer is to convince people to put down their Greek fire so we can talk. And if you want to convince someone to put down their flamethrower, you’d better have something good to say.

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