I’m not always right (I doubt anyone can in the world of tech if they are trying to predict the future) but here’s an example of when I got something really wrong (this was an example from my writing back in 2007). I thought more human-oriented approaches, like Mahalo, would get better results than algorithmic approaches, like Google. Why? I showed an example where SEO techniques had put stuff into Google searches that just wasn’t very good and compared that to where Mahalo had done a better job.
Anyway, it’s 2011 now and it’s clear that the Google way of doing things is still better for most people. It’s instructive to go back and see where I went wrong.
1. I didn’t listen to my own user behavior. Truth is, since 2007 I’ve rarely been to Mahalo. I rarely find that that site is authoritative on, well, anything. Compare it to Quora, for instance, and I find Quora more interesting in almost every case. I should have listened to my own behavior more.
2. I was trying to kiss someone’s behind and let that bias my conclusions. Why? I had visited Mahalo, gotten a tour of it with Jason Calacanis, who is an entrepreneurs who, back then, had a lot of power because he was a partner with Techcrunch and because he had successfully kicked off WeblogsInc, which included Engadget and sold to AOL. I assumed what he told me about where the industry was going was correct. As most journalists learn, I should have fact checked his statements. In college we learned “if your mother says she loves you you should check it out.” I didn’t, and now am facing the damage that happens when you say something that later turns out to be wrong.
3. I bet against momentum and user behavior. Truth is, even if Mahalo DID beat Google, it just wasn’t going to beat Wikipedia or Google itself. Why not? Mahalo couldn’t compete with the data Google had to study. Google knows a LOT more about our reading behavior than Mahalo does and can readjust its rankings accordingly (since 2007, for instance, Google brought out Instant Search which is far more useful for me than anything Mahalo has done. Why was that possible? Google has the user data, Mahalo doesn’t). Another more modern example of this is while I like Chewsy’s featureset, it is totally failing against Foodspotting because Foodspotting has more users. Same as I pointed out in my most recent post. Foursquare is beating Gowalla mostly because it has more users.
4. I went for cheap SEO tricks. Truth is, if you bash the SEO world they will all link to you, argue with you, etc. (Bloggers even have a name for this: “link bait”). Folks who do SEO as a profession love fighting about that stuff and it almost always works. But, does it really help you get the traffic you want? The reputation you want? No way. Putting up great content, like when I interviewed Mike McCue and told the world about Flipboard is a far more effective way to get good Google Juice. Taking shortcuts just tarnishes your reputation.
Anyway, just wanted to say I’m sorry to the SEO industry.
I’ll try to get it more right next time.