Google Is Killing Its Golden Goose

Since this blog post is somewhat long and controversial, we offer the highlights of the arguments in this summary below.

Executive Summary

1.  The Internet is about two-way communication (Clue-Train Manifesto, etc.)
2.  Blogging is a perfect vehicle to support that communication.
3.  To support its PageRank-based algorithm given spamming, Google insists blog comments must only have ‘no-followed’ URLs.
4.  This removes incentive for people to add comments to blogs
5.  Twitter (micro-blogging) gives more immediate communication gratification.
6.  Blogging, a major profit-generator for Google, is thus throttled

Background

Internet Evolution has an interesting thread by Andrew Keen asking Did I Just See Eric Schmidt Blink?   Schmidt was asked a question about Twitter’s usefulness. Here’s how he answered:

Speaking as a computer scientist, I view all of these as sort of poor man’s email systems. In other words, they have aspects of an email system, but they don’t have a full offering. To me, the question about companies like Twitter is: Do they fundamentally evolve as sort of a note phenomenon, or do they fundamentally evolve to have storage, revocation, identity, and all the other aspects that traditional email systems have? Or do email systems themselves broaden what they do to take on some of that characteristic?

That may be the technocrat’s putdown of a competitor, but Twitter is more about sociology than about technology. Twitter has created a form of social interaction that clearly is extremely well received by a majority of Internet habitués.

Back in 1999, the Cluetrain Manifesto prophetically suggested this was the strength of the Internet.  Twitter is leveraging that strength.  Google is not on the same playing field.

The nearest Google has got to this is its support of the blogosphere.  Google’s Blogsearch attempts to help bloggers find others  they may be interested in, although of late it has operated somewhat weakly.  That may be because Google now integrates blog posts with all other web pages in its main Web search.  However bloggers usually wish to communicate with their readers as we will show in the next two sections.  Google is less helpful here.

Bloggers want comments

Effective blogs encourage dialogue. Here are some relevant posts that discuss that topic.

No Comment – Chris Brogan
If your blog gets no comments, or only a few from time to time, I know how that feels. It’s hard to keep writing when you feel like no one’s watching, or that they’re not engaged. There are lots of blogs that deserve much more attention. Comment elsewhere to build relationships. And don’t give up. Blogging is more fun when there are comments, but your ideas are still just as valuable just being out there.
Measuring Student Blog Success – Shelby Thayer
The goal for most blogs is interaction (on every single page, usually) – not so with traditional websites like your university website (again, usually). Most blogs (whether they’re student blogs or not) want engagement … interaction … discussions.
Enrich the web with comments – Ross Bruniges
To ensure that the good stuff gets the credit and exposure that it deserves and likewise so that the bad stuff gets highlighted as bad I believe that we must all comment on the bad that we see so that less experienced people don’t just blindly copy, paste and use it in their projects. This is even more of a necessity if the article is being promoted as a good one to read either through a good Google ranking or being linked to from a large magazine site or mailing list.
Rewarding Blog Commenters – Charles
Comments add a huge amount to articles and help to differentiate blogs from normal websites. The comments section is the place that you look to first for a second opinion or confirmation about whether what you’ve read also works for others.  This feedback is helpful, interesting and this interaction really helps to engage your audience. People don’t want to feel that they’re alone… comments help to build a buzzing community around your blog.

If you need any confirmation, just look at the statistics on that most successful blogger, Darren Rowse.   Here are the comment counts for the Best Problogger posts.

Best of Problogger
How to Write Your “About Me” Page
How Bloggers Make Money from Blogs
What is a Blog?
Blogging Tips for Beginners
Free Blogger Templates 
Introduction to Trackbacks 
How I Make Money Blogging 
Three simple actions that doubled my website traffic in 30 days
Choosing a Blog Platform 
Adsense Tips for Bloggers 1
How to Get Guest Blogging Jobs
120 comments
712 comments
322 comments
328 comments
150 comments
98 comments
250 comments
383 comments
 
205 comments
282 comments
30 comments

Newspapers want comments

The same theme is now being taken up by the professional journalists who are active on the blogosphere.  Here is how Mathew Ingram sees it in his piece on Fred Wilson and the power of comments.

Comments are an integral part of a fully-functioning blog.  I’ve been encouraging writers at the newspaper to not just read the comments but also respond to them. It helps to improve the tone of the comments, since it helps to make it obvious that a) someone is reading them and b) someone actually cares what is being said.

Comments can help to trigger not just an interesting conversation, but one that actually expands and advances the issue in question. Fred Wilson’s blog post on the future of newspapers is an excellent example.  It’s actually a follow-up to a previous post about his use of media, but it has sparked a fascinating debate about the efficacy of blogs as a reporting medium, the utility of editors, and many other topics. And Fred is right there, as he always is, responding and interjecting alongside them.

What finer explanation could you have for the power of comments on blogs.  Which raises the question, Should comments be the key blog post quality metric? Just check out the UK Guardian’s section, Comment Is Free, and look at the numbers of comments.  Here is what it shows at the time of writing.

Comments

  1. How we all lost when Thatcher won (463)
  2. The return of morality (321)
  3. Never mind the evidence – a drug-free world is nigh (256)
  4. We do things differently in Norfolk (460)
  5. Climate change creationists (232)
  6. Crank up the presses (170)
  7. Opening eyes in Israel (289)
  8. The greening of Mandelson (150)
  9. A vicious reflection of society (149)
  10. Let’s wipe out toilet paper (352)

Google wants comments ‘no-followed

Despite this natural dynamic of blogs and conversations with their readers, Google has taken a different stance.  It is partially forced on them by the nature of their search algorithms and the continuing insistence that PageRank (the number of inlinks to a web page) is an important factor in determining relevance.  Google suggests that the fail-safe approach is to apply the ‘nofollow’ tag to all comments.

A few bloggers disregard this

If you are willing to exercise human discretion in reviewing all blog comments and rooting out those that are clearly spam links, then Google would accept that comment links need not be ‘nofollowed’.  Some brave bloggers are taking Google at its word.  That is the way all SMM blogs are being managed.

Another high profile example is Daily SEO Tip with posts such as 7 Ways to Turn Your Site into a Link Magnet.  This allows links to commenters’ blogs and they do not carry the ‘nofollow’ tag.

Twitter beats out blogs

Twitter is currently adopting a ‘nofollow’ policy on all links added to Tweets.  This should be a policy that Google could hardly object to.  However if Google really is following the dictates of the tag it has recommended, then a large part of the Web activity is not being crawled by Google.  Since Google has set as its mission to catalogue all information accessible via the Web, they are now on the horns of a dilemma.

Will Google Blink?

Marketing Pilgrim has correctly posed the question that Google, or is it Twitter, should resolve.

Google and/or Twitter Need to Ditch “Nofollow” for All Our Sakes! 

Which will it be?

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