Back in the USSR

Nick Carr is truly the gift that keeps on giving. His latest can-opener concerns the alleged Google strategy of converting all reading interfaces to search and keyword (i.
Written by Steve Gillmor, Contributor

Nick Carr is truly the gift that keeps on giving. His latest can-opener concerns the alleged Google strategy of converting all reading interfaces to search and keyword (i.e. tagging) interfaces. Nick's genius (I think he is the leader in the post-dvorak world of meme-baiting) is to keep the bile churning in the throat by timing the release of the next dart at the moment the previous one begins its trip out of orbit into the Pacific Ocean near some irradiated atoll which proves too expensive to send a mopup crew to debunk.

On the latest Gillmor Gang recording Nick gracefully handles his failure to escape from the Blogosphere, dancing nimbly around the various inconsistencies in his rapidly-morphing overview of just what IT does or doesn't now matter. To my untrained eye, Nick is undergoing a remarkable transformation. On the recording (I'm still mixing Part III of the previous show) he argues with that notion, seeing consistency in his view that IT doesn't matter, utility computing does, and Web 2.0, well... Honestly Nick, it seems to me that Web 2.0 does matter in your Google enterprise view, even if you aren't ready to capitulate to the meme.

As for links being dead, Nick demurs with an "I don't really get what you're trying to say Steve." Amanda Congdon does. Dave Winer does. What's not to get? Links produce economic ripples that keep incumbents in charge; removing links puts users in charge. Clicking on a link does not pay the author; it pays the signaller (in this case the aggregator, publisher, or arbitrager of the link's "value.") The author of the content is paid in link credits, which tether him or her to the tyranny of the mediocrity of broadcast economics.

Examining the GestureBank beta data reveals less in numbers, but more in micro-communities. On a daily view of the GestureBank 100, the data only starts to speak when you get into the 6 citation and lower range. Above that, the numbers speak to clouds, silos, and their relative opaqueness. Not that that's bad data; it's negative gesturing at its root level. GMail, doubleclick, Rojo, Bloglines, etc. It tells us what we already know: Users have agreed to the terms of service in return for what they see as privacy, tools, and ease of use.

Taken at face value, then, the link represents respect, whuffie transfer, and the dollar I give to the guy who opens the door to the cab when I'm at a conference. I bury the dollars in my expense report with a fictional cab ride to a fictional dinner (on a fictional expense account that disappeared at the beginning of this cab ride called the death of the print books several years ago.) The user contract with the link is indirect: I agree to follow or sniff that link for some possible exchange of value--more sugar for a vote of attention.

The publisher garners economic value from the vote, data to be sold to advertisers for use in extrapolating the relationship between that vote and sales of the advertised product. The user gets "free" stuff, soft goods (information) and/or hard goods (discounts, coupons, services.) But follow the money in the dollar tip and you start to get pissed off. First of all the guy opening the door is taxed on the assumed rollup value of the dollars. Why is the line "Don't forget to tip your waitress" so common in comedy clubs? Because it's the comic's way of saying "Don't forget how this thing works. It's not the salary that counts--it's the tips." The comic is also your waitress, serving you jokes (links) to get you to tip him or her enough to survive long enough for Johnny to call one of them over to the couch.

That's the problem with links: We're all waitresses on this gig. We're waiting on the Big Day when we hit the Big Show, when Mike Arrington or Doc Searls or Dave Winer bestows the Big Link on us that gets us another 10,000 in ValleyWag bucks. Some of my best friends are linkers. Don't forget to tip your linkers. Don't want to link? What, and give up show business?

So I'm asking the question. Are links worth it? If the rich get richer, do the linkers get poorer? I get two kinds of attacks about not linking. One is elitism, the arrogance of the immigrant who gets in and locks the door behind him. You made it, why not me? I feel your pain. But what makes you think I made it, only to be yoked to the tip-machine with no opportunity to grow up sometime and be a publisher. The other rap is that I love links, it's the Web way, it's Kumbaya my lord, kumbaya. What are you smoking? IDIOT! Etc. I feel your pain too. Secretly I agree with you. But the evidence doesn't support the notion that links are the end of the story.

I don't get paid for page views on ZDNet. All my fellow bloggers do. As a result I don't get paid very much, at least not in cash. But I do get paid very well in respect, because somehow people who(m) I respect seem to read what I write, and listen to what I say on the Gillmor Gang and Gillmor Daily. It may not be worth a lot in this page view world, but it's worth more and more in the next one. In the world of Gestures, links retain their ability to point, direct, suggest, and all the other good stuff that they embody to those who love them so. But they are joined by other gestures that increasingly return greater dividends on their investment. That's what the petrie dish known as GestureBank is all about, I hope.

Browsing the GestureBank, I see hints of gestures, the fairy dust that Seth Goldstein showers the invisble with to reveal its outline. Work backwards, I repeat as a mantra. Start with the end result of the link economy and track back. Take any link, medium popular. 6 links in the GB100 in a 24 hour period. How did each member of that affinity group get there? Here's one:


I went there at one point, from a post by someone who pointed at a photo Eric Rice took of Dan Farber and me at OnHollywood. But who are the others contributing that link? I (and they) could find out about what those others were doing before and after, but not who they specifically are. Unless they were told so, which I have just done with the above gesture. Indeed, the reason I was in that picture is because I intuited that Tony Perkins would put together an interesting conference not so much because of PageRank as GestureRank, and convinced people I respect, including Dan Farber and Kris Jacob of Podshow and myself, that it was worth flying down there. All sorts of gestures and actions fall out of such decisions; few of them are tracked based on link dynamics.

Here is the domain of the trigger puller, the decision maker, the user in charge. When Jonathan Schwartz talks about the difficulty of analyzing what Sun makes off of Java, or free open Solaris, or thought partnership, or any of the myriad links in his world view, he's describing the dilemma of the page view model. Do you really make a decision to buy Sun based on a link, or even a series of links, or the data used to support the viability of a link cluster as being indicative of authority? Look at the business models of the link farms and evaluate the quality of the information captured.

If it's a silo recorder on a portal site, they know which pages are retrieved when, which are most popular, which are most viral (based on where they came from and go to), and type of client, leads generated, and other actionable data. Of course, they don't know what is uninteresting to the user, the road not taken, the mirrored data in other silos, the reasons why other silos are chosen. In short, the famous other half of the advertising that doesn't work.

Now let's take Nick Carr's central thesis in his 3 year old post Does IT Matter, which led to the Book and now the Blog that's eating the next Book, so far. Namely, that technology has become commoditized, nullifying strategic advantage. Here in a nutshell is Microsoft's problem: How do they create strategic differentiation in advertising by cloning Google? Answer: they don't. Cloning Google means cloning PageRank which means cloning AdSense which means cloning link dynamics. Ooops. Links are gamed, commoditized, disrespectful of underlying decision-making mechanics, user-debasing, and they suck more than gestures.

Just one of those dealbreakers is enough to stop linking. I still link on occasion, when it's the most efficient thing to do. But user-debasing is a double-edged sword that impacts as much on me as it does you or us on them. As Amanda understood on Syndicate Gang, it's insulting to the user to restate the obvious, or in my terms, to fail to anticipate the value of your gesture. If a link has already been sent by seventy-five percent of your affinity group, then at best your link to the same page is going to be acted on by one or at the most two clicks by your target user. And that second one is either a mistake or click fraud.

Insulting? Wasting our precious time. But not the publisher's time. What happens when the user becomes the publisher? When the user gets to see behind the one-way mirror? That's the power of the open Pool. The opportunity to unpack the gestures that support micro-communities, real economic power. The kind of power publishers work so hard to protect. And as Seth Goldstein points out, coops are powerful; they work.

We already know the power of links. What more can we get out of gestures. For starters, who the linkers are. Not their names, or their income, but their reactions, actions, and inactions. Remember that the greatest yield in time management is the culling of the less interesting. Looked at from a gesture perspective, each affinity link represents a dynamic ecosytem composed of a collaborative group with gestures rippling out and intersecting with other like or unlike-minded affinity systems. Where those emanations are more pronounced and back-referencing, powerful waves are generated. The Beatles are probably the most profound example of such a foldback affinity wave in our lifetimes.

And underlying it all, the power of the knowledge that we are tapping into the best of ourselves, the feeling that we can make a difference. 

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