Saturday, January 31, 2015

On Helping Others Find Sites

I was recently reading yet another article on how a site's livelihood - in this case, MetaFilter's - was threatened because a search engine - in this case, Google - made a secret change to its secret algorithms.  Every once in a while, an article like this crosses my path, though I have to wonder how many I don't see because I don't see the tweet, or because nobody in my timeline tweeted or retweeted it because they didn't know about it because it doesn't show up on search engines.  Also, even though I said "search engine" twice, this also applies to social networking sites, though in different ways.  On the one hand, I'm glad that my livelihood doesn't depend on a website (I'm not even currently running any), but on the other hand, it's because of that that it's easy to forget how big of a deal this is to some people. 
I recently tweeted that people should use at least three search engines - unless they can get exactly half of their searches into each of two - and the point of this, really, is to avoid letting anyone get a monopoly.  Google has a higher "household name" stat than anyone else.  Bing is getting traffic from people too lazy to use anything other than IE.  Yahoo is now getting traffic from people comfortable with using FireFox's default engine.  Last I checked, was still trying to trick people installing Java or Flash or something into changing their browser's default to  Even this trickery is understandable, given how much sway Google holds, but even if some other search engine takes the lead, that just changes who the default is.  Ever since search engines got good - prioritizing sites by relevance instead of just listing them - our behavior has changed. 
Search engines, ads, and social media sites are said to "drive traffic" - or not, as the case may be - to any given site.  However, this is sometimes fraught with pitfalls, too, as is the case with facebook.  I'll recap, for those who haven't heard:  A while ago (last year or the year before, I forget), it was revealed that facebook was sometimes hiding updates by people/groups/pages from people who followed those people/groups/pages, unless those people/groups/pages paid money to make sure that all of their followers got to see it.  Of course, since facebook is charging the content creators, most users don't know that stuff is being hidden from them; they're not told that there's a missing update, so they don't know that there's a hole in their timelines.  As it happens, just the other day, someone made a comic summarizing this topic again. 
People have been communicating with each other over the internet for as long as it has existed - that's kind of the point of it, after all.  Social networking sites have been around longer than the name, and even longer than really old ones like friendster, but they were called "forums".  Even before that, though, there were instant messaging services, chatrooms, and even Usenet groups.  Websites exited, too, once they were invented, but the most common ways that people found out about sites was by being told about them, either by their fellow users (even, believe it or not, offline) or by other sites.  (This is back when webrings were still seen on a regular basis.) 
I think that we need to make a point of doing this more, as it has waned.  That's not to say that we need to sign up for Usenet groups or idle in chatrooms all day, but we should make a point of telling each other about good sites, and asking each other instead of relying on search engines.  I don't know exactly the best way to do it, but here are some tips: 
  • Don't assume that someone interested in a topic already knows about <site>.  
  • If someone asks you about good sites/the best site for something, don't tell them to <search engine> it.  
  • Every now and then, <search engine> for <topic>, then skip the first three pages of results, and see if you find any diamonds in the rough.  (If you do, then tell people about them.)
  • Every now and then, go through your bookmarks and see if there's a site that you haven't visited in a while.  If it's still there and still good, then tell people about it.  
  • It's going to be a very long time before people get weaned off of search engines.  Be patient with this. 
As for my part, I'm going to try to occasionally tweet about random good sites when I get a chance.  I'll let you know if I think of anything better.  

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