The unfortunate mainstreaming of internet douchebaggery

Today someone spammed MetaFilter on behalf of Conde Nast publications, and it pissed me off way more than the average occasional spammy self-promoter on MeFi. We have a strict rule at MeFi (since there's no editorial vetting upfront) that you can't post about your own stuff, you have to make posts to interesting random stuff you found on your own. Unfortunately, that doesn't matter to the douchebags intent on ruining the web for everyone else with search engine gaming, as long as they benefit their clients, so we end up having to delete these keyword-laden posts that feature over the top fake testimonials about sites they "found" when they really worked for them.

What pissed me off today was seeing a normally reputable outfit like Conde Nast stooping to hiring a dodgy firm that employs such lame spammy activities. I know the response from Conde Nast or the spammy SEO company will be the same I've heard a thousand times: "It was one rogue employee" or "We didn't know the firm would employ such tactics." I heard the same thing when the Times (UK) was found spamming social sites earlier this year.

The point that seemed to be lost in the Times story was that a cornerstone of journalism that had been publishing for hundreds of years would stoop to such lame-brained antics. You'd think that someone higher up at a place like that would think maybe getting a couple percent more advertising revenue by ethically shady means wasn't worth jeopardizing the reputation or position of a 223 year old newspaper — that institutions with a long-term vision shouldn't be interested in a quick buck by any means possible.

It's a bummer to see Conde Nast hiring someone to "optimize" search engines for them (where "optimize" means spam the web and generally make social sites and tools less useful for everyone in the hopes they do better for certain key search phrases) but given the way the economy is going and where it is headed, I suspect we'll see a lot more big name outfits and longstanding institutions making these same mistakes and resorting to problematic methods of increasing their bottom line, and frankly it sucks for everyone involved. It sucks for anyone using the web and wanting decent honest search results based on real quality of information (not just the information promoted by self-interested parties). It sucks to see industry leaders with dozens or even hundreds of years of successful business think this is a sensible approach to the web. Finally, it sucks to see some chucklehead get paid to spam websites in ways that are becoming so normal that people think this is something every business should do.

7 Comments

  • This seems to tie in with CN’s bundling of their “Fashion Rocks!” crap with issues of Wired over the past couple of years.
    I buy Wired for tech news, not “OMG LOOK CELEBRITIES AND EXPENSIVE CLOTHES” hype.
    Every month there’s more and more ads for vodka, expensive watches and cars, etc. Last time I counted up, an issue was more than 60% full-page ads.

  • Hm. On the one hand, I’m tempted to call for a boycott of Condé Nast publications and all their related subsidiaries, but on the other hand, as an employee of a very large company which tends to get crapped on and labeled as “evil” due to a couple of boneheaded but prominent mistakes made by unrelated entities in divisions of this company that I have nothing to do with, I can appreciate how frustrated most of the people at CN probably feel when they read about stuff like this.
    Personally, I gave up on Wired years ago. The only Wired-related materials I ever read or watch are Lore Sjöberg’s columns and videos, and that’s only because he links to them from his weblog and I’ve been following him since the early days of the Brunching Shuttlecocks.

  • The lack of education among those making business decisions on SEO can also be a key source of problems. I’ve seen a number of relatively up-and-up organizations get hammered because one person accepted a pitch from an “online marketer” without fully understanding what he or she was getting their organization into. Depending on how the pitch is framed, link spam may not sound shady or unethical. “Hey, they’re just links, right?”

  • Ugh, you think MeFi is bad.. I was on the verge of deleting my stumbleupon account, the only thing that prevented me doing so was the implementation of the long awaited “block website” function added to the last update.

  • I’ve been having to kick out (of my security locked apartment building) kids selling major brand newspaper subscriptions and telling telemarketers selling the same to get off my cellphone for two years now. The physical publication is perceived to be by its managers in a lot worse shape than we thought.

  • (Disclaimer: I’m a bunny on MeCha, have yet to get a MeFi account, and I like it like that!)
    I understand the problem with SEO, but I also understand why it sometimes needs to be done, which is something I’m facing at my dayjob right now. Not all of us can afford the luxury of working with completely squeaky clean companies.

  • I also understand why it sometimes needs to be done
    I don’t understand why it has to be an either/or proposition. You don’t have to be “clean and squeaky” or “shady SEO”. You can take the high road and still help a company get the best possible ranking.
    I’m ok with the mechanics of having a cleanly coded site with good descriptive titles in header tags because that’s not just sheen for tricking googlebots, but it’s helpful to readers. Then of course the main key thing every SEO person seems to miss is having good content above all. It’s not about doing crazy stuff like smooshing keywords into sentences to sound robotic for search bots, but relaying useful information in an easy to read way.
    5% of SEO is useful because it also happens to make websites easier to understand and follow (stuff like text instead of images, etc). The other 95% of it is bullshit, and even if you’re representing a company with no ethics, you don’t have to partake in all the crappy things people think helps out.

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