• 11May

    When I saw Eli Pariser TED presentation on  has come up with a concept called the “The Filter Bubble,” I was reminded of the old Outer Limits television show and their opening sequence: “We are controlling the transmission… We will control all that you see and hear…”

    What Pariser points out is that your Internet experience is being monitored and, more importantly, managed. Okay, this isn’t really news. If you have a subscription to Netflix or shop on eBay or Amazon you know that they have built algorithms into their systems to offer suggestions based on past shopping patterns and preferences. That actually seems, well, helpful. However, what Pariser points out is that by controlling what is delivered online, we are actually creating islands of Web experience that insulate us from other areas of the Web that may challenge our thinking or desires. Apparently, with the help of search bots and search algorithms, we are all creating our own gated communities of web experience where the online vendors and search providers are serving as the gatekeepers.

    For example, it never occurred to me that Google, Yahoo, and other search engines are tailoring search results based on what they know about me. Apparently the search results are filtered based on IP address (work or home), computer you are using, time of day, and other criteria. Okay, I expect that from advertisers, since microtargeting consumers is not particularly new. However, I am appalled that my search results are being filtered to provide a more personalized and thereby insular experience.

    I was fascinated by the example Pariser offered to prove his point. He had two friends search Google for the term “Egypt,” and one friend retrieved the latest political news while the other retrieved vacation and travel information. Huh? You mean web search is not a neutral playing field? You mean when I look for online information I will get data customized by some robot based on what it “thinks” I am looking for?

    Pariser is correct in his assessment that this kind of controlled experience is dangerous. We need to be challenged regarding our world view and we need to be able to share opposing viewpoints. I know my liberal spouse has spirited debates with her conservative compatriots on Facebook, but everyone appreciates the dialogue. What happens when those conversations get filtered out because those conversing are not “like minded”? Then we all lose. The Web should be used to promote the open exchange of information and understanding – that’s what Tim Berners-Lee envisioned.

    More importantly, Pariser’s observation’s demonstrate that you can’t rely on the web for objectivity. It is not a neutral news source, and the organizations that are promoting the news are for-profit, which means they are tailoring their data to keep you coming back as a user and potential customer. As Pariser notes in his presentation, in the past we have had editors as watchdogs of journalistic standards, to help promote informational integrity and promote fair reporting and access to information. With the free-for-all of the web, bloggers are now being treated like journalists but they are not held to the same standards, and now apparently the webbots are acting as news editors and determining whether we should receive the facts according to the New York Times or Page Six.

    I, for one, like to make my own determinations based on all the available data; not just the information some computer algorithm thinks I might find interesting. How about you?


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  • 22Jul

    Analyzing the Data I have always believed the old saw, “You get what you pay for.” Life experience tells me that free services often don’t have much of a payoff, or to use another old bromide, “There is no free lunch.” However, I have identified an exception that proves the rule – free press release sites. There are a growing number of online locations where you can post news releases at no cost, and they actually do have a huge positive impact on search rankings.

    I recently ran across a blog post at BigNewsBiz.com, one of the free news sites, which, albeit biased had some interesting insights. Phil Davies of BigNews.biz LLC notes that free press releases sites have a real impact on rankings. As he posted to one of my LinkedIn groups:

    “I kept seeing press releases from these free press release sites showing up in page 1 Google search results and page 1 on Google News. In some cases beating out results from major media outlets.”

    Davies cites some specific criteria he uses to determine the value of free web sites, including page rank, Google News tracking, the amount of traffic, and how complex the rules are for acceptance (i.e. releases rejected for various reasons). He then lists his top 15 free press release sites based on their Alexa ratings.

    I actually just completed an exercise for a client that demonstrates the value of free press release sites. This client is a small start-up that just completed a second round of seed funding – rather small by venture capital standards. To save money, we decided to bypass the conventional paid wire service (which can run into thousands of dollars if you’re not careful). Instead, I used a combination of e-mail pitches to targeted media outlets and we got some great results, including a pickup by Dow Jones. I am still waiting to see how the search rankings fall out among the major search engines, but I’m confident that, based on the early results, the free release site strategy is going to pay off.

    All that said, the paid wire services also have real value, depending on your requirements. If you are a publicly traded company and disclosure is a concern, you can’t beat using one of the big three – PR Newswire, BusinessWire, or MarketWire. I have been following another LinkedIn discussion about which is the best wire service, and one of the contributors from China, Jonah Guo, sums up some of the value of the paid services quiet well:

    “It depends what your clients’ need. If they just want some results while you research Google, you can use any wire. You do not even need to pay if you write a search-engine-friendly press releases. However, if your clients want serious PR, the commercial wires can help you. For example, SEOpressreleases.com and other cheap wires cannot feed Factiva, where most researchers find their info, and which archives your press releases for 20 years.”

    Do you have hard and fast rules for using release wire services? What are your PR objectives and how do you use wire services to achieve them? How do you build the paid and free wire services into your best PR practices?


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