Facebook, Google & Beyond: Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz & Ben Elowitz of Wetpaint Debate the Future of Information and Relationships

6/2/11Follow @curtwoodward

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algorithm, the thing that is dying is mechanical, low-quality SEO—not the entire field.

RAND FISHKIN: “If it said ‘R.I.P. crap-hat SEO,’ I’d be right there with you. But if you were saying ‘R.I.P. anyone trying to rank higher in search engines,’ I’d be like: ‘But, double the number of searches are happening, and there’s like 300 million more searchers than there were this time last year.’ Why would I stop trying to get that traffic? It just strikes me as insane. But I’m with you that what the non-technorati think about as SEO is dying, or died a long time ago. At least I wish it did.”

BEN ELOWITZ: “And yet, it still probably generates more time, money spent, more effort than the really good stuff that you endorse.”

RF: “Agreed. It’s a sad thing to say. I look at the industry that I love, and a lot of the people that I love in the industry, and I recognize that many of them are doing the same old kinds of crap tactics that I wish didn’t work, but unfortunately still do work. And Google has a long way to go to get over that hump.”

BE: “And this is my point about Google vs. Facebook and the dataset, is that Google is looking for signals of what people really do based on correlations, and ‘This signal type means something happened here that indicates users really care about it.’

And on the other hand, increasingly, Facebook … just knows what people really care about. It’s not having to guess, it’s not having to interpret the signs and artifacts.”

Fishkin questioned whether Facebook would be able to expand successfully into broad Web search, for two reasons: It’s still a very difficult technical problem, and it’s also hard for consumer brands to expand too far beyond what people originally signed up for. He draws a parallel with Microsoft from the dot-com era.

RAND FISHKIN: “One of the things that’s weird to me is that MSN, back in the day, was like ‘Wow! Forty percent of users spend half their time on the MSN network or MSN-powered sites, we need to be all these other things,’ right? And they could never make a go of it.

And Google was like, ‘Oh, we’re this massive search engine, lets build Orkut, we’ll be the next social network. Oh wait, that didn’t work. Alright, you know what? We’ll do Buzz because we want to be the connecting point—oh, no that didn’t really work.’ … They’ve had some successes. But it is very hard to convert consumers. Even Facebook, trying to say ‘Do your status updates here,’ and yet 180 million people do their status updates on Twitter. Even for them to say, ‘You should do your check-ins on Facebook,’ and they’re like ‘Nope—I’m going to do them on Foursquare, sorry.’”

BEN ELOWITZ: “Yeah, but if you’re saying that Facebook won’t succeed at entering a new business that its users already want them to do or are already sitting in that environment to do it, I think that’s very different than saying Microsoft—one of the worst online executors the world has ever seen—couldn’t extend the MSN brand to take over the Internet.”

RF: “Agreed. (Laughter) But Google’s a great operator, and they couldn’t get into things that —”

BE: “Google’s a great operator on machine-driven topics, not on human-driven. And I’m really gratified to see Larry Page saying ‘We’re going to start bonusing based on success in social.’ Which is a … Next Page »

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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    I have to admit that the idea of organising people into groups I find very compelling. Right at the moment I don’t share my facebook page with business contacts. I suspect many others have the same issues that a facebook page is about your social life and you quite possibly don’t want to mix that with your business life. I think there may be a cultural aspect to this as well. In the US I think there is less of a divide between private and business life, here in the UK I think we tend to have a firmer divide. Whether that’s a good or bad thing who’s to say but it does impact how we view applications like Facebook from a business standpoint.

    I’m going to be signing up for a Google+ account because I think this is a bold experiment from Google and I’m fascinated to see how it turns out.

    Best regards,