Posts about google

Google’s Buzz(machine)

I still need more time to get my head around Google Buzz, which will enable users to post and share updates, links, photos, videos with the world or with friends tied to geography via the web, mobile apps, and voice. Buzz also promises to prioritize the “buzzes” we get. I think this could be the beginning of some big things:

* The hyperpersonal news stream, which Marissa Mayer has been talking about. The key value here is not just aggregating our streams but prioritizing them by listening to signals that unlock relevance. Those are the buzzwords Bradley Horowitz et al used in the Google presentation of Buzz. This is an attempt to attack with Clay Shirky variously calls filter failure and algorithmic authority. It also has big business implications: the more relevant Google can get with advertising (or some new version of it).

* The annotated world will attach data to locations, data that Google will, in turn, help organize. Buzz will intuit and confirm our location (even guessing what business we might be buzzing from in a given building) so we can post about places; it will display posts about those places; this will make Google’s Place Pages and, of course, maps richer; it will yield more local advertising opportunities.

* Local is clearly a big Google priority. Newspapers, Yellow Pages, local media, and perhaps even craigslist better watch out. Google is gunning to organize our areas and with that comes an incredible flood of advertising opportunity.

* Personalization is key to this: relevance in your feed; publishing to your friends (even understanding who your friends are). I think this portends the end of the universal search and thus of search-engine optimization (there’ll be no way to calculate how high a result rises when everyone’s results are different).

* Voice is rising in importance: You an post a buzz using only voice from your mobile device (read: while driving). This is one reason why Google has been working (through Goog411) to get better and better at voice recognition. Will the keyboard become less important? Will we post more when all we have to do is talk? Will Google then have more to organize for us?

* Social. Google has tried to attack social before and failed. Microsoftlike, it’s trying again. I am disappointed that its interface with Twitter, for example, is only one-way: I can bring Twitter into Buzz but not use Buzz to publish to Twitter. Silly. I’ve long said that the winner in social is not a site; the internet is our social network. The winner will be the company that helps us organize that. To do that, it must be open to all input and output. That’s where we should be looking with Google and Facebook. In that sense, Twitter is ahead of both of them.

* Live. When I first published this post, I left out live. Silly me. Twitter snuck up on Google as on all of us. Google has not been good at live. It needs content to ferment like wine and cheese with our clicks and links telling Google about relevance and authority. Now Google is trying to get live with our updates.

I’ve said since my book came out that there are three wars Google has not yet won: local, live, and social. Well, we see Buzz on those battlefields.

This could be big. Or Buzz could be the next Orkut or SideWiki (read: fizzle). Who knows? But in Buzz, I see Google trying to do attack profound opportunities. Now if I can just use the damned thing.

Google news

First, the news: Google told me today that they would consider giving more transparency about revenue splits in Adsense.

At a private meeting with a dozen and a half media people at Davos with CEO Eric Schmidt, President of sales Nikesh Arora, search boss Marissa Mayer, YouTube founder Chad Hurley, and counsel/”chief diplomat” (Schmidt’s joke) David Drummond in a Davos apartment dolled up with lava lamps, the execs discussed China, the company’s push into display, critics from France to News Corp., Android and its phone strategy, and news.

* * *

AdSense: At the DLD conference in Munich Monday, Burda CEO Paul-Bernhard Kallen, on a panel with Drummond, said publishers wanted transparency and their “fair share.” I asked him, a fair share of what — AdSense? Kallen said yes. And that put a fence around this debate. Drummond went on to emphasize that publishers do not deserve a share of a search for a camera that doesn’t involve their content. He also said transparency could be discussed.

At today’s briefing, Arora said that the company was considering more transparency. I confirmed with Google’s people that this was new. I suspect that they’re not going to promise the possibility and not deliver something.

I’m happy about this because, with China, this seems to strike off my two biggest complaints — both in What Would Google Do? — about Google: its prior lack of support of free speech in China and its hypocrisy on transparency and ad rates.

* * *

China: “We made a decision that was consistent with our values,” Schmidt said. “We’re not going to operate differently in China as opposed to the rest of the world,” said Drummond.

When is Gooogle going to do something? “It should happen soon,” Drummond said.

Was Google’s original stance on China — making it an exception to its own rules — a mistake? “We said consistently we would evaluate the position,” said Schmidt, “and people didn’t believe us.”

On the attacks, Schmidt said the company had a moral need to “make sure our systems are safe from attack anywhere.”

They wouldn’t discuss any details about any discussions with China. One editor asked whether Google was upset that other companies — especially those that also suffered attacks — have not come forward to openly support Google. I went farther and said that Microsoft had thrown Google under the bus and backed up over it. Schmidt repeatedly said that he manages Google, not other companies. “We speak for ourselves.”

Drummond said the problem of censorship is not in China alone. Hurley said YouTube is blocked in China, Turkey, and Iran “because of freedom of speech.”

“I believe this is an evergreen story for Google and other online companies,” Schmidt said. “As the world goes online, every country is going to have a discussion about what’s appropriate and what’s not. And a lot of these organizations [that is, governments] have not really thought through what they’re doing. We have a strong view about transparency.” [It's about to get a little stronger, it seems.]

Though Schmidt joked about Drummond as Google’s diplomat and apolgized for mixing metaphors, he emphasized that Google is not a country, does not set laws, and does not have a police force — or diplomats This is a government-to-government issue, he said.

* * *

Google’s reputation: I asked whether it was lonely at the top, getting grief from France to Germany to News Corp to China. Is it because Google is so big? Is it because it is putting itself on the ledge? Is it a PR problem? Schmidt said no.

“Google is fundamentally disruptive because of our innovation,” Schmidt said. “Google, because of our architecture, does things at a larger scale than others can. We are in the information space, which everyone has an opinion on. … You asked me how does it feel from a Google perspective? It feels as if we’re in the right place.” These aren’t crises, Schmidt said. He treated them as a factor in doing business. “It’s constnat. It’s because it’s information that maters.”

* * *

Innovation: Schmidt later talked about the difficulty we all know companies such as this can have: growing big and killing innovation. He talked about the canonical Silicon Valley story: a company starts, it innovates, it grows to middle age, it grows bored, it is sold to another company. Schmidt et al are clearly aware of that threat. Apple, he said, has “proven the model of innovation at scale.”

* * *

Phones: Will they have a tablet? “You might want to tell me what the difference is between a large phone and a tablet,” Schmidt said.

How will they make money on phones? “Not to worry,” Schmidt said. “We do not charge for Android because we can make money in other contexts.”

The strategy, he said, is to establish volume for application development to follow. “The phone is defined by the apps,” he said.

Schmidt took my Nexus One and demonstrated Google Sky. Mayer said the guy in charge of mobile uses Google Goggles to take pictures of wine labels and search on them so he can sound smart: “It tastes of apricot blossoms.” Mayer told Schmidt about Layar (a very neat agumented reality program I wrote about here earlier); he didn’t even know about it yet.

* * *

The economy: “The recession is very much behind us,” Schmidt said. “We see growth and successful businesses I think pretty much everywhere in the world.””

* * *

Display ads: Schmidt said the company is “trying to apply the science of Google to the display space. Display is likely to be our next really big business globally.”

Arora said that today marketers buy sites when they want to buy audiences. He said Google will “bring measurability to the process of display” and it is “trying to find a way for the industry to bring the entire inventory together.” That is, “most agencies and buyers don’t have the tools to aggregate across publishers.” Schmidt added: “Before the google question was applied to this, you couldn’t have scale.”

Isn’t this just an ad network? Arora said it would be a collection of networks, an exchange that would “allow you to separate the best owners of inventory from the best sellers of inventory.” I don’t understand what that means and will ask.

Aren’t publishers going to see Google as again disintermediating them and hurting their brands? I asked. Google said the platform will bring greater transparency, more inventory, faster, with scale and speed and that publishers who participate will gain more revenue from the inventory they have (and don’t sell). Indeed, I was talking with one newspaper editor before the meeting as he lamented the small size of the percentage that is sold.

* * *

Relations with newspapers: “We depend on high-quality content,” Schmidt said.

Mayer said Google will help publishers make more money. It will create better advertising products for them, improving display. It will provide ads that are more relevant. It will support pay efforts.

She also said Google is working on making news as compelling as possible. “The issue is one of engagement online: if they spent more time online it would be much easier to make money with it,” she said and then added that publsihers must “bring the news to users’ digital doorsteps.” Amen. I’ve written often here about the challenges of engagement and the need to think distributed. Those are ripe areas for Google to help news.

* * *

YouTube: Schmidt said he was very pleased with YouTube and that it was making money but he and Hurley wouldn’t get in the slightest bit specific about the definition of making money (profit? cash flow?) let alone numbers. “In the last year, Chad managed to figure out a way to make money using partners and their video content on YouTube,” Schmidt said. Hurley said it took longer than expected to get their because of delays in bringing in Doubleclick. He said they have a sales force selling video in 20 countries. They also recently made a deal with channels 4 and 5 in the UK to distribute content and they’re going to live-stream cricket.

* * *

Pay: Will Lewis of the Telegraph asked “what’s it like being so brutally attacked by News Corp. What side of genius to you think their pay wall idea is?” Of course, Google’s execs didn’t take the bait.

They talked about hybrid business models and said they’d support them and pretty much left it at that.

* * *

Globalization: Schmidt said a majority of Google users are outside the U.S. and he expects that soon most revenue will come from outside the U.S.

* * *

: The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger on the briefing: Google as a country.

The rise of the interest-state

In the post below, on Google standing up to China over its spying on dissidents and censorship, I note how Zeit Online calls Google a quasi-state — in a post under the headline “The Google Republic” — and Fallows says Google “broke diplomatic relations with China” as if Google were a nation.

What this says, of course, is that the internet is the New World and Google is its biggest colonizer: the sun never sets on Google.

It also says that on the internet, new states form across interests, ignoring borders. Those interests can be business — and we’ve seen what look like business-states before — but also causes, principles, and dangers (e.g., Al Qaeda). Interest-states will gain more power and that power will come from nations.

Just as what we’re seeing in the economy is more than a mere crisis — it is the shift from the industrial economy to what follows — similarly, in political structure, we are beginning to witness the emergence of new and competitive interest-states. In What Would Google Do?, I said this:

Whatever causes they take up, Generation G will be able to organize without organizations, as Shirky wrote in Here Comes Everybody. That ability to coalesce will have a profound destabilizing impact on institutions. We can organize bypassing governments, borders, political parties, companies, academic institutions, religious groups, and ethnic groups, inevitably reducing their power and hold on our lives. In an essay in Foreign Affairs in 2008, Richard Haass argued that the world structure is moving from bi- and unipolarity (i.e., the Cold War and its aftermath) to nonpolarity (i.e., no one’s in charge). We now operate in an open marketplace of influence. Google makes it possible to broadcast our interests and find, organize, and act in concert with others. One need no longer control institutions to control agendas. Haass chronicles the dilution of governments. Bloggers Umair Haque and Fred Wilson have written about the fall of the firm, and earlier I examined the idea that networks are becoming more efficient than corporations. In my blog, I follow the crumbling of the fourth estate, the press. One could debate the stature and power of the first estate, the church. What’s left? The internet is fueling the rise of the third estate—the rise of the people. That might bode anarchy except that the internet also brings the power to organize.

Our organization is ad hoc. We can find and take action with people of like interest, need, opinion, taste, background, and worldview anywhere in the world. I hope this could lead to a new growth in individual leadership: Online, you can accomplish what you want alone and you can gather a group to collaborate. Being out of power need not be an excuse or a bar from seeking power. That may encourage more involvement in communities and nations—witness the youth armies that gathered in Facebook around Barack Obama, a powerful lesson for a generation to have learned.

: MORE: Siva Vaidhyanathan responds (as part of a conversation between us in both this post and the one below):

My book plays this in a slightly different way: The Internet has enough diverse interests and players that it demands governance. No traditional state is in the position or willing to assume that role. So Google governs the Internet.

One could read this showdown (as I do) as a classic international power conflict between a major traditional state and a new, virtual state: the Googlenet.

Google is taking a risky stand to defend the Internet generally. This is what a weaker, threatened state would do.

What Google should do

I am astounded and delighted at the news that Google is no longer comfortable censoring search results at the call of the Chinese government and is threatening to pull out of the market. Google said it discovered cyberattacks and surveillance aimed at cracking the mail accounts of Chinese supporters of human rights. Said Google exec David Drummond on the company blog:

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.

I know some will say that Google wasn’t doing that well in China anyway (it controls 31% of the market); they’ll ascribe cynical motives. But I say: Name one other company that finally said “enough!” and put ethic, morals, and company standards over its lust for the Chinese market. Not Yahoo. Not Cisco. Not Nokia. Not Siemens. Not The New York Times Company. Google has.

Here’s what I said in What Would Google Do? about China:

Google has censored search results in China, arguing that it is better to bring a hampered internet there than no internet at all. I don’t agree and believe that Google has more power than it knows to pressure countries around the world to respect openness and free speech. Google, like Yahoo, has handed over information to governments—Google in India, Yahoo in China—that led to users being arrested simply for what they said. As an American and a First Amendment absolutist, I’d call that evil.

Here’s what I said in a talk at Google’s offices in Washington. (Thanks to commenters, the time code for the start of the topic is 23:38.)

Note that even Google’s cofounder, Sergey Brin, has waffled if not agonized over the company’s China policy.

I can well be accused of being a Google fanboy; I wrote the book. But I have been consistent in my criticism of Google’s actions in China. And so now I have not choice but to become even more of a fanboy. I applaud Google for finally standing up to the Chinese dictatorship and for free speech.

Will the Chinese people revolt at losing Google? We can only hope. Will other companies now have to hesitate before doing the dictators’ bidding? We can only hope. Will Google be punished by Wall Street? It probably will. But as I’ve argued, we should hope that Google’s pledge, Don’t be evil, will one day be chiseled over the doors of Wall Street.

Google has thrown the gauntlet down in favor of freedom. What Should Google Do? This is what it should do.

: MORE: Said Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard’s Berkman Center: “In a world in which we are so used to public relations massaging of messages, this stands out as a direct declaration. It’s amazing.”

: Says Reuters: “The world’s dominant search firm may be hoping other search and e-mail leaders, both global and domestic, will rally around it in calling for China to lighten a heavy-handed approach to the Internet that includes frequent censorship and allegations of government-backed hacking.”

: YET MORE: Zeit Online calls Google a quasi-state that is willing to stand up to China where the U.S. and Germany are not. But it also warns that Google’s interests are not what they seem. (In German.)

: A view of the PR strategy:

Google has taken the China corporate communications playbook, wrapped it in oily rags, doused it in gasoline and dropped a lit match on it. In China, foreign companies tend to be deferential to the authorities to the point of obsequiousness, in a way that you would almost certainly never encounter in the United States or Europe. . . . In this situation Google has undertaken a bet-the-farm confrontational communications approach in China. They will not have made this decision lightly. Dressed up in the polite language above is what is essentially an ultimatum: Allow us to present uncensored search results to our Chinese users or we’ll walk.

: Rebecca MacKinnon, who knows whereof she speaks on matters China and internet, says Google is doing the right thing.

: James Fallows, who also knows, says this:

And if a major U.S. company — indeed, Google has been ranked the #1 brand in the world — has concluded that, in effect, it must break diplomatic relations with China because its policies are too repressive and intrusive to make peace with, that is a significant judgment. . . . But its government is on a path at the moment that courts resistance around the world. To me, that is what Google’s decision signifies.

: Siva Vaidhyanathan responds to me here. There’s a chicken v. egg debate about what’s leading this: the attacks or the censorship. I agree that the censorship is a tool in this power struggle; it clearly was not the catalyst or it could have been four years ago. But I think it’s also evident –see Sergey Brin four years ago — that Google, despite its public pronouncements about a crippled internet being better than no internet, struggled internally with its China policy. Slapping China over censorship is now a way to bring make the fight about attacks about China. Pick your sin — attacks, censorship (or the death penalty or repression of dissent or dangerous and fatal products) — somebody — Google — finally had the balls to make China the issue. I’ve sat in WEF meeting where some have shushed me and others for daring to criticize China: it’s a Chinese thing; you wouldn’t understand. Well, bullshit, it’s a human thing; it’s about rights (pick yours).

: See my post above on the rise of the interest-state.

Page & Brin: Icons of the decade

The Guardian commissioned me to write a piece on Google founder Larry Page and Sergey Brin as icons of the decade. My kicker:

To understand the power of Brin’s and Page’s focus, go to Google’s home page now and type “weather in Ed” and stop there. Google will not only understand you want weather in Edinburgh but will give you the forecast right there in the search box; it will answer your question before you’ve even asked it. Google’s true holy grail is understanding, anticipating, and serving our intent.

When we’re using Google devices with Google operating systems and Google browsers and Google software to ask Google questions in text or voice or even pictures and Google gives us each the personal answers we need from any source – no, the best source – in the world, in the context of the moment and our needs, that will be the culmination of the Google age. Google’s next frontier is not to organise the world’s information, but our lives.

Google’s synchronicity

On the latest This Week in Google, we talked about many of Google’s product announcements and enhancements and though none on its own was earthshattering, as we added them up, I started to see synchronicity approaching — all the moreso last night when TechCrunch reported that Google’s negotiating to buy Yelp.

I see a strategy emerging that has Google profoundly improve search by better anticipating our intent and then moving past search to build hegemony in local and mobile (which will come to mean the same thing).

Add up Google’s recent moves in local/mobile:

* Yelp would bring Google a scalable platform to get information and reviews about every local business using community. Yelp enhances Google’s place pages. Place pages enhance Google Maps. Google Maps are our pathway to local information on what we still mobile phones but will soon see as our constant connectivity devices.

* Google distributed 190,000 QR codes for local businesses to paste on their front windows. Take a picture of it and Google will give you information about the place (see: above). Businesses have another reason to advertise on and be found through Google and its business center.

* TechCrunch also speculates that we could use these QR codes to check in to Foursquare, Gowalla, et al. Local is social.

* Google Goggles goes the next step and lets you take a picture of a place — or object (or soon, person) — and use that as a search request to get local information — or leave it.

Thus Google becomes a doorway to the annotated world. Everyplace has information swirling around it; Google organizes it and motivates and enables us to create more information for it to organize (more on this idea of the annotated world in another post).

* Google’s reported phone is said to have a “weirdly large camera.” If that camera becomes a key to visual search, that makes sense, eh? That also gives us a better way to take more geo-tagged photos, which better annotates the world and gives Google more information to serve back to us.

* Google is trying to get better at recognizing speech to prepare for a voice-controlled (read: mobile) web world. That, say Chris Anderson and Tim O’Reilly, is why they give away GOOG411 for free: to learn our voices. And now note that Google is asking people to donate their voicemails to Google’s effort to improve its own transcription. Search will become visual and aural (read: mobile).

* Google Earth is coming to the cockpit of the new Audi, giving drivers rich geographic data about where they are and where they’re going.

* GoogleMaps on Android will now tell you what’s nearby.

* Let’s not forget that Google will make money on local — Eric Schmidt said on CNBC a year and a half ago that Google will eventually make more on mobile than the web (which, to me, doesn’t mean phones; it means our constantly on connection devices). This is why Google bought mobile ad leader AdMob for $750 million.

That’s mobile. Now look at some of its search enhancements to better intuit intent:

* Go to the Google home page. Start typing “Weather in Lon” and stop there. Google will not only suggest that you want weather in London, it will give you the forecast for London right there in the search box. You didn’t even finish typing in what you wanted to ask and Google gave you the answer without you even having to click and go to a site.

Google search

Google’s holy grail, they’ve long said, is to anticipate your intent. That explains, I think, some of Google’s other moves.

* Google DNS is supposed to speed up the web for you (speed is a big Google cause these days) but it also gives Google an invaluable source of data about web usage: who goes where when and before and after what sites looking for what. Now, your ISP knows that. But with DNS, Google could know that. It makes Google smarter about the web and its content as a whole, certainly, and so long as it is careful about privacy, it can enable Google to target to us better.

I see a day when search (like news) is no longer one size fits all. Search will be customized, personalized, and targeted to us and our contexts: who we are and where and when we are asking for something. This, I think, could mean the slow death of the dark art of SEO.

* How will Google get us to use its DNS? Well, I’ll bet it will be the default in computers equipped with Google Chrome OS. And I wouldn’t be surprised of the Google Chrome browser can provide some of this data to Google.

* Google launches social search. This creates more context and gives Google another clue to intent.

Now add back in all the mobile developments above. This gives Google more context to anticipate our intent.

But that’s not all. I’ve said for sometime that Google is behind in battles for the live and social web and was going to say here that it was bypassing those strategies to concentrate on mobile/local. But as I wrote the post, I saw more threads in both live and social.

* Google added Twitter to its search results. That’s pretty much a BFD. But it shows they’re trying to grapple with the live web. And that’s why there are never-ending rumors about Google buying Twitter.

* Wave is an important shift in the metaphor for content creation, making it collaborative (read: social) and live. Google added social tools to Google Docs. It make Docs a path to publishing (and being found via search) on the web. Creation itself is a social act once it enables us to connect.

* Add in the social bits above: Yelp is a community tool; QR codes and visual search will let us talk about places and things and find each other and meet; Foursquare and Gowalla make local social and Google could help them.

Last night, after the Yelp report, I tweeted this: “Yelp + GoogleMaps + StreetView + PlacePages + GOOG411 + Google Goggles + Android + AdSense = Google synchronicity”. Om Malik piped in: “@jeffjarvis I love your unrelenting belief in google. I think u need to start look at world in a non-search context.” But then I said – and others agreed: “I also think Google is starting to look at the world in a non-search context (i.e., local, live, mobile)”.

I believe that’s what we’re seeing here: the start of Google’s view of itself after search. Not that search will go away but it will become less important in the shifting mix of out rings of discovery. And if search is going to stay preeminent, it had better update itself profoundly.

: See also Gina Trapani’s excellent roundup of Google’s amazing 2009 developments.

: LATER: Kara Swisher says Google is also eying real-estate search Trulia.

Google goes local

TechCrunch reports that Google is in negotiations to buy Yelp. Makes perfect sense. Google is ready to make an assault on local with its Place Pages and QR codes on local establishments and augmented maps and directions and mobile…. This turf was newspapers’ and phone companies’ to lose and lose it, they will.

Or as I put it in a tweet: “Yelp + GoogleMaps + StreetView + PlacePages + GOOG411 + Google Goggles + Android + AdSense = Google synchronicity”

Content farms v. curating farmers

Tweet: Content farms v curating farmers: Deeper insights in Demand Media’s model & finding opportunity in finding quality.

I spent an hour on the phone the other day with Steven Kydd, exec VP of Demand Studios, to understand their model—using algorithms to assign content creation based on search and advertising demand and to minimize cost and maximize revenue—because I wanted to learn a deeper layer of lessons than I think we’re hearing in the discussion of Demand’s allegedly evil genius.

The talk thus far misses their key insight and the opportunities they create. Much of what I see online is fear that Demand Media—with the slightly rechristened “Aol.” following fast behind—will cheapen content and flood the internet—that is, search results—with crap that’s just good enough to fool algorithms. Some also fear that while putting content creators to work they will put better content creators out of work: the dreaded deprofessionalization and deflation of media.

Michael Arrington marks the end of “hand-crafted content” (somewhere I hear Nick Carr and Andrew Keen cackling maniacally). And Read Write Web’s Richard MacManus worries that the web’s quality will suffer.

They may be right. But then again, the internet has always been filled with crap. So the challenge has always been how you find the cream. That’s where opportunities lie. That’s what Google saw. The new question is whether Google can keep ahead of the content farms and continually find new and better ways to find better stuff. I’ll bet on Google over crap-creators. But they better get cracking.

This is why, when I proposed an X prize to solve media’s key problems at Yale symposium, Clay Shirky responded with a call for work on what he called “algorithmic authority.” A few of my students’ proposals in my entrepreneurial journalism class tackled just this problem with discovering and prioritizing content for us: one using humans aided by algorithms, one using algorithms aided by humans; neither operated like a one-size-fits-all search engine (but then, soon, Google won’t either).

I think we may see search fall as the sole or even key means of discovery and filtering of quality content. I see three rings of discovery today: search (Google); algorithms (see: Google News, Daylife); and humans (see: Twitter). Note again that Bit.ly alone causes as many clicks a month—one billion—as Google News. Human power rises again. That’s what Fred Wilson says today when he argues that social beats search, because “it’s a lot harder to spam yourself into a social graph.” As search becomes more personal and no longer universal, SEO as a dark art and as the fertilizer for content farms will diminish and the social graph — our own circles of authority — will become more important in search as well. So I have faith that there are solutions to stem any rising tide of crap.

This is how I put it in a tweet: “algorithm-aided human writing will meet human-aided algorithmic curation; quality will rise.”

In all of this, I caution us not to miss Demand’s key insight: that the public should assign the creators, including journalists. The public often knows what it wants to know. I learned this lesson when I consulted at About.com and saw how they monitor search queries to see where there are questions for which the don’t have answers. When that happens, they go write answers; Demand automates the process. Makes sense.

This is not how we have operated in media: We decided which questions to answer because we asked them. What hubris! Today, I teach my students to find conversations on the internet and add journalism to them in the form of answers, corrections, reporting, explanations. In 2007, my students in a seminar at Burda in Munich and in my class at CUNY asked why the public doesn’t assign us and my entrepreneurial students in two classes have worked on that problem. Jay Rosen just started playing with this notion at ExplainThis.org, creating a platform for the public to ask reporters to report their questions. Demand and About are doing the same thing, only through search queries. Jeff Sonderman compiles some more examples. Where appropriate, reversing the assignment pipe is a good idea.

Demand is also creating a system they say will find the best writer for each assignment. We are free to disagree with their methods and results, but there’s insight here, too. Two students in my entrepreneurial journalism class won a grant to create a platform to do just this with local and hyperlocal news assignments (note that Kydd told me Demand isn’t touching news); I’ll report more on their project as it gets closer to launch. Can’t news organizations learn and steal some lessons from Demand? What if you wanted to create a content asset — say, a complete travel guide — and you opened up the process and its discreet tasks to a marketplace of paid contributors, enabling you to do larger projects at lower cost than before?

I always tell my students: Wherever you see a problem, look for the opportunity. That’s Arrington’s point: The next generation of content creation is here; deal with it. If you don’t like what Demand et al are doing, see the opportunity in it to surface quality content and to create competitive quality stars whose creations rise not just through algorithmic search cynicism but through human recommendation. Dig to the next layer.

* * *

I got lots of details from Kydd about the Demand method. In their view, they have combined content-creation and social-media platforms to enable content creators with “spare cycles”—his nerdy words—to earn money.

Kydd says 11 community members contribute to each article by fulfilling the discreet functions Demand identified: writing, copy-editing, copy-chiefing, reviewing titles, managing topic pages, checking facts. That is done by freelancers. The staff directs, edits, curates, and manages them. The algorithm makes all this more effective as it tracks content and ad demand and writes headlines for pieces it says will get traffic and earn money. Editors are 1.5 times more effective in creating assignments that will generate traffic, Kydd said, but the algorithm is 4.9 times better than creators.

Kydd said Demand pays from $0 (with revenue sharing) to $100 per piece; it averages at $20. Copy editors make $2.50-$3 per piece, which works out to $15-20 an hour. He said these people like to wake up and know there’s work they can do—there are 100k assignments waiting for takers right now—while they wait for old, human editors to respond to pitches. He said they also like being paid twice a week. Kydd said Demand employed 4,500 creators (text and video) and 400 copy editors in the last 30 days.

What amazed me most is that Demand uses its method not only for service content but for jokes at Cracked.com. Could an algorithm and social network replace Jay Leno? Easy.

: LATER: See also Doc Searls on junk food and chefs.

: Paul Marcum tweeted today: “Prediction: increasing clutter from algo content farms + mobile app convenience will have even @jeffjarvis paying for news by 2011.” I responded seeing the irony here: that value will come from aggregation and curation of quality content. But imagine then if the aggregators become more valuable than the creators and start charging; the creators (i.e., Murdoch) will go batshit. I’ve argued that in the link economy, there are two creations of value around content: from those who make the content and from those who bring together the public around it. Where is there greater value? We’ll see….

: LATER STILL: See Upendra Shardanand (founder of Daylife, where I’m a partner) on the need for new tools to create new handcrafted content. Problem is, he says, we’re using old text tools. See my related posts on storytelling and post-page media.