Tags: findability




Derek Powazek gave up smoking recently so any outward signs of irritability should be forgiven. That said, the anger in two of his recent posts is completely understandable: Spammers, Evildoers, and Opportunists and the follow-up, SEO FAQ.

His basic premise is money spent on hiring someone who labels themselves as an SEO expert would be better spent in producing well marked-up relevant content. I think he’s right. In the comments, the more reasonable remarks are based on semantics. Good SEO, they argue, is all about producing well marked-up relevant content.

Fair enough. But does it really need its own separate label? Personally, I would always suggest hiring a good content strategist or copy writer over hiring an SEO consultant any day. Here’s why:

Google—or at least the search arm of the company—is dedicated to a simple goal: giving people the most relevant content for their search. Google search is facilitated by ‘bots and algorithms, but it is fundamentally very human-centric.

Search Engine Optimisation is an industry based around optimising for the ‘bots and algorithms at Google.

But if those searchbots are dedicated to finding the best content for humans, why not cut out the middleman and go straight to optimising for humans?

If you optimise for people, which usually involves producing well marked-up relevant content, then you will get the approval of the ‘bots and algorithms by default …because that’s exactly the kind of content that they are trying to find and rank. This is the approach taken by Aarron Walter in his excellent book Building Findable Websites.

On Twitter, Mike Migurski said:

I think SEO is just user-centered design for robots.

…which would make it robot-centred design. But that’s only half the story. SEO is really robot-centred design for robots that are practising user-centred design.

Ask yourself this: do you think Wikipedia ever hired an SEO consultant in order to get its high rankings on Google?

Finding five numbers

I like Tumblr. I like Pownce. They both make it very quick and easy to post discrete quanta of information. I use Pownce for posting audio files and links to videos. I use Tumblr to post quotations. But both services suffer from the same problem: refindability.

Magnolia and Delicious encourage tagging. Those tags can then surface some pretty interesting aggregate behaviour but first and foremost, they’re useful for the individual doing the tagging. It’s pretty easy for me to track down something I bookmarked on Magnolia even if it was quite a while back. I don’t need to keep a list of all the tags I’ve ever used: I just need to search for a word that I think I might have used when I was tagging a bookmark. While it would be very difficult for me to try to second-guess how someone else might describe something, it’s usually pretty easy to put myself in the shoes of my past self.

As my store of data on Pownce and Tumblr increases, I’m starting to miss tagging (or any kind of search) more and more. Then again, I can understand why both services would resist that kind of scope creep. Both services rely on their simplicity. Adding another field to fill in could potentially be a road block between the user and the task they want to accomplish (although it doesn’t feel that way with Delicious or Magnolia). Update: it turns out that you can tag in Tumblr but it’s hidden behind the “advanced” link. Thanks to Keith Bell for pointing that out.

Here’s a case in point. Over time I’ve been posting MP3 files to Pownce of a series of radio programmes by Simon Singh, author of The Code Book — a superb piece of work. The audio from the radio programmes is available from the BBC website but only in Real Audio which, let’s face it, is complete pants. I originally got the MP3 files from Brian but after a catastrophic hard drive crash, I realised that it would be better to store them at an addressable URL. Besides, I wanted to geek out with my mathematically-minded friends. Pownce’s raison d’être is sharing stuff with friends so it seemed like the perfect home for the Singh files.

But without any kind of tagging or search, there’s no easy way for me or anyone else to revisit just those files at a later date. As a temporary patch, I’m listing the URLs for the Pownce posts that correspond to each episode. If you want to download the files, you’ll need to log in to Pownce.

  1. Five Numbers

    1. A Countdown to Zero
    2. Simple as Pi
    3. The Golden Ratio
    4. The Imaginary Number
    5. Infinity
  2. Another Five Numbers

    1. The Number Four
    2. The Number Seven
    3. The Largest Prime Number
    4. Kepler’s Conjecture
    5. Game Theory
  3. A Further Five Numbers

    1. 1 — The Most Popular Number!
    2. 2 — At the Double
    3. 6 Degrees of Separation
    4. 6.67 x 10-11 — The Number that Defines the Universe
    5. 1729 — The First Taxicab Number