What If Everyone Was a Blogger?
While the old Gray Lady's editorial revelation is rather late in the game, there was a passage I think worth noting:
"If the blogosphere continues to expand at this rate, every person who has Internet access will be a blogger before long, if not an actual reader of blogs... It's natural enough to think of the growth of the blogosphere as a merely technical phenomenon. But it's also a profoundly human phenomenon, a way of expanding, and in some sense, reifying the ephemeral daily conversation that humans engage in. Every day the blogosphere captures a little more of the strange immediacy of the life that is passing before us. Think of it as the global thought bubble of a single voluble species."
The New York Times hit the nail on the head with the assumption that blogging represents an extremely important social phenomenon. But we must remember this phenomenon manifests not only in blogs, but in other social networking and democratized publishing technologies such as photo-sharing sites, wikis, multi-player gaming, community message boards, and even e-mail groups, among others. It's about the proliferation of personal media and conversational social networks, occurring more in real-time. It's the living Web.
Now assume we do eventually approach the day when every person with Internet access is considered a blogger (or some variation thereof). A looming consequence is that the overwhelming majority of the searchable Internet will not be stale corporate, commercial, or editorial content - as it largely is today - but actual living conversation among the citizens and markets of the world. This seemingly inevitable explosion will have an incredible impact on anything to do with search and vice-versa.
In the world of search engines, the notion of immediacy and real-time tracking will become more important than ever. Week or day long indexing of flat content won't cut it. The vertical evolution of consumer search engines is already accommodating more real-time platforms with blogging and RSS the most obvious examples today. Niche search engines like Icerocket, Technorati, and Pubsub already have deeply engrained themselves into that context.
Without a doubt, the big search companies will continue to encroach on the social Web in major ways as well. Ask Jeeves already owns Bloglines, the blog search engine and news aggregator. AOL has partnered with Feedster for blog and RSS search, among others. This trend will speed up in coming months.
We're also seeing industrial-strength conversation mining and research services come of age. Major corporations are really starting to wake up to the fact that digitally archived conversations represent not only media to be taken as seriously as any other, but one of the most valuable sources for unprompted, real-time consumer insight. That "thought bubble of a single voluble species" can be searched and measured exhaustively and analyzed scientifically.
Now, consider a search marketer in a world where everyone is a blogger. One possible implication is that the two-dimensional world of paid search and search engine optimization will become far more complex. Search engine optimization too often is a tactical outlook to increase rankings in search results.
With a more conversational Web, the search results citizens and customers encounter will be evermore influenced by and comprised of conversations (text and multimedia formats). Search optimization will be contingent upon a range of factors, including traditional technological strategies used today. But increasingly search optimization will be the result of companies and brands actively listening and engaging in relevant conversations, as well as maintaining the good will of the people and key stakeholders. Search optimization will become less about direct response and more about the ability to identify conversation and conduct more direct, interactive customer relations.
What about the role of search advertising in a world where everyone is a blogger, and the possibility that consumer conversations pervade Internet content? First, the ability to be relevant in massively fragmented, individualized, and conversational contexts will be paramount. Messages delivered today via paid search and contextual search technologies largely compete against and reside amidst the backdrop of commercial, mainstream, editorial, and machine-generated content.
Increasingly, paid search and contextual advertising will move into the context of rich dialogue and consumer-created content. Search will become less a method to "acquire customers" - as if they're objects - and more of a tool to insert brands into conversations between individual people, markets, and groups of affinity.
Search paved the way for highly targeted contextual marketing, with highly demonstrable return on investment. It unveiled the notion of the long tail, and it's fueling the current resurgence of online advertising. But search also is simultaneously fueling and being shaped by a new phase where media and markets become incredibly niche and personalized.
Is there a single mandate for search marketers in this new world? People far smarter than me seem to disagree more than not. But generally, I'd say it would make sense to start thinking beyond the world of click-throughs and search-result placements, and prepare for the coming of the Cluetrain! (For those who don't know what "Cluetrain" is, Google it. It even has good search placement.)