I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the impact that search engines are having on writing. Almost every web publisher I know now trains their authors and freelancers to write in a “search engine friendly” way. Entire firms bill themselves as producers of “search engine friendly content”. Many interactive ad agencies a measured and compensated based on their ability to attract traffic through, among other things, writing SEO-friendly content. It seems today’s authors give more credence to “keyword density” than they do to being grammatically correct.
What does this trend mean for our society at large? For centuries, man has expressed his thoughts, emotions, and wonders through all forms of art, including literature. But today, most content creators are cow-tailing to computers (Search Engines in particular) as we put our prose on paper. Our very thoughts that precede the written word are changing based on the question, “How will Google respond to this?”. Is this healthy? Is this human? We are answering to machines.
Changing the written word to appeal the masses is not a new concept. Newspapers forever have dummied down their work to a 5th grade reading level so that the masses can both enjoy and understand the articles they publish. But we’re writing with an eye for how a computer, not for people, will read (spider) and like (does it abide by their rules) our content. It’s different.
Some would argue that without significant changes in our educational system, future generations will not reach the same intelligence levels as past generations. If our language and thought themselves are being influenced by the keywords and terms that the masses are entering into search engines, does that create a negative spiral towards intelligence regression? Maybe this is why Eric Schmidt is encouraging President Obama to focus on education as a core platform.
In order to gain our fair share of “clicks”, we tend to cover topics that are frequently searched. What does this do to the quality of topics we write about today? Read any good articles on Brittney Spears lately? There are plenty to choose from and more every day. After all she’s a popular search term.
Google if you are listening… follow the mantra of do no evil and lead the world toward Google Scholar types of results, not Brittney Spears. Why did you create Google Scholar as a differentiated product anyway? Are real academic writings something to be stuck up on the top shelf where they are hard to reach?
The below article does not cover this topic specifically, but does raise some interesting questions about the nuances of cultural languages being eradicated (or perhaps “decided by Google”) over time… interesting read.