Thursday, March 25, 2010

Google and Dumbing Down Writing

I dragged myself out of bed Monday morning, after staying up late to watch the healthcare vote in the House, determined to get the first Healthcare Reform article up on Suite 101. It was an unqualified success earning three times more hits in one day––actually in half a day–-than I usually get on all my articles in a month. Of course, the revenue comes from ad clicks not PVs and the Google gods, in their infinite wisdom, filled the page with ads for medical insurance, of course. Bright move, as usual, on the part of our techy friends since this is the dumbest time in the world to buy medical insurance before all the preexisting laws go into effect and four years before you need to pay a penalty for going without coverage. And if any of my readers were in the market for medical insurance, I would be the first person to steer them far, far away from anything they would find through a Google ad.

Google is quickly replacing Wikipedia in my list of Internet irritants, which means I will be mightily irritated all the time as this Goliath practically owns the web. In this case, though, I don't blame Google as much as the writers and bloggers following the star they hope will finally bring fair compensation and assuming, when it doesn't, that it is due to some fault on their part.

I can't tell you how many times I see a post on blogger forums or the forums where writers of pay-per-clicks air their woes, wondering why they aren't making money, let alone a living, from their Adsense and/or Amazon Affiliate ads. I assume someone other than Google is making something from these ads, but I can tell you now, it isn't the general writer.

Now I'm the first one to condemn "writers" looking for get-rich-quick-schemes. These are often the people who have been looking for such schemes in one area or another all their lives. They think they will suddenly start writing on a blog, without ever honing their craft, spewing opinions with little regard to spelling or grammar and watch the ad income roll in. Then there are those who don't even want to do the set-up work but sign up for some site that allows them to write one article a week on whatever topic they choose and expect to make huge sums of money based on minimum effort.

Unfortunately, as I noted in an earlier post, more and more of these sites also attract previously successful freelancers, now torturing their prose into adword phrases in a vain attempt to make what they used to writing quality pieces for the print market. Sometimes they do okay. Many don't, and sometimes they watch writers with half the talent make more because they happen to luck into a topic that attracts good ads and ad clickers. Sadly, for them and for us, rather than focusing their considerable talents on what they used to do best––in depth research and clear presentation of valued subjects––they attempt to improve their adword skills instead, having been convinced that if they aren't one of the site's big earners, they––not the site or Google's lousy marketing strategists––are doing something wrong.

Coming out of the creative sector where $10 feels like a windfall, making $25 or $30 a quarter writing on topics I enjoy is enough for me. Consequently, I continue to work on my writing skills, trying to present complicated matters of politics or history in clear and easily understood terms. I'm willing to focus on SEO (as opposed to adwords), because, while I don't condone high school students automatically trusting the article with top billing, I also know that is what they do. So they may as well read something carefully written and with a list of further resources for them to check out. However, I have no interest in playing the adword game. Then again, I don't have to. My living comes from the business I help my husband run.

It started with Microsoft convincing us that when our PCs froze up due to nasty viruses, it was our fault, not theirs. Since then we've continued to allow the techies to convince us they always know best. For those who do depend on the income, it's not only exploitative to foster dreams of high incomes they will probably never achieve, but it encourages good writers to write about empty subjects with empty words in order to make money. Further adding to the dumbing down of our culture.

Rant over. I promise to find something more uplifting to write about next time.

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