(UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal has a story that supplements this post)
Newsweek has a brilliantly written article titled "Hotwiring your Search Engine", focusing on the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) industry and the Search industry, written by Brad Stone. It's brilliant not because of the topic itself, which needs to be grokked more than ever by mainstream audiences, but because how it frames the story in the eternal and universal language of good vs. evil, aka black vs. white.
It has "good guys" and "bad guys"...those who use "evil", "unsavory" methods to steer internet searches for their nefarious purposes vs., the good guys, who play by the rules, and use SEO tactics to benefit their clients.
"Search engines like google, Yahoo and MSN have a conflicted relationship with SEOs. They deplore the so-called black-hat SEOs who use unsavory techniques, like spamming the Web with dummy pages full of links, in an effort to make their sites appear popular.
But they are increasingly tolerant of ethical or "white hat" SEOs like Fishkin, who primarily help their clients knock down the virtual walls that prevent search engines from fully indexing their site.
Earlier this year Google engineer Matt Cutts started a blog directed at the SEO community, dispensing tips on how to make sites more visible to the automated software "spiders" that catalog the Web. It's good for Google and SEOs: better-organized sites increase the amount of content in Google's index, while improving SEO rankings."
In other words, it's almost Spy vs. Spy.
It's done so well, that it even got a positive review by Google's Matt Cutts, mentioned above. It's a fascinating article if you're not familiar with the subject matter. Recommended.
But this post is NOT about just about SEO being used for good and evil.
To borrow the framework from the Newsweek article, it's about "white-hat" content companies that are emerging to battle the "Bypass Battles" and logjams being created by the Mainstream Media (MSM) industry's fear of the "black-hat" content "usurpers" and "thieves" out there, whether the content is music, books or video.
I've already referred to one of the "white-hat" content entities in a previous post on how the NBA is planning to systematically digitise and make available to fans 60 years of video content from it's archives.
Well, the Wall Street Journal has a story this morning about another "white-hat" content company that's taking a "brave" step, this time in the book publishing industry. Titled "HarperCollins Plans to Control it's Digital Books", the article explains:
"In the latest salvo in the fight over the future of books on the Internet, one of the country's biggest publishers said it intends to produce digital copies of its books and then make them available to search services offered by such companies as Google Inc., Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Amazon.com., while maintaining physical possession of the digital files.
News Corp.'s HarperCollins Publishers Inc. hopes to head off the prospect of these big Internet companies taking charge of books that it has purchased, edited and published.
Its move to digitize its active backlist of an estimated 20,000 titles and as many as 3,500 new books each year comes at a moment when technology companies and the publishing industry are wrestling over rights and economic models for books online. HarperCollins's effort to make search companies use its digital copies is an aggressive response to anxieties felt by publishers worried that they will lose control over their intellectual property.
Along with a recent initiative by Bertelsmann AG's Random House, the initiative signals a growing desire by publishers to control and participate in some of the new online uses of their books."
On the surface, it seems as positive, proactive step by HarperCollins, that offers a braver compromise with the Googles of the world than previous positions of it's book industry peers. The mechanics would work as follows:
"Instead of sending copies of its books to various Internet companies for digitizing, as it does now, HarperCollins will create a digital file of books in its own digital warehouse. Search companies such as Google will then be allowed to create an index of each book's content so that when consumers do a search, they'll be pointed to a page view. However, that view will be hosted by a server in the HarperCollins digital warehouse. "The difference is that the digital files will be on our servers," said Brian Murray, group president of HarperCollins Publishers. "The search companies will be allowed to come, crawl our Web site, and create an index that they can take away, but not the image of the page."
This would prevent such Internet companies from selling a digital copy of that book unless HarperCollins decided to partner with them as a retailer. "We'll own the file, and we'll control the terms of any sale," he added.
The company hasn't decided on its strategy for selling directly to the consumer."
It's encouraging to see moves such as this from the mainstream media. Just as in the SEO industry, where the first moves were mostly by the "black-hat" operators and gave way eventually to the emergence of "white-hat" operators working with the industry, it's encouraging to now see some "white-hat" content providers stepping up to the plate, taking some chances, and putting more than just their toes in the waters of a user driven Internet.
Oh, and what's the link between the SEO battles cited above and the on-going Content Bypass battles discussed later in this post?
Well, if you think about it, when content providers (aka MSM) get over their fear of putting their content on line, AFTER having figured out the mechanisms by which they and their constituents will get paid, guess what they're going to do next.
Why, they're going to go into "white, gray AND black-hat" SEO operations for their content in a way that'll make today's SEO battles look like kids playing cowboys and indians...because the ultimate prize is the ATTENTION of users...because that's where the money is and will be ever more.
We're slowly but surely, on our way to Web 3.0.