University of Washington: Struggling with Ethics 101

October 18, 2021

Like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, some professionals at these esteemed institutions are struggling with Ethics 101. A typical syllabus includes such questions as these from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point Introduction to Ethics course:

  • What theoretical principles guide our moral behavior?
  • What makes an action right or wrong?
  • What factors (theoretical and practical) ground moral disputes?
  • Is there hope that we will resolve moral disputes?

The syllabus includes this statement:

If you commit any acts of academic dishonesty (such as plagiarism on written work or cheating on an exam) you will earn a zero for that work (and possibly other disciplinary actions).

Well, this is a basic class. How well did the University of Washington do? (We already know that MIT accepted some Jeffrey Epstein goodness and participated in the digital hair shirt ritual.)

Navigate to “University of Washington Settles DOJ Claims of Grant Fraud.” You will learn that one of those who appears to have flunked Introduction to Ethics engaged in some search engine optimization. I learned from the article:

The University of Washington has agreed to pay more than $800,000 to settle Justice Department allegations that a professor submitted false documentation relating to a highly competitive grant. The grant documents were submitted to the National Science Foundation by Mehmet Sarikaya, a professor in the university’s Materials Science and Engineering Department…

Keep in mind that some academics engage in citation exchanges and other crafty techniques to burnish their reputation as big time thinkers.

If the Department of Justice is correct, the get out of jail card cost the university providing Amazon-type and Google-type graduates a mere $800,000.

A PR-savvy university professional is quoted as saying“The UW takes very seriously the responsibility of stewarding public funding of scientific research,” university spokesman Victor Balta said in an email. “We are grateful this issue was brought to light and pleased to have it resolved.”

Abso-fricking-lutely. “Grateful.”

The issue is one that St. Thomas Aquinas might have enjoyed pondering. Why fool around with Aristotelian ethics when one can do what’s necessary to be a winner. The text of these thoughts might be called Macho invento and authored by a group of recent University of Washington graduates who volunteer their time to advance ethical thought.

Stephen E Arnold, October 18, 2021

Progress: Marketing Triumphs, Innovating Becomes SEO

October 11, 2021

I read “Slowed Canonical Progress in Large Fields of Science.” My take on the write up is different from what the authors intended. The notion of “science” I bring ignores physics, medicine, mathematics, and computational chemistry.

The write up is about marketing, good old-fashioned salesmanship. Don’t take my comment as that of a person annoyed at academics or big thinkers. I believe that the authors have articulated an important idea. I simply view their insight as an example of a a particular manifestation of generating buzz, closing a deal, making a sale, or believing the assertions so common in advertising.

The write up states:

Rather than causing faster turnover of field paradigms, a deluge of new publications entrenches top-cited papers, precluding new work from rising into the most-cited, commonly known canon of the field.

Isn’t this “more is better” similar to generating clicks to a Web page — whether the content of the Web page is germane to a topic or not? I do.

I call this the SEO-ization of knowledge.  Dr. Gene Garfield, the father of citation analysis, did not anticipate search engine optimization becoming the objective of his approach to determining importance in a scientific field.

The write up makes clear that:

As fields get larger, the most-cited papers become durably dominant, entrenched atop the citation distribution. New papers, in contrast, suffer diminished probability of ever becoming very highly cited and cannot gradually accumulate attention over time. Published papers tend to develop existing ideas more than disrupt them, and rarely launch disruptive new streams of research.

The effect of this “entrenchment” is little more than finding a way to get attention in a setting which resists change.

I think that the data presented in the paper provide an insight useful to understanding the vapidity of so-called corporate white papers to the interesting expressions of business ideas on LinkedIn and much more.

Advertising and search engine optimization are the defining characteristics of the last 10 years. The fact that it permeates scientific and technical work is evidence that intellectual endeavors are little more than key word stuffing.

Who “regulates” the behavior? A government agency? The reviewers of a technical paper? The publishers of journals dependent on commercial enterprises for survival? The young researcher who follows the well-worn path?

Search engine optimization-type thinking has been absorbed into the intellectual foundations of scientific and technical disciplines.

Now it’s marketing which is much easier than innovating and discovering. Even Google advertises in the Wall Street Journal. Google!

Stephen E Arnold, October 11, 2021

SEO Relevance Destroyers and Semantic Search

August 18, 2021

Search Engine Journal describes to SEO professionals how the game has changed since early days, when it was all about keywords and backlinks, in “Semantic Search: What it Is & Why it Matters.” Writer Aleh Barysevich emphasizes:

“Now, you need to understand what those keywords mean, provide rich information that contextualizes those keywords, and firmly understand user intent. These things are vital for SEO in an age of semantic search, where machine learning and natural language processing are helping search engines understand context and consumers better. In this piece, you’ll learn what semantic search is, why it’s essential for SEO, and how to optimize your content for it.”

Semantic search strives to comprehend each searcher’s intent, a query’s context, and the relationships between words. The increased use of voice search adds another level of complexity. Barysevich traces Google’s semantic search evolution from 2012’s Knowledge Graph to 2019’s BERT. SEO advice follows, including tips like these: focus on topics instead of keywords, optimize site structure, and continue to offer authoritative backlinks. The write-up concludes:

“Understanding how Google understands intent in intelligent ways is essential to SEO. Semantic search should be top of mind when creating content. In conjunction, do not forget about how this works with Google E-A-T principles. Mediocre content offerings and old-school SEO tricks simply won’t cut it anymore, especially as search engines get better at understanding context, the relationships between concepts, and user intent. Content should be relevant and high-quality, but it should also zero in on searcher intent and be technically optimized for indexing and ranking. If you manage to strike that balance, then you’re on the right track.”

Or one could simply purchase Google ads. That’s where traffic really comes from, right?

Cynthia Murrell, August 17, 2021

Google Search: A Disillusioned SEO Expert Grouses

May 10, 2021

Search engine optimization. Great play by the Google. Lots of “search experts” explaining how to get traffic. When the traffic went away or failed to materialize, these “SEO experts” morphed into Google ad hawkers. Slick. Who knew? Not the SEO crowd but the creeping tendrils of dawning knowledge are now wending their way through GenX and Millennial synapses.

What’s the proof?

I present Exhibit 1, “The Death of Search Engine Optimization.”

The author shows a screenshot of what are, it seems, ads probably loosely connected to the topic about which the user sought information. Then this explanation / commentary:

Notice what has happened to the page design—today, there is not one free organic search result anywhere to be seen on the first page, above the fold (where the computer screen breaks the page).  Every single link on this page is now a paid advertisement—the links in the upper left coming from Google Ads, the links in the lower-left map coming from Google Local, and the links in the right coming from the Google Shopping product feed.  Every single one a paid placement, which is great for Google maximizing their ad revenues.  But, if you want to see an organic search result that is truly based on the quality of the content of the landing page, you need to scroll down “below the fold”, and even then, they don’t start until the bottom of that second screen view after you page down.

The synapses crackle and the author observes: “The death of search engine optimization. Let’s see if Google’s attempt to fleece all of its advertisers for even more money, and further clutter up its user experience, will open up a door for one of their competitors to start growing share in the search industry.  But, until then, the grim reaper is sharpening his blade for the SEO industry.  R.I.P. my dear friend.”

There you go. Insight.

Stephen E Arnold, May 10, 2021

SEO: Yep, Easy Like 1-2-3

April 29, 2021

Much ado about SEO. VentureBeat has teamed up with StackCommerce to offer a training course the publication describes in, “SEO Is Shrouded in Mystery. This Google SEO Training Can Help Answer those Questions.” The post begins by emphasizing Google’s secrecy behind the specifics of its algorithm, lamenting that the company drops tantalizing hints here and there. Of course, they say, “everyone” wants to know how the algorithm works to make the most of their companies’ Search Engine Optimization. We’re told:

“Thankfully, not everything in the world of SEO is flying blind. The training in The 2021 Complete Google SEO and SERP Certification Bundle is an extremely helpful distillation of what a marketer or brand manager needs to know to make their web pages and content search-friendly so they can scale to that search ranking pinnacle. Over 11 courses, this package explains how SEO is done, as well as all the top tools and techniques to make Google algorithms smile on your website and your brand. It starts with SEO Training 2021: Beginner To Advanced SEO and The Complete SEO Course for Beginners 2021: Zero to Hero, where even digital marketing novices can learn the ropes, understanding what known factors go into a page’s SEO ranking and the factors available to move up those Google search results. The training also includes getting familiar with popular SEO tools like Ahref, Alexa, WordAI, Articleforge, and more, some of the most effective ways Amazon sellers market products, and even how to produce simple YouTube videos that can make a surprising impact on your Google search profile.”

There is a lot of razzle dazzle here, but let us provide a little clarity: creating quality, helpful content has always been the key to higher SEO rankings. That is the whole point of the algorithm in the first place, though the SEO industry has been built on gaming that system. The other alternative is even simpler, and probably the one Google would prefer—just buy Google ads for traffic. Mystery solved? Yep, just have $20,000 per month or more.

Cynthia Murrell, April 29, 2021

YouTube Manipulation: The Corrosive Effect of Search Engine Optimization

April 20, 2021

Do you want to get a glimpse of how “relevant” content ends up in your search results? Navigate to “Feeding Hate With Video: A Former Alt-Right YouTuber Explains His Methods.” Here’s a quote to note:

Mr. Robertson recently boasted in a text that in one day a video
targeting Mr. Jones, the conspiracy theorist he once worked with, had
been viewed over 250,000 times.

The article explains how a person who comes across as an evil individual generated traffic. The information provides a road map to undermine relevance and make a mockery of Google’s vaunted black box for determining relevance.

Let’s call this manipulation of a flawed method for determining relevance what it is:

SEO or search engine optimization.

Take a look at a search results list from your most recent query? What’s relevant? What’s accurate? What’s manipulating you via injections of digital bias?

Years ago professional publishers produced indexes and abstracts of content human measured against specific editorial criteria. Those “standards” and “methods” are long gone.

What’s taken the place of knowledge work? Thumbtypers in the SEO game.

Stephen E Arnold, April 20, 2021

Checklist of Shady Digital Marketing Tactics

April 13, 2021

I think the author of “The Problem With Digital Marketing” wanted to make a positive contribution to the art and science of paying to get attention. The write up identifies four categories of marketing wizards which may cast a shadow over the well intentioned efforts of companies desperate for revenue.

The four buckets of bad things are:

  1. Gunning for a quick payoff
  2. Thinking about money now
  3. Shady search engine optimization methods
  4. Unprofessional behavior or what I call MBA ethical practices.

These four groups of activities are interesting for three reasons. First, the mixture of big things like the lack of an ethical command center and tiny thinks like using Dark Patterns to snooker a Web site visitor into spending money when the user thought he/she was NOT making a purchase are jarring.

The lack of the ethics thing opens the door to many activities not included in the three other buckets; for example, apps which are designed to snag a user’s financial information or the use of email to lure the recipient into divulging access credentials.

Items one and two are essentially the fabric of anyone who has bills to pay, a habit to feed, or a keen desire to ride to the bank in a new Bronco with an M1 MacBook under his/her arm.

Item three is actually the focal point of the write up. If an entity is not in the Google and easily findable by those with a limited vocabulary, that entity does not exist. The same need for findability applies to tweet things, Facebook craziness, and even the hopelessly weird Microsoft LinkedIn.

Distorting relevance, using assorted tricks like buying backlinks from clueless Web site owners, and dabbling in the sale of endorsements from YouTube influencers are probably not helpful to someone looking for an objective results list in response to a query.

So what do I make of this write up?

First, it makes clear that SEO is the way to go.

Second, the use of Dark Patterns or closely allied methods work and often work quite well.

Third, payoffs come when ethics are kicked into the trash surrounding the youth soccer field and email (phishing), apps (vectors of malware), and rhetorical tricks are used. The problem with digital content is a combination of tricks and bad content.

What works is buying Google online ads or becoming famous on YouTube or TikTok. Twitter is a minnow compared to the Google thing.

Stephen E Arnold, April 12, 2021

SEO Semantics and the Vibrant Vivid Vees

January 29, 2021

Years ago, one of the executives at Vivisimo, which was acquired by IBM, told me about the three Vees. These were the Vees of Vivisimo’s metasearch system. The individual, who shall remain nameless, whispered: Volume, Velocity, and Variety. He smiled enigmatically. In a short time, the three Vees were popping up in the context of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and content discovery.

The three Vivisimo Vees seem to capture the magic and mystery of digital data flows. I am not on that wheezing bus in Havana.

Volume is indeed a characteristic of online information. Even if one has a trickle of Word documents to review each day, the individual reading, editing, and commenting on a report has a sense that there are more Word documents flying around than the handful in this morning’s email. But in the context of our datasphere, no one knows how much digital data exist, what it contains, who has access, etc. Volume is a fundamental characteristic of today’s datasphere. The only way to contain data is to pull the plug. That is not going to happen unless there is something larger than Google. Maybe a massive cyber attack?

The second Vee is variety. From the point of view of the Vivisimo person, variety referred to the content that text centric system processed. Text, unlike a tidy database file, is usually a mess. Without structure, transform and load outfits have been working for decades to convert the messy into the orderly or at least pull out certain chunks so that one can extract key words, dates, and may entities with reasonable accuracy. Today there is a lot of variety; however, for every new variant old ones become irrelevant. At best, the variety challenge is like a person in a raft trying to paddle to keep from being swamped with intentional and unintentional content types. How about those encrypted message? Another hurdle for the indexing outfit: Decryption, metadata extraction and assignment, and processing throughput. So the variety Vee is handled by focusing on a subset of content. Too bad for those who think that “all” information is online.

The third Vee is a fave among the real time crowd. The idea that streams and flows of data in real time can be processed on the fly, patterns identified, advanced analytics applied, and high value data emitted. This notion is a good one when working in print shop in the 17th century. Those workflows don’t make any sense when figuring out the stream of data produced by an unidentified drone which may be weaponized. Furthermore, if a monitoring device notes a several millisecond pattern before a person’s heart attack, that’s not too helpful when the afflicted individual falls over dead a second later. What is “real time”? Answer: There are many types, so the fix is to focus, narrow, winnow, and go for a high probability signal. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.

The three Vees are a clever and memorable marketing play. A company can explain how its system manages each of these issues for a particular customer use case. The one size fit all idea is not what generates information processing revenues. Service fees, subscriptions, and customization are the money spinners.

The write up “The Four V’s of Semantic Search” adds another Vee to the Vivisimo three: Veracity. I don’t want to argue “truth” because in the datasphere for every factoid on one side of an argument, even a Bing search can generate counter examples. What’s interesting is that this veracity Vee is presented as part of search engine optimization using semantic techniques. Here’s a segment I circled:

The fourth V is about how accurate the information is that you share, which speaks about your expertise in the given subject and to your honesty. Google cares about whether the information you share is true or not and real or not, because this is what Googles [sic] audience cares about. That’s why you won’t usually get search results that point to the fake news sites.

Got that. Marketing hoo hah, sloganeering, and word candy —  just like the three Vivisimo Vees.

Stephen E Arnold, January 29, 2021

What Makes the Web Slow? Really Slow?

January 28, 2021

I read “We Rendered a Million Web Pages to Find Out What Makes the Web Slow.” My first reaction was the East Coast Internet outage which ruined some Type A workers’ day. I can hear the howls, “Mommy, I can’t attend class, our Internet is broken again.”

Here’s a passage from the “Rendered a Million Web Pages” which I found interesting:

Internet commentators are fond of saying that correlation does not equal causation, and indeed we can’t get at causality directly with these models. Great caution should be exercised when interpreting the coefficients, particularly because a lot confounding factors may be involved. However, there’s certainly enough there to make you go “hmm”.

Yep, I went “hmm.” But for these reasons:

  • Ad load times slow down my Web experiences. Don’t you love those white page hung ads on the YouTube or the wonky baloney on the Daily Mail?
  • How about crappy Internet service providers?
  • Are you thrilled with cache misses?
  • Pages stuffed full of trackers, bugs, codes, and spammy SEO stuff.

Hmm, indeed.

Stephen E Arnold, January 28, 2021

Online Immortality: Suddenly Death Makes Digital Headlines

January 26, 2021

I was surprised. Yes, I was. I read three news stories within a few minutes of their appearing in my newsfeed.

The first — “AI Resurrects Legendary Spanish Singer to Hawk Beer” — explains that Lola Flores appeared in a commercial. No big deal except that Lola Flores died a quarter century ago. The article reports:

The company recreated her voice, face, and features using hours of audiovisual material, more than 5,000 photos, and a painstaking composition and post-production process, according to El País.

Some people found the recreation or deep fake quite sporty. Of course, smart software was used, but the implications for those dead are interesting to ponder. Thumb typers, activate your mobiles!

The second  was “Microsoft Patent Details Tech That Could Turn Dead People into AI Chatbots.” The write up explains:

The patent, titled “Creating a conversational chatbot of a specific chatbot of a specific person,” details a system that would access images, voice data, social media posts, electronic messages and the like to “create or modify a special index in the theme of the specific person’s personality.” In some cases, images and video could be used to create a 3D model of the person for extra realism.

Use cases range from a smart chatbot which reminds a 20 year old remote worker for a high tech company to pick up his / her clothes to a digital companion to provide support and solace when life delivers a surprise; for example, “You know you should have taken that other job. No what, smarty pants?” If you want to read the system and method behind this innovative idea hinted at by sci-fi writers, the number is US010853717. Is that my mother saying, “Stephen, tidy your desk. You know what they say about loose papers on desk or did you forget? Like you forget the garbage.”

The third write up was “Backed by Vint Cerf, Emortal Wants to Protect Your Digital Legacy from Bit-Rot.” None of that grieving family member learning via email that Facebook will not permit access to the beloved one’s account. The write up explains:

The company will use Google architecture to preserve digital memories — photographs, documents, correspondence, videos, interviews and more – indefinitely into the future. The idea is that this will ensure that as operating systems, devices and tech evolves, your entire digital legacy will remain safe, secure and accessible — to only those you choose.

The possibility are endless; for instance, targeted advertising for digital mementos, eBay listings for vehicles just like the one the loved one used to drive, and facial recognition matches from social media sites so the loved ones can locate a suitable doppelgänger.

Mashing up these services with virtual reality might provide additional opportunities for monetization. Just as one can insert Bernie Sanders into any Google Street View location, these digital constructs can enhance real time constructs. For information about the Bernie app, navigate to Engadget.

The added bonus: Search engine optimization specialists can use their methods to make sure one’s loved one pops up. Hmmm. That’s not a good phrase but it is close enough for a 2021 cornhole game.

Stephen E Arnold, January 26, 2021


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