Atta Ikede

August 21, 2008

SES San Jose 2008

Filed under: San Francisco — attaikede @ 6:24 pm

Up till recently I had my display pic on my phone set to a giant mountain of candy I photographed one day. It just looked so delicious I had to see it every day.

I changed that yesterday. Now, I have two middle aged slightly chubby men as my display pic. Don’t worry, they’re blurred out in the foreground. The important part of the picture is the huge PPT slide behind them that reads: “The Role of Search? To reduce all knowledge to information and information to superficial scraps of data.”

Interesting quote, eh?

I was in San Jose for the past week at a conference called Search Engine Strategies (SES). It’s a pretty interesting conference .. it’s mainly for people who are in the Search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) industries. I went because I now work on an online ad product and so I was interested in the SEM angle here in terms of how people tweak ad content on the major online ad networks and I wanted to learn more about SEO.

SEO – how to tweak your website so that it comes up higher in search results

SEM – strategies for buying advertising on search engines and their networks so that you can get people clicking on your ads.

There is a huge industry around the major search engines that works on SEO and SEM. The industry is very similar to a lot sales / low level “consulting” industries – There are a few people who are really good at it, have talent and probably make good money, but the barrier to enter this profession is pretty low and so pretty much anybody with some vaguely business/tech background can easily set themselves up and if they have sales savvy can probably land some clients and get a business going.

Some points about this conference:

1. Apparently a person named Kevin Ryan is the lead organizer of this conference. i googled him and found several interviews where he goes on record saying that he is against product placement/pitches in conference sessions. It’s good that he feels that way, but unfortunately, I think that product pitches are a reality of conferences and so several of the sessions I went to did have a pitch element to them. That was kind of annoying.

2. Pale, nerdy, soft spoken, cat loving engineers can be rockstars. I quickly learned that there is a man named Matt Cutts who is the nerdy rock star at the center of SEO. He works on search quality at Google. Basically when SEO people tweak their websites to come up in Google rankings, the search quality team at Google will work to tweak the algorithm so that the rules stay one step ahead of what’s hot in website tweaking. Apparently there are 200 elements to the Google ranking algorithm and he probably knows them all. There was definitely a certain level of twitchy excitement in the room every time Matt Cutts was around. The amazing thing about this person is that he’s a really nice guy! He’s modest, thoughtful, well spoken and very obviously super smart. After observing this for a few days and checking out his blog I have officially decided that Matt Cutts is my hero. Well, I think my dad is still my hero, but this dude is now hero number 2.

3. There is something very surprising and un-american about the attitude that people in the search industry have towards Google. The American dream and attitude are about optimism! Just because your neighbour started a hot dog cart doesn’t mean you can’t do it … in fact you can do it, and you can do it better! Make things happen. The status quo sucks! Things can always be better, right? Well, when it comes to Google, there seems to be this attitude in the industry that if Microsoft can’t beat them, nobody can, and since Microsoft isn’t beating them, nobody will ever beat them, and Google will take over the web and the world, and oh well, so what, and hey, it’s not so bad because their company motto is “don’t be evil”. I don’t understand this attitude at all!

Ok, so Google has a lot of data. Ok so they’ve crawled a lot of content and have a lot of inertia. So what? They started from 0 in a space that already had competition just like any new startup starting today would! Processing speeds keep improving, storage power keeps increasing … and frankly, with all this SEO crap going on who’s to say today’s search engine relevance is even that great? We’re so used to doing multiple searches to get data that I think we forget how much time we waste doing that and how often results on a page are off the mark.

Google is pretty good, but it’s not at 100% yet. There’s definitely still a lot of improvement in search, and I think it’s way too early to give in the towel and say that Google is the winner now and forever. That aside, in what industry in the history of the world has a monopoly been good for consumers? If Google turns out to be the crushingly dominant search provider, and if no better paradigms for finding the right content on the web come up or if they’re also dominated by Google, then we lose. “Don’t be Evil” is a bunch of crap .. I’m really glad that they want to be carbon neutral but don’t let that distract you from the fact this is a company that filters results and thus hurts Chinese consumers just to make the Chinese communist government happy.

4. I think people carry their laptops around to exaggerate their self importance. Either that or I think there is a huge swath of the population who DESPERATELY need decent cell phones. There were times when I’d be in a seminar and there’d be laptops sprung open all around me. Do you know what applications people were using on their laptops? Email and web browsers! That’s it! I didn’t see a single person using Excel. I didn’t see a single person using a complicated desktop program like Rational, Clear Quest, or anything like that. Now if the laptops in question were the tiny, or even shiny or cool then I can see why the person would be dragging it around. I like taking my vaio with me to differnet places. It’s so light I hardly notice the difference! But these laptops I saw at the conference were overwhelmingly just those ugly corporate Dell and HP bricks that you only use because your corporate IT department won’t buy you something nicer. Why, Why, Why carry such a thing around?

People, you don’t need a laptop to check email and surf the web. Throw out your stupid Razr phone and get a smart phone. Liberate yourself from the chains of 3 hour battery life and constant shoulder pain! If you’re afraid that you’ll look less important without your laptop, then well, I suggest you balance that decrease in perceived importance with an increase in perceived coolness by buying an iPhone. In that case I also suggest you go to therapy, because if your self esteem is so fragile you have to carry an ugly laptop around to prop it up then you have major issues.

Anyway, those are my main points about the conference. I might blog about San Jose a little later. Sigh .. San Jose. There is something very weird about that place. Let’s just say that my entire body quivered in relief when I got back to San Francisco. This despite the fact I spent all 4 days there staying at a Fairmont hotel!!



  1. wow! So much to comment… I am going to have to wow first…

    Comment by picnic buddy — August 22, 2008 @ 8:49 am

  2. Nice comments… I enjoyed the “outside perspective.” So many people beyond the “inner circle” of the business have no idea who Matt is and are astonished by the fanfare.

    And yes, we do our best to keep the pitches out of sessions. Unfortunately we don’t get them all, but we do take action when we catch them. Please do let me know where you saw the pitches, I always welcome the feedback.


    Comment by Kevin Ryan — September 6, 2008 @ 8:33 pm

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