SES Chicago 2009 Opening Keynote with Jeff Jarvis

Good Monday morning! It’s day one of Search Engine Strategies in Chicago. I have not yet frozen to death and even though it’s SNOWING outside, I still have all of my fingers and toes! So far, so good.

We’re getting down to business just a little late here in the International Ballroom but that’s because Mike Grehan is up on stage, doing the usual housekeeping business, being adorable and introducing our keynote speaker. Next year he promises it won’t be as cold here. SES Chicago will be in October. [I think that means you’ll freeze slightly slower.]

And now it’s time for our opening keynote! Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do?, is going to be our speaker. He’s going to talk about his book in a bit but he’s starting out with current stuff.

Google Bigotry

In the world of Rupert Murdoch and his team, sites that aggregate news have become “parasites,” content kleptomaniacs, vampires, tech tapeworms in the intestines of the Internet, and “thieves who steal our copyright”.

They see Google as Godzilla while Google thinks it’s Snuffleupagus. Google would say they’re “here to help”.

Google’s defense, a la Eric Schmidt: Google provides “100,000 opportunities a minute to win loyal readers and generate revenue — for free.” Publishers don’t know what to do because they don’t understand this new world.

Google has made the mistake of thinking that news media want friends. They don’t want friends — they want someone to blame. They’ve had 15 years since the introduction of the browser to innovate and they haven’t.

There’s been a fundamental shift in the economy. Newspapers still operate in the old “content economy” but now we’re in the new “link economy”. You only need one copy of anything now. It’s the links to it that bring it value. Content gains value when it gains links.

How does this new media economy operate?


  • Must be searchable to be found
  • Forces specialization: do what you do best and link to the rest
  • Forces efficiency
  • Recipient of links monetizes links
  • (Google is not the enemy)

Specialization provides value but we’re not used to that.

It is the responsibility of the recipient to monetize. If someone is bringing you traffic, it’s not their job to figure out how you should make money.

Should we have pay walls? He thinks no. Not because information wants to be free or because he’s morally opposed to paying for things. But because making money costs money.

Pay walls punish your most loyal customers:

snapshot of presentation by Jeff Jarvis during opening keynote of SES Chicago

If you charge for the bulk of your content, it’s only the loyal people who will have to pay. Not even porn can get away with charging for content these days.

We’re shifting from an institutional world to an entrepreneurial world.

What happens to journalism when the newspapers die? The future is not that the old paper gets replaced by a smart new paper. It’s replaced by an ecosystem instead of a company. There are citizen bloggers working in niches who are covering small towns and pulling in tons of traffic. Right now, they’re disparate and unincorporated. They need a way to network.

That’s the structural change but there will also be a media form change. It’s process versus product. News isn’t about a finished product even though that’s how we think about it now. It’s a process, news doesn’t stop, we just had to cap it because that’s how the delivery system worked. We built the first decade of search on the back of the permalink but now we’re going to build it on something else.

We’re moving from post versus stream. [Are you following #seschi on Twitter?] Right now the streams are a disorganized mess. That’s what Google is trying to bring order to right now. That’s their goal, organize the world’s information.

Move past the idea of the product, the page. Move to the Wave idea. Google made the mistake of marketing it as the new e-mail. It’s not the new e-mail. It’s the future of news. It’s closed collaboration among partners that (eventually) should be published to the Web. Articles are perishable. They should update as a “topic page” or even beyond that. You need to put information in a context but in a way that updates so that your information doesn’t become irrelevant.

At, if they have search queries where they don’t have pages that answer it, they assign someone to write that page. That’s backwards to media right now. They want to be the one assigning the stories. It’s an upside-down idea to serve the customer’s needs.

Distributed Versus Centralized

“If the news is that important it will find me.” — college student, The New York Times, 2008. That should scare news organizations.

The audience becomes the distributor.

Make your stuff embeddable — articles, images, discussion. Not just video.
API as distribution — NYT sends out their articles but The Guardian puts out all of their content in API. They want to be part of the fabric of the Web. The requirements are: A) approval for the API, B) refresh it every 24 hours, C) be part of their ad network.

Beta is the new standard. There is no end product. Work is always unfinished, always in development. When Google released Google News, it debated whether it should be sort by date or sort by place. They released without doing either and got an overwhelming response asking for sort by date. Releasing things without finishing them invites collaboration.

No one gets Google Wave yet (except Gina Trapani) but that’s where it’s going. It’s a beta world.

Google Rules

What makes Google successful?

Give people control and they will use it:

  • Dell hell
  • Your worst customer is your best friend
  • Your best customer is your partner

New publicness:

  • If you’re not searchable, you won’t be found. You need a Web site.
  • Everybody needs a little SEO. It’s not about the home page. Home pages are bullshit. People come in through search. Focus on the rest of your site.
  • Life is public, and so is business. This generation has a new ethic of publicness. The community provides value and response.
  • Your customers are your ad agency. Traffic comes in through human links. sends as much traffic to news sites as Google News.

New architecture:

  • The link changed everything.
  • Do what you do best and link to the rest.
  • Small is the new big
  • Manage abundance (not security)
  • Join the open-source, gift economy
  • The mass market is dead — long live the mass of nickels
  • Google commodifies everything
  • Welcome to the Google economy. Google didn’t put all the risk on the advertiser. Adwords is a response to trying to pay for performance.

[Missed slide with partial text]

  • Atoms are a drag
  • Middlemen are doomed

New ethic:

  • Make mistakes well
  • Life is a beta
  • Be honest
  • Be transparent
  • Collaborate
  • Don’t be evil

As Jeff runs down into the audience to “play Oprah” and do some question and answer, Mike Grehan jokes that Google Wave is like fax machines when they first came out. He got his and then realized… no one else has one. Hee. [I have some invites. Leave a comment if you want one. –Susan]

Greg Jarboe wants to know if Rupert Murdoch is bluffing. Jeff says he’s blustering. But he’s trying to change the tenor of the conversation. They’re talking about changing fair use and changing the copyright laws to protect their way of business.

Mike: Here’s the argument. If we can’t find The NYT? Someone else will write what they’re reporting.

Aaron Goldman: Customers are not in a commercial mindset. It’s less about how the news gets disseminated, it’s about the fact that when you encounter customers they’re not looking for you.

Jeff agrees. He says you need to unbundle advertising from content.

Jeff thinks the FTC needs to butt out of bloggers’ business. He agrees that we need extreme transparency. He thinks pay per post is evil. The problem with the FTC thing is that they think everything is media and they’re treating bloggers as second-class citizens.

He’s not against charging for content (buy his book) but he thinks there are better ways than paid models for news. Your users are your advertising agency. You can get value. We’re even heading to less than free, where you’re paying people to take things because the distribution is the value.

Question: How will mobile affect the media?

Jeff thinks that mobile is the wrong word. Ubiquitous is the right one. The Holy Grail is low power, always on. It’s constant. Mobile is more than just being mobile. It’s constancy and ubiquity.

Susan Esparza is former managing editor at Bruce Clay Inc., and has written extensively for clients and internal publications. Along with Bruce Clay, she is co-author of the first edition of Search Engine Optimization All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies.

See Susan's author page for links to connect on social media.

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