SMX Recap Day One: Chasing Google

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

This is part one of a three part series on SMX (Search Marketing Expo) 2011 at the Javits Center in Manhattan.

My SMX East 2011 experience opened with a session called “Which Way Google.” That turned out to be a pretty dependable theme for the day. The session was a panel discussion with In the Plex author and Wired senior writer Steven Levy, blogger and author Jeff Jarvis and Marc Rotenberg from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). I’m currently making my way through Levy’s In the Plex, and this discussion covered a lot of ground in terms of what Google will do next and what things we should be potentially concerned about as the search giant expands its reach into more and more avenues of the Internet.

Rotenberg was the voice of caution in what turned into a spirited debate. He raised some valid privacy concerns about how the US is really the only country that is OK with Google’s Streetview application and how Spain has actually ordered Google to remove some personal information from it’s index. Jarvis played the other side, arguing that the technology itself is neutral and it’s not the gathering of the data that should be worrisome, but rather what is ultimately done with that data.

The real question behind all of this was whether or not Google’s dominance is really good for us. This led to my favorite quote of day one from Steven Levy, when asked if Google is making us dumber: “Google is not making us dumber,” he said. “It may make it easier to get by if you’re dumb.”

The day rounded out with a session on correlation vs. causation in SEO, a panel on using personas to shape SEO efforts and an evening open forum with Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan. Each of these sessions offered valuable insight, but I was struck how they were all pretty well centered on the 800-pound gorilla who doesn’t bother to attend conferences like this. Everyone wants to know what Google will do next, but they’re not here to offer any insight. Despite Bing’s shiny booth on the Expo floor, not once did I hear anyone in these sessions postulate on what they think Bing is up to. This leads to an atmosphere of (somewhat) tongue-in-cheek resentment. As Sullivan put it in the evening session, “It’s Google’s world. We’re all just ranking in it.”

The morning panel discussion concluded with a question from Search Engine Land’s Chris Sherman about what Google’s biggest vulnerability is right now. All three panelists agreed that Google’s biggest threat to its success is itself. Will arrogance lead it to overreach or lose sight of the things that have made it what it is? Regardless of the answer to that question, for now we’re all just chasing Google. I’m looking forward to seeing what the chase brings on day two.

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