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Ethics In Technology: Web2Rule

Bobby Travis

This is a post by Bobby Travis, who wrote with me at 40Tech from 2009 through 2012. Bobby has since moved on to bigger and better things, but I've left all of his great contributions up on the site. - Evan
Bobby Travis

Web2Rule > Manipulate Social Meida and the Web to Your Advantage | Ethical or Unethical Tech? What constitutes ethics in modern technology, specifically web-related? It’s a broad question, and one that is intensely debated in the realms of Privacy, Net Neutrality and Intellectual Property Rights. What about data manipulation, though? Where does that fit in to the ethical landscape? Classically, the public has railed against the manipulation of data — such as news sources and histories — for the benefit of companies and governments and the like, while at the same time accepting that such manipulation is likely both commonplace and and historical institution unto itself. Such acceptance is the reason things like conspiracy theories exist. Currently, these same viewpoints are often applied to common-use technology companies such as Microsoft, Apple and Google, all of whom have been accused of manipulating their technologies to further both their political agendas, their pocketbooks, and pretty much whatever else suits the search for a good story.

What about end-user manipulation of those same technologies? Is that acceptable? Web2Rule, a new service for internet marketers that allows for en masse manipulation of search and social media results, brings that question to the forefront.

What is Web2Rule?

Web2Rule is a service that connects internet marketers with one another and inspires them (via a points/credits, you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours system) to help push their content, and thus, their brands, to the forefront of web services such as Digg, Stumbleupon, Squidoo, and of course, Google and the other search engines. In their own words:

"Web2Rule is an online platform where hundreds of internet marketers of all types get together to manipulate web2.0 sites to their advantage. Gaining back links and focused traffic with minimal work, which means one thing…Money!"


How Does Web2Rule Work?

If someone wants to put their newest content item up and get to, say, the front page of Digg (which could net them 150,000 viewers in a few days, more via social sharing, as well as a push forward in Google rankings), they have simply to post a "job" on the Web2Rule boards. The job would state what they wish to accomplish, and would "pay" out a certain amount of points or credits. For less-work jobs, like the 20 seconds or less it takes to Digg something, the poster can pay out a minimal  of one point, or more if they wish to capture the attention of the other users. The other users would then accept the job, do the job, and get the points. The points are a form of both credibility and currency, thereby inspiring continuous use and the need to help others so they will help you.

Bottom line: Where before you would have to do the sharing and digging yourself (or with the help of your staff or a few good friends), with results that would be limited by both time and numbers, you now have potentially hundreds (or even thousands, if it takes off) of people working to "thumb-up" your content, comment on your blog posts, share your blog posts on other services, vote your Answers on YahooAnswers as Best Answer, etc.

Is this a good thing?


How Is This Any Different than Normal SEO/SMO Practices?

My partner and I own Bluetoque Marketing, a budding internet marketing, SEO, social media design and web 2.0 design firm that’s focused on small business. As such, I am keenly aware that I just provided myself with a link back to my website, which may gain me both customers and search engine optimization ranking. I also share my blog posts here and wherever else I may write on various social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Stumbleupon, Posterous, Tumblr, and more. I sometimes make sure the post is mentioned to friends I know will be interested and will share them — and I encourage our clients to do the same. I also am familiar with SEO practices, from backend coding to optimizing content for organic growth. Essentially, when I choose to, I manipulate data so that data aggregators will take notice — so people will take notice. This, on many levels, is simply a marketing necessity to help a business or a person stand out in an immensely crowded space. Sounds logical, no?

My company and I focus on organic results only. We don’t subscribe to "Black Hat" SEO methods such as keyword stuffing, hidden keywords on a page, etc. We don’t even mess with PayPerClick or adWords overmuch as we believe that content is king. This is a philosophical thing for us — we realize we could make much more money if we went the other way, especially if we did it carefully.

It would have to be a careful road, too, because "Black Hat" techniques can get you and your clients banned from search engines. Google has made it very public that they don’t really like search engine optimizers. Why? Because they don’t want people manipulating the data gathered by their algorithms as it can hurt both their customer-base and their bottom line.

The question here then, is: "Is a service that is designed to bring together data manipulators en masse, for the sole purpose of establishing their own, individual agendas, appropriate and ethical?"

Is it no more than a new way to help the little guy stand out in the crowd of other little guys — and big guys who have near unlimited comparative resources? Or is it simply something that the big guys will also attach themselves to and do nothing to balance out the presentation of content across the web? Does it even matter, considering that it is all data manipulation anyway?


Would You Use It?

I suppose the real question has to be: "Would you use it?"

As a person, a blog owner, a business owner — would you use such a service to promote your content? Do you think it is "ok" to push yourself in front of others by merit of your work, or by merit of your network — and this is considering that, in this case, your network is working to promote you only to promote themselves, not because they find you or your work valuable to others.


What do you think? Where does the line lie — or is there even a line at all? — Let us know in the comments.