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Marketplace comment on honing our own algorithms


A few weeks ago, I blogged about how we’re going to have to optimize ourselves so that machines can better understand us. After blogging, I taped a commentary for APM’s Marketplace show, and promptly forgot about. They played it on Friday night, and I quickly heard from friends all over the country. It’s amazing how many people hear that show.

I’ll put the text under the fold (the part you have to click again to see.) I was also on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate show for 40 minutes on Friday. And Time Magazine, while giving the book a nice review, suggested to my annoyance that readers merely “skim” it. Of course, they could have recommended “tossing” it. So I shouldn’t complain. I’ll be in Washington, Boston and Portland this coming week. Hope to see some of you there. Schedule details are on TheNumerati.net.

The Marketplace commentary:

A woman came into my office last week. She's an expert on what's called search engine optimization. In other words, she helps people adjust their websites by putting in just the right words in the right places so that they'll rise to the top of the search results on Google. This is important, because if you or your business shows up on the third or fourth page on Google, you might as well not exist. No one finds you.

She had some bad news for me. The headlines on my blog are terrible for Google. They have jokes in them, irony, references to things that only humans can understand. If I want to get a good Google ranking, I'll first have to make my case, and establish my relevance, to a machine.

I thought about this. In industry after industry, we're being understood and ranked by our data. If the machines cannot find us, the humans never will. Those who figure out best how to organize their data will pop to the top of all kinds of lists. They'll be the first name you see in online dating. They'll be the first choice for the promotion to the Paris office. They may even be the first dog trainer you come across.

For centuries, we developed all kinds of tricks to make ourselves stand out. A whiff of cologne, a firm handshake, a letter of recommendation, a resume with just the right font. That was how we made ourselves findable in the analog age. But now we live in a world defined largely by data. So we have to read the minds of the people who tell the machines what to look for. I call them the Numerati. We have to decode their instructions -- or algorithms -- and then give them what they're after. This type of analysis is going to become the norm in a world managed by the Numerati. If we need any help, you can bet than an entire consulting industry will rise up to help us make our case to machines and hone our own algorithms.


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