I had a conversation yesterday with a colleague and, as often happens these days, the topic turned to getting more traffic for web sites.
One of my colleague’s foremost requests was for me to stop using British English in my writing, and to stop applying it to stories we source from our content partners.
The reason? “Virtualization” is a mighty search keyword, requested by hordes of folks around the globe every day.
But “Virtualisation,” our genteel Australian alternative, is searched for several orders of magnitude less often. So it makes no commercial sense for us to make the small adjustment to our copy to spell the word with an “s” rather than a “z”.
Some would argue that changing the single letter was a futile act of pedantry in the first place. I argued against because I think that small elements like this can be an important marker of identity that is appreciated by readers, even if only because it shows you care enough to make some small adjustments.
Right now, however, the fact that commercial online publishing is driven by the need for good search engine optimization* outcomes seems to me to be a likely source of homogenisation of the English language.
I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I find bland opposition to change stupidly antediluvian. But I think it is worth noting that the combination of commerce and technology are creating forces that work upon language in interesting ways.
* Yes, that is a deliberate and ironic reversion to “z” there, folks
I was writing a document yesterday and found myself thinking about which phrases it contained that I would one day use to find it using Google desktop search.
In the past, I imagine I would have thought about the name or been more careful with the folders I saved the file into.
Now my whole thought process assumes I have rapid and easy access to a search engine and an index of my work.
Anyone else thinking this way?
A couple of days back I installed some new emoticons for MS Windows Live Instant Messenger.
Along the way I forgot to untick the boxes that said ‘Make Microsoft the default for everything’.
The changes that were made were quite easy to undo, other than the default search engine in the address bar.
I have used address bar search for yonks. It’s great: type “?” into the address bar and then your search term. Up come the results. No farting around with toolbars etc …
But Firefox does not have a Gui-fied way to change the address bar search. Maybe too few people use it to make it worth the trouble.
Whatever the reason, it took a bit of Googling to find out how to restore my preference and then some messing around that would scare the bejeezus out of plenty of computer-owners.
I acknowledge that it was my mistake that led to this whole mess.
But I’ve never had a program reset the address bar search default before. And finding out how to change it back is non-trivial.’
To me it does not say good things about the search product in question that it has to go to these lengths to win customers.
And the sting in the tail? Searching on Live could not find me an answer. Google could.