Searle quote

Posted in Blogs with tags , , , on August 21, 2009 by alessandrovalente

“Our problem is not that somehow we have failed to come up with a convincing proof of the existence of God or that the hypothesis of an afterlife remains in serious doubt, it is rather that in our deepest reflections we cannot take such opinions seriously. When we encounter people who claim to believe such things, we may envy them the comfort and security they claim to derive from these beliefs, but at bottom we remain convinced that either they have not heard the news or they are in the grip of faith. We remain convinced that somehow they must separate their minds into separate compartments to believe such things. When I lectured on the mind-body problem in India and was assured by several members of my audience that my views must be mistaken, because they personally had existed in their earlier lives as frogs or elephants, etc., I did not think, ‘Here is evidence for an alternative world view,’ or even ‘Who knows, perhaps they are right.’ And my insensitivity was much more than mere cultural provincialism: Given what I know about how the world works, I could not regard their views as serious candidates for truth.”

Searle, J., 1992, The Rediscovery of the Mind, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, pp. 90-91.

Summary of Wendy Chun’s Control and Freedom

Posted in reviews with tags , , , , on February 13, 2009 by alessandrovalente

A summary of Wendy Chun’s Control and Freedom, Power and the paranoia in the age of fiber optics

Link: Summary Chun Control and Freedom

In Power and the paranoia in the age of fiber optics, Wendy Chun explores how the internet, as a commercial medium that thrives on control, has also been conceived as a medium of freedom. According to Chun this conflation of control and freedom is characteristic for our current political situation where information technologies have become more ubiquitous, commercial and distributed over private users and corporations. Deleuze already showed in his work on the control society how such developments, with the emergence of the internet as it most important representative, challenge the traditional disciplinary workings of society. Where in the era of the cold war dangers and enemies could easily be mentally mapped, they have now become as invisible and uncertain as the new technologies they supposedly use. Furthermore these technologies also open up our private domains, resulting in a paranoia that makes us unjustifiable look for freedom in dreams of gated communities and control enabled by paradoxically these same technologies. These paranoid misunderstandings of information networks and the subversion of freedom restrict us from really enabling the democratic potentials of network technologies. These delusional rhetoric’s currently lead to paranoia and actions that undermine the democracy and freedom we try to achieve and protect. Chun responds with this work, to Katherine Heyle’s call for media specific criticism, asin ‘engaging visual and nonvisual aspects of networked machines-human and machine readings-as well as their economic and political impact’, by examining four layers of networked media: hardware, software, interface and extra medial representations. Along this way Chun explores how the internet emerged technologically and culturally as a medium through a particular series of events and contradictory discourses. By exposing these shaping forces and by subsequently criticizing them Chun allows for a better understanding of the effects and practices they engender. Through discourses around race, sexuality and freedom Chun reveals where the power of the internet lies, manifested in the ‘linking of freedom and democracy to control, and the justification of this linking through technologically determinist explanations. Chun’s critic on today’s deterministic attitude on information technologies as bringers of equality are not mend to say that such technologies have no power of their own, but rather that they alone can not solve political problems, and that the cost of such attempts is too high.

Games & Power Structures

Posted in My Work with tags , , , , , , on February 13, 2009 by alessandrovalente

In this essay I propose a  taxonomy of games based on the type of power relationship between the player of a game and the virtual environment he or she explores, reconfigures and/or negotiates. The theoretic framework of this essay is based on Aarseth’s Cybertext, Perspectives on erodic literature, Foucault’s Dicipline and Punish,The Birth of the Prison and Deleuze’s article ‘Society of Control’. With a case study of the games Asteroids, Portal and World of Warcraft, it tries to show how all three games show a different power relationship between user and the game text and how general concepts from the work of Deleuze and Foucault can help understand and describe these power relationships. To hopefully shed some light on games, in how they work, are experienced and are different from eachother.

Link:  Games and Power

An extract of one of the case-studies:

Portal

Portal is considered to be a first person action/puzzle game and was developed by Valve Corporations. The game was released in the bundle package The Orange Box for Microsoft Windows and Xbox 360 in 2007. Where Asteroid’s game world only exists of dynamic objects on a black field, Portal presents a completely graphically rendered virtual space where object and the surroundings are all viewed three dimensionally. The player controls the main character named Chell from a first person perspective. At the start of the game Chell wakes up in an enclosed white room. A mysterious robotic voice tells her that she is the object of an experiment and challenges her to navigate through a series of rooms using a “portal gun”. This gun allows the player to create two distinct portal ends, orange and blue. Neither of the portals is specifically an entrance or exit; all objects that travel through one portal will exit through the other. Every level or stage of the game consists of a room that has only one exit point that can only be reached by making clever use of the portal gun. Every room is thus a puzzle that needs to be solved by the player to get to the next room. The more progress a player makes by traveling trough the rooms the more difficult the puzzles become and the more inventive use of the portals is needed to pass. This shows a different relation between the player and the game environment then was the case with Asteroids. The objective of the player becomestraversing an enclosed virtual space, this makes the user traverse through the game text,rather then just managing to ‘stay physically untouched and alive’. ‘Corporal punishment’ or a ‘virtual death’ that means exclusion is no longer what motivates ‘good behavior’ of the player. The power structure of the game system works with a more positive punishment and reward system. Good behavior is awarded by the passing of a closed environment to enter the next one. Each next room implements a more difficult challenge that needs a further enhancement of the player’s behavior for it to be able to pass it. Not behaving according to the rules of the system simply means that the player isstuck in the enclosed space and no progression occurs. The only way the game finishes (without walking away or turning it off) is by clearing all the levels. Mastery of the good behavior needed to pass all the enclosed spaces will at the end result in the ‘Intriguee’ exiting the closed game environment for ever and disappears. This is the moment, when in Portal  the collapsed distanced between user and ‘intriguee’ or ‘avatar’ ends. When playing  Astroids  the opposite is the case, it is bad behavior punished by an exclusion of the game by a virtual death that erases the main character and ends the merging of player and ‘intriguee’. In some of the levels/rooms of Portal it is also possible for main character Chen to die, for instance by falling from an edge into a pool of acid. However when this occurs an automatic save function automatically reloads the game and puts main character Chen right back where she was just before the accident happened. Chen is alive again and the player can instantly continue where he or she left off before getting killed. This shows that the sovereign power at work in Asteroids with its measures ofcorporal punishment, death/exclusion has been replaced for something else. It’s thepositive goal of learning good behavior to traverse the rooms or levels that drive the player. Off course it’s not the implementation of a saving device that changed thestructure of the game; it’s the structure of the game that makes the implementation ofsuch a device sensible. Implementing a device that constantly saves your progress in Asteroids  so one can always start from just before the ship exploded makes no sense. It would take away almost every reason to play and master it.The above also explains why Portal doesn’t have a point system like Astroids. In Portal good behavior is rewarded by the passing of enclosed spaces, it therefore doesn’t need points. In Asteroids good behavior means not being punished, the only way of marking this is by the implementation of a non-diegetic element such as a points system. The described relation between game system and player is comparable with Foucault’s concepts of the disciplinary society. “They (disciplinary societies) initiate theorganization of vast spaces of enclosure. The individual never ceases passing from one closed environment to another, each having its own laws: first the family; then the school (“you are no longer in your family”); then the barracks (“you are no longer at school”);then the factory; from time to time the hospital; possibly the prison, the preeminentinstance of the enclosed environment. It’s the prison that serves as the analogical model…” 30. It is interesting to note that in Portal the prison as analogical model is clearly visible. Main character Chen is constantly imprisoned in white cells and is constantlymonitored by camera’s on the wall in every room. The robotic voice that gives Chen instructions and compliments by monitoring her through the implemented cameras is invisible to her. This situation corresponds therefore exactly with that of JeremyBentham’s ‘Panopticon’. At a certain point escaping this imprisoned panoptic situationbecomes part of Portal’s narrative. After Chen has traversed multiple rooms as instructed by the robotic voice there is a crack in one of the white rooms that the player needs to go through to traverse the level. Chen has then escaped the panoptic vision of the robotic voice and traverses enclosed spaces in the same way as before, but now they are represented as outside the panoptic construction (of the narrative). The enclosed spaces that need to be traversed aren’t the sterile white prison rooms with the mounted camera’s anymore, but dirty environments with visible tubes and electricity cords that give a backstage feeling. Paradoxically while Chen has now changed the power relationship between her and the robotic voice, the relationship between the player and the game mechanic has stayed exactly the same. While Chen is now acting against the instructions of the robotic voice, the player is still following the ‘good behavior’ that is needed to traverse the text. This shows that it was never just the instruction of the robotic voice that motivated the actions of the player to progress the text by passing the enclosed spaces in the first place. In the final level of Portal  Chen reaches the center of the ‘panopticon’, a control room where she meets face to face with the robot/computer system that was behind the voice. Here the player must defeat this robotic entity by applying the inventive usages of the portal gun he or she learned and trained by progressing through all the previous enclosed spaces. When the robotic entity is defeated the player has reached the end of the game. In the structuring mechanic of Portal we can see aspects of Foucault’s ‘disciplinary society’. ‘Good behavior’ is now more internalized as a natural behavior of the player that needs less or no direct physical force to learn how it should behave to progress in the game. The evolution of the activities of the player is controlled by the passing from one enclosed environment to another that discipline the player to absorb the ‘good behavior’ needed to traverse them. While the ‘panopticon’ was clearly present in the fictional world of Portal it is problematic to apply on the structuring elements of the game text. The only gaze that actually exists is the one of the player at the main character or ‘intriguee’. One could maybe argue that the relationship of the ‘intriguee’ and the textual machine is panoptical since the actions of the ‘intriguee’ are based on what a player can deduct only from the interface level. The textual machine however ‘monitors’ every aspect of the ‘intriguee’ (while constantly saving its exact location) to calculate gameswhat will happen next, resulting in an unequal gaze.

 

Twitter, Micro-blogging and Mcdonaldization in the blogosphere

Posted in reviews with tags , , , on October 11, 2008 by alessandrovalente

To understand the logic of Twittering or micro-blogging as a blogging practise it might help looking at the concept of ‘Mcdonaldization’. The term Mcdonaldization was first used by sociologist George Ritzer in his work ‘The Mcdonaldization of society‘ (1996). Mcdonaldization is seen as a modern extension of Max Weber’s theory of rationalization of modern society and culture. How Mcdonalds operates is used by Ritzer as an example to describe a sociological phenomenon:

“…the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world.”  (Ritzer, 1996)

According to Ritzer this process has four dimensions:

-Efficiency

Getting from point A to B as efficient as possible. The goal is to get the costumer from hungry to full as fast as possible. The production process is stripped from all actions that don’t contribute to this goal.  

-Calculability

The focus is on quantity of products sold and the streamlined process of delivery.

“quantity has become equivalent to quality; a lot of something, or the quick delivery of it means it must be good.” (Ritzer, 1996)

Predictability

Service and products come in predictable forms. Employees behave according the same script and the standardized efficient way of work makes sure every BigMac looks exactly the same. 

-Control

Control is caused by the substitution of non-human for human technology. Computers regulate most what is happening inside the kitchen. All cooking temperature is regulated by computers and a zoomer goes off when employees need to flip a burger or take the fries out of the deep fryer. This leaves less room for human errors and makes sure employees don’t need allot of talent nor training to perform the necessary tasks. As long as they obey to the machines.

Twitter & Microblogging

If we look at twittering as a blogging form we can see comparable logic behind its use and success. Twitter brings a very efficient way of blogging. There is no need anymore for time consuming practises like planning and thinking to make an elaborate blog, that needs to have a certain degree of quality before publication. A spontaneous one liner is enough to get the message across in the fastest way possible. No time goes to waste to get behind a computer, a mobile phone is sufficient to write and read the blogs on the go. Twitter makes its users blogging machines, augmenting the quantity of their blogs per time to never seen before heights. A lot of blogs by a quick and convenient delivery process, means it must be good (calculability). Twitter controls the way you blog and when you blog. You can only write your blog under a box that says “What are you doing?”, also there is a 140 character limit. Pushing the blogs in the well know Twitter convention “X does / goes to Y” (predictability). Also if a user hasn’t even blogged for more then 24 hours straight there is a nice solution. Twitter will send a message to the users’ mobile phone so he or she knows its time to flip the burger.. I mean write another blog on the spot.

The Irrationality of Rationality

Ritzer believes like Weber that systems that are rational within a narrow scope can lead to outcomes that are irrational or harmful for a bigger picture:

“Most specifically, irrationality means that rational systems are unreasonable systems. By that i mean that they deny the basic humanity, the human reason, of the people who work within or are served by them.” (Ritzer, 1996)

We are well informed of the “irrational” effects Mcdonald’s rational behavior can have on the individual and society as a whole. Obesity, environmental degradation, poor working conditions, etcetera (Play the Mcdonalds game to learn more!). But what could Twitters irrationalities of rationality be? Getting flooded with useless information? Users wasting time, stuck in the endless inviting flow of micro-blogs?

PICNIC 08 – YOUNG seminar: Virtual spaces

Posted in lectures with tags , , , , , , on September 26, 2008 by alessandrovalente

25 September
Amsterdam
http://picnicyoung.nl/

Virtual spaces

The motto of this PICNIC seminar is that bringing computer simulations and games into the classroom will have a positive effect on the learning abilities of students. For a new media academic this can’t be very shocking news. Modern Simulations are powerful tools that bring an alternative to the traditional linear ways how we present and understand things. Simulations and games can model systems that are otherwise too complex to deal with and give a firsthand experience to their dynamics. Also kids love games and seem to have the intuition to learn how to work with simulation tools far faster than adults. Frasca, 2001

In the world of education this doesn’t seem to be common knowledge. The implementation of simulations and games into the education curriculum is very poor, almost nonexistent. A reason could be that they just don’t know how to implement these new tools into the current basic education curriculum. Hopefully these seminars can inspire some minds to take the necessary steps to implement these tools into our education system.

Here three of these seminars will be discussed. They all deal with the theme virtual worlds and their deployment in education.

First speaker: David Nieborg

The first speaker of Picnic Young is David Nieborg who doesn’t really represents an idea or a product, but gives us his vision on the future of social and creative uses of virtual spaces. The main question Nieborg poses is what these virtual spaces can do for us and for the future of children. Nieborg starts off by showing the audience an old video (1998) about the former Dutch prime-minister who receives help with the use of the internet from a young girl. When presenting some numbers on the game and internet use of children (97% of US children play games) it becomes obvious this new medium should be looked at in more detail. While trying to answer this question, Nieborg addresses some of the point of the current new media debate. One main argument he makes is about the so called convergence culture; about the way we can order a pizza while playing World of Warcraft. Or the way Japanese World of Warcraft-players meet up to dress as their favorite characters offline. This to Nieborg is the convergence future, mixing the physical world with the virtual; here we see the blurring of boundaries between the online and offline world. This blurring of boundaries is misconceived in the Dutch media, where the discussion is often centered on the consequences of children playing violent games and therefore bringing these ideas to the real word , for example school massacres by children. But children do know this difference between the virtual and the real world according to Nieborg. And this current negative discourse is distracting the attention from the more interesting blurring of boundaries, such as friends meeting up to dress as their World of Warcraft character. While Nieborg addresses some more interesting focus points -the discussion of private vs. public, the idea of the social networking sites- his talk quite disappointing ends with the discussion of Second Life. This well known virtual world does ,as Nieborg poses, combine some of the main elements of the future of new media. For example the entrance of the ABN Amro Bank online mixed the virtual and shows that Second Life can actually be financially interesting. But the answer to the first question the audience poses is even more interesting. When asked if the entrance to Second Life was increasing or decreasing, Nieborg told it was actually decreasing. And by the end of his talk this answer sums up the overall idea of his speech; it touched on some interesting discourses on the new media, but it did not answer his suggestions on the future use of the new media. But introducing such new application or programmers is indeed something for the rest of the speakers.

Second speaker: Josephine Dorado (USA), Zoomlab

While Dorado starts off by showing some of her virtual art work, she mainly focuses her presentation on the idea of virtual play spaces. The project she uses as her main example at this conference is Kidzconnect. With Kidzconnect the social networking element of the web 2.0 is used to create cultural exchange. Through programmes such as Second Life children from different real spaces come together in one virtual space; here the cultural exchange takes place. Kidzconnect last cultural exchange program connected children in New York with Dutch children who used their avatars to exchange cultural information and therefore enhance their cultural awareness. The way the children use this virtual world of Second Life again combines the real space and space. One kid put a picture of some graffiti in his ‘real’ neighborhood on the wall of his house is Second Life. This combination of the real and the virtual in one singular space is of great importance to Dorado, who for example has put images of actual dancers on her avatars to create a more layered experience.

When the presentation’s last slide states that ‘Even if you’re just affecting one kid you are affecting our future.’ we notice that the presentation and the idea of Kidzconnect is a personal project to make the world a better place. The idea of Kidzconnect is very ideological and the idea of social exchange through social networking is absolutely interesting. Maybe the more ideological part of the presentation should have been swapped for a more practical component and some more practical tactics to continue with this idea of social exchange instead of losing the idea of Kidzconnect to some ideological statements that stand no ground and have no further value.

Third presentation: By representatives of the Waag society

The third presentation introduces the project Self city from the ´waag society´. Self city is a game environment made within Second life, developed for kids who are socially impaired. The social skills of these kids are so poor that they can’t function well in groups and therefore can’t participate in regular education programs. According to psychology theory this is mainly because they are not able to adapt their social behavior to the different scenarios and settings of their daily lives. Normaly people develop different ‘I positions’ they use in a strategic manner to deal with social situations. Someone behaves different at work dealing with his boss then at a bar with his buddies. These kids however don’t know how to change their ‘I position’ according to the given situation and therefore get in to trouble all the time. Simulating different social situations with role playing games, can help these kids train these skills they lack. But playing these role playing games is a group effort, that requires the social capabilities they lack. In the virtual world of Selfcity however, these teens can login together with their teachers, all with their own avatar, and be part of a virtual group without experiencing it as a ‘real’ group. The virtual world is setup as an MMRPG where the player gets assignments that in order to complete them, require him to deal with challenging social situations caused by interacting with other avatars controlled by teachers or other students. To help the players through these situations they are accompanied by a virtual buddy, in the form of an animal avatar that follows the player everywhere he goes. In a conflict situation this virtual pet acts up as the players conscious and gives advice as how the player can alter his behavior to he reaches his goal. This way the player learns with the help of his trusted buddy how to modify his social behavior according to the different scenarios he needs to go through to reach his in-game goals. From here the information of this seminar becomes less clear. According to the speaker further techniques are necessary to help the player bring his newly trained skills from the virtual world to the actual world. This technique’s aim is to blur the boundaries between the game space and the actual space for the players. This is done by a bracelet with a video screen where the animated computer image of the player’s virtual pet can be downloaded to. This way the players can bring their virtual pet with them in the real world. For now the bracelet is mostly just a physical and iconic reminder of the advice they received from their buddy when confronted with difficult social situations in the game. The aim for the future is that this portable virtual buddy will even be able to give its advice to its owner in the real world. The bracelet could monitor certain body symptoms like heart rate and body heat to react on with audiovisual messages for the wearer. The question why this blurring of boundaries is a preferable or effective way for these kids to deal with their new virtual identity was never raised nor answered in the seminar.

This was an interesting presentation that shows us how computer simulations and games can model social situations for their users to interact and experiment with their dynamics. A learning experience traditional linear ways of explaining could never give. But also leaves us whit some unanswered questions about the relations between virtual behavior and its effects on someone´s behavior in the real world.

Heleen Kerkman and Alessandro Valente (2008)

Stickam an analysis

Posted in reviews with tags , , , , , on September 21, 2008 by alessandrovalente

Founded in 2006 by Advanced Video Communications

popularity: More then 500k visitors a month

Stickam is just like most other free web 2.0 social network applications, such as Facebook and Myspace, but it differentiates itself by also offering the ability to communicate through webcams. Making it a live streaming social network. These live communications go though a webbased Stickam player:

Its interface consists of multiple screens. The biggest video screen contains the webcast of the host of the the videochat. This video window is accompanied by a chat window, that everyone that watches can use to type instant messages on. The other smaller video screens are slots for people that want to join the broadcast, by transmitting through their own webcams. This function, to communicate through a webcam by using the Stickam player, can be used to have a private one-on-one or group video-chat with people you invite. But there is also the option to just “Go live” which makes you host a webcam transmission, open for everyone to watch and participate in. This way Stickam can be used to make an online live (24/7 if you want) webcast channel, that is accesible to everybody on the Internet. This broadcast is also open for other Stickam users who want to join broadcasting by taking one of the smaller video screens. An additional feature is that the owner of such a channel can also distribute his or hers broadcast from other web pages on the internet, just by copy pasting a HTML string into their source code.

Social network + webcam communication

I think the merge of these two services, into one free web based application is a very interesting one. It can add a live face to face type of communication to the practises social networks are currently used for. Think about the added value of this for social network practises like meeting friends, selling/buying objects, dating, applying for a job, education, sharing knowledge, roleplaying or just to keeping in touch with friends and relatives. I can see employment recruiters using social networks to find people searching for a job and doing the job interviews live. Sellers meeting people interested in their product to give a live demonstration of the state and working of it. Amateur guitar players united in a sub community for musicians inviting each other to get a live demonstration on how to play a certain piece.

Having said that, the implementations needed to help facilitate most of these practices aren’t there yet. Stickam seems to focus on the younger Youtube crowd and emphasises on live entertainment broadcasting and socializing. I found some information about a beta test for additions like a marketplace and a job application space, but this beta-test site seems to be down, without any of its these features being implemented. An other approach would be offering the Stickam player as a built in application for other social network companies to use, to enhance their product. Also this doesn’t seem to be that easy. Big companies that own succesfull social network aplications don’t want to embed the communication functions of Stickam in their service, because its too hard to monitor, control and regulate whats going on in these live video streams. This aspect of live video communication in combination with the fact that Stickam doesn’t verify the age or identity of its users has made Stickam a somewhat lawless wild west space. Commonsensemedia.org reviewed the site extremely child unsafe:

“There’s no filter of what is aired and no 30-second delay. This site is also a minefield of somewhat pornographic content (suggestive photos), predatory behavior (users asking others to take off their clothes), violent images (guns, knives, blood), and anti-social messages about everything kids shouldn’t do on the Internet.”

This doesn’t seem to hurt the popularity of Stickam. This kind of unfiltered unmonitored space with its maybe inappropriate content, could be a selling points for the young Youtube audience that are most responsible for Stickam’s current popularity. Just like Youtube’s controversial content was one of its selling points.

Television 2.0?

Besides enhancing already known web 2.0 practises Stickam’s technology brings us something I haven’t seen before. Its setup and interface, shown in the picture earlier, can result into interactive viewing spectacles or “Stickam shows”, where the lines between producer/consumer and performers/public are getting very blurry. An example is the the channel ‘karaokeking‘ where the host of the channel has his webcam and microphone pointed at a karaoke machine, so everybody can hear the music and see the lines of the text in their main screen. Then the host invites people who joined in by broadcasting themselves from one of the smaller windows to karaoke the lyrics of the songs the machine plays. At the end of the show the host gives prizes to the best performers based on the reaction of the crowd, visible in the chat screen and the other little broadcast windows. I think this shows us a preview of interactive television, we can expect to see more of in the future. Television in its traditional meaning, broadcasting distant events live on your screen. But Instead of just watching, you can be part of the audio visual content of the show through your own broadcast, while still sitting on your couch. This type of television is not about bringing a spectacle to its audience. Its about bringing its audience together on the screen, to make a spectacle.

Back to the present

After thinking of the possibilities of this web applications, one can only become extremely disappointed, when doing a browse through stickam’s content. Most of the live ‘interactive shows’ are broadcasts of bored teenagers in their bedroom watching the computerscreen, with other bored teenagers joining in to do the same. There are some Youtube stars that use Stickam to connect with and entertain their fan base in a more personal manner. Starring in their own private reality show from their bedroom. Allot of these practises seem very time consuming, even wasting to me. People sitting in front of their computer for hours just waiting for something to happen. Teenagers broadcasting themselfs live for hours straight, not getting enough of the attention they are getting from other users that pass by to join in. There are also a couple of more professionally produced shows using a format and a certain theme to structure their show. These have interesting content, but almost never make good use of the interactive features, most even turn these off. This all is not very surprising considering how new the medium is and the type of users Stickam focuses on to get a solid user base. I have good hope this application (or similar ones in the future) will mature over time and better content will appear. Anyway an interesting and impressive web application that for now has allot of trouble living up to its true potential. Worth checking out or keeping an eye on to see how it or similar apps will evolve in the future.

“Get to the top on Google” book review

Posted in reviews with tags , , , , , on September 16, 2008 by alessandrovalente

Get to the top on Google: Tips Techniques to get your site to the top of search engine rankings and stay there.

By David Viney

Nicholas Brealey Publishing (2008)

 

Get to the top on Google is a search engine optimization (SEO for short) guide. SEO is the art of making your website easy to find for search engines and higher its position in their rankings. The importance of this for a website is explained with an analogy of the physical location of a traditional store. Having your site come up in the top of Google’s search results, is like having your store right on Main Street or near the entrance of the biggest shopping mall in human history.

David Viney the author of the book is a leading SEO expert and a graduate of the London school of Economics. He does a good job providing practical hands on information, while at the same time rationalizing these actions by explaining the internal dynamics of the Google search engine. The practical information finds the right balance between being understandable for people with little technical experience in building websites, whilst not being dull to the more experienced web builder. The more technical parts are made instantly visible for the reader, by the black borders that surrounds them. Making it possible for the non technical reader to skip these parts on sight, without harming the flow of the narration what so ever. As a media studies scholar with no technical background, I could easily understand most of these parts. Just a basic understanding of HTML will be enough to grasp what is being explained. The information dealing with the working of the google engine are insight full and thorough, without boring the reader with algorithms and other mathematical formulas. These two types of information are accompanied by a case study that is used throughout the whole book to help illustrate the described techniques and theories. This way the book pleasantly guides you through seven steps to built an search engine optimized site. From building your site up from scratch, till all the way to the faze where its about monitoring your traffic and tweaking the site based on the information you get out of it. 

This figure gives a good overview of the content of the book and the logic of how it is divided:

(click on the image for full view.)

The book also addresses the morals of SEO. But it doesn’t go further then SEO technique’s that are desirable or accepted by Google (white hat SEO), versus techniques that will get you penalised by Google (black hat SEO). Google punishes black hat SEO activities by setting a  website lower in their rankings or remove it entirely from their index, if they find out about it.

In my opinion this book is an excellent read for anybody interested in SEO and how Google’s search engine works, but probably not suited for the SEO expert looking for the latest cut of the edge technique’s. A negative note is that the links in the books, to get the free software needed for certain techniques, are outdated or not useful for everybody. For instance the Keywords SEO software Tool the book links to, you need to research how popular certain search queries are, doesn’t work well for analysing non English keywords. Google in the mean time decided to make the exact numbers of the search queries done on their site accesible for everyone, with an update of their Adwords keywords tool. So before using a piece of software the book suggests, its better to look around if something more usefull is available. An other thing is that the author leaves no chance pass by to promote his website through out the book. Readers can get free access (for 3 months) to an online SEO community site. This site has a forum, links to software and the possibility to ask questions to experts. It would be interesting to see if going there would work as a next step in expanding on the knowledge you got from the book by sharing your experiences with others. I like the idea of it, so I still have to go look what the site has to offer and add my finding to this review. Anyway, a good written and useful book for anybody interested in the subject.