Link Curation – Man Vs Machine

The words curator and curation have been showing up a lot lately, whether it’s with regards to cataloging the Web, mining social media, seeking links, or identifying trustworthy product reviews. This is when my Web years start to show. I’m thrilled to see the current group of “in-the-know” web marketers talk the curation talk. And I’ll spare you the deep link lore where I described a concept long before it was hip to do so. Well, no I won’t. Here it is, nine years ago. And those of you who have had one of my linking strategy sessions have heard me use those word far too often.

I’m not sure why curation has suddenly become a buzzword. Some are saying the algorithm is dead. Or really broken. Maybe that’s it. If organic search results are getting worse and worse, rather than better and better, then there has to be something better, right? Something smarter, less foolable?

But a couple harsh realities come back. Any system, if it can be gamed, will be. It’s then up to the people who maintain the system to clean up the mess. And that rarely happens. Are you already getting Facebook “Like” spam? People begging you to “Like” their sites. That doesn’t make likes less useful. Yet. But watch. Those us who have been around the block see history repeating itself. Can a “Pay for Likes” startup be far off? You can already pay people to tweet links for you. That’s old news.

Google’s recent news splash with Place Pages and Instant Search results may have inadvertently contributed to the current broken algorithm mentality. Why would Google be making all these tweaks and changes if they weren’t worried about their regular search results, right?

I don’t see it that way. The big G still has the best search and find experience available, and that’s not going to change anytime soon, if ever. As long as people create content, and as long as that content exists in the form of unique URLs or something that can be counted, then there will be Google.

What *is* likely to change is the signal set Google and other engines or communities rely on for any given information seeker. There are certain searches for which Google is not the best choice, but neither is  Twitter or Digg or Wikipedia or Facebook or Youtube. If you’re researching which iPod to buy then sure, bring on the masses and their “reviews”. But if you’re looking for help and advice specific to pediatric hearing loss, I’ll take Google analyzing links, citations, and URLs (likely curated by medical librarians) any day.

It seems to me we’ve learned that no single group of people can curate the entire web. The paid employee model ( didn’t work. Yahoo barely does. The distributed volunteer model doesn’t work, which hurts to say since I was a DMOZ editor for nearly a decade. I’ve said many times the Web is often self-organizing. Thirty seven people with the same weird foot fungus will find each other. Why? Because the web is made up of curators in every subject and direction. No diplomas needed. Just a passion for your topic and a skin rash. You are the algorithm, my friend, and you always have been.

Lastly, curation and resource discovery is not a man versus machine battle. Both lose in the long run. The question is not what/who  is better, the question is which signals are the best and most trustworthy for any particular information seeker, and how can we the seeker find, access, believe and trust them?

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Week Column


About The Author: has been creating linking strategies for clients since 1994. Eric publishes the strategic linking advice newsletter LinkMoses Private, and provides linking services, training and consulting via

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  • Michael Martinez

    Amen, brother Eric! Amen!

  • George Michie

    One of the best dissertations on the topic I have read. Kudos, Eric.

  • Joe Griffin

    To be really proficient at curating links you need manpower and good technology. Systems can certainly be tracked if they create patterns, but systems don’t always have to create patterns. Careful management of the process and really strong technology is required to be a competitive link builder. IMO, you can’t be efficient without an insanely good process – especially not if you want to be cross-vertical.

  • loiswingerson

    Without resorting to active curation by medical librarians, specialty search engines can be far better than Google for a targeted audience. For “pediatric hearing loss,” a far better option is Searchmedica (, where you can look in a targeted list chosen by specialists, on a pediatric specialty channel, and where recency of publication date ranks high in the algorithm–which is far more important than popularity to a medical or scientific audience. (Full disclosure: I’m content manager.) Even so, we’re always pondering ways to improve search results which still don’t perfectly answer queries.

  • truelike

    The only way I can see Google (or any search engine) continuing to evolve in a positive direction is to increasingly integrate social clues, as we’ve already seen them start to do. They’re showing social data in Google News now, and integrating tweets into their results, and now they’re looking at user reviews to determine rankings for merchants, so over time we’ll certainly see more and more of this as they make their algorithm smarter by integrating the wisdom of the crowds. Bing is now using Facebook data, and that tie will surely get deeper.

    The trick, of course, will be choosing social cues that are relatively hard for unscrupulous webmasters and SEOs to game…

  • Eric Itzkowitz

    I have been trying to read this article for about a week now and glad I finally made time to do so.

    I LOVE your statement, “You are the algorithm, my friend, and you always have been.”

    The algos have to be learning from us so they can study our patterns, en masse, then adjust where necessary. Part Human. Part machine… The Googlenator!


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