Friday, March 20, 2009

Search Insider: I Did It All For The Whuffie

I Did It All For The Whuffie

Whuffie? Yeah, I know. Honestly, I hate the word -- but the concept intrigues me. If you don't know what a whuffie is, here's a snippet from the Wikipedia page:   

"Whuffie is the ephemeral, reputation-based currency of Cory Doctorow's science fiction novel, "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom." This book describes a post-scarcity economy: All the necessities (and most of the luxuries) of life are free for the taking. A person's current Whuffie is instantly viewable to anyone, as everybody has a brain-implant giving them an interface with the Net."

What does that mean? Whuffie = the currency of social capital. It even has a symbol with little curlicues on it -- very cute.

This past week I was privileged to speak at SXSW Interactive, where I had a chance to sit down with Tara Hunt. Tara is the de facto queen of whuffie. In fact, she quite literally wrote the book on it: You can buy "The Whuffie Factor" in April. According to Tara, SEO undermines whuffie because SEO artificially inflates the value of a Web site and results in impure search results in the search engines.

I wholeheartedly disagree -- but you saw that coming, didn't you? Gaining whuffie is about doing the right things in front of the right people. Doing the right things behind closed doors won't gain you any whuffie. Likewise, having a great Web site that isn't crawlable, or is hiding content behind a pay wall, isn't gaining any "SEO whuffie" -- so we need SEO to bring exposure and recognition to these Web sites so they can get the recognition they deserve. Google even tells us how to do this:

  • Build your site with a logical link structure. Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.
  • Links help our crawlers find your site and can give your site greater visibility in our search results.
  • If fancy features such as JavaScript, cookies, session IDs, frames, DHTML, or Flash keep you from seeing all of your site in a text browser, then search engine spiders may have trouble crawling your site. (From: and  

    So where am I headed with all this? I submit to you that SEO and the acquisition of whuffie are essentially the same thing. Both can be done properly and both can be abused. At SXSW I watched people at the parties and the sessions trying to acquire whuffie. Some were genuine people that added value (Whitehat SEO) and some were clearly social-ladder climbers that didn't add value but still had more whuffie than they deserved because of who they knew and what parties they were attending (Blackhat SEO).

    So, yes Tara, I agree with you that SEO has ruined search results in a lot of areas -- but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. SEO has improved search results as well.

  • Todd Friesen is the vice president of search at Position Technologies, a search marketing technology company based in Illinois. You can reach Todd at todd@positiontech or @oilman on Twitter.

    Search Insider for Friday, March 20, 2009:

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