Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Street Smarts

Yesterday I attended a meeting hosted by "Street Smarts" guru Kathleen Gage. The meeting was titled "Making Money on the Internet." The meeting was hosted by a Salt Lake County economic counsel at the Salt Lake County Complex. A primary reason I attended the meeting was that the County Building houses a superb collection of art from local artists and I wanted to meet the people from the County.

Anyway, Ms. Gage is an engaging speaker. It would be great to hear her talk about something that she actually understood.

The talk she gave was painful to witness.

As far as I could tell the gist of the program was that she knew the secret for making money on the net. If I were to buy her $120 package, I would be in on the secret.

There is, of course, no formula for success on the internet. Any replicable formula will end up quickly diluting itself. For example, if there was a given topology of spammy web sites that snagged a lucrative key word combination, that topology would end up being replicated to the point that it would either fail or the search engines would find it necessary to find a way to counter the manipulation.

Kathleen Gage did a great deal of talking about using autoresponders and building opt-in email lists. She bragged and bragged and bragged about the success she is having with her list. The problem is that only a small number of businesses do well with such marketing schemes. The business guru world might be one of those small markets. It is not a good path for most businesses.

I say a company should only undertake the cost of developing a newsletter when there is a direct and important benefit to the newsletter. A mortuary problem shouldn't have a newsletter. An association of morticians might have a newsletter. This thing of standing in a crowd saying authoratatively that everyone should have a newsletter, autoresponders and spam list is bogus. These email marketers invariably end up saturating their market. They either fail, or in desparation, become spammers.

She spoke a little bit about Google. Her demonstration of SEO knowledge was quite amusing: She had a big demonstration where she showed that if you typed the string "Kathleen Gage" (using the quotes), you would see 29,000 results. She then asked a member from the audience for their name. The person had an unusual name. She typed in the name. There were only 500 results. The speaker then very proudly announced. If you follow my program there will be more results!

So friggin' what? The number of results simply shows that a name is common or that it is attached to a famous person. Even worse. It might simply shows that someone created a large number of pages bearing their name.

The speaker clearly did not know what she was talking about. My guess is that she was trying to repeat a demonstration someone else gave, but didn't catch on that it was not the number of results that mattered, but one's ability to score well with a lucrative key word combo. Kathleen Gage's scoring the top entry for the term "Kathleen Gage" is not that surprising since she is developing her name as a brand.

The primary subject in her presentation was that she was recently a part of a scheme to propel a book into a top position in the Amazon sales rank. She and some hundred other business gurus had made an agreement that they would all send newsletters and put a particular book on the front page of their site on a given day.

On the targetted day, the spam flew. The web pages tauted the book. The result was that the book shot toward the top of the Amazon sales chart for the day. I think many of the people in the ploy bought a copy of the book that day.

Getting a high sales rank in Amazon on a given day is very impressive, but it is really not new knowledge. The book industry has long been under sway of "best seller" thinking. This whole game where publishers fill shop windows with a particular book on a release date is simply to manipulate the bestseller list.

The idea of groups scheming to manipulate statistics has been around as long as statistics. A few people have became extemely wealthy by forming groups that manipulate stock information. There is a good argument that much of the Kennedy fortune came from such efforts.

As I think back on the presentation, I fear that a major portion of Ms. Gage's speach was aimed at pulling people into her circle so that she would have more power to manipulate the system.

Such circles can manipulate data. I would not categorize this as a way to make money on the Internet. In most cases, only the people in the inner circle ever really prosper. It is not really a formula for creating wealth. It is a formula for concentrating power into the hands of the few people in the inner circle.

I was upset after the presentation. Here was a person who was very good at speaking. Following her arguments through, most of what she promoted led to mediocrity.

I chose not to buy her $120 marketing scheme. I fear, however, that several people from the audience did.

NOTS: This is a comment on only one extemporaneous talk from a speaker. I suspect that her talks on other issues are better.

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