There is a Lack of Unity Among Black Websites

Over the last year, I’ve invested a lot of effort informing the public about the adverse impact of the corporate take over of the web and how this is hurting independent websites, particularly Black owned ones.

i-support-black-unity

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I have, however, not been very critical of the Black owned websites themselves.  Part of the reason for my lack of critique is that I’m very sensitive to the environment and in many ways understand when websites choose not to cooperate or work in unnecessarily competitive ways.

For example, Google, the most popular search engine, is now in a position to dictate to webmasters how to design their websites—what content can be published and how to link to other sites.   A webmaster does not have to comply with Google’s rules, but if they want their website to rank high enough to be found in Google’s search results, they have no choice.

Complying with Google’s mandates is not always easy.  The rules by which their search engine ranks websites changes constantly and no one outside of Google (few inside I suspect) completely understands how Google’s search algorithm works.  As a result, there is an entire industry of search engine optimization (SEO) experts ready to help webmasters with a wide range of tools and techniques to help sites rank high on a Google search result.  The most unscrupulous of these “professionals” will guarantee a number one ranking for a website, or even worse utilize “black hat” techniques (sophisticated ways of cheating) to obtain a higher search result ranking.  These techniques can leave a website worse off, by being penalized by Google for attempting to game their search algorithm and reducing the quality of the site as more emphasis is placed on the SEO than content.

As a consequence of SEO, webmasters now have an incentive not to link to other websites, or when they do link they are encouraged to use rel=”nofollow” which essentially tells Google’s search engine to ignore the link.  Google does not want webmasters to swap links with other websites or to be financially compensated for a link to another site without using rel=”nofollow.” Some webmasters, being overly cautious in avoiding Google’s warth, have gone a step further and have stopped linking to other sites altogether.

Before Google was invented swapping links was one way sites were discovered.  Today, when independent websites are harder to find via search, linking to other sites is even more important, but sadly it is done less frequently.  Many, Black owned, independent websites are not linking to each other in meaningful ways, and we are all harder to find as a result.

ebony-magFrustrated by having to spend more time and effort jumping through Google’s hoops, I’ve decided to more aggressively, and directly, support independent websites.  I visit these websites—not their social media platforms—and share their content, engage others on their discussion forums and comment on their articles.  I encourage everyone to take similar action, but I try to lead by example.

One of the entities I’ve been promoting is Ebony Magazine.  I subscribe to the magazine and have been enjoying Michael A. Gonzales’ Vintage Vision, column on Ebony’s website.  I’ve been promoting Ebony Magazine, as well as all of the Black owned magazines I’m aware of on Huria Search (an advertisement-free website dedicated to supporting Black owned websites).  I also promote Ebony’s website on my listing of the Top Black Websites.  I even have a collection of Ebony Magazine issues going back over 60 years.  I’m a fan and a supporter.

The last issue contained an informative article about Black Americans exiled in Cuba.  It was an interesting article and I learned quite a bit.  I shared my enthusiasm on Twitter:

Recently, I posted the following comment on an article Ebony shared from the, NJ Star-Ledger, about Amiri Baraka’s recent passing.  The comments expressed AALBC.com’s shared grief and a link to a short documentary we produced highlighting Baraka’s work.

Ebony marked the comment as spam!!

ebony-spam

Now I understand if Ebony does not want to link to a another site (as explained in great detail above), but they did not have to hurt AALBC.com by marking the post as spam.  They could have simply not allowed the comment to be seen.   Not only was the comment the exact opposite of spam, one could argue that Ebony, or at least their visitors, would have benefited from the link.

nothing-foundI do not support Ebony Magazine because I expect anything in return.  I learned long ago that the biggest websites are the ones least likely to reciprocate.  I do not support Ebony because I like I everything they do.

I support Ebony because what they do is increasingly rare and more important than ever to the Black community.  Their coverage of books in the last issue was good too—not the usual diet of celebrity books many magazines and websites feel obliged to focus on.  In fact, I tweeted about their book coverage as well.

My motivation is not to call out one magazine on a trivial slight, no one would have know about unless I mentioned it.  My goal is to highlight a symptom of a much bigger problem that manifests in numerable ways across the Internet landscape.  The fact of the matter is we are simply not working together, as well as we must, to survive.

Individually, none of us have a chance to compete, over the long term, against the huge corporations taking over the World Wide Web.  Embracing social media is not the answer.  Collectively, we provide FAR more support and promotion of social media platforms than we do our own and we continue to lose.

Unless we bind  together, support and uplift each other, we have no chance of retaining ownership of our voice on the web.  When we lose our voice, we see articles focusing on our scandals rather than our triumphs, we see content that is the most marketable rather than the most important.  We also lose our ability to create business and generate revenue online. We have already lost so much, but we still continue to willingly relinquish what little we have left.

I’m fighting to reverse this trend.  Will you help?

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  • Great article. Of course since this is up my field, I will respond. A few perspectives are debatable; however, the meat of your message is definitely real. The more I apply optimizing for my own purposes the more I see a lack of unity among black businesses.

    As far as Ebony magazine spamming you link, try having seo at the end of your URL, I’ve gotten used to defending my work by sending out emails.

    I’ve been waiting for someone like yourself to come along. It will be a pleasure conversing with you.

    • Sid Virtual I welcome the debate. Do you agree with the premise, a lack of unity among Black websites? I’m speaking in general; I, for example, have several long term alliances with entities that some may consider competitors. However, collectively we show little unity and as a result exert little power online.

      My other point is Google (social media too) are controlling our behavior in ways that are counterproductive not just for our own entities, but for the vitality of the web.

      At the end of the day, we have fewer profitable independent Black websites. The opportunities for new ones are severely constrained. Much of our effort goes to providing content for large corporate sites without being paid at all. Whether it is a writer blogging for the Huffington Post, or a mom sharing pictures of her family on Facebook, these people provide a service. Now we can provide this service to benefit ourselves or we can continue to enrich fantastically wealthy corporations without getting anything in return.

      One can argue about Ebony’s motivation on this specific case, if may simply be a lack of a coherent social/web strategy. Whatever the motivation I still assert there is a problem there.

  • Shawn Richards

    Very thought provoking article. My question to you would be, what’s the solution? From a technical standpoint, I mean. Aside from sharing links with other websites for the purpose of helping those with similar/relevant content be found, what else do you propose we do? Or is that all?

    • Sharing links, while it would help, is certainly no long term solution. I pointed out the linking issue to illustrate that even this minor and trivial gesture is not done. Instead of linking to each other, we are linking to corporate websites, digging our own graves.

      I don’t have the answers. At this point I’m simply trying to help people, particularly people who create content and are working to generate revenue online, recognize that a problem exists. So few in the Black
      community are even talking about what is happening; it is almost
      surreal.

  • Rochelle D. Carter

    I remember back when linking to other websites was recommended, so learning about your efforts and learning the new rules has been very enlightening.

    • Hi @rochelledcarter:disqus just for the sake of clarity I don’t want to give anyone the impression that Google says don’t link to another site. Certainly a page like this one, http://aalbc.com/writers/magazine.htm where I link to a bunch of magazines without using rel=”nofollow” is discouraged. Now if all of the magazines sites decided to link to each other as I’ve done, Google refers to this as a “link scheme” (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/66356

      If Google flags your site as utilizing this tactic the repercussions can be quite severe. There is no such thing as calling Google up and explaining we are just a bunch of magazines supporting each other. Google is heavy handed and there is no way to directly communicating with them unless you are spending a very large sum of money with them.

      Why do I share the links in this fashion and risk running afoul of Google’s law? Well because don’t allow Google to dictate what I do and supporting the magazines is important. Now I used to jump through all of Google’s hoops until I understood what was happening and how we are being hurt.

  • Web Prospector

    Greetings Troy,

    I’ve been thinking the same thing about the lack of cooperation among Black web sites however a book I am currently reading is causing me to reconsider my thoughts a bit. The book is called “What Would Google Do?: Reverse-Engineering the Fastest Growing Company in the History of the World”
    by Jeff Jarvis (Author)

    The author points out that Google is not actually trying to control what it’s users do. In fact he points out that the tighter companies try to hold on to their users application of their site ala Yahoo, AOL, the less success they have.

    As far as unity goes, I appreciate where you are coming from but it seems like that could be addressed, if the right people build a site that attracts and empowers Black folks to create their own content and attract others in a way that doesn’t feel like they’re being manipulated. I believe the Black community is ripe and it’s about design as much as unity. If you look at FB and Twitter you see that the communities exist there already and they could exist elsewhere as well. I personally believe that someone just has to create the proper atmosphere or set of conditions, on a transparent platform that allows for the native creativity and expression of African Americans and that will be all she wrote.

    • @Web Prospector:disqus as a Book seller I could not resist posting a link to more information about What Would Google Do? The book is a few year old. I wonder if the author’s opinion has changed any.

      I agree that closed sites are inherently flawed, whether is is AOL, Mysapce or Facebook. But Google seems to be trying desperately to head down that path with their Google+ social media platform.

      “…a transparent platform that allows for the native creativity and expression…”

      This my friend, is what the Internet was before a few, very large, corporations came along and started dismantling it for a payday.

      The communities we find on social existed before social came along. The
      difference today is the financial benefits and control is now concentrated in the hands of a few. I’d also argue the communities are not as good.

      Sites like Facebook exploded because they made it easy for virtually anyone to get online and and join the conversations–which is great. Ultimately some of these people will want something more, the type of content created by professional writers and journalists. Facebook, for example, does not create this stuff–we do, and this is our strength.

      This is why I encourage writers to stop posting on social media — publish on your own site and direct visitors there.

      Again the days of making alone are over. Discovery is controlled by
      Google and we are not benefiting. But we don’t need Google if we have each other.

      • Web Prospector

        @Troy:

        “…a transparent platform that allows for the native creativity and expression…” Actually I was refering to a social media platform that would be designed to fit the needs of African Americans. Not just have AA in the title but actually have built-in functionallity that would permit and stimulate us to use it in ways that;
        1. Help to address common problems
        2. Take advantage of our existing collective strength
        3. Stimulate young people to empower themselves
        4. etc.
        I believe this is possible and it really needn’t be a odds with any other entity on the net at least none that I would want to discuss online. 🙂

        • I agree wholeheartedly with all your enumerated points. I think we only diverge on the mechanism for accomplishing the goal. You see the “transparent platform” can not be owned by anyone, which is why I likened it to the Internet itself rather than a social media platform.

          Until recently no one owned the Internet, you were free to engage without having to deal with gatekeepers the way we do now. Today you can’t really launch a website without having mastered SEO and Social media–or a lot of money. 10 years ago this was not the case. The result is less diversity on the web.

          I think a mechanism for allowing sites to engage, without having to give up our independence is ideal. Posting links back to your site is a small step, but it is too labor intensive. I think software like what we are suing to communicate right now discus is a better step toward seeminglessly integrating websites and even sharing revenue. (Discus, by the way was the same software Ebony used to flag me as a spammer).

          • Web Prospector

            Troy:
            “Until recently no one owned the Internet, you were free to engage without having to deal with gatekeepers the way we do now. ”

            Free as long as you were prepared to devote some time to mastering email, telnet, ftp and NNTP. GOPHER and Lynx maybe made it a bit easier after that but you still had to learn to use them. Plus you still had to create your own searches, not necessarily easy and you needed access to a major server (Gateway), in order to pull off any kind of search. After all that you might have to wait hours or even days for search results to find their way back to you.
            My first 64k clone computer with printer and floppy drive cost me 4 grand and I had to teach it to read a keyboard and display the results on a screen. Knowledge of SEO is a small price to pay for potential benefit derived but if you don’t want to go that route then there has to be other ways but you can’t let yourself think that google has the whole world in it’s hands. Google is a concept, much moreso than a physical entity. The beauty of the computer is that it can implement any concept that one can design. The network infrastructure is not owned by google at all so we are still free to create whatever we need.

          • Think of it this way. 150 years ago we were not free to get an education it was illegal to teach a Black person to read.

            100 years ago were were “free” to get education but schools would not let us in very easily. We then created our own institutions, HBCU’s. It was hard and required sacrifice but we were free to do it and we did. Many of our greatest minds were educated in by our own institutions. I liken that period to the early days of the web.

            25 years ago we were granted access to the nations finest institutions. Our best and our brightest fled HBCU’s to the greener pastures of the IVY or even large state and private universities — some of us even going out our way to disparage the names of the HBCU’s that provided opportunities for Black folks when no one would. This is analogous to where we are today.

            In 2014 the HBCU’s are in serious jeopardy, even venerable institutions like Morehouse and Howard (http://nyti.ms/1kL4y6J) are not immune. These institution are needed more than ever, as Black educational attainment and even literary is waning. The very institutions we abandoned the HBCU’s for are not serving us–especially our Black men (http://aalbc.com/reviews/reading-rates-decline.html). This is our future inline if we do nothing.

            Sure there will be individual success stories, but the great masses of us will be worse of. For the large institutions under server or hurt us and we no longer have our own institutions to fall back on.

            Instead of the cycle occurring over the course of 150 years I’m watching it happen right before my eyes in less than 15 years.

  • My settings are setup to review comments with links in them. I missed the notification. Using manycontacts I have been able to increase the size of my mailing list far more quickly than I have been able to using social media.

    • That’s pretty amazing. The only thing I’ve noticed with them that I don’t like is the pop-over window asking visitors to sign-up. I don’t care for that sort of intrusion.

      • I did not like that myself, initially, But it really is not that intrusive compared to interstitial and pop-up ads, Also everyone I’ve told about it has found it to be highly effective as well. Try if for a month and see if the growth in subscribers is worth the trade off.

        • Will do.

          Now, the biggest hurdle, to get people to visit my site!

  • I love this post and the issue being addressed! I love it event more because I have website that I believe will be the solution to this issue. Since I don’t want to get marked as a spammer, I won’t leave it here 🙂 but I’m working real hard to create a platform where Google is not the the measure of our success. We are the Black Google for information that pertains to our community among so many other things.
    How do I get in touch with you Troy? I’d love to speak with you regarding what I’m doing. I’d also like to do a feature article on you and your website.

    • @lanejavet:disqus please leave the link so that other may benefit from your ideas. You may email me at troy@aalbc.com I created a search engine that search Black sites: http://huria.org It is not a Black google because it does not have advertising or favor corporate sites. I’m interested in seeing what you have.

      • @AALBC:disqus thank you for your response. My website is http://www.culsire.com and our mission is very simple, take the vastness of information for the global world and scale it down to information that impacts African Americans. We address our day to day life from the angle of business, community, life, technology, career, and more! We have a business directory (albeit there are only 25 businesses right now) but I’m willing to put in the work to do what’s necessary to bring business back to my community. We also have an event search and scholarship directory.

        We just launched on March 15th so we’re still ramping up and getting to our final destination, but we want to be a site that ultimately offers solutions. To learn more checkout the About CulSire tab http://www.culsire.com/about-us/

        I’ve checked out the huria site and it looks interesting. I’ll email you now, I’d love to see how we can work together.

      • Hi Troy, just confirming you received my email…

        • I did get it. I’m traveling this week and will reply next week. Thanks for reaching out!

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