SEO Conference in Sofia 2015

“We don’t talk about trust and identity much, it’ll be a good subject to discuss,” Teodora Petkova explained to me over an email. We were discussing my participation at the Sofia SEO Conference 2015 organized by Ognian Mladenov and my keynote opening speech on semantic search.

It’s easy for me to talk about semantic search. The research is always fascinating and the impact of search, essentially a web programming field, on real life as well as human behavior is staggering. There is a strong element of intrinsic/extrinsic rewards when it comes to search as it stands now. 

The extrinsic rewards are dictated by the Google filters and penalties and, obviously, guidelines on what constitutes “good practice” on the web and the intrinsic come from the knowledge that search is a primary contributing factor to the explosion of semantic technologies we encounter in our world. It is a delicate balance that’s informed by an awareness of what’s possible and what’s not, in search usually. 

Identity is key to it. So is trust. There are a whole number of ways each is calculated and its value is established. None of it make for an exciting opening keynote. I was wondering how to get round that issue. Semantic search is a correlating of facts to things, attributes to entities. It is linking up knowledge about the world in a database that also reveals predictive behavioral patterns. 

Without identity there can be no way to easily establish entities. Without entities it becomes next to impossible to collect facts and generate knowledge. It is in the interlinking of all this that real magic happens. This is where trust crosses realms and goes from something that we feel in our hearts to something which machines can determine and ascribe a value to. 

That’s where the dolphins came in. 

I’d read about the Irrawaddy river dolphins while doing some research on human cooperation behavior. The Irrawaddy river is in Myanmar (former Burma) and the local fishermen had managed to find a way to communicate with the river dolphins. More than that the two of them had managed to create a shared language. The dolphins could, through their behavior, tell the fishermen just how big the catch they were bringing in was. The Fishermen would call out to the dolphins as necessary. 

This is not just cooperative behavior, it is a mutualistic relationship  where both parties work together, sharing the workload so that the burden involved becomes less and the rewards for each, become greater. It is, in other words, contact between two intelligences. 

Search is similar. It becomes the crucible through which not only are we found by those looking to access our services or buy our goods, but also the means through we’re trusted. 

The trust of other humans or machines is not easy to gain and it is always easy to lose. All it takes is bad judgement the primary source of which is human economic behavior. It is next to impossible to convey the sensitivity of algorithmically calculated trust scores in a 45-minute talk to a mixed audience. The dolphins were a boon. 

The Conference Buzz

English is, of course, the language of the globe (and I say this fully aware of the issues involved with my saying it) but this being Sofia, there was also a lot of Bulgarian one became exposed to. Talking to people who had business or SEO firms that dealt with businesses inevitably, revealed some of their concerns. 

SEO is changing constantly. When you work in such a fluid environment how do you convince your customers that you know what you’re doing? That SEO work has real value? Similarly, if you’re a business how do you ever get a handle on search without losing the ability to run your business because you have no time to devote to it? 

The concerns were wrapped in buzz. With several hundred participants the conference, inevitably, brought people together and people discussed ideas. There was hope that semantic search would prove to be the equalizer between small and large businesses that everyone hoped for. 

There was the inevitable excitement of people meeting people. Plus a sense of urgency in the way the world now moved and worked. G+ was center stage (obviously the “Google+ is Dead” brigade seems to have missed Bulgaria at the mo), so were Hangouts On Air. The big thing for me however was the focus on processes rather than tools. The development of quality, identity, expertise and authority over keywords, links and PPC. 

The Shift

I see more and more, in each conference I attend, that with the expansion of semantic search the human qualities we prize begin to take center stage over the tools we use to market and sell. I also see the dichotomy every marketer or SEO professional faces. In a conference setting we quickly move past the things we did to the things we must do. But after the conference, when ‘reality’ bites, when bills need to be paid and customers demand that their website has to “appear on the first page of Google” for some generic keyword that does not even adequately describe their business, the momentum becomes harder to sustain. 

These are problems now uniting professionals across the globe. Yet, each nationality involved has to partially solve them within their local conditions taking into account limitations of political realities and economic infrastructure. 

The added transparency and information sharing, by degree, affect the speed at which practices change and business advances. In themselves they are never enough to “change everything” yet, they form a core ingredient of change, regardless. Conferences are seeding grounds.  


SEO Conference 2015
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