SEO has a history of people keeping secrets. Treasured lists of forums, directories, submission “specialists” for Wiki or DMOZ…all of these were closely guarded because exclusivity meant your competitors wouldn’t have the same links or strategy.

Tools like Majestic and efforts by people like Eric Ward and companies like Moz (and even Google and Microsoft) have helped demystify the process and reduce SEO from a comical game of secrets to hard work and creativity.

But let’s not kid ourselves. We still work in a dark world where accessing or predicting those secrets could mean millions of dollars. We are frequently reminded about the expensive battle to keep our bank accounts and secrets safe from hackers…but there’s another battle raging in cyberspace between entities wanting to provide information retrieval systems (like Google or Facebook) and others (like SEOs) trying to influence or disrupt how that information is retrieved.

On that topic: I’m a human web spider. Once I find an interesting article, I keep coming back to it and branching out to other sources (companies or individual authors) that it references or that reference it. Sometimes I find a gold mine like the proceedings of AIRWEB 2009 where the topic was Adversarial Information Retrieval on the Web. Dig through that link and you will find some of the brightest minds in search. Here are a few for those short on time:

  • Matt Cutts – Because I’m always accused of writing too deep, here’s an obvious guy who attended that conference and should already be on your list.
  • Nick Craswell – An applied researcher at Bing working on relevance.
  • Zoltan Gyongyi – One of the two organizers for the conference and a researcher from Google.
  • Dennis Fetterly – A Microsoft researcher focused on web crawling and detecting spam.
  • Carlos Castillo – Currently at the Qatar Institute of Technology, Carlos is expert on topics like adversarial web search, web content quality, and online credibility.

So what does this have to do with PRISM? Everything. There is an ongoing battle for your attention and dollars being fought by covert algorithms and agents. Google isn’t building self driving cars to make the world safer. They want it to be safer to be in your car while using Google to find and buy stuff while knowing exactly where you are.

Look, I’m not responsible for the sinister system in place that operates underneath the simple search bars at Google and Bing. I’m just here to report it and point out a few heavy hitters in the field that you should follow. I also want to be clear: I am not claiming any company or person mentioned is operating any kind of insidious spy operation. I’ll leave that to others.

If you need me, I’ll be seeking asylum from our director for how late this article was. See you all next time they coax me out of the bunker.