27 January 2007

Googletraps and Bellylaughs and Insults

There has been an interesting conversation occurring over at Tim's blog, Mother Tongue Annoyances, a blog that I stumbled across yesterday via 9 Rules Network. Last week, Tim posted about how he finds the practice of posting keyword queries insulting. "No way" I thought, at reading the first paragraph. But then I finished his thought-provoking post and read the comments, and shifted my perspective a bit, although I don't totally agree with him.

Tim's position is that it is disrespectful to one's readers to mock them by whatever means they used to find your blog. One should be hospitable and respectful of one's guests and that by suggesting that their keywords were unusual, perverse, or just plain stupid, the blogger is not treating one's guests properly.

I know that I've done it: suggested that some perv found my blog by looking for, say, travel sites for those into leather boots. I've made light of how the multiple queries that land on my page because I once posted about a Nick Hornby story titled "NippleJesus" and that, based on other keywords included, I doubted that they were looking for insightful commentary on the short story. I have ranted (mostly on comments on other blogs) about how many hits I get on a regular basis apparently from students looking for synopses of books and essays that they might nick for an assignment. One post of mine has received so many hits apparently looking for ideas or verbiage to lift, that I've joked with my son that I should misspell the main character's name, just like Cliff Notes did for years with Chillingworth in The Scarlet Letter. [Note to all Cliff Note readers if your search just landed you here: the intentional error was so well known that it was discussed in Methods of Teaching English classes for prospective high school teachers. Even without obvious misspellings, any teacher worth her salt can tell when you've appropriated an essay idea from Cliff Notes/Spark Notes.]

I frequently get hits for a book I reviewed early last year, a book that is popular with reading groups and sold well when first published. It is a book that I thoroughly hated. When it was suggested in my book group recently, I rolled my eyes, unable to hide my disdain for the book. If I kept track of keywords over time, I bet that I had at least 200 hits for this book in 2006 (I use free stat counters so I don't have the long term data.) But, I have never mentioned the specific searches for it on my blog because I am aware that some of my readers may have liked the book. Some of them may have found my blog because of that post. To ridicule someone searching for "themes in SoAndSo's book 'YYYYY'" would run the risk of insulting them.

Do I expect all of my readers to agree with my opinions of certain books? Of course not. But, if I want to foster discussion I think that I need to be respectful of the fact that they may not agree with me. Therefore it is inappropriate to mock them. Tim is right in this regard.

Does that mean that I might not shake a finger at apparently would-be plagiarizers? Might I not enjoy a hearty laugh at keyword searches that are "googletraps" as the Hobgoblin refers to them? (See his post of 7/13/06). I might, but I think I'll be more judicious before doing so in the future. Alongside the freedom to write what you want comes the responsibility to acknowledge that there are differing viewpoints and to make those that hold those opinions feel welcomed to openly disagree.

BTW: While you can't access my StatCounter results, Site Meter's results are public. If you want to look at my keyword searches, knock yourself out. I do agree with a commenter on Tim's blog that there is no violation of privacy in sharing this information: in the world of the intranets, Big Bro can watch you if he wants. No IP is a secret -- at least not for long.


jenclair said...

I do wish I'd kept a record of some of the searches that have surprised me! Most of the really weird ones only click on and off immediately. Those searching for particular poems or books stay longest. I've noticed they come in cycles: a series of searches on Beowulf in the fall, lately quite a few on The Map of Glass. School assignments?

Or teachers? I know I often searched the net for new approaches, ideas, writing assignments, etc.

Off to check out your links. Thanks, Cam.

Emily Barton said...

Interesting stuff to think about here. I'll point out, though (just to play the Devil's advocate for a minute), that if a rapist came knocking on your door, merely because he was looking for a woman, you wouldn't be obligated to invite him in and offer him a cup of coffee. People who find your blog through odd "googletraps" may not be too different from strangers who hang out in dark alleys, and most of us don't feel obligated to be too polite to those sorts of people.

Cam said...

Point taken, Emily, although I think that we tend to be more dismissive of people online than we would if they were on our front porch. At my door, I'd feel threatened; in the virtual world it is easier to feel protected by distance and anonymity. So, it becomes easier to laugh at the intersection of one's blog and some unknown person's seemingly perverse (or moronic) queries.

Your devil's advocacy raises another issue: what is the blogger's obligation if someone does come knocking via a search engine with dubious intentions? Using your example, if keywords were "woman" and "rape", I don't think I'd think much of it; those words could be used for any number of legitimate searches. The legitimate intentions of the search may not change if you substituted "teen" for "woman". But what if the word "photo" was included? That search seems a bit more nefarious to me. Are my obligations then to report to police that I suspect that someone at IP may be looking for violent internet child porn? (Besides being totally creeped out if a search such as that would actually land someone on my blog!)

Camille said...

My thoughts are along the lines of JenClair's--that usually it seems that people who use the "weirder" search terms are not those who stay to read and get to know the actual blog they landed on. Through sites like StatCounter, you can see how long someone has hung out at your blog, right? So if they were only there between 0-10 seconds, chances are they didn't find what they were looking for and probably won't be back. So in my mind, their strange search terms are fair game. But maybe I'm just rude. After all, it's not nice to make fun of people, even if you'll never see them again, in real life or online.

Courtney said...

Very interesting thoughts going on here. I'll have to return to the primary discussion and think on this further. I'm often disturbed by the ways people find my blog, and sometimes I'm humored when I think of the students using my poor-man's analysis of the Kite Runner or some such thing...

Dorothy W. said...

Yes, interesting thoughts. I think it's probably right that the people who come to our blogs through odd searches probably won't stay, although I guess we don't really know. It's hard to figure out what we "owe" readers, if anything. I guess because it's a strange and new kind of community, and a very open one, that it's complicated.

(un)relaxeddad said...

I'm starting to feel deprived! Hardly anyone finds my little blog through rude search terms, or even bizarre ones. I'm obviously not trying hard enough!