It’s Not Big & It’s Not Clever

One of the things that I have always loved about working in search, and its younger sibling social, is how friendly it is.

Whether it’s the way in which the crew at SEOmoz embraced me when I first started using the site; the way that Lisa started chatting to me in the queue for customs at Seattle Airport before the inaugural SMX Advanced; or the way in which people such as Julie & Jay took me under their wing at that same conference, despite being veterans of a million industry events; or even the way that I never fail to receive professional tips & advice from people who are officially my competitors.

Whatever the instance, I’ve a memory of someone being as nice as pie, and it’s why the last few years have been some of the happiest of my working life to date.

And yet, and yet…

For almost as long as I’ve appreciated the warmth & kindness that comes from so many areas of this sector, I’ve also been rather disturbed by the number of people who seem to think that being rude, abrasive & aggressive is not only clever, but a smart marketing tool as well.

They think that being agressively macho in their manner both on, and offline, is somehow cool when all it really suggests is that they didn’t lose their virginity until they were 29.

They think that sarcasm is always funny, even when it’s snide & unkind, when all it does is show a lack of imagination.

They think that being shocking in order to gain attention shows a talent for marketing when it’s actually the digital equivalent of wetting the bed.

They think that gaining this attention, no matter what the cost, is a brilliant way to build a brand when all it really means is that you’re doomed to be a poisonous fish in a small pond for as long as your digital profile exists.

Bizarrely these same people will also accuse anyone who criticises them of being a troll, despite displaying troll behaviour in their every move.

And possibly even more bizzarely, I’m the sort of person that you might think would find this sort of behaviour amusing – after all, Paul Carr never fails to make me laugh.

But that’s because behind all of Carr’s sarcasm and facetious asides, there’s obviously an intelligent & funny human being, with real friends, cares & passions. And someone who feels as strongly as I do (if not more so) that the downward slide in online courtesy is a curse on what is, otherwise, an amazing sector.

Because at the end of the day, these people have mistakenly come to the conclusion that all this pointless sarcasm and negativity is somehow big & clever, when it’s in fact utterly stupid.

I might have this opinion because I’m a pussy, pinko Limey.

Or maybe it’s because my parents taught me that manners cost nothing and I’m sick of having to avoid large sections of teh webz because I find the content I find there so utterly depressing.

At the end of writing this I can’t help but think of one of my best friend’s fathers.

Whenever he joins us for a night out he thinks it’s hilarious, when he walks into the toilet of whichever pub we’re in, to ask “Is this where all the cocks hang out?”

To which my answer now would be, “No, that’s on the web”.

Rude photo by Abulic Monkey on flickr


  1. Which is why I stick to “things I like” lists and details of my latest trips abroad πŸ˜‰

    Related: being plain mean online often appears to make up for a gross lack of linguistic skill. As much as we tease you, Ciaran, you don’t need to descend to that level. Well done. Have a biscuit.

  2. See, Ciaran, just as we thought you’d raised the moral bar, you take it right back down again. And stop spamming my Facebook picture comments. No one wants to buy your website.

  3. I can cope with people who are just personality-impaired, but what bothers me more and more is when essentially personal attacks are made in a public forum for no reason other than for some kind of warped “street cred”. If you want to attack my ideas or dispute my facts, feel free – that keeps me thinking and makes me work harder. If you just want to call me an idiot, at least have the decency to send an email or say it to my face. Don’t post it to the world and then pretend you did it for any reason other than to rally your fan-boys.

    (and by “you” in this comment, I of course mean jack-asses, not Ciaran πŸ˜‰ ).

  4. I totally agree Pete – about me being a jack-ass that is. No. Wait.

    I used to joke that if they were making Life of Brian now Jesus wouldn’t be misheard as saying “Blessed are the cheese-makers” but instead “and the geek shall inherit the earth” to which the crowd would start muttering about what a waste that would be, as they’d spend the whole time on Second Life instead of actually having, you know, a life.

    But when I think about the things that led me to write this post I realise that the real implications of the geeks inheriting the earth would be that all the kids who got bullied at school, and built up anti-social tendencies as a result, would be able to live out their twisted-macho fantasies of what it means to be big & tough (whether male or female).

    And that wouldn’t be anywhere near as fun as a world ruled by cheese-makers.

  5. I love this article it feels so true.

    I have just been to a marketing seminar and the guy holding the conference was teaching everyone to be aggressive.

  6. Great post Ciaran. I also love this industry for it’s openness and social scene. The people I’ve met in the SEO industry have been some of the most honest, open, generous and friendly that I’ve ever met.

    But it’s certainly tempered by a minority of twats. I’ve been lucky enough not to be directly involved in any of the flame wars or arguments (or worse, insults) that have flown about the seosphere. The thing that makes me cringe more than anything is when you see someone acting like a c**t online and then someone says “oh yeah, but in real life they’re really nice”. Yeah, maybe in 2000 that was true. But these days the internet IS real life. You shouldn’t be any less responsible for your actions online than you are offline.

  7. I’d totally agree with the sentiment Ciaran – the web *can be* a hateful place… you only have to look at some of the comments on YouTube videos to see that there seems to be a preponderance of total wasters out there ready to criticise / mock / offer slow death by rusty knife because they found something you did or said not to their liking (seems strangely prevalent in the US performance car communities for some reason!)
    I’d say stuff them all and a pox on all their houses.

  8. Tom its not nice to call me a twat… and I AM nice in real life… unlike Ciaran who on my first “SEO event” left me stranded.

    YES Ciaran – THAT I will never forget πŸ˜›

  9. Great post Ciaran. I’ve felt this way before reading comments people have left on blog posts.

    For the most part, people who make snarky comments just end up looking like a jackass. Nice works in the SEO business. Being an asshat doesn’t. If this industry was about making rude remarks, I for one would be doing something else. Sometimes I think people feel like they’re on an episode of “The Apprentice” or something.

    In regards to what Tom said, online interaction is all we have in a most cases. When I worked at an agency, 90% of my clients I had never met face-to-face.

  10. Thanks for the comments guys – it’s good to see I’m not alone in thinking this. All I will say is that if it were just the odd troll in the comments, I wouldn’t really care. What bugs me is some of the people with profiles that almost seem to be built on agression – it just wears me down.

  11. This is a fab post. I read it a while ago and I’ve been thinking about it a lot. More voices shouting against this Relentless Negativity, I say!

  12. Little late finding this but still… great post Ciaran.

    One line which really struck a note with me was when you mention being welcomed by people who are officially your competitors. I attended my first conference in May at SMX London and was very surprised at the openness of most of the people I spoke to. I’ve been trying to figure out why this industry is like this and I think it is caused by several things –

    – We are all “in the same boat” in terms of not quite knowing exactly what Google is going to do next and trying to figure out what works best for our client websites. The only way we all move forward is to help each other and voice ideas and opinions. I’d stop short of saying its “us against Google” because that isn’t the best way to approach things but I’m sure you know what I mean.

    – SEOmoz has led by example and embraced a policy of openness and transparency. This attitude certainly hasn’t hurt them!

    – The internet is a BIG place! Certainly big enough for all of us to run our business and make money.

    – Even if we do directly compete with each other, good friendly banter can often come out of it and it adds to the fun!

  13. Hey Ciaran,
    I find myself nodding along to what your saying here, at every SEO conference I find it strange that here are all these well known, respected and knowledgeable (way more than me!) people – and yet a large portion of them are actually dead nice as well!
    I guess maybe because in the SEO sphere we’re newish, our sphere of expertise and contacts is constantly changing – and thus it doesnt allow people to be static and develop chips on their shoulders (arrogance) – as I’ve found many developers, or other online folk, I find tend to do after a while.

    Also – no matter how good you think you are – there is ALWAYS someone faster, stronger, smarter – and you have to adapt to that – not by stooping down and being petty, or aggresive, but by logically adapting and welcoming those people, in order to strengthen your own position and using their strengths to your advantage.

    Personally I think online your actions & karma do get traced back to you, thus you should always try your best to act like a gentleman online and offline.

  14. True so true. But the world of SEO has evolved and I feel this is why we are now bumping into people and apologize instead of walking away, head down mumbling quietly.

    SEO talks and conferences are where you will find the new age of SEO’s who have adopted people skills and don’t hide behind a PC mistaking the power they hold as a level 47 within WOW as a true reflection of them as a person.

    Basically competitors are still competitors, yet if you consider them as competition you have already associated a level of respect for that company / individual. Remember that!

  15. In the main I’d agree with you Louis. But attending conferences is not, unfortunately, an immediate indicator of a good social manner.

  16. Couldn’t have said it better.

    The supportive community is what really hooked me when I was just curious about SEO. Mainly at SEOmoz where I found a great group of smart and helpful folks (several of whom commented above).

    I didn’t at first understand why these experienced SEOs were willing to spend time helping the new guy. I came to learn that the reason is quite simple: someone helped them first. It was simply the spirit of the community (as cheesy as that may sound).

    The haters will go on hating – and I have no problem letting them live through that puny existence. Seems to me a miserable way to spend one’s time.

  17. Really good to see this being debated, and your observation “The downward slide in online courtesy is a curse on what is, otherwise, an amazing sector” sums it up perfectly.
    I am dazzled by some of the amazing people in online networks, who are generous with their time and thoughts, and who are supportive of complete strangers.
    But I’m equally baffled by those types who use the internet to carry out Random Acts of Meanness, just because they can use an avatar/pseudonym/ or because they will never meet the person they are attacking.
    And, MikeTek, you make an excellent point – it really is a miserable way for someone to spend one’s time.

  18. For those just finding this post, due to its resurrection in light of Frygate (can I trademark that?), I should add that I don’t think that what @brumplum said was rude, nor the fact that he used @stephenfry. But the ridiculously over the top reactions of Fry’s ‘fans’, including Alan “Bite your ear off” Davies, were both rude and aggressive.

  19. LOL great article!
    Perfectly put!
    And I agree with Robert that we should all act and behave well online as we as offline.

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