Getting Left Behind – A Technological Cautionary Tale

I was riding high in 2011 and 2012. I was living in Africa and traveling the world with an office in Istanbul, an office in Morocco, and a fake office in Hawaii – just because it was the only way to stay connected to my home. I was publishing an online magazine and employed a dozen award winning writers, photographers, and social media experts. I had two virtual assistants and my website was routinely fighting for the top tier of travel sites and blogs. I was earning close to $10k per month and life was really really good. My ego was blown up like a three week dead donkey’s bloated stomach. I was going all over Europe on press trips and to travel conferences. I bragged to a friend that I was being smart about my good fortune by investing it all back in the business that was most profitable for me – travel websites of any quality on which I could sell advertising. I remember his words of caution when I said “There are only so many good domains for websites so at some point, the big travel companies are going to have to buy mine. It’s like investing in real estate.” As a real estate investor, he knew better. I didn’t

And then, in the seeming blink of an eye, shit changed. It was a process that stretched over about two years – but looking back, I can see that it happened pretty quickly.

My business was based on gaming search engine results, most notably Google. I pushed my own sites higher and higher while using those metrics to sell links which pushed other sites higher and higher. At my highest point I had close to two hundred travel websites and then – while waiting for the next page rank update – something awful happened.

First of all – Google suspended my adsense account and cut me off from everything I had earned since the last payment – several thousand dollars. It pissed me off and I appealed the decision, but Google answers to no one. I still can’t use adsense. It wasn’t my biggest revenue source so it wasn’t that big a deal but it was the harbinger of more to come.

Next, a whole shitload of new social media jumped on the scene. Reddit, Instagram, Pinterest, Google Plus, Tumbler, Snapchat, Vine, and a thousand or so that didn’t work or last long. I was trying to stay on top of them all, trying to maintain my pole postion, and trying to keep my sites relevant. It was full time and more changes followed quickly. The first was a sort of non-event. Google simply stopped updating pagerank – they gave one last PR update which penalized my sites for some low quality links I’d allowed through – finance and gambling thinly disguised as travel. My PR5 site was stuck at a PR3. That brough all my other sites down as well…a huge number of my sites dropped to PR0.

Suddenly PR wasn’t the metric that the SEO agencies were using to determine ad rates. They were using a whole bunch of metrics that I didn’t really understand and that I ranked pretty badly in. I’d taken a whole bunch of shortcuts and it was showing. I rode a bubble and it popped. Google updated their search algorithms and I dropped hard in the rankings. My traffic dropped from 10,000 per day to 1,000 and by 2013, despite my frantic efforts to harness the new social media and new SEO, I was outpaced and left behind. My traffic dropped to 400 visits per day. Nobody wanted to pay for that.

GooglePlus seemed like the answer. Google was taking on Facebook and me and nearly everyone else thought GooglePlus was going to dominate – but of course, that didn’t happen. I went all in for Google Plus. I began ignoring Pinterest and Facebook and Instagram and everything else to focus on G-Plus. I fucked myself with Google that time. They simply gave up on it when they realized that they were going to get hit with a whole shitload of privacy invasion lawsuits.

In early 2013, we moved to the United States. Video and streaming technologies got seriously cheaper and better. Youtube became the most important platform. I had nothing there. I tried to keep things going but advertising and revenue dried up. I let writers and photographers go, I stopped updating, and I deleted hard won sites and media from social networks. I got bitter and angry and I started to become paranoid about the level of privacy intrusion the internet was reaching. I moved backwards in time and began selling antiques.

As I’ve written before, Blogging, like I’m doing now, is pretty much irrelevant. The big travel companies learned to bypass the small media. In 2017, I earned $1000 blogging. Residual from my work in 2012, but that has dried up. Next year, unless something seriously changes, there will be even less. My social media accounts are irrelevant at best. Facebook realized it was foolish to share everything users shared when it could charge users for the same sharing. My other accounts don’t amount to much. Maybe 50k followers total and who knows how many of them are actually real people or still active.

I find myself today, left behind. I was an innovator at one point – but I couldn’t keep up. I tried to go in every direction and then I went all in on the wrong platform. In hindsight, I should have made a good Youtube channel and focused on it, but the truth is – my whole approach was flawed from the get go. I wrote books that help people without money to live better and none of my interests tend to be really commercial or marketable…I don’t write about new phones or makeup or things that can be unboxed or airline points or how to make money on the web.

I point out the shortcomings of our fucked up human civilization and the imminent demise of it. I’m not telling people to buy gold or build a bug-out shelter. My goal is to get people to think about how fucked up we are as a species and to stop being consumers, to stop being ruled by capitalists, and to stop being assholes. There isn’t really any money in that. I’m willing but haven’t found the right product yet. Or maybe I should say that the right product hasn’t found me yet.

Most likely, our civilization is going to keep moving forward and the pace of people getting left behind, like me, is going to accelerate as artificial intelligence, big data surveillance, and normal capitalist fuck-youism contineus as usual. So, what’s the moral of my tale? What’s the lesson?

I suppose it comes down to this – shit is changing faster all the time. Look both ways before you cross the internet or a self driving truck is going to leave donuts all over your fucking lawn.