Alerting: Push or Pull?

The other day, I was ranting about how Google is conflating the goals of search and advertising. One of the questions that we discussed over at Greg Linden’s blog was whether the difference between search and advertising is push vs. pull. But, as we concluded, that isn’t quite it. The difference is not the means, but rather then end: meeting the user’s needs rather than those of advertisers.

And, indeed, the perfect example of a user-driven push interface is alerting. In a typical alerting system, users specify a running query that triggers whenever matching content is published. Certainly this is more akin to web search than to advertising.

But, like web search, alerting runs into the challenge of adversarial information retrieval. If SEO is about maximizing exposure to users through high rankings in search results, there must be an analogous concept of maximizing exposure to users by triggering their alerts.

For example, I happen to know that Gartner analyst Whit Andrews, like many of us, has an alert on his own name. By placing his name in this post,  I am quite confident that he will read it.

But why go after individuals when you can spam wholesale? Including the name of a company in a blog post is certain to attract the attention of a fair number of employees. Including the ticker symbol of a publicly traded company in a document will trigger stock tracking alerts. Et cetera.

Others have noticed the ability to spam through alerting systems. I imagine that alerting systems will eventually engage in similar strategies to search engines to inhibit spam and decide what is relevant. And perhaps those same systems will include ads.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

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