Rehumanize Myself – On telling a story

Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Posted by Jim Hedger @ 8:30 am

It has been almost two weeks since I posted here. Sorry for the absence. As the coming days will demonstrate, I’ve been kind of busy. With a healthy dose of communication, a little respectful finesse and a lot of fancy finger-work, perhaps we can all get back to our regularly scheduled work lives sooner than later.

So I was listening to a conversation about me on WebmasterRadio yesterday evening. It was the fourth one I had heard that day. I’ve been reading a lot of stuff about me and about this damnable story on blogs and forums too. The vast majority feels skeptically supportive. I appreciate the support and fully support the skepticism, especially as there is a lot more of this story to come out, starting today and tomorrow. I’ve had a lot of late nights and precious little sleep over the last six weeks but I am almost ready for the onslaught today and tomorrow will undoubtedly bring.

A story is a story and stories must be told, even if some stories appear to loom above one’s head like a nightmare. I’m working through one of those stories right now. A couple of months ago, a tale about click fraud fell into my lap. It has become an almost all consuming obsession since. In the story, I saw an opportunity to either right a wrong or help clarify an area a lot of people have questions about. In investigating it, I saw a hell of a lot more than I ever wanted to.

There is no clean way to do this sort of thing. It’s not intended as a hatchet job but it is being constructed in such a way as to leave very little wiggle room for its massive subject to maneuver in. We have, we believe, successfully tied a number of strings together the old-fashioned way, by digging in dirt that soon turned to mud and often threatened to turn to quicksand. We believe an explanation is in order. I secretly long for the logical explanation but suspect Tylenol is the best suggestion to make this headache go away.

The story is outlined on a feature page at WebmasterRadio.FM. I am not going to take a lot of time writing about it here as it is unfolding over at WebmasterRadio. I do want to thank the various publishers and supporters in my life right now. This has been an amazingly scary and dramatic ride but a lot of people agree there is something crazy going on and we have a responsibility to broadcast what we perceive to be the truth.

When all the evidence has been presented, we intend to give an opportunity for rebuttal and fully expect that rebuttal to come in several layers, including some that feel like body blows. I’ve already felt a few preliminary probing jabs. That is an unfortunate reality of this game.

It has been a difficult story to follow and develop. Like the democratic values it is supposed to defend, the practice of journalism can be likened to one of Winston Churchill’s comments on democracy. “It’s a yucky, messy business. Those who don’t like to see sausage made should be directed to play with the children.” That’s where I figure I end up if I don’t get this right.

Journalism is one of the messiest of businesses though. Having to juggle dozens of separate interests is nerve wracking enough but when some of those interests represent entities of enormous weight and egos of enormous size, a few will fall from your grasp. Hopefully, some of those balls will bounce back. I never intended to drop them but when one is trying to sing, dance, juggle and write with only two hands, well, you know the rest…

What a bunch of weeks it has been. I’ve spent more time away in the past three months than I have in my placid island home. I’ve been to New York, North Dakota, Las Vegas, Vancouver, Chicago and back again pursuing information about Google’s relationship with advertisers and the way some use Google’s advertising system. The North Dakota trip was a bit inadvertent but I thought I’d include it for sympathy’s sake. There haven’t been many sympathetic ears to turn to lately. My friends outside the tech world cannot be expected to fully understand the implications and the vast majority of my friends in the tech world have not been allowed to know what I’ve been working on. Those who do know are caught on the same adrenaline trip I’m on and it is hard to hear calming voices from that direction.

You gotta know what the motivation is. That is a cardinal rule of writing, regardless of the style or genre. Knowing a character’s motivation and a source’s motivation are critical to the telling of the story be it fiction or fact. I have had to dismiss several sources because I was unable to comfortably determine their motivations. Sorry if you’re name doesn’t appear; I’m working here, yadayadaydaya.

The saddest thing is; I really like a lot of things about Google. They amaze me and are among some of the most incredible conversationalists I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting and here I am stuck with this whale of a multi-faceted story in my lap, my laptop and my head. It’s something that is bound to taint future conversations (what future conversations?) and that, to me at least, is rather sad.

Eventually, the ultimate question will come from a place I can’t conveniently ignore. I dread it most because t this point, I have no idea how to properly answer it. The question will be one of blame. We always seem to need to assign blame. It has to be someone’s fault, doesn’t it?

For the most part, I am not interested in assigning blame to anyone aside from the criminal elements I know to be present within the boundaries of this story. I have absolutely no doubt they are fully aware of what they are doing. I have quite a bit more doubt when contemplating Google’s awareness in regards to some, if not most of this story.

Google is so huge and so much of it is operated by machine that, until someone comes along and points out a problem, it is difficult to demand they be aware of everything happening in they global system. I believe Google is trying hard and I also believe that, for the most part, Google engineers have the best intentions of their advertisers and users at heart.

I believe that botnets are harder to detect and deter than Google engineers have said they are. Furthermore, I believe botnets are a clear and present threat to the stability of the current PPC advertising system.

I also believe that Google is erring on the side of open access when it comes to the establishment of advertising distribution partnerships and that openness has a direct effect on the way they understand and explain their ad-distribution system. When a company the size of Google creates one of the most effective wealth distribution systems in the history of finance, some degree of abuse is bound to happen. I believe Google downplays that abuse, partially in the hopes of avoiding the facilitation of further abuse.

I believe I have a job to do and though it might feel loathsome from time to time, it is a job I have to do nevertheless. I believed the stuff they taught me in Boy Scouts.

The absurd levels of drama that have punctuated the story’s development have made me feel like I was, at times, living in a movie script. From clandestine meetings in highly visible public places to late-night power-meetings high in the canyon walls of Manhattan’s skyline to luxurious hotel rooms filled with debate between the search marketing industry’s greatest minds, the stuff of cinema became reality. If only this story was just a story. My life would be a lot easier and clearer if it were. Unfortunately, it is not just a story; it is a number of real situations involving real people, real entities and real money. Perhaps it will become the basis of one someday.

At the end of the day, I believe this story can be beneficial to everyone concerned, including Google. From it, a search marketing industry initiative to dig as deeply into click fraud concerns as possible has emerged. Everyone has a strong motivation to see PPC advertising flourish. It all comes down to how we all read between our prepared and ad-libbed lines eh? Let’s all come together and try to do a little good this holiday season. Let’s talk openly about click fraud, botnets and the criminals who use them.

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