Reflections on Turning 400

First published January 24, 2013 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

So, this is my 400th column for Search Insider.

Of course, you’ll notice that recently, I’ve paid scant attention to the domain restrictions of the column’s title. In the past year, I’ve only written about search less than half the time.

Mediapost’s publisher, Ken Fadner, noticed this some time ago and offered me a slot on one of the other columns, like Online Spin, which is a bit more free-ranging in its topicality. But what can I say? I like my Thursday slot here on SI. I figure after nine years of writing about everything from evolutionary psychology to macroeconomics, you’ve come to expect a somewhat eclectic approach from me.

In part, I think the mix of topics you’ll find in my column is reflective of search. As I’ve always said, search acts as a connector in the online landscape. It stitches together our online experiences, as a foundational underpinning to the new digital world.

As such, I think it’s entirely appropriate that this column regularly bust out of the shackles of search marketing. The topics I’ve tackled over the past 400 columns really mark the evolution of my own personal interests, and with it, my career. This column has acted as my experimental petri dish, allowing me to incubate my little cell clusters of thoughts in the medium of public opinion.

In the next few months, that career will evolve once again. The company I started back in 1999, offering search engine optimization services, will fully transfer to a new owner. While I’ll still be involved in the world of online marketing in some form or another, I look forward to having the freedom to further develop some of the ideas that first saw the light of day in this column: from how humans have adapted to their new digital environments, to how organizations are struggling to adapt in a massively transformed marketplace, how disintermediation is stripping huge parts of our economic structure away, and how the very nature of strategic thinking is being transformed by ubiquitous data. My hope is that these ideas will eventually end up in book form.

Most of all, I have appreciated the forum this column has provided to share ideas. With the many changes the Internet has wrought, this is the most significant to me. The sharing of ideas, freely and openly, is something that can only benefit us.

For me, it’s a cycle. I seek out new ideas in the form of books I’ve read, academic studies or posts by my favorite bloggers. Then I digest them, weaving them into my own beliefs and perspective. Then, often still half-baked, I share them with you, hoping that something from this column may end up woven into your own tapestry of thought.

In that spirit, here’s the idea I would like to share with you today. I’m currently reading a fascinating book called “The Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four Remarkable Friends who Transformed Science and Changed the World.” Author Laura Snyder explores the lives and careers of four friends who met at Cambridge as students in the early 1800s: Charles Babbage (inventor of the first “computer”); John Herschel (noted astronomer); William Whewell (polymath and professor); and Richard Jones (one of the creators of modern socioeconomic theory).

Jones, while one of the most original and insightful thinkers of his era, was not the most diligent of authors. Whewell would incessantly nag him to keep up with his writing. This passage came from one of Whewell’s many letters to Jones: “The only moral I can extract … is the importance of getting our speculations into such a form that not calamity nor adversity shall have the power, by putting an end to us… to destroy the chance of our beautiful theories coming before the world.”

You see, once you share your idea, it’s no longer bound by your own mortality. What better incentive could you find to keep writing every Thursday?

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