After several months of writing three articles a day containing three hundred to five hundred words on topics of which I have very little knowledge and even less interest which are specifically designed for web bots’ consumption, I have noticed my creative muscle has strengthened. My creative muscle has strengthened because I use it every day and it has in turn adapted to this daily usage. When I use the term “creative muscle” I refer to my brain’s ability to create content for these articles. I think the term muscle is an especially apt metaphor in this context because like a muscle, my brain’s ability to create content improves with exercise.
On a related note, I am a member of a local Toastmasters chapter which is another activity I take part in on a regular basis. Part of the meeting consists of an activity called “Table Topics” where a member selected to be the week’s “Topics Master” devises a series of questions to ask randomly selected people attending the meeting. The person who is asked the question then has to come up with a one to two minute response to the question. This exercise exercises the person’s ability to speak off the cuff in front of a group of people on a subject of which they may or may not have any knowledge. At first I intensely disliked this portion of the meet because it made physically uncomfortable to sit with the anticipation of being called upon. I have never grow comfortable with the experience however, overtime I have noticed that my ability to devise a response has improved.
The more I think about it the more I realize these two activities are in fact very similar. They are similar for all the obvious reasons. That is, they both develop the creative muscle of the mind to generate content in the moment without preparation. However, they are also similar on a more technical level. Specifically, I found that both exercises have strengthened my creative muscle to devise content that reads and sounds meaningful but may or may not contain any real meaning at all. Intrinsic to this skill is the ability to make the content have the appearance of actual content intended to inform its intended audience. This aspect is crucial because if the content appears to be obvious spam or verbal diarrhea then it will repel its intended audience. But content with the appearance of actual content will draw its intended audience in. Regardless of whether the employment of this skill is ethical there is no denying its importance, value and power.
But it is important to consider the ethical implications of developing this skill. On the one hand there is a certain level of deception going on. It could be argued that giving a person or a web bot representing the interests of a person the illusion of relevant, useful content without actually giving them anything relevant or useful is dishonest and therefore morally wrong. I think this argument is not without merit however, I also think that the intention behind the illusion also factors significantly to color this ethical analysis. For example, sometimes illusion can be entertaining and if this is the illusion’s intended purpose then I see nothing morally wrong with the illusion even if the recipient of the illusion does not fully grasp this intention. Obviously, if the illusion is intended to deceive another person for the purposes of theft then it falls more towards the morally wrong end of this spectrum.
The question then presents itself: is designing content intended to give web bots the illusion of content a morally wrong act? Clearly designing a Table Topics response to sound like actual content in the moment when called upon randomly to do so within the context of a Toastmasters meeting falls more towards the entertainment (and therefore morally good or at least neutral) end of the spectrum. Misdirecting web bots, however, is a little less clear I suppose because ultimately there are economic interests at stake and obtaining money from another person through false pretenses smacks of fraud. As discussed in my previous blog post the content I write (as a side profession) is intended to optimize a website my content links to in a search engine’s listings which are responsive to specific keywords. This in turn will work to increase the amount of traffic that finds its way to that website because the people using specific keywords in a search engine will see that website list closer to the top of the list of websites generated by the search engine in response to those keywords. An increase in web traffic (hopefully) will result in more sales and profit for the business that employs that particular website.
The reader will appreciate that the complex nature of the language required to explain this process demonstrates the muddy ethical water in which this sort of activity swims. Clearly it is not on the same ethical level as murder. But nor is it on the same ethical level of altruistically nursing a waylaid stranger found along the side of the road back to health. In the end, I think it is sufficient to say that the practice of creating content intended to misdirect web bots is ethically ambiguous at best and perhaps for the purposes of this blog post I can leave it at that. There is, however, a certain power to the ability to do it as I discussed and I suppose this power is deserving of respect. This power (for better or worse) is something I a developing daily by writing content for web bots and weekly by attending Toastmasters meetings. I must admit that I enjoy the process and will therefore continue to do it. Of course all this describes an exposure to something new that I am exploring and learning more about as I do it. I have not yet reached an ethical impasse but I suppose what I am trying to articulate is that I do recognize the possibility of that event.