Yes, Google, Do What You Can and Save Us From Wretched Infographics

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Is it possible that the glut of shoddy infographics is the byproduct of Google's algorithm? If so, it's high time for a change.

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Several times a day I receive emails bearing polished, colorful, and playful infographics. Wouldn't I just *love* to spice up The Atlantic with some beautifully presented information? And the best part is, it requires just about no work on my part.

But these infographics are, more often then not, junk. Their data are sloppy, and by republishing them I am just handing over some Atlantic real estate to whatever organization or company made them, in the hopes that I would give them, not just a little publicity, but a link back to their site. As Megan McArdle wrote last December:

The infographics are being used to get unwitting bloggers to drive up their google search rankings. When they get a link from Forbes, or a blogger like Andrew Sullivan--who is like Patient Zero for many of these infographics--Google thinks they must be providing valuable information. Infographics are so good at getting this kind of attention that web marketing people spend a lot of time writing articles about how you can use them to boost your SEO (search engine optimization).

Every time you use an infographic from creditloan dot com, you're helping to send some poor fool into the arms of a debt consolidation scheme that is quite likely to leave them worse off than they were when they were merely drowning in consumer debt.

"Bloggers of the world, unite!" was McArdle's call. Just stop publishing the darn things -- a sentiment echoed in the "infographic" posted above. But McArdle missed the bigger problem: Google, specifically its search algorithm which rewards links with higher Page rankings. This is not a time for individual action. We need systemic reform to rid the world of the infographic plague.

Now, tantalyzingly, comes a clue that Google may be considering just that. In an interview with SEO consultant Eric Enge, Google's webspam team leader Matt Cutts says:

In principle, there's nothing wrong with the concept of an infographic. What concerns me is the types of things that people are doing with them. They get far off topic, or the fact checking is really poor. The infographic may be neat, but if the information it's based on is simply wrong, then it's misleading people.

The other thing that happens is that people don't always realize what they are linking to when they reprint these infographics. Often the link goes to a completely unrelated site, and one that they don't mean to endorse. Conceptually, what happens is they really buy into publishing the infographic, and agree to include the link, but they don't actually care about what it links to. From our perspective this is not what a link is meant to be.

...

This is similar to what people do with widgets as you and I have talked about in the past. I would not be surprised if at some point in the future we did not start to discount these infographic-type links to a degree. The link is often embedded in the infographic in a way that people don't realize, vs. a true endorsement of your site. [Emphasis added]

To which we say, hear hear! We look forward to the results.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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