AI Is Now Everywhere

This Week In Writing, we talk about Google’s new AI plan, what it means for writers, and why resistance is futile.

AI Is Now Everywhere
Photo by Martin Sanchez / Unsplash

A lot happened this week! I’ll discuss Meta’s entry into the Fediverse with Threads in a minute. First, we need to get into how Google is upending the entire internet (again).

Do you remember Google's "I’m Feeling Lucky" button? If you didn't want to bother with Google's ten search results, you could click I'm Feeling Lucky instead of Search and go directly to the first result. Back then, the search engine actually worked.

Of course, that was before ad money became more important than actually connecting people with what they were looking for. With ad money came search engine optimization (SEO). Since people used search engines to, you know, search for things they were looking for, getting a site in the top few results became really important.

Unfortunately, SEO is more about gaming a system than providing relevant information.

Have you ever searched for product reviews only to get a dumb list of affiliate links to Amazon products that quote people's reviews without adding new insight? What about a list of ten apps that do what you're looking for, but one of them happens to be the site you landed on? That's SEO at work, and it generally makes the internet less useful by surfacing people who know how (or have the money) to game Google's system.

The SEO industry is expected to reach an absurd size of $122 billion by 2028. That is, of course, if AI doesn't dramatically render SEO completely irrelevant.

AI is now everywhere.

To protect human creators against AI, the Grammy's said "only human creators" can win awards. They then had to clarify that AI-generated music is "eligible" for nominations, but the AI-generated portions won't be nominated. Whatever that means. Media companies continue to publish factually inaccurate AI-generated content, like the widely shared "Star Wars in Chronological Order" list, which got a lot of things wrong. Oh, and someone created an AI Jesus that preaches and answers questions 24/7.

All of this despite the US Copyright Office declaring AI-generated art cannot be protected with copyright.

Not to be left behind, Google is leaning heavily into AI training. So heavily that last week Google revised its privacy policy to basically say if your website is online, they will use it to train AI models. People online got upset because, well, how dare Google use their robots to scape websites for content! Except that's exactly what Google has been doing for years already.

The Google Search Crawler finds every page online, catalogs, ranks, and stuffs it somewhere in the database, waiting to appear in future search results. This silly little bot crawler is exactly how SEO works, as people know what to feed the crawler to rank highly.

But, here's the thing, while writers are up in arms about their words being used to train AI, Google is going to actually give us all what we really want: useful search.

We don't go to Google to find affiliate-ridden listicles or recipes with someone's entire life story. We go to Google to answer a question or find an actual recipe. If the future of search is an AI chatbot that can actually provide me relevant answers, I'm in. I imagine most people will be, too.

Of course, Google will likely riddle the results with ads, but the key will be to keep people on the page rather than have them link to other websites, which is the bigger issue here.

As writers, discoverability is essential. It's the only way people find the words we write. As searching for information devolves into a chatbot, how will people actually find our work? Short answer: I don't know.

I do know there are a lot of people who rely directly on content writing and SEO. If you're in that boat, I honestly don’t have any suggestions. But, as we’ve seen with third-party apps and businesses built upon Twitter and Reddit, anything entirely dependent on someone else’s decisions needs a backup plan. Unfortunately, it seems like Google is about to prove that point once again.

Threads and Mastodon and Bluesky and I’m Tired

In April, I talked about being an early adopter of new technology. Since Twitter died (and yes, it is dead), I've joined or tested Mastodon, Post, Hive, T2, Bluesky, Substack Notes, and now, Threads.

Meta launched its "not a Twitter competitor" Twitter competitor last week to exponential response. Fueled mainly by the ease of signup, Threads exploded onto the social media scene. But is Threads the next Twitter? Maybe?

I don't actually think there will be another Twitter. It had a unique place in the cultural zeitgeist that put ordinary people side-by-side with the powerful. That likely won't happen again without plenty of guardrails and digital velvet ropes. But, in terms of early activity, it's hard to deny Meta's rapid success here.

That said, I deleted the app shortly after trying it out.

Combine the hyper-stimulation of Bluesky with Instagram's influencers and brands, and you have the chaos that is Threads. Granted, there's a certain something that does feel like Twitter once did -- at least if you weren't a fan of the following feed, chronological timeline, and enjoyed brands trying to act relevant. Threads isn't for me. But it might be for a lot of people.

I’ve read a lot of commentary that asks why Threads exists; it basically replicates functions that are already “working” on Facebook and Instagram. But, I think that’s missing the point.

Instagram is clearly Meta’s flagship product now as Facebook continues to only exist for political Boomers, radio stations, and small businesses that don’t understand the internet. However, Instagram has a much larger demographic and appeal. I think Threads is an attempt to “reboot” Facebook with the IG crowd.

As it stands now, Threads is basically what Facebook started as (there’s no poke, though) — a simple microblogging platform to connect people. Except, this time around it launched with millions of users, a deeply connected social graph, and those pesky brands.

What you get, however, is a bland and uninteresting platform. Ryan over at Garbage Day nailed it by saying:

Threads’ true purpose was to act as a fresh coat of paint for Instagram’s code in the hopes it might make the network relevant again. And Threads is also proof that Meta, even after all these years, still has no other ambition aside from scale.

Regardless of what Threads is or isn't, the bigger story is about the future of the Fediverse, the same platform that connects Mastodon, Pixelfed, and other things running on ActivityPub.

According to the three pitch points that appear when you sign up for Threads, Meta will "soon" connect it to the Fediverse. When that happens, I'll be able to follow and connect with people from my Mastodon server. It means I can control my social media while engaging with people who want to avoid being bothered by that level of detail. Frankly, that's a win for the open internet -- ironic, considering Meta is the definition of closed.

Would it be better if people just joined a Mastodon instance instead of Threads? Probably. But, let's face it, most people aren't early adopters and want things easy -- as evidenced by Threads instant success. And, you know what, there isn't anything wrong with that.

The night Threads launched, I asked Mastodon which platform would close first: Bluesky, Substack Notes, Threads, or Twitter. Over 400 people chimed in, and, not surprisingly to me, the majority said Substack Notes will be the first to die.

Mastodon Poll

It's no secret that I think Substack is in trouble. The platform's revenue is suspect, to say the least, and they have an uncanny habit of building new features only to completely ignore them after launch. Chat? Basically useless. Notes will likely follow suit.

Threads shows that most people are looking for something that is easy to connect to and where many people will congregate. Its staying power obviously remains to be seen, but the launch was massive.

One quick note: I recently returned to a self-run Mastodon instance, this time on Holonet.Social because Star Wars is amazing. My poll went viral by Mastodon standards, pushing my little server to the limits. I learned a bit since the last time I tried to run a Mastodon instance, and I'm happy to say everything held strong!

I didn't muddle things up by stopping services or killing processes -- things I did in my previous stint as a network administrator. Instead, I let them play out, and the server queues do their job. Everything went smoothly, and I feel like I know a bit more about how this silly internet service works.

CTA question

Speaking of asking questions on Mastodon, a few days back I asked for feedback about calls to action (CTAs) at the bottom of online articles. It's something I've been thinking a lot about lately, and I want your opinion.

What do you think about them? Do you click on people’s CTAs? Do you ignore them? Do you think they’re obnoxious, cheesy, or helpful?

I’m really curious about the perspectives of both writers and readers. Please let me know. Responses will help shape a future article and (possibly) the future policies of The Writing Cooperative.

Summer Schedule

I took last week off for the Fourth of July. At least, that was my excuse. The reality is there is a lot going on in my world right now. I've been prepping for a whole house renovation, so I'm basically moving out.

Almost everything I own is in a box somewhere, and I'm living like I'm in college again -- minus the fun parts. As such, I'm going to move into what I'm calling a Summer Schedule.

For at least July (and possibly part of August, depending on the renovation process), This Week In Writing is turning into Every Other Week In Writing. The following issues will come out on July 25 and August 8. After that, I'll see where things stand.

The Summer Schedule and renovation project is putting my participation in Medium Day into question. Since I have yet to determine where I'll be living or my internet capabilities on August 12, I'm finding it hard to commit to a particular session. I still want to do something; I just want to be realistic about the possibilities and my time.

Anyway, more life updates will come in This Just In, my very occasional personal newsletter that lives exclusively on my website. Interested in some personal news? Subscribe to This Just In.

I'll see you in two weeks!