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The History of Online “Experts”
These days you can’t move around the Web without encountering a person claiming to be an expert in something. Let’s take a look at the buckets of Web experts and where they have setup a shingle over the years.
First we had HTML experts. This batch of experts started appearing in the mid-90s and claimed to be able to code any webpage to the provided design specifications. This was also the time when many WYSIWYG programs began to appear including Microsoft’s Frontpage. It was always interesting to meet people who said they were experts and when you asked if they hand-coded their webpages, the answer many times was that they use Frontpage. Naturally any expert should be able to code HTML by hand.
My favorite story from this expert era was during an interview I was conducting to hire a HTML coder for the agency I was at. I wrote several exams for recruiters who wanted to test their candidates before sending them onto an agency or company for hire. One morning I met with a man who told me he had been coding HTML for 15 years. I explained that HTML wasn’t around for 15 years but he remained stern in tone that he was sure he had been practicing his craft for over a decade. I gave him my beginner exam and he failed. He then explained that he was an expert at Frontpage and that he could code any webpage using the tool. We never heard from him again.
It seemed like HTML experts were mostly located in the U.S. initially and then towards the later years the offshore crowd joined in.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Experts
The next crop of experts popped up in the very late ’90s and early ’00s. This was a much more vocal group of experts because they would send you emails explaining how they can raise your ranking in Yahoo, Altavista, Excite and Google. From the stories I’ve heard over the years, most times the shingle would go up, the company would grab some quick cash and then move on to a new shingle.
It seemed like many of the SEO experts operated from outside the U.S. from the beginning. Unlike HTML where offshore started late, with SEO they got to the gold quickly. We still see many expert SEO workers these days but the count has certainly dropped from the peak.
Social Media Experts
This is our current crop of experts – the social media expert. This seems to be the youngest batch of experts to-date in terms of age. So far, social media experts seem to be following the HTML expert trend with a heavy presence in the U.S.
It seems like if you can get a story on the Digg frontpage, you can slap the expert tag on your online profiles. If you slap a camera on your head for a day and get some press, you are a social media expert. If you can make a video that gets some views, you are a social media expert. If you use Tweetdeck, you are most certainly an expert!
Try this experiment – go to Twitter, randomly pick a person. Then starting from that person, randomly select another person from the profile icons on the right side of the page. Do this 50 times and see how many profiles include the word expert in them. It’s a fun experiment which should open your eyes to the massive expertise out there.
Next week I will share my "test" to see if the person your company or startup has engaged (or plans to engage) to help with social media marketing is actually an expert.
When I met with Scott Monty from Ford yesterday, one of the things we agreed on is that you should never call yourself an expert. Let others think and talk about you as an expert. It will be interesting to see where the experts pop up next online although I am pretty confident the social media experts won’t be going anywhere for the next 2-3 years.