How to quit chasing algorithms

For those of us who try to get work or run their businesses through the Internet, the word algorithm sounds almost like a curse. The constantly changing algorithms on different social media sites and search engines are sending people trying to get their message heard and content seen running in circles.

You must post more. You must have a clear niche. You must have lots of followers, though if you don't have lots of followers you won't probably get lots of followers. You must get more people to see your content so that those cursed algorithms will show your content to more people. It's a loop, an ouroboros. Not the fun guy from Loki, but a snake eating its own tail. Somehow you have turned into that snake.

Money, control and manipulation

It's not great for anyone. The social media sites and apps don't show you the content you want to see, but the content they want you to see. They push you everything but the content you followed in the first place. And if you ever happen to watch or otherwise engage with one of those recommended things, you drop in a rabbit hole of more and more escalating stuff.

The Finnish Public Service Media Company Yle created a fictional 13 year old Ella on Tik Tok (story in Finnish). In a few hours "Ella" was shown more and more gloomy content about mental health, diet food and eventually self harm and eating disorder related stuff. Things escalated fast from cat and skating videos to harmful stuff that could damage a young mind.

YouTube rabbit holes are a known issue, having immersed people in extremist and conspiracy theory content for years. YouTube has tried to fix this, but there's still lots of weird and harmful stuff out there for you to get consumed by.

The underlying issue is profit and power. The algorithms don't work for you. They work for the company behind the social media site/app or search engine. They work to make more money for the site or app in question. And, as that Facebook's Myanmar mess shows, there can be even more sinister motives.

Many now believe Tik Tok is a tool of war, working to create confusion and perhaps lower the collective IQ of the western youths. Recently there's been rumours of Google changing your searches to ones that show you the better paid ads, bringing the company more money.

Algorithms expect you to be interested in one thing or another. You must think like an algorithm, not like a living, breathing being with all the different interests and all the different ideas. Perhaps you are a better drone for corporations, if you just concentrate on one thing and one thing only.

Algorithm vs Artist

For an artist this is a huge problem. All this running in circles to make algorithms work for you and your content isn't too good for your creativity.

For years now, bloggers have been desperately trying to avoid creating content deemed low quality by search engines by writing longer blog posts. Often unnecessarily long. That's why for finding that recipe in a food blog you have to scroll through some lengthy explanation on how this recipe game to be or how the children of the blogger love this meal (cutesy!) or which ingredients are included and why. Write short content and get punished by search engines.

The people of Google apparently believe that writing of multiple topics is a sign you are trying to game the search results. You must choose a topic and stick to it. But what about artists?

If you are a creative person, you probably have multiple interests. Besides, creativity thrives when given different types of ideas and prompts. You might find the push to make your next painting from watching a movie or get over that writer's block by listening some music. Art inspires art.

While there are artists who stick to one thing and one thing only, there are those of us who like to make illustrations, write poems, watch and perhaps review movies, write short stories, paint paintings and design cool logos. Algorithms don't like that. For algorithms a drawing and a poem are so different, it doesn't make sense you might be doing both. You must be gaming the search.

Many artists have political interests too. They take part in conversations of social and societal issues, either through their art or otherwise. I guess algorithms find that troubling. Suutari pysyköön lestissään, as the Finnish saying goes. A shoemaker shouldn't stray from their shoe last. Stick to your specialty, don't draw outside the lines.

Elizabeth Tai, a champion of nicheless blogging said it as it is:

"Algorithms are forcing us to create art that fits into a neat little box — their neat little box."
Is the Internet really broken?

To appease the algorithms you must fit your art and content into a formula. You must have a clearly defined niche, preferably something that appears to answer a specific question and is profitable for those companies which algorithms you are chasing. What a great way to kill your creativity.

Anything abstract is immediately invaluable. Anything that doesn't fit in your specific box, whether it's a box you chose or someone else chose for you, is suspicious. You must conform. You must forget creativity and follow the formula. Be useful and productive worker drone.

How to save your creativity from the algorithms?

Okay, so I'm trying to be useful here. Basically this is kind of notes to self, because I'm finding myself drowned in the algorithms and conforming to appease them. This is my attempt to come up with a plan to save my creativity and my art from the neat little box of algorithms. An attempt to quit conforming and get creative. It might help you as well.

One thing I have found great about the downhill of Twitter is I don't feel I must get my content seen by anyone anymore. People are constantly either closing their accounts or just quitting using the site and the app. Can't blame them, things are getting really weird down there. It's been an utter and complete enshittification (paskennus in Finnish). Somehow it is also pretty liberating.

In a way Twitter becoming a wasteland of bots and trolls and state sanctioned war propaganda gives you a freedom from the algorithm. Why try and appease the utterly broken site? Post what ever, the ship is sinking and the band is playing.

Perhaps that can work with everything else too. It's not working, so why go along with it? It's time to rebel against the algorithms. To post your stuff without getting too invested in how many people actually see the post, how many likes and comments and shares it gets. Who cares about how many subscribers you have on YouTube? The game is rigged anyway.

Of course it's easier when you already have a huge audience and raving fans. The algorithms love those who do. Success brings success. But here's the deal: If you aren't already there, it's not very likely you will get there. At least without surrendering your creativity. It can be hard to get it back after you have sold your soul to the algorithms.

I have been sort of doing this with my site and blog for a while. I haven't been using any analytics on my site after switching my content management system. Before that I disconnected my site from Google's Webmaster Tools as well as Bing's similar thing. I have almost no idea if anyone even visits my site. I most definitely don't know if it can be found with any searches. The search engines don't work for me, so why would I work for them?

This might sound scary when you are attempting to get work and build your business online. To just quit working for the algorithms. It doesn't mean you have to completely quit trying to get more people read your blog posts or see your art or view your videos.

Keep using the relevant hashtags and posting your best stuff. Keep writing those well researched and well thought blog posts. Keep on publishing your videos and giving them great titles and descriptions.

If you choose check your analytics, just give them a quick glance and move on. Don't let the analytics and algorithms consume you.

You know what, join my monthly art workshop so that we can make art together. Maybe if as many people as possible raise against the algorithms they will quit sucking so much.

Become more invested in doing your thing in your way than fitting yourself in that algorithmic box. Don't invest in appeasing the sites and apps which don't invest in appeasing you. Take control, instead of being controlled.

Make mistakes, try new things, be wild and untamed!

Mervi Eskelinen

Hello, I'm Mervi!

An artist, nerd and business sorcerer, dedicated to make world more beautiful and strange with art, illustrations and logos + to help you figure your sustainable business out.

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