Review : In Search of Nothing : by Bob Sakayama & Rev Sale

Review By Jabaloni

Don't be fooled by their title into thinking that this is an attempt at silliness. Far from it. The authors of this intriguing post are the search professionals behind TNG/Earthling, the highly regarded NYC based seo consultancy. This is a serious document that actually reveals many of the compelling aspects of Nothing - the pure concept, the meaning of the word "nothing", the mathematical definition, ongoing philosophic arguments, the cultural & language influences, how Google handles searches for it, etc. All of it is fascinating and it's obviously a significant work and one that's still in progress. Their goal is to create a document with the most relevancy in an effort to win the competition created by Google for the top spot in their search results, considered an Olympian task for this widely searched term.

The fact that there is no obvious commercial interest in ranking for "nothing" somehow makes the prospect even more intriguing, especially because it appears there is a huge amount of interest in this topic. In February 2021, Google reports 1,840,000,000 documents are addressing this search. Apparently, a lot of folks are interested in Nothing, even if only a fraction of these documents have readers. Sakayama is skeptical of Google's metrics and even more so of their ability to identify content relevant to Nothing. Too many pages in their results have the word in the title to attract your attention, but then don't deliver any real information about it - "Nothing Will Change My Mind", "How To Do Nothing",  "Nothing Better Than Chicken Soup".

So Google reports this huge volume of documents yet is unable to offer search results that address the search intelligently. The idea of Nothing as a concept is one of the most significant ancient philosophical questions that has been studied throughout history by establishment scholars, so the utter lack of this information from Google searches is very troubling if their actual mission is relevancy. As they demonstrate at the outset, the authors could not rely on Google to research the information or to provide real insight on Nothing in a more general way. If you search in Google for "nothing" you find very little information relevant to the actual concept of Nothing. At the time they recorded their test search (17 December 2020) 60% of Google's page one results were gamed to link to sites promoting a band. Months later it's only marginally different. These seos are highly critical of Google and they have a point. Google, wake up!

The piece does a nice summary of the philosophical arguments linking Nothing with both creation and existence. It's worth the read just for this discussion. The relationship between the acceptance of Nothing as an idea, and the existence (or not) of God is laid out clearly, as are some entertainingly contradictory logical arguments. The notion that learned men pondering and publishing opinions founded on the concept of Nothing could put their lives and freedom at risk for expressing their logical conclusions about the existence of God is stunning. All because they contemplated Nothing.

Defining Nothing is no simple matter, yet that definition lays the necessary ground work for any further argument. One accepted definition is that Nothing represents the absence of anything. You could then argue, as many philosophers have, that Nothing does not, cannot exist. Rev Sale reveals a mathematical model for nothing that is relatively simple to understand by first declaring that Nothing is not zero, because zero is a numerical value. But consider the intersection of the set of all iguanas and the set of all billboards. He argues this resulting  empty set may be a way of understanding Nothing, and that this kind of empty set should not be considered equal to zero, as empty sets are normally defined by mathematics. There appears to be some agreement with this model from the more radical/reckless philosophers out there - DirtsGood, OneInAmelia.

The difference between empty space and Nothing is explained simply by some philosophers: objects can be placed in space, but not in Nothing. But we also already know that real "space" already has stuff in it, and there's no Nothing analog. According to this logic, even empty space is not Nothing - it's more like a metaphysical container.

The commercialization of Nothing is a fascinating phenomenon, and not what you might think. The trauma of COVID and the frightening explosion of the pandemic hospitalizations and deaths created a demand for experiences of Nothing, a kind of extreme sensory deprivation, in water, in the dark. Those services are already franchised and being constructed. But there are other products already doing well. Think noise cancelling headsets.

Although the intent is to focus on the notion of Nothing, the concept, Rev Sale repeatedly warns against confusing the idea with the words. "If you're talking about the word, then you're not talking about Nothing." This really is a situation where the semantics can lead you away from the abstract idea of nothingness.

The 2 principals of TNG/Earthling are funding and working on this project without expectation of any kind of financial compensation for their effort - it is purely a learning experience. Bob Sakayama is responsible for the overall search performance portion of the experiment, which in this case is being measured by organic search ranks and subsequent traffic. Rev Sale handles off site optimization, testing and outreach, along with the team's array of specialized tactics. This is the second experiment addressing the "Nothing" search this team has launched. The former one achieved a rank of #14 in Google in 2014 using about 500 words of content that was written as entertainment for an audience of seo practitioners. Since then, the search world had changed significantly - more competitive, harder to manipulate ranks, way more competitors, etc. This time out, it is a much more serious effort and has been underway since late December 2020. Because it's in the search results, their success or failure will be very public.


Jabaloni | Feb 2021