Why Hunter Thompson Would Have Hated Author Rank

by on March 17, 2013

(…But He Would Have Used It Anyways)

where the buffalo roam

We get it. Author Rank is important if you want to compete in Google’s ever-expanding personalized SERPs. As reluctant as I have been to implement or even give a damn about it, I have finally jumped on the wagon. Demian Farnworth wrote a compelling case for why Hunter S. Thompson would have loved Author Rank. I am here to dispute that claim, if only to prove that he might not have loved it, but would have bought the ticket and took the ride anyways.

TL;DW – A historical documentary of Hunter’s career and influence

From the Desk of Dr. Gonzo

I am only writing this rebuttal to honor the late, great Dr. of Journalism, and because I came to the same conclusion that Farnworth did, but from an understanding perspective of Hunter and what he truly represented. My aim here is not to offend Copyblogger, et al., but to make the case for adopting Author Rank from a more defensible platform and to clarify why Hunter would have used Author Rank despite being a cavalier.

I have branded myself in a likeness of Gonzo. That is not to say I am an outlaw by any stretch of the imagination, but I do not like to be governed or regulated. As you’ll find in the pages of this blog, I can be irreverent and unfiltered. You’ll also discover I don’t write very often and that publishers have to kick me in the ribs before I’ll write for them. I plead the same defense for being lazy busy ornery to write very often as Hunter does here: Gonzo SEO Wisdom.

gonzo artwork anthonyhopesmith.blogspot.com


I have always been stubborn and resistant to change, especially when it comes to being told what to do by any authoritarian (like Google). Some people don’t like to be corralled.  Folks of this ilk are like a mustang out where the buffalo roam, and refuse to be tamed. Hunter was one of those people. As his writing and lifestyle suggests, he is an outlaw on many levels of the very definition. Hunter would have liked for his work to speak for itself and not need any explanation or validation. “Res Ipsa Loquitor” he would sign many personal memos from his desk. The Latin translation is “the thing speaks for itself” and is often used in court of law to describe bodies of evidence. Hunter meant the literal meaning, and often followed it with “Mahalo” – Hawaiian for “thank you”. This was Hunter’s way of saying to the addressee, that they’ve helped him prove his theory. Hunter would have hated Author Rank because it would force him to claim ownership of his writing.

I believe that he would’ve felt like he shouldn’t have to do that. Hunter’s writing speaks for itself. If you read any of his later books, you find his voice is one of cynicism and concern for future of our nation and for journalism. He doesn’t pull punches when describing how his bleak outlook of the 60′s and 70′s became bitterly grim in the last decade of his life. He knew to whom he was speaking, and that was anyone who shared his concerns. He’d already made his name calling out government and unique sports perspectives – so his quirks were very evident to the seasoned readers of his work. Had Author Rank been available when Hunter started out, he would have rejected it to a degree, but had the publishers handle all that hoopla for him. Dude just wanted to write.

Journalistic Objectivity: a pompous contradiction in terms

Farnworth writes of Hunter: “Perhaps his journalism was second-rate, and his short stories third. Possibly his former bosses were justified in canning him — maybe he simply didn’t have the kind of talent that prima donnas need to possess in order to stay employed”.

Raoul Duke by Pulce90

Deviant Art: Pulce90

I don’t think Hunter was a prima donna, but more of the mustang I described earlier. I do agree his early works were kinda crummy, and his lackluster efforts might have warranted termination from his commissions. But there’s the rub, Hunter did it *his* way. I’d guess that the way he abused publishers’ credit with hotels and car rentals were likely more contributory to his firings. Ultimately, the drug-induced, stream of consciousness psycho-babble finished copy he would send his editors was hardly worth the legal fees and incidentals for most publishers. What led Hunter into inventing Gonzo journalism was shitting his pants, jumping in and swimming. He was higher than a kite and had a deadline. He chose to use the experiences he had as a player/spectator/other-worldly being to write his coverage of sporting events for the rich and hedonistic culture of the time. The editors did the rest. See, Hunter was more interested in telling the story from a stoned POV because it gave the perspective of a truly foreign observer. Sure, he already had his preconceptions and knowledge of his subjects, but he also had a vision of story-telling like no other.

Demian calls it right when he says of The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved“The article was more about the corruption surrounding the race than the actual race, but it was the manic, first-person style that characterized his Gonzo style.” However, I think he mischaracterizes  the tale being told in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas that he confused fact with fiction. Thompson’s modus operandi was as I described it above, and in my humble opinion, he blurred the lines of what was reality and what was hallucinogenic experience, and often the reader had a hard time distinguishing fact with fiction. As David Letterman described him, Hunter is the most accurate and least factual reporter working today. I’m not saying one has had to have similar experiences with drugs and excess, but Hunter wasn’t writing for average readers. He was writing for an intellectual legacy. Something that aliens could find in the year 4014 and understand the true story of how “he who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man“.

Author Surrogates

raoul duke lego by pressatojump-d3k9vcw

Raoul Duke is an alter-ego Hunter invented to be the culprit of all his hijinks and drug induced delirium. Sometimes he was the actual author of pieces that Hunter wrote. This persona was intelligent in design because it allowed Hunter to explore creativity, regardless of how dubious his methods were. Sometimes we need a persona – whether it be for guest posts to have some anonymity within our industry and for the sake of clients.  It is often not ideal to claim ownership of some writings. I am not saying this to endorse shady techniques, but don’t lie – you have some duds out there which need credibility, but you wouldn’t want to be accredited to you. Many of the superb guest posts I have commissioned for clients are from people we all know, but unless they prefer, I wouldn’t ask them to put their names to it so I use personas to claim authorship. This protects the writer, the publisher, and the client. Hey, I am all for transparency, but many content producers and publishers are not to the point of being able to do this for every single post they publish. Freelancers produce some of the best content, but they may need to remain anonymous to keep their day jobs. I think most writers can all respect that.  Author Rank poses a challenge in this because some clients and C-levels are not able to grasp the concept of generating a persona to use for content development and planning. Often times you need more than one. Mike King has an outstanding strategy behind persona creation. This may alleviate some of the burden of having to sell it to clients or project managers. Photo credit: Deviant Art: Press A to Jump

Mega GonzoHunter was a surly and expensive bastard to his publishers, but sometimes they loved him for it in the end. Also in the end, Hunter would have submitted to Author Rank to get paid. Author Rank is synonymous with press credentials. How else would he get into Jimmy Carter’s Georgia plantation or Muhammad Ali’s apartment in Manhattan. How else would he get the story published? How else could he afford a private shooting and explosives range at his farm in Woody Creek, Colorado? How would people with the finest Peruvian and Casteneda buttons know he was the guru of all things dopamine? Hunter didn’t need recognition among other writers, everyone from Jack Kerouac to Tom Wolfe knew his voice and understood it to be an important one. What Hunter did to procure his name into the annals of great American Literature was to tell the story from not either side of the coin, but from the center ridge grooves of the coin, the one no one really notices until it is pointed out to them.
Hunter would have understood to get the recognition for his work by other prospective publishers, he would need the credentials at his disposal. Author Rank serves as such in the digital age. Perhaps he might not have liked it, but he would have used it, if for no other reason than to get paid professional money and to get bigger and better commissions from the likes of Rolling Stone and Harper’s. The books he wrote may have stood the test of time and become cult sensations on their own, but without the credibility of being published in highly visible and well-circulated sources, his career would have been a much tougher climb into the status of legend.

The Weird Turn Pro

I hope this makes clear, that we of the Gonzo Guild recognize the importance of implementing authorship into our strategy. Indeed, after much resistance and research into alternatives, there is no work-around on this one. Terry Van Horne makes an excellent argument for authorship to remain a component of personalized search results more than expanding into a full-bore algo signal. I agree with Terry on this observation, however Google’s quest to force being signed in is already afoot. I’m not buying into the imperative need to use author rank for search, but I’m also not willing to leave those personalized search results on the table either. A somewhat necessary capitulation of our unbridled standard of rejecting authority. Perhaps one day, another better search giant will have more market share and a better method for ranking sites. Until then, we concede to the overlords and to being confined to the requirements of making a living from the thorny fruits of journalism.

I can’t be the only one who has experienced the bottle-neck of authorship and crediting pseudonyms, can I? I have too many instances where an excellent writer must keep themselves out of the byline to save the trouble of defending their side gigs to their employers. I can’t be the only one who would want an alternative to publishing under authorship. Despite seeing the value of Google Author Rank, it is not without some definite drawbacks from the freelance crowd. Perhaps I am a dying breed like Hunter was, but not in a good way. Perhaps I need to find a way to offer full transparency to the reader via the author’s real identity. Perhaps I’ll understand better how to handle from some of you fine folks. What say you, people of the internet? How do you attribute authorship when you deal with ghost writers and moonlighters? Does anyone bother with a Nom de Plume anymore?  ~ DJR


Corrective Addendum: I have been corrected by a true expert on the subject (Mark Traphagen), that I have confused Authorship –  the markup and verification process that G uses to determine authenticity and populate personalized results. Versus Author Rank – which is a theoretical rating system which is not being used as a major ranking factor (if ever). I apologize for my ignorance, was just rebutting the claim made by Copyblogger. It’s the blind leading the naked over here. #ViolentFemmes ~ DJR



Chris March 18, 2013 at 9:49 am

Google are pandering to a culture that is consumed with the idea of knowing the past of the author and of who he or she is, based upon the assumption that past endeavours will warrant a boost in the SERP’s for their future published works.

To be fair it’s playing to societies own celebrity pseudo-authors – something which Hunter S. Thompson would have probably hated more than authorship – as publishers see these celebrities who are now clamoring to be the next JK Rowling, and get a children’s book to the top of the pile, and feel the risk of backing someone who is already well known for being famous to craft something which can hardly ever be considered “art”.

But that’s just my own thoughts on authorship.

As for pen names I have a few not to be from but as a niche site owner I venture into several non-related niches and therefore I feel I would be better off creating personas who publish to a number of similar sites rather than having dozens and dozens of websites in my contributor to section on my G+ profile.
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Don Rhoades March 18, 2013 at 12:41 pm

I can’t tell you the number of complaints I’ve read/heard of Twilight author watering down the same exact stories of Sookie Stackhouse. Agree with you about creating multi-use personas. It’s still just not optimal in terms of scale. Thanks for dropping by Chris.
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Alan March 18, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Love the post and agree with your points, but I think this is exactly what Author Rank is about – Google want real authors who are prepared to stand by their work, not marketers working under pseudonyms publishing questionable content.

Don Rhoades March 18, 2013 at 12:45 pm

That’s the thing, Alan – it is anything but questionable content. It is outstanding content, but freelance writers aren’t always able to claim ownership of their work. I’d like to say I don’t care what Google wants, and up until now that attitude has served me fine. I’ve always tried to provide value to the reader, regardless of whose name is on the marquee.
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Anthony Pensabene March 18, 2013 at 12:28 pm

bravo, sir. no doubt this will go over well; you discovered a personable angle, one filled with the pulsing, anxious, gooey substances of people and the emotions and actions tied to their flesh and bone.

i just want to write, and initially did not want to bother with authorship. perhaps we, like others who ride their pens among the writing ether, must adhere to a higher calling.. it’s not about the man/woman but the message. in google’s intergalactic webetary platform, a better way to convey the attached message, the one using the writer to as a means, is to shed our human egos and rather have our google selvz brand the ego… just some thoughts blown your way.. i’d tell you to keep writing, but you already know i’ll say that.

Don Rhoades March 18, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Bingo, Pensabene! It’s about the message rather than the author. Sam Clemens isn’t nearly as sexy as Mark Twain. “Alan Smithee” was a way for film producers/directors to disclaim their work publicly. Not because they were ashamed of it, but because there was a witch hunt going on in Hollywood. McCarthyism in its new form, is aided by authorship, as seen in the comment above.
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AJ Kohn March 18, 2013 at 2:55 pm

This is an interesting and compelling piece. There are things I can agree with and others that I can’t. I don’t claim to be a big Hunter S. Thompson fan (even though I’m a fairly big literary type) so keep that in mind as I comment.

First off, there is no such thing as Author Rank but I assume you’re using that as a proxy to talk about Authorship. I get that but it does muddy the waters in my view since one is about claiming content and identity (Authorship) while the other (Author Rank) is about the possibility of using the reception, engagement and interaction on that content as a way to rank content.

Moving on swiftly. “The thing speaks for itself.” I like that and one would like to think that your writing is so incredibly … unique and different that it was like a fingerprint that anyone could recognize. A few get there but the speed of time can wipe away that mental database.

How long until people don’t recognize or remember David Foster Wallace?

I’m 41 now and many of my references from books, TV, movies and music go over people’s head. It’s the bitrot of our collective society. So you could publish as Anonymous or as Kilgore Trout but why really?

It’s not about ego people shout. But isn’t it? You could write for yourself in a journal or open up Word and type away. But you’re publishing it which means you want others to see it. Now as you say, maybe it’s just to get paid and there are compelling stories of Philip K. Dick eating cat food to survive in his early years. Yet, I don’t think many writers do it just for the money.

Are there times when personas are necessary like what happened during the McCarthy era or for a writer for hire that doesn’t want to be associated with certain topics – sure. But aren’t those the exceptions and not the rule? Important exceptions, but exceptions nonetheless.

But I do think that many authors would have despised Author Rank because it would assume that there was a pecking order. An academy awards of writing where some people won and others lost. Mind you, I absolutely believe there are different levels of writing but I personally can’t stand Faulkner. His style leaves me cold. On the other hand I’m a huge DeLillo fan (mostly his early stuff) but I know not everyone get him. Some people are offended by Portnoy’s Complaint, I love it. Shit gets subjective quick.

But that’s fiction. What we’re talking about in general practice is topical expertise being rated so that the old and poorly researched answer to a chemotherapy question (on a DA 83 site or some such nonsense) isn’t being returned over an article from the leading oncologist at a reputable hospital.

And now it’s nearly 8 and I have more to say but can’t so I will ju-
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Don Rhoades March 18, 2013 at 4:09 pm

thanks for reading, AJ. I really wasn’t expecting someone of your brass to read this – much less comment on it. Yes, all fair points you bring up. I would concede that the exceptions are just that, exceptions. But we don’t deal in a world of absolute absolutes, most times. English has MANY exceptions to the rules, but they are still rules despite being exceptions. That argument could take days if we wanted/had time. I think I was just sullied by a cop-out explanation of why Hunter would have used authorship – again, dude just wanted to write. Just because we publish publicly, doesn’t mean it is ego driven. Sometimes things need to be aired out, discussed and examined beyond what experts may claim. Did he want recognition and acclaim? Of course! But he was also very dependent of his editors/publishers. I think I am also speaking to the need for publishers to do their part in advancing authorship by implementing it on their end. It should not rest solely on the writers, IMO.

For the record, I always thought Phillip Dick ate cat food for the experience of the future of nourishment. #SoylentGreen
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bill bean March 18, 2013 at 7:27 pm

My first thought was that this comment thread will demonstrate some sort of correlation between SEO and a liberal arts education.

Don Rhoades March 18, 2013 at 8:48 pm

No chance, mate. We beat those students down – from Bowdoin to Pomona. #kidding #notreally #kidding
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