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Becoming an instant expert


Here's a recipe for becoming known worldwide as an expert on any topic:

  1. Write a column in 1997 that mentions the topic very casually, in passing, and post the column online. (If you don't have access to a time machine, you can alternatively post to a high-profile or widely-linked blog or forum, and mention the topic tangentially while talking about something else.)
  2. Include your email address in your posting.
  3. Wait a while for the page where you posted to accumulate inbound links.

Sooner or later, the page where you posted will become a top search result for the item that you mentioned in passing, and then the fun begins. Because every so often, you'll get an email asking you for information on the topic. These emails will generally fail to follow email first-contact etiquette, but they will be mildly flattering nonetheless, because they will tend to imply that the sender believes you to be a world-renowned expert on the topic that you mentioned in passing.

Probably the most common case of this in my own experience is my column on wind-related words from 1997. Because the column talked a bunch about names for winds, I titled it with the obvious title: "They Call the Wind Maria." At the time, I don't think I was entirely aware that that phrase was a song title, and I'm pretty sure that I didn't know it was from the Lerner & Loewe musical Paint Your Wagon. I certainly didn't discuss the song in the column; I just used the title.

And a lot of people liked that column, and many of them linked to it. And it contains my email address.

And so over the years I've gotten a lot of questions about wind, and weather, and names for winds, and so on, all of which is too bad because almost everything I know about those topics is in that column.

But (presumably because of all the links) that column is currently the third search result on Google when you search for [They Call the Wind Maria]. And that means that anyone who has a question about the song, or even about the name "Maria," is likely to stop by that page, and a fair number of them send me email asking me for more information. I mentioned the song's title, so I must be an expert, no?

I've just now finally added a note to the bottom of the page explicitly mentioning that I don't know anything about the song or the musical. But I doubt that'll significantly reduce the email about it. I'm pretty sure most of the people who write me haven't read the column, they just saw it in the search results and figure if it's that high-ranked, it must be relevant.

Oh, well; there are plenty of worse fates than to be believed an expert on a song I know nothing about. And I should note that this isn't a huge flood of mail or anything; maybe one email every couple of months. Easy enough for me to just send a polite brief note saying I can't help them.


I think I have an mp3 of that song. I can play it for you the next time I see you :)

Thanks! But I've heard the song by now--I think I actually have it in my iTunes collection at this point. I just hadn't heard it when I wrote the column, back in '97.

Still haven't seen the musical, though.

That's so funny.

I wrote a journal entry in which I asked why somebody would have a sign in their window that says "we don't rent pigs" about six years ago, and people still occasionally send me answers. So it works in reverse too.

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