Tagging The Web
This is a guest post by our link builder Charles Wood, who gave me an awesome funny bio that you’ll see at the end. Charles has been with us longer than any other current link builder. He will also be leading our company pub crawl.
Graffiti is defined as the illicit practice of transcribing images and/or text (via spray panting, stencils, yarn, etc) on public spaces and property. It’s an art form that can be traced back to prehistoric times in the form of cave paintings. Graffiti has even been found to adorn walls dating back to Greco-Roman times. These works may exist for purely aesthetic value, to communicate a radical or political message, or to prove to one’s peers the artist’s talent and brazenness, especially when the piece is in a nigh inaccessible or dangerous location like the top of a building or a place with a heavy security or police presence.
The most common form of graffiti is the “tag” which is when an artist simply writes his or her name on a public surface. This could be done in order to build up their reputation or just to simply state that they exist. Tagging is the most basic form of graffiti usually taking up a relatively small amount of space and is kept simple so it can be done as quickly as possible.
In contrast to tagging there is “bombing” in which an artist paints a complex, multicolored image. These more elaborate pieces can take up an entire wall of a skyscraper and incorporate every imaginable color.
Stencil graffiti uses paper, cardboard, or other media in order to create an easily reproducible image and is a hugely popular form of graffiti. Another form of street art which is enjoying increased popularity is Yarn Bombing which utilizes brightly colored knitted or crocheted yarn to cover public spaces. This practice is relatively recent and started in the Netherlands around 2005. These yarn installations are seen as less abrasive than traditional graffiti since they’re non-permanent and can be easily removed.
Graffiti was once resigned to urban locations and sub-cultures such as hip-hop and punk along with being widely regarded as an act of blatant vandalism. However, with the rise of prominent artists like Shepard Fairey, these preconceived notions are beginning to change. Fairey emerged from the skate boarding scene in the early ’90s and quickly made a name for himself with his “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” stencils, which could be found on nearly all the flat surfaces in Rhode Island at the time.
His incorporation of pop culture (like the aforementioned Andre the Giant as well as his “obey” work which was inspired by the John Carpenter film “They Live”), radical political philosophy, and tactics that could later be described as guerrilla and viral marketing, made him a household name. Fairey’s “Hope” poster was an iconic image that garnered massive support for Obama’s campaign for presidency. Fairey now has pieces in museums all over the world including the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Another political artist is Blek le Rat from Paris who is often referred to as the “god-father of stencil graffiti” due to his stencil paintings of rats on the walls of Paris. The message he was trying to send through his work was that rats are ”the only free animal in the city” and one which “spreads the plague everywhere, just like street art. “
Space Invader is another infamous French street artist. His “Invader” project took Paris by storm and was followed by assaults on cities ranging from Los Angeles to Mombasa. This project consisted of colorful tiles, fashioned after the Space Invader arcade game, placed all over the city. He documents each “invasion” with maps showing the location of each “invader.”
Banksy is an artist hailing from England who has garnered much fame for his stencils which often include dark humor, pop culture references, and anti-capitalistic political messages. He has been the subject of documentaries, such as “Exit Through the Gift Shop”, and his work can be found in museums such as the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery.
Lee Quinones is a New York artist who got his start tagging subways in the mid 1970′s. Like Fairey, Quinones incorporated pop culture, like Howard the Duck in one instance, and political philosophy in his street art. One of his famous tags is “Graffiti is art and if art is a crime, please God, forgive me.”
Francisco Rodriguez da Silva is a “grafiteiro” artist from Brazil whose work is “creating counterparts for the colonization to which Brazil has been subjected.”
Also from Brazil are Os Gemeos, otherwise known as “The Twins”. These brothers were influenced by the hip scene in the late 1980′s and use graffiti to paint beautiful murals all over Sao Paulo. They have become so influential that they were invited to legally paint Brazilian subway trains in the early 2000′s.
Groups of graffiti artists and activists, like the Space Hijackers and the Graffiti Research Lab, have formed in recent years to combat what they view as an overly capitalistic and consumerist obsessed culture. The Graffiti Research Lab is “an art group dedicated to outfitting graffiti writers, artists and protesters with open source technologies for urban communication.” In laymen’s terms they develop DIY technologies that anybody and everybody can employ to help make, aid, or document street art of any kind.
Space Hijackers are from the United Kingdom and define themselves as “an international band of anarchitects who battle to save our streets, towns and cities from the evils of urban planners, architects, multinationals and other hoodlums.” One of the tactics they use is Subvertising which refers to parodies of advertisements.
By this point you might be thinking to yourself, “This is all well and good but what in the name of Gary Busey does this have to do with link building?” (Editor’s note: Damn, I know I was wondering.) I’m glad you asked. What are link builders but graffiti artists, using the Internet and code instead of concrete and spray paint? A good link builder who’s been around for a while has probably tagged dozens, if not hundreds of sites with keywords and anchor text. Like graffiti, sometimes the text may be glorified vandalism, ugly, obvious, and in need of removal. Other times, it’s a work of art and expertly worked into the content of a given post. Also, as with graffiti, we face the possibility of persecution, only in our case it’s from Google or angry webmasters with itchy Twitter accounts instead of the police or store owners.
Graffiti and link building are both involved with the discourse of public versus private places. In a political climate that is leaning further and further towards neoliberalism (which can be defined as a political movement advocating privatization of public resources, organizations, and spaces along with the deregulation of the free market) graffiti, by its interaction with public property, becomes a politicized act. One can say the same about link building with its appeal to webmasters’ rights as opposed to the guidelines and ad rules set forth by Google, an entity which is increasingly acting like a digital form of government.
I’m not the first person to see the marketing potential and ramifications of graffiti. Fortune 500 companies like Toyota, McDonald’s, and Coca-Cola have used graffiti imagery in their advertising campaigns. Video games like Jet Set Radio and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas have incorporated graffiti in both their advertising and game play. Artists like Marc Ecko and the aforementioned Shepard Fairey have used their fame and design skills to come out with their own clothing and merchandising brands.
What this article boils down to is that you have a choice. When you find a site that meets whatever guidelines your client has and finally convince the webmaster of said site to agree to do something, you have a choice. Do you want to “tag” the site with a quick and dirty link that stands out like a hippy at a Glenn Beck rally? Or do you want to take the time to write some engaging content and do things the right way? When you look back over your link portfolio do you want to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment, something you can show off to your peers and prospective clients, or do you want a bunch of sketchy links that remind you of drunken graffiti found in the bathroom of some dive bar?
Author Bio: Little is known about Charles’s early life. Some say he grew up in the barren tundra of Antarctica and was raised by a group of polar bears. Others claim he was the result of a failed genetic experiment by the U.S. government and was left for dead in a back alley of Detroit. Still others believe he swam all the way to Florida from the mythic lost city of Atlantis. What is known is that he appeared in Greensboro around 2002 to pursue a degree in English. Since then he has worked various odd jobs, including an embarrassing stint as stock boy at Hollister as well as an intern writing for Go Triad, sporadically enrolled in classes, and fought back an alien invasion intent on taking over Greensboro in the summer of 2008. Charles’s proudest moment, however, was when he challenged Abraham Lincoln to an arm wrestling contest and won. When not currently working on this blog and writing about topics ranging from strip clubs and karaoke to film making and painting Charles spends his time drinking at dive bars, bumming cigarettes from friends, and fighting Somalian pirates on the high seas.