Crowdsourcing My Mouth

On Saturday morning, I cracked a tooth. Having not seen a dentist in over a decade, and having shunned the dental profession most of my life, I had no idea what to do. Being the hapless nerd I am, I immediately tweeted about it.

Fortunately, I received a flood of responses, on both Twitter and on Facebook, most urging the obvious: see a dentist, immediately. There were also a few well deserved scoldings, similar tales of neglect and woe, and finally, a number of specific recommendations of local dentists.

One of the first suggestions came from Burt Lum, my fellow “geek in residence” at Hawaii Public Radio. I’ve known him for more than 15 years, but had no idea until that fateful morning that his brother was a dentist: Dayton Q.L. Lum, DDS.

His office was open on Saturdays and, despite my frantic and rambling phone call, he was willing to see me on short notice. To make a long story short, it was a remarkably positive experience. At least, as positive an experience as could be expected when a dentist’s drill is involved. I wrote a glowing review on Yelp.

I couldn’t help but think, as Dayton Q.L. Lum poked and tugged at my teeth, that search engine optimization might soon go the way of the dinosaur. (It was a much better train of thought than, “What was that noise?”) After all, to find help in a pinch, I didn’t type “best Honolulu dentist” into Google. I turned to a source I trusted even more: my friends.

SEO professionals might continue to find ways — good and bad — to get clients onto the first page of search results. They might continue to build links from high PageRank sites, post comments on popular blogs, and even flood social networks like Twitter and Facebook with mentions. But it’s a lot harder to game an individual’s social graph. After all, it’s different for everyone.

You won’t get the same recommendations I would, but you should get good recommendations based on the people with whom you choose to connect online. I suppose you might have a network rife with PR hacks and spammers, and thus get answers that are colored by shameless commerce. But ultimately, you decide how much you can trust people, rather than how much you can trust search algorithms. I would think humans are considerably more comfortable with the former.

To be sure, Google isn’t sitting still. It’s starting to display customized search results based on your social circle. Right now those results are tagged with ‘beta’ and put at the bottom of the search page, but I can easily see them put at the top someday. Things are going to get a lot more complicated for SEO experts.

By the way, I think there will probably always be a place for review sites like Yelp. (Or Rotten Tomatoes, a favorite of mine.) A thousand opinions are often better than one. But again, out of the thousands of reviews on Yelp, I look for those written by people I know. Alas, it’ll be years before dentists are as thoroughly reviewed as restaurants.

With that, I thought I’d share some of the local dentists that people recommended to me. It seemed a waste for such good information to disappear into the ether. I trust the people who suggested them, so if you trust me, these should at least be solid options to consider should you need to find dental care in this town:

Do you love your dentist? Do tell!

9 Responses

  1. Dan Zelikman says:

    Very timely Ryan, as usual! I cannot stop discussing this topic with colleagues. Where is SEO going? How is it changing? And how will the influence of social graphs be incorporated? Although I think you touch upon a lot of good aspects, the future of SEO/Socialgraphs remains to be seen. What is certain is that Mrs. Hawaii better kick your butt in gear to see the dentist more often, 10 years!?

  2. billso says:

    A good outcome for a potentially bad weekend. What did we do before crowdsourcing? We called friends… you might have found the same dentist without Twitter, thanks to Burt. But letting your fingers do the walking is no good when you are clutching your mouth in pain. I’m a longtime believer in regular checkups & preventative dentistry.

  3. Nathan Kam says:


    Agree with Dan and Bill. More regular check up buddy! ;-) And another thoughtful post to ponder. I’m definitely finding myself using the human network a lot these days. Perhaps not faster, but often times more accurate. Hope you’re recovering well.


  4. Burt Lum says:

    It’s all about the trusted connector. There are SEO techniques for getting that bed and breakfast on the top of the search results but at the end of the day you are going to trust your friends recommendations. I am certainly glad you were able to get an appointment with my brother. Please don’t let 10 years go by before your next appointment.

  5. Chris Daida says:

    Ryan, I give you credit for admitting the state of your dental care. (Uh, maybe I need to pay a visit to Dr. Lum…)

  6. Alex Cortez says:

    Wow, interesting way to tie SEO to a personal experience. SM sites are definitely poised in such a position to be able to fully challenge the SE’s (but from a much different perspective… based on social interactions, not algorhythm analysis). Great post, RT’ing it now.

  7. billso says:

    It must be Monday, because for a moment thought the headline was “Crowdsourcing my meth”. Must have been a meth/mouth thing… I like your headline better, though. :)

  1. August 25, 2010

    […] Crowdsourcing My Mouth I couldn’t help but think, as Dayton Q.L. Lum poked and tugged at my teeth, that search engine optimization might soon go the way of the dinosaur… After all, to find help in a pinch, I didn’t type “best Honolulu dentist” into Google. I turned to a source I trusted even more: my friends. […]

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