Is there more to the story?

16 02 2011

The recent New York Times article (The Dirty Little Secrets of Search, 2/12/11 by David Segal) is an entertaining, well-written exposé of the black-hat side of internet search.  If the 160 comments are an accurate measure, then the topic is “au courant.”  It is unfortunate, however, that important points were overlooked.

For those who have been involved in the internet since the inception of the World Wide Web, the act of manipulating search engine results is the foundation upon which all growth was built.  The opportunity and the challenge of achieving a #1 placement in organic search results are the cornerstones of evolution in our industry.  From our first crude attempts at keyword stuffing to these more sophisticated paid link techniques, the competition for top placement is responsible for a myriad of advances in website development.  Initially, a tiny group of developers monitored each others’ work and shared successes/failures.  Collaboration was the key.  Our “team” had no quarterback, no leader.

The original search engines were the competition.  As on any playing field, when one team found an advantage, the other team quickly developed a countermeasure.  Through the ebb and flow, more sophisticated algorithms were created, and more advanced websites came into existence.  Page Rank, Latent Semantic Indexing, and much more would not exist were it not for the constant battle to outsmart the competition.

Now, a new element has been added to the game:  Punishment!  Rather than focus on the flaw that allowed JC Penney’s brief flirt with search success, Google has laid claim to the role of referee.  It is not only a competitor on the field of internet search.  It is also the referee that selects the penalty when there is a perception of a misdeed having occurred.  When was the last time you played in a game where the other team provided the referee?  Who won that game?

Ram Samudrala of Seattle, WA, expressed it thus:

Something about this article is off, perhaps the part that Google “punishes” someone. They shouldn’t do that. If they find an offense, they should fix it and leave it at that instead of penalising people. It is THEIR fault for having an algorithm that isn’t perfect (yes, perhaps it will never be, but still, it’s their job to get it right). When they screw up, and then penalise someone else for their mistake, I think it reeks of despotism.

I couldn’t agree more.  When Google takes on the mantle of “internet authority,” we all lose a little.  Just how far will they/can they go?  There is no authority that will determine when Google or any other entity has overstepped its bounds.  Let us be diligent and monitor this latest step in the evolutionary process.  There is a lot at stake.

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2 responses

17 02 2011
LK

Google’s goal isn’t necessarily to referee the Internet, it’s to protect the integrity of it’s own product. By dissuading the unethical manipulation of their product, they are protecting their reputation for providing the best results possible. Black and gray hat techniques have been used for decades by people who don’t have the most appropriate result for a search to make the algorithm believe that they DO have the most appropriate result for a search. In an ideal system, the absolute best and most appropriate results are displayed on the front page. In a system ruled by people constantly finding loopholes, the most mediocre information can trump quality information by simply gaming the system. The result is a search engine that is not effective for searchers, and one in which sites with great information are overshadowed by manipulators. Honestly, any effort to maintain the integrity of their results that potentially eliminates the loopholes that SEO “Specialists” have found oh so useful in the past to artificially increase their ratings based on anything OTHER than information quality is an effort that garners my complete support. The only people who will be negatively affected, or who will “lose”, are those who are trying to abuse Google’s product. I’d say that’s very much within their scope of authority to protect.

18 02 2011
mostcasualobserver

Picture the streets of Laredo where every male over age 14 has a six-gun strapped to his hip. The grizzled, saddle-worn cowboy in the black hat spits on the boardwalk. Immediately, guns are drawn, and the air is filled with hot lead. When the smoke clears, the broad-shouldered cowboy with the white hat turns to the crowd and says to loud applause and cheers, “Well folks, that won’t happen again.”

The issue is not the integrity of the Google product but the fact that Google “drew down” on JC Penney and wounded it without even stepping out into the middle of the street for a duel. Judge, jury, …

The positive evolution and expansion of the internet is a result of the constant effort to improve upon technology. Google would not exist if previous search engines weren’t flawed. Bing claims that it has further improved search relevance.

Google’s actions smack of protectionism. If search engines and others simply punished those guilty of “gaming the system,” there would be no advancement in technology.

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