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<nettime> googological digest [hwang, douwe]
nettime's_MailRank[tm] on Mon, 7 Jul 2003 20:30:18 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> googological digest [hwang, douwe]


Francis Hwang <sera {AT} fhwang.net>
     Re: <nettime> googological digest [alexander, hwang]
<douwe {AT} oberon.nl>
     Re: Google's Weapons of Mass Destruction

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Date: Mon, 7 Jul 2003 08:16:39 -0400
Subject: Re: <nettime> googological digest [alexander, hwang]
From: Francis Hwang <sera {AT} fhwang.net>

Amy Alexander wrote:

> the thing to remember is that google hide behind pagerank as a neutral
> algorithm. no algorithm is neutral; they are written by people with
> opinions. results have the bias that humans write them to give.
> to bias the results, and thus bias culture, just tweak the
> algorithm.

Every once in a while, Google goes through what's called a "Google 
dance", where they tweak PageRank and the rankings of all the indexed 
pages move up and down. It's been the subject of a lot of speculation 
-- why do they keep tweaking? -- but the explanations I've read make 
perfect sense to me. It goes something like this:

1. Users want Google to return the most sensible search results for 
their queries.
2. Webmasters of lower-ranked websites want their sites to be ranked as 
high as possible. Accordingly, some of them will try to game Google 
into giving them a higher ranking than they deserve, using their 
theoretical understanding of PageRank.
3. When those webmasters succeed, they gain at the expense of users, so 
Google intervenes to re-establish balance.

I don't think I've ever read anything anywhere to suggest that Google 
hypes PageRank as a "neutral" algorithm. I see words like, say, 
"democratic" on a page like http://www.google.com/technology/, but 
then, democratic is hardly a neutral value. Google is social software, 
in a sense. Because of its position it's subjected to the demands of 
all sorts of people -- porn-site webmasters, bloggers, your uncle, etc. 
-- and there is no perfect way to resolve all these tensions. Asking 
for a neutral search engine algorithm is a fruitless endeavor, the 
online equivalent of counting the number of angels on the head of a pin.

Clay Shirky's last essay "A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy" 
(http://shirky.com/writings/group_enemy.html) had an interesting thing 
to say about social software: "People who work on social software are 
closer in spirit to economists and political scientists than they are 
to people making compilers." One of the implications of this is that 
the decisions you have to make when designing such software are just as 
political as technical. This applies quite well, I think, to Google. 
PageRank is inherently political. That's not because Google is some 
great overarching hegemony (yet). It's because Google's task -- 
prioritizing some webpages at the expense of others -- is an inherently 
political task.

So there's some hugely dominant search engine out there, and its 
decisions are subjective and political. Should we be nervous about 
that? It doesn't really worry me. I can't imagine what an impartial 
search engine would even look like. If it became political in a way 
that it's search results were no longer useful, then I'd look for a 
better one. Nobody's forcing you to use Google, you know.

Francis

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From: <douwe {AT} oberon.nl>
Subject:  Re: Google's Weapons of Mass Destruction
Date: Mon, 7 Jul 2003 18:11:38 +0200

The joke is of course itself is of course much older then the number one
spot on google it gets now. It is well done and that is why it got the
number one spot, ie by now it *is* probably the most referenced website 
when it comes to "weapons of mass destruction"

A similar joke is harder to reconstruct. Go to Google, type in:
"french military victories" and press the "I feel lucky" button again.

You'll go to a page which exactly looks like Google, (but in reality is on
http://www.albinoblacksheep.com/), anouncing that the search term did not
return any hits and would you like to try to search for "french military
defeats"

This jokes only works when the target page claims the number one spot on
google for the search term. Now it is not so strange that the page holds 
that number one spot, because people link to it, because the joke works. 
But how did it get there in the first place.

Of course, the popularity of the joke partly backfires. If you go to Google
and type in "french military defeats" and press I feel lucky, you'll get to 
the same page.

A strange example of Google-Archeology


Douwe Osinga
http://douweosinga.com

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