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Steve Rosenbaum

Steve Rosenbaum

Posted: February 27, 2011 08:50 PM

So, when you get invited to be interviewed on a national radio program, that's a good thing. I was more than happy to talk about Curation, but little did I know that I was going to be the counter-point to an interview with Google's Matt Cutts about search and the shift from algorithmic results to human curated content.

But, something is changing around web content. The volume of bits of data is growing wildly, and social search seems to be on the rise. So, what's happening?

After months of whispers and smoke signals from Mountain View, Google took aim at what users and search observers have been saying for months -- the quality of Google's search results were going down.

The decision to begin to limit how so-called 'content farms' show up in search rankings was the third in a series of very public 'corrections' that the search giant has made in the past three months. Back in December when the New York Times reported that a spammy seller of custom eyewear had discovered that unhappy customers had just as much of a positive impact as happy ones, Google reacted swiftly and removed decormyeyes.com from search results.

But search experts caution that Google's algorithm wasn't built to determine the quality of the link, or the relative happiness or unhappiness of a user. What they call 'sentiment' analysis. "Google is just cagey about everything," Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of the blog Search Engine Land told the New York Times. Mr. Sullivan told the paper he does not believe that Google uses sentiment analysis, and he sees potential pitfalls if it were to start. "If you have a lot of people who hate Obama, for instance, and you decided to rank on love or hate, you might not be able to find the White House and that would be terrible," he said.

But then, just weeks after the glasses drama, Google was again faced with data that their methodology had been hacked -- this time by JC Penny. The results, JC Penny showed up as #1 or #2 in search results in such categories as furniture, clothes and linens. Again, Google had to make a manual intervention, and punish the retailer for so-called 'black hat' search strategies.

And then, this week -- news that again Google was going to 'tune' the algorithm, this time to dimish the search resold from so-called 'content farms.'

What's really going on here?

Think about the post office. First, there was the pony express. Very important messages carried by hand, at some expense. Then over time mail became useful, and cheap, and people mailed post cards, and companies mailed bills, and catalogs. Now, look in your mail box -- what do you see? Junk mail, tons of it. Why? because folks have moved on to email for correspondence, leaving behind the spammers and the junk.

Google faces the same problem.

Increasingly, folks use tools like Yelp, or Facebook, or Twitter, or now even Quora for quality, human filtered information. The technology facilitates data creation, but your community of friends and trusted sources facilitate the final recommendation.

With all these growing new human powered tools, Google's results seem to be lagging behind in relevance and topicality.

At the same time -- the company is big, and finds itself under criticism from industry skeptics like Peter van der Graaf whose post: "10 Things I Hate About Google!" on searchenginewatch.com suggests that Googles tendencies are those of a "monopolistic dictator." Says van der Graff, "In the unending war between SEO spammers and Google, there are a lot of accidental kills. In most cases, the abusers are flexible and find other weaknesses to exploit. Websites with factors that are mistaken for spam are impacted much harder."

However you feel about Google, it's clear that the volume of data on the web coming from new, unknown, and untrusted sources is challenging for an algorithmically based technology.

Google's response has been to hand-curate out bad sources, and build new auto-filtered sections like the just launched Search Recipes offering. http://www.google.com/landing/recipes/ But here again, Google seems to miss the trend toward social search. Searching for Chicken Pasta (example link) certainly gets less spam, and more recipes - but is that really what we want? Wouldn't we rather be in a community of cooks, like AllRecipies.com where we can share with friends, connect, and learn from other cooks?

The Battle between Humans and Robots continues.

 
 
 

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