If you use Google, you will want to use a different primary search engine after reading this. The Google page rank concept provides defective searches that can leave out the very information you are seeking, and ignore the work of dedicated web authors. Like most people, I never paid a whole lot of attention how google ranked sites in searches, and I just assumed that it was based on content with a few other factors tossed in to keep the scammers and spammers from rising through the ranks. I now know more, and I believe that the criteria it uses is fatally flawed and is destroying itself.
A few years back, I posted an extensive history of an area in Vermont
called "Bolton Falls" on one of my websites. That work was lauded by
the local historical society, and has remained available on the web since then with very few changes. It is a student friendly site with no advertisements and no hidden attempts to tweak the google ranking. It is simply good solid information about the area.
Yesterday, I decided to see if there was any new information on the
web about that area that I needed to include on the pages, so I
plugged "Bolton Falls" into the google search engine. As expected, I
didn't see anything that looked like new information. What was
unexpected was that my site, which is _by far_ the most informative on the subject, had dropped in rank to the ONE-HUNDRED NINETEENTH listed, right after the site that got listed for the phrase "Except maybe if Michael Bolton falls off a cliff or something"
Another extensive set of pages on my site concerns the "Mount
Mansfield Electric Railroad" Using that rare quoted search term,
my site on the subject ranks 15th, right after a couple of other secondary search engine listings that listed my site themselves, for the use of the words "snowplow" and "lumberyard"
Just to make sure that the world hadn't gone totally crackers, I did a
Yahoo search on the two phrases. My sites came up as the number one
and number three choices, as I had expected, and as had been the case
on google previously.
What this comparative search for my sites on different search engines points out is the horrendous mess that Google has made out of its search engine, degrading it from the number one choice in searching the net to something less useful than Billy-Bob's Search-o-rama and Goat Cheese Outlet.
Google depends on "PageRank." ( a registered trademark)
PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using
its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page's value.
In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote,
by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume
of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that
casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves "important"
weigh more heavily and help to make other pages "important."
Important, high-quality sites receive a higher PageRank, which Google
remembers each time it conducts a search. Of course, important pages
mean nothing to you if they don't match your query. So, Google
combines PageRank with sophisticated text-matching techniques to find
pages that are both important and relevant to your search. Google goes
far beyond the number of times a term appears on a page and examines
all aspects of the page's content (and the content of the pages
linking to it) to determine if it's a good match for your query.
Translation: Google has changed the search engine concept from being a place where you get ranked based on the quality and quantity of your information, to one where you get ranked based on how many friends are willing to link to you and what other esoteric algorithms its programmers can dream up.
Popularity ranking does not work with many subjects, because reality exists independently of popularity, and is not achieved by common consensus. As Google grows further away from its roots, it becomes more bizarre in ranking pages. That is a failing that is further substantiated by google itself. Quote:
9/16/2005 12:54:00 PM
Posted by Marissa Mayer, Director of Consumer Web Products
If you do a Google search on the word [failure] or the phrase
[miserable failure], the top result is currently the White House’s
official biographical page for President Bush. We've received some
complaints recently from users who assume that this reflects a
political bias on our part. I'd like to explain how these results come
up in order to allay these concerns.
Google's search results are generated by computer programs that rank
web pages in large part by examining the number and relative
popularity of the sites that link to them. By using a practice called
googlebombing, however, determined pranksters can occasionally produce
odd results. In this case, a number of webmasters use the phrases
[failure] and [miserable failure] to describe and link to President
Bush's website, thus pushing it to the top of searches for those
phrases. We don't condone the practice of googlebombing, or any other
action that seeks to affect the integrity of our search results, but
we're also reluctant to alter our results by hand in order to prevent
such items from showing up. Pranks like this may be distracting to
some, but they don't affect the overall quality of our search service,
whose objectivity, as always, remains the core of our mission.
What google is attempting to justify and foist on the public as a legitimate search tool is the rule of the mob, where thought, logic, and science play second fiddle to the whim of the moment and the popular fetish. In a peculiar way, it is an anti-Snopes, and Ayn Rand's worst nightmare, where unfounded rumor can be linked to rumor, and the herd of sheep that follow the rumor give credence to the rumor by adding more hits and creating more links.
The "prank" of the "miserable failure" googlebomb exposes the issue.
Until the "prank" appelation was used, such blips were called loftily called "the mind of the web." by Google. They are no more the mind of the web or a schoolboy prank than the mind of a rock or the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The anomalies are representative of the perversities of humanity and Google's ranking system. The real miserable failure is the google search engine, and the way that it lacks the critical thinking skills of a tiny Vermont trout, which can determine what is food and what is a worm on a string designed to hook attention.
Group intelligence IS a valid theory. However, it only is valid under certain specific constraints and it creates its own problems. A group of plumbers is unlikely to choose the best site for gingham dresses. A group of kids (the largest part of the music market) is unlikely to promote Frank Sinatra sites. When a large mob co-opts a word or series of words on Google, a smaller mob gets shoved to the bottom of the rankings. I guess that works, in moderation, but certainly not as a primary search criteria.
Another fallacy of a popularity based search engine, such as Google, is that it is self-feeding and self-aggrandizing. As a site becomes more popular, more sites link to it, and hope for links from it. The quality of content soon becomes irrelevant compared to the number of links, dumping the lesser linked sites, as has happened with my websites.
As a user of the web, I have found one of the fascinating parts of the web is that it is a huge library of knowledge with minimal filtering by those groups that are constantly seeking to filter and censor what people see. Google has turned that library into a bookstore of the most popular subjects, with money and relationships as the key filters. The geeky kid who puts up a page on how he can solve the energy crunch, and who just might have a good idea, is crushed in Google rankings behind the usual suspects. The twit who has a webcam movie of his skill at flipping bottlecaps into the mouth of his nude girlfriend gets top billing.
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the greatest
popularity equals the best choice in a search. However, television, motion pictures, and radio have all proven that popularity depends on dumbing down subject matter and playing instead to emotions, sex, broad slapstick and horror. Those are what make money and sell commercials, and that is where google is heading.
Galileo was not thinking the popular choice when he re-asserted that the earth rotated the sun. Pasteur was not promoting the popular choice when he told doctors to wash their hands. Popularity is a transient phenomenon. Betamax was popular at one point in time. Eight track tapes were popular at one point.
Do I think the lack of proper ranking of my web pages is Google's fault? Hell, yes.
Google designed the ranking system it uses, and it claims to be a
useful search engine. It is NOT my responsibility as a web page author to kiss Google's feet and whine "Oh please give me a better ranking, oh great Google." It is Google's responsibility to both users and web authors to provide useful and intelligent searches.
When you search using Google, it is currently behaving like an uncle who, when you mention your car having a steering problem in hopes of tapping his expertise, launches into his story of "Back when I had my 1952 Plymouth..." Neither he nor Google understand the importance of staying with a subject, and shutting up about favorite stories.
The simple solution for Google is to change the weighting of factors to provide a more balanced view. Google has taken an extreme and claimed it as proper and normal. I've learned over the years that extremes usually end up in disaster, and do no service other than showing how bad extremes are.
Galileo summarized the problem with this type of ranking long ago:
"I seem to discern the belief that in philosophizing one must support
oneself on the opinion of some celebrated author, as if our minds
ought to remain completely sterile and barren unless wedded to the
reasoning of someone else." That was not the case then, and is not the case now, yet Google holds by that credo, and hails the rule of the mediocre and those who know how to manipulate the mediocre.
When I use a search engine, I expect it to search based on content. If Google can't do that with something as obvious as the examples I just gave, then there is no reason for me to trust it to do any better on any other subject.
There are a number of alternate search engines available, such as Yahoo, Vivisimo, and others. Please do yourself a favor, and use them.MORE IN RTD
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