Breaking open Google’s big black box

Behold the power and majesty of the almighty Google algorithm. See how it glows even in the brightest sunlight and disappears when you try to touch it. Just don’t ask how it works, cuz it’s a big secret.

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

Big publishers are complaining that Google gives short shrift to the originators of content, favoring the blogosphere over traditional mass media. A story by Nat Ives in today’s Ad Age summarizes the complaints thusly:

Many publishers resent the criteria Google uses to pick top results, starting with the original PageRank formula that depended on how many links a page got. …”You should not have a system,” one content executive said, “where those who are essentially parasites off the true producers of content benefit disproportionately.”

In other words: It’s the repeaters, not the reporters, who get all the hits.

I think they’re absolutely right. There’s something wrong with a system that ranks a blog with “hey, here’s a great story about nuclear-powered chickens” along with a few lines of vapid commentary at the top of the Google hit parade, while the original story about nuclear- powered chickens is buried on page 3 of the search results.

Naturally, some of the beneficiaries of this system – aka, the “A List Bloggers” — beg to differ. Says Steve Rubel at Micro Persuasion:

I thought it was 2009. But when I read this I felt like it was 2004 all over again.  … First, the lines between media and blogs have been obliterated. What’s TechCrunch or Engadget? Sure they are blogs but they run ads. So are they social media or media?  ….[T]here’s no greater friend to media companies than Google and bloggers…  [I]n a world where links rule, the media companies need bloggers as well for traffic, credibility and more.

Now TechCrunch does produce a lot of original content, even if some of it seems pretty suspect at times. Engadget? Much more dependent on other sources for its “news.”

As I write this, for example, the lead story on Engadget is “3D scanner made entirely from Legos.” Engadget didn’t originate this story, they found it on Make. But Make didn’t make the story either; they source it to Dan’s Data Blog (no relation to this Dan). That Dan, in turn, found it on Philohome.com. That seems to where it originated.

Who does Google reward with the hits for this? A search for “Legos 3D scanner” puts BoingBoing’s Gadget pages at the top of the list, followed by Make. Philo’s site? Number 29. The odds of anyone besides me tracking this piece back to the original source: Not bloody likely….

For the rest of this scintillating diatribe, visit the Culture Crash blog, currently residing at Computerworld.

Purchase The Black Box: An Illustrated Guide to Transformation at Blurb.com

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