October 31, 2007

Google now has Pagerank In != Pagerank Out ?

I sat out the Great Google PageRank Massacre Of October 2007 during last week, where several sites, including some high-ranking blogs, saw their PageRank displayed as dramatically lower than usually (the best example was the front page of YouTube supposedly going down to a score of 3/10, a level which can usually easily be achieved by a minor blog - that was an amusing proof that at least some changes were not due to Google hand-editing results). I thought I'd wait for the data to settle before examining it. What was so interesting during the initial part of the uproar was The Silence Of The Googlers (i.e. the people who work for Google). Not a peep, and that spoke loudly.

Also significant, nobody seemed to reliably report any ill-effects from the change. Given that blogs were affected, there was of course plenty of noise, but nothing major.

Then the oracle of 'plex spoke, saying:

The partial update to visible PageRank that went out a few days ago was primarily regarding PageRank selling and the forward links of sites. So paid links that pass PageRank would affect our opinion of a site.

Going forward, I expect that Google will be looking at additional sites that appear to be buying or selling PageRank.

I speculate that Google has now formalized what they've been doing crudely before, and separated the quantities of PageRank-for-ranking and PageRank-for-transmitting. Before, if a site had a high "in" PageRank, that meant the site had a temptation to sell it. Now, a site's "out" PageRank may be minimal, now matter what the incoming linkage. As a bonus, displaying the "out" PageRank will make the displayed data even more confusing.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on October 31, 2007 09:06 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
October 24, 2007

My _Guardian_ column - a letter to Lessig on "corruption"


"A modern version of snake-oil hucksterism is invoking 'the internet' as a cheap simplistic remedy for political malaise."

This time around, I can live with the title they gave it - "We have nothing to fear, except those who have something to sell". Though the column is really more about my own fear that Lawrence Lessig's corruption studying would fall victim to the siren song of net evangelism.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather , press | on October 24, 2007 08:30 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (5)
October 23, 2007

My stance on "Net Neutrality" - I'm staying OUT

With yet another "Net Neutrality" brouhaha in full swing, I think it's finally time I did a public post declaring my own, if not exactly neutrality, profound disinterest in being "used".

My executive summary: If Google/Yahoo/etc. OR the telcos, want me to act as a lobbyist for them, they can pay me, at lobbyist rates. No unpaid lobbyist work. Rich companies on either side do not need my help. And while it may be my undoing, I'm not going to join up for the dubious PR.

This whole issue is driven by a fight between content-providers versus telecommunications companies over who will pay for the cost of upgrades to network infrastructure. The telecommunications companies want to pit the content-providers against each other, essentially in an auction for best service, and hence extract more money. The content-providers don't want to play that game, and want to make sure the telecommunications companies can't even try it.

This is worth BILLIONS of dollars, and both parties know it. You can see the lobbying money in all the astroturf and camp-followers. But it's got nothing to do with freedom, democracy, or making little girls cry because their website is slow.

It's not for me.

Pre-emptive: Please don't try to recruit me with the pitch that without Net Neutrality, the telecos could impose censorware. They already can. In fact, there's already a specific non-net-neutrality censorware provision in US law for the telecos, that dates from the 1996 Communications Decency Act: "Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material":

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on of account

(A) any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or ...

I've heard this pitch from a few people in the past, one I'm confident was well-intentioned, another I have my doubts about. Which sort of tells you the level of the debate.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on October 23, 2007 02:52 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (17)
October 19, 2007

Comcast and BitTorrent

There is something really strange going on here, but it's extremely difficult to tell what it is.

A story's going around about the Comcast high-speed internet service allegedly interfering with user's ability to use BitTorrent. I recently had occasion to download a large Linux distribution (sigh, note this is completely legal), and so saw the problem firsthand. There's definitely a network issue somewhere.

But ... it's very subtle. And given the intense politicization of anything have to do with so-called "Net Neutrality", I have to confess I'm deeply put-off from getting involved. It looks like we're in for yet other round of extensive political campaigning drowning out any real analysis of the technical issue.

[Update: See Richard Bennett's posts]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on October 19, 2007 02:17 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)
October 17, 2007

Wikipedia, SEO, and "co-"founder porn history

[How's that for bait!]

seroundtable.com: Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers & Answer Sharing

I want to extract this gem from the article for some examination (and note they said it not me!):

Wikipedia has its own politics: Jimmy Wales doesn't like being "co-"founder of Wikipedia so his friends try to make the edits. He also wants to bury his history in the porno industry. But the rest of us know - or we do now.

I've sometimes wondered if that "Bomis Babe Report" project has become a classic case of "It's not the crime, it's the cover-up". Or alternatively, if contrary to the previous, Wales is demonstrating that sometimes taking a few hits for suppressing a story can be worth it, to avoid even greater embarrassment.

Given the breadth of human sexuality which can be found on the Net, I find it hard to get worked-up over someone once having been involved in pimping nudie pics (err ... puns unintended). But if you're trying to build a marketing image of doing it all for the starving children of Africa, it does seem to be a problem in terms of public relations. I really can't find any evidentiary basis to decide whether the attempted "cover-up" is overall worthwhile or not.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on October 17, 2007 11:10 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
October 15, 2007

"When US-made 'censorware' ends up in iron fists"

Excellent article: When US-made 'censorware' ends up in iron fists, not the least because I'm quoted

"Some people say [censorware] is ineffective because dissidents can get around it," says Seth Finkelstein, a programmer and anticensorship activist. "I say political control doesn't have to be 100 percent to be effective. Controlling the ability of the vast majority of the population to see outside information is still very effective for the goals of the totalitarian regime."

And it's an accurate quote. In the course of conversation, I gave a version with parallelism "Some people say censorware is ineffective because dissidents can get around it, some people say censorware is effective because only dissidents will get around it". But the version used is just fine.

It's good to see that the connections between censorware companies and repressive governments is continuing to make news.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware , press | on October 15, 2007 12:06 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)
October 12, 2007

Gore's Peace Prize And Hits To My Debunking Page

The Nobel Peace Prize to Gore and IPCC was sure to drive many hits to my site for my page of Al Gore "invented the Internet" - resources. So I thought I'd check the numbers:

Unique_IPs: 2259

Top five referers:

google.com - 1603 (71% !)
unknown - 177
Other googles - 194
Other search engines - 180
en.wikipedia.org - 19

It's better than zero. Still, it's not clear it actually does much good.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on October 12, 2007 11:58 PM | (Infothought permalink)
October 10, 2007

"Everyone's Guide to By-Passing Internet Censorship"

Echo: Everyone's Guide to By-Passing Internet Censorship for Citizens Worldwide

[Via Ronald Deibert]

Internet censorship, or content filtering, has become a major global problem.

Whereas once it was assumed that states could not control Internet communications, according to research by the OpenNet Initiative (http//opennet.net) more than 25 countries now engage in Internet censorship practices. Those with the most pervasive filtering policies have been found to routinely block access to human rights organizations, news, blogs, and web services that challenge the status quo or are deemed threatening or undesirable. Others block access to single categories of Internet content, or intermittently to specific websites or network services to coincide with strategic events, such as elections or public demonstrations.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on October 10, 2007 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink)

Navel-Gazing Traffic-Chasing Echo-Chambering Post

I'll chase today's TechMeme discussion about blog traffic (h/t Nick Carr) since it'll give me a context to make a few points (which are mostly for my meager audience ...).

One of the futilities of blogging is that the same simple ideas get brought up over and over, in an endless cycle of hype and deflation. In this case, traffic from a trade journal can be numerically inferior but demographically superior, than a broader site. A large amount of data-smog is being generated today in restating this triviality, because of the cycle of hype the trade journal for its dedicated readers, then someone else points out it's not that much in raw traffic, then others counter it's good demographics.

Of course, the problem with being a Z-lister is that you likely don't get echoed either by the trade journal or the broader sites, so BigHeads debating the merits of the two is rather beside the point for everyone else. As well as the obvious aspect that the types of appearance are not exclusive, and one can lead to the other.

Oh, then in reaction to the above, there will be the people who will pipe up and say, be happy singing in the shower, talking to the crickets, writing away unheard except for a tiny fan audience. There's a lot of these, since they're basically the largest group which remains :-(.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on October 10, 2007 10:10 AM | (Infothought permalink)
October 08, 2007

Google Hand-Editing Results In Spirit Now? (to penalize link-selling)

Danny Sullivan - Official: Selling Paid Links Can Hurt Your PageRank Or Rankings On Google

"If you sell links, Google might indeed penalize your site plus drop the PageRank score that shows for it."

I've long defended the basic accuracy of the statement "Google doesn't hand-edit results". Now, that statement obviously can't be true in the most extreme sense, otherwise they couldn't ever throw out spammers. And certainly they'll country-blacklist illegal sites. But I've been against making an reductio ad absurdum interpretation of such a statement, and then knocking down a strawman. That's not useful.

There were also lesser spam penalties. Arguably, that was merely caught up in an algorithmic sweep. But now (my emphasis):

Google stressed, by the way, that the current set of PageRank decreases is not assigned completely automatically; the majority of these decreases happened after a human review. That should help prevent false matches from happening so easily

I don't want to create false incentives, and human review is good of course. Yet I can't help thinking that we've now crossed a line here. Perhaps with the best of intentions, for the most worthy of reasons. But still, we're now on the other side of some divide.

Now, there really is someone sitting in a room thinking along the lines of : "Hmm, the algorithm says you have Pagerank 9, but looking at your site, you're using your pagerank-powers for link-profit, so let's turn it down a few notches, perhaps to Pagerank 7, so it's not quite as attractive. If in the future you prove to be a more moral vessel of our power, we may restore you to full strength."

That's a change. Good or bad, it's different from what's been the case before.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on October 08, 2007 09:36 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)
October 03, 2007

My _Guardian_ column on Dan Rather "Killian Memos" CBS lawsuit


"In war, truth is the first casualty. And that's being proven many times over in ongoing controversies about George W. Bush's Vietnam-era military record."

I think I made some reasonably original points. Unfortunately, this is another case where the title they gave it ("Is it easier to believe the bloggers now rather than the journalists?") was askew from the point I was actually trying to make in the column. It's about the issue of finding truth (not the nature of truth). And an attempt to dig into what really happened with the CBS scandal, rather than echo bloggers-vs-journalists.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in press | on October 03, 2007 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink)
October 01, 2007

Debunking AT&T Censoring Criticism Via Terms-Of-Service

[I wrote this for a mailing list, in a futile shouting against the wind. Sigh. Why bother? It's a bad habit. [sad face image] ]

Please folks, whenever an it's-an-outrage campaign starts going around, do the following: Type a few words into a search engine, try to ignore the echoes, and see if there's anything to it. If not, say "There isn't anything to this". I understand the social process where one gets reputation-points for extremism, and can even lose for critical thinking. But we should be better than the geek version of talk-radio dittoheads.

Like this:


This shows that a TOS clause about "damage the name or reputation" is a common boilerplate, and has nothing to with AT&T trying to supposedly CENSOR CRITICISM. It took me around a minute to find that.

I used to think this sort wolf-crying needed to be affirmatively opposed because it reflected badly on net activism. Now I've come to believe I'm just not cut out for politics.


Verizon : Policies Prevent No One from Speaking Out about VZ

AT&T statement

Oh, and my message above eventually got rejected by the mailing-list's moderator]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on October 01, 2007 11:37 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (8)