Comments: Daniel Brandt (Scroogle, Google Watch) on Google ranking anomalies

I guess you can add me to the Renold's Wrap brigade. We are also seeing things that suggest "hand jobs" in how google approaches certain areas of their search algorithm. To wit, have a look at how [bastard] behaves in searches with various levels of filtering.

Posted by Tony Comstock at November 17, 2008 06:37 PM

I think this is absolutely correct (at least the parts we can verify, and even the speculations are probably true as well) but the problem is that most people are not yet in a frame of mind where they can even consider that there's a problem with Google.

Too many people think that if some product or service is the industry leader, then it *must* be giving people what they want or need the most. And similarly that if sites are showing up top-ranked in Google, then it must be because Google is serving its users efficiently, therefore those sites must be what users are most likely to want. This idea that "the marketplace works" is an article of faith among libertarians but a lot of people who do not call themselves libertarians, still seem to believe it to some degree.

I spend most of my Slashdot articles trying, as a general rule, to warn people about possible "market failures", meaning, not stock market crashes, but places where the marketplace will not deliver the best result. When AOL was going to charge senders a half a penny per message in order to bypass their spam filters, lots of defenders like Esther Dyson said that, hey, if it's a bad idea, the marketplace will let it fail automatically. It took a huge PR effort by groups like the EFF to get people to realize there was a real problem here, that market forces wouldn't solve the problem on their own because users wouldn't know about the messages they were missing.

Hammer it home wherever possible: the marketplace does not *necessarily* deliver the optimal result. Under certain conditions, it will. When those conditions are not met, it might not. You're doing great at making that point in this particular situation. Maybe if enough people hear it enough times, they'll have more healthy skepticism about the results that the marketplace delivers.

Posted by Bennett Haselton at November 17, 2008 06:56 PM

Google rankings are fascinating to watch.

Does anyone actually believe that the majority of humans searching for soap are looking for the computer protocol?

If you look at both the wikipedia and the Google side of SOAP over the last few weeks, I believe that there is some manual tinkering going on at Google to 'juice up' the computer protocol.

Posted by Duk at November 17, 2008 09:01 PM

Seth, if this is spamming your blog, please feel free to remove the comment. However, I've just thrown together a little YouTube video that demonstrates how my little wiki site (Google PageRank 4/10 for the home page) has managed to grossly manipulate Google (and Yahoo) search results, with no undue effort on our part. It's to our site users' advantage, so I am definitely not complaining. But, still, it is a queer phenomenon to see a tiny, four-sentence page about the Industrial Age appear #1 on a Yahoo search that returns over 20 million results. Here is the video:

Posted by Gregory Kohs at November 18, 2008 09:16 AM

I think people are worried about the wrong things.

1) it is google's site and they can do what they want, unless you will edit your site(s) to suit wikipedia and others with an interest if they don't like what you show
2) if you really think they are an effective monopoly in need of restraint you should go to the Federal Trade Commission
and get them regulated as a monopoly
3) you have demonstrated evidence of manual adjustment but not indicated the harm done
4) do others (yahoo et al) do anything similar

Yahoo dodgy practice 1: down here in Australia, yahoo has tied up with one of the 3 big tv channels. They don't list a website for the "lead" shows, they say go to yahoo and search for it. No manual tweaking?

It may be a fight worth fighting. But for what an open admission by google that yes they manually edit results for "commercial reasons" - have a blacklist - for stuff that they don't think people want. What outcome do you want - a published blacklist? Published algorithm/code?

If you believe they are abusing "monopoly" power - address it that way.

"We need more transparency from Google, and we need it now, before the situation becomes even more suspicious. "
Major corporation abuses power of system for profit and suppress dissent is hardly news.

Be more concerned that many people are too stupid to do anything other than google it. Unfortunately fixes for that are hard to come by.

Posted by tqft at November 20, 2008 01:03 AM

I don't think google will roll over and die on this.

"We canceled the deal with about one hour to go before a lawsuit was going to be filed against our deal," Schmidt said. "We concluded after a lot of soul-searching that it was not in our best interest to go through a lengthy and costly trial which we believe we ultimately would have won."

"It's not that an antitrust suit would suddenly clarify things for advertisers. The nature of the system is that it's far too complex for Joe The Advertiser to grasp - even with algorithms in hand. But if Google were forced to open its virtual books, we would know whether it's limiting impressions for advertisers low on the totem pole, creating a kind of artificial scarcity where the prices are cheap. And we would know just how much the Mountain Viewers can juice revenues with a few algorithmic tweaks."

Posted by tqft at November 20, 2008 09:06 PM

"The nature of the system is that it's far too complex for Joe The Advertiser to grasp even with algorithms in hand"

I'm having trouble grasping why algorithm treat [penis] and [clitoris] so differently. Under strict filtering there are 30,000,000 for [penis] and zero for [clitoris].

Sounds like more than a handjob to me -- more like digital FGM!

Posted by Tony Comstock at November 21, 2008 03:41 PM

For gmail users enjoying some of the gmail features
what alternatives are there to switch to from gmail ?... that offer similar features without the problematical aspects of gmail

There's didn't appear to be alternatives recommended !... at

Posted by thezzak at November 24, 2008 02:17 AM