Comments: Google "Farmer" Update Blesses Wikipedia, Curses Mahalo, Centralization

I despise Jimmy Wales; I despise Wikipedia bureaucrats, particularly deletionists; but when I do a Google search on a random topic that I want a gloss of, I almost always want the Wikipedia page for that topic. I think Google's algorithm is giving good results by placing Wikipedia so highly; I disagree with your implication that there is some kind of unsavoury collusion going on between Google and Wikipedia - in fact, I think a claim like that would be laughable on its face.

Search engines can't be "neutral"; they are by necessity majoritarian, which is not a neutral stance (it penalizes minorities). But that's not a flaw; that's a good thing.

Posted by Barry Kelly at March 1, 2011 06:29 AM

Oh, and the guys over at that "Concurring Opinions" should look into things like the groupthink behind New York Times and Washington Post way ahead of search results as a source of hidden biases. Mainstream media with its superficial and biased eclecticism in what it covers is far more damaging... "Concurring" opinions masquerading as facts are one of the most pernicious of dangers.

Posted by Barry Kelly at March 1, 2011 06:36 AM

I think you're missing my overall point about centralization driven by algorithmic choices. No implication about illegal collusion is intended, but that should not be the end of thought. I suggest reading the full article on search neutrality, since common objections are addressed.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at March 1, 2011 08:11 AM

I'm inclined to agree with your concern about centralization. However, I'm not yet confident in the implication to be drawn from this data. (Putting aside particulars, and thinking about a theoretical long tail type distribution, I would expect that demoting "spam" would favor everyone else in proportion to which they are already favored.) But I'm not much up on SEO analysis/metrics.

In any case, with respect to Wikipedia, I think it odd to say Google is "subsidizing" Wikipedia when one could also say Google is "appropriating value" from Wikipedia. I suppose both are true if by subsidies one is speaking of attention, and by appropriation it is a non-rivalrous type of consumption.

Also, if you are referring to me by way of civility/community hucksterism/hype, my argument is in the context of the Zeroeth Law (how could Wikipedia work at all?), Godwin's law (given that people are often jerks online), and the myth of wiki-pixiedust (so it must simply be the gee-whiz technology).

If one defines success simply as page views, Wikipedia reaps the effects of Google's algorithms, no doubt, as does everyone else. If by success one means a civil community or higher quality articles, it's possible that Wikipedia would've faired better without the prominence provided by Google. (If it wasn't always in the top 5 returns, perhaps it wouldn't be such a target for POV pushing.)

Posted by Joseph Reagle at March 2, 2011 07:21 AM

Joseph, correct me if I'm mistaken, but I don't believe your argument considers the Google subsidy effect at all. At the core, you simply have a well-worn virtue narrative, where success is attributed to the moral platitudes of the successful. This is even worse than "gee-whiz technology", it's an old type of toadyism to the powerful.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at March 3, 2011 10:29 AM

I think the main difference between Wikipedia and the other content farms is their approval process. It is almost impossible to edit Wikipedia with "staying" power because of the community and their approval process. Google recognizes this and the fact that that their content is the most current is the main difference. Also, they only have 1 page dedicated to a certain topic, while most content farms have multiple, which makes them much larger.

Posted by Tony at March 3, 2011 05:11 PM