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How the web tries and sometimes fail to be telepathic

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The web had evolved a lot, over its short lifespan starting as a military network meant for the US. Since then, the web have been the de facto way to share and exchange information. It was not before long, some genius came along the way and thought; why not make the web more interactive and bring people together socially via the web?

Then we have the smart people like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame who, in my opinion, brought Web 2.0 truly acceptable to the masses. With interactivity as the cornerstone for Web 2.0, Facebook is a pretty good example of popularizing social networking online. By means of introducing a highly interactive platform for groups of people to share thoughts as “status updates”, and tag faces in photos to names, Facebook is indeed highly addictive and insanely popular. Even my 50 year old mom who can’t grasp operation of a computer mouse knows what Facebook is!

However, we are currently at the dawn of the next evolution of the internet. Known as the “Semantic Web” or “Web 3.0”, the next iteration of internet aims to have telepathic powers in predicting behaviors of web users, and then serving them with the relevant and related information in one fell swoop.

One of the earliest attempt to read user’s mind, in my opinion, was the Google’s search algorithm – the engine that powers Google’s search. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders and creators of Google attempted to produce an engine that produces search results that is ranked according to the relevancy of the user’s search.

Larry Page & Sergey Brin, founders of Google, and creators of Google’s search engine. (Click for Bloomberg’s Game Changers documentary, profiling the duo)

Back in days, competing search engines would only return search results with search terms on it. Ranking searches were as rudimentary as the frequency the searched term would appear in that page. These methods of returning search results were not efficient, often returning results that contained the searched terms, but were completely out of context. As described by Bloomberg’s documentary series Game Changers; users, who for example, search about buying used cars, would get results of newspaper articles about used car sales people.

What Google did as compared to older breed of search engines, was to consider the amount of hyperlinks that linked to particular pages. Also known as back links, the higher amount of links pointing to a page, the more relevant other users considered the page to be, hence higher in importance.

Although this concept might sound common sense to users today, it was considered revolutionary, because this is the basics of trying to understand the psyche search engine users.

With this much said, Google’s search engine must be a marksman of sorts, hitting the bullseye every time you search?

No!

The key advantage of Google’s offering versus competitors at that time was it’s ability to anticipate search user’s intent, by exploiting the principal of counting the amount of back links to rank page relevancy.

 

New York Times article titled “A Bully finds a pulpit on the web”. (Click for the NYTimes link to this article)

A recent New York Times article describes a disgruntled internet shopper who began her hunt for a pair of spectacles with Google ended up being conned, threatened, and unable to recover her money from the soured deal.

How can that be possible, one might ask, if she were to purchase her spectacles from a page ranked high up when she searches for spectacles retailers on Google? Given that the higher ranked the page is, the more chatter there is on this retailer on the internet.

It appears that DecorMyEyes.com, the frivolous retailer, exploited Google’s way of ranking searches by intentionally souring deals and intentionally providing bad customer service.

Mr Stanley Bolds, the person running DecorMyEyes.com, explained in the article that he occasionally incite bad customer experience to his advantage. Working on the principle that bad news travels faster and further then good news, he sour deals, anticipating his customers to do mass postings of their soured deals on many bulletin boards and on customer advocacy sites like GetSatisfaction.com.

He explained that when customers complain en masses, customers are actually helping to raise DecorMyEyes.com’s profile. Google, for one, will rank DecorMyEyes.com higher in this case, because of the many customer postings on many sites to vent their anger and to warn others of their plight.

The fallacy of Google’s page ranking system can be seen clearly here, given the fact that Google does not take in account if these postings on various bulletin boards and/or consumer rights advocacy sites are positive or negative. It simply counts the number of back links and rank page relevancy as accordingly.

Although Google’s search system of trying to anticipate search user’s needs when performing a search, it is not perfect.

But, that very initiative of developing a smarter search engine, is the first step towards “Semantic Web”. However, a lot more polishing work is required for a mature Web 3.0 experience, because it is never easy to predict the psyche of people.

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Written by garygoh

January 23, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. […] Google’s approach to pageranking, as of now, it is not a fool proof approach, and like I’ve outlined previously; far from perfection. But if anyone could get this formula right in marrying the prediction of […]


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