Monday, August 08, 2005

Reasonable examination of blog search tools

There are so many excellent posts being written about how blogs get found and which blogs float to the top.

Some are highly analytical (even if "not rigorous to be called findings") like those by danah boyd and Mary Hodder. Some are more anecdotal, but still have plenty to add to the conversation, like Seth Finkelstein and Shelley Powers.

And all of this talk and tempest around some relatively new companies and their tools makes me wonder why people don't get as up in arms about discussing the algorithms behind general Internet search tools. Oh yes, people occasionally compare their positions on Google vs. MSN vs. Yahoo search, but there's little accusation associated with those comparisons.

Why is that?

Because although all general search tools also use links and relevancy to rank their results, there are some key things the general search tools don't do:

1. They don't amp your results if you agree to put little ads for them in every post (which is what I basically consider Technorati tags to be.)

2. They don't require you to constantly ping them to ensure you get proper rankings. They consider it their job to find you and in fact discourage methods of "gaming" the system.

3. Most important: they don't provide an accounting of the links they are using to calculate their rankings.

Why is this last one important...because it removes the incentive to link to sites simply to get their attention and potential links back. Look, from a publisher's perspective it's great to see who's linking to you. Understood. But it also encourages people to link to the "top" blogs because a) they hope to be noticed by said blogs and b) when someone looks at the top blogs, they can see who's linking to them, and the linker will be on that list...and therefore might hope to be noticed that way too, even if said top blog doesn't link back to them.

The point of counting links is to calculate relevancy. But the results are distorted because the very transparency of the web of linking in the blog community encourages dishonest linking patterns. [On that note, and only half satirically: I have to say that probably the greatest service Robert Scoble has ever done the blogging community is to stop pulling over into his link-blog every single reference ever made to his name.]

I know it's heretical to make any argument for opacity in the blog environment, but a little more of it might lead to more authenticity in our blogging, and in the search tools for blogs.

What a wonderful invention it is, this thing we call the Internet!
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