Thursday, July 12, 2007
Not enough time for the usual in-depth rant (lucky for you)... but jumping off Danny's excellent overview, I will assume that Google found within itself to ratchet down the value of Squidoo pages in the grand scheme of things. These incidents are unfortunate in the sense that anytime an entire publishing platform (like, say, "all blogger blogs") gets treated with undue suspicion, the quality of individual pages could be unfairly downgraded. We really don't know if they tackle such matters with algo tweaks, penalties, or some combination of the same, but if it's largely through penalties or special treatment (in a negative or positive sense) for certain classes or types of site, it leads one to imagine how many "special exceptions" get built into the overall ranking formula.
Anyway, when search engines try to look at this stuff, I think three principles might be at work.
1. Accuracy. If a certain kind of network of sites or pages is getting undue benefit due to the parent site's high standing or pagerank, or due to the interlinking that is improving authority of pages within the network, such that there's an incentive to join the network and create a large number of pages sending traffic to client and affiliate sites until this loophole is closed down (see: blog spam, guest books, link farms....)... then the SE must figure out a way to give the right amount of link juice or authority to pages within the network. How to not throw out the baby with the bathwater? I'd love to hear a detailed explanation of that process! I doubt it's possible.
2. Abuse. Related to the first point. Google sees a common source of abuse, it's just easier to clamp down on it and downgrade the whole lot. Selective downgrading requires a lot more work, although I'm sure there are ways to handle this (sandboxing of individual pages, or whatever).
3. The bigger picture of the known high-traffic universe and how a top SE has to know that universe and constantly evaluate which of the top sources of SE traffic are getting "too much" of the search referral pie. Tall poppies will be scrutinized, and it's this area that seems particularly tough to get a grasp on for those who may still think the Google world is 100% algorithmic. Related: SERP Staples: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
Labels: mahalo, search spam, squidoo
Saturday, June 02, 2007
Peter Hershberg offers a nice reminder to Jason Calacanis' Mahalo that there might have been a few other search plays in history that used an "energetic group of Guides." In addition to About.com and Ask Jeeves (nice catch there, Peter and Danny), I'd cite, er, Go Guides, this list of mostly-defunct "Expert Sites," and of course the former Zeal community. Not to mention Squidoo. Yahoo Answers. Digg, et al. People, people, everywhere; and in some cases, unique technology to leverage their contributions.
Humans do scale, of course, in the sense that there are billions of user behavior decisions every month, and a smaller universe of editorial judgments being made. From PageRank to Wikipedia to Usenet to Slashdot to the Yahoo Directory, search engines, vertical communities, and widely-based human-edited web plays [see Traffick article "Are These Verticals Too Horizontal? The Slow Death of Mega-Guide Sites] have always tried to leverage editorial judgments, communities of meaning, and the value of expertise and passions.
I think a really good question for any startup to ask today has to be: in spirit, how much more sophisticated or useful is your plan than Jerry Yang's collection of favorite links in 1994?
Mahalo will become part of a huge trend that's been ongoing since the dawn of web search tools and web directories. Is it any better or even as good as the many mentioned above? If it turns out to be, it'll be because it reached a critical mass of users, and found better ways to ferret out the problem of "smuggled spam" -- the gradual deterioration in editorial standards that happens to unrigorously-edited web properties in a world that respects editorial integrity so little that Pay-Per-Post is seen as mainstream. If all goes well, it will succeed in some verticals only because of their uncommon quality.
And that's no different than many that have come before. An open web platform allows quality stuff to get out there, whether or not it's found on a particular secondary layer that purports to do a better job of sorting it. Mahalo might become as well known as LookSmart, or The Drudge Report. Either way, as Hershberg argues, it's going to be scrapping hard over 1% market share.
If there's any takeaway from the launch of Mahalo, it's a reminder that without any humans at all exercising editorial judgments but also judgments on how to structure the look and feel of results pages, you get a jumbled mess in response to a search query. Google and other leading search engines a combination of user experience producers and algorithmic methods of determining query intent. One of the best things about companies like AOL and MSN (and in its unique way, Yahoo) for the mainstream user, was always the sense of "consumer editorial responsibility" on common queries. Mahalo is a reminder to these companies that they should be actively recruiting editorial personnel, and continuing to heavily produce the portions of useful search query result pages on popular queries that are family friendly, consumer friendly, educational, useful, etc. More packaged answer sets, less jumble and clutter, is a great way to stand out in the subset of society that prefers these.
Huge opportunity: such results sets are also mobile-friendly. More on this later...
Perhaps then, when Ask allowed the "algorithm to kill Jeeves," it zigged when it should have zagged. If you're going to be scrapping over 1% market share, with the potential for growth if you hit a real nerve out there, why not go out in style? If I were Mahalo, in addition to working on technological innovation and community-building, I'd use at least some of the lavish funding to attract marquee writers and journalists for high-profile editorial oversight. This would give them a chance to beat the NYT-owned About.com at its own game.
Labels: ask jeeves, mahalo, odp, search engines, yahoo
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