Monday, March 23, 2009

Is Page Rank Part of a Nutritious, Well-Balanced Internet?

An interesting post in the Insider, highlights an issue with Google that I believe will not go away. The rules behind Google's Page Rank are completely non-transparent and must be ferreted out by SEO deep-divers, who spend their careers trying to reverse engineer the page rank system. Where the rules are known, as the media companies are claiming, the SEO arbitrageurs and secondary content providers get precedence over paid content.

In a free market, Google would clearly be incentivized to adapt its product - search results - to the demands of the market. However, their effective monopoly means they do not have to respond to market demand. This is a thorny situation. I have spoken with some search experts who believe that an open Page Rank algorthim would destroy the internet and the highest ranked content for any subject would be the most precisely sculpted to meet the Page Rank rules and neither the most useful nor relevant. The most professional paid content with the biggest marketing budgets behind it, would then bubble up to the first page and the Wikipedias et al, would be relegated to the second tier. The fear is that the the fundamental openess, democracy and neutrality of the internet would be destroyed.

I do not wish to see the internet destroyed and the long tail of content remain perpetually in the margins. However, unless a big external disruptor arises soon, I do feel that that the time is coming when the all-powerful Page Rank will come under stricter scrutiny, especially given the current administration's predilection for transparency.
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