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Google and the Web Democracy  (View post)

Katinka Hesselink [PersonRank 2]

Monday, January 22, 2007
11 years ago3,233 views

Aaron Wall wrote in SEOBOOK today on how SEO is probably going to move in the direction of 'communities'. That is: that the circle of related websites that link to you are going to weigh in more in relation to how you rank. As opposed to 'overall authority' (his words). I hope that is not going to be the case because that directly effects the impartiality of google. ... Your Martin Luther King story ties into that. If only sites related directly to Martin Luther King and the freedom movement in the US got counted, this site would never have stood a chance at getting on top. Minority standpoints do deserve the chance of the top-10 (not the top 1) I think. That implies that outside of spam and unreal votes (though those are hard to count), as many thoughts as possible need to be counted by google, to establish 'trust'. Not just the most closely related 'community'.

Nicholas Carlson [PersonRank 0]

11 years ago #

The fault for martinlutherkingdotorg lies with librarians. There's also been effort from many bloggers to link bomb the site down in the rankings. Here's the latest in my reporting: ...

Thanks for covering this issue, too.

Anonymous Googler [PersonRank 0]

11 years ago #

Philipp, thank you for a very good article.

Milly [PersonRank 10]

11 years ago #

Wow, Philipp, that's a meaty post – I'm with you on so much of what you say there (be 'good' and responsible; resist both censorship and the tyranny of the majority; etc), but perhaps we should go farther in pursuit of neutrality. I can't help feeling that we've been subtly corrupted by Google's influence (benign of intent though it has been) as if Google's huge mass has shifted our centre of gravity. I'll try to explain that by challenging some of your assumptions (but please remember my opening sentence!)

You say, most eloquently, and I agree, that we should be democratic in our link 'votes', even when the outcome may be unpalatable. So why should online publishers' linking policy be *anything* other than to convert all URLs into ordinary (clickable, un-'nofollow'ed) hyperlinks[1], for the ease of reference/navigation of our readers?

Why should our 'vote' be anything other than that the link is *interesting* to us/our readers (which it must be, almost always, by definition, if we're writing about it)?

Why should we be trying to impose our 'like' or 'dislike' preference about the *results* (about the discoverability of pages, about the SERPs) on everyone else, rather than just casting our 'interesting' vote and letting the result fall where it may?

So, to make my point using the current example ... why didn't you link to, instead of rendering it just as text?[2] We don't know the true provenance of its SERPs prominence; it's not spam or malware or porn or horror; you (at least) haven't misidentified its true nature by deception or carelessness; and it's clearly of interest to you and your readers. Why should you try to depress its discoverability or SERPs rank?

As a good and responsible citizen you might wish to counter what the site stands for (me too), by debate, condemnation, etc, and we might wish to join Natasha and Nicholas in alerting online publishers to their unwitting misidentification of the site. But how have we arrived at the *undemocratic* choice to try to game the search engines, to try to impose our 'like' or 'dislike' preference about the results on everyone else?

Because Google's PageRank system has subtly corrupted our view of how the web itself should work, I suspect. (Of course it has, inevitably, *unsubtly* changed so much too, as the web contorts itself around the traffic it directs).

In your "different forms of responsibility" conclusions, I certainly agree about taking due diligence for our content; pushing for our representatives, and tool providers, to oppose censorship; guarding against the tyranny of the majority; and being alert to undemocratic manipulation by minorities.

But I have real misgivings about advocating wielding the “nofollow” attribute and trying to manipulate “linkjuice”[1]. Fighting hate or mistake or undemocratic means *with* undemocratic means is surely not the right approach? The road to hell is paved with good intentions; two wrongs don't make a right: pick your truism.

You (rightly, in my view) don't want the authorities, or Google, or other gatekeepers, to skew the SERPs (or the wider discoverability of published content) in the pursuit of a particular point of view. To be responsible web democrats, shouldn't we be above that too, even (especially) if the bad guys aren't?

   [1] Other than for reader-generated spam, in comments or trackbacks or suchlike, to be deleted or nofollowed, which we don't actually decide as being interesting anyway (and/or from which we need protection against being tarred with the same spam brush). And perhaps malware and porn or horror, if our readership needs our protection in the form of a minor roadbump against *unwitting* clickthrough.

   [2] Honestly, I'm not sure I would have done, either. But I'm pretty sure we should, if we're wittingly talking about them, if we want to be responsible web democrats.

   [3] Is “pink glasses” a direct translation? Here, we'd say "rose-coloured glasses" or "rose-tinted glasses" :) ...

Gradiva Couzin [PersonRank 1]

11 years ago #

Thank you for the fascinating and helpful article. I have been pondering for some time the significance of Google ranks in representing what's important, what matters, and what is "real" in the world. As all of us, but especially members of the media, look more & more to this single information source for their research (and as research funding for media sources goes down and down and down), the signficance becomes even more important.

It seems to me that the likely coming trend of more personalized search results will bring another, perhaps more serious, problem into the mix: If different people with different viewpoints begin to see different sets of search results, will we have an even harder time understanding each other?

It's time for some serious thinking on the meaning of search engines as the primary information filters for humankind!

Gradiva Couzin

[Thanks for the comment! Signature removed. -Philipp]

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

11 years ago #

I agree with most of your points Milly – Google has changed the way many of us link (not only with nofollow), and that's not a good thing, in general.

(By the way, I don't think it's undemocratic for individuals to campaign for a particular opinion, I think it's at the heart of democracy...)

Milly [PersonRank 10]

11 years ago #

> (By the way, I don't think it's undemocratic for
> individuals to campaign for a particular opinion, I think
> it's at the heart of democracy...)

Me too, just not by trying to rig the ballot.

Of course there's a large technical overlap between google-bombing and campaigning, since both involve comment and/or 'badges' in favour of the intended beneficiary, which on the web would naturally be linked, even with no thought for search engine ranking.

I suppose it's a matter of intent. I suspect many campaigners who use google-bombing don't realise that they're also harming the system (and many do, but don't care, or consider it acceptable collateral damage). There are strong parallels for that in offline campaigning too, alas.

This thread is locked as it's old... but you can create a new thread in the forum. 

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