Douwe Osinga's Blog: Googles political system

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

In a discussion on nettime, the question of the political structure of Google's algorithm came up. Before you reject the idea that there is any political structure to algorithms and especially to one as holy as Google's, think about it. Google self explains the page rank system in that they promote pages that have a lot of links to them from important pages in that linking to pages is like voting for a page. This is a political system.

The distinguishing feature of Google is that the role link popularity plays. This is independent of the actual search term (as far as we know), ie a page has a certain Google Rank and that helps the page, no matter what the user is searching for. This is not as much a populist structure, but more a technocratic. It is not the popularity among searchers that determines success, but the popularity among website builders/bloggers/corporations, what have you.

It made me wonder what other political system are possible in search engine land. The most successful one besides Google is the more capitalistic Goto (Overture) model, of course. Here the pages that are search just pay for their position in the ranking. The more you pay, the higher you end up in the listing. Note that this depends on the search terms used. This is obviously more a capitalistic political model.

The two models already seem to merge, with Google offering paid links (distinguishable from search results, but still) and Overture buying AltaVista giving it a more serious presence in the search engine space. This just in: Yahoo! bought Overture, so it probably is show time.

What else would be possible?

One could very well imagine a truly populist search engine, where not link popularity determines the position in the charts, but website traffic. Google couldn't really measure that, but ISPs like MSN or AOL could. Of course this would be a rather conservative search engine, making things popular that are already popular, but then, so is Google. Even parties like Kazaa, that are spreading already so much spyware, could include a little monitor to feed a search engine like this.

Another option would be a search engine where you can just buy general positions in a search engines, or the companies with the biggest market capitalization would score best in the search engines. After all, these companies are the most successful and should therefore be listened to.

A third option would be a Google variant where a searcher can rate websites. The Google rating following from links from websites I like is increased, the Google rating following from websites I dislike is decreased. This way I get results from websites that are liked by websites I like, etc. This would create a very fractioned search engine where everybody finds the answers she likes. I.e., if I don't like Microsoft, I will get the Microsoft sucks websites, if I like them I get

Drop me a note if you think of something else.