GOOGLE Algorithm Tweaked; Webmasters Freaked “Googlization” Marches On

Posted on February 27, 2011


Last week to the horror of Huffington Post and other businesses on the web, Google changed its algorithms.

Our goal is simple: to give users the most relevant answers to their queries as quickly as possible,” said Gabriel Stricker, Google spokesman. “This requires constant tuning of our algorithms, as new content — both good and bad — comes online all the time. Recently we’ve heard from our users that they want to see fewer low quality sites in our results.”Typically, Google’s algorithm changes are so subtle that few people notice them. But these most recent changes could be seen immediately. [CNN]

Behold, the great god, Google, as arbiter of quality.  Can quality be quantified? And do the squeaky wheel users speak for all users?  What’s wrong with this picture?

The Huffington Post that achieved its place in the search engine hierarchy through clever manipulation of the scheme, is freaked with the tweak:

The changes appear to be affecting so-called “content farms” the most, which are websites that amass content based on the most-searched terms of the day. Demand Media, AOL, Mahalo and the Huffington Post have all been accused of such tactics, including a notable “story” from HuffPo about the Super Bowl that Slate.com media critic Jack Shafer called “the greatest example of SEO whoring of all time.”

Tests using trending topics show Google’s tweaks in action.

The current top Google result for a search of Charlie Sheen rant target “Haim Levine” is a New York Daily News page, followed by a story from gossipcop.com. The old algorithm would have featured two Huffington Post stories at the top, with the New York Daily News story not appearing appear until the second results page.

For the author of The Googilization of Everything (and why we should worry), Siva Vaidhyanathan, this is the best of times.  Interviewed today by Fareed Zakaria on his CNN show, he pointed to a tiny part of the Google universe that can really strip long-held democratic principles from our lives.

You should know that when you take a book out of a public library, your record of borrowings can never be released except by court order and even then the librarians’ ethics make that very difficult. But when you go to the section of Google that features the complete content of older books on line, while it is convenient and an efficient use of your time, it also puts you in Google’s information gathering realm and a record if  all  the books that you check will be saved.

And look what happens when you go to access the CNN article that inspired this post.  It is a feast for Facebook to gather information about where you are and what you are looking at – and which friends you tap to share this information.