Clearing Out the Blogwebs

May 9th, 2003  |  Published in Uncategorized

I have a blog. I help other people have blogs. I am a blogger. And yet, it’s with supreme happiness that I read Google might finally be doing something about the problem of ‘blog noise.’

What’s blog noise? The article explains it well enough, but it’s worth reiterating since this site happens to be a poster child for its effects.

Suppose you’re curious about something like, say, William Bennett’s gambling thing. You go to Google, and you feed it the query “William Bennett gambling”. It may be different by the time you read this, but, at this very instant, PuddingTime shows up as the number three search result on the topic behind only an AP item (to which I linked),and a parody site. The original article that broke the story? It’s down there somewhere, I think. Most of the results, though, are reactions to the story.

There’s a certain amount of ego gratification that comes from being such a well-respected source for information. Clearly I’m providing some unique service here, else the impartial and quality-minded algorithms that made Google the very best search engine ever would’t be singling me out, right? Bullshit.

The simple fact is, last December I wrote an angry “open letter” directed at uber-blogger Doc Searls over his (ironically enough) bizarre obsession with Google and how often his own name turned up on it. I have no idea whether Doc is a “good guy” or not (the only other time he’s ever mentioned my name, it was to liken me to a tobacco lobbyist, but he was trying to make a bigger point and I’ve forgiven him). He took the screed in stride and stuck me in his blog roll (a link list, presumably to blogs Doc thinks you should read), where I’ve resided ever since. Now, as a “first mover” in the modern blog world. Doc is so widely linked that Google’s search algorithms give him some “weight” as a source of information. Google’s designers are democratically minded people who built a prejudice in favor of people who get linked to a lot when they worked out what makes certain search results “good.” Some weight also accrues to people who get linked by people who get linked to a lot. In the Googleverse, Doc is like King Kong or Grape Ape or a well-loved and widely worshipped Norse pundit deity, and anyone on whom he confers a link gets some of his magical pixie search dust on themselves.

I’m fairly confident PuddingTime’s “popularity” is the result of Doc’s link to it, because almost no one else in the overcrowded blogosphere (as much as it pains me to admit it) acknowledges my existence. Not convinced? Here’s what Google has to say about who links to this site. Not many folks besides Doc. And why should they? With the exception of a mostly quiet time at the helm of LinuxToday and a minor book, there’s not much reason to come searching me out: Pudding Time’s yet another blog linking to the same stories some other blogger (or three, or a hundred) is linking to, or showing pictures I took, or whatever else goes on around here. I don’t do it because I’m out to set the world on fire with my quality links, I do it because a few friends look in now and then, and that’s different from inviting them over for dinner then making them sit through a slide show.

It probably seems like a weird thing to get cranky over getting page views from Google searches but it’s not me I’m worrying about (even if I am sick of random strangers who call themselves “MARINE” and “Publius” turning up to complain about my almost commentary-free links to stories). I’m much more concerned about what a disservice to the rest of the world Google’s heretofore idiotic insistence on running a giant popularity contest complete with a cool kids lunch table represents. Bloggers are a tiny minority of the population, but they’ve created an echo chamber that gives inappropriate weight to their choices. They’re proud of this, and they brag about their capacity to game Google with Googlebombs and other search-skewing play. Some intentionally, some not, they’ve subverted a search engine people liked because it was meritocratic about information, and made it about themselves and their narcissism. Their junk is cluttering things up, though, and it pleases me to no end to read Google might do something about it.

This isn’t, by the way, the first time Andrew Orlowski has tackled the issue of “gaming” Google. He’s taken issue with Googlewashing, and he’s got good taste in blogs when he reads the ones that aren’t the “tuneless cacophony of the Gen-X gone bored and rich”.

Metafilter’s readers aren’t certain Google’s main results will be cleaned up very much and point to some good technical reasons for why this would be tough. A man can still dream.

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