Google's Broken Weblog Backlash

by Charles Miller on June 23, 2003

I've been withholding judgement for a while, but ultimately, I think Google's ranking backlash against weblogs is a mistake.

In January 2002, I started a Radio Weblog, which quickly made me the number one “Charles Miller” on Google. No, this isn't going to be one of those whiny “My ranking has dropped!” rants. I don't place any personal value in that ranking (although I find it amusing), I'm just using it as a base-line.

In October 2002, I moved my blogging activity from Radio, to The Fishbowl, in which this entry is being written. At the time, Google was very responsive: as people updated their links to point to my new site, Google realised that I had moved and within a few months, my new site had supplanted the old one in the results page.

In their re-indexing last month, Google once again moved The Fishbowl back down below my old Radio blog. Then, in the most recent re-index, the top two ranked search results for “Charles Miller” are my Radio weblog. The third is my livejournal, on which I mirror my less nerdy posts, for my less nerdy friends. The Fishbowl itself has dropped to number seven.

By all possible metrics of page importance, this ranking order is wrong. The Fishbowl is updated more frequently, linked to more often, and most publicly identified with me. The only possible for my current site being ranked so much lower than my subsidiary sites is that its ranking has been artificially marked down for being an active weblog. And given that the sites that have replaced it are both weblogs, it looks like:

  1. The degree of rank-poisoning depends on some measure of how ‘alive’ the weblog is, probably based on who is linking to you, and...
  2. The proportions of how far down the rankings you are dropped for being a weblog lead to ‘wrong’ results, in that they prefer obselete information to live information.

I think this is Google's first real mistake. It's not a big one, because it only really troubles webloggers, and people interested in finding ideas within the weblog community. But it's still a mistake, and it reflects a shift in the way Google works, from trying to work with the web, to trying to fight against it. They are responding to a particular criticism by deliberately returning results that are demonstrably skewed towards stale information.

Once again, I must note that I don't care what my absolute ranking is in Google, I'm reacting to the relative rankings of my three pages, where the page that Google used to correctly recognise as my primary site has been dropped below my two lesser sites: one that is dead and obselete, and the other that is almost never referred to outside the Livejournal microcosm.

I haven't really noticed any great improvement in the accuracy of general Google queries since they started pushing weblogs down the page. I have, however, noticed that it makes it a lot harder for me to find information I know is there, but that originated on a weblog. This, of course is the rub.

Weblogs are often unfairly tarred as lacking original content. This is an exaggeration. While sites like Daypop show that there is a definite herd mentality to linking, there is also a lot of original content being put up on a daily basis.

The programming community is a good example of this. As first Open-Source coders, then programming luminaries and even corporate hackers move to weblogs as a primary means of communication of ideas, marking down weblogs in indexes for searches seems almost comical. Why should Martin Fowler's writing be worth less if it happens to be posted on his blog?

When it was formulated, PageRank was the best way to use the web's linking patterns to answer the question: “what is the definitive resource for this web search?” This was revolutionary: Google made use of the shape of the web to return the best results. The linking patterns of weblogs did not subvert or corrupt PageRank, as they have been accused of, they simply altered the web in such a way that PageRank became less relevant. PageRank no longer fit the web as well, and it stopped answering that important question. Rather than taking the negative approach, working against the new shape of the web, patching the problem by marking down a certain class of page, Google needs to find a new positive approach, to adapt to the new shape of the WWW and work with that to once again find the answers.

Previously: Real Names, Please.

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