Google, Weblogs, and the End of the World

by Charles Miller on October 14, 2003

Andrew Orlowski has written yet another rant about how blogs are ruining Google. Currently to blame is Trackback, the protocol many weblogs use to create back-links automatically when one blog links to another. While the practical merit of trackback can be debated, many people find it a useful addition to the blogging toolkit, and it ain't going anywhere in a hurry.

Orlowski, on the other hand, describes it in terms usually reserved for the Nuclear Bomb: a catastrophic invention that should never have been allowed to escape, damn those scientists for not thinking of the consequences!

When the old longhair database people, now barely remembered, went off and designed information systems, they thought of values such as data integrity and resilience. This created a rigorous and unforgiving peer-review culture, but the values survived. Lacking such peer review, today's wiki-fiddlers can create such catastrophes as Trackbacks with apparent impunity.

I've probably said this before, but it bears saying again. It is not the job of the Web to conform to Google's search algorithms. In fact, that bears saying once more, with feeling.

It is not the job of the Web to conform to Google's search algorithms!

The World Wide Web is not the carefully measured, centralised system of the 'longhair database people'. The Web is Small Pieces, Loosely Joined. It is, and always has been an anarchy of links, and has taken over the world because anyone, anywhere on the web can innovate, and build on top of it.

Read any history of the Web, and it'll tell you that the WWW succeeded where previous attempts at Hypertext failed, precisely because nobody was caring about data integrity or resilience. Something breaks? Bah, just throw out a 404. The cost is that things fall apart every so often. The pay-off is explosive growth, and the ability to become everything to everybody.

Google has been wildly successful so far because its indexing and searching algorithms have been very good at letting people find what they want to find on the Internet. They did that by examining the shape of the web, and building a search engine that used the shape of the web to rank search results.

The rise of weblogging, and the use of things like Trackback have changed the shape of the web. This is nothing new. The shape of the web has changed a lot since the days you could find every interesting site on the NCSA's What's New page.

Even the presence of Google itself has changed the shape of the web through people attempting to manipulate their search rankings, Google-bombing, setting up link-farms and comment-spamming on high-pagerank blogs.

Everybody who takes part in the web changes it somehow. That's why it's so damn cool.

The web does not exist to serve Google. The web should not stay stagnant so as not to break its search engine. The web evolves continuously. It is up to Google to change itself to adapt to what people want to do with the Web. If Google can not adapt, then one day we will talk of it in the same way we speak of Altavista, Metacrawler, Excite or Hotbot: search engines we used to rely on, but that were each eclipsed by something better.

Previously: Taking Exception to Joel Spolsky

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