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July 16, 2002

Google biased?

While Google is generally considered the best of the search engines available (there are other search engines, remember), it has been shown that the results can be manipulated. Weblogs, in particular, seem to influence Google disproportionately—and the word “seems” is important here, since controlled experiments are impossible. Since Google’s primary exposure comes from word of mouth, such as the frequent, vocal recommendations from weblogs, the seeming undue influence given them might cause one to question Google’s integrity, as Duncan Wilcox has done.

I don’t know how much I agree with Mr Wilcox’s suggestion that Google’s results are unfairly skewed. His article makes a number of assumptions which may or may not be true, and his examples of searches where high PageRank values distort results are mostly cases of too-general queries. (If you were looking for information about the Wankel rotary engine, wouldn’t you search for “rotary engine” or “Wankel” instead of just “rotary”?) A reference in an interview of CEO Eric Schmidt to “recency” is assumed to mean that Google puts more weight on pages discovered recently, but might it not refer to Google’s observed tendency to index some frequently-updated, link-heavy sites more often? He refers to the fact that searching for “more evil than satan” used to return Microsoft as the first result but no longer does as Google having “fixed the problem”, but a look at the results shows that the new top-listed sites are either discussing the phenomenon or sites trying to increase their exposure by taking advantage of the phenomenon.

Although I find all three of Mr Wilcox suggested reasons for this alleged bias unlikely, it’s still worth reading his article. A lot of people tend to treat Google as though it were part of the fundamental infrastructure of the web, but it is a service provided by a for-profit corporation. Google knows that its advertising business depends on its credibility, but that doesn’t guarantee perfection. Google’s goal is to be the best, but that was also the goal of the previous dominant search engines. (via WebWord) #

Not the best timing

As some of you are aware, I’m currently in the midst of a job search. In fact, I got some promising leads last week; after refreshing my resume at a few on-line job sites, I was contacted by two companies. I told them I was available for interviews and e-mailed my resume in Word format (which is tricky for me, since I don’t own Word), and then… silence. I was disappointed, but I didn’t sense anything unusual until a friend called me yesterday morning and told me that her e-mails to me were bouncing.

I use a mail forwarding service provided by the Penn State Alumni Association, which allows me to give people an address independent of my ISP. As my web site is also independent, this means that I can switch ISPs with minimal adjustment. Penn State alumni who graduated around the time I did got addresses in the alumni.psu.edu domain. Some time after that, they switched to using psualum.com as the preferred domain, keeping the old one for alumni like me who had always been using it.

Unfortunately, there’s some problem with the alumni.psu.edu domain right now, and it’s possibly been going on since Thursday. I hadn’t noticed because the spam was still coming through—but that was spam sent to my actual account, not my forwarding address. (I don’t know how the spammers got my account name, as I’ve never given it out, but that’s a different rant.)

To sum up: No one who’s tried to e-mail me for the past few days has been able to do so, possibly including the employers who were interested in me. Isn’t that a kick in the teeth? (I’ve written to them to explain what happened, but I haven’t seen a response as of this writing.)

As this particular problem seems less likely to happen to the psualum.com address, I’ll probably be switching my contact information over to it soon. (I’m being coy about referring to it in a futile attempt to thwart spammers.) My faith in the alumni forwarder has been shaken, though, and with my recent success in securing a domain name for an organization in my church demonstrating how ridiculously simple it is to get a vanity domain, I’m this close to just registering zednenem.org and using it for my e-mail needs. (My thrifty heritage is fighting with my bargain-seeking heritage: “It’s cheap and easy” vs “You have already have something good enough for free”.) #


Two articles I’ve been meaning to mention: