Thursday, July 12, 2007

Is there a future role for human participation in Google search results?

Up until now, Google’s search engine results have been entirely driven by algorithms. Google claims there is no human involvement or manipulation of results, even when it has to diffuse the Google bombs (e.g., how the search for “miserable failure” used to bring President Bush’s White House biography page in the top results).

The evolution/revolution of social media sites, is now challenging the strict algorithm approach by encouraging people/community involvement. Here are just a few examples of human-powered or human-influenced search engines:

  • Sproose gives you the ability to vote for a site in the search results, but seems open to abuse

  • Mahalo is going for entirely human generated search results, but populating its indexes/categories will take time

  • iRazoo combines the “top search results from major search engines and then shows them to you, asking you to vote on the results”

  • Bessed has human editors “seed” each topic with five high quality links, and other users can suggest other links to add

In light of this, Google is beginning to open the door to the idea of human involvement.

At the recent European Press Day, a journalist asked Marissa Mayer (Vice President of Google Search Products & User Experience) if there is now a place for human intervention, now that the web is so full of information.

Marissa replied, “As the internet has grown, so has the need for search, at first, sites like Yahoo were listing the web by hand in the form of directories. When the web is as large and polluted as it is now, ultimately there is a need to have more sophisticated ways of searching it. Up to today we have relied on automation, but I believe the future will be a blend of both, combining the scale of automation and human intelligence.”

While this is all good, how is this going to change search engine optimization?

We have to wait and see what Google has in its bag and how much it is going to involve human participation.

For now, we can say that the quality content and white hat optimization will become much more invaluable. Spam tactics that take advantage of algorithmic loop holes won’t be effective once human review is involved.

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