Since today is the 11th anniversary of first-day trading in Google shares after its initial public offering, I wanted to bring to your attention a recent bit of gamesmanship that has been taking place with its search function.
Google rose to its position of authority and influence because it invented a better way to navigate the World Wide Web. Search was more or less OK in the late 1990s, but two Stanford students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, figured out how to use the link structure of the Web to create page rank. They created an algorithm that ranked any site by its authority, which was a function of how many other authoritative sites linked or pointed to it. Sure, it’s a bit circular, but it works extremely well — better than the other search engines of 10 or 15 years ago, most of which have since been forgotten.
That was only the first part of their genius; figuring out how to make money on those searches was what separated Google’s business model from all the rest. The key was AdWords, which displays advertising text based partly on key words — a low-cost, high-margin business driven by Google’s brilliant algorithms.
Therein lays the system’s Achilles heel.
Algorithms follow specific patterns, and it’s only a matter of time before someone figures these out and learns how to game them. With Google, the big offenders have been spammers, who try all sorts of tricks to generate search results. Publishers and other websites often play similar games in an effort to capture higher page rank in the Google machinery. The upside is more traffic, and consequently more money, for those who succeed. The downside is that the sorts of tricks often employed by gamesters may violate Google’s terms of service — provided they get caught.
Continues here: Gaming Google for Profit and Ideology