Monday, August 27, 2007

U-Students No-Question Google Rank--Bad News for Old News

PC World today reports on a study conducted at Cornell University that found that a group 0f 22 student with various majors didn't question where and how Google ranked a story in its search.
When participants selected a link from Google's result pages, their decisions were strongly biased towards links higher in position, even if that content was less relevant to the search query," states the report.

Okay--so it's only 22 students at Cornell...but what about when the SEO meant to get articles first in search, and first in front of the eyeballs of students, is leading them to old, outdated information? Well, for The New York Times, this is proving to be a problem: as in the case of Allen Kraus, a former deputy commissioner in the New York City Human Resources Administration. Kraus found that an old NYTimes article about his resignation from the department--an article that did not give his side of the story from 16 years ago--was coming up first in search for his name.

Nick Carr looks at the Times SEO dilemma, noting that Clark Hoyt (who wrote the Times article) makes this interesting argument for bad info "ageing out" of search:
Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, an associate professor of public policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, ... thinks newspapers, including The Times, should program their archives to “forget” some information, just as humans do. Through the ages, humans have generally remembered the important stuff and forgotten the trivial, he said. The computer age has turned that upside down. Now, everything lasts forever, whether it is insignificant or important, ancient or recent, complete or overtaken by events. Following Mayer-Schönberger’s logic, The Times could program some items, like news briefs, which generate a surprising number of the complaints, to expire, at least for wide public access, in a relatively short time. Articles of larger significance could be assigned longer lives, or last forever.

Meanwhile, JD Lasica suggests
I have a better suggestion than trying to manipulate search engine results to "sunset" negative pieces of information (which will never happen). Start a blog. Post photos on Flickr. Join a social network. There are only 476 results in Google for everyone in the world named Allen Kraus. Within a few months, your blog home page will be the top result in Google, some of your blog posts will also be at the top, perhaps your photos will be up there as well, eventually knocking that 16-year-old story down to the second or third page. Google loves blogs that are frequently updated and part of a larger conversation.

I like JD's thinking--which could lead to just about everyone hiring a p.r. person to go in and commence with the Googl'ing to fix stuff up.

But it beats going in and deleting the paper of record--which really IS what happened in the days of Mao, Lenin, and Stalin....(as the Times notes with the quote ""like airbrushing Trotsky out of the Kremlin picture." yes, it happened, folks...)

But what might be fair and ethical would be to list updates at the tops of articles with links to the updated information--thus letting know readers that an article supersedes the one they're reading at the moment, and to go to that article first. You really can't miss it when UPDATE is posted at the top of an article and there's a big ole horkin' link you can actually click to see another story.

Oh, but this might *require* hiring people to do this work. It might take way too many man-and-woman hours to complete. There's a better solution out there beyond going in and fixing things with social media--but at this moment in a world where money is tight, it might be the only thing to do....

Hmmm...maybe *this* is what Google's thinking with its new "comments" feature--and then this would make Google, with the better and corrected information, the real "paper of record."

Very creepy indeed....

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