Among all the questions and explanations swirling out there, I've found two that correspond to something I've been seeing (and was going to blog about before this stuff hit the fan) First, Andy Beard explains that it may not be about paid links, but more about all those little blog networks that link within and to one another:
Many of the reputable sources that have received a penalty are part of extensive blog networks, and they have one factor in common. They have massive interlinking between their network sites.
Lately, I've been working on a couple of projects where I've been doing heavy blog research--and I've been finding that many of the blogs in a variety of blog networks are increasingly blocking out the voices of independent bloggers And that they do this by linking predominantly--if not exclusively--to other blogs in their networks and never to other bloggers
Talk about anti-social media!
A big hint of the anti-socialness of some blog networks became evident to me in a post I read a few months back by a blogger who's keeping the About.com weblogs page--who gave a list of "great" women bloggers, with most of them in b5Media. To my experienced blogger's eyes, this seemed to be a rather ham-handed way of using one's platform to send eyeballs over to one's other blog network. It was, IMO, mean-spirited and rather un-social toward the vast amount of independent women bloggers who have worked darned hard to give/get their links, rank, and respect.
Yet the only-linking-to-others-within-your-own-network was noticed awhile back with the start of PayPerPost. PPP was "threatened" that they would never get linked by bloggers who weren't in their scheme (because there was something kinda ethically icky about PPP.) But they did some serious recruiting (a lot among mommybloggers, for sure.) Now, "Posties" are having Postiecon as well as (perhaps) taking up a significant presence at the BlogWorldExpo....(they've also generated their own little A-list that would send many a veteran blogger's head spinning.)
And, from my own hanging about at conferences where Posties have showed up, I've discovered that many of the Posties never would have thought of blogging if they weren't going to make some pin money for doing it...
I wonder how they feel about talking to folks who aren't their friends...
Duncan Riley's post explains a bit further about linkfarming, and how smaller media companies that may be (intentionally or unintentionally) linkfarming by only linking within one another's sites might really take a hit:
The only clear change appears to be among large scale blog networks and similar link farms, where each site in the network provides hundreds of outgoing links on each page of the blog to other blogs in the network, in some cases creating tens, even hundred of thousands of cross links. Previously such behavior has been rewarded by Google with high page rank, although it would now appear that this loop hole may now be shut
Riley also predicts a "deadpool" of blog networks--read the comments though, there are some interesting points made by folks who've monetized out the wazoo as a means of trying to generate income for their small ventures.
Well, nobody ever promised anyone who kept a blog that they could or should use it for making money....
And nobody ever said that blog networks should be able to mess with search by implementing kick-ass SEO and aggressive internal linking.
Come to think of it, that's kind of what a lot of MSM blogs are doing--and that's why many MSM blogs, such as those at Washingtonpost.com, always come up in the prime spots in search.
So, perhaps in its own weird way, Google's put the breaks on something that was, from my vantage point, beginning to look like a case of Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss with blog networks eclipsing smaller, individually run blogs.
Yet I hesitate to say that Google's any defender of the Little Guy and Free Speech. Perhaps it was merely a jiggle of the algorithm to accommodate a bunch of new stuff, and not anything to do with linkfarms or paid links...so I remain kind of dubious and mostly curious....
Update: SearchEngineLand's great linkpost of those-who-got-zapped and links to other commentary...and fellow journo-blogger Danny Sanchez notes the effect on newspaper blogs (and how he's just as important as WaPo!)