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We, The Observers

While there are reasons to think that the nofollow solution to the current abuse of comments, applying more metadata, is not a good approach, Robert Scoble has come up an interesting use for Google's solution to comment-spam:

So, now I could link to that store so you all would be able to visit it, but I could add "nofollow" so that Google, Yahoo, MSN, and other search engines wouldn't consider my link in their ranking system.
This will change how I write. And it will encourage more people to link to their competitors.
Think about it. If you hate me, why should you add to my Google juice just by linking to me?
It means that the link now can have editorial comment itself. Oh, and it takes away a lot of the incentive for people to spam in comments because they won't receive any Google whuffie either.

There is some delicious irony here. First, that weblogs are a new open medium has been a cause celebre of bloggers. Yet here is an attempt to control other's visibility; a) obtain a high PageRank for your weblog through open inbound links, b) shut the door behind you by manipulating how PageRank is to be distributed from your closed outbound links, thereby creating more scarcity than is actually the case (the thoughts of folks like Dan Gilmor, Cory Doctorow and Doc Searls on this matter will be interesting to hear). Second, Google has not in the past paid attention to metadata (for example they don't place any stock in the HTML meta tag), yet here they are asking for... metadata.

So, bloggers want to exert a controlling influence and the kings of statistical search want more metadata.

What's going on?

What's likely is that putting PageRank results on the web has permanently altered the web's link dynamics, in a way that serves to dilute PageRank's value. It's a curious feedback loop - the fidelity of the algorithm is de-amplified as its measurements are made available.

It seems that search engines are destined to be participants, not observers. Yet, Google asking the web to retag its markup to sustain the PageRank theory of links is like a physicist asking subatomic particles to stop moving about so he can take some measurements.

January 20, 2005 02:34 PM


Steve Loughran
(January 21, 2005 11:45 AM #)

When you consider that comment spam is an attempt to manipulate google, the particles are already deliberately jumping about to annoy the physicist. the nofollow tag is telling Dr Heisenberg which particles matter :)