a node at the edge  

May 10, 2002
TechnologyBlogging's Danger to Google

Salon has a very interesting piece on blogging's effect on Google. In it, Steven Johnson wrote:

    There are significant political consequences to the Blogger Effect: Because the blogging community contains a disproportionate number of libertarians, it's possible that Google searches on certain hot-button issues will start skewing toward libertarian-friendly pages. Given Google's increasing prominence, this libertarian slant could prove to be more significant than the more familiar concerns about liberal bias in the major networks, and conservative bias on Fox News. No sensible person thinks "The O'Reilly Factor" is free of political slant (save O'Reilly himself). But the great oracle of Google is supposed to be above such partisan concerns.

We've seen blogging's effect on Google with the recent impact on Operation Clambake, the anti-Scientology web site. Searching on Scientology, Clambake once showed up fourth in the list. Scientology attempts to get Clambake pages pulled from the Google database, weblogger respond, and the end result is that Clambake is now first in the page when searching on "scientology". Webloggers pat themselves in the back for a job well done.

Yet consider the implications behind this: webloggers have a disproportionately large influence on Google and therefore the information that's returned when people perform Google searches. And as more people are going online and using Google to find information, webloggers are skewing the data that they see.

We strut and gloat about our power while applying it on a whim. And that's scary.

Don't agree with Scientology? Googlebomb the church sites off the Google results front page (something the Church itself tried to do with anti-Scientology sites). Don't agree with the "liberal" bias of online news sources? Googlebomb them off the front page.

Don't like a political candidate? Bash them in your weblog and get other weblogs to link to you so that searches on the candidate name return your weblog first. Get all your weblogging buddies to link to other sites and articles that also bash the candidate until eventually page after page of Google search results point to material that says only negative things about the candidate.

Webloggers aren't influencing decisions -- they're influencing the information that influences the decision, and that's dangerous.

Continued here and here.

Posted by Bb at May 10, 2002 11:47 AM


For the sake of argument,let's suppose I decide that me and all of my friends are going to bash whoever the Democratic candidate for President is in 2004. You, in turn, decide to do the same thing to the Republican candidate. The net result to Google is really nothing, because we'll be providing both sides of the argument and both sides will have an equal effect on Google reuslts, assuming we have a somewhat equal amount of Dems versus Republicans as we would have in the "real" world, correct?

Google is designed in a way in which you get the information that people online are talking about and care about. If the online community, especially webloggers, is not representative of society as a whole, that's not Google's fault, is it? It is giving you results that represent the points of view of the people who create and carry out conversations online, which are the only conversations it can access. You want more well-rounded results in Google, provide it with a more well-rounded conversation to sample from. Get more people, and therefore more opinions, online!

Posted by: Mike McBride on May 10, 2002 12:17 PM

Mike, I know that's what Jon Udell has said, but I don't agree. Someone like Glenn Reynolds can tell all of his readers to sign up for weblogs, thus dumping a whole lot of Libertarians on the Internet at once and that skews their influence, temporarily or not doesn't matter. They generate a lot of buzz, which captures the mainstream media interest and next thing you know, Reynolds gets massive media attention, and more buzz, and has more influence -- all while being nothing more than a second rate opinion hackster. But, boy, does he know how to play the Google game.

Webloggers play the Google game to deliberately influence the information that's returned. The whole concept of Googlebomb is to influence Google's results outside of normal levels of interest.

Posted by: Bb aka Shelley aka Weblog Bosswoman on May 10, 2002 12:29 PM

Well, if Glenn Reynolds can do it, why can't someone else? If he (for example) skews the results one way, skew them back again... two blogs with equivalent linking have equivalent opportunities to skew, in theory. But the question remains of whether the various points along the political spectrum are equally (I mean that only numerically) represented in bloging. Are there more total hits and total blogs to the right than the left? Maybe... I haven't counted. But there's nothing to stop 'the other side' from playin back.

Long story short, I agree with Mike. The potential for it all to shake out equally is there, but other factors might make one viewpoint more heavily represented than another. Anyone want to fund a political ethnography of blogging?

Posted by: steve himmer on May 10, 2002 12:51 PM

I actually side with BB and I would suggest purchasing David Shenk's Data Smog for the reasons why.

Insightful post Shelley.

Posted by: Karl on May 10, 2002 01:24 PM

Hmm, if someone has to be the one to influence Google I would prefer it to be me. :-)

(Actually, I'm only half kidding about that.)

Posted by: Justin Thyme on May 10, 2002 01:49 PM


OK so Glenn, and others, right now can influence what's going on with Google, because they can pick up a bunch of bloggers and rant about whatever the hell he's influenced them to rant about. But you miss the point, Google is an internet search engine, it gives you results based on what is being discussed on the internet. That's really all it can do. If there are more pages with one side of an issue than there are pages giving the opposite side, Google is going to give you results tilted toward that side. It doesn't seek to be fair, it seeks to tell you what the "buzz" is about a search item.

Does that mean that someone looking for information on a particular issue is likely to get a slightly biased view of it from Google results? Yeah it probably does, but then, people looking to network news and/or talk radio are also getting a biased view as well, aren't they? Between all the different sources and all their different biases, we can only hope that people find their way to their own opinions.

Posted by: Mike McBride on May 10, 2002 07:25 PM

I agree with Mike. I think that BB is overestimating Google's influence for one thing, but I also think there's a deeper issue at work here. I just posted a long rant about this on my own site that concludes: I take great issue with the idea that weblogs are 'dangerous' because we influence and shape the 'information' that's out there. That's not dangerous; it's wonderful. If not we the people trading ideas, debating, and influencing the debate, then who?

Posted by: Medley on May 12, 2002 06:22 AM

Boy - I didn't read anything that said weblogs are dangerous in that piece. It's amazing how two different people can read the same thing and see it differently.

Posted by: Karl aka paradox1x on May 12, 2002 12:24 PM

Direct quote from BB's piece: "Webloggers aren't influencing decisions -- they're influencing the information that influences the decision, and that's dangerous." It's the last word in the last sentence in case you can't find it.

Posted by: Medley on May 12, 2002 12:31 PM

Oh, and there was the actual title of the piece as well "Blogging's Danger to Google" (see, that word "danger" is there, too.) I'm down with the notion that people can differ on interpretation, but let's not interpret words right out of existence, hmm?

Posted by: Medley on May 12, 2002 12:35 PM

When people deliberately seek to inflate influence through the use of things such as "google bombs", or using Google's own link dependencies against it, then we're influening information disproportionate to our numbers and our true interest. And that is dangerous.

It was dangerouw when the Church of Scientology used these techniques to try and put only pro-Scientology links on the first page of Google; it was dangerous when webloggers fought back, pushing Clambake to ranking of first, rather than fourth, which was the "normal usage" ranking.

Any artificial manipulation of information in order to skew the results one way or another is dangerous.

Posted by: on May 12, 2002 02:36 PM

Ignore typos, as usual.

Posted by: on May 12, 2002 02:37 PM

And last two postings were mine -- using new installation.

Posted by: Burningbird on May 12, 2002 02:37 PM

Is all weblogging now google-bombing? If a weblogger writes up a great rant and 100 others link to it, is that dangerous? Or is that just the way the Web and hyperlinks work? Where do you draw the line? Should we all stop linking to things? There's a continuum from deliberate misleading googlebombing to simply convincing a lot of people through the power of your argument that topic X needs to be written about. The fact that Google's algorithm can't really tell the difference emphasizes what a gray area that is.

Besides which, unfortunate though it may be, gaming the system is not new with the advent of the Web. Corporations can throw a lot of money and lobbyists at their issues; individuals can now throw words and links at theirs. The fact that some corporations and some individuals will pervert the original intent of what they seek to influence does not discredit all of them.

Posted by: Medley on May 12, 2002 03:33 PM

Herein lies my reservation about blogging; it's waaaay too easy to create a climate in which popular wisdom can effective dictate behavior and policy.

Posted by: Michael Mussington on May 13, 2002 05:45 AM

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