That Google/Wikipedia Post – Finally

Remember a couple months back when I promised you guys I'd post on this? Well, thanks to a deal with LookSmart, I finally got a chance to write it. It's over here. From it: But here's the rub: There's a critical difference between curation based on algorithm (Google News)…

Remember a couple months back when I promised you guys I’d post on this?

Well, thanks to a deal with LookSmart, I finally got a chance to write it. It’s over here. From it:

But here’s the rub: There’s a critical difference between curation based on algorithm (Google News) and curation based on human insight (Digg or Wikipedia) – and that difference can be summed up in one word: Voice. In short, sites that allow people to be part of the curation process have voice, and sites that are driven by algorithm, don’t.

No matter how hard we try, we can’t come up with an algorithm that creates a truly human voice. Sure, we can mimic it, but until we solve the Turing Test, the only computer that can create a human voice is, well, a human. And when you put lots of humans together, and give them all a chance to express their voices, you get community-driven media.

Now, how does this all relate to Google Maps and Wikipedia?

In my earlier post, I said “Google Maps isn’t very good.” That was kind of a cheap shot, because in fact the application is great – if what you need is a Map. But the promise of Google Maps goes well beyond looking at a map – currently you can get driving and walking directions, find businesses nearby, calculate traffic delays, and the like. But it’s the promise of what might be layered on top of that where things get really interesting.

5 thoughts on “That Google/Wikipedia Post – Finally”

  1. A thoughtful post about an important idea.

    I would add that “Voice” will often need to be “Voices”, in the sense that curation is always perspectival, and different users will value different perspectives. This is true even for something as mundane as maps and directions. For example, your needs this summer in Massachusetts would have been somewhat different if you had been riding a bicycle instead of driving a car. Rather than synthesizing all curation into a single, one-size-fits-all perspective, it will be important for many applications to structure curation so that users can access and enrich it from multiple perspectives.

  2. A human understands that if you ask for a restaurant, and you go to the restaurant only to find that it’s been closed for ten months, well, one might be annoyed.

    The promise of connectedness is like the Celestial Jukebox: once it’s built, we’ll discover it has answers to questions we never thought to ask.

    But until Googlebot passes the Turing Test, and has firsthand experience of the pains of everyday life, well, we may have to wait a little bit longer for that day.

    I tested several services on the timeliness of their entries: let’s just say Google has some work to do if the rate of restaurant closings accelerates in the near future:

    Read all about how Matt Cutts (Spam Expert at Google) gets fooled by spam bot:

    Hehe.. that’s right, isn’t it? I hadn’t thought about it that way.. but he did indeed get fooled.

    Maybe he was just reading fast, though. I’m sure he’s a very busy person; he’s not someone with so much time that he can constantly write 5-page anonymous comments on blogs 😉

    I asked him three or four times about certain things, and he never seemed to answer the question directly. He even started denying things I hadn’t actually said. So maybe he was just reading a little too quickly. Had he been reading closer, he probably wouldn’t have been fooled.

    That said, it still would have been nice if I had gotten a clear answer about whether or not there is a complete and total firewall between any and all ad knowledge, and any and all organic result knowledge. So that even the people doing the offline research do not know a single thing about the statistics, clicks, page-exits, queries, etc. of the other half.

    It’s true: he did say that no one at Google explicitly tells him to make certain lucrative changes to the algorithms, and that Google “doesn’t think like that” when it comes to ads and results, meaning they don’t think about ads when trying to make improvements to the organic results. I do believe him when he says that.

    But not thinking “like that” is not enough. There is still a possibility of influence improperly flowing between ads and organic results. For example, influence could flow via the choice about which queries to optimize/improve. The search quality team cannot look at every single query that flows through the Google engine. They have to sample a very small subset of the total queries. And depending on which sample they choose, and how they do the sampling, they could end up with very different search algorithms — because they end up optimizing for very different things.

    So if the team that looks at both ads and organic results is the same team that is responsible for sampling, for telling the search quality team which queries should be tested, then it is entirely possible that some of the “whole page” team’s tightly-coupled knowledge of both ads and results is unconsciously flowing into the search team, influencing the type of algorithms that the search team develops.

    In this way, the search team could very much “not think like that”, and concentrate only on improving the organic results for the queries it is given. Period. But the overall effect could still end up pushing user into situations and results where they click more ads than they otherwise would have.

    So there needs to be a strong firewall between both halves of the company, so that no unconscious influence of any kind can flow. It was very frustrating to me that I never got a clear answer to that question — whether or not that strong firewall exists.

  4. Speaking of Google and ads, didn’t Google just recently announce and release “Google Adsense for Games”?

    Can someone explain to me how an ad inside of an online flash game can me “relevance-ized”?

    Google’s fundamental premise, it’s core mission, is that it will only show you an ad if it is relevant to what you wish to find. Wasn’t that the whole point behind Adsense? That it analyzed the content of the page, and showed an ad that was relevant/similar to that content?

    So how does Adsense inside a game work? What kind of ad is relevant to your information need, if you are blowing up space aliens? If you are arranging geometric shapes into lines (tetris)? If you are lining up sequences of precious stones (bejeweled)?

    How does Google show in-game advertising, and still hold to their core tenet or principle of “relevance-only” advertising? Maybe I’m just not that smart, but that does not make sense to me.

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