Google's Collateral Damage
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The Impact of Measurement
In scientific experiments a fundamental goal of the measurer is to not directly impact the system they are measuring via observer effects. Even large, slow & traditional institutions (like college) game rankings that they see as important. Many schools have went so far as to re-name themselves for marketing purposes.
Google's PageRank worked well until people realized what drove search & how to optimize for it. But the web moves much faster than the colleges do. A million spam pages are created every hour! Thus Google's relevancy algorithms have grown in complexity over the years.
The Impact of Ads
In Google's early research, the founders claimed that ads undermine the credibility of search engines:
It is clear that a search engine which was taking money for showing cellular phone ads would have difficulty justifying the page that our system returned to its paying advertisers. For this type of reason and historical experience with other media [Bagdikian 83], we expect that advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers.
A little over a decade later and Google has become one of the most profitable & powerful companies in the world, driven by ads.
Rather than using unobtrusive measurement, Google both measures & monetizes the publishing ecosystem. Their most recent algorithmic update likely shifted over $1 billion in online ad revenues. Their editorial philosophy & ad programs have likely had more impact on the shape of the web than anything or anyone since Tim Berners-Lee created it.
Some of the biggest problems in search (like content farms) were created by Google. This image highlights how the search ecosystem has changed since Google has become a serious player, and how Google has used their amazing marketshare to bend the web to their will.
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