Wrapping up day 3 of SES San Jose Search Strategies Conference

For great session coverage of SES see the following sites:

SEO Roundtable

Search Engine Land


Bruce Clay

Technorati “SES” tag

TopRank Blog

Yesterday’s “Is Buying Links Evil” was by far the most interesting and heated of the sessions. Google’s Matt Cutts was under heavy fire from Todd Malicoat and Michael Gray regarding Google’s aggressive policies on paid linking and the application of the NOFOLLOW tag. The best question came from Rand Fishkin who asked Matt Cutts if it would be preferable to do without NOFOLLOW and have better, scalable, algorithmic ways to determine link relationships. Matt indicated it would and this gets to the huge middle ground in the paid linking debate. I think SEO folks, especially those who worked back in the gravy days of massive paid linking, should have expected Google to crack down on the practice but I would *strongly* criticize Google for not bringing more transparency to this issue by clarification of their paid link penalty structure and what appears to be a lot of leniency for paid linking in many situations. Many links, such as those a brief aquaintance might give to another person who opens a new website, are probably in line with guidelines but are essentially identical in structure to a paid link. In this case adding nofollow is totally inappropriate since the goal is to indicate a mild endorsement of the new site. I suspect this type of link is treated favorably by Google and I’m wildly guessing that they err on the side of not penalizing this type of link, but that is not clearly indicated in the policy statements or in the talks I’ve had with Google search folks. This failure to clarify, combined with Google asking for “help” in finding paid links, has led to more frustration in the Webmaster community than Google thinks it has caused. One indication of this was the huge applause given to parts of the “anti Google” presentations yesterday. As always Matt Cutts handles this with great composure and I think a very sincere desire to make things work well for all players, but I’d recommend that Google really examine the linking policies carefully and issue a detailed and full clarification of “legitimate linking practices” with, literally, thousands of examples. Will this be reverse engineered for SEO benefit? Yes, but if it’s written correctly it can improve the web rather than leading to confusion about linking and the rampant continued use of paid linking schemes.

Links are a big theme here and I’m now off to Danny Sullivan’s session on “Search Engine Q&A On Links”

Marissa Mayer on intersection of strong AI and search

Marissa Mayer of Google gave today’s Keynote conversation. It’s no wonder Google does such wonders when people like this are in charge. I did get a chance to ask about the intersection of search and AI and got a fantastic answer – she thinks they will intersect, and this could happen within about ten years. Also interesting was that she said they are now seeing things that “look like intelligence” emerging from the search algorithms. This is not thought, but she indictated that it’s possible to have thought like processes emerge in this fashion rather than with the massive computational approaches that were popular several years ago. This is consistent with Kurzweil’s notion that it’ll be massive parallel processing and not massive supercomputing that will probably bring the mechanical mind “to life” within the next decade or so. I’m glad Marissa Mayer seems to agree and I hope this is a focus for Google in the future (I got the idea it’s not a focus now).

I had a chance to ask Matt Cutts of Google engineering fame the same question yesterday and he was not as optimistic, thinking that it could take another 50 years to get conscious computing. But Matt correctly noted that Marissa would be more optimistic than he was because his Master’s program at University of North Carolina was lacking in much AI content due to the AI skepticism of the architect of that program.

Larry Page’s recent remarks suggesting that a viable human thinking algorithm may appear fairly soon are more in line with Marissa’s optimistic view that within a decade we could see mature, conscious, artificial intellects. The staggering implications of conscious computing are lost on many people in computing for reasons I simply don’t understand, but I think are related to the current focus on computing science as an engineering and calculation paradigm rather than a biological one. As the brain is reverse engineered and we begin to enhance neurons with forms of programming it seems reasonable to assume things are going to get … very interesting very fast.