Knol Knows Ranking


Google’s new knol project features articles on any topic by anybody who cares to call themselves an expert.   The concept is really intriguing as it relates to bringing higher authority information online that will be vetted both by the author and by the community at large.

Search marketing guru Aaron Wall is one of the sharpest fellows in the SEO business and he’s been testing knol and has concerns about the results both in terms of outranking original material and copyright.

Aaron on knol

The SMX search folks – I think it was Danny Sullivan – have also been testing knol and also are suggesting knol material is ranking very well.     Google says they are not giving their own site preferential treatment, but I’m guessing what they mean is that they are applying the same rules to knol as other sites.    If, for example, those rules that are *applied equally to all sites* happen to include a high value for incoming links from Google sites or other knol pages, the knol content effectively has a big advantage, technically without any special treatment.

In terms of search strategy I think the rule here is to …. write some knol page for topics of interest to you or topics for which you want to improve your rank.      I expect knol to be a huge topic at the upcoming search conference  – SES San Jose.

Later:  Time to check out this knol thing by creating some content myself.    Here are listings I created for:

Beijing, China |     Blogs and Blogging

Extremism in the defense of the algorithm is no vice?


WordPress surfing led me to another interesting sob story from a penalized webmaster and my reply got so long it deserved to become a post:

Marshall Sponder wrote:

Take Know More Media’s case – you have 100+ blogs and 2+ years of content – that’s easy, 30,000 to 50,000 blog posts and Google, with just one or two paid links that pass PageRank, is going to throw the entire blog network out of it’s index over that?

Yep, it appears that’s it – that’s the reason.  But is it fair?  No.
Strictly from a users point of view I think it is very hard to justify technical penalties on good content.    Few users know or care what “hidden text” is, so if a mom and pop webmaster uses this tactic and Google deletes the otherwise informative, relevant website it is hard to argue that users are served well.    Even if a black hat SEO created a site filled with illegal tricks but also full of highly relevant quality content I think Google’s case against including that site is weak.  As a user I want  *quality content* and I don’t care about the site’s technical construction.    Where Google is simply banning sites for using spammy tactics I’d agree with Marshall that to be faithful to user centricism they really have to take it a step further and look at the content they are excluding.   Even if the content contains paid linking and other violations if it unique, quality content Google cannot exclude it without violating their stated “prime directive” of providing the best for the users.

However, Google has to manage about one trillion URLs, so obviously they need shortcuts in ranking and one of them is a page from AZ Senator Barry Goldwater’s playbook when – many years ago – he tried to justify an escalation of the Vietnam war, perhaps to nuclear level.   Google’s coin of the famous Goldwater phrase would be: “Extremism in the defense of the algorithm is no vice”.

I don’t think penalties are generally *fair* or *user friendly*, but I’m willing to concede they may be necessary for Google to function as profitably as they do since it would take a lot of human intervention to help every mom and pop determine what’s wrong with their sites.

However, I feel Google continues to fail in their obligation to communicate more effectively with penalized sites although I think they are s-l-o-w-l-y  catching on to the fact that most webmasters of penalized sites remain unclear as to why the site has been penalized or downranked.    Removal offers you a shot at “reinclusion” and (very rarely) possible webmaster tools staff feedback.   Downranking is algorithmic and Google will not generally offer any advice to help downranked sites.     In this case you generally want to re-read the webmaster guidelines and experiment with different approaches in an effort to boost rankings.

My view is that as many thin content database sites have flowed online Google is holding online material to a higher standard of quality, especially if it’s at a new website.    This helps explain why you can find well ranked pages that are inferior to pages at a new website.

There is a solution to all of this in my opinion, which is for Google to include a lot more community input and feedback into the process than they currently appear to do.    I’d guess the recent discussions to aquire DIGG may have been in part to gain more community feedback tools and data.     Historically Google has been brilliant at using algorithms to determine ranking and advertising, but has fallen short of brilliance in their ruthlessness in dealing with website practices they don’t like, leaving a lot of collateral damage – especially related to sites involved in “paid linking” and variations on that complex theme.

At SES San Jose 2009 I’ll hope to get to ask Matt Cutts more about this in person.   Matt is Google’s top spam cop and always very open to conversations about ranking and search.    In fact the best event of the conference is the Google Party where engineers are on hand to discuss search related issues – including complex ranking technicalities that are sometimes brought to Google’s attention as part of the search conference circuit.

Camden Yards – Baltimore Orioles


Camden Yards – Baltimore Orioles 310

Originally uploaded by JoeDuck

Baseball’s Baltimore Orioles play baseball here at Camden Yards which is near the downtown “Inner Harbor” area of Baltimore.

I was really impressed with Baltimore’s Inner Harbor area, which I’d visited only once before. The area used to be the active working port but the ship traffic was moved to the area just south of the Inner Harbor which has evolved as a major tourist destination.

Microsoft BrowseRank to compete with Google PageRank


CNET profiles a new paper showcasing a Microsoft effort to enhance search by looking at *user behavior* as well as the old standby standards that all the major search engines use such as links in to the page, the content of the page, titles of the page, and several others.

Google’s initial brilliance was recognizing that the link relationships on the web gave you great insight into the best websites. Google correctly noted that sites with many links to them, especially for a particular keyword, were more likely to match a users interest for that keyword. Although many factors have been included in Google ranking for years, pagerank was arguably the most important breakthrough. Initially the system tried to be an online analogy to academic citation. Google’s Larry Page reasoned that websites with more incoming links would tend to be better, and that those incoming links themselves should also be weighted according to the importance of the site from which they came.

The system started to show severe signs of wear as search marketeers as well as mom and pop businesses began to “game” the pagerank system, creating spurious incoming links from bogus sites and buying links from high rank websites.

Enter Microsoft “BrowseRank”, which will arguably be harder to game because it will monitor the behavior of millions of users, looking for relationships between sites, pages, length of time on page, and more. It’s a good idea of course but arguably it is Google that has *by far* the best data set to manage this type of approach. So even if Microsoft’s system starts to deliver results superior to Google’s one can expect Google to kick their own efforts into gear.

As with all search innovation the users shoud be the big winners. Search remains good but not great, and competition in this space will only serve to make everybody better….right?

Google: A Trillion URLs and counting


The Google blog notes how huge the web is now, with Google indexing over a trillion unique URLs.  As they note in the article the actual number of indexable URLs is, in one sense, infinite.    For example calendar pages will automatically appear as you scroll through many applications, continuing through the years until..the singularity and beyond.     Of course Google does not index many of these “empty” URLs or even a lot of junk or redundant content, so the true number of real, unique URLs is actually well above a Trillion.

I think a fun question is this:   What will the information landscape look like in, say, 20 years when we should have the ability to pour *everything* from the past and the present online?     Questions might take a different form if we had access to every reference on a topic that has ever been produced.    Algorithms will be used to sort through the oceans of content much as Google does now, but with far more precision and better comprehension of the whole mess.

Ballmer: Yahoo a tactic, not a strategy


Microsoft Chief Steve Ballmer spoke to the Microsofties today about the companies plans.   For Yahoo merger followers there was nothign much new as he simply reiterated this point:

Related to Google and our search strategy are the discussions we had with Yahoo. I want to emphasize the point I’ve been making all along—Yahoo was a tactic, not a strategy. We want to accelerate our share of search queries and create a bigger pool of advertisers, and Yahoo would have helped us get there faster. But we will get there with or without Yahoo. We have the right people, we’ve made incredible progress in our technology, and we’ll continue to make smart investments that will enable us to build an industry-leading business.

Some would argue that the reason Microsoft needs Yahoo is that their online strategy has so far failed to do very much.   My take is that they have not moved the online market as they’d hoped, but that they also have not worked nearly as hard in this area as they could have because Microsoft (correctly) sees that their huge presence in the software market is where the big money remains, at least for the next few years.    They have chosen in large part to protect their huge revenue ship rather than act more aggressively and nimbly (and expensively) to find online revenues or pull market share from Google.    I think many analysts – especially those in blogging – fail to recognize that Google’s revenues simply pale in comparison to Microsoft’s.   Google has the lion’s share of online money but Microsoft still has the lion’s share of the lion’s share money, which is in software, gaming, and entertainment.      I agree that the power curve is shifting from MS to Google, but MS remains the 800 pound revenue Gorilla.    Money beats buzz to the bank every time, and this point is not lost on Microsoft or Google.

Disclosure:  Long on YHOO

The aliens are out there, but they have not landed


Robert Roswell IIIRobert Roswell III

Uncle Bob?
You’ve lost some weight!

Given the prevalence of planets, water, and our own observations in our solar system, I think there is a near certainty (99%+ likelihood) that there is plenty of intelligent life in the universe.

In fact I’d guess the universe is *teeming* with life – at least billions of planets with intelligent life and probably hundreds of billions.

If you simply assume there is a *single planet with intelligent life* in each of the 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe it suggests we have a *lot* of company.     Although we only have a single data point (= ourselves), it seems we should also assume that we are about in the median range of the intelligent life spectrum, meaning that about half of the life in the universe is smarter than us and half is …. dumber.

But I would assert that Aliens probably wouldn’t bother to visit earth because we are at the edge of the galaxy and we are probably not very interesting once you have advanced technologies that can simulate almost all aspects of reality.    What would they come here looking for?

Also, they would likely not visit un organic “bodies”, rather as automated devices.     The idea that Aliens visit earth, interact with people and thus appear not to have a  “no interference” policy, and then leave without saying official “hello” or making their presence broadly known is very questionable.

If they have a no interference policy we’d never detect them.   On the other hand if they allow some interaction why would they probe a few lonely lumberjacks deep in the woods and then leave?   In the case of the Roswell incident you seriously think they have technology that allows an organic being to travel *quadrillions of miles* over a likely period of *millions of years* only to run out of gas and crash?
Whoops, ET didn’t have a quarter to phone home for a tow – BAM !

I think there’s a tiny possibility we’ve been visited, but a much higher one that people imagine things and use silly, obvious hoax stuff to spur interest.

Visits and Alien existence are totally different issues.  Of course Aliens are very, very, very likely to exist but there is pretty much zero credible evidence they ever come here.

The technology to travel here by organic beings would be incredibly advanced.   If they wanted to “hide” they would have no trouble hiding and erasing all evidence we have of their visits.   If they wanted us to know they were out there they could take over the network and simply announce their presence.   Niether of those happen.  Instead, we have thousands of obviously bogus reports and a handful of seemingly credible people who have odd experiences they think come from Aliens.   Whenever I look into these they are incredibly weak.   No quality photos, no souvenirs, no Alien DNA or probes left in bodies.  You have to believe the Aliens do an incredible cleanup job but then leave sloppy, inconclusive pieces of evidence around in a haphazard way.   Sure, it’s possible those little items are evidence of alien visits but reason suggests that instead we are seeing yet another example of … mistaken impressions.

You can think the tiny number of credible people misinterpreted things as we humans are prone to do, or you can believe the Aliens allowed those guys to interact with them and only them.

But hey, maybe distinguished astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who believes the Government is covering up the Alien visits, is right:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Mitchell

Malik: Facebook Connect is better than Colin Farrell?


I can’t help but think Om Malik is under some kind of Facebook conference spell when he first criticizes their presentation as too stylish (comparing Mark Zuckerberg to that bastion of style and wit Colin Farrell = OUCH!) but then gushes that Facebook Connect is going to be the big winner in terms of bringing web-wide social functionality.

Malik notes:
In addition to offering a simple authentication method, FC allows granular social interactions to be embedded in non-Facebook services. If Facebook can work with its partners to build interesting use-case scenarios that go beyond simple sign-on, it is quite feasible that Facebook can out-execute Google, MySpace and everyone else with its ID ambitions.

I suppose it depends on what he means by “quite feasible”, but I’d still predict that Google Friend Connect (still in Beta) is the system to watch in this space for two very simple reasons:

1) It’s Simple
2)  It’s Google

A great example of the first challenge is to read the Malik excerpt above.   How many mom and pop websites will read that and say “wow, gotta have it!”.   The answer is very few.  Instead, I think in a few months they will be working their PPC account at Google and be prompted to “click here for the code to make your site a social masterpiece”.

Even assuming Facebook’s social application will allow very simply integration with any website, it’s going to be very hard to compete with the web’s top brand as web empires as well as mom and pop websites seek to integrate social functions into their sites.

I’m not suggesting Facebook will fail however.   I just think that once the game begins in earnest both Myspace and Facebook will struggle to keep up with Google.   I think we’ll see social functionality spread quickly across the web, probably starting from the three key places working this angle right now:  Google, Facebook, and Myspace.  A key question will be how these three will choose to allow their applications to interact, but luckily for users there is a lot of pressure for cross compatibility of social networking.

So, in the end everybody is going to win, and we should soon see a great new layer of social functionality spread across the entire web.  And  that….is a good thing.

American Airlines to pull all AA Flight listings out of the Kayak.com waters


Although it’s too early to know if this is a significant trend, American Airlines decision to pull all their Kayak.com listings – reported here by TechCrunch – should be cause for great concern among the online flight ticking agencies like Orbitz, Kayak, Farecast, and more.

The power of services like Kayak lies in the ability to consolidate most of a buyers options on a single screen.  Even quality competitors like OneTime.com suffer from having too many screens in the mix, diminishing your ability to find the best fares.   As Airlines drop these services users will find it harder to offer the best pricing, and we will be forced back into the “old web” nightmare of screening dozens of sites to find the best pricing and availability.

Hotels leaving these services could doom them to failure.   Hotels.com is not all that popular among hotels but many feel the volume provided by Hotels.com makes it an essential part of their marketing plan.   However many online shoppers do not realize that their booking often includes fees as high as 20% and sometimes more to the online service.   Currently this generally comes out of the hotel’s profits, but as systems improve and streamline hotels are looking to book directly and avoid those middle man fees.  Consolidators like Kayak and Hotels.com should be very aware that their prosperity hinges on a strong and positive balance of participation by consumers and providers.     AA is throwing a small wrench into the cogs but there are many more to come.

DEN Denver Airport Free WIFI Rocks


Denver International Airport – DEN – offers free WIFI throughout the Airport Terminal Complex.    Although they ask you view a 30 second ad spot this is hardly unreasonable given the cost savings of about $10 over the pay for WIFI airport installations.

I flew out via BWI this morning and although I really enjoyed the city of Baltimore, I would have had a great impression if they provided ad supported WIFI at the Airport.