[iDC] Alternatives to black-box page-rank algorithm (was conference summary part 2: the internet as playground and factory)

Alexander Halavais halavais at gmail.com
Thu Nov 19 19:10:24 UTC 2009

I'm sorry to say I also missed Frank Pasquale's presentation...

The "security through obscurity" argument that drives the black boxing
of Google's algorithm doesn't eliminate "gaming" the system, it
professionalizes it. If the government requires Coke to give us some
indication of what goes into their products, isn't it fair to ask
something similar of those who are "organizing the world's
information"? There is a middle ground between fully disclosing the
algorithm and providing some indication of the policy choices that
have gone into its formation.

A robust public option seems to be the most interesting alternative
here. The (chiefly French & German) state effort in this direction
seems to be dead in the water. There are ways this might be done in a
distributed fashion, but not the collective will to do so yet. It will
take some much clearer outrages on the part of Google before that

- Alex

On Thu, Nov 19, 2009 at 3:08 AM, Zbigniew Lukasiak <zzbbyy at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hi there,
> I have not been at the conference and I don't know if this point was
> raised, if it was then - please forgive me.
> On Wed, Nov 18, 2009 at 6:28 AM, nathan jurgenson
> <nathanjurgenson at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Frank Pasquale forcefully called on Google to be more transparent. Given
>> what was discussed above, as well as Google’s central status in our
>> day-to-day knowledge-seeking life, Pasquale leaves us with questions to
>> ponder: should its page-rank algorithm be public? Should Google be allowed
>> to up-rank or down-rank links based their relationship to the company?
>> Should Google be able to simply remove pages from its listings? Should
>> Google be forced to let us know when they do these things? ~nathan
> I am also more and more afraid of the kafquesque world of Google
> government of our information sources - but they do have a valid point
> for the secrecy of page-rank: this is about defending against those
> that try to game the system.  If the page-rank algorithm was public it
> would be analysed and effective ways to game it would be found and we
> would drown under the deluge of spam.  Now there are still people and
> companies that try to analyse the black-box - but at least their
> actions cannot be very effective.
> If we are to be constructive in our criticism Google for the black-box
> algorithm we should also propose some alternative.   Most probably
> there is no alternative that Google could unilaterally deploy - most
> probably this would require a complex web of law, social norms and
> technical changes.  This would be an interesting project.
> Cheers,
> Zbigniew Lukasiak
> http://brudnopis.blogspot.com/
> http://perlalchemy.blogspot.com/
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