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Traversing the "Googlearchy" 67

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the he-just-made-that-word-up dept.
baloney farmer writes "How much do search engines influence the availability of information online? A new study gives some surprising results. Search engines help with popularity, but not as much as you'd think: 'Traffic increased far less than would be expected if search engines were enhancing popularity. It actually increased less than would be predicted if traffic were directly proportional to inbound links. In the end, it appears that each inbound link only increases traffic by a factor of 0.8. The results suggest that the reliance of web users on search engines is actually suppressing the impact of popularity.'"
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Traversing the "Googlearchy"

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  • by lkypnk (978898) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @06:40PM (#15930861)
    I've got to say no to this. Yes, when you search for something, you get the most popular results. But not everyone uses the same search terms, and even if you only go for the first three pages of results, you've still got 20 - 30 different sources of information, each different but similar query returning a slightly different set.
    • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday August 17, 2006 @07:16PM (#15931083) Homepage
      I've got to say no to this.

      And your evidence and study showing the researchers are wrong is... what?
       
       
      Yes, when you search for something, you get the most popular results. But not everyone uses the same search terms,

      Actually, if you've ever watched those 'live search' services (I.E. showing in realtime search terms users are entering), you'll see the same terms pop up again and again. Equally, for most search items - there simply are not that many (properly spelled) variants. (I.E. for the Seattle Mariners - there's pretty much only one way to type that.)
       
       
      and even if you only go for the first three pages of results, you've still got 20 - 30 different sources of information, each different but similar query returning a slightly different set.
      Many studies have found that the first page is what it's all about - what's on page 4 might as well not even exist. (There's a reason why SEO's exist you know.)
       
      In essence - your claim that the researchers in TFA are wrong is based on smoke and mirrors.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        for the Seattle Mariners - there's pretty much only one way to type that.

        Yeah, right, Ciatel cannot be written any other way. Like every other word of the english language, Siahtel is the perfect example of a uniquely constructed word. Whether you live in See-attel or do not live in Sea-atle, the correct spelling of Seateul is obvious.
      • When I'm doing engineering research I often have to repostulate what I am looking for to Google several times before getting the results I need.

        For example last night I was working on a calculation involving "k", the heat capacity of air, in english units.
        "heat capacity of air" would give me the answer in metric ... that's great and all but I didn't have my handy conversion table in front of me (and didn't want to spawn a second search... which is part of the point, here)
        "heat capacity of air english un
        • by Bob Uhl (30977)
          I didn't realise that anyone still used real units to do engineering work--it's nice to know that there's still some sanity left in the world. Any suggestions for engineering references using English units?
        • by rtb61 (674572)
          I found that using firefox my searching has vastly improved. By right click and open in new tab, I retain the original search and can add additional terms to it whilst reviewing a selection of the results originally produced.

          I generally open up a half dozen or so of the most likely links on the first page and based upon a quick review of those, revise the original search terms as necessary and refresh the search page and whilst the search page is refreshing, I take a closer look at the links I had opened

      • by Bob Uhl (30977)
        ...for the Seattle Mariners - there's pretty much only one way to type that.

        You grossly over-estimate the intelligence of the average sports fan. No doubt that's the least common spelling. I daresay the most common is something along the lines of 'Seeaddle Mayrnurs.'

    • by 70Bang (805280) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @08:42PM (#15931534)

      It has nothing to do with what the search engines do or provide per se. Search engines aren't always needed to a certain extent any more, particularly when it comes to popular sites, specific uris, etc. The reason (IMO)?

      Word of "mouth". Actually, email messages[1] are sending names of services or specific uris for a particular site (e.g., something particularly funny on youtube) and people are pointing their browser in that direction, then exploring what else is there. If there are uris to other locations on the web, people follow those. One of the local affiliates in Indy played a considerably portion of this [wthr.com] last night and made sure everyone knew there was a link on their web site. Lots of people likely pointed their browsers and youtube had a lot of extra traffic[2]. On the youtube page is Explore other videos. Lots of information conveyed, but no search engine activity in the process.
      The web has enough toys^w services which people regularly visit (e.g., blogs, youtube) they don't necessarily need search engines unless somethings isn't found via the normal means. And normal now includes the various discussion forums where people provide the advice from the voice of context. IMDb.com has a professional side (reasonably priced paid service) where people who are in the biz can post things they're looking for or are available for. A couple of nights ago, someone was asking about the best software for scriptwriting on a small budget. ca. eight people chimed in with what they knew about different packages, including a couple of free ones, a commercial one for $25, a template which can be downloaded for MS Word, and some of the pros & cons about the ones they'd used. Where will you find ad hoc information in that context on demand in a search engine?
      __________________________________

      [1] Unless you're in the media and use "emails" as a noun.

      [2] Several years ago, I had a client who helped small to medium newspapers get online. Someone build a web site for them (taking six months, #include files nested six deep, every call to the server required 20'000 lines of code to be processed, regardless of the function involved. Once more than twenty people hit a site, the server showed you its impression of the La Brea tar pits. One site for a reasonably small city, perhaps a handful of a thousand people had a sheriff's deputy arrested for pedophilia, a ten-car pileup on the nearby interstate, and the largest employer (a substantial percentage of the citizenry) was going to be dismissed. All of this hit CNN with a reference to their newspaper's web site. That's about the time Chrnobyl and Three Mile Island happened at the same time. Fortunately smarter people are starting to anticipate resource issues a little better than they used to.
      • by greenrd (47933)

        [1] Unless you're in the media and use "emails" as a noun.

        Emails is a noun. The 1980s called, they want their grammar back.

    • not everyone uses the same search terms
      No, no they don't. [somethingawful.com]
  • Only 0.8? Roland will have to post an additional 25% more "stories" to get his blog rank up.
  • direct (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @06:40PM (#15930863) Homepage
    It means people are finding what they're looking for more directly, rather than having to gad around. This is a good thing.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Bingo! When I worked in newspaper management, one metric in our readership studies was the amount of time each day the reader spent with the paper. Longer was considered better, as it indicated people were finding many things (articles, ads, crosswords, whatever) that warranted their time. The irony, however, was that one of the main points of the redesigns that were done every few years was to consolidate information (such as 'news at a glance' pages) and to make it easier for the reader to find what they
  • i can see that (Score:5, Interesting)

    by User 956 (568564) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @06:45PM (#15930892) Homepage
    In the end, it appears that each inbound link only increases traffic by a factor of 0.8. The results suggest that the reliance of web users on search engines is actually suppressing the impact of popularity.'

    I can agree with that. I've seen users type "yahoo.com" into the search bar in firefox... which goes to the google search results page, where they then click on the "Yahoo!" link. It's almost as if users are conditioned to use "search" as their first action, regardless of whether they can remember the domain or not.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fossa (212602)

      I do it too. What's more difficult, an extra click, or a decision on which box to type in? And there are other cases where my cursor is in the search box, so clicking to the URL box and then typing is the same as typing and then clicking the search result...

      • cmd-k for searching, cmd-l for typing an address. It's not that hard, really.

        Substitute ctrl for cmd if you're a Linux or Windows user. All this assuming you're using Firefox.
        • by KlomDark (6370)
          Where did they come up with those two? K for Search, L for an address? Doesn't make sense, hard to remember.

          Kearch? Laddress?
    • Re:i can see that (Score:4, Interesting)

      by XorNand (517466) * on Thursday August 17, 2006 @07:27PM (#15931144)
      What you describe is actually *very* common for novice 'net users. In fact, I might say that more of them do it than don't. Check out AOL's recently released search data [dontdelete.com]. Just randomly check out various users' search histories. It would be interesting to see how this correlates to the frequency of Google users doing the same thing.
      • It's not just "novice" users who use Google in place of the address bar. I use the drop down list of typed addresses for websites that I visit regularly, and then Google for things that I don't want cluttering my address list.

        That's the one thing that I like better in IE than Firefox: IE shows links in the order that you last used them rather than the order you last typed them in.
    • by doobystew (893475)
      They do the opposite and type the url into the search box when they can do the opposite and type the site name into the url bar to be taken straight there.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 17, 2006 @07:05PM (#15931018)
    A factor of 0.8 means that the traffic is decreased by each inbound link. Weird.
    • by sidney (95068) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @07:31PM (#15931173) Homepage
      TFA says that it is a linear relationship with a slope of 0.8. They scaled the data so that a direct linear relationship would plot as a straight line with a slope of 1, which is a line going up at a 45 degree angle, hits increasing one unit for every one unit increase in incoming links.

      Instead they saw a straight line with a slope of 0.8, meaning the hits increase 0.8 units for every 1 unit increase in incoming links. More links still correlate with more traffic, but, for example, doubling the number of incoming links increases the traffic by a factor of 1.6, not by a factor of 2.
      • More links still correlate with more traffic, but, for example, doubling the number of incoming links increases the traffic by a factor of 1.6, not by a factor of 2.

        I was wondering what they meant by that. In that case, this is good news. Although I love Google's algorithm (it's much better than other search engines), I was worried about that higher page rank could result in more sites linking to the higher sites. That would make a feedback loop, and feedback loops too often produce over-amplified re

  • by crazyjeremy (857410) * on Thursday August 17, 2006 @07:09PM (#15931037) Homepage Journal
    Maybe a site's popularity isn't defined by the number of inbound links because no matter how many links to your site you have, people still only want to look at things they are interested in. So by defining web popularity not by links, but as "Some internet item people want to find" that means that the more links to an individual site simply lets interested people find that site easier. It would only change the popularity if it's forced on you (like ads) and you become interested by a curious side thought... The more links to a site you have, the more likely interested people will find it.
  • by pla (258480) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @07:14PM (#15931077) Journal
    The results suggest that the reliance of web users on search engines is actually suppressing the impact of popularity.

    When I first read this summary, I thought, "WTF?". So I read the article. And re-read the summary. And re-read the article. And I think I finally "get" it.

    Let's say you run a "popular" site like the BBC news. You get a hell of a lot of traffic, and people tend to go directly to your site rather than via a link. Alternately, you get a lot of links that only a small percent of people seeing them follow.

    Now compare that with an unknown site (most personal or academic webpages, for example). They get very few visitors, but most of them come from search engines.

    So what does this tell us?

    Almost nothing we didn't already know - Search engines DO indeed negate the impact of popularity, because popularity has little to do with relevance, while search engines generally try to maximize relevance.

    This I consider a "good" thing. When searching for info on ripping a DVD using the latest copy protection scheme, I don't care if the latest pop idol calls ripping "totally not cool". I want methods, programs, and real life examples that might only have gotten a few dozen hits ever.
    • by Asm-Coder (929671)
      That makes perfect sense to me. If I had mod points, I'd give you one. BTW: What would the influence of easily remembered domain names be?
    • So what does this tell us? Almost nothing we didn't already know - Search engines DO indeed negate the impact of popularity, because popularity has little to do with relevance, while search engines generally try to maximize relevance.

      If the story had described this as "search engines level the playing field, leading searchers to relevant sites even if they're not the most popular", it's doubtful that it would have made it to Slashdot. For their next project: "Snakes on a plane: how dangerous are they, r

    • Thanks for all the fish!
  • Sites with more links have more visitors (as defined by Alexa ranking, a rough tool at best) - big surprise , NOT. Everyone knows that sites with more inbound links tend to rank higher on the search engines and therefore get more visitors.

    TFA then tries to make a big thing out of their 'discovery' that links are not the _only_ factor in the popularity (however defined) of a website. Again, completely obvious.

    Then we hear that the correlation (not defined clearly) between links and 'traffic' (presumabl
  • Slashdot link? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by complete loony (663508) <Jeremy@Lakeman.gmail@com> on Thursday August 17, 2006 @07:39PM (#15931220)
    I'm guessing that link up there in the summary had WAY more effect on their servers...
  • What do they mean by 'increse with a factor 0.8'?
    If my startingpoint is 1 and I put a link on it, does it mean that I now have a 1.8 or a 0.8 or what?

    Or do they mean 0.8%? So if I start with 100, I now have 100.8 per incoming link?
    Are they cumalitive? e.g. is is the second link (if it is %) over the 100.8, or over 100?

    Also it looks like captain obvious. Pages that have more links to them are more popular. Also that people who have intersts in certain pages will only go to those certain pages.

    Now if only a s
  • The Greek would definitely have a contracted eta for just "Googlarchy."
  • In the end, it appears that each inbound link only increases traffic by a factor of 0.8.

    What does this mean? Without any other reference, I would assume that each link takes 1 unit of traffic (ut) to (1 + 0.8)ut. If so, n links would take your traffic to 1.8^n ut, which is unbelievable. What's missing here?

  • I hear somebody laugh at Google: "haha those ranking noobes did not understand anything."
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Yes, the core of Google's ranking algorithms is based on incoming links, but it is far from something as simple as just counting the number of links. The _quality_ of the links is way more important. In addition, there are many signals Google takes into account beyond just pure PageRank (if this wasn't true, almost anybody could build Google). Yet, TFA uses and interchanges "# of inbound links" and "search engine score" as if they meant the same thing.

    If they really are using # of links as an approximati
  • by NetSettler (460623) * <kent-slashdot@nhplace.com> on Thursday August 17, 2006 @11:34PM (#15932213) Homepage Journal

    It reminds me of the quote (not sure the origin): People who like this kind of thing will find that this is the kind of thing that they like.

    You think it's bad now, imagine when Google has an AI model of what you want to find such that it tailors the search results for you alone.

    Some years back, in the early 90's, I think, when there was little or no web and when advertising was done in physmail, I started to receive lots of mail about object-oriented stuff and little about other kinds of programming. "Ah, we're winning," I concluded foolishly. Later, I realized I was just pigeon-holed in a special Hell where I would never again learn about what others were doing because someone thought they had learned what I "liked".

    It amazes and saddens me that a whole industry grew up around "personalized interfaces" which does not include as part of its regular practice: "ask the user what he likes". Amazon's court of last resort is to allow me to "correct" it assumptions about me by deleting records of specific purchases that are confusing its belief that I like certain things.... all substituting for an interface that just says "do you like X?" and lets me say "yes/no". And there's even some research saying they know better than I do what I want. Bleah. Personal indeed.

    I'll be interested to see if this result holds up. It seems just as grim as the "personal interfaces" result. But sad or not, it does seem believable...

    • by dargaud (518470)
      You think it's bad now, imagine when Google has an AI model of what you want to find such that it tailors the search results for you alone
      Yeah, I can see that. I made the mistake of ordering two baby books off Amazon as a gift for expecting friends. I was then bombarded with baby-related adds from Amazon for years afterwards although I can't care less about those creepy smelly things.
    • by martiojd (820719)
      It reminds me of the quote (not sure the origin): People who like this kind of thing will find that this is the kind of thing that they like.

      Well out of all the places where you can find out who wrote this... Google!!
      According to the quotations page [quotationspage.com] it was written by Abraham Lincoln in a book review (I wonder which book that was). They give the precise quote as "People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like".

    • by fyngyrz (762201)

      I think you're being way too short-sighted about what AI will mean.

      A reasonable use of AI at a search engine would be in creating true experts in every field, no matter how broad, narrow, popular or exotic, experts that know not only the broad and popular strokes, but the most intimate and tweaky details, and they would actually be able to understand what it is you were searching for, and go get it for you. Not what is statistically common, but actually what you're trying to find. Because they understan

      • I think you're being way too short-sighted about what AI will mean. ... What Amazon is doing is not, in any sense, "AI", it's just some crappy program that uses statistics.

        I'm not in real disagreement here. When I made the ill-advised use of the term AI, I was really meaning "commercial smarts", which I meant more ironically than literally, since I expect it to fall far short of real AI, and to be just "smart" enough to be dangerous.

        I agree that real AI, if it were to be had, would have very differen

  • by QuantumFTL (197300) * <justin,wick&gmail,com> on Friday August 18, 2006 @12:15AM (#15932349)
    Not to obnoxiously plug, but lylix.net [lylix.net], a Linux/Asterisk VPS host that I consult for, has gone from a single-man show with few customers to nearly overflowing with incoming business as a result of an aggressive "white hat" SEO campaign - mostly just putting up good content on the site in a format that search engines like (and probably also the thousands of links from slashdot from my sig/homepage).

    These results surprised me very much - I've gotten over a thousand hits on lylix.net as a result of my postings in the last month and a half, but this is easily dwarfed by lylix's position as the 3rd hit for 'asterisk VPS', first for 'linux asterisk vps', and being 4th-5th page for just "VPS".

    For those who can put up quality content and carve out a decent search rank, Google is a veritable gold mine. Yes, it's possible that looking at the internet through Google's lens gives a skewed perspective, but it's still the best way to find most things. Word-of-mouth is find for big sites, or niche sites known by your friends, but I can honestly say I do not find most things online that way.
  • It's hard to tell how interesting these results are from second-hand information (the original paper isn't available freely, you have to pay for it), but the writeups aren't particularly surprising. So this should be taken more as a criticism of the writeup than the (unknown) paper.

    1) The biasing effect is not hard to calculate _exactly_, for example it's done implicitly in this old paper [lbreyer.com], see p.6 the paragraph after eq.10. Of course, it's well known that Google hasn't used PageRank exclusively for years.

  • This is pretty obvious.

    If links were the only way to find new web content then the number (and popularity of linking sites) would totally determine a websites popularity (modulo a bit of advertising).

    Now if you believe that at least occasionally people find sites through search engines that weren't linked to from any of the sites they normally visit the search engine reduces the impact of popularity. All you need is one example of someone searching for "f22 raptor cost overruns" who doesn't browse milatary
  • I'm astounded that they think the correlation should be 1:1. Using some arbitrary figures:

    If you have a large web page with 4 million inwards links, and you put the link in a million more places, you're 25% more visible - but part of the 25% that can now see the link in the new places will have known about the site before, and those people then don't add to the figure even though they've been targetted by the new advertising.

    If you have a small specialised web page with only 40 incoming links, you're only b
  • ... the article for you:

    The desirability of a website is not given by how search engines rank it but by it's actual content.

    Well ... yeah!

  • I had a 'vision' of an article discussing google on slashdot and hah! behooold! Maybe all these digits are getting to me after all. Eeery ... Anyway, The equation that came to mind was a bit like follows.

    A scientist who makes an unusual discovery is alsmost certainly to get critics all over him. Yet, in time his discovery will be recognised as the result of an intellectual effort, an achievement. This scientist will become known as 'a smart person'.

    Discarding the percentile of scientists who succeed at set
  • Expecting the traffic to a site to increase in direct proportion to the number of inbound links is completely stupid. Let us say, for example, my site gets one inbound link from google.com main page. I will get some traffic. Then I get another inbound link from the home page of IIT-M Alumni Association of Allegheny Valley. Now with two links to my page, you think I should get twice the traffic? How stupid is that? All sites dont have equal traffic. Unless you weight the inbound links with popularity of orig
  • First I'll admit I'm a little confused by the article. Are they measuring a page's popularity in a search engine by its number of inbound links? So they're saying that as the number of inbound links increases (i.e., in their opinion, the site's ranking in the search engine), the number of page visits increases? Maybe I'm missing something, but if that's the case this research raises an eyebrow here at least. If they have page ranking data from Yahoo, why not use that instead of inbound links? Or maybe

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