Google’s solution to the librarian’s problem – findablity – stands on the presumption that links create a valid proxy for quality. It works delightfully when the population manufacturing links validates that hope.
Google is great in all kinds of esoteric domains where thousands of enthusists and domain experts are laboring way stitching together the web.
It seems to fall down when the domains become less esoteric. For example it’s useless when commerce is has created a fog of links that effecively jam the algorithum – e.g. try “I feel lucky” for cheap long distance service. Conversly it breaks down when the topic gets sufficently esoteric that there too few people working on it to create enough links that google can see ’em – e.g. try “I feel lucky” for economic displacement. Most of history is in this “under linked” catagory; for example I’m a fan of the story telling school of economics from the 50s and 60s but almost none of that is on the web.
Which brings us to the question at hand; google is moving into news! (See Google News). Will the optomistic approximation links=quality work there? I think it’s going to be hard. The stuff is all fresh – so it won’t have gotten a lot of linking by proffesionals and enthusasts. There is a vast industry in place (i.e. PR and the news conglomerates) that labors furiously to jam the signal.
Of course optomisticly we can hope this raises the role that tools like blogs can play on the one hand and it might reanimate the job of the expert – the job the newspaper editor used to fufill.
I wonder if their ranking of articles is informed by their ranking of the newspaper that ran the article.
The model where quality=links is interestingly similar to so many other nieve models: quality=wealth, or quality=age, or quality=income, or quality=ancestors, quality=test_scores, quality=power, quality=certification. They are all a proxy. In a world of 10 billion attributes picking one or two certain to blind those that take them too seriously and lead to that great fear of conservatives and liberals alike unintended consequences.