❔ will Google's self-importance be its downfall?

In my recent explorations of the IndieWeb, I came across a search engine called BlogSurf. Independent search engines are everywhere, from Marginalia to the 28-year-old WebCrawler, each with their own algorithms. BlogSurf uses an algorithm called MarketRank, which they describe as follows:

PageRank [6] was built on the analogy of the research paper. A research paper with more citations is probably better.

MarketRank is built on the analogy of the market. An object with a higher market value is probably better.

In our case, the markets we refer to are online communities such as Reddit, Hacker News, and Twitter. Each of these communities has an upvote mechanism, which can be interpreted as an indication that the user believes the website is undervalued. They are willing to bid up the price by spending their upvote on it.

And so, the oversimplified description of MarketRank is “just add up all the upvotes”. We have some more work to do to make the values accurate, but this is the general idea.

MarketRank’s approach hits on the trust issue many of us have with Google these days. As Tracy Durnell puts it:

Google Search sucks – it’s been conquered by SEO sp*m sites so it’s untrustworthy and unuseful for anything but essentially directory lookups. Social media and the parasocial relationships we have there are a more trusted source of information – it’s coming from an actual human who is providing a testimonial/ advice about what has or hasn’t worked for them.

We trust humans and personal recommendations. That’s what made PageRank so good to begin with. In the web 1.0 era, all links were generated by humans. Which meant PageRank, which looked at links across the web, was able to best qualify sites. But today’s automation and SEO optimization has rendered that useless. By using forums and upvotes/likes as a proxy for human votes, MarketRank is better poised to surface what PageRank would once prefer.

The downside, as DKB calls out in the MarketRank post itself, is that humans only crawl a small percentage of the web. Which means that 99% of websites will have a MarketRank score of 0.

But it’s still notable that there is competition for Google. And that competition relies on admitting that Google doesn’t always know best. I’m trying to imagine Google prioritizing Reddit and Twitter shares so heavily. Yes, I could see them saying that “forum links correlate with high quality”. But the drastic change required and the emotional impact of saying “Reddit knows best”? I can’t see it. They instead seem to be focused on surfacing their subpar results in more “fun” places1. Will their self-importance give competitors room to innovate on web search algorithms for the first time in 20 years?

What innovations does web search need? Let me know what you think.


  1. Thanks to Tracy Durnell for surfacing this story in Trusted Information Sources 

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Every post on this blog is a work in progress. Phrasing may be less than ideal, ideas may not yet be fully thought through. Thank you for watching me grow.