Monday, October 1, 2012

What goes around

Here is a little pestering idea you might want to be pestered by. I started this blog to pass on pestering ideas, so there you go, little idea, move along.

When Google first got exciting, it was because it was more accurate than anything else out there. It was more accurate because it relied on the web of meaningful links people had put in place, for their own individual and group purposes, by hand, without using Google. I don't remember the details, and probably you don't either, but somehow Google made use of the fact that on a web site about turtles there were links to other web sites about turtles, so when you searched on turtles it could use those links to rank results with turtle-related words in them. Essentially, the reason Google was so reliable was that we didn't rely on it.

Have you noticed lately how, more and more, people say on their blogs or web sites or whatever, I'm not going to bother to link to that, just google it?

Have you noticed the results of searches on google getting worse?

Maybe the more we rely on it the less reliable it becomes. Google helps those who help themselves?

Interesting, huh?


John Caddell said...

This is bigger than Google. Berners-Lee invented the web to link documents together. The machine- and network-independent linking part of the WWW its distinctive feature. It creates its own organic, self-evolving structure.

But when people don't link, they don't play their part in this structuring exercise. Sometimes this happens because of misguided walled-gardening (for a long while the NY Times only linked to other Times articles, as if it were the only credible source for everything). Other times it's laziness (just Google it).

My high-school English teacher told us that if we didn't cite our sources, he would assume we got the information from the junior high janitor and grade accordingly. On the web, linking is source-citing, and it's just as important - though much easier than footnotes!

At any rate, people who don't link degrade the value of the web for everyone.

Cynthia Kurtz said...

Number two reason to respond to all comments to blog as soon as possible: blogger says "1 comments" on the main page until I fix it by adding another. Number one reason: comments make the world go round!

John: The web DID feel that way in its earlier years, that it was what we built. I remember feeling like I was playing a part in building the web. Lately it doesn't feel that way as much. It feels more like the web is trying to decide whether it is being built BY people or FOR people. The question I suppose is not now which is right or which should "win" but how to make the two forces work best together for mutual benefit.

Aside from the responsibility issue, this is a great example to use when talking about complex, emergent, feedback-dependent patterns. It makes sense to have a saw that dulls as you use it, but it's strange to think of a saw that sharpens the more you use your axe. The counter-intuitive reason it works this way is that the saw is not REALLY a saw, it just LOOKS like one. It's really your hand, which you exercise by using the axe. The links on the internet are our collective muscles of intellect and insight. The internet (and Google) can look like a tool, but it's not: it is nothing more or less than we the people. That's complexity.

Cool. Thanks for the comment!