I’ll admit it. I don’t really understand the dark, mysterious, and intricate workings of search engines.
I fully appreciate their ability to grant me an infinite supply of entertainment when I type in “lolcatz” but, beyond that, I’ve never cared to learn how they perform their voodoo magic.
However, after reading the Nielson and Johnson articles for this week, one of the first things that popped into my head was the idea of a community-driven search engine.
Johnson (2010) talked a bit about how important links are becoming. He mentioned that they have:
value for consumers searching for information, value for advertisers trying to share their messages with consumers searching for related topics, value for content creators who want an audience. And of course, value to the entity that serves as the middleman between all those different groups. This is in part what Jeff Jarvis has called the ‘link economy,’ but as Jarvis has himself observed, it is not just a matter of links. What is crucial to this system is that text can be easily moved and re-contextualized and analyzed, sometimes by humans and sometimes by machines. (para. 13).
However, it seems as though search engines are largely composed through automated processes. Barker and Kupersmith (2010) stated that:
search engine databases are selected and built by computer robot programs called spiders. These ‘crawl’ the web, finding pages for potential inclusion by following the links in the pages they already have in their database. They cannot use imagination or enter terms in search boxes that they find on the web. (para. 6).
As such, these programs that so many people depend upon daily seem to have little input from their users.
Social media is everywhere these days. Facebook has built-in integration with many services on the Internet, allowing users to easily share links, provide comments and give feedback to those on their networks. Perhaps, taken a step further, this type of interface could be applied with search engine results on a global scale. Allowing users to provide feedback on the accuracy or usefulness of the links provided in a given search could aid significantly in increasing relevant search results.
This sort of idea has been explored before. Google Image Labeler, a “game” where users compete to try to label photos with relevant descriptions, was designed with the idea of generating better image search results. Joel (2007) said that:
Google can call them ‘labels’ but what they are actually asking their users to do is help them to ‘tag’ images. Tagging images will prime us for the Semantic Web (some people call this Web 3.0). The more we tag items (images, audio, text, video, etc_) the more we are helping to organize the Web based off of non-computer algorithms. (para. 7).
No offense to all the computer algorithms out there (who will probably boycott adding this page to any search engines), but I think that last point is pretty important. By allowing a sort of scoring system on links as pertaining to certain keyword searches, users could identify which links are most pertinent to their purposes based on the opinions of other users who performed similar searches.
Nielsen (2010) mentioned how well the scoring system worked with the Mathworks competition. He reported that:
there is an absolute, objective measure of success that’s immediately available – the score. The score acts as a signal telling every competitor where the best ideas are. This helps the community aggregate all the best ideas into a fantastic final product. (para. 5).
A search engine that has been vetted in a similar fashion, by the people actually looking over a site and determining its usefulness, could deliver a similarly polished result.
According to Bell (2010), Google:
plans to introduce social-networking elements this fall in ‘layers’ instead of a full-on product that has been called Google Me. (para. 1).
With such an infrastructure in place, a search-engine that builds upon the databases collected by our friendly, neighborhood spider-algorithms using user-generated feedback doesn’t seem so far-fetched.