There is a great little book that charts the use and abuse of statistics over the past couple of hundred years – The Tyranny of Numbers by David Boyle (link goes to my summary of the book). The book opens with the reasoning behind the creation of statistics – to eliminate the mystery and favouritism that could occur when relying on ‘professionals’ opinions. It then goes on to demonstrate why you simply can’t take people out of the equation. People defend their numbers instead! (Great example given – hospitals in the UK penalised for not hitting targets to reduce patient waiting times, redefined trolleys as mobile beds!)
And so we see the same challenge facing The Link.
Google has published a mini-rant against paid links and why web publishers need to use their ‘no follow’ rule to prevent such links being promoted in page rank. You can read the full post over on Matt Cutts blog – Selling Links That Use PageRank. The Official Google Blog has a post that provides more Information on buying and Selling links that pass PageRank. It’s one thing outlining your company policy to web publishers on how they should be managing their links. But I’m not convinced that the example used in Matt’s blog provides a good argument to justify the policy. Searching the web is about finding information, not making decisions. If I am looking for answers about brain surgery, I might start on Google but I’m pretty sure I’d end up having a conversation with a neuro-surgeon to talk through options.
Michael Gray has written a response – Google needs to stop being a crybaby about paid links – after getting a bit of a bashing in the comments in the Google blog. It demonstrates the harsh reality of living in an advertising world – product placement happens all the time, no it isn’t fair, but where there is money to be made, fairness rarely counts.
And at the bottom of the comments to Michael’s post, is a suggestion that brings links and numbers full circle:
¨…Imagine if Google displayed a trust ranking and a popularity ranking on their results?! Now that would be a powerful search engine. If I am searching for the latest medical information, I’d want a very high trust rank. If I was searching for a french toast recipe then perhaps popularity would be the most important for me. Bottom line, Google is using inbound links for too many things now. They need to seperate TrustRank and PageRank (popularity). The internet is more than a popularity contest now. We’ve made it possible for anyone to be popular. But can they be popular and trustworthy?
Certification system . . . we need to go there.¨
And so we head back to where we started, the domain of professionals and their opinions…