Google Search Ranking Feature Threatens Wikia

It’s no secret that Google has been working on a Digg-like feature that lets users vote searches higher or lower, make comments, and alter the search results. Screenshots of the feature at work have been popping up in the wild for a year now. Search Engine Land’s Barry Schwartz noted it in 2007. Google confirmed that it is testing the feature as part of its experimental search efforts.

Earlier this week, Ben Gomes, distinguished engineer at Google, alluded to the experiment in a blog post Aug. 26 and provided this screenshot of what users could do with such a feature. The buttons next to the results let users bump the results up or down.

Gomes offered the information with this caveat: “At this point, I can’t say what we expect from this feature; we’re just curious to see how it will be used.”

My first thought after reading the post is that sounds a lot like what Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is doing with his Wikia Search, which launched in January and lets users edit data about search engine results and rank them for relevancy.

I spoke to Wales today, Aug. 28, and he didn’t seem too concerned, acknowledging that while he was aware Google was testing such a feature, he hadn’t read the Gomes blog post, but pointed out that the experiment appears random.

Random is interesting. If it’s random it’s difficult for a community to form. I always draw a distinction between things that I would consider to be crowdsourcing—and I consider that to be a very negative term—that aren’t really thinking about a community of people getting together to discuss thoughtfully and work together to build something, but rather it’s atomistic. They show it randomly to individuals and they may do something useful or not. That’s not to say that it’s impossible for that to be valuable, it’s just that it’s very different from what we’re doing, which is trying to build all of the tools for a community to come together and take editorial control of the search engine altogether. That’s very different from some kind of user feedback feature.

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