March 13, 2019

A Darker Shade of Gray

Google’s original breakthrough in search was placing weight on links & using them to approximate the behavior of web users.

The abstract of
The PageRank Citation Ranking: Bringing Order to the Web reads

The importance of a Web page is an inherently subjective matter, which depends on the readers interests, knowledge and attitudes. But there is still much that can be said objectively about the relative importance of Web pages. This paper describes PageRank, a method for rating Web pages objectively and mechanically, effectively measuring the human interest and attention devoted to them. We compare PageRank to an idealized random Web surfer. We show how to efficiently compute PageRank for large numbers of pages. And, we show how to apply PageRank to search and to user navigation.

Back when I got started in the search game if you wanted to rank better you simply threw more links at whatever you wanted to rank & used the anchor text you wanted to rank for. A friend (who will remain nameless here!) used to rank websites for one-word search queries in major industries without even looking at them. 😀

Suffice it to say, as more people read about PageRank & learned the influence of anchor text, Google had to advance their algorithms in order to counteract efforts to manipulate them.

Over the years as Google has grown more dominant they have been able to create many other signals. Some signals might be easy to understand & explain, while signals that approximate abstract concepts (like brand) might be a bit more convoluted to understand or attempt to explain.

Google owns the most widely used web browser (Chrome) & the most popular mobile operating system (Android). Owning those gives Google unique insights to where they do not need to place as much weight on a links-driven approximation of a random web user. They can see what users actually do & model their algorithms based on that.

Google considers the user experience an important part of their ranking algorithms. That was a big part of the heavy push for making mobile responsive web designs.

On your money or your life topics Google considers the experience so important they have an acronym covering the categories (YMYL) and place greater emphasis on the reliability of the user experience.

Nobody wants to die from a junk piece of medical advice or a matching service which invites predators into their homes.

The Wall Street Journal publishes original reporting which is so influential they almost act as the missing regulator in many instances.

Last Friday the WSJ covered the business practices of Care.com, a company which counts Alphabet’s Capital G as its biggest shareholder.

Behind Care.com’s appeal is a pledge to “help families make informed hiring decisions” about caregivers, as it has said on its website. Still, Care.com largely leaves it to families to figure out whether the caregivers it lists are trustworthy. … In about 9 instances over the past six years, caregivers in the U.S. who had police records were listed on Care.com and later were accused of committing crimes while caring for customers’ children or elderly relatives … Alleged crimes included theft, child abuse, sexual assault and murder. The Journal also found hundreds of instances in which day-care centers listed on Care.com as state-licensed didn’t appear to be. … Care.com states on listings that it doesn’t verify licenses, in small gray type at the bottom … A spokeswoman said that Care.com, like other companies, adds listings found in “publicly available data,” and that most day-care centers on its site didn’t pay for their listings. She said in the next few years Care.com will begin a program in which it vets day-care centers.

By Monday Care.com’s stock was sliding, which led to prompt corrective actions:

Previously the company warned users in small grey type at the bottom of a day-care center listing that it didn’t verify credentials or licensing information. Care.com said Monday it “has made more prominent” that notice.

To this day, Care.com’s homepage states…

“Care.com does not employ any care provider or care seeker nor is it responsible for the conduct of any care provider or care seeker. … The information contained in member profiles, job posts and applications are supplied by care providers and care seekers themselves and is not information generated or verified by Care.com.”

…in an ever so slightly darker shade of gray.

So far it appears to have worked for them.
A Darker Shade of Gray

What’s your favorite color?

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