It’s rare that I read a newspaper article to the very end. I was rewarded for the effort this morning, though, by Claire Cain Miller’s piece on Google’s attempts to battle Facebook in the social networking arena, Determined to Crack the Social Code. The most interesting line is the last one:
“Larry Yu, a Facebook spokesman, said his company expected competitors large and small to emerge but was focused on building a valuable service. Privately, though, Facebook executives have said that their biggest worry is that Google will prioritize a Google profile page over a Facebook page in search results.”
Last week I noticed that Google prioritizes an old version of this blog that’s hosted on Google’s Blogger platform over the one you’re reading. I haven’t published new content to the Blogger version in four years, and it has significantly fewer inbound links from other sites, so to a layman it’s hard to understand why http://chasnote.blogger.com would rank higher than http://chasnote.com. It’s possible that Google just knows how to optimize for PageRank better than anyone on the outside.
It’s also possible that all Blogger sites rank highly in search because, collectively, lots of other sites point to individual blogs on across the Blogger domain (something.blogspot.com). But that doesn’t totally add up. If I searched for news about some tech company, Google generally recommends more recent, relevant sites ahead of bigger, higher-PageRank sites that don’t have recent content.
Meanwhile it’s totally reasonable to expect a giant public company to do all within its power to ward off competitors. (Y’know, such as Facebook or ChasNote.) But if, in fact, Google does allow editorial judgment into its PageRank logic — especially when it comes to ranking high-profile sites like Facebook — how will they explain it to the millions of people that love Google precisely because it’s a service where math, not people, determines relevance?