why i want msn to succeed

| 10 Comments

No, it's not because the evil empire is paying me enough to shift my priorities. It's the same reason that I agreed to be a part of MSN's Search Champs program when they invited me last year--having Google as the gatekeeper to all online information is something that scares the crap out of me.

I don't think Google is evil. But I know that they're capable of making mistakes. And when they're thought of by much of the world as the authoritative online source, their mistakes take on more magnitude than they might in a more balanced and competitive context.

I've had a great reminder of this over the past week, as I've struggled to find out from Google why the pagerank for my blog URL (mamamusings.net) has suddenly dropped to zero. For over a year it's been solidly at 6 every time I've checked (which wasn't often, since the Google toolbar didn't work on my mac, so I had to go to an external site to check it). But last week I installed the Google toolbar for Firefox, and loaded up my blog. I was shocked to see that it didn't register at all.

I checked a couple of things before I contacted Google. First, I checked an external pagerank monitoring site to confirm the result. Then I searched for my first name in Google...as before, mamamusings.net came up as the third result in the set, which seems to indicate that the site still retains some importance in the index--that didn't seem to match the zero pagerank number. Then I did a link: search on mamamusings.net on Google, and found that the number of results had dropped dramatically. Note the following:

link: mamamusings.net (Google) : 897
link:mamamusings.net (MSN): 25,811
link: mamamusings.net (Yahoo): 103,000

Huh?

So I emailed Google's customer support, explaining the details of the situation, particularly the precipitous drop combined with the continuing high results for a first name search. I received a response from the "Google Team" (no names, of course) with a very simplistic response:

Hi Liz,

Thank you for your note. Please be assured that your site is not currently penalized by Google.

A page may be assigned a rank of zero if Google crawls very few sites that link to it. Additionally, pages recently added to the Google index may also show a PageRank score of zero because they haven't been crawled by Googlebot yet and haven't been ranked. A page's PageRank score may increase naturally with subsequent crawls, so this shouldn't be a cause for concern. To learn more about PageRank, please see http://www.google.com/technology/

Regards,
The Google Team

Well, that was helpful. (Not.)

So I replied to "The Google Team," explaining that I was fully aware of how pagerank worked, and that I continued to feel that the precipitous drop indicated a "cause for concern."

I got another reply from "The Google Team," this time telling me that they'd discovered a mirror site (mamamusings.com) that had a higher pagerank (I automatically mirror the .net site on .com because so many people tend to assume the .com domain, but the number of actual links to that page is quite low), and that if I was to redirect from the .com to the .net with a 301 message that the problem would probably be resolved.

Well, maybe that would increase pagerank a bit. But it still doesn't explain why my site went from a rank of 6 to one of 0.

In response to my providing them with the same URLs referenced above, they said only that:

Also, we'd like to reiterate that our link search does not return a comprehensive set of results. We recommend selecting the "Find web pages that contain the term" link for a more comprehensive list of the links that point to your page.

Lastly, please note that we can't comment on other search engines' results.

So at the end of the day, they (a) won't explain why or how my pagerank could have dropped so quickly and completely, and (b) won't explain why so many links to my site have apparently disappeared from their index.

It's a damn good thing that I'm not running a commercial site where pagerank is more of an issue. As it is, for me this is just an annoyance. But for many others, it would be far more problematic.

What this underscores to me is how dangerous Google's current dominance in search engine mindshare is, particularly when combined with their lack of incentive to be accountable to siteowners. Monopolies of any kind make me nervous. Monopolies on information make me particuarly nervous. I'm very glad that Yahoo and MSN are making credible efforts to make search a more competitive space, and I'm also quite glad to be involved with Microsoft's efforts to do so.

10 Comments

That certainly is bizarre. My old server which hasn't hosted anything for about a year has a rank of three. It makes no sense for your page to have a zero.

I've found myself using msn search a lot lately, as I am too lazy to switch the home page on the windows desktop I just got. It works well and I find it to be a bit better easier on the eyes than the all-white look google has going.

According to the checker at pagerank.net:

http://mamamusings.com/ has PageRank 5/10.
http://mamamusings.net/ has PageRank 0/10.
http://www.mamamusings.com/ has PageRank 5/10.
http://www.mamamusings.net/ has PageRank 5/10.

Strange that only the "main" site dropped in rank. He does bring up a good point about the "mirror" sites though. Since Google is almost entirely powered by links, you risk diluting your PageRank if you offer four distinct URLs for people to link to. Better to do the 301 Moved Permanently.

Actually, my husband also experienced this with Google over the last few days. He's more or less gone from their search, even with searches that made him top of the list just a week ago. He thought it was due to bad referrals or something (he was showing them on his site and got hit by massive spamming), but maybe it's just a fluke.

It makes your point about the dominance of GOogle even more valid.

"I don’t think Google is evil. But I know that they’re capable of making mistakes. And when they’re thought of by much of the world as the authoritative online source, their mistakes take on more magnitude than they might in a more balanced and competitive context."

Easy enough to substitute 'Microsoft' for 'Google' in your post and feel equally uncomfortable.

>why i want msn to succeed
> No, it’s not because the evil empire is paying
> me enough to shift my priorities.

But Microsoft *is* paying you so any opinion you might have is clouded by your very deep seated human need to reciprocate Microsoft's employment generosity. There are very good reasons why we are inclined to distrust opinions that come from people with conflicts of interest!

If you have time I'd suggest checking out Robert Cialdini's Persuasion book. He talks more about the power of reciprocation and also about the power of consistency which I noticed you invoke in the very next line to counteract the conflict of interest :-) "It’s the same reason that I agreed to be a part of MSN’s Search Champs program when they invited me last year"

Andrew.

Andrew, points well taken. They are, indeed, paying me. And I do, indeed, feel some obligation to reciprocate that generosity.

That being said, it helps a lot that I'm here temporarily, and that I have a tenure-track job to return to after my year is up. I'm not dependent on Microsoft's generosity.

And I've been told explicitly that I'm not expected to be a cheerleader while I'm here, that my criticism is welcome and valued.

I'd like to think that I've been consistently willing to provide constructive criticism--whether or not I'm on a company's payroll. :)

I'm glad to see the American academic community working with Microsoft on search. I'm also very glad to see someone with a focus in the area of social networking doing so.

I'm disappointed with how little Google has done with the technology that the US Patent and Trademark Office has granted them a monopoly on. It's important for Microsoft to step up and compete vigorously because things are happening so painfully slowly at Google.

By definition of the PageRank design, Google must apply only it's own perspective to the data. As a fan and long time user of Advogato, I can say that I see that same problem in both the Google and Advogato systems. I ran into it working with PGP Webs of Trust as well, and have spent a great deal of time thinking about it.

Applying a non-internet content based set of origins for the transforms would, I believe, yield interesting results. Such a system would be ideally suited to a system like Scholar, and perhaps give Microsoft a bit of a technology lead.

I think it could be a way to make a projection of the future value of web content in the absence of previously published content (which is what Google's system, as I understand it, deeply relies upon).

There's an imperative, a duty, to do better in search. Search engines have become so deeply integrated into everyone's work flows that improvements in search could drive improvements in critical areas of research like virology. We need to do better on search so we can deliver faster in medicine.

This is very wierd. It happened to me too! My site used to have a pagerank of 4 on all the (known) google servers that hold this information. But recently, 4 of them display a pagerank of 0! That's very bizarre! (lol huge bump to this archived post but whatever)

three months after my website online it had pagerank 3.0, but now all backlinks to my website is zero according to google. the weird thing is my pagerank still 3.0. why it happens? anyone can help me friends? perhaps you want to critize my website ? you can do it, this is the url of my website : www.worldatrium.com

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Liz Lawley published on August 8, 2005 10:42 AM.

google dissatisfaction was the previous entry in this blog.

mindshare, market share, and monopolies is the next entry in this blog.

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