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    nmw 15:27:59 on 2016/07/12 Permalink
    Tags: academia, academic, , , , , , , , bandwagon, bandwagon effect, , , , , , , , , , compute, , corrupt, corrupted, corruption, , , , , , , group think, groupthink, , , , , , , , , , , , , majority, , , , , populism, populist, , , rason, , , , , , , , search, , systemic, , , trusted, , , universities, , valid, validity, vote, votes, voting, ,   

    The Spectre of Populism 

    There is a spectre haunting the Web: That spectre is populism.

    Let me backtrack a moment. This piece is a part of an ongoing series of posts about „rational media“ – a concept that is still not completely hard and fast. I have a hunch that the notion of „trust“ is going to play a central role… and trust itself is also an extremely complex issue. In many developed societies, trust is at least in part based on socially sanctioned institutions (cf. e.g. „The Social Construction of Reality“) – for example: public education, institutions for higher education, academia, etc. Such institutions permeate all of society – be it a traffic sign at the side of a road, or a crucifix as a central focal element on the alter in a church, or even the shoes people buy and walk around with on a daily basis.

    The Web has significantly affected the role many such institutions play in our daily lives. For example: one single web site (i.e. the information resources available at a web location) may be more trusted today than an encyclopedia produced by thousands of writers ever were – whether centuries ago, decades ago, or even still just a few years past.

    Similarly, another web site may very well be trusted by a majority of the population to answer any and all questions whatsoever – whether of encyclopedic nature or not. Perhaps such a web site might use algorithms – basically formulas – to arrive at a score for the „information value“ of a particular web page (the HTML encoded at one sub-location of a particular web site). A large part of this formula might involve a kind of „voting“ performed anonymously – each vote might be no more than a scratch mark presumed to indicate a sign of approval (an „approval rating“) given from disparate, unknown sources. Perhaps a company might develop more advanced methods in order to help guage whether the vote is reliable or whether it is suspect (for example: one such method is commonly referred to as a „nofollow tag“ – a marker indicating that the vote should not be trusted).

    What many such algorithms have in common is that on a very basic level, they usually rely quite heavily on some sort of voting mechanism. This means they are fundamentally oriented towards populism – the most popular opinion is usually viewed as the most valid point of view. This approach is very much at odds with logic, the scientific method and other methods that have traditionally (for several centuries, at least) be used in academic institutions and similar „research“ settings. At their core, such populist algorithms are not „computational“ – since they rely not on any kind of technological solution to questions, but rather scan and tally up the views of a large number of human (and/or perhaps robotic) „users“. While such populist approaches are heralded as technologically advanced, they are actually – on a fundamental level – very simplistic. While I might employ such methods to decide which color of sugar-coated chocolate to eat, I doubt very much that I, personally, would rely on such methods to make more important – for example: „medical“ – decisions (such as whether or not to undergo surgery). I, personally, would not rely on such populist methods much more than I would rely on chance. As an example of the kind of errors that might arise from employing such populist methods, consider the rather simple and straightforward case that some of the people voting could in fact be color-blind.

    Yet that is just the beginning. Many more problems lurk under the surface, beyond the grasp of merely superficial thinkers. Take, for example, the so-called „bandwagon effect“ – namely, that many people are prone to fall into a sort of „follow the leader“ kind of „groupthink“. Similarly, it is quite plausible that such bandwagon effects could even influence not only people’s answers, but even also the kinds of questions they feel comfortable asking (see also my previous post). On a more advanced level, complex systems may be also be influenced by the elements they comprise. For example: While originally citation indexes were designed with the assumption that such citation data ought to be reliable, over the years it was demonstrated that such citations are indeed very prone to be corrupted by a wide variety of corruption errors and that citation analysis is indeed not at all a reliable method. While citation data may have been somewhat reliable originally, it became clear that eventually citation fraud corrupted the system.

     
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    nmw 16:20:02 on 2016/07/03 Permalink
    Tags: analysis, analytic, analytical, analytics, authenic, authenicated, authenicity, , , , , counterfeit, , , , engaging, , , , , , imposter, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , qualitative, , , , , , search, , , , , , , , , , , , ,   

    Sign My Guestbook + The Rationality of the Written Word 

    I enjoy following Chloe Thurlow’s writings and musings very much. Whenever I start reading, then I am quite sure that my time will be well spent. I am sad that her chloethurlow.com website is sometimes blocked when I am at work or at some other public computer, because writing on my phone is a truly laborious task which I would rather not engage in at all.

    Recently Chloe asked whether I might be willing to write something – meaning: for the chloethurlow.com audience. Obviously, yes! But it turns out willing and able are two very different things. What I immediately came up with was nothing less than „Painfully empty“ – at least that’s how I like to describe it.

    I have had other people ask me whether I might consider writing for „their“ websites. I usually decline, though, for several reasons. One reason is usually meant ironically – I use this when the person asking is a fan of Google: „they can just search“ (LOL)… and then of course the fans are forced to admit that would be logical, and perhaps they also realize how bogus the whole notion of Google is (though in some cases, I think that part whooshes right by above their heads).

    Another reason is that I would feel like an impostor. If people visit chloethurlow.com, wouldn’t they be disappointed to hear me preaching from that pulpit? As soon as I opened my mouth I would half expect my face to be pelted with tomatoes and rotten eggs. Cake wouldn’t be bad, as long as it tasted good.

    This brings me to the way I see and use „the web“. This is rather complicated, so if you don’t care then now would be a good time to stop reading. 😉

    In the early days of the web, there was this notion of „please come over to my place – and when you visit, then please sign my guestbook, post a comment“ … which was all more or less the precursor of: „please like my crap“. About a decade ago, Google made a quite significant change to the way they viewed content on the web. They introduced the concept of meaningless, insignificant blather. Of course they would probably say something like „we gave you a tool to deal with comment spam“. At the time, I was shocked that people would be willing to point out that the information on their own websites was insipid, useless, insignificant and probably a waste of your time (and certainly not worth the time for Google’s robots to scan it at the rate of fractions of a penny per pentillion). I knew then and there that this would be the end of comments. At the time, I was flabbergasted.

    Today, I look back and think: What a good thing! I don’t want to host your content. If you have something meaningful to share, then host it yourself. If you don’t have a dime, see if you can post it on some website that is willing to accept your thoughts for nothing (but don’t be so naive to think they won’t sell your private, personal parts to make money on it).

    When I want to share ideas, I see no reason to submit them to „other“ websites.

    What is an „other“ website?

    An other website is a site that I have very little or no control over. People need to get over thinking in black and white terms. You do not own your own website. People don’t own land. They use it. You don’t own me. If I feel like typing in chloethurlow.com rather than facebook.com that is entirely my decision. It is nothing other than my own rational behavior which motivates me to type in „weather“ when I want to learn about the weather. If I wanted romance, I would type in romance. I rarely type in Google.

    When I write, I expect people to be similarly rational. When Ella and Louis sang „Let’s call the calling off off“, they were declaring how relationships and meaning intertwine on a level that has little or nothing to do with individual pronunciation but everything to do with shared engagement with shared ideas. While I might seek to engage with romance, I might avoid engaging with brand names… and a big part of such a decision has to do with participating with people who perhaps think like I do, or perhaps think different – but in any case who care enough to become engaged.

    One important takeaway from this view of the web is an orientation towards language over a brand name orientation. Another – which is actually sort of a corollary – is that saying something like „you can contact me at so-and-so“ becomes meaningless. You can contact me at many locations, because I am engaged with many topics. I am not just here or there, I am almost everywhere.

     
  • Profile photo of nmw

    nmw 18:49:07 on 2016/06/25 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , citation analysis, , , , , few, , , , , , , , many, , , sample, sampling, search, , ,   

    Don’t Listen to One Single Piece of Good Advice — Listen to Many 

    Several months ago, I mentioned on one of my other blogs that I enjoy listening to Gretchen Rubin’s „Happier“ podcast. I still do, even though I think content sponsored by advertising is by and large fake.

    Recently, Gretchen (and Elizabeth) asked her (their) listeners what the best piece of advice was that they ever got. I responded (they asked for people to phone in their comments – I think my remarks may have arrived a little too late for episode 70, but perhaps they might appear in episode 71(?).

    This was the gist of my message: Don’t Listen to One Single Piece of Good Advice — Listen to Many!

    This is also something Jason Calacanis mentioned in a recent episode of his „This Week in Startups“ podcast, but I can’t remember which one – that you should never rely on just one source of information. I remember thinking as I listened to Jason (and of course I had heard such advice decades before from many of my school teachers): „does that mean if you search for information you will not only listen to Google?“ Stange as it may seem, my hunch is that for the vast majority of the population, this is not the case. Indeed, my experience has been that most people will only search for information using Google’s algorithms – if they do not see anything that appeals to them via Google, they will assume that no such thing exists.

    Incidentally, there is also another kind of parochialism that I feel is closely related to this fanatical belief in Google’s scoring algorithm. In a recent episode published by HBR’s „Ideacast” podcast, Todd Rose was interviewed about a book he had recently written (” The End of Average: How to Succeed in a World That Values Sameness”) about measurement and statistics. His argument echoes something I have long held to be true (and I think I recall that one of my comments regarding this matter also appeared on a German radio program – perhaps 5 or more years ago).

    Oddly, Google fan-boys (and fan-girls, too, of course) often overlook the fact that Google also ranks results according to such „cooked“ statistics. In fact the situation is even worse: when Google calculates its metrics for websites, then those metrics are applied regardless of how relevant they are (or aren’t). So while SAT scores attempt to measure both mathematical ability and verbal ability, Google’s statistical measurement for quality (which was shown to be totally bogus decades ago) is applied whether or not the source is reliable for the search query. It is essentially a „one-size fits-all“ metric (which also happens to be totally unreliable). Yet very few people really care, because most people use Google mainly to search for domain names anyways (in other words: they „search“ for ebay because they are too lazy to type in ebay.com. I bet if people stopped doing that, then the reduction in energy required might actually reduce global warming significantly! 😉

     
  • Profile photo of nmw

    nmw 10:16:04 on 2016/06/21 Permalink
    Tags: , , anti-social rationality, , , , , , , , , , , , , , offers, , , , search, , search engine optimization, , , spam, spammer, spammers, spamming, , target market, , , ,   

    Spam Index, Shopping Catalog & Co. – An Introduction to Anti-Social Rationality 

    Do you want to be the #1 top result on Google?

    No, thank you.

    To many people this reaction might seem odd.

    Let me backtrack a little. Yesterday I alerted yet another person of the fact that I can see they are using gmail.com as their email server (even though their email address shows merely their own domain name). I had initiated contact, and in the header information to their reply email – well, anyone can see this information, because it is in plain daylight, plain text, plain and simple – there was Google / Gmail. However, because most of the „users“ on the Internet are illiterate, many people think no one will ever notice that their correspondence is being shared with innumerable Fortune 500 companies and governments who are aligned with Google to harvest „insights“ from this data.

    My business contact was surprized, and broke off the contact. Of course Google knows who I am talking about, but I will nonethless respect this person’s privacy. If this information gets shared with other businesses (for example: competitors might pay money for such data, and simply add the cost to the price of their products and/or services), then it was not me, but rather the organization that is the world’s leading provider of industrial espionage software (aka Google).

    I am often disappointed and regret the widespread illiteracy. But at least I am not myself one of the suckers whose private information gets sold to the highest bidder.

    I think many people consider my complacency illusory and backwards. After all: If you want to show up on the Google website, wouldn’t you be happy to let them probe your interior, private and confidential business communications?

    No, not really – but thank you very much for the FREE OFFER! 😉

    I have many websites that rank very well (but no thanks to any sort of „special consideration“) on pretty much all search engines. Indeed, if there were a search engine they did not rank well on, then people would probably eventually avoid using it simply because the results on such a search engine would „suck“. Many years ago I sent Matt Cutts a „tweet“ showing him there was something wrong with Google and then they fixed it. You might be able to still find our exchange on twitter.com – but you would have to go back many years (I haven’t used twitter for… OMG, IDK how long).

    One thing you need to consider if you actually get a website to rank well on such so-called „search engines“ (BTW: many / most businesses which track „search engines“ are usually unable to define what is / isn’t a „search engine“), then you should be ready for spammers. If you are not ready, your site will be flooded with spam in a matter of minutes. Most of this spam is generated by robots, and robots work very fast. Being the top result on Google is an open invitation to having your inbox overflowing with love from a wide variety of „artificial intelligence“ machines. I, personally, have little or no interest in such robotic affection.

    I actually even have little interest in ranking highly on Google. In my opinion, the results are already so shoddy that I feel showing up on Google is sort of like showing up at a thug lineup. Most company websites where the company marketing team prides itself for its high ranking on Google are sending a very clear message to consumers: „We paid a lot of money to show up here, so if you buy from us you will probably need to pay a little more“. There is very little indication of quality or reliability from showing up on Google or Facebook or Youtube or whatever most people think of as a general „search engine“. At least Facebook seems to be honest about the need to pay money, but I really don’t think that would actually motivate me to waste it on reaching billions of people (and/or robots) with very limited literacy skills. Most such people (and/or computers) would probably not even understand (and/or act on) the most clearly written message anyways. They are usually primarily searching for a free lunch, flashing lights, bells and whistles – and I am not interested in offering anything like that. I am prepared to offer people and businesses affordable solutions, but I don’t want to be your slave.

     
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