Monday, May 30, 2005

Page Rank is Down and Everybody is Speculating

Google's Page Rank system has been non-operational now for about three days and the internet is abuzz with speculation about what it could mean. If you don't know what I mean, I am referring to the little green bar in the Google toolbar that supposedly ranks web pages according to their importance or "relevance" or some other mysterious criteria that only Google knows for sure.

In fact, much of the Page Rank system has been based on the quantity and quality of inbound links pointing at specific pages. This system was the inspiration for much that was novel about Google when it burst on the scene about seven years ago. But since then it has become the feature of Google that has been most open to abuse. Among other things, it has set the tone for many thousands of websites that are little more than "directories" of links. It has also been the source of much "link exchange" activity -- a counter-intuitive exercise that occupies so much of the time of those of us involved in web promotion.

The reaction to the current PR outage has been mixed. Some have predicted that Google is moving holus bolus to another system such as TrustRank. Others think it is just a Google glitch.

My own feeling is that this is too big to be a glitch. Google has a plan. They are making changes. They have clearly said that the evaluation of links is going to undergo change, and possibly this is a way of shocking the troops into realizing that the changes are coming sooner rather than later.

Whether this is a permanent change or not, it is clear that the free-for-all that has been happening on the linkage front is going to change. The significance of garbage links will inevitably be diminished (as it should be), and the ability of content-less sites to score big PR numbers by simply hooking up with other (possibly equally content-less) sites also will (and should be) diminished.

On the other hand, Page Rank serves a potentially useful purpose. There is something to be said for having an "objective" measure of the quality of websites. As it stands now, there is no way of knowing whether a particular site is of any value or not. Yese there is Alexa, but that is equally open to abuse. The fact that the current Page Rank system is flawed, is not sufficient reason to jettison the entire concept. Nor is it sufficient reason, in my estimation, to move completely towards a system like TrustRank that favours long established sites over newer, possibly better ones.

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