InternetA thought-provoking piece was presented by analyst Tony Rattey on Monday 13 March 2006 on SAFM, on the topic of “Can you truct the Internet?” I have some extension that I would like to offer.
Regarding search engine manipulation, I think that it is important to note that not all search engines operate in the same way. Some, such as Yahoo! operate on the basis of simple text search and the word counts. Others, such as Google, work by referring to the number of references to a page in order to determine its relative importance, amongst all other pages that have similar word counts. The question therefore, is whether the search engine manipulation is based on creating fictitious references to pages based on existing pages so that they seem to be unique pointers to the sites that are being targeted for better ratings. This method could be effective if this was the end of the line. However, the way these reverse-reference algorithms work is to not only count the number of references back to a particular page, but to also rank the importance of the page that points to the target site in question. So how are the importance of these pages determined? In the same way as the importance of the end pages. Therefore, if the pages are spuriously created, and in order for them to be unique such that the algorithm does not see them as copies, and thereby ignore them, these spurious pages would themselves have to have many other pages pointing to them. The effort to construct such a chain of references with sufficient weight (bearing in mind that it is essentially an exponential tree) to influence a search engine outcomes is massive, even using automated methods. This is not too say that it is impossible, but difficult. The above practice is known as GoogleBombing.
(An aside regarding GoogleBombing. When the search phrases that constitute GoogleBombs are identified by the internet community, they are essentially invalidated, since specific checks can be built in to prevent these attacks. Whilst this is a manual process, the watchdog has very big eyes, and the system therefore self-regulates.)
The simple case of search engine manipulation by inflating the meta-tags of a page are so unsophisticated, and thus easily countered by search algorithms, that they cannot be effectively used. Indeed, even the commercial use of such methods to ensure that the search results for a particular word combination return a certain company’s site has fallen into disuse. A would-be marketing business model sprang up in the late nineties to manage the meta-tags of an organizations web site to ensure good rankings, but this is almost unheard of a few years down the line.
The second issue regarding Google, is that the results of normal search and paid-for search can be easily distinguished by placing the results on different parts of the screen. The paid-for results of a word combination are auctioned, but the other search results are not.
Mr Ratty then refers to the vested interest of the writers and how hard it is to determine what the specific vested interest is, when consuming content off the internet. Whilst this can often be true, a few notable exceptions exist. The one is Wikipedia, which is an open-source and, more critically, open-content, online encyclopedia. This means that the content is not written by any particular person, but a group, the size of which is as large, diverse and independent as could be imagined for an editorial and authoring community. With few restrictions other than vandalism, the content is largely self-correcting. There are always going to be mistakes, but these appear to be of the same order of magnitude for this encyclopedia as for others such as the Britannica.
So can you trust the information on the internet? No. And yes. The burden of belief still rests with the consumer, but the consumer may have now one or two more tools in the acceptance toolbox before rejecting or accepting. And this is important, because if the only tool that you have is a Hammer, pretty soon everything begins to look like a Nail.

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