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Google and the Great Wikipedia Feedback Loop

The information triumvirate monolith

Goobage

Reg Associate Editor Andrew Orlowski argues that back in 2006, Google purposefully pushed Wikipedia to the top of its search rankings in an effort to combat the sea of "Goobage" served up by so-called search engine optimizers and unchecked bloggers. And Google has the power to knock the Wikifiddlers back down. Mountain View created that feedback loop, and it can just as easily end it.

Google and Wikipedia are cut from the same cloth. They profess a commitment to the wisdom of the masses - to something called Web 2.0 - but they rarely admit there's a tiny brain trust at the top pulling the strings.

Google now has its own online encyclopedia, which it insists on calling Knol. And Mountain View search guru Matt Cutts is adamant that Google would never juice Knol's search results. "Google Knol does not receive any sort of boost or advantage in Google’s rankings," he wrote over the weekend.

"When Knol launched, some people asked questions about this. I dutifully trundled around the web and said that Knol would not receive any special benefits in our scoring/ranking for search. With the benefit of six months’ worth of hindsight, I hope everyone can agree that Knol doesn’t get some special boost or advantage in Google’s rankings."

But for other reasons, it gave a "special boost" to Wikipedia. And now the world's collective consciousness is paying for it. According to the latest numbers from Hitwise, announced Friday, Wikipedia accounts for 97 per cent of all online encyclopedia visits from US web surfers.

Never mind that Jimbo Wales sees Wikipedia as some sort of news site.

MSN Encarta ranks second at 1.27 per cent. Encyclopedia.com is third at 0.76 per cent. Something called Fact Monster is fourth at 0.72 per cent. And Britannica brings up the rear at 0.57 per cent.

Britannica.com is handicapped because much of its content is hidden behind pages that ask for credit card numbers. As Hitwise and others point out, this drives visitors away - and it cuts down on links from other websites.

We all know that Google's search algorithms don't like it when a site is low on linkage. But those mindless Google algorithms aren't controlled by mindless Google algorithms. They're controlled by Google. When Wikipedia popped into Google's top ten back in 2006, linkage wasn't the only culprit.

In the end, with Google controlling well over 60 per cent of the search market, it's Google that decides what the world reads. And Google prefers its version of the wisdom of the masses mob. ®

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