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Algorithm v/s Wisdom : Google Panda

Google's search engine is a triumph of technology. There's no denying that. It was the capstone that completed the initial structure of the Internet.

With over a decade and more of dominance beyond any thought and competition, the biggest challenge for Google lately has been the declining potency of its search engine. In recent years, Google searches have become a lot less useful and a lot more frustrating. It has become more difficult to find stuff that is on the internet - even stuff that was featured previously. Another example is pages that have posted to the web more recently. They get overpowered in the Google algorithm by older pages that have had time to accumulate more incoming links.

But, the Internet is now in the midst of a dramatic remodel and it's unclear whether Google search will get the refresh it needs to make it more appealing than ever or if it will be one of the things that gets painted over.
  1. The search results on Google are becoming increasingly ineffective because they were littered with "web spam" and articles from "content farms" (sites creating faux content to turn as many ads as possible).
  2. Social media has been replacing traditional web search for many different kinds of information gathering and Google hasn't have a legitimate play in social (till Google+. After several high-profiled social flameouts - such as Google Wave and Google Buzz - Google+ seems to have made the mark)
Ironically, the biggest problem for Google is its greatest cash cow, SEO - Search Engine Optimization. A whole cottage industry has arisen around helping sites optimize their pages to get ranked as highly as possible in Google. As a result, the sites that land at the top of Google search results have become more about which sites are best optimized rather than which ones have the best and most relevant content.

Even worse, whole companies have emerged whose entire purpose is to create low-quality content that is highly-optimized for Google and loaded up with ads to turn a quick buck. These "content farms" have become big business.

Recognizing the growing risks points mentioned above pose to Google's relationship with users, and ultimately its business model, the company has moved aggressively in 2011 to fix the situation. Google called it Panda. Panda was released in February 2011 with newer versions in April 2011, May 2011, June 2011 and September 2011.

However; the Panda update has had a difficult time targeting content farms and has accidentally affected a lot of good stuff. So for every eHow and Demand Media (bogus content sites) that Panda obliterated, Panda also killed some like TechRepublic (genuine content host).

Google argues that this creates a fairer and more objective system, and that introducing human filtering into the system would make it biased and subjective. While that may be true, the big question is whether human intervention would make Google search more effective, and ultimately more accurate. The problem with the algorithm (and artificial intelligence in general) is that it has no common sense or wisdom -at least not yet. Meanwhile, the systems that Google search is increasingly competing with for information discovery social search and mobile apps -use the collective wisdom of the community or targeted experts to deliver better information more quickly than Google search, in many cases.

So far, Google (even with Panda) has had a difficult time targeting content farms and it has ended up accidentally removing a bunch of useful content in the process. The big question now is whether Google can learn from this experience and change, or if it will eventually fade into becoming a fallback mechanism that people use when they can't find the information they need from social search (asking their Twitter or Facebook friends) or a mobile app.