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A couple of months ago we wrote that Google’s Searchmash was secretly experimenting with the real next thing in search. Today I noticed that a service similar to what I described in that article has already popped up: Yoople. Here’s what they write:

At Yoople! Project we believe that Web Searches are quite good, but not as smart as a human brain could do. As today we are forced to accept the order given by search engines and click the results as they are, unfortunately this does not mean the human searcher agrees with the returned results index. Moreover clicking a result does not mean the website contains the contents we were looking for.

This is essentially true. No matter how good a machine is at sorting search results and removing spam, it will always be just a machine. It cannot possibly know what people wish should be their top result without in some way actually asking the user. Google tries to work around this limitation by assuming that web pages linking to other web pages constitute ‘the people’s voice’ so to speak and that a link to a web page within a certain category is a vote for bringing that page up to the top of search results for that particular category. This is a sensible approach but it is not perfect. A limited amount of links is one problem. It is also not necessarily the case that the most relevant page has the most links to it: consider spam sites or sites that just get a lot of links in general and therefore rank better even for irrelevant searches.

The people voting ranking algorithm does have a couple of flaws though. Once again the most important one is spam. First of all it’s hard to verify that users are humans. If a user had to fill out a captcha thing every single time they want to rearrange some search results it would get old really quickly. And what’s worse: even if there was a good way to verify that the voter really was a human, how would you be able to verify his intentions? Maybe he’s just a guy paid to vote up search results by some company. Imagine Paypal asking their telemarketing section to take a day off their schedule just to go and vote away Paypal Sucks from the major search engines. It wouldn’t cost them much and it’d almost certainly succeed. A great investment of their money and time.

It is not unlikely that this is something we will see more and more off. Realizing the immense power of sites like Digg, marketing companies will start paying little groups of people to get articles on the front page. Imagine if you’re a technology company and you’d normally pay 15 cents per visitor through normal banner advertising or what have you. You could instead give 50 people $10 each and get 15,000 visitors from Digg. It’s cheaper and comes with all the attached buzz. As we move towards people controlled search engines this will definitely become a problem there too: 50 people voting a website up to the top will have a huge impact for most search terms since it is unlikely that most legitimate users will vote at all.

None the less, the way forward is to allow people to reorder their results and to delete spam results. It’s the only way to really teach search engines what us humans actually want. There are problems along the way but there will be solutions.

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  1. Azzam says:

    Not sure if your post is in favour of yoople or not!

  2. It doesn’t really express whether I like it or not. I’m just describing my opinion that this is a sign of things to come. I think it’s a little bit too early to review Yoople yet – when I gave it a test drive there wasn’t much to see yet. The few test queries I ran didn’t seem to have had a lot of user input yet.

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