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Google Explores Re-Ranking Search Results Using +1 Button Data 126

Posted by samzenpus
from the circle-search dept.
tekgoblin writes "Google plans to use data from its +1 button to re-order search results and keep spammers at bay. While this would bring Google’s search engine into the social networking era, it would also create a new avenue for blackhats to manipulate search results. From the article: '"Google will study the clicks on +1 buttons as a signal that influences the ranking and appearance of websites in search results," a spokesman wrote. "The purpose of any ranking signal is to improve overall search quality. For +1's and other social ranking signals, as with any new ranking signal, we'll be starting carefully and learning how those signals are related to quality."'"
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Google Explores Re-Ranking Search Results Using +1 Button Data

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  • This is a bad idea. The summary itself explains a lot of what is wrong with this. But it isn't just spammers who will be a problem. Normal people will be more inclined to then post links they like on their G+ accounts and ask friends to add to them. At that level this may be an a deliberate attempt to get people to use G+ since this way if you have a website or set of websites you care about, this gives you an additional incentive to both be on G+ and get people you know on G+. But, I'd be very worried if I
    • by JanneM (7445) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @09:04AM (#37252258) Homepage

      This is about the +1 button on search results, not G+. G+ has nothing to do with this.

      There is a risk of spamming, but it depends also on how they end up using it. If, say, it ends up promoting things similar to those I've +1'd, but only for my own searches, then the risk of spamming is quite low. If similarity is determined by the +1 from people that tend to +1 similar sites to myself then you can't really spam it at large scale.

      A user that +1s every site in sight will not have a similar profile to anybody else but other spammers. If they +1 their own sites and a coherent set of other sites then they'll only target the specific people interested in those kind of sites; too much work for too little effect for it to be an effective manipulation method.

      • No, it's actually about G+ too [webpronews.com]. Note that only +1 from G+ profiles will count.

      • by Abstrackt (609015)

        A user that +1s every site in sight will not have a similar profile to anybody else but other spammers. If they +1 their own sites and a coherent set of other sites then they'll only target the specific people interested in those kind of sites; too much work for too little effect for it to be an effective manipulation method.

        Just out of curiosity, what prevents spammers from +1ing a coherent set of sites plus the one(s) they're trying to push? For example, what if you have a spambot advertising dating sites that also +1s a bunch of tech sites (i.e. Slashdot)? Wouldn't that effectively create targeted advertising?

        • Should be pretty easy to automate too - pick a load of random dictionary words, +1 the 5 of the top 10 Google results from each one, plus your site. Each G+ spam account just needs to pick a different set of random words.
        • by catbutt (469582)
          Well they can always do the same thing by creating pages that do such things. Link to a bunch of tech sites, then put a link to the dating site.

          Google is very good at detecting this sort of insincere promotion, and compensating for it. That's probably the the hardest problem, and the one most core to its business, that Google addresses. For someone to actually game the system, they end up having to work pretty hard to make good content and appear sincere, and in the end, they might actually be making
        • Just out of curiosity, what prevents spammers from +1ing a coherent set of sites plus the one(s) they're trying to push?

          Nothing other than the need to create multiple user accounts.
           
          But even so, there are defenses against that - weighting by age, history, and activity on the account for example. You can weight by coherency as well - the +1 (you mention) can be weighted less because it's an outlier. Etc... etc...

        • by JanneM (7445)

          As I said, that doesn't scale well. You'd need multiple bots doing this for this to have any real effect, and you'd only target those people that read largely the same subset of tech sites.

          And remember, they'd only push their own dating sites, or Viagra sites or whatever, over their competition. You need to search for a dating site to begin with for their manipulation to have any effect at all.

    • by babywhiz (781786)
      Amen on the bad idea part. On the surface, it seems good, but I can think of too many memes that could get in the way when looking for something real. Maybe just add the +1 as a filter on the Advanced Search.....
    • by aeortiz (1498977)

      I think this is why they're insisting on real names for Google+.

      When every user is a person, it is more difficult for spam CEO hackers to skew Google results. I suppose they could still try to harvest millions of Google accounts to use as +1 slaves but that's a lot harder than setting up a content farm. Spammers will have to create fake personas or steal real ones in the millions to be able to cheat now.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      combine this with crowdsourcing. KABOOOOOOOOOM.

      it doesn't need to be a million hits on one. all that's needed is that the top 40 results for searches are bought.

      google should add "don't show any hits from this site to me ever since google is tracking me anyways" button though. that way you could tune down the amount of clone-site hits(seriously, many programming queries now feed you from google with the same thread ON FUCKING TWENTY SITES NONE OF WHICH ARE THE ANSWER).

    • Google uses hundreds of signals to determine search rankings. They're researching adding one more. I'm pretty sure they have a good concept of signal-to-noise and spammers gaming the system by now. It's what they do for a living.

    • Yes, because Google is so well known for bad search ideas and have no experience dealing with search spammers and SEO. /sarcasm

      The more signals a service can plug into, the better. Just look at the Real Time twitter feed that they had. Twitter is full of spammers, but it turned out to be an incredible service (good signal far outweighed the bad). I do think G+ will figure into ranking of trusted +1 sources. With their real name position, those with thousands of followers will most likely be verified. A

  • by grasshoppa (657393) <skennedy@t[ ]-co.org ['pno' in gap]> on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @08:57AM (#37252184) Homepage

    However, it's just one more service Google Apps customers ( you know, us paying folks ) can't use.

  • by Stormthirst (66538) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @09:01AM (#37252216)

    ... they also provide a -1 too. I'd like to mod a page down as a method of balancing.

    • ... they also provide a -1 too. I'd like to mod a page down as a method of balancing.

      I thought the same thing when I first saw the silly icon.

      The first thing that hit me after I wished for a -1 was, "Oh... Then we'll have wars between spam-happy pushers and corporations. It (the +1, -1 system) will be used so much there will be DoS arising from it no time flat." :)

    • This so much.

      I want to obliterate certain sites from search results:

      Stuff like this, for example: http://tapix/ [tapix] . ru/mobile/t64340 (it is inscredible how many sites which are basically list of sequential numbers there are.)

      Various newsgroup, forum and mailing list scrappers.

      javadoc and opensource code mirrors.

      goddamn www.roseindia . net/java/

      etc... There is just too much of redundant clutter.

      • by SnowZero (92219)

        I want to obliterate certain sites from search results

        You can :)
        google.com | gear icon | search settings | Manage blocked sites

    • by Solandri (704621) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @01:52PM (#37255850)
      A +/- system suffers the same problem as Slashdot's moderating system. The majority uses the -1 to punish the minority.

      Say 4 of 5 people hold a majority view here. Say there are 400 posts representing the majority view, and 100 posts representing the minority view. Say on average there is 1 randomly selected moderator per 10 posters, and the moderators' views have the same distribution. And say that Slashdot only allowed positive mods.

      There are 40 mods giving +1 to 400 majority-view posts, for an average of 40/400 = +0.1 per post.
      There are 10 mods giving +1 to the 100 minority-view posts, also for an average of +0.1 per post.

      Now toss in negative mods. Say one in ten mods gives a -1 to an opposing viewpoint rather than a +1 to their favored viewpoint.

      The majority view gets 400 posts, 36 +1 mods, and 1 -1 mod, for an overall average score of 35/400 = +0.0875 per post.
      The minority view gets 100 posts, 9 +1 mods, and 4 -1 mods, for an overall average score of 5/100 = +0.05 per post.

      The situation gets worse the more people tend to use negative mods. When the ratio of negative to positive mods matches that of the distribution of views (i.e. 1 negative mod for ever 4 positive mods in my example), the negative mods from the majority completely cancel out the positive mods from the minority and the minority view ends up with a 0 ranking average. If the ratio of negative to positive mods is greater than the ratio of minority to majority views, the posts representing the minority view end up with an average negative ranking. Algebraically:

      p = % of positive moderations
      n = % of negative moderations
      A = majority population
      B = minority population
      Average majority view ranking = Ap - Bn
      Average minority view ranking = Bp - An
      It's pretty easy to see that if A > B, this skews the majority rankings to be higher than the minority rankings. And if A >> B, B basically has no say in the rankings, and the rankings are almost entirely determined by A's opinions.

      So basically negative mods act as a force multiplier, allowing the majority to influence rankings beyond their actual numbers. That is, negative mods tend to produce rankings which reflect the majority view, rather than a utilitarian view. If you want rankings which reflect how useful a site is to the people who want the info on the site you use a +1-only mod system. If you want rankings to reflect the majority's opinion of a site even if it contains nothing they wanted to find, then you use a +/- mod system.

      If Google were to allow -1 mods, expect pages for niche topics like Linux to get pounded into the negative, while pages for larger market-share products like Windows are barely affected. Basically, hundreds of millions of people would do searches on Windows topics, and -1 the occasional Linux page which got into their search results. But those "occasional" -1s against Linux pages would likely far outnumber the +1s given to Linux pages by the few million people doing searches for Linux.
  • Google tricks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Clsid (564627) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @09:02AM (#37252230)

    I'm truly impressed at Google's ability to makes us work for them without most people even noticing it. This is yet another example of that. Then I hear non-tech people in awe of how smart Google is, and then say to myself, that is one hell of a business model.

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Google's been using us to improve its index from the beginning - the whole idea of PageRank is that the linking patterns of web sites given an indication as to their importance and value.

    • Yep, Google is just one big mechanical turk.

    • by Baloroth (2370816)
      Google does ranking so popular sites (i.e. those most people would be searching for) appear first. How would they do that without making us "work for them?" "We" (I use that word loosely) are the people who make those sites popular in the first place. Using them to rank sites is pretty smart. Otherwise you end up with tons of random blogs that repost or link to the site you want... wait, we already do get that. Hopefully this helps though.
    • by ajyasgar (2449448)
      It really is one hell of a business model. They use us as essentially unpaid employees, and we continue to use their services every day. Our use of their services, our very existence, provides them with valuable and necessary data to continue with their business plan/model. This is effectively a mutualist symbiotic relationship - both parties are benefiting greatly from this, the only difference between this one and the ones we commonly see in the animal kingdom is that the anemone us clown fish live in pr
      • Yeah, sure, we're just unpaid employees - until their copyrights expire!

      • by ArsonSmith (13997)

        Not all payments are monetary. the use of their service is payment enough for me.

      • by Pharmboy (216950)

        We are free employees, we use their system for free, and the system itself is an aggregate of all of our previous clicks, so when you search for "test tube" (for example), Google is just listing the most commonly clicked items that other people have selected. We are all sharing our experiences to make your search easier, Google is just compiling that info, and making money off people who want to cheat just a little and pay to be in the sponsored area. Pretty worth while trade for me as user, I would say.

    • Ain't that the truth.

      My comment I posted, before refreshing and re-reading the comment tree, could use what you said here as its title :)

      Comment: http://tech.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2404564&cid=37252488 [slashdot.org]

    • by neokushan (932374)

      BigData - SimpleAlgorthim. Isn't that their motto or something?

    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      You think Google is bad, trying going to the grocery store sometime. Back in MY day, they used to check you out, bag your groceries, take them out to your car, and help you load them in. Now you're lucky if they don't spit on you when your checking yourself out.

      Of course, my father used to tell me that in HIS day, grocery stores would actually deliver to your house. But clearly that old bastard didn't realize that civilization peaked when *I* was young, not when his lame generation was young. Like all gener

      • That's curious. Just 2 days ago, I bought groceries. The staff rang up my items, bagged my groceries, and offered to help me take them out.

        Maybe you should find a better grocery store.

        • by elrous0 (869638) *

          Yeah, they still pump your gas for you in New Jersey. That doesn't make it typical.

          • Oregon does the same, but don't expect them to actually put the correct grade in if your car takes anything other than 87 octane. Yes your car will be fine but you will get worse gas mileage as it can run it richer which effectively boosts the octane [wikipedia.org]. The listing of the standard octane and a rich mixture has been used used in rating avgas for years where they list the standard octane number followed by the rich number like 100/130 or 115/145. For the ratio to be corrected automatically you need to have a ve
          • by Raenex (947668)

            Yeah, they still pump your gas for you in New Jersey.

            It's actually required by state law. Personally, I prefer self-service.

          • by spacepimp (664856)
            This is just a way of maintaining "Jobs" and skilled labor in New Jersey. I do prefer having my gas pumped for me as I peruse slashdot rss feeds on my android phone, but having a law mandate it to preserve the economic balance of the state seems largely unnecessary. New York FTW!!!!
      • by mikechant (729173)

        Of course, my father used to tell me that in HIS day, grocery stores would actually deliver to your house.

        Tesco delivered 2 weeks of groceries etc. to my house this morning.

    • by jbeaupre (752124)

      I couldn't agree more, unless I marked you +1 Insightful.

      Oh well, back to meta-moderating.

    • I think that greatly undersells the difficulty in taking the input of millions or billions of people and turning it into output that is useful to every one of them with little or no human tweaking involved. Plus, they're essentially paying us back by giving us the majority of that output for free.
    • by Indras (515472)
      And grocery stores are getting people to check our their own goods at the register, eliminating the checkout clerk and bagger at the same time. Most stores local to me have already eliminated baggers, giving rotating carousels of bags to the clerks so they can bag as they scan. Not news. I only see this trend expanding.
    • by Idbar (1034346)
      I don't understand that way of thinking. But by your words, I'm assuming that you don't have a bank account. After all, you just give them your money so they can lend it to someone else and charge them more money for lending them your money. They charge you if you're overdraft (of course they can slow down your withdraw such that you cannot withdraw too much in one day), they charge you other fees. Yet you still give them your money.

      But when it comes to get better search results you feel offended because
    • Google has us "work for them" so that their results are more relevant to that which we seek. So we're working for ourselves and google is benefiting from providing the service. I don't see the issue.
  • by Sockatume (732728) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @09:03AM (#37252240)

    It's a research project into how useful this metric would be. The article makes it clear that they haven't made any plans to actually implement it until they know how well it works. At this stage, blackhat activity would lead that project to a negative conclusion, and the feature wouldn't be implemented, and it couldn't be manipulated.

    • by mfh (56)

      At this stage, blackhat activity would lead that project to a negative conclusion, and the feature wouldn't be implemented, and it couldn't be manipulated.

      Unless the blackhats were smart, which most are. In which case they will use this testing stage as a way to elicit false confidence in this new avenue while gathering information they will need to make the new changes work in their favour. Black hats almost never do what you'd expect them to do. They often do the exact opposite until just the very proper

      • by ginbot462 (626023)

        My exact sentiment. You would either "play nice" or not play at all until it goes live. Even then ... you might wait for the PUBLIC to gain confidence, then launch what ever human/computer methodology to pump up your desired links.

        • by mfh (56)

          What this all comes down to is that we have a distinct need present that is not being met. The need we all have is to have a site that reviews specific content types and vets it against objective truth; the best results are measured by scientists, and the result is delivered.

          Google used to do this somehow. But since the SEO people basically managed to figure out how to circumnavigate the search engine's security or algorithms to prevent corruption of results, we now see more and more search results that sim

    • by vlm (69642)

      At this stage, blackhat activity would lead that project to a negative conclusion

      What if they narrowed their project to an admittedly database killing subset of only counting +1s from people in your circles?

      I don't have any blackhats in my circles. Err, let me rephrase that, I don't have any SEO blackhats in my circles, so far as I know.

      If they tried that, aside from vaporizing their DBMS, the blackhats can +1 the entire world of spam for all I care, no one will ever see them.

      They could alternatively only pay attention to +1s from "celebrities". I read posts on G+ from Linus all the t

  • Changes to any system will elicit unpredictable changes by forces acting upon said system.

    +1 data is a good thing if you accept that it is delivered by people who have been vetted by Google. What's to stop Google from then only listening to those that represent Google's interests? From a fiduciary perspective they would be foolish not to listen to those they revere the most.

    The +1 data is useful, but is it useful enough? Not without a -1 button, imho. But in the big picture, +/- is just a perspective from a

  • Wouldn't it be a lot easier to have web pages flagged as spam and ranks lowered rather than trying to crazy +1 thing that most people won't use, even if they liked the link?

    • by Seumas (6865)

      They have one. You just have to log into your gmail account, click the "Feedback" button on the bottom of a page of search results, select a radio button option for what you're reporting, then explain what/why you're reporting something (I think it gives you a text box). I don't think it lets you choose a specific result, though. It just lets you report that a "page" of results has spam.

      Yes, it's too many steps. But I don't know of another solution. Having a big button next to each result wouldn't be a bett

  • You know this will result in any site with cats being the top ranked search result no matter the topic.

  • Better than that - they're actively leveraging the search engine to collect identity profiles [webpronews.com]. Join G+ or your page falls down the search.

    They're actually willing to compromise the search to collect profiles.

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      They're talking about possibly using the credibility afforded to authors by other authors as a search signal. And they're currently using G+ profiles as author identifiers.

      It reads to me more like "join G+ or your author rank has no effect".

    • by BELG (4429)

      I agree with that there's probably a reason to be a little paranoid about what they're doing, but I think you've got it absolutely backwards. They're leveraging G+ to improve their search engine. They earn their money from advertising, and the biggest driver for that is search. It's free labor, and it can greatly improve the quality of search results. That's pretty close to free money.

      Think about it, they have had the browsing profiles of most people for a long time already, and they could (and most likely

  • I don't know about anyone else, but I sort of (logically) assumed (no ass jokes, please) that this was the case.

    In other words, imagine Google and what "it" does. Imagine the amount of money they take in on a daily, monthly, yearly basis. Now tear it down into its components and don't just assume the logo is what makes it all happen; where does all of this money come from. Data - data that's sold.

    What happens when a company (extended context: a person, a country, anything that involves a Human) do when i

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      What you're talking about isn't a hypothetical. As a high-profile example Microsoft uses telemetry from Windows users to drive UI design, although by all accounts the process of turning user info into better products is, uh, inefficient. Whenever something crashes on your iPhone, it phones home a bug report.

  • One way to mitigate the influence of the SEO asshats is to purge +1's that are associated with accounts and/or IPs that are seen to offer a lot of +1's for known spam/linkfarm pages.

  • Google has had a number of algorithms to rank search results over the years. Some people liked some better than others. Why not have one default algorithm, but also have alternate algorithms (including one that takes into account +1 data) as part of their Advanced Search options? That way I can try Algorithm #2 or 3 if Algorithm #1 isn't giving the results I want.
    • by mikecase (1991782)
      This! Users should be able to set their default search algorithm preference (or better still, apply weighting to several) and swap between them to see how it changes results.
  • HotBot did this back when... you know back when people still knew about a search engine called HotBot. They had a ranking system where you could add a point to the sites that you felt most resembled what you were looking for.

  • What Google really needs is a small number of trusted volunteers who have a special Death To This Site button which appears in their browser window so they can nuke those damn link farms and equipment manual sites.
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      or just give the option to do that per user. that would be a nice webbrowser plugin nowadays.. that let you add shit like adding ad-referral codes to downrank search results(just for you). that would make mining less of a chore.

    • They try to get the computers do do that automatically. They DO have human search quality reviewers who manually do this kind of ranking in an effort to verify how well site rank performs and highlight areas for improvement.

  • The +1 idea is not bad, it is bad only if you don't have any controls. +1 doesn't have to be a static value, it could just be a place to start. For a person that "likes" everything, their +1 doesn't mean as much as someone like me who only +1 on rare occasions. Likewise, a +1 from a "new account" is probably worth less than someone like me who's had their account for years.

    All this means is that the +1 is weighted by several factors that prevent skewing results by link farmers and blackhats..

  • Google began to fail when the economics governing the value of a top link in Google became very large even if the value of the information was very small. At that point link farms began to propagate and Google graph theory could not keep up. It is not just spam, but the quality of the results. look up the lyrics to a song. Any community based site is going be relegated to sites that have potentially load viruses and other payload into your machine. Even the sites that are not malicious have ad payloads
    • by wye43 (769759)
      The core of the problem is the advertising system. Its main philosophy idea is flawed, because its based on a lie.

      We need a truly micro-transaction oriented paid content system, not the current "who can fake more SEO" to get a pay-check for content. Let the customer payments _directly_ decide who is worthy, not the stupid web of lies driven by advertisements.
    • Personally I don't think this will help any as you have correctly surmised. It will probably make things worse as it is another avenue for SEOs to use, unless Google decides to treat +1 from a SEO as a -1 internally and adjust accordingly. Also google does seem to have location awareness with the local results so if lots of people from a foreign country were adding +1s to a domestic site in a non native language you could probably rule them out as spam or even better go and treat all of those +1s as a -1 in
  • This was fairly obvious to anyone who has observed the evolution of Facebook, the Facebook Like button and sites like StumbleUpon.

    Letting people choose the best needles in a haystack based on their likes is just too invaluable for any search engine with a huge haystack. Clearly, G+ and the +1 buttons on the search page (and on other sites) play their part in curating Google's data. As far as abuse goes, people have tried to abuse every variable in the page rank formula, and succeeded at times. But, it's
  • ... because, as we on Slashdot know, modding things +1 is rarely abused by our dispassionate users</sarcasm>.

  • by Osgeld (1900440)

    every time I click it I get asked to sign up for yet another google account. it already constantly fuck up the 2 I have why would I want yet another for +

  • If I search for something and find what I want, I'm satisfied, and I'm not going to bother pressing +1. On the other hand, I have seen some bad matches turn up; I would rate them -1 but there wasn't an option for that.

  • If I google "Rick Parry" the first two hits are correctly about Colbert. If I google with bing (hehe), Microsoft's not-too-much-information-engine, the first Colbert result is a third of the page down. Instead they talk about a guy I never heard about "Rick Perry"with an e. But someone else who is friends with that Perry guy might find that result to be the better one.

    If I type in "cups" I probably look for the web-page of my printing system, and not for sippy cups. But with the +1 button all the young mom

  • I'd be surprised if they aren't testing this already. Aren't they always running hundreds of tests? I'd also be surprised if they don't intentionally mix it up a bit (outside of +1) just to keep you searching longer - the longer you're on their page, the more chance you'll click an ad. End of the day, their algo will not be adjusted to deliver the best search results, it will be adjusted to whatever makes them the most $. Those two used to be the same thing. Not sure they are anymore.
  • "Crowdsourcing" search is a very bad idea, because crowds can be sourced.

    Google shot themselves in the foot this way last October. They used to count reviews on Yelp and Citysearch in determining placement in Google Places, which, until last October, only affected the search engine for Google Maps. Since few people used the search engine for Google Maps to look for businesses by category, it wasn't spammed much.

    Then, in October 2010, Google merged Places results into web search. Within two months, Plac [sitetruth.com]

  • A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about why the +1 Button can't work. [seowarp.com] I still think that it's doomed to failure, especially if it is used for ranking. It's also probably safe to say that the majority of people who search the web are interested in finding results, not ranking them. What this means is that most regular users won't pay attention to the +1 button on the search results page. Honestly, why go back to the results page after you've found what you're looking for? Most of the +1 users will almost
  • Chances are that you won't return to the search results when you find the "good one", you stay there and forget about google. So the +1 button is really useless. If you went to a bad result you will just go back to keep searching and that's when you can give more useful feedback.
  • This is exactly what they said +1 wouldn't do.
    When they rolled out +1, it was...

    See +1s and get more relevant results/reviews/etc.!
    But I don't want to see other people's +1s, and I don't want them to see mine.

    You'll only see your friends's +1s, and you can choose not to share your own.
    But I don't have any friends on Google, or a Google profile.

    No problem, when there aren't enough +1s from your circles, sometimes we'll display +1s from people outside of your circles.
    I don't want that shit at all.

    Don't worry,

  • In the future, page rankings will be mostly crowd-sourced. The +1 button is just the beginning.

    The financial stakes of a high ranking are large enough for SEO experts to make search results increasingly meaningless by propelling their irrelevant page high up into the ranks by whatever means they can possibly think of. It is an arms race and I'm sure Google must have a lot of resources devoted to keep this problem under control.

    For me it was immediately obvious [slashdot.org] that improving the ranking algorithm was th

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