It’s all about Google. In our industry the rest rarely get a look in. But could we conceive of a future without Google? Is it possible the ultimate anti-Google will one day rise and slay the giant? Ok, I’m getting a little carried away, but, I think, with good reason. You see I am an avid reader of science fiction – and therefore prone to flights of fancy – and it was a SF book I read recently that has got me thinking about this very thing.
So there I am just getting into my latest read, a Robert J. Sawyer book called Wake – the first in his WWW Trilogy about a blind girl who develops the ability to ‘see’ the Web after having an implant attached to her optic nerve. Well, imagine my excitement (being an SEO type and all) when the topic of search engines pops up. Actually, one search engine in particular – Jagster.
Never heard of it? No, neither had I. But I continued reading with much interest. Here is an excerpt from the book:
From the Online Encyclopedia of Computing: Google is the de facto portal to the web, and many people feel that a for-profit corporation shouldn’t hold that role — especially one that is secretive about how it ranks search results. The first attempt to produce an open-source, accountable alternative was Wikia search, devised by the same people who had put together Wikipedia. However, by far the most successful such project to date is Jagster.
The problem is not with Google’s thoroughness, but rather with how it chooses which listings to put first. Google’s principal algorithm, at least initially, was called PageRank — a jokey name because not only did it rank pages but it had been developed by Larry Page, one of Google’s two founders. PageRank looked to see how many other pages linked to a given page, and took that as the ultimate democratic choice, giving top positioning to those that were linked to the most.
Since the vast majority of Google users look at only the ten listings provided on the first page of results, getting into the top ten is crucial for a business, and being number one is gold — and so people started trying to fool Google. Creating other sites that did little more than link back to your own site was one of several ways to fool PageRank. In response, Google developed new methods for assigning rankings to pages. And despite the company’s motto — “don’t be evil” — people couldn’t help but question just what determined who now got the top spots, especially when the difference between being number ten and number eleven might be millions of dollars in online sales.
But Google refused to divulge its new methods, and that gave rise to projects to develop free, open-source, transparent alternatives to Google: “free” meaning that there would be no way to buy a top listing (on Google, you can be listed first by paying to be a “sponsored link”); “open source” meaning anyone could look at the actual code being used and modify it if they thought they had a fairer or more efficient approach; and “transparent” meaning the whole process could be monitored and understood by anyone.
What makes Jagster different from other open-source search engines is just how transparent it is. All search engines use special software called web spiders to scoot along, jumping from one site to another, mapping out connections. That’s normally considered dreary under-the-hood stuff, but Jagster makes this raw database publicly available and constantly updates it in real-time as its spiders discover newly added, deleted, or changed pages. In the tradition of silly web acronyms (“Yahoo!” Stands for “yet another hierarchical officious oracle”), Jagster is short for “judiciously arranged global search-term evaluative ranker” — and the battle between Google and Jagster has been dubbed the “ranker rancor” by the press…
If only, right? Well, Jagster (you may have already tried to Google it) of course does not exist. Not yet anyway. There is a young man by the name of Brad Detchevery who intends to change that though. Detchevery, a computer programmer from Canada, read the book and decided to make Jagster a reality – he has even registered the domain jagster.org.
Now, we know there are already search engines out there trying to do similar things to what Jagster proposes, so far with minimal success, but maybe, just maybe, this one could be different. It would shake up the SEO industry entirely; perhaps even sound the death knell for the industry as we know it. Everyone would have the right to Jagster’s information – we would be game keepers instead of poachers. Could it work to our advantage? I don’t know. It would certainly be interesting to try.
Perhaps it is time for us to Wake up and realise that Google’s control is just an illusion?
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