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Algorithms in flux

Perhaps the premier computing effort these days is at the search engines. On one side is the folks trying to game the system to drive people to their website. On the other is the search engine companies trying to provide the service their users demand. Michael Martinez describes Why you cannot reverse engineer Google’s algorithm. In a nutshell it is because search engine algorithms are (a) extremely complex and (b) not static.

“There was a time, many years ago, when you could design a simple Web document, submit it to a search engine, and evaluate how the search engine processed the document. We called that reverse engineering the algorithm. … Inktomi changed all that. They made links important to have.

Still, here we are 12 years later and people are now trying to figure out how to topple Google from its pedestal. Google sneezes several million dollars an hour and people fall down and worship the Great Google Algorithm. Truth be told, Google’s Web indexing and searching processes may indeed be one of the greatest algorithms ever developed in human history — and the ironic thing is that links play a microscopic part in that process.

The Great Google Algorithm is not a set of ranking factors; rather, it is a collection of protocols, operating systems, applications, databases, and occasional information retrieval processes.

If you want to assess the maturity of the SEO industry’s grasp of search technology, then look at the correlation studies and ranking factor surveys. They teach us how naive we still can be, as well as how creative we strive to be in influencing algorithms we cannot reverse engineer.”

With software, knowledge sticks. It is also sticky and tends to grow, sometimes in unpleasant ways. As time passes, simple algorithms have exceptions, special circumstances, and nifty tweaks tacked on. The knowledge base grows so the code base grows and the whole thing gets more and more complex. Occasionally, there is a burp and somebody tries to condense and consolidate and organize and categorize – this is why new programming languages and protocols keep showing up — but the issue of legacy code remains. It can be just too expensive to get out of COBOL!

The SEO (search engine optimizing of websites) business continues to be full of hype because there are too many gullible customers seeking magic bullets for their online business. Martinez describes the issue quite well.

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