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When Links are Votes (Against)

6:34 am on Apr 29, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Has there been any work done on identifying "negative" links, or in coming up with a "negative" link grammar?

This was something that always troubled me about PageRank. In some circumstances, links aren't votes, they're votes *against*. This is certainly the case in footnotes to academic articles, where Serge and Larry got the idea of PageRank. Although computer science may not have them, historians, literary critics, etc. are fond of expressions like "see Carter (1982), _contra_ Bligmann (1973)." Read the fully-online Bryn Mawr Classical Review some day. Footnotes aren't votes; they're daggers.

In my own experience, I've developed sites that aimed to be comprehensive in their subject. I listed all sites on a topic, good and bad, labelling—okay, skewering—the bad ones. But Google sees all my links as recommendations. The same goes for those old-time "worst site" directories.

An anti-link would surely help with Google's hate-site problem—the results for "Jew" recently pointed to "jewwatch." In that case the word was Google-bombed toward Wikipedia. Of course, the Googlebombers took infinite care not to link to the offending websites, making it rather difficult to figure out what they were upset about.

Of course, you can Googlebomb "miserable failure" for Bush, Clinton or whomever, but even if you Googlebombed a politician's webpage with every negative adjective in the dictionary you'd only increase the number of searches that landed people there. The best you could do is wrap a link in spider-toxic JavaScript, so at least it wouldn't do the malefactors any good.

So, W3 listen up! Until search engine's "understand" the pages they read, let's all adopt: <a href="http://www.nazi-creeps.com" vote="yuck">.

7:04 am on Apr 29, 2004 (gmt 0)

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That was an issue [sfgate.com] recently with Google. What steps Google will take is too soon to be seen.

Creating websites promoting a strong social or political stance is a well known method of getting people to link to you, especially by bloggers who disagree with the point of view being published (hey, get a load of this jerk who says...).

There are also other methods of manipulating people to link to you that I won't mention here (ot).

7:57 am on Apr 29, 2004 (gmt 0)

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I'm not convinced this is a problem at all.

Google isn't counting links as "votes for approval", it's counting links as "votes for relevance". If you link to it, you must consider it relevant to the subject at hand, even if you disagree with it.

PageRank takes its philosophy from academic citation analysis. Citation analysis isn't meant to tell you whether a cited work is right or wrong, it's mean to tell you if the work is referred to often enough to be worth knowing about. Wrong ideas can be worth knowing about.

8:06 am on Apr 29, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Don't link to it in the first place!

Instead of doing

The guys at <a href="http://bad-site.com">http://bad-site.com</a> got it wrong

just write:

The guys at <span style="text-decoration: underline; color: blue">http://bad-site.com</span> got it wrong

Doing so, Spiders will NOT see a link.

1:22 pm on Apr 29, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Google counts the votes with the intention of making a good search engine. Whether this works because links denote "relevance," "quality," "chance of hitting up on it randomly" (another way of thinking of it) or whatever, is beside the point. Clearly they mean one thing in one circumstance, and another in another. Google uses it—and we use Google—because it makes a good search engine.

Different sorts of connection-based ranking systems are differently valuable. It turns out that the mere fact of being linked to is a good indicator of quality. This is because we have a cultural prediliction for citing web pages that are about relevance and quality. In some cultural contexts, eg., boxing, the guys you defeated are the guys you reference. On the web, "Here's a list of sites I'm outranking" has never caught on. Another example: some of us tattoo words on our body—metadata about whom we wish to be linked to. But a complete analysis of American tattoos would would be a perilous guide to whom to date (apparently "mother"), or what band to list to ("Guns N Roses" anyone?).

As I said, counting all links in one way works pretty well. Having every linker give a detailed evaluation of the site they're linking to—and getting that into a computer system in a way that makes sense—would surely be better. To some extent, this is already done. Googlebombing works because Google evaluates keywords within link text.

It seems probable to me that the "yuck" attribute opens the system to gaming that would produce bad effects more substantial than the good ones. Here and elsewhere, gaming is the hard part for Google to solve.


4:28 pm on Apr 30, 2004 (gmt 0)

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The problem with your logic is in the ability to penalyze another site. Most sites want traffic from search engines. Therefore, if have the ability to vote negatively for a "competing" site, that gives you a lot of power. Too much for my site anyway.

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