Google TrustRank

Google registered a trademark for the word “TrustRank,” as Search Engine Watch and Google Blogoscoped discuss. I agree with the speculation that TrustRank sounds like a more social variant of the link-based PageRank algorithm Google relies on for search results. TrustRank might also be related to a Stanford paper published March of last year: “Combating Web Spam with TrustRank,” which proposes techniques to semi-automatically separate good pages from spam by the use of a small selection of reputable seed pages.

Slashdot now points an article on NewScientist which explains how Google plans to track the credibility of news sources, a growing concern regarding GoogleNews (see, for example, Jeff Jarvis’s posts, and my responses). According to the article, TrustRank will:

compare the track record and credibility of all news sources around the world, and adjust the ranking of any search results accordingly.

The database will be built by continually monitoring the number of stories from all news sources, along with average story length, number with bylines, and number of the bureaux cited, along with how long they have been in business. Google’s database will also keep track of the number of staff a news source employs, the volume of internet traffic to its website and the number of countries accessing the site.

Google will take all these parameters, weight them according to formulae it is constructing, and distil them down to create a single value. This number will then be used to rank the results of any news search.

To me, the danger now becomes whether new biases might creep into how GoogleNews selects and ranks news items. Or, as one Slashdot commenter noted, “Do you really need Google for this? Or is Google validation going to substitute for your own common sense?”

UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis adds his criticism of TrustRank:

But trust is not a calculation, it is a judgment — a human judgment. If it were a calculation, news organizations — and politicians and marketers and clergy, for that matter — surely would have figured this out years ago: Forget the Q rating, here’s the T rating. But trust is based on experience and intuition and perspective.

…I do believe there are ways to capture trust but it is not through such metrics as number of stories, bylines, bureaus (he said, Americanally), and so on. That’s old journalism’s scale for trust: bigger = better. This eliminates experts and specialists in this age of niches. It also includes sources that many consider untrustworthy (those who can’t stand the BBC on one side or FoxNews on the other).

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