#RandomThought on entropy, search and spam

All the cool kids are writing about it nowadays, so I might as well give it a go (although I’m not cool).

Rewind to the beginning of the year 2000. Back then, Google was making massive improvements to web search, mostly due to its Page Rank algorithm (and due to the lesser known Map/Reduce algorithms which made indexing, storing and retrieving massive amounts of data even possible). But while the vast majority of people were being overly excited about actually being able to find useful stuff on the web, the emerging spammer community was already looking for backdoors and loop-holes.

Now let’s get one thing straight: hacking (or otherwise exploiting) a system just because you can isn’t something many people would feel motivated to do. However, if you add a financial incentive to it (like, let’s say AdSense + AdWords), the hackers become speculators. And we’re not talking about 100$/month kind of incentives. W’e’re talking millions.

So Google built this high quality search engine and added some (fairly well filtered) advertising to it. Then, the speculators, started the war against high quality content to rank higher, get more traffic and in turn more revenue from shitty content. Spam. Junk. Or whatever you want to call it.

It is not so obvious to most people why someone would purposely mislead, misdirect and lie to  users into buying fake Viagra. And the answer is simple: profit. The story however is more complicated, since speculators seem to emerge and reemerge in every era, in every circumstance: since the Tulip Mania back in the 1630’s, to the Dot-Com Bubble in 2000 to the most recent Subprime Mortgage Crisis of 2007-2008 (which still ripple-waves around the world).

It’s the same thing with Google search results. Some people think that they come up with a scam that can double their financial wealth overnight. And a subset of this people actually do make it. They actually make profit out of destroying value. It’s been going on for centuries, garbage search results are nothing new.

So who can win this war against speculators (be them spammers or crappy investment bankers) ?

The obvious answer is the policy regulators: Google is the policy regulator for search results (since they define the rules behind PageRank or PageRank-like algorithms). The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is the policy regulator for the financial markets (in the US). The list goes on. But as rules, algorithms and policies become more complex and harder to cheat (also, harder to follow), the speculators will also evolve, adapt and find new ways of screwing the system. So there is no such thing as winning the war against spam, against drugs or against shitty derivatives options. There is only keeping the evil at bay.

The less obvious answer is the user of the search engine. The customer of the investment bank. The one who sees spam and decides to NOT act on it. The ultimate power belongs to the user. Because systems and rules and algorithms can only change so fast and usually speculators and spammer are at most one step behind. The user minds’ would be the ultimate weapon against spam and scams and Ponzi schemes; that is, provided the user decides to use one’s mind. And that is rarely the case ?

“Buy this book now and you are guarantee to rank 1st in Google search results on your keyword of choice”

Uhm, has anyone stopped to think what happens if two people buying that book choose to rank first for the same keyword?

“Get laid in Bucharest right now”

The only notion that come to my mind when seeing advertisements for sites like these is “this website must really be a sausage fest”. I mean really really: what do you expect to be the girls/guys ratio for clicking that (not counting hookers)  ? 1% ? 5% maaaaaaybe ?

“Become successful by reading a book.”

“Make 500$ a night by playing online poker”

“I have just found an incredible way of making money online and I’m sharing it with you”

Of course you are. Out of the goodness of your spamming heart.

What revolts me isn’t that Google is getting junk in its search results. God and Techcrunch know they are trying to do better. It’s that people (users) support spammers and scamers and junk by clicking on it. By letting them win the war and take huge profits. By allowing themselves to be convinced there is such thing as a free lunch, free ride or free lay. Newsflash: there isn’t. Not in this Universe, anyway.

In this Universe however, there seems to be one thing for sure (as far as the human race knows, anyway): entropy (it’s the spam equivalent in pysics, it stand for lack of information) always increases. The heat will always travel from the hottest to the coldest object, the smoke never goes back to the cigarette ever again and things generally always get more disordered as time passes by.

It’s the same thing with search: two guys come up with this ingenious way of delivering the web to the masses. Let’s say in the beginning – the system is in perfect order. But then, someone tries to get high ranking with meaningless content, in turn high traffic and high revenues. And he has to let his friends in on the the deal (for a small percentage). And more and more junk ruins what used to an ordered system. The system tries to adapt, but so do the spammers and the war goes on between information and noise.

In the meanwhile, the users sit back, click ads for Cyalis and complain.

How about you install Chrome as your default browser (and swear on the Bible never to use Internet Explorer again), put in a nifty ad blocker and try to always think before you sign up for paid porn sites and before you buy the book that will change your life.

Yes, Google still has a long way to go to improve the declining quality of the search results. Maybe even leverage the power of social search for a change. But you, the user, need to realize that Google can’t win that war by itself. It can, at most, not lose it. However, with your power to discern between information and noise, spammers can be put out of business.

VisageCloud – Face recognition meets Big Data

Bogdan Written by:

4 Comments

    • Bogdan Bocse
      January 30, 2011
      Reply

      Good one :))

    • January 30, 2011
      Reply

      Still, I guess you'd be amazed how many people are not so familiar with these kinds of things (which you consider obvious).

      • January 30, 2011
        Reply

        Yeah, there's also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E…)
        People you are referring to are not going to take your advice, probably because they don't read any kind of blogs (or don't even know what a blog is). Just think about phishing. “Everyone” knows phishing is bad, right? Well, most online users think phishing is about http://tinyurl.com/4rt72oj , and go right ahead and login to “their” bank/ebay account.

        Also, the bad guys in your story constantly adapt their tactics on the psychological front when their victims wise-up, they're not only watching Google, but also the entire landscape.

        My 2c 🙂

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