Launched in November 2008, SearchWiki lets you move, delete, add and comment on the results of a Google search. At launch I wrote that SearchWiki turned us into mechanical turks. That’s not a bad thing since the Google algorithm needs a human tutor.
Google’s SearchWiki feature has been a lighting rod within the search industry drawing the ire of many and prompting the creation of Greasemonkey scripts to turn off SearchWiki functionality. It even spilled over into ‘mainstream’ media with TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington asking Google to shelve the new feature.
So it was no surprise that the SMX West presentation on SearchWiki was well attended and full of search engine marketers eager to learn what exactly Google was up to with SearchWiki. Corey Anderson started out by giving a short presentation, outlining the four different uses of SearchWiki.
- Improving proper name searches
- Collecting information on a task
- Refinding hard-to-find information
The presentation didn’t satisfy or answer the obvious questions. What ensued was a President George Bush type of press conference where reporters asked the same question over and over in slightly different ways and got back the same ‘no comment’ answer in return. You could come away from the SearchWiki session thinking you’d learned nothing or you could read between the lines and learn a lot.
Anderson stated that SearchWiki data wasn’t a signal in the Google search algorithm “right now”. He was, however, noticeably excited by all the data they were collecting. The task ahead was to sift through the data to determine if it could be turned into information and used as a signal.
While Anderson made it clear Google felt SearchWiki was a benefit to users on its face, there is no doubt that Google is interested in the possibility of using SearchWiki data as a search algorithm signal.
SearchWiki usage numbers were something Anderson wasn’t willing to divulge. It’s not that he didn’t know them, he just wasn’t willing or able to share them. He noted that Google was “comfortable” with SearchWiki usage. The crowd full of metric junkies let out a mirthless chuckle and groan at this ultra-fuzzy term.
Anderson did mention that they had been testing different visual treatments to boost engagement and usage of SearchWiki. Obviously you need to measure usage to determine which visual treatment is performing better than the other. Google knows, they’re just not willing to tell us “right now”.
If SearchWiki weren’t important, there wouldn’t be this deliberate and careful black hole of information. I don’t blame Google or Anderson. SearchWiki provides a very rich new stream of data. The potential for data pollution is problematic. Usage numbers only help those looking to hide unnatural edits from detection.
SearchWiki data isn’t a signal in the algorithm now, but the SMX West 2009 presentation made it crystal clear that they reserve the right to use it in the future.