How the Web Can Relieve Our Information Glut and Get Us Talking to Each Other
The Google World
The reason the Web feels comfortable to its users is the same reason that its search engines are so efficient. Back in the mid-1990s, Yahoo! was the place to find Web pages. Yahoo! sorted the Web into categories. The Web had about 100-million pages then, and most of them were on massive sites like those of media organizations and corporations. Over half of all Web traffic went to the top 1,000 sites. Any site that mattered fit neatly into a Yahoo! category.
As individual users started making their own pages, however, the amount of Web content ballooned, and Yahoo! fell behind. The Web began to cover a seemingly infinite number of topics. It became impossible to find a category for every single page and to fit each page into a single category. Instead of making Web users wander through a maze of categories, it started to make more sense to let them search for an item directly.
Unfortunately, search engines were not very good, because a user's search terms were the only factor that determined search results. Engines could not tell whether a page was reputable or even coherent. For example, a page with nothing but a user's search term repeated over and over was considered a perfect match.
Google changed all that in 1998. Instead of looking only at a page's content, Google judges a page by the company it keeps, so to speak. It does this through link analysis. When Site A links to Site B, Site A is essentially vouching for the quality of Site B. As more pages link to Site B, its reputation is improved in the eyes of Google. The content on the linking pages also matters. If NBA.com links to your site with the word “basketball,” Google will forever associate your site with basketball—and because NBA.com is considered authoritative, its link to your site will do wonders for your “PageRank,” Google’s value-rating of your page.
The Web is so named because the 8 billion pages that link to one another form a massive web of connected dots. But what looks like a mess has logic to it: Pages with similar content link to one another. Google has faith that when Web-page authors make links, they’re connecting them to sites similar to their own. And, in general, they do. Google can therefore make extremely accurate estimates of which sites are related to one another and which sites provide reliable information.