It wasn’t me — the Bot did it!

September 15th, 2008

The NYT has an interesting article, Stuck in Google’s Doghouse, on the importance of search engines to many businesses. Or maybe it’s about ad arbitrage and the ways that some Web business models are based on gaming search engines and Web advertising. In any case, it’s especially relevant in the light of the recently announced Google-Yahoo advertising deal.

One of the most interesting aspects to the story, at least to me, is who gets the credit or blame for significant decisions and events on the Web — people or machines.

“When Mr. Savage asked Google executives what the problem was, he was told that Sourcetool’s “landing page quality” was low. Google had recently changed the algorithm for choosing advertisements for prominent positions on Google search pages, and Mr. Savage’s site had been identified as one that didn’t meet the algorithm’s new standards. (As Google defines it, landing page quality includes a series of attributes — loading speed, user friendliness, relevancy, originality and dozens of other characteristics — that it deems appropriately “googly.”)” source

A more dramatic example of our brave new world was the $1B problem United Airlines stock had last week, as outlined in A Stock-Killer Fueled by Algorithm After Algorithm.

“What made a six-year-old article about a bankruptcy filing by United Airlines reappear on Wall Street traders’ screens on Monday as if it were fresh news, prompting a sell-off that erased $1 billion in the company’s market value in a matter of minutes? The path the article followed from forgotten archive entry to present-day stock-killer has begun to emerge, and it raises some interesting questions about how news rockets around the Web. Both human error and far-from-foolproof technology seem to have played a role in the episode, which involved a 2002 Chicago Tribune report; the web site of the Sun Sentinel, a Florida newspaper owned by the same company; the Bloomberg News financial wire service; and Google, all apparently unwittingly.” source

The automation is inevitable, IMHO, and probably a good thing. Of course, I reserve the right to revise and extend my remarks if my own ox is gored.