Interview: Topsy Co-Founder on Twitter, Uprisings, Authority, and Journalism

Cloudline | Blog | Interview: Topsy Co-Founder on Twitter, Uprisings, Authority, and Journalism

Ghosh: Around 2005, people used to do this thing called “Google bombing,” where they would put links. One of the responses from Google was to require that all websites put a “nofollow” tag on links that are not created by the website itself.

So if you had a link that was posted in the comments, or posted by a user — which includes things like Wikipedia or all social media — which has not been created by the website [then you had to add a “nofollow” tag]. So the authority model — where, when a website links to something else, it gives its authority to that thing — that model breaks down because the website is no longer controlling who puts that link on its pages. So for all links of those types, they were forced to add this nofollow tag so that [the links] could be ignored for the purpose of computing authority. What that means, though, is that, while it was breaking the earlier authority model of Google, [Google] did not change their authority model in response to the way the web was changing.

And the web changed so that the authority model of the new web is that people are the sources of authority. This was always really the authority model, but 10 or 15 years ago, a website and a person were pretty much the same thing.

Wired.com: A website was a useful proxy for a person or a collection of people (an institution, say).

Ghosh: Yes. And that changed when you had different people posting on the same website, or the same people posting on different websites — that proxy didn’t work anymore. But Google didn’t change their authority model.

More at Cloudline.

Beyond Google’s Reach: Tracking the Global Uprising in Real Time

Cloudline | Blog | Beyond Google’s Reach: Tracking the Global Uprising in Real Time

On Oct. 15, groups of protesters affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement began filing into the branch offices of their banks to close their accounts. Later that day, videos began to show up online of those protesters being arrested. Irate branch managers had called the cops, claiming that these customers were being disruptive, so police began hauling the protesters away for booking.

The spectacle of citizens being arrested for attempting to close out their personal bank accounts made a splash in all of the usual corners of the internet. Except one: Google.

Like the larger Occupy Wall Street movement, which is often referenced online via the Twitter hashtag #OWS, the Oct. 15 protest was organized using #oct15. A search for #oct15 on the day of the protest yielded nothing but garbage results, and my searches as late as a day later yielded similar output. But despite allegations that Google — especially Google News, which still doesn’t have any worthwhile results for #oct15 — is censoring protest-related material, the more straightforward answer to the question of why the world’s largest search engine can’t produce useful results for current events in real time is that it’s simply not designed to.

As I found out on the day of Oct. 15, if you want quality information about events as they unfold in real time, then you can forget about the Google search box. Instead, you have to turn to alternative search engines, and specifically to Topsy, which had links to blog posts, videos, and pictures of the protest on the day of the protest, often mere minutes after the information was posted online. I’ve been a Topsy user for the past six months, and on Oct. 15, when Google searches were turning up garbage, I typed “#oct15″ into the Topsy search box and was able to track events as they happened.

More at Cloudline.