(if they don’t already)
TechCrunch recently had an article on how Google is experimenting with a Digg-like voting system for search results. The idea is that next to each search result you’d have the option to vote the site up or down based on your opinion of it. Google would then save your results so that the next time you search for the same thing, your changes would be reflected in the results.
Presumably, Google will eventually factor our votes into its ranking algorithm, which would have an effect on a site’s overall ranking. For example, IconArchive.com is currently the third highest ranking site when you search for free icons. If enough people voted for it with the new system, the search algorithm would nudge it into the number two position.
Manual feedback, if done correctly, could be a useful improvement to Google’s search algorithm. However, there are some significant problems with it. First, it would clutter Google’s search results, which might drive more people away than it would bring in. Second, and most important, it would be difficult to interpret the results. If I vote on a site before I visit it, my vote is irrelevant. If I’ve already been to the site, I’ll probably get to it by typing it in directly or by going through my bookmarks, so I’ll never get the opportunity to vote on it. The ideal result would be if I returned to Google after I visited the site so I could vote on it, which I probably wouldn’t do. Plus, if I returned to the search results, I probably didn’t find what I was looking for anyway.
Here’s a better, simpler way: When I search for something, keep track of which search results I click on. Next time someone makes the same search, Google should give more weight to the last site I visited. Why? I probably found what I was looking for on the last site, so it should be ranked higher in the search results.
Back to the example. I search for “free icons”, click the first site. Not a big fan of the layout, can’t find what I’m looking for, whatever. Same with the second site. Next, I get to IconArchive and voila, I find what I’m looking for – no more clicking search results. Google automatically tracks this and if enough people follow a similar pattern, IconArchive is promoted to the number two position.
This method is not without its own problems. The major problem is that people often stop searching because they can’t find what they’re looking for; they abandon their search. It might be difficult to distinguish between people who give up and people who find what they’re looking for because to Google, they probably look very similar. Google employs some smart folks, I’m sure they could figure out clever ways to analyze the data to distinguish hits from misses with a high probability. Even if they can’t, and they can, the results would still be better than the current results.
With millions of people searching Google each day, there is an enormous amount of untapped data which could reshape Google’s search results, providing more relevant information to people faster. Best of all, no annoying extra buttons on the results page.