Google's New Algorithm Incorporates Human Feedback About Quality Sites

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Tucked inside Steven Levy's interview with Google engineers Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts, there's a fascinating detail about how the company recently improved its search algorithm.

They used human feedback.

Here's how they described their methodology to Levy in the Wired piece.

Singhal: We wanted to keep it strictly scientific, so we used our standard evaluation system that we've developed, where we basically sent out documents to outside testers. Then we asked the raters questions like: "Would you be comfortable giving this site your credit card? Would you be comfortable giving medicine prescribed by this site to your kids?"
Cutts: There was an engineer who came up with a rigorous set of questions, everything from. "Do you consider this site to be authoritative? Would it be okay if this was in a magazine? Does this site have excessive ads?" Questions along those lines.
Singhal: And based on that, we basically formed some definition of what could be considered low quality.

So, to simplify. They asked human beings, "Is this site high or low quality?" Then looked for patterns in their data that could be used to identify the sites that humans rated poorly.

Now, that last operation -- "basically [forming] some definition of what could be considered low quality" -- seems like the tough part, and we don't get any details about it. But it does answer a key question I've had. How did they pick out low quality sites? Simple! They asked some people. (The future is now.)

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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