Notice anything strange? Well.. maybe not at a very quick first glance. But if you click around for a moment or two, you'll probably realize rather quickly that it's a hate site run by a white supremacist group (the same group that runs www.stormfront.org - look at how many people participate in their online forums. scary.).
The shocking thing is that in a Google search for "Martin Luther King", the above site comes up 4th (as of today, December 2nd, 2004).
I did a bit of investigating into this a couple months back. It turns out that the reason this site is listed 4th is because of the large number of sites on the Internet that link to it as an example of racism and/or misinformation.
Interesting, isn't it? Web sites of elementary school libraries link to www.martinlutherking.org as an example of a site students should *not* use, and in doing so, contribute to its rankings in the major search engines (search engines compute rank in large part based on how many other web sites link to a given site).
This is not a new piece of news. The site has been around for quite some time, and many a blogger/journalist/librarian has written about the situation. However, for my own education, I began a one person email campaign to the maintainers of the sites linking to www.martinlutherking.org. I explained how their linking to it actually helps it in terms of search engine rank, and in-turn only helps the spread of misinformation -- exactly what many of these people were attempting to combat.
There were 3 classes of people who replied:
A. People who were not aware of the problem, thanked me for the notification, and removed the link (but perhaps kept the text without an actual link).
B. People who actually didn't realize the site was a racist/white surpremacist site and immediately removed the link and thanked me.
C. People who understood the issue (either before or after receiving my email), but decided to keep the link intact for one of the following reasons:
- Search engine rank is something for the search engines to deal with. If the search engines are ranking something higher than they should be, it's their own problem.
- Removing the link makes it difficult for some users to access the information. They won't understand why clicking on the text does not work.
So, I started thinking about ways to solve this problem. The fundamental idea behind using number of links to determine page rank is the notion of link structure as a recommender system. That is, by linking to a site, you are in fact recommending it to your users.
But is this always the case? Certainly not. Even Google utilizes server-side scripts to exclude some sites to which they link (such as Blogger blogs) from inhereting PageRank from www.google.com.
So, I came up with this mindblowingly simple solution. Why not provide a simple way for one site to link to another without "recommending" it?
A simple way to do this would be to allow for an optional "noref" parameter in the html anchor tag (<a>). So, a url that would not be seen as a recommendation would look something like:
<a href="http://www.google.com" noref>Google</a>
An optional additional parameter would be backwards compatible most if not all of the time. So why not implement it?
Thoughts? Suggestions? Just a thought off the top of my head.. but something that could certainly be built upon..