Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Link Is Power

Google bombing is an obvious example of using the recognized power of links to manipulate internet search information in order to further a personal agenda (albeit in a relatively juvenile and ineffective way). What we link to, and how we link to it has an effect on the mechanism of the Web. (Read more about Google bombing at Wiki'p, and note that those in-the-know prefer to call it link bombing. Represent!)

In this post on her blog apophenia (great feckin' name), zephoria attempts to deconstruct the gender biases in certain types of linking. She admits that what turns up are "patterns not findings", but makes some interesting points nonetheless. Consider the following [with my comments interspersed]:
  • There are a few things that we know in social networks. First, our social networks are frequently split by gender (from childhood on). Second, men tend to have large numbers of weak ties and women tend to have fewer, but stronger ties. This means that in traditional social networks, men tend to know far more people but not nearly as intimately as those women know. [A broad generalization. Interesting nonetheless. Men are predisposed to linking without discrimination.]
  • Content type is correlated with link structure (personal blogs contain few links, politics blogs contain lots of links). There's a gender split in content type. [And how do you think that gender split plays out, exactly?]
  • Blogrolls seem to be very common on politically-oriented blogs and always connect to blogs with similar political views (or to mainstream media). [Back to men and their penchant for promiscuous linking.]
  • When bloggers link to another blog, it is more likely to be same gender. [So, not only do men link more often - and to more people - but they tend to link to other men more often.]
  • It looks like there's a gender split in tool use; Mena [Who?] said that LJ is like 75% female, while Typepad and Moveable Type have far fewer women. [This is interesting on its own, but there are other implications. See below...]
  • Bloggers who use hosting services tend to link to only others on the same hosting service (from the blogrolls on Xanga and Rakuten to the friend links on LJ). The blogroll structure on these is often set up to only accept lists of blogs from that service.
  • Few LiveJournals have a blogroll but almost all have a list of friends one click away. This is not considered by search tools that look only at the front page. [So all of the women on LJ/Xanga etc. who are only linking to (presumably) other women on LJ/Xanga etc. are doing so without any quantifiable effect on cummulative link data.]
If who-links-to-what and how-often-they-link-to-it effects the results of search engines like Google, then - if the above statements are considered to be accurate - men will be favored in the top results. But what to do? Especially if this is largely the result of social trends - as opposed to malicious intent? Zephoria again:

I think it's critical to work on new metrics so that we can at least start showing alternate ways of organizing information if for no other reason than to push back against the conception of neutrality... At the least, i do think we need to really think about what is at stake and what we're inadvertently supporting through our current systems. Are these the power structures that we want to maintain? Because there's nothing neutral about our technological choices.

Marry Hodder at Napsterization proposes creating new systems for compiling and calculating the data.



Blogger ericdbernasek said...

That second link ("relatively juvenile and ineffective way") points to a google serach for the word "failure". As of yesterday afternoon (12/14/05) the biography of George W. Bush was still the top spot. Today (12/15/05) Dubya has been ousted by Michael Moore, and the Commander In Chief's bio isn't even in the first 10 results.

4:56 PM  
Blogger coturnix said...

Try "miserable failure" instead....

1:32 PM  
Blogger coturnix said...

It's 12/24/05 and the GWB biography is again the top hit for 'failure'. Also, see the second hit for "White House".

1:35 PM  

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