Behind the Algorithmic Facade at Google

by Harold Davis

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I've long believed that Google's ranking of responses to search rankings--the famous PageRank algorithm, now with more than 100 variables--is manipulated by human editors working for Google under an algorithmic facade. (See related posts on the Googleplex Blog and in my O'Reilly blog).

Now, there's some hard evidence that this is true. Dutch investigative reporter and search expert Henk Von Ess blogs about what he calls Google's Secret Evaluation Lab.

The real name for this secret part of Google is Rater Hub Google. It's staffed, mostly on a temp basis, mostly from international universities. Google calls these hires "international agents" or "quality raters." Here's a help wanted ad for the position from

Quality raters apparently spend their time checking search results, deprecating spam, moving the best results to the top of the search result stack, and (possibly) testing experimental Google features. This sounds like a kind of fun job!

Seriously, it isn't really surprising that Google has found the need to inject human editors into the equation. My objection is to the false pretence that Google's results derive from some purely formulaic (and supposedly objective) measure (likened in my previous posts to the Wizard of Oz hiding behind a screen while he makes a show for Dorothy and the others).

The Henk Van Ess blog item is really worth checking out. He promises more information to come. By all means review the Flash presentation on his site that shows some of the Rater Hub Google software - very interesting indeed!

Like Inspector Raynaud in the film "Casablanca," who was shocked, simply shocked that gambling was going on as he pocketed his share of the take, are you shocked that Google uses humans to tweak search results, or did you know it all along?