Strong and weak signals

I have a kind of geeky concern, but it is a concern nonetheless. I wonder if the culture of sharing rather than authoring is reducing the quality of online search and personal reflection.

The logic of my concern works like this.The original Google system for listing search results was based on a system called page rank. Based roughly on the way journal articles are assigned importance, page rank is determined by the frequency with which something posted online is linked to by other sites. The assumption being that the more frequently others link to your work, the more important your work must be. In addition, the more important the pages linking to your page, the higher your page would be ranked. The Google algorithm has grown more complicated and more mysterious, but linking still plays an important role. The variables used in the ranking algorithm are frequently called signals. These signals are not weighted equally. There are strong signals and there are weak signals.

What I see online is a decline in original work and a drastic increase in sharing. Twitter offers little opportunity for analysis and explanation, but is great for sharing. Facebook does not impose the character limit of Twitter, but my experience has been most contributions are still shared news articles, posters, and videos. There are clearly data in the frequency of what is shared, but sharing is too easy and too imprecise. Sharing does not require careful reading of what is shared and without personalized, shared summarization, there is little evidence that what is shared is even understood. In comparison to something that is personally constructed and referenced, sharing provides only weak signals.

Maybe it is laziness. Maybe it is overload of one type of another. I think we are losing the strong signals that come from the thought required to put together personal statements in blogs and other social media constructions. Search will likely suffer. I also wonder if people even consider what they really think when they find it easier to use others say instead of speaking for themselves.

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