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Yahoo's Webrank Toolbar or the Rich get Richer

This article shows that Google's PageRank and Yahoo's new WebRank boost an effect inherent to growing networks like the Web: The Rich get Richer

Google, the Top Dog

The predominant search engine is Google. Google owes it's popularity to PageRank, an algorithm to compute the relevance of a page based on the incoming links to the page. A page which has a great number of incoming links is more relevant than a page with lesser incoming links. The Google Toolbar, which can be installed in Microsoft's Internet Explorer, can be configured to show the PageRank. A green bar indicates the values for PageRank ranging from zero for less popular pages to ten for the most popular pages. This simple but effective approach is also google's weak spot.

Google's Weak Spot?

The search results google has delivered in the past have been amazing. But the results get spoiled by Search Engine Optimizers or short SEOs using link farms to increase the PageRank of a page in order to get the top positions in search results.

Weblogs, a kind of online diary with short entries and frequent updates, get often high PageRanks. The Weblog community read and quote entries, so an entry containing interesting content get linked to quickly and obain a decent PageRank. Weblogs enrich the Web with their content, so Weblogs in the search results aren't a bad thing.

Google's fate depends on it's ability to retain search results with good quality. If link spammers succeed in manipulating Google too much, Google's popularity will dwindle.

Yahoo, the Challenger

Yahoo has challanged Google with their recent activities around Yahoo! Search. They improved the search algorithm, Yahoo's spider Slurp has increased the frequency of visits and they introduced a pay per click program for submitting URLs. The lastest strike is Yahoo's new Toolbar with WebRank, an algorithm like Google's PageRank.

Yahoo's WebRank is differently calculated than Google's PageRank. Instead of computing the relevance of a page from the links pointing to it, WebRank counts each visit to a page. Pages with a lot of visits get higher PageRanks. Like the Alexa project, the relevance is determined by the visits. A toolbar sends the URL of each visited page to a centralized server. The address of Yahoo's server is http://cpn.yahoo-webrank.net.

The WebRank functionality is included in the new Toolbar which is still in beta state. Unfortunately, Yahoo has enough beta testers but they have taken the Beta Toolbar from their site. If you haven't installed it yet you can't get it no more. Probably the final version will be available shortly.

The Science about Networks

In the past years, scientists have studied networks like the power networks, the Internet, and the Web. They discovered that real world networks grow. New nodes are added continously. The new nodes create links to the existing nodes. The nodes to which the new nodes link are not picked by harzard. New nodes will more likely link to nodes which have already a great number of links. The new nodes can only link to nodes they know. So the most known nodes get the most links from the new nodes.

The Web is an example of a growing network. New pages are added all the time. These new pages link to existing pages. The pages to link to are picked based on their visibility determined by the number of incoming links and by their relevance for search engines. Pages at the top of a search result are picked more likely as pages appearing further down the list.

The Rich get Richer

So pages with a lot of incoming links are chosen as target for links not only because they can be found easily by following existing links, they are chosen also because they are more likely found using search engines. The new links will drive more visiters to the page generating more links. Also Google's PageRank increases and the page will be found more often. Consequently, more new pages will link to the page. And so on, and so on, and so on...

Why is it hard for Newcomers

The popular sites will accumulate more and more incoming links and get richer and richer. The newcomers will go out empty-handed. Because nobody knows these sites, nobody links to them.

The good news is that the PageRank can be increased by creating links to a page. The most important incoming links are not from link farms but from pages with a high PageRank and similar content as the page they link to. Ambitious newcomers can promote their sites by persuading others to add links to their site. So it was possiblie establish new sites and to get a decent PageRank.

What implications has WebRank?

The question is how does WebRank fit into this picture? Popular sites get tousends or millions of visits a day. If the visitors have the Yahoo Toolbar installed and the WebRank feature is active, Yahoo will register these visits. As a consequence, the WebRank score will soar and drive more visitors to the site. Now the rich will get richer more quickly. Both PageRank and WebRank will contribute to this effect and they reinforce it mutually.

The question is: can a new site acquire the critical mass of visits to become popular?

Resources

Duncan J. Watts, "Six degrees: The science of a connected age", 2003 W.W. Norton & Company Ltd.

Albert-László Barabási, "Linked: Who Everything Is Conntected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life.", 2003 Penguin Books Ltd.

Yahoo! Companion Toolbar

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