Can the Google index go open source without killing it?

Summary:Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and others should start negotiating on a statement of principles, explained in code, under which commercial search engines will operate. Governments would be assured that all engines were playing by rules, and they weren't gaming the system for their own ends.

CNET's Tom Krazit has offered a great run-down of recent moves aimed at forcing Google to give up its search algorithm, and Google's pushback.

Google open sources more code than anyone else, but it has never revealed how its search engine works.

This is done, it says, to protect the Net from spammers and scammers and others who might game the results. Even with this secrecy, the scams persist. A vast underground industry exists to perpetrate them.

But those algorithms have become so important, critics insist, that Google has gained an editorial power over the whole Internet with them, and so they should be opened to scrutiny.

The controversy picked up steam when a Google Brazil executive told Tom Foremski open sourcing the index might be a good idea. Foremski ran with it, saying that a single index would save an incredible amount of bandwidth.

Giving away Google's secret source is a bridge too far for me. I don't think it would eliminate search engine competition in any case, as Foremski seems to believe. He notes some "unknown robot" is currently dragging more bandwidth from him than Google and Yahoo combined.

Still, there is a public interest in all this, and I am in a compromising mood this morning, so let me offer a modest proposal.

An open standard. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and others should start negotiating on a statement of principles, explained in code, under which commercial search engines will operate.

There would be plenty of room for differentiation under that standard. It would be in every engine's interests to have such differentiation, for precisely the reasons Google states. But governments would be assured that all engines were playing by rules, and they weren't gaming the system for their own ends.

I wouldn't even insist on a transparent process for the development of this standard. It could be done through a series of secret meetings on a high mountaintop somewhere, and government would not need to participate.

Just code some assurances you're not mucking with the results and go about your business. You're not being evil anyway. Now make sure your competitors aren't being evil either.

Topics: Open Source, Google

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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