I was interested to read about a Patent granted to Google where Online ratings (reviews) may be ranked for their relevancy based on the ‘reputation’ of the reviewer. Ratings are very much a part of the Web and people are heavily influenced by Online ratings (and therefore Search Engines find ratings valuables because of the fact that they usually ‘human edited’ i.e. not auto-generated … most of the time). Google and some other Search Engines also show ratings in Search Results. The big problem with Online ratings is that they are easily manipulated e.g. it is relatively simple to setup a bunch of user-ids and vote products either up or down on a mass scale (Ebay.com changed their rating ‘system’ a few years back due to the manipulation of ratings). Ratings are also usually subjective and are influenced by conscious and unconscious factors. The concept of rating raters (i.e. determining reputation) certainly has merit as ratings from a highly-regarded rater may be given more weight than those with a low ‘quality score’. The concept of ranking individual reviews (ratings) based on a profile of the rater and viewer (of the rating/review) also has great merit.
From Ranking Raters to Ranking Individual Reviews
A Google search for ‘wax’ may mean one of many things by the Searcher; if I’m the searcher I may want the results for ‘surfboard wax’ whereas some people may be looking for ‘leg wax’ results and others ‘candle wax’ or ‘bees wax’. Google, Bing and Yahoo therefore use many factors to determine the implied intent of the search such as time of year, previous searches by the Searcher etc. The relevancy of an individual rating/review also may be customized to the searcher; enter XFN:
Reviews, Profiles and XFN
XFN (XHTML Friends Network), put simply, is a means of describing relationships in hyperlinks. Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, Myspace and all the social networks use XFN to understand the relationships between people; if you have ever wondered how Facebook recommends potential ‘friends’ then read up a bit more about XFN as this is the underlying concept (I have recently set up a Website dedicated to XFN but will need to find some time to make the Site useful and acceptable).
So what does XFN have to do with ratings? XFN allows for profiling people (this is not an article about the merits of profiling so please no emails to me regarding conspiracies!) based on their relationships to others. There is a massive amount of information out there about each of us such as products we have purchased (or even looked at), where we live, what we may eat (do you provide restaurant reviews?), where we holiday etc. XFN therefore provides a means of identifying other people with similar shopping habits, age, location details etc. Say for example I search for ‘travel guide for Australia’, by showing me reviews/rankings by people in a similar profile, Google, Bing, Yahoo and the other Search Engines will be showing me far more relevant results to my intended Search; there is no point in showing me product reviews by retirees interested in singles travel as they are looking for something totally different in a travel guide than what I am looking for.
Reviews and ratings are a big indicator to the Search Engines as to the relevancy of a Search. By using the power of XFN combined with ratings, relevancy of Search may be enhanced.