Researchers are trying to figure out how to make more of the good stuff float to the top of Internet search engines and keep more of the bad stuff buried.
At Queensland University of Technology, Professor Audun Josang is trying to come up with a system through which search engines would rank Web sites based on their reputation, based in part on input from the broad Internet community of users. Sites that try to hook visitors via phishing scams, for instance, could be outed by users in a "social control" system and search engines could be notified, he said.
"Just because a Web site ranks highly on a search engine doesn't mean it's a good Web site," he said in a statement. "In fact, highly ranked Web sites can be malicious."
The current Web page rankings are too easily manipulated, he said.
"I think in the future reputation systems, integrated into search engines, can be used to weed out such Web sites by giving them a low ranking and thereby making them invisible to unsuspecting users," Josang said in a statement.
Where's the science?
One effect of having so many dangerous and junky Web sites at the top of search engine results is that the good ones are harder to find.
Researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute in England say key science sites are failing to show up in the top 30 Google search results, depending on the topic. Their study is looking at sites on topics such as HIV/AIDS (where online resources tend to be more structured), climate change, terrorism (where online resources tend to be more dispersed) and the Internet. They have used 'webmetric analysis" to plot on graphs how resources are linked to one another across the Web.
One of the researchers' basic observations is that Google and other search engines play a key gatekeeper role and that the Internet isn't just a fair-playing field when it comes to information distribution. They are urging policymakers and educators to pay close attention to this situation and work to make the Web a more useful source of information on important topics. Researchers too need to think about more than just tossing their information onto the Web, but make sure that people will be able to find it.