In a move sure to create shivers of apprehension in the lower levels of the web’s traffic garnering ecosystem Google has just announced that it’s rolling out Panda 4.0, the latest upgrade to the spidering and ranking system that the company uses in its search engine. The reason for the concern will be that it is, as with earlier versions, aimed at cutting out the low level and low quality pages from the engine’s search results. But that low level end of the web is exactly and precisely about creating low quality pages that then turn up in the search results. The whole game can be seen as a way in which market competition acts very much like evolution does:
Google’s Matt Cutts announced on Twitter that they have released version 4.0 of the Google Panda algorithm.
Google’s Panda algorithm is designed to prevent sites with poor quality content from working their way into Google’s top search results.
It was Matt Ridley who popularised the idea that evolution is rather like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland. It’s necessary to run ever faster in order to stand still. The point being that the various parasites which attack any life form or species do themselves get better at doing so over the generations. Not by any method of planning of course, it’s just that there’s random mutation and those that acquire a useful such mutation, one that allows them to attack a host more effectively, go on to have more descendants that have this mutation.
The same is obviously true of the hosts: only those that are able to survive this new version of the parasite are going to themselves go on to successfully reproduce and thus their subsequent generations will also be able to survive it. And we’ve seen both versions of this time and again in human reactions to disease. Most of the current extant European population are not as susceptible to plague or the Black Death as most of the European population were pre-1350. Because those without the genes that provided some (however limited) protection simply died along with all their offspring. And we can see the mutation of parasites into new forms every year when the influenza season comes around: it’s always a slightly different form from the year before.
And my point here is that we can think of business, a market, in very much the same terms. We might more often think of products as being complimentary, that is symbiotes rather than parasites (say, the companies that make little cases to keep your iPhone in and Apple itself that makes the iPhone) but much the same is going on. Everyone has to keep running faster just in order to stand still. Not only are other symbiotes (or parasites) changing what they do the product that you are complementary to is also changing. And it’s very much that process that drives the whole system forwards.
And so it is here with Google and that Panda 4.0 update. Google believes that those low-level spam page creators are damaging to the Google search product. Thus they are continually changing the algos in order to protect against such parasites. And, of course, the parasites are continually changing their tactics in reaction to Google’s changes: running ever faster just to stand still.
Of course, one can overdo the comparison. For a start, the market and business is all directed experimentation and evolution is entirely blind and random. But the two basic underlying similarities remain. We all have to keep running ever faster simply to stay abreast of everyone else doing so, and it’s not the changes themselves that determine the outcome but the surrounding environment that selects which innovations will survive. Making little iPhone cases in 1935 would not have been a sound business move, doing so in 2014 employs entire factories in China.