Generally speaking, the way Google and other search engines have been designed up until this point is to reward websites by their popularity. That is, the more a website is linked to, the higher its ranking is – even when the content on that site is erroneous. In a sense, this is not all that different from how other information is disseminated. Crackpot theories have always had an audience. But Google wants to turn that paradigm upside down and reward for truthfulness instead with its new Knowledge Vault.
Knowledge Vault is designed to be a store of information gathered and merged from across the web into a base of determined facts. Both human beings and machines will be able to access this information. It works much like a typical database, except that instead of pulling up data, it pulls up facts: When was the Battle of New Orleans? Who was the first Norman ruler of England? How many players make up a baseball team?
Unfortunately to expand this kind of knowledge base, people must add to it (“crowdsourcing”), but there is so much knowledge out there and so few people working to input it that Google decided to go a different way. Google’s model pulls information from all over the web and then evaluates it for accuracy via another algorithm. So far Google has gathered 1.6 billion facts, 271 million of which it rates as “confident facts” – ones that its algorithm has ranked as having a 90 percent chance of being true.
Google is far from being the only ones interested in gathering this sort of information. All of the big players including Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon, are doing it too because, after all, knowledge is power. But while the information Facebook collects will undoubtedly have some online effect worldwide, Google’s knowledge vault will actually affect what information the public has access to. Much of the public relies on search engines to answer questions they have from recipes to research papers, and as our society becomes less reliant on traditional written archives, people will assume that the information they can access easily is the most accurate information out there; the only information out there, in fact.
Again, this is not that different from universities or media outlets choosing to promote one set of ideas or facts over another, but Google’s reach is much, much larger than that of academia or even The New York Times. And the dividing line between fact and opinion is not always very defined.
From a business standpoint, the takeaway of this trend again should be to focus on providing good, interesting, and factual content on a company website because what Google chooses to highlight is what will be seen by the public – now and even more so down the line.