Greetings. In a very recent blog item, I discussed some issues regarding search engine dispute resolution, and posed some questions about the possibility of "dispute links" being displayed with search results to indicate serious disputes regarding the accuracy of particular pages, especially in cases of court-determined defamation and the like.
While many people appear to support this concept in principle, the potential operational logistics are of significant concern. As I originally acknowledged, it's a complex and tough area, but that doesn't make it impossible to deal with successfully either.
Some others respondents have taken the view that search engines should never make "value judgments" about the content of sites, other than that done (which is substantial) for result ranking purposes.
What many folks may not realize is that in the case of Google at least, such more in-depth judgments are already being made, and it would not necessarily be a large leap to extend them toward addressing the dispute resolution issues I've been discussing.
Google already puts a special tag on sites in their results which Google believes contain damaging code ("malware") that could disrupt user computers. Such sites are tagged with a notice that "This website may damage your computer." -- and the associated link is not made active (that is, you must enter it manually or copy/paste to access that site -- you cannot just click).
Also, in conjunction with Google Toolbar and Firefox 2, Google collects user feedback about suspected phishing sites, and can display warnings to users when they are about to access potentially dangerous sites on these lists.
In both of these cases, Google is making a complex value judgment concerning the veracity of the sites and listings in question, so it appears that this horse has already left the barn -- Google apparently does not assert that it is merely a neutral organizer of information in these respects.
So, a site can be tagged by Google as potentially dangerous because it contains suspected malware, or because it has been reported by the community to be an apparent phishing site. It seems reasonable then for a site that has been determined (by a court or other agreed-upon means) to be containing defaming or otherwise seriously disputed information, to also be potentially subject to similar tagging (e.g. with a "dispute link").
Pages that contain significant, purposely false information, designed to ruin people's reputations or cause other major harm, can be just as dangerous as phishing or malware sites. They may not be directly damaging to people's computers, but they can certainly be damaging to people's lives. And presumably we care about people at least as much as computers, right?
So I would assert that the jump to a Google "dispute links" mechanism is nowhere near as big a leap from existing search engine results as it may first appear to be.
In future discussion on this topic, I'll get into more details of specific methodologies that could be applicable to the implementation of such a dispute handling system, based both within the traditional legal structure and through more of a "Web 2.0" community-based topology.
But I wanted to note now that while such a search engine dispute resolution environment could have dramatic positive effects, it is fundamentally an evolutionary concept, not so much a revolutionary one.
More later. Thanks as always.
Blog Update (June 26, 2007): A Most Remarkable Google Page: Toward Search Dispute Resolutions