The Failings of Google Authorship

October 29, 2014

A couple years ago, Google began pushing its Authorship markup program—its plan to verify the authorship of items in its search results and to supply author photos alongside verified entries. The idea, of course, was to convey trust in articles’ sources. Now, though, the initiative seems to be dead, and blogger David Leonhardt gives us “Google Authorship- the 3 Reasons Why It Failed.” Apparently, the average searcher was not persuaded to trust a source because of its writer’s smiling visage. In fact, says Leonhardt, those photos seemed to deter some searchers. He writes:

“Hindsight is 20/20 vision, so let’s put on our hindsight goggles and review the three reasons.

1. Trust and authority differ for different types of searches.

2. People trust institutions more than strangers.

3. People select between news and opinion.”

The post elaborates on each point. For example, Leonhardt identifies the three types of searching: for a purchase, for entertainment, and for information; each of these suggests different criteria for “authority.” He also observes that people looking for opinion seem to be swayed by seeing a trusted journalist’s face, but those looking for hard facts tend to click on entries sporting a news organization’s logo. See the write-up for more on these reasons behind Authorship’s downfall.

Could the authorship concept be saved, or revived? The post speculates:

“If Google can harness this understanding of what ‘authority’ means for various searches and flag individual author expertise and institutional expertise accordingly, it might still be able to help people find the most trusted authorities for a given search. Or here’s a novel idea: Google could do what it is already doing: trying to float the most trustworthy authoritative pages to the top of its results, where people tend to click through the most anyway. The face, or the logo, would not give the entry authority – it’s ranking would (and does).”

So, problem solved—there is no problem.

Cynthia Murrell, October 29, 2014

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