Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Are search engine polices creating a second class internet?

My main company website has been online now for almost 20 years. My motto has always been to keep things simple and honest, and it hasn't done me any harm. The site appears high up in most search engines (depending on the search terms) and I have an average Google PageRank.

I'm often asked to add links to help other sites up their search engine results, but I never do. I like to think of my sites as free resources, a place for the discerning visitor to use to get some quality information. They are not designed to manipulate visitors, be they human or bots, in any way. Whilst this may cost me some visitors in terms of numbers, I like to think that more of those that do come are looking for something rather than just clicking through.

Recently, though, I've been noticing a worrying search engine listing obsession which is threatening to turn much of the web into a second-class backwater. Sometimes, when one person from a company has asked me to add a link to their company, a few days later another asks me to remove it because it might negatively effect their search rankings. This has recently happened with a company with whom I have previously had very good relations and who directly benefits from being named on my site. Whilst the webmaster who requested the link removal won't know me from Adam, you can be sure that the CEO knows me well. When people ask my advice about companies working in the data quality field, I point them to a page with links.  If I were to remove the links those companies would get no referrals from me.

A shot in their own foot.

So why the obsession with numbers instead of quality?

The worrying aspect in the latter case was the threat to bad mouth me to the search engines by posting a disavow report to them, which would have grouped my site with spammers, link farmers and those trying to manipulate search engine results in shady ways.  It appears that these companies are trying to associate themselves only with the highest ranking sites on the internet, and will do this by pushing the rest, by fair means of foul, out of the way and down the listings.

As you can tell, I'm not happy about this. But I still refuse to stop being honest and open with my sites. I don't add links to increase their rankings or mine, and I don't remove links for those reasons either.  Isn't there room on the internet any more for high quality sites with smaller numbers of high quality visitors?  What do you think?

Obamacare: a lesson in data entry design

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act health insurance system (better known as Obamacare) currently being rolled out in the United States is about as complex a project as any data professional is ever likely to face. State-specific portals must be consolidated into a federal data hub, and data from that hub is validated against a number of other data resources, including those holding social security, justice, security and financial data for each individual. Unfortunately, its implementation has been plagued by problems, widely reported and too often experienced by the people trying to register with the system.  Servers have crashed, websites have crawled, security has failed, coding has been poor.

Read more in my blog post here.

The politics of postal codes

Let’s face it, I’m a geek. After more than 20 years of minutely studying address systems, I still come across new information and it still interests me.  For example, you wouldn’t think that politics would affect postal codes, would you?  But in many parts of the world, it does.

Read more in my blog post here.

Out and outliers

Ms Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele was an outlier. Her 36-letter Hawaiian surname couldn’t be entered into state data files or reproduced on her ID card or driving licence – it had to be truncated.  Her frustration was shared by other people whose cultures provide them with names or other details which systems designed for other cultures can’t deal withMs Pontes da Costa Granja James y Savill, Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu GuttenbergSiddig El Tahir El Fadil El Siddig Abderrahman Mohammed Ahmed Abdel Karim El Mahd(better known as the actor Alexander Siddig) and His Imperial Highness Prince Şehzade Nazım Ziyaeddin Nazım Osmanoğlu(comedian Naz Osmanoglu) to name but a fewUlrika Örtegren-Kärjenmäki, whose name is hardly gargantuan, was refused a flight because her name would not fit onto Ryanair’s boarding pass, leaving aside the issue of the confusion caused at security by the diaereses over the letters in her name.

Read more in my blog post here.

The balancing act between business and customer

Anybody in business would have come across those companies whose internal procedures make buying from or selling to them a daunting undertaking.  Quotes have to be formatted just so, invoices laid out exactly thus, purchase orders routed through these channels and not those.  These procedures have the positive effect of enabling the company to control its finances and spending better. They have the negative effect of reducing its ability to do business.

Read more in my blog post here.

Faster to your Doormat with the Correct Format!

A statement from my British bank arrived recently with a label covering the address window.  The label, added by Deutsche Post, explained that the address used by the bank had been formatted in such a way that it could not be machine read and sorted (and, by implication, explaining why it may have been delayed).

Read more in my blog post here.

Dynamism and vanity

The need for organisations to collect, store and maintain consistent and accurate data cannot be understated.Though it would seem self-apparent that certain types of data are either correct or incorrect, accurate or inaccurate, in many cases a variation in data may be influenced by human perception or cultural and linguistic background, so that data referring to the same physical entity may be expressed in a number of ways, none of which are wrong.

Read more in my blog post here.

When the Golden Record is Tarnished

Golden records, single customer views, call them what you will, are the El Dorado for many organisations struggling with large amounts of data from multiple sources.  They’re a great asset when they’re accurate, but can cause a lot of problems in downstream data quality when they’re not.

Read more at my blog post here.

Are You in Debt to Data Quality?

Data quality should be a core concern for any business, but for many companies it isn’t – any success that those companies have could often be multiplied many times by attending to their data quality issues.
But for financial institutions, such as banks and insurance companies, the luxury of ignoring data quality is not there. They live or die by the quality of their data – its accuracy, completeness and currency.
Read more in my blog post here.