Regulation is not impossible

I just came across this Coding Horror about Google search results.  Scrappers and skimmers and search optimizers are  beating out the original sites in Google searches, and then making money off the ads.  It sounds like people are switching from Google search in droves.

“Hate the skimmers, not Google!”, people cry.  “Google can’t beat the skimmers with an algorithm!”

I see situations like this all the time.  It reminds me of the Gulf oil spill.  “Hate BP and not the regulators!” people cried.  Or the financial markets – “Hate the banks, not the government!  There’s no way the government can keep up with those crafty bankers!”

Yes they can.

It’s time to put this myth to rest.  We beat them all the time.

These are all games, people.

I’m not saying it’s easy.  But it’s possible.   Common, even.  Heck, in the financial markets there are plenty of examples of tightly balanced markets, markets that have nowhere near the  trouble the home and oil markets have had in the last few years.  That should be a sign.  In the Gulf, every other oil company had valves on their wells that would have stopped that spill.  There wasn’t  a specific rule for that.  They just had better crafted incentives (PR and retail, for example).

The job of the regulator/search engine developer/market creator is the job of the game designer.

The simplest and best example of this is Poker.  You think the inventors of Poker imagined all the trouble Poker plays could cause?  I doubt it.  But they provided ways that the players could watch each other and enforce (or play off) infractions.  And they built mechanisms into the system so that the best players had incentives for  the system to be fair for everyone, rather then cheating, and could change the rules.

The casinos don’t watch the game.  They watch the players.  They don’t even have to understand the game.  They just watch for abnormalities in the system, and then ask the players what the fix should be.  You don’t need to understand all the financial tricks to know when something fishy is going on.  You just need to design a resilient game to those tricks.

One way games will change the world?  We’ll design better markets, better regulations, and yes, even better search engines.  Search isn’t ultimately an optimization problem or a social network problem.  It’s a game problem.

Game design is still a young field.  But these aren’t unsolvable problems.  They are game design problems.  The solutions are out there.  Don’t blame the players, blame the game.  And demand they change it.

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One thought on “Regulation is not impossible

  1. So Lindsey pointed out that it’s actually not a fair game for Google. When they were small they could just write algorithms that turned off skimmers. Now the problem is that some of the skimmers are slightly legit and real companies. Like comparison shopping sites like NextTag. They provide no content and are of dubious value but will sue Google the instant they stop showing up in search results. People would complain that Google is a monopoly beating up on the little guy. Well, I guess it is a game, just one that involves Lobbyist.

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