Will search engines make popular sites more so?
Not so, according to a controversial new paper that has recently appeared on arXiv, an online collection of physics and related papers. In it, Santo Fortunato and his colleagues at Indiana University in America and Bielefeld University in Germany claim that search engines actually have an egalitarian effect that increases traffic to less popular sites.
The researchers developed a model that described two extreme cases. In the first, people browsed the web only by surfing random links. In the second, people only visited pages that were returned by search engines. The researchers then turned to the real world. They plotted the traffic to a website—measured as the fraction of all page views made in a three-month period—against the number of incoming links made to that website. To their surprise, they found that the relationship between the two did not lie between the extremes suggested by their model but somewhere completely different. It appears to show that the supposed bias in favour of popular pages is actually mitigated by the combination of search engines and people following random links.