Wednesday, 6 January 2010

The King Canute of Cyberspace! (Yes, I'm laughing at you, Kevin Rudd)

For a man who appeared to hold some promise when he became Australia's prime minister in November 2007, Kevin Rudd is now descending into absurdity with the eager assistance of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

Their plan to impose mandatory ISP-level filtering on Australian Internet access via a URL blacklist is an expensive joke perpetrated by the right-wing of the ruling Labor Party.

A scheme allegedly created to protect children by partially blocking access to the world wide web for 21 million or so citizens - many millions of whom don't appear to have dependant children living in their homes.

This pathetic ACMA-inspired blacklist currently stands at around a thousand website/page addresses and is expected to grow once national digital censorship is imposed.

However, there is not hardware or filtering software available to Australian servers with which to blanket filter the entire indexed Web before it reaches Australian citizens, without either these servers malfunctioning dramatically or just quietly letting most of those supposed 'nasties' slip through their nets.

This is what the Google Inc. official blog said in 2008 about the number of URLs already out there in cyberspace:

We've known it for a long time: the web is big. The first Google index in 1998 already had 26 million pages, and by 2000 the Google index reached the one billion mark. Over the last eight years, we've seen a lot of big numbers about how much content is really out there. Recently, even our search engineers stopped in awe about just how big the web is these days -- when our systems that process links on the web to find new content hit a milestone: 1 trillion (as in 1,000,000,000,000) unique URLs on the web at once!

How do we find all those pages? We start at a set of well-connected initial pages and follow each of their links to new pages. Then we follow the links on those new pages to even more pages and so on, until we have a huge list of links. In fact, we found even more than 1 trillion individual links, but not all of them lead to unique web pages. Many pages have multiple URLs with exactly the same content or URLs that are auto-generated copies of each other. Even after removing those exact duplicates, we saw a trillion unique URLs, and the number of individual web pages out there is growing by several billion pages per day.

So how many unique pages does the web really contain? We don't know; we don't have time to look at them all! :-) Strictly speaking, the number of pages out there is infinite -- for example, web calendars may have a "next day" link, and we could follow that link forever, each time finding a "new" page. We're not doing that, obviously, since there would be little benefit to you. But this example shows that the size of the web really depends on your definition of what's a useful page, and there is no exact answer.

We don't index every one of those trillion pages -- many of them are similar to each other, or represent auto-generated content similar to the calendar example that isn't very useful to searchers. But we're proud to have the most comprehensive index of any search engine, and our goal always has been to index all the world's data.

To keep up with this volume of information, our systems have come a long way since the first set of web data Google processed to answer queries. Back then, we did everything in batches: one workstation could compute the PageRank graph on 26 million pages in a couple of hours, and that set of pages would be used as Google's index for a fixed period of time. Today, Google downloads the web continuously, collecting updated page information and re-processing the entire web-link graph several times per day. This graph of one trillion URLs is similar to a map made up of one trillion intersections. So multiple times every day, we do the computational equivalent of fully exploring every intersection of every road in the United States. Except it'd be a map about 50,000 times as big as the U.S., with 50,000 times as many roads and intersections.

Now how is your pathetic little blacklist going to keep up with that, Prime Minister?
Or are you intending (once this censorship becomes Australian law) to approach Google Inc. with a view to this corporation creating a censored for Australia, as it did for its search engine in that notoriously authoritarian regime China?

Photo from Google Images

No comments: