Friday, July 29, 2005

Tuning the loop

In the industrial world, control loops are used to adjust for the natural variations in inputs to a system while maintaining the desired output. There are inevitably multiple interacting parameters which can be adjusted to produce the best results. When a system is first installed, there is usually a period of time over which the loops are adjusted to produce the desired results. This process is called tuning the loop. Tuning the loop requires a well balanced mix of experience, skill, technical knowledge, and nerve (especially when a ladle of molten steel is involved!)

My experience tuning a loop was far more mundane. I had helped to repair a control system used to make very flat steel plate, and I figured it would just be a simple adjustment or two to get things working again. I tweaked, and tweaked, and things just didn't work at all, I thought perhaps the repairs weren't correct, it turns out I just didn't have enough experience tuning loops. I was amazed when a more experienced engineer did in a few minutes what would have taken me hours to figure out. Tuning the loop is not initutive at all.

So, when Doc Searls said we need to test search engines to see how fast they pick up on "Buzz"m it brought back memories of my failure to tune the loop. I agree with Doc that it would be very interesting to see just how quickly an idea gets picked up, and made available for discussion. I worry that we might make the wrong adjustments based on that measurement.

If Doc says something, I'll find out the next day, search engine or not, because he's one of my daily reads. I my collection of daily reads, along with the act of maintaing it is a loop, which as only one consumer... me. A little bit of that output makes it here, and to various discussions which I contribute to, but this loop is truely personal.

The sum of our manual systems for filtering out news has an infinite number of controls, but we all tweak our own outputs, and it seems to work just fine. It's called a Democracy, if it all works right.

When we choose to use a search engine, we're outsourcing our filtering mechanism. As a community, we're choosing to support the engines which seem best tuned for our needs. We've all contributed by voting with our clicks, to the tuning of Google, and all of the others. We just weren't too aware of the loop we're all in.

Search engines rely on a set of algorithms to separate the signal from the noise. Google's pagerank algorithm, for example, turned out to be quite helpful in attempting to emulate the network of trust we all build for ourselves, by importing it from the data implicit in the links in the world wide web.

Pagerank is one channel of information that gets used to decide who gets listed first. There are many others, and they are highly optimized and very well guarded. I'm sure that time is one of the elements that gets considered as well. Google has one person, Peter Norvig, their Director of Search Quality, who seems to be the one person responsible for the finial tuning of Google's loop.

So, you can see, it's all loops, within loops, within loops... and it's very deep, and I could go off on a thousand tangents... but I'll try to stay on track here... back to my point...

I'm worried that the "buzz" signal might get tuned too far in the wrong direction. It would be tempting to say that the fastest is the best... which seems to be what Doc is implying.

We need to have reasonable speed of communication. It seems obvious to me that a blog-only search engine should be able to keep the response time down to a day or two, but it needs to do it for everyone, regardless of rank. I feel it's very important to make sure that everyone gets to participate in the conversation. When you use a search engine, you're looking for quality, and not merely the first post. (ala Slashdot)

I'm interested in participating in a high quality, positive discussion which produces postitive results. While it's important to have good response time, I want to avoid getting lost in the noise of buzz.

We need to be careful what we wish for, and patient with the results, tuning is tricky stuff.


Nellie Lide said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nellie Lide said...

I like what you say. In wizard of oz, dorothy said "people come and go so quickly here" - that's how I feel about information these days. And when something has "buzz" - does that mean it's 1)important 2)of lasting value? I dont' think so - so merely finding out how quickly something moves across the internet or blogging world isn't enough. It's the quality aspect you pointed out. Of course, quality is also in the eyes of the beholder, so it's tough to figure out for lots of people.

Ajit Gupta said...

I am doing an experiment as given at

it is a purely an experiment with no malintention. Anyway you can remove this comment with links to google loop and also googleoop