PageRank and network-making power

A formula for running the PageRank algorithm

Figure 1: A mathematical expression of the PageRank algorithm. (Page, et al., 1998, p. 6)

If network* power is manifested in programming and switching (Castells, 2009, p. 45)—setting the goals for a network and controlling the connections within it and between other networks, respectively—then understanding how digital networks affect writing practices by establishing and influencing the logics, genres, and rhetorical possibilities of network writing will tell us something about the ways in which this power is produced, and ultimately how networks affect writing and other online discourse.

This case study examines Google’s search algorithm PageRank (Brin & Page, 1998; Page, Brin, Motwani, & Winograd, 1998) and how it has programmed a particular manifestation of the Web, a Google-centric network built around the links between individual web pages. Even though PageRank (Fig. 1) is not the only algorithm that determines Google’s search results, it remains a prominent actor within the network, and, I argue, it had a significant influence on the initial programming and subsequent switching behaviors that define that network. By exploring how PageRank helped create this unique network within the wider web and identifying the ways that writing within that network addresses this network as its audience, this case study demonstrates the potential of network* writing to widen the inventional possibilities for writing and therefore to enable more effective rhetorical interventions within a networked society.

I should note that my goal here is not to single out Google or PageRank for special approbation. Rather, the enormous influence of Google and the public nature of PageRank make it an excellent case study for the operation of network-making power, one that demonstrates the importance of network* writing to contemporary rhetorical practice.