More on Google and Answers
Last week I wrote a post on how Google's autocomplete function gives us an interesting insight into what theological and biblical questions are being asked.
Well, last night I ran across a December issue of the NY Times Magazine that had a fascinating article on the Google Search Algorithm as Extinction Model. Apparently a couple of research scientists recently had a bright idea:
Google's search engine uses an algorithm called PageRank to identify the most important Web sites on a given topic by analyzing links: a Web page is important if other important pages link to it. How different is this, really, [the researchers] wondered, from an ecosystem, in which a species is important if other important species eat it?
These scientists put the search algorithm to the test, finding it much simpler and faster than other methods of predicting extinction, yet giving them nearly identical results. The researches told the BBC News, "In PageRank, a web page is important if important pages point to it. In our approach a species is important if it points to important species."
At seminary, people are constantly talking about how difficult it is to measure the health of congregations (or the church in a larger sense). People fall back on membership—or attendance—numbers even while saying that numbers aren't really what matters. Yet the fact is, people want simple ways of measuring the complex dynamics of church life. Pastors want to know if they are leading the church in a good direction and Bishops' staffs want to know what congregations may be the next to rely on synodical grants, or risk having to close their doors.
What if, instead of number in worship, we started looking at something more like Google's PageRank algorithm? What if we measured the health of congregations by how connected they are? Not just from individual to individual, but from congregation to community organizations, to other congregations, to world missions.
I'm willing to bet that the most healthy churches are not the largest congregations, but the most connected congregations. What do you think?