How Google Works—Film at 11!

During 2010 I have been involved in the production of a TV programme about algorithms, in particular Google’s PageRank. It went online just a few hours ago:

I just sat through the gruelling task of watching myself.

The background is that IT University of Copenhagen, like all Danish Universities, has agreed to produce popular science content for the Danish public service broadcasting corporation DR. Thus, the show will be aired on the Danish TV channel DR2 some time during 2011. For now, it’s online at ITU’s own digital channel ITView. It’s all in Danish, of course.

The part I like best, and which took the longest time and most passion to think about and produce, is in the middle. The conceit is that the PageRank algorithm could have been invented in the Middle Ages and used by the Catholic church to rank books instead of web pages.

A computing monk doing algebraic graph theory

So we shot some scenes with monks in an old monastery who executed the algorithm by hand, using quill and paper. Actually seeing the finished scenes made my day today. It looks great, thanks to the people involved in actually filming this. I take endless joy from seeing authentic-looking monks drawing directed graphs and pretending to compute eigenvectors.

If you look closely, in the still you can see a drawing that looks suspiciously like figure 2 from “Authoritative sources in a hyperlinked environment” (Jon Kleinberg, J ACM 46(5): 604-632 (1999)). The programme is mainly about the PageRank algorithm of Brin and Page, but I like to imagine that the clever monks have active research in alternative ranking algorithms.

2 thoughts on “How Google Works—Film at 11!

  1. Andreas Björklund

    Liked it very much. Funny that you say G couldn’t base their algorithm on what pages are actually visited. I bet they can now precisely because everyone uses G.
    Also, a friend raised the question: does a webpage creator of today bother to put in links on her webpage? After all, you could just as well use G to find it…


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