I mean sure, this would require some metrics as to which links are actually followed versus which ones won't, but there's no need for "pervasive tracking". Google could just get these from it's own employees, or indeed try to extract some of these metrics from 184.108.40.206 (ie. from volunteers)
Given how big Google is, I'm sure the answer is "all of the above", but the end result is: Google places the page where you eventually end up finding what you want high on the search results page. And it does this by getting tiny amounts of help for you from millions of others, anonymously.
So we have no reason to assume any of the methods are nefarious, and the end result of it is definitely useful. More of this, please !
I'm going to have to go ahead and disagree with you here. The smarter Google tries to make their algorithm the more infuriatingly terrible it is for me to use.
All I want is a feature to completely forget my YouTube and search history when I am not logged in. I never want to see personal recommendations, because for me personally they continue to get worse and worse.
I should probably just buy a new device ever few months like Steve Jobs did with cars.
I get why that's the default for the large majority of people, but it's almost never what I personally want.
I'm willing to accept that my preferences are different from those of the majority, but I'm not sure I want to live in a world filled with smart devices that are always getting in my way.
But a lot of his other stuff is pretty interesting. He has done a lot of work that you can broadly classify as applications of graph theory to the social world.
That includes the HITS paper, but also work on small world networks, social networks, and several other papers on links and information flow related to the web.