As I said in a post on a new link based web page authority I do hope we get a new metric that I can use. I figure Google has the right to do what they want with their metric. But while I used to find the pagerank figure a small but useful indication of page authority it is much less so now and so I want an alternative to provide a small bit of info (that the pagerank used to serve). By making the pagerank less useful they have opened a market to a replacement. So far none seems to be filling that gap, though.
I can't see Google degrading their search results much. They have a small but significant gap over the competitors - so they can afford to degrade the results a bit to punish behavior they don't like. But if they degrade them too much users will switch to Yahoo...
The public pagerank number however doesn't degrade the search results and therefor Google can make the guess that the frustration some webmaster/bloggers feel about seeing the number lowered is worth the benefit to getting people to act in a way that makes it easier for Google to provide good search results. It seems pretty obvious while Google is willing to display a low pagerank they have not yet been willing to apply that displayed pagerank to search results (which to me means it is really showing a "fake pagerank" in order to coerce behavior it wants). Which I figure is their right.
I think Google might be risking more than just the bloggers (that like to see a nice pagerank on their pages) however. When Google changes the public pagerank of those bloggers they then write negative posts about Google, will be predisposed to criticize Google, will promote competitors... that is the obvious risk of this strategy.
But a less obvious risk, is that users of the toolbar with the pagerank figure could start to lose faith in Google overall. When the pagerank figure doesn't match with their expectations they will wonder why should I trust what else Google tells me? This will be a small effect but it is tricky to count on people being willing to ignore the less useful data you provide.
Still Google has been very successful making the right decisions. So even though I am skeptical of their decisions on the public pageranks they chose to display, I would have to say it is hard to argue with their track record. I am sure they have thought of everything I have and much more. So I will just hope someone else comes along with an alternative I can use.
Related: Web Search Improvement - Suggestions for Improving Google (Jan 2006) - Alexa for Firefox - Compete Toolbar