Tag Archives | Search Engines

The Curse of “Don’t Be Evil”

So it’s official: By merging its various privacy policies into one master policy that permits it to intermingle the things it knows about you, Google has become evil. Or at least that’s the stance of Gizmodo’s Mat Honan, who isn’t alonein his furor:

Honan’s declaration of evil is a riff on Google’s famous unofficial motto, “Don’t be evil,” which was apparently proposed by staffers Paul Buchheit and Amit Patel at a 2001 meeting. Google continues to saying that not being evil is one of its core principles to this day. So the fact that Honan and others are saying that the company has finally crossed an ethical line into evilhood is a unique, sad moment in Google history.


People have been accusing Google of being evil–or at least wondering whether it has become so–for almost as long as Google has been claiming that it isn’t evil. I can’t lay my hands on any examples from 2001 or 2002, but it became a hot topic in 2003 and has never let up.
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The Demise of “Ten Blue Links:” Greatly Exaggerated

The New York Times’ Steve Lohr has an interesting post on Oren Etzioni, a University of Washington researcher who’s published a paper calling for greater innovation in search. He calls for new approaches to search user interfaces–especially on phones, which are fundamentally different from PCs and used for different sorts of searches.

Etzioni speaks disparagingly of search results in the form of “ten blue links,” and says “they don’t cut it any more.” “Ten blue links” is a code-word for “Google-style search,” and people–especially people who work for Google rivals–are always disparaging it. Yet nobody’s come up with anything radically different that consumers seem to like a hundredth as much as they like Google’s ten blue link.

I vote for lots of experimentation with new kinds of search myself. (Siri, the iPhone app that Apple bought last year, uses voice recognition and semantic parsing of your input to do something that’s very little like Google, and very cool.) But for now, to riff on a famous Churchill quote, it’s possible that ten blue links are the worst interface for search–except for all the other ones.



The Google Toolbar: Superfluous? Probably. Beloved? Definitely!

Stephen Shankland of Cnet is reporting that Google has ceased development of the Google Toolbar for Firefox. It works on versions of the browser up to 4, but won’t ever run with the new version 5 and beyond. Google’s official rationale? Firefox has added features which render the toolbar irrelevant. On a purely rational level, it may be right about that. But I suspect the absence of a Google Toolbar for the world’s second most-used browser will send a lot of people into a tizzy.

Three years ago, when Google’s Chrome browser was brand new, I wrote about the fact that there was no Google Toolbar for it. Then as now, you could have made the case that the toolbar was superflous, but that didn’t stop people from really, really wanting a Google Toolbar for Chrome. The post got a ton of readers, and I followed up with one on my not-very-serious project to build a Google Fakebar.

People like doing things the way they’re comfortable doing them. (That’s the only plausible explanation for why it’s still possible to pay for AOL service.) And Google Toolbar was so useful for so long that here are probably millions of people out there who use it every single day on Firefox.

Shankland says that Google isn’t saying anything about the future of the toolbar for Internet Explorer. I wonder if there are people so wedded to the toolbar that they’d switch from Firefox to IE to keep it?


Bing Goes Metro

(image courtesy Within Windows)

Are you getting the impression that Microsoft is pretty proud of its tile-based, “keep-it-simple-stupid” Metro user interface, as seen in Windows Phone 7? You should. After moving both its MSDN developer site and the Microsoft Download Center to the much simpler layout, Microsoft is about to give its Bing search engine a makeover.

The tiles across the bottom of the Bing screen will show various blurbs of information including local weather, sports and traffic, as well as current trending searches. The idea follows what we’ve seen from Windows 8: that these tiles are meant to display blurbs of useful information in a visually appealing way. And it’s also well-suited for touch-screen devices.

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I’m Feeling Endangered

According to Google Operating System, Google is testing a spruced-up home page and search results with one striking change: they remove the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button that’s been part of Google forever (or  at least since 1998).

Google has a gazillion tests going on at any one time, many of which never turn into permanent, pervasive changes, so it’s a tad early to mourn the loss of I’m Feeling Lucky. And I’m not sure when I last used it–or used it at all, except as an experiment rather than a feature I liked and needed. Still, I’d miss it. I think that’s because it’s a reminder that Google wasn’t always the Web’s dominant company–there was a time when it was an up-and-coming search engine invented by a couple of Stanford students.



Google Doubles Down on “Ten Blue Links”

Google's Johanna Wright shows off the new Search by Image feature.

“I don’t need ten blue links — just give me the answer!”–Bing Search Blog post, October 2010

“Yahoo Vows Death to the ’10 Blue Links'”–IDG News article, May 2009

It’s funny: Google’s competitors spend a lot of time explaining that “ten blue links”–the traditional search results that we’ve known since the dawn of search engines–are annoying and/or obsolete. But I haven’t noticed any consumer uprising over them, or a mass exodus from search engines that use them. Actually, I suspect that any company that rails against “ten blue links” would cheerfully swap places with Google if it had the chance, dependent on blue links though Google may be.

And at Google’s Inside Search event today, thee was lots of news–but the company didn’t seem to be on a mission to deemphasize traditional results pages. Instead, most of the news was about making the blue links more useful–getting you to them more quickly, in more ways, then letting you get past them and onto a Web page that provides the information (Google would probably say “knowledge” rather than “information” which you’re looking for.

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