Tag Archives | Search Engines

Google Shows Its Spirit

Someone at Google–maybe Sergey Brin, maybe Larry Page, maybe just whoever’s in charge of choosing “Google Doodles” is a cartoon fan*. We know because the company sometimes pays tribute to cartoons and cartoonists. And it’s currently demonstrating its laudable good taste by using a Google logo featuring Will Eisner’s Spirit, the most notable work of one of the greatest comic artists ever. The art celebrates the 94th anniversary of the birth of Eisner, who passed away in 2005, and is inspired by his famous splash pages.

With the US Postal Service having long ago debased itself by releasing too many cartoon-related stamps featuring too many subjects that aren’t all-time greats, Google doodledom may be the highest honor currently being paid to comic art’s greats. Well done, Google.

*Actually, come to think of it, this 2008 Wired article by Steve Levy says that Google search boss Udi Manber likes cartoons–New Yorker cartoons, to be precise. Maybe he’s responsible for the Spirit tribute. Then again, we haven’t (yet) seen Google doodles commemorating the work of Peter Arno, George Price , or Barney Tobey


Bing Search Results Get Liked, Google Should Get Jealous

As Google and Facebook quibble over user data, the relationship between Facebook and Microsoft is only getting cozier.

Since December, Bing has been using Facebook “Likes” to deliver separate results from its main search algorithm. Starting today, Bing is expanding Likes to its algorithmic search results, so every link has the potential to get a nod of approval from your friends.

At a time when search is under fire for being spammy — especially for consumer needs such as product reviews and travel information — the infusion of personal recommendations seems like an antidote. Bing is getting a big boost here by tapping into Facebook’s massive word-of-mouth database — something that Google may never get.

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Cooking With Google

Google is adding a cool new feature to its eponymous search engine today: Recipe View, which lets you pull up results that show only recipes–then filter them by ingredients, preparation time, and calories using options in Google’s left-hand toolbar.

Not every recipe on the Web will be part of the fun–site proprietors need to mark up their recipe pages with special code so that Google understands the recipe’s details. (According to Wired.com, several major cooking sites already do so.) I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.


Bing Gets Tiles, Sorta

ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley has a funny way of referring to Microsoft’s new interface fascination: “Tiles gone wild.”

The latest example is Bing, which is rolling out rectangular widgets from partnering websites to appear in certain queries. Searching for a movie, for instance, brings up user ratings from IMDB and reviews from Rotten Tomatoes in little boxes next to their respective search results.

And yes, Microsoft is referring to these widgets as “Tiles,” the same terminology the company uses to describe part of Windows Phone 7’s interface.

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Google Farms Out Blocking of Content Farms to Users

So far, Google has been reluctant to directly block or demote content farms such as AOL’s Yahoo’s Associated Content and Demand Media’s eHow, which push out cheaply-produced articles intended mainly to appease Google’s search algorithms. But now it’s giving the banhammer to users with a Chrome extension.

Personal Blocklist lets you block entire web domains from Google searches. You’re not technically limited to content farms, either; the option to block a domain appears next to every search result.

Google isn’t hiding the fact that this is crowdsourced research. If you use the extension and block a site, Google collects that information, and “will study the resulting feedback and explore using it as a potential ranking signal for our search results.” In other words, if enough people block Associated Content or eHow, Google may lower the PageRanks of those domains.

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JC Penney Wise, Pound Foolish

The New York Times’ David Segal has a fascinating story up on sleazy search optimization done on behalf of JC Penney (who says it doesn’t know anything about it). And Vanessa Fox of Search Engine Land provides some good follow up.

In my own personal searches on Google, I’m still satisfied most of the time–maybe because they rarely involve shopping and other commercial activity–but there’s no doubt that the question of whether Google is fundamentally broken is one of tech’s biggest stories at the moment.


A Better Response From Bing

Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan has a great post providing the clearest version to date of Bing’s side of the great Bing-Google kerfuffle. Bing still denies copying Google results–but it sounds like it all depends on the definition of “copy,” and that Bing does incorporate data from searches done on all sorts of sites, not just Google.  In my first post on this I said that Bing’s behavior sounded iffy. But the weird thing is, the more that comes out, the harder it is to figure out what I think about this.

Before the whole thing dies down, I hope that Google responds at least once more time, with (A) a reaction to Bing’s explanation as provided in Danny’s story; and (B) some disclosure about whether it uses Chrome and/or the Google Toolbar to do anything even sort of similar to what Microsoft does with IE and Bing Toolbar data.


Google vs. Bing: The Squabble Continues

I’ve been watching the odd debate between Google and Bing executives over Bing’s alleged copying of Google search results wih an uneasy fascination. There’s an interesting question here about legitimate and illegitimate uses of clickstream monitoring to shape search results. But both sides have adopted pissy, confrontational tones that haven’t done much to clarify matters. (All Things Digital’s Kara Swisher thinks the whole affair may be a preview of the Larry Page era at Google.)

But Google engineer Matt Cutts has a new post up which I like: His points seem reasonable and he engages in no sniping or whining. I agree with him that Bing honcho Yusef Mehdi’s “We do not copy results from any of our competitors. Period. Full stop.” is, at best, confusing given that (A) Bing does seem to have replicated the nonsense results that Google planted as part of its sting operation; and (B) Bing representatives also seems to have defended watching IE users’ clicks on Google and mixing results based on their actions there into the gumbo of Bing’s algorithm.

At the moment, I think that Google has the edge in this tussle, mostly because it’s explained its stance more coherently and (somewhat) more politely. (Of course, reasonable people may disagree.)

If Microsoft’s stance is that it hasn’t been copying Google results (period, full stop), the best thing it could do would be to explain why that isn’t the case–in language as measured and dignified as Cutts’s. Tell us, Bingfolk: Why haven’t your actions amounted to cloning links from a competitor’s search results?


Google Says Bing is Cribbing Its Search Results

I’m attending Farsight today in San Francisco. It’s an interesting conference on search, sponsored by Microsoft’s Bing but featuring participants from Google, Blekko, Wolfram Alpha, and other companies involved in the never-ending quest to make it easy to find stuff on the Web.

Oddly enough, the big news at the event doesn’t involve big news at the event–it concerns Google’s charge that Bing relays information about IE users’ Google searches back to Microsoft, which uses it to influence the results on Bing. Google confirmed the practice by running a sting operation involving “synthetic” search results for unusual searches, and says that Bing is “cheating.” Bing doesn’t deny anything, but says it’s not copying and that what it’s doing has only a minor effect on its results.

Search guru Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land, who understands the implications of all this way better than I do, has an exhaustive story and promises more stuff to come. He comes to the conclusion that what Bing is doing is legal, and covered by IE’s terms of service, but that “Bing should develop its own search voice without using Google’s as a tuning fork.” Seems like a reasonable conclusion to me. And I have a hunch that Microsoft will come out of this concluding that it needs to stop doing this, for PR reasons if nothing else…


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Google Responds to Gripes About Its Search Results

Is the quality of Google’s search results deteriorating? Lately, there’s been lots of discussion of that question. The founders of search-engine upstart Blekko, which has features designed to block spam and content-farm pages, contend that Google’s results are now riddled with junk.

In my everyday use of Google, I haven’t noticed a problem. The results have seemed as relevant as they’ve ever been–not perfect, but pretty darn good. Certainly solid enough that I haven’t been tempted to flee to Blekko, Bing, or another Google alternative on a regular basis. (The topics I tend to search for may help–I can’t imagine why a spammer or other sneak would want to create pages that show up high in the results for, say, Sargent Shriver.)

But for Google, the perception that its quality is in decline is dangerous–and if it really is suffering, it’s potentially disastrous. Its reputation for running a really well-done search engine is the foundation of everything else it does; if it loses that, everything else is at risk. In a worst-scenario, it might be like the sad story of Dell, which–perceptionwise, at least–went from being synonymous with excellent tech support in the 1990s to a byword for mediocre customer service in this century.

So it’s interesting to see Google spam fighter Matt Cutts address concerns in an Official Google Blog post today. He says that the company has noticed a “slight uptick” in spam recently, and that it’s heard “loud and clear” that people are concerned about low-grade content generated by content farms. (Cutts doesn’t mention any content farms by name, but Demand Media–the parent company of eHow and other sites–and Yahoo’s Associated Content are two prominent ones.) He also denies that the fact that spammy and low-quality sites often exist primarily to serve up Google ads has anything to do with their prominence in Google results.

And he says this:

The fact is that we’re not perfect, and combined with users’ skyrocketing expectations of Google, these imperfections get magnified in perception. However, we can and should do better.

So how satisfied are you with Google’s search results these days?