Google and Its Search Soccer Team: Shot Hits the Post

February 28, 2017

I read “Google’s Search Algorithm Is Like a Soccer Team.” Interesting notion but an old one. Years ago Google patented a system and method for deploying communication software agents. Some of these were called “janitors.” The name was cute. The idea was that the “janitors” would clean up some of the mess left when unruly bots left litter in a file structure.

The write up ignores Google’s technical documentation, journal papers, and wild and crazy patent documents. The author has a good sense of how algorithms work and how clever folks can hook them together to create a business process or manufacturing system to further the sale of online advertising.

The discussion of Google’s search algorithm (please, note the singular noun). I thought that Google had a slightly more sophisticated approach to providing search and retrieval in its various forms to its billions of information foragers.

I remember a time in the late 1990s, when co-workers would ask one another which search engine they used. Lycos? AltaVista? Yahoo? Dogpile? Ask Jeeves? The reason there was such a time, and the reason there is no longer such a time, is that Google had not yet introduced its search algorithm. Google’s search algorithm helped Google gain market share on its way to search engine preeminence. Imagine you were searching the internet in the mid 1990s, and your search engine of choice was Ask Jeeves.

Yep, that’s an interesting point: AskJeeves. As I recall, AskJeeves used manually prepared answers to a relatively small body of questions. AskJeeves was interesting but fizzled trying to generate money with online customer service. This is a last ditch tactic that many other search vendors have tried. How is that customer service working for you, gentle reader? Great, I bet.

So how does Google’s algorithm compare to a soccer team? I learned:

The search algorithm looks at a website’s incoming links and how important those pages are. The higher the number of quality page links coming in, the higher the website ranks. Think of a soccer team playing a match. Each player on one team represents a web page. And every pass made to a player on the team represents links from another website. A player’s ranking depends upon the amount of passes (links) they receive. If the player receives many passes from other important players, then the player’s score rises more than if they received passes from less talented players, i.e. those who receive fewer passes by lesser quality players. Every single time there is a pass, the rankings are updated. Google’s search algorithm uses links instead of passes.

Yep, that’s a shot on goal, but it is wide. The conclusion of this amazing soccer game metaphor is that “thus SEO was born.” And the reason? Algorithms.

That shot rolled slow and low only to bounce off the goal post and wobble wide. Time to get another forward, pay for a referee, and keep the advertising off the field. Well, that won’t work for the GOOG will it?

Stephen E Arnold, February 28, 2017

Comprehensive, Intelligent Enterprise Search Is Already Here

February 28, 2017

The article on Sys-Con Media titled Delivering Comprehensive Intelligent Search examines the accomplishments of World Wide Technology (WWT) in building a better search engine for the business organization. The Enterprise Search Project Manager and Manager of Enterprise Content at WWT discovered that the average employee will waste over a full week each year looking for the information they need to do their work. The article details how they approached a solution for enterprise search,

We used the Gartner Magic Quadrants and started talks with all of the Magic Quadrant leaders. Then, through a down-selection process, we eventually landed on HPE… It wound up being that we went with the HPE IDOL tool, which has been one of the leaders in enterprise search, as well as big data analytics, for well over a decade now, because it has very extensible platform, something that you can really scale out and customize and build on top of.

Trying to replicate what Google delivers in an enterprise is a complicated task because of how siloed data is in the typical organization. The new search solution offers vast improvements in presenting employees with the relevant information, and all of the relevant information and prevents major time waste through comprehensive and intelligent search.

Chelsea Kerwin, February 28, 2017

When AI Spreads Propaganda

February 28, 2017

We thought Google was left-leaning, but an article at the Guardian, “How Google’s Search Algorithm Spreads False Information with a Rightwing Bias,” seems to contradict that assessment. The article cites recent research by the Observer, which found neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic views prominently featured in Google search results. The Guardian followed up with its own research and documented more examples of right-leaning misinformation, like climate-change denials, anti-LGBT tirades,  and Sandy Hook conspiracy theories. Reporters Olivia Solon and Sam Levin tell us:

The Guardian’s latest findings further suggest that Google’s searches are contributing to the problem. In the past, when a journalist or academic exposes one of these algorithmic hiccups, humans at Google quietly make manual adjustments in a process that’s neither transparent nor accountable.

At the same time, politically motivated third parties including the ‘alt-right’, a far-right movement in the US, use a variety of techniques to trick the algorithm and push propaganda and misinformation higher up Google’s search rankings.

These insidious manipulations – both by Google and by third parties trying to game the system – impact how users of the search engine perceive the world, even influencing the way they vote. This has led some researchers to study Google’s role in the presidential election in the same way that they have scrutinized Facebook.

Robert Epstein from the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology has spent four years trying to reverse engineer Google’s search algorithms. He believes, based on systematic research, that Google has the power to rig elections through something he calls the search engine manipulation effect (SEME).

Epstein conducted five experiments in two countries to find that biased rankings in search results can shift the opinions of undecided voters. If Google tweaks its algorithm to show more positive search results for a candidate, the searcher may form a more positive opinion of that candidate.

This does add a whole new, insidious dimension to propaganda. Did Orwell foresee algorithms? Further complicating the matter is the element of filter bubbles, through which many consume only information from homogenous sources, allowing no room for contrary facts. The article delves into how propagandists are gaming the system and describes Google’s response, so interested readers may wish to navigate there for more information.

One particular point gives me chills– Epstein states that research shows the vast majority of readers are not aware that bias exists within search rankings; they have no idea they are being manipulated. Perhaps those of us with some understanding of search algorithms can spread that insight to the rest of the multitude. It seems such education is sorely needed.

Cynthia Murrell, February 28, 2017

 

 

Mobile App Usage on the Rise from 34% of Consumer Time in 2013 to 50% in 2016

February 24, 2017

Bad news, Google. The article titled Smartphone Apps Now Account for Half the Time Americans Spend Online on TechCrunch reveals that mobile applications are still on the rise. Throw in tablet apps and the total almost hits 60%. Google is already working to maintain relevancy with its In Apps feature for Androids, which searches inside apps themselves. The article explains,

This shift towards apps is exactly why Google has been working to integrate the “web of apps” into its search engine, and to make surfacing the information hidden in apps something its Google Search app is capable of handling.  Our app usage has grown not only because of the ubiquity of smartphones, but also other factors – like faster speeds provided by 4G LTE networks, and smartphones with larger screens that make sitting at a desktop less of a necessity.

What apps are taking up the most of our time? Just the ones you would expect, such as Facebook, Messenger, YouTube, and Google Maps. But Pokemon Go is the little app that could, edging out Snapchat and Pinterest in the ranking of the top 15 mobile apps. According to a report from Senor Tower, Pokemon Go has gone beyond 180 million daily downloads. The growth of consumer time spent on apps is expected to keep growing, but comScore reassuringly states that desktops will also remain a key part of consumer’s lives for many years to come.

Chelsea Kerwin, February 24, 2017

 

Google Loon Balloons: Still Aloft

February 23, 2017

I enjoy thinking about Google’s Loon balloons. Others are fascinated as well. For instance, the renowned journalistic outfit CBS News showed a happy face. Navigate to “Can Google’s Internet Beaming Balloons Beat the Wind?” The answer, I thought, is obvious, “Darn right.” The write up told me:

Engineers involved in the eccentric project, a part of the X Lab owned by Google’s corporate parent Alphabet Inc., say they have come up with algorithms that enable the high-flying balloons to do a better job anticipating shifting wind conditions so they hover above masses of land for several months instead of orbiting the earth.

The idea is that instead of being blown like a US government balloon from the DC area to Pennsylvania, the Loon balloon would circle an area. Smart software does the trick. The technology allows the Google to deploy fewer balloons to provide Internet access (and ads) to those parts of the world where water, not online connectivity, is a big deal.

The write up points out:

The Alphabet subsidiaries operating outside Google, a hodgepodge of far-flung projects, have lost a combined $7.1 billion during the past two years. In an acknowledgement of their lofty goals and risky nature, Alphabet CEO Larry Page calls them “moonshots.”

I noted that moon rhymes with loon.

The relative of Dr. Edward Teller allegedly said that the new approach plays “a game of chess with the wind.”

Anyone remember that old TV commercial, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature”? With some interesting weather manifesting itself here in good old rural Kentucky and near the Oroville Dam, Google believes it will look that Mother Nature in the eye and say, “Checkmate.” Weather is not match for the Googlers.

Oh, one question: What does Google do if those now enabled with Google Loon balloons spend most of their time on Facebook? Can Google knock out the Zuck?

Stephen E Arnold,  February 23. 2017

Anonymous Transparency Project Boldly Attacks Google for Secrecy Then Dives Back Under Rug

February 23, 2017

The article on Mercury News titled Secretive Foe Attacks Google Over Government Influence reports on the Transparency Project, an ironically super-secret group devoted to exposing Google’s insane level of influence. Of course, most of us are already perfectly aware of how much power Google holds over our politicians, our privacy, and our daily functions. Across Chrome, Google search, YouTube etc., not a day goes by that we don’t engage with the Silicon Valley Monster. The group claims,

Over the past decade, Google has transformed itself from the dominant internet search engine into a global business empire that touches on almost every facet of people’s lives — often without their knowledge or consent,” the group’s first report said. Another report, based on White House guest logs, cites 427 visits by employees of Google and “associated entities” to the White House since January 2009, with 21 “small, intimate” meetings between senior Google executives and Obama.

While such information may be disturbing, it is hardly revelatory.  So just who is behind the Transparency Project? The article provides a list of companies that Google has pissed off and stomped over on its path to glory. The only company that has stepped up to claim some funding is Oracle. But following the money in this case winds a strange twisted path that actually leads the author back to Google— or at least former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. This begs the question: is there anything Google isn’t influencing?

Chelsea Kerwin, February 23, 2017

Google Search Versus Academic Library Search

February 21, 2017

Well, Dartmouth’s library search does a killer job on topics like employee compensation, regression analysis, and the intricacies of duacetylmorphine. Google does a better job with Lady Gaga, where to buy pizza in Toledo, and learning about Google services.

I know this because I read and believed “Google Search engine vs Dartmouth Library Search.” The write up is a clarion call to the way things were. I can hear echoes of free Dialog training, the blandishments of the LexisNexis and Westlaw sales professionals, and the explanations of silver, gold, titanium, platinum, and diamond versions of Ebsco’s databases.

The write up points out:

Dartmouth Library access to thousands of articles, journals, abstracts, papers and theses from Dartmouth College, the other Ivy leagues, the other top universities, even out of the United States. So, to answer to the question, what is the difference between Google and Dartmouth Library, I would say Google is more public and is open to everybody. But, it doesn’t give us all of the actual research papers and publications.

Lousy writing aside, research libraries offer more reliable and slightly less crazed information than one finds in the Google index.

What’s frightening me is that this type of comparison is necessary.

Stephen E Arnold, February 21, 2017

Google Shoots for Star Status in the Cloud Space

February 21, 2017

Competition continues in the realm of cloud technology. Amigo Bulls released an article, Can Google Cloud Really Catch Up With The Cloud Leaders?, that highlights how Google Cloud is behind Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. However, some recent wins for Google are also mentioned. One way Google is gaining steam is through new clients; they signed Spotify and even some of Apple’s iCloud services are moving to Google Cloud. The article summarizes the current state,

Alphabet Inc’s-C (NSDQ:GOOG) Google cloud has for a long time lived in relative obscurity. Google Cloud results do not even feature on the company’s quarterly earnings report the way AWS does for Amazon (NSDQ:AMZN) and Azure for Microsoft (NSDQ:MSFT). This appears somewhat ironic considering that Google owns one of the largest computer and server networks on the planet to handle tasks such as Google Search, YouTube, and Gmail. Further, the Google Cloud Platform is actually cheaper than offerings by the two market leaders.

Enterprise accounts with legacy systems will likely go for Microsoft as a no-brainer given the familiarity factor and connectivity. Considering the enterprise sector will make up a large portion of cloud customers, Amazon is probably Google’s toughest competition. Spotify apparently moved to Google from Amazon because of the quality tools, including machine-learning, and excellence in customer service. We will continue following whether Google Cloud makes it as high in the sky as its peers.

Megan Feil, February 21, 2017

Gender Bias in Voice Recognition Software

February 21, 2017

A recent study seems to confirm what some have suspected: “Research Shows Gender Bias in Google’s Voice Recognition,” reports the Daily Dot. Not that this is anything new. Writer Selena Larson reminds us that voice recognition tech has a history of understanding men better than women, from a medical tracking system to voice-operated cars.  She cites a recent study by linguist researcher Rachael Tatman, who found that YouTube’s auto captions performed better on male voices than female ones by about 13 percent—no small discrepancy. (YouTube is owned by Google.)

Though no one is accusing the tech industry of purposely rendering female voices less effective, developers probably could have avoided this problem with some forethought. The article explains:

’Language varies in systematic ways depending on how you’re talking,’ Tatman said in an interview. Differences could be based on gender, dialect, and other geographic and physical attributes that factor into how our voices sound. To train speech recognition software, developers use large datasets, either recorded on their own, or provided by other linguistic researchers. And sometimes, these datasets don’t include diverse speakers.

Tatman recommends a purposeful and organized approach to remedying the situation. Larson continues:

Tatman said the best first step to address issues in voice tech bias would be to build training sets that are stratified. Equal numbers of genders, different races, socioeconomic statuses, and dialects should be included, she said.

Automated technology is developed by humans, so our human biases can seep into the software and tools we are creating to supposedly to make lives easier. But when systems fail to account for human bias, the results can be unfair and potentially harmful to groups underrepresented in the field in which these systems are built.

Indeed, that’s the way bias works most of the time—it is more often the result of neglect than of malice. To avoid it requires realizing there may be a problem in the first place, and working to avoid it from the outset. I wonder what other technologies could benefit from that understanding.

Cynthia Murrell, February 21, 2017

Bing Improvements

February 17, 2017

Online marketers are usually concerned with the latest Google algorithm, but Microsoft’s Bing is also a viable SEO target. Busines2Community shares recent upgrades to that Internet search engine in its write-up, “2016 New Bing Features.” The section on the mobile app seems to be the most relevant to those interested in Search developments. Writer Asaf Hartuv tells us:

For search, product and local results were improved significantly. Now when you search using the Bing app on an iPhone, you will get more local results with more information featured right on the page. You won’t have to click around to get what you want.

Similarly, when you search for a product you want to buy, you will get more options from more stores, such as eBay and Best Buy. You won’t have to go to as many websites to do the comparison shopping that is so important to making your purchase decision.

While these updates were made to the app, the image and video search results were also improved. You get far more options in a more user-friendly layout when you search for these visuals.

The Bing app also includes practical updates that go beyond search. For example, you can choose to follow a movie and get notified when it becomes available for streaming. Or you can find local bus routes or schedules based on the information you select on a map.

Hartuv also discusses upgrades to Bing Ads (a bargain compared to Google Ads, apparently), and the fact that Bing is now powering AOL’s search results (after being dropped by Yahoo). He also notes that, while not a new feature, Bing Trends is always presenting newly assembled, specialized content to enhance users’ understanding of current events. Hartuv concludes by prompting SEO pros to remember the value of Bing.

Cynthia Murrell, February 17, 2017

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