Google Ads: Thirst, Fear or Confusion?

October 30, 2014

I know zippo about online advertising. What have I got to advertise? After a talk with the owner of a high-traffic blog with videos, I flipped through my archive. With Google creeping toward a for fee test for YouTube lovers, I found “YouTube Shoots Google In Foot” interesting. Google is dependent on advertising. The dinosaur, the jets, and the synthetic biology initiative–everything depends on ads. Search has been marginalized. This write up explains that Google is annoying its users. Er, what’s new?

The nifty part was:

A rather emotionally charged Google ad has been making its way around the internet lately, heavily advocating the power of Google search. Ironically, all of the searches displayed in the ad fail to show Google ads that would typically come up in a normal, adblock-free search, suggesting that Google prefers to show a cleaner page in the commercial. They’ve also allegedly been asking users to disable adblock for some of their sites, while paying AdBlock Plus to whitelist their other Adwords ads, saving an estimated $887 million last year.

I am not sure I understand this, but it seems as if Google may be looking beyond ads to fund the money YouTube consumes each quarter.

Stephen E Arnold, October 30, 2014

The Failings of Google Authorship

October 29, 2014

A couple years ago, Google began pushing its Authorship markup program—its plan to verify the authorship of items in its search results and to supply author photos alongside verified entries. The idea, of course, was to convey trust in articles’ sources. Now, though, the initiative seems to be dead, and blogger David Leonhardt gives us “Google Authorship- the 3 Reasons Why It Failed.” Apparently, the average searcher was not persuaded to trust a source because of its writer’s smiling visage. In fact, says Leonhardt, those photos seemed to deter some searchers. He writes:

“Hindsight is 20/20 vision, so let’s put on our hindsight goggles and review the three reasons.

1. Trust and authority differ for different types of searches.

2. People trust institutions more than strangers.

3. People select between news and opinion.”

The post elaborates on each point. For example, Leonhardt identifies the three types of searching: for a purchase, for entertainment, and for information; each of these suggests different criteria for “authority.” He also observes that people looking for opinion seem to be swayed by seeing a trusted journalist’s face, but those looking for hard facts tend to click on entries sporting a news organization’s logo. See the write-up for more on these reasons behind Authorship’s downfall.

Could the authorship concept be saved, or revived? The post speculates:

“If Google can harness this understanding of what ‘authority’ means for various searches and flag individual author expertise and institutional expertise accordingly, it might still be able to help people find the most trusted authorities for a given search. Or here’s a novel idea: Google could do what it is already doing: trying to float the most trustworthy authoritative pages to the top of its results, where people tend to click through the most anyway. The face, or the logo, would not give the entry authority – it’s ranking would (and does).”

So, problem solved—there is no problem.

Cynthia Murrell, October 29, 2014

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Google Not Accurate in Search Results

October 28, 2014

I read “Is Google Responsible for Delivering Accurate – And Truthful – Search Results?” The main idea of the write up is that at least one person perceives Google’s search results as “riddled with lies, deception, even criminal intent.”


My goodness. A locksmith is taking Google to court over his allegations about Google’s search results. The aggrieved locksmith is quoted as saying:

“People think this search engine stuff is accurate. A lot of times it isn’t.”

Who knew.

The article reports:

It’s not just locksmiths, either, said Baldino. His belief is that listings for many occupations are contaminated with links to the unqualified and the unlicensed, because apparently Google acquires many of its listing from third parties including bogus locksmiths who create misleading web pages. Remember this because it may be key to how the law plays out. Nonetheless, it would be easy, Baldino added in the interview, for Google to double-check its listings. For locksmiths, he said, the company could cross-reference listings with state records of locksmith licenses. No license in the state database, no listing in Google; it’s that simple, he [the locksmith] said.

Double my goodness.

Stephen E Arnold, October 28, 2014

Predictive Analytics: Trouble Ahead?

October 28, 2014

I learned about a new book that will be available in early 2015. Its title is The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information. The author is Frank Pasquale, a professor of law at the University of Maryland.

The Harvard promotional Web site for the book asserts:

Hidden algorithms can make (or ruin) reputations, decide the destiny of entrepreneurs, or even devastate an entire economy. Shrouded in secrecy and complexity, decisions at major Silicon Valley and Wall Street firms were long assumed to be neutral and technical. But leaks, whistleblowers, and legal disputes have shed new light on automated judgment. Self-serving and reckless behavior is surprisingly common, and easy to hide in code protected by legal and real secrecy. Even after billions of dollars of fines have been levied, underfunded regulators may have only scratched the surface of this troubling behavior.

The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies mentioned the forthcoming book here. One of the comments about that post was interesting to me. TooManyJoes wrote:

The control of the results by the decision makers is what makes this future menacing. Right now, Google is under attack being too good at search prediction and making money on targeted advertisements whose brilliantly written algorithms allow such a sophisticated variety of information to be indexed. As a result search bubbles have formed, and a lack of statistics comprehension prevents the awareness of control over this new medium. Snake oil salesmen turned into Mad Men and psychiatrists, it’s the medium of internet based controlled by one snake oil salesman that frightens us all. I believe it’s not possible without a formal computational human algorithm to have enough of an impact to have widespread influence. I bring up these mediums because to engage in them is to participate, participation can be tracked, then imagine the expense of the things we have access to because free participation drives those products and services by up selling those products. Without education, which most people won’t be open to, and time for the common man to analyze the data…those in control of the data will be people delegated by others. Welcome to the age of transparency.

The Google reference may presage some discussion of the company’s predictive wizardry.

Stephen E Arnold, October 28, 2014

Living with Google Requires Innovation

October 27, 2014

The article on South China Morning Post Technology titled Search Websites Diversify in Scope and Learn to Coexist with Google explores the options for Google’s ugly stepsisters Bing and Yahoo (among others). Rather than even attempting to unseat the search giant, Chris Wallace of Mindshare Worldwide and Will McInnes of Brandwatch advocate a tailoring approach for search engines not named Google. The article states,

“Microsoft has Xbox, and this is its opportunity to integrate into the living room and be the search device of choice there” Wallace says… niche search engines are emerging, usually with one killer app that does something specific Google can’t match. None will take over from the Big G any time soon, but if you have a specific need, they’re worth bearing in mind… The message? Don’t avoid Google, but diversify your usage.”

Whether you are looking specifically for music, social media data, or the latest news, there are alternatives to Google in the form of Live Plasma, Blekko and Pinterest or even Facebook. The article suggests loosening the Google security blanket we have wrapped ourselves in so cozily and considering other options. Specialized search engines like Yelp for restaurants will help us more because they are tailor-made for one area of the market.

Chelsea Kerwin, October 27, 2014

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Google and Search: Hey, Mobile, Mobile, Mobile

October 25, 2014

I read “Google’s Head of Android to Oversee Its Most Important Products.” Interesting news. Larry Page is moving on up. For me, search is moving on down. Here’s the passage I highlighted:

The promotion punctuates Pichai’s quick rise inside the company as well as CEO Larry Page’s desire to focus on off-loading some of his management duties to better focus on overall business strategy. While Google’s search and advertising business still generates $50 billion a year in revenue, some financial analysts fear its business is slowing. The company last week reported that paid clicks for the third quarter rose 17 percent from the same period last year. That compares with 26 percent growth the year before.

My view is that search is the loser in this deal. Mr. Brin is chasing balloons and solving death. Mr. Page wants to think about making money from a higher level.

The Google has change in neon lights in front of the dinosaur bones. Metaphor? You bet. You can research this with reasonable precision and recall on either or Google? Well, you get lots of ads on your desktop computer. On your mobile phone? Well, not too many ads fit on the tiny screen. Aye, that’s the problem, Captain.

Stephen E Arnold, October 25, 2014

Google Compared to Mainframes

October 23, 2014

I read ”Peak Google.” I found the analysis interesting. You can work through the 2,000 word write up as your time permits. I want to highlight one facet of “Google may be toast” analysis.

The hook is a chart that shows how mainframes were eclipsed by PCs. This is the first time I have seen the fortunes of Google compared to those of the mainframe.

The suggestion is that upstarts will capture and dominate Google in native advertising. Okay.

But the comparison to the mainframe sector? Ouch.

Stephen E Arnold, October 23, 2014

Google: When Stanford and CMU Cannot Deliver

October 23, 2014

I read “Google Partners with University of Oxford for Future AI Research.” Oxford has a pretty good bookstore. One hopes no errant sparks ignites the labyrinth. Cambridge has a river and a sci-tech reputation which strikes me as quite good. Downhill since the days of that idler Sir Isaac Newton?

In the write up, I read:

The focus for this [Google Oxford] partnership and the research that will hopefully emerge from it is on improving an AI’s ability to recognize images and objects, and to enhance natural language processing. Both of these fields are vital if AI is ever going to go anywhere in our human world, and they’re also vital if Google wants some of its products, like the self-driving cars, to become actually usable.

I thought that in the early days of Google’s book scanning, Oxford was a participant. Some of the scans I saw were thrilling. Anyone for 19th century railroad schedules.

Hey hey for Oxford. Cambridge may want to put on some lip gloss and take Googlers sculling on the River Cam. There may be bucks to be had.

I assume that Dr. Stephen Hawking, former Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, is not up to snuff.

Stephen E Arnold, October 23, 2014

Google and Objective Search Results

October 20, 2014

I recall that in one conference presentation in Boston about Google I attended, the Googler (Dave Girouard, now a Xoogler) emphasized the objectivity of Google search results. I have heard the objective claim from many quarters over the years.

I noted the PC Magazine story “Google ‘Fixes’ Stephen Colbert’s Height Listing.” Here’s the passage I noted:

While Google hasn’t exactly dropped a packet full of stock options off on Colbert’s doorstep, it has managed to address Google’s concerns about his height listing. First up, Colbert now appears as 5 foot 10.5 inches tall on Google’s search results when you query for “Stephen Colbert height.” If you prefer metric, his height is now listed as 1.79 meters… “-ish.”

From my hollow in Harrod’s Creek, this strikes me as an example of Google’s ability to modify search results quickly. I am not sure that the “objective” reference used by Mr. Girouard years ago applies today. If true, Google can intervene in the vaunted PageRank process and make results changes quickly and at will.

Are those claims of outfits like Foundem founded? Maybe, just maybe?

Stephen E Arnold, October 20, 2014

Earnings and Google

October 17, 2014

I read the dead tree version of “analysts Ask What’s Next for Google.” You can find the write up in the New York Times in section B, page 1 and 2 of the October 17, 2014 edition. You may find the story online at this link but no promises. (As you can see, I am indifferent to Google’s rules for linking. Too bad.)

In the write up, there were two quotes to note. I invite you, gentle reader, to consider each carefully:

  1. “The thing that worries investors, though, is that the company’s golden goose—its search engine—is showing signs of age.”
  2. Google executives grow annoyed with analysts’ fixation on clicks and cost per click.”

The first quote seems to indicate a growing realization that Google’s core technology is more than 15 years young. The innovations are mostly wrapper code and tweaks that generate more money for Google. Keep in mind that the vaunted business model is pretty much what GoTo/Overture/Yahoo had and did not leverage. We have, therefore, a bit of Clever, some voting, and the PageRank method disclosed in a patent held by Stanford University. The innovation engine at Google has been to graft GoTo/Overture/Yahoo with a bit of Oingo (Applied Semantics) and ignite the race to be number one on a page of Google results. Ta da. A business model that works. Keep in mind that Google is, as Steve Ballmer said, before he bought a basketball team, a “one trick pony.” A monoculture of money with an ageing DNA. Eeek.

The second quote shows what happens when a non math club member questions the appropriateness of the math club’s penchant for doing mathy things. In my high school math club, we fooled with machine readable tests, hid books in the library, and dodged confrontations with football players who did not enjoy our sense of humor. Think of it. Google is annoyed with analysts. Don’t those folks have an influence on institutional investors and others with big piles of money to invest? In my math club, we were quite arrogant when the principal attempted to reign in our antics. I can report that the principal put the brakes on our mathy antics. Nevertheless, we were incensed. A mere non math person was poking his nose into our Euler crankcase. Bah.

Google faces several challenges:

First, it has to find a way to generate more money because the company is spending lots and lots of money. Spending is okay as long as there is a payback. Spending to buy balloons, barges, and a solution to death is noteworthy. Pumping bucks into infrastructure is like feeding a youth soccer team at Pizza Hut after a match on a chill autumn day. Fighting legal battles consumes bales of bucks. There are other cost issues, but the GOOG has one source of revenue…after 13 years of trying to generate other revenue streams.

Second, search remains important. Search systems that return results that are not useful face some headwinds. In my view, Google’s precision and recall leave something to be desired. Google forces me to search silos of information within the Google empire to get a reasonable comprehensive view of what Google has indexed. Really useful information like “date indexed” and explicit easy access to book and scholarly content would be a plus. Right now, when I search Google, I see the fruits of much labor in the advertising functions. The relevant results function seems to have been kicked to the side of the information highway.

Third, Google’s enterprise search system has fallen behind the search service available on Amazon Web services. Google tried to disintermediate the information technology professional in an organization. Now, Google has an expensive system that is a lot of work to make useful to the annoyingly youthful users in an organization. In 2002, I figured Google would own enterprise search. Well, that hasn’t worked out. That market should have been a slam dunk for the Google. We do have Google Glass, however.

Google faces some “interesting” challenges. I am confident the math club approach is correct. After all, who cares what an annoying principal or non mathy person thinks?

Stephen E Arnold, October 17, 2014

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