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

Google Made Simple

October 16, 2014

Google is just so darned friendly. The system knows exactly what users want. The GOOG offers helpful suggestions for just about everything.

Now how does Google work?

To answer this question, study “How Google Works.” This is a very sophisticated presentation that is so darned clever. The information is so darned relevant. Darn it. I wish every 60,000 person company controlling information access would explain itself in this way.

Here’s an example:


Isn’t this type of presentation darned magnificent? Why fool around with Google patent documents? Why waste time on Google technical papers like this one


Why waste time fooling around with trivial activities like this?


Oh, wow. This slide show is not about technology. The slide show wants to convince you to buy Eric Schmidt’s new book.


Isn’t that so darned clever? You can buy a copy from the company that is Google’s closest competitor, Amazon. Isn’t that a darned good way to do cooperative competition?

Stephen E Arnold, October 16, 2014

Google Gets Into Balloons Does It Have WiFi?

October 16, 2014

Google has a thing for transportation and maps. They mapped the entire world and gave us Google Street View and then they created a self-driving car. Google seems to have conquered streets and motor vehicles. Now they want to conquer the air. How? Are they using planes? No. Helicopters? No. Trained pigeons? No. Google decided to take to the air with balloons. Computer World tells us about a new balloon fleet in “GoogleX To Circle The Earth With Internet-Connected Balloon.”

Google plans to launch high-altitude balloons that will circle the planet and provide Internet to rural areas. Astro Teller, head of GoogleX, announced the new endeavor at the MIT Technology Review’s EmTech. It has been dubbed Project Loon and if it successful more people will access the Internet.

“Google’s vision is to build a ring of balloons, flying around the globe on stratospheric winds about 12.4 miles high, providing Internet access to remote and underserved areas. The balloons communicate with specially designed antennas on the ground, which in turn connect to ground stations that connect to the local Internet service provider.”

The balloons will provide Internet using the same networks as mobile phones and issues about bandwidth are already popping up. There are also concerns about how many people the balloons will be able to support?

While GoogleX wants to deploy around the globe, how will countries like China respond? Will North Koreans find ways to learn about the world with the balloons? How about Russia? And the seeds of rebellion will be sown.

Whitney Grace, October 16, 2014
Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Oh Google Plus You Are Learning From Your Mistakes

October 15, 2014

Google has alienated many potential users for any of its services by forcing them to open a universal Google Plus account. Some argue that the benefits outweigh the negative factors, but others say they do not need another email or social media account. Ars Technica has an interesting article, “Google Nixes G+ Requirement For Gmail Accounts” explaining that Google is listening to its users.

Gmail users will soon be liberated from forced enrollment in Google Plus starting in early September. Mandatory enrollment in Google Plus to access Gmail has been a topic of consternation, boiling over when YouTube users had to join Google or they wouldn’t be able to post videos or comments anymore. It transformed into a colossal mess and the YouTube comments are still rolling out.

When Vic Gundotra left the company in April 2014, Google Plus stopped being at the forefront of products and services are slowly becoming individual entities again.


“Even though forced G+ integration continues to disappear, Google’s push towards global identity management across its services isn’t going away—you can still use a single Google account for YouTube, Gmail, the Google Play store, and so on. However, making G+ optional makes it much easier to carve out and manage multiple identities across services; it’s getting easier to maintain a YouTube account that has nothing to do with your Gmail account or your Google Play account, for example. For people who prefer to keep different components of their online identity firmly segregated—as I do—this is a very, very good thing.”

Maintaining some form of multiple Internet identities has returned. Also Google Plus was supposed to make search more personal and touted the “search of the future” tagline. Not anymore!

Whitney Grace, October 15, 2014
Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Google: A Magic Leap

October 14, 2014

Is it true that if one bets on enough race horses, one will win? Seems logical to those who hang out at Churchill Downs I suppose.

Miles away from the race track, I found the audiences I addressed at last week’s intelligence and law enforcement conference skeptical of Google’s search results. In 2013, there was more surprise when I demonstrated how queries for “twerk” did not involve too much “search.”

After the sessions, attendees commented on how much work is required to ferret out relevant results to queries. The notion that LE and intel professionals had to learn command line syntax to get useful information was a situation I did not think would arise. Hey, Google has smart software, artificial intelligence, the world’s fastest search engine, yada yada.

Searching Google is actually difficult if one wants to answer certain types of questions; for example, who in Scotland sells tactical shotgun silencers. Give that query a whirl in your spare time.

I read “Google Set to Lead Huge Investment in Magic Leap and Its “Cinematic Reality”. The write up provides a surprisingly poignant glimpse of into the Google business machine. Google is no longer content to borrow notions like head mounted mobile phones. Google wants to lift beyond big balloons which rhymes with “loons.” Google does not want to solve death.

Nope. Google is betting that it can invest in companies and tap into a new, swelling revenue stream. Search, it seems, has become an optimization task for the Googlers. The future lies in “cinematic reality.”

Google wants to be the lead elephant in the investing parade for Magic Leap. You can work through the original document to get a sense of the Fancy Dan augmented reality technology Magic leap allegedly possesses.

My view is that Google has to find a way to sustain revenue growth. Search is not the prize winning stallion it once was. I assume that Google believes that investments in companies that deliver magic will produce big bucks.

For me, I am concerned that the utility of the Google search system will continue to decrease for the types of research I do. If the feedback I received from LE and intel professionals is representative, there are a number of serious individuals who want a Google search to return relevant results, not ads and promotions for Google products and services.

I am all for magic, but magic involves tricks. Search requires more than wild bets and a faith in magic.

I do not crave a more realistic three dimensional experience. I am okay with a system that:

  1. Includes useful content in an accessible interface. Google’s convoluted blog search is not what I call accessible.
  2. Presents results that are in line with needs of the user, not the needs of the advertiser.
  3. Provides more frequently refreshed indexes for pages with content that are not focused on Dancing with the Stars, vacations, and hotels.

I want some of that old time search magic. Maybe a futuristic, robotic pony clone will make Google billions. I prefer a search donkey that gets the job done. Onward, precision and recall.

Stephen E Arnold, October 14, 2014

Google Blamed for Problems in Enterprise Search

October 7, 2014

Google, believe it or not, is responsible in part for the problems with enterprise search. The idea is advanced in “Why the “Google Paradigm” Has Damaged Enterprise Search.” The core of the argument is that people use Google for Web search. The resulting perception is that “enterprise search is as easy as Google web search, and that a central index of an enterprise is the right way to do enterprise search. ”

Google’s entrance into enterprise search was one of the companies earliest attempts to enter a market in which revenue came from a subscription or license, not a fee for advertising. The Google Search Appliance was a server loaded with a version of Google’s Web search system. Based on our work with the first GSA, it was clear that like many other Google products and services from the 2001 to 2004 period, Google was operating on some Googley assumptions; for example:

  • Google assumed that a version of its Web search system stripped of its ad matching was good enough for finding textual content in an organization
  • The company assumed that Autonomy, Endeca, and Fast Search & Transfer, the dominant enterprise search vendors at this time were too complex for most technical staff in an organization. The time and complexity of these systems contributed to the high user dissatisfaction with these systems. The high cost of these industry leaders’ systems contributed to management grousing about search.
  • Google assumed that it could disintermediate traditional information technology departments and deal directly with end users.

Google crafted a server that was positioned as a “search toaster.” The low price of the basic unit was less than $2,000 and sported an interface that required the licensee to plug in basic information and click a button to start the indexing process.

The Google Search Appliance by 2007 had an estimated 50,000 licensees. At that time, the product line had expanded but the locked down nature of the Google Search Appliance and the key word approach of the system was creating sales opportunities for other search appliance vendors; namely, Thunderstone, Maxxcat, and Index Engines.

Google added features and fiddled with the license fees, hardening the GSA product line with hot backups, connectors, and extensibility via licensed vendors. Few analysts paid much attention to the product licensing fees for the various “GB” or Google boxes. If you want to get a sense of the costs for building out a GSA system that can process 100 million documents, navigate to and search for the Google’s search appliances. The costs work out to be comparable or slightly higher than a similar installation from Autonomy, Endeca, or Fast. The high prices remain today.

Google learned from the GSA experience. Instead of offering an enterprise cloud solution, the company has left a limited and pricey GSA product line in the market and provided a modest commitment to this enterprise search solution. Google’s cloud solution manifests itself in Google’s site search features. I am waiting for Google either to kill the product line or amp up its commitment. In my opinion, the GSA is in no man’s land at this time. It appears that not even Google can respond to the needs of the enterprise findability users. If any company could crack the code, would it not be Google or a Xoogler’s start up?

As the GSA emerged as placeholder product, professionals became more and more dependent on Google’s Web search. In Europe, for example, Google’s Web search commands an market share in excess of 80 percent. In Denmark, Google’s share of Web search is north of 90 percent. In the US, Google has a 65 to 75 percent share of Web search, depending on which consultancies’ numbers one uses.

The word “search” became synonymous with Google. Enterprise search vendors began to use jargon other than search. This step was a natural reaction to hearing from prospects, “We want a search that works just like Google.” What the prospects meant was a system that was easy to use and seemed to deliver useful results in the hits displayed at the top of a results list, a page of images, or a map showing a location.

Google Web search, not the Google Search Appliance, reflected a broader shift in the information access market. Users of Web search and enterprise systems wanted and still want:

  1. Systems that do not require the user to invest much time and effort in getting an answer
  2. Systems that can produce useful outputs whether text, images, or maps with data displayed on them
  3. Systems that delivered “answers” without the delays (latency) many enterprise systems force on users.

Google’s ability to respond to this enterprise demand has been ineffectual. Like other Web search vendors, key word retrieval does not solve the problems basic search systems spawn. The GSA is evidence that Google does not have the key to unlock the revenue vault for enterprise search.

What Google search has done (inadvertently I might add) has been to make crystal clear that users do not want to work hard for information users perceive as useful. Precision and recall are irrelevant because voting and advertisers influence Google Web search results. Users love Google’s outputs.

In the organization, procurement teams, individual users, and senior management  boil their needs down to one simple statement: “We want search that is just like Google.”

That’s a big, big problem for search and content processing vendors. Google Web search is not about relevance, objective information, or accuracy. Google is easy and “good enough.” In an organization, people want easy. But in an organization the results have to be timely, comprehensive in terms of what information is available to an organization, and accurate.

On the Web Google can skip content that is malformed or stored on a server that does not respond to a Google spider quickly enough. In an organization, the content has to be available. On the Web, the advertisers and the uses’ own behavioral data pays the bills. In an organization, the organization has to pay the bills. Google has more money from a different business model than most organizations. Google pumps money into plumbing to deliver the service that makes money. Organizations want to fix the amount spent on search and the funds are not infinite.

For search vendors, the problem of Google’s dominance in Web search makes product differentiation difficult. Google’s business model creates challenges for vendors who have to justify the “value” and hence the “cost” of their search systems. For traditional search vendors, ease of use is very, very difficult because of the nature of the questions enterprise system users have.

Google is a mirror in which societal, cultural, and intellectual changes in information access are reflected. For many years, I have called attention to the verbal push ups search vendors use to try and make sales. The struggled Hewlett Packard have had with Autonomy provide a glimpse of how “value” can be difficult to change into hard cash Microsoft’s Delve illustrates that search for Office 365 is a combination of contacts, alerts, and personalization, not key word search. The dependence on enterprise search companies for cash from venture capital sources illustrates that traditional search is a very, very tough business to make into something sustainable and profitable without financial life support. The expectations that Watson will become a $10 billion business in 60 months is disconnected from the experience of other smart companies. In the history of enterprise search, only Autonomy reported revenues of more than $800 million from enterprise licenses. IBM projects more than 10 X this revenue in 60 months. It took Autonomy more than a decade to hit $500 million.

The reality is that Google is not the problem. Google is a metaphor for what users want when it comes to information access.

The write up asserts:

The Google paradigm also ignores the challenge of scalability.  Indexing the enterprise for a centralized enterprise search capability requires major investment.  In addition, centralization runs counter to the realities of the working world where information must be distributed globally across a variety of devices and applications.  The amount of information we create is overwhelming and the velocity with which that information moves increases daily.

Interesting statement. For me, the problem of the Google paradigm is that it another bit of jargon that sidesteps a what information retrieval must deliver in today’s business environment. Whoever cracks the code can make money. My hunch is that Google probed the enterprise search market and is trying to figure out how to make it pay off in a significant way. Google may be trapped in the same problem space through which other enterprise search and content processing vendors slog. The question may be, “Is there a way out of the swamp and into a land of milk, honey, sustainable revenue, and healthy margins?”

Stephen E Arnold, October 7, 2014

Quote to Note: Users Want Relevant Results

October 6, 2014

I highlighted this remarkable, earth shaking statement from “Google+ Is Hurting the Internet.” Here’s the passage:

…they [users] prefer to get the most relevant results.

The information appears in a Web page presenting “objective study results” conducted for a European group.

The target is poor, old Google. The company has to pump up revenues and margins. Amazon and Facebook are embracing online advertising. The Google X moonshots have not delivered big bucks to the Mountain View redoubt. Mobile search behaves differently from the old fashioned pay to play content inspired by the GoTo, Overture, and Yahoo approach.

What to do?

One answer is or may be Google Plus and user produced content. Another may be to create new user experiences. Some Google users have spotted nesting, a method that creates a Google page with ads within search “experiences.”

Check out the “Hurting” write up. The page links to other content. Is the analysis on point? Well, for the EC crowd, the report just validates what the EC has believed for a few years. For those who root on Google, the report is a misinterpretation of the high value Google delivers for advertisers and the loyal and possible naive users.

Stephen E Arnold, October 6, 2014

Math in the Googley Cloud

October 6, 2014

Short honk: I think this is significant development. Math in the cloud, courtesy of the University of Washington and Google. Navigate to “Collaborative Mathematics with SageMathCloud and Google Cloud Platform.” No information about latency for calculations or changes to equations, output generation, or overall response time. I don’t suggest a 56K modem for this type of work.

Stephen E Arnold, September 30, 2014

Harsh Words for Google and Its Search Results

October 5, 2014

Who owns Business Insider? Oh, maybe Amazon, a company with arguably the most ineffective search system available to me. Just try to winnow a list of books by those one can buy right now versus those one can buy at some time in the future? Oh, right. I just read “Here’s the Evidence That Google’s Search Results Are Horribly Biased.”

Now Google is an ad outfit. Pay money and one gets traffic. Seems simple. Google also flogs its own products like the really, really popular Google Search Appliance. Google is battling Amazon in the world of WalMart like cloud cost cutting. Sigh. Is it a surprise that Google has a small amount of self interest in what it does, delivers, and presents? Who argues for precision and recall at Google?

Here’s what I learned:

An internal document recently leaked from Yelp showed how the company believed Google was siphoning off up to 20% of its clicks, directing them to Google’s results. Yelp even persuaded the European Union to reopen an antitrust investigation into the way it said Google abused its 90% share of the European search market to manipulate results. (Business Insider heard Yelp’s intervention came after CEO Jeremy Stoppelman found himself at a dinner in San Francisco this spring with EC president José Manuel Barroso, where he was able to bend Barroso’s ear about Google’s market share.) So Yelp has launched a coalition, including Trip advisor and Consumer Watchdog, under the banner “Focus On The User” to draw attention to the way Google results are displayed.

Yep, revelation. Is it possible for a merchant to influence a Yelp review? Hmmm. Is any “free” search system bias free? Any countries filtering search results or system access to control information flow? Hmmmm.

Stephen E Arnold, October 5, 2014

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